PMW 2020-100 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In this article I am continuing a brief, four-part analysis of Hyper-preterist Don Preston’s book Were the Disciples Confused? In my last two articles I noted some general frustrations with Preston’s attitude in presenting his material. In this one I will focus on a key problem with his argument. I will be (mostly) considering his book’s third chapter, titled “Jesus’ Earlier Predictions of The Destruction of Jerusalem.” And especially his interaction with my thoughts. (All parenthetical page references are to this book unless otherwise noted.)
In this chapter Preston is arguing against the view that the disciples were confused in their questions (Matt. 24:3) about Jesus’ prophecy of the temple’s destruction (v. 2). Yet I and many scholars  believe they were in fact confused when they asked: “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (v. 3). We believe that in this question they erroneously associate the destruction of the temple historically with both the Second Coming and the “end of the age” (i.e., the second coming which brings about the end of history).
Why the confusion?
It would be remarkable if the disciples were not surprised and confused by this sudden, dramatic prophecy of the temple’s absolute, block-by-block destruction, as I (following “a consensus among the commentators,” p. 33) believe.
After all, does not the text itself suggest this? Consider the disciples’ immediate response to his temple-destruction prophecy. After uttering the prophecy, as he is departing the temple we read that “His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him” (Matt 24:1b). Why would they do this? He had just been in the temple (Matt. 24:1a)! And he was still near it (24:1a)! He was not blind. Furthermore, having been in it and as he is heading out of it and up the Mount Olives, he would have a panoramic view of it. Thus, he would know of its imposing magnificence, which they point out to him: “one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!'” (Mark 13:1).
This was confusing to them . . . in light of Jesus’ long-held, often-declared reverence for the temple. Consider the following.
Throughout his life he had spoken reverently of the temple, calling it God’s house. We see this as early as age twelve. When his parents thought he was lost (Luke 2:44-45) but then eventually found him in the temple (Luke 2:46), they asked him: “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” He responded to them: “Did you not know I had to be in My Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). The expression “had to” is a translation of the Greek dei, which is a common expression speaking of divine necessity. Thus, at this early age he was compelled by divine necessity to go to “My Father’s house.” Why then would Jesus now declare that God was going to destroy his own house? The house to which he was divinely compelled to go as a twelve year old?
And when he finally engages his public ministry, he continues to speak lovingly and reverently about the temple. He continues to call it the “house of God” (Matt. 12:4) and even affectionately “My Father’s house” (John 2:16). Why then would Jesus eventually declare God was going to destroy his own house?
In fact, Jesus calls the temple God’s “house” at the beginning of his ministry (cf. John 2:11) as well as at its closing (Matt. 21:12–13). Why then would Jesus now declare God was going to destroy his own house?
Indeed, early in his ministry the disciples themselves remember the Scripture that called the temple “Your [i.e., God’s] house” and even noted regarding Jesus that the “zeal for Your house will consume me” (John 2:17). Why then would Jesus suddenly declare God was going to destroy his own house despite Jesus’ “zeal” for it?
Besides, just two days earlier the disciples had seen Jesus vigorously defending the integrity of the temple by driving the moneychangers out of it (Matt. 21:12). And did they not remember he did this while quoting the prophet Isaiah, wherein God himself called it “My house” and said that it should be a “house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13)? Why would Jesus suddenly declare God was going to destroy his own house? Which he had designated as a place for prayer? And which Jesus himself was defending?
What is more, just a few moments before the disciples’ questions (Matt. 24:3) about his prophecy (v. 2), Jesus speaks of God as dwelling in the temple: “whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it” (Matt. 23:21). This “dwelling” is a present participle, which speaks of a current dwelling. The word translated “dwelling” is katoikeō, which is a more emphatic way to speak of dwelling somewhere (as contrasted with oikeō). Katoikeō means “to live or dwell in a place in an established or settled manner” (Louw & Nida, Geek English Lexicon of the New Testament; 1:731). So then, why would Jesus suddenly declare God was going to destroy his own house where he dwells?
Furthermore, as devout Jews, the disciples obviously deem the temple to be a beautiful testament to God’s glory and a worthy place of worship. After all, Jesus had just stated that the beautiful gold of the temple is “sanctified” by being associated with it (Matt. 23:17). Why, then, would he suddenly declare God was going to destroy his own house that sanctifies the various elements associated with it?
