Prophetic Tension and The Olivet Discourse

Was Jesus a true prophet, or simply a Jewish apocalyptist? Could Jesus see beyond the events of His generation into the future, or were His "prophecies" to be fulfilled only in the generation of those who actually heard Him? Here is the question that Futurists and Preterists must wrestle with. Here is the next post which critiques Scot McKnight’s view of Preterism, read about it here. The reason I have singled out this study is that it is very well laid out and is confined to the Olivet Discourse. No mention is made in Scot’s study of Daniel’s seventy weeks or the events of Revelation. This allows for a limited focus which is good.

Scot’s first big premise: "I think Jesus’ vision of the future did not extend beyond A.D. 70 and that, in predicting the "end" of the Jewish nation’s privileges in its destruction, Jesus attached teachings about the general resurrection, the final banquet, and the great judgment. In other words, he saw everything taking place, in an indeterminate sense, at A.D. 70."

Before going further, I want to point out that Scot has initially placed Jesus with the Jewish Apocalyptists rather than with the Old Testament Prophets. Although Scot implies that he believes that Jesus is both by saying, "Jesus’ language is prophetic and apocalyptic", we must look carefully at Scot’s re-definition of prophetic. He says, "His knowledge is also prophetic, and therefore limited." (Italics his.) Instead of focusing on the prophet’s ability to reveal knowledge of the future, Scot immediately limits Jesus’ knowledge of the future before Jesus has even opened His mouth. If you combine this with his definition of apocalyptic, Jesus is now limited and ambiguous. This is a serious mistake. At this point, I would refer readers to Ladd’s The Presence of the Future, the chapter titled "Apocalyptic Interpretation of the Promise". Jesus stands with the prophets and not with the apocalyptists as Ladd points out. The "prophetic tension" was completely lost when it came to the apocalyptists. This is important to understand just before we come to Scot’s next big conclusion that is in serious need of examination. Hopefully you are well versed in your Bible to understand Jesus’ superiority as The Prophet after the order of Moses, Deuteronomy 18:15-18, Acts 3:22-26, Acts 7:35-37.

Scot insists that the conservative Evangelical view needs criticism for viewing the Olivet Discourse in terms of what happens at the end of the future Great Tribulation rather than the events of 70 A.D. The reason being (in Scot’s view) is that Jesus was speaking to the disciples about the answer to their question (see my post below) and therefore could only be speaking about the events of the destruction of the temple. Scot points out that Jesus would have been seriously misleading His disciples if they asked about the destruction of the temple which occurred in 70 A.D., but Jesus’ answer included prophecies about the end of the Great Tribulation. In Scot’s words, "This is not how prophetic language works. It works only if the prophet is speaking to contemporaries about things they will experience."  (When you get to the end of this post, you will actually see a little U-turn in Scot’s position.)

First off, how does Scot know this? How exactly does prophetic language work? Can a prophet be speaking to a group of people about contemporary circumstances, yet have a prophetic tension which will have fulfillment into the far future regardless of present fulfillment or not? I will cite a handful of examples for brevity’s sake. Isaiah 7:14, which Jewish Rabbis insist can have no other fulfillment than that in Isaiah’s day, but the Apostle Matthew cites it as being fulfilled in his day, Matthew 1:23. Micah’s prophecy (3:12) that Jerusalem will be plowed like a field, yet was not fulfilled until the days of Jeremiah who was preaching essentially the same message, Jeremiah 9:11, 26:18. What was the difference between Micah and Jeremiah? They repented in Micah’s time, but not in Jeremiah’s, so the evil was postponed to not occur in Micah’s day, but was still completely fulfilled. That theme of postponed judgement sounds familiar, doesn’t it? See I Kings 21:27-29, II Kings 22:15-20, Isaiah 39 and notice that some were fulfilled in a day that could technically be termed the same generation, but others are not. Jeremiah prophesied (31:31) that the LORD would make a new covenant with Israel. Christ confirmed the new covenant in His blood at His first advent, yet we still have a future fulfillment when Israel will become the covenant people of God as a nation (31:33-36). The best example, I think since it is congruent with the situation of the Olivet Discourse, is found in Zechariah 7-8. Here we have questions being asked of the prophet, the prophet provides the answers for their immediate concerns, yet there are aspects of the prophetic answer that remain unfulfilled to this day, 8:3. Summing up, Scot’s statement about – "prophetic language can only work if those to whom he is speaking will experience those things" – simply has no foundation in scripture.

