CHOOSE to LISTEN

by Don Stoner

Luke 19:41-44:
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."

Matthew 16:28:
"Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

(online draft with working links: http://dstoner.net/preterism/choosetolisten.html)

Chapter 1. "Jesus, when are you coming back?"

It's kind of strange that people keep asking this same old question, nearly 2000 years after Jesus already answered it. Consider the following series of facts: 1) Jesus immediately answered this question back when his disciples first asked it, 2) His detailed answer filled nearly an entire chapter in the three separate Gospels which recorded it, 3) All three copies are in close agreement, and 4) The subject was also covered in many other places throughout the Bible.

For roughly the first four decades of my life, my understanding of this question could be fully explained by the fact that I was a "dispensationalist." In hindsight, this might seem to be particularly odd, because, during those decades, I had no idea what the word "dispensationalist" even meant, nor did I have any ideas about whether there might be other possible beliefs a person might hold. During those decades, I asked Jesus this same question regularly. So have many others.

Since this time I have come to a different understanding -- one which answered many of the questions which had bothered me. Here, I will attempt to explain that different understanding to you.

We will start by taking a detailed look at the answer which Jesus gave, where it is thrice recorded in the Gospels. All three of the accounts begin with the question's historical context:

Matthew 24:1-2:
24:1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

Mark 13:1-2:
13:1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" 2 "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

Luke 21:5-6:
21:5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down."

In each one of these accounts, Jesus told his disciples about the coming destruction of the temple (which, according to Matthew and Mark, they were then leaving). A little while later, some of those disciples asked Jesus a few questions concerning when this event, and a few other related things, were going to happen:

Matthew 24:3:
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

Mark 13:3-4:
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?"

Luke 21:7:
7 "Teacher," they asked, "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place."

In Matthew, these questions concerned three specific events : 1) When will this happen? 2) What will be the sign of your coming? And 3) [What will be the sign] of the end of the age? Mark and Luke merely asked "when will these things happen?" (plural). Either way, all three accounts repeated the request for a specific "sign" which would tip them off when these events would come to pass. Mark and Luke added the phrase "about to," focusing on a sign which would immediately precede events including Jesus' coming, and the end of the age.

Jesus answered them in all three accounts. In each account, he began by telling his disciples that these things would not happen immediately. He also warned, in all three accounts, not to let anyone deceive them.

Matthew 24:4-8:
4 Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

Mark 13:5-8:
5 Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

Luke 21:8-11:
8 He replied: "Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” 10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

In those verses, Jesus addressed coming events which did not need to frighten or alarm the disciples. In the next few verses He focused on coming trouble for the disciples themselves. In particular, Jesus contrasted the threat of physical death with the reward of eternal spiritual life for those who stuck it out until the end.

Matthew 24:9-14:
9 "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Mark 13:9-13:
9 "You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Luke 21:12-19:
12 "But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

Among the milestones to be accomplished along the path to “the end of the age,” the gospel was to be preached “in the whole world,” or “to all nations.” What does this mean? Paul used similar language to this when he described the spread of the gospel:

Romans 1:8:
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.

Colossians 1:23:
23 If you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Paul’s ministry spanned the time period from his conversion in Acts 9 (about AD 34) until his final trip to Rome in Acts 28 (about AD 62). Does this mean Jesus’ milestone had already been reached in the first century? If we are to apply consistent standards for interpreting Scripture, that would seem to be the proper conclusion.

However, it seems obvious to us that Paul’s words were not intended to be understood globally. This is how language is used, and how it is expected to be understood. The only remaining question is whether we would be justified in using the obviously appropriate standard when interpreting Paul’s words, while also insisting that Jesus’ use of the same words must be understood to include the entire planet. Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to use a consistent standard?

It may still be a little too early to answer this question with any confidence. For the present, we will allow that this question might be answered either way. We will be in a better position to make a decision after we have studied more of the relevant information.


Chapter 2. Two different versions of the "sign"

In the next few verses, Jesus finally identified the requested “sign” (of “his coming” and of “the end of the age”). He further explained, as the disciples had requested, that this sign would immediately precede the events in question. More specifically, in Matthew and Mark, Jesus warned that they should not even take time to pack before putting their response into gear. Also notice that here we encounter an odd difference between the version of this “sign,” as it was recorded in both Matthew and Mark, and the version which was recorded in Luke:

Matthew 24:15-18:
15 "So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.

Mark 13:14-16:
14 "When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.

Luke 21:20-22:
20 "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.

This difference (the abomination of desolation, in Matthew and Mark, versus the armies surrounding Jerusalem, in Luke) is particularly odd because it was coupled with the warning that the response to “either sign” (presumably whichever one a person happened to notice first) was supposed to be immediate (no time to pack). In Luke, the admonition for immediate action was only slightly less severe; get out of, and stay out of, the city and head for the less accessible parts of Judea.

