PMW 2020-047 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
With this article, I am beginning a series on how contemporary postmillennialism deals with the great tribulation. This will basically be a survey of much of Matthew 24. This series ought to provide the interested reader with a basic understanding of how postmillennialism answers the complaint that Jesus’ prophecy of “the great tribulation” undermines our historical hope. As such, I am hoping postmillennial readers might share these studies with their non-postmillennial friends — especially if they really don’t need friends anymore.
This series is significant in that American evangelical Christians are intensely interested in what the New Testament calls “the great tribulation.” Many enormously popular, best-selling books have been written on this phenomenon, including The Late Great Planet Earth (30 million copies sold) and the Left Behind series (65 million copies).
The great tribulation is significant and merits careful consideration. This is not only because of its influence on contemporary evangelical thought, but (more importantly) because of its large presence in Scripture. The Bible touches on this theme in many contexts in both the Old and New Testaments. Furthermore, it seems to contradict postmillennialism’s historical optimism. Consequently, it will be crucial for us to study it in light of our presentation of the postmillennial hope.
The two most significant portions of Scripture treating the great tribulation are found in Jesus’ teaching and John’s Revelation. It appears prominently in one of Christ’s major recorded discourses: the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24–25 (cp. Mark 13; Luke 21:5–36). The first thirty-four verses of Matthew 24 focus on the great tribulation, even employing the phrase in verse 21.
Olivet Discourse Made Easy (by Ken Gentry)
Verse-by-verse analysis of Christ’s teaching on Jerusalem’s destruction in Matt 24. Shows the great tribulation is past, having occurred in AD 70, and is distinct from the Second Advent at the end of history.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
As pessimistic systems, the non-postmillennial eschatological positions see our future in the bleakest terms. And this largely due to the biblical teaching on the great tribulation. For instance, amillennial theologian Herman Hanko notes that postmillennialism “stands in sharp contrast with that whole body of biblical data which describes the days prior to the coming of Christ as days in which lawlessness abounds (Matthew 24:12)” and “Matthew 24 itself is strong proof of all this.” Premillennialist Wayne Grudem agrees: “Matthew 24 is such a difficult passage from the postmillennialist perspective.”
Any biblical eschatological system must be able to explain the great tribulation if it is to gain a hearing. But this is an especially important matter for postmillennialism due to its long-term, historical optimism. How can the postmillennialist propose an optimistic outlook for history if Christ, John, and other biblical writers warn of a time of great tribulation? The very idea of a great tribulation seems to conflict with the victorious outlook of postmillennialism.
In this series I will engage a brief overview of the Olivet Discourse. This overview will serve two purposes: (1) It will interpret this large and important issue in biblical prophecy. (2) It will demonstrate how the great tribulation fits within the optimistic outlook of postmillennialism.
The long-standing debate over Matthew 24 is unfortunate. When we look carefully at the prophecy it is not so difficult to comprehend it within a postmillennial scheme. One problem that modern evangelical laymen face is that Jesus’ discourse is solidly rooted in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, they tend to be so New Testament oriented that they do not properly understand the Old Testament backdrop. We must remember that Jesus was speaking to a first-century Jewish audience steeped in the old covenant revelation (the Old Testament itself).
For our purposes in this series I will focus on the portion of the Olivet Discourse that relates to “the great tribulation.” Undoubtedly, in our modern evangelical context of popular apocalypticism and interest in all things eschatological, this passage comes to people’s mind as they ask: “Are we living in the last days?” “Is our day about to witness the fulfillment of these prophecies?”
This passage is familiar to most Christians. Who has not heard the dreadful prophecy of “wars and rumors of wars”? Or of “earthquakes in various places”? Or the alarming prospect of the “abomination of desolation”? Who has not feared the sound of “the great tribulation” reverberating from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ? Unfortunately, though Matthew 24 is familiar to most, it is understood by few.
Most Christians in our generation and especially within modern evangelicalism, believe that we have just recently entered into the “last days.” They often point to Matthew 24 as a signal to the beginning of the last days. They believe this text even offers signs indicating the great tribulation is about to explode on the scene, punctuating the end of the Church Age.
