WHEN DOES CHRIST RETURN? PART THREE
In part two of this series, we saw that several of Christ’s disciples were very concerned about the statements Jesus made in regard to the temple being destroyed. It is evident by their questioning about when this destruction would take place that they were seeing this destruction within a time frame that also included Christ coming and the end of the age. Christ answers their concerns by providing an overview of events that would take place leading up to what He revealed as “the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written” (Luke 21:21-22).
History shows that the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. This was a catastrophic destruction that resulted in Jerusalem and much of the land of Israel being leveled. It was truly a time of great tribulation and judgement as had been prophesied by Christ and the Old Testament prophets. The war with Rome began in October of A.D. 66 and ended in June of A. D. 73.
The historian Josephus was an eyewitness to the events that led to the destruction of the temple and the Jewish society. Josephus, who was a Jew, was taken prisoner in the battle of Jotapata and then gave himself up to the Romans. He predicted that Vespasian and Titus would become emperors of Rome after Nero. Vespasian took a liking to him and Josephus later became a translator for Titus. After the war, Josephus spent five years writing his history of the Jewish people.
It would take many pages of narrative to describe the events that led to the destruction of Jerusalem. I will try to cite enough highlights to fully demonstrate the historical evidence for fulfillment of Christ’s Olivet prophecy in the events of the Roman-Jewish War of A.D. 66 to 73.
THE ROMAN/JEWISH WAR:
The first stage of the war directly involving Jerusalem was when Jewish Zealots rebelled against the Romans and Roman Emperor Nero sent Cestius Gallus against the city in October of A. D. 66. Several hundred thousand Jews had already been killed in battle with the Romans in Alexandria, Egypt, Caesarea and a number of other locations within the Roman Empire. In Jerusalem the various political/religious parties were doing battle with each other with many thousands being killed. Many Jews were killed by fellow Jews before the Romans ever entered Judea and the city of Jerusalem. Josephus writes that, “it was common to see cities filled with dead bodies, still lying unburied. The terror that was upon all the people was so great, that no one had courage enough to weep openly for the dead man that was related to him, or bury him.” Josephus relates how the Jews, who were fighting each other, “omitted no method of torment or barbarity.” Josephus says that the Jews did not suffer from the Romans anything worse than they made each other to suffer. In Matthew 12:43-45, Jesus had likened that generation to a man possessed of demons. In Luke 23:28-31, Christ told the women who were weeping for Him as He was being led to be crucified, not to weep for Him but to weep for themselves because of what was to come upon them. This, in itself, shows the first century context of Jesus' prophetic discourses.
Cestius Gallus attacked Jerusalem and got as far as the walls of the city. Then for some unknown reason he withdrew, suffering heavy losses in retreat. In the lull between his retreat and the next Roman attack, the Jewish Zealots dug in, thinking that their messiah would come to save them. It was during this time the Christian community escaped Jerusalem by crossing the Jordan and fleeing to the mountain region of Pella in Decapolis. Christ had told the disciples to pray that their flight be not on the Sabbath or in the winter. On the Sabbath the gates of the city would have been closed making it difficult to escape and the Jewish Zealots would have prevented their escape with armed force. Winter weather would also have made their flight more difficult. Winter is the rainy season in Israel and it even snows at times.
In February of A.D. 67, Nero sent General Vespasian to Judea and by October, Galilee is subdued. Vespasian continues to drive toward Jerusalem when he receives word of Nero’s suicide, whereupon he temporarily suspends operations in Judea, waiting for word from Rome. A man named Galba becomes emperor but is soon murdered by Otho who proclaims himself emperor, but in short order commits suicide and is replaced as emperor by his rival Vitellius. Vitellius gets himself beheaded and, at this point, General Vespasian returns to Rome and is declared emperor.
Because of the events in Rome, there is a respite for the Jews during which time they shore up their forces and further conclude that their messiah will come to save them. It is also during this period of time that many false messiahs appear on the scene claiming to be a savior to the Jews. And so it was that Christ warned of this very thing as he continues in the Olivet prophecy by saying,
Matthew 24:23-25: At that time if anyone says to you, look, here is Christ, or, there He is, do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect, if that were possible. See I have told you ahead of time.
