Commentary on Matthew 24, part 1
Matthew 24 is among the most heavily debated passages in Bible Prophecy discussions, especially for those who debate the timing of the rapture. It is troublesome for those who preach the pretribulation rapture, because verse 29 contains the phrase "...after the tribulation..." and then goes on to describe events which appear strikingly like the rapture. I teach the pretribulation rapture, but I disagree with the popular pretribulation arguments that attempt to explain the passage: For example, one argument is that the entire passage is for the Jews only, written to the Jews and not Christians. The conclusion that follows from that is that the passage does not contain any information about the rapture at all. Such popular teachings are unconvincing, and I think wrong, which is my reason for writing this commentary. Many people have said that it is irresponsible to say that large parts of the New Testament are not for us. I believe Matthew 24 is written to Christians, and teaches about the rapture, and this commentary will explain how and why this passage need not be troublesome, but supports the pretribulation rapture position.
One method of understanding Matt 24:29 is through the realization that the great tribulation takes place during the Day of the Lord. I will provide several scriptural arguments to back this assertion. Thus, the stellar signs which signal the beginning of the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:31) also come before the seven year great tribulation. This shows that the stellar signs would not be after the "great tribulation" (verse 29 does not say "great") but would be "after the tribulation" of today, and I will examine the stellar signs in depth, which will indicate that the stellar signs suggest the pretribulation event of Satan being cast out of heaven.
So, one of the other ways through which I have come to understand the passage is by recognizing many of the double references in the passage. Specifically, the word "tribulation" in Matt 24:29 has been interpreted by many people to refer to the past history of the Church, while others say it refers to the future tribulation. If we simply let the passage retain both of these Biblical meanings so that word "tribulation" refers to two times, both today and the future, then the problem for the pretrib position is solved: Thus, I believe the general tribulations that the Church has always experienced will end with the rapture, the stellar signs, the casting out of Satan, and the start of the Day of the Lord at the beginning of the future great tribulation. The second meaning and fulfillment of Matt 24:29-31 would then be that the future "great tribulation" will end with the gathering together of the Jews.
Thirdly, my understanding has come from letting scriptural comparisons give the interpretation. 1 Corinthians 2:13 "Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual."
The fourth method that has helped me to understand Matthew 24 is through the study of the Feast of Trumpets and the Jewish Wedding, both of which teach about the pretribulation rapture. This commentary will not focus on the Wedding, nor the Feast of Trumpets, since those are each topics large enough for their own study, but I will bring the conclusions that those studies make to this discussion, as supporting evidence.
Although people who argue for the post tribulation rapture quote Matt 24:29-31 frequently, they usually have relatively little to say about the passage, giving little analysis, although they do typically attempt to make scriptural comparisons to 1 Thess 4-5, Rev 6 and Joel 2:31. They often claim scripture is easy to understand, (in contrast to the Bible's statements about itself such as contained in Prov 25:2, Isaiah 44:18, Ezek. 14:9, 2 Cor 4:3, Matthew 11:25, Mat 13:10-11, 2 Peter 3:16, John 12:16, 16:12, 1Cor 2:7-8, 3:2, 13:12, 14:22). Thus, they claim that Matthew 24:29 is the final answer for their side of the debate, "it's after the tribulation", and think nothing else need be said. While a few obvious scriptural comparisons of the stellar signs to the day of the Lord are often made, they are apt to draw the wrong conclusions because they refuse to acknowledge the stellar signs are related to Satan being cast out of heaven, they typically ignore comparisons to Deut 30:1-4, Isaiah 11 & 27 & Zech 2:6, and they erroneously place the Day of the Lord after the great tribulation. They also assume the stellar signs of the sixth seal Revelation 6 must come late in the tribulation or after the tribulation, although there is no basis in Revelation 6 for making such a claim.
Matthew 24-25 is also known as "the Olivet Discourse". Luke contains very similar wording to Matthew 24, but in Luke, parallel passages are spread out and contained in Luke chapters 12, 17, & 21. Guessing when Jesus actually spoke each passage is part of the "Synoptic problem". I will quote Luke and Mark to help explain Matthew, in line with the Bible's command that we should be "comparing spiritual things with spiritual", (1 Corinthians 2:13) and to let the Bible interpret itself. I do not believe I need to prove when various things were said. In all the gospel accounts, these are the words that Jesus spoke, and he probably repeated himself and certain themes all the time. I would not claim that parallel passages are unimportant or irrelevant simply because another gospel records that Jesus spoke a parallel passage at a different time and place. I cannot dismiss any scripture. (2 Timothy 3:16) "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Nor can I dismiss any slight nuance of scripture. Paul and Jesus both made arguments that hung on a single letter or jot and tittle. This examination is long because it examines many details.
