Jesus Already Return in AD 70?
Rev. Bill Lee-Warner
I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these
things take place."
passage is found in what is referred to as the Olivet Discourse
of Jesus given a few days before Christ's crucifixion. The context
for Matthew 24:34 is Jesus' response to the questions of the disciples
regarding His return and the end of the age. There are those in
the church of Jesus Christ who understand "this generation"
to refer to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking the day He
gave the discourse.
Paul recognized this error and warned Timothy of it when he wrote,
avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further
ungodliness, and...spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus
and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying
that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset
the faith of some." (2 Tim. 2:16-18)
is a resurgence of this teaching known as preterism. The term preterism
comes from the Latin word praeterism and means "past"
or already gone by. The basic teaching of preterism is that the
great tribulation has already occured in the distant past, principally
at AD 70. Those who hold to this teaching are known specifically
as full preterists. There is another subgroup of preterists known
as partial or moderate preterists. This latter group sees parts
of the Olivet Discourse, or Jesus' teaching on end times, as partially
fulfilled in AD 70 but other parts as yet to be fulfilled at the
second parousia of Christ. Several efforts have been made to establish
preterism as historically sound and biblical but the clear warning
of Paul reminds us that it is an heretical and false teaching. The
following reasons are offered to the student of Scripture and prophecy
for consideration. Be a Berean (Acts 17:11) and examine the Word
to "see if these things are so."
If the Rapture "has already taken place", then the resurrection
has already taken place. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15 writes of the
day when the final "trumpet" for believers will be blown
and mortality will put on immortality. In this passage, he links
the Rapture with the resurrection of believers. In other words,
when the Rapture takes place, the resurrection occurs.
insist that the events of Matthew 24 are history and say that the
"generation that sees these things" was the generation
concurrent with Jesus nearly 2,000 years ago, must of necessity
show that the resurrection has also taken place. The only way that
is possible is to spiritualize the text by saying that the resurrection
was a spiritual one and not a physical one.
(or partial) preterist, R.C. Sproul recognizes this when he says,
that these events [the Olivet teaching] were indeed fulfilled
in the first century, one must interpret the relevant passages
in a way that makes early fulfillment possible. The most severe
obstacle [to that] is the absence of any historical record that
the rapture of the living and the resurrection of the dead occurred.
(R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus,
Baker Books, 1998, pg 161)
two serious problems with understanding the resurrection as a "spiritual"
event. R.C. Sproul says,
difficulty is that it [Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 15] involves
propositions and assertions that can be neither verified nor falsified
empirically. ... if one announces or predicts things that will
take place in the arena of real history involving physical reality,
then empirical verification becomes relevant and crucial...It
is unfortunate that the apostle failed to alert the Corinthians-and
us, by extension-that he was speaking of a secret, hidden, spiritual
resurrection. His language certainly suggests something else,
particularly as Paul so clearly conjoins the resurrection of our
bodies with the resurrection of Christ's body. The resurrected
Christ is the firstfruits of all who will be raised. (R.C. Sproul,
The Last Days According to Jesus, Baker Books, 1998,
was the resurrected body of Jesus like? First, the tomb was empty.
In other words, there was a physical body in it but on the day of
His resurrection, it became empty. A body had departed from it.
Second, he had a glorified body. It was different from His previous
mortal body, but it was the same body. Third, Jesus was visible
to the disciples until the time He ascended and was touched by them
and ate with them. Christ's resurrected body was a physical body,
not a spiritualized one.
problem with a spiritualized understanding of the resurrection is
likewise addressed by R.C. Sproul -
If a spiritual
body cannot be seen, touched, or handled, is it a body at all?
It is one thing to say that our resurrected bodies will be spiritiual
bodies, but quite another to imply that our resurrected bodies
will be merely spirits. The Bible speaks of spiritual bodies.
