Chapter 4 of the book “When Jesus Returns —what then?” by Jim Gibson. I have edited the text only where necessary, changed underlining to bold text and used the KJVER Bible version.
The antichrist. Probably no other personage in all of Christendom, besides the Lord Jesus, has captivated the imagination of both saint and sinner alike. Books and even movies have been produced centering on this one infamous individual. Since the antichrist is such an integral part of dispensational thought, it necessitates some consideration for discussion.
According to the dispensational view, after the rapture of the church, the antichrist will make his presence known in the world’s political scene. He will make a covenant with the Jewish nation, but will break that covenant after 3½ years. Also, he will sit in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and declare himself to be the Jews’ Messiah. The Jews will reject him as their Messiah and, consequently, he will begin to persecute them. This period of “great tribulation” will last for 3½ years ending at the Second Coming, thus precipitating the battle of Armageddon. This is just a brief synopsis of the dispensational teaching regarding the antichrist. There is some variation to this particular interpretation among the dispensationalists, although its basic tenets are the same.
The word “antichrist” is only found five times in Scripture and only mentioned by one apostle, namely, John. However, Paul explicitly refers to the antichrist calling him the “man of sin” and “son of perdition” in Second Thessalonians. He implicitly references him in First Timothy by ascribing to him certain causal attributes. Thus, these are the only two apostles who even addresses this evil personage, and, the following passages are the only texts that we can rightfully or critically examine in order to glean information concerning the antichrist.
“Little children, it is the last time: and as you have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest [known] that they were not all of us. … Who is a liar but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denies the Father and the Son.” (1 John 2:18,19,22)
“And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof you have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” (1 John 4:3)
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” (2 John 7)
“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called god, or that is worshiped; so that he as god sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is god.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4)
“Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils [demons]; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats [foods], which God has created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” (1 Timothy 4:1-3)
Both Paul and John describe this person as one who is a “deceiver” and one who perverts the Gospel. Essentially, it is someone who teaches error, false doctrine, tradition, or otherwise, would cause apostasy within the Church. In fact, John states that there are those who are in the Church, in his time, who have this “spirit of the antichrist”. It is someone who is within and not someone who is outside of the Church who is trying to destroy its teachings.
Paul goes into a little more detail about this infamous personage. He warns that this person will try and usurp God’s authority and will sit in the temple of God, that is, in the place of God. The prefix “anti”, in the Greek, can mean either (1) over; against, or (2) instead of, in place of. The context must determine which is correct. Here, this man of sin sits in the temple of God, as if he were God. Whenever Paul uses the term, temple of God, he is referring to the Church and not the Jewish temple (see 1 Corinthians 3:9,16,17). Thus, the antichrist is someone inside the Church who attempts to destroy it by leading it into apostasy.
Paul, in writing to Timothy, gives to us some of the sequences in which this “falling away” or apostasy will come about. Notice the following clauses which he uses: “giving heed to seducing spirits, doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy, conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and abstain from meats”.
I personally believe that the fathers of the Reformation were correct in identifying the antichrist with the pope or papacy. Let me explain why. To begin with, Paul said that before the coming of the Lord, there would be a “falling away” or apostasy. When the Emperor Constantine allegedly became a Christian, after the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D., he legalized Christianity in 313 A.D. The Encyclopedia Britannica recorded that “pagans by the multiplied thousands” entered the Church in order to obtain favor from the Emperor. Thus began the departure from the Faith.
Finally, in 476 A.D. upon the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the bishop of Rome (pope) became, not only the ecclesiastical leader, but also the civil authority as well. (Just as a point of interest is the fact that the last emperor of Rome was named Romulus Augustus. He takes his name from the founder of Rome and the first Emperor of the Roman Empire). As the light of the Church began to “flicker” and go out, the world was plunged into the Dark Ages. Originally, the Dark Ages was considered by many historians to occupy the bulk of the Middle Ages which lasted from the 4th century to the 14th century. The light of the world did not begin to “flicker” back on until the 14th century upon the arrival of John Wycliffe, who is referred to as the “morning star of the reformation”.
I will now provide to the reader a list of quotes from Catholic authors and even some from the popes themselves. Let the reader judge whether these quotes support what both Paul and John had to say about the antichrist.
“We declare, state, define and pronounce that for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pope is altogether necessary for salvation”
“The pope is of so great dignity and so exalted that he is not a mere man, but as it were God, and the vicar of God…The pope is as it were God on earth.”