If we assume (as we ought) that there is no significant contradiction between Luke’s account and the other two, we must presume that the abomination, reported by Matthew and Mark, happens close enough to the surrounding of Jerusalem by armies, that those watching could safely use either event to time their exodus. We must also presume that these two different partial descriptions were both parts of the same complete description which Jesus originally gave.

If either of the two events happened before the other by a longer span of time than it might take someone to pack a few things (or to go back into the city to do this), then either: Those who only notice the second sign would probably be too late, or: Those who caught the first sign would still have time to pack. This forces us to presume there would be a fairly tight synchronization between the two different events. Otherwise, either Luke’s account contains a defective, or improperly-timed warning, or both of the other two accounts do.

We now have a few questions we need to answer: 1) What is the "Abomination" spoken of through Daniel? 2) How long does it take for an army to surround a city? 3) How likely is it that two such apparently-unrelated events should happen synchronously? 4) How long might it have taken to grab a few things? In this chapter we will focus on the first two questions:

Regarding the first question: we are told in Matthew and Mark that the sign involves an “abomination that causes desolation” which stands in the holy place, and where it does not belong. Matthew refers us to Daniel, and a search points us to Daniel 9:27 and 11:31:

Daniel 9:25-27:
25 "Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.

Daniel 11:31-32:
31 "His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. 32 With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him.

Here we are told that this event will need to involve “armed forces” which will desecrate the Temple in a way which will be sufficiently “abominable” that it would put an end to the temple sacrifices. We aren’t looking for a minor event here. In fact, it ought to be pretty easy to identify.

Daniel 9 provides some math for us to do. Fortunately, all of it has already been done for us by others who have previously studied Daniel: The first sixty-nine (62 + 7) "sevens" are normally understood to represent 483 years (69 x 7) between when Artexerxes Longimanus (464-424 BC) issued the order to rebuild Jerusalem (in the 20th year of his reign, 444) until the death of the Messiah (483-444(BC)+1(no zero year) = AD 30) for the death of the Anointed one. There are different ways of calculating this, and different dates have been suggested for the crucifixion, (see here and here), but it is generally agreed that the final (detached) seven is supposed to refer to a seven-year time of trouble following the crucifixion by a period of time which was not precisely known to anyone except the Heavenly Father.

There should be no surprises in any of that. We are told that the "abomination" for which we are looking, will occur in the "middle" of this detached seven-year period.

Regarding the second question: The first time that Jerusalem was surrounded by armies (following Jesus' identifying this as a "sign" to watch for) was in AD 70 (about 40 years later). The Roman general, Flavius Titus, surround Jerusalem (and then, later, destroyed the Temple). Of course Jerusalem (although not its temple) has been rebuilt, and has been attacked by armies, many times since that event. However, Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to ignore that “first” event – and to wait for some subsequent event. He simply told them what to watch for, and what to do immediately after they saw it happen. This event was uniquely qualified to be the time Jesus had identified. (Anyone who had been born about the same time as Jesus was, would have been about 70 yeas old by the time this happened -- assuming they had lived to witness it.)

A little bit of Roman history might help put this in context: Nero was emperor from AD 54-68. Unsurprisingly, the Roman Nero did not hit it off very well with the Jews -- who revolted in AD 66. Nero was followed by “the year of four emperors,” then Vespasian from 69-79, who all, in turn, inherited the Jewish war. Titus, the commander who destroyed Jerusalem, was the son of Vespasian and became the next emperor, after his father, from 79-81. The Jewish rebellion had been going on for about 3 1/2 years when Titus surrounded Jerusalem. It lasted until after the fall of Masada (April 15, AD 73), three years later, however, this is where Josephus concludes his account, after briefly explaining that Titus had some more cleaning up to do elsewhere.) It will not escape the reader's attention that this places the event in the "middle" of a war which lasted about seven-years.

We may be starting to wonder if Daniel's "abomination of desolation" happened at at this same time. Remember, these two seemingly-unrelated events need to be so well synchronized that neither would precede the other by a sufficient amount of time to allow a person to pack a few things before fleeing. If we are going to understand this, we must know what was happening in the Temple while Titus was closing in on Jerusalem.


Chapter 3. Eyewitness confirmation

Through either incredibly good luck, or divine providence, We will be able to "watch" all of this happen through the eyes of a captured Jewish general named Josephus. Surprisingly, the Roman Titus and the Jew Josephus hit it off so well that Titus adopted "Flavius" Josephus as his son and put him in charge of recording all of his conquests.

Josephus, described Titus arriving at Jerusalem in Book 5, Chapter 2, Section 3, of his Wars of the Jews (recent historians place this event in either March or April of AD 70 (Josephus, himself, puts it in March). This same section 3 described Titus establishing a temporary encampment at “Scopus,” which was described as being close enough to Jerusalem, to have a view of that city and of the Temple. More specifically, Titus camped at a distance of about 7/8 of a mile from the city (“no more than seven furlongs distant”). The final sections (4, 5, & 6) of Chapter 2 described a few disorderly skirmishes between the Romans and Jews. For additional context, Josephus told us that Jerusalem was split into three separate internal factions: 1) The people, led by the tyrant Simon. 2) A radical fraction of the people called the zealots, lead by Eleazar, and 3) A particularly radical branch of the zealots, lead by an evil man named John [see Wars: Book 5, Chapter 1. Sections 2 and 3]. These factions were kept busy fighting against each other – instead of uniting against Titus and the Romans. At this point, Titus is quite close to Jerusalem, but has not yet started to surround it.

