When I was growing up, most kids owned a shoehorn. I’m not sure if they are used much today. It may be because young people wear casual shoes to school and even church. For the uninformed, a shoehorn is a device to help the heel of the foot to slip comfortably into the back of the shoe so the back of the shoe is not broken.
Some popular biblical doctrines need a shoehorn to work. Bible prophecy is one of these. This is especially true when it comes to interpreting the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. (Not all prophetic passages are as easy to interpret. But getting this one right helps with the more difficult ones.) I’ve repeatedly shown how various interpretations of “this generation” are shoehorned into a description of a distant future generation and not the generation of Jesus’ day. An exegetical shoehorn is needed to make “this generation” mean “this type of generation,” “this [Jewish] race,” “a distant generation that sees these signs,” “double fulfillment,” a mix of events related to Israel’s judgment that took place before their generation passed away (Matt. 24:34 and Luke 21) and a different future generation.
Gary DeMar covers topics related to (1) the time texts, audience reference (the use of the second person plural), and prophetic signs that are described by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), (2) the claim made by James Hamilton that preterism is based on the historical works of first-century Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (AD 37–100), (3) the meaning of Jesus’ use of ‘this generation,’ and (4) John Murray’s (1898–1975) interpretation of Matthew 24–25, a position that Mr. Waldron follows.Buy Now
I discuss the latter view in my book Prophecy Wars where I interact with John Murray’s view. Murray (1898–1975), a non-dispensationalist, argued that there are divisions in the Olivet Discourse that address different periods of prophetic time. For example, he argues that “[i]n verses 4-14 Jesus deals with certain outstanding features of the interadventual period,” that is, the time between Jesus’ first coming and His physical Second Coming, an event that is still in our future. For Murray and others (e.g., Sam Waldron), “the end” (Matt. 24:3, 6, 13, 14) can refer to several ends that will commence with similar prophetic events and the return of Jesus in glory. Murray argues that the disciples were confused about the “end of the age” (24:3), believing that when the temple was destroyed, it would also mean a final eschatological end:
In view of the terms of the parallel verses in Mark and Luke—‘when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things come to pass’ (Mark 13:4)—we should most probably regard the disciples as thinking of the destruction of the temple and the coming (παρουσία) as coincident, and the sign, in their esteem, would be the sign of all three events specified in Matthew 24:3—destruction of the temple, the coming, and the consummation of the age.
Jesus did not correct their supposed misconception as He does at other times. We’re often told when the disciples got something wrong or did not understand some part of His teaching (Matt. 8:23-27; 16:21–23; Mark 9:30-33; Luke 9:37-56; John 12:15-17; 13:7-13; 16:18; 20:9; Acts 1:6-8).
The thing of it is, everything before verse 35 was to have taken place before that generation passed away. “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (24:34). Murray states that “the expression ‘this generation’ would suggest the generation then living, the period, commonly designated ‘generation’, in which Jesus spoke these words. And the question would then arise: Did all the things spoken of in the preceding context actually occur?… Usage in both Testaments requires, therefore, that ‘generation’ in Matthew 24:34 be understood in the sense of the living generation. ” An exegetical shoehorn is needed to get around what the meaning of what “this generation” requires in both Testaments.
Murray and Waldron aren’t the only commentators who acknowledge what “this generation” means but force the particulars of the text beyond that generation. Consider the following:
Thirteen of the forty NT uses of γενεὰ [genea] occur in Matthew. It is doubtful if any of them mean anything other than “the sum total of those born at the same time, … contemporaries.” Matt 24:34 is one of six texts in Matthew which couple γενεὰ [genea] with the demonstrative pronoun [this] (11:16; 12:41, 42, 45; 23:36; 24:34). It is virtually certain that in all these Matthean uses the meaning is simply Jesus’ contemporaries…. Of course, traditional dispensationalism’s view of γενεὰ [genea] is constrained by other factors. If γενεὰ [genea] refers to Jesus’ contemporaries, and Jesus pronounces that they will not die before the great tribulation, then Jesus was wrong, and that is unthinkable. So to remove the tension it is convenient to redefine γενεὰ [genea]. However, the better part of wisdom is to rethink the strict futuristic grid which dispensationalists have traditionally placed upon 24:1-34.
