Preterism, Futurism, and Matthew 24
In Matthew 24, when the disciples asked Jesus what would be the sign of his coming, and the end of the world, Jesus listed several events, that would lead up to the end of the world. Preterists filter everything said in this prophecy, and in other prophecies in the Bible, through their interpretation of verse 34, where Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
Jesus understood that he was to die, and rise again to immortality, and that he would represent that generation forever. It was therefore a unique generation. It remains to the present day, because Jesus was part of it.
But the unbelievers among the Jews, and all who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that he rose from the dead, are unable to understand the significance of this saying. Therefore preterism was the preferred approach of the rationalist Bible critics.
Below is a table in which the events mentioned in Matthew 24:3-30 are listed and the preterist and traditional interpretations are summarized. Data in the Preterism column is from Dee Dee Warren’s Commentary on Matthew 24.
|Matthew 24||Preterism||Traditional view|
|the sign of Christ’s coming [vs. 3]||refers to a judgment upon the Jews of that generation||refers to Christ’s second coming|
|the end of the world [vs. 3]||preterists understand this to mean the end of that age, particularly with respect to Judaism; and they filter the meaning of “end of the world” with verse 34, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”||refers to the end of the world|
|false Christs, deceivers [vs. 4-5]||Judas of Sepphoris, in Galilee; Simon of Perea; Athronges the shepherd of Judea; Judas of Gamala who is mentioned in Acts 5.37; John of Gischala son of Levi; messianic prophets include an anonymous Samaritan in AD 35; Theudas (AD 45); an anonymous Egyptian Jew in AD 56; others during the Jewish war include Menahem, son of Judas; Simon son of Gioras (AD 68); Hymenaeus and Philetus. [2 Timothy 2:15–18]||heresies in ancient and modern times|
|wars [vs. 6-7]||Mesopotamia in AD 40; Jerusalem in AD 49; other uprisings in Caesarea, Alexandria, Scythopolis, and Damascus||includes all wars of the past 19 centuries, including two world wars|
|famines [vs. 7]||famine mentioned in Acts 11:28, c. AD 49-51||all famines over the past 19 centuries|
|pestilence [vs. 7]||Suetonius, Dio Cassius, Eusebius, Tacitus, and Orosius mention pestilence and famine during that period||great plagues of history|
|earthquakes [vs. 7]||in the first century, earthquakes occurred in Crete (AD 46/47); Rome (AD 51); Phrygia (AD 53); Laodiciea (AD 60); Campania (AD 62); Pompeii (AD 63); Judea||great earthquakes over the past 19 centuries|
|persecution of the saints [vs. 9]||early Christians persecuted by Jews, by Saul, and persecutions by the Romans. Paul was later persecuted. [2 Corinthians 11:24–28]||persecutions in all ages of the church|
|apostasy [vs. 11-12]||Judaizers in Acts 15:10 and Galatians 1:6-7; 3:1-4; Antichrist in 1 John 2:18–19; 2 Timothy 1:15; false teachers foretold by Peter in 2 Peter 2:1–3;||the rise of unbelief in modern times|
|the gospel preached in all nations [vs. 14]||accomplished by Paul’s ministry [Romans 16:25–26; Colossians 1:5–6, 23]||the result of missionary activities over the church’s history|
|abomination of desolation [vs. 15]||this is identified with Roman armies around Jerusalem; [Luke 21:20–21] or the ensigns carried by the Romans in the siege of Jerusalem||the Reformers identified this with the papacy; in futurism, it is an idol or the Antichrist occupying a future temple in Jerusalem|
|then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. [vs. 16]||Quoting Warren: “First of all, what is the location?Judea. Not the whole world. If this was worldwide destruction, fleeing to the mountains would not do anyone any good. It is obviously a destruction limited to Judea from which the elect must flee. The parallel from Luke is instructive: Luke 21:23: But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. This wrath is limited to the ‘land,’ an idiomatically Jewish way of saying ‘Israel’ and ‘this people,’ i.e. the Jewish apostates. It is not a wrath upon the whole planet or upon all the unsaved peoples of the planet. The whole context leading up to the Discourse is the pronouncement of doom upon the Jewish apostates (see Matthew 23). There is nothing at all in the context speaking of the end of the whole world.”||the mountains represent the the spiritual promises and blessings that are the inheritance of the saints. The kingdom of God is called a mountain [Isaiah 2:2; Daniel 2:35]|
|great tribulation [vs. 21]||“Jesus was speaking in the prophetic ‘language’ of the OT prophet. Hyperbole and proverbial dramatic emphasis were stock and trade of that ‘language.’”||the judgment is described as a time of great tribulation in Revelation 7:14|
|unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved [vs. 22]||Warren sees this as exaggeration||threats to human survival in the modern era|
|false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders [vs. 23-24]||Simon Magus of Acts 8:9-24; fake miracles by emperor Vespasian; tricks by Alexander of Abonuteichos; magical arts performed by a person described by Hippolytus, Nero’s Domus Aurea, with a revolving ceiling representing the heavens||modern scientific wonders, weaponry, medicine etc.|
|sun and moon darkened [vs. 29]||Warren thinks Jesus is here describing a cataclysmic judgment to occur upon the nation of Israel.||the sun represents the gospel; false teachings in the church obscure the gospel|
|the Son of Man coming on the clouds [vs. 30]||Refer to Daniel 7:13-14, and Matthew 26:64. Christ’s coming is his kingdom and dominion; “this definitively happened at the Resurrection/Ascension, and was vindicated and proven by the judgment and destruction of Jerusalem…”||on this verse the interpretation given is probably correct|
The presence of two widely separate approaches to Matthew 24, preterism and futurism, is a remarkable fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy, in Zechariah 14:4, about the mount of Olives being cleaved in the midst, and half of the mountain moving to the north and half of it to the south.
In my interpretation, the mount of Olives represents the prophecy Jesus gave upon the mount of Olives, as described in Matthew’s account. Matthew identified the site where Jesus gave the prophecy, no doubt with Zechariah’s prophecy in mind, in order to connect Jesus’ prophecy with the mount of Olives. The cleaving of mount of Olives, and the separation of the two halves of the mountain, represents the two opposite interpretations, prevalent amongst Christians, preterism and futurism. Preterists apply the prophecy to events in the first century. Futurists say it is yet future.
Zechariah says, “And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.” [Zechariah 14:5] There is a sense of urgency here. The valley between the two sections of the mountain that are displaced to the north and to the south is figurative; it means flee from those flawed interpretations; apply the prophecy to the whole of the age of the church.
The preterist approach seems to be forced upon the words of Jesus, as persecution of the church in the first century arose immediately, not after the appearance of false Christs, wars, famines, pestilence, and earthquakes in diverse places. On the other hand, futurists and dispensationalists misunderstand the nature of the abomination of desolation. John tells us there were already many antichrists in his time; the abomination of desolation has existed since the first century. There has never been a time since the days of the apostles when the church was not under its influence, which is also shown in the prophecy of the little horn of the beast in Daniel 7. Both preterism and futurism fulfill prophecy, by displacing the prophecy of Jesus from its true application.