That bring us to the end of chapter 2. Then, immediately following, the first two sections of Book 5, Chapter 3, (quoted below) are sufficiently significant that you will probably want to read them for yourself. They record an event which happens in the Temple at this time:

Josephus: Wars of the Jews, Book 5, Chapter 3:
[Section 1] AS now the war abroad ceased for a while, the sedition within was revived; and on the feast of unleavened bread, which was now come, it being the fourteenth day of the month Xanthicus, when it is believed the Jews were first freed from the Egyptians, Eleazar and his party opened the gates of this [inmost court of the] temple, and admitted such of the people as were desirous to worship God into it. But John made use of this festival as a cloak for his treacherous designs, and armed the most inconsiderable of his own party, the greater part of whom were not purified, with weapons concealed under their garments, and sent them with great zeal into the temple, in order to seize upon it; which armed men, when they were gotten in, threw their garments away, and presently appeared in their armor. Upon which there was a very great disorder and disturbance about the holy house; while the people, who had no concern in the sedition, supposed that this assault was made against all without distinction, as the zealots thought it was made against themselves only. So these left off guarding the gates any longer, and leaped down from their battlements before they came to an engagement, and fled away into the subterranean caverns of the temple; while the people that stood trembling at the altar, and about the holy house, were rolled on heaps together, and trampled upon, and were beaten both with wooden and with iron weapons without mercy. Such also as had differences with others slew many persons that were quiet, out of their own private enmity and hatred, as if they were opposite to the seditious; and all those that had formerly offended any of these plotters were now known, and were now led away to the slaughter; and when they had done abundance of horrid mischief to the guiltless, they granted a truce to the guilty, and let those go off that came out of the caverns. These followers of John also did now seize upon this inner temple, and upon all the warlike engines therein, and then ventured to oppose Simon. And thus that sedition, which had been divided into three factions, was now reduced to two.

The two references in Daniel (9:25-27 and 11:31, above) both appear to describe this very same event. This supplies a surprisingly precise answer to our first question. It also assigns it a surprisingly precise timing.

If you had been expecting the mere sacrifice of a pig (instead of piles of humans being butchered about the alter), that would have been due to an historic precedent set by Antiochus Epiphanes (a different evil fellow) on December of 167 BC. This was nearly two centuries before Jesus predicted Daniel's abomination to happen. Although there is some speculation that the Romans may also have sacrificed a pig, it would necessarily had to have happened at a later time. Evil John led the only force which was in the Temple at this exact time.

[Footnote: Although it is not relevant here, it is worthy of note that many people believe this earlier desecrating sacrifice was also prophesied in Daniel:
Daniel 8:9-14:
"9 Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. 10 It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. 11 It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down. 12 Because of rebellion, the Lord’s people a and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.
"13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people?”
"14 He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”

According to one understanding of this particular theory, the 2300 "evenings and mornings" actually comprise 1150 evenings plus 1150 mornings, for 1150 complete days. The Jews used 12-month years, each (lunar) month having 30 days (for 360 days per year). Because solar years are actually about 365.25 days long, they would insert an "intercalion" month (about once every six years) to keep those years approximately aligned with the seasons. Depending on whether or not an extra month had been inserted, a three-year period might last either 36 x 30 or 1080 days, or 1120 days if extra lunar month had been inserted during that time span. According to the Maccabees, the cleansing and reconsecration of the temple was completed on the three-year anniversary of its desecration: Compare 1 Maccabees 1:54 & 4:52-54). Clearly this particular understanding requires an ancient scribal error somewhere in the process (or, possibly, a single extraneous intercalary month in the ancient Maccabees' calendar) to explain the remaining 30-day error. Many other theories have been suggested for understanding Daniel 8, but, as was mentioned earlier, none of these theories appear to be relevant to the present discussion.]

The unique nature of this exact moment in time can be seen by continuing reading into Section 2, of Book 5, Chapter 3, of Josephus' account: (again, without any break in the text): ...

[Section 2] But Titus, intending to pitch his camp nearer to the city than Scopus, placed as many of his choice horsemen and footmen as he thought sufficient opposite to the Jews, to prevent their sallying out upon them, while he gave orders for the whole army to level the distance, as far as the wall of the city. So they threw down all the hedges and walls which the inhabitants had made about their gardens and groves of trees, and cut down all the fruit trees that lay between them and the wall of the city, and filled up all the hollow places and the chasms, and demolished the rocky precipices with iron instruments; and thereby made all the place level from Scopus to Herod's monuments, which adjoined to the pool called the Serpent's Pool.

