"So shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (Matthew 24:37).
 

11

The Olivet Solution

One day Jesus sat down on the Mount of Olives and the disciples came up to Him and asked about His second coming. Jesus revealed to them signs that would precede His coming, including the Great Tribulation, and He told them of His coming with power and great glory after the tribulation. Jesus concluded this portion of the discourse in an unexpected way. He said of His coming, "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matthew 24:36). "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (Matthew 25:13).

Doesn't it seem strange that the strongest statements of imminency in the entire Bible occur in this post-tribulational context? It is very puzzling after what we learned in chapter two that believers can count 1260 days from the abomination of desolation to the return of Christ. Is this a contradiction? Is the Olivet Discourse an insoluble riddle? Or can we find a solution?

 

THE OLIVET PROBLEM

These statements of imminency have been a "hot potato" for pre-tribulationists to handle. They have faced the embarrassing choice of being accused of interrupting the flow of the context by saying that they refer to the beginning of the tribulation or of ignoring them altogether by depending on other and weaker verses for their doctrine of imminency. The latter choice is like running from the ocean in order to dive into a bucket, and the first choice is like trying to turn a mule around who doesn't want to be turned around.

For post-tribulationists the Olivet Discourse has been a fortress, for they are pleased to see that surprise can fit into a post-tribulational setting. Yet there is a crack in that fortress because they are hard put to explain the outright contradiction of the unknown day when Daniel and Revelation give the exact day.

Both sides, then, face a problem.

 

Horns of a dilemma

 

I myself faced this dilemma for quite awhile without any solution in sight. If I grabbed one horn, the bull would jab me with his other horn. On the one hand, I had to believe that the day of the post-tribulational return could be calculated because Daniel and Revelation said so. At the same time the post-tribulational context in Matthew 24 pressed down upon me with increasing force. I felt I was facing a brick wall. Why does God give us problems like this? He gives us problems to cause us to seek Him, to meditate, to dig a little deeper. Several times while researching this subject I have faced a brick wall. It was those occasions which led to the greatest discoveries.

So as I faced the problem of the Olivet Discourse, I sought an answer from God. After the answer came it seemed so simple that I wondered what had been so hard about it. I laughed at myself for not knowing it long before.

 

The Precedent. A similar dilemma faced the Jews of Old Testament times. They looked at passages in which two irreconcilable prophecies were woven together. Would the Messiah come suffering or would He come ruling? Who would ever dream that He would come twice, once to suffer and once to rule! Imagine the debates that could have gone on, each side trying to interpret it their way at the expense of the data on the other side. Then Jesus came and opened the Scriptures and made it clear.

Much of prophecy has double reference. This is a recognized and common rule of interpretation for the Old Testament. If for the Old, why not for the New? When we come to Matthew 24–25 maybe we can save ourselves a lot of argument if we will let this prophecy be like much other prophecy. Perhaps we can tackle the bull if we grab both horns. The perfect solution to the problem would be to let "the coming of the Son of man" refer at the same time to the post-trib and the pre-trib coming.

Double reference in Old Testament prophecy is readily accepted. Is double reference accepted in New Testament prophecy also? Yes, a passage that is generally agreed to have double reference is Luke 21:12–24 (part of the Olivet Discourse, by the way). In that passage the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 prefigures the destruction of Jerusalem during the tribulation. Therefore, we cannot limit double reference prophecy to the Old Testament. It happens in the New also.

When it first hit me that the solution to Matthew 24 might be double reference, I said to myself, "I must run back to Matthew 24 and read it again. I've got to check it out to see if it's really true or not."

 

The Clue. I grabbed my Bible and reread the illustration of the days of Noah very carefully (verses 37–42). In this illustration Jesus compares the surprise of His coming to the surprise of the flood. "And [they] knew not until the flood came, and took them all away ... watch, therefore; for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come." When I read that I noticed a strange incongruity. Do you see it too? How strange that believers should be compared, not to Noah, but to the wicked. "They knew not ... Ye know not." I had read this many times before without being struck by this riddle. But now I was baffled.

Then I saw that it was more than a riddle; it was a clue. It was a clue to a whole new way of looking at Matthew 24.

But I am getting ahead of my story. First I want to back up and talk about the "fig tree" and "this generation" which occur earlier in Matthew 24.

 

DO MODERN EVENTS HELP US DATE THE RAPTURE?

The Fig Tree. Look at these verses:

Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors (Matthew 24:32–33).

What does the fig tree represent? Does it represent the nation Israel? What does the putting forth leaves represent? Does it speak of Israel's becoming a nation in 1948? Does the budding of the fig tree mean that we can approximate the time of the rapture? How can we know the correct interpretation?

Jesus gives the interpretation, and this should erase all doubt as to the meaning. Jesus says the putting forth of leaves represents the coming to pass of "all these things." What are "all these things"? The very things He has just spoken of, namely events to occur during the tribulation period. Read Matthew 24 and see if Jesus speaks of Israel's becoming a nation. I can't find it. Jesus does speak of the "beginning of sorrows" and the "great tribulation." These two time periods, I tend to believe, form the two halves of the seven-year tribulation. Whether or not you agree with this, one thing remains clear: Jesus never spoke of Israel becoming a nation. So there is no contextual basis for reading the nationhood of Israel in the fig leaves. Safety of interpretation comes only by sticking to Jesus' own interpretation.

One may object that if the nationhood of Israel is not in the context, then it finds its basis from other Scripture. Well, all it takes to answer that is a little counting. Remember, a concordance is a Bible student's best friend. If you were to consult your best friend and count the references, you would discover that the fig tree stands for Israel only one-tenth of the times it is used in the Bible. Furthermore, even the few verses where the fig tree does stand for the nation, not one of them supports the idea that the leaves represent Israel's becoming a nation.

Consider also, the parallel passage in Luke 21:29. From it we learn that Jesus is not singling out the fig tree over any other tree, because He is actually referring to "all the trees." This should disperse any idea of one particular symbol for Israel being on Jesus' mind. According to Luke 21:31 the fig tree signals the kingdom of God (millennium), not the pre-trib rapture.

What do the leaves of the fig tree represent? They represent the coming to pass of "all these things" that Jesus has spoken of earlier in Matthew 24. Notice the word "all." It reads not, "When you see these things begin to come to pass." No, not the beginning, not some of these things, but when you see all these things, then the fig tree has budded, then you know the end is near. Have you seen the abomination of desolation? If not, then you haven't seen the fig tree bud.