(R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus, Baker Books,
1998, pg 164)
problem among interpreters of the Bible is that of "shifting
gears". If a person approaches his interpretation of the Bible
with, for example, a face value hermeneutic, then it is critical
that he remain consistent with his approach. However, many often
"flip flop" in their interpretation approach to maintain
a preconceived understanding of a text. An example of this is the
above. Preterists interpret "this generation" in the simple
sense as meaning the generation concurrent with Christ and then
suddenly "shift gears" and apply a figurative approach
to arrive at a spiritualized understanding of the Rapture and the
resurrection. That is an inconsistent hermeneutic and leads to error.
is introduced into one's interpretation, Pandora's box is opened
and various meanings can be understood. The only way the integrity
of the Author/author's wording and meaning can be preserved is by
taking Scripture at face value. Taking Scripture at face value means
that the student of Scripture recognizes the difference between
what can be called the "simple sense" of a passage and
what is understood as a literal understanding. A literal understanding
includes the examination of the historical/cultural and lexical/syntactical
considerations. It also recognizes symbols and figures of speech
and realizes there is a referent for them. For further information
on hermeneutical principles, see the "links" section of
this website for an explanation.
If the Rapture took place in AD 70, then certainly that generation
witnessed the fulfillment of "all the things" Jesus addressed
in the discourse.
24:33, Jesus says, "even so you too, when you see all these
things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly
I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all
these things take place." An important key to understanding
the intent of which generation Jesus was making reference to is
the repeated phrase "all these things". What "things"
is Jesus referring to? Clearly He's referring to what He has just
elucidated from verse four through verse 31. In other words, the
generation that sees all the things (not some, not most,
but ALL) Jesus has just talked about would be the generation that
would see the "coming" (parousia) of Christ. The all-important
question is, have all the events spoken of by Jesus taken place
as they were taught by Him? A clue to understanding this is a detail
such as is found in vs. 9 - "you will be hated by all nations
on account of my name". Some would see the events spoken of
by Jesus as being completed by AD 70. However, does the alledged
fulfillment fit the prediction? In other words, in AD 70, were "all
nations" on the earth at that time hating believers in Christ?
To say that the nations surrounding Israel at that time (and perhaps
including Rome) are the nations in view, is inadequate. Some would
offer this as the perspective of those listening to Jesus that day
because that was their "worldview". Consider also that
it is the Holy Spirit who is the Author of Scripture. Surely He
knew the bigger picture of what He meant by the word "world"!
Other factors that need to be considered are: vs. 12 and "most
people's love will grow cold". The context of this verse is
Christ talking about believers. Was this happening to a marked degree
in AD 70? There's no biblical or extra biblical support for such
a conclusion. Then, in vs. 14, "And this gospel of the kingdom
shall be preached in the whole world..." Had the entire
world heard the message of the gospel by AD 70? The preterist
sites Romans 1:8 as support that the gospel had indeed reached the
entire world. Is that what Paul was making reference to? Paul himself
clearly said that he desired not to preach Christ where another
man had already laid a foundation. What then did he mean by desiring
to go to Spain if indeed the gospel had already been preached in
the whole world (cf. Romans 15:19-25)? Clearly, the answer is that
the whole world had not yet heard the gospel! It is misleading to
suggest that the word "world" is to be restricted to the
limited understanding of those listening to Jesus that day. Additionally,
one must ask what Jesus meant when He said, "When you see..."
(Gk. paunta tauta). The special focus of paunta tauta
in Matthew 24:33 is the abomination of desolation (24:15), the beginning
of the great tribulation. "This generation" cannot refer
to the contemporaries of Christ since there is no evidence that
"all these things" (24:3-28), and in particular, the abomination
of desolation as depicted in Daniel's prophecy, have taken place
at all, let alone by AD 70.
the word "genea" (Greek - generation) etymologically
or philologically always mean people concurrent or living at "that
time"? Can the word not also have a broader, more general sense?
Those who want to say that the events given in the Olivet Discourse
were completed in AD 70 endeavor to support their interpretation
by saying that the word "generation", as Jesus used it,
means the generation of mankind living contemporaneously with Jesus.
F. Arndt and Wilbur Gingrich's lexicon, a Greek-English Lexicon
of the New Testament, 1974, the first meaning of genea
is "those descended from a common anscestor, a clan, then race,
kind," etc. Thayer, in his lexicon, A Greek-English Lexicon
of the New Testament, says the meaning of genea is "men
of the same stock, a family". The Louw and Nida computerized
lexicon says that the word "genea" can be understood
as "people of the same kind; successive following generations...descendants".
The understanding of these lexical references is that the word "genea"
can also have a broader, more extended meaning than the limiting
view of simply the current generation living at the time concurrent
with the speaker. The context must decide which understanding the
author has in mind.
