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Jan 15, 2017 | Joshua Claycamp

Matthew 24:1-51 ~ See to it that you are not deceived PART 2 (Through The Trickery)

This text is for individuals who love the Lord Jesus, who are committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. They have wrestled, and they have struggled with this passage, and they have come to wildly different conclusions, and that is not a cause of division for us, amen? Again, just to reiterate, the pre-millennial, dispensational perspective has one great strength; it is that it takes the time markers seriously. “Then immediately after those days, the sun will not give its light...” And then “...immediately after that time...” then the Son of Man will return. The one great strength of their approach to this text is that they are very concerned with every detail, particularly their struggling to come up with an interpretation that appreciates and respect the time markers.

The struggle that they have is verse 34. Jesus makes a statement “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” That’s where every pre-millennial and dispensational theologian has come up against a brick wall and said; our system of theology doesn’t really do well with that verse. I will give you a couple of examples:

Hal Lindsay wrote a phenomenal book from the dispensational perspective, the pre-millennial perspective, in which he wrestled with this verse specifically. He stipulated the idea which many of you have probably heard and become very familiar with. It’s the idea that when Israel was returned to its land in Palestine, when Israel as a nation is reinstated in 1948, that started the clock ticking for “this generation.” He wrote a very wonderful book which I actually have a copy of, and you can get one too for relatively cheap. The title of the book was “88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988.” You know it is 2017, right?

It’s okay to chuckle. I have a copy you can have a copy too for really cheap in the used book stores right now. Jesus obviously did not come back in 1988, and we are still no better off understanding exactly what Jesus means by this reference, from a dispensational perspective, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Now that’s a great weakness. The great strength again of dispensationalism is that they take the time markers very carefully.


Let’s consider another interpretation that our post-millennial brothers and sisters have taken. Just a reminder, the postmillennialists believe that Jesus is metaphorically reigning on this earth through the church presently. They hold to the understanding that the church will again gain influence and status and prestige in the world, and that as the world comes under the power and sway of the gospel that things will just naturally, because of the indwelling redemptive character of the Holy Spirit as people are getting saved, the world will naturally become more and more Christianized and blessings will just flow out of that.

They believe cancer will be cured, global warming will be stopped, civilization will flourish. Their understanding is that Jesus is not literally returning. They understand that the millennial reign of Christ is happening metaphorically through the church and that he is not actually coming from heaven to earth. He is ruling through his church on the earth. There are a couple of very notable scholars that hold to this interpretation. And there are men that I dearly respect, and a few people in this room that hold to this position, and they are dear friends as well.

One of the most noted scholars of the last 150 years is an individual by the name of Dr. John Broadus. Let me tell you a little bit about Dr. Broadus. Charles Spurgeon, who is unquestionably “The Prince of Preachers,” when asked about Dr. Broadus made this statement; “John Broadus is the Prince of Preachers.” That was Spurgeon’s assessment of Dr. Broadus. Dr. Broadus offers several theories on the post-millennial interpretation of Matthew chapter 24:15-21. Again, to be fair there are postmillennials that will hold to a slightly different interpretation. Some will take it even further passed verse 21, and there are nuances and differences amongst postmillennial, but all of them for the most part will go at least to verse 21.

 Here’s the basic understanding that Dr. Broadus advances on Chapter 24: beginning in verse 15, when Jesus makes a statement “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place”, all the way down to at least verse 21, all of this deals with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple which was accomplished in A.D. 70 by a number of Roman legions, under the command of a Roman general by the name of Titus.

The postmillennialist will say that verses 15 through 21 deal specifically with the destruction of the Temple in the first century. The postmillennialist suggests that the disciples are confused and they ask a confused question, and that Jesus is indirectly answering their question but, he is giving some rambling answers about many different things.

Because they hold to that, they only loosely scout (as Dr. Broadus would describe it) the time references, so that when the question is posed and Jesus makes the various statements “ immediately after those days...”, “...Then at that time the Son of Man….” what does the postmillennialist think of these time references?

The postmillennialist says, “That’s just apocalyptic language that Jesus is using to talk about his return, and it’s not something that really should be taken truly.” They state they will note those things, they will appreciate those things, but they will say, “You need to understand that when we come to the book of Revelation, and when we look at the book of Daniel, we see in there all kinds of metaphors and all kinds of imagery, so we are going to take this whole chapter, we are going to break it up into the paragraph units, and we will loosely note the time references, but we are just going to look at the content of the paragraphs separated from the time references in order to draw meaning from it.”

