Who are the elect in Matthew 24?

By Rev. Bill Lee-Warner

Jesus says clearly in the Olivet Discourse that "for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short" (Matt. 24:22). In context, "those days" refers to a time yet future and described by Christ as a time of "great tribulation" (24:21). The pretribulationist claims that the term "elect" in the Olivet Discourse is a reference to national Israel and is speaking of the battle of Armageddon.

However, if "elect" in verse 22 is a reference to believers, then the Olivet Discourse may be understood as applying to the Church during a future time when she will be under great distress.

For the following reasons, we should understand that "elect" is a reference to believers and not to the nation Israel:

1. The word elect is used eight times in the New Testament. It is used three times in Matthew 24, three times in Mark 13, once in Luke 18:7 and once in Romans 8:33.

The context of the Luke passage is a teaching by Jesus on the subject of prayer. Immediately preceding the passage, Jesus had been speaking directly to His disciples (17:22) and teaching about the occasion of His return. Luke records in 18:1, "Now He [Jesus] was telling them [His disciples] a parable to show that at all times they [the disciples] ought to pray...." The parabolic teaching on prayer is an instruction for disciples, particularly at the time just addresssed when the events spoken of in chapter 17:22-37 are to be fulfilled. When a comparison is made between the events referenced in Luke 17 and those of the Olivet Discourse, particularly in Matthew 24:27-28, 37-41, the conclusion is inescapable that Jesus was speaking of the same event, namely, the time of His return. The word "elect" in Luke 18:7 then is clearly referring to the disciples of Christ in the eschatological time of the end of the age.

In the Romans passage, Paul is speaking about being justified through Christ's death. He speaks of "us" several times. In context, the "us" is clearly believers. A close examination of the entire passage (i.e. - the chapter) clearly reveals that the term "elect" is speaking of believers.

The other six passages where "elect" is used are in the Olivet Discourse recorded in Matthew's and Mark's account of Christ's life. In verses 1 and 3 of Matthew 24, it was Christ's disciples who approached Him and asked about "the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" Jesus then launched into a thumbnail sketch of end-time events (exactly paralleling what Jesus gave to His "bond-servants" ((cf. Rev. 1:1)) in Revelation 6). It's in this context that we find the three references to "elect". It was not the unresponsive, nationalistic Jews who were asking about the sign of His return, it was His own disciples. The "Jews", as would be seen only a few days later, rejected Christ and His claim as their Messiah.

In Mark's account of the Olivet Discourse, we find that it was Peter, James, John and Andrew who approached Jesus, asking for information about the sign of His coming (parousia) or return. These men were part of the apostolic band that Jesus had called to Himself and would, in a few days, become the founding fathers of the early church. It's in this same context that we find the final three references to "elect".

2. In the Olivet Discourse, as in any passage of Scripture, it is important to note the referents of the pronouns. In verse one, we note that it is the disciples who approach Jesus with the question regarding the destruction of the temple and the sign that would signal His return. Beginning in verse two, we are introduced to a series of pronouns differentiating those who are, and would become, His disciples and those who are not, and would not, become disciples. We see in the second verse for example, "Truly I say to you" (the questioning disciples). In verse three we see a reference to "us" (disciples) and again in verse four, referring to the disciples, the warning of Christ, "See to it that no one misleads you."

Throughout the remainder of the discourse, Jesus frequently makes use of those pronouns. In contrast to the "you" and "us", Jesus refers to "they" (cf. verses 9, 26, 30). The "they" in the context of the discourse is a reference to those who are in opposition to Christ.

The association of "elect" and "you" (disciples) is clearly made in verses 22-24. Jesus says, "And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short. Then - if any one says to you...so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect" (emphasis added). The association of "elect" and "you" (disciples) in these verses is clearly made and it is equally clear that the term "elect" is not referring to national Israel.

3. In Luke's account, we find virtually the same material as is found in Matthew and Mark. The same use of the pronouns "you", "your", and "they" are present. In Luke 21:27-28, we see that "your" is a reference to disciples, "And then will they [those not disciples] see the SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up [disciples] and lift up your heads [disciples], because your redemption is drawing near." This is not Israel's redemption because the tell-tale sign of the coming day of the Lord which was to be for Israel a time of "darkness" and "gloom" (Amos 5:18-20) prior to her national salvation, the extinguishing of the cosmic luminaries mentioned in Luke 21:25 (cf. Joel 2:31; Matt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12-13) has just taken place. Jesus says that the sign in the sun, moon and stars will be the sign announcing the soon redemption of the saints (Matt. 24:29-31). Israel isn't saved (redeemed as a nation - Rom. 11:26; Dan. 9:24) until the end of the 70th Week, following the 6th Trumpet Judgment.

Although Luke doesn't use the word "elect", the teaching includes significant material found in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew and Mark. Luke in particular is writing to a non-Jewish audience - Theophilus (Luke 1:3). It is commonly accepted that Mark is also writing to a non-Jewish audience. In the mind of Mark's and Luke's readers, the "you" and "us" references would be clearly understood as meaning believers in particular and not Israel in general.

4. If the material in the Olivet Discourse is a reference to Israel and Armageddon, as the pretribulationist claims, then there should be a distinct parallel or at least some identifying indication in the one passage where we read about Armageddon. That passage is found in Revelation 19. If one compares the Olivet Discourse teaching and the Armageddon passage, one quickly and clearly sees that there is absolutely NO comparison. The conclusion we should reach is that Jesus in NOT talking about Jews and Armageddon in the Olivet Discourse and the term "elect" is NOT a reference to Israel.

Conclusion

Christ's words in the Olivet Discourse were addressed to first century believers in a near/far prophecy. The near (and partial) fulfillment was in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem under the Roman general, Titus. The ultimate fulfillment will be at the "end of the age" when the sign of the end of the age, the extinguishing of the cosmic lights (Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 21:11, 25; Rev. 6:12-13), will be witnessed by the entire world followed immediately with the sign of the coming of the Son of Man to rapture His own. This was the question the disciples were asking Christ about that prompted the discourse in the first place. Since Matthew's account of Christ's end-time instruction parallels that of Luke and Mark, and that it is evident in those accounts that Christ is talking to His disciples, we can and should conclude that the Olivet Discourse is intended for the church, believers in Christ.

Nowhere in the New Testament is the term "elect" used as a reference to Israel as an ethnic group or nation. It is always used of believers.

The pronouns "you", "your", and "us" in all three gospel accounts of the end-time teaching of Christ clearly indicates that Jesus was addressing disciples. There is simply no contextual justification to understand that the term "elect" is national Israel and that the instruction in the Olivet Discourse is refering to anyone else other than believers in Christ. The Olivet Discourse is focusing on the parousia or second coming of Christ for believers.

 

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