As a preface to this article, I must first affirm that I am not a "full preterist." I believe in a literal, bodily Second Coming of Jesus Christ, at which point the Church Age is consummated. I simply do not believe that this passage is a reference to it. Rather, I believe this Second Coming is described in Rev. 20:7-10, following the millennial apostasy.
That said, in order to understand the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 properly, it is essential to understand:
1) That Matthew 24 speaks precisely of the discharge of the curses of Jesus' covenant curses pronounced on Israel in the immediately precedent chapter of Matthew 23.
2) The text's literary parallel with Luke 21, which is itself explicitly denominated the Olivet Discourse(Lk. 21:37).
First let's look at Matthew 23:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, 3 so practise and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practise. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honour at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the market-places and being called rabbi[b] by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.[c] 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.[d] 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell[e] as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah,[f] whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
Lament over Jerusalem
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
24 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
This text is fairly simple to outline. Following a denunciation of the unregenerate state of the Jewish leaders of his generation (Matt. 23:1-12), Jesus pronounces seven woes upon Jerusalem:
1) That the Pharisees exclude people from heaven and instead lead them to hell (vv. 13-14)
2) That they were guilty of converting others to heresy and thus leading others into the same condemnation to which they were headed (v. 15).
3) Taking advantages of technicalities in absolving themselves of oaths (vv. 16-22).
4) Fulfilling technicalities in the performance of religious duties without attending to the substance (vv. 23-24).
5) Being outwardly pure but inwardly corrupted (vv. 25-26).
6) A reiteration of the previous indictment(vv. 27-28).
7) An affirmation that they identify with their forefathers who murdered the prophets (vv. 29-36).
"Seven" in the Bible, as is well-known, is the number of completeness. Jesus thus affirms the totality of Jerusalem's condemnation in the eyes of God. The last verse of the last woe, bolded in the preceding quotation of the text, is particularly significant for our purposes:
"Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation"(v. 36).
Note that Jesus, following his identification of the Pharisees with those who killed the prophets, assures them that the crimes of their fathers, as well as their own, will be visited upon "this generation"(v. 36). In what manner did God visit such crimes upon "this generation"? Obviously, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In the Synoptic Gospels, "this generation" obviously refers to those contemporaneous with the life and earthly ministry of Jesus:
"You unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here"(Lk. 9:41).
"You unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me"(Matt. 17:17).
"He sighed deeply and said, "Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it""(Mk. 8:12).
"38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it"(Matt. 12:38-41).
And its parallel:
29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here"(Lk. 11:29-32).
Why is this important? Because Jesus as Jesus affirms that the generation to whom He is speaking will experience the discharge of God's covenant curses when He tells them that "Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation"(Matt. 23:36), he reiterates this promise precisely after describing what the discharge of these curses will look like in the very next chapter:
"32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away"(Matt. 24:32-35).
This is significant, because dispensationalists and other extreme futurists insist that "this generation" refers to an event thousands of years in the future rather than in the lifetime of Jesus' hearers. We have already seen how such phraseology is utterly without precedent in the Synoptic Gospels. We will shortly see that the context of this utterance makes its interpretation all the more certain.
The penultimate verse of Matthew 23 has Jesus closing His denunciation by saying "See, your house is left to you desolate"(Matt. 23:38). This obviously refers to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Part of the same literary unit, Matthew 24 simply goes on to describe what the discharge of the covenant curses Jesus has pronounced will look like, and when it will take place:
"Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ’, and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then many will fall away[a] and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The Abomination of Desolation
15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness’, do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms’, do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
The Coming of the Son of Man
29 “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 heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 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. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away"(Matt. 24:1-35).
All dispensationalists agree that "this generation" refers to the generation contemporaneous with Jesus' earthly life and ministry in all its usage in the Synoptic Gospels except for its occurrence in Matt. 24:34. But note the bolded "you" of both Matthew 23 and Matthew 24 above. Jesus segues from the "you" of "this generation" in Matthew 23 to the "you" of "this generation" in Matthew 24. And yet we are to believed that Jesus has imperceptibly switched His referent from His contemporaries to a group thousands of years in the future, witnessing a totally different reality than the discharge of the covenant curses He has just enunciated.
Next, let's look at Matthew 24's parallel with Luke 21.
