Here’s another friendly challenge to the assumed validity of todays’ most popular Christian Eschatology; (Dispensational) Premillennial Eschatology. In my previous article on End-Times, I noted how pop-eschatology presents the view of a struggling end-times church that cannot overcome the satanic secular world order. In this article, I would like to challenge one small interpretation “trick” used in Dispensational eschatology. The following verses for consideration are a foundational aspect of the Dispensational system:
(Matt. 24:33) “So you also, when you see all these things, know that the time is near, at the very doors.”
(vs. 34) “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled.”
Since, most dispensationalists claim to hold to a ‘literal interpretation’ of the Bible, let’s see how that holds up. If that truly is the case, then why do they change the obvious and contextual meaning of the phrases “these things” (Mt 24:33) and “this generation” (Mt. 24: 34) by placing them in the distant future?
Let’s look at the phrase “this generation” first. In context, the text literally relates to the generation to whom Jesus is talking to, the first-generation believers. It contextually speaks to the near future, not the distant future. As Jesus also told them, “…when YOU see all ‘these things,’ recognize that He is near, right at the door.” Throughout the chapter Jesus refers to YOU, such as: do you not see (v.2); I say to you (v.2); take heed no one deceives you (v.4); you will hear (v.6); see that you are not troubled (v.6); they will deliver you up (v.9); you will be hated (v.9); when you see (v.15) I have told you beforehand (v.25); if they say to you (v.26); etc.
By changing the actual meaning of these phrases into a figurative or abstract interpretation – it ignores the plain contextual and literal interpretation of the whole text. It is a mischievous ‘slight-of-hand’ that changes the meaning and context of the entire segment of text. It is thus made figurative and its true contextual meaning altered to presuppose a ‘distant future’ context.
It seems clear, in context, when Jesus refers to “this generation” He means His present audience, His contemporaries. Not a distant “future generation,” nor ‘another generation,’ nor a certain type of generation.
As F. F. Bruce stated it (1983): “The phrase ‘this generation’ is found too often on Jesus’ lips in this literal sense for us to suppose that it suddenly takes on a different meaning in the saying we are now examining. Moreover, if the generation of the end-time had been intended, ‘that generation’ would have been a more natural way of referring to it than ‘this generation.”
Let’s move on to the phrase “these things” in Matthew 24: 33. Again we have the same problem of putting this term into the distant future when Jesus is referring to the near future. How do we know? We have learned this from the Bible and from the secular histories of that period that wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes (Matt. 27:4; 28:2; Acts 16:26), famines (Acts 11:28), false prophets (1 John 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1), tribulation (Rev. 1:9), and the gospel being preached throughout all the world (Rom. 1:8; 16:27–28; Col. 1:6, 23; 1 Tim 3:16) did take place before the Romans sacked the city of Jerusalem and tore down the Temple, stone by stone, just as Jesus predicted, would soon happen? (Matt. 23: 36; 24:2)
It seems clear, when these verses are viewed in their proper context, “this generation” and “these things” refer to Jesus’ first-century contemporaries. He was informing and warning His present audience of things soon to come.
These two examples seem to be very small and almost insignificant. As short phrases, they are easy to overlook, and it’s easy to assume a preconceived meaning. But, it demonstrates that proper context is of utmost importance and can have huge implications as theologies are developed. Dispensationalism has over many years used many other false interpretations, applications, and implications that are not in proper context.
The overall literal interpretation of Matthew 24 generally describes events for the near future; the 1st century destruction of the Jewish Temple; the close of the (Old Covenant) Temple system; the first century Great Tribulation; the Abomination of Desolation; and Jesus return for His judgment upon Israel. Matthew 24 correlates to the 2nd Epistle of Peter, which was also a warning to the first century church concerning false teachers (all of chap. 2), the last days (3: 2), the day of judgment (3: 7), the day of the Lord (3: 10), and the day of God (3: 12). Peter’s 2nd Epistle is a reminder (v. 3: 1) to the first-century believers to beware and to remain steadfast in the last days.
Let’s look at some other interesting phrases by Jesus about His ‘coming again’ to His disciples. In John chapter 14: 19 Jesus says to Philip “A little while longer and the world will see me no more, but you will see me.” (Jesus said this just prior to his crucifixion) Then Judas (not Iscariot) said, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”
As Jesus replied (in verses 23-29), “You heard Me say to you, I am going away and I will come to you.’ Jesus then described ‘His return’ as being through the Holy Spirit, whom He was sending. Jesus went into more detail on this in John chapter 16, saying “I will see you again’ and will be manifested through the Holy Spirit. Jesus was speaking of the Day of Pentecost, when believers would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. For Jesus, Pentecost was His return to His disciples via the Holy Spirit; not a physical return, but a return in and of the Spirit.
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter proclaimed it to be a fulfillment of a prophecy by the prophet Joel. Peter quoted from the Book of Joel (2: 28-32; also in Acts 2: 17-21) which says in part; …”in the last days…I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh” (v.28) ”The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and notable Day of the Lord” (v.31). Notice in Joel’s prophecy, “the last days” and “the Day of the Lord” are also synonymous with the Day of Pentecost.
Further, the ‘last days’ language and the ‘coming again’ of Jesus also reappear in the days leading up to the destruction of the Temple and Jesus ‘judgment’ upon Israel. (Which is described in Matthew 24, verses 26-44). This ‘judgment’ is also referred to as the coming of the Son of Man (vs. 27).
In Matthew 24: 21, Jesus said, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, and never will be.” The great tribulation of the first-century was the destruction and judgment of Jerusalem/Israel, by Jesus; and there will never be another like it. Yes, there will be troubles, persecutions, and minor tribulations, but Jesus has empowered His church to overcome them all through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“This Generation” and “These Things” interpretation from Gary DeMar.
See also, “The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity’ by Philip Jenkins, 2011.