This is when Titus begins to close in on the city itself, with the intent of surrounding it. If this sounds strangely familiar, it's because it is a quite-literal fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3-4 (quoted by John the Baptist in John 1:23 -- back when he explained his part in this drama which was now approaching its conclusion.):

Isaiah 40:1-5:
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

The LXX gives us a slightly different take:

Isaiah 40:1-5:
1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith God. 2 Speak, ye priests, to the heart of Jerusalem; comfort her, for her humiliation is accomplished, her sin is put away: for she has received of the Lord's hand double the amount of her sins. 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God. 4 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low: and all the crooked ways shall become straight, and the rough places plains. 5 And the glory of the Lord shall appear, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God: for the Lord has spoken it.

This is just a "small" difference in the wording, yet it seems to completely reverse the sense of what is happening to Jerusalem. "KYBD," the Hebrew word for "glory," in verse 5, (see Gesenius p.382, #3519), is similarly "reversible." Most literally, it means "heaviness" (always figuratively, but not always in a positive sense).

This suggests the reasoning behind the title of C.S. Lewis's essay, "The Weight of Glory"). As Lewis explains (p.15), experiencing this "glory" can be either a very good, or a very bad thing. If we are expecting the "Glory of God" to be a universally "good" thing, we may be forgetting that it will not weigh in the same direction to all who experience it. This is tangential information here, but the negative aspects of this event it will become a recurring theme in the chapters which follow.

The point of presenting the history of Titus closing in on Jerusalem, and of the evil man John committing a simultaneous abomination in the Temple, is to show that Josephus portrayed them as being as close to synchronous as these two events could possibly be described. The moment for action which Jesus described in Luke happened at the same time as the seemingly-unrelated moment which he described in Matthew and Mark. By the time Titus finished positioning his army, it probably would have been too late for the Christians to escape.

It is also worth noting that Jesus appears to have predicted the remarkably precise synchronization of these two events, about forty years before Josephus reported them both as historical fact. This answers both our third and fourth questions: (3) It had to be prophecy, not chance , and (4), any time at all wasted packing was likely to be a very serious mistake.

Jesus was asked: 1) “When will this happen? 2) What will be the sign of your coming? And 3) [What will be the sign] of the end of the age? This single day, probably either the 15th of March or the 14th of April (both full moons -- required for the Passover) of AD 70, is uniquely qualified to be equated with the exact signs Jesus gave. There are no other possible candidates for the version of the sign given in Luke (the armies of Titus). The temple receiving irrecoverable desecration also provides a perfect confirmational match with the sign given in both Matthew and Mark.

This may not have been the answer which we were expecting; it certainly wasn’t the answer I was expecting; but it is the one which Jesus supplied in three of the Gospels; and it perfectly matches the answer which written history supplies. We might still be wondering if there are at least some parts of this event which are yet to happen in the future. Keep reading. We only have about a dozen verses (in the Olivet Discourse) to cover before Jesus will address this question too, (plus or minus three verses, depending upon which of the three separate accounts we might base our verse count).


Chapter 4. The worst distress - Ever

Continuing with the accounts from Matthew, Mark, and Luke:

Matthew 24:19-21:
19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.

Mark 13:17-19:
17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

Luke 21:23-24:
23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

I have tried (unsuccessfully) to keep this chapter short. I would have preferred to have omitted it completely, but in the interest of thoroughness, I felt compelled to make it available. The really-bad news is: what Jesus warned, actually happened. The really-good news is that Jesus had already died for our sins by this time.

Although the actual timing might have been worse, the reality was certainly bad enough. In the quotation (a few pages back) [Wars, Book 5, Chapter 3, Section 1], Josephus identified the day of flight (the arrival of Titus) as being on the feast of unleavened bread (at the same time as when John's followers "desecrated" the Temple). All Jewish feasts were regarded to be "Sabbath" days -- putting the flight not just on a normal Sabbath day, but on the Passover Sabbath.

This would have been at the full moon (as were all Jewish feast days). If the historians (including Josephus) who put this event on March 15th of AD 70 are correct, this might cause even more trouble: In the Northern Hemisphere, the vernal equinox (beginning of spring) falls about March 20 or 21. This, unfortunately, would place the flight approximately five or six days before the end of winter. If, on the other hand, the historians who place this on April 14th are correct, the flight would have been in early spring.

Matthew 24:21 and Mark 13:19 warn us that bad timing might cause "great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now -- and never to be equaled again." This suggests something unimaginably awful. It almost sounds like it has to be an exaggeration. Unfortunately, Josephus' retelling of the siege of Jerusalem suggests that this prediction may have been historically accurate. Although he did not tell us about those who actually escaped from the city, Josephus did tell us about some of those who remained trapped inside.