If the rapture were a hundred years away, that future generation would still see "all these things" that Jesus listed in Matthew 24. From the little word "all" to the broad context in Matthew 24, the budding of the fig tree refers to the tribulation events Jesus has named, not to some event in 1948.

Can we approximate the time of the rapture by watching the fig tree? No, the fig tree will bud after we are gone. I don't want to be around to watch "all these things" which Jesus spoke of. I hope I am raptured before that.

 

This Generation. Then consider these verses:

Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away (Matthew 24:34–35).

What does "this generation" mean? Does it mean the generation living which sees these signs? Or does it mean the people of Israel? The former interpretation defines a generation as 30, 40, or 70 years. The latter interpretation allows the generation (or people) of Israel to span the centuries. Which is correct? Both meanings are theoretically possible for the Greek word "generation." But which meaning makes sense in this context?

Does a generation of 30 or 40 years make sense? If Jesus meant a generation of 30 or 40 years dated from the time of the signs (which are tribulation signs, remember), then Jesus would be saying, "Thirty or forty years shall not pass before seven years of tribulation passes." This does not make sense.

It does make sense, though, to say that the people of Israel will not pass from the earth until all the things promised her have been fulfilled. She will not be wiped out by her enemies; she will survive until God finally gathers her from the four corners of the earth into her own land in peace and prosperity.

Not only does the latter interpretation make more sense to us, but it would have made more sense to the disciples who were listening. Rather than being concerned about a far-off generation which watches end-time events, they were concerned about the national promises to Israel. They became concerned when Jesus told them the temple would be demolished so that not one stone would be left upon another. If the temple would pass away, what would happen to God's promises to Israel? This made them ask about His coming (which they knew would involve a restoration of the temple and of the nation). The disciples' questions arose out of concern for their people, and so they would understand when Jesus responded, "This line of people shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."

This interpretation not only makes more sense in the context, but it better suits the grammar. "This" generation points to something close at hand, namely, the existing nation. If a far-off generation were intended, more likely the word would have been "that" generation. The demonstrative pronoun is the tipoff.

For more confirmation we can go to the following verse (verse 35) which illustrates and illuminates the meaning. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." Such a grand statement is more fitting to guarantee the security of a people. The line of people is more secure than "heaven and earth." "My words shall not pass away" corresponds to the sure promises to that people.

 

 

Israel's Guarantee

Verse 34

This generation (line of people) shall not pass,

till all these things be fulfilled.

Verse 35

Heaven and earth shall pass away,

but my words shall not pass away. 

 

The Greek language has another word which means "nation." This made me wonder why Jesus didn't say "nation" instead of "generation" if that is what He meant. Perhaps "nation" wouldn't fit because the nation as a political unit did pass away—they had no nation of Israel for centuries—but the line, the stock of people, continued on.

Why do we say all this about the "fig tree" and "this generation"? Because we want to show that the rapture cannot be dated. Some zealous and well-meaning Christians try to predict the rapture using the budding of the fig tree and calculating a generation of years. Various calculations use various starting points and various lengths of generations, showing that the entire speculation is not on solid ground.

Interpreting from the context before and after and on all sides, the fig tree buds after the rapture and "this generation" refers to the people of Israel rather than to a period of 30, 40, or 70 years. This means we cannot calculate the time of the rapture. It will come as a surprise.

(Perhaps in a secondary sense, "this generation" refers to the forty years from the time of Christ to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. If so, this would answer the disciples' question about when the temple would be destroyed. But because of the connection of verses—or disconnection—I cannot tell if this is the case.)

 

What About "Signs of the Times"? If the fig tree has not yet budded, then of what significance is 1948 when Israel became a nation? That event sets the stage for the drama of the tribulation. Since we know that during the tribulation Israel will be a nation in their land, it can be argued that Israel must become a nation before the tribulation. On the other hand, it could be argued that the covenant between antichrist and Israel at the beginning of the tribulation (Daniel 9:27) could itself signal the forming of the nation. As long as the latter option was possible, there was nothing to say that Israel had to become a nation before the tribulation. However, God chose to let it happen ahead of time.

Some claim that the recapture of Jerusalem in 1967 was a fulfillment of Luke 21:24. However, Jerusalem will be overrun by Gentiles again during the tribulation (Revelation 11:2). This means that Luke 21:24 is not yet fulfilled, and it means that we cannot look to Luke 21:24 for a "pre-tribulational sign."

What about the other "signs of the times" like earthquakes and famines? Are they not increasing today? A certain pastor told me how he figured this out. Some books he read said that no sign whatsoever comes before the rapture. Other books said that we have "signs of the times" to tell us the rapture is approaching. Which was right? Signs or no signs? Well, this pastor said he sat back in his chair, wiggled his toes, and thought, "Technically speaking, the 'signs' belong to the tribulation period, but some signs 'slop over' into the church age. What some call 'signs of the times' are really a slopping over of tribulation signs." I think he's right. God is giving us a foretaste of what is to come. No signs are necessary before the rapture, but God in His mercy allows His bride to see some signs making her more eager for the meeting in the air.

Perhaps another sign "slopping over" into this age is the gift of tongues. When the disciples spoke in tongues in Acts two, what Biblical support did Peter offer for speaking in tongues? Joel 2:28–32. However, Joel 2:28–32, strictly speaking, is not to be fulfilled until the millennium because that is when the Spirit shall be poured out upon "all flesh." Historically, tongues have ceased according to 1 Corinthians 13:8. But if the millennial sign of tongues could spill over into Peter's time, then if tongues are reappearing today (as the nation of Israel has reappeared), it may also be a spilling over of millennial prophecy, showing us that the time is near. Of course, tongues should be used to build up the body of Christ, not to tear it apart.

At any rate, these signs give no time indication in terms of years; they merely tell us that the time is approaching. Personally, I think He will come soon. But I don't want you to be discouraged if He comes later than we expect.

He might come sooner than we expect. We cannot guess the time of the rapture. It comes in surprise. Remember this, because it is one key which unlocks the mystery of the Olivet problem.

 

THE RIDDLE OF NOAH

Now we are ready to return to our riddle about Noah. Study this passage closely and then we will consider some questions.

But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not [they knew not, in Greek] until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.... Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come (Matthew 24:37–39,42).

Let me ask you a couple questions first, before I ask you a stumper.

