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The Transition Text in Matthew 24
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D.
False Prophecies for Fun and Prophet | The "Transitional Verses" in Matthew 24 | Recent Developments in the Eschatological Debate | As Lightening Cometh From the East | The Spiritual Nature of the Kingdom | Apocalypse Then | Book Review: Revelation: Four Views | A Brief Theological Analysis of Full Preterism
I have had several inquiries seeking a fuller explanatory justification for my argument that Christ's attention turns from A.D. 70 to the future Second Advent in the transition verses,
Matthew 24:34-36. I would like to offer a treatment of the matter.
The "Problem" with the Transition Text
It is frequently noted that the "coming of Christ" is mentioned before and after the transition text of
Matthew 24:34-36. It is further noted that these references are virtually identical. For instance Matthew 24:27 reads: "For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Compare this with post-transitional Matthew 24:37: "But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." How are we justified in taking two identical statements in the space of a unified discourse and applying them to events separated by thousands (and I suspect, tens of thousands) of years?
Linguistic Sense and Historical Referent
Now, is it hermeneutically possible for identical terms or phrases to be applied to different events? As a matter of fact, it is not only possible, but quite common in human language and biblical revelation. For astute students of philosophy and theology it is not uncommon for there to be inter-contextual differences between identical terms regarding sense and referent. Let me explain what I mean.
The fundamental linguistic sense of 'coming' has to do with a visitation of divine judgment upon man. This is the very essence of the notion of "the coming of the Son of Man," for instance. But the particular historical referent of a "coming' may be either the A.D. 70 coming, or the Second Advental coming to punctuate the end of history - or some other divine judgment visitation.
Beyond the introduction of this matter relative to the philosophy of language, it is important to realize that A.D. 70 is not unrelated to the Second Advent. As the ending of the era of sacrificial rituals and Israel-exalting redemptive history, A.D. 70 is a pre-consummational type of the Second Advent's history ending, consummational conclusion. Hence, the similarity of language and the mixing of ideas is justified on the basis of the relationship of type (A.D. 70) to antitype (Second Advent) [This phenomenon of type/anti-type is very common in Davidic/Messianic passages. In such references, what is said of the historical King David often applies to the Messianic King Jesus.]
Examples of this sort of 'problem" abound in Scripture.
(1) The same sort of inter-contextual shift occurs in Revelation 20:46, where two resurrectional coming-to-life occurrences are spoken of: one is spiritual, the other physical. John himself, the writer of Revelation, gives us warrant for making such an interpretive maneuver; see John 5:25-29 [He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992),415-417.]
(2) Paul frequently shift his meaning of "law" in Romans 3-8 between the Old Testament revelation as such, the Pharisaic idea of "law as meritorious principle," and "Law as God's revealed non-meritorious standard of righteousness" [See: John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 1:105ff; 2:49ff.]
(3) When you compare John 2:13-17 with Matthew 21:12-13 you will find the references to the cleansing of the Temple almost identical. But, of course, they are separated by about three and one-half years.
More relevantly, various mentions of "the day of the Lord' are referred to in Scripture. The general sense in all places is 'divine visitation in judgment"; the specific referent might be upon Babylon (cp. Isa. 13:1 with 1:6, 9), Egypt (cp. Jer. 46:8, with 46:1 0), Israel (cp. Joel 1:2 with 1:1 5; cp. Zeph. 1:1,2,4 with 1:7), or on the world at large (2 Pet. 3:10). For a discussion of the 2 Peter 3 passage, see my He Shall Have Dominion, 301-305.
The Transition Text Revisited
Now let me turn to the reasons why I hold there is a contextual shift here in
Matthew 24:34-36, which reads: "Verily I say unto 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 knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only."
First, the Greek phrase PERI DE ("now concerning") in Matthew 24:36 is used by Matthew as an indicator of a change of subject. Along with all the other data below, this is strongly suggestive of the change I am suggesting.
