Gary DeMar: Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (1999)
It is unbiblical to use the term ‘Antichrist’ for a present-day or future political ruler. The proper context is theological and pre-A. D. 70
Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church
By Gary DeMar
About the Title:
The end is here…again. At every calendar milestone, self-proclaimed modern-day “prophets” arise to stir up a furor rivaled only by the impending apocalypse they predict. This doom-and-gloom prognostication is not only spread by a few fanatics, but millions of Christians, including some of the most recognized names in mainstream Christianity who are caught up in the latest “last days” frenzy. Seduced by the popular craze, they are driven not to action, but to radical inactivity, ineffectiveness, and lethargy while waiting for the easy-out “end.”
In this authoritative book, Gary DeMar clears the haze regarding “end-times” themes by explaining in clear language the interpretation of the time texts, the Olivet Discourse, the rebuilt temple, the abomination of desolation, the man of lawlessness, 666, the return of Christ, the cursed fig tree, the passing away of heaven and earth, the antichrist, armageddon, the rapture, the identity of “mystery Babylon,” and more. He sheds light on the most difficult and studied prophetic passages in the Bible, including Daniel 7:13-14; 9:24-27; Matt. 16:27-28; 24-25; Thess. 2; 2 Peter 3:3-13, and many more.
But more than this, DeMar tests your views, renews your zeal for the living truth, and encourages you to escape the paralysis of last days madness. This is the most thoroughly documented and comprehensive study of Bible prophecy ever written! Last Days Madness will be your survival guide and spiritual compass to insure you escape the paralysis of last days madness.
Gary DeMar sheds light on the most difficult and studied prophetic passages, including Daniel 7:13-14; 9:24-27; Matt. 16:27-28; 24-25; Thess. 2; 2 Peter 3:3-13, and many more. DeMar identifies the Beast, the Antichrist, and the Man of Lawlessness and clears the haze regarding Armageddon, the abomination of desolation, the rebuilding of the temple, and the meaning of 666. This is the most thoroughly documented and comprehensive study of Bible prophecy ever written! LDM will be your survival guide and spiritual compass to insure you escape the paralysis of last days madness.
About the Author
Gary DeMar grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. He has lived in the Atlanta area since 1979 with his wife Carol. They have two grown sons. Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).
A prolific writer, Gary has authored over twenty books covering a full range of topics: The three-volume God and Government series (1982-86), Ruler of the Nations (1987, 2002), The Reduction of Christianity (1988), Surviving College Successfully (1988), Something Greater Is Here (1988), You’ve Heard It Said (1991), America’s Christian History: The Untold Story (1993), War of the Worldviews (1994), Last Days Madness (4th ed., 1999), Is Jesus Coming Soon? (1999), Thinking Straight in a Crooked World (2001), End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration of the Left Behind Theology (2001), The Changing Face of Islam in History and Prophecy (2002), and America’s Heritage (2002). He is also the general editor and co-author of A New World in View (1996) and Reformation to Colonization (1997), the first two volumes in the To Pledge Allegiance history textbook series.
Gary has been interviewed by Time magazine, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, the BBC, and Sean Hannity. He has done numerous radio and television interviews, including the “Bible Answer Man,” hosted by Hank Hanegraaff. Newspaper interviews with Gary have also appeared in the Washington Times, Toledo (Ohio) Blade, the Sacramento Bee, the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, and the Chicago Tribune.
American Vision also publishes The Biblical Worldview, a monthly magazine edited by Gary.
“It is unbiblical to use the term ‘Antichrist’ for a present-day or future political ruler. The proper context is theological and pre-A. D. 70” (p.204).
Chapter 11, “Identifying Antichrist”
Hal Lindsey wrote in 1970 that he believed that the Antichrist was alive somewhere in the world. He repeated this belief in 1977 when he wrote that it was his “personal opinion” that “he’s alive somewhere now. But he’s not going to become this awesome figure that we nickname the Anti-Christ until Satan possesses him, and I don’t believe that will occur until there is this ‘mortal wound’ from which he’s raised up.” In 1980 he restated this conviction by writing that “this man [Antichrist] is alive today—alive and waiting to come forth.” Although Lindsey believes the Antichrist is alive somewhere in the world today, and actually has been since at least 1970, he has stated that “we must not indulge in speculation about whether any of the current world figures is the antichrist.” Anyway, determining the identity of the Antichrist does not really matter since Lindsey and others believe “that Christians will not be around to watch the debacle brought about by the cruelest dictator of all time.”
Not to be outdone, Dave Hunt voices a similar opinion: “Somewhere, at this very moment, on planet Earth, the antichrist is almost certainly alive—biding his time, awaiting his cue. Banal sensationalism? Far from it! That likelihood is based upon a sober evaluation of current events in relation to Bible prophecy. Already a mature man, he is probably active in politics, perhaps even an admired world leader whose name is almost daily on everyone’s lips.” Salem Kirban wrote in 1977 that “those of us familiar with Scriptures can easily see the handwriting on the wall as the way is prepared for the coming Antichrist.”