Question one, the flood victims. Who do the flood victims represent? Jesus relates this illustration in order to make a comparison to the end times; so the flood victims must represent someone in the end times. Who? Remember the context. Jesus has been talking about the tribulation, and He told about His return after the tribulation. In this context, who do the flood victims represent?

The flood victims correspond to unbelievers who are destroyed at Christ's return. Just as the flood destroyed unbelievers of old, so Christ's return will destroy unbelievers of the end times. Just as the flood took those unbelievers by surprise, so Christ's return will take these unbelievers by surprise. This is obvious from the context, even to post-tribs, and it also harmonizes with Luke 17 where, as you recall, the flood represented Christ's return after the tribulation rather than the tribulation itself.

 

Question two, Noah. If the flood victims represent unbelievers during the tribulation, then who does Noah represent? Believers during the tribulation. This accords with Luke 17 where Noah represents tribulation saints.

 

Flood victims represent tribulation unbelievers

Noah represents tribulation saints

 

Question three, the stumper. Why does Jesus compare the disciples to the flood victims instead of to Noah? It doesn't fit. Are the disciples unbelievers? Will they be destroyed? Then why are they compared to the flood victims? Why not compare them to Noah? If Noah represents tribulation saints, then surely the disciples ought to be compared to Noah if the disciples represent tribulation saints. How do the disciples fit into the picture? Which category do they fall into?

 

Into which category will you put the disciples?

Flood victims

Unbelievers

Noah

Tribulation saints

 

Quite a stumper, isn't it? Neither category seems to fit. The disciples don't fall into the category of unbelievers. Yet Jesus refrains from putting them into the category of Noah.

The solution is quite simple. The disciples form a third category namely, church saints who will be raptured before the tribulation. Instantly the riddle dissolves. Now, instead of forcing the interpretation where it doesn't fit, the interpretation fits as naturally as a baby in a cradle.

Watch.

 

Surprised, But Safe. The disciples are like flood victims in one respect—they are surprised. The disciples are like Noah in another respect—they are safe. The disciples are unlike the flood victims, because the flood victims are unbelievers. The disciples are unlike Noah, because Noah knew the day the catastrophe would come (Genesis 7:4).

Therefore the disciples have similarities and dissimilarities to both groups, but they fit perfectly a third group, namely church saints who are surprised but safe. This diagram shows how the characteristics of all three groups easily fall into place without forcing one word of Scripture:

 

Three groups, some surprised, some safe

 

The arrows depict the destination of each group. Looking at the diagram you can see how easily the disciples fit into the category of church saints, and they cannot be stuffed into either of the other two categories, even with a very large shoehorn.

Why did Jesus compare the disciples to the flood victims instead of to Noah? Because Jesus wanted to illustrate surprise, and Noah was not surprised. Noah knew the day, just as tribulation saints will know the day. We will not know, and so, believe it or not, in one respect we are like unbelievers—we both will be surprised. Yes, unbelievers will be surprised because they will be deceived by antichrist and they will not be counting the days.

Because Jesus is coming in surprise for the church, He told us to "watch" (verse 42). "Watch" is in the present tense and the intended sense is, "Be continually watching now." This kind of command has force under pre-tribulationism, but a post-trib could more easily be tempted to say to himself, "I will not watch now; I will wait until the tribulation begins, to start watching." Watching now is confirmed by the reason for watching, "for ye know not what hour..." This implies that it could be any day now rather than implying that it could not yet be any of these days.

Why did Jesus not compare the disciples to Noah? We would expect Him to make the comparison to Noah, because Noah was saved and protected from wrath, but Jesus could not make the comparison to him because Noah knew seven days ahead of time, and Jesus was illustrating surprise. If the prophecy were single in viewpoint, then the disciples would have been compared to Noah, for church saints and tribulation saints would be one and the same and so the comparison would be made between the two. But since there are two different saved groups (one knowing and one not knowing) and since there are two different groups not knowing (one saved and one not saved), Jesus is giving the prophecy from a double viewpoint. The double viewpoint illuminates the comparisons and apparent contradictions, while the single viewpoint is stuck with disjointed comparisons and insoluble contradictions. How many times have we all read this passage before, not noticing the inconsistency that arises from the single viewpoint?

Am I trying to make all the details fit too perfectly? Maybe the illustration of Noah wasn't meant to fit like a hand in a glove. After all, this is a historical illustration and there aren't that many historical illustrations that Jesus could choose from. Even though He was the Master Teacher, maybe He couldn't think of a perfectly appropriate illustration and this was the best He could come up with.

With a historical illustration maybe He would have a limited repertoire to choose from, but what about the next illustration? It is not a historical illustration—it is one that Jesus designed from scratch so that it would suit His purpose to a tee. Why does it follow the same pattern as the Noah illustration? In fact Jesus gives not just one illustration, nor two illustrations, but three illustrations, and they all follow the same pattern.

 

THE RIDDLE OF THE GOODMAN

But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh (Matthew 24:43–44).

Ready for another quiz? A couple of easy questions first. Jesus said if the goodman had known he would have watched. This implies that if the goodman did not know he would not have watched. We have, therefore, two hypothetical goodmen.

 

Goodman #1

knows and watches

Goodman #2

knows not and watches not

 

First question, who does goodman number one represent? What end-time group knows and watches? Tribulation saints.

Second question, who does goodman number two represent? What end-time group knows not and watches not? Unbelievers.

Now for the stumper. Which goodman are you? Stop reading for a minute and ponder it.

Are you goodman number one? Surely you are watching for the Lord's return, but do you know the hour? No, you can't be goodman number one.

Are you goodman number two? Surely you know not the hour, but are you not watching? No, you can't be goodman number two.

What's the solution to the riddle? You are neither. You form a third category, namely church saints who know not the hour, yet watch.

 

Goodman #1

knows and watches

tribulation saints

Goodman #2

knows not and watches not

unbelievers

Disciples

know not and watch

church saints

 

Or, to diagram it another way:

 

Three groups, some know, some watch

 

The three groups follow the same pattern as the Noah illustration. Coincidence? Or design?

To our delight the double-reference interpretation dissolves the riddles and solves the problem of the known day versus the unknown day. With two groups of redeemed people in mind, the apparent contradiction between the known day and the unknown day disappears, and the incongruities within Matthew 24 vanish. "Be ye (church saints) also (like tribulation saints) ready." If tribulation saints are ready because they know, then how much more should we constantly be ready because we do not know.