Selecting an example reflecting the first line in these three featured accounts only focuses the horror in the worst imaginable way. You probably don't really want to hear about it. If you don’t believe me, think you have a really strong stomach, and want to add an unimaginable terror to your collection of memories, then the following quote contains the evidence which I would rather not relate. My advice is you that may not want to read it. Reading just the final sentence alone (in bold) may do an adequate job of conveying the general idea:

[Wars, book 6, chapter 3, section 4]
4. There was a certain woman that dwelt beyond Jordan, her name was Mary; her father was Eleazar, of the village Bethezob, which signifies the house of Hyssop. She was eminent for her family and her wealth, and had fled away to Jerusalem with the rest of the multitude, and was with them besieged therein at this time. The other effects of this woman had been already seized upon, such I mean as she had brought with her out of Perea, and removed to the city. What she had treasured up besides, as also what food she had contrived to save, had been also carried off by the rapacious guards, who came every day running into her house for that purpose. This put the poor woman into a very great passion, and by the frequent reproaches and imprecations she east at these rapacious villains, she had provoked them to anger against her; but none of them, either out of the indignation she had raised against herself, or out of commiseration of her case, would take away her life; and if she found any food, she perceived her labors were for others, and not for herself; and it was now become impossible for her any way to find any more food, while the famine pierced through her very bowels and marrow, when also her passion was fired to a degree beyond the famine itself; nor did she consult with any thing but with her passion and the necessity she was in. She then attempted a most unnatural thing; and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, "O thou miserable infant! for whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition? As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves. This famine also will destroy us, even before that slavery comes upon us. Yet are these seditious rogues more terrible than both the other. Come on; be thou my food, and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets, and a by-word to the world, which is all that is now wanting to complete the calamities of us Jews." As soon as she had said this, she slew her son, and then roasted him, and eat the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed. Upon this the seditious came in presently, and smelling the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her that they would cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had gotten ready. She replied that she had saved a very fine portion of it for them, and withal uncovered what was left of her son. Hereupon they were seized with a horror and amazement of mind, and stood astonished at the sight, when she said to them, "This is mine own son, and what hath been done was mine own doing! Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself! Do not you pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother; but if you be so scrupulous, and do abominate this my sacrifice, as I have eaten the one half, let the rest be reserved for me also." After which those men went out trembling, being never so much aftrighted at any thing as they were at this, and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother. Upon which the whole city was full of this horrid action immediately; and while every body laid this miserable case before their own eyes, they trembled, as if this unheard of action had been done by themselves. So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die, and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not lived long enough either to hear or to see such miseries.

Even if you only read the last part, you can understand that this was downright terrible. I can almost hear the question, "WHY DID GOD ALLOW THIS?" shouted from the mouth of every atheist, and possibly from some who call themselves Christians.

In order to answer that question, we will first need to answer the question: "Did God choose to allow this? Or was He forced to, instead?" This time, I "hear" the answer: "God is all powerful! He choose for anything at all to happen!"

One last question: "Can God allow humans to make their own choices? Of course He can; and of course he does.

Here are some of the choices God has made: He chose to create men (Genesis 1:26); He chose to bless Abraham (Genesis 13:14,15); and He chose to bless one one particular branch of Abraham's descendants (Deuteronomy 7:7ff)).

However, this blessing came with a condition: They were required to pay attention to and follow the commands and laws He gave them. They didn't.

They were promised a Messiah (Isaiah 9:6,7), and a visit from Elijah to prepare his way (Malachi 4:5,6), which brings us to the Scripture which was quoted at the beginning of this book:

Luke 19:41-44:
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."
God could have chosen to turn his chosen people into robots; but, given that he has chosen to allow us to make our own choices, we must now all live with those choices.

The Jews chose to crucify their Messiah. Luke records him weeping as he approaches his end. The Jews chose to rebel against Roman rule under Nero. Rome chose to quell the rebellion. The Jews chose to fight among themselves, while Titus surrounded the city. The Christians who chose to listen to the advice of their Messiah, chose to flee Jerusalem.

We still might be starting to wonder if some hadn’t received that warning from Jesus or his disciples. What sort of warning might have been heard by those others in Jerusalem? Josephus might actually have reported just such a warning:

Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 5, Section 3:
... Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us remove hence.’"...

“Let us remove hence,” is archaic jargon for “Let’s get out of here.” There were many warnings. Presumably, everyone will be judged according to the opportunity which they have been given

Could God have stopped it? Technically, yes; but not without depriving us humans of autonomy over their own lives. With a small minority of exceptions, the Jews in Jerusalem, and the Romans outside, were there because of the choices they had made. In this case, most of the Jews who were trapped inside the city, were probably there because they had ignored the various warning that had been given to them.

(Our choices have consequences; in fact, they, alone, determine who we "really are" -- not the "hand" we might have been dealt at birth, or since birth.)

Continuing on:

Matthew 24:22-28
22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

Mark 13:20-23:

20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.

