By Dan King
The Signless Second Coming: Watch!
“What shall be the sign of the end of the world?” had been the final question addressed to Jesus. The section from 24:36 to 25:46 represents His reply to that question. Appearance of the statement of verse 36 at Mark 13:32 where only the destruction of the Temple in 70 is under consideration is evidence Christ meant to imply that the fall of the city had also its own element of intrinsic mystery. None could know with absolute certainty when the appointed time for that event should be either, viz. the “day or hour.”
Some today ask, “How could the disciples understand the second coming if they did not truly understand the crucifixion?” The answer is: they probably did not. Their inquiry was most likely based on the common Jewish notion that their Messiah would lead the armies of Israel in a final eschatological battle of world conquest, which would be followed by the Messianic reign and world peace. When the Temple fell, we know that many of the religious rebels saw its fall only as the “birth pangs” of the Messianic era. The revolt actually lasted until 135 AD, since pockets of freedom-fighters held out in the caves and desert country until the final pacification in that year.
Jesus explained that “that day,” i.e. His eventual second coming at the conclusion of history, would come entirely devoid of signs. This is one of the most apparent indications there is a break in the chapter and a change in subject. If there is only the destruction of Jerusalem under consideration here as some contend, .then an internal discrepancy is present: earlier Jesus said there would be signs, here he says there will be no signs. It cannot be both ways and have reference to one and the same event! Actually, the signs are the portents of the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple, while the return of Christ at the end of the age is not to be announced by signs. Note the following indications from the latter part of the dialogue: (a) Verse 36: “But of that day and hour Knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only”; (b) The people of Noah’s time were taken without warning (vv. 37-39). Noah preached to them, but there were no signs and they were taken unawares; (c) A thief comes without warning (vv. 42-44). If there had been signs, then the householder would have seen them and known he was about to break in. “Watch, therefore, for ye know not on what day your Lord comes… therefore be ye also ready; for in an hour that ye think not the Son of Man cometh.” (d) The parable of the faithful and wise servant (w. 45-51) shows one servant who becomes unfaithful because he says, “My Lord tarrieth.” This fits the second coming of Christ, but not the destruction of Jerusalem. When the Lord comes He does so, “in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not. . .” If there had been signs for him to watch for in the events of the day, as with the fall of Jerusalem, he should not have been caught off guard; (e) The twenty-fifth chapter continues this dialogue, beginning with the word “The. . .” (25:1), translated from tote, “at that time, then,” used regularly of “a concomitant event” (Thayer, p. 629). There is no break in thought or context from the last portion of Matthew 24, it is merely a continuation of the same discussion. The parable of the foolish and wise virgins starts the chapter off (25:1-13), emphasizing that while the bridegroom tarried he did finally come. Moreover, he did so suddenly and without warning, surprising some of the virgins who awaited his arrival. The moral is this: “Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour.” (f) In the parable of the talents (25:14-30), the Lord came back to make a reckoning “after a long time.” The judgment under consideration is that applied to individuals, not to nations, as would be the case if this referred to the decline and fall of Israel.” (g) The description of the last judgment, of the sheep and the goats (25:31-46) deals a potent blow to any view which tries to see the destruction of Jerusalem as the subject of the last part of Matthew 24. Who would attempt to apply this to the judgment of the Jews alone? “Before him shall be gathered all the nations,” said Jesus. The punishment is eternal punishment and the righteous are issued into eternal life. The Son of Man comes in His glory with His angels (v. 31), and there are no signs to herald His coming or forewarn even His dedicated disciples. This portion of Scripture clearly speaks of the end of the world, a time when time is no more, and of the concluding events of human history. If this is not so, then where is there a passage which does speak of the end of the world? I suggest that if these passages from the end of Matthew 24 and the 25th chapter may be made to refer to something besides the consummation, the same may be done with every single passage in the New Testament that talks about the “last things.” We are beginning to hear of men who say the “man of sin” of 2 Thessalonians 2 fits into the “fall of Jerusalem” scheme, and even of some who claim 2 Peter 2 is a mere symbolic representation of God’s rejection of the Jewish people. I fear that a few of us may be on the verge of suggesting “the resurrection is past already” (2 Tim. 2:18)! If this line of reasoning is followed to its logical consequences, I am afraid that is exactly where some of us are going to end up!
We have seen the speculative history theory of premillennialism melt away before our eyes when exposed to the light of God’s word. While all scriptural interpreters will happily admit Matthew 24 is not an easy chapter, it is easy to determine that these speculators have misused it in order to force it into the mold of their theories. It only proves to us anew that premillennialism is a noxious weed which befouls every scriptural idea it touches, a cancerous growth that sends its destructive tentacles into every text its promoters attempt to interpret. The historical fulfillment of Christ’s signs of the fall of Jerusalem must be utterly ignored by them in order to prop up their fanciful system.
We have also taken a look at the view held by some of late which perceives all of Matthew 24 as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem. In our estimation it is – at this stage – much like the quaint theory that holds the Revelation to have been written with the same event as its main focus (represented by Foy E. Wallace, The Book of Revelation) -it is probably harmless, but it is certainly wrong.
One who is tempted to go overboard in embracing this method of interpretation would do well to study with discernment the views of Max R. King. He has taken this hermeneutical principle and gone to an almost incomprehensible extreme (cf. Nichols-King Debate, and the McGuiggan-King Debate). Conservative brethren have, up until now, rested secure that they would not be bothered by this faction and its heterodox way of thinking. Consequently we have not educated ourselves about it or taken time to make the brethren aware of its dangers. We have not written about it or preached on it. As a result, a few younger preachers are falling prey to some of its allurements. I surely hope we are not making a fatal mistake.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 13, pp. 393-394
July 7, 1983