Jesus’ promise that God’s wrath is coming upon all of Jerusalem (23:29–39), His declaration concerning the imminent fall of the temple (24:1–2), and a question as to the timing of these events (v. 3) precede the signs described in 24:4–35. This requires us to look for these signs within the lifetimes of those who first heard Christ, otherwise this teaching would have been irrelevant to them. Sound biblical interpretation always begins with a passage’s original context.
The signs in 24:4–35 refer to the coming of Jesus in AD 70 to judge Jerusalem and those who rejected Him as the Messiah. This coming was not our Lord’s second advent as judge over the whole earth, which this view argues is yet to come. Full preterism (which denies that Christ’s second advent lies ahead) is to be rejected for its failure to recognize an essential truth of Scripture (Acts 1:6–11). Full preterists erroneously believe the events of AD 70 and the second advent are identical, allowing for no subsequent return of the King.
But what evidence is there that our exposition has rightly understood that Matthew 24:1–35 was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem only a few decades after Jesus’ ascension? In the first place, history shows that many messianic pretenders were active during this time (v. 5). Josephus, the famous first-century Jewish historian, refers to several false prophets and “messiahs,” two of whom are also named in Acts 5:35–37. The wars and upheaval Jesus predicts in Matthew 24:6–7 also occurred. Rome fought several wars, especially along the Empire’s eastern edge, and revolts were also common; in fact, four Roman emperors were deposed in just two years (68–69) because of all the turmoil.
Many do not accept a partial preterist analysis of Matthew 24:1–35 because the “whole world” has not yet heard the Gospel (v. 14). The Greek word used for “whole world,” however, is oikoumene, or the “world of the Roman empire.” Paul in Romans 15:14–32 and 16:25–27 tells us that in his day the Gospel had been preached to the whole oikoumene except Spain, where he would preach before his death. Thus, even Matthew 24:14 was fulfilled prior to AD 70.
The fact that the Gospel had been proclaimed to the Roman world by the late middle of the first century does not mean that the task of world evangelization has been completed. People from every tribe, nation, and tongue will worship the Lamb of God (Rev. 7:9–17), and there are as yet many tribes and tongues who have never heard the Gospel. Are you a dedicated supporter of world missions? How can your time, talent, and possessions contribute to this task?