Second, by all appearance
Matthew 24:34 seems to function as a concluding statement, having specific reference to the preceding events. If all of Matthew 24 were for the first century, why would not the Lord hold off on the concluding statement until the end of His discourse? The following events (Matt. 24:36-51) relate to some other event that was not to occur in 'this generation." Thus, all events before verse 34 are to occur to 'this generation."
Third, there seems to be an intended contrast between that which is near (in verse 34) and that which is far (in verse 36): this generation vs. that day. It would seem more appropriate for Christ to have spoken of 'this day" rather than 'that day" if He had meant to refer to the time of 'this generation.'
Fourth, along these same lines, we should notice the pretransition emphasis on plural 'days" in contrast to the focus on the singular "day' afterwards. 'This generation' involves many 'days" for the full accomplishment of the protracted (Matt. 24:22) Great Tribulation. Indeed, were the Great Tribulation on one particular day, its horror would be greatly reduced. By the very nature of the case "that day' of the future Second Advent will come in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (cp. I Cor. 15:52). The Second Advent does not span days, whereas the Great Tribulation does.
In Matthew 24:19, 22, and 29 the Lord makes reference to the plural 'days' that are fraught with judgment and terror. These involve times consumed by war and famine (vv. 6-7), which take time. He does, of course, mention that these people should pray that their flight not be on a singular 'sabbath' (Matt. 24:20). But this has reference to taking flight on any sabbath, not a particular one. The Great Tribulation era will cover a number of sabbath days as it develops.
It is true that Christ does speak of the future era of the Second Advent as being like the "days [plural] of Noah" (Matt. 24:37, 38). But it is clear that His focus is on "that" singular day, when Christ ("the Lord") comes to punctuate the end of history (vv. 36, 50) and to bring final judgment upon men (v. 51).
Fifth, before verse 34 there are signs to the A.D. 70 coming; after it there are no signs. The time of Jerusalem's destruction is a sign-filled era that called for attentive watching through sign reading. There will be false Christs (v. 5), wars and rumors of wars (w. 6-7), famines and earthquakes (v. 7b), persecution and betrayal (vv. 9-1 2), and false prophets (v. I 1). His hearers will be witness to the abomination of desolation (v. 15) and urged to flee from the area when they see it (vv. 16-21). There will be great signs and wonders (v. 24), of which He informs them, since He knows what is to come and when (v. 25). Thus, when all these things begin occurring, they serve as signs of the impending nearness of Christ's judgment coming on Jerusalem (vv. 32-33). The time of its approach may be known.
After verse 34 such signs and objectively verifiable events vanish from the discourse. His statements become more generic: the days will be like the "days of Noah" (vv, 37-39) in which people were eating and drinking and marrying, until the judgment falls on particular individuals (vv. 40-41) on that particular 'day' (v. 42). This in effect speaks of signlessness: mundane social concourse continues unawares. Thus, the Son of Man does not give concrete signs of that future, Second Advental coming. There appears in the discourse at this juncture generic encouragements to labor because of the lack of signs.
Sixth, even Christ Himself claims He does not know the time of the Second Advent (v. 36). Whereas in the early section He clearly knows the time of the events leading to the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 (vv. 29-30). He tells His disciples that certain signs may come, but He knows full well that "the end is not yet' (v. 6). He dogmatically asserts that these things will happen to "this generation" (v. 34). Thus, He can positively assert 'behold, I have told you in advance" (v. 25).
Seventh, in the early section of Matthew 24, the time frame is clearly specified: He asserts the nearness of events: "this generation" (v. 34). In the following section (and into chapter 25, which is not separated from chapter 24 in the original) the reference is to a long delay: 'But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming" (Matt. 24:48) 'While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept" (Matt. 25:5). "After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them" (Matt. 25:19). The designation "far" is certainly a relative concept. However, when used in a context and in apposition to "this generation" designates, its relativity is in strong contrast.
