Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Second Coming in Matthew (Part 2)

Matthew 16:27-28; 24:34; 26:64

Delivered 11/25/2012

We are looking at what the Gospel of Matthew has to tell us about the timing of the second coming of Christ. This is an important topic because most of churcheanity is very confused on what the Bible says about this subject. So far we have looked at Matthew 3:1-11, where John the baptizer came on the seen as a prophet of God after 400 years of silence. John's message to first century Israel was one of judgment. This judgment was, in fact, the second coming of Christ. Then we looked at Matthew 10:23, where Yeshua tells the twelve that His coming in judgment will come before they have fled, from persecution, to all the cities in Israel. It is clear that this was to happen in "their" life time! This is a very strong and very clear time reference as to when the second coming was to occur.

The next verses that we come to that tell us when the second coming would occur are found in:

"For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." Matthew 16:27-28 NASB

Who is Yeshua talking to here?

Then Yeshua said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. Matthew 16:24 NASB

Yeshua' audience, in verses 27 and 28, is His disciples. Notice the time reference: "...there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." What is the time reference? When is Yeshua going to come in the glory of His father? It is within the lifetime of those to whom He is speaking.

John MacArthur writes, "That verse could lead you to believe that somewhere in this world are some very old men! What does Christ mean? I believe what Christ was saying can be translated, 'Some of you standing here will see the Son of Man coming in His royal majesty before you die.'"

Is that what Christ said? NO! What he said was:

"For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. Matthew 16:27 NASB

He said He was coming in the glory of His Father with His angels to reward each according to his works, which is speaking of judgment.

John MacArthur sees this as a reference to the transfiguration. The transfiguration took place about a week after Christ uttered these words. But Christ did not say that ALL of His audience would still be living, or that even the majority of them would be. To use such language in speaking of an event barely a week away would be overkill, to say the least. The entire reason for using such a phrase as "some of you standing here shall not taste death" would be to indicate that the event in question would happen before they all died. To say that some of them would be alive in a week is a little ridiculous. There would be no reason to say such a thing at all. And the fact that the word for "some" was used indicates the idea that some, even many, of those present would, in fact, not be included in the group that didn't taste death, meaning simply that many of them would in fact die before that event takes place. By its very nature, the language employed by Christ invalidates this possibility.

It is also highly questionable that the transfiguration was in any way Christ coming in the glory of His father, with His angels, in His kingdom. This can't be referring to the transfiguration, because the verse says it would be a time when every man would be rewarded for their works. That cannot refer to the transfiguration or Pentecost, but it does refer to his second coming, as can be seen from:

"Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. Revelation 22:12 NASB

Compare that with:

"For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. Matthew 16:27 NASB

The word "come" is the Greek word mello, which literally means: "Is about to come" The word is used primarily to indicate the nearness of an event, and means, "to be about to be". Some have tried to water this word down to simply mean, "a certainty," but this is a mistake. The original Greek connotation was more than fact-related; it was a sense of time proximity.

Notice also that in the life time of the disciples to whom Yeshua was speaking, He was going to "...reward each according to his works. When did this happen? At the second coming:

"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Matthew 25:31-34 NASB

Does this sound a lot like Matthew 16:27? The Kingdom itself was the crown jewel, and the New Jerusalem came in fullness with the passing of the old Jewish age at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. At this time the righteous were rewarded, and the wicked were judged:

"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; Matthew 25:41 NASB

Throughout Matthews gospel, Yeshua continually warned the Jews of their coming judgment, because of their apostasy. I believe that most, if not all, of Yeshua' parables deal with the kingdom of God or the destruction of Jerusalem, because of their rejection of that Kingdom:

"Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. Matthew 21:43 NASB
"But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. Matthew 22:7 NASB

Yeshua continues to warn them of a coming judgment, because of their rejection of the Messiah. It is clear that the reference here is to Jerusalem's destruction in A.D. 70:

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. "Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! Matthew 23:37-38 NASB

By "house," he was referring to Jerusalem, and certainly the temple was included. The word "desolate" is the Greek word eremos; it means: "waste, desert, desolate, solitary, or wilderness". The city and the temple were both destroyed in A.D. 70.

Now, you might ask, "Why would the disciples connect the destruction of the temple with Christ's parousia?" The disciples knew the First Testament, and they knew that the destruction of Jerusalem would usher in Messiah's kingdom:

Behold, a day is coming for the LORD when the spoil taken from you will be divided among you. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. You will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him! Zechariah 14:1-5 NASB

In the day of the Lord, Jerusalem is destroyed and the Lord comes with His saints. Also, look at:

"Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. Daniel 9:26 NASB

The disciples believed that the coming of Messiah would be simultaneous with the destruction of the city and the temple.

