Jamaican JW and others have raised some very interesting points regarding the Last Days and the prophecy of Matthew 24:4-31, commonly called the “last days prophecy”. So many points were raised that I thought it best to address them in a post.
There is a real temptation to which our Organization has succumbed frequently to explain away apparent discrepancies in an interpretation of prophecy by postulating a dual fulfillment. Back in the days of brother Fred Franz, we went way overboard with this and the similar “prophetic parallel” and “type/antitype” approach to prophetic interpretation. One particularly silly example of this was saying that Eliezer depicted the holy spirit, Rebekah represented the Christian congregation, and the ten camels brought to her were comparable to the Bible. (w89 7/1 p. 27 par. 16, 17)
With all that in mind, let’s look at the “last days” and Matthew 24:4-31 with our focus on the possibility of dual fulfillment.
The Last Days
There is an argument to be made for the last days having a minor and major fulfillment. This is the official position of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and part of that is the teaching that Jesus’ words recorded at Matthew 24:4-31 constitute the sign that we are in the last days. Any Witness will readily confess that the last days began in 1914 when Jesus’ words about “wars and reports of wars” were fulfilled in the outbreak of World War I.
It would likely surprise most of my JW brethren to learn that Jesus never used the expression “last days”, neither in the context of this prophecy, nor elsewhere in the four accounts of his life and preaching work. So when we say that wars, pestilences, earthquakes, famines, the worldwide preaching work, et all, are a sign we are in the last days, we are making an assumption. We all know what can happen when you “ass-u-me” something, so let’s make sure our assumption has some scriptural validity before proceeding as if it were the truth.
To begin, let’s look at Paul’s often-quoted words to Timothy, however let’s not stop at vs. 5 as is our custom, but let’s read to the end.
(2 Timothy 3:1-7) . . .But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, 3 having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, 4 betrayers, headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away. 6 For from these arise those men who slyly work their way into households and lead as their captives weak women loaded down with sins, led by various desires, 7 always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth.
“Weak women…always learning…never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth”? He’s not talking about the world at large, but of the Christian congregation.
Can it be said with confidence that these conditions existed in the sixth decade of the first century, but not afterwards? Were these characteristics absent from the Christian congregation from the 2nd century down to the 19th, only returning to manifest themselves after 1914? That would have to be the case if we accept a dual fulfillment? What good would a sign be of a time period if the sign existed both outside and inside the time period?
Now let’s look at the other places the term “last days” is used.
(Acts 2:17-21) . . .‘“And in the last days,” God says, “I shall pour out some of my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and YOUR sons and YOUR daughters will prophesy and YOUR young men will see visions and YOUR old men will dream dreams; 18 and even upon my men slaves and upon my women slaves I will pour out some of my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 And I will give portents in heaven above and signs on earth below, blood and fire and smoke mist; 20 the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and illustrious day of Jehovah arrives. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.”. . .
Peter, under inspiration, applies Joel’s prophecy to his time. This is beyond dispute. Additionally, the young men did see visions and the old men did dream dreams. This is attested to in Acts and elsewhere in the Christian Scriptures. However, there is no scriptural evidence that the Lord gave “portents in heaven above and signs on earth below, blood and fire and smoke mist; 20 the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood.” We might assume it occurred, but there is no evidence of that. Adding to the argument against the fulfillment of this part of Joel’s words in the first century is that these portents are tied to the arrival of the “great and illustrious day of Jehovah” or “day of the Lord” (to translate what Luke actually wrote). The Lord’s day or Jehovah’s day are synonymous or at the very least, concurrent, and the Lord’s day did not occur in the first century.[i] Therefore, Joel’s prophecy was not completely fulfilled in the first century.
James refers to the “last days” when he counsels rich men:
(James 5:1-3) . . .Come, now, YOU rich [men], weep, howling over YOUR miseries that are coming upon YOU. 2 YOUR riches have rotted, and YOUR outer garments have become moth-eaten. 3 YOUR gold and silver are rusted away, and their rust will be as a witness against YOU and will eat YOUR fleshy parts. Something like fire is what YOU have stored up in the last days.
Does that counsel only apply to the rich living in the first century and in the period that sees the arrival of Armageddon?
Peter again makes reference to the last days in his second letter.
(2 Peter 3:3, 4) . . .For YOU know this first, that in the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires 4 and saying: “Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep [in death], all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.”
Has this ridicule been restricted to only two time periods, one leading up to 66 C.E. and the other starting after 1914? Or have men been leveling this taunt at faithful Christians for the past two thousand years?
