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?
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