5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” 8 And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”
Jesus Foretells Wars and Persecution
10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers[c] and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name's sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
Jesus Foretells Destruction of Jerusalem
20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
The Coming of the Son of Man
25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Note the relation of v. 32 to vv. 20-23; especially v. 23. Obviously, this literary unit refers to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., and the subsequent persecution of the Jews throughout the Church Age. Next, move to v. 32: "Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place." Obviously, verse 32 refers to the entire preceding discourse. Does "all these things" mean "only the destruction of the Temple", or "only vv. 20-23"? We are given no hint that Jesus means to argue that only a totally arbitrary portion of the text will be fulfilled. Note also that it is in this context that Jesus urges His hearers to flee to the mountains of Judea (v. 20). Next, compare this language with Matthew 24. Luke 21:21 has its literary parallel in Matthew 24:16; a passage which dispensationalists insist happens thousands of years in the future. And yet, they admit that Lk. 21:20-23 refers to the destruction of the Temple. Likewise, the woe Jesus pronounces upon women who are pregnant in "those days" (Matt. 24:19) has its parallel in what dispensationalists admit refers to the destruction of the Temple in Luke 21:23.
Furthermore, Lk. 21:24 contains a clear reference to the "Diaspora"-theme, according to which the disobedient Jews are expelled from the land of Israel and scattered abroad in the nations:
"The LORD shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them: and shalt be removed [dispersed] into all the kingdoms of the earth"(Deut. 28:25)
And it shall come to pass, [that] as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it. And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, [even] wood and stone. And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the LORD shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind: And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life(Deut. 28:63-66).
One of the most controversial elements of this preterist interpretation has to do with vv. 29-31. Let's look at each of these verses one at a time:
v. 29 - 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 heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken - Note that the following events are said to follow "immediately" after the "tribulation" of "those days", which we have already proven to be the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. But what do we make of the astronomical phenomena spoken of in this text? Is this literal or symbolic? Isaiah speaks thus of the literal, temporal judgment upon Babylon:
The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.
2 On a bare hill raise a signal;
cry aloud to them;
wave the hand for them to enter
the gates of the nobles.
3 I myself have commanded my consecrated ones,
and have summoned my mighty men to execute my anger,
my proudly exulting ones.
4 The sound of a tumult is on the mountains
as of a great multitude!
The sound of an uproar of kingdoms,
of nations gathering together!
The Lord of hosts is mustering
a host for battle.
5 They come from a distant land,
from the end of the heavens,
the Lord and the weapons of his indignation,
to destroy the whole land.
6 Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
as destruction from the Almighty it will come!
7 Therefore all hands will be feeble,
and every human heart will melt.
8 They will be dismayed:
pangs and agony will seize them;
they will be in anguish like a woman in labour.
They will look aghast at one another;
their faces will be aflame.
9 Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it.
10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make people more rare than fine gold,
and mankind than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
in the day of his fierce anger.
14 And like a hunted gazelle,
or like sheep with none to gather them,
each will turn to his own people,
and each will flee to his own land.
15 Whoever is found will be thrust through,
and whoever is caught will fall by the sword.
16 Their infants will be dashed in pieces
before their eyes;
their houses will be plundered
and their wives ravished.
17 Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them,
who have no regard for silver
and do not delight in gold.
18 Their bows will slaughter[d] the young men;
they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb;
their eyes will not pity children.
19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
the splendour and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God overthrew them.
20 It will never be inhabited
or lived in for all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there;
no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there.
21 But wild animals will lie down there,
and their houses will be full of howling creatures;
there ostriches will dwell,
and there wild goats will dance.
22 Hyenas will cry in its towers,
and jackals in the pleasant palaces;
its time is close at hand
and its days will not be prolonged.
v. 10 speaks of precisely the same astronomical phenomena concerning the sun, moon and stars. v. 13 speaks of the heavens trembling and the earth being shaken out of its place. Of course, as this entire chapter makes repeatedly clear, the judgment refers specifically to God's judgment upon Babylon thousands of years before. The language is purely symbolic phenomena emphasizing that it is "lights out" for Babylon. Let's look at another example in Ezekiel 32:
In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him:
“You consider yourself a lion of the nations,
but you are like a dragon in the seas;
you burst forth in your rivers,
trouble the waters with your feet,
and foul their rivers.
3 Thus says the Lord God:
I will throw my net over you
with a host of many peoples,
and they will haul you up in my dragnet.
4 And I will cast you on the ground;
on the open field I will fling you,
and will cause all the birds of the heavens to settle on you,
and I will gorge the beasts of the whole earth with you.
5 I will strew your flesh upon the mountains
and fill the valleys with your carcass.[a]
6 I will drench the land even to the mountains
with your flowing blood,
and the ravines will be full of you.
7 When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens
and make their stars dark;
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
and the moon shall not give its light.
8 All the bright lights of heaven
will I make dark over you,
and put darkness on your land,
declares the Lord God.