Sometimes people try to talk me out of the double-reference interpretation of Matthew 24. Somehow they think that this is a fanciful interpretation with no foundation in the text. Well, just look at the text and see what it says. According to verse 43, why does the goodman watch? Because he knows. According to verse 44, why do the disciples watch? Because they know not. The text gives two opposite reasons for watching! How can this be? Even if the unknown day had not conflict with Daniel and Revelation, we would still face this discrepancy within the illustration itself. It makes no sense unless there are two redeemed groups who watch for opposite reasons. All I am doing is noticing what is right there in the text, and all I am asking of my brothers and sisters in Christ is that they notice what is right there in the text.

 

THE RIDDLE OF THE VIRGINS

The parable of the virgins (Matthew 25:1–13), amazingly enough, follows the identical pattern of the Noah illustration and the goodman illustration. The double-reference interpretation fits snugly and comfortably, not only one way, or two ways, but in three ways.

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterwards came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

Let me ask you a couple easy questions first. The five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins are waiting to attend the wedding. Who do the five wise virgins represent? They represent tribulation saints. Remember, we are saying within the framework of the context which places these illustrations in a tribulational time setting.

Second question, who do the foolish virgins represent? The bridegroom says to them, "I know you not." So the foolish virgins must be unbelievers.

Now, into which category do the disciples fit? Not the foolish virgins. How about the wise virgins? Are the disciples like the wise virgins waiting to attend the wedding? Well, yes and no. The disciples will be at the wedding all right, but not as attendants. They are the bride! You and I are not virgins who attend the wedding, we are the bride at the wedding. If this parable were talking about the rapture of the bride, we might entitle it, "The Case of the Missing Bride."

Therefore, neither category fits the disciples perfectly, but the double-reference fits perfectly because it recognizes two groups of redeemed people.

 

Three groups, some wise, some virgins

 

The illustration of the virgins carries a different twist to it, because it dwells not so much on knowing or not knowing, but it emphasizes readiness or preparedness. Perhaps this is why it stands separate from Noah and the goodman instead of following immediately after them.

 

wise virgins

ready

attend wedding

foolish virgins

not ready

miss wedding

disciples

ready

bride at wedding

 

Some have said that the virgins represent the church because the church is called a "virgin" in 2 Corinthians 11:2. Others have said the virgins represent Israel because Israel is called a "virgin" in Jeremiah 18:13. But "virgin" in these verses is singular, not plural. Is the church ten virgins? Or are there ten Israels? No, rather than representing Israel or the church, the parable of the virgins depicts people in general living during the tribulation, saved and unsaved, Jew or Gentile. This interpretation avoids the oddity of the church being made up of multiple virgins, it allows the foolish virgins to be unsaved ("I know you not"), and it matches the illustrations of Noah and the goodman which depict the saved and the unsaved of the tribulation.

Viewing the bride and her attendants as two different groups harmonizes with common sense and with other Scripture. Just as we saw that a period of time following the rapture is to call out a righteous people to populate the millennium, so God has a period of time following the receiving of the bride in order to call out the bride's attendants. These are "the virgins her companions that follow her" (Psalms 45:14). The "friends of the bridegroom" are Old Testament saints (John 3:29). In this way the wedding is completely furnished—friends, bride, and attendants; none are missing, but all have their counterparts in real life as prophecy is fulfilled.

 

REMAINING QUESTIONS

We have surveyed the double-reference interpretation of the Olivet Discourse. More remains to be said, however, and several questions need to be answered. Let's handle the rest of the material in question and answer form.

 

Question: How Do I Separate the Double References? Does it all seem too fuzzy? Too blurred? Is the distinction between church saints and tribulation saints too hard to separate as you read through the passage? Then let me give you a practical hint that will help you to see it at a glance.

Take a pen and bracket Matthew 24:37–39 in your Bible. Beside the bracket write "tribulation illustration." Now bracket verse 42. (Verses 40–41 we will discuss later on.) Beside it write "church application." Also bracket verse 43 as "tribulation illustration and bracket verse 44 as "church application." Finally bracket 25:1–12 as "tribulation illustration" and bracket verse 13 as "church application."

Now you can see that it is not mixed up. It follows a pattern. Actually it is easier for you to distinguish the double references than it was for Old Testament saints to distinguish their double references. The reason for this we discussed in our chapter on 2 Thessalonians.

When Jesus gave a "tribulation illustration" and a "church application" He was simply doing what preacher do every Sunday when they preach. You've heard the preacher as he tells a story from the Bible and then he concludes with, "Now this is what it means for you." He's taking the ancient story and applying it to modern life. You in the pew have no trouble separating the story from the application.

Jesus did identically. He first told the story about Noah. From that story He made application to the disciples. He first told the parable of the goodman. From that He drew an application to the disciples. He first told the parable of the virgins. From that, application.

All the way through the two parts are clearly distinguished. You can separate the double references of the Olivet Discourse just as easily as you can separate the application from the preacher's story.

 

Question: How Does it Fit the Context? I share the concern of many to remain strictly within the context and to do nothing whatsoever to injure the time-setting of the Olivet Discourse. Matthew 24:29 says "after the tribulation." That time-setting governs the illustrations which follow. The illustrations of Noah, the goodman, and the virgins all fall into the context of "after the tribulation."

This being so, how can I get a church reference out of a post-tribulational context? Am I not reading something into the text that is not there?

The answer is simple. I see no church reference whatsoever in the illustrations of Noah, the goodman, and the virgins. These three illustrations remain strictly within the post-tribulational context. The references to the church come in the applications following the illustrations, and nothing is more natural than a preacher drawing such applications to his hearers.

 

Illustration of Noah

This primary reference preserves the tribulational context.

Application to church

This secondary reference preserves the unknown day.

 

In this way we fully satisfy the demands of the context. Nothing is wrenched out of place, twisted, or distorted, but it all fits naturally.

Let me go even further. The double-reference interpretation has a stronger view of the context than post-tribulationism does. Surprising? I'll show you why. Jesus says, "The flood came and took them all away." We allow this statement its full force. Just as all the flood victims were taken away, so all the wicked of the end times will be taken away. We allow the illustration full correspondence with the end times just as Jesus intended it.

In contrast, post-tribulationists have a lack of correspondence to the end times. They cannot allow all the wicked to be destroyed as all the flood victims were destroyed. According to their scheme some wicked would have to survive to populate the millennium. In this way post-tribs muffle the comparison. The flood victims do not provide a true or a full comparison.