Regarding double meanings:
There is a popular rule of Hermeneutics, or Bible interpretation, which says, "Although there can be more than one application in a passage, there can be only one meaning." Unfortunately, I have never seen the Bible say this or teach this concept. Nor have I ever seen anyone ever provide a scriptural basis for this method of understanding scripture. We should let scripture teach us how to interpret scripture, and not use arbitrary man-made rules that go against common sense. This hermeneutic rule of "only one meaning" is a concept and tradition of men.
Such a rule is designed to prevent wild speculations of meanings. However, as a man-made invented rule, designed to prevent man-made invented interpretations, it seems rather ironic and thus, self defeating.
Although this rule is popular among academic circles, I reject it. There are other academic circles which laugh at such silly things, and I speak of five year olds who tell jokes which are funny because a word ends up meaning something other, or in addition to, that which was originally thought when setting up the joke. Thus, since it is such common sense, I do not feel I have to prove the general principle that words in real life can have more than one meaning at once.
Nor do I feel a need to prove this from examples elsewhere in scripture, that words can have more than one meaning, or that passages can refer to two different prophetic events at once. I suppose I could list 10-20 or so other examples in scripture where I see this happening, but then this would be a commentary on those cases, and not on Matt 24. All I need to prove is that there is evidence in Matt 24 for double meanings, and my case is made.
In contrast, those who wish to prove their hermeneutic rule of "only one meaning" have an overwhelmingly large burden of proof upon them since they must prove that this is a rule which must apply everywhere in scripture. Furthermore, they need to prove that God tells us somewhere in his book that this is the approach we must have. They fail on both counts, and so I reject their rule as wrong. The problem with umbrella rules like this is that one exception is enough to prove the rule invalid.
Thus, those who would discard my explanation of the pretribulation rapture in Matthew 24 on the basis of the rule of "only one meaning" really need to ask themselves which they value more, a rule of men, or the Word of God?
Furthermore, there are two ways this rule might not necessarily be invalidated by my exposition. First, the word "tribulation", although referring to two times, still means "distress & trouble" in both cases. Second, the "one meaning" may well be a choice of determining which ONE of three options is correct. A. Tribulation refers to the future "great tribulation". B. Tribulation refers to the tribulation of Church history. or C. Tribulation refers to both time periods.
I will conclude this section by saying that the "Word of God" itself has a duel meaning, since we use it not only as a term for the Bible, but it is also one of the names of our Lord Jesus Christ. Revelation 19:13 "...his name is called The Word of God." John 1:14 "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us..."
Duel meanings in the Olivet Discourse
In the Olivet Discourse itself, this technique of two prophecies being mixed together was being used regarding the subject of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Luke records the historical fulfillment more strongly than the other gospel accounts in Mark and Matthew. When Jerusalem was surrounded by armies, the Christians fled when the army left. (Luke 21:20 "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.") This prophecy seems to be mixed together with the description of the abomination of desolation, which is yet future. That this passage contained relevant prophecy for early Christians should be enough evidence that the Olivet Discourse was not written to the Jews exclusively, but to us also, given that the people who took the warning to heart and fled were Christians. After they fled, the Roman army came back and destroyed the city. Then, Luke 21:6 was fulfilled by the armies who destroyed the Temple to retrieve the gold of the Temple which melted into the cracks between the stones. (Luke 21:6 "As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.")
This historic fulfillment proves several things. First, the Olivet discourse is prophecy, the Word of God, and that it is accurate and reliable beyond any of man's writings. A near term partial fulfillment in prophetic writings often established their authority, even in Old Testament times. Second, it shows that the passage clearly has a duel fulfillment in view, the historic abomination of desolation fulfillment of 70 AD with the destruction of the temple, and at least one more future fulfillment of the abomination of desolation. Third, we are given proof that elements in the passage are not given in chronological order, since Luke 21:20 was fulfilled first, when the armies surrounded, and then Luke 21:6 when the stones of the temple were later upturned.
