But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (Matthew 24:36)
The disciples thought that the temple would come down when Jesus returned at the end of the age. To them, these events were connected. But history shows they are not. The temple has come down, but we are still looking forward to Christ’s triumphant return.
The fall of the temple and the Second Coming of Jesus. The first event was predictable – Jesus gave the disciples forty signposts – but the second is a mystery. “But of that day and hour no one knows.” The former can be anticipated, but the latter “will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess 5:2).
Mr. Preterist: “I disagree. Jesus is talking about one and the same day. The fall of Jerusalem was the day when Christ returned in judgment of that sinful city.”
Mr. Futurist: “But one day is marked by signposts; the other day is unknown.”
Mr. Preterist: “Jesus knew the fall of Jerusalem would happen within a generation but he didn’t know exactly when – not the day or hour. This is why he told the disciples to pray that their flight wouldn’t fall on a Sabbath or in winter.”
As we have seen, the notion that Jesus came on Jerusalem in fiery judgment in AD70 is a popular but graceless interpretation of scripture. Nor does this judgmental interpretation square with Christ’s warnings:
And he said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them. (Luke 21:8)
One of the characteristics of a first-century false prophet is they went around saying the Lord’s return was imminent. “Don’t listen to them,” said Jesus, “Because they don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s not imminent and the actual hour and day are unknown.”
The preterist view that Christ returned in AD70 can only be true if Christ is mistaken. This is just one of several reasons why preterism, although it does a generally excellent job of accounting for the fall of Jerusalem, does a poor job of dealing with the return of Christ. According to preterism, the two events are connected. But according to Jesus, the two events are as different as night and day:
|Night Falls on Jerusalem (Matt 24:4-35)||The Day of the Lord (Matt 24:36-41)|
These are strikingly different pictures. One is Mordor; the other is Pleasantville. One is marked by calamities; the other is normal life. One is predictable; the other is unexpected. One ends with a tragic disaster (Jerusalem falls), the other climaxes with a glorious triumph (Christ returns).
Since the disciples asked about two different events (the fall of the temple and his return), Jesus gave two prophecies, and they couldn’t be more different.
Yet both Mr. Preterist and Mr. Futurist treat these two prophecies as one. Mr. Preterist says everything on the right side of the table belongs on the left, while Mr. Futurist says everything on the left side belongs on the right. Mr. Preterist says the Lord came in AD70, while Mr. Futurist says the signposts for that generation are for the last generation. They are both mistaken.
Jesus said again and again that the disciples would see the first prophecy fulfilled, but the second prophecy was something they would never see:
And he said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.” (Luke 17:22)
When you see some injustice or evil, you might pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, and put an end to this suffering.” It’s possible that the disciples prayed this prayer when they saw false messiahs leading people to their deaths, or when they heard about the Roman siege machines smashing Galilean towns. They would’ve longed to see King Jesus return in power. But Jesus said, “You will not see it.”
There were many things the disciples would see – wars, famines, tribulation – but there was one thing they wouldn’t. In the coming generation they would see Jerusalem fall, but they wouldn’t see Christ return. They would see the temple come down but not the Lord.
Extracted from Paul Ellis’s forthcoming book AD70 and the End of the World.