Taken from: http://www.bibleonly.org/prophecy/43-miscellaneous-prophecy-studies/410-matthew-24-a-structural-analysis
by: Ted Noel
“When will all these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Matt 24:3
This paper is the preparatory form of a paper planned for publication. It is simply exegetical, while the final form will include a considerable amount of scholarly interaction. In its present form it has been reviewed by several professors of Greek who have pronounced it good. (Note: Web fonts do not completely accurately reflect the proper transliteration of the original Greek text. Please consult a good Greek source for details.)
The Olivet Discourse as presented in the Gospel of Matthew is a response by Christ to two separate questions from His disciples. It addresses both near and far events. The disciples did not understand that their questions were about separate issues. Christ’s response addresses the two separate issues in such a way as to clearly separate them.
The Olivet Discourse, particularly as presented in the Gospel of Matthew, appears to present the interpreter with a difficult problem. In particular, Matthew 24:34 appears to require that every element of the Discourse be fulfilled within the lifetime of the generation that heard Jesus speak. Matthew 24:29 seems to require the Day of the Lord to take place at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. Numerous critics have pointed to these difficulties as an excuse to regard Christianity as a false belief system, since elements of the Discourse “clearly” have not been fulfilled within the prescribed time, implying that Jesus was a false prophet.
The best-known systematic approach to the resolution of the “problem of non-fulfillment” is Preterism, which basically declares that all of the Discourse was fulfilled in the AD70 destruction of Jerusalem, within one generation of its delivery. Other systems, such as Dispensationalism, have not to my knowledge presented a detailed analysis of the Discourse that resolves the difficulty of “this generation.” Instead, they tend to rely on arguments about the semantic domain of genea while ignoring contextual issues. If context is considered, it is asserted that “this generation” is the generation that sees the signs of the parousia Jesus describes. Historicism has done little better. Of note here is the fact that ancient interpreters, in particular the Ante-Nicene Fathers, appear to be completely unaware of our modern difficulty.
The currently available explanations are generally unsatisfying. This paper will attempt to resolve the “problem of non-fulfillment” by means of structural analysis based on the pedagogic elements of the Discourse, separating it into near and far components. A critical translation issue in 24:29 will be addressed.
This paper will not deal substantially with the parallel accounts in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, nor will it attempt a detailed exegesis of the prophecy.
The Olivet Discourse was delivered by a native Aramaic speaker, but was recorded in Greek. Therefore, we may be certain that when the Holy Spirit inspired the apostolic writer, He led him to a careful choice of words in this second language. The writer used several key words and phrases that are critical to our understanding. Our first task is to examine these in isolation to determine their meaning before we attempt to use them to understand the Discourse as a whole.
Sunteleia tou aionos
This phrase translates as “the end of the age.” It has been the subject of a great amount of discussion. Does it mean the end of the Jewish age as some suggest? Does it mean the end of the age of sin as others propose?
The word sunteleia comes from the root word telos . Both of these words properly translate “end,” or “conclusion.” But if there were no substantive difference between telos and sunteleia in Greek, there would be no literary reason to use both forms in the Greek account of the Discourse. This suggests that the author’s use of these two forms is intended to convey a substantive difference in meaning.
Telos differs from sunteleia primarily in the addition of the prefix sun- (or syn- in some references) to the root. This prefix denotes a “combining together.” Matthew uses sunteleia five of the six times it is used in the New Testament. In every case, the form is sunteleia tou aionos , the “end of the age.” In the parables of the tares (Matt 13:36-42) and the pearl of great price (13:45-50) this term explicitly describes the time when the wicked are “thrown into the fire” (13:42, 50) and the righteous remain. Jesus says that the “field” (13:38) is the “world” (Gr.kosmos ), a term Matthew uses in a universal sense.
In chapter 28, Jesus says that He will be with the apostles “always, even unto the end of the age.” Since we know that John lived past AD70 (Irenaeus, Against Heresies , 2:22:5) , either the end of the age was after AD70, or Jesus was no longer with John after AD70. The latter option is ludicrous, so the end of the age is at some point after AD70, at least in Jesus’ mind. Since He had used the phrase to teach the disciples long before the Olivet Discourse, we may be confident that the disciples were using it the with the same meaning that Jesus did. That is, “the end of the age” specifically refers to a time when God’s universal judgment rewards the saints and punishes the wicked. Because of its limited and specific use, it should be regarded as a technical term. Thesunteleia tou aionos ends the cursed world that resulted from the Fall.
The disciples ask about Jesus’ parousia in 24:3, and Jesus uses the same word in His answer later in the Discourse to identify His subject. This word, used in isolation, merely means “arrival,” “coming,” or “presence.” Our task is to determine its meaning as applied to Jesus.
