Doomsday? Will Earth Be Destroyed? (Olivet Discourse [Other Arguments for Past Fulfillment]) Part 4

There are some basic arguments against a futurist understanding of the Olivet Discourse. Within the context that Jesus spoke, it seems reasonable that he was continuing to pronounce judgment on the old system of Temple worship that he would have viewed as corrupt and void. The judgment of God on the nation of Israel was inevitable; and this was going to be carried out through the pagan nation of Rome. Jesus’ statements about the fall of the Temple can be seen as the “focal point of Jesus’ whole prophetic ministry.”[1] The coming judgment would culminate the official end of the Jewish age of sacrifice, and usher in the ‘beginning’ of God’s new family (first the Jew, then the Gentile) in a more tangible way.[2]

Another argument for first century fulfillment is that Jesus described the whole of His prophetic discourse as having to be fulfilled in the generation of his hearers. In Mark 13 (and parallel accounts) Jesus gives a promise concerning the whole of what He has just predicted. [3] I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”[4] This statement of Jesus has been understood in one of two ways. The futurist (premillenialists, et cetera) interpretation of the phrase ‘this generation’ is often to view the phrase as speaking of the Jewish race of people rather than a time in history. John MacArthur does not hold to that understanding but rather believes that ‘this generation’ will be the one that is alive during the cosmic disturbances of the future.[5] I would propose that the word ‘this’ represented the actual group that Jesus was addressing in the first century. Everything in the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in the events leading up to 70 A.D. The “Bible Answer Man,” Hank Hanegraaff, (who can be a bit hyper-modern at times, but helpful in this area) states the following in reference to this matter:

When Jesus says, “this generation,” this means this. This does not mean that. The phrase “this generation” appears multiple times in the Gospels and always refers to Jesus’ contemporaries. Allow me to state the obvious. Our Lord was not grammatically challenged in the least. Had he wanted to draw the attention of his disciples to a generation nineteen hundred years hence, he would not have confused them with the adjective this.[6]

Finally, Jesus may not have taught literal future cosmic disturbances, as many suppose based on the Olivet Discourse, but when He makes references to the future they seem to deal with issues of either: resurrection[7] or putting the universe back to rights.[8] Jesus’ prophetic ministry did not focus on the eventual doomsday scenarios that many in the church have imagined, but one of His statements that does pertain to the second coming can be found in Matthew:

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory…”[9]

Jesus is coming again to heal all of creation and to carry this project to completion. He will lift the curse of Eden and fulfill the hopes of Isaiah and the others in the Old Testament. When Christ returns it will be to transform the cosmos. The physical world will be renewed, and those who have trusted in Christ for salvation will be restored to glory through resurrection.[10]

[1]N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 344.

[2]Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return?, 71.

[3]Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return?, 56-57.

[4]Holy Bible, New International Version, Mark 13:30.

[5]MacArthur, The Second Coming:: Signs of Christ’s Return and the End of the Age, 133.

[6]Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answer Book, Volume 2 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006), 211.

[7] See Matthew 22:23-33 for an example of Jesus’ affirmation of resurrection of the body.

[8]Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, 10.

[9]Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Matthew 19:28a [emphasis added].

[10]Bell, Velvet Elvis: repainting the Christian faith, 160-161.

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  • Enjoyed the post but am concerned with this statement you made: “The coming judgment would culminate the official end of the Jewish age, and usher in the beginning of God’s new family.” It sounds like Replacement Theology where God does away with the Jewish Nation. I would rather say that God has been for the whole world since the beginning but, because of the fall, he called out his special people to be a nation of priests calling the goyim (nations) back to right standing before God. This all culminated in Jesus and in the work of the Apostles. We live in the moment where God’s reign has burst forth and all who trust in Jesus way stand arm in arm working as priests in God’s temple (our bodies), doing the business of the temple (offering forgiveness, making sacrifice, availing God’s presence and wholeness to the broken, etc.).

    Other than that 🙂 have you listened to this lecture given by Gordon Fee? It is on “Preaching Apocalyptic”. The whole series is great actually.

    • Paul, I actually went into the post and attempted to clean up that sentence a bit because of your concern 🙂 I don’t hold to “Replacement Theology” but I also do not believe that God has two distinct peoples with two distinct plans. He has one family from faithful Israel in which he has invited the Gentiles to join. The book of Romans seems to make the claim that the church’s role is to ‘woo’ the Jews who have not recognized Jesus so that they can finally have the fulfillment of what they have longed for. Thanks for the comment and come back soon!

  • I’ve heard the alternative arguments for what ‘this’ means far too many times (either the generation of the last days or the Jewish race), and I’ve never heard anyone making that argument who didn’t sound like they were radically and openly twisting the text to fit their preconceived theology.
    When you have to explain away such clear passages for your system to work perhaps it is time to reevaluate it…

    • Mason… Let me just simply say: “i feel ya dawg…”

  • I find it interesting that the people who typically consider themselves to believe the Bible to be “literal” (i.e. fundamentalists) are generally the ones who explain away “this” as meaning “that” when it comes to “this generation”.

    The reality is that they are situational literalists… now I am not saying that one should believe all of the bible literally. There are some sections that are obviously poetry and thus should be read that way… I just think that people need to be honest about the fact that they believe certain things to be literal and others to be figurative. The question is what parts? Personally, I think taking the Sermon on the Mount and other words of Jesus to be “literal” (like loving ones enemy) is more important than taking parts of Genisis as being literal… Anyways… thats a side note.

    Good post Kurt… now I need to get back to my thesis…

  • Guy

    i do completely agree about these passages. but i would like to hear your comments particularly on what seems like a shift in Jesus’ speech, where he says “but of that day and hour” no one but the Father knows when it will happen, not even Jesus himself. Is he still talking about immediate events? (i’m a little on the fence, but i tend to think he’s still dealing with what is now past–that the entire speech has already been fulfilled.) If he’s still talking about the events of and leading up to 70a.d., what does this portion of the speech mean? Further, why provide sign after sign so that his hearers could know when this event would take place or was soon to, yet turn around and say no one knew when it would happen? Didn’t he just *say* when it would happen (i.e., when all those things came to pass)?

    • I’m not sure saying “when you see these landmarks, you know you’re getting close” is synonymous with saying “you’ll get there at this time and date.”

    • Hey Guy. Because Jesus wanted his disciples to be always on the alert, he didn’t give a specific date and time (March 23, AD70 at 10:00 AM for instance, to speak a bit anachronistically). Actually, he said he himself didn’t know the specifics concerning the date and time. By giving them signs of the approaching event, he could keep them always alert and ready, particularly watching for the specific event (the abomination which makes desolate). By giving signs rather than a specific date and time, they wouldn’t be tempted to (as it were) go to sleep and set their alarm clocks.

  • Guy

    for some reason, using your comments program crashes my explorer every time. i wanted to participate, but doesn’t look good.

  • Guy, so sorry about that! I dont know that it ever was fixed, but now I am a wordpress blog man, so come back soon!