Towards the end of the Apostle Peter’s life, he forewarned us as to what would be the attitude of many in the last days concerning the apparent delay in Christ’s Second Coming, saying:
“knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’” (2Peter 3:3-4)
Both Peter and Paul were shown the conditions which would later prevail in the last days (cf. 1Tim 4:1-3; 2Tim 3:1-5). The signs mentioned by them are characteristic of our times, more than any other generation before us – especially within the last few years. In this blog, I will be considering some of the arguments used by a rapidly growing number of people who often ridicule those of us who still eagerly await a future return of Christ.
“This generation will not pass”
Preterists present Jesus’ declaration in the Olivet Discourse, “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” as evidence that Christ returned in 70 AD, since Jesus describes both Israel’s desolation and His Second Coming in the same discourse.
However, a careful examination of the context within each of the three Synoptic Gospels makes it clear that there is a necessary separation between the 70 AD desolation of Jerusalem and Christ’s return.
Just prior to His discourse in Matthew 23:36 Jesus said to Israel’s representative leadership: “all these things will come upon this generation,” with “all these things” having reference to Israel’s judgment and desolation for rejecting the kingdom. Then in 38-39 He mentions His Second Coming as being subsequent to Israel’s desolation at such a time when they would be willing to receive Him as their Messiah and King. He said to them:
“See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more UNTIL you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matt 23:38-39)
Preterists would say that God has permanently rejected Israel as a people. However, Jesus refers to their judgment as only being temporary, continuing “until” such a time when Israel will say, “blessed is He who ‘comes’ in the name of the Lord.” Luke’s Gospel, which gives the most detail concerning Israel’s 70AD judgment and desolation, also presents Israel’s judgment as only being temporary, saying:
“For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. 24 And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles UNTIL the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:23-24)
Paul later received further revelation concerning Israel’s judgment and subsequent deliverance and restoration at Christ’s Second Coming. He said:
“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel UNTIL the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 For this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’” (Rom 11:25-27)
Paul here tells us that Israel’s judgment is temporary, lasting “until” the fulness of the Gentiles has come in. At that time, Israel will be saved and restored when Christ the Deliverer comes out of Zion, referring to Christ’s Second Coming. When Christ comes a second time it will not be for Israel’s destruction, as Preterists affirm, but for Israel’s deliverance. Sadly, many, including the Preterists, are ignorant concerning this mystery, believing that the Church has permanently replaced Israel as a people. I demonstrate the temporary nature of Israel’s judgment in my blog entitled: “Has the Church Replaced Israel?”
So, we see that there is a necessary separation between Israel’s desolation and dispersion and her deliverance at Christ’s Second Coming when a subsequent generation will say: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
The Olivet Discourse has a Two-fold Fulfillment
After declaring Israel’s desolation and His subsequent coming at such a time when Israel would receive Him, Jesus continued saying in the next verse that not one stone of the temple would be left standing upon another. That was when His disciples asked Him the two-fold question: “Tell us, 1) when will these things be? And 2) what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3).
In the context, we have already seen that Jesus spoke of “these things” (Israel’s desolation and the destruction of their temple) which would come upon that very generation, and His subsequent coming again at such a time when Israel would gladly receive Him. The entire discourse is Jesus’ reply to their two-fold question. While there are many parallels between the two events, the careful reader will notice that they are clearly distinguishable.
In Luke’s account, the disciples are presented as only asking Jesus about Israel’s desolation which Jesus had just said would occur in that same generation (Luke 21:7), and he accordingly gives more details concerning Jerusalem’s desolation, whereas Matthew’s Gospel answers both questions, giving greater attention to the events surrounding the Second Coming of Christ.
