This is part 9 of our analysis of Matthew chapter 24.
I was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness. I grew up believing the end of the world was imminent; that within a few years, I would be living in paradise. I was even given a time calculation to help me gauge just how close I was to that new world. I was told that the generation Jesus spoke of at Matthew 24:34 saw the start of the last days in 1914 and would still be around to see the end. By the time I was twenty, in 1969, that generation was as old as I am now. Of course, that was based on the belief that to be part of that generation, you’d have to have been an adult in 1914. As we got into the 1980s, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses had to make some adjustments. Now the generation started as children old enough to understand the meaning of the events of 1914. When that didn’t work, the generation counted as people born on or before 1914.
As that generation died off, the teaching was abandoned. Then, about ten years ago, they brought it back to life in the form of a super-generation, and are again saying that based on the generation, the end is imminent. This reminds me of the Charlie Brown cartoon where Lucy keeps conning Charlie Brown to kick the football, only to snatch it away at the last moment.
Exactly just how stupid do they think we are? Apparently, very stupid.
Well, Jesus did speak about a generation not dying off before the end. What was he referring to?
“Now learn this illustration from the fig tree: Just as soon as its young branch grows tender and sprouts its leaves, you know that summer is near. Likewise also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors. Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.” (Matthew 24:32-35 New World Translation)
Did we just get the start year wrong? Is it not 1914? Maybe 1934, assuming we count from 587 B.C.E., the actual year the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem? Or is it some other year?
You can see the enticement to apply this to our day. Jesus did say, “he is near at the doors”. One naturally assumes he was talking about himself in the third person. If we accept that premise, then where Jesus speaks of recognizing the season, we can assume that the signs would be manifest for all of us to see, just like we can all see the leaves sprouting that indicate summer is near. Where he references, “all these things”, we might assume he is speaking about all the things he included in his answer, like wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. Therefore, when he says “this generation” will not pass away until all these things happen”, all we need to do is identify the generation in question and we have our time measurement.
But if that is the case, then why can’t we do that. Look at the mess left in the wake of the failed generation teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Over a hundred years of disappointment and disillusionment resulting in the loss of faith of countless individuals. And now they have concocted this truly stupid overlapping generation doctrine, hoping to get us to take one more kick at the football.
Would Jesus really mislead us so, or are we the ones misleading ourselves, and ignoring his warnings?
Let’s take a deep breath, relax our mind, clear away all the debris from Watchtower interpretations and re-interpretations, and just let the Bible speak to us.
The fact is that our Lord does not lie, nor does he contradict himself. That basic truth must now guide us if we are going to figure out what he is referring to when he says, “he is near at the doors”.
A good start in determining the answer to that question is to read the context. Perhaps the verses that follow Matthew 24:32-35 will shed some light on the subject.
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark. And they were oblivious, until the flood came and swept them all away. So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day on which your Lord will come. But understand this: If the homeowner had known in which watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. For this reason, you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24: 36-44)
Jesus begins by telling us that even he didn’t know when he would return. To further clarify the importance of that, he compares the time of his return to the days of Noah when the entire world was oblivious to the fact their world was about to end. So, the modern world will also be oblivious to his return. It is hard to be oblivious if there are signs signaling his imminent arrival, like the Coronavirus. Ergo, the Coronavirus is not a sign that Christ is about to return. Why, because most fundamentalist and evangelical Christians—including Jehovah’s Witnesses—see it as just such a sign ignoring the fact that Jesus said, “the Son of man will come at an hour you do not expect.” Are we clear on that? Or do we think Jesus was just fooling around? Playing with words? I don’t think so.
Of course, human nature will cause some to say, “Well, the world may be oblivious but his followers are awake, and they will perceive the sign.”
Who do we think Jesus was talking to when he said—I like the way the New World Translation puts it—when he said “…the Son of man is coming at an hour that you do not think to be it.” He was talking to his disciples, not the oblivious world of mankind.