“We (the popes) hold upon this earth the place of God Almighty.”
“The pope is not only the representative of Jesus Christ, but he is Jesus Christ, Himself, hidden under the veil of human flesh.”
“The pope and God are the same, so he has all power in Heaven and earth.”
“The pope has power to change times, abrogate laws, and dispense with all things, even the precepts of Christ.”
“We confess that the pope has power of changing scripture and of adding to it, and taking from it, according to his will.”
I sincerely hope that the reader understood the sinister intent of the words spoken in the above quotes. These quotes primarily address Paul’s description of the antichrist as found in Thessalonians. The following history of Catholic heresies and the dates of their adoption is taken from an article written by Dr. Jack L. Arnold coincide with Paul’s words as found in Timothy.
- “Prayers for the dead”–300 A.D.
- “Veneration of angels and dead saints”–375 A.D.
- “Beginning of exaltation of Mary, the term Mother of God applied to her by Council of Ephesus”–431 A.D.
- “Doctrine of Purgatory by Gregory I”–593 A.D.
- “Fasting from meats on Fridays and during Lent”–998 A.D.
- “Celibacy of the priesthood”–1079 A.D.
- “The Inquisition”, Council of Verona–1184 A.D.
- “Sale of Indulgences”–1190 A.D.
- “Auricular Confession of sins to a priest instead of to God”, instituted by pope Innocent III–1215 A.D.
- “Bible forbidden to layman, placed on the Index of Forbidden Books” by Council of Valencia–1229 A.D.
This list is just a sampling of the many “doctrines of devils” that were instituted by the papacy. Its greatest sin lies in the fact of the millions of Christians that were slaughtered during the Dark Ages of the Church. One historian, in his estimate of 150 million that were killed by the papal system, made this statement, “the Church of Rome has shed more innocent blood than any other institution that has ever existed among mankind.”
As mentioned earlier, the dispensationalist believes that the antichrist will make a pact or covenant with the Jews. I will now examine their “proof” text which they use to support this dispensational dogma.
We must turn to the famous prophecy of Daniel’s Seventy weeks in order to find this alleged “proof”. After reading Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning Israel’s seventy years of captivity, Daniel prays and God dispatches Gabriel in answer to his prayer.
Daniel’s Seventy Weeks
“At the beginning of your supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to show you; for you are greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision.
Seventy weeks are determined upon your people and upon your holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.
Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem to the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and to the end of the war desolations are determined.
And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.” (Daniel 9:23-27)
These verses found in Daniel constitute one of the most controversial passages found in the Bible. From the early church fathers to the modern commentaries, this prophecy has been interpreted with a plethora of views. There are those who maintain that this prophecy was fulfilled in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes in approximately 168 B.C. However, many place its fulfillment during the time of the life of Christ. Still, others say that its ultimate fulfillment extends to the time of the antichrist toward the end of the church age. Let’s see if we can wade through the maze of difficulties that this passage presents and, hopefully, discover its true intent and meaning.
Verse 24. Most expositors agree that the “seventy weeks” represent 70 weeks of years, that is, 490 years. According to Keil and Delitzsch in their Commentary on the Old Testament, the word “determined” meant that these seventy-sevens were to be viewed as a whole, in other words, in a continuous period of 490 years. However, the dispensationalist believes that there is a parenthesis between Daniel’s 69th week and the 70th week. According to H.A. Ironside, “God’s prophetic clock stopped at the crucifixion and will not start again until the rapture of the Church and the seven-year tribulation period begins”. This type of interpretation is a flagrant violation of the rules for interpreting scripture.
Gabriel, God’s messenger angel, informed Daniel that this period was “determined” or decreed upon “your people”, the Jews, and upon “your holy city”, Jerusalem. Gabriel further states the purpose of the 490 years: (1) to finish the transgression, (2) to make an end of sins, (3) to make reconciliation for iniquity, (4) to bring in everlasting righteousness, (5) to seal up the vision and prophecy, and (6) to anoint the most Holy. Therefore, we will search the scriptures to find the fulfillment of this prophecy.
To finish the transgression / to make an end of sins.