Lindsey, Hunt, Kirban, and many others share a belief that is strikingly similar to that of fortuneteller Jeane Dixon. Dixon claimed to have received a divine vision on February 5, 1962, about a coming world religious-political ruler; her “prophecy” strikingly resembles the modern doctrine of Antichrist: “A child, born somewhere in the Middle East shortly before 7 A.M. (EST) on February 5, 1962, will revolutionize the world. Before the close of the century he will bring together all mankind in one all-embracing faith. This will be the foundation of a new Christianity, with every sect and creed united through this man who will walk among the people to spread the wisdom of the Almighty Power.” “Mrs. Dixon claims that this man’s influence will be felt in the early 1980s and that by 1999, the ecumenical religion will be achieved.” Why should we believe present-day prophetic prognosticators when we have been offered assurances of the identity of the Antichrist numerous times over the centuries?
Saint Martin of Tours, who died in A.D. 397, wrote of the coming Antichrist whose reign would signify the last days. His prediction sounds strangely familiar. “Non est dubium, quin anticbristus…. There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established already in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power.” Now go back and reread the quotations of Lindsey and Hunt. Christians should repudiate the writings of anyone who speculates that the Antichrist is a contemporary figure. Such speculation is biblically unsound, as will become evident as we survey the passages used to make the identification.
Why all the confusion over who the Antichrist is? The confusion arises because of two misconceptions: (1) treating divergent biblical references as if they all refer to the same person thereby creating a composite figure that is not found in Scripture; and (2) mistaking the time period in which these divergent figures are to appear.
The Composite Modern-Day Antichrist
Before we begin to sort through this confusion, let’s first establish what generally passes as the modern understanding of Antichrist. The Antichrist of today’s speculative theology combines the characteristics of Daniel’s “prince who is to come” and other features from the Book of Daniel (9:26; 7:7-8, 19-26; 8:23-25); elements from Matthew and Daniel’s “abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15; Daniel 9:27); Paul’s “man of lawlessness” (2nd Thessalonians 2:3); John’s “antichrist” language (1st John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2nd John 7); and John’s “Beast” (Revelation 13:11-18).
This futurized composite Antichrist supposedly will make himself known after the Rapture of the church during the seven-year tribulation. It is speculated that he will arise out of Europe since he arises out of the midst of the “ten horns” on the head of the “fourth beast” (Daniel 7:7-8, 19-26). This “fourth beast” with its “ten horns” is said to be a revived Roman Empire. This is the same beast that rises out of the sea of Revelation 13 (verses 1-10). Some believe the Beast or Antichrist must be a Jew since he will come “up out of the earth” or land (Revelation 13:11). Others believe that since he arises out of the sea, a designation for Gentile nations, he must be a Gentile (cf. Isaiah 57:20).
The modern Antichrist is pictured as a charismatic political figure, the perfect media man. In the 1960s John F. Kennedy seemed to fit all the criteria for a modem-day Antichrist, and his mortal head wound clinched it for many gullible Christians. The Antichrist purportedly will have the eloquence of a Winston Churchill (Revelation 13:5) and the raw emotion and crowd appeal of an Adolf Hitler (Daniel 7:20; 8:23).
The conjecture which surrounds this figure continues with amazing detail based on scant biblical evidence. The Antichrist will come to prominence as part of a ten-nation confederation approximating the land area of the old Roman Empire. Initially he will gain control through war, subduing three of the powers in the confederation. Some speculate that the ten-nation confederation will begin with thirteen. Once he secures power, he will pursue avenues of peace like Adolf Hitler (Daniel 8:25). His talk of peace will be attractive to an apostate Christianity (1st Thessalonians 5:3). As with Hitler who made peace with the “Holy See” of Rome, these overtures of peace will act like sedatives on the people.
In his speech of March 23, 1933, to the Reichstag when the legislative body of Germany abandoned its functions to the dictator, Hitler paid tribute to the Christian faiths as “essential elements for safeguarding the soul of the German people,” promised to respect their rights, declared that his government’s “ambition is a peaceful accord between Church and State” and added—with an eye to the votes of the Catholic Center Party, which he received—that “we hope to improve our friendly relations with the Holy See.”
As a man of peace, the Antichrist will make a covenant with the Jews guaranteeing them peace and security in their own land. In the middle of the covenant period, he will break the covenant and turn on the Jews. He will then make war with the Jewish saints and will overcome them (Revelation 13:17; Daniel 7:21). Of course, during this three-and-one-half year period of time two-thirds of the Jews living in Palestine will be killed (Zechariah 13:8-9). Since he hates God, the Antichrist will blaspheme God and His tabernacle (Revelation 13:6).
As a counterfeit Christ, the Antichrist will be given great powers by the devil to try to duplicate Jesus’ work. He will even seek to match the resurrection; the Antichrist will seem to have suffered a mortal blow to the head but will then be miraculously resurrected. He will immediately become an object of worship (Revelation 13:3-8) and will set himself up as God in the temple in Jerusalem (2nd Thessalonians 2:4). The false prophet will erect an image or idol to the Antichrist. He will then cause the statue to come alive and to speak (Revelation 13:14-15).