Rather than squelching the context, we are happy to allow the post-tribulational context its full force.

 

Question: Why Did Jesus Give Three Illustrations? He gave three so that we would be sure to get the point, to be ready for His return. They reinforce each other. I am glad He gave three so that I would be three times as sure of the double-reference interpretation. The strength of the double-reference interpretation is that it can handle all three illustrations in one swoop because they all follow the same pattern. The weakness of other interpretations is that they cannot come up with a unified explanation for the riddles each illustration presents. If they even try to answer the riddles at all, they might be able to juggle around an assortment of explanations hodgepodge style. But why try to juggle three balls with one hand, unless you're a juggling artist instead of an exegete?

The three illustrations reinforce each other, but also one builds upon the other in a progression of thought. The illustration of Noah and the flood teaches surprise. The illustration of the goodman teaches readiness in light of that surprise. And the parable of the virgins teaches advance readiness.

 

Question: Do Other Gospels Contain Double Reference? If Matthew's Gospel contains double reference, then what about other Gospels? Do they contain similar double references? Yes. What I learned from Matthew 24 helped me to understand Luke 12. For a long time I was puzzled by an incongruity in Luke 12:36, a riddle if you please. As you recall, this passage places Christ's return after the wedding processional, and it tells us to be like men who wait for His return after the wedding.

And ye yourselves [be] like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.

My puzzlement was this: I thought I was waiting for the wedding, the rapture. How could I be around to wait for His return after the wedding?

Double reference solves the riddle.

I am not one of those men who wait for His return after the wedding. I am merely like those men in that I, like them, am ready and waiting. Again the application does not fit the illustration unless we recognize that two distinct groups are in view. Church saints wait for the wedding, tribulation saints wait for His return after the wedding. This interpretation accepts the precise wording of the text as well as dissolving the riddle.

To help you remember this, bracket Luke 12:35–39 in your Bible (this includes the illustration of the goodman also), and label this "tribulation illustration." Then bracket verse 40 as "church application."

 

 

"the coming of the Son of man"

 

for tribulation saints

upon tribulation wicked

for church saints

 

primary reference

secondary application

Noah and the flood victims

knew and safe

knew not and destroyed

know not but safe

goodman of the house

knew and watched

knew not and watched not

know not but watch

wise and foolish virgins

ready

not ready

ready but bride

men waiting

ready after wedding

 

ready before wedding

 

The remarkable feature is that the third group in each case is distinct from either of the first two groups. Either Jesus was poor in making His conclusions fit the illustration or else He had something different in mind that what we had noticed before.

Another case of double reference is Mark 13 because it addresses the church after talking about the tribulation.

For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning. Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch (Mark 13:34–37).

This illustration follows a different pattern; so for a post-trib this is no proof. But for those of us who are already pre-trib, we must see this as applying to the church because the time commences from when the Son of man leaves. This plants the illustration squarely in the church age.

  

Question: Can Christ Return at "Any Moment"? To disprove the idea that Christ can return at "any moment" post-tribulationists have argued that He could not have returned during the first few years of the church's existence. Time was needed for Peter to grow old and die (John 21:18–19), time was needed to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20), and similar arguments.

How do I answer these arguments? I don't really need to answer them because I do not depend on the "any-moment" doctrine. The Bible does not say that Christ will return at "any moment." All it says is that He will return "at an hour when ye think not." Suppose it is true that He could not have come during the first generation of the church. What difference does it make now? Whenever He does come, He still will come "at an hour when ye think not." Maybe He could not have come at "any moment" during the first generation, but that does not prevent Him from surprising us in this generation.

 

Question: Can Noah Apply to Church Saints? We have explained that Noah represents tribulation saints. Can Noah also represent church saints who are raptured before the tribulation?

Maybe.

It is true that we are like Noah in safety, but Matthew 24 does not draw the comparison. As we have seen, Matthew 24 keeps Noah in a strict tribulational context. So he represents tribulation saints primarily, but if Noah represents church saints by secondary application we have to go to other Scripture, outside of Matthew 24, to find it.

In our chapter on Luke 17 we saw that "the day that Noah entered into the ark" refers not only to the end of the tribulation, but it also covers the entire period (Luke 17:26–31). It is all one day of entering the ark as far as God is concerned. If the seven years are one day from the rapture to the revealing, and if the "day that Noah entered into the ark" includes the rapture, then Noah himself can apply to the saints raptured. This is an inference based upon the use of "day" in Luke 17:31. (If this inference is correct, it is evidence that the tribulation begins the same day as the rapture.)

Genesis 7 tells the story of Noah. In Genesis 7:1 God says to Noah, "Come." This reminds us of the "come" of Revelation 4:1 which appears to be a veiled representation of the rapture, and the "come" of Revelation 11:12 which is a rapture-type event. Then God says His purpose is "to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth" (Genesis 7:3). We have seen in chapter three that the pre-trib rapture followed by the calling out of saints during the tribulation is for the purpose of keeping a righteous seed alive upon the earth to populate the millennium.

Then God says, "For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain ... and Noah went ... into the ark ... and it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth" (excerpts from Genesis 7:4–10). Likewise, church saints respond to the "come" seven years before the destruction. The Genesis account thus far sounds like Noah entered the ark seven days before the flood, and we would never think otherwise if the passage stopped here.

But a second account follows (Genesis 7:11–16) which shows that Noah actually entered the ark on the very day the flood began (implying that he was loading the ark for the seven days). Thus God inspired Moses to write a double account which fits a two-fold application of Noah. The first account envisions raptured saints and the second tribulation saints. Either the double Genesis account is a coincidence, or else God planned it that way.

 

Question: Do Some Know When the Thief Comes? As we mentioned in our chapter on First Thessalonians, Christ's coming as a thief is a post-trib figure rather than a pre-trib figure. Accordingly, the illustration of the goodman and the thief here in Matthew 24 occurs in a post-tribulational context. The question comes, "Does not the figure of the thief imply surprise? Doesn't this prove that tribulation saints will not know the day of Christ's return?"

The thief does come in surprise, but not all are surprised by the thief. Some know when the thief will come. "If the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched" (Matthew 24:43). Do tribulation saints know only the "watch" (general time), but not the "hour" (specific time)? No, for Luke 12:39 says, "If the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched."

Therefore, those watching do know when the thief comes.

 

Question: Who Is the Servant? In the Olivet Discourse we have two parables about servants. How do they fit into our interpretation?