In order to understand the thought being presented in these two clauses, one must view them within their proper context. Remember, it was to “your people” of which the prophecy rightly belongs. Daniel received this vision as he was contemplating the end of the seventy years of desolation as was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah. It was because of Israel’s sins that they had to go into captivity for 70 years. In like manner, Gabriel tells Daniel that Israel will once again be judged for their apostasy against God. However, this future judgment will have a note of finality to it.
“To finish the transgression” means to restrict or prohibit the revolt or rebellion. In other words, Israel’s sins will have a limit to which they can go with impunity. When their sins reach that breaking point, judgment will follow. Notice how this agrees to Paul’s statement in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and Jesus’ words in Matthew.
“For you brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for you also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary [hostile] to all men. Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost [last].” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)
“Wherefore you be witnesses to yourselves, that you are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill you up then the measure of your fathers.” (Matthew 23:31,32)
To make reconciliation for iniquity / to bring in everlasting righteousness.
Reconciliation means to cover, to atone, to expiate sin. The Passover, the Day of Atonement, and every sin offering ever made in the Old Testament all pointed to the day when there would come the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. The writer of Hebrews had this to say about Jesus’ death: “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God”.
When Jesus picked up the scroll of Isaiah there in the synagogue of Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry, he boldly announced that he was the fulfillment of that prophecy. Within that text of Isaiah, it states that men would be called “trees of righteousness” and that they would be clothed with “garments of salvation” and be covered with the “robe of righteousness”. Because of the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God, he brought to mankind the promise and hope of “everlasting righteousness”. Malachi, speaking as the last prophet of the Old Covenant, spoke of this historic event: “But to you that fear [reverence] My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2).
To seal up the vision and prophecy / to anoint the most Holy.
It was revealed to Daniel that 490 years would be allotted to Daniel’s people, the Jews. The end of this definite period would complete this prophetic vision. It would also bring into history the anointing of the long-awaited promised Messiah. In Luke 4:18, Jesus declared that God has “anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives.”
Verse 25. Here, Gabriel revealed to Daniel when the beginning of this prophecy would actually start. He also cautions Daniel to “understand”. From the study of Ezra, we find that there were three decrees issued from the kings of the Medes and Persians that dealt with the Jews returning to their homeland in Israel. The first decree was made by Cyrus in approximately 536 B.C. that gave the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the “house” of God. However, it was during the reign of Darius that a second decree was proclaimed that gave authority for the Jews to again resume the construction on the temple. This was in 519 B.C. It was in 457 B.C. that Artaxerxes made a decree that gave permission for Ezra to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of teaching Israel the “statutes and judgments” of the law, in other words, to re-establish the religious system of the Jewish nation. He was further given the authority to return to the temple the vessels that were taken from it by Nebuchadnezzar in 606 B.C. Although the temple had been rebuilt, the streets and the wall lay still in ruins. This was yet another purpose of the decree and Ezra was assisted in this task by Nehemiah some 13 years later. From the study of Nehemiah, we find that the Jews were in constant battle against Sanballat in his effort to sabotage their efforts. Thus, the building of the wall was finished during “troublous times”.
According to this verse, the end of the 69th week would usher in the Messiah. This would mean that the Messiah would be ministering in the 70th week, contrary to dispensational thought.
Verse 26. As a result of the rejection of the Messiah by the Jewish people, God’s judgment on the covenant people as a nation was to be the destruction of their city and their temple. As the Apostle John so aptly said, “He came to His own and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). Jesus, as he stood on the mount overlooking Jerusalem, being grieved in his spirit, made this prophetic utterance, “Behold, your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38). Notice the somber words spoken by both Jesus and Paul concerning the Jews in the following passages.
“And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it… For the days shall come upon you, that your enemies shall cast a trench about you, and compass you round, and keep [hem] you in on every side, And shall lay [level] you even with the ground, and your children within you; and they shall not leave in you one stone upon another; because you knew not the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41,43,44)
“And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know [recognise] that the desolation thereof is near … For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:20,22)
“Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary [hostile] to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost [last].” (1 Thessalonians 2:15,16)
In verse 25, Messiah the Prince is mentioned, but in this verse, the prince “that shall come” is referred to. Obviously, since this prince will be instrumental in the destruction of the city and the sanctuary, the reference must be applied to the Roman General Titus. He is a “prince” by virtue of him being the son of the Emperor Vespasian.