Eighth, in the early section of Matthew 24 the setting is chaotic, with wars, quakes, and famines. Who can read the first portion of Matthew 24 without a sense of turmoil and dread? Whereas, in the latter section the scene is tranquil, with men carrying on their normal daily affairs as if nothing is going to happen. This is a strong indicator of a major change of scenery. The difference is between the war-torn Great Tribulation and the unexpected appearance of Christ to end history.
A few adherents to the change of subject matter include F. T. France, Matthew (Tyndale Commentaries), R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel According to Matthew (Tyndale), J. M. Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (P&R), and J. A. Alexander, Matthew.
What do YOU think ?
What do YOU think ?
When/where was this published?
-Tom George in Plano, TX
My problem with this that Mr. Gentry does not address the personal pronoun 'you' used after the supposed 'transition.' Jesus used this term at least 4 times after this point. According to Mr. Gentry's thinking, Jesus would have used 'they.' So, Jesus clearly ties the events *after* the 'transition' text to the life of his disciples.
Also, he doesn't explain how the text is arranged differntly in Luke as it is in Matthew. Luke puts things after the supposed 'transition' verse before it and some things before it, after it. This shows us that these were not two separate events (at least not in the mind of Luke) but the same event.
Jack Gillespie Odyssey
As is the case with almost all who deny full preterism, Gentry goes through a lot of Biblical "gymnastics" hoping to get us to believe that "maybe" Jesus doesn't mean what He's saying, and "maybe" when He addresses His statements to "them" with "you", etc., etc., again it has another meaning--mainly the one Gentry wants, rather than the plain historical setting to whom and to which it was stated!
It is frequently noted that the "coming of Christ" is mentioned before and after the transition text of Matthew 24:34-36. It is further noted that these references are virtually identical. For instance Matthew 24:27 reads: "For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Compare this with post-transitional Matthew 24:37: "But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." How are we justified in taking two identical statements in the space of a unified discourse and applying them to events separated by thousands (and I suspect, tens of thousands) of years?
The two verses are not in agreement. I'm surprised he missed this, because it further strengthens his argument. And advancing storm seen off in the distance gives people time to escape and seek refuge. Gentry missed the imagery.
I'm still waiting for Gentry to explain the relationship between Daniel 12:1-3 and Matthew 24:21. Until he does, any arbitrary break he puts into the text of Matthew 24 is meaningless.
I can just picture the Disciples sitting around the camp fire after the Olivet Discourse saying to themselves "Did you hear the way Jesus transitioned in Verse xx into his discussion about a future coming.
This transition text theory is a bunch of nonsense cooked up by theologians studying every word Jesus said and than telling us that he really did not mean what he said.
The Disciples would have had no way to figure this "transition" out. They asked him a simple question and he gave them a simple answer.
Don't you think we as Christians should rethink our presuppositions about the second coming rather than reinterpreting Jesus words to fit our presuppostions.
Christopher C. King
Romans 11:25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins."
If the full number of Gentiles came in at 70 AD then no more Gentiles would be saved. If the full number comes in after 70 AD then in the (Full)Preterist view how could there be a "full number" if the world keeps going on and on and on?
The previous message asks how it is that Rom.11:25 could be fulfilled - specifically the "full number of the Gentiles". There are numerous reasons why Rom. chapter 11 is completely fulfilled, but to be brief....
This "full number" issue is very simply referring to the clear time-restriction of Matt.24:14 - "And this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" Did this come to pass? You betcha - Rom.1:8; 10:18; Col.1:5,6,23; I Thess.1:8-10. This does not mean that the nations are no longer converted to the Gospel (see Rev.22:1-2,for example) - but it simply means that an ordained number of Gentile converts were elected unto salvation during the "blindness" of Israel after the flesh, that they might provoke to jealousy those Jews who were chosen unto salvation prior to A.D.70 - the "remnant according to the election of grace" (11:5)- the 144,000 Jews of Revelation.
