Full Table of Contents
Chapter 1 – What Did Jesus Say?
“Some Standing Here Will Not Taste Death Until…”
The problem is not in what the Bible teaches. The problem is the assumptions and expectations modern Christians bring to the Bible. Everyone has opinions about what biblical prophecy and biblical creation should be about, and those opinions have a lot to do with what Christians “see” in prophecy and creation.
We recognize the critical role these assumptions play in our understanding of various portions of the Bible. But prophecy, understood on its own terms, is often surprisingly direct and simple. Here is an example. Imagine yourself standing among the disciples nearly 2,000 years ago. Jesus said:
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Matt. 16:27-28 NIV)
If you were there, how would you have taken Jesus’ remarkable claim? You heard Jesus say that he would come in his kingdom with angels and rewards. When? Before everyone present at the time died? Isn’t that what Jesus said? Think of how exciting that would be! If you were one of those standing there, you would understand that perhaps 20, 30, 40, at most maybe 50 years would pass before the coming of the Son of Man; enough time would pass for some to die (since Jesus does not say all standing here shall not taste death till…), but not so much time that everyone present would die. That is the natural reading of the passage.
Peter Was Martyred, but John Lived On!
Do we have another example in the gospels where Jesus made a similar claim? The apostle John recorded a conversation between Jesus and Peter which took place after the resurrection. John’s account of this conversation contains both a prediction by Jesus and another statement about his coming. Jesus told Peter,
"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go." Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me!" Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?" So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" (John 21:18-22 NASB)
Is this coming of Jesus the same coming of the “Son of Man” in Matthew 16:28? Again, Jesus said that someone present at that time would live until his coming! Notice Jesus predicted Peter’s death as a martyr. He also suggested that John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) would live to see the coming of Christ.
John’s account of Jesus’ prediction after the resurrection in John 21 agrees with Matthew’s account of what Jesus promised before the crucifixion in Matthew 16. Both Peter and John were present when Jesus said “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matt. 16:28 NKJV) Here in John 21 we find that Jesus said Peter would die as a result of persecution, but John would live until the coming of Christ. John would be one of those standing there who would not taste death before the coming of Christ!
Did Jesus’ prediction about Peter’s death come true? Yes, it did. Did John live longer than Peter as Jesus implied? Yes, he did. So where does that put the coming of Christ?
The Bible gives us a general idea on the timing of the coming of Christ. Not the exact day or the exact hour, but there is a window of time between the martyrdom of Peter and the death of John in which we should expect the coming of Christ to have taken place. Unless the apostle John is 2000 years old and still living somewhere, the Bible teaches the coming of Christ is in our past, not in our future.
That initial thought creates problems for modern debates over prophecy. Most prophetic views assume the Bible teaches the coming of Christ lies in our future. What if that expectation is false? Would not a mistake like that cause much of the confusion, irresolvable debates, and failed predictions we witness among Christians today? In light of the clear predictions Jesus made, we think it makes sense to cautiously investigate the notion that the coming of Christ has already occurred. After all, the prediction Jesus gave regarding Peter’s martyrdom and John’s long life came true exactly as he said. Could it be that his coming also took place exactly as he said – in the lifetime of some of those who listened to his teaching in person?
“This Generation Will Not Pass Away Until All …”
The coming of Christ has already happened? We realize this might strike you as an odd way to look at prophecy. Surely, there must be some mistake. Did Jesus really mean to say that his coming would take place in the lifetime of some of his disciples? If he did intend to mean that, then it should be clear in the Olivet Discourse, the main prophetic text in the gospels.
Before we look at Jesus’ sermon on the Mount of Olives, we need to establish the context. What we know as the Olivet Discourse is the last two-thirds of a long speech by Jesus. Jesus delivered the Olivet Discourse just two days before he went to his death on the cross. The first part of the speech began in Matthew 23 with Jesus teaching the crowds in the temple area
The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore, whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, “Rabbi, Rabbi.” But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt. 23:2-12 NKJV)
Jesus then cursed the leaders of Jerusalem with the seven woes:
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men;… (v. 13)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses… (v. 14)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…you make [your disciple] twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (v. 15)
Woe to you, blind guides, who [swear falsely]. (v. 16)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you … have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith… (v. 23)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For… inside [you] are full of extortion and self-indulgence… (v. 25)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs… [Y]ou outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (vv. 27-28)
Jesus then “summed up” these woes and delivered a powerful warning:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (vv. 29-36)
Notice that Jesus condemned specific sins of a specific group of religious leaders: the scribes and Pharisees of his day. He closed his admonition with a promise to send more prophets, wise men, and scribes, which they would scourge, persecute, kill, and crucify, just as their fathers had done. Jesus then promised to punish them, after which he lamented Jerusalem’s fate:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (vv. 37-39)
Remember, this speech took place two days before the crucifixion. No wonder the religious leaders were so intent on killing Jesus! This was too much for the religious leaders to allow. Matthew 26:1-5 tells us these religious leaders immediately started their plot to crucify him.