The bulk of verse 26 describes what happens to the Jewish nation as a result of the Messiah being “cut off”. In fact, this insertion about the “prince that shall come”, lies not within the 70 weeks, but only serves to show the consequence of the rejection of the Messiah. It’s fulfillment is actually about forty years later after the 70 weeks (490 years) have been accomplished.
Verse 27. So that the reader does not have to refer back to the original quote of Daniel 9, I will provide it to them at this time.
“And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations, he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”
To the dispensationalist, the “he” in this verse refers to the antichrist. According to their interpretation, the antichrist will make a covenant with the Jewish people. However, after three and one half years, he will sit in the rebuilt temple and declare himself to be God. At this point, the Jews will rebel against him and will acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah. This will be the start of the “great tribulation” which will last for three and one half years. This is a brief synopsis of the dispensational view.
Instead of using the “patch quilt” method of interpretation, let’s see if we can scripturally determine who in reality will “confirm the covenant”. If one were honest with the scriptures, then only one person is described as “confirming” the covenant, namely, Jesus. Notice the prophecy found in Malachi.
“Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold, He shall come, says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)
Of course, the first “messenger” referred to is John the Baptist. He was, according to Matthew 3:3, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” The passage before us is explicit in the fact that the “messenger of the covenant” was none other than the Lord Jesus. Notice the prophecy found in Isaiah 42:6,7.“I the LORD have called you in righteousness…and give you for a covenant of the people (Jews), for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison.” Again, the reference to Jesus is obvious. I will cite two more passages that support the thesis that Jesus is the “messenger of the covenant”. They are both self-explanatory with no need for commentary.
“That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith…Though it be a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed…And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ…”(Galatians 3:14,15,17)
“Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers.”(Romans 15:8)
The scriptures plainly teach that Jesus was the one who was sent to“confirm the covenant”. According to verse 27, the confirmation period of this covenant was to last seven years. However, this same passage tells us that exactly “in the midst of the week” the “sacrifice and the oblation” were to “cease”. The word “midst” means in the middle, that is, after three and one half years (½ of seven). Jesus’ ministry lasted exactly 3½ years. Also, Luke in his gospel (Luke 23:45,46), recorded that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil of the temple was torn completely in half. This symbolized that the “sacrifice and the oblation” had “ceased”. Upon the death of Christ, God no longer accepted and recognized animal sacrifices, since the ultimate sacrifice had now been paid.
After rejecting their only savior, the Jews now faced certain judgment. Remember, at the trial of Jesus, the crowds’ incessant cry, “let his blood be upon us and upon our children”. No wonder Jesus said, “Behold, your house (temple) is left to desolate”. Within that generation, the Roman armies would come and destroy both Jerusalem and its temple. Let the reader notice that there were still 3½ years left of Daniel’s 490 year period that was promised to the Jews. It now becomes clear why Jesus said he came only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”. He had to completely fulfill all scripture. Specifically, the gospel to the Gentiles could not start until the end of the 70th week ended. It is no accident that Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, was called in Acts 9 and, Peter delivered the gospel to the first gentile, Cornelius, in Acts 10. Most probably both these events began as Daniel’s weeks of years ended.
This brief study of Daniel’s seventy weeks was necessary in order to explain the truth about the so-called “antichrist” in this remarkable prophecy. The alleged reference to the “antichrist” in Daniel’s prophecy is, in reality, a prophecy concerning Jesus and the New Covenant, which culminated from his death on Calvary’s cross. The other reference about the “prince that shall come” is an obvious reference to Titus who came with his armies to destroy Jerusalem.
Again, I must remind the reader that it is necessary to study the most referenced texts that the dispensationalists use, in order to show how they have been taken out of context, or else, completely misinterpreted.
The next major passage most often quoted in prophetical circles is Matthew 24, more commonly referred to as the Olivet Discourse.
The Olivet Discourse
“And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and His disciples came to Him for to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, See you not all these things? Verily I say to you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as He sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:1-3)
The apostles believed, as did most of the Jewish people, that when the Messiah came, he would free Israel from political oppression. Notice the question posed to Jesus by the disciples just before his ascension in Acts 1:6. “Lord, will You at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel?” In their minds, Jerusalem would take preeminence over the cities of the world. The beloved temple complex would achieve an unparalleled and elevated status in the Messianic kingdom. Consequently, it was to their shock and amazement when Jesus uttered the unthinkable, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
It is no wonder that the disciples thought that this cataclysm would be consummated at Jesus’ second coming. From Jesus prior teaching, they knew that his coming would be at the “last day” or, in other words, at the end of the world. Therefore, when they asked “when shall these things be?”, they were in effect asking for signs of his second coming. Even today, many confuse the signs of the destruction of the temple with signs of his second coming.
