Should you want to be ‘left behind’ in Matthew 24?

With the advent of Advent on Sunday, we make the move in the lectionary from Year C to Year A. So, after journeying through Luke all year, this Sunday’s gospel reading comes from Matthew, Matt 24.36-44. This short section of text contains some important ideas and images, but we cannot make sense of them without locating it within the broader context of Jesus’ teaching in these two chapters (24 and 25).

Our passage starts with a decisive contrast: ‘But concerning that day…’ (Greek: Περὶ δὲ), so the question is, what is this passage a contrast to? The chapter began with Jesus’ disciples admiring the temple buildings, and Jesus in reply predicting its downfall. This in turn provokes further questions from them; though the parallel account in Mark 13.4 has the disciples ask a single, composite question about when all these things would happen, in Matthew (possibly written after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70), they ask the question in two distinct parts:

Tell us, when will these things be,
and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? (Matt 24.3)

The first half of the question relates to the judgement of Jerusalem and the fall of the temple; but the second half relates to Jesus’ parousia, his return at the end of this age. We need to note here that the Greek term parousia actually means ‘royal presence’, as one or two recent translations render it; it does not contain the idea of motion so much as the result of that motion, the royal figure in question having journeyed to be present with his subjects. By contrast, the early phrase ‘the coming of the Son of Man’ contains the participle erchomenos from the verb erchomai, to come or to go, and is drawn from Dan 7.13. The preceding part of this chapter, up to verse 35, answers the first question; after his teaching about signs, wars and rumours of wars, and the darkening of the sun and moon, Jesus is absolutely emphatic:

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matt 24.34–35).

All the things mentioned up to v 35 will happen in the lifetime of the disciples; for detailed exploration of this, see my article on the first part of Matthew 24. The phrase ‘But concerning…’ now focusses our attention on the second half of the disciples’ question: when will Jesus return, can we know when that will be, and how can we be prepared for it?

Jesus has referred to ‘that day’ throughout the gospel, as far back as Matt 7.22, where it refers to the final coming of the kingdom of God. Jesus also refers to it as ‘the day of judgement’ (Matt 10.15, 11.22, 24 and 12.36), and in the later parable of the sheep and the goats in Matt 25.31 onwards, we learn that the ‘Son of Man’ becomes the king of the kingdom of God and the judge who exercises the judgement of God.

The high Christology that this assumes is expressed in the following phrase about knowledge of when that day will come: no person knows, nor even the angels (who surely know heavenly secrets hidden from mortals) nor even the Son [of God], but only the Father. Alongside this high Christology is an admission by Jesus of his own ignorance and limited knowledge, something that early copyists of Matthew clearly found embarrassing, since a number of early manuscripts lack the phrase ‘nor the Son’. But this limitation is surely just part of Jesus ’emptying of himself’ that Paul describes in Phil 2.7, and the equality with and subordination to the Father finds similar expressing in the contrasting claims of John 10.30 (‘I and the Father are one’) and John 14.28 (‘The Father is greater than I’).

The lack of any warning, so that people are taken unawares, is a striking contrast to what Jesus has said about the destruction of Jerusalem in the previous section, when he urges his disciples to take note of all the signs just as they would meteorological indicators of the coming weather. But there will be no warning signs for the return of Jesus—something he has already made clear, as a contrast, in the comment in Matt 24.27 that his parousia (in contrast to the Son of Man coming to the throne of the Almighty, Matt 24.30) will be both visible to all and without warning, just as lightning is.

The comparison with the ‘days of Noah’ contains a simple logical structure which, because of assumptions we make about the passage, it is easy to miss.

  • In the days of Noah, most people were unaware of the coming judgement, and were pre-occupied with the mundane realities of life, as if these were all that mattered.
  • When the flood came, they were taken away, whilst Noah and has family, having taken notice of God and made ready, remained behind in the ark and stayed to repopulate the earth.
  • In the same way, people will be pre-occupied with the mundane realities of life, as if these were all that mattered, but when Jesus returns they will be swept away in judgement.
  • Those who follow the teaching of Jesus and have made ready will be left behind to receive and live in the coming kingdom, the New Jerusalem which will come from heaven to earth (Rev 21).

The logic of this is quite clear: in the days of Noah, it was the wicked facing judgement who were swept away, and the righteous who were left. In the same way it will be those absorbed with this life who will be swept away, whilst those who are ready for Jesus will be left behind.

Therefore I want to be left behind, and you should too. 

(There is some basis for thinking that this might be the other way around, in that the verb ‘taken away’, paralambano, is a ‘divine passive’, so that in another context it could have the sense of being taken to God. But the parallel with the days of Noah makes it clear that this is not the case here.)

(It is also worth noting that the same kind of logic is at work in the final chapters of Revelation: the wicked are taken away to the burning lake of sulfur, whilst the followers of the lamb, the people of God who are the bride of Christ, remain to inhabit the holy city.)

The final pericope (short section of teaching) in this passage includes a threefold emphasis that we cannot know when Jesus will return, and cannot work it out: ‘you do not know…if he had known…an hour you do not expect’. The metaphor of ‘keeping watch’ (literally ‘stay awake’) cannot mean looking for signs, or keeping a ‘End Times’ countdown, or spending time speculating, for three reasons.

First, Jesus is emphatic that there will be no signs to look out for—the earlier signs all relate to the fall of Jerusalem. Secondly, in the previous verses, both those taken away and those who remain have been engaged in the same routine activities; ordinary life continues even as we live in expectation. Luther was rumoured to have said ‘If I knew Jesus was coming tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree and collect the rent’. Thirdly, in the parable of the ten virgins in the next chapter, both groups do in fact fall asleep, and are woken in surprise when the bridegroom finally arrives. The difference is that one group is prepared, whilst the other is not.

