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“Primary” and “Secondary” Fulfillments of the Olivet Discourse ?

On the Double-Sense Theory of Interpretation – The Parousia. | Johann Peter Lange

Dean Henry Alford (1855)
‘I think it proper to state, in this third edition, that, having now entered upon the deeper study of the prophetic portions of the New Testament, I do not feel by any means that full confidence which I once did in the exegesis, quoad prophetical interpretation, here given of the three portions of (Matthew) chap. xxv. But I have no other system to substitute, and some of the points here dwelt on seem to me as weighty as ever. I very much question whether the thorough study of Scripture prophecy will not make me more and more distrustful of all human systematising, and less willing to hazard strong assertion on any portion of the subject.’ (July 1855.)

David Brown
” ‘Many attempts,’ says Dr. Urwick, ‘have been made to anatomize this prophecy, and exhibit separately the parts which relate to the invasion of Jerusalem by Titus, and the parts which regard the judgment of the world at the last day. I have not met with any thing satisfactory in this way. If any man could have done it well, Bishop Horsley was the man: he had learning, ingenuity, power, and determination enough for it. Yet one cannot read the sermon in which he attempts to separate the prophecy of the ‘coming’ from the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, without feeling that a giant is grappling with a difficulty he cannot master. The statement of our Lord, ‘Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till these things be fulfilled’ puts it, I think, beyond question, that the whole range of the prediction was to have an accomplishment before the then race of human beings should all have died from the face of the earth “(David Brown, p. 441).


Dr. John Brown (1852)
“Dr. Owen’s remark is full of good sense-” If the Scripture has more than one meaning, it has no meaning at all: ” and it is just as applicable to the prophecies as to any other portion of Scripture.’ (Sufferings and Glories of the Messiah, p. 5, note.)

“It appears, then, that is Scripture be the best interpreter of Scripture, we have in the Old Testament a key to the interpretation of the prophecies in the New. The same symbolism is found in both, and the imagery of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the other prophets helps us to understand the imagery of St. Matthew, St. Peter, and St. John. As the dissolution of the material world is not necessary to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, neither is it necessary to the accomplishment of the predictions of the New Testament. But though symbols are metaphorical expressions, they are not unmeaning. It is not necessary to allegorise them, and find a corresponding equivalent for every trope; it is sufficient to regard the imagery as employed to heighten the sublimity of the prediction and to clothe it with impressiveness and grandeur. There are, at the same time, a true propriety and an underlying reality in the symbols of prophecy. The moral and spiritual facts which they represent, the social and ecumenical changes which they typify, could not be adequately set forth by language less majestic and sublime. There is reason for believing that an inadequate apprehension of the real grandeur and significance of such events as the destruction of Jerusalem and the abrogation of the Jewish economy lies at the root of that system of interpretation which maintains that nothing answering to the symbols of the New Testament prophecy has ever taken place. Hence the uncritical and unscriptural figments of double senses, and double, triple, and multiple fulfillments of prophecy. That physical disturbances in nature and extraordinary phenomena in the heavens and in the earth may have accompanied the expiring throes of the Jewish dispensation we are not prepared to deny. It seems to us highly probable that such things were. But the literal fulfillment of the symbols is not essential to the verification of prophecy, which is abundantly proved to be true by the recorded facts of history.” (Discourses and Sayings of our Lord, vol. i. p.200).


Adam Clarke (1837)
Verse 34. 
This generation shall not pass— I think it more proper not to restrain its meaning to the few years which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem; but to understand it of the care taken by Divine providence to preserve them as a distinct people, and yet to keep them out of their own land, and from their temple service. See on Mark 13:30. But still it is literally true in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. John probably lived to see these things come to pass; compare Matthew 16:28, with John 21:22; and there were some rabbins alive at the time when Christ spoke these words who lived till the city was destroyed, viz. Rabban Simeon, who perished with the city; R. Jochanan ben Zaccai, who outlived it; R. Zadoch, R. Ismael, and others. See Lightfoot.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary On Matthew 24)