In 1 Corinthians 15:23-26 parousia identifies the time when Jesus abolishes “all rule and all authority and power.” Death is one of the powers to be destroyed. Since people still die, Jesus’ parousia has not occurred. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 echoes this theme. There, Jesus’ parousia is accompanied by the resurrection of dead saints. There is no evidence that this has happened, so we may again be confident that Jesus’ parousia is still in the future. Of particular interest is the discussion in the immediately following verses that the parousia is also the Day of the Lord, when Jesus will destroy all His enemies (cf. 1 Cor 15:23-26).
Other passages mention Jesus’ parousia , but they have contested interpretations.
Pasai ai phule tes ges
This phrase means “all the tribes of the earth.” It is used seven places in scripture. Five of them are in the LXX. In Genesis 12:3 and 28:14 the usage is identical. The Hebrew says that through Abraham and Jacob “all the families of the earth” would be blessed. The Greek translators substituted “tribes” for “families.” Since the gospel, by which “all the families of the earth will be blessed” is to go to “all the nations” (Matt 28:19), the phrase means “every people group on the earth.”
In Amos 3:2, God speaks to the “sons of Israel.the entire family which He brought up from the land of Egypt.” He declares that, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth.” This is reminiscent of choosing Abraham from among the pagans in Chaldea and the rest of the world. And the intent is exactly the same. Every people group in the world is in view in the term in this passage.
Psalm 72:17 substitutes “all the tribes of the earth” in Greek for the Hebrew “all nations.” The context of the passage indicates that the Hebrews are included, so the term again means “every people group on the earth.”
The final use is Zechariah 14:17. The Hebrew is slightly different from the others, using ha ares (the land) instead of ha adamah (the world). But the meaning is the same. If any “family of the land” does not come to Jerusalem to worship, they will receive no rain. The context declares that the former enemies of Jerusalem will come to celebrate the Feast of Booths, so these people are Gentiles. The Hebrews were already commanded to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast (Deut 16:16), so the term means every people group in the world.
In every Old Testament case, pasai ai phule tes ges means “every people group in the world.” There are no exceptions, and no caveats. Because New Testament writers use Old Testament quotations to import the Old Testament meaning into their writing, we may be completely confident that this is what it means.
The phrase “four winds” occurs eight times in scripture, including Matthew 24:31. In Daniel 7:2, 8:8, Ezekiel 37:9, and Zechariah 2:6 it is used as an understood term, and does not help us. But Jeremiah 49:36 is particularly descriptive.
And I shall bring upon Elam the four winds, From the four ends of heaven, And shall scatter them to all these winds; And there will be no nation To which the outcasts of Elam will not go.
The inhabitants of Elam will be scattered “to the four winds.” They will be in every nation. This means that there is no geographic limit to the four winds. They cover the entire world. When we look back at the other uses, they are consistent with this meaning.
In Mark 13:27, this understanding is confirmed.
And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth, to the farthest end of heaven.
The four winds extend to “the farthest end of the earth, to the farthest end of heaven.” In other words, there is no place a man can go that is not covered by the four winds. And we should note that this is an expanded quotation of Jeremiah 49:36 (LXX), so the rest of the meaning of the phrase in that text is brought in by implication. The four winds extend to every nation. Matthew 24:31 is also an expanded quotation from Jeremiah.
Ho ouranos kai he ge
“Heaven and earth” is the usual English rendering of this phrase. It occurs eighteen times in the LXX. It is literally “the heaven and the earth” and is used to translate “(the) heavens and (the) earth” from the Hebrew or Aramaic. The first instance (Gen 14:19) sets the tone for the rest. There, God is described as “creator of heavens and earth.” There can be no question about the reference. This looks back to Genesis 1 and God’s work in creating the physical universe, in particular this world and its local “heavens.” In every other case in the Old Testament, this is the meaning of the term. We may suggest that the article is added in the Greek to emphasize the Creation origin of the “heaven and earth.”
Exactly one Old Testament passage has the possibility of being read differently: Jeremiah 51:48. There God declares that “heavens and earth” will rejoice when Babylon is overthrown. Some have suggested that this is a symbolic description of celebration by Jewish leaders. More likely is a metaphorical personification of nature, much like Deuteronomy 4:26 and 30:19, where the term clearly denotes the physical heavens and earth. This is consistent with numerous Old Testament passages where trees (Psa 96:12, etc.), mountains (Psa 98:8, etc.), and other natural features “sing” and “rejoice.” Thus, this passage, like every other Old Testament passage using ho ouranos kai he ge , refers to the physical heavens and earth.