After pronouncing judgment upon the nation of Israel in the end of Matthew 23, Yeshua and His disciples leave the temple. As they are leaving the temple, Yeshua tells the disciples that the temple shall be completely destroyed;

Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down." Matthew 24:1-2 NASB

In response to this, the disciples ask:

As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" Matthew 24:3 NASB

These are not separate questions that can be divided up into different time-events. The disciples had one thing, and only one thing, on their minds and that was the destruction of the temple. With the destruction of the temple, they connected the coming of Messiah, and the end of the age:

"For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." Matthew 16:27-28 NASB

If you believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant Word of the Living God, then this passage gives a clear either/or, when determining its fulfillment. Either Christ has fulfilled this passage, and His Coming has occurred, or else some of that initial audience is still alive. There is no escaping this in the language used. Anybody familiar with logic knows that when an "if statement" is encountered, it indicates a split passageway, in which one and only one of the results can be followed. In this case - if Christ has not come, then some of the audience must still be alive physically. And conversely - if the entire audience has physically died, then Christ has to have fulfilled this verse and come in glory! If Christ was true to His word, there is no other alternative here! There can be no splitting of the pieces and parts of the fulfillment. It is all or nothing.

Our next time-text is found in Yeshua' "Sermon on the Mount of Olives", commonly known as the "Olivet Discourse". In this discourse, Yeshua is answering the questions that the disciples asked Him on the mount of Olives. After pronouncing judgment upon the nation of Israel in the end of chapter 23, Yeshua and His disciples leave the temple. As they are leaving the temple, Yeshua tells the disciples that the temple shall be completely destroyed: "Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down." In response to this, the disciples ask, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" The disciples viewed the destruction of the temple, the parousia of Christ, and the end of the age as synchronous events. The disciples' question was basically two fold: When will these things happen, and what signs will indicate that they are about to happen? In verses 4-51, Yeshua answers their questions. Please keep this in mind as you read:

"Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Matthew 24:34 NASB

If this language doesn't mean that the things He spoke of are near, it doesn't mean anything.

so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Matthew 24:33 NASB

Our text says, "He is near" and the parallel passage in Luke says:

"So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Luke 21:31 NASB

In our text in Matthew 24:33, He is referring to the full manifestation of the kingdom that would come in power and glory at A.D. 70. So Yeshua is saying that the Kingdom of God is near. Now look at the next verse:

"Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Matthew 24:34 NASB

Three questions need to be answered to understand this verse: Who is Yeshua talking to or Who is the "you"? What exactly does "generation" mean? What does the "all these things" refer to?

The first question we need to answer is "Who is the 'You' in this verse?" It is Yeshua' first century disciples, He is answering their questions.

The next question we need to answer is, What does the "all these things"' refer to? It refers to everything He has been talking about since verse 4. Yeshua told them a number of things that would happen before the end came; the gospel would be preached to all the world v14, He also told them that they would see the "abomination of desolation" that Daniel had spoken of (Luke tells us that this refers to the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem) v15-16, He also told them there would come a time of great tribulation v21, then immediately after the tribulation, they would see the Son of man come in the clouds of heaven:

"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 all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. Matthew 24:29-30 NASB

Yeshua, here, very plainly and very clearly, tells His disciples that ALL of the things He had mentioned would come to pass in THEIR GENERATION. If you study the context, you will see that this includes the gospel being preached in all the world, the abomination of desolation, the great tribulation, and the Second Coming of Christ. This is so clear that it greatly troubles those who hold to a futuristic eschatology. In his essay “The World’s Last Night” C.S. Lewis talking about Matthew 24:34, quotes an objector as saying:

“The apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, 'This generation shall not pass till all these things be done.' And He was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else."

Then Lewis says, “This is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. Yet how teasing, also, that within fourteen words of it should come the statement ‘But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.’ The one exhibition of error and the one confession of ignorance grow side by side.” (Essay"The World's Last Night"(1960), found in The Essential C.S. Lewis, p. 385)

So Lewis says that what Jesus said about “this generation” is embarrassing, and calls it an “error”.  Was Jesus wrong? I can't accept that, can you? Fortunately, Christ did keep His promise to come within the first-century generation. Christ's Second Coming occurred spiritually -- the way He intended it -- at the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. This highly verified historical event signified that sin finally had been atoned forever and that all Christians, from generation to generation, could live eternally -- on earth and in heaven -- without separation from God.