The image of the thief in the night clearly made an impact in the early Christian community, with the phrase recurring in Luke 12.39, 1 Thess 5.2, 4, 2 Peter 3.10, Rev 3.3 and 16.15, and even the Gospel of Thomas 21 and 103. The corresponding virtue of ‘staying awake’ or alert, (Gk gregoreo, giving rise to the very Christian name ‘Gregory’) also comes in the gospels, Acts 20.31, Paul (1 Cor 16.13, Col 4.2, 1 Thess 5.6, 10), in Peter (1 Peter 5.8) and Revelation (Rev 3.2 and 16.15). This final reference gives as the best insight into what alertness means, since it is paired with ‘keeping [your] clothes on’; clothing is a consistent metaphor for the life of discipleship, lived in holiness and good deeds following the example of Jesus and empowered by the Spirit. As Dick France comments (in his NICNT commentary), readiness is an ethical rather than an intellectual quality. Being ready for Jesus means faithfully living the life he has called us to, something that will be expounded in the following parable of the servants and master.

Being ready for the return of Jesus therefore encourages us to live the life of a disciple, rather than engaging in ‘end times speculation’, in line with the rest of Jesus’ teaching and what we find in the rest of the New Testament. In practice, most Christians in history have met their Lord and judge at the end of their earthly lives, so the promise of Jesus’ coming has always had existential rather than chronological significance. But this sense of hope and expectation should shape all of our life and our prayer, as we petition God our Father that ‘your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…’

(The picture of two men in a field of wheat ready for harvest seemed particularly appropriate. Jesus uses the language of harvest both about those entering the kingdom now as they come to faith, for example in Matt 9.37 and parallels, as does Paul in Rom 1.13 and 1 Cor 9.10, and for the final judgement, for example in Matt 13.30. This latter image is also found in Rev 14.15.)

For the video discussion of this issues, with James and Ian, watch here:

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78 thoughts on “Should you want to be ‘left behind’ in Matthew 24?”

  1. Parousia does not mean ‘royal presence’. It is the same word as applied to the ‘arrival’ of Stephanas (I Cor 16:17) and Titus (II Cor 7:6), neither of whom were kings, and to the ‘presence’ of Paul (II Cor 10:10).

    Regarding Matt 24:34, which is indeed ‘emphatic’, it will be obvious to most readers that the events of Matt 24:14-16, 29-31 did not take place in the lifetime of Jesus’s hearers, and Jesus is not a false prophet. There are two end-times, one leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, to which Matt 23:36 refers (with complete fulfilment), and one leading up to Matt 24:31, which is yet to come. The whole sequence of events in Matt 24:4-31 is chronologically sequential and in that sense the passage is straightforward. We are currently in the period of the birth pangs, Matt 24:7 having been fulfilled in the 20th century. What remains to be fulfilled will happen in our lifetimes, before the decade is out: the period of travail or tribulation preceding the birth of the kingdom of God. That this terrible period is imminent is the clear import of the parable of the fig tree. How tragic that Jesus’s warning is not being received.

    Re the argument from Noah’s Cataclysm that the righteous will be the ones left behind in Matt 24:40, the verb translated ‘swept away’ (ESV) or ‘taken away’ (NIV) in v. 39, with reference to the Cataclysm, is simply <airw, meaning ‘take or carry away’. Paul points to the correct understanding in I Thes 4:17.

    Noah and his family were not ‘left behind’. Everyone else was, and consequently perished. The ark was lifted up above the waters of destruction, and that is where we need to be – lifted up to the marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven. The purpose of Jesus’s taking us up is to spare us from the bowls of wrath that will then be poured on the earth.

    ‘We cannot know when Jesus will return.’ Not the day or the hour, but otherwise this is entirely wrong. The whole point of Jesus answering the question of “What will be the sign of your arriving and the conclusion of the age?” in such detail is so that we might know when he is at the very door. The Church is not ready.

    Readers who feel that Ian’s understanding of Matt 24 does not ring true will profit from When the Towers Fall.

    • Parousia does not mean ‘royal presence’. ”

      You have a point in that the word does have a more general meaning as you illustrate. If we look at Liddle, Scott, James – a standard Greek lexicon, we find that ‘presence’ is the core meaning, but the next meaning in the list is “arrival, esp. visit of a royal or official personage.”

      Given the context of the return of the ascended, honoured and glorified Son of Man which will be indicated by some sign, this meaning of the word seems more appropriate than the more prosaic meaning appropriate to the contexts you quote.

      And surely the wedding feast of the Lamb will be not in heaven but on the New Earth, c.f. Rev 21:1ff.

      • I don’t think that’s how language works. Essentially, the distinction is between connoting and denoting. The denoted meaning is ‘arrival’, but as the dictionary says, the context can be ‘esp. visit of a royal or official personage’, which would then give the word a more pregnant sense. ‘Royal presence’ does not therefore (faithfully) translate the word; it is a paraphrase, turning what is implicit into something crassly explicit. Jesus’s kingship is really a very muted theme until Revelation.

        As for Rev 21:1ff, I thought about the question long and hard, feeling similarly uncertain. Then light came. I would refer you to pp 230f, 234.

    • Stephen…

      “… Matt 24:7 having been fulfilled in the 20th century.”

      I’m not convinced that one can pin down this as a fulfilment in the 20th Century. The kind of events described can’t (can they?) be corralled into that time frame alone.

