Honesty and intellectual integrity require that we view every passage according to its context. And what we have seen is that Matthew 24, far from being a prophecy of end-times disaster, was the blisteringly accurate prediction by Christ that great tribulations were coming to apostate Judah.
Introduction: Biggest Loser No More
If failed end-time predictions were a category in the winter Olympics the competition for the biggest loser would be the most competitive event (By a long shot)! From Simon Bar Giora declaring the end of the world as Rome invaded Judea in AD 67 to Edgar Whisenaut’s “88 Reasons Why The Rapture Could Be In 1988” it seems that the Christian church has become an ever-growing trash heap of failed predictions that never ended up materializing. I might be inclined to call it a dumpster fire, but that might be giving it too much credit.
Some, the ones among us who always say “if at first, you don’t succeed, then try try again”, continue right along in the ministry of failed predictions unabated, believing that the right combination of news articles, numerology, and blood moons is just around the corner. Yet, amid the echo chamber of eschatological fanaticism, so few stop and examine the real reason these predictions don’t come true. That is because it already happened!
In what follows I will share thirteen reasons, from the text, why the great tribulation has already occurred. I will not appeal to nanobots, the next appearance of Halley’s comet, pandemics, or of Klaus Schwab and his World Economic Forum. I will cite Scripture alone and prove once and for all why every end-time prediction about a coming tribulation is doomed to fail. My hope is that Christianity would recover from the gangrenous rot of dispensational madness and march onward in our mission to disciple the nations for Jesus. To that end, let us begin.
The Olivet Scene
In case you are just joining us, this article is a part of a longer series that gives a tremendous amount of context for these events. If you would like to catch up before reading further, check out the other articles in this series by visiting our blog. But, if that seems like too much effort to satiate your current curiosity, here is a three-sentence summary of how we got here.
Jesus predicted in a variety of ways that the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed for rejecting Him (Matthew 22-24:2). This news so deeply unsettled the disciples they wanted Jesus to give more details on how all of this would play out (Matthew 24:3). Then, in passages normally perverted by futurists, Jesus answered their specific questions with specific evidence that would happen in their lifetime (Matthew 24:34). This will become our first evidence that these events have already occurred.
Reason 1: This Generation & All These Things
When Jesus said: “Truly I say to you, THIS GENERATION will not pass away until ALL THESE THINGS take place” (Matthew 24:34), He is giving us two very powerful criteria for understanding the Olivet Discourse. First, He is limiting the scope of fulfillment to about forty years, which is a Biblical generation. Second, He is affirming that everything He said prior to verse 34 (and the explanatory verses that follow) would happen within that same forty-year window. This means the rise of false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines, persecutions and tribulations, increased lawlessness and apostasy, worldwide Gospel proclamation, the abomination of desolation, the great tribulation, signs and wonders, the sun darkened, stars falling from the sky, the heavens shook, the tribes of the land in mourning, the Son of Man returning on the clouds, and the so-called “rapture”, have all already occurred.
When Jesus said “all these things” He really meant every single one of the things He shared would occur in the life of His disciples! Further, when our God in the flesh, with all intelligence and all wisdom limited the fulfillment of this prophecy to a single generation, He meant for us to lay down our opinions and simply believe Him. And while there is a phenomenal amount of evidence that supports this view, we do not need to understand any of it to adopt a humble, submissive, and faithful posture. If He said everything will happen in one generation, that really ought to settle it. To go on insisting these events, listed in the Olivet Discourse, necessarily occur in the distant future, just because we cannot imagine a scenario where they have already been fulfilled, is to not only challenge the infinite wisdom, intelligence, and integrity of Jesus Christ, but it is to set our teaching over and above His, which seems like a foolish, unsafe, and unholy thing to do.
Reason 2: Jerusalem Surrounded
In Luke’s account of the great tribulation, Jesus says:
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.
In an age of such rampant confusion, it is vital to remember how pronouns work. In fact, I would even argue that the pronouns in the Olivet Discourse alone sufficiently prove that the great tribulation has already occurred. For instance, when Jesus says “you” in this passage He is not unclear on what that means. He doesn’t flip-flop His pronouns like a Disney star before a new album release. He knows what these words mean and He is using “you”, a second person plural pronoun, to refer to the men standing right in front of Him in 30AD.
