PMT 2014-118 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is the final article in a three-part response to Dr. Wayne Briddle of Liberty University. He presented a paper critiquing orthodox preterism and asked me to reply. These articles represent my reply.
As I noted (too briefly!) at the ETS meeting, I disagree with your observation (drawn from Toussaint) in your third paragraph. You state: “At the time that Jesus sent out his apostles, he was enjoying great popularity. There is no evidence that the apostles were in this kind of danger until after the crucifixion of Christ.” I disagree with this on several grounds:
(1) Even if Jesus was enjoying popularity among the common folk at the time, we surely could not say that the religious leadership found him popular. And they were the ones who would have him crucified. In fact, in John 2 (near his first miracle) he gives the cryptic statement about destroying the Temple and his raising it up, which was really speaking of his crucifixion. Much earlier than 10:23 he urges his hearers to a better righteousness than that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20) and he rebuts the sayings of the elders of old (5:21ff), so that the people are impressed with his teaching as one with authority (7:28-29). He warns about “false prophets” who are “ravenous wolves” (7:15). In Matthew 9:10 (before 10:23) the Pharisees were charging that “he casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.”
(2) Even if Jesus was enjoying popularity at the time, as evangelicals we would all agree that he himself certainly knew the outcome of his ministry. He knew that he would be betrayed and die on the cross. And he certainly knew also that his disciples would be persecuted. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount he speaks blessings to those who would be “persecuted for righteousness sake” (5: 10) and “insulted” and “persecuted” (5:11), which seems to anticipate coming persecution.
(3) The context of Matthew 10 clearly must be directly relevant to the ministry of the first century apostles: (a) He summons his twelve disciples and gives them authority (v. 1); and Matthew specifically records their particular names (vv. 2-4). Indeed, Jesus sends “these twelve out after instructing them” (v. 5) with the words to follow (including 10:23). (b) His instruction warns them about houses that will “not receive you,” urging them to respond by shaking “off the dust from your feet” (v. 14) and warning them that it will be “more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city” (v15). This certainly does not allow his current popularity to discount looming, violent opposition. (c) He specifically declares to the twelve that he is sending “you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (v. 16), thereby warning them that men “will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues” and ultimately deliver them to political authorities (vv. 17-18).
(4) From the very beginning of Christ’s ministry there was evidence of Israel’s rejection of his message. Matthew makes this very clear in the structuring of his Gospel: In Matthew 2:2-3 Jerusalem was frightened by Christ’s birth, while the Gentile Magi rejoiced in it. In 3:7-12 John Baptist warns the religious leaders to flee the “wrath to come.” In 8:11-12 the Lord warned that the “sons of the kingdom” would be cast out and “many will come from east and west” to enjoy the kingdom. On and on we can go through Matthew (in fact, in my public debate with Tommy Ice, I spend my twenty minute opening statement detailing such data.
In that same (third) paragraph under “Matthew 10:23” you make a statement that I doesn’t seem to detract from preterism: “In addition, the reference to the Spirit speaking through them is a clear post-Pentecost allusion. Thus Jesus looks beyond his immediate ministry to the evangelization of Israel during the church age.” We must remember that Pentecost was around A.D. 30 and the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. I don’t see any problem with this reference to the Spirit being a “post-Pentecost allusion”; A.D. 70 is post-Pentecost, as well. And remember: he is speaking to and commissioning the “twelve disciples” as they become the “twelve apostles” (Matt. 10:1-2a). His directive cannot generically apply to all Christians; this is a specifically apostolic directive (which limits its reference to the first century, fitting well with the preterist view). If you apply this throughout the church age, then you have committed to either Pentecostalism or charismatic theology, for the healing of the sick and raising of the dead (10:8) will accompany this work, as well as immediate prophetic impulses of the Spirit (10:19-20).
