Blog Archives

Matthew 24: A Very Misunderstood Passage

Matthew 24 is called the Olivet Discourse. It is Jesus’ own discussion of eschatology and is often the center of criticism. In this sermon, Jesus makes the single most controversial prediction of his earthly ministry: he predicts the end of the age and says that it will occur within the lifetime of his hearers.

Obviously, we’re still here so many contend that this prediction didn’t come true. Faced with that dilemma, the leading prophecy experts (Tim LaHaye, Thomas Ice, and others) say that “generation” doesn’t refer to Jesus’ hearers at all but some far distant generation.

I read LaHaye’s book Are We Living in the End Times? (Tyndale House Publishers, 2000) many moons ago. I didn’t know anything about prophecy and only a tiny bit about hermeneutics. If I knew then what I know now, I would have realized just how poorly LaHaye’s arguments are constructed. Let’s focus just on the issue at hand: did Jesus predict that the hearers of his prophecy in Matthew 24 would see the fulfillment?

LaHaye answers that with an emphatic no. Through some hideously complicated eisegesis, LaHaye argues that “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 isn’t the hearers of Jesus’ message, but the generation alive when Israel is reformed as a nation. That happened in 1948. A biblical generation is around 30 years. Obviously, 1978 also came and went and LaHaye recognizes and addresses that problem. He says that “generation” refers to the length of the generation at the time in history when Israel reforms. People are living a lot longer nowadays and therefore 50 to 100 years from 1948 is the more likely timeframe.

Standard biblical hermeneutics teaches that the first consideration in understanding a passage is the audience to whom it is directed. Ask, “How would this audience have interpreted Jesus’ words?” And with that in mind, there is no other conclusion that you can possibly come to: Jesus meant that his hearers would see the fulfillment of his prophecy.

Again, since we are still here, that interpretation seems to present a serious problem for Christianity. After all, I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness because the founder of that organization made numerous failed prophecies. It would be a double standard to say that I reject a religion purporting the same basic message as Christianity on the basis of a failed prophecy by its founder if I excuse Christianity’s Ultimate Founder on his failed prophecy.

The trick is that Jesus isn’t a failed prophet. Let’s start at the beginning of the Olivet Discourse to find out why Jesus isn’t a failure. Read the rest of this entry