Nelson Jr., a doctor of philosophy candidate at Dallas Theological
Seminary, in examining Matthew's use of "this generation"
in the first gospel, says,
of the use of he" genea haute" ["this generation"]
(ll:16; 12:41, 42, 45; 23:36; 24:34) and genea with other
descriptive adjectives (12:39, 45; 16:4; 17:17) used in the same
sense reveals that the kind of people referred to are characterized
as those who reject Jesus and his messengers and the salvific
message they preach, who remain unbelieving and unrepentant, who
actively oppose Jesus and his messengers through testing and persecution,
and who will face eschatological judgment. The pejorative adjectives
given to "this generation" (evil, adulterous, faithless,
perverse; cf. 12:39, 45; 16:4; 17:17) throughout the gospel are
qualities that distinguish those who are subjects of the kingdom
from those who are not...The opponents of Jesus' disciples in
Matthew 24-25 share similar traits with "this generation"
as characterized in these...chapters. (Neil D. Nelson, Jr. ""This
Generation" In Matt. 24:34; A Literary Critical Perspective",
JETS 38:3 September 1995 376)
in his book, Jesus Did Not Return in A.D. 70, published by
Vantage Press, 1999, page 50, concludes, "Considering the uncomplimentary
things Jesus said in Matthew 23 about the Jewish leaders, Matthew
24:34 could have been translated: 'Truly I say to you, this
KIND [instead of generation] will not pass away until all
these things take place.' For the same KIND of people will continue
to contradict and oppose Christ's authority until Christ shall have
taken the reins of human government." (Emphasis added.)
the meaning of "this generation" is not limited in understanding
to the generation concurrent with Jesus, nor is it to be understood
as referring to disciples of that contemporaneous generation
who will see the parousia of Christ.
If by the word "generation" Jesus was referring to those
who heard Him the day He gave the teaching, He would have in effect
been saying that His coming (i.e. His 2nd parousia) would be before
the last man of the generation who heard Him that day, died. But,
by Jesus' own admission, He did not know "the day or the hour"
of His return (Matt. 24:36). A study of the use of the term "hour"
reveals that the New Testament writers used it in two distinct ways:
(1) in a specific sense, where such words as "the", "one",
"third", "very", "dinner", "every",
"half an" precede the use of the word. In each case, a
definite hour is intended, and (2) in a general sense, where the
word "hour" may be understood to be equal to our use of
the word "time". A few examples of this usage are: Luke
1:10; 12:40, 12:46; John 2:4; I Cor. 4:11. The phrase, "day
or...hour", in the context of the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:36),
is one that speaks of a general time perspective (following the
midpoint of the 70th Week which begins with the abomination of desolation
-Matthew 24:15) and is not referring to a specific hour of a 24-hour
day nor is the term "day" to be understood as a specific
day of the week within the same 70th Week perspective.
It is obvious
from His teaching in Matthew 24:45-51, that Jesus was expecting
a rather long delay before His return. The "master's"
remanstrance with the "evil slave" (24:48) indicates that
the delay was of such duration that slothfulness and indolence has
set into the fabric of the church. That indication is repeated in
the parable of the ten virgins. The delay of the bridegroom's coming
was such that the virgins fell asleep (25:5). It hardly seems probable
that such a slothfulness had invaded the church to such a marked
degree before AD 70. The original apostolic band (except Judas)
was still living and ministering. The apostle Paul, actively ministering
in the Mediterranean world, including Israel, is supposed to have
been martyred somewhere around AD 65, only a few years before the
fall of Jerusalem. With such stalwarts of the faith and their immediate
disciples still living and ministering, had the church fallen into
such dire straits by AD 70 and to such a degree that it was to be
characterized as Jesus indicates in the parable? The epistles certainly
demonstrate that the church had its growing pains and needs, but
had she become delinquint in her service unto the Lord and become
unguarded, dull, sluggish and unwary? There is no historical data
that would support such a broad scale notion. When the apostle John
saw the "great multitude" in Revelation seven, he wondered
who they could be. In his short time on earth as a disciple of Jesus,
perhaps only 60 years, the gospel had not yet reached "every
nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues". That
would only come after several centuries of the gospel spreading
all over the world.
said He did not know the "day and hour", He certainly
understood that His second coming would be delayed and that the
kinds of behavior he described in the parables following His direct
teaching in Matthew 24:3-31 would invade the church in general.