According to this elaborate scenario, the world will be living under a tyranny directed by Satan through his Beast-Antichrist and false prophet. Each and every person will be stamped with the dreaded 666! This recipe for disaster will eventually lead to Armageddon where all the nations of the world will be brought against Israel. Only the return of Christ will save Israel and the world.
When tested against sound biblical interpretation, will such a theory hold up? Quoting verses from one book of the Bible and claiming that they correspond to statements in another book of the Bible does not constitute truth. In addition, the issue of timing invalidates the entire theory. Is it possible that what was prophecy is now history? Could the Beast of Revelation 13 and his attendant number 666 be referring to a well-known historical figure who played a prominent role during the time in which the Book of Revelation was written?
As we will see, the modem doctrine of Antichrist is an amalgamation of biblical concepts and events that either are unrelated or find their fulfillment in past events. This is why confusion persists. Modem Antichrist hunters are pursuing a figure who does not exist. Let’s look at the biblical evidence.
The Biblical Antichrist
First, we must find a biblical definition of Antichrist. The word “Antichrist” appears only in John’s epistles (1st John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2nd John 7). “What is taught in these passages constitutes the whole New Testament doctrine of Antichrist.” John’s description of Antichrist is altogether different from the modem image. John’s Antichrist is
Anyone “who denies that Jesus is the Christ” (1st John 2:22).
Anyone who “denies the Father and Son” (1st John 2:23).
“Every spirit that does not confess Jesus” (1st John 4:3).
“Those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2nd John 7).
None of what John writes relates to the modern doctrine of the Antichrist as previously outlined. John’s Antichrist doctrine is a theological concept related to an apostasy that was fomenting in his day. John did not have a particular individual in mind but rather individuals who taught that Jesus Christ is not who the Bible says He is:
In one word, “Antichrist” meant for John just denial of what we should call the doctrine, or let us rather say the fact, of the Incarnation. By whatever process it had been brought about, “Christ” had come to denote for John the Divine Nature of our Lord, and so far to be synonymous with “Son of God.” To deny that Jesus is the Christ was not to him therefore merely to deny that he is the Messiah, but to deny that he is the Son of God; and was equivalent therefore to “denying the Father and the Son”—that is to say, in our modern mode of speech, the doctrine—in fact—of the Trinity, which is the implicate of the Incarnation. To deny that Jesus is Christ come—or is the Christ coming—in flesh, was again just to refuse to recognize in Jesus Incarnate God. Whosoever, says John, takes up this attitude toward Jesus is Antichrist.
Is this interpretation possible? Aren’t we supposed to look for a future apostasy out of which the Antichrist will arise? As the New Testament makes clear, apostasy was rampant almost from the church’s inception. The apostasy about which John wrote was operating in his day. Paul had to counter a “different gospel” that was “contrary” to what he had preached (Galatians 1:6-9). He had to battle ‘false brethren” (Galatians 2:4, 11-21; 3:1-3; 5:1-12). He warned the Ephesian church leadership that “men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30). Theological insurrection came from within the Christian community.
Many people prior to Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70 questioned and disputed basic Christian doctrines like the resurrection (2nd Timothy 2:18); some even claimed that the resurrection was an impossibility (1st Corinthians 15:12). Strange doctrines were taught. Some “Christians” prohibited marriage (1st Timothy 4:1-3). Others denied the validity of God’s good creation (Colossians 2:8, 18-23). The apostles found themselves defending the faith against numerous false teachers and “false apostles” (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 12:15; Philippians 3:18-19; 1st Timothy 1:3-7; 2nd Timothy 4:2-5). Apostasy increased to such an extent that Paul had to write letters to a young pastor who was experiencing these things firsthand (1st Timothy 1:19-20; 6:20-21; 2nd Timothy 2:16-18; 3:1-9, 13; 4:10, 14-16). In addition, entire congregations fell to apostasy:
One of the last letters of the New Testament, the Book of Hebrews, was written to an entire Christian community on the very brink of wholesale abandonment of Christianity. The Christian church of the first generation was not only characterized by faith and miracles; it was also characterized by increasing lawlessness, rebellion, and heresy from within the Christian community—just as Jesus foretold in Matthew 24.
The Book of Revelation recounts such heretical teachings: “evil men” (2:2), “those who call themselves apostles” but who are found to be “false” (2:6), a revival of “the teaching of Balaam” (2:14), those “who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (2:15), the toleration of the “woman Jezebel…who leads” God’s “bond-servants astray, so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” (2:20). The apostasy was alive and well on planet Earth in the first century (2nd Thessalonians 2:3).