F.W. Farrar (1886)
“It was to this event, the most awful in history – ‘one of the most awful eras in God’s economy of grace, and the most awful revolution in all God’s religious dispensations’ – that we must apply those prophecies of Christ’s coming in which every one of the Apostles and Evangelists fixed these three most definite limitations – the one, that before that generation passed away all these things would be fulfilled; another, that some standing there should not taste death till they saw the Son of Man coming in His kingdom; and third, that the Apostles should not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come. It is strange that these distinct limitations should not be regarded as a decisive proof that the Fall of Jerusalem was, in the fullest sense, the Second Advent of the Son of Man which was primarily contemplated by the earliest voices of prophecy” (Vol. 2, p. 489)

Anthony A. Hoekema
“No argument for the two-stage coming can be derived from the use of the New Testament words for the Second Coming.  These words are parousia (literally, presence), apokalypsis (revelation), and epiphaneia (appearance).” (p.165)


Professor Jowett
‘First, it may be laid down that Scripture has one meaning, -the meaning which it had to the mind of the prophet or evangelist who first uttered or wrote to the hearers or readers who first received it.’

‘ Scripture, like other books, has one meaning, which is to be gathered from itself, without reference to the adaptations of fathers or divines, and without regard to a priori notions about its nature and origin.’

‘ The office of the interpreter is not to add another [interpretation], but to recover the original one : the meaning, that is, of the words as they struck on the ears or flashed before the eyes of those who first heard and read them.’ (Essay on the Interpretation of Scripture, § i. 3, 4.)


 ‘Absit a nobis ut Deum faciamus o,.i,glwttonaut multiplices sensus affingamus ipsius verbo, in quo potius tanquarn in speculo limpidissimo sui autoris simplicitatem contemplari debemus. (Ps. xii. 6; xix. B.) Unicus ergo sensus scripturae, nempe grammaticus, est admittendus, quibuscunque demum terminis, vel propriis vel tropicis et figuratis exprimatur.’

(Far be it from us to make God speak with two tongues, or to attach a variety of senses to His Word, in which we ought rather to behold the simplicity of its divine author reflected as in a clear mirror (Ps. xii. 6 ; xix. 8.) Only one meaning of Scripture, therefore, is admissible: that is, the grammatical, in whatever terms, whether proper or tropical and figurative, it may be expressed.)


‘ Unam quandam ac certam et simplicem sententiam ubique quaerendam esse.’
(‘One definite and simple meaning of [Scripture] is in every case to be sought.’)


Robert Mounce (1977)
“It will be better to hold that the predictions of John, while expressed in terms reflecting his own culture, will find their final and complete fulfillment in the last days of history. Although John saw the Roman Empire as the great beast that threatened the extinction of the church, there will be in the last days an eschatalogical beast who will sustain the same relationship with the church of the great tribulation. It is this eschatological beast, portrayed in type by Rome, that the Apocalypse describes. Otto Piper notes that many modern interpreters overlook the distinction between the historical fulfillment of prophecy and its eschatological fulfillment. The pattern of imperceptible transition from type to antitype was already established by the Olivet Discourse, in which the fall of Jerusalem becomes in its complete fulfillment the end of the age.” (The Book of Revelation, p. 30)

N. Nisbett (1787)
“To suppose, on the contrary, that these verses were intended to describe the final judgment of the world, is indeed violently to sever them from their manifest connection – not only with the preceding verses – but, as will presently appear, from the subsequent context; which, in the strongest terms which language can convey, asserts that all the things which he had before been describing, would be in that generation. It would be to violate all the rules of probability and just criticism and to charge the Evangelical Historians with such a confusion of ideas and such a perversion of language as would render them utterly unworthy of any regard; for, as the learned University Preacher has very justly observed – ‘whenever the same word is used in the same sentence – or in different sentences, not far distant from each other; we ought to interpret it precisely, in the same sense, unless either that sense should involve a contradiction of ideas – or the Writer expressly inform us that he repeats the word in a fresh acceptation.'” (Triumphs, p. 112)

“I have already observed that the predictions of our Lord concerning the destruction of Jerusalem appear to me, to be the only true key to the understanding the passages we propose to examine, and that the sum of those predictions is continued in the 24th of Matt. and in the parallel chapters of Mark and Luke. It will therefore be necessary to examine those chapters, and to enquire into their true meaning, so far at least, as they are the subject of controversy; for some very eminent commentators and divines have strenuously maintained, that some of these predictions relate, not to the destruction of Jerusalem, but to the solemnities of that more awful day, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed; and it must be owned, that at first sight, some expressions there made use of, appear to favour their opinion.