Because of his physical view of the nature of the Second coming, he felt that it hadn't happened yet, and therefore, Yeshua had been wrong. That would be, in fact, much more than embarrassing, it would be devastating to the credibility of Yeshua. If Yeshua was wrong, as Lewis says he was, what else might he have been wrong about? Will those who believe in Him truly have everlasting life? Yeshua wasn't wrong, Lewis was the one who was wrong. We can count on the truthfulness of what Yeshua tells us. Aren't you glad of that?

Others also had trouble with this verse. The New Jerome Commentary says, "This is a troublesome verse." (p. 667) W. Robertson Nicholl (1956), "What is said therein is so perplexing as to tempt a modern expositor to wish it had not been there, or to have recourse to critical expedients to eliminate it from the text." (The Expositor's Greek Testament, p. 294)

This verse doesn't fit into their eschatology, so they would like to eliminate it. This verse is devastating to a futuristic eschatology, so let's examine it carefully and make sure we understand exactly what Yeshua is saying.

The last question that needs to be answered is "What exactly does 'generation' mean?" Generation, in our text, comes from the Greek word genea, (ghen-eh-ah) which means: by implication "an age". In Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, we can see that "genea." means: "The whole multitude of men living at the same time." William F. Arndt and Wilber Gingrich, (A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature) define "genea" as: "basically, the sum total of those born at the same time, expanded to include all those living at a given time. Contemporaries."

If you look at the way Yeshua used the word "generation," I think it will be abundantly clear that it always refers to His contemporaries, the Jewish people of His own period. Let's look at a few of the uses of "generation."

so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. "Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Matthew 23:35-36 NASB

Yeshua is in the temple speaking to the Jews, He says that all the judgment that He had spoken about would come upon them. I don't know of any commentator who understands this as referring to any other than the existing generation.

"For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day. "But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Luke 17:24-25 NASB

What generation did Christ suffer many things from, and what generation rejected Him? It is clear, He is speaking of His contemporaries.

Look at how some of the translations deal with Matthew 24:34:

New English Bible: "I tell you this: the present generation will live to see it all."

Today's English Version: "Remember this! All these things will happen before the people now living have all died."

Moffatt's Translation: "I tell you truly, the present generation will not pass away, till all this happens."

Weymouth's Translation: "I tell you in solemn truth that the present generation will certainly not pass away until all this has taken place."

These translations make it quite clear. The meaning of the word was that of the "present" generation in the time of Christ; not to a future generation thousands of years away. So, in etymology and usage, "generation" means those born at the same time, contemporaries.

Some say, "The generation that sees these signs will not pass away..." That is adding words to the text that are not there. Yeshua uses the near demonstrative "this" generation. Every time "this" is used in the New Testament it always refers to something that is near in terms of time or distance. If I said, "This building" is about to be destroyed. What building am I talking about? You know that I'm referring to the one close to me. The one we are sitting in. But if I said, "That building," I'm referring to one further away, not the one we are in. Yeshua could have said, "That generation." But He didn't! Yeshua is saying that everything that He has spoken about will happen before the generation that He was speaking to would pass away; including the Great Tribulation and His Second Coming.

How long is a generation? John Walvoord said, "A generation is normally from thirty to one hundred years." Now, he is the only one I know of who gives it that broad of a span. Most commentators see a generation as referring to a thirty to forty year time. More important then that, what does the Bible say about the time of a generation? Let's look and see:

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations. Matthew 1:17 NASB

In this genealogical table, we have data to estimate the length of a generation. It tells us that from the captivity in Babylon until Christ are fourteen generations. Now the date of the captivity, in the reign of Zedekiah, is said to be 586 BC. From 586 BC until the birth of Christ would be about 586 years, which, divided by fourteen, makes the average length of a generation about 41 years. This is confirmed in:

DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS, WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me, AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS. "THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, 'THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS'; Hebrews 3:8-10 NASB

Forty years is a significant number in the Bible, the children of Israel wondered in the wilderness for forty years before entering the promise land. The New Testament saints also were in a transition period for forty years before entering the New Jerusalem, which is above. David reigned for forty years. I believe that Christ's reign, from Pentecost to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, was also a forty year reign, which Revelation 20 refers to as the millennial reign of Christ.

Some have tried to twist the etymology of the word "generation" in Matthew 24:34 to make it mean "race,"and try to make Yeshua say that all these things would happen before the "race" of Jews had passed away. By doing this, they think they can expand the time of the second coming by thousands of years. There is no biblical or linguistic justification for such a position. Generation does NOT mean race!