The Discourse begins with the disciples admiring the Temple in 24:1. Jesus responds that, “all these things. will be torn down” (24:2). So far, there can be no dispute as to the subject of conversation. “All these things” ( panta tauta ) describes the Temple and its immediate surroundings. The parallel accounts in Mark and Luke confirm this. The disciples respond, “When shall these things ( tauta ) be?” (24:3). Once again, there is no dispute as to the subject of the query. It is the Temple.
If the disciples had stopped there, there would be nothing to dispute, but they didn’t. They asked another question, “What shall be the sign of your coming ( parousia ) and of the end of the age ( sunteleia tou aionos )?” This has led to a raging debate. Is that really a second question? Or is it a continuation of the first? Did the disciples expect the ultimate denouement of history with the deliverance of Israel (cf. Acts 1:6) to happen at the time of the destruction of the Temple? Curiously, the parallel accounts record a slightly different question that does not lead to this argument, so they offer no help here.
The structure of Jesus’ argument indicates that the disciples did misunderstand what He had been trying to teach them. They had misunderstood many things in the past, and would continue to misunderstand until Pentecost. Their misunderstanding led them to ask a two-part question in 24:3, thinking both parts were integral to the same issue. Jesus’ answer, on the other hand, is not constrained by their confusion. He speaks as a rabbi, explaining to his disciples that the parts of their question are indeed different, both in nature and in timing.
Jesus begins with a direct, personal instruction, “See to it that no one misleads you” (24:4). The Greek is quite clear that His statement is directed to the disciples, not some later, unidentified group. Thus, we may be certain that whatever He is discussing is germane to the disciples. And in verse 6, we see the first appearance of telos .
The Discourse – AD70:
Jesus explains that there would be false Christs and wars, but this is not yet the telos (v. 6). These signs to be seen by the disciples are leading to a different “end” ( telos ) from the sunteleia tou aionos they asked about in verse 3. His arrival to reward the saints and punish the wicked (cf. 13:39) isn’t in view. This is our first verbal separation between AD70 and Jesus’ parousia .
We must pause for a moment to emphasize the implications of this. If we are correct in identifying a difference between the telos and the sunteleia tou aionos , then whatever the events of the telos are, they will not include the destruction of the wicked and the rescue of the saints. As noted earlier, the sunteleia tou aionos will end the era of sin.
Through verse 9 we see the recurrent use of “you” (2 nd person plural) indicating that the discussion is still up close and personal. Verse 10 begins with “at that time” ( tote ), again indicating a continuation of events that the disciples will see.
In English, verse 13 appears to many to be directed to a parousia in the distant future, even though it is tied verbally to the near events. But it is presented as the immediate result of those near events, so we must look at it carefully.
Matthew 24:13 But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved.
What is “the end?” Is it the “end of the age” (24:3), as the distant future view seems to require? “The end” here istelos , not sunteleia . When used as it is here, it speaks of the conclusion of a single series of events.
In a modern parallel, a presidential candidate will campaign in order to be elected. His election is the telos of his campaign. In contrast, hundreds of election campaigns could lead to the assumption of power by a party different from the one in office. This would be the sunteleia , or consummation of a large series of events. It is the “combining together.”
This contrast shows us that verse 13 is not referring to “the consummation of the age” ( sunteleia tou aionos ), but to “all these things” ( panta tauta ), that is, the destruction of Jerusalem. In other words, the one who endures as God’s servant through all the troubles listed in the preceding verses will be saved. In this context, we may propose a dual understanding of “saved.” Beginning in verse 15, there is a discussion of the flight of Christians from Jerusalem. The explicitly local language in verse 16 confirms this. Tradition tells us that God’s people were saved from the horrible events of AD70 when they fled to Pella in AD66 after Cestius Gallius withdrew his armies from Jerusalem (cf. Luke 21:20).
In a different sense, we may be reasonably assured that any church member who had gone through all the events leading to AD66 would also have developed faith to continue with Christ the rest of his life. But an odd question remains.
Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.
Many evangelicals have used this verse as a rallying cry to spread the gospel to the far reaches of the globe before an expected future parousia . They place it in parallel with the Great Commission in Matthew 28:17-18. But the “end” in this verse ( contra Matt 28:20) is telos , not sunteleia tou aionos . Thus, if the semantic analysis we have done so far is correct, the terminus ad quem for this statement is the destruction of Jerusalem, not theparousia . Further, it means that every line of Jesus’ Discourse so far has been devoted to the issue of AD70. He has not departed on any side discussions.
Brief Excursus on the Gospel as a Witness:
Some may question how the gospel can be a witness. Two-witness theology runs through scripture, particularly in the New Testament where Jesus provides a number of witnesses to His death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 1:7, 1 Cor 15:1-8, etc). But the gospel stands as a witness to something that Jesus does not explicitly identify.
