"Matthew 24 - The Rapture Dilemma" (Part Three)

Can Prophecies Refer to More than One Event?

One of the ways in which Matthew 24 is wrongly interpreted today, is in forcing it to apply either to the first century, or to the endtimes. In this either-or scenario, events linked by scripture elsewhere to the Rapture CANNOT relate to the Matthew passage, because ALL of it must speak of the Second Coming.

But one major foundation of bible interpretation is that prophecies can have more than one meaning, while still being totally correct. Prophecies can legitimately contain an everyday meaning, a near-future interpretation as well as an endtime reference.

SEE FOR EXAMPLE: Multiples References in Prophecy (PDF file)

Many references in the Psalms were seen to be about the Messiah in due course, even though they were written about their own present misfortunes; many references to the persecution and restoration of Israel could be applied equally at that time and also in the 20th century; the letters to the churches in Revelation were undoubtedly about seven literal churches of John's day, but also refer to the Church throughout history and in the latter-day – and so on.

Psalm 16 and verses 8-10 are a poem of David about his own fears and faith. He is going through a time of trial. He says,

I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Yet we all know that this is a promise to Jesus when he died on the cross. We have no difficulty knowing that both interpretations are equally valid. One does not rule out the other.

Paul and the apostles constantly used the Old Testament prophecies to illustrate the truth about Jesus their Messiah. For instance in Acts 13 32-35 he says,

And we declare unto you glad tidings, how the promise which was made unto the fathers, God has fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he has raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, You are my Son, this day have I begotten you. And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said in this way, I will give you the sure mercies of David. Therefore he says also in another psalm, You shall not allow your Holy One to see corruption.

How Does This Challenge Our Understanding Of Matthew 24?

In speaking of the destruction of the Temple in Matthew 24, Jesus was speaking at one and the same time of the circumstances of the first-century Church and the Roman destruction in AD70, and events in the far distant future, in our own day in fact. This is really why we need to pay close attention to what he said, and interpret it correctly.

How do we know? Simply, Jesus did not return at that time! Jesus promised that he would return for his people immediately after the troubles had come to a climax. When that happened in the first century AD (fulfilling in detail what Jesus had said), he did not in fact return - something that must have puzzled and dismayed the disciples.

But we now know that there was ALSO another fulfilment of the prophecy speaking of another greater destruction of Israel. Both are valid prophecies.

It is just as wrong to interpret ALL Matthew 24 as prophetic of the endtimes as it is to interpret it ALL for the first century AD. It is both at the same time.

Indeed, the Christians of the early Church did interpret the words of Jesus as prophetic of AD70, since they did take it as a warning when the siege of Jerusalem began, and they managed by the grace of God to flee the city, just as Jesus said.

It was THEN that Jesus commented that they should pray not to have to flee on the Sabbath, because it would have been much harder to travel, carry goods, and find alternative accommodation on a Sabbath day in Israel. That statement, about not fleeing on the Sabbath, incidentally, still holds true for those believers and Jews who have been saved at the time of the coming war and final destruction of Jerusalem even though it does not apply elsewhere in the world.

The early Christian scholar Eusebius wrote:

"The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella."  [Ecclesiastical History, tr. C. F. Crusè, 3d ed., in Greek Ecclesiastical Historians, 6 vols. (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1842), p. 110 (3:5).]

Epiphanes also wrote of it, according to Bible scholar Adam Clarke.

The latter wrote: "It is very remarkable that not a single Christian perished in the destruction of Jerusalem, though there were many there when Cestius Gallus invested the city; and, had he persevered in the siege, he would soon have rendered himself master of it; but, when he unexpectedly and unaccountably raised the siege, the Christians took that opportunity to escape. …  [As] Vespasian was approaching with his army, all who believed in Christ left Jerusalem and fled to Pella, and other places beyond the river Jordan; and so they all marvellously escaped the general shipwreck of their country: not one of them perished." [The New Testament … with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 6 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, n.d.), 5:228–29.]

This becomes a difficulty for those who state categorically that Jesus was NOT warning Christians or speaking to the Church, when warning them to flee the city, because ALL of the chapter, they say, refers to a future Tribulation when the Church has been taken out, the Age of Grace has ended, and only Israel - in a fallen state - are left to face the music.

So we continue to the related question, in Part Four, is Matthew 24 speaking of the Rapture or the Second Coming?

  1. Introduction
  2. Did the Church Exist in the Day of Jesus?
  3. Can Prophecies Refer to More than One Event? (this page)
  4. The Rapture or the Second Coming - or both?
  5. When and What is the Day of Jacob's Trouble?
  6. Are the Elect Exclusively Israel?
  7. Is the Tribulation a seven-year Wrath of God?
  8. Do we Need to Endure, as Christians?
  9. Are there Distinct and Absolute Dispensations of History?
  10. Replacement Theology
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© 2016 Tricia Tillin-Booth. All rights reserved. Birthpangs Website:  This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information.   One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.