Now as a result, certain verses have no impact on them. For example, verse 15. First, they start by saying that this is the only time marker that matters because when you see that, you know that Jerusalem was about to be sacked by the Romans. That’s the only time marker that matters. But, then you look at verse 29: “...and immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.” Notice the time marker, “immediately.” Why did Jesus use the term immediately if he is just speaking apocalyptically? They will say, “We can look at the paragraph between 29 and 31 and we can draw meaning out of it, but this is not necessarily in a chronological sequence.”

Now, the great strength of this system of interpretation is that they are able to mine to the depth all of the devotional values, that in each respective paragraph they are able to look at a chunk and they’re able to say – “This is what Jesus is saying here, this is what it has for our union with Christ and our lives, and don’t concern yourself too much with the discrepancy. Focus on the heart of the paragraph.”

In this respect, they are a people full of unbridled optimism. The postmillennialist believes that there is some darkness mentioned here, but that ultimately the church is able to prevail, the church is able to overcome, and that ultimately, this is an incredibly positive chapter because Jesus is understood to be reigning through his church, and it is up to us to enact his reign by fulfilling the great commission. So they have a lot of optimism.

The great weakness of this system of interpretation happens to be the flip side of the coin to what is the postmillennials great strength. The postmillennials will say, “We are not going to worry too much about the time references.” This, for everyone else, is a problem. You’ve got to worry about the time references! Either Jesus is outright lying, or you have got to worry about the time references.

As per the expression of one of my seminary professors, one theologian’s interpretive treasure is another theologian’s interpretive refuse. So again, if you are a postmillennialist, I love you but... I was rough on the premillennial guys last week, so I just want to be fair. If you were here last week you will know that with regards to these issues, I am an equal opportunity offender (laughter from the congregation). So that is a great weakness of the post-millennial system of interpretation.


Then we come to the amillennial interpretation. This is the view that has been proposed by a number of theologians, excellent commentators no less, along the lines of Alexander Kick, Tasker, Dick Frantz and his generally fantastic book “Jesus in the Old Testament.” Here’s what they have to say.

The basics of their system of interpretation: The fall of Jerusalem is, in their view, starting from chapter 24, verse four. So right from the very beginning, when Jesus says “See to it that you are not deceived in any way...” from verse four and following all the way down to verse 35. Notice on verse 34, that generational reference. Jesus makes a statement in verse 34, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” and then verse 35: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” From verse four all the way down to verse 35, the amillennialist says that the whole key to interpreting that section is to understand that all of that deals with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, when a number of Roman legions surround Jerusalem under the leadership of the Roman general Titus and eventually destroy Jerusalem, and eventually the Temple.

The amillennial says that all of that, from first verse all the way to verse 35, deals with that issue. Then verse 36, “But concerning that day and that hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,” and the following, beyond all of that, has to do with the second return or the second coming of Jesus. Now that’s the basic theory. It talks about Jerusalem and it talks about all of that dealing with Jerusalem and then it basically breaks down into two parts.

The great strength of this is twofold. Remember, I said the great weakness of the dispensational, premillennialist interpretation was that it was very good with the time markers, but struggled with verse 34 in reference to “this generation not passing away.” Well, the great strength of the amillennialist interpretation is that it is very good with the time markers. It offers forth an interpretation that can adequately account for Jesus is meaning in verse 34, “...this generation will not pass away.”

Jesus basically gives them a complete description of the destruction of Jerusalem, all of that deals with the destruction of Jerusalem, and then in verse 36 he begins to answer the second question of “what is the sign of your return and the end, of the close the age?” Jesus says, “Considering that day and that hour nobody knows, not the Son, not the angels, only the Father in heaven.”

So the amillennialist interpretation adequately accounts for the time markers, and it offers forth an interpretation that deals effectively with the generational reference in verse 34. Because the disciples were part of that generation, somewhere between 30-33 A.D., and within 40 years to 70 A.D. the temples is going to be destroyed. Which means that whole generation is still alive at that time.

Here’s the great strength of it: when you read this passage in depth you notice that there is some indication that there is ongoing Sabbath observance, and the sabbatical observance that the Jews had, there is some indication that practice will still be happening. Look with me verse at 15, the abomination of desolation, spoken of in the prophet Daniel standing in the holy place... “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!” See verse 20, “Pray that your flight,” that is when you see all the stuff happening, you’ve got a run for your life, “Pray that that is not happening in winter or on a Sabbath.” This means that there is some indication there in the text that these people were still living in Jerusalem, and they’re still observing Sabbath worship. Followed by that is the generational marker, that generational comment in verse 34. The amillennialist interpreation deals beautifully with this text, by breaking up the whole chapter into two sections.