After pronouncing judgment on Jerusalem and its leaders, Jesus and his disciples left the temple courts to go sit in the shade of the nearby olive trees. On the way, Jesus’ disciples remarked about the beauty and magnificence of the temple and its courts. Jesus responded with these words,
Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (24:2)
When they were finally alone, the disciples approached Jesus and asked,
Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age? (v. 3)
Jesus answered them,
Take heed that no one deceives you. (v. 4)
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. (v. 9)
Therefore when you see the “abomination of desolation,” spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (v. 15-16)
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. (v. 21)
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call… (v. 30-31)
Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away. (v. 34-35)
Notice the parenthetical comment in v. 15. When Matthew wrote this passage he understood that it was a warning to his readers. Notice also that Jesus (1) references the great tribulation in vv. 9 and 21, (2) references the Son of Man coming “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” in v. 30, and (3) tells them when all these things would happen in v. 34: “This generation will by no means pass away until all these things take place.” That is, these things would all take place during the generation Jesus referenced in Matthew 23:36.
That must have sent the disciples reeling. Put yourselves in their sandals again. The temple was the pride of
Israel . It was the place where sacrifices and all the regulations of the Mosaic code were carried out day after day. It was the place at the center of life for devout Jews, the sign of God’s presence rested in the Holy of Holies. Yet here was Jesus claiming that everything he had just predicted would take place before that generation passed away!
Jesus reiterated the timing of his coming as found in Matthew 16:28 in Matthew 24:34. “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” is essentially the same as “some of those standing here will not die before they see the Son of Man coming with his kingdom.” Both statements demand fulfillment a few decades into the future, but within a future limited to the lifetimes of those who heard Jesus speak.
Continuing the same speech, Jesus said,
But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (vv. 37-39)
In Matthew 25, Jesus concluded the Olivet Discourse:
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him… and He will separate them one from another…. And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25:31-32, 46 NKJV)
Yet all of this echoed what was said just a few verses back
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven… and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matt. 24:30 NKJV)
Notice the similarity between Matthew 16:27, the passage we examined at the opening of this chapter, and Matthew 25:31-32, 46:
For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. (Matthew 16:27 NKJV)
This similarity gives strong contextual evidence that all of these texts speak to the same “coming of the Son of Man.” Author Gary DeMar emphasizes the resemblance and shows the problem with how many Christians read the Olivet Discourse today:
[T]here is little evidence that the “coming of the Son of Man” in Mathew 24:27, 30, 39, and 42 is different from the “coming of the Son of Man” in 25:31. Compare 25:31 with 16:27, a certain reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70… These verses are almost identical.1
To miss the identification of the time when an event is said to occur will mean that the discourse can be made to fit any generation. This, of course, would lead to tremendous confusion. There is no doubt that this error is the chief problem for those who maintain that the events of Matthew 24-25 and other prophetic passages are yet to be fulfilled, either in our generation or in some future generation.2
Jesus spoke of things related to the life and experience of the disciples throughout the entire Olivet Discourse.
The Great Tribulation has Already Happened
Our first claim is bold: We believe biblical prophecy can be understood by Christians. We don’t believe the Bible’s teachings on the matter are incomprehensible – that the details are so complex they are beyond the reach of Christians in our day.
The Olivet Discourse makes it absolutely clear that the coming of Christ is connected intimately to what happened to the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Not only does that mean the coming of Christ is related to 1st century events, it also means that what we now call “the great tribulation” took place in localized, historical events. Jesus mourned over Jerusalem , not the world. Jesus pronounced judgment on the leaders of Israel , not modern-day world leaders. Gary DeMar offers this explanation:
Keep in mind that the tribulation described by Jesus in Matthew 24 was local, confined to the land of Israel . The people were still living in houses with flat roofs (Matthew 24:17). The setting was agricultural (24:18). The Sabbath was still in force with its rigid travel restrictions (24:20)… The tribulation had reference to the Jews, the people of Judea (Matthew 24:16; Luke 21:20-24); it was not a worldwide tribulation.3
Here is where a proper understanding of the great tribulation holds implications for the Genesis debate. Jesus drew a comparison in the Olivet Discourse that few stop to consider. He compared Noah’s flood which “swept them all away” with the great tribulation and his coming. Consider the words of Jesus once again:
But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matt. 24:37 NKJV)
Jesus explicitly compared his coming to the days of Noah. If the great tribulation happened in the local events of the first century, then how should we understand the historical events of Noah’s flood? Prophetic views have tremendous implications for the Genesis debate among Christians.
