Apocalyptic Language of Scripture

by Charles S. Meek

There are, of course, many different views among Christians about eschatology. Jesus’ Parousia (“Second Coming”) of Matthew 24:29-34 is a primary text, but highly controversial. The futurist view places this event at the end of history. On the other hand, the preterist view is that Jesus’ Parousia described in Matthew 24 is about Christ’s coming “in judgment” against Old Covenant Israel in AD 70. The context is the prophecy of the destruction of the temple (verse 2) which was fulfilled in AD 70. The parallel passage of Luke 21 confirms that this is about the fall of Jerusalem at that time.

Jesus restricted the time of, at least, this “coming” to his own generation (verse 34). This time-constraint is confirmed by other passages that teach that the Parousia would be before some of those living in the first century had died (Matthew 10:23; 16:27-28). The further context of Matthew 24 is the preceding chapter (Matthew 23) in which Jesus condemns the Jews of his day. This is affirmation that Matthew 24 is about judgment of apostate Old Covenant Israel.

In either view, it is critical to understand the NATURE of Jesus’ Parousia described in Matthew 24 and similar verses. We read that Jesus would come on clouds of heaven, with angels and trumpets, accompanied by disruptions of the created order. Is this to be understood literally or figuratively?

In John 5:19-22 Jesus was given authority to judge in the SAME WAY as the Father. So, if Jesus was to judge in the same way, how does the Bible describe the Father’s judgments? In the passages below, note the similarity of how God’s various comings-in-judgment against people and nations in the Old Testament compared to Jesus “coming” described in Matthew 24:29-34:

“Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven quaked and were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth, coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also and came down with darkness under his feet. He rode upon a cherub, and flew; and He was seen upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness canopies around Him, dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him coals of fire were kindled. The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered his voice. He sent out arrows and scattered them; lightning bolts, and He vanquished them.” (2 Samuel 22:8-15, judgment against David’s enemies)

“For behold, the LORD is coming out of His place; He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. The mountains will melt under Him, and the valleys will split like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place. All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel. . . . Therefore, I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the field, places for planting a vineyard; I will pour down her stones into the valley, and I will uncover her foundations. All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces, and all her pay as a harlot shall be burned with the fire; all her idols I will lay desolate. . . .”  (Micah 1:3-13, judgment against Israel and Judah)

“Behold, the DAY of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. . . Therefore, I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts and in the day of his fierce anger.” (Isaiah 13:9-13, judgment against Babylon)

“Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt, and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. . . . And the waters of the sea will be dried up. . . . This who are the pillars of the land will be crushed. . . . And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians in that day. . . . And the LORD will strike Egypt.” (Isaiah 19:1-22, judgment against Egypt)

Here’s a list of other Old Testament references that speak of God’s “coming,” “coming down” to earth, “returning,” “appearing,” or that speak of his presence on earth effecting change—especially JUDGMENT. Look these up for a fuller understanding of how God “comes.” Genesis 11:5; 18:21; Exodus 3:8; 13:21; 16:10; 19:9-20; 24:15-18; Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 9:15-22; 11:17; Deuteronomy 4:11-24; 5:22; 31:15; 33:2; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14; Psalm 18:4-15; 46:6; 50:3; 96:13; 97:1-5; 98:9; 104:3; 144:5-7; Isaiah 26:21; 29:3-6; 31:4; 34:2-10; 40:3-10; 60:19-20; 64:1-3; 66:15; Jeremiah 4:12-28; 51:24-25; Ezekiel 1:27-28; 10:3-19; 30:2-12; 32:7-8; Daniel 7:13; 8:10; Hosea 8:1; Joel 2:10-11, 31; 3:15-16; Amos 5:16-24; 8:8-9; Micah 1:2-16; Nahum 1:2-6; Zephaniah 1:2-18; Zechariah 1:15-16; 2:10; 9:14; 14:2-6; Malachi 3:5.

While the RESULTS of God’s effectual presence were seen in these passages, was God HIMSELF ever literally visible in these “comings?” Wasn’t this poetic, non-literal use of language to describe God’s intervention from heaven? If Jesus was to judge like the Father, have many Christians misunderstood how Jesus would come at his Matthew 24 “coming?”

These many passages reveal the possibility that Jesus indeed came in judgment in AD 70 in a non-bodily sense to judge Old Covenant Israel, just as He promised in Matthew 21:33-43; 22:1-14; 23:29-39; 26:64; etc. — and just like God came in judgment in the Old Testament.

Do these passages shed a different light for you about the Matthew 24 “Second Coming?” Be a Berean and study the Scriptures further to see what is true (Acts 17:11)!? Start with my “Introduction to Biblical Prophecy” here:


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