That’s it! That’s the sum total of what the Bible had to tell us about the “last days”. If we go with a dual fulfillment, we have the problem that there is no evidence that the latter half of Joel’s words were fulfilled in the first century and the absolute evidence that the day of Jehovah did not occur then. So we have to be content with a partial fulfillment. That doesn’t fit with a true dual fulfillment. Then when we get to the second fulfillment, we still have only a partial fulfillment, since we’ve had no evidence over the past 100 years of inspired visions and dreams. Two partial fulfillments do not a dual fulfillment make. Added to that is the need to somehow explain how signs supposedly identifying the last few years of this system of things as the last days have been occurring for 2,000 years.
However, if we simply accept that the last days begin after Christ was resurrected, then all the incongruity goes away.
It’s simple, it’s scriptural and it fits. So why do we resist it? I think that it is mostly because as beings of such brief and fragile existence, we just can’t deal with the concept of a time period termed “last days” that is greater than our life span. But isn’t that our problem? We are after all, but an exhalation. (Ps 39:5)
Wars and Reports of Wars
But what about the fact that the First World War marked the start of the last days? Wait just a minute. We’ve just scanned every passage in scripture that deals with the last days, and nothing was said about their start being marked by war. Yes, but didn’t Jesus say that the last days would begin with “wars and reports of wars”. No, he did not. What he said was:
(Mark 13:7) Moreover, when YOU hear of wars and reports of wars, do not be terrified; [these things] must take place, but the end is not yet.
(Luke 21:9) Furthermore, when YOU hear of wars and disorders, do not be terrified. For these things must occur first, but the end does not [occur] immediately.”
We discount that by saying, “All that means is that the wars and the rest mark the start of the last days”. But that isn’t what Jesus is saying. The sign marking his presence is recorded at Matthew 24:29-31. The rest are things that happen from shortly after his death on down through the ages. He is warning his disciples so that they can be prepared for what was to come, and he forewarned them so as not to be taken in by false prophets claiming the Christ was present invisibly (Mat. 24:23-27) and not to be spooked by catastrophes and cataclysms into thinking he was about to arrive—“do not be terrified”. Alas, they didn’t listen and we still aren’t listening.
When the Black Death hit Europe, after the 100-years war, people thought the end of days had arrived. Likewise when the French Revolution broke out, people thought prophecy was being fulfilled and the end was near. We have discussed this in greater detail under the post “Wars and Reports of Wars — A Red Herring?” and “The Devil’s Great Con Job”.
A Last Word About a Matthew 24 Dual Fulfillment.
The foregoing has caused me to arrive at the conclusion that there is no dual fulfillment for any of Matthew 24:3-31. The only fly in my ointment has been the opening words of verse 29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…”
Mark renders it:
(Mark 13:24) . . .“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
Luke doesn’t mention it.
The assumption is he’s referring to the tribulation of Matthew 24:15-22. However, that occurred almost two millennia ago, so how can “immediately after” apply? That has led some to conclude (by “some” I mean our Organization) that there is a dual fulfillment with the destruction of Babylon the Great being the major counterpart to the destruction of Jerusalem. Perhaps, but there is no dual fulfillment for the rest as much as we’ve tried to make that happen in our theology. It seems like we’re cherry picking.
So here’s another thought—and I’m just putting this out there for discussion…. Could it be that Jesus intentionally left something out? There was to be another tribulation, but he didn’t refer to it at that point in time. We know from John’s writing of the Revelation that there is another great tribulation. However, if Jesus had mentioned that after talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, the disciples would have known that things were not going to happen as they envisioned—all at the same time. Acts 1:6 indicates that is what they believed and the next verse indicates that the knowledge of such things was intentionally kept from them. Jesus would have been letting the proverbial cat out of the bag by revealing too much, so he left blanks—huge blanks—in his prophecy of the sign. Those blanks were filled seventy years later by Jesus when he revealed things pertaining to his day—the Lord’s day—to John; but even then, what was revealed was couched in symbolism and still hidden to some extent.
So casting off the shackles of the dual fulfillment methodology, can we just say that Jesus revealed that after the destruction of Jerusalem and after false prophets had appeared to mislead the chosen ones with false visions of hidden and invisible presences of Christ, there would be an unspecified (at the time of that prophecy at least) tribulation which would end, after which the signs in the sun, moon, stars and heavens would appear?
A good candidate for that great tribulation is the destruction of Babylon the Great. Whether that turns out to be the case remains to be seen.