Unfortunately, though Preston thinks he is riding to the defense of the disciples, he mistakenly rides off at full gallop in the wrong direction. For he talks about the wrong issue, while thinking he is destroying my argument. Let me explain.
Preston believes that the disciples could not have been confused by Jesus’ prophecy regarding the temple’s destruction. Why? He points out several places in Matthew’s Gospel prior to Matthew 24 where Jesus had spoken of the coming judgment on Israel. That being so, Preston thinks this should have alerted the disciples to the fact of the temple’s coming destruction. But his “evidence” misses the point. Every single time. Entirely. World without end. Amen.
Let’s consider some proof-texts that Preston brings out in this regard.
Notice his argument on p. 36. As evidence that the disciples had heard this before, Preston cites Matthew 10:22–23. He notes that “Matthew 10 shows us, unequivocally, … that [Christ is] coming for the vindication of the suffering of his apostles and in judgment of their persecutors.” This is true, of course. But it is irrelevant to the issue before us! For the issue before us is: Were the disciples confused about Jesus’ judgment prophecy. . . about the destruction of the temple? Please ponder Preston’s peculiar problem (hey, I like this alliteration!):
Nowhere in Matthew 10 does Jesus speak of . . . the temple’s destruction. And the prophecy of the temple’s coming destruction (Matt. 24:2) is what causes the disciples’ confused questions (24:3). This is significant in that I and (as Preston admits) “a consensus among the commentators” (p. 33) believe the disciples were shocked and confused about . . . the temple’s destruction. They were not shocked that the Jewish leadership would be judged or that the nation would be punished. Rather they believed that the beautiful temple (Matt. 24:1; Mark 13:1) was a worthy place to worship God. After all, Jesus twice “cleansed” the temple to make it suitable for God’s continuing worship (John 2:13–17; Matt. 21:15).
Thus, they apparently assumed that it would survive God’s judgment of Israel and her leadership. The renowned, first-century Jewish philosopher Philo (d. AD 50) certainly believed it would stand until the end of time, for he wrote:
The temple has for its revenues not only portions of land, but also other possessions of much greater extent and importance, which will never be destroyed or diminished; for as long as the race of mankind shall last, the revenues likewise of the temple will always be preserved, being coeval in their duration with the universal world. (Spec. Laws 1:14 )
And the writer of book 5 of the Sibylline Oracles also speaks of the Jewish belief that the temple of Jesus’ day was indestructible:
I saw the second Temple cast headlong, / soaked in fire by an impious hand, / the ever-flourishing, watchful Temple of God / made by holy people and hoped / by their soul and body to be always imperishable. (Sib. Or. 5:399–402)
The first temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians, to be sure. But Herod’s temple was constructed with more massive stones. Some of these weighed well over 100 tons, the largest ones measuring 44.6 feet by 11 feet by 16.5 feet and weighed approximately 567 to 628 tons. And its walls stood twenty stories high. Besides, Philo and the author of the Sibylline Oracles both knew about the Babylonian destruction and yet still believed the current temple would last forever. This hope was rooted in post-Babylonian destruction biblical prophecies. These seemed to promise the rebuilding of the destroyed Solomonic temple and expected it to be a final, permanent place of worship (e.g., Eze. 37:26–28; 43:5–7).
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Technical studies on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks, the great tribulation, Paul’s Man of Sin, and John’s Revelation.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
On p. 37 Preston cites Matthew 16:27–28 as evidence that the disciples would have known of the temple’s coming destruction prior to Jesus’ Matthew 24:2 prophecy:
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
But notice once again: there is no mention of the temple, but rather the repaying of “every man according to his deeds” (v. 27). Could not the Jews and their leadership be judged while God’s temple (his own house) is spared — by his sovereign action and under his providential care?
In fact, in 63 BC did not the Roman general Pompey lay siege against and conquer Jerusalem, thereby wresting power from the century-old Jewish Hasmonean kingdom? And he did this even while leaving the temple physically unharmed (Josephus, Wars 1:7:1–7)? Could the disciples not believe that Jesus’ reconstituted people of God (cf. Matt. 6:10; 8:11–12; 12:32; 19:28; Luke 22:30) might well use this temple for God’s worship? Especially since the OT has prophecies about the temple being everlasting (e.g., Eze. 37:26, 28; 43:5–7)?
