In an ongoing benign dialogue with a preterist friend, I (a futurist/millennialist) have been challenged by Jesus' words in Matt. 10:23 where He tells His disciples that they will not have gone through the cities of Israel until
Before we come to talk about Jesus’ second coming in Matthew 10:23, let us look at Hebrews 10. The book of Hebrews calls us to trust God even to the point of enduring suffering for Him. It calls us to believe that God speaks truth (including that Jesus died and returned to life) to the point that we are willing to endure suffering for Him. Hebrews 10 shows that Jesus died for our sins once for all. This means that when God saves us, we are saved forever. Then at the end of chapter 10, we read the following:
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY. BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM. (NASB) Hebrews 10:36-38
Very, Very, Little While
The Holy Spirit simply tells the readers of the book of Hebrews that Jesus will be coming in a “very little while.” This is a great statement because the Greek literally means a “very, very little” while. He does not mean that Jesus is coming tomorrow, next month, next year, or in ten years. The writer of Hebrews quotes a passage from Habakkuk 2:3-4. This is a quote from the Old Testament. Habakkuk was written about 605 B.C. When Hebrews was written, it had been at least 600 years since Jesus’ coming was promised. Habakkuk referred to Jesus’ coming as the “appointed time.” Here in Hebrews, the Holy Spirit explains that the appointed time refers to Jesus’ return. It is fascinating to discover that God has a different understanding of the words “very, very, little” while. In this case it is at least six hundred years! This is important in understanding prophetic predictions throughout scripture.
Many struggle with statements such as the following:
Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. (NASB) Philippians 4:5
You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. (NASB) James 5:8-9
The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. (NASB) 1 Peter 4:7
It is important to remember that the apostle Peter wrote the passage above in 1 Peter 4:7 and that he also wrote the following passage when people did not understand how God measures time.
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (NASB) 2 Peter 3:8-10
Jesus’ coming is not late. That was Peter’s point. Notice that when Jesus comes heaven and earth will be destroyed.
Some Christians, preterists, believe that Jesus returned soon after the apostle Peter wrote 1 and 2 Peter in 70 A.D. They believe this because of several passages that seem to teach Jesus’ immediate coming. Matthew 10:22-23 is a key one.
And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes. (NASB) Matt. 10:22-23
The Greek word for “finish going though” is TELEO which simply means “complete.” Every major Greek scholar agrees that the Bible translators have added words to Jesus’ statement! What Jesus actually said was that they will not “complete” Israel before He comes. But what does He mean by “complete” Israel? Is Jesus saying they will not finish going through Israel before His return? We must remember that TELEO does not refer to elapse of time but “completeness.” He is talking about completing something.
Jesus is talking about evangelizing Israel. Jesus was telling them to flee to the next city when they are persecuted because of Him (Matt. 10:25). The task of converting Israel would not be finished before Jesus returns. In fact, Israel has not been converted yet. This is consistent with Matt. 24:14.
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come. (NASB) Matt. 24:14
Jesus is talking about the evangelization of the world which includes Israel. Even today the gospel has not been preached in the whole world. Matthew 10:23 and Matthew 24:14 are not in conflict. Jesus made both statements.
Some people are confused by Jesus’ comment in Matthew 24.
. . . when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (NASB) Matt. 24:33-34
In order to understand Jesus, we need to remember that He had just finished describing the signs of His Second Coming and the judgment of the righteous and wicked (Matt. 24:1-31). Then He tells them that “this generation” will not pass away. The key phrase here is “this generation.” The Greek word “generation” is GENEA. This word means more than just “generation.” It has the idea of “birth,” “descent,” “children,” “race” and was even used to refer to the end times (Herodotus of Halicanassus III, 122). It is best to understand Jesus’ expression to mean “this race,” “this people,” or “this period of time.” Here is an example from Luke 16:8 (the word is in bold),
And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. (NASB) Luke 16:8
Jesus is talking about the generation that sees these signs. Those who believe that Jesus came in 70 A.D. say that was not Jesus’ Second Coming but a pre-installment of His Second coming which is yet future. Here are Jesus’ words.
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. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (NASB) Matt. 24:29-31
Scripture never talks about a pre-installment. The gospel has not reached the whole world, the final judgment has not occurred, and earth and heaven have not been destroyed (see Peter 3:8-10 above). Jesus is talking about the generation or people which will see the signs of His coming. When the signs come, that generation will see His Second Coming!
It is not possible for Jesus’ Second Coming to have occurred in 70 A.D. and for us to still be here, unless this is heaven. Jesus clearly taught that after His Second Coming He would judge the world. Here are Jesus’ words.
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And 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.’ . . . And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (NASB) Matt. 25:31-34, 46
Then the end of the world comes.
The major problem with assuming that Jesus came in 70 A.D. is that the book of Revelation was written about 95 A.D. The book of Revelation is a prophetic book predicting the Second Coming of Jesus. It was written about 95 A.D. The early church fathers and history strongly support this date. Not until recent times has this date been. Since Revelation predicts Jesus’ coming and since it was written about 95 A.D., Jesus’ Second Coming is still future, and did not occur in 70 A.D.
From our perspective, Jesus’ Second Coming is taking a long time. Jesus has given us signs to indicate when He is coming. When we see them, we will meet Him. The major sign of His coming is completing the spread of the gospel throughout the world. That is our commission – to share the gospel! Then He could come at any time!