A Boat Divided Against Itself Cannot Float
By William H. Bell Jr.
The controversy of unity versus division, of continuity versus discontinuity of the subject matter in Matthew chapter 24 continues. Evidence of this is readily apparent in the April issue of the Spiritual Sword, edited by Alan E. Highers. In his article entitled An Examination of Matthew 24, Highers makes the classic traditionalist’s attempt to divide the chapter. He reasons that the signs refer exclusively to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D.70. Verse 34 separates the A.D.70 event from what he argues is the future return of Christ. Again, the classic traditionalist arguments are presented; that no man knows the day or the hour, that no signs are given for the coming of Christ, and that it would be as in the days of Noah. This writer believes that the support for the division of Matthew in such arguments is at best weak and superficial. A more careful examination of these arguments will prove the division of Matthew to be a fallacy. The aim of this writing is to clearly refute the arguments enumerated above. Further, what is written is not to single out any one person. The arguments treated herein are representative of the position of a large class of Bible students. It is to this end that this writing is directed.
First, there are several unnoticed or unmentioned facts regarding the account of Noah. Jesus unquestionably says that his coming would be the same as in the days of Noah. Inspired history tells us plainly that Noah knew he and his family would live to see the flood. “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark–you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (Genesis 6:18). Further instructions regarding the animals and provisions confirm this (v.19f). This is equivalent to saying, before some standing with Noah tasted death, they would see God’s judgment of flood waters coming with great power. Noah could readily reason that he would live to see it; that it would be in his lifetime. He was given a general time, but of that day and hour no man knew but God.
Secondly, the flood occurred during Noah’s generation. “Then the Lord said to Noah, `Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation'” (7:1). This is equivalent to saying “this generation” (of Noah’s day) would not pass until all those things (the flood) be fulfilled.
Third, after the ark was completed, God gave Noah additional revelation concerning the time of the flood. This latter revelation was much more explicit and precise than the general time revealed prior to the construction and completion of the ark. Observe carefully, that what Noah and his family did not know before, was afterwards revealed to them. “For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made” (7:4).
The attentive reader will note that God reveals that the flood is now “at hand,” “is near,” “the night was far spent,” “the time was short,” “those things were shortly to come to pass,” “there would be no more delay,” and the flood was “coming quickly,” (in seven days). As a matter of fact, anyone could have asked Noah on that day, “When will the flood occur?” and Noah could have responded with total accuracy and conviction, “within seven more days”!
Now if brother Noah had believed in the “elasticity of time prophecy” like some of our brethren he would have answered, “Why seven days is with the Lord as seven thousand years”! With such an answer the flood would even today be yet future. It really makes you wonder doesn’t it?
Returning to our point, it is clear that God revealed a precise day that the flood would occur, not initially, but later as the time drew near. Some brethren use the parable of Noah to teach that no day was known. Such a statement is manifestly false. It only refers to the earlier or primitive stages of Noah’s prophecy, not to the latter stage. What God did not reveal in the immediate present, he revealed later. “And it came to pass after seven days that the waters of the flood were on the earth. In the six hundred year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened” (7:10,11).
Down the drain goes the once hated now loved “day for a thousand years” premillennial argument. God’s word is not a rubber factory designed for manufacturing “elastic” time statement. God reserved the right to reveal the exact day to Noah in his own time. Will these dividers of Matthew 24 be consistent in their application of the “days of Noah”? If so, they must abandon the argument that no day was known. The point that Jesus makes concerning Noah is that the wicked did not know until the flood came and took them away.
That Day and Hour
What was true of Noah’s day was also true regarding the coming of Christ in A.D.70 at the fall of Jerusalem. Again the careful reader will observe that “knows” is present tense. “But of that day and hour no one knows, no not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36). Mark adds, “nor the Son” (13:32). This is the primitive or earlier stage of the prophecy. It corresponds to the general information given to Noah. If one presses the point that the coming of the Son of Man will be as the days of Noah, then one has every right to look for and expect later revelation regarding a more precise time than was given earlier. If not, then the parousia certainly won’t be as the days of Noah.
Is it possible that God later revealed a more precise time for the parousia than “this generation” and “before some died” in the first century? Think about this for a moment. Mark’s account says Jesus did not know the precise time and that only God knew. How then can Jesus return without at some time future to his prophecy receiving additional revelation? And, since man and the angels did not know, only God could make known the precise time. Now the one-million dollar question is, “Did God give additional precise revelation regarding his parousia?” Not only did God give additional revelation to the Lord, but he also told angels and man (his servants), just as in the days of Noah. What does revelation mean? What is the meaning of apokalupsis? What does the first verse of the “last” book say? “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John” (Revelation 1:1).
Here we see that God gave to Christ additional revelation. Christ gave this revelation to the angel who then gave it to John for the express purpose of showing it to His servants. Now what is the subject discussed in that revelation? It is about the things whose time was at hand, and shortly to take place. It is the coming of Christ in clouds (v.7), the end of the delay (10:7), the time that the dead should be judged (11:18; 20:12), the coming of the new heaven and earth (21:1,2). The angel informs John that these things must shortly take place for the time was at hand (22:6,10). Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly!…And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every one according to his work…Surely I am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:7,12,20). Jesus sounded pretty sure of himself regarding the time. He knew surely that he was coming quickly and that the time was at hand. Now that is just as it was in the days of Noah, general revelation initially, but precise information near the end! As can be observed, the New Testament gives many signs and time statements most of which occur during the final twelve years leading up to A.D.70, depicting the soon approaching parousia (Philippians 4:5; Hebrews 10:25,37; James 5:7-9; 1 Peter 1:5; 4:5,7,17; 1 John 2:18; Revelation 1:1-3). Therefore, Jesus knew along with John, the angel and the seven churches, namely, God’s servants. The wicked did not know. They were walking around scoffing and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:4). God only revealed it (the time) to his servants just as in the days of Noah.