Antichrist is simply any belief system that disputes the fundamental teachings of Christianity, beginning with the person of Christ. These antichrists are “religious” figures. The Antichrist, contrary to much present-day speculation, is not a political figure, no matter how anti- (against) Christ he might be. The modem manufactured composite Antichrist is not the Antichrist of 1st and 2nd John: “Putting it all together, we can see that Antichrist is a description of both the system of apostasy and individual apostates. In other words, Antichrist was the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy that a time of great apostasy would come, when ‘many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many’ (Matt. 24:10-11).”
In addition, you will not find the word Antichrist in the Book of Revelation. This is significant since the John who defines Antichrist for us in his first two letters is the same John who penned the Book of Revelation.
It is remarkable that a word so “characteristic of the School of John” does not appear in the Apocalypse, where it might have served the writer’s purpose in more than one passage. That the conception of a personal Antichrist existed among the Christians in Asia in the first century is certain from 1st John 2:18.
Second, according to the Bible, Antichrist is not a single individual. John wrote, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1st John 2:18). “He calls them just “Antichrists,” and he sets them over against the individual Antichrist of which his readers had heard as the reality represented by that unreal figure.” It is possible that the early church “heard” that one man was to come on the scene who was to be the Antichrist. John seems to be correcting this mistaken notion: “John is adducing not an item of Christian teaching, but only a current legend—Christian or other—in which he recognizes an element of truth and isolates it for the benefit of his readers. In that case we may understand him less as expounding than as openly correcting it—somewhat as, in the closing page of his Gospel, he corrects another saying of similar bearing which was in circulation among the brethren, to the effect that he himself should not die but should tarry till the Lord comes (John 21:18-23].” In a similar manner, the people in Jesus’ day had “heard” certain things that were only partially true. Jesus corrected them in their misreading of the Bible (Matthew 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43).
Third, whether there was to be only one or many antichrists, John made it clear that “it is the last hour” for those who first read his letters (1st John 2:18). How do we know this? John said, “Even now many antichrists have arisen.” And in case you did not get his point, he repeated it: “From this we know that it is the last hour.” John did not describe a period of time thousands of years in the future. It was the “last hour” for his contemporaries. Keep in mind that Jesus had told His disciples years before, John among them, that their generation would see the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem (Matthew 24:1-34). John, writing close to the time when this prophecy was to be fulfilled, described its fulfillment in the rise of “many antichrists,” that is, many who preach and teach a false religious system, the denial that Jesus had come in the flesh (2nd John 7). The apostle’s knowledge about coming antichrists was probably taken from Matthew 24:24: “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.”
They had heard that “the spirit of antichrist’ was coming. For them, “now it is already in the world” (1st John 4:3). Antichrists had arrived. It is inappropriate to look for a contemporary rising political leader and describe him as theAntichrist. Such a designation cannot be supported from Scripture. Does this mean that the spirit of Antichrist cannot be present in our day? Not at all. It does mean, however, that a figure called the Antichrist cannot be alive somewhere in the world today. Having said this, we still must conclude that John had the time prior to Jerusalem’s destruction in mind when he described the theological climate surrounding the concept of the Antichrist.
An Antichrist, therefore, is anyone who “denies that Jesus is the Christ” and anyone “who denies the Father and the Son” (1st John 2:22). “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of antichrist” (1st John 4:3). “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2nd John 7). John “transposes Antichrist from the future to the present. He expands him from an individual into a multitude. He reduces him from a person to a heresy.”From this study we can conclude that it is unbiblical to use the term “Antichrist” for a present-day or future political ruler. The proper context is theological and pre-A.D. 70.
1. “The Great Cosmic Countdown: Hal Lindsey on the Future,” Eternity (January 1977), 80.
2. Hal Lindsey, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon (King of Prussia, PA: Westgate Press, 1980), 15.
3. Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,  1971), 113.
4. Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth, 113.
5. Dave Hunt, Global Peace and the Rise of Antichrist (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1990), 5.
6. Salem Kirban, Countdown to Rapture (Irvine, CA: Harvest House, 1977), 181.
7. Quoted in Robert Glenn Gromacki, Are These the Last Days? (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1970), 90 .
8. Gromacki, Are These the Last Days?, 90.
9. Quoted in Otto Friedrich, The End of the World: A History (New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1982), 27.
10. William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 234.
11. Lindsey says that he “does not believe it will be an actual resurrection, but it will be a situation in which this person has a mortal wound. Before he has actually lost life, however, he will be brought back from this critically wounded state. This is something which will cause tremendous amazement throughout the world” (Late Great Planet Earth, 108). This is highly doubtful. The world would not be amazed. A vast majority would consider it a trick. They’ve seen too much of the magician David Copperfield.
12. Benjamin B. Warfield, “Antichrist,” in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 1, ed. John E. Mecter (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 356.
13. Warfield, “Antichrist,” 360-61.
14. David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), 108.
15. Chilton, Paradise Restored, 111
16. Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St John: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes, and Indices (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1906), lxxv.
17. Warfield, “Antichrist,” 359.
18. Warfield, “Antichrist,” 357.
19. Gary DeMar, “You’ve Heard It Said”: 15 Biblical Misconceptions that Render Christians Powerless (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1991).