God chose Abraham and his descendants as His missionaries (Gen 12:3). He provided them with a homeland located where every nation would have contact with them through trade (Gen 48:16, Deut 28:10). He gave them the ministry of prophets and miracles. But when the greatest prophet of all (Matt 21:11, John 4:19) came to them, the physical children of Abraham rejected Him (John 1:11). They had been given a set period of time to come into conformity with the covenant (Dan 9:24), and they failed. So in AD34, Stephen, acting as God’s prosecuting attorney, brought a covenant lawsuit against the Jews. They lost the birthright blessing (cf. Exod 4:22), and it passed to the church (Luke 12:32), a nation producing the fruit of it (Matt 21:43).
The gospel, spread by the church, was not simply a message of redemption. It was an announcement that salvation was not longer “from the Jews” (cf. John 4:22). The physical Temple in Jerusalem was no longer important (cf. Matt 27:51, Heb 13:12-14) in God’s economy. Once that message had been “proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col 1:23), God could execute judgment on rebellious Jews and destroy the Temple, providing the second witness that Christians should not regard the Jewish Temple services as having continuing redemptive importance. Shortly after Paul penned those words, Jerusalem was destroyed.
Returning to the text, verses 15-16 speak of the disciples, giving a warning of a prophesied event that marks the time to “flee Judea.” Verses 17-18 warn that this exit must be expeditious. Verse 19 echoes the covenant curse of Deuteronomy 28:56-57 and clearly applies to the tribulation declared in verses 21-22. And we may note from Josephus’ account that if the siege of Jerusalem had been extended, it is likely that “no life would have been saved” (v. 22). We must be careful to note the nature of the Lord’s statement in verse 22.
Matthew 24:22 And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.
This statement is a parenthesis within the discussion of the events leading up to AD70. Jesus has described a number of events that lead up to the tribulation that is the destruction of the Jewish polity. We must note that within this discussion, the Lord has provided exactly one time marker – the Abomination of Desolation. He has made a number of other qualitative comments, including woes against nursing and pregnant women. Here, while using semi-quantitative language, He simply says that God has decreed that He will not allow the troubles to last so long as to kill everyone on earth.
A problem can arise if this verse is misunderstood to provide an end-point to the tribulation. In that case, it could incorrectly be taken to provide a sequence marker in the narrative. That would break the events up into several defined steps, instead of allowing them to be generally concurrent as Jesus intended, and as Josephus confirms.
Don’t confuse AD70 with My parousia !
In verse 23 Jesus begins a set of directions regarding false Christs and false prophets. These imposters from verse 5 will be at one place or another, declaring that they are the promised parousia . They are not to be believed “because ” (v. 27) the parousia will be “like lightning that flashes from the east to the west.” We should note that the emphasis in verse 27 is not on the speed of the parousia , but on its universal visibility.
From verse 4 through verse 26 Jesus has been busy telling the disciples about the things they should personally expect to see before Jerusalem is destroyed. Then in verse 27, gar is used to introduce a strong contrast. It says that Jesus is giving the reason why His parousia will be different from AD70. And this is the second part of His pedagogical purpose. Up till AD70 there will be people claiming to be the returned Messiah in one place or another. The disciples are to ignore them because Jesus’ parousia will be visible everywhere, just like lightning. He wants to emphasize the difference between the two events.
In verse 28 Jesus repeats an Old Testament curse on God’s enemies, declaring that they will be eaten by birds rather than being buried (Deut 28:26, Job 39:30, Ezek 39:17, Hab 1:8). Ezekiel’s portrayal is particularly graphic. There God’s enemy Gog will be smashed against the mountains of Israel. On that day God will put an end to all who profane His name. This is a reference to all who follow the Devil. Ezekiel (Ezek 28) has identified Satan as an angel who slandered God and wished to be worshiped in God’s place. Thus, Matthew 24:28 speaks of the curse that will fall on the wicked on the universal Day of the Lord. This, of course, links Jesus parousia with the Day of the Lord.
In verse 29, after the intercalated curse in verse 28, Jesus restates in detail the point he introduced in verse 27. Translated traditionally, verses 29-31 read:
But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give her light and the stars will fall from the heaven and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
If we accept the common reading, the Day of the Lord will come “immediately” (v. 29) after the troubles leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. That is, Jesus’ parousia should be either at or just after the time the Romans destroy the Temple. “At that time” (vv. 30-31) several specific things happen.
- The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky
- All the tribes of the earth will mourn
- All the tribes of the earth will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory
- Jesus will send the angels to gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
In other words, everything happens at once.
Because the Old Testament Day of the Lord passages mix local and universal elements, we won’t try to explore them here. But three of the four items above use terms that we have determined earlier apply to the whole world: “all the tribes of the earth” and “the four winds.”