But an impartial attention to the language of Scripture, and to the connection in which they stand, will, I am persuaded, remove all doubt upon the subject, and convince us that the Evangelists have their eye upon the destruction of Jerusalem, and upon that only. “(An Attempt to Illustrate..)

John Noe (1999)
“There is no escaping the obvious truth that the integrity and prophetic unity of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse must stand undivided. His powerful prophecy is a united, end-times discourse discussing only one subject and one fulfillment. No announced or unannounced time division exists. Jesus plainly intended it to be one interconnected, interrelated, interdependent context. Contextually, “all these things” were to occur within Jesus’ time-indicator phrase of “this generation” (i.e., the contemporary “you” group at the end of that Jewish age). (“Beyond the End Times”, by John Noe. July 1999.)

James Stuart Russell (1878)
“There is not a scintilla of evidence that the apostles and primitive Christians had any suspicion of a twofold reference in the predictions of Jesus concerning the end.” (The Parousia, p. 545)

“An objection may be taken, in limine, to the principles involved in this method of interpreting Scripture. Are we to look for double, triple, and multiple meanings, for prophecies within prophecies, and mysteries wrapt in mysteries, where we might reasonably have expected a plain answer to a plain question ? Call any one be sure of understanding the Scriptures if they are thus enigmatical and obscure? Is this the manner in which the Saviour taught His disciples, leaving them to grope their way through intricate labyrinths, irresistibly suggestive of the Ptolemaic astronomy – ‘Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb’? Surely so ambiguous and obscure a revelation can hardly be called a revelation at all, and seems far more befitting a Delphic Oracle, or Cumaean Sibyl than the teaching of Him whom. the common people heard gladly. “

“What book on earth has a double sense, unless it is a book of designed enigmas ? And even this has but one real meaning. The heathen oracles indeed could say, “Aio te, Pyrrhe, Romanos vincere posse; ” but can such an equivoque be admissible into the oracles of the living God ? And if a literal sense, and an occult sense, can at one and the same time, and by the same words, be conveyed, who that is uninspired shall tell us what the occult sense is? By what laws of interpretation is it. to be judged ? By none that belong to human language; for other books than the Bible have not a double sense -attached to them. ” (The Parousia, p. 545)


Canon Ryle
‘The consequences of admitting such a principle should be well weighed. What book on earth has a double sense, unless it is a book of designed enigmas, And even this has but one real meaning. By what laws of interpretation is it to be judged? By none that belong to human language; for other books than the Bible have not a double sense -attached to them.”

“I hold that the words of Scripture were intended to have one definite sense, and that our first object should be to discover that sense, and adhere rigidly to it. I believe that, as a general rule, the words of Scripture are intended to have, like all other language, one plain definite meaning, and that to say that words do mean a thing merely because they can be tortured into meaning it, is a most dishonorable and dangerous way of handling Scripture.” (Expository Thoughts on St. Luke, vol. i. P. 383.)

But we must not suppose that this part of our Lord’s prophecy is exhausted by the first taking of Jerusalem.  It is more than probable that our Lord’s words have a further and deeper application still.  It is more than probable that they apply to a second siege of Jerusalem, which is yet to take place, when Israel has returned to their own land–and to a second tribulation on the inhabitants thereof, which shall only be stopped by the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Such a view of this passage may sound startling to some.  But those who doubt its correctness would do well to study the last chapter of the prophet Zechariah, and the last chapter of Daniel.  These two chapters contain solemn things. They throw great light on the verses we are now reading, and their connection with the verses which immediately follow. “

Moses Stuart
For these and such-like reasons, the scheme of attaching a double sense to the Scriptures is inadmissible. It sets afloat all the fundamental principles of interpretation by which we arrive at established conviction and certainty and casts us on the boundless ocean of imagination and conjecture without rudder or compass.” (Stuart on the Hebrews, Excurs. xx.)

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