Luke 21: (no parallel information presented by Luke)

Notice that the term "elect" here is referring to those whom God has chosen, for reasons of his own. We learn in John, that this offer (being among the "elect") is open to all:

John 6:40
40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

It will not escape the readers' attention that their own choices are what will determine their own eternal destiny.

All of this could have been (and may actually have been) even worse. The good news is that this life isn't the final end.


Chapter 5. Signs in the heavens

Matthew 24:23-28
23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

Mark 13:21-23:
21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

Luke 21: (no parallel information presented by Luke)

Clearly, these events are not the sort that anyone who was present for them could possibly miss. In this chapter, our goal will be to make this obvious to the rest of us who did not happen to be present at that time.

Matthew 24:29:
29 "Immediately after the distress of those days 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'"

Mark 13:24-25:
24 "But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ "

Luke 21:25-26:
25 "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken."

These descriptions appear to include, among other things, both solar and lunar eclipses which are to follow immediately after the predicted distress. Both types of eclipses are somewhat rare events; however, their timing is sufficiently well understood that astronomers can tell us, quite precisely, when and where historical eclipses did occur. Solar eclipses are viewed from only certain places on the globe, while lunar eclipses are visible from whichever half of the planet happens to be able to view the full moon at the right time. Eclipses occasionally come in groups of consecutive solar-and-lunar pairs, the eclipses in each pair separated by half a lunar month, and these pairs are separated from each other by six lunar months. These groups can involve a sequence of half dozen or more individual eclipses within a two-tear period. As the reader might already be expecting, one of these historic groups of eclipses followed immediately after Titus encamped around Jerusalem. In this case, four eclipses (three from this group, and one other, slightly later) may be of possible interest to us:

1) The first eclipse in this group was not visible from anywhere near the Mideast, but, according to the date supplied by Josephus, it happened about two weeks (or exactly half a lunar month) after Titus surrounded Jerusalem. If Josephus was wrong about the date (and the other scholars correct), then this would have been half a lunar month "before" Titus arrived. In either case, it wasn't visible from Jerusalem, and may not have "counted." (Technical information provided includes both time and location):

Solar: 04947 0070 Mar 30 22:07:59 9840 -23868 69 Total -n -0.1051 1.0619 2S 107W 84 204 05m08s (e.g. Central America, Caribbean).

Pliny (Natural History) mentioned the next two Eclipses (which were within 15 Days of each other -- or half of a lunar month): "For the eclipse of both sun and moon within 15 days of each other has occurred even in our time, in the year of the third consulship of the elder Emperor Vespasian and the second consulship of the younger.":

2) Pliny’s first eclipse (the second in the group) was visible over most of Europe, Africa, and Asia. The entire Mideast was particularly well situated to view it:

Lunar: 05001 0071 Mar 04 22:38:14 9831 -23857 53 Partial -h 0.7872 1.4201 0.4069 296.3 138.7 -

3) Pliny’s second eclipse was visible from a few places near the Mideast March 20, AD 71:

This one would not have been witnessed by the general Mideastern population, but it was certainly an awe-inspiring event – very likely to be widely reported by those who did witness it. It was well-known to Rome.

Solar: 0071 Mar 20 11:58:48 9830 -23856 79 H p- 0.6541 1.0069 34N 21E 49 31 00m35s (e.g. Libya, Greece, Bulgaria)

4) There was one final eclipse, which was certainly visible to the Mideast: (but it was not technically part of the same “group” of eclipses)

Lunar: 05005 0073 Feb 11 03:54:58 9812 -23833 73 Partial a- -0.6518 1.6432 0.6804 289.8 162.7

Solar Footnote, Lunar Footnote

In addition to Pliny’s reports, and the astronomical information, we also have the testimony of the local eyewitness, Josephus. In comparison to Josephus’ comments, a few well-timed solar and lunar eclipses may begin to pale into irrelevancy. Our previous look at Josephus was From Book 5, just before Titus besieged Jerusalem. Fast forward to his next book (book 6): Shortly after Titus destroyed the Temple and the buildings surrounding it, Josephus related the following:

Josephus: Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 5:
[Section 3]
Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them. Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. Thus also before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it. At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple. Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner [court of the] temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night. Now those that kept watch in the temple came hereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared that the signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them. ...

The particular comet which Josephus described is believed to have been the A.D. 66 pass of Haley's Comet. This, by itself, was believed to have been a spectacular event, yet it appears to fade into relative insignificance, in the company of the other strange events which were also purported to have happened. Of course, Josephus' account is not "Scripture" and he as given us no assurances that he isn't just passing along "hearsay" stories. In chapter 6, below, we will be able to see a more adamant style of of argument which Joseph switches to when he intends for his readers take his words more seriously.

If even a small fraction of these stories are true (and we can see for ourselves that God is at work here) it is beginning to sound as if a few eclipses in the heavens might almost have gone completely unnoticed among the many much weirder happenings. We might begin to wonder why Jesus would even bother mentioning the eclipses – unless his intent was to allow the timing of this event to be astronomically verifiable, by future generations, such as ourselves.