Turner concludes that “All these things (24:34) is limited by the contextual fig tree analogy to the events marking the course of the age, particularly the events of A.D. 70,” but then concludes “that a substantial portion of the chapter describes the present age. The A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the eschatological tribulation are theologically linked, with the former event serving as a token or earnest which anticipates the latter.” Turner and others who take this approach know what the text says, but they cannot bring themselves to apply what the text says to what it means—the generation to whom Jesus was addressing (Matt. 24:33).
John Phillips, in his commentary on Matthew published by Kregel, exemplifies the shoehorn effect with these comments about Matthew 11:16-19:
[Matthew’s] record shows that the Lord used a very significant illustration. Jesus began, “Whereunto shall I liken this generation?” (11:16) Note the expression “this generation.” It occurs sixteen times in the New Testament (Matthew 11:16; 12:41, 42; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12 (twice); 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 17:25; 21:32. It occurs another nine times with adjectives—“evil,” “wicked,” “adulterous ,” “sinful” (Matthew 12:39, 45; 16:4; Mark 8:38; Luke 11:29); “faithless,” “perverse” (Matthew 17:17; Mark 9:19; Luke 9:41); “untoward” (Acts 2:40). With only one exception (Matthew 24:34), the expression describes the generation that rejected the Messiah. In all cases it refers to a literal generation.
Except for the literal generation to which Jesus was speaking in Matthew 24:34 even though He said, “so you too, when you see all these things, know that it is near, right at the door” (Matt. 24:33). Phillips does not discuss this verse. He does some fancy shoehorning when it comes to the fig tree illustration claiming that it depicts apostate Israel (a tree only with leaves) in the future that will blossom sometime after “the rapture of the church.”
He claims that the use of “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 does not “mean the generation to which He was speaking. That was the generation of 23:6, the generation that witnessed the cursing of the fig tree [of which Jesus said, ‘No longer shall there ever be fruit from you’: 21:19].” He claims the expression describes the generation that rejected the Messiah,” except in this one instance! Here is more shoehorning:
If in 24:34 it was not the generation to which He was speaking, then surely it had to be the generation of which He was speaking—the generation that would witness the rebirth of the state of Israel, the budding of the fig tree, and the beginning of the end of “all these things.”
This is some fancy exegetical footwork since there is nothing about any of these things in the Gospels. Nothing! Did you notice how he quoted “all these things” from Matthew 24:33 but left out the audience reference that defines “the generation of which He was speaking”? I repeat: “so you too, when you see all these things, know that it is near, right at the door.” Those of that generation would see all these things. The verse can’t be read any other way.
Shoehorning continues with those who claim Matthew’s Olivet Discourse and Luke’s similar version are describing different generations separated by nearly 2000 years so far! I’ll deal with this argument next time.
Wars and Rumors of Wars
Skeptics read the Olivet Discourse in the right way, but come to the wrong conclusion. Christian futurists read it the wrong way and come to a different wrong conclusion. Jesus predicted that He would return within the time period of that generation alone. Unfortunately, too many Christians are giving the wrong answer when skeptics claim Jesus was mistaken. Everything Jesus said would happen before that generation passed away did happen.Buy Now
John Murray, “The Interadventual Period and the Advent: Matthew 24 and 25,” Collected Writings of John Murray (2): Select Lectures in Systematic Theology (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 2:388.
Murray, “The Interadventual Period and the Advent,” 2:387.
Murray, “The Interadventual Period and the Advent,” 2:391-393.
BAGD, 153-54. cr. Matt 1:17 (4x); 11:16; 12:39,41,42,45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36; 24:34.
David L. Turner, “The Structure and Sequence of Matthew 24:1-41: Interaction with Evangelical Treatments,” Grace Theological Journal 10.1 (1989), 20-21.
Turner, “The Structure and Sequence of Matthew 24:1-41,” 3.
John Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Matthew: An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), 205.
Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Matthew, 457.