      Otherwise Noah and family were the only ones left behind in judgement terms. Everyone else had been taken away. They repopulated the (in a sense) renewed earth.

    • Parousia indeed means ‘presence’ or ‘arrival’, and, as David points out, it is most commonly used of important persons. Given that (in Matt 25.31–34) it is used of the Son of Man returned as king, that is the sense here.

      But you seem to have missed the main point: that this term, and the phrase erchomenos huious tou anthropou, should not be translated by the same English term, since this obscures their difference.

      Your citation of Matt 23.36 is fascinating, and one I had not spotted before. The fact that it is almost an exact parallel with Matt 24.34 confirms my point! Everything prior to this verse will happen in the lifetime of Jesus’ hearers; I do not see how you can get passed that.

      It is not at all obvious that the events up to that verse have not happened; I explain in this post why they have:

      On Noah, you appear to be completely ignoring what Jesus actually says, and the very clear parallel that he draws.

      And you also appear to ignore Jesus’ absolute refusal to offer any signs for his parousia; he will come like a thief in the night, and thieves do not give warning signs! That is the repeated emphasis in every single one of the following parables; again and again we are told that he will come at an unexpected hour.

      • On Noah, you appear to be completely ignoring what Jesus actually says, and the very clear parallel that he draws.
        Appear to you maybe, but that is my own sense. I agree it is a very clear parallel, and Peter draws the same parallel in his second letter. A good starting point is recognising that both the Cataclysm and the start of the Wrath are global in their effect.

        And you also appear to ignore Jesus’ absolute refusal to offer any signs for his parousia; he will come like a thief in the night, and thieves do not give warning signs!
        The term parousia (v. 27) refers to the Day when the whole heaven shines with the brightness of lightning. OT prophecies refer to this (Isa 30:26, just after the verse from which my book gets its title, and Zech 14:7) as being the day when the Lord returns to Jerusalem as king to bind up the wounds of his people. It is not the day when he comes as a thief in the night – stealthily – to take his people off the earth for a time. The corresponding passages in the Apocalypse are Rev 18:1 and Rev 15:18.

        • ‘The term parousia (v. 27) refers to the Day when the whole heaven shines with the brightness of lightning. OT prophecies refer to this (Isa 30:26, just after the verse from which my book gets its title, and Zech 14:7) as being the day when the Lord returns to Jerusalem as king to bind up the wounds of his people. It is not the day when he comes as a thief in the night – stealthily – to take his people off the earth for a time.’

          Sorry, can I check: you are claiming that Matt 24.36–44 are about two entirely different events, spaced apart in time, and completely different in nature—despite the narrative flowing and there being not the slightest hint of a change in subject?

  2. You may be right about the identity of those taken away, and I like the parallel with Rev 20 where those judged are’ taken away’ to the lake of sulfur, but two considerations count against it:
    1. The verb for ‘taken away’ in v39 is different from that in vv40-41 so that the parallel is not as clear as might be hoped. This is obvioulsy not decisive given that it is the narrative parallel which you are stressing.
    2. In Luke’s account (17:26-35) he adds the parallel with Lot escaping from Sodom. Those left in the city are destroyed, whilst Lot escapes by ‘being taken away’. This rather turns the parallel round from your argument. Thus Luke’s readers are more likely to see that those ‘taken away’ are like Noah’s family entering the ark (to be saved) and those left behind are like the people in Noah’s day left behind for destruction. Here, the narrative parallel is more important than the lexical argument above.

    • Yes it’s not definitive. I think most people reading both the stories of Lot and Noah would understand it was those left behind, ie those who didnt leave the city or enter the ark but stayed where they were, who suffered destruction.

  3. I think it is notable that the idea of a so-called ‘rapture ‘ is a relatively recent theological innovation put forward by individuals such as J N Darby and popularised by Scofield and north American Pentecostalism. I am not convinced that the early church ever held to such a doctrine.

  4. With reference to Matthew 24:34: The late CH Dodd describes this as “a shortening of the historical perspective” by which he means that the prophetic method of relating profound historical future realities is often expressed in terms of completion *in the present or even in the past!
    For example, Isaiah 52: 9 and 10, the events are expressed as having already happened, whereas verse 13 is in the future tense “Behold my servant shall act wisely —“. Yet the succeeding verse continues with “As many were astonished at you – his appearance was so marred —.” And yet verse 15 reverts to the future!
    A twentieth century Jewish Rabbi and philosopher , Joseph Soloveitchik, describes the process as “unitive time consciousness” He goes on to elaborate what this means: ” The past is not gone; it is still here. The future is not only anticipated, it is already here and the present connects the future and the past. This time consciousness contains an element of eternity.”
    For an NT interpretation of this, look no further than the grammatical structure of the song of Zechariah [Luke 1:67f].

  5. Hi Ian,

    It was great meeting you a couple of days ago at the front desk of the Sheraton. Glad I was able to help you on that bit of urgency!

    In verse 31, Jesus indicates that it is the elect (i.e. the righteous) who are taken. The parables and similitudes that follow this events illustrate that the righteous are taken.

    Please see my brief exegetical points on this here:


    • Matt 24:31 is later in the sequence of events. It comes immediately after the period of wrath and therefore after the event described in I Thes 4:16f, which is not encompassed (naturally enough) in the signs to look out for.

      The verse refers to the ‘elect’, not the righteous as such. They are the Jews (e.g. 24:22), elect by virtue of the covenant through Moses, distinct from the Gentile elect. The Jews still living outside the land of Israel wil be gathered up and planted in the land.