If we break up the 7th creative day into seven days of 1000 years each, excluding the millennium, then the last two days prior to the millennium could be a reference to the two days or 2,000 years from the time of the first coming. So anything that happened in the 1st Century could be considered applicable to the “last days.” However, not all events have a double fulfillment. In particular, the great tribulation, which said to an event that “never happened before nor would happen again.” That event is a unique, one-time event. That event was to see the… Read more »
Thank you for your effort, but here we don’t accept speculative Bible chronology. We only go with what can be established from Scripture. According to the Bible, 6,000 years of human existence ended in the around 1325, so dividing things into 7 periods — A Freddy Franz Special — just doesn’t work. Best to say away from all this made-up prophetic chronology if we want to avoid repeating the sins of the past.
I have a question and it might sound flippant, but it’s not: why does prophecy matter at all? What is the point. I never understood the emphasis on figuring out dates and meanings. Is it not enough to believe and have faith? Should it really be this difficult? If one believes and acts accordingly, then no matter what happens and when, everything should be ok, right? I’ll be honest and say the changing interpretations and emphasis on trying to predict the future are what really annoy (depress) me about the organization. 🙁 I mostly just read and probably won’t post… Read more »
It is not flippant at all. You raise a valid point. Truth be told, prophecy is vital for a number of reasons. The Bible contains many prophecies and if Jehovah saw fit to put them there, we have to consider them important. Your question deals more with the timing and chronology of prophecy as well as our need as an organization to be seen as capable interpreters of God’s prophetic word. You are quite right. We have caused far more harm than good with our frequent and embarrassing misinterpretations as well as our need to pinpoint everything chronologically, sometimes down… Read more »
Happy is the one who reads aloud and those who hear the words of this prophecy and those who observe the things written in it, for the appointed time is near.” (Rev 1:3) In line with your comment it seems that the key here is that we “observe the things written in it”. The fact that many times throughout history men have tried to figure out the chronology and applied it to their own period, and have always been in error, amply demonstrates that observing the things written in it is much more to do with how the words of… Read more »
Meleti, 🙂 you said: “I thought you were asking because you didn’t have an idea on the subject, but it seems you do. However, I’m not clear what that is. Are you suggesting that he will not resurrect members of the wicked generation?” No, not at all. 🙂 1 John 2:28 said: “So now, little children, remain in union with him, that when he is made manifest we may have freeness of speech and NOT BE SHAMED AWAY from him at his presence [parousia].” (New World Translation) The apostle is talking about first century believers here, I believe. So the… Read more »
I think that the correct answer to your question is: We will have to wait and see.
These questions or thoughts, are directed to anyone who wishes to comment. But, no offense intended. 🙂 Thanks. At Mark 8:38 we read: “For whoever becomes ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will also be ashamed of him when he arrives in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (New World Translation) We could ask at this point: What “adulterous” and “sinful generation” in particular, was Jesus referring to, that had become “ashamed” of him personally, and his “words”? Would it be people who lived 2,000 years from… Read more »
Hi Meleti, Apollos & esteemed colleagues, Greetings! 🙂 The following are a couple of verses that I haven’t been able to get an answer for, from the Watchtower Society or brothers at the kingdom halls thus far. I was just wondering if one or both of you, or possibly someone here, could shed some light on the verses cited in the post above and below, namely Mark 8:38 and 1 John 2:28. Based upon our current understanding of things, the Watchtower Society understands these verses to apply to the future, when Jesus makes his glorious return in our modern day… Read more »
The principle seems obvious. If we want Jesus to extend the reward to us, that of being with him in his presence, then we must not be ashamed of him, or draw away from him, but remain united. The wicked generation of his day were ashamed of him and rejected him, so when he manifests himself in his presence, they will have no part in ruling with him from heaven, for he will be ashamed of them as they were of him.
That’s my take on it anyway.
Hi Meleti, 🙂 Thanks for responding. Okay, Mark 8:38 again says: “For whoever becomes ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will also be ashamed of him when he arrives in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (New World Translation) After reading this, couldn’t you see how someone, not possessing the biblical prowess of the Watchtower Society & Jehovah’s Witnesses get easily confused, and mistakenly think Jesus was referring to contemporaries of his time, the “adulterous and sinful generation” that did not listen to his holy message, I… Read more »
I thought you were asking because you didn’t have an idea on the subject, but it seems you do. However, I’m not clear what that is. Are you suggesting that he will not resurrect members of the wicked generation?
JJW Although I see your line of reasoning it occurs to me that the ones in question must ultimately be broader in scope than the contemporaries being written to at the time. This is actually ties in with Meleti’s fine and interesting point about putting in perspective the location of Christians both inside and outside Jerusalem. Although he was making a point about perceptions of time, the point also carries into the context of what you are saying. Whilst in Mark’s gospel Jesus may have been directing his comments to the Jews who would be in Jerusalem, John is writing… Read more »
I know it’s been a minute but can you contact me
I have more questions about the paradigm way you look at prophecy?
