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Are Luke 17 and Matthew 24 Describing Different Comings of Jesus?

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A post on the Always Ready Facebook page has an interesting discussion on Luke 17 and its relationship to Matthew 24–25 and Greg L. Bahnsen’s view of that relationship. Dr. Bahnsen took the view that Luke 17:22–37 refers to the Second Coming while Matthew 24:1–34 refers to the judgment on Jerusalem that took place before that first-century generation passed away (24:34). Ken Gentry agrees with Dr. Bahnsen.

Keep in mind that this is an intramural debate. As we will see, it’s not a new debate. A great deal of new material related to eschatology has resurfaced thanks to the massive amount of material being posting on the internet.

I discuss the argument in chapter 15 of my book Last Days Madness, so I won’t repeat all that I’ve written there. It is important to note that one of the reasons I believe Luke 17 and Matthew 24 are describing the same event—the judgment on Jerusalem and not the Second Coming—is the ordering of specific prophetic events related to Matthew 24:35–36:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

Last Days Madness

Last Days Madness covers most of the main topics related to Bible prophecy including an expostion of prophetic events after Matthew 24:35-36.

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Bahnsen and Gentry argue, along with many others, that verse 35 refers to the physical heaven and earth while I and others believe it refers to the making and breaking of the covenant relationship with Israel (e.g., Isa. 51:15–16; Jer. 4:23–31).

The creation of the new heavens and new earth found in Isaiah 65:17–25 cannot refer to the creation of a new physical creation or the last judgment since women are still giving birth and people continue to die (65:20). This is an old respected view taught by John Owen, [1] John Lightfoot [2], John Brown, [3] among others.

Luke 17:22–37 describes five Olivet-Discourse prophetic events that are identical to those found in Matthew 24. The difference between Matthew 24 and Luke 17 is the order of the events in relation to Matthew 24:35–36, a characteristic of the passages that are difficult to explain if the order of events is important. Bahnsen and Gentry do not consider the ordering of events to be significant since Matthew and Luke often differ. I disagree.

Taking Matthew 24 as the standard, Luke places the Noah’s ark analogy (Matt. 24:37–39) before the events of Matthew 24:17–18 (“let him who is on the housetop not go down”), verse 27 (“for just as the lightning comes from the east”), and verse 28 (“wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather”).

If the five prophetic events of Matthew 24 that are found in Luke 17:22–37 are numbered 1–2–3–4–5, Luke’s numbering of the same events would be 2–4–1–5–3. J. Marcellus Kik, in his book Matthew 24, Gentry, and Bahnsen argue that Matthew 24:35–36 are transitional texts separating the judgment coming of Jesus of that generation (24:1–34) from the Second Coming.

Dr. Bahnsen’s most significant argument is his interpretation of Luke 17:22. Jesus’ present audience will “long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you [referring to those to whom Jesus is speaking] will not see it.” He says that this differs from what we find Jesus saying in Matthew 24 where we read that “relief WILL be granted, for the elect’s sake” since the tribulation will be shortened. In Luke’s version, “although people WANT the relief, it will not be given.”

At this point in Jesus’ ministry, the disciples were not clear on the nature, timing, and manifestation of His kingdom. Just prior to His ascension, Jesus was “speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Those who were with Him asked, “Lord, is it as this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (1:6) Jesus does not give a direct answer to their inquiry. The context of Luke 17:22–37 is found in verses 20–21 when the Pharisees questioned Jesus about “when the kingdom of God was coming.” Jesus answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here’ or, ‘There!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Joel McDurmon’s comments do a good job explaining the historical and theological context:

The question shows that the Pharisees had understood Jesus to be preaching about something imminent for them. Jesus’ interactions with them up to this point all indicated a great change, a great division, a com­ing judgment. He had even rebuked the people explicitly earlier for not discerning the times (12:54–59), He preached parables about the King­dom (13:18–21), and He had warned them all about being locked out of the Kingdom while others had entered (13:28–29). He, in fact, had just rebuked a group of Pharisees for not discerning the nature of the Kingdom which had been preached since John the Baptist (16:16–17). So they were certainly on the right subject.