      • Steven

        Your views in some these issues seem very similar to dispensational views. This is not a criticism just an observation. You have probably read some dispensational writing but if not you may find it interesting.

    • Alan, I was indeed very grateful for your assistance in my time of need!

      I don’t think Matt 24.31 is about gathering anyone from the earth at the end; it is the gathering into one people of those who put their faith in Jesus as a result of the messengers announcing the good news of the kingdom, just as in Rev 7.9 the people of God are ‘gathered’ into one from every nation, tribe, people and language.

      See my fuller explanation of the first half of the chapter here:

  6. It’s a great pity that Christians have such divergent views about aspects of the Second Coming. Ian’s partial preterist view does not allow for the Second Coming in Matt 24 before v 36. Previous references like ‘as the lightening flashes from the east to west so will be the coming of the Son of Man’ and ‘the son of man will come on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory… trumpet call… gather the elect from’ are understood to refer to events around AD 70 and not the Second Coming. He is not alone in this view. It has been and is held by other evangelicals of a sound faith, Ian’s main argument is that all the events of 24:1-35 must take place in the first century within the generation of which Christ speaks.

    24: 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.

    What are the ‘these things’? Clearly they do not include the ‘Coming’ since ‘these things’ indicate the coming is near.

    My own view at the moment is that all ‘these things’ (aside from the coming of the Son of Man) did indeed take place in the lifetime of the generation alive when Christ died. However, there is no reason to believe that this exhausted their scope. Most are general things that can be found in every generation… they are echoed in the four horsemen of the apocalypse in the same order. Also it seems to me that the destruction of Jerusalem does not completely exhaust Jesus’ description. I wonder if we can really speak of ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ in AD 70? And if the disciples waited until the temple was invaded it would have been too late to escape the city. Thus I wonder if the OT principle of prophetic foreshortening is at work – the mechanism whereby an event in the near future is a kind of template for a similar but more ultimate event in the distant future that is superimposed on the near event. It is with this later fulfilment that the Coming of Christ is associated (2 Thess 2). Since Christ is emphatically a prophet in the prophetic tradition then such fused horizons is very probable.

    I do find the Dan 7 passage where the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven to receive a kingdom quite different from the coming with clouds here in Matthew. In Daniel he goes with clouds to receive a kingdom while in Matthew and elsewhere he comes with clouds to earth to establish a kingdom. Do we have the ascension of Christ on a cloud in the first and the return with clouds (the same way as you saw him go into heaven) to the Mt of Olives in the second?

    Most will agree that vv36-44 describe the Second Coming.

    There is probably some doubt who are the ‘left behind’. This should have no bearing on the ‘left behind’ books of dispensationalism. ‘Left behind’ in these refers to those ‘left behind’ at the rapture. However, dispensationalists do not see this passage as a reference to the rapture; they believe it is a reference to the Second Coming or ‘revelation’.

    Are they taken from judgement (like the elect gathered from the four corners of the earth and Noah and his family taken into the ark) or are they taken in judgement – as in those that the flood came and swept away. Ian’s argument is the latter and may well be right. The key thing however is the sharp divide Christ’s coming will bring.

    I do find Christ’s ignorance of the day strange (since the father shows him all he does Jn 5). However, if Christ did not know then it would be presumptuous of us to claim to know.

    I also find that all the virgins were asleep strange in the light of the emphasis on the need to be alert. If you are not alert you seem to be lost.

    What runs particularly through this passage (24,25) despite the language of ‘nearness’ the emphasis is on delay… the end is not yet…etc. Don’t fall asleep… be alert.

    • Thanks John. In brief:

      ‘Ian’s partial preterist view does not allow for the Second Coming in Matt 24 before v 36.’

      I don’t have a ‘partial preterist view’; I am reading the text. It is not my view that disallows anything; it is the words of Jesus in Matt 24.34.

      ‘Previous references like ‘as the lightening flashes from the east to west so will be the coming of the Son of Man’ …’

      Jesus point here is that his parousia will be entirely unpredictable and without signs, contrasted with the events leading to the destruction of Jerusalem, thus separating the two. You cannot predict when lightning will strike; by contrast you can tell that Jerusalem will fall.

      ‘and ‘the son of man will come on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory… trumpet call… gather the elect from’ are understood to refer to events around AD 70 and not the Second Coming.’

      That is because ‘parousia’ is absent in these verses, but prominent after v 36. It is all about reading what the text actually says.

      ‘I do find the Dan 7 passage where the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven to receive a kingdom quite different from the coming with clouds here in Matthew.’ Why? The phrase is almost identical! Does he go with the clouds in the ascension and come again on the clouds? Yes, that is precisely the point!

      See the article on the first half of Matt 24 here:

      • Ian in rereading your Matt 24 post you build on the word ‘erchomenos’ being different from parousia. Yet ‘erchomenos’ is also used to describe the second coming . It is used frequently between Matt 24L42-46. Parousia and erchomenos both are used of the second advent,

  7. PS

    Luke’s account is interesting. The reference to the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem is more marked (it was about this the disciples asked) yet even here its hard to resist seeing the return of Christ from v 23. . Jerusalem is trampled down by the gentiles until the time of the gentile (rule) is complete. We read in v 28