In Matthew 24:45–51 we have a faithful servant and an evil servant. The evil servant meets the post-trib coming. This is clear because he is cast into hell, and no one is cast into hell at the pre-trib coming. "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The word "there" is an adverb pointing to the place of punishment, namely hell. "There" looks like part of the verb as it is written in English, but in Greek it is clear that it means "there—in that place of punishment."

When I consciously sin, often I am guilty of the same attitude as that evil servant who said, "My lord delayeth his coming." I am tempted to reason this way: "The Lord has waited these many years; the chances are He will delay a little longer while I commit this sin."

This is the very attitude that Jesus teaches against. We should not use His delay as an excuse to sin. Of course, the evil servant was unsaved and went to hell, and if I am saved that is all the more reason I should have no part of that wicked attitude. Saved people should not act like unsaved people.

The evil servant meets the post-trib coming, but who is the faithful servant? Does he meet the pre-trib or the post-trib coming? This is not clear. The servant's duty and reward fits either church saints or tribulation saints. Jesus talks as though anyone can be that faithful servant. But if it is double reference I cannot prove it as I can the other three illustrations.

In the parable of the servants and the talents (Matthew 25:14–30) we have more to go on. The time span is from when the Lord leaves to when He returns to cast the wicked into hell, from the time the Lord's feet leave the Mount of Olives until the time His feet touch the Mount of Olives. This offers no proof to post-tribulationists, but to pre-tribulationists it shows that this parable covers the church age and the tribulation period. This makes the parable have double reference simply because it spans both time periods.

The first parable of the servant stresses continual readiness while the parable of the servants and the talents teaches how to be ready for the Lord's coming. Readiness means doing the job God gives us to do, thoroughly, faithfully, no matter how small a job it is. Being faithful each moment will not save us, but it is a way of readiness for those already saved (Ephesians 2:8–10).

 

Question: Who Is the One Taken and the One Left? After Jesus gives the illustration of Noah and the flood, He says,

Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left (Matthew 24:40–41).

Who is the one taken? Who is the one left? I've seen it argued both ways. We can say that Noah was taken into the ark and the rest were left to drown. Or we can say that the flood victims were taken away and Noah was left to live on the earth. The context can go either way. Which is right? Are the righteous or the wicked taken?

The definition of "taken" can go either way also. In the Greek it is a compound word which means "take along" or "take with." This fits the taking of the saints along with Christ at the rapture. It also fits the taking of the wicked along with the "angel-reapers" to cast them into the winepress of the wrath of God. Elsewhere in the New Testament the word is used in both the good sense and the bad sense. So the definition of the word can go either way. Which is right?

One might argue that the word "took" in verse 39 (the flood "took" them all away) is a different Greek word than "taken" in verse 40 ("one shall be taken"). "Took" in verse 39 means "take up" or "take away." If you wanted to argue from this word you could say that the wicked are "taken away" after the tribulation or you could say that the saints are "taken up" at the rapture. In the latter case our likeness to the flood victims becomes two-fold, our not knowing and our being taken away. This fully satisfies the comparison Jesus makes between them and the disciples. All this would be by application only since the flood victims primarily represent the unbelievers who are destroyed after the tribulation.

Who is taken? The righteous or the wicked? You might argue that since these verses follow the illustration of Noah they fall into the same tribulational context. On the other hand they precede the application Jesus makes to His disciples, a church context. They are sandwiched between a tribulation illustration and a church application. Either single-reference interpretation accounts for some of the facts, but what interpretation accounts for all the facts?

Because these verses are sandwiched between the tribulation illustration and the church application, and because the meaning can go either way, I believe it is double reference. Who is taken? Both are taken. When are they taken? At both times. Church saints are taken at the rapture and unbelievers are taken after the tribulation.

Jesus left it ambiguous in order to include both times. If He intended one time only He certainly could have made it clear as He did in Luke 17 (see chapter nine). But here He didn't. He stated it in such a way that it could apply to both times.

Since we mentioned Luke 17, let's learn something else by way of comparison. As you remember, in Luke 17 the emphasis was destruction. In Matthew 24 the emphasis is, not destruction, but surprise. Surprise fits both comings; destruction does not. Matthew 24 fits both comings, Luke 17 does not.

I always thought it strange that "one shall be taken and one left" in both passages where it occurred (Matthew 24 and Luke 17) should not refer to the rapture since it made such a perfect description of the rapture. I wondered why the Bible would omit describing the rapture in this way. But now I see that Matthew 24 includes the rapture, and I find it satisfying, not only to the brain, but also to the heart.

 

Question: If "No Man" Knows the Day, How Can Tribulation Saints Know the Day? We spent an entire chapter, chapter two, to prove that tribulation saints will know the day of Christ's return. If this is true, how do we explain Matthew 24:36?

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

If only the Father in heaven knows the day and hour, then how can tribulation saints know it? If the angels don't know it, how can man know it?

An easy way to get around it would be to deny that this refers to the post-trib coming and to say that it refers only to the pre-trib rapture. But this would be to forget the context which places the verse squarely in a post-trib setting.

Post-tribs may use this verse as any easy out, as an excuse to ignore all the evidence in chapter two that tribulation saints will know the day. But that is not exegesis; that is merely throwing Scripture against Scripture, like trying to demolish a wall of bricks by hurling another brick at it.

How can we find out what this verse is really saying? Let's begin with the tense of the word "know." It is present tense. No one knows now, in the present, but some may know later. This interpretation solves the problem, but is this a twisted interpretation forced upon the verse, or is this a natural interpretation arising out from the verse itself?

Let us let the angels answer that for us, shall we? Certainly the angels do not know the time now as the verse says. But the question arises, will the angels know later after the tribulation begins? Evidence indicates that they will. When Daniel asked the angel how long it was, he answered in a manner showing that he understood how long it was from the abomination of desolation (Daniel 12:6–13). The reason the angel did not make it plain to Daniel is not that he didn't know but because the book was sealed. He gave the impression that he himself would know when the time came.

If the angel in Daniel understood the chronology it is likely that the angels in Revelation also understand the chronology. It is an angel which transmitted the message to John (Revelation 1:1). Angels played key roles throughout the process of revealing the book to John. In transmitting the message the impression is given also that the angels understood the message. Not that they understand as much as God, but at least, being of great intelligence and with their understanding undimmed by sin, they would be able to know what is knowable, namely the revealed chronology from the abomination of desolation to the return of Christ.

