Sunday, January 01, 2006

Are Matthew 24 And Luke 21 The Same Teaching? Part 1

Are Matthew 24 and Luke 21 the same teaching? Scholars have disagreed about this for years, but I’m not one to buy everything the scholars sell. While I would be a fool to not listen to their wisdom and intelligence, I strongly believe that I — and we — do not need anyone to explain the Bible to us. With diligence and the Spirit, scripture can be understood and God’s plan can be known.

Even though Matthew 24 and Luke 21 contain strong similarities, I contend that the bulk of these two sections of scripture are different teachings given at separate times. Both passages teach of the future return of Christ, but I believe the “tribulation” described in Matt. 24:9-22 is the period of time where the abomination of desolation will stand in the holy place at the midpoint of the yet-to-happen 70th Week of Daniel. The “persecution” described in Luke 21:12-24 speaks of the historical attack on Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Continue and see if the following evidence is enough persuade you.

The Location Change

Both Matthew and Luke show that Jesus and His disciples are at the temple when the disciples point out the beauty of it. Both Matthew and Luke also make it clear that they are still at the temple when Jesus says, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down (Matt. 24:2).”

But this is where an important change takes place between these two accounts. Matthew 24:3 tells us that later on, after leaving the temple, the disciples came to Jesus privately and asked Him the million dollar question, while they were on the Mount of Olives.

As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age (Matt. 24:3)?”

In Luke 21:7, there is absolutely no mention of a location change as there is in Matthew. The transition between verse 6 and 7 is smooth and seems to indicate that the conversation is still taking place in the temple when the disciples ask “when.”

“As for these things which you are now looking at (the temple’s beautiful stones and votive gifts), the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”

They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place (Luke 21:6-7)?”

Not only this, but at the conclusion of this teaching, we’re given another hint.

Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet. And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to Him in the temple to listen to Him (Luke 21:37-38).

Imagine Luke informing us in the beginning of his writing that Jesus was on the Mount of Olives, delivering His teaching. Now visualize Luke, at the end of his report, saying, “Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening, He would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet.” It just wouldn’t make sense. He would have said it in the reverse. “Now during the evening, He was teaching on the mount called Olivet, but He would spend His days in the temple.”

But as we know, Luke did not indicate that Jesus was on the Mount of Olives as Matthew did. And Matthew did not include the statement Luke made concerning what Jesus traditionally did during the day.

We have verification that it was a tradition for Jesus to spend the night on the Mount of Olives, for Luke tells us this a little later, during his account concerning the night of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas.

And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples also followed Him. (Luke 22:39)

John also shows us that this daytime/nighttime system is the way Jesus operated.

Everyone went to his home. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. (John 7:53—8:2 )

I believe that, in the daytime, Jesus taught publicly at the temple about what would soon take place in 70 AD. (Luke 21). Later that evening, on the Mount of Olives, He privately informed His disciples about the end of the age (Matthew 24).

Let’s continue to weigh the evidence.

Before or After What, When?

After Christ baits them with His comments about the temple’s destruction, the disciples ask the obvious question: “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place (Luke 21:7)?”

Both Matthew and Luke now give us Jesus’ exact same response about the birth pains in reply to their question. He said that many will come in His name, claiming to be the Christ, and will mislead many. He taught that there will be wars and rumors of wars. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines.

There can be no mistake about it. The birth pains mentioned in Matthew and Luke are one and the same.

But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. (Matt. 24:8-9)

Notice that, in Matthew, Jesus says that there will be birth pains and then they will be delivered up to tribulation, death, and hatred. But what does Luke say?

But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake. (Luke 21:12).

…will put some of you to death and you will be hated by all. (v. 16-17)

What “things” are Jesus talking about when He says, “But before all these things?” They could be nothing other than the birth pains He mentioned in the previous verse (including the “terrors and great signs form heaven”, which we will get to later).

In Matthew, Jesus clearly taught that the birth pains would take place first and “then” they would be delivered up to tribulation, hated, and killed. But, in Luke, Jesus tells them that “before all these things” [the same birth pangs mentioned in Matthew 24], they would be persecuted, hated, and killed.

Matthew 24 = Birth pains and then tribulation/hated/killed
Luke 21 = Persecution/hated/killed and then birth pains

There is no possible way that a particular event could take place before and after the birth pains, and therefore it’s impossible that these two accounts are speaking of the same event. There’s only one answer that smoothly harmonizes this dilemma.

In Luke, Jesus speaks to His disciples at the temple during the day and answers their question about when the temple will be destroyed. In verses 12-23, He informs them of the details of the upcoming event that were to take place before the birth pains. We now know this event happened in 70 AD when the Romans attacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and dispersed the Jews among the nations.

Matthew 24 verses 3 through the end of the chapter records what Jesus spoke to the disciples later that evening on the Mount of Olives, answering their question that pertained to His coming and the end of the age. He taught them about what would take place after the birth pains—the final persecution of the elect initiated by the “abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet.”

It fits together quite nicely. The disciples and other listeners had heard earlier that day about the destruction of the temple and about some of the events of the end (Luke). The disciples had thought about it the rest of the day, piquing their curiosity, and later that evening they came to Him privately and asked, “When will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age (Matthew)?”

It appears, in Matthew, as though the disciples assumed the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple were linked to His coming and the end of the age, but there should be no doubt—Jesus implied no such thing. He simply answered the portion of their question pertaining to the end. He gave them what they really wanted to know at that time.

In the next column, I’ll deal with some of the objections to this view. Click here to go to part two of this three part article.

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