Sorry for Jamaican JW
The text today reminded me of this post. How this scripture is even remotely referring to anything in the watchtower comments is beyond me….. Monday, January 6 [He] went his way and did business with them and gained five more.—Matt. 25:16. Although the anointed had for decades looked to 1914 as a marked year, they did not clearly understand what would happen. One brother later recalled, “A few of us seriously thought we were going to heaven during the first week of that October .” Just think how discouraging it could have been to expect the end and for it not… Read more »
[…] my contribution, something came to mind that ties in with my last post on the “last days”. It comes from the first paragraph of the […]
Meleti Thank you for the article, but you have missed something There is another occurrence of term ‘last days’, which the NWT does not have, whilst all other Bibles do have them and it is found at Heb 1:6 The said verse at Heb 1:6, NWT reads: has at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the systems of things. The same verse in YLT,MKJV,ISV,EMTV,ERV all translate ‘ the end of these days’ (as used by NWT) as……. ‘last days’ Is this… Read more »
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. By the way, you meant to write Hebrews 1:2, not 1:6, I’m sure. Using the interlinear at biblehub.com I see that you are correct. Looking into eschatou I found a reference to “last times” as 1 Peter 1:20. Wondering if it would be a stretch to associate this verse with those that contain “last days”, I found Jude 18 which says in our version, “how they used to say to YOU: “In the last time there will be ridiculers, proceeding according to their own desires for ungodly things”, which parallels the thought… Read more »
I believe you meant Heb 1:3. Heb 1:6 is the controversial verse regarding worship of Jesus. It’s ironic how the JW library app has been the GB’s worst nightmare. I looked up the KIV on Amazon and was reading reviews for it. It was funny that several reviewers were encouraging others to purchase it with the intent of using it to prove JWs and the NWT wrong. The KIV really shows our inconsistency in translation of the NWT especially in Hebrews 1. Let’s not get started on the verses in Hebrews 1 dealing with the angels worshipping Jesus.
Sorry Heb 1:2.
Sorry I meant Heb 1:2.
How do we know that Jesus didn’t intend the primary fulfillment of the prophecy to be in our time? If we read Matthew 24:3 in other translations, for example the king James version, we see that his disciples were asking about the “end of the world.” (Only our translation has “system of things.”)This is not surprising considering the Jews were expecting the world to end eventually. Martha confirms this when she tells Jesus regarding Lazarus, “Lord, I know he will rise on the last day ” Is it possible that Jesus includes the destruction of Jerusalem not as a fulfillment… Read more »
Sargon, I believe that the disciples thought the Jewish end of the system was the end of the world. They also thought that would be the sign of Jesus’ presence or return. That’s why they asked about the restoration of Israel. But it wasn’t. We (Christians)are still here. We know their expectations of the Messiah’s appearance and purpose was way off. They asked those 3 questions you mentioned but Jesus answered them knowing that they were not related AND knowing that there were many things that they could not bear at the present. I believe Jesus answered their question up… Read more »
I’m with you. I don’t believe verses 35-51 haven’t been fulfilled yet. Since John wrote his gospel after the destruction of Jerusalem, do you think this is why he omitted this prophecy? Also I like to think of Revelation as a 5th gospel, since it contains the words of our Lord. This book written by John repeatedly refers to a future presence.
I like the sound of a 5th gospel:) I never thought about that point you made about John. That could be the reason! Mark,Luke and Matthew wrote about this prophecy of Jesus. Mark 13:1-31 reads very similarly to Matthew 24: 4-34 .Verse 32 of Mark is very similar to verse 34 of Matthew…Jesus just changed the subject. I don’t think the apostles realized He did because of what their focus was on . Maybe they thought he was talking about his presence relating to the destruction of the Jewish system in verses 35-51because that’s what they were asking. But he… Read more »
Double negatives confuse me so allow me to restate your sentence in the way I understand it, and correct me if I’ve got it wrong.
To say “I don’t believe verses 35-51 haven’t been fulfilled yet” is equivalent to saying, “I believe verses 35-51 have been fulfilled already.” Is that what you’re saying?
I meant to say….” I don’t believe that verses 35-51 have yet been fulfilled . “
Thank you. I feel so much better now. 🙂
Lol! I’m happy to help! 🙂
First, if you say “primary fulfillment”, it follows that you consider that there is a secondary fulfillment. I don’t believe the facts fit this. Mat. 24:15-22 was fulfilled in the first century. Verses 4-14 are not part of the sign of anything, but are warnings of things to come and counsel to Christians. Verses 23-28 have been fulfilled from 70 C.E. onward, and verses 29-31 constitute the sign of his presence and of the end of the world. That is a thumbnail summary of my take on it.