Now Jesus' use of the angels is key to understanding the argument of the verse. The argument is that if angels, who are on a higher scale than man, whose intelligence is greater and undimmed by sin, if they do not know, then man who is on a lower scale and of lower intelligence, cannot possibly know. Jesus intends to impress upon us that knowledge of that day is so far out of reach that even the angels do not know. Angels are used as proof, then, proof that man cannot know the day of Christ's return.

Now, the crux of the matter is that if there comes a time when angels will know, then that proof vanishes. As the proof vanishes this leaves the door open for man to know the day also.

If Jesus intended to make an airtight case that man could never know the day of His return, then He would have used stronger proof than the angels. But His very choice of the angels as proof is a clue that when the ignorance of angels ceases, then the ignorance of man ceases also.

Is this argument from the angels not enough for you? That is all right. We do not lack for arguments. We have also the argument from the Son. This verse in Matthew does not mention the Son, but the parallel verse in Mark 13:32 includes the Son as being ignorant of that day. In His state of humiliation upon the earth the Son of God voluntarily gave up knowing some things. He no longer fully exercised His omniscience as God. But after the resurrection and ascension He returned to His former glory (John 17:5). The Son's ignorance was temporary while upon this earth. Maybe some will deny angels future knowledge of that day, even though Scripture indicates otherwise, but who would dare deny the glorified Son knowledge of that day?

Verse 36, then, speaks of ignorance in the present, thrice over, whether it be the present tense of "know" or the reference to angels or to the Son. Such a threefold clue is significant. The verse says nothing about ignorance in the future. Therefore, we are left with no verse in the whole Bible which proves that tribulation saints will not know the day of Christ's return. If there is such a verse, where is it?

Let's analyze this further. Some may reply that although this verse by itself does not prove permanent ignorance, with the context it does prove it. Does not the context show that Jesus is talking about ignorance of the post-trib return? Does not he context indicate that ignorance will persist until the return of Christ?

We can answer this in two ways. First, it is true that no one knows the time of the post-trib return now. No one can know that until after the tribulation begins or at the latest by the abomination of desolation which is the 1260-day landmark. We, as the disciples, view His coming from this side of the tribulation. From this time perspective, the verse is correct when it says that no one knows the day of the post-trib return.

But this is only part of the explanation because the context implies that ignorance of the day will persist until Christ's coming. The context which implies that ignorance will persist until Christ's coming is the same context which gives us double reference. When viewed in light of this double reference, the problems of the verse disappear like the fog vanishes before the morning sun.

It is true. Ignorance does persist for everyone until Christ returns. The unsaved will not know until He comes upon them in judgment and the saved will not know until He comes for them in rapture. For both groups existing presently, ignorance persists until one coming or the other. The double reference views both groups which exist in the present and which will continue until one coming or the other, but omits that group of the future, namely tribulation saints. In this way the verse conforms to the context, because it allows ignorance to persist until Christ returns, and it retains the reference to the post-trib return.

One might object that the expression "that day" does not admit a double reference because of the preceding context which speaks exclusively of the post-trib return. If the preceding context were the only consideration the force of that argument could be admitted, but there is not only a preceding context but there is also a context following. In fact, if one rope pulls it back, a stronger rope pulls it forward also, and that rope is the word "but" in the next verse. "But" introduces the explanation of "that day." As Jesus explains "that day," He gives the illustrations of Noah, the goodman, and the virgins, and He brings in the application to the church following each illustration. In other words, "that day" is explained in terms of double reference.

So this verse has ropes pulling in both directions—it is the turning point in the argument of the Olivet Discourse. It is the point of transition from the exclusively post-trib coming to the dual aspect of His coming.

If Matthew 24:36 refers to both comings, why is it in the singular, "that day"? Christ's coming in the Old Testament was viewed as one, even though the suffering and ruling aspects of it have been separated by 2000 years. So it is perfectly natural for the two aspects of Christ's second coming to be viewed as one. Why swallow 2000 years and strain at a mere seven years, especially when the Bible views the seven years as one day (Luke 17:30–31)? Technically the New Testament does refer to the second coming as one coming even though there are two aspects to it. Sometimes we loosely call it two comings, and so post-tribulationists accuse us of believing in two comings when the Bible speaks of only one coming. But just as the Old Testament viewed the two aspects as one coming, so I believe the two aspects of Christ's second coming are properly viewed as one coming.

To help you remember all this, you can mark your Bible as suggested:

 

refers to
both times

36  But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

tribulation
illustration

37  But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
38  For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark,
39  And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

refers to
both times

40  Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
41  Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

church
application

42  Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.

tribulation
illustration

43  But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.

church
application

44  Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.

 

As we discussed in our chapter on Second Thessalonians, Isaiah 9:2–7 seesaws back and forth between the two comings. But you can understand Matthew 24 better than Old Testament saints could understand Isaiah 9. The reason for that is also in the chapter on Second Thessalonians.

 

Question: Why Did Jesus Not Come Right Out and Say So? Why did Jesus conceal the two aspects of His coming in double reference? If He was coming twice, why did He not com right out and say so? I could ask the same question about the Old Testament, but somehow that question doesn't seem to bother us.

Part of the answer is that God reveals truths progressively or in stages. He lays the basic foundation of surprise here in Matthew, describes the rapture in First Thessalonians, and nails down the time of the rapture in Revelation. Keeping this progress of revelation in mind will prevent us from being disappointed at the non-mention of the rapture in Matthew. Matthew in the New Testament is like Genesis of the Old Testament.

Genesis through Malachi gradually unfolds a progress of revelation concerning Christ's first coming. As the progression unfolds, there are hints that He will come twice, once to die and once to rule. But even then we find no clear statement that He will come twice. Likewise with the second coming, revelation indicates two aspects, and revelation on His second coming is even clearer chronologically than revelation on His first coming. Maybe the Jews misunderstood the first coming, but there is no excuse for the church to fall into the same trap and misunderstand His second coming.

In addition to progressive revelation, another reason that Matthew conceals the pre-trib rapture in double reference is that this truth is not a "pearl to be cast before swine." In addition to being written for Christians, the book of Matthew served as an "evangelistic tract" intended to convince Jewish unbelievers. Now there is a potential danger in teaching an unbeliever either the pre-trib doctrine or the post-trib doctrine. The danger of the pre-trib doctrine is that someone may say, "I'll have a second chance. If I miss the first return, all I have to do is get ready for the second return." The danger of the post-trib doctrine is that someone may say, "I don't have to get ready yet; it is safe to wait at least until the tribulation starts, because I know Christ won't return before then." Both of these dangers undermine the main point Jesus is making, "Be ready now!"