Two Debates in One Book
Few subjects in the Church today generate more controversy than end-times prophecy and Genesis creation. Any book that begins with a discussion of New Testament prophecy should be suspect. Even worse is a book that dives into the origins debate at the same time. This book combines these two explosive debates – on purpose.
It may seem ambitious to tackle both ends of the Bible at once. We think that is exactly what needs to be done. We want to investigate how these two enormous issues, Bible prophecy and Genesis creation, relate to one another across our Bible. We will begin with New Testament prophecy. Then we will show how differing views of prophecy naturally match a complementary understanding of Genesis creation.
X-millennialism vs. Pan-millennialism
Prophecy alone is a vast subject. There are so many different views that many Christians are confused by the topic. Eyes glaze over whenever someone starts sprinkling conversation with such big words as eschatology or premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. It gets worse when we find out that each of these common views possess their own internal debates and nuances over which people make great fuss. Is there any hope at all that we can really understand the full picture of what the Bible teaches in prophecy?
Many have lost hope. The seeming futility of the whole exercise has given rise to a new view that seems appropriate, given the state of the debate. Many call it “pan-millennialism” – it all “pans” out in the end. In other words, don’t get caught up in the details, just focus on the victory at the end. We can all agree on the victory at the end, right?
That is good enough for some Christians. It is certainly the easiest view to understand. It may even be better than some of the other big-name views mentioned above. We sympathize with the pan-millennialist who, when in the presence of someone expounding upon the finer points of some x-millennialist view of prophecy, shrugs his shoulders and wonders if we will ever know in this life.
The problem with the pan-millennialist viewpoint is that much of the Bible, especially the New Testament, talks about prophecy in great detail. If you ignore what the New Testament says about prophecy, you are going to miss a lot of what Jesus said. Did Jesus think the details of his coming were unimportant to understand?
The only way to honor Jesus is to pay close attention to everything he taught. His disciples certainly did. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles had a lot to say about prophecy. They thought it was very important to get it right. Why was it so important for them to get it right and to teach others to get it right? What if their lives depended on it, literally?
There is no doubt that confusion about biblical prophecy reigns among Christians today. That does not mean our situation is hopeless; it may simply mean the study of God’s Word, like anything valuable in life, will take considerable work. Why would the Bible have so much prophecy in it if Christians were not meant to understand it?
Another problem with the pan-millennial approach is that our understanding of prophecy inevitably impacts what Christians believe about a great number of things in our world. Christians generally act in terms of their beliefs. Should Christians believe the latest prophecy book about a coming “rapture”? Should American Christians commit themselves to unquestioning political support for the nation of Israel? Should we plan for the distant future if the end of the world is so near? What goals should the Church make to impact modern culture for Christ? There is no possible neutrality about these questions. All of them relate one way or another to how Christians understand prophecy. Prophetic views drive Christian culture. That is precisely why they are so controversial.
As we have already hinted, New Testament prophecy relates to other things in the Bible as well. In the following pages, we will explore in depth the many biblical links between prophecy and Genesis creation. We will present a case that the Genesis debate among Christians has been and will continue to be impacted profoundly by prophetic views. What about creation and Noah’s flood? Is evolution compatible with the Bible? Is it biblically possible that our universe could be millions or even billions of years old? We’ll get to all that, but first we need to lay some more groundwork for a proper understanding of prophetic teaching in the Bible.
Is it worth considering the possibility that every detail Jesus gave within the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in the 1st century events leading up to ad 70? In ad 30, Jesus promised that every stone of the temple would be thrown down before that generation passed away. It is a powerful vindication of his prophetic word that we know Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in ad 70, 40 years later. What Jesus said would happen in the lifetime of some of his disciples came to pass exactly as he predicted it would. The Olivet Discourse is fulfilled prophecy.
A very well-written book that shows the proper understanding of the Olivet Discourse! This book is a great introduction to Beyond Creation Science.