Chapter 6. Jesus coming in the clouds

Some of you may have been patiently waiting for this chapter, wondering how it could possibly be reconciled with our understanding of history. (In the unlikely event that anyone has skipped ahead to this 6th chapter, and has missed the foundational information from the 2nd and 3rd chapters ("Two different versions of the 'sign.'" and "Eyewitness confirmation"), now might be an excellent time to go back and take care of that omission. This section will not make much sense without a clear understanding of when this was supposed to happen).

The prophetic description of this event is well-documented in the Bible. Here are a few specific examples which supply enough detail that we can be confident about what history should tell us:

Matthew 16:27:
27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

Matthew 24:30-31:
30 "Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other."

Mark 13:26-27:
26 "At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens."

Mark 14:61,62:
61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62 "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

Luke 21:27-28:
27 "At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

(Luke's) Acts 1:10,11:
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

John's Revelation 19:11-16:
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.

Notice that we have included some additional context here which is from outside of the Olivet Discourse: This includes John’s description from his Revelation, Jesus’ answer to the high priest, and the description given by the men dressed in white to the disciples. Also, notice that Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all wanted us to know that the Son of Man would come in the clouds (or a cloud) with great power and glory. (John does not specifically mention the "clouds," but he does direct our attention up to the heavens, which are 'standing open." He also does not use the words "power or glory." Instead, he supplies detail describing that power and glory.) Make a mental note of this; we will refer back to it, below, after we have examined a few more verses.

For now, we will compare this with its supposedly-missing historical fulfillment: Continuing with Josephus, right where we left off in the previous chapter:

Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 5, Section 3:
… “Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. ...

Notice that although Josephus compared this to a fable, he did not report it as being one. Instead, he reported it as if he, personally, was convinced that it was worthy of belief. This is different from how, in his previous quote, he "rattled off" a sequence of "incredible" sounding "signs" without any apology that it might sound like a bunch of "fables." What was different? I believe that, this time, Joseph was fully convinced of the truth of the message he was delivering; he felt that, this time, his own personal honor was on the line. What kind of evidence might it take to convince a normally skeptical person that a remarkable event like this really happened?

We can answer this question by examining what it took to convince Jesus’ followers that He had actually risen from the dead: Thomas wouldn’t believe the other disciples (John 20:24,25), who didn’t believe the women (Mark 16:11), or even each other (Mark 11:16), until Jesus Himself stood before each of them, personally. In every case, that’s what it took to convince Jesus’ followers He was alive.

What could have convinced Josephus that this bizarre event was anything other than a fable? Is it possible that he saw it for himself? (That’s what it took to convince each of the disciples.) Even if he did personally witness this event, might he have still been reluctant argue for the validity of any such claim? In particular, he was recording this for the commander Titus (who had actually adopted Josephus as a son and had given him his surname Flavius). What would Titus think if he found out that Josephus had recorded such a strange thing? Under what single circumstance might Josephus have felt safe recording this event as fact? What if Titus himself had also seen this? The only way this was likely to get recorded would be if the two of them had both personally observed it – and, more probably, if many others who had been present had also seen the same thing.

Did this event really happen or not? Or more generally: where are we, as Christians, supposed to set our level of belief or skepticsm in a situation like this? It turns out that Jesus has already answered this question for us (as well as many of the other questions we often wonder about).

Here is what Jesus had to say to the men on the road to Emmaus about what they should and shouldn’t believe:

Luke 24:19-27: Beginning in verse 19, in response to Jesus’ question,“What things?”

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

If Jesus (speaking with as much authority as any prophet) has told us what is supposed to happen (He will come in the clouds), and when this is supposed to happen (when the two signs from our second chapter both happen together), and if He has told us we should believe what the prophets (including Himself) have told us, then maybe we should believe Jesus when Josephus reports that the predicted event, did in fact happen, at exactly the predicted time and in the predicted place.

Who, if anyone, has told us differently? For what kind of "sign" might we still be waiting? More importantly, what kind of sign have we been promised on no less authority than that of Jesus himself?

Matthew 12:38-42:
38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

In whom are we actually placing our faith?


Chapter 7. Is some of this still a future event?

As promised earlier, Jesus would soon answer this question for us. We have now covered the dozen (plus or minus three) verses, and have arrived at his answer:

Matthew 24:32-35:
32 "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."

Mark 13:28-31:
28 "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Luke 21:29-33:
29 He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 "Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Here we see (three times) the statement: "Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." Since this is worded so plainly, and since all three accounts agree so well, we might expect this to be understood the same way by everyone; but we would be wrong: Some of us believe that "this generation" referrs to those who were alive as Jesus was speaking those words; while others believe they refer to a "generation" which would not appear until a later date. We will have to do some cross-checking here to determine which understanding is more likely to be correct.