Here’s where it gets a little fuzzy; look with me at verse 29. “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 will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds from the one end of heaven to the other.”

So the premillennial and the postmillennial turn to the amillennials and say, “Did all that happen in the first century? I don’t think so.” Here’s where the amillennial offers forth a rather ingenious interpretation.

Again, I say this with love for all my amillennial brothers, but it is a bit far-fetched, and this position will be significantly criticized even by D.A. Carson who is not only one of the preeminent amillennial theologians, but one of the preeminent theologians and scholars of the past 100 years.

Here is the amillenial suggestion that adequately accounts for verse 29. The suggestion is made that in verse 29 when it says “Immediately after tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened,  and the moon will not give light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” the amillennialist answer to that is that is not to be understood literally. It is to be understood as Hebrew symbolic poetry. They will point to references in the Old Testament. They will make the comment that you will find throughout the Old Testament, in the major Prophets and the minor prophets, and throughout the book of Psalms, that when everything is going great you can understand through Hebrew poetry that the hills will be described as dancing and the trees will be described as swaying with joy. Then when everything is going badly you will find that in these Hebrew poetic expressions that the stars are falling and the sea is boiling and they will actually point to specific references such Isaiah 13:10 and Isaiah 34. So when things are going good the world dances, the hills dance, the trees sway the flurry. But when everything is going bad it is described as “...the hills tremble, the mountains quake and the sea boils.” This is a poetic term that isn’t to be taken literally. It’s meant to simply suggest that when things are going good and that when things are going bad, all of creation feels it. It’s just Hebrew poetry. To which the next question remains, “what about verse 30?” “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory?”

The suggestion is made that this is not a reference to the Son of Man returning to Earth, but that this is a reference to the Son of Man going to the Father. In support of this, they will reference the prophecy made in Daniel chapter 7:13 and 14, which says, “One like a Son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom (ESV).” That prophecy is made in Daniel chapter 7. So when you read here Jesus’ statement “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man,” they’re saying that this is a fulfillment of the Daniel 7 prophecy that talks about Jesus coming to the Father. This is not a prophecy from a man centered perspective where Jesus returns to us. This is a prophecy from Christ’s perspective where Jesus is going to the father and is being restored into heaven. He is coming to the Father in heaven and receiving authority and rule from the Father in heaven. Then the next question is then proposed by the pre-millennialists and the post-millennialist, “What about the next verse that says ‘Then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven and with power and great glory.’”

Again the amillennialist interpretation of this verse is that this was fulfilled in the destruction of the Temple. When it says tribes of the earth, although that is its most natural rendering from the Greek, there is still within the original Greek language a syntactical range of possible definitions. Now this is a stretch, but it is possible to render that verse, “...all of the peoples of the land.” So the statement is that when Titus comes and sacks Jerusalem, all the people in Jerusalem realize what’s happening, and although they don’t literally see the return of Christ to the earth, they understand in that moment that their city is being wiped out as result of their crucifixion of the Messiah and not just these people here in Jerusalem, but all of the people of this land are mourning. Then Jesus is vindicated.

In fact, the statement is made, they would see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with great power and great glory. This is very similar to what Jesus says to Caiaphas on the night he’s to be crucified. Caiaphas says, “Just ttell us whether or not you’re the Son of Man, whether or not you are the Messiah, whether or not you are the Christ!” Jesus’ statement is “You said so and the next time all the earth will see me coming with great power and glory.” And so their statement is that Jesus’s statement is to Caiaphas and this is a fulfillment of that here. “Well,” you say, “Okay, but what about the next verse? Surely there’s no good way to get around verse 31, ‘He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call and they will gather his from one end of heaven to the other.’”

The premillennialists will say, “This is absolutely a reference to the rapture! Surely that’s evidence that the premillennial viewpoint is correct!” To which amillennialist will say, “Not so fast. The word translated Angel, (again we are getting into these translation issues from the amillennial perspective to work), angallos, or the plural, angalloi, has as its most basic meaning to be known as Angels, spiritual beings sent from heaven. That’s how it’s usually understood. But it has as its most basic meaning messenger. Angollos, which should be translated angel, means messenger. Again understanding that the church has a role to play on what is being said here, verse 31, is that Jesus, after He has come to the Father, after He has been presented to the Lord in heaven and after He has received power, all the hills are symbolically described as dancing and being joyful in all of this. Then Jerusalem is going to be sacked. At this point he is sending forth his church and that’s what verse 31 means. Not that he’s sending forth his angels and not that he’s rapturing the church off of the earth, but that the church is actually going forth as his messengers with a loud trumpet call, which the amillennialist typically just sort of scratches head and said says “okay, that’s in there is just to be understood apocalyptically.” “With a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” and what this is, is the fulfillment of the great commission. DA Carson’s direct quote, this was spoken at a prophecy conference for amillennialists, so he’s talking to his own tribe here and he himself is an amillennial and he offers this criticism,

“All in all, when these verses are taken together, it is impossible to conclude that each of these verses can mean what the amillennialist typically suggest that they mean.”