We now have one fact that is beyond dispute: We cannot predict when our Lord will return. We can even go so far as to say that any prediction is sure to be wrong, because if we predict it, we will be expecting it, and if we are expecting it, then he won’t come, because he said—and I don’t think we can say this often enough—he will come when we do not expect him to come. Are we clear on that?
Not quite? Perhaps we think there’s some loophole? Well, we wouldn’t be alone in that view. His disciples didn’t get it either. Remember, he said all this just before he was killed. Yet, just forty days later, when he was about to ascend to heaven, they asked him this:
“Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6)
Amazing! Barely a month before, he had told them that even he himself didn’t know when he’d return, and then he added that he’d come at an unexpected time, yet, they are still looking for an answer. He answered them, all right. He told them it was none of their business. He put it this way:
“It does not belong to you to know the times or seasons that the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.” (Acts 1:7)
“Wait a minute”, I can still hear someone say. “Wait just a goll-dang minute! If we are not supposed to know, then why did Jesus give us the signs and tell us that it would all happen within one generation?
The answer is, he didn’t. We are misreading his words.
Jesus doesn’t lie, nor does he contradict himself. Therefore, there is no contradiction between Matthew 24:32 and Acts 1:7. Both speak about seasons, but they cannot be speaking of the same seasons. At Acts, the times and seasons pertain to the coming of Christ, his kingly presence. These are placed in God’s jurisdiction. We are not to know these things. It belongs to God to know, not us. Therefore, the seasonal changes spoken of at Matthew 24:32 which signal when “he is near at the doors” cannot refer to the presence of Christ, because these are seasons which Christians are allowed to perceive.
Further evidence of this is seen when we again look at verses 36 to 44. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that his arrival will be so unexpected that even those looking for it, his faithful disciples, will be surprised. Even though we will be prepared, we will still be surprised. You can prepare for the thief by staying awake, but you will still get a start when he breaks in, because the thief makes no announcement.
Since Jesus will come when we least expect it, Matthew 24:32-35 cannot be referring to his arrival since everything there indicates there are going to be signs and a timeframe to measure by.
When we see the leaves changing we are expecting summer to come. We’re not surprised by it. If there is a generation that will witness all things, then we are expecting all things to happen within a generation. Again, if we are expecting it to happen within some timeframe, then it cannot be referring to the presence of Christ because that comes when we least expect it.
All of this is so obvious now, that you might wonder how Jehovah’s Witnesses missed it. How did I miss it? Well, the Governing Body has a little trick up its sleeve. They point to Daniel 12:4 which says “Many will rove about, and the true knowledge will become abundant”, and they claim that now is the time for the knowledge to become abundant, and that knowledge includes understanding the times and seasons that Jehovah has put in his own jurisdiction. From the Insight book we have this:
The lack of understanding concerning Daniel’s prophecies in the early part of the 19th century indicated that this foretold “time of the end” was yet future, since those “having insight,” God’s true servants, were to understand the prophecy in “the time of the end.”—Daniel 12:9, 10.
(Insight, Volume 2 p. 1103 Time of the End)
The problem with this reasoning is they have the wrong “time of the end”. The last days that Daniel speaks of pertain to the final days of the Jewish system of things. If you doubt that, then please see this video where we analyze the evidence for that conclusion in detail.
That being said, even if you want to believe that Daniel chapters 11 and 12 have a fulfillment in our day, that still doesn’t undo Jesus’ words to the disciples that the times and seasons concerning his arrival were something that belonged only to the Father to know. After all, “knowledge becoming abundant” doesn’t mean all knowledge is revealed. There are many things in the Bible we don’t understand—even today, because it is not the time for them to be understood. What impertinence to think that God would take knowledge that he concealed from his own Son, the 12 apostles and all First Century Christians endowed with the gifts of the spirit—gifts of prophecy and revelation—and reveal it to the likes of Stephen Lett, Anthony Morris III, and the rest of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Indeed, if he had revealed it to them, why do they keep getting it wrong? 1914, 1925, 1975, to name just a few, and now the Overlapping Generation. I mean, if God is revealing the true knowledge concerning the signs of Christ’s coming, why do we keep getting it so very, very wrong? Is God inept in his power to communicate truth? Is he playing tricks on us? Having a good time at our expense as we scramble around preparing for the end, only to have it replaced with a new date?
