PMW 2020-048 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is my second in a multi-part series explaining how we can believe in postmillennialism, even though Jesus teaches about “the great tribulation” that is to come. In this series of articles we will learn a remarkable fact: The great tribulation is past. Indeed, it occurred long ago in the first century and was concerned with the destruction of the temple in AD 70.
Obviously, if this is so, then the great tribulation punctuated the beginning of Christianity (as the new covenant-phase of God’s kingdom) and has no direct bearing on the end of the Church Age (supposedly lying in our near future). Thus, it does not contradict postmillennialism’s historical optimism. Let us consider the evidence.
Most evangelicals focus on the remarkable judgments in the Matthew 24. And they do so to such an extent that they overlook important contextual clues that go against the popular conception of the great tribulation. And they do this despite the fact that these clues are quite clear and compelling.
These clues revolve around Matthew 24:34 which involves the key observation for a proper understanding of the great tribulation. This is the text we must focus upon; it will be our guiding star shedding light on our pathway through this dark and frightening passage. Let us note:
First, this verse links the great tribulation to the first century. Indeed, Christ specifically declares that the great tribulation will occur within the lifetime of his original audience. He clearly establishes the time frame in which it will come to pass: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt 24:34).
Matthew 24 Debate: Past or Future?
(DVD by Ken Gentry and Thomas Ice)
Two hour public debate between Ken Gentry and Thomas Ice on the Olivet Discourse.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
We find important interpretive evidence in the historical and contextual setting of Matthew 24 that helps us understand this statement. We must analyze Jesus’ statement in its own historical and literary setting. That is, we must look back to Matthew 23 as the lead-in to Matthew 24. Let us see how this context helps our understanding.
In Matthew 23 Jesus calls down woes upon the scribes and Pharisees of his generation (Matt 23:13, 14, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29). They are his antagonists; they are the backdrop against which his prophecy must be understood. As he concludes his woes section, he solemnly prophesies in Matthew 23:32: “Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers.” In other words, they are guilty; now they will fill up their final guilt.
An important reason motivates Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees: they would be filling up the measure of the guilt of their fathers by attacking Christians. Notice Matthew 23:34–36:
“Behold, I am sending you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, some of them you will kill and crucify, some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on the earth. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
The very setting in which Christ is delivering the Olivet Discourse is one of impending judgment upon first-century Jerusalem.
We must understand that the scribes and Pharisees live in a very important generation. Theirs was the time in which the Messiah comes. Tragically, “he came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). First-century Israel lived in “the fullness of time” (Mark 1:15), but they missed its opportunity. They experienced the very era that “many prophets and righteous men desired to see” (Matt 13:17; cp. John 8:36), but were blind to it. They lived through “the time of your visitation,” but “did not recognize” it (Luke 19:44). Indeed, Jesus “wanted to gather” them together in his care, but they “were unwilling” (Matt 23:37).
Thus, in Matthew 24:34, Jesus warns: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” The ones to whom he is speaking (his first-century disciples, Matt 24:1–2) will recognize the judgments in the Lord’s great tribulation proclamation. This is a very clear and dogmatic statement.
We must note that he states here that this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. That includes the great tribulation mentioned in Matthew 24:21. Matthew 24:34 employs virtually identical language to the Matthew 23:36 statement regarding the soon-coming persecution of Christians: “Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.”
Second, this prophecy specifically focuses on the first-century temple toward which Jesus is physically facing. Let us notice what prompted the Olivet Discourse. In Matthew 23:37, 38, we read of a broken-hearted Savior lamenting:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her, how often I wanted to gather her children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate.”
An Eschatology of Victory
by J. Marcellus Kik
This book presents a strong, succinct case for both optimistic postmillennialism and for orthodox preterism. An early proponent in the late Twentieth-century revival of postmillennialism. One of the better non-technical studies of Matt. 24. It even includes a strong argument for a division between AD 70 and the Second Advent beginning at Matt. 24:36.
For more Christian educational materials: www.KennethGentry.com
The very Jerusalem sprawling before him (Matt 23:37a), the land where the prophets were killed while openly defying God (Matt 23:31), those people who had rejected his loving overtures (Matt 23:37b), that temple now being left desolate (Matt 23:38) — these are in Jesus’ mind and upon his heart as he prophesies the great tribulation.
Notice his own disciples’ response to his solemn declaration against the temple. Moments after his warning that their holy house was being left desolate, we read: “Jesus came out from the temple” (Matt 24:1). That was the very temple he had just declared is being left desolate (Matt 23:38). Then as he “was going away” from that first-century temple, his disciples “came up to point out the temple buildings to him” (Matt 24:1b). Then we read in Matthew 24:2:
“Do you not see all these things? Truly I say unto you, not one stone here shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down. And as he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately saying, ‘Tell us when shall these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?’”
As a matter of historical and archaeological fact, that temple to which Jesus refers is destroyed in AD 70. No temple has existed in Jerusalem since that time. The Lord’s prophecy relates to a temple that was actually destroyed just forty years later — a “generation” later (forty years = a generation; Num 32:13; Psa 95:10).
Third, Jesus commands those particular people before him to do something. In Matthew 24:15 he discusses the “abomination of desolation” preparing his disciples for “the great tribulation” (Matt 24:21): “Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Clearly this is not a worldwide phenomenon for he limits it to Jerusalem and Judea — because that is where the temple is located.
We know from history that the Jerusalem church heeded Christ’s warning. They fled Jerusalem and went to Pella as the Jewish War with Rome broke out. The early church historian Eusebius (ca. AD 263–339) records this historical event:
“The people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come thither from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men.” (Ecclesiastical History 3:5:3)
In these three major lines of evidence we see that the focus of the great tribulation prophecy is on first-century Jerusalem and the temple. Regardless of contemporary “prophecy experts,” the Lord locates the time of the great tribulation in a first-century event. Thus, in this one major argument we see that “the great tribulation” lies in our past. But there is more.
But there is more! So I hope you will join me by reading my third article in this series.
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
Pastor Gentry, your alignment of “generation” in Matthew 24:34 with 23:36 is refreshing. This point of consistency is strangely missing in the debate about what this unnecessarily enigmatic term might refer to. I have an Oxford RSV Bible with a footnote that says “What Jesus meant… is uncertain”. The online NET Bible has a footnote for it that is perhaps the most concise I’ve come across without trying to be conclusive. The options it lists are: race (or nation), all of (wicked) humanity, or the generation who sees the (future) end. It’s peculiar how close the last option is to the meaning you put forth in this post and yet is used by premillenialists to mean something very different in that those “left behind” after the rapture are being referred to instead of the first century Jews who did not embrace the Messiah.
It had been my understanding for a long time that “generation” meant “race or nation”. I played Jesus in a high school production of “Godspell” so the reference to “This nation, this generation / Shall bear the guilt of it all” (from the song “Alas for You”) is etched in my mind. To that end, it was unclear when their woes would come to pass. And it never sat quite right that the interpretation of what otherwise seems like a straightforward warning should suddenly detour to inconclusive symbolism mid-sentence.
I’m looking forward to the next part in this series!
P.S. The link to “Matthew 24 Debate: Past or Future?” has an extra “http//” in the link.
Most of the Bible dictionaries/lexicons etc., come from the futurist point of view, so they have to include a definition that justifies their interpretation. Rather gratuitous, I would say. After the resurrection the Temple “cult” is what stood in the way. It had to go, and it was within a generation – that generation. Great stuff.
Doctor Gentry, your writings have blessed us a lot here in Brazil. Praise the Lord our God for your life and studies shared. Thank you very much.
Thanks much. And God bless!