Yes, you could say, if you’re willing to play those types of translation games, that this is a reference to this and this is a reference to that, but when you take all of these verses together when you take the unit and the paragraph as a whole, it simply seems to defy imagination that that’s what is being said here.

And there are good reasons to suspect that this will not work as an interpretation based on the use of the phrase, “He will send out his angels,” not just on the basis of DA Carson’s testimony. This statement of Jesus sending out his angels to the four corners of the earth, to the four winds and gathering his elect together, you actually find that quoted quite a bit through the old and New Testament. If you go back and you look at it in every single instance, it is clearly a reference not to the church embarking on the great commission, but when you look at all the different references to this event through the old and New Testament, it is very clearly in reference to the second coming of Jesus Christ.

I won’t go through all these verses with you Matthew 13:40 to 41, 1 Thessalonians 4:14 through 17, Matthew 16:27 to 25 and 31, Second Thessalonians 1-7, Second Peter 3:10 to 12. There are numerous times this statement is made, and I’m just giving the New Testament references, and not having looked at the Old Testament references. When you look at those things, it is clear that the apostles and the disciples are saying that when Jesus returns to this earth, when he comes back, his angels, as spiritual beings from heaven, will preced him gathering together the elect. For example, in the 2 Thessalonians reference, Paul talking to the church of Thessalonica, it will make no sense for them to say dear church, don’t be deceived when the Lord comes back, his angels are coming with him. His intention in that passage is for them to understand secretly dear church don’t be alarmed of the persecution you’re going through because really you’re Jesus is messenger? That’s just an unnatural rendering. There are too many verses, too many corresponding cross-references that you have to reinterpret in order to accept this interpretation, the amillennial interpretation of Matthew 24. DA Carson agrees.

Now how many of you guys are totally lost this point and eyes are glazing over?

This brings me to my fourth system of interpretation. Any time a pastor stands up and he begins to preach on, these guys interpret it this way and these guys interpret it that way, every parishioner is thinking, “I’m losing you! This is all just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.”

At which point somebody will say in a good-natured manner, “Want to know what system of interpretation I hold to?” Then the unsuspecting preacher who’s never heard the joke before will say “What’s that?” And he’ll say, “I’m a pan-millennialist.” If this preacher has been living with his head under a rock his whole life, and he’s never heard the joke before, he will then ask “Pan-millennialist? I’ve never read about that in all the commentaries or literature. What is a Pan-millennialist?” To which the very clever church member will say “I’m just waiting to see how it all pans out.” Amen?

Now I know that most of the time when we make that joke we’re looking for a good laugh and it is good for a good laugh if you never heard it before. I myself have heard it probably 10 trillion times and it has lost some of its humor for me, personally, but it is a funny joke.

I know when an individual says this thing, he is meaning that we don’t have to argue over these details, and we don’t have to come to blows over who has the right or the wrong interpretation and I appreciate that. I personally do. If your heart is to say that you know that there are differences of opinion, there are disagreements about the way to interpret this text, and we can believe what we believe and yet at the same time have the humility to trust that the Lord is going to work it all out in his own way and at his own time. I love that part of it.

But, now I have to offer this caution to you. For most of us, if we make the joke I’m a pan millennialist, we really do have some view on these matters. We just don’t want to argue and that’s great. But, for some of us, we truly are, unfortunately, panmillennialist - in the sense that we are not actively trying to understand these things. We are not actively trying to understand all of these different competing arguments, and we are not trying to come to some sort of perspective on it. Here’s where I would caution you.

Look back at verse 3 with me, Jesus’ statement to the disciples question, tell us when will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age. Notice the moral imperative that Jesus gives to all of us regarding this, regardless of our own individual perspectives. In verse 4 look what he says “See that no one leads you astray.” Now if we offer forth that joke that we are pan-millennialist, just because we don’t feel this is something we have to fight over and argue over then that is great, that’s wonderful. But if we are truly pan-millennialist in the sense that we don’t care one way or the other about what’s going to happen, then what we’re saying is that everything that Jesus says in Matthew 24 is immaterial and irrelevant for our lives. The problem with that is that the major moral imperative at the beginning of this chapter is given in verse 4, and it is in the imperative. It’s not a suggestion, and not just a helpful little idea that you might consider. It is in the imperative verb tense. Jesus says “see to it.” Look to it, observe it and make sure, make certain that no one (that is all encompassing) leads you astray.