In your fourth paragraph under “Matthew 10:23” I believe you misread the text in question. Your first point in that paragraph is: “(1), it seems clear that at no time during the entire church age has the church completely evangelized the people of Israel.” I don’t see how that is relevant to what Jesus says in v. 23. Two serious problems confront you. Remember, all Christ states there is: “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.” This undercuts your first concern, for: (1) Christ does not say anything about “completely evangelizing” the people of Israel. He is speaking only of “going through” the cities (NIV, RSV, NAS, KJV, NKJV). (2) What is more, he specifically says they will not have finished going through the cities of Israel. Even if you take this statement as referring to completely evangelizing Israel, you are overlooking the fact he says it will not be done (which fits also with the A.D. 70 situation too).
This leaves us with the question of the terminus indicated by the phrase “before the Son of Man comes.” In the first full paragraph on page 4 of your paper, you argue this surely refers to the Second Advent. But again I would argue that these are directives to the newly commissioned apostles with their charismatic powers who have long since died.
I believe you also overstate your case in declaring that “most commentators historically have taken this statement to refer to Christ’s ‘Second Advent.’” I am not sure how you came up with the conclusion regarding “most” commentators. In Gaebelein’s Expositor’s Bible Commentary D. A. Carson presents seven views of the passage which have been held by commentators. Interestingly, he accepts the one that I prefer (EBC 8:252-53): “The ‘coming of the Son of Man’ here refers to his coming in judgment against the Jews, culminating in the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple,” and he cites R. T. France, C.F.D. Moule, J. A. T. Robinson, and William Barclay to name but a few. Leon Morris writes: “The variety of views shows that a decision on the meaning of the words is not easy” (Pillar New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 258). He notes that the A.D. 70 view was held by “Lenski, Carson, and others.” After examining various interpretations offered by commentators, D. A. Hagner calls the A.D. 70 view “The best one” (Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 2:280).
Unfortunately, my free time to interact with your paper is drawing to a conclusion. I will jump to page 5 and your comments on Matthew 24:34. Although it is true that “verse 34 plays an extremely crucial role” in our understanding of the passage, it does not stand alone as evidence toward the preterist conclusion, after all:
(1) The Olivet Discourse flows out of Jesus’ denunciation of first century Jerusalem (Matt. 23:37) and her Temple (23:38). Followed by his departing that very Temple (24:1a), which leads to the disciples pointing out the stones of that Temple (24:1b). Jesus declares to them that the Temple would be destroyed stone-by-stone (24:2), to which the disciples ask “When shall these things be?” (24:3). Then follows his answer to that question.
(2) Verse 34 seems clearly to answer the express question as to “when shall these be?” (3) In 24:16 he clearly appears to be warning them to flee from Jerusalem to the mountains. (4) Both dispensationalists and preterists agree that the “abomination of desolation” refers to the Jewish Temple.
But the dispensationalist view requires that Jesus leap past the destruction of the first century Temple being spoken of in the context to an (alleged) rebuilt Temple in the distant future. This suppressed premise is counter-intuitive, especially given that there are so many clear indicators he is referring to the first century Temple in the very context. Although you declare that the preterist “interpretation of the rest of the details of the chapter is forced and unnatural” (p. 6 ¶ 2), it seems that the dispensationalist view is “forced and unnatural.”
Another matter I would like quickly to state regards your “Eschatological Expectation in the Book of Acts” (p. 8). In that the disciples constantly missed Jesus’ teaching regarding his crucifixion, I don’t see how we could be surprised if they missed his teaching regarding the restoration of the kingdom (as per Acts 1:6-7) — especially since this is prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). But as a matter of fact, my postmillennialism teaches that the Jews will be restored to the good favor of God before the last day.
Interestingly, you omit one of the most potent preterist passages in Acts: Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:16ff. There he warns about the blood, fire and vapor of smoke that shall overwhelm Jerusalem before the great and notable Day of the Lord. We believe this is a clear warning to those in Jerusalem of the coming destruction of the city (hence, the Christians sell their property there because of its coming “market devaluation” through war).
I recommend you check my interpretation of Acts 3:19-21. It is found in my book He Shall Have Dominion (2d ed) on pages 499-504).
Due to time pressures, I must call it quits at this point. Hopefully though, this should demonstrate the sort of concerns I have for the counter-evidence you presented. Perhaps at a later date we can interact on the other issues.