If every people group in the world had to “mourn” at Jesus” parousia , and if the parousia is “immediately after” the destruction of Jerusalem, there should be historical records of great lamentation over every part of the world then. But there are no such accounts. The destruction of Jerusalem didn’t even show up on the radar screen for most of the Roman Empire, much less most of the world. And when Titus arrived in Rome with artifacts from the Temple, he was greeted as a conquering hero. They had a parade and a big celebration in his honor.
If every people group in the world had to see Jesus coming in power and great glory right after the destruction of Jerusalem, then that should be recorded as well. And again, there is no such record.
Finally, the gathering of the saints from the entire world had to happen right after the destruction of Jerusalem. This is to happen “from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” As noted earlier, this term encompasses the entire world . And again, there is no evidence whatever that any event of the sort took place. Is it any wonder that the critics declare that Jesus was a false prophet? He prophesied something that didn’t happen ! Or did He?
This presents a serious problem to all Christians. Preterists suggest that all this was fulfilled at AD70. Ed Stevens goes so far as to declare that the parousia was complete in AD70 in Expectations Demand a First Century Rapture (Bradford, PA: International Preterist Association, 2003). But as just noted, the “event” Stevens proposes is not testified to by any extant witness. And that is contrary to scripture’s call for us to determine the truth from “the mouth of two or three witnesses.”
If we look at the writings of the ante-Nicene Fathers, they are almost completely silent on this issue. Cyprian quotes a large section of Matthew 24 in Treatise 11 (in Greek, of course, including verse 29), but makes no exegetical comment on verse 29. I have found no other writer of that era that even says as much as Cyprian. This suggests that these native Greek speakers and writers were completely unaware of the difficulty we are wrestling with. And that suggests that we need to look at the Greek again.
A Translation Problem?
We have no choice but to look at translation. The Greek of verse 29 is:
Eutheos de meta ten thlipsin ton hemeron ekeinon ho helios skotisthesetai kai he selene ou dosei to phellos autes kai hoi asters pesountai apo tou ouranou kai hai dunameis ton ouranon saleuthesantai
The word eutheos is the crux of the matter. It appears 36 times in the New Testament, and is commonly translated “immediately.” But this translation presents a problem. It misses a nuance of the Greek that is absent in English. Greek is far more concerned with the quality of action than English, which is more often concerned with timing. For example, the Greek aorist tense generally speaks of past action with continuing consequences beginning at an unspecified point in time.
In some contexts, eutheos conveys the idea of “suddenness” or “quickness.” Other times it conveys the idea of moving in a direct line toward a goal, reflecting its origin from euthus , which means to be “straight” or “normal.” Lexicons include “straightway,” “at once,” “soon,” “next,” and “immediately” in their list of equivalent English words. Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine from sentence structure just which translation is to be preferred in a given case. The context has to be considered.
Crossing the sea ” eutheos “
John relates the story of Jesus walking on water (John 6:16-21). The disciples were rowing from the east side of the Sea of Galilee toward Capernaum on the west. This would be a trip of five or six miles, and they had covered three or four (John 6:19). In other words, they were out in the middle, miles from shore when a storm came up. Jesus appears at the boat, walking on the water. He gets in the boat and calms the storm. “Immediately ( eutheos) the boat was at the land” (John 6:21, NAS).
We have two choices. Either Jesus miraculously transported the boat several miles to land, or eutheos is mistranslated here. The idea of a miracle here is suspect, since Jesus’ miracles are all clearly identified in the Gospels, and here it would be an inference. The parallel accounts in Mark and Matthew paint a different picture.
Mark 6:53 and Matthew 14:34 say, “when they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret.” The verbdiaperao (“crossed over”) is used 13 times in the New Testament and LXX. The other 11 times it refers to the natural act of a person traveling over a body of water.
The idea that this might be an “immediate” miraculous three-mile transport of the boat is certainly not beyond God’s abilities. But it is outside the language of scripture. Jesus’ miracles are all clearly identified in the gospels. The story of Philip provides an instructive comparison. At the end of his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away.” He “found himself at Azotus” (Acts 8:39-40). Philip’s miraculous transportation cannot be missed in the text. The “Spirit of the Lord” is the subject and Philip is the object.
In both Matthew and Mark, the disciples are the subject of the sentence. In both accounts, “they crossed over” and “they came to land at Gennesaret.” The subject is explicit. Mark goes further, recording that “they moored to the shore.” Thus, the language leads us to a purely natural understanding of events where the disciples perform all the actions. They rowed for another four miles or so. When they got to shore, they tied up the boat.