It can be confusing to try and see two separate events that are both prophesied at once in the same passage of scripture. Such requires much study, and perhaps this is what is meant in 2 Timothy 2:15 "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
This concept, that duel meanings exist in words and in prophecies, aids in understanding that the word "tribulation" in Matt 24:29, can easily refer to both the present day tribulation of Christians, and also the unique future time of great tribulation which is unlike any other. And since this is the heart of the explanation of Matt 24:29, it should be no surprise that this hermeneutic of recognizing duel references is viciously attacked.
Truly, the passage is not as simple as post trib authors frequently claim. I'm not saying that God is the author of confusion, but people, who do not know how to rightly divide the scriptures, and who may not have studied well, can be confused, and fail to recognize the principle from Proverbs 25:2 "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter." Misunderstanding can come from failing to search the scriptures fully, or by not having been taught correctly. Truly my exposition is not necessary for understanding, since the Holy Spirit is the guide to all truth. 1 John 2:27 "...ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him." Nevertheless, God has provided teachers for the body of Christ (Hebrews 5:12, 2 Timothy 2:2,24, 1 Corinthians 12:28 ), and one cannot use 1 John 2:27 to reject knowledge of the scriptures. The Holy Spirit and the Word of God should guide you, the reader, as to whether or not my scripture presentations are truth.
Is the Olivet Discourse addressed to the Jews "only", or Christians too?
It is a popular view that this passage is not written to Christians at all. The view that this "entire" passage is to the "Jews only" is a rather broad umbrella type argument that would collapse if only one exception is found. A context based argument such as "The passage is to the Jews only" cannot be rightfully used to refute that the rapture is being spoken of in the passage because such an over reaching context based argument collapses in the face of evidence to the contrary. Here are eight obvious evidences that the Olivet Discourse, and thus Matt 24-25, is to Christians also, and not to the "Jews only". I am not refuting that this passage is to the Jews, but rather, my point is that the actual context of the Olivet Discourse is spoken to both Jews and Christians: Even if it be granted that Matt 24 is to the "Jews only", that would include true Christians who are Jews inwardly, since Christians are heirs of Abraham. Romans 2:29 "But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." Galatians 3:29 And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
1. Mark records at the end of the Olivet Discourse that Jesus said his words were for all, not just the disciples, in Mark 13:37 "And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch."
2. Luke 12:35-44 mirrors this concept that a specific parable from the Olivet Discourse is spoken "unto all", but gives a slightly different answer. Luke records the question from Peter to the Lord, "speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all?" This question is regarding the parables of watching for the thief, the goodman of the house, the faithful steward, and not knowing the day or hour. These parables from Luke 12 are recorded as part of the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13:32-37 and Matt 24:42-47. Mark's account of these same parables gives the more specific answer, Mark 13:37 "And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." It is as if Luke and Mark record different bits of the same conversation, Luke leaving out the answer "unto all", and Mark leaving out the question that repeats the same concept that the Lord is speaking "to all". The answer in Luke 12:41-44 is not the phrase "unto all", the answer is the faithful steward who rules. The faithful steward parable, in connection with the same context of the Lord coming at the unknown time, is repeated in Matthew 24:42-47. Ruling is the promise to faithful Christians. (Rev 2:26-27, Rev 3:21, Rev 5:10). Thus, if the Lord is speaking to the faithful steward who rules, he is speaking to Christians who will be raptured.
3. The Olivet Discourse was spoken to the 12 disciples, who were Jews yes, but believing Jews. And there is no difference between believers, Jew or Gentile, all in Christ are Christians.
Romans 10:12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Colossians 3:11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
These speak of believing Jews. There is no difference among those who are in Christ, among those who are believers. The Jewish disciples, therefore, represent their fellow Christians. The disciples might represent the unbelieving Jewish nation, but because the disciples are not unbelievers, they represent Christians first, and only maybe unbelieving Jews also, but only on a symbolic level.
4. The martyrs for the faith in the Olivet Discourse were both the Apostles and Christians. Luke 21:12 says they will be brought before kings, and Paul was arrested to be brought before Ceasar, Acts 25:10, Acts 27:24, Acts 28:19
Luke 21:12 But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. 13 And it shall turn to you for a testimony. 14 Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: 15 For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. 16 And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. 17 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake.
Matthew 24:9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
Mark 13:11 But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. 12 Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. 13 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
5. Matt 24:4-13 read like a history of the Church.
6. Luke's words from the Olivet Discourse saved the lives of Christians in 70 AD, when they had opportunity to flee before the destruction of the city. Unbelieving Jews did not heed these words, and they perished in the city. Christians heard these words, and Christian lives were saved.