Jonathan C. firstname.lastname@example.org (for anyone who may like to discuss Preterism)
is the man of sin in 2thess 2v3 and the antichrist, and the beast in rev the same if not what is there diffrent roles.
Has anyone read "Matthew 24 Fulfilled" by Evangelist John Bray? This book answers Mr. Gentry quite well and is extremely thorough for a trade sized paperback. He spends an entire chapter refuting the "transition text" theory. He does borrow from Mr. Gentry occasionally as well as other commentators with which he may take issue on some points. Mr. Bray is not at all antagonistic or exclusive but respectful of the other Preterist writers, whle at the same time very thoroughly correting some of their views, particularly on this issue and the "double reference" issue. I have read many books on Preterism and postmillenialism and this one seems to be the strongest. However, it is somewhat limited in its focus: Matthew 24. Jim in New Mexico email@example.com
This is the best song and dance performance to date that I've read by a theologian who claims to be hermeneutically proficient. Jesus says what He meant. There is no transition.
I agree with the transition theory whole-heartedly. I believe in time many others will as well.
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I agree with Dr.Gentry on the transitional verse in Mat.24 he has done a masterful job on the subject. As for the so called consistent preterist view I think they go too far with the system and they deny a very important part of the gospel. One problem is they deny a bodily resurection and the fact that death is done away with in the process. I would ask what are you going to do with 1st.Cor.15:24-26 and 54-56 and why are people still dying? Hugh Clark
This theory seems to make sense until one reads Luke chapter 17. Apparently Luke did not know about this transition as he brings events from both sides of the Olivet Discourse into one single event. That event is the parousia of Jesus Christ which answers to both the coming in judgement upon Jerusalem and the eschatological Second Advent of the Lord. They are one and the same. I have often wondered how men like J. Marcellus Kik and R.J. Rushdoony could miss such an obvious refutation in Luke 17 of the transition text theory. Ken Gentry is wonderful pastor and theologian. I once had the priviledge of being a member of his church. He is also a really nice guy with a great sense of humor. I once confronted Ken with Luke 17. Luke clearly comingles events from both sides of the Olivet Discourse into one historical event. His answer was that Luke 17 was "eschatological jargon". Ken, I respectfully disagree with you. It is difficult for many to believe that the eschatological Second Advent of the Lord has already occurred. Luke chapter 17 takes the partial out of partial preterism. Calling Luke 17 "eschatological jargon" falls short of being a compelling arguement for holding on to the transition text arguement in Matthew 24. Steve Schneider Alexandria, VA
i believe you hit the head on the nail brother with matthew 24 god bless bill
Chridtopher King said:I can just picture the Disciples sitting around the camp fire after the Olivet Discourse saying to themselves "Did you hear the way Jesus transitioned in Verse xx into his discussion about a future coming. Well, in Eze.12 we read that "NONE of my words will be delayed any longer." So,according to HP hermeneutic, the outpouring of the Spirit in Ez. 37 occured within a generation of Eze 12! Now the HP will say that it called "project immanence?!?." Now, I can just here the Israelites saying "Did you hear the way Ezekeil used "project immanence?" Thus, the double standard of the HP. -Paul
Alot of interesting points. I think both sides have a few things left to answer adequately. Quick comment though: for the people who argue against the transition theory (in this case) on the basis that the disciples would not have understood Jesus' words any other way, I would discourage this line of reasoning. First, there seems to be plenty of other significant evidence for a first century reference. But more importantly, the whether or not the disciples "got it" makes little difference. The disciples hardly "got" much of anything for awhile and many arguments could be made that even into acts (the first chapter especially) that they were not quite there yet in their understanding of things. Bottom line, is that the words of our Lord do not need to be validated in this case based on whether or not the disciples would have understood it or not. While certainly and important thing to take into consideration at times, in Matthew 24 the words of Jesus stand on their own. While I understand the point, I would not refer to disciples sitting around the campfire.
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