Although Christ did not know the "hour" (when in history,
not the general timeframe within the 70th Week) of His return, as
He said (Matt. 24:36), it is clear that He didn't expect to come
within the next 40 years (by AD 70) or even within the generation
that heard Him that day.
In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus gave an illustration of the "sign
of [His] coming and the end of the age." In verses 27, in answer
to the disciples' questions, Jesus, having sequenced the events
that lead up to His return, concluded with,
just as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to
the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be."
of this illustration is to demonstrate what the sign of His coming
will be like. In other words, when Jesus returns and the events
elucidated in the Olivet Discourse are fulfilled, the arrival of
Christ will be like "lightning" - seen by all! No one
will miss it! THE WHOLE WORLD WILL KNOW OF IT.
has to be asked, "When did that happen?" Those insisting
that "this generation" means the generation living when
Christ was physically upon the earth are saying that Christ has
already returned, fulfilling the events spoken by Him in the Olivet
Discourse. If this is the case, when in history did the entire world
witness this event as described by Jesus in the discourse?
addresses the same concern when he writes,
language in 1 Thessalonians 4 [consistent with what we find in
the Olivet Discourse regarding the parousia if Christ] is clearly
of a different sort. Here the genre of the text makes it highly
unlikely that Paul was describing an event hidden from earthly
view. He said the Lord would descend with a shout...[with] the
voice of the archangel...[with] the trumpet of God.... (R.C. Sproul,
The Last Days According to Jesus, Baker Books, 1998, pg.
that the Rapture and the resurrection took place in AD 70, believe
that the shout of the Lord was silent, the voice of the archangel
was silent and the trumpet of God was silent, contrary to the force
of what Paul was teaching the beleagured believers in Thessalonica.
the events of the dismanteling of Judaism and Israel in AD 70 with
the invasion of Jerusalem by the Roman general, Titus, as the complete
fulfillment of these events, is to both spiritualize the teaching
of Jesus and deliberately avoid the obvious, clear and literal understanding
of what Jesus said. There are aspects of the fulfillment of Jesus'
teaching regarding His parousia that, again, clearly, have not taken
place. Events such as: the sudden extinguishing of the cosmic luminaries,
the powers of the heavens being shaken, a massive earthquake where
"every mountain and island were moved out of their places",
the fearful hiding and running into caves of "the kings of
the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and
the strong and every slave and free man" saying to the mountains
and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him
who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the
great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?"(Revelation
6:12-14), the "sign of the Son of Man ... appear[ing] in the
[darkened] sky" (from the extinguishing of the cosmic lights),
the subsequent Day of the Lord's wrath upon the whole earth which
includes such judgments as hail and fire "mixed with blood"
(Rev. 8:7) being cast down to earth (from heaven), torments on mankind
for "five months" (Rev. 9:5, 10) and many other events
listed for us in Revelation 8-16. When one compares Scripture with
Scripture, it is evident that the events of AD 70 did not completely
fulfill the predictions Jesus gave in the Olivet Discourse, without
making the language highly figurative.
A sixth reason to reject the notion that "this generation"
exclusively means those living at the time of Christ, is the nature
of the information given in the statement:
so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is
near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation
will not pass away until all these things take place." (Matt.
the events leading up to the Rapture, as requested by the disciples
in verse 3, Jesus told the parable of the fig tree (verse 32). The
parable emphasizes the indications of the fulfillment of the events
He has just listed. The context for "this generation"
is still a part of the response Jesus is giving to the disciples'
question about the indication of when He would return. In verses
37-39, Jesus says that His coming will be just like it was in the
days of Noah. Jesus used this Old Testament illustration to emphasize
His point. The flood generation (Gen. 7:1 KJV) is used by the Lord
as a type of "this generation", the one that will witness
the end-time signs, just as the flood itself typifies the judgment
what will occur at His second parousia. What was the generation
that experienced the flood like? Essentially, the people were resistant
to the message of repentance, ridiculed God's messanger, and refused
God's means of salvation.
writing on the juxtaposition of Jesus' teaching on end-time events
and the Noahic flood illustration concludes:
generation" in [Matthew] 24:34 represents a long line of
unbelieving, unresponsive people from the time of Noah to the
end of the age. The disciples of Christ endure the persectution
and deception of "this generation." (Neil D. Nelson
Jr., ""This Generation" In Matt. 24:34: A Literary
Critical Perspective" JETS 38:3 September 1995, 384)
was talking about the generation living when He walked upon the
earth, then one has to inquire as to when the judgment of God fell
upon wicked mankind (i.e., worldwide and not just Jerusalem) and
when God took His righteous ones to be with Himself as Jesus said
in the subsequent comment,
there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken (paralambano
- a warm receiving to one's self) and one will be left [in
context - for judgment]". (Matt. 24:40)
to spiritualize that event. In other words, they would say that
the judgment that fell was what took place in AD 70 on Jerusalem.