Starting off with this foundation rather than Scot’s, we understand completely that God has the ability to communicate truths (or utter prophecies) that will be fulfilled in different ways to different generations. One other example is the judgement which fell upon Jerusalem in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. This would be known as "The Day of the LORD". Yet when we come to the PostExilic prophets, we have new prophecies concerning the Day of the LORD as if it had not been fulfilled at all. Explanation? Prophetic tension. Again, read Ladd’s chapter on the subject. Christ had the ability to communicate regarding the destruction of 70 A.D. to His disciples, and yet have a future fulfillment for another generation concerning the Great Tribulation. When John saw the Revelation of Jesus Christ, he was shown a multitude coming out of the Great Tribulation. Since Revelation was written after 70 A.D., John’s readers of the seven churches would have noticed the phrase "the Great Tribulation" and realized that there was a great persecution during the destruction of the temple, but there was still a final consummation for this prophecy awaiting some time in the future. My point here is that while Scot may have some valid points about a 70 A.D. fulfillment, this does not preclude a Futurist view for the Olivet Discourse.

A. D. 70 fulfillment is important. Yes, I am a Futurist, but the Preterists have valid points and we need to hear them out, not shut them out. It all goes back to the prophetic tension. Here’s how I understand it, just to try to make it simple.

Let’s take Isaiah for an example. Isaiah saw a judgement coming on his nation due to their idolatry. He begins prophesying about "The Day of the LORD", urging, pleading, and begging his people to repent based on the coming judgement. He saw things in the future occurring but did not see the exact sequence. He saw the judgement but also saw the restoration of his people as well. About this same time, false prophets are prophesying messages of peace. They say not to worry about repenting since they are God’s people and cannot experience judgement from God. Who is right? Nebuchadnezzar comes in and brings a terrible destruction upon Jerusalem. "The Day of the LORD" had come. Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and all the rest of them who had been urging God’s people to repent were the true prophets while the others were false prophets. So every prophecy that the true prophets had preached was saved since these were now utterances by men of God who spoke to the children of Israel by the Holy Spirit. The prophecies of the false prophets were discarded since their messages were proven to be false. This is why we have the prophets that we do. Each one was measured and found to either have prophesied falsely or to have prophesied things that came true.

But many of the aspects of their prophecies were not fulfilled. Israel was not restored to her glory. God was not ruling from Jerusalem. The Gentile nations were not worshiping the LORD. But since so many of the prophecies were fulfilled with such great accuracy, the answer lay in a future fulfillment for "The Day of the LORD" prophecies in the distant or not-so-distant future. PostExilic prophets began urging the children of Israel to continually repent since there would be a future Day of the LORD.

Now back to A. D. 70 fulfillment. Christ had prophesied to His disciples. The initial question by the disciples WAS concerning the temple. Jesus DID answer questions concerning the temple. So when Titus came in and burned the temple to the ground, Jesus’ words were vindicated in front of many who had seen Him alive. This proved (at the very least) that Jesus of Nazareth had spoken truly concerning the temple. So just as in the days of Israelite prophets of old, Jesus’ words were now official prophecies from a prophet as opposed to those who claimed that the temple would not, or could not, be destroyed. And just as those Old Testament prophets had aspects of their prophecies that were fulfilled in their generation but would have great significance for a future generation, so it is with the words of Christ.

The saddest thing is that later in Scot’s dissertation, he concedes these very points. It is not in the same language that I have been using, but of course Scot has to have an explanation for why the end of the age has not yet been consummated at the destruction of the temple. Read this next quote very carefully:

"What Jesus saw beyond this is, in my mind, a mystery. I think he saw connected to this event the resurrection, the final judgment, and the establishment of the Age to Come. He tied them together, the destruction and these "eternal things" because, as a prophet who relied upon God’s revelation for knowledge of the future, this is how prophets worked all along. The next event on God’s calendar was the End Event – and when it did not occur literally on earth, no one was bothered because prophetic knowledge about the future is like that. It trades in metaphor and metaphor is capable of various interpretations. What Jesus was referring to was Israel’s destruction; it had ultimate significance to him. And he got it right."

Do you see the subtle inconsistency? Scot has already laid the foundation of his doctrine by saying that prophetic language doesn’t work like that; that it had to be fulfilled in the days of those to whom He prophesied to. But now at the end of his dissertation, Scot does a little U-Turn admitting that prophetic language is capable of various interpretations since it "trades in metaphor". I think what Scot would like to mean concerning "no one was bothered" is that even though he has set forth a 70 A. D. fulfillment and everything Jesus prophesied of was NOT fulfilled, is that he (Scot) is not bothered because he can simply invoke the idea of the mystery of the language of the prophets at this point in time. With all due respect, Scot can’t have it both ways. He can’t have a Historical Jesus who ONLY saw 70 A. D., and have Jesus the prophet who could trade in metaphors with His language which would be capable of various interpretations.

To answer my initial question, Jesus was not a Jewish apocalyptist, He was and IS THE Prophet of God, among other things. We will see in future posts how there is language in the Olivet Discourse that remains Futurist in nature. While Jesus’ prophecies about the temple were fulfilled, the prophetic tension is still alive and well.

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

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One Response to Prophetic Tension and The Olivet Discourse

  1. Pingback: Me? A Preterist? No, No, No. | The Orange Mailman

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