Home > Dispensationalism, Mountains in prophecy, Olivet Discourse, Preterism > On the timeframe of the Olivet Discourse

On the timeframe of the Olivet Discourse

July 18, 2012

When the disciples asked Jesus, “what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” in Matthew 24, his immediate response was to list a series of events to set the scene, and to indicate both the scope, and the timeframe for events that he subsequently described. Events mentioned at the beginning of the prophecy, in verse 4-14, are listed in clear, unambiguous language, in contrast to events mentioned after verse 14 which are expressed in symbolic, prophetic terms.

Preterists tend to ignore the plain language information given in verses 4-14 and instead, they focus on verse 34, where Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled,” which they interpret in a simplistic, human fashion, and then try to apply that flawed interpretation of “this generation” to the rest of prophecy. They use it as a mantra, and a kind of straightjacket, into which they force the entire Olivet Discourse.

In his article Apocalypse When? preterist Hank Hanegraaff focused upon Matthew 24:34, and promoted interpretations of Jesus’ reference to this generation by atheist Bertrand Russell, and by an unbelieving Jew named Gerald Sigal, and by critical scholar Albert Schweitzer. Neither Russell nor Sigal believed that Jesus rose from the dead. In their view, Jesus could have only meant people then living when he referred to this generation. But Christians believe that Jesus rose from the grave, and ascended to his Father’s throne in heaven. Since Jesus remains alive, his generation has not passed away. When he spoke of “this generation” in Matthew 24:34, Jesus included himself, as he knew that he would be raised up from the grave.

If the preterist approach to the Olivet Discourse were valid then one would expect the things Jesus mentioned in the prelude of his prophecy, in verses 4-14, to be specific to the first century AD, and furthermore, we would expect those events to be limited in scope, to the area of Palestine. They would tend to focus upon Jerusalem, according to the preterist interpretations of the prophecy. But none of the things Jesus mentioned in verses 4-14 are unique to the first century AD; instead they tend to characterize all of history during the past two thousand years. The focus of the events Jesus includes in his list is not upon the Jews, or Jerusalem, or Palestine, or upon events of the first century, which tends to discredit preterism. The character of the events Jesus listed serves as a test for whether preterism is credible.

Test for preterism

Jesus in the Olivet Discourse Matt. 24 Unique to
1st century AD
Local
many deceivers vs. 4-5 no no
wars and rumours of wars vs. 6 no no
nation shall rise against nation vs. 6 no no
kingdom against kingdom vs. 6 no no
famines vs. 6 no no
pestilences vs. 6 no no
earthquakes in divers places vs. 6 no no
ye shall be hated of all nations vs. 9 no no
many offended vs. 10 no no
false prophets deceive many vs. 11 no no
gospel preached in all the world vs. 14 no no

Preterism fails the test in every item. Many of these events are worldwide in scope, such as “earthquakes in diverse places.” This would make no sense if confined to first century Judea. The same applies to “nation shall rise against nation;” “ye shall be hated of all nations,” and “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.” These are events that by nature, cannot be restricted to Judea or Jerusalem, which discredits preterism; it is one of the deceptive doctrines of “false prophets” that have deceived many.

A similar kind of test can be applied to the dispensational interpretation, which claims that most the events Jesus described in the Olivet Discourse apply to a seven year period of tribulation that occurs at the end of the present age. In this approach, the things mentioned in verses 4-14 ought to be specific to the final seven years. In the table below this notion is compared with the concept that the Olivet Discourse applies to the whole age of the church.

Test for dispensationalism

Jesus in the Olivet Discourse Matt. 24 Unique to the
final 7 years
Characteristic of
the present age
many deceivers vs. 4-5 no yes
wars and rumours of wars vs. 6 no yes
nation shall rise against nation vs. 6 no yes
kingdom against kingdom vs. 6 no yes
famines vs. 6 no yes
pestilences vs. 6 no yes
earthquakes in divers places vs. 6 no yes
ye shall be hated of all nations vs. 9 no yes
many offended vs. 10 no yes
false prophets deceive many vs. 11 no yes
gospel preached in all the world vs. 14 no yes
this generation shall not pass vs. 34 no yes, because
Jesus lives
and reigns forever

In the New Testament the words of Jesus are compared to solid rock. In the sermon on the mount Jesus said, “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.” [Matthew 7:24-25] And when Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus said that this had been revealed to him by God, and referred to his words, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” as the rock upon which he would build his church. [Matthew 16:16-18]

The words of Jesus are like rock; the interpretations of preterists and dispensationalists are like clouds and mists. No doubt this is why Jesus said, “Flee to the mountains.” He meant flee from the mists of human dogma, and believe in the sure word of God, and the promises of God, that are represented by mountains.

Snowpatch Spire, Bugaboos, BC

Advertisements