When Jesus was telling His disciples about the terrible times to come, was He indicating that they, or another generation in the future, would experience this?

Email Received:

Jesus told his disciples about the terrible times to come, including the destruction of the temple and the great tribulation (Matt. 24:2,21), as well as the surrounding of Jerusalem by armies (Luke 21:20). When speaking to His disciples about these things, was He indicating that they would undergo or experience them, or was He really talking about another generation thousands of years in the future? It seems to me that the destruction of Jerusalem, the nation, and the unbelieving Jews in AD67-70 fulfilled the "coming wrath" spoken of by Paul (1 Thess. 2:14-16) and that it occurred at the hands of the Roman army under General Titus.

Ted's Response:

There are many prophecies in the Bible that have had or will have dual, or even multiple, fulfillments. There also are cases where God spoke, and the listeners assumed that He was talking to and about them, specifically, when in reality this was not the case.

For instance, in Egypt, God (through Moses) told the elders of the Israelites that He was going to bring them out of Egypt and into the promised land, flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:16,17). When He ultimately did bring them out of Egypt, they probably assumed that, before long, they would be in the promised land.

However, because of their lack of faith, God eventually told them that not one of the men twenty years old or older, other than Caleb and Joshua, who had come out of Egypt (which would have included all of the original elders) would see the promised land (Numbers 32:11,12). So was God lying to them in Egypt, or did He not know what He eventually was going to do? No, neither of these was the case.

The fact is that God was speaking to their descendants—essentially, another generation of Israel—through those original men. Some of the Israelites at that time, those who were under twenty years of age, would see the promised land; but the vast majority of those to whom He was speaking directly would not.

Likewise, Jesus was speaking both to His disciples, some of whom would see the destruction of the temple in 70A.D., and to another generation of Israelites, who would be around at the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). Those in the first century would see wars and rumors of wars, as well as nation coming against nation and kingdom against kingdom (24:6,7), including their enemies assaulting Jerusalem. But so will those in that distant generation see the same things at the end of the age, which is a time frame that the disciples specifically questioned Jesus about (24:3).

God is timeless; He sees the entire human timeline at once, and He also sees men's seeds or offspring long before they've even come into existence. Jesus spoke of the distant generation who would see the great wars, famines, and earthquakes (Matthew 24:6,7), as well as great tribulation, unequaled from the beginning of the world until that time (24:21). At the end of the age, the generation that sees those things will not pass away until the entire series of events has transpired (24:33,34).

Many believe that Jesus' mentioning of the "fig tree" in Matthew 24:32 was a reference to the reestablishment of Israel near the end of the age (that is, in 1948). They feel that the "generation" who sees that happen will see the return of Jesus. My comments about that can be found in one of my other email responses: How does Jesus' use of "generation" in Matthew 24:34 fit into end-time prophecy?

In any case, I believe the signs to be seen by the generation at the end of this age will include distinct changes in the sun, moon, and stars (Matthew 24:29), which are equivalent to the signs of the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12,13). These will occur in association with a shaking of the entire earth, where every mountain and island will be moved in a short period of time (6:12,14). Furthermore, the Son of Man, Jesus, will appear in the clouds of the sky (Matthew 24:30). Certainly, none of these things happened during the generation of Jesus' disciples, nor have they happened since then.

All of these events will take place just prior to God's wrath and vengeance being poured out upon the entire world (Revelation 6:15-17), in the form of the Trumpet Judgments (8:6 – 9:21), with Jesus returning to earth at the blowing of the Seventh Trumpet (11:15,17). There are those who believe that the seven Trumpet Judgments already have taken place. I adamantly disagree with this. Perhaps some believe this because thinking about these things happening in their lifetime is too emotionally disturbing to them, which is understandable.

Due to statements that Jesus made about the kingdom of heaven being near or at hand (such as in Matthew 4:17), many at that time believed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately (Luke 19:11). When John (who arguably was Jesus' most significant disciple) was writing the book of Revelation in the last decade of the first century, he recorded Jesus as saying that He was coming soon or quickly (Revelation 22:7,12,20). John probably thought that Jesus would return during his lifetime; however, he has been dead for over 1,900 years, but God's kingdom, with Jesus ruling and reigning on His throne as King over all the earth (Jeremiah 3:17; Zechariah 14:9), has not yet come.

Luke 21:20 definitely happened in 70 A.D. However, due to the fact that many prophecies have dual or sometimes multiple fulfillments, I am convinced that Jerusalem again will be surrounded by armies, and desolation and destruction again will come to that city, near the end of the age.

It was in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 that Paul spoke of "the coming wrath" (NIV) or "the wrath to come" (KJV) or "the wrath coming" (direct translation from the Greek). However, in 1 Thessalonians 2:16 (to which you referred), he said "the wrath that has come upon them" (NIV) or "the wrath is come upon them" (KJV) or "came on them the wrath" (direct translation from the Greek). This wrath already had come at the time of Paul's writing of 1 Thessalonians, in about 52 A.D.; so in 2:16, he could not have been referring to the wrath yet to come in 70 A.D.

In any event, there are numerous cases of God's wrath being dispensed in Bible history. The ultimate fulfillments of this will be the massive trumpet and bowl judgments taking place on a colossal scale (for instance, Revelation 8:7-12 and 16:2-4,8-11). Some might prefer to believe that these were a part of past history. However, considering the extreme magnitude of these global judgments and ultimate demonstrations of God's fury, I find it implausible to believe that they already have taken place and that Jesus' Second Coming has occurred.

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