“And Jesus answered and said to them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” (Matthew 24:4,5)
Less than two years after Jesus’ ascension, there was a Samaritan named Dositheus who boldly proclaimed himself to be the Messiah foretold by Moses. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, twelve years after the death of Christ, another deceiver whose name was Theudas persuaded a multitude to follow him to the river Jordan. Supposedly, the river would divide at his command. Irenaeus, in his writings “Against Heresies”, stated that Simon Magus, the sorcerer mentioned in Acts 8, claimed to be the Son of God and creator of angels. In fact, during the reign of Nero, history records that there were so many imposters that “many of them were apprehended and killed every day.”
“And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…” (Matthew 24:6,7)
When Jesus gave this prophecy, the Roman Empire was experiencing a general peace within its borders. But in just a short period of time, the empire was filled with strife, insurrection, and wars. The Roman historian Tacitus, in his Annals, recorded the following accounts: “war in Armenia”, “commotions in Africa”, “disturbances in Germany”, “commotions in Thrace”, “intrigues among the Parthians”, and “the war in Britain”. Even among the Jews, many thousands were killed in Selencia, Alexandria, Syria, and Caesarea during the Jewish revolt of 65/66 A.D.
As the time drew closer to 70 A.D., the fateful date of the destruction of Jerusalem, the Roman Empire was shaken to its very foundation. Notably, 68 A.D. was referred to as the “year of the four Emperors”. In that one year, amid insurrections and civil turmoil, four men ascended to the office of Emperor.
“…and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:7,8)
The Bible records that there was famine “through-out all the world which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar” who reigned from 41 A.D. to 54 A.D. (Acts 11:28). Jerusalem and Judea suffered much from the famine during those years. Paul, writing to the churches in Rome and Corinth, spoke of collecting offerings for the “poor” saints in Jerusalem. The poor suffered the most during the famine. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote of a “failure in crops, and a famine consequent there upon.”
Pestilences, that is, diseases often become the counterpart of famines. Sickly bodies, a consequence of starvation, become the breeding grounds for disease. Another Roman historian, Suetonius, recorded that the pestilence at Rome in the days of Nero caused the death of 30,000 people in just one season.
With regard to earthquakes, history is full of accounts of earthquakes which devastated entire cities. Tacitus mentions that there were “twelve populous cities of Asia” which were destroyed as a result of earthquakes. In 60 A.D., the cities of Hieropolis, Colossae, and Laodicea were almost destroyed from an earthquake. In 63 A.D., Pompeii was greatly damaged by earthquake. Of course, its ultimate demise was from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated of all nations for My name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” (Matthew 24:9,10)
In Luke 21:12, it states that “But before all these”, that is, everything that has been prophesied thus far, the following will happen first. The book of Acts is a historical document of the events and development of the early church. It gives a detailed account of the lives of the disciples as they began to spread the Gospel.
In Acts 4, we read how that Peter and John were both taken and put in prison after healing a lame man. In the very next chapter, all of the apostles were put into prison and beaten for preaching Jesus to the people. In chapter 7, scripture relates the story how that Stephen was stoned to death, thus becoming the first martyr. Acts 8:1 states “at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem.” In Acts 12, Luke records that James, the brother of John, was killed by the sword by order of King Herod. In chapters 21 and 22 of Acts, Paul was beaten and brought before rulers, before whom he testified. Upon reading the book of Acts, we find that Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled in every detail. They were hated, imprisoned, beaten, killed, and testified before rulers and kings.
“And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity [lawlessness] shall abound, the love of many shall wax [become] cold. But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:11-13)
In Acts 13:6 as Paul and Barnabas set sail to Cyprus, they came into its capital, Paphos. It was there in which they encountered a “certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-jesus.” Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, spoke of “false apostles, deceitful workers” (2 Corinthians 11:13). In 2 Timothy 2:17 & 18, Paul specifically names two false prophets: Hymenaeus and Philetus who “concerning the truth have erred…and overthrow the faith of some.” In Titus, Paul even states that “there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers…who subvert whole houses” (Titus 1:10,11). John, who also heard Jesus give the prophecy about false prophets recorded the following: “Many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1); “Many deceivers are entered into the world” (2 John 7). The reader must bear in mind that all these accounts were recorded prior to 70 A.D., the date of Jerusalem’s demise.