If this was a miraculous event, there is no evidence for it in the grammar. In fact, the grammar speaks against it. If God had transported the boat for several miles, He would be the subject of the sentence. Further, the disciples or the boat would be the object of the sentence. Neither is true, so we should expect that no miracle is present in the narrative. How then, should we understand eutheos in John’s account?
John’s grammar could be used to infer a miracle, if the other accounts weren’t present. But since their language is so clear, we must suggest that eutheos has a semantic range that includes a meaning other than “immediately.” As we will develop shortly, it appears best to say that when John says the boat arrived eutheos , he is really saying that the disciples rowed directly to shore. They didn’t take any side trips to other towns. They went “straightway.” This old term, which the KJV uses thirty-two times for eutheos , simply means “in a direct course.” It doesn’t say anything about how long the trip takes. Borrowing language from our next discussion, we could say that, ” next , the boat arrived at the land.” John merely states that the next event in sequence is their arrival at the dock. There wasn’t any notable event to talk about between Jesus getting into the boat and landfall.
“Immediately” (days later!)
The second example comes from Mark 1:21.
And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach.
The Greek word here is euthus , the root form which eutheos is derived. They are so closely related that the Louw-Nida lexicon treats them as interchangeable. It says, ” Euthus probably implies what was done on the immediately following Sabbath. Accordingly, one may translate this expression in Mk 1.21 as ‘and on the nextSabbath he went into the synagogue and taught.'” Louw-Nida goes on to say that either word describes, “a point of time immediately subsequent to the previous point of time (the actual interval of time differs appreciably, depending on the nature of the events and the manner in which the sequence is interpreted by the writer).” In other words, “next in sequence,” not “right away.”
In Mark 1, Jesus had recruited disciples during the week. (They were out fishing.) We have no information to tell us which day (or days) He did it. All we know is that when Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue to teach. He didn’t teach on Friday night, since synagogue services were during the daylight hours. Thus, Jesus’ teaching didn’t even begin “immediately” as the Sabbath began. Instead, he simply began teaching at the next Sabbath synagogue service.
“Next in sequence”
When we apply this to the Olivet Discourse, as Louw-Nida does, we can see that the proper understanding ofeutheos is to convey sequence, not timing. Jesus was asked about two events. His primary purpose in discussing them is to separate them in both character and time. The exact timing of the later event is concealed, since only the Father knows when it will happen (Matt 24:36, cf. Acts 1:7). The near event is in “this generation” (Matt 24:34).
Let’s illustrate this for clarity. Once a person is elected to office, the next thing for him to do is to assume that office. But if the office is President of the United States, the election is in the first week of November, and the inauguration is in the third week of January. This is a gap of about ten weeks. For our purposes, we could say that the inauguration follows the election eutheos , since those are the only two events we are discussing. The process of selecting cabinet officers and so on has not been included in the conversation, so even though that task happens between the election and the inauguration, it is “invisible.” We didn’t make it visible by including it in the discussion. In the same way, Jesus is only discussing two events: AD70 and His parousia. Nothing else is in view, so the sequence only involves the first event (AD70) and the next event (parousia).
We need to compare eutheos to another “chronological” word used in the Discourse. Tote tells us “when.” In verse 23 tote is used to say, “If someone says to you at that time .” and in verse 30 to say, “the sign of the Son of Man shall appear in heaven at that time .” Since Matthew used this explicitly chronological word so closely on both sides of verse 29, this further suggests that he intended something other than chronology in verse 29 when he used eutheos . We should also note that “immediately after” is functionally the same as “at that time,” since “immediately” implies no passage of time.
If, however, we take the information we have discovered and apply it to the verse, we can now properly translate it as follows:
Next , after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give her light, the stars will fall from the heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
The careful reader will note that we have placed commas around the phrase “after the tribulation of those days.” The original Greek has no punctuation, but it does use word order to help in some cases. The segment in view iseutheos de meta ten thlipsin ton hemeron ekeinon. Meta ten thlipsin ton hemeron ekeinon is in what is called the “attributive position” with regard to eutheos . That is, it describes an attribute of eutheos . Whatevereutheos means, it comes “after the tribulation of those days.” And while the word order in the rendering above is good English, it is less clear than:
After the tribulation of those days, next the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give her light, the stars will fall from the heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
This rendering emphasizes that the tribulation will come, there will be a gap, and “next” the Day of the Lord will come. Since Jesus is only speaking of two events – AD70 and His parousia – first one will come, next the other will come. No other events are in view, so one is seen as coming in succession after the other. This should not, however, be mistaken to say that the interval between them is short. That information is notably absent from the Discourse.