They would insist that the being "taken" means being changed
in heart before the Lord and becoming united with Him spiritually.
But, is that what Jesus said? Is that the clear teaching of Jesus?
Did He speak of a judgment on Israel or was He speaking of a greater
judgment for mankind? The illustration of Noah speaks of a universal
Jesus clearly indicated in His teaching in the Olivet Discourse
that His return would be indicated by a sign and that it would be
visible. Six times in Matthew 24, Jesus warned His disciples of
being deceived: "See to it that no one misleads you."
(Matt. 24:4). He went on to warn them that some would say, in a
future day, that His coming had already taken place. In warning
His disciples about the future deception of a previous coming, Jesus
pinpoints two crucial factors to be noted.
instructs His disciples regarding the "sign" they are
to look for when He returns . They are not to be deceived into believing
He has already come if the "sign" has not yet been given.
That was the question the disciples asked about in the first place.
The "sign", disciples are to look for, is, "But immediately
after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND
THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the
sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the
sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then...they
[the tribes of the earth] will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE
CLOUDS OF THE SKY WITH POWER AND GREAT GLORY. And He will send forth
His angels...and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect...FROM THE
FOUR WINDS..." (Matthew 24:29-31). When Jesus returns, according
to His own teaching, the heavens will clearly indicate it: the cosmic
luminaries will be extinguished and in that moment of darkness,
the visible coming of the Son of Man will take place. Jesus is speaking
here of an actual space-time event. When in history did the event
factor Jesus teaches His disciples regarding His return as indicated
specifically in 24:26 is that His return will be visible, not invisible.
That's what Jesus was making reference to when He said they would
say before His actual return, "Behold, He is in the wilderness
[i.e.. He has already come]," and "Behold, He is in the
inner rooms." (Matt. 24:26). If Jesus is "in the wilderness"
or "in the inner rooms", is He there in spirit or in body?
Is He there visibly or invisibly? There would be no temptation to
believe the deception Jesus warned them about if He was not present
in bodily form in the wilderness or inner rooms at His return.
to this, the angel at the ascension of Jesus said, "Men of
Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who
has been taken up from you into heaven will come in just the same
way as you have watched Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). The
emphasis of the angel in this passage is that Jesus departed and
went back to heaven visibly. That's the import of "He was lifted
up while they were looking on...." The disciples were
visibly watching Jesus being lifted up from their presence. The
preterist insists that the point of the passage in Acts 1 is that
Jesus went back to heaven IN THE CLOUDS. With that interpretation,
he then says that the return of Christ will be with the clouds and
not visible to mankind on earth. From that deduction, he then says
that it fits nicely to understand that Jesus did return in AD 70
- in the clouds, invisible, in a spiritual sense. Does the scripture
say that Jesus will return with the clouds? Absolutely. Note Revelation
1:7, "BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS..." However,
we must read the rest of the verse, which says, "...and
EVERY EYE WILL SEE HIM, EVEN THOSE WHO PIERCED HIM; AND ALL THE
TRIBES OF THE EARTH...." So, when Jesus returns, He will come
with "the clouds" and at that same time, "every
eye will see Him". That's a visible return!
To say that
Jesus returned in AD 70 in a spiritual sense, and not, as Jesus
spoke of it, in a visible sense and indicated by a world-wide sign,
is to manipulate the text and make it say what was not intended.
The generation that lived concurrent with Jesus cannot be the generation
that witnessed the return of Christ because the sign has not been
given and He has not returned visibly.
"this generation", as used by Jesus in Matthew 24:34,
clearly is not the generation of people living when He first gave
the Olivet teaching. It is important, when studying Scripture, especially
the apocalytic literature of the Bible, that one employs all the
hermeneutical tools necessary to understand the historical setting
of a passage, the meanings of words and, their relationship to each
other, especially in the original languages, if a clear and correct
interpretation is to be gained.