In the previous article I noted that Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 discussed two themes: the desolation of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the second coming of Christ. These three passages are similar, although there are some differences. One of the major differences is that Luke gathers together much of the material relating to the second coming and puts it in chapter 17:22-37, leaving most of chapter 21 referring to the desolation of Jerusalem. Now one of the ways that these three passages are misunderstood is by seeing the whole discourse as relating only to the desolation of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. By logical inference, those who teach this say that Luke 17:22-37 is also referring to the desolation of Jerusalem. The next step is to teach that II Peter 3 is referring to the end of the Jewish age, and not to the end of the world. When followed to its logical conclusion, this view presents all the passages relating to the second coming, the resurrection, the end of the world, and the final judgment as being symbolic for what happened in A.D. 70 and thus completely does away with any future hope.
Actually a correct understanding of Luke 17:22-37 is important for a correct understanding of Matthew 24. The reason for this is that similar scriptures are used in both passages. The relationship between the two may be diagrammed as follows:
Now those who teach that Luke 17 is talking about A.D. 70 make the following argument: Matthew 24:17-18 is parallel to Luke 17:31. But Matthew 24:17-18 is talking about the desolation of Jerusalem. Therefore Luke 17:31 is talking about the same thing. This is the crux of the argument in a nutshell. The argument continues along this line: Luke 17:22, 24, 26, 30, 31, 34 are all taking about the same day. Since Luke 17:31 is talking about the desolation of Jerusalem, all these verses are talking about the desolation of Jerusalem. But Luke 17:26-27 is parallel to Matt. 24:37-39 and Luke 17:35-36 is parallel to Matt. 24:40-41. Therefore Matt. 24:37-41 is talking about the desolation of Jerusalem. But this section is talking about the advent (Greek parousia) of the Son of Man. Therefore the advent of the Son of Man must have happened at the desolation of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and all of Matthew 24 is talking about that event. Those who carry the argument to its logical conclusion could continue along this line. The "advent" (Greek parousia--Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39) is also found in I Cor. 15:23; I Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; II Thess. 2:1, 8; James 5:7, 8; II Peter 1:16; 3:4, 12; I John 2:28. The "completion of the age" (v. 3) is also found in Matt. 13:39, 40, 49; 28:20. The "end" (v. 6) is also found in I Cor. 1:8; 15:24; I Peter 4:7. The "birth-pangs" (v. 8) are also found in I Thess. 5:3. The "clouds" (v. 30) are also found in Rev. 1:7. The "trumpet" (v. 31) is also found in I Cor. 15:52; I Thess. 4:16. The "angels" (v. 31) are also found in Matt. 13:39, 41, 49; 25:31. The "gathering" (v. 31) is also found in II Thess. 2:1. The exhortation to "watch" (v. 42) is also found in I Thess. 5:6. The analogy of coming as a "thief" (v. 43) is also found in I Thess. 5:2; II Peter 3:10; Rev. 16:15. Therefore all of these "second coming" passages are in reality talking about the desolation of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
But at this point soberer minds will say, "Hold it! These passages are not talking about the desolation of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. You only have to read them to see that they're not." And this is true! But they all are linguistically tied together. So where is the problem in the logic? The problem is all the way back in the crux of the argument. The fact that Matthew 24:17-18 is parallel to Luke 17:31 does not mean that they are talking about the same thing. (The argument is sometimes expanded to say that Matt. 24:26-27 is parallel to Luke 17:23-24 and Matt. 24:28 is parallel to Luke 17:37. But in fact Matt. 24:26-28 is talking about the second coming. The point is that the advent of the Son of Man will not be a secret happening at the desolation of Jerusalem--in the wilderness or in the inner room. Rather it will be as obvious as the lightning in the sky, as the vultures circling a dead body. So the case that Luke 17 is talking about the desolation of Jerusalem must be built on the parallel between Luke 17:31 and Matt. 24:17-18.) But as we said before, the fact that these two passages are parallel does not mean that they are talking about the same thing. To say that they are involves an unspoken assumption. And that assumption is that similar wording in different contexts must always be talking about the same thing. But this assumption is not true. John 2:14-17 is parallel to Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; and Luke 19:45-46. But the event in John 2 happened early in Jesus' ministry, while the event recorded in the other passages happened during the last week before His crucifixion. Jesus told both the paralytic brought by his four friends and the man by the pool of Bethzatha, "Rise, take up your pallet" (Mark 2:11; John 5:8). Similar sayings are found in Matthew 10 where Jesus sends out the twelve and Luke 10 where He sends out the seventy-[two]: preach that the kingdom is near, a laborer is worthy of his food, let peace come on a house, more tolerable for Sodom, and sheep in the midst of wolves. More to the point is the saying that a servant is not greater than his master, which is used in two different places to teach two different lessons. It is used in Matt. 10:24 to mean that the apostles, like Jesus, would be maligned. It is used in John 13:16 to show that the apostles should follow the example of Jesus in washing one another's feet.
So the point is this: just because similar events or sayings occur in two parallel passages, that does not mean that they are necessarily talking about the same thing. In fact, the same saying can be used to teach two different lessons in two different contexts. Always the meaning of words must be determined from their context. But can the saying about the person on the housetop or in the field not going to get his possessions have two different meanings in two different contexts? Yes, it can and does. In Matthew 24:17-18 it is showing the urgency of fleeing to the mountains when the armies surround Jerusalem. This was fulfilled in A.D. 66 when the Roman general Cestius Gallus surrounded Jerusalem with the Twelfth Legion and other soldiers. When the siege was temporarily lifted, those who did not flee were trapped in the city and destroyed. But in Luke 17:31 the saying is used to exhort disciples of Christ not to try to hold on to earthly possessions and ties when Christ comes again, for all these things will be destroyed. Lot's wife tried to and was destroyed herself. Christians must renounce the things of this life (Luke 14:33; I John 2:15-17). We can't take them with us. Therefore we must lay up our treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:19-21).
The doctrine that Matthew 24 (all of it), Luke 17, and II Peter 3 are talking about the desolation of Jerusalem rather than the second coming has for several years been taught among us. Already I have heard of gospel preachers teaching that the world will not be finally destroyed by fire. And some of them are even teaching that the resurrection is already past. I knew such a young man. He followed this teaching to its logical conclusion and decided that the resurrection happened in A.D. 70. The last I saw of him he was reading a book on Zen Buddhism, for he thought he already had all that Christianity had to offer. And he did, if he was right! This teaching is false. And the danger of false teaching is that it can cause people to abandon the faith and be lost. I am not merely speaking of possibility; I am speaking of fact. It has happened! As Jesus said, "by their fruits you shall know them." Brothers who teach this doctrine, let me encourage you to restudy this teaching and abandon it. It is a new teaching among us and does not promote the spiritual well-being of the hearers. And you must look to your own selves also, knowing that those of us who are teachers will be judged with a stricter judgment (James 3:1).
This article orginally was published as:
Terry, Bruce. 1981. Luke 17: A.D. 70 or the second coming? Firm Foundation 98 (July 7).