A proper teaching of either doctrine should not result in such perversion, but the danger is on the part of the listener who may use either doctrine as an excuse to delay readiness. But the Master Teacher left no room for excuse. By viewing the two comings as one, He offered only one chance to get ready. If someone (in this age) does not watch, he will miss the rapture and enter into the tribulation as an unbeliever, and as such he will not be aware of Christ's second return when He breaks into his "house" as a thief.

If an unbeliever is reading this and thinking, "No, I've got it outsmarted—all I have to do is count 1260 days," then I reply: Antichrist will get you to disbelieve and forget about the 1260 days (2 Thessalonians 2:11–12; Daniel 12:10). The deception is so great even the believers are almost deceived (Mark 13:22); so there is no chance at all for unbelievers who refuse the truth in this age. Believe now before the deception comes.

Taking a tip from the Master Teacher, when I talk with unbelievers now, I am slow to tell them about the two phases of Christ's second coming. Usually I just tell them that Christ is coming and that they need to be ready.

 

RIDDLES OR SOLUTIONS?

To summarize the evidence for the double-reference interpretation of the Olivet Discourse, let me give you a list of questions. Maybe someone someday will offer better answers to these questions than I have. But as far as I know, the double-reference interpretation offers the only satisfactory solution to these riddles.

(1) How else can we reconcile the unknown day in Matthew and the known day in Daniel and Revelation?

(2) Why are we compared to the wicked flood victims?

(3) Why are we to watch for the opposite reason the goodman of the house watches?

(4) Why is the parable about "virgins" if we are the bride?

(5) Why are we to be like men who wait for their Lord after the wedding processional?

(6) If you have an explanation for each illustration, does each explanation follow the same pattern or are they merely an assortment of explanations? Is the Olivet Discourse harmony or hash?

(7) Why a two-fold account of Noah's entering the ark (Genesis 7:1–10 and 7:11–13) if it is not to picture two groups of redeemed people?

(8) Why does Jesus not explain who is the "one taken and the other left" if it does not refer to both times?

These questions remain riddles without the double-reference interpretation. But the double-reference interpretation exchanges riddles for solutions. Which will you have, riddles or solutions?

These questions represent more than one or two coincidences; they reveal hard facts which demonstrate a consistent pattern. Seeing such harmony and consistency, I think God is trying to tell us something. Which will you have, riddles or solutions?

The remarkable pattern of Matthew 24 provides evidence that God inspired every detail of the Bible. Since Matthew did not understand at the time (to him the parable of the goodman would be illogical), he would more naturally remember it in a way that made sense to him. But the Holy Spirit caused him to remember and record it the way Jesus spoke it.

 

THE CHURCH AND ISRAEL

The double-reference interpretation not only solves the apparent contradiction between the known day and unknown day, it not only solves the riddles within the Olivet Discourse, but it also solves another problem disputed over for many years. Is the Olivet Discourse for Israel or for the church? Post-tribulationists have said it is for the church, since the church will go through the tribulation. Pre-tribulationists have said it is for Israel only, because the church will not go through the tribulation. Each side has brought forth convincing arguments from the context to support their view. Who is right?

The fact is, both are right. Valid arguments rest on both sides. We have been disagreeing over nothing. Either side you choose is "right," but the other side has valid arguments too. Only the double-reference interpretation does full justice to all the arguments and all the evidence.

Let me show you what I mean. When the disciples asked Jesus their questions (Matthew 24:3), they had in mind Israel only. They considered themselves Israelites and they were concerned with Christ's coming to set up the kingdom promised to Israel. So Jesus answered their questions honestly, according to how they asked them. That is why He gave the signs leading up to His post-trib return.

However, Jesus knew in the back of His mind that the disciples would form the nucleus of a new group, the church. He knew that the church would meet the pre-trib coming rather than the post-trib coming. He knew the pre-trib return would come as a surprise instead of coming at the end of a prescribed period. Knowing this, He could not mislead the disciples and leave them with the impression that they would be able to calculate the day of His return. He could not leave them without the proper application they needed, and so He concluded each illustration with a special application for them, saying, "In such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh."

Of course, He did not reveal everything all at once here, but He did give His disciples the minimum amount of information they needed, the fact that they could not calculate the day. That is all they needed to know for the time being. In this way Jesus was honest to their questions and honest to the facts. The disciples represent both Israel and the church because they were in fact part of Israel and the church.

 

TO STRENGTHEN YOUR VIEW

Although the double-reference interpretation solves many problems, it is no weak compromise. Actually it strengthens both views. Whatever your view is now, I would like to strengthen it.

Are you post-trib? Then I understand that you are vitally interested in the post-trib context in Matthew 24. You are even more concerned about the context than about the post-trib rapture, because one rests on the other. To strengthen the context, let us allow Matthew's chief tribulation sign, namely the abomination of desolation, its full force as far as its timing is concerned. Let us be free to understand all we read in Daniel about the abomination of desolation as Jesus told us to do, and let the 1260 days stand out strong in its normal meaning. Up until now you have been hindered in doing this because of the presence of "for ye know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of man cometh." But now, with the double-reference interpretation, you no longer have to weaken the significance of the chief tribulation sign. You can now allow the tribulational context its full force.

Are you a pre-trib? I want to strengthen your view. How do you handle the statement, "For in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh?" Because this statement occurs in a post-trib context, many pre-tribulationists felt they had to forfeit their strongest statement of imminence in the entire Bible. Relying on weaker verses to prove their case for imminence has not been very convincing to post-tribulationists. Now, however, with the double-reference interpretation, this strongest statement of imminency is rescued for pre-tribulationists to use once again.

 

AN APPEAL

Double reference in prophecy is common; so it provides a perfectly acceptable solution. Neither side has to give up their strongest arguments. Pre-tribulationists retain their reference to Israel, while those who have been post-tribulationists retain their reference to the church. Everything is explained. The post-trib context is explained. The unknown day's apparent contradiction with the known day of Daniel and Revelation is explained. Now nothing remains to hold back both sides from this new ground of agreement. We all can unreservedly unite under one banner proclaiming the doctrine, "Be ye also ready for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." And as the icing on the cake, this interpretation is not forced from the outside, but by answering the internal riddles it arises from the very text itself, and that, after all, is what sound exegesis is all about.


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