Noah Had Signs!
God gave Noah signs of the coming flood, both general and specific. The general signs were in his lifetime, and his generation. Noah did not have to be a rocket scientist to know that the flood would occur before he died. And don’t forget that big boat. Why surely some one had to suspect something was going to happen. The ark would not qualify for a recreational speed boat. If a man were smart he would certainly be looking for some water about the time the ark was completed.
Another sign was given when the animals were being loaded. When the ticket agent asks every one to board the airplane that is a sure sign that the plane will be taking off soon. I suspect that the same is true of boarding a boat! In addition, judging from the size of the ark and the weight and size of some of the animals it stands to reason that the door/loading ramp was huge and heavy. If I were standing on the ground watching that huge door close of its own accord the possibility of a flood would certainly be more credible. If Noah had any doubts previously the “slamming and jamming” of that door should have removed them all. God shut that door without a hydraulic system. “So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in” (Genesis 7:16).
“Seven more days” (7:4), was a sign for Noah to know precisely when the flood would occur. That was a countdown more memorable and more remarkable than any space shuttle mission would ever dream to be. Just as the countdown for the space shuttle is a sign that it is about to be launched, the countdown of seven days was a sign that God gave Noah that the ark was about to be launched.
Therefore, we repeat, God gave Noah signs. If the coming of the Son of Man is as the days of Noah, then we have positive proof that God gave signs of the coming of Christ. If not, it cannot be as the days of Noah!
No Universal Annihilation
The flood was not an annihilation of the universe. Human life on the planet did not end. The material universe continued in existence. Noah’s ark was not a space shuttle zooming through space. Peter expressly says that God brought the flood to destroy the ungodly people. “And did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5). The material universe was the agent rather then the object of destruction. If the coming of the Son of Man is as the days of Noah, then we have no justification for reasoning that human life and the planet must be destroyed. The destruction of the “world” of ungodly Jews more aptly fits Jesus’ application. If the planet is annihilated it surely won’t be a coming likened to the days of Noah.
Splitting The Ark
Finally, to show the manifest fallacy of dividing Matthew 24, the very attempt splits Noah’s boat right down the middle. Highers argues that the events of Matthew 24:4-34 refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70. He then argues that the account of Noah (vv.37-39) refers to the second coming of Christ, placing it yet future because it falls in the section of Matthew below the “dividing line.” (This dividing line is imaginary; it is not in the text). The proof of this is clearly seen when comparing Matthew 24 with Luke 17. To further clarify this point, Highers argues that the fleeing from the city, housetop, etc., (see Matthew 24:15-18) would have no reference to a barbecued globe or planet-ending event and therefore can only refer to Jerusalem’s fall in A.D.70. Jesus, however, places the fleeing event in the same time period as that to which he applies the warning concerning Noah’s day.
“And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back” (Luke 17:26-30).
In this text, Jesus says that the parable concerning Noah’s day is applicable to the day when the Son of Man is revealed. Likewise Jesus places the “fleeing event” in the day when the Son of Man is revealed, (v.30). But according to Highers, the fleeing event is A.D.70. If the fleeing event is A.D.70, and if the fleeing event is in the day when the Son of Man is revealed, then it follows that the day when the Son of Man is revealed is A.D.70. Further, if the fleeing event/day when the Son of Man is revealed is A.D.70, and the parable of Noah’s day refers to the days when the Son of Man is revealed, then it follows that the teaching regarding Noah refers to A.D.70. Therefore, there is no division in Matthew as is manifest from a critical examination of Luke. The teaching regarding Noah refers to A.D.70 in both passages. If not, then Noah’s boat is split with a 2000 year gap! A gap of 2000 years allows too much water in Noah’s boat, and a split boat won’t float. The attempt to divide Matthew results in dividing Noah’s boat against itself. A boat divided against itself cannot float. Wherever the boat goes, the fleeing must go with it. Jesus unequivocally places the fleeing event at Jerusalem’s fall. “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-22).
And last but not least, if the fleeing event goes with Noah’s boat, then one must remember that the signs go with the fleeing event. Therefore, the signs go with the boat, just as it was in the days of Noah.
In this writing it has been shown that initially Noah was given general revelation regarding the time of the flood. After the ark was completed, God gave him additional revelation more precise with respect to the time of the flood. Before, Noah could not give the day because it was not yet revealed. Later he could give the day and count down the time. This parallels the manner in which Jesus was given the prophecy regarding his parousia at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D.70. God later gave him additional revelation allowing him to know what was previously unrevealed. He too then gave precise information regarding the time of his coming. He was both precise and sure. Noah was given ample signs before, during and after the completion of the ark. Viewing and reflecting on the signs he was not in darkness that the day of the flood would overtake him as a thief. The building, the boarding and the closing of the ark, along with the prophecies in the beginning and end directed him in his faith. There was no annihilation of the universe in Noah’s day.
Finally, Noah’s ark cannot be split according to scripture. The division in Matthew is unsupported, unsubstantiated and indefensible. Luke 17 links Noah with the fleeing event, all in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. A future coming of Christ that disregards these facts simply cannot be as it was in the days of Noah.
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- 23 Nov 2004
WHY WHEN GIVING FACTS ON NOAH’S DAY OF THE FLOOD DID NOT MENTION THE SIGN GIVEN TO HIM BY GOD THAT INDICATE WHEN THY SHOUD EMBARK ONTO THE BOAT?