    28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

  8. Very grateful to Ian for helping through this much-disputed passage. Your previous piece (2017) on the language especially of vv29-31 is helpful, and supported by France in his commentary who sees this as prophetic language, not literal. The destruction of the Temple is also (v 30) the vindication of the Son of Man.
    I think we need to see both how theologically massive is the destruction of Jerusalem as a sign of judgement (and mirroring, filling out what happened in 586), AND probably how gruesome and horrific was the suffering and carnage of that event. Those of us who have been spared direct contact with all-out war may need to read carefully what others tell us it is.
    It is not helpful to our modern eyes when Jesus adds in a prophetic language layer to help us make deeper sense, but we should not be surprised at layers of OT reference! Given the many scriptural references in these verses, the double question set out for the reader in v3 which sets this whole passage off, the extraordinary emphasis in Jesus’ words in 34-35 and the emphasis in v36 about the change of direction, this ( a pre-70 section and an end-times section) seems to be the most coherent reading of these verses. The passage set for Sunday may still have its difficulties but what is clear is that there is a judgement, and a call to be alert because so much is unknown and we must live with that uncertainty not guess a timescale even Jesus says he did not know.

    • Peter, you’ll have read my comments and obviously remain unconvinced. Certainly it is a view again on the ascendancy. I take your point about the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple being significant, a kind of end of the age – the age of law at least. I hear too Jesus when he seems to say that upon that generation in the destruction of Jerusalem would come all the blood of past martyrs. Yet I think some of the points I made bear reflection

      1. That although these events (leading up to the coming of the Son of Man) take place in the C1 this need not exhaust their incidence. They still happen today.2. There may be a future time of distress for God’s people with an abomination of desolation. Revelation 13 and Thessalonians point to this.

      3. A very significant argument – the language describing the coming of the Son of Man is very similar to other passages about the Second Coming. Vey convincing reasons are needed to counter the strong presumption created by parallel verses. The language used by Jesus here is very similar to language used by the apostles to describe the second advent.

      4. Dan 7 describes the Son of Man going to the ancient of days to receive a kingdom which how is the sacking crushes the gentile kingdom. Its hard to place this in the time when Jerusalem is destroyed. Then the gentile power triumphs.

      5. If those days had not been cut short none of the elect would survive. How does this fit into AD 70?

      6. How in the fall of Jerusalem was the redemption of the church drawing near? How is the sacking of Jerusalem redemption for the church?

      7. Images of cosmic disturbance etc in the OT are often linked to eschatological events of the end.. They are so in Revelation.

      8. Look on him whom they pierced seems in Revelation to have an international scope. Indeed Matt 24 seems to envisage a world wide scope… no human being would be saved.

      9. Prophetic foreshortening is a viewpoint that is falling on hard times. Yet it does have OT precedent where historical and eschatological fuse. I sometimes think our poor grasp of the OT creates imbalance in our eschatology.

      These are some of the issues as I see it. Some arguments are clearly stronger than others. France, Wright, Garland and Bolt are powerful protagonists of a partial preterism as is Ian. Yet we must be fully convinced in our own minds. Anyway… some food for thought.

    • PS

      Just reading Luke 17 which is about the coming of the kingdom. Lukje writes

      (ESV) 22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

      What interested me is that the coming of the Son of man as a lightening flash that covers the whole sky and the coming as in the days off Noah are both taken to refer to the same event – the second advent. Yet the first of these in Matthew PPreterists say applies to AD 70 and the second, the days of Noah, they say refers to the second advent. Where PP’s distinguish, Luke/Jesus unites as one.

      • ‘Yet the first of these in Matthew PPreterists say applies to AD 70 and the second, the days of Noah, they say refers to the second advent.’

        Sorry, you are completely in error here. The ‘lightning’ saying in Matt 24.27 is indeed a reference to his parousia, and offers a contrast with the events around the fall of Jerusalem. There is no warning when lightning comes; there are many warnings about the fall.

          • I wonder if instead of an exact chronological narrative, in answering his disciples’ multiple questions about the destruction of the Temple and his return (which they probably thought/assumed amounted to the same thing, ie one immediately after the other) Jesus refers back to his return or the destruction of the Temple as he continues to speak. We do that in conversation if we are talking about different but connected things (eg ‘but to get back to…’). Sort of in a cyclical way?


        • PS

          As an aside, I believe NT Wright understands vv36 + not to refer to the second advent. He seems to relate it to death and Christ’s coming in our deaths. I hope I have this right. I mention it to show the different interpretations we have to contend with. The age of easy communication can create uncertainty through the number of ideas that exist.

  9. While we debate these points, I wonder how many are alert to the spiritual significance of what has been going on these past three years. The previous topic was ‘What theological issues are at stake in our doctrine of marriage?’ taking us back to the purpose of marriage, with some reference to Genesis 1-2. The very first command God gives to man is, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

    In our time we are seeing western civilisation rebelling against the very created order, having already rejected the reality of the Creator. Now even the reality of ‘male’ and ‘female’ are in question, and the Church herself, heavily compromised as she is in her understanding of Genesis, is tempted to sanctify marriage persons of the same sex. All this has profound eschatological significance. It’s not just willful rebellion. People just don’t want to bring up children any more. Global birth rates are at a record low.

    One aspect even I was not alert to until a few weeks ago – was indeed blind to – was the efforts in some quarters to reduce the global population. My eyes were opened by reading Robert Kennedy’s The Real Dr Fauci, particularly pp 336ff. (Kennedy is one of the world’s prophets; if only we had men of his calibre within the Church!) He shows that vaccines have been used to engender infertility in Africa and other regions for decades. The present vaccines are having the same effect, to say nothing of their effect on mortality.