20. Warfield, “Antichrist,” 358.
Chapter 15, “The Passing Away of Heaven and Earth”
When Jesus’ disciples heard His frightening prediction about the destruction of the temple and the judgment of Jerusalem in their generation (Matthew 23:3639), they asked when the destruction would take place, what signs would precede the event, and what sign would signify His coming “and of the end of the age” (Matthew 24:3). It is quite obvious that the disciples connected Jesus’ “coming” with the “end of the age.” The “coming” of Matthew 24:3refers to the coming of Jesus in judgment upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70. James, as well as other New Testament writers, is clear about the nearness of Jesus’ coming: “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8), at hand for those who first read the epistle.
The destruction of the temple, and with it the priesthood and sacrificial system, inaugurated a new era in which “the blood of Christ” cleanses our “conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). Therefore, the expression “end of the age” refers “to the end of the ‘Jewish age,’ i.e., the time of transference from a national to an international people of God,” what the Apostle Paul describes as the “ends of the ages.” The “end” had come upon the first-century church (1 Corinthians 10:11).
A similar phrase is used by the author of Hebrews: “But now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Jesus was manifested, not at the beginning, but “at the consummation of the ages.” The period between A.D. 30 and 70 is, as the apostle Peter describes it, “these last times” (1 Peter 1:20). As time drew near for Jerusalem’s destruction, Peter could say that “the end of all things was at hand” (4:7). Milton Terry offers the following as a summary of the meaning of the “end of the age”:
It is the solemn termination and crisis of the dispensation which had run its course when the temple fell, and there was not left one stone upon another which was not thrown down. That catastrophe, which in Heb. xii, 26, is conceived as a shaking of the earth and the heaven, is the end contemplated in this discourse; not “the end of the world,” but the termination and consummation of the pre-Messianic age.
Notice that the disciples did not ask about the dissolution of the physical heaven and earth or the judgment of the “world” (kosmos). After hearing Jesus pronounce judgment on the temple and city of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39), His disciples ask about the end of the “age” (aion). When did the “end” occur? The only proximate eschatological event that fits the “end of the age” framework is the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The disciples knew that the fall of the temple and the destruction of the city meant the end of the Old Covenant order and the inauguration of a new order. As Jews who were familiar with Old Testament imagery, the disciples recognized the meaning of this restructuring language. Jesus nowhere corrects or modifies the multi-faceted question of the disciples.
The numerous New Testament time indicators demonstrate that Jesus did not have a distant “end” in mind when He spoke of the “end of the age.” Charles Wright, in his commentary on Zechariah, offers the following helpful discussion of the meaning of the “end of the age”:
The passing away of the dispensation of the law of Moses, which as limited in great part to Israel after the flesh, might well be called the Jewish dispensation, was justly regarded as “the end of the age” ( Matt. xxiv. 3). The Messiah was viewed as the bringer in of a new world. The period of the Messiah was, therefore, correctly characterised by the Synagogue as “the world to come.” In this signification our Lord used that expression when he uttered the solemn warning that the sin against the Holy Ghost would be forgiven “neither in this world (the then dispensation), neither in the world to come” (Matt. xii. 32), or the new dispensation, when, “having overcome the sharpness of death,” Christ “opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.”
The “age to come,” therefore, is simply a designation for the Christian era, an era that was long ago prophesied by the prophets. Abraham, for example, “rejoiced in order to see [Jesus’] day; and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). The old covenant with its attendant animal sacrifices and earthly priesthood passed away when God’s lamb, Jesus Christ, took away the sins of the world.
Among Reformed preterist adherents, there is a great deal of agreement with the above interpretation and the application of Matthew 24:1-34 to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Among these same preterists, however, a debate arises over a proposed shift in topics and eras with verses 35 and 36 being time transition verses. Numerous commentators claim that Jesus redirects His discussion from the Great Tribulation of A.D. 70 (Matthew 24:134) to a distant coming that will result in the passing away of our present physical “heaven and earth” (24:35).
J. Marcellus Kik writes in his highly regarded and influential commentary on Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, An Eschatology of Victory, that “many have recognized that with verse 36 a change in subject matter occurs.” [Charles H.] Spurgeon indicates this in his commentary on verse 36 [of Matthew 24]: ‘There is a manifest change in our Lord’s words here, which clearly indicates that they refer to His last great coming to judgment.’” Kenneth L. Gentry, author of many helpful works on prophecy, takes a similar view. While I respect the work of these men, I do differ with them on their analysis of Matthew 24:35 and following.
The Passing Away of Heaven and Earth
Jesus does not change subjects when He assures the disciples that “heaven and earth will pass away.” Rather, He merely affirms His prior predictions, which are recorded in Matthew 24:29-31. Verse 36 is a summary and confirmation statement of these verses. Keep in mind that the central focus of the Olivet Discourse is the desolation of the “house” and “world” of apostate Israel (23:36). The old world of Judaism, represented by the earthly temple, is taken apart stone by stone (24:2). James Jordan writes, “each time God brought judgment on His people during the Old Covenant, there was a sense in which an old heavens and earth was replaced with a new one: New rulers were set up, a new symbolic world model was built (Tabernacle, Temple), and so forth.” The New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant with new leaders, a new priesthood, new sacraments, a new sacrifice, a new tabernacle (John 1:14), and a new temple (John 2:19; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:21). In essence, a new heaven and earth.
The darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of the stars, coupled with the shaking of the heavens (24:29), are more descriptive ways of saying that “heaven and earth will pass away” (24:35). In other contexts, when stars fall, they fall to the earth, a sure sign of temporal judgment (Isaiah 14:12; Daniel 8:10; Revelation 6:13; 9:1; 12:4). So then, the “passing away of heaven and earth” is the passing away of the old covenant world of Judaism led and upheld by those who “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8).
John Owen (16161683) maintained that the “passing of heaven and earth” in 2 Peter 3:57 had reference, “not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state” in A.D. 70. John Brown (17841858), commenting on Matthew 5:18, follows the same methodology.
“Heaven and earth passing away,” understood literally, is the dissolution of the present system of the universe; and the period when that is to take place, is called the “end of the world.” But a person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament Scriptures, knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy, and the establishment of the Christian, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and new heavens.
John Lightfoot applies the phrase the “passing away of heaven and earth” to the “destruction of Jerusalem and the whole Jewish stateas if the whole frame of this world were to be dissolved.”
This and That
Commentators often argue that Matthew 24 contains both a discussion of the A.D. 70 destruction of religious, social, and political Judaism as well as a reference to a yet-future return of Christ. This supposed distinction is drawn by contrasting “this generation” and “that day and hour.” Gentry writes that “there seems to be an intended contrast between that which is near (in verse 34) and that which is far (in verse 36): this generation vs. that day. It would seem more appropriate for Christ to have spoken of ‘this day’ rather than ‘that day’ if He had meant to refer to the time of ‘this generation.’” Not at all. We should expect to see “that” used for a time still in the speaker’s future, whether that event is forty years or four thousand years in the future. “This generation” refers to the present generation Jesus was addressing. “This” is therefore the appropriate word for something present while “that” is the most appropriate word for something future. Arndt and Gingrich agree: “This refers to something comparatively near at hand, just as ekeinos [that] refers to something comparatively farther away.” “That day” would come in the final destruction of the Jews who rejected their Messiah, a time still in the future for Jesus’ audience. John Gill writes:
But of that day and hour knoweth no man… Which is to be understood, not of the second coming of Christ, the end of the world, and the last judgment; but of the coming of the son of man, to take vengeance on the Jews, and of their destruction; for the words manifestly regard the date of the several things going on before, which only can be applied to that catastrophe, and dreadful desolation.
Gill assumes that the previous context of the chapter governs the meaning of “that day.” As was pointed out above, Matthew 24:29 is a familiar Old Testament description of the “passing away of heaven and earth,” that is, the end of a social, religious, and political system.
John Lightfoot’s comments show that the only possible reference was to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70: “That the discourse is of the day of the destruction of Jerusalem is so evident, both by the disciples’ question, and by the whole thread of Christ’s discourse, that it is a wonder any should understand these words of the day and hour of the last judgment.”
The Absence of Signs
Another reason offered in support of dividing the chapter at 24:35 is that the signs that follow are of a general nature compared to specific signs detailed in 24:1-34. There are two very good reasons for the absence of signs. First, the signs have already been given. All the signs that were necessary to understand the general timing of Jesus’ return in judgment were specified. Second, the topic changes from signs leading up to the temple’s destruction to watchfulness during the interim.
Those Days and That Day
Gentry writes that “we should notice the pre-transition emphasis on plural ‘days’ in contrast to the focus on the singular ‘day’ afterwards. ‘This generation’ involves many ‘days’ for the full accomplishment of the protracted (Matt. 24:22) Great Tribulation.” He states that in contrast to the “many ‘days’” of the Great Tribulation, “‘that day’ of the future Second Advent will come in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (cp. 1 Cor. 15:52).” Notice, however, that the Great Tribulation of Matthew 24:15-28 does not include either the dissolution of the social, political, and religious world of the Jews (24:29) or the “coming of the Son of Man” (24:30). The events of 24:29-30 (the coming of Jesus in judgment before that first-century generation passes away) follow “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (24:29). Such a distinction indicates that Jesus was pointing towards a certain day when the temple and the city of Jerusalem would fall.
The description of the Great Tribulation leads up to the heart of the discourse which is found in 24:29-31. This is why Matthew describes the “coming of the Son of Man” as following the “days” of the Great Tribulation. The “coming of the Son of Man” in 24:30 parallels the “Son of Man” who comes up “to the Ancient of Days” in Daniel 7:13. This “coming” was not a multi-day event; it happened on a certain day known only to the Father. The collapse of the social, religious, and political world of Israel (Matthew 24:29) — witnessed by tens of thousands as they saw their beloved city and sanctuary turn to ashes amidst the flames — was evidence that the Son of Man had come “up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him” (Daniel 7:13; cp. Matthew 24:30).