Remember that Christ is addressing his disciples that were there with Him at the time. He is telling them ahead of time what was soon to occur. Christ goes on to say,
Matthew 24:26-28: So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is,’ out in the desert, do not go out; or ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lighting comes from the east and flashes to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
Christ makes the point that His coming will not be in secret but very obvious. In An exposition of the New Testament, John Gill refers to the false christs that appeared. “It was usual for these impostors to lead their followers into deserts, pretending to work wonders in such solitary places.” Gill then goes on to tell about Simon, the son of Giora, who collected together many thousands in the mountains and deserts of Judea and one named Jonathan who led great multitudes into the desert. Josephus tells of many false messiahs that appeared on the scene during this period of time. The Jews felt that the messiah would appear to save them from the Roman armies. Therefore, many opportunists appeared, claiming to be that messiah who would save the people.
Christ now says something very interesting. “Immediately" after the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light. The stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will by shaken” (Matthew 24:29). Here Christ dates the period he is talking about by saying, “Immediately (Greek entheos, which means “at once,” or “soon,” “forthwith,” etc.) after the distress of those days.” What days? If we are to follow the flow of His prophecy and the history of the time, the days Christ is talking about are those days he has just described. The days Christ is talking about are the days just preceding Romans armies coming against Jerusalem. These are the days when false prophets arrive on the scene to deceive the people. These are the days of famine and accompanying pestilence that preceded the virtual dissolution of Jewish society. All these events happened in various areas of the Roman Empire just prior to the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. It would be immediately after these events that the heavenly signs would appear.
In a book written in 1838 entitled, The Pilgrim Soul, the author, John Philip Schabalie, wrote the following regarding the calamity the Jews experienced: “Though corpses lay so thick in the street, the besieged had for some time thrown them over the walls in such numbers, as filled the ditches, to breed a pestilence in the Roman army. Out of only one gate were carried 115,000 corpses, exclusive of those thrown over the walls, of which every day saw a great number.”
These were the days that Christ was referring to in Matthew 24:21 when He said, “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.” Daniel speaks of such a distress in his prophecy dealing with the time of the end. What end is being referred to and what does Christ mean by the various signs in the sun, moon and stars? Are these signs to be taken literally or is this typical apocalyptic language that is so commonly used by the prophets? How did the Old Testament prophets use such phraseology? Let’s take a look! In Isaiah 13:9-10, in prophesying the destruction against Babylon, Isaiah writes,
"See, the day of the Lord is coming, a cruel day with fierce anger, to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”
In prophesying against Egypt, Ezekiel makes the following statements,
Ezekiel 32:7-8: When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars. I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you. I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign Lord.
In a prophecy against Edom, Isaiah says the following: “all the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll. All the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine” (Isaiah 34:4).
Did the entire starry host actually fall? Was the sky actually rolled up like a scroll? Of course not. This is a sample of the hundreds of these types of apocalyptic utterances found throughout the Scriptures. There is every Scriptural reason to believe Christ is using the same apocalyptic language so common to the prophets. Apocalyptic language uses a lot of hyperbole (rhetorical exaggeration) in describing the actions of God’s intervention in the affairs of men. Christ was just continuing this prophetic method of expression. This is not different from saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” Obviously it doesn’t rain cats and dogs. This is just an expression to emphasize that it is raining hard. We use these kinds of expressions all the time. Now let’s see what happens next.
Matthew 24:30: At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
Is the coming of Christ on clouds to be taken literally? How is this expression used in Scripture? In Isaiah 19:1, in a prophecy concerning Egypt, it is written, “See, the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt.” In Psalm 18:9, David, in a psalm of praise to God for deliverance from his enemies, writes, “He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under His feet.” In another psalm of praise, David speaks of God in this manner: “He makes the clouds His chariot and rides on the wings of the wind” (Psalm 104:3). Coming in the clouds, riding on the wings of the wind, like many other expressions concerning the activity of God in the Scriptures, are simply expressions of God’s magnitude of power and presence as He intervenes in the affairs of men. These are not literal expressions of how God appears. Jesus was using figurative language to express the actions of God in judgement against first century Israel.