9 “I will trouble the hearts of many peoples, when I bring your destruction among the nations, into the countries that you have not known. 10 I will make many peoples appalled at you, and the hair of their kings shall bristle with horror because of you, when I brandish my sword before them. They shall tremble every moment, every one for his own life, on the day of your downfall.
11 “For thus says the Lord God: The sword of the king of Babylon shall come upon you. 12 I will cause your multitude to fall by the swords of mighty ones, all of them most ruthless of nations.
“They shall bring to ruin the pride of Egypt,
and all its multitude[b] shall perish.
13 I will destroy all its beasts
from beside many waters;
and no foot of man shall trouble them any more,
nor shall the hoofs of beasts trouble them.
14 Then I will make their waters clear,
and cause their rivers to run like oil,
declares the Lord God.
15 When I make the land of Egypt desolate,
and when the land is desolate of all that fills it,
when I strike down all who dwell in it,
then they will know that I am the Lord.
16 This is a lamentation that shall be chanted; the daughters of the nations shall chant it; over Egypt, and over all her multitude, shall they chant it, declares the Lord God.”
17 In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month,[c] on the fifteenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, wail over the multitude of Egypt, and send them down, her and the daughters of majestic nations, to the world below, to those who have gone down to the pit:
19 ‘Whom do you surpass in beauty?
Go down and be laid to rest with the uncircumcised.’
20 They shall fall amid those who are slain by the sword. Egypt[d] is delivered to the sword; drag her away, and all her multitudes. 21 The mighty chiefs shall speak of them, with their helpers, out of the midst of Sheol: ‘They have come down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’
22 “Assyria is there, and all her company, its graves all round it, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, 23 whose graves are set in the uttermost parts of the pit; and her company is all round her grave, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who spread terror in the land of the living.
24 “Elam is there, and all her multitude round her grave; all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who went down uncircumcised into the world below, who spread their terror in the land of the living; and they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit. 25 They have made her a bed among the slain with all her multitude, her graves all round it, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword; for terror of them was spread in the land of the living, and they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit; they are placed among the slain.
26 “Meshech-Tubal is there, and all her multitude, her graves all round it, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword; for they spread their terror in the land of the living. 27 And they do not lie with the mighty, the fallen from among the uncircumcised, who went down to Sheol with their weapons of war, whose swords were laid under their heads, and whose iniquities are upon their bones; for the terror of the mighty men was in the land of the living. 28 But as for you, you shall be broken and lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword.
29 “Edom is there, her kings and all her princes, who for all their might are laid with those who are killed by the sword; they lie with the uncircumcised, with those who go down to the pit.
30 “The princes of the north are there, all of them, and all the Sidonians, who have gone down in shame with the slain, for all the terror that they caused by their might; they lie uncircumcised with those who are slain by the sword, and bear their shame with those who go down to the pit.
31 “When Pharaoh sees them, he will be comforted for all his multitude, Pharaoh and all his army, slain by the sword, declares the Lord God. 32 For I spread terror in the land of the living; and he shall be laid to rest among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword, Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.”
Obviously, this passage refers specifically to the temporal judgment God intended to bring upon Egypt. One is invited to simply read through the entire chapter, which I have posted here. vv. 7-8 refers to the exact same sort of astronomical phenomena mentioned in Matthew 24:29. The sun, moon, stars and heaven are all described as no longer giving their light. As with Babylon in Isaiah 13, it is veritably "lights out" for Egypt. Clearly, the burden of proof is on those who argue that Jesus' use of language in v. 29 radically departs from the Old Testament language. Of course, no indication is given of this whatsoever. Here's one more passage from Amos 8:1-14:
This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. 2 And he said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me,
“The end[a] has come upon my people Israel;
I will never again pass by them.
3 The songs of the temple[b] shall become wailings[c] in that day,”
declares the Lord God.
“So many dead bodies!”
“They are thrown everywhere!”
4 Hear this, you who trample on the needy
and bring the poor of the land to an end,
5 saying, “When will the new moon be over,
that we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
that we may offer wheat for sale,
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel[d] great
and deal deceitfully with false balances,
6 that we may buy the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals
and sell the chaff of the wheat?”
7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
“Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
8 Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who dwells in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?”
9 “And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on every waist
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.
11 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.
13 “In that day the lovely virgins and the young men
shall faint for thirst.
14 Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria,
and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan’,
and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives’,
they shall fall, and never rise again.”
We see that v. 9 speaks of the sun going down at noon. Obviously, once again, it is symbolic language. It is "lights out" for Israel.
v. 30 "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."
What does it mean for the Son of Man to come on the clouds of heaven with glory and power? It this literal? Is Jesus telling His audience that they will literally witness Jesus cloud-surfing? Let's consult the Bible itself for an answer by looking at the Old Testament background of such language.
