PMW 2020-050 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

This is our fourth installment on the great tribulation in postmillennial eschatology. We are currently surveying Matthew 24 and its prepartory signs to the great tribulation, showing that these signs occurred historically in the first century.

We come now to Matthew 24:7b where he declares that “in various places there will be famines.” Famines are easy to document in biblical world of the first century where they were particularly devastating. For instance, in Acts 11:28 we read of Agabus’ prophecy of a “great famine” that occurs during the reign of Claudius (AD 50s): “There stood up one of them named Agabus and signified by the Spirit that there should be great famine throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.” This is probably the famine Josephus mentions as striking Jerusalem: “A famine did oppress them at that time, and many people died for want of what was necessary to procure food withal” (Antiquities 20:2:5 §51).

Classical writers testify to the widespread, recurring famines in the AD 50s and into the 60s. We discover these in the works of Suetonius, Dio Cassius, Eusebius, and Orosius. For instance, speaking of Rome in AD 51 Tacitus writes: “This year witnessed many prodigies . . . . Further portents were seen in a shortage of corn, resulting in famine. . . . It was established that there was no more than fifteen days’ supply of food in the city.” (Annals 12:43)

As noted above Josephus speaks of the famine in Jerusalem (Antiquities 20:2:5) which he later calls “the great famine” (Antiquities 20:5:2 §101). He mentions others (Antiquities 20:5:2 §101; Jewish War 3:7:11 §180; 4:1:9 §62; 6:3:3).

Matthew 24:7c adds: “in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.” A particularly dreadful quake shakes Jerusalem in AD 67. Josephus records this frightful catastrophe: “There broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, and continual lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake” (Jewish War 4:4:5 §286).

The Olivet Discourse Made Easy

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:

Tacitus mentions earthquakes in Crete, Rome, Apamea, Phrygia, Campania, Laodicea (of Revelation fame) and Pompeii during the time just before Jerusalem’s destruction. Severe earthquakes plague the reigns of the Emperors Caligula (AD 37–41) and Claudius (AD 41–54). According to Seneca (ca. 4 BC—AD 65), others occur in Asia, Achaia, Syria, and Macedonia. Of this era, Ellicott’s commentary observes: “Perhaps no period in the world’s history has ever been so marked by these convulsions as that which intervenes between the Crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem.”

Persecution and apostasy

In Matthew 24:9 and 10 Jesus warns of persecution and apostasy:

“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one

Almost every chapter of Acts details the persecutions the church endures in those early years: “And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1; cp. Acts 4:27; 16:20; 17:7; 18:12; 21:11; 24:1–9; 25:1–2).

Perilous Times: A Study in Eschatological Evil (by Ken Gentry)

Technical studies on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks, the great tribulation, Paul’s Man of Sin, and John’s Revelation.

See more study materials at:

Quite naturally a result of severe persecution is apostasy. John writes of apostasy in the first century: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19; cp. 2 and 3 John). The Epistle to the Hebrews indicates a sizeable apostasy from among Jewish converts to Christianity (cf. Heb 2:1–4; 6:1–6; 10:26–31). Tacitus even alludes to apostasy during the Neronic persecution: “First, Nero had self-acknowledged Christians arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers of others were condemned” (Tacitus, Annals 15).


Thus, a quick survey of the biblical and the historical records show that many of the prophecies in Matthew 24 come to pass in the first century. This fits perfectly with the time-frame of Matthew 24:34 where our Lord asserts: “this generation shall not pass until all these things take place.” Therefore, we see that postmillennialism is not negatively impacted by the great tribulation passage — thus far.

But problems arise in other texts within Matthew 24. So next we must consider the difficulties facing this first-century interpretation. These seem to be quite a bit more difficult to apply to the first century, and are often used to counter the preterist analysis made thus far. So, see you next time!

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  1. Jason Elliott June 26, 2020 at 5:59 am

    I’m really enjoying these posts, Dr. Gentry. I’m looking forward to the next installment because it should address a question I have about the understanding of fulfillment of these prophecies in the church post 70, especially because the “signs” of the fall of Jerusalem still occur today. While I do believe Matthew 24/Revelation 6 is fulfilled at the fall of Jerusalem, wars, famines, natural disasters, etc. seem to continue in some way until the fulfillment of Isaiah 2:2-4/Micah 4:1-4 and ultimately in Romans 8:21-23 and 2 Peter 3:10-13. Just as leaven takes a long time to permeate the dough, so do the complete manifestations of the gospel in the earth. We do see a progression to Isaiah 2:2-4 in that there are such things as rules of engagement and war crimes (Deut 20) etc. coming to pass. The leavening is almost imperceptible, but when completely leavened we then see the results. How do we know the mustard seed is finished growing? We really don’t know when it is fully grown, but we do see it growing before our very eyes. The nations that have been impacted by the gospel rely on a Christian worldview for their science, medicine, law, concepts of justice, right/wrong, etc. even though Christ himself does not get the credit as the foundation. Once the earth is fully leavened Jesus Christ will be acknowledged by all as the Saviour of the world (Psalm 22:27-29; Luke 2:14).

  2. Fred V. Squillante June 26, 2020 at 7:35 am

    It is amazing how futurists, who tout literalism, refuse to accept the Scriptures at face value when they state unequivocally that certain things “are.” That would be, particularly, Acts 8:1, which you correctly cite as stating the great persecution broke out that day in Jerusalem. It is the obvious fulfillment of the great tribulation prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24: 21, which Daniel foretold as the time of distress (Daniel 12:1). Another amazing aspect of Daniel in that same verse is the “rescue” of those written in the book. That can only mean the resurrection, so Daniel was prophesying the apex of history – the time of Christ, His resurrection, and the persecution. But the literalists say, “No, no, that’s not it; it’s this,” as they create fanciful scenarios out of whole cloth. Truly amazing.

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