There is something very interesting – in fact very ironic – about 2 Peter 3:3,4 and the organization’s teaching that Christ’s presence began in 1914. Peter writes that ridiculers living during the last days will be asking where is the promised presence. The organization teaches that the last days began with the start of Christ’s presence. Therefore the organization implies that Peter is saying ridiculers living during Christ’s presence would be asking where is his presence. Now isn’t that a great irony! What’s funny about that irony is that Peter seems to be totally oblivious to it. He does not… Read more »
Now that is a particularly interesting and valid slant on Peter’s words. I must remember that line of reasoning the next time I get into a discussion on 1914. Thanks, Jude.
“Could it be that Jesus intentionally left something out? There was to be another tribulation, but he didn’t refer to it at that point in time. We know from John’s writing of the Revelation that there is another great tribulation.” My short answer to that question is that I don’t believe he left anything out . He was just answering the question that he was asked as it related to the Jewish system of things. However at John 1:1 says “A revelation* by Jesus Christ, which God gave him.” Jesus did reveal to John about the tribulation that would occur… Read more »
The problem I see with that understanding is that he was asked about his presence which didn’t have to do with the Jewish system of things, though the disciples were not aware of that distinction when they framed their question. So his answer addressed that part of the question as well. If his answer has to do with the Jewish system of things exclusively, then we have to look for the manifestation of his presence in the first century. We have to find a fulfillment of the sign of the Son of man appearing in the heavens, the tribes of… Read more »
sincencence views on that scripture may need to be adjusted however I agree with your statement “Peter, under inspiration, applies Joel’s prophecy to his time. This is beyond dispute. ” If Peter applies this to his time why are we saying that this scripture was not fulfilled? I believe that we have to conclude that either Jesus employed symbolic language to prophesy about this event taking place during the conclusion of Jewish system of things or it did actually take place in their time as Joel and Jesus prophesied . Or maybe it was fufilled in another manner we are not… Read more »
That should read “my views on that scripture may need to be adjusted ” on a mobile device…..
I appreciate your thoughts on this.
I have a question, however: You say, “If Peter applies this to his time, why are we saying that this scripture was not fulfilled?”
When you say “we” to whom are you referring?
Ummm the “we” is no one 🙂 I’m sorry Meleti I’m not sure where in the world I got that from. I originally stated that there is no dual fulfillment for Matthew 24:4-34. In my exchange with Apollos on the post that prompted this article. Apollos took issue with vs. 30,31. I don’t know where I got vs 29 from…. ok so that I understand… the son of man appearing in the heavens and coming on great cloud is in vs. 30 . You say in the article there is no dual fulfillment for vs. 3-31. I don’t understand …are… Read more »
>>”I don’t understand …are you saying vs 30 was fulfilled then and will have a greater fulfillment in our day or was not Fufilled then but will be fufilled in our day?”
No, GWIT. What I’m saying is that verse 30 has not yet been fulfilled. It wasn’t fulfilled in the first century and has yet to be fulfilled. I’m hoping it will be fulfilled soon, but that’s just me being a little selfish and wanting the end to come.
In a similar vein, I see no evidence that we need to rely on instruction from men to survive the great tribulation as the GB claims. Especially information that seems ‘illogical from a strategic or human standpoint.’ Jesus has shown in all his prophecies in the gospels and Revelation that he will do the saving. We will not need to rely on imperfect men. This bothers me as we are being taught to look towards men for salvation instead of Christ.
Thank you Meleti so much for posting this article. I am glad that you were moved to write it because Jehovah knows that the discussion on the other thread has been running through my mind all day! I certainly welcome this refreshing way ( along with Jamaican JW’s) to examine prophecy . Reading prophecy is my favorite part of the Bible but as I said before my dual fulfillment “fatigue” is a huge roadblock. I look forward to articles in the future discussing prophecy. This article certainly lays the foundation for those type of discussions 🙂
Greetings “GodsWordIsTruth”! 🙂
Thanks, I’m always glad when I can be of some service to my brothers.
BTW, if you love prophecy, then that’s right up my alley too. 🙂
So, when you get a minute, why not drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.
I’m at: JamaicanJW@gmail.com
Look forward to it!
Excellent article as usual. From my study though I haven’t seen anything linking Babylon the great to the great tribulation. Revelation does not even link the two events. I also believe based on the Gospel of Mark and Revelation that the tribulation will be a period of intense test for Jesus followers. Hence all who survive it will be saved.