LUKE 17 VS. MATTHEW 24?

PMW 2020-017 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

In this blog I have previously investigated the apparent problem involved when comparing Matthew 24 and Luke 17. See: “Orthodox Preterism and Luke 17.”

There I note that Matthew separates the local judgment-coming prophecies regarding AD 70 from the global ultimate-coming prophecies of the Second Coming and the Final Judgment. Many prominent evangelical preterist scholars recognize Matthew’s clear structure. Scholars such as:

J. M. Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (originally published as an article in 1948)

• R. V. G. Tasker, Matthew (Tyndale Bible Commentary) (1961)

• David E. Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel (1993)

Alistair I. Wilson, When Will These Things Happen: A Study of Jesus as Judge in Matthew 21–25 (2004)

R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (2007)

R. C. Sproul, Matthew: An Expositional Commentary (2013)

Jeannine K. Brown, Matthew (Teach the Text Commentary Series) (2015)

• Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 21:1–28:20 (vol. 3 of the Concordia Commentary on Matthew) (2018)

See my blog article: Best Matthew Commentaries. Thus, this view is not “Ken Gentry’s view,” as I frequently hear from Hyper-preterists. I got it from others. It is a well-known, highly-regarded view published by a number of reputable scholars.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, this clean separation is quite evident in Matthew 24:34–36. There Matthew’s peri de (“but concerning”) narrative transition-formula shifts his attention away from the known time of his local (metaphorical) judgment-coming against the Temple (Matt. 24:2) in Judea (Matt. 24:16), which was to be in “this generation” (Matt. 24:34). He shifts his attention to “that day and hour,” which timing neither he nor the angels know (Matt. 24:36, 50; 25:13). [1]

Consequently, after Matthew 24:36, instead of giving historical signs regarding the Temple’s soon-coming destruction (vv. 4–33), he issues warnings urging readiness at all times, at any moment — since no one knows (Matt. 24:36) when that day will occur (Matt. 24:37–39, 42–43, 50; 25:13). Thus, he moves from the known time to the unknown time; from the near-future to who-knows-when.

But in Luke 17, some of the statements that appear in both the earlier (AD 70) and the later (Second Advent/Final Judgment) sections of the cleanly-divided discourse in Matthew 24 seem to be interspersed in the “wrong” places in Luke 17. How can this be? Does this prove there is no division in Matthew 24? Not at all!


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by Ken Gentry

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Previous Evidence Rehearsed

To see why there is no difficulty, we must first note that Luke 17 and Matthew 24 are not records of the same discourse. Matthew 24 is given on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24:3) after looking out over Jerusalem (Matt. 23:37), well after Jesus’ entering Jerusalem (Matt. 21:10) and after he had entered the temple (Matt. 21:12). Whereas in Luke 17 he is on his way to Jerusalem (cf. Luke 17:11; 18:31; 19:11).

Furthermore, in Matthew, Jesus is answering his disciples’ question regarding the future of the temple (Matt. 24:3). Whereas, in Luke 17, he is interacting with the Pharisees’ question about the coming of the kingdom (Luke 17:20–21). Then he turns to speak to the disciples (Luke 17:22).

Thus, Leon Morris notes regarding liberals who argue that Luke places this teaching in the wrong context: “It is much better to hold that . . . Jesus [either] uttered the words on more than one occasion or . . . Luke is correctly applying them to another situation” (Morris, Luke, 286). So no matter what Jesus is speaking about, Luke is not shifting the material around. He is recording a different sermon altogether.

In addition, we must understand that similar language does not entail identical events. That is, because similar prophecies occur in Matthew 24 as in Luke 17 does not mean they refer to the same historical episode. We see that similar expressions do not require identical realities when Scripture refers to Christ as a “lion” in some places (Rev 5:5), while in other places it calls Satan a “lion” (1 Pet. 5:8).


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Former leader in Full Preterist movement, Samuel M. Frost, gives his testimony and theological reasoning as to why he left the heretical movement. Good warning to others tempted to leave orthodox Christianity.

See more study materials at: KennethGentry.com


Also, consider the prophetic concept of “the day of the Lord.” In the Old Testament it occurs in several places and applies to different historical judgments. For instance, “the day of the Lord” comes upon Babylon, Idumea, and Judah (Isa. 13:6, 9; Eze 13:5; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; Amos 5:18, 20; Oba. 15; Zeph. 1:7; Mal. 4:5) — at different time and in different places. Even though the language is the same (and why should that surprise us since all wars are basically similar?) and though the “day of the Lord” phrase occurs in the singular (which would seem to suggest there is only one particular day of the Lord), but each “day of the Lord” is an historically distinct event. They are, however, theologically related events: all of them being judgments of God anticipating the final Day of the Lord event though they are not historically identical.

More Evidence Presented

But now I would like to provide two other lines of evidence regarding this “problem.” One is more obvious; the other more subtle.

One obvious difference between Luke 17 and Matthew 24 is that in Matthew’s discourse Jesus clearly refers to the temple’s destruction (Matt. 24:3) in Judea (Matt. 24:15–16). Yet in his pronouncement in Luke 17, Jesus does not even mention the destruction of the temple. Or the temple at all. Or even Jerusalem or Judea. These are glaring omissions if Luke 17 is talking about AD 70 and the temple.

The other, more subtle line of evidence arises when we note how some of Jesus’ language significantly differs in Luke 17 when compared to Matthew 24. In the AD 70 section of Matthew 24 (vv. 4–34), Jesus urges flight from Judea (Matt. 24:16). He warns people to leave the area in haste because of the approaching Roman troops: “Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak” (Matt. 24:17–18).