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14)
Many televangelists today often cite this scripture when trying to raise funds to pay for their air time. Surely, it is a noble and worthy cause since it will, in effect, speed up the second return of Christ by spreading the gospel to the world. I agree that it is always a good thing to preach the gospel to those still living in spiritual darkness and ignorance. However, I must disagree as to their interpretation and use of this verse in support of their purpose and goal. Please allow me to explain my position.
To begin with, I always try and allow scripture to interpret scripture whenever possible. With this thought in mind, let’s first turn our attention to the second chapter of Acts. In verse 5, we find that Jews and proselytes “out of every nation under heaven” had come to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. As a result, Peter was given the opportunity to preach the first gospel message. Later when persecution came against the church, the believers at Jerusalem were scattered and “went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:1,4). Notice that in Romans 16:25-26, Paul says that the gospel is “made manifest” and has been “made known to all nations”.
By the time Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, he proclaimed that the gospel has “come to you, as it is in all the world” (Colossians 1:6). In this same chapter in verse 23, Paul again says that the gospel “was preached to every creature which is under heaven.” In Romans 1:8, Paul commends the church there by saying that their “faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” What becomes obvious in these passages is that both Jesus and Paul, when making reference to “all nations” or “the whole world”, are referring to the Roman Empire, that is, the then known world at that time.
The real issue in the verse before us, however, is exactly what “end” is Jesus referring to. The Greek word used for “end” in verse 3 is different from the word used in verses 6, 13 and 14. In these verses, the word is telos, and essentially means, “the limit, termination, or uttermost of a purpose or state.” In verse 3, the word is sunteleia. This word means “consummation”. Paul, in speaking of the Jews, had this to say in 1 Thessalonians 2:16, “…to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” The end was the terminus of the old covenant represented by the temple and Jerusalem.
Jesus gives very insightful instructions to the disciples in Matthew 10, especially verses 22 and 23.
“And you shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake: but he that endures to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee you into another: for verily I say to you, You shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” (Matthew 10:22,23)
Notice that Jesus was specifically speaking to the apostles. The “end” in this passage is the same time as when the “Son of man be come”. Observe also, that the disciples would barely have time to preach the gospel into all the cities of Israel before the “Son of man be come.” Unless this passage is completely taken out of context, the “end” in view is the destruction of Jerusalem when Jesus “came” in judgment. As Jesus stood before Pilate, remember the words of the Jews in Jerusalem, “let his blood be upon us and upon our children.” Since they rejected their only Savior, Jesus made this solemn proclamation, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” Many times when Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees about the judgment that was to come upon them and their nation, he repeatedly used the phrase “this generation”, that is, the generation then living.
“When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso reads, let him understand). Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains… And woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck [nurse] in those days… For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matthew 24:15,16,19,21)
Since I have already covered the Daniel prophecy, I will not belabor the point here. However, I would like to quote this same passage taken from Luke’s gospel. Luke removes all ambiguity and plainly reveals that the time of the “abomination of desolation” occurred during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
“And when you (the apostles) shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know [recognise] that the desolation thereof is near. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter therein. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. …for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.” (Luke 21:20-23)
We come now to a highly debatable and much discussed topic. I am referring, of course, to the “great tribulation”. By previously referencing the “holy place”, “Judaea”, and the “Sabbath day”, Jesus is narrowing this “great tribulation” as a time of distress that targets the Jews. In fact, in keeping with contextual integrity of the entire Olivet discourse, the Jewish nation is the clear object and recipient of the thrust of the prophecy (it answers the question posed by the disciples). Jesus was not prophesying about a future tribulation, some two thousand plus years from that time, which was to come upon the Jews, or for that matter, even the Christians. This tribulation was to occur the same time as the destruction of the Jewish temple that was then standing. Jesus states that this distress or tribulation would be the worst ever encountered since the creation, or, ever will be.