That verse precedes everything that follows in Matthew 24. Everything that Jesus gives us in this chapter is intended by him to spiritually guide us through dark and difficult times. It is intended to safeguard us from falling victim to the lies and deceptions. Therefore, in this regard, none of us can be true pan-millennialists.

You say “preacher this is a really tough challenge you are giving us. You are saying that (1) there have been many different interpretations of this text, and then you’re saying that (2) we can’t argue over these things and then you’re saying (3) we better be convinced about these things. How do we hold all that together?” We do it through love. We have to come to the conviction we have to have some idea about what Jesus is saying. We have to hold to it firmly. But, we can still love each other through it and indeed I think we will need each other through it.

Let me pose a hypothetical, for those of you who are dispensational and who believe that the Lord is going to rapture us off this earth before the seven-year tribulation, what if you were wrong? What if you’re not raptured? You will need to count on the insight of your amillennial brothers who have taken a perspective on this text that accounts more for struggle than that and accounts more for persecution, that accounts more for suffering. You will need their encouragement.

Let’s suppose for second you are post-millennial and you think that sunny days are ahead, that the church will one day govern this world through influence and through fulfilling the great commission. What if despite your best efforts, it just doesn’t happen? When you are worn out, when you are tired, when you are weak you will need the encouragement of the dispensationalists and the pre-millennialist who says Jesus has promised that he will fix all of this and you can rest in that promise.

What if you’re amillennial? To be honest with you, I have given a lot of thought to the amillennialist, I myself am not amillennial, but their perspective is that we will simply encounter persecution and suffering and it will get darker and darker and that Jesus just brings this age to an end. What happens if there’s actually a millennium and that Jesus returns and walks on this earth? You’ll be taking remedial eschatology 101, and that’s okay because we will still love you, those of us who are pre-millennial.

I worked my way through this material several times trying to find what the amillennial could draw from the pre-millennial and post-millennial interpretations.

We need each other. We have to hold together, and I can make that statement to you on the basis of what Jesus says here. Now, we know that Jesus is the son of God, we know that he is omniscient, we know that he knows all things with the exception of the exact date of his return which he has chosen sovereignly not to know. His statement to the disciples is “see to it that you’re not deceived,” now he knows that He’s about to unleash 2000 years of arguing over eschatology, doesn’t He? I think he knows that. He could’ve been specific, but he chooses not to. Notice though it’s in the plural, “see that no one leads you all astray.”

The basis of the exhortation from our King is this, he doesn’t trust in any one theologian’s great wisdom or great insight into the end times, but what he does do is he commits them together as a group. See to it that y’all are not led astray.

In conclusion, I was reminded this morning based on my meditation from verse 4 of a line that comes from the Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, book 1. When the decision is made that these hobbits and all of these different elves and dwarves, all have to go on this great quest to save the world and Elrond, the chief elf guy at Rivendell, comes to Gandalf and he says something like, “Is this a smart idea? I mean, these guys are just hobbits.”

Gandalf’s response to Elrond at Rivendell is:

 “It is true, they are hobbits and it is also true that if these hobbits understood the danger they would not dare to go. But I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be better to trust rather in their great friendship then to their great wisdom.”

Lets pray. Father, we thank you that you’ve given us to each other, and as we work our way through this text, we thank you, Lord, that your exhortation to us from Matthew 24 is that we, together as a church, not be deceived, but that we, together as a church, not be led astray. We recognize that when we give this explanation to the apostles, you say to them see to it that y’all, all of you together, are not deceived. Lord, we know that there are disagreements about the meaning of these passages. We know, Lord, that there many different ways of interpreting them, yet Lord we see here the great gift that you’ve given to us. Not the arrogant presupposition that we are right and not the presumption that we have it all figured out, but that you’ve given us brothers and sisters who love you just as much as we do, and who may disagree with us, yet we can draw from those disagreements. We pray, Father, that you would do your work here at First Baptist Church, and that we all would not be deceived. We pray these things in Christ’s name, amen.

Series Information

The Gospel of Matthew is a story about a once and coming King. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, the long awaited for Messiah. He has come once, and Matthew tells the story of His arrival, ministry, sacrificial atoning work on the cross, and His promise to return soon.

Other sermons in the series