That is not the way of our loving Father.
So, what does Matthew 24:32-35 apply to?
Let’s break it down into its component parts. Let’s start with the first point. What did Jesus mean by “he is near at the doors”.
The NIV renders this “it is near” not “he is near”; likewise, the King James Bible, New Heart English Bible, Douay-Rheims Bible, Darby Bible Translation, Webster’s Bible Translation, World English Bible, and Young’s Literal Translation all render “it” instead of “he”. It is also important to note that Luke does not say “he or it is near at the doors”, but “the kingdom of God is near”.
Isn’t the Kingdom of God the same as Christ’s presence? Apparently not, otherwise, we’d be back into a contradiction. To figure out what “he”, “it”, or “the kingdom of God” relates to in this instance, we should look at the other components.
Let’s start with “all these things”. After all, when they framed the question that started this whole prophecy, they asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be?” (Matthew 24:3).
What things were they referring to? Context, context, context! Let’s look at the context. In the preceding two verses, we read:
“Now as Jesus was departing from the temple, his disciples approached to show him the buildings of the temple. In response he said to them: “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, by no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.”” (Matthew 24:1, 2)
So, when Jesus later says, “this generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen”, he’s talking about the same “things”. The destruction of the city and its temple. That helps us understand what generation he’s speaking about.
He says “this generation”. Now if he were talking about a generation that wouldn’t appear for another 2,000 years as Witnesses claim, it is unlikely he’d say “this”. “This” refers to something at hand. Either something physically present, or something contextually present. There was a generation both physically and contextually present, and there can be little doubt that his disciples would have made the connection. Again, looking at the context, he’d just spent the last four days preaching in the temple, condemning the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders, and pronouncing judgment on the city, temple, and people. That very day, the very day they asked the question, upon leaving the temple for the last time, he said:
“Serpents, offspring of vipers, how will you flee from the judgment of Ge·henʹna? For this reason, I am sending to you prophets and wise men and public instructors. Some of them you will kill and execute on stakes, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, so that there may come upon you all the righteous blood spilled on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zech·a·riʹah son of Bar·a·chiʹah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (Matthew 23:33-36)
Now I ask you, if you were there and heard him say this, and then later that same day, on the mount of Olives, you asked Jesus, when would all these things happen—because you’re obviously going to be very anxious to know—I mean, the Lord has just told you all you hold as precious and holy is going to be destroyed—and as part of his answer, Jesus tells you that ‘this generation will not die out before all these things happen’, are you not going to conclude that the people he spoke to in the temple and whom he referred to as “this generation” would be alive to experience the destruction he foretold?
If we take Matthew 24:32-35 as applying to the first century destruction of Jerusalem, we resolve all the issues and eliminate any apparent contradiction.
But we are still left to resolve who or what is referred to by “he/it is near at the doors”, or as Luke puts it, “the kingdom of God is near”.
Historically, what was near at the doors was the Roman Army led by General Cestius Gallus in 66 C.E. and subsequently by General Titus in 70 C.E. Jesus told us to use discernment and look at the words of Daniel the prophet.
“Therefore, when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken about by Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place (let the reader use discernment),” (Matthew 24:15)
What did the prophet Daniel have to say on the subject?
“You should know and understand that from the issuing of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Leader, there will be 7 weeks, also 62 weeks. She will be restored and rebuilt, with a public square and moat, but in times of distress. “And after the 62 weeks, Messiah will be cut off, with nothing for himself. “And the people of a leader who is coming will destroy the city and the holy place. And its end will be by the flood. And until the end there will be war; what is decided upon is desolations.” (Daniel 9:25, 26)
The people that destroyed the city and the holy place were the Roman army—the people of the Roman army. The leader of that people was the Roman general. When Jesus was saying “he is near at the doors”, was he referring to that General? But we still have to resolve Luke’s expression that is “the Kingdom of God” is near.