Let’s now return to the actual history of what transpired in Judea to see how history corresponds to the Olivet prophecy. After being named Emperor, Vespasian turned the war in Judea over to his son Titus who entered Jerusalem in the spring of A.D. 70. The Roman army breached the first and second walls of the city and mass executions of escapees began with up to 500 crucifixions per day outside the city walls. As the siege continued, famine set in and hundreds of thousands die of starvation, pestilence and disease. Cannibalism was reported throughout the city. There was now no way of escape, as the Romans built an earthen wall around the city as prophesied by Christ:
Luke 19:43-44: The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.
In August of A.D. 70 the Romans entered the temple grounds and set fire to the temple and totally destroyed it. Josephus wrote, “While the holy house was on fire, everything was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain.” Nearly 100,000 Jews were taken captive and sold into slavery and over one million people perished during the siege of Jerusalem. This number included many thousands who had come to Jerusalem from other areas and nations to keep the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread.
It is interesting to note that in all the wars that our nation has been involved in, beginning with the revolutionary war and going through all the Indian wars, civil war, world wars, Korea, Vietnam, etc., it is estimated that between one and one-half million and two million Americans have been killed. This spans a period of over 200 years. In just a period of four to five years a million people perished in the siege of Jerusalem. In his history of the Jews, Josephus wrote: “I shall therefore speak my mind here at once briefly, that neither did any other city suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world.”
In a work entitled, The Early Days of Christianity, written in 1882 by F.F. Farrar, the author wrote,
"Fanatically relying on the visible manifestation of Jehovah, while they were infamously violating all His laws, the Zealots rejected with insult every offer of terms. At last Titus drew a line of circumvallation round the doomed city, and began to crucify all the deserters who fled from him. The incidents of famine, which then fell on the besieged, are among the most horrible in human literature. The corpses bred pestilence. Whole houses were filled with unburied families of the dead. Mothers slew and devoured their own children. Hunger, rage, despair, and madness seized the city. It became a cage of furious madmen, a city of howling wild beasts, and of cannibals,—a hell. Disease and slaughter ruthlessly accomplished their work. At last, amid shrieks and flames, and suicide and massacre, the temple was taken and reduced to ashes. The great altar of sacrifice was heaped with the slain. The courts of the temple swam deep in blood. Six thousand miserable women and children sank with a wild cry of terror amid the blazing ruins of the cloisters. Romans adorned the insignia of their legions on the place where the holiest had stood."
This account by the historian F.F. Farrar supports well the statements of both Christ and Daniel about this being a time of great distress. Remember Christ said that this generation was like a man possessed of demons. Now Christ gives an object lesson and makes a very telling statement.
Matthew 24:32-34: Now learn the lesson of the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth; this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
Here Christ uses an object lesson to demonstrate to His disciples that when they see come to pass all the things He had just predicted; the wars, famines, earthquakes, the gospel going to the world, etc., His coming would be at hand. Jesus said just as they know summer is near when they see leaves come out on a fig tree, so they would know that the end was about to occur when they see all these events taking place. Christ then dates the events He is discussing by saying that the generation He was addressing would not pass until all the things He was speaking of would come to pass. All “these things” included His return (verse 30). What generation is Christ addressing? To what time was He dating these events?
WHAT GENERATION IS CHRIST ADDRESSING?
To arrive at a Scriptural understanding of what Christ meant by “this generation,” let us first look at the Greek word genea which is translated “generation” in Matthew 24:34, and many other New Testament passages. In the Arndt, Gingrich and Bauer Greek lexicon, genea is shown to have the general meaning of, “the sum total of those born at the same time, expanded to include all those living at a given time.” The meaning can apply to all those descended from a common ancestor. Thayer’s Greek lexicon provides similar meaning by defining genea as, “that which has been begotten of the same stock, all having similar characteristics.” Genea can also refer to a particular age or time.