    I have just finished watching the newly released film Died Suddenly ( Not a comfortable experience, and one could skip the first 8 minutes. I was aware of what it documents in movie form, but for most it will be new. Some of the courageous men and women in the thick of the battle say things that should make readers sit up and take note. Prof. Peter McCullough, one of the USA’s top physicians, gives credence to the possibility of a premeditated depopulation program. Dr James Thorp (another top physician, referring to record stillbirths among vaccinated mothers): “I’ve seen death and destruction like I’ve never seen before.” John O’Looney (a funeral director in England, commenting on the number of deaths he has witnessed), “What my experience over the last two years has taught me is that there is a pure Evil in this world. … It’s a spiritual war of good against evil.”

    The maker of the film says at the end: “Each one of you has a critical God-given role. If you are quiet, apathetic or complacent, you have to stand before God and you have to answer for that.” Perhaps that is something for all of us to think about.

      • … or the bible (I think the crisis in the church indicated in John 11:49-53 – Caiaphas (the church leader) recommending that Jesus (the Messiah) be put to death – looks like a serious crisis – at least to me)

    • I think this is the basic problem with such a view. Some people in every single generation over the last 2000 years have said exactly the same thing. Except of course things may appear worse now simply due to world-wide communication. If you had asked a funeral director 100 years ago during the Spanish Flu pandemic, he would have said exactly the same thing. Yet the end was not nigh.

      • But should not every generation be looking out thinking that they may well be the last generation. Should not every generation be saying ‘the time is near’? Should they not be looking at life in the world and seeing signs of the end. Just as the first or second generation of believers could look at Revelation and life in the Roman Empire and see parallels so we can read the book and see Revelation at work in our generation.

        I do think the internet with its availability of porn and every other kind of sin is rapidly polluting the young. There are all kinds of malevolent forces at work. Perhaps the biggest sin of all is that the whole of the west is a culture discarding the Christian faith. We are right to think that things are heading for a crisis. We are seeing birth pangs and maybe the time between them is getting shorter.

        • But the point is the ‘time is always near’ in the sense of its unpredictability. The specific ‘signs’ which Jesus relates in Matthew have come and gone, so there’s no point in continuing to look out for them 2000 years later. And given that Revelation largely concerns the same period of time, the same applies.

          I would suggest if you were to compare various societies today with those that existed 2000 years ago, there would be little difference when it came to morality – indeed one could argue acceptable behaviour then was worse than it is now. But nothing much has changed. Looking out for ‘signs’ could actually work the other way, if theyre not evident then the assumption is the time is not right. But that isnt true. The time is always ‘right’.

          • Peter

            It is near more than in its unpredictability. It is near in the sense of almost upon us. This is the perspective with which we should live. There may seem to be a ‘delay’ but we have to ‘watch’ , ‘be ready’… in such an hour as you think not (unpredictability) the Lord will come. His return is our ‘blessed hope’.

            I don’t agree Matthew’s signs have come and gone – they are still with us. False Christs, false prophets, wars and rumours of wars, persecution, betrayal etc. These mark the whole age .

            According to Matt 24 lawlessness will increase. Yes there are sometimes cycles within nations. What marks the present world that is unique is its rejection of Christianity. The tides of evil are flooding in as a result. Romans 1 – the whole chapter is being enacted before our eyes. Also, sins are now being legalised and legitimised that were not so embraced even in the Roman Empire.

            As you say there is a universalising due to communication media. I think sin that was in the back rooms is now in the public square. It is the making of the abnormal conventional that is depressing.

            Add into an already toxic mix of cultural Marxism or wokeism the breakdown of economies and the vagaries of war and our world becomes an unstable place indeed crying out for a world leader to sort it all out.

            I may add a professing church that has embraced what God detests adds to the possibility of judgement.

            In such a scenario the possibility of an endtime antiChrist is not bizarre.

            I am getting older and struggle with emotional health what keeps me going is reaching the finishing post. But all of us need to keep our eye on the future; it keeps us from being in love with the present.

      • I think you ought to watch the film (and do some reading of the literature on which it is based) before pronoucing judgement on it and reverting to the usual response of II Pet 3:4.

        • Peter was correct to quote all things are continuing as usual, because that is precisely what Jesus implied. It’s a waste of time to be looking for ‘signs’ as those signs dont exist. His return will be sudden with no indication beforehand.

          • Luke 21: 28, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

            For unbelievers Christ’s return will overtake them like a thief. For believers that shouldn’t be the case.

            Personally I believe a world ruling antiChrist and worldwide persecution of Christians are signs of his coming. There are others. The big thing is to be alert.

            Luke 21:29-31,. “Then He spoke to them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.’”

            Matthew 24:42-44, “So be prepared, for you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Just as a man can prevent trouble from thieves by keeping watch for them, so you can avoid trouble by always being ready for My unannounced return.”

    • “The very first command God gives to man is, “Be fruitful and multiply.” “

      And that has certianly happened. With world population now exceeding 8 billion and predicted to rise to 10 billion in under 100 years time there is no doubt that humans are multiplying.

      • ssm would block that -true rebellion extinction. Or China style limits.
        But we are concerned with and for the spread of the Kingdom of God, which is both now but not yet.

        • “ssm would block that -true rebellion extinction”

          It would have absolutely no effect at all. SSM enables those in same sex partnerships to marry. That’s already a legal right. The debate is about how that is recognised by the C of E. It does nothing to change the numbers of same sex attracted people.

          • No effect at all? If made universal and compulsory, it would all end in rebellion extinction. But of course it is a substantial minority mandated matter. A mandate that would not fulfill, the very first command in its very wilful (act of will) disobedience.

          • “If made universal and compulsory, it would all end in rebellion extinction.”