We may note at this point that by correcting our translation of verse 29, we have placed ourselves in what appears to be the status of the ante-Nicene Fathers. If they understood the verse the way I rendered it, they would never have seen a conflict to resolve the way we do with modern English translations. This would explain why we do not see any discussion of such a conflict in their writings. Since this issue is so central to the proper understanding of the parousia , if it existed in the original, it is inconceivable that nearly three centuries of brilliant men would completely ignore it.
Finally, our understanding conforms to Jesus’ comment in Acts 1:7 where the apostles are not to know “the times or epochs the Father has set by His own authority.” Comparison with parallel synoptic accounts is instructive here.
After the tribulation of those days, next the sun will be darkened , (Matt 24:29 personal translation.)
But in the days after that tribulation , the sun shall be darkened , (Mark 13:24 personal translation.)
The only substantive difference is Matthew’s inclusion of “next” to emphasize the sequence. Both of them say that it will happen “after the tribulation.” Neither gives a hint of how long after. Luke’s more interpretive account says that the Day of the Lord will come at the end of “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24-25). While interpreters dispute the exact meaning of this phrase, it is almost certain that it extends at least into the modern era.
Using the translation we have just determined, verses 27-31 emphatically differentiate the parousia from AD70. The destruction of Jerusalem won’t be the parousia , because the parousia will be dramatically different. This perfectly matches Jesus’ pedagogical purpose.
“After” the tribulation of those days (i.e. the days of the destruction of Jerusalem), the signs of the Day of the Lord will come (v. 29) and the Son of Man will appear in the sky (v. 30). All of the people groups on earth will mourn because they have rejected His grace and now suffer His wrath (cf. Rev 6:15-17). Jesus will gather the saints from the entire world (v.31). Read in this fashion, Matthew’s account matches Mark and Luke perfectly. If we read it traditionally, Matthew says the Day of the Lord happens in AD70, while Mark and Luke place it “later.” Such an apparent scriptural “contradiction” should alert us to the need for a resolution such as we have just found.
Because we are not native Greek speakers of the first century, it has been necessary to work backwards to determine a reasonable reading of eutheos in 24:29. But when Jesus delivered the Discourse, His language should have been properly understood as it was delivered. Thus, it is necessary for the results of our research to fit naturally with Jesus’ pedagogical purpose.
Jesus delivers this entire section (vv. 27-31) as an intentional contrast to the destruction of Jerusalem, so that the disciples will not confuse the destruction of Jerusalem with the parousia . He first briefly describes the geographic universality of His parousia (v. 27) in contrast to the local claims of false messiahs. Next (vv. 29-31) He describes the relative timing of His parousia in contrast to the near events of AD70; including the details of the Day of the Lord redemption of saints and destruction of sinners.
So far, Jesus’ primary message has been to inform the disciples about events leading to the destruction of Jerusalem. He took a side trip to emphasize that His parousia would be a different event.
In verses 32-34 Jesus finishes up His discussion of AD70. The parable of the fig tree recapitulates the idea that various signs, such as those discussed earlier, will precede the destruction of Jerusalem. This is in contrast to His parousia, which has no sign other than Jesus’ appearance. The disciples are to discern the signs properly. But verse 33 has another translation issue.
The NAS says:
Matthew 24:32-33 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
The KJV says, “it is near” in verse 33. The Greek does not include the subject of that clause, so it must be inferred from the context. “Summer” is the subject in verse 32, symbolic of the destruction of Jerusalem. Thus, “it” is the proper subject in verse 33, not “He.” Jesus is saying that when the signs are seen, the event is near. We should not mis-read this to suggest that He is near.
“All these things” ( panta tauta , c.f. 24:2) will happen before “this generation” dies (v. 34). We may now confidently state that it does not matter how one goes about determining which generation is in view, the result is the same. If we say it is the generation of Jesus’ listeners, the statement is true, since Jerusalem was destroyed 39 years after the Discourse. If we say it is the generation that sees the signs preceding the destruction, it still points to AD70. The argument that the semantic range of genea extends to a “race” or similar flies in the face of the structure of Jesus’ argument and must be rejected.
In verse 35, Jesus changes subjects.
Matthew 24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away.
Here Jesus makes an explicit statement that “heaven and earth” will pass away. The Preterist argument that this is a figurative expression for the Jews or their government is unconvincing. After all, the expression ho ouranos kai he ge is a technical term from the Old Testament with an exact meaning: the physical earth and its immediately surrounding heavens. Here Jesus explicitly declares the future end of the physical earth.
We must be a bit careful here. Jesus is not saying that the planet itself will be destroyed. Rather, He is using the language of Genesis 9:11. There the flood “destroyed” the earth. It didn’t eliminate the planet, but it did erase everything on its surface. And that is what Peter means in 2 Peter 3:10 when he says, “the earth and its works will be burned up.”