It is interesting to note that genea is not defined as a specific number of years but relates to a group of people living at the same time, whereas our English usage tends more toward assigning a specific number of years to the word. Webster shows it to be around 30 years or the period of time between the birth of one generation and the birth of another generation.
Now let’s look at how genea is used in context in the New Testament Scripture involving the sayings of Christ. In Matthew 23:34-36, in speaking to the Pharisees, Christ said that all the righteous blood that has been shed on the earth would “come upon this generation,” referring to the generation of Pharisees He was addressing at the time. In Matthew 16:1-4 the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Christ and asked for a sign. Jesus addressed them as a wicked and adulterous generation (GR. genea). In Matthew 11:11-19, Jesus is speaking about Himself and John the Baptist in relation to their generation (same Greek word). In Luke 17:25, Christ speaks of having to suffer many things of “this generation,” referring to the generation of His time (same Greek word).
In every place where the authors of the New Testament show Christ using the word which they translated into the Greek genea, the context shows Him using this word to refer to the people He was addressing at the time. Therefore, there is no Scriptural reason to say Christ is using genea in some other way in Matthew 24:34. Jesus did not say that generation or some other generation, He said this generation. To try and make this saying of Christ apply to a generation far out into the future is totally inconsistent and incompatible with the manner in which He used this word in His various conversations as recorded in the New Testament. It may be helpful to look at a few other translations relative to Matthew 24:34.
New English Bible: I tell you this: the present generation will live to see it all.
Today’s English Version: Remember this! All these things will happen before people living now have all died.
Moffatt’s Translation: I tell you truly, the present generation will not pass away, until all this happens.
Weymouth’s Translation: I tell you in solemn truth that the present generation will not pass away, till all this happens.
The Scholar’s Version: I can promise you that some of the people of this generation will still be alive when all this happens.
The New Life Testament: The present generation shall not pass till all these things happen.
Tyndale’s New Testament: even the present generation will not have passed away, till all these things have taken place.
A quote from David Chilton’s book, The Great Tribulation, is instructive.
"Some have sought to get around the force of (Mt. 24:34) by saying that the word generation here really means race, and that Jesus was simply saying here that the Jewish race would not die out until all these things took place. Is that true? I challenge you; get out your concordance and look up every New Testament occurrence of the word generation, and see if it ever means “race” in any other context. Not one of these references is speaking of the entire Jewish race over thousands of years; all use the word in its normal sense of the sum total of those living at the same time. It always refers to contemporaries. In fact those who say it means ‘race’ tend to acknowledge this fact, but explain that the word suddenly changes its meaning when Jesus uses it in Matthew 24! We can only smile at such a transparent error."
Some have interpreted Christ’s reference to “this generation” as meaning the generation existing at the time when all the things He prophesied would take place. As already documented in this book, the things Christ prophesied in the Olivet Discourse clearly took place in the events leading up to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. There is no reason or need to believe Jesus was referring to events thousands of years into the future when the historical evidence shows their occurrence in the first century. There simply is no contextual or grammatical justification for concluding that Christ is referring to a generation thousands of years future from the time He made this statement in the Olivet Discourse. In Matthew 23 we hear Christ proclaiming judgment upon the generation of religious leaders He was addressing at the time. Did Jesus suddenly change the meaning of generation a few hours later when He was answering His disciples’ question about when the temple would be destroyed and His return would occur?
It must be remembered that Christ is addressing His disciples in the Olivet discourse. He is answering their questions about when the temple will be destroyed and His return will take place. In addressing His disciples, He says to them, “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.” He then makes the statement about their generation not passing until all these things are fulfilled. The “you" Christ is addressing are his disciples. Christ is not addressing us or anyone else. It must be understood that when we read the Olivet discourse, we are reading a record of Jesus addressing His disciples. When Christ tells them, “when you see all these things,” He is telling them that it is they who will see all these things, not others living thousands of years into the future.
A good example of how a reference to the generation being addressed at the time is contrasted with some other generation being addressed is found in the letter to the Hebrews.