But just like so much of what they did in relation to Jesus, they proved that they missed the point of His teaching. The Kingdom of God had been preached since John, not because it was yet to come, but because He was here now. There was a great momentous event on the near horizon, true, but this was not the coming of the Kingdom. Jesus made it clear much ear­lier in this journey that with Him the Kingdom had in fact arrived: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Now He reminds the Pharisees of this reality again: “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (17:21). But He does not correct their misunderstanding of the thing they could watch out for, they could observe, and which would come upon them outwardly in the near future—the destruction of Jerusalem. For this warning, He turns again privately to His disciples (17:22ff). Why? Because the Pharisees were too blind to see Him; they would remain in their blindness and fall under judgment. Jesus’ withholding of information from them goes right back to the whole idea of speaking in parables: the non-elect were not allowed to understand, and not allowed to receive the clear witness of the truth (Luke 8:9–10, 18). They were appointed to destruction (Jude 4)….

[T]he disciples receive special instruction as to the nature of the vis­ible coming judgment. Many will be looking for Christ after Christ is gone (thus there would be many false Christs in that interim period, Matt. 24:5; Luke 21:8), and of all people who had a keen interest in His arrival, the disciples would be most anxious, for they would be among the few who knew for sure He was coming back in their lifetimes. So Jesus makes sure to insulate them against false Christs. He does this by teaching them about the true nature of the coming destruction He has been preaching about [in Luke 17:22–37]….

[Noah and Lot] were forewarned men who were prepared for a coming judgment and got out when the time came. The others were all taken by surprise by a massive cataclysmic judgment. Here Jesus sees fit to give His disciples this warning, but not unto the multitudes or the Pharisees. This was a warning to the elect remnant only, for only they would get out.”

In addition to this lesson which we have already covered earlier, it is important to note Jesus’ prediction, “But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” (17:25). This verse will have great importance later when we hear Jesus referring again to “this generation.” To those who may be tempted to argue there that “this generation” refers to something other than the generation to whom Jesus was speaking—something more general or more future—the context here in Luke 17:25 makes it clear that Jesus’ “this generation” would be the same generation which rejected Him and caused Him to suffer.

The main lesson here, however, is to the disciples: the day of the Son of Man will not require strained observation or secret knowledge of His whereabouts. Rather, it would be a visible and clear to everyone as lightning streaking all the way across the sky. The key was that the disciples would be prepared for this, but faithless Israel would not; for the remnant already knew the hidden Kingdom that had come among them, and would thus be prepared for the great revealing in judgment to come. To the Pharisees that Kingdom was invisible, and they would still be looking for it when the great judgment came upon them. [4]

Jesus v. Jerusalem

Joel McDurmonʼs work is original. He goes where few commentators have gone before. As he shows in page after page of tightly argued points, there is a unity to the prophetic message of the gospels and the rest of the New Testament. Itʼs about new wine in new wine skins. Everything about the old covenant was planned obsolescence.

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This means that not seeing one of the days of the Son of Man is about not seeing the manifestation of the kingdom the way the Pharisees envisioned it, a rescue from Roman oppression and a full vindication of the righteousness of Israel. What they would see was a judgment. What we read in Luke 17:22–37 is the same imminent judgment described in Matthew 24.

The following is taken from Luke 17:20–37 that appears in the 18th century six-volume Critical Commentary and Paraphrase on the Old and New Testament by Patrick, Lowth, Arnald, Whitby, and Lowman:

  1. John Owen, “Providential Changes, An Argument for Universal Holiness,” in William H. Goold, ed., The Works of John Owen, 16 vols. (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965-68),9:134.[]
  2. “That the destruction of Jerusalem is very frequently expressed in Scripture as if it were the destruction of the whole world, Deuteronomy 32:22; ‘A fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell’ (the discourse there is about the wrath of God consuming that people; see verses 20,21), ‘and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.’ Jeremiah 4:23; ‘I beheld the earth, and lo, it was without form and void; and the heavens, and they had no light,’ &c. The discourse there also is concerning the destruction of that nation, Isaiah 65:17; ‘Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered,’ &c. And more passages of this sort among the prophets. According to this sense, Christ speaks in this place; and Peter speaks in his Second Epistle, third chapter; and John, in the sixth of the Revelation; and Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:17, &c.”[]
  3. John Brown, Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1852] 1990), 1:171–172.[]
  4. Joel McDurmon, Jesus v. Jerusalem: A Commentary on Luke 9:51–20:26, Jesus’ Lawsuit Against Israel (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2011), 111–113.[]
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