This is critical to understand, because when we know Jesus is applying the meaning of this passage directly to His disciples, and not vicariously to us, then any thought that a great tribulation must occur, many thousands of years into the future, long after the death of Jesus’ disciples, becomes all the more untenable. The case becomes more certain when you notice that Jesus is telling those men to pay attention to the comings and goings related to the first-century city of Jerusalem.
In sum, Jesus believed some of His disciples would live to see armies approaching Jerusalem to destroy it. He believed that when this happened, it would signal the end for that city, the end of the Old Covenant era, and the beginning of a great tribulation that would be unparalleled in the history of the world. And since no other city on earth had the religious standing of Jerusalem, possessing the very house of God, where the creator of time and space literally promised to live and dwell among His people, then surely the destruction of this city and this temple would be unrivaled in the history of men and would have monumental implications.
All these things happened when Rome surrounded the city, reduced the buildings to rubble, and burned the temple to the ground.
Reason: 3 Fleeing Judeans!
…then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.
…and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city.
Before the great tribulation occurs (Matthew 24:21), Jesus tells His disciples to be on the lookout. When they (not us) see the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem, and when they see the defiling of the temple, then they (again not us) must flee to the mountains for safety!
In our day, this makes very little sense. If a world leader (aka an “Antichrist”) surrounded Jerusalem with his armies to kill the Jews who were worshiping at their newly rebuilt temple, then it would make very little difference whatsoever if they fled the city to go to the mountains. Helicopters would mow them down, tanks would saw them in half, mortar rounds would rain on top of their heads, and drones would cut them down before they reached the foothills. There would be no escape for them in the modern world, yet, this is the way Dispensational thinkers imagine Matthew 24:16 will play out.
Instead of comic book eschatology, let us think about what the passage is saying. Jesus is telling His disciples to be on the lookout for a Roman invasion that began in 66 AD. At first, the Romans concentrated their power in Galilee and Judea, conquering one town after another, which motivated the population to abandon their smaller towns and flee to Jerusalem. By the time the Romans arrived at Judah’s largest city, the population of Jews had swollen to unsustainable proportions from taking in refugees and country folk who were seeking the city as a place of refuge.
At that time, that is simply what you did. When an army attacked your nation, you went to the highest, most fortified citadel, where the largest amount of resources could be amassed, which in the case of Judah would have been Jerusalem. Jerusalem also boasted an underground water supply, which meant it would have, under normal circumstances, been an ideal place to wait out an enemy siege. Yet, because Jesus knew this was not a normal event, He warned His disciples to abandon their conventional wisdom and flee to the countryside instead. Going to Jerusalem would signal certain death for anyone within their walls, so instead, He told the earliest Christians to leave Jerusalem and seek shelter elsewhere.
Could this be why the earliest Christians sold their property in Jerusalem (Acts 4:34), knowing that they would need to live a highly mobile life that was ready to leave at a moment’s notice? Is this also why history does not record a single Christian dying in Jerusalem during the Roman siege? In fact, we do have a record that when the Roman armies began coming, the Christians left, just as Jesus told them to, knowing their ministry to apostate Judah was complete. They preached the Gospel faithfully, like Noah, in the city that hated them, they endured innumerable persecutions in the service of Christ in that wicked generation, and then they got out before the wrath of God fell on those people.
Reason 4: Rooftops and Bag Packing
Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house.
— Matthew 24:17
In the same breath, Jesus used to tell His followers to flee the city before the great tribulation, He also warned them with a very peculiar example that does not apply very well in the modern world. He told them not to go down from their flat rooftop patios in order to collect their belongings within the house. Today, this would be almost meaningless, since almost no one on earth lounges, congregates, or spends any meaningful time on their rooftops.
In most of the world, pointed and pitched roofs would be dangerous to climb on, much less do life on. Yet at that time, houses became insufferably hot during the daytime, so congregating on a flattened roof would have been most comfortable until the home cooled off in the evening. This means meals would occur on the roof, as well as parties, family gatherings, and many more significant occasions of life that would all take place on top of the house instead of inside of it. Inside, you would sleep, store your supplies and possessions, and spend the cooler moments, but that is about it.
Since many of the houses in Jerusalem were built into the wall that surrounded the city, homeowners who were escaping the swelling heat inside the home would have a perfect view of an advancing army. Jesus warns these homeowners not to go down into their houses and waste time packing their bags. They must flee immediately or it would be too late.
This warning makes perfect sense in their world and at that time and is just another proof that these events have already taken place.