Dispensational Distortions (3 downloadable mp3s)
by Ken Gentry
Reformed introduction to classic dispensationalism, with analysis of leading flaws regarding the Church, kingdom, redemptive history, and Christ. Helpful for demonstrating errors to dispensationalists.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Book distributors and websites across America today are filled with end time scenarios that warn that the great tribulation in Matthew 24 and the events of the Book of Revelation are about to erupt all around us. They urge Christians to expect the imminent rapture of the Lord’s people so that the great tribulation and Revelation’s judgments might break forth. Books such as:
• Tim LaHaye and Craig Parshall, Brink of Chaos (2012) and Edge of Apocalypse (2010)
• Joel C. Rosenberg, Damascus Countdown (2013)
• Grant R. Jeffrey, The New Temple and the Second Coming: The Prophecy That Points to Christ’s Return in Your Generation (2007) and Countdown to the Apocalypse (2008)
• Ron Rhodes, The End Times in Chronological Order: A Complete Overview to Understanding Bible Prophecy (2012)
• Ron Rhodes, New Babylon Rising: The Emerging End Times World Order (2019)
• John Hagee, Four Blood Moons: Something Is about to Change (2013).
These are only a few of the titles crowding the shelves of Christian bookstores and alarming Christians today. All of these books draw abundantly from the prophecies in Matthew 24 and, of course, related passages in the Book of Revelation.
How are we to understand this crucial discourse? What is “the great tribulation” of which Christ speaks in verse 21: “Then, there will be a great tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world, until now, nor ever shall be”?
Stay tuned! I will be answering these questions.
OLIVET IN CONTEXT: A Commentary on Matthew 21–25
I am currently researching a commentary on Matthew 21–25, the literary context of the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s perspective. My research will demonstrate that Matthew’s presentation demands that the Olivet Discourse refer to AD 70 (Matt. 24:3–35) as an event that anticipates the Final Judgment at the Second Advent (Matt. 24:36–25:46). This will explode the myth that Jesus was a Jewish sage focusing only on Israel. The commentary will be about 250 pages in length.
If you would like to support me in my research, I invite you to consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to my research and writing ministry: GoodBirth Ministries. Your help is much appreciated!
Tagged: great tribulation
Another important topic, Dr. Gentry. If we simply line up the time indicators from Daniel’s 70 weeks, Christ’s guarantee that “this generation” will see the abomination of desolation spoken by Daniel the prophet, and Revelation 1:1-3 declaring that these things are shortly to come to pass we get a clear picture of Matthew 24. John wrote that he was a companion in tribulation in Revelation 1:9. In Revelation 22:10 John is told to “seal not” the prophecy because the time is at hand, however in Daniel 12:4 Daniel is told to seal until the time of the end. Daniel was writing 500 years before Christ (not at hand) and John wrote 2000 years since Christ (at hand). Something just doesn’t add up when we ignore time indicators given in Scripture. Part of the confirmation that the Bible is a prophetic book is that things come to pass exactly as God says. In Luke 2 people were looking for the birth of the Messiah because of taking the time indicators in Daniel’s 70 weeks for what they are. Also, in Matthew 24:21 the tribulation simply cannot be a tribulation at the end of time because there is a future time after this tribulation according to the verse itself.
Hi Dr. Gentry,
You are correct. Many Christians believe we are in the end times. Unfortunately, every generation, including that of the first century, believed they were in the last days. They were all woefully misinformed and wrong. I’m no psychologist, but the mindset of believing that ‘all these things’ are signs of the end and of Jesus’ return, and that ‘these things’ must take place, is not only negative and incorrect, it is the reason why Christians will sit on their hands and watch these things happen.
I actually believe we are in “the last days,” therefore “the end times.” But not in the way dispensationalists do. I believe Christ divides history, so that before Christ is the “former days” and after Christ is “the last days” (Heb. 1:1-2). Thus, we have been in the last days, the end times since Christ was on earth. We are now awaiting “the last day” and its resurrection (John 6).
A helpful commentary on Daniel: Jay Rogers, In The Days of These Kings.
That’s fair enough 🙂
Thanks for the tip. I think I will buy it. An interesting thing – I had so many books about eschatology that I had accumulated since 1985. Life happened and in 1992 I had to move back to Florida from St. Louis and so I had to sell many of them as I could only fit so many in my car. In the meantime, I knew I had to write a book of my own (The Harlot). Long story short – I have not bought any new books in years because I had to start writing and stop reading. Generally, I didn’t see and “new” information that had come out to change the overall differences of interpretation. I published my book. How did you know I was writing a new on, this time on Daniel? (I’m being facetious). Yes, Jay Rogers’ book looks like it would be a good reference piece. Thanks again.