Some would object and say that, since there were over 6 million Jews killed during the holocaust, then, this prophecy of a great tribulation could not possibly refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. It is true that many more were killed in the holocaust; however, there are several reasons which make the destruction of Jerusalem the worst calamity and the most devastating event ever, or will ever, be experienced by the Jewish people. Josephus, the Jewish historian who was an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem, gave many graphic details of the Jewish wars of 66 A.D. to 70 A.D. I will cite just a few from his The Wars of the Jews.
“And now there were three treacherous factions in the city, the one against the other…set fire those houses that were full of corn…almost all the corn was burnt, which would have been sufficient for a siege of many years.”
“They fought against each other, while they trod upon the dead bodies as they lay heaped one upon another.”
“But the famine was too hard for all other passions, and it is destructive…insomuch that children pulled the very morsels that their fathers were eating out of their mouths…so did the mothers do as to their infants.”
“They also invented terrible methods of torment to discover where any food was, and they were these: to stop up the passages of the privy parts of the miserable wretches, and to drive sharp stakes up their fundaments!”
“So the soldiers (Romans) out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest; when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.”
“The upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also and the young men wandered about the market-places like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead where ever their misery seized them.”
“A deep silence also, and a kind of deadly night, had seized upon the city; while yet the robbers… brake open those houses which were no other than graves of dead bodies, and plundered them of what they had; and carrying off the coverings of their bodies, went out laughing, and tried the points of their swords on their dead bodies.”
“Yet did another plague seize upon those that were thus preserved…a certain person who was caught gathering pieces of gold out of the excrements of the Jews’ bellies…Nor does it seem to me that any misery befell the Jews that was more terrible than this, since in one night’s time about two thousand of these deserters were thus dissected.”
“Some persons were driven to that terrible distress as to search the common sewers and old dung-hills of cattle, and to eat the dung which they got there.”
“Thus did the miseries of Jerusalem grow worse and worse every day… And, truly, the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down.”
“Moreover, their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew everything…they did eat from their girdles and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed.”
“And as soon as she had said this she slew her infant son and then roasted him; she ate the one half of him, and kept the other half by concealing it.”
Finally, Josephus sums up the horrors that he witnessed during the destruction of Jerusalem with this melancholy statement:
“I shall therefore speak my mind here at once briefly: That neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world.”
Notice the remarkable similarity of language between the words spoken by Jesus and the above statement by Josephus. In 70 A.D., the Jewish nation lost their capital city, lost their beloved temple, lost whatever remnants of hope for a Messiah that would deliver them from political oppression, lost in death over a million Jewish people, lost to captivity and slavery almost another one hundred thousand people, lost during the siege and famine the dignity and humanity of their race, and finally, lost for almost two thousand years the land that was theirs since the time of Abraham. Truly, the words of Jesus in verse 21 about the “great tribulation” described the tragic truth and reality of the demise of the Jewish religion and culture. Without a temple, the Jews were deprived of a means of sacrificial worship.
“For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even to the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” (Matthew 24:27,28)
To many, these verses speak of Jesus’ second coming, commonly known as the rapture. However, I believe that they refer to Jesus’ coming in judgment in 70 A.D. It is all in context with the “abomination of desolation” and the “great tribulation”. Jesus is telling the disciples in these verses, that the coming judgment upon Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, will not come as a surprise. In point of fact, Jesus alludes to passages in Jeremiah in verse 28.
“And the carcasses of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven…Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth…the land shall be desolate.” (Jeremiah 7:33,34)
“And I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place; and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hands of them that seek their lives: and their carcasses will I give to be meat for the fowls of the heaven…And I will make this city desolate…in the siege.” (Jeremiah 19:7-9)
In verse 29, Jesus states that “after the tribulation”, apocalyptic signs would be seen in the heavens. Let the reader notice that this is said in conjunction with the “coming of the Son of man” in verse 27. Again, more evidence of the context being referenced to the time of Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 A.D.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:29-31)
Many Bible scholars believe that the signs spoken of in verse 29 will literally occur, especially those from the dispensational camp. Just a brief review of some Old Testament passages, however, would negate this interpretation and conclusion. I will provide to the reader a few of these passages that utilize this same genre of apocalyptic imagery. The message is the same: the demise and judgment of a nation.
“Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt … And when I shall put you out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon your land, says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 32:7,8)
“And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falls off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the tree. …..and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea (Edom). For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance” (Isaiah 34:4,6,8)
“The burden of Babylon…Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and He shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.” (Isaiah 13:1,9,10)
From the above passages, the reader can readily see that the poetic, or rather, apocalyptic language is used for something climatic and historic. Of course, in these Old Testament examples, the reference is to God’s judgment on ungodly nations. Similarly, the same language is used to describe the judgment upon the nation of Israel, including the terminus of its sacrificial system of worship as represented by the destruction of the temple.