Just Like the Days of Noah
To help His listeners better understand the timing and circumstances of the events leading up to and including the destruction of the temple before their generation passed away, Jesus draws on a familiar Old Testament judgment event — the flood. Jesus, teaching by analogy, shows how the coming of the flood waters and His own coming are similar. In Noah’s time we read about “those days which were before the flood” and “the day that NOAH ENTERED THE ARK” (Matthew 24:38). Similarly, there were days before the coming of the Son of Man and the day of the coming of the Son of Man. The same people were involved in both the “days before” and “the day of” the Son of Man. Those who “were eating and drinking” and “marrying and giving in marriage” were the same people who were shut out on “the day that Noah entered the ark.” Noah entered the ark on a single day similar to the way Jesus as the Son of Man came on the “clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (24:30), a day and hour known only to the Father (24:36). “Some shall be rescued from the destruction of Jerusalem, like Lot out of the burning of Sodom: while others, no ways perhaps different in outward circumstances, shall be left to perish in it.”
Mix and Match
Luke 17:22-37 describes five Olivet-Discourse prophetic events that are identical to those found in Matthew 24. The difference between Matthew 24 and Luke 17 is in the order of the events, a characteristic of the passages that few commentators can explain. Ray Summers, an exception to the rule, makes the following comments:
This is a most difficult passage. The overall reference appears to be to the coming of the Son of Man — Christ — in judgment at the end of the age. Some small parts of it, however, are repeated in Luke 21 in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), and larger parts of it are in Matthew 24, also in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. The entire complex cautions one against dogmatism in interpreting.
Taking Matthew 24 as the standard, Luke places the Noah’s ark analogy (Matthew 24:37-39) before the events of Matthew 24:17-18 (“let him who is on the housetop not go down”), verse 27 (“for just as the lightning comes from the east”), and verse 28 (“wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather”). If the five prophetic events of Matthew 24 that are found in Luke 17:22-37 are numbered 1;2;3;4;5, Luke’s numbering of the same events would be 2;4;1;5;3
After A Long Time
Another line of evidence offered by those who believe that events following Matthew 24:34 refer to the personal and physical return of Jesus is the meaning given to “after a long time” (24:48; 25:19) and the “delay” by the bridegroom (25:5). On the surface these examples seem to indicate that two different events are in view, one near (the destruction of Jerusalem) and one distant (the second coming of Christ). This is the view of Stephen F. Hayhow. He writes:
Both parables, the parables of the virgins (vv. 113), and the parable of the talents (vv. 1430), speak of the absence of the bridegroom/master, who is said to be “a long time in coming” (v. 5) and “After a long time the master of the servants returned” (v. 19). This suggests, not the events of A.D. 70 which were to occur in the near future, in fact within the space of a generation, but a distant event, the return of Christ.18
Notice that the evil slave says, “My master is not coming for a long time” (Matthew 24:48). The evil slave then proceeds to “beat his fellow-slaves and eat and drink with drunkards” (24:49). But to the surprise of the “evil slave” the master returned when he least suspected (24:50). The master did not return to cut the evil slave’s distant relatives in pieces (24:51); he cut him in pieces. The evil slave was alive when the master left, and he was alive when the master returned. In this context, a “long time” must be measured against a person’s lifetime. In context, two years could be a long time if the master usually returned within six months.
The same idea is expressed in the parable of the “talents.” A man entrusts his slaves with his possessions (25:14). The master then goes on a journey (25:15). While the master is gone, the slaves make investment decisions (25:16-18). We are then told that “after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them” (25:19). However long a “long time” is, it is not any longer than an average lifetime. The settlement is made with the same slaves who received the talents.
The delay of the bridegroom is no different from the “long time” of the two previous parables. The bridegroom returns to the same two groups of virgins (25:1-13). The duration of the delay must be measured by the audience.
This brief analysis helps us understand the “mockers” who ask, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4). Peter was aware that Jesus’ coming was an event that would take place before the last apostle died (Matthew 16:27-28; John 21:22-23). The doctrine of the soon return of Christ was common knowledge (Matthew 24:34; 26:64;Philippians 4:5; Hebrews 10:25; 1 John 2:18; Revelation 1:1, 3). It is not hard to imagine that the passage of several decades would lead some to doubt the reliability of the prophecy, especially as the promised generation was coming to a close. The horrendous events of A.D. 70 silenced the mockers.
Is the “coming of the Son of Man” in Matthew 24:37 different from the “coming of the Son of Man” in verses 27 and 30? There is no indication that Jesus is describing two comings separated by an indeterminate period of time. What would have led the disciples to conclude that Jesus was describing a coming different from the one He described moments before when He uses identical language to describe both of them? Jesus does not say “this coming of the Son of Man” or “that coming of the Son of Man” to distinguish two comings as He does with “this generation” and “that day.”