            Geoff please keep some grip on reality! Who has ever suggested making it universal and compulsory? This kind of statement makes your position look quite literally ridiculous.

          • I do think legalising legitimates and so normalises. I think some will go down the route of homosexual inclinations that would not otherwise do so. The movement for SSM was a movement to make SS relationships completely respectable.

            I think same sex attraction in many perhaps most is innate, though I have no doubt nurture events often contribute to what is ‘innate’. I was interested to read Matthew Parris confess that early protestations that gayness was completely nature were overstated and that other factors have a role to play.

            I think there are an increasing number where gayness is for various reasons a choice. Bisexuality is a clear example of this. The truth is where sexuality becomes unrestrained all kinds of sexual deviations arise.

            When I was young in both society and the church there were many single women and men. Women lived with other women as companions which had nothing to do with sex. Our highly sexualised culture will hardly be able to imagine this. Sex has been given a significance way beyond what it ought to have. The drive is fed by the media.

            The church needs to stand up and say that sex is not everything and there may be reasons to be single for the sake of the kingdom.

          • C S Lewis was so right that sex isn’t at all the worst sin by any means. Pride is definitely very much worse. As he says, “Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison:”

            He also said that sex would have been even better if not for the fall.

          • Yes, pride. The ultimate downfall. Even the pride of life. And gay pride?
            CS Lewis was against homosexuality – see Mere Christianity.
            And I doubt that it figured with approval in Four Loves and that he ever considered sec outside m+f marriage even after the Fall.
            And do tell what is this Fall theology you now site, and espouse.?
            And wa

          • It is the application of natural law/ theology to the extreme, to make the Genesis point. And to reduce it to the individual level would be equally ridiculous, even while accepting your point it is disobedience to God’s first command, Andrew.

      • Andrew, a couple of interesting things here.

        1. The current population of the earth could fit within the state of Texas, each family having a plot 22m by 22m.

        2. Increased health and education reduces the average family size, so that the world population will plateau at 12 bn.

        3. In the West, reproduction has plummeted, with the UK reproduction rate now 1.6 (needs to be 2.2 to be stable). The population of Spain will halve in the next 100 years, which will be a demographic calamity.

    • Oh and to put some perspective on the number 10 billion it’s always worth recalling the difference between a million and a billion. A million seconds is 12 days. A billion seconds is nearly 32 years. That’s pretty fruitful I’d say …..

      • But one could argue that when God gave that command, he had already set the limit of relationship within which ‘be fruitful’ was to be done – one man and one woman. One wonders if people had obeyed, what the population would be today. Certainly not 10 billion, and arguably better for all concerned.


  10. I have been mulling over Matt 24 for some time now. There are three main views of the chapter: the partial preterist view which believes that most is fulfilled in the lifetime of the generation alive at the time of the Olivet discourse (this generation shall not pass away…); the futurist view which believes it is events immediately prior to Christ’s return that are in view (this generation means ‘this kind of unbelieving generation’); the. Preterist-futurist view which believes that there is an immediate and ultimate fulfilment intended by Jesus.

    I favour this latter view. Below are some reasons why.

    While I think it is right to say that ‘all these things’ that is, all the events of VV4-34 happen in the lifetime of the generation to whom Jesus speaks I do not think this exhausts these events. In fact the events are in the main general and have happened throughout the history of the church. They belong to the whole ‘age’ (v3) which normally refers to the whole period up until the return of Christ. As Jesus says to his disciples in ch 28… lo I am with you even to the end of the age.

    The language and thrust of the discourse seems to argue for a protracted period of time. There will be many difficulties calling for endurance. There are birth pangs but ‘the end is not yet’. Such will be the extent of time before the second advent that it will seem like a delay and the faith of some will grow cold.

    There is also a kind of universalism that looks beyond AD 70 to a wider world. The believers will be hated by ‘all nations’ and the gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout ‘the whole world’ and to ‘all nations’. Now I recognise that in a sense these are fulfilled in AD 30-70 but they seem to strain towards a wider stage and of course we can readily see these at work in our own world.

    But what of AD 70? Again, it is clear that vv15-27 describe events that belong to the destruction of Jerusalem. But does AD 70 exhaust these verses? We are told about ‘the abomination of desolation’ and ‘great tribulation’. Th source of these is Daniel. When we turn to Daniel we discover that Daniel is describing events immediately preceding the end.

    In Ch 7 we learn that God’s kingdom will break into history and overthrow the final gentile power (Jerusalem is trodden down until he time of the gentiles is fulfilled). In Ch 11,12 this final gentile power is seen to be ferocious and shall magnify himself above all gods (Dan 11:36-45). He shall come into the glorious land (Israel) and tens of thousands shall fall (v41). At that time there shall be a time of trouble such as never has been since nor will be again. At that point Daniel’s people will be delivered, that is all those of faith (12:1). It will be accompanied by resurrection. He goes on to speak of ‘the abomination that makes desolate’. Daniel is told ‘go your way until the end. You shall rest and stand in your allotted place at the ‘end of days’. This language of a time of unprecedented trouble, abomination of desolation and ‘the end’’ inform Jesus’ discourse in Matt 24. For Daniel they are events that surround the return of Christ – they describe the end.

    AD 30-70 could have been the end. All that Jesus predicted happened within that time frame but it was not the end because Jesus did not return, destroy gentile power and establish his eternal kingdom. The end lay beyond this and even now still lies in the future.