The Kingdom of God existed before Jesus was anointed Christ. The Jews were the Kingdom of God on earth. However, they were going to lose that status, which would be given to Christians.
Here it is taken from Israel:
“This is why I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.” (Matthew 21:43)
Here is it given to the Christians:
“He rescued us from the authority of the darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,” (Colossians 1:13)
We can enter the Kingdom of God at any time:
“At this Jesus, discerning that he had answered intelligently, said to him: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34)
The Pharisees were expecting a conquering government. They completely missed the point.
“On being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming, he answered them: “The Kingdom of God is not coming with striking observableness; nor will people say, ‘See here!’ or, ‘There!’ For look! the Kingdom of God is in your midst.”” (Luke 17:20, 21)
Okay, but what does the Roman army have to do with the Kingdom of God. Well, do we think that the Romans would have been able to destroy the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, if God had not wanted it to be so?
Consider this illustration:
“In further reply Jesus again spoke to them with illustrations, saying: “The kingdom of the heavens has become like a man, a king, that made a marriage feast for his son. And he sent forth his slaves to call those invited to the marriage feast, but they were unwilling to come. Again he sent forth other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Look! I have prepared my dinner, my bulls and fattened animals are slaughtered, and all things are ready. Come to the marriage feast.”’ But unconcerned they went off, one to his own field, another to his commercial business; but the rest, laying hold of his slaves, treated them insolently and killed them. “But the king grew wrathful, and sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” (Mt 22:1-7)
Jehovah planned a marriage feast for his Son, and the first invitations went out to his own people, the Jews. However, they refused to attend and worse, they killed his servants. So he sent his armies (the Romans) to kill the murderers and burn their city (Jerusalem). The king did this. The Kingdom of God did this. When the Romans carried out God’s will, the Kingdom of God was near.
In Matthew 24:32-35 as well as Matthew 24:15-22 Jesus gives his disciples specific instructions on what to do and signs to indicate when to prepare for these things.
They saw the Jewish rebellion that drove the Roman garrison from the city. They saw the return of the Roman army. They experienced the turmoil and strife from years of Roman incursions. They saw the first siege of the city and the Roman retreat. They would have been increasingly aware that the end of Jerusalem was approaching. Yet when it comes to his promised presence, Jesus tells us that he will come as a thief at a time when we least expect it. He gives us no signs.
Why the difference? Why did the first century Christians get so much opportunity to prepare? Why don’t Christians today know whether or not they need to prepare for Christ’s presence?
Because they had to prepare and we don’t.
In the case of the first century Christians, they had to take specific action at a specific time. Can you imagine running away from everything you own? One day you wake up and that’s the day. Do you own a house? Leave it. Do you own a business? Walk away. Do you have family and friends who don’t share your belief? Leave them all –leave then all behind. Just like that. And off you go to a far away land you’ve never known and to an uncertain future. All you have is your faith in the love of the Lord.
It would be unloving, to say the least, to expect anyone to do that without giving them some time to prepare for it mentally and emotionally.
So why don’t modern Christians get a similar opportunity to prepare? Why don’t we get all kinds of signs to know that Christ is near? Why does Christ have to come as a thief, at a time we least expect him to arrive? The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that we don’t have to do anything at that moment in time. We don’t have to abandon anything and flee to another place on a moment’s notice. Christ sends his angels to gather us up. Christ will take care of our escape. Our test of faith comes every day in the form of living a Christian life and standing for the principles Christ gave us to follow.
Why do I believe that? What is my scriptural basis? And what about Christ’s presence? When does that happen? The Bible says:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in grief, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:29, 30)
Immediately after that tribulation!? What tribulation? Are we to be looking for signs in our days? When do these words come to their fulfillment, or as Preterists say, have they already been fulfilled? All that will be covered in part 10.
For now, thank you so much for watching.