PMW 2020-053 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is my final installment in this series on the great tribulation as understood within postmillennialism. We come now to a few more difficult texts.
In Matthew 24:27 Jesus states: “For just as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” This is the sort of language we expect regarding the second coming of Christ, when he comes publicly and gloriously to conclude world history. Did Christ come like lightning in AD 70: How can this sort of language apply to AD 70?
We must understand this declaration in terms of the context. The Lord had just cautioned his disciples: “If therefore they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go forth, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them” (Matt 24:26). We must recall Josephus’ report in Jewish Wars 2:13:5 [261–62] cited above that records an episode in which an Egyptian false prophet arose in the wilderness claiming a great deliverance.
Jesus dismisses such by stating that when he physically comes again to the earth, it will be an unmistakable event: “For just as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matt 24:27). The “for” (gar) here shows that he is giving the reason why his disciples should not think he is off in some wilderness or in an inner room somewhere. When he does return in his second coming, it will be as visible and dramatic as a lightning flashing.
He Shall Have Dominion
(paperback by Kenneth Gentry)
A classic, thorough explanation and defense of postmillennialism (600+ pages). Complete with several chapters answering specific objections.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
So again, we see how the prophecies of Matthew 24 find fulfillment in the first century. In that these prophecies are for that era (Matt 24:34), why should we opt for a futurist approach to the matter?
The stars will fall
As the Lord continues in detailing the dramatic events, he states in Matthew 24:29: “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” This sounds like the universe is collapsing. Did such literally occur in AD 70?
Once again we are facing apocalyptic, hyperbolic language. Consider Isaiah 13:10–13 which as instructive for this point:
“For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will not shed its light. Thus I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud, and abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold, and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I shall make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the Lord of hosts in the day of His burning anger.”
Despite the initial appearance, Isaiah is not referring to the end of history. In the context he clearly identifies historical, Old Testament Babylon as the object of this judgment: “The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw” (Isa 13:1). In verse 17 he also mentions the Medes as an element of God’s judgment against them: “Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them.” Not only are the Medes an Old Testament era people who no longer exist, but they would be meaningless if the preceding language speaks of some sort of cosmic catastrophe. Indeed, they themselves would fall under such catastrophic events.
This prophecy refers to Old Testament Babylon’s overthrow, with the Median invasion securing that overthrow. The God of the universe is acting by his providential superintendence; metaphorically he is darkening the light of heaven on this might nation. The same imagery applies to the collapse of Jerusalem in AD 70 — which will occur “in this generation” (Matt 24:34) as the temple is destroyed (Matt 24:2).
Coming on the clouds
In Matthew 24:30 the Lord makes a remarkable statement. Unfortunately, the NASB, which I have been using throughout this series, is poorly translated here. So we will cite both the King James Version and the English Standard Version to better capture the meaning of the text.
In this verse we read a statement that sounds very much like the second coming of Christ. The KJV reads: “Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” The ESV reads: “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Did Christ come on the clouds in AD 70?
Tongues-speaking: Meaning, Purpose, and Cessation
by Ken Gentry
The position presented within is that tongues-speaking allowed the gift person to speak in a known human language without previously knowing it; tongues brought inspired revelation from God; the gift was a sign confirming the apostolic witness and warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem; and therefore the gift ceased in the first century.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
This language certainly could be used of the second advent. But once again, just three verses later Jesus states very clearly and forcefully: “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt 24:34). Thus, we must recognize this as referring to the AD 70 event. A similarity of language between AD 70 and the second advent should not surprise us. After all, AD 70 is a distant reflection of that future, literal coming. Therefore the same dramatic language can apply to it, as well.
According to Jesus’ prophecy there will be a “sign of the Son of Man in heaven.” He is speaking of some sort of sign that he is at the right hand of God rather than in the cold hard ground. They will learn by some judgment sign that he is high and exalted, the one causing their judgment and anguish. This sign is (apparently) the smoke of the temple being destroyed. This will be the sign to the Jews that the Son of Man is no longer dead but in heaven at God’s throne, where he will moves against them in judgment. He warned the Jews that this would happen (Matt 26:64). After all, he promised his disciples: “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1).
Gathering the elect
Another confusing feature of Christ’s prophecy is found in Matthew 24:31: “And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” Is this speaking of the rapture? Did it occur in AD 70? Whatever this verse means, we must recall once again that Jesus affirms only three verses later that “all these things” will take place in “this generation” (Matt 24:34).
Actually it is important to understand that the word “angel” (Gk.: aggelos) can be (and often is) translated: “messenger.” In Scripture it frequently refers to human messengers. We find this usage in Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:10; Luke 7:24 and 27. For instance, Jesus cites Malachi 3:1 as referring to John the Baptist: “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger [aggelos] ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you’” (Matt 11:10).