Those from the dispensational camp might counter and say that surely verse 30 refers to the second coming of Christ. At first glance, it does appear that it may point to that conclusion. However, there are several reasons why it still represents the judgment upon Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
To begin with, notice the “then” in verse 21, the “immediately” in verse 29, and the “then” in verse 30. These terms are used to describe the sequence or order of events that was to happen. In fact, when the word “then” is employed in a sentence, it is normally used to connect the previous thought with the very next thought. Therefore, the “then” in verse 30 connects the thought of verse 29, which we have previously shown to refer to the demise of Jerusalem and its temple.
Secondly, the phrase “tribes of the earth” do not refer to the nations of the world. The term “tribes” is a descriptive word for the Jewish nation. Everyone is familiar with the “twelve tribes of Israel”. Also, the use of the word “earth” signifies the “land” of Israel.
This verse is almost identical with Revelation 1:7. The passage in Revelation is referencing the destruction of Jerusalem. This is further explained in my paper entitled, Understanding the book of Revelation. I will simply quote the verse in Revelation so the reader can see the apparent similarity with Matthew 24:30.
“Behold, He comes with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds (tribes) of the earth shall wail [mourn] because of Him…” (Revelation 1:7)
The Jewish rabbis often referred to the Messiah as “bar nivli”, meaning “son of the clouds”. In Daniel 7:13, it states that “the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven…” Furthermore, in the Old Testament, God “coming in the clouds” spoke of his judgment upon the ungodly. Jesus told the high priest that he would still be alive when he witnessed the Son of man “coming in the clouds of heaven”. Josephus records that Caiaphas the high priest was alive at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In Zechariah 12 there are prophecies of Jesus’ first advent. I will provide to the reader at this time a couple of these verses to show the relationship to the phrases found in Matthew 24:30 and Revelation 1:7 (“tribes of the earth mourn” and “kindreds of the earth shall wail”).
“…and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourned for his only son… In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem…” (Zechariah 12:10,11)
Finally, in verse 31, the angels are sent forth to “gather together his elect” from all parts of the world.
Again, most would view this “gathering” to occur at Jesus’ second coming. Nevertheless, we must interpret scripture in the light of its context. The context is still speaking of the specific signs preceding the destruction of Jerusalem. How then can we explain this verse? Since I know that “all these things” (verses 33 and 34) must be fulfilled before and during the period of the judgment upon Jerusalem in 70 A.D., then the interpretation of verse 31 must be found somewhere else. The writer of Hebrews will help us in this pursuit.
“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14)
The phrase “shall be heirs of salvation” obviously refers to the “elect”. Although the preaching of the gospel is done by man, they are aided by the angels. God, in his omniscience, knew who the “elect” were before the foundation of the world. Thus, we see in this verse, the angels as ministering spirits carrying out the ultimate will of God in gathering together the elect.
“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near: So likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say to you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of THAT DAY and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” (Matthew 24:32-36)
In these verses, Jesus is explaining to the disciples that just as you can tell that summer is coming by the fig tree putting forth its leaves, so too, can you tell when the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple will be by discerning the specific signs that he had just given them in verses 4-31. This is evident by his double use of the phrase, “all these things”. He further points out that “all these things” will happen in this generation, that is, the generation then living. In verse 35, Jesus is essentially saying that you can “take it to the bank and cash it”, using today’s vernacular.
We now come to the pivotal point of the discourse. In verse 36, Jesus now focuses on the second question as posed by the disciples, namely, his second return. Although the disciples thought all this would occur at Jesus second advent and the end of the world, Jesus separates the two and clarifies it for them. Here, Jesus emphatically declares that his second coming (THAT DAY) is a day unknown to man and the angels. In point of fact, Jesus only gives one sign that would be a hint as to the approximate time of his coming. That one sign is that it would be much like the days of Noah.
In the next chapter, I will give more information about the days of Noah, and also, some additional signs that Jesus gave to the “beloved disciple”, John.
Chapter 5 here.
Download PDF of the whole book: When Jesus Returns — What Then? by Jim Gibson