As we have seen in the texts which we have already covered, the phrase, "all these things," refers to Jesus' answer to the disciples question: "When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" This was stated more specifically in Matthew 24:3, than in Mark 13:4 or Luke 21:7. (And, of course, we have just examined the part of Jesus' answer which immediately precedes the verses which we are now examining). As a reminder, here are a few of the things which Jesus said would be accomplished within the single "generation":

Matthew 24:30-31:
30 "Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other."

Mark 13:26-27:
26 "At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens."

Luke 21:27-28:
27 "At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

In summary, the events which transpire before "this generation" passes away are: 1) The son of man will "come" on or in a cloud or clouds, with great power and glory, and 2) He will send his angles and will gather his elect. We can get a clearer understanding of this by comparing it with some parallel verses from a time preceding the Olivet Discourse:

Matthew 16:27-28
27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done . 28 "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

Mark 8:38-9:1
38 "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." 1 And he said to them, "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."

Luke 9: 26-27
26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."

These two sets of verses are more than just similar; they clearly both refer to the same unique event. What is important to notice here, is that in this second group of verses, the people who will not taste death before these events transpire are clearly the disciples who were "standing here" (next to Jesus) as he spoke those words.

So, why do some of us have the second set of three verses connected to the "transfiguration" event (which immediately follows those verses in each of the three relevant Gospels.)? Here are the three transfiguration accounts for comparison:

Matthew 17:1-8
1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid." 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Mark 9:
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) 7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" 8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

Luke 9:28-36
28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.) 34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

Notice, in particular, that, here, the Son of Man does not come in any sense, with or without his angels, and that he did not, at that time, reward each person according to what they have done. The fit is not a particularly close one.

While it is true that "after six days" (or "about eight") was certainly within the lifetime of any of the disciples present, the fact that "some of them" had survived that long, is hardly sufficiently remarkable to deserve the, "Truly I tell you," introduction which Jesus gave it. It seems more likely that drawing attention to the briefness of the time between Jesus' prediction and his transfiguration was intended to be a warning to help prevent us from confusing the former description with the following event.

What went wrong? The mistake was that someone (possibly J. N. Darby, who was a nineteenth-century, Anglo-Irish preacher who taught premillennial dispensationalism and is considered to be the "father of dispensationalism") accidentally connected the second set of verses to the "transfiguration." It was a simple mistake. Many of us (myself included) simply took his word for it, without carefully studying it for ourselves. This was also a mistake.

It seems pretty obvious, at this point, that all of the "future" events which Jesus described in the Olivet Discourse would happen within the lifetimes of some of the disciples. Actually, in Luke's account, Jesus had already told us something even more surprising (back in verse 22). Specifically, Jesus went as far as saying that this event would be "the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written":

Luke 21:20-22:
20 "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.

If we are thinking this might have been mere hyperbole, remember that both Isaiah and Daniel appear to have been describing this exact event in their writings. The significance of this verse in Luke was not pointed out earlier only because the necessary supporting evidence had not yet been presented.

The disciple John was expected by many of his contemporaries to have been included in the promise that he would not pass away until Jesus returned (although not that he would live forever as the John-21:23-rumor falsely asserted). It is even likely that he was still alive, although in exile, while the events described in his "Revelation" were taking place.


Chapter 8. But, what will happen now?

Were it not for the fact that our own futures are less certainly known to us now, than those of the disciples were known to them back then, we might suppose we had no reason to remain vigilant. However, in our present state of uncertainty, Jesus' warnings still apply to our present circumstances:

Matthew 24:36-41:
36 "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

Mark 13:32-34
32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

Luke 21: (no parallel information presented by Luke)

And:

Matthew 24:42-51:
42 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

45 "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Mark 21:35-37:
35 "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!’'"

Luke 21:34-36:
34 "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth[footnote]. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."

[Footnote regarding verse 35: “face of the whole earth.” Would probably be better translated “face of the whole land,” since the text itself does not specify global expanse in the same way as we might have been trained to interpret it – “face of all the land” is how it is translated in Youngs’s Literal Translation. Young tries to keep words consistently translated in his version in an effort to avoid adding his own bias to the text.]

This brings us to the end of the three accounts of Jesus' discourse on the Mount of Olives, but probably not to the end of our questions. Here's one Jesus' disciples asked him:

Doesn’t Elijah have to come first?

They asked this one immediately following the transfiguration:

Matthew 17: 9-10:
17:9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” 10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

Here is the passage which probably inspired their question:

Malachi 4:1-6:
4:1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LordAlmighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the LordAlmighty. 4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

(In particular, notice the threatening phrase “or else!”)

And here is Jesus’ reply to the disciples:

Matthew 17: 11-13:
11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Elijah had already come; and as Jesus explained, the first-century Jews selected the “or else” option. The remaining question is how seriously we ought to take his answer. Has Malachi already been fullfilled, or not?


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Partial To-Do List:
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Isaiah

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Daniel

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1 Thess. 4:15ff

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1 Cor. 15:51ff

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John's Revelation

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