Luke 21:20 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. 21 Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.
7. There are words to servants who are believers, Luke 12:42-48, Matt 24:45-51 Jews are not believers, but unbelievers. Romans 11:32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
8. Many people simply admit and feel that there is no basis for tearing out parts of the Bible as irrelevant to them. Although there may be a phrase or verse that speaks to the Jews only, that is no basis for saying the entire prophetic passage is written only to them. Likewise, the evidence above should not be construed to mean that the entire passage is to Christians only. I believe the passage contains prophecies for both the now-unbelieving Jewish nation at large, and believing Christians all throughout history.
In addition to these several obvious quotes, each verse in Matt 24 that teaches about the rapture is an indirect piece of evidence that this passage is written to Christians who will be raptured.
What follows next are parallel bible verses that show Matt 24 contains prophecy which is specific for the Jews that have been scattered among the nations.
Matt 24:30-31 compared with Deut 30:1-4.
It is likely that Jesus had in mind several Old Testament passages regarding the return of the Jews when he spoke his words as recorded in Matt 24:30-31, (& Mark 13 & Luke 21): In the Greek Septuagint, many of the words are the same between Deut 30 and Matt 24. Specifially, I will note that the word "heaven" can be used of the earth. Jews who were "driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven" is a phrase meaning that people are driven to remote parts of the earth.
Matthew 24:30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds,from one end of heaven to the other.
Deuteronomy 30: 1 And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, 2 And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; 3 That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. 4 If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: Comparing Matt 24:30-31 to Isaiah 11:11-12, Isaiah 27:12-13
I see that there are at least four concepts in common:
1. The elect, Israel, are gathered together. 2. There is a sign for the nations. 3. The great trumpet shall be blown. 4. They are gathered from the four corners of the earth.
Separately, these 4 concepts contain 8 elements: 1. The elect, Israel 2. are gathered together 3. there is a Sign 4. For the nations 5. Great Trumpet 6. Blown & sounds 7. From four corners 8. Of the Earth
The final comparison is that this is a supernatural gathering done by angels or by the Lord's power: "be gathered one by one" with "he shall send his angels". "The Lord shall set his hand... to recover... his people".
Isaiah 11:11 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. 12 And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
Isaiah 27:12 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel. 13 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem.
Matthew 24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Isaiah 11:11 "the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people" Isaiah 27:12 "ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel." Isaiah 27:13 "they shall come which were ready to perish... and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem" Matthew 24:31 "And he shall send his angels... they shall gather together his elect"
Isaiah 11:12 "he shall set up an ensign for the nations" Matthew 24:30 "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn"
Isaiah 27:13 "the great trumpet shall be blown" Matthew 24:31 "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet"
Isaiah 11:12 "from the four corners of the earth." Matthew 24:31 "from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Mark 13:27 And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
These similarities are all contained in Matt 24:30-31, not verse 29 which I will examine in detail a bit later. I will paraphrase the description of this event as: The supernatural gathering together of the Israelites from the four corners of the earth when the great trumpet sounds after God has set up the sign of the Lord Jesus Christ for the nations.
The point of this scriptural comparison is to show that there is an event in Matt 24:30-31 which is NOT the rapture or translation of the Church to immortality. This is the gathering together of the Jews or Israelites. This should be enough to prove to those who already insist that the passage is about the rapture, which I agree with, that two events (the rapture, and the gathering of the Jews) are being mixed together in this one prophetic passage of Matt 24:30-31.
Other Passages to Compare
The following is a short list of other passages about the gathering together of the Jews, in addition to Deut 30:1-4 and Isaiah 11:11-12, 27:12-13. Take special note of Zechariah 2:6, it contains the same phrasing as Matthew 24:31 about the "four winds" and "of the heaven"
Zechariah 2:6 Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the LORD: for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven, saith the LORD.
Jeremiah 30:3 For, lo, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the LORD: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.
Jer 23:3 And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.
Jer 23:7 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; 8 But, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.
Isa 43:5 Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; Isa 43:6 I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;
See all of Ezekiel 36 & 37: Ezekiel 36:24 For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Ezekiel 37:21 And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:
Ezekiel 39:27 When I have brought them again from the people, and gathered them out of their enemies' lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations; 28 Then shall they know that I am the LORD their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there.
Romans 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.