But in Luke 17, this warning is altered in such a way that is not easily applicable to historical warfare. Yet it fits nicely with the Second Coming and its instantaneous judgment: “I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left” (Luke 17:34–35). The ones “taken” in each of these examples are those taken to safety by the Lord. Thus, in this text the closest of people will suddenly be separated by God’s rescue action: two people lying together in one bed (husband and wife?), or sitting and grinding together at the mill (mother and daughter?). The Roman war would not suddenly take away to safety one person lying next to another or one woman grinding alongside another.

Confusing Material Explained

But now, what about Christ’s warning in Luke 17 that: “on that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back” (Luke 17:31). How can these be relevant to the Second Advent, when flight will be impossible?

We must first note that, in fact, flight is not even mentioned here, as it is in Matthew 24:16-20 (though it is in Luke’s Olivet Discourse in Luke 21:21). So what is going on here?

This directive by Christ does not overthrow the Second Coming argument. This is because the context explains Jesus’ point here. For he immediately adds: “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32) and “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:35). So? How does this help us out of our conundrum?

Jesus is here warning people that they must not even think of holding on to the things of this world. They must be willing to leave behind all their possessions for his sake. Earlier in Luke, Jesus is recorded as warning by parable about “the seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are . . . choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14).

So here in Luke 17 Jesus warns that his followers must not be like Lot’s wife who longingly looked back to what she was leaving behind (Gen. 19:26). For such will be worthless when Christ is “revealed” at his Second Coming (Luke 17:30). His true disciples need to live their lives for him rather than for material goods or earthly relations — a point frequently made in Luke (Luke 9:24, 62; 12:33–34; 14:26; 18:29; cf. Matt. 6:33). See also Paul’s testimony (Phil. 3:7–11).

Our deliverance on the Final Day of Judgment (a deliverance reflected in Noah’s and Lot’s deliverances from judgment, each on a particular “day,” vv. 27, 29) requires a wholehearted-commitment and a single-minded orientation to Christ — over all else. As his followers, we are urged to abandon any love of material possessions and earthly matters above him (see two previous paragraphs above). Lot’s wife came close to being delivered from Sodom’s destruction. But she disobeyed God’s word (issued through the angel, Gen. 19:17) and longed for what she was leaving behind (Gen. 19:26). Christ’s followers must not hold a mindset like hers.

Jesus’ analogy, then, is teaching his disciples (and us!) that there will be no time to prepare when he returns. Jesus uses the image in v. 31 as a metaphor for attachment to earthly things. Rather than such, he is commanding a wholehearted willingness to give up all for him. Thus again, he quickly adds: “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:35). As Alfred Plummer (Luke, p. 409) notes: “The point is absolute indifference to all worldly interests as the attitude of readiness for the Son of Man.” On that day, there will be no point in even caring about such things. The event will happen so quickly that you will not even have an opportunity to retrieve your goods.

Conclusion

Therefore, we see from additional angles that Luke 17 does not contradict Matthew 24, thereby overthrowing the careful distinction that Jesus draws in Matthew 24:34–36. Luke 17 is talking only about the Second Advent, and not about the destruction of Jerusalem. But Matthew 24 speaks of both events, though separately and distinctly: first, the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (Matt. 24:4–34) and second the Second Advent to Final Judgment (Matt. 24:37–25:46).

Addendum Note

Please note that after this article was initially uploaded, I discovered some typos that needed correction. So this is effectively my “second edition.”

Footnote

1. We should not naively think Jesus is being overtly literal in Matthew 24:36. G. C. Caird warns against such a ludicrous approach. He scoffs that we must not think “Jesus knows roughly the year . . . but not whether it will be a Tuesday or a Wednesday, not whether it will be at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m.; and against such bathos it is pointless to argue.” G. C. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980), pp. 266–267. Jesus’ point is simply: “I will return at an unknown and unpredictable time.” Then his following parables urge them: be ready at all times for the unexpected.


I am currently doing research for a commentary tentatively titled: Olivet in Context: A Commentary on Matthew 21-25. If you would like to help by donating to my non-profit ministry, I would be grateful. For more information, see: GoodBirth Ministries.


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3 thoughts on “LUKE 17 VS. MATTHEW 24?

  1. John Barrin February 6, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    What I don’t understand about the “duel” question in Matthew 24:3 is if the question of His coming and the end of the age is regarding His second coming, then the disciples would have had to have known for sure that He was leaving. In their reaction to His death initially I don’t see where they believed He would come back until angels told them after the resurrection as they saw Him go into heaven.

  2. Kenneth Gentry February 6, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    Despite their dullness in so many ways, Jesus had previously taught about the Final Judgment at the “end of the age” (at the end of history) (Matt. 13). They knew he was going to judge the world; they knew he was establishing his kingdom. For all they knew, he may just ascend into heaven directly from the earth without dying in order to receive his kingdom (a possible understanding of Dan. 7:13). Their question was probably sparked by the preceding context, regardless of whether they understood he was to die: “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!'” (Matt. 23:39).

  3. cazjohnb February 6, 2020 at 5:40 pm

    Mmm I was thinking they perhaps thought that with the destruction of the temple He would bring about the final judgement as well and the end of history as they knew it. Regardless the new messianic age began in its fullness and the Old covenant physical temple ended in 70 AD did it not?

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