Question: I had an interesting conversation with someone last week who said this passage in Matthew 24 was about the fall of Jerusalem not the rapture or end times. What do you think?
1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ, and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9 Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. 15 So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel–let the reader understand– 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again. 22 If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 26 So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. 29 Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ 30 At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. 32 Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that itd is near, right at the door. 34 I tell you the truth, this generatione will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Answer: It is a common hallmark of Biblical prophecy that there is an ultimate fulfillment of kingdom prophecies that nevertheless have multiple in-between fulfillments that are less than the ultimate fulfillment. For example, God told the serpent that He would put enmity between the serpent and the woman and between her seed and his seed, and that the serpent would bruise the seed of the woman’s heel but the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). We are almost immediately given an example of that in Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. The apostle John, writing about this many centuries later, says Cain “belonged to the evil one” (1 John 3:12), an apparent reference to his being the seed of the serpent. Many other attempts are made by the serpent (Satan) to destroy the godly seed (Joseph’s brothers selling him into captivity, Pharoah trying to have all boys born to Israelites killed, Baalam’s attempt to curse Israel, etc.) but in each case the godly seed survives and gains a victory over the ungodly. However, the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is found in Jesus, whom Satan manages to kill but whom God resurrects and who will come eventually to destroy Satan and all those who follow him.
In the same way, this prophecy in Matthew 24 has a near fulfillment and even some subsequent fulfillments (the attempted extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany), but the ultimate fulfillment is still waiting. Yes, many of the features of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 fit Jesus’ description, but many do not. Most obviously is the fact that Jesus did not come back in the clouds in a way that is obvious to all. We are still looking for this coming so we should still expect these predictions to be fulfilled in the most literal and complete way.