C.I. Scofield, in his Bible's reference to this verse (Matt. 24:34), recognized this, and actually SWITCHED the definition of the word from that of genea to that of genos, which is an entirely different word!

Scofield said, (p. 1034, old edition, Scofield Reference Bible):

Gr. genea, the primary definition of which is, 'race, kind, family, stock, breed.' (So all lexicons.) That the word is used in this sense here is sure because none of 'these things,' the world-wide preaching of the kingdom, the great tribulation, the return of the Lord in visible glory, and the regathering of the elect, occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, A.D. 70. The promise is, therefore, that the generation-- nation, or family of Israel-- will be preserved unto 'these things'; a promise wonderfully fulfilled to this day.

Scofield used the wrong Greek word with his definition. He did so because of his view of the nature of the second coming. Since he felt that these things hadn't happened yet, he had to change the meaning of the word genea.

The following quote by David Chilton is very informative:

Some have sought to get around the force of this text by saying that the word generation here really means race, and that Jesus was simply saying that the Jewish race would not die out until all these things took place. Is that true? I challenge you: Get out your concordance and look up every New Testament occurrence of the word generation (in Greek, genea) and see if it ever means 'race' in any other context. Here are all the references for the Gospels: Matthew 1:17; 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12, 38; 9:19; 13:30; Luke 1:48, 50; 7:31; 9:41; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51;18:8; 17:25; 21:32. Not one of these references is speaking of the entire Jewish race over thousands of years; all use the word in its normal sense of the sum total of those living at the same time. It always refers to contemporaries. In fact, those who say it means "race" tend to acknowledge this fact, but explain that the word suddenly changes its meaning when Yeshua uses it in Matthew 24!

When Yeshua said that "all these things" would occur before that generation was over, He was talking about everything that He had been discussing from verse 4 through verse 33. This included the second coming of Yeshua in power and glory. The disciples' question had been "when will your parousia be", and in verse 34, He tells them it will happen in their generation. It was all to happen while some of those folks to whom He preached were still alive, just as he said they would be in Matthew 10:23 and 16:27-28.

There is one other verse in Matthew that gives us a time reference to the second coming:

But Yeshua kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, "I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God." Yeshua said to him, "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN." Matthew 26:63-64 NASB

Notice verse 64, three times Yeshua uses the personal pronoun "you". Who is He talking to? Verse 63 tells us that it is the high priest, who at the time was Caiaphas. Caiaphas asked Yeshua if He is the Son of God, the Messiah. Yeshua answered Caiaphas by saying that he will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. If Caiaphas saw this, as Yeshua said he would, then it must have happened in his lifetime.

Notice the similarities between Yeshua' answer to Caiaphas and what he said in:

"And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. Matthew 24:30 NASB

Yeshua told Caiaphas, "You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power." He said to His disciples, "They would see the sign that the son of man was in heaven." He told Caiaphas, "You will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven." He told His disciples, "They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." It is obviously the same event in both passages. Notice Caiaphas' response to Yeshua' statement:

Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; Matthew 26:65 NASB

What did Yeshua say that was blasphemy? Caiaphas understood that Yeshua was claiming to be the Messiah. In order to understand what Yeshua is saying, we need to understand the idea that is behind "coming in the clouds."

God's "coming on the clouds of heaven" is a symbolic way of speaking of His presence, judgment and salvation. All through the First Testament God was coming "on clouds," in salvation of His people and judgment of His enemies.

The oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt; The idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence, And the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. Isaiah 19:1 NASB

We know from Isaiah 20 that God used the Assyrians as instruments of His wrath on Egypt, yet it says, "The LORD rides on a swift cloud..., Egypt will totter at His presence." God came to Egypt in judgment. His presence was made known in judgment. But it was the Assyrians who were literally present.

When Yeshua said He would come on the clouds, He was using the apocalyptic language of the prophets to identify Himself as the Messiah, the Judge. Caiaphas reacted the way he did because he knew that only God came on clouds; that was a claim to deity. He knew that Yeshua was claiming to be the Messiah of Daniel 7.

If the Lord's teaching on His second coming doesn't agree with our concept of it, what should we do? We need to change our concepts to line up with His teaching, not twist His words to make them fit our views. This is the Word of God, let's not twist it and distort it, let's simply submit to it.

All prophecy was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in the life time of the generation to which Yeshua spoke. We live in what the Bible calls, the age to come. We live in the heavenly Jerusalem, the new heaven and earth, which is the new covenant. Understanding this is crucial to correctly interpreting the New Testament. You can't interpret it properly if you don't know what time it is.

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