Introduction to the End according to Matthew 24 and the rest of the Canon

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This exegetical project is the fruit of many years of thinking about the subject. At one time I have held all of the major views. Due to one exegetical difficulty or another I have been slowly forced into the current mode of expression contained herein. I hope it is helpful to the reader. I have been helped along the way by many thoughtful friends, professors, colleagues, and writers. It only seems right to return the favor to others.

There are various views on the subject of eschatology. There are dispensational futurist views, which hold that Matthew 24-25 describes a renewed Jerusalem Temple, a rapture of the church followed by a seven year tribulation, and then a return of Christ to rule Jerusalem for one-thousand years, after which there will be a final new heavens and new earth created in which the righteous will dwell.

There is a futurist interpretation which holds to a future return of Christ, apaprt from a rapture and tribulation, followed by the same one-thousand year reign of Christ on earth. There is a historical position known as partial preterism (that which came before) which holds that all of the content of Matthew 24-25 refers to the war of the Jews and destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. There are figurative interpretations where the belief is that the tribulations of the passage are cyclical throughout the whole age, and the references to the temple are concerning Christ’s body as the temple which was destroyed and three days later risen again.

All of these views have their merits, yet they all have their problems. We shall see those problems next.

The view we take writing this is generally the view of John Chrysostom, John Murray, John Calvin, and Don Carson. These authors all differ on a few details but agree on the substance of their outline, approach to and interpretation of the figurative symbolism, use of the synoptic Gospels, harmonization of the eschatology of the whole canon, their approach to the main question in Matthew 24:3, and sensitivity to the eschatology of the creeds and confessions of the church

Issues:

Here are some of the issues with which one must contend as one seeks to unravel this difficult section of scripture.  First, in Daniel 9:26-27 the Prince who is to come is described as a desolator, destroyer of the city of Jerusalem. Matthew 24:15 refers to this abominable one who makes desolation. Then verse 16 and following seem to describe the tribulation of those days.

Second, there is what is called the Synoptic Problem. The synoptic Gospels follow generally the same content but with differences in the exact outline, the question asked by the apostles (Matthew apparently refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, the coming of Christ, and the End of the world distinctly, Mark seems to abridge it into a sign of the end related to the destruction of the temple in the far future, and Luke seems to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in the past- at first glance). The details about Jerusalem in Luke 21:20-22 prove another difficulty when cross referenced to Matthew 24:15 where the content for Matthew is the abomination of desolation (or the abomination which causes desolation if taken as a verbal genitive), and Luke refers to the armies surrounding Jerusalem in a siege.

Third, there is the canonical problem. The teachings of Jesus must in some way cohere with the teachings of Daniel, Acts 1:10-11, 1Thess  4:14ff, 2Peter 2-3, and the Revelation of John.

A fourth issue is the time signature references within Matthew’s discourse. The time indicators seem to be contradictory if one wants to collapse all into one figurative cohesion with phrases like: these things are not the end, then the end shall come, those days, after those days, this generation will not pass away, and no one knows the day of the hour, there is no sign of the times, and there are signs of the times.

Fifth, there is a difficulty as to how one approaches the figurative  language in the text. Some relate it to a past event in AD 70. Others take all of the events to refer to a historic future tribulation and rapture. Some take it as figurative for Christ’s body and blood, which certainly it should be, but then one must also take the time indicators seriously, which this view seems to ignore.

Sixth, the creedal problem posed by futurists is that they seem to need a historical event prior to the coming of Christ, which the creeds seem to teach to be immanent. The preterist interpretation also falls into this creedal problem, because the return of Christ seems to be in the past, not the future.

The main thesis of this project (which will come out in successive articles here) is that the view held by John Calvin, Chrysostom, Murray, and Carson seems to make the most sense of these difficulties. As R.C. Sproul teaches, one must land on eschatological conclusions like a butterfly with sore feet.

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