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See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
On p. 38 Preston deals with Matthew 21:33ff. According to him (and rightly so), this is speaking “of the coming judgment of the Jerusalem leaders for persecuting the saints.” But again: there is no mention of the beautiful temple where God is worshiped. And this is the very point at issue before us! Could not the Jews and their leadership be judged and their temple spared? Could the disciples not believe that the reconstituted people of God (cf. Matt. 6:10; 8:11–12; 12:32; 19:28; Luke 22:30) might well use this temple for God’s worship? Especially since the OT has prophecies about the continuing temple as everlasting (Eze. 37:26, 28; 43:5–7)?
On pp. 39–40 Preston mentions the Parable of the Wedding. This does speak in parabolic form of the destruction of “their city” (v. 7), to be sure. In the parable, this destruction will be accomplished by a king who is the father of a son for whom the wedding feast was prepared. The father obviously represents God the Father. And the son represents Jesus. But again, nowhere in this parable is the destruction of the temple mentioned. Rather it only mentions the burning of “their city.” But since it is God destroying those ungrateful leaders and burning their city, he could easily spare the temple. For it was a beautiful place worthy of his worship (in the disciples’ view, Matt. 24:1; 13:1).
Then on pp. 42–44 Preston mentions Luke 13:25–30. And we have the same problem: the temple is not mentioned. Read it yourself. Preston is not dealing with the issue at hand. He hits a target, but the wrong one. And that does not count.
A recurring problem
Preston continually broadens the disciples’ question regarding the destruction of the temple. He does this by extending it beyond the temple to either the people, their leadership, or the city of Jerusalem. But he does not seem to notice his error. Note the following quotes from Preston:
“Matthew 24:3 stands in the cross hairs of the eschatological controversy. Jesus had just predicted the demise of the awesome Herodian Temple” (p. i ¶1). Then he reiterates this: “the apostles simply could not imagine that marvelous edifice being destroyed” (p. i ¶2). But in the next paragraph he starts broadening the point: “Were the apostles confused. Did they wrongly connect Christ’s coming, the end of the age and the destruction of Jerusalem?” (p. i ¶3).
He properly recognizes the issue is the destruction of the temple elsewhere: “We are concerned here about Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple” (p. 3 ¶2). “Jesus did predict the destruction of the temple” (p. 3 ¶ 3). But after rightly noting that “Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple” (p. 6 ¶2), he then states: “upon what basis would the disciples have EVER linked the fall of Jerusalem and the temple with the end of the Christian Age?” (p. 6 ¶3).
And several times later the spark to the disciples’ question is rightly limited to the prophecy of the temple’s destruction (e.g., p. 8 ¶1, 30 ¶6, 35 ¶2).
But Preston stumbles again later: “were the disciples wrong to connect the fall of Jerusalem with the end of the age” (p. 9 ¶4)? And: “the question of whether the disciples were confused to link the destruction of Jerusalem with the end of the age” (p. 12 ¶3). And: “when Jesus foretold the impending destruction of Jerusalem, the disciples were so shocked and confused that they wrongly conflated that coming destruction with the end of time” (pp. 26 ¶5–27 ¶1).
On and on I could go. But it’s almost lunch time.  And I am not one to miss lunch.
This is only one chapter of the book, but it betrays the failure of the rest of the book. Preston’s argument against the disciples’ confusion is confused. And his argument causes further confusion to any alert reader. In fact, I am now so confused that I would even ask my readers:
Turn your eyes away from me,
For they have confused me;
Your hair is like a flock of goats
That have descended from Gilead. (Song 6:5)
Now that is confusing! In my next article I will conclude my disappointments with Preston’s arguments.
1. As Preston confesses, he stands against “a consensus among the commentators” (p. 33), “most commentators” (p. 34), “most commentators” (p. 35), and a “widespread agreement among commentators” (p. 47).
2. If I am not mistaken, we are having tacos for lunch. But they will all be gone by the time you read this. Sorry. There is only one bad thing about eating Mexican food and that is: once you are finished, five or six days later you will be hungry again.
3. There is no third note. So you are wasting your time trying to find it! Even though Jesus says, “Seek and you shall find.”
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