Verse 36 starts with “But of that day and hour no one knows.” What “day and hour?” The rules of grammar are clear. We look backwards to the nearest antecedent. And that is the time that “heaven and earth will pass away.” This is the parousia , as 2 Peter 3:5-7 makes quite clear.
Verse 37 begins the famous parallel with the days of Noah. At that time, the wicked people “kept on keepin’ on” (“eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage”) until Noah entered the ark and the flood killed them (“took them away”). We should note that this example recaps a worldwide event, emphasizing that Jesus’ parousia will have a worldwide effect (cf. Matt 24:27-31). In exactly the same way, at Jesus’ parousia , one in the field will be killed (“taken”) while the other is “left” (remains, cf. 1 Thes 4:15).
Following this illustration, Jesus continues with a series of parables about His parousia . The destruction of Jerusalem is never again in view.
The Olivet Discourse is a simple, direct, exposition of two separate issues – the destruction of Jerusalem and Jesus’ parousia . The parousia comes “after” AD70. How long “after” is not stated. It has been misunderstood for centuries because of a modern lack of appreciation for a basic nuance of Greek time perception. Its structure is as follows.
- Verse 1: The disciples notice the Temple.
- Verse 2: Jesus says the Temple will be torn down.
- Verse 3: The disciples ask when it will be torn down and when Jesus will return to gather the saints, mistaking them to be the same event.
- Verses 4-26: Jesus describes events around the destruction of Jerusalem, with various warnings.
- Verses 27-31: Jesus contrasts AD70 with the parousia so that the disciples won’t get the two confused.
- Verses 32-34: Jesus completes His discussion of AD70.
- Verse 35 – on: Jesus discusses the parousia , which is future to AD70, but at an undefined interval.
In summary, Preterists are correct in applying 24:34 to AD70. There is no legitimate contextual or lexical reason for any other conclusion. “All these things” (panta tauta ) refers specifically to Jesus’ statement that the Temple would be destroyed in 24:2, and the disciples’ follow-up question about “these things” ( tauta ) in 24:3. On the other hand, they are incorrect in applying the Day of the Lord language of verses 27-31 to AD70. Jesus was asked a compound question. He gave a direct and logical compound answer designed to distinguish the two events.
Modern interpreters have been presented with a false dilemma as a result of using a word in English that does not convey the nuance of the Greek eutheos . Modern translators have either been unaware of this error, or have not corrected it because of traditional readings.
All of Jesus’ predictions about AD70 were fulfilled in detail. His predictions about the parousia remain to be fulfilled, since His parousia remains future. The difficulties asserted by the skeptics do not exist.
1. Actually, Matthew 13:39 is an anarthrous exception, but since it is part of a pericope where the articular form is used twice, the general statement is true.
2. In 4:8, it refers to “all the kingdoms of the world.” This is clearly not limited to the Jewish “land” (Grk. ge ). In 5:14, the Jews are “the light of the world,” echoing Genesis 12:3’s commission to evangelize “all the families of the world.” In 13:35, he speaks of “the foundation of the world,” harking back to Creation. 16:26 asks what the profit is for a man if he “gains the whole world” in exchange for his soul. 24:21 speaks of the “beginning of the world” again looking back at Creation. 25:34 makes the same allusion. 26:13 speaks of the “whole world,” emphasizing the universality of the word.
3. The sixth use of sunteleia is in Hebrews 9:26, and is sunteleia ton aionon . The plural object presents a different construction, and is therefore not directly comparable to Matthew’s use.
4. Gen 12:3, 28:14, Psa 72:17, Amos 3:2, Zech 14:17
5. It would appear that the translators of the LXX viewed this text the same way we view Matthew 28:19.
6. Of course, by the time of writing, the apostolic author had experienced the anointing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and did clearly understand.
7. A more technical illustration comes from the words “thesis” and “synthesis.” A thesis is a single proposition. By adding the prefix syn- , we describe not a single proposition, but a combination of propositions.
8. The Greek of John 4:22 is in the genitive, i.e. “of the Jews”. This language allows for the disenfranchisement of Jews in the work of salvation. The KJV is more accurate than some of the other translations here.
9. In the Greek, the “Devil” is diabolos , which means “slanderer.”
10. The disciples ended up taking the longest possible route from East to West, a total of about 7 ½ miles.
11. It may be worth noting that the Russian Synodal translation renders eutheos as “suddenly,” stating that the Day of the Lord will happen “suddenly” after the tribulation of those days.
12. In this case, for the sake of discussion, I have accepted the common Dispensational position that the “days of the Gentiles” ended in 1976 when Israeli soldiers captured the Temple mount area. My personal belief is that this more properly extends to the time of the resurrection of the saints.