Reason 5: Hey Farmer, Leave Your Coat!
Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak.
In a similar warning, Jesus tells the farmer not to go back home and get his cloak. This made great sense in an agrarian society where the majority of the Judean landscape was filled with farmers who all cared very deeply about their cloaks. At that time, a good coat said a lot about you (remember Joseph). And, we have Biblical examples of bloodthirsty men gambling to have a desirable coat after its owner was crucified (remember Jesus). Today, a coat is not ordinarily one of the most prized possessions that you own and few people would run into a situation of imminent danger to save their pullover or cardigan. At that time, people thought about that particular clothing item a bit differently.
The same is true of farming. When Jesus gave this warning, it would have applied to the majority of the population who extracted resources by the land and sea through tremendous labor and energy. Judah was dominated by farmers, shepherds, and fishermen, so this warning would have been highly relevant. Not so in modern Israel today.
The geographical region Jesus was referring to, once home to blue-collar tradesmen, has now become a sprawling metropolis filled with high-tech industry. Instead of farms filled with plants, the landscape is dominated by server farms, cybersecurity operations, information, and communications technology firms, and various research and development enterprises, which comprise the majority of modern Israel’s economy. Sadly, farming does not even contribute meaningfully at all in modern-day Israel, making this warning totally irrelevant to any modern-day “Judean”.
The plain and simple fact is that this was a specific warning to people living in the first century on how to avoid the great tribulation. Forcing this into the modern world is to accept the ridiculous.
Reason 6: Winter, Pregnancy, & Zealous Sabbatarians
But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.
If you were planning to flee your ancestral homelands when Vespasian brought his Roman legions to your doorstep, you would appreciate Jesus’ warnings here. Beyond not going home to get your cloak, or coming down from the roof to get your rolling pin, it would be a good idea to know what other travel hindrances might afflict you. For instance, if speed was the critical component of your flight, then being pregnant would certainly slow you down. Stopping to nurse infants while you were frantically running for your life would not only be difficult, but any crying babe would risk revealing your position. Winter travel would make your flight miserable and would expose you to the elements. And, with all the hard-line zealots running around Judah at that time, trying to do any moving on the Sabbath would get you killed. All of this applies brilliantly to a group of ancient refugees leaving Jerusalem.
Yet, with temperature-controlled automobiles, heated runways, hospitals everywhere you could possibly flee to and have a baby, and scant few hard-liners paying attention to where you are going on the Sabbath, these words lose their meaning. If the “dispys” are right, and a future Antichrist wages all-out war on Israel, being pregnant, nursing, traveling in winter, or on the sabbath, really won’t impede you in the slightest. This is yet another proof of how these words find their perfect fulfillment in that very generation that fled the great tribulation of AD 70.
Reason 7: These Be Days of Vengeance
…because these are days of vengeance so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.
At some point in my lackluster elementary school career, I was introduced to the concept of near and far demonstrative pronouns. A near demonstrative pronoun describes things that are close in relationship to you, whereas a far demonstrative pronoun identifies things that are at a distance from you. For example, “I can eat THIS apple because it is right in front of me. But, if I were to eat THAT one, pointing to the television commercial, I would need to travel through airwaves.” This silly example proves my point. We use “This & These” to describe things that are near to us and we use “That & Those” to point to objects further from our purview.
Knowing this, Jesus says that “these days” are the ones where God’s vengeance would be poured out. He is not speaking of the far-off years that could be rightly labeled “those years”, He is talking about the years immediately in the purview of Him and His disciples. By using the word “these” it seems clear that Jesus is limiting the fulfillment of this prophecy to a time frame that would be near to the disciple’s experience. If multiple thousands of years into the future was Jesus’ aim, His sentence would again be rendered meaningless.
In addition to basic elementary grammar, Jesus cites the fulfillment of Old Testament passages, such as Isaiah 63, Daniel 9, and Hosea 9 as the reason the great tribulation would occur in that very generation. Case in point, notice how Hosea speaks about the punishment that is coming and why God is going to bring it in Hosea 9:7, 17.
The days of punishment have come, The days of retribution have come; Let Israel know this! The prophet is a fool, The inspired man is demented, Because of the grossness of your iniquity, And because your hostility is so great. 17 My God will cast them away Because they have not listened to Him; And they will be wanderers among the nations.
—Hosea 9:7, 19
Not to keep beating the same old drum, but that already happened!