"An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence"(Isa. 19:1)
"to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him!"(Ps. 68:4)
"to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice"(Ps. 68:33)
"He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind"(Ps. 104:3)
“There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty[read: "glory"]"(Deut. 33:26)
"He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness [read: "glory"] before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds"(Ps. 18:10-12)
Isaiah 19:1 is particularly significant, since it frames God's coming on the clouds in terms of imminent judgment. It ought to be mentioned as an aside that this is a particularly potent proof of Christ's deity, since it ascribes to Him activity that is only ascribed to God in the Old Testament. Note, in any case, the implicit premise of radical futurism: Jesus is using language routinely used symbolically of God in a manner radically different from the manner in which it is usually used. This is merely assumed in popular futurist readings of the texts rather than defending. It is evident, of course, that this position is totally indefensible, since the text gives no indication of such a radical departure in traditional usage.
v. 31 - And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
The sending out of angels has a great deal of Old Testament precedent. For example, Zechariah 6:1-6:
6 Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out from between two mountains. And the mountains were mountains of bronze. 2 The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses, 3 the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses—all of them strong.[g] 4 Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” 5 And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth. 6 The chariot with the black horses goes towards the north country, the white ones go after them, and the dappled ones go towards the south country.” 7 When the strong horses came out, they were impatient to go and patrol the earth. And he said, “Go, patrol the earth.” So they patrolled the earth. 8 Then he cried to me, “Behold, those who go towards the north country have set my Spirit at rest in the north country.”
Our Zechariah text and our Matthew 24 text have their obvious literary parallels in Revelation 6-7:
Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.
3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.
5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart[a] of wheat for a denarius,[b] and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”
7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
Compare the bolded text with the variously described angelic horsemen in Zechariah 6:1-6. The notion that angels minister on behalf of God is common through John's apocalypse, and in Second Temple Judaism in general. Now watch as John segues into Revelation 7:
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants[f] of our God on their foreheads.” 4 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
5 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
6 12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
7 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
8 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
A Great Multitude from Every Nation
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
We thus have clear biblical precedent for angels being used of God to gather the elect from the four corners/four winds of the Earth. Matthew 24:31 is perfectly comprehensible, taken as Christ's progressive conversion of the nations throughout the Church Age, before His return, as postmillennialists and amillennialists alike have typically understood it.
But why understand the 144,000 as referring to the elect? First, there is biblical precedent elsewhere in Revelation for understanding multiples of tens multiplied with other numbers in a symbolic manner. For example, I know of no one who interprets Rev. 14:20 as teaching that 1,400 stadia of blood will literally flood any city. Rather, the text is understood as a multiplication of 4 (for the four corners of the earth) and 10 (to emphasize completeness) in the totality of destruction as resulting from Christ's judgment. In this context, the multiplication is that of 12 and 12 multiplied by 10, to symbolize the completeness of the conversion of the Church. Next, there is the literary context. John often presents a symbolic picture whose meaning becomes clear from two contrasting pictures. For example, the declaration that the Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered is pictured in immediate juxtaposition with the image of Christ as a Lamb. Likewise, the "new heavens and new earth" is immediate contrasted with a "city" and then portrayed as an Edenic garden and then a Temple. Likewise, Rev. 7:1-8 speaks of 144,000 converts from 12 tribes, which is then contrasted with converts from all around the world.
Finally, we interpret it in such a manner according to the absurdity of the contrary. Ezekiel 48:1-7, the prophetic text of which Rev. 7 is a fulfillment, includes Dan among the restored tribes. Yet Dan is not included in Rev. 7, presumably because of their apostasy. What are we to make of this? Either this is a failed prophecy and our faith is in vain, or we are open theists and not Calvinists. Clearly neither option is an option. The obvious alternative is simply accepting that John is spiritualizing this passage, as he repeatedly does with Ezekiel 38-48 throughout the entire Apocalypse, as is well-known. We therefore hold that the gathering of the elect from all nations in Matthew 24:31 refers to the gradual conversion of the elect throughout the Church Age rather than to the simultaneous and sudden translation of all of the elect into glory.
Finally, a word on those who attempt to argue that some of Matthew 24 is fulfilled and other parts are future. A brief comparison of Matthew 24 with Luke 17 disabuses us of this belief. Luke 17:23, 24, 25, 31, and 37 all have parallels in the first part of Matthew 24 (vv. 23, 27, 34, 17, and 28, respectively) as well as the second part of Matthew 24; Matt. 24:37, 38, 39, 41l 40 have their parallels in Luke 17:26, 27, 30, 34 and 36, respectively.