Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dating the Destruction of the Temple in Matthew

A very interesting debate in modern circles concerns the dating of the destruction of the temple that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:2. Upon Jesus’ sorrow of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in chapter 23 verses 37-39 He proclaimed Jerusalem’s future condition of desolation including the temple. Jesus stated that “not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” [The New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982)] Intrigued by His comments the disciples came to Him with the following two questions:
  1. When will this (the temple being destroyed) happen?
  2. What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?
The response of Christ resulted in what is known as the Olivet Discourse in chapters 24 and 25. The debate concerning this event questions whether Jesus was talking about the destruction that occurred in A.D. 70 or a future destruction that would occur in the last days before His return. Scholarship by Robert Hughes and Carl Laney believe that this event has already occurred in A.D. 70. However, the scholarship of Roy Zuck and John Walvoord presents additional options for a later event than that of A.D. 70.

It is interesting to note that Matthew does not record Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question on the dating of the destruction. The answer is found in Luke’s record in Chapter 21 verse 20. “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.” [The New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982)] The account does not give a particular time period or generation so the reader must look at other information concerning this event. The only prophetic information concerning this may be found in Zechariah 14:1–2 which says:

Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, And your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; The city shall be taken, The houses rifled, And the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, But the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city. [The New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982)]

These verses pose a period of destruction against Jerusalem that happens in what Zachariah calls the “Day of the Lord”. Scriptural references to the “Day of the Lord” always refer to the wrath of God; and in this case is the tribulation period. Therefore, Zachariah’s account refers to a destruction of Jerusalem that happens in the last days. This time period is different from the destruction that happened in A.D. 70.

So, how can the reader harmonize the period in which Jesus is talking about when He refers to this great destruction? If the reader puts himself in the shoes of the disciples then the event is future, without a doubt. However, Roy Zuck in his book “A Biblical Theology of the New Testament”, states the following in thinking within the line of though where Jesus references the flood of Genesis 6:

Readers of Genesis 6 may wonder how the destruction of Jerusalem can be compared with the catastrophe of the Flood. But this is the sort of comparison envisioned, as the evocation of Noah’s milieu at Matthew 24:37–39 shows. Even allowing for some metaphorical exaggeration, the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is not easily squared with the description of events which Matthew portrayed. To see that disaster as a prefigurement or an anticipation of a yet future destruction seems more in keeping with the tone of the passage. [Roy B. Zuck, A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 60.]

Keep in mind the discussion concerning these events is in the setting of the end times. The question at hand comes from the possibility to a shift of time or thought between verses 2 and 3 of Matthew 24. If there is no break of time or interruption of thought between those two verses then Jesus’ references to the destruction must be held to the last days. However, if there is a break then there includes the possibility of reference to the A.D. 70 date. Reading the account through Mark, the shift does not appear to be as pronounced as the possibility in Matthew. Beyond that the only difficulty to that conclusion is posed with the prophesy of Zachariah. To harmonize Zachariah with Matthew’s account then the date would refer to the tribulation period.

To conclude the question of date, there was a destruction in A.D. 70, however, Jerusalem will be posed with a fall in the last days.


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