Here Jesus is speaking of sending forth his messengers to trumpet the gospel of salvation. The collapse of the old covenant economy in the destruction of the temple is the sign that the gospel of God’s saving grace is spreading to all the world. The messengers are overflowing the boundaries of Old Testament Israel (cp. Psa 147:19–20; Amos 3:2; Eph 2:11–12). God is finished with sacrifices and human priests (Heb 8:13); he will no longer confine his grace to a single nation (John 4:20–24). Now the gospel will go to all nations (Matt 28:18–20).
When the messengers go forth and declare the gospel, they go “from one end of the sky to the other,” which means from one horizon (where the sky “touches” the ground) to the other, that is, in all directions (cp. Deut 4:32). They call people and gather them into a new body, the new covenant church of Christ. In fact, this “gathering” language appears in a very significant passage in Hebrews 10:25, where the Jews are commanded to “gather together” as Christians, and not to fall back into Judaism: “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.”
As we have seen in this analysis of Jesus’ teaching on the great tribulation, a strong case can be made that the tribulation is already past in that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70 is that great tribulation. The great tribulation ends the old covenant economy and establishes the new covenant order. As the writer of Hebrews expresses it: “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear” (Heb 8:13).
Therefore, the great tribulation lies in our past, not in our future. Postmillennialism does have a place for the great tribulation — at the beginning of Christian history, not at the end. The postmillennial outlook is not undermined by Christ’s teaching on this time of terrible judgment.
For more information, see: https://www.cruciformministries.org/a-purchased-victory
Tagged: coming on the clouds, falling stars, great tribulation
What are your thoughts as to the great tribulation beginning at the feet of Saul (Acts 8:1)? Btw, I got Rogers’ book on Daniel. It’s been helpful, especially some of the historical work he did. Much appreciated.
I see that as more along the lines of Matt. 24:9 since the “great” tribulation occurs in the context of the abomination of desolation and leads to flight to the mountains.
Rephrasing my question from Part 6: Not to detract from the “apocalyptic, hyperbolic language” of Matthew 24:21 as it pertains to the natural world, but would it be appropriate to read this verse as literally true in supernatural terms since “[t]he great tribulation ends the old covenant economy and establishes the new covenant order.”? (I’m not sure if “supernatural” is the best word.) I ask with the understanding that we are not to expect such a change again until the second advent.
Do “clouds” and “power” in Matthew 24:30, Matt 26:64, Mark 13:26, Mark 14:62, Luke 21:27, and Mark 9:1 (which only has “power”) in any way suggest meteorological activity of miraculous intensity? Reading Matthew 24:27,29-30, it’s not hard to imagine such an event that leaves no doubt to those present that it is the Son of man. If there’s anything to this, then it would seem to align with the picture in verse 31 which you put in perspective by referencing “one horizon (where the sky ‘touches’ the ground) to the other.”
With regard to the second question, you said that the sign would apparently be the smoke from destroyed temple. If all tribes are to mourn and the elect have fled to Pella, which looks to be a considerable distance from Jerusalem, I can’t help wanting to imagine the Son of man as visible across the region but distinct, perhaps, from the sign. Perhaps this is wishful thinking and overloading Acts 2:19. I don’t try to imagine what the He would look like. How did Peter, James, and John know they were looking at Moses and Elijah in the transfiguration? I imagine they just knew in a way that one had to experience to understand.
Last question: I don’t have a hard copy of the NASB, so I’m relying on BibleGateway. Is the significant difference the use of “sky” in NASB where KJV and ESV use “heaven”?
The clouds language is from Dan 7:13-14, which does not refer to meteorlogical activity but heavenly splendor.
I don’t see any necessity in all the Jews realizing the destruction of the temple immediately upon its happening. They will mourn “then,” i.e., as a consequence of the destruction, not “then” as in “the very next moment.”
The word for heaven in Greek can mean either God’s realm above or the sky above us. It seems that the heavenly abode of God is pictured here. The crucified, dead, and buried Jesus is no longer in the grave. The fulfillment of his prophecy of the temple’s destruction is evidence that he is no longer in the grave, but in heaven (per Dan. 7:13-14).
That makes a lot of sense, Dr. Gentry, on all accounts. Thank you very much for helping me understand this more clearly.
whenever the word angel is used in the context of Christ’s second coming it seems more natural to translate it as angels rather than human messengers (2 Thessalonians 1:7; Luke 9:26). Doesn’t that seem to be the case in Mt 24:31?
Almost all appearances of the Greek aggelos refer to supernatural beings. However, not all do. The flowing context of Matt 24 strongly suggests that human messengers are being referred to. Please check my exegesis of Matt 24. I believe the case is quite strong. The only biblical word that I know that has only one referent is God’s covenant name, YHWH
Hi, dr. Gentry
Thanks for answer my quenstion
Where can I find your exegesis of Matt 24?