Hebrews 3:7-10: So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’
Here we see the Holy Spirit using the word “that” in reference to a generation other than the generation being addressed at the time. Christ, who also spoke by the Holy Spirit, never spoke in terms of “that” generation. Such a usage would have connoted a past or future generation depending on the context. We plainly see such usage in the passage in Hebrews quoted above. Christ never used the word “that” to modify the word generation. He always used the term “this generation” which connoted the generation He was addressing at the time.
A striking example of Christ’s use of “this generation” being associated with the audience He was addressing at the time is found in Mark the eighth chapter.
Mark 8:34-38: Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.’
In this passage it should be very apparent Christ is using generation to signify the audience He was addressing at the time He made these statements. In several other Scriptural passages we find Christ referring to His generation as sinful and adulterous. What is of even greater significance in this passage is that Christ made this statement in the context of His coming in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.
Had I been standing in that crowd listening to Jesus refer to my generation as adulterous and sinful and then proceed to say that if I am ashamed of Him He will be ashamed of me when He comes in the glory of His Father, I would not have understood that coming to be 2,000 years into the future and counting. I would have understood Christ to be referring to an event that was not very far off. When Jesus addressed His disciples in the Olivet Discourse, He said, “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” All “these things” included His coming in power and glory with the holy angels.
Let’s consider a present day parallel to what Christ was doing in the Olivet discourse. Let’s pretend that Christ is presently living in North Korea and you along with other of His followers point out to Him the beautiful palaces of Kim Chong-il. Christ tells you that they will all be destroyed. You ask Him when these things will take place and what will be the sign that these things will happen. He gives you many details of a military invasion. He even throws in some hyperbole about the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light. He then says that when you see all these things happening, you will know that the destruction of Chong-il’s palaces is at hand. He concludes by saying that this generation will live to see it all. Would you conclude that the generation Christ is speaking of is a generation thousands of years in the future? Would you understand “this generation” to be some other generation thousands of years after your death? Would you conclude when Christ says to you “when you see all these things happening” He isn’t really talking to you but to people living thousands of years in the future?
It should be apparent that Christ was referring to the generation He was associated with at the time He made the statements recorded in the Olivet Discourse. It would be that first-century generation of Jews that would experience the coming of Christ in judgment and to gather His elect. Jesus said that generation He was addressing at the time would not pass until these events occurred. These events included His coming in the clouds. Was this the second coming? Do the Scriptures teach another coming? Let’s take a look.
IS THERE A COMING OF CHRIST BEYOND THE FIRST CENTURY?
Some Christians believe that Christ is speaking of a first-century return in judgment up to Matthew 24:1-35 of the Olivet Discourse, but He then shifts to discussing a final coming at the end of the world or the end of time beginning with verse 36. With the birth of Christ being His first coming, His coming in judgment in A.D. 66 to 73 would constitute a second coming. A future coming would amount to a third coming. Do the Scriptures teach a third coming? The disciples asked Jesus basically one question. When will the temple be destroyed and what will be the sign that will tell them when this event will take place.
There is nothing in their question or in Christ’s answer to their question to suggest that the end of the world or the end of time is being addressed. Nowhere in Scripture is the end of time addressed. What is addressed is the time of the end. There is significant difference between addressing the end of time and the time of the end. The context of the Olivet Discourse is the time of the end. The destruction of the temple, and all the events leading up to that destruction, is the end being addressed. The Temple’s destruction is what the disciples were questioning Christ about. It is to this question that Christ addresses His answer.
Much of New Testament Scripture relates to the ending of the Old Covenant age of which the destruction of the temple was a significant dynamic. I repeat, the end of time is not being addressed here. What is being addressed here is the end of a covenant age, an age that had begun thousands of years earlier at the foot of Mount Sinai.
In the Olivet Discourse, Christ explained to the disciples what signs to look for relative to the destruction of the temple. His return in power and glory through the vehicle of the Roman armies led directly to the temple’s destruction. The temple’s destruction was the final dynamic in the covenantal change that was taking place. With the temple’s destruction, the Old Covenant age had come to an end.