    I think this idea of dual fulfilment is illustrated by Jesus subsequent to the mount of transfiguration. We read

    10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognise him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

    Notice Jesus speaks of Elijah as yet to come and he will restore all things. Then he says Elijah has already come in the person of John the Baptist. I think this dual fulfilment is similar to the dual fulfilment of AD 70 and a future tribulation (Rev 13). Certainly Paul is clear that a man of lawlessness will arise and with him ‘a rebellion’ he will exalt himself above every god and take his seat in the temple of God claiming to be God. We are looking again at Dan 7,11,12. The language of abomination is implied. The Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth at his coming (2 Thess 2, Rev 13; 19)

    I think a good case can be made for dual fulfilment. I think this makes unnecessary the rather strange view that the coming of the Son of Man in vv29-31 refers to an invisible coming in judgement in AD 70. The elements associated with the Coming of the Son of Man are those regularly associate in the NT with the second advent. The sign of the Son of Man in heaven is probably the ‘banner’ or unfurled flag of his coming (Isa 11:10; Rev 19:11-16).

    • John, I broadly agree with your observations. I have previously made my own on the basis of Jesus and the Jewish approaches to prophetic predictions – but to no avail.

    • Hello John,
      I understand the time dimension aspect of prophecy, but I am at loss to understand an invisible return of Christ, which I don’t see as being supported in scripture. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in an invisible return, but not at AD 70.
      So far as I can ascertain there will only be one return, a visible one.
      Jesus is the Temple destroyed and raised up, foundation,
      cornerstone, capstone. Prophet, Priest and King, sacrificial Agnus Dei. Believers are the temple, living stones.
      The destruction of the physical Temple was of of little import to believers, perhaps other than to concentrate their faith
      clingg more strongly, to faith in the risen Lord Jesus, though it is likely to have had a substantial influence on the outward geographical spread of the Good News of Jesus as Lord, and in him, meeting with the presence and worship of God in our, the, Risen Lord.

      • And how greater an eternal desolation could there be in the depths of blackness, removal of the light of the world, at Christ’s crucifixion? Utter desolation; none greater.

  11. Ian, thank you for pointing out the different language used to describe the two different comings of the son of man. In English the difference is not apparent.

    Jesus’ use of the phrase used in Daniel 7 in the first instance, justifies the understanding that Jesus is tying the destruction of the temple as proof that he is the son of man and ascended to throne in heaven and is reigning together with God.

    The conclusion in verse 34, that the preceding events would happen before the present generation had passed away, also confirms that Jesus has in mind the coming destruction of the temple (which was the comment that sparked this discourse).

    I’ve had trouble in the past with the sequence of events. The “this generation …” comment was one I wanted to ignore. Your explanation has cleared things up for me. Thanks again.

    Note: I just discovered your blog last week and am finding it really interesting and helpful in my study.

      • Ian

        I believe NT Wright sees the coming as in the day of Noah as a reference to either AD70 or the death of the Christian. However, I may have this all wrong. I wondered if you knew.

    • Yet we should be aware that Jesus uses the word for coming (erchomai ) that he uses in v30 numerous times later in the chapter to describe the second advent. I don’t think the change of word proves much.

    • As Ian himself notes, the discourse in Matt 24:3-35 is a response to the question(s), “Tell us when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming [parousia] and of the end of the age?” Christ’s parousia is his arrival as king, and we know for a certainty that that has yet to happen. Consequently it is really a strange reading to suppose that any of the discourse refers to the events before AD 70.

      The ‘sign’ (singular) is the fig tree.

      • I’m not following you Steven. I’m not seeing what you mean by your last sentence.. I think given that the disciples ask about his coming (and mean his second advent) and given 1hat two references to the Coming of the Son of Man refer to his second advent then it seems likely that his third reference ‘the son of man coming on clouds’ is a reference to the same coming. The use of a different word as I point out above is irrelevant.

        I have no problem with the discourse including events before AD 70 I simply want to say that they include events after AD 70 and right up to the second advent. In fact I think vv15-29 describe also a final tribulation that it not cut short none of the elect would survive. It is immediately after this final distress that the son of man comes.

        In Daniel it is after the trauma of a persecuting gentile ruler that redemption happens. The Son of man in his kingdom destroys him and his people are rescued Dan 7, 11,12.

        • I don’t think Daniel has any relevance, but that aside I think you may have misread my comment, as I can’t see where you are expressing a difference.

          • I think the earlier section of Matt 24, the abomination and ‘great tribulation’ are based on Dan 7, 11, 12). ‘He comes with the clouds of heaven’ is an echo for Dan 7. However Dan 7 describes the Son of Man receiving a kingdom, destroying the gentile power and setting up the eternal kingdom. In AD 70 the gentile power destroys Israel. Thus AD 70 is typological pointing to an eschatological abomination and ‘great tribulation’. This aligns with Daniel who sees the abomination and tribulation as end of history events.

  12. John Your preceding comments remind me of the Jewish couple having marital difficulties. They decide to consult the rabbi. However the wife decides to bring her mother. The rabbi first consults with the man . “Ah you are in the right” says the rabbi. He then consults with the wife -‘assisted’ by her mother. “Ah you are right” says the the rabbi. “Hold on” says the mother: “You have said my daughter is right; you have said her husband is right.How can this be?” “Ah”, says the rabbi, “you are right too!!”

  13. I have read this article and these comments with interest. I bring no expertise to that which has gone before, but offer a quotation (from memory, so I hope it is accurate) from the late Dr Michael Heiser, who, speaking of the order and nature of future events, said, ‘If you meet anyone who claims to have got it all worked out, that person can be safely ignored.’ And he went on to say that the reason for that is that ‘they didn’t get it right the first time round’.


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