Several articles touch on it:
But my book deals with it in detail:
Hi, dr. Gentry,
The disciples asked for a sign (σημειον) of the second coming in Matthew 24:3. And this same word (σημειον) is taken up by Jesus in Matthew 24:30 to describe his coming. If the disciples asked for a sign about the second coming, doesn’t it seem right that Jesus was answering the disciples’ request in Matthew 24:30?
In Matt. 24:3 the disciples mistakenly believe the Second Coming (here presented by a distinctive term, parousia) is associated with the destruction of the temple, which Jesus prophesied in v. 2. Thus, they are asking about the sign of his second coming. We know this because it is associated with “the end of the age,” which is the end of history (Matt. 13:39-40, 49; cp. John 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24). But Jesus resolves their question into two matters:
First, his coming in judgment-coming against the temple in AD 70. This is the issue to which Jesus was actually referring in his prophecy in v. 2. So, he first deals with that aspect of their confused question in vv. 4-34 (excluding his aside warning in v. 27, which corrects false notices of his return that will be proclaimed in the first century, vv. 23-26). In this portion of his response, he clearly states the time of this event is knowable (v. 34) and provides signs of its approach (vv. 4-34).
However, second, he then speaks of his unknowable (Matt. 24:36, 42-43, 50; 25:13) second coming at the end of history (24:36-25:46), which will have no signs.
Matt. 24:30 is in the section dealing with the knowable destruction of the temple, which he clearly prophesied. They asked the question regarding “the sign” of his “coming” (parousia). So, to correct their confusion he gives them the signs of his judgment-coming against the temple. Thus, they sought one “sign” but he gave points out that the sign they need refers not to his second coming, but to his judgment-coming in AD 70.
Both Matt. 24:30 and Rev. 1:7 speak about Christ’s glory and mention that the tribes of the land will mourn.
1. Above you write that they will mourn as a consequence of the destruction of the temple. Rev. 1:7 says they will mourn ‘over Him’. Do you interpret this as mourning over His coming in judgement and destroying the temple?
2. The language in these verses is similar to Zech. 12:10.
‘“And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and of pleading, so that they will look at Me whom they pierced; and they will mourn for Him, like one mourning for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.’
Do you think Zech. 12:10 has been fulfilled in 70 A.D.?
3. The bitter weeping over a firstborn brings to mind Gods judgement over Egypt. Do you think the reference to Zech 12:10 is included in Matthew and Revelation to connect the judgement of Jerusalem with the judgement of Egypt?
(1) I believe that the tribes will “mourn because of him [kopsontai ep auton]” (1:7d), i.e., it means they are fearfully lamenting their prospects at his approaching judgment against them (Beckwith 432; Lenski 50; Ladd 29; Mounce 51, 52; Kistemaker 86–87; Witherington 77).
(2) RE: Zechariah 12:10, John is adapting the prophecy for his own use. We see him adapting the OT many times in Revelation. For instance, Daniel’s four beasts become one amalgamated beast in Rev. 13.
(3) Yes, I do. This appears to be the case due to all the exodus imagery in Revelation. Particularly, Israel’s being designated an “Egypt” (11:8).
Thank you for these answers and your other work on this subject.
This idea that the Jews are mourning because of fear of impending judgement in Zech 12:10 simply does not take the text at face value. There is a reason the mourning is compared with mourning over an ‘only son’. No one is mourning over an only son out of fear of reprisal or judgement. If God wanted to convey this He certainly could have worded it plainly in that way. He does so in many other places when the context is the Jews and other nations shaking in terror at the coming of Assyrians or Babylonians. This is the mourning of sorrow and regret. Like David’s mourning over Absalom at his death. The Jews will mourn with regret that they crucified their Messiah. This couldn’t be clearer in the text. And forcing this event into AD 70 is simply poor interpretation. They did not look on Jesus in any way in AD 70. Post millenialism seems to find itself explaining how most apocalyptic passages don’t really mean what they plainly say, a lot like Amillenialism. This is why it collapsed in past centuries and will collapse again in the minds of believers who believe that the Holy Spirit is a plain communicator and knows how to plainly say what He means.
As I stated to another reader regarding Rev. 1:7, which partially quotes Zech. 12:10: (1) I believe that the tribes will “mourn because of him [kopsontai ep auton]” (1:7d), i.e., it means they are fearfully lamenting their prospects at his approaching judgment against them (see the Revelation commentaries by Isbotn T. Beckwith 432; R. C. H. Lenski 50; G. E. Ladd 29; Robert H. Mounce 51, 52; Simon Kistemaker 86–87; and Ben Witherington 77).
(2) RE: Zechariah 12:10, John is ADAPTING the prophecy for his own use. We see him adapting the OT many times in Revelation. For instance, Daniel’s four beasts become one amalgamated beast in Rev. 13.