Prof. David J. Engelsma
24, 25 is Jesus’ answer to the question of His disciples in 24:3. The
question was, “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy
coming, and of the end of the world?” The question combined the destruction of
the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the end of the world at Jesus’ second
coming. Jesus’ answer likewise combines these two events. The reason for the
combination of these two events in the great discourse by our Lord on the last
things (eschatology) is that the destruction of Jerusalem was a historical type
of the end of the world.
24:4-31, Jesus gives instruction to His church concerning the end of the
world, and the things which the church must expect before the end of the world,
under the figure, or type, of the destruction of Jerusalem.
Inasmuch as the destruction of Jerusalem was the type of the end, everything
that Jesus has taught in the preceding verses can be said in verse 34 to “be
fulfilled,” that is, happen, in A.D. 70. “All these things,” happen typically
in A.D. 70. But these things do not happen in A.D. 70 exhaustively.
They do by no means happen in reality in A.D. 70. The reality of all
these things will happen when Jesus comes in the body at the end of the world.
It is the same with the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world as
it is with the fulfillment of the other great prophecies of the Scriptures.
Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers
24:12-25 of the king out of Jacob was fulfilled historically in David, the
son of Jesse. The mention of the various heathen nations that the king would
subdue shows this. All the things of Balaam’s prophecy happened in the life and
reign of King David.
But only typically. Not exhaustively. Not as to the reality.
The real happening of these things - the fulfillment — is in the kingship of
Similarly, the promise to Abram that his seed would receive the land from the
Nile to the Euphrates was typically fulfilled in the glorious kingdom of Solomon
But not in reality.
The reality is the present extent of the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ,
which worldwide kingdom is yet expanding and will be perfected in all the
universe at the coming of the Christ.
The peaceful kingdom of Psalm
72 is, throughout the Psalm, both the earthly kingdom under Solomon and the
spiritual kingdom of Jesus the Messiah. More precisely, it is the spiritual
kingdom of Messiah foreshadowed in the earthly kingdom under Solomon.
The Reformed Tradition: Ridderbos and Calvin
This explanation of Matthew
24:1-35 in terms of type/antitype, or figure/reality, is that of the solid
Exactly concerning the difficulty, how Jesus could say in Matthew
24:34 that “this generation shall not pass, till all these things be
fulfilled,” the Dutch Reformed exegete Herman Ridderbos wrote:
By “all these things” (rendered by Ridderbos as “dit alles,”
‘all this’ - DJE) ... (is) to be understood ... the entire complex of the
happening of the last time, including the coming of the Son of Man. In this
connection one must again take into consideration the combining character of
the representation of the future set forth here.... The starting point of this
whole discourse is in the destruction of the temple. And because this,
according to the nature of prophecy, is seen in one and the same realm (“in
een vlak”) with the great future of the Lord, it can be said that the
generation which would be witness of this destruction shall not pass “till all
these things be fulfilled.” Here, therefore, the great future is again
designated in a complex, undifferentiated way. In the light of the fulfillment
it is evident that “all these things” (“dit alles,” according to
Ridderbos - DJE) do not come all at once and, therefore, would be seen merely
in part by the then living generation.... The exegesis (of Matt.
24 -DJE) must also here adopt the historical viewpoint, that is, must
proceed from the prophetic form of eschatology. See also the commentary on
24:14 (The Gospel according to Matthew, vol. 2, Kok, 1954, pp.
157, 158, in Korte Verklaring; the translation of the Dutch is mine).
This was also Calvin’s interpretation of Matthew
24:34. Because Calvin’s interpretation is both clear and compelling; because
it represents the Reformed tradition, indeed, the tradition of the Reformation;
and because it destroys the novel interpretation by Kik and the Christian
Reconstructionists, it deserves to be quoted in its entirety:
Though Christ employs a general expression, yet he does not extend
the discourses to all the miseries which would befall the Church, but merely
informs them, that before a single generation shall have been
completed, they will learn by experience the truth of what he has said. For
within fifty years the city was destroyed and the temple was rased, the whole
country was reduced to a hideous desert, and the obstinacy of the world rose
up against God. Nay more, their rage was inflamed to exterminate the doctrine
of salvation, false teachers arose to corrupt the pure gospel by their
impostures, religion sustained amazing shocks, and the whole company of the
godly was miserably distressed. Now though the same evils were perpetrated in
uninterrupted succession for many ages afterwards, yet what Christ said was
true, that, before the close of a single generation, believers would
feel in reality, and by undoubted experience, the truth of his prediction; for
the apostles endured the same things which we see in the present day. And yet
it was not the design of Christ to promise to his followers that their
calamities would be terminated within a short time, (for then he would have
contradicted himself, having previously warned them that the end was not
yet;) but, in order to encourage them to perseverance, he expressly
foretold that those things related to their own age. The meaning therefore is:
“This prophecy does not relate to evils that are distant, and which posterity
will see after the lapse of many centuries, but which are now hanging over
you, and ready to fall in one mass, so that there is no part of it which the
present generation will not experience.” So then, while our Lord heaps
upon a single generation every kind of calamities, he does not by any
means exempt future ages from the same kind of sufferings, but only enjoins
the disciples to be prepared for enduring them all with firmness
(Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke,
vol.3, tr. William Pringle, Eerdmans, 1949, pp. 151, 152).
Calvin’s explanation of the related 14th verse of the chapter (“And this
gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all
nations; and then shall the end come”) is the same. Calvin flatly denies that
the reference to the end is exhaustively and exclusively a reference to the
destruction of Jerusalem, as is the contention of Kik and the Christian
Reconstructionists. Calvin points to the obvious fact that is basic to the right
understanding of the entire passage, namely, Jesus’ “blending” of the
destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world as figure and reality.
This is improperly restricted by some to the destruction of the
temple, and the abolition of the service of the Law; for it ought to be
understood as referring to the end and renovation of the world. Those
two things having been blended by the disciples, as if the temple could not be
overthrown without the destruction of the whole world, Christ, in
replying to the whole question which had been put to him, reminded them that a
long and melancholy succession of calamities was at hand, and that they must
not hasten to seize the prize, before they had passed through many contests
and dangers. In this manner, therefore, we ought to explain this latter
clause: “The end of the world will not come before I have tried my Church, for
a long period, by severe and painful temptations” (pp. 129, 130).
The interpretation of Matthew
24:34 by J. Marcellus Kik and the Christian Reconstructionists as demanding
that everything set forth in Matthew
24:4-31 took place exhaustively and really in the destruction of Jerusalem
is a radical departure from the historic Reformed explanation of the passage.
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