This is the end of the age that the disciples were inquiring about and not some age thousands of years into the future and counting. The whole focus of the New Testament is covenantal change. The New Testament is largely a history of the dynamics that led to that change. The very phrase New Testament means New Covenant. Christ returned in power through the human instruments of the Roman armies to bring to an end the age of the Old Covenant. This is the end being addressed. This will become abundantly clear as we proceed with our investigation.
After Christ explains that all these things would happen before the generation He was addressing would pass, He then goes on to explain that the exact time that this would take place was known only to the Father. While the exact time of these events would not be known by the disciples, the general time could be known by watching the events unfold that Jesus said would precede His return. That is why Jesus tells His disciples to watch. The general population of Israel would not be watching and, therefore, as in the days of Noah, they would be caught unawares. History shows this is exactly what happened.
There is no break in focus between Matthew 24:35 and the rest of the chapter. Jesus didn’t suddenly change the subject from his return in the first century to a return thousands of years into the future and counting. Instead, he repeatedly exhorts the disciples to be alert and watch. Watch what? Watch for those events that He just described to them so that they could escape what would be coming to pass. Let’s look at more of the dynamics surrounding the return of Christ.
Luke 17:26-37: Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot's wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left. ‘Where, Lord?’ they asked. He replied, ‘Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.’
Christ explains that it will be as in the days of Noah and Lot, how some will be taken and others left and how those on roof tops should not come down or those in the field should not return to their houses. These same sayings are found in the Olivet Discourse. Christ is speaking of escaping the coming destruction. By citing Noah and Lot and their escape from destruction, Christ is telling his followers to be aware of what is going on and to react accordingly.
Matthew 24:37-44: As it was in the days of Noah, so it will 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 knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Matthew 24:17: Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak.
Christ is speaking of a physical escape from destruction and death. He exhorts His listeners to watch and be ready. When they see the destruction coming, they are not to turn back as did Lot’s wife. They are to get out of the city and the land of Judea. Christ is dealing with physical life and death in these passages.
What is meant by two women grinding at the mill? If this passage of Scripture is connected with a still future return of Christ, how would this apply? In ancient times, a mill consisted of an upper stone and a lower stone. The upper stone was fitted with a wooden upright peg near the outer edge so that the stone could be rotated in a complete circle. Two women would work the mill by sitting opposite each other, and each would turn the upper stone through half a revolution (Hastings’s Bible Dictionary). This method of grinding grain is no longer used and hasn’t been used for a long, long time. This can only apply to a past event. It should also be noted that the rooftops of houses were joined to each other in Jerusalem so that you could virtually leave the city of Jerusalem by running across rooftops to the outside walls.
It should be noted that Luke speaks of not coming down from the rooftops in the same context of these days being as the days of Noah and Sodom. Matthew speaks of not coming down from the rooftops prior to saying this would all happen in that generation. Matthew then speaks of the days of Noah following his statement about all this happening in that generation. Both these writers are speaking of the same event. Luke groups certain comments together and Matthew separates those same comments in his narrative. Therefore, there is no Scriptural reason to conclude that Christ is speaking of two comings in the Olivet Discourse. As we move along with our investigation, you will see there is nothing in all of Scriptural to lead one to believe there is a coming of Christ beyond the first century.
What’s of additional interest in the Luke 17:26-37 passage is that Christ is asked where these things would be taking place and He answers, “Where there is a dead body, there the eagles (Greek aetos) will gather. Christ is making this statement in the context of this time being as in the days of Noah and Lot and not returning from the rooftops or fields. This is the same context found in the Olivet Discourse where, here too, Christ speaks of the eagles gathering around the carcass (Matthew 24:28). It is interesting to note from the writings of Josephus, that when the Romans burned the temple, they brought their ensigns to the temple area, set them up against the eastern gate and offered sacrifices to them. The Roman ensigns were eagles.
There is no Scriptural reason to believe Christ taught two different comings in the Olivet Discourse. The prophecy contained in this discourse is one continuous description of what would occur relative to the destruction of the temple. This discourse identified the dynamics involved in that destruction. Those dynamics included the return of Christ, and events associated with that return.
In part four of this series, we will consider additional Scriptural evidence which clearly identifies the time frame when the events described by Jesus Christ would occur.