Similarly, there is little evidence that the “coming of the Son of Man” in Matthew 24:27, 30, 39, and 42 is different from the “coming of the Son of Man” in 25:31. Compare Matthew 25:31 with Matthew 16:27, a certain reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70:
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds” (Matthew 16:27).
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Matthew 25:31).
These verses are almost identical. The timing of Matthew 16:27 is tied to verse 28: “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” “Recompensing every man according to his deeds” corresponds with “He will sit on His glorious throne” to execute judgment among the nations (25:32). But how can this universal judgment be said to have been fulfilled in 70?
There is no indication that Matthew 25:31-46 describes a single event. Rather, the passage describes a judgment over time, related to Jesus’ dominion as an “everlasting dominion” (Daniel 7:14). Jesus was “exalted to the right hand of God” where He rules until all His enemies are made a “footstool for [His] feet” (Acts 2:33, 35). Paul writes that Jesus “must reign until He has put all of His enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25). Milton Terry writes that “the ideal of judgment presented in Matt. xxv, 3146, is therefore no single event, like the destruction of Jerusalem.” Terry continues:
The Old Testament doctrine is that “the kingdom is Jehovah’s, and he is ruler among the nations” (Psalm xxii, 28). “Say ye among the nations, Jehovah reigneth; he shall judge the peoples with equity. He cometh, he cometh to judge the earth; he shall judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his truth” (Psalm xcvi, 1013). The day of judgment for any wicked nation, city, or individual is the time when the penal visitation comes; and the judgment of God’s saints is manifest in every signal event which magnifies goodness and condemns iniquity.
The King of glory is continually judging and reigning among the nations, and He will not cease from this work until “He has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24).
The solution in determining when certain prophetic events take place is the presence of time indicators in context. The phrase “long time” has been made to stretch over several millennia even though there is no indication of such an extended period of time in Matthew 24:48 and 25:19. While all admit that time indicators are present in Matthew 2425, few are willing to allow the words themselves and the context to set the limits on how long a “long time” is. The use of “long time” has no eschatological significance in other New Testament contexts (Luke 8:27; 20:9; 23:8; John 5:6; Acts 8:11; 14:3, 28; 26:5, 29; 27:21; 28:6). The same can be said for the New Testament use of “delay” (Luke 1:21; 18:7; Acts 9:38; 22:16; 25:17; Hebrews 10:37; Revelation 10:6).
The parables of Matthew 2425 are clear on the duration of the delays — the two masters who go on a journey return to the same people they left. There is no need to allegorize these parables to force them to depict a distant coming of Christ. In addition, the delay of the bridegroom in the parable of the ten virgins is not very long, unless the virgins are related to Rip Van Winkle. The virgins get drowsy at dusk, and the bridegroom returns at midnight (25:6). How can this “delay” be turned into a span of time nearly two thousand years in length?
1. R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 337.
2. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House,  1988), 225.
3. Charles Henry Hamilton Wright, Zechariah and His Prophecies (Minneapolis, MN: Klock and Klock,  1980), 449.
4. J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1975), 158.
5. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., “An Encore to Matthew 24,” Dispensationalism in Transition (May 1993).
6. Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, n.d.), 169.
7. James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1988), 167.
8. John Owen, The Works of John Owen, 16 vols. (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 196568), 9:134.
9. John Brown, Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust,  1990), 1:170.
10. John Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica: Matthew — 1 Corinthians, 4 vols. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, , 1989), 3:454.
11. Gentry, “An Encore to Matthew 24,” 2.
12. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.
13. John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, 3 vols. (Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer,  1989), 1:296.
14. Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, 2:442.
15. Jesus “came up to the Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:13) while Noah and his family ascend above the flood waters.
16. Thomas Newton, Dissertations on the Prophecies, Which Have Remarkably Been Fulfilled, and at This Time are Fulfilling in the World (London: J.F. Dove, 1754), 379.
17. Ray Summers, Commentary on Luke: Jesus, the Universal Savior (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1972), 202.
18. Stephen F. Hayhow, “Matthew 24, Luke 17 and the Destruction of Jerusalem,” Christianity and Society 4:2 (April 1994), 4.
19. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House,  1988), 251.
20. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics, 251.
Reprinted by permission of American Vision P.O. Box 220, Powder Springs, GA 30127, 800-628-9460, http://www.americanvision.org
What do YOU think ?
Submit Your Comments For Posting Here
Date: 16 Aug 2012
I believe that antichrist not to be a person, but Islam and perhaps a Caliphate or Mohammed. What is your opinion. Have you read John Daniels book The Coming?’ He explains why Islam is the beast. The mark of 666 is suppose to be a number of honor Islam, but of course biblically, it is the mark of the beast, which many will be forced to take under threat of death. Any way, are you of the same opinion that Islam is the beast? Let me know. email@example.com
Date: 08 Jul 2012
several years ago, your book cleared up so much re end times….thank you so much for your truly , resounding research and for confirmation in my own soul…..though I am Pentacostal, re speaking in tongues, I had a supernatural awakening to ”end times… and you have done so much to solidify truth in my soul….jimmy clanton…jimmy clanton ministries….