For example, in Luke, Jesus told the Christians to flee Jerusalem as soon as they saw the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem, and he records Jesus’ announcement of God’s judgment against Israel which would occur at that time:
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22 For these are the days of vengeance… For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. 24 And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles UNTIL the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:20-24)
As we see here, the surrounding of Jerusalem by the Roman armies is followed by the prolonged dispersion of the Jews and the Gentile occupation of Jerusalem. In contrast, in Matthew’s Gospel, we see more detail concerning the end of the age and events surrounding the Second Coming. In Matthew 24:14 Jesus said that the end of the age wouldn’t come until the gospel had been preached throughout the whole world. He said:
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world (οἰκουμένη) as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14)
Clearly, this wasn’t fulfilled prior to 70AD. To this day it still cannot be said that the entire inhabited world has heard the gospel. In the verses that immediately follow, we see another command to flee. However, in contrast to Luke’s account which commanded them to flee Jerusalem as soon as they saw the Roman armies surrounding the city, we see a command to flee Judea when the abomination of desolation is seen standing in the holy place:
“Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains… 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened.” (Matt 24:15-17; 21-22)
While the casual reader may assume that Jesus was referring to the same event in both Evangels, upon careful examination it becomes evident that in Matthew’s account Jesus was referring to His Second Coming when unprecedented events would become so severe as to destroy all flesh, requiring His intervention in order to save the remnant of His elect people. When He comes again, it will not be for Israel’s destruction, but for her deliverance. The prophet Daniel saw the same coming, and Christ is likewise seen in the book of Daniel to come for Israel’s deliverance after the same unprecedented Great Tribulation. Daniel said:
“At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life (eonian life), some to shame and everlasting contempt (eonian shame).” (Dan 12:1-2)
Jeremiah also refers to this same unprecedented tribulation as “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” and also says that Israel will be delivered at that time (Jer 30:7-9). Both Jesus and Daniel describe a physical resurrection when Israel is delivered at the close of the Great Tribulation (Matt 24:30-31). No physical resurrection occurred in 70AD, and Israel wasn’t delivered out of her tribulation by Christ’s Second Coming. Quite the contrary, she was left desolate and dispersed in judgment.
It is worthy of note that the Ante-Nicene Fathers uniformly saw the abomination of desolation in Matthew 24 as being something yet in their future, followed by the visible return of Christ, whereas those Fathers who commented on Luke 21:20 saw the reference to the armies surrounding Jerusalem to have already occurred in 70AD.  Virtually no one in those days, whether secular or Christian, is on record as having understood Christ to have come at that time.
Timing of Jerusalem’s Destruction revealed – Timing of Second Coming concealed
The only sign given by Jesus to indicate that Israel’s desolation was imminent was that they would see the armies surrounding Jerusalem (Luke 21:20). Christians were commanded to flee Judea into the mountains at that time, and history records that they heeded His warning, fleeing to Pella before Jerusalem was completely surrounded.
In contrast to Israel’s desolation in 70AD, Jesus gave many signs which would indicate that His coming was imminent. One we have already considered was that the gospel will have been preached to all the nations of the world before the end comes and Christ returns.
Another sign we saw is that there would be “great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt 24:21-22). The Roman siege of Jerusalem certainly was a time of tribulation for the Jews. According to Josephus, over a million Jews perished. However, the tribulation described by Jesus is on an unprecedented global scale. He said that there would never occur anything like it again. Yet the tribulation under the Nazi regime resulted in nearly six times more Jews being killed, without taking into account the millions of Jews who later died under Stalin’s regime. Jesus was clearly referring to the Great Tribulation of three and a half years, further described in Daniel and the book of Revelation where the number of fatalities is in the billions worldwide, rather than just a little over one million Jews in Jerusalem in 70AD. (Rev 6:8; 9:15).
Furthermore, Jesus said that when He returns, every eye from all the tribes of the earth will see Him coming (Rev 1:7; Matt 24:30; 2Thess 2:8; Rev 6:12-17). At that time some will be sleeping in one part of the world, while others will be working in the fields in the daytime (Luke 17:34-36; Matt 24:40-41). The Lord will gather His elect throughout the earth at that time (Matt 24:30-31). Some will be taken, whereas others will be left. Clearly, Jesus did not come in AD 70. Christ had simply left Jerusalem desolate due to their rejection of the kingdom (Matt 23:38-39). He did not come to personally destroy Jerusalem in 70 AD. When Christ returns, it will be to save them from their enemies – not to destroy them.
While Jesus was specific in indicating the timing of Israel’s desolation, He was emphatic in stating that the timing of His Second Coming was only known to the Father (Matt 24:36). Just before Christ ascended to the Father, the disciples persisted in asking Jesus when He would come and restore the kingdom to Israel. In response, Jesus not only said that it wasn’t for them to know “the day nor the hour” of His coming, but that it wasn’t even for them to know the “times and seasons” which the Father has determined by His own authority (Acts 1:7). Instead, Jesus told them in different words what He already told them in the Olivet Discourse: He told them that it was necessary for them to preach the gospel to all nations as a witness throughout the entire world before the end would come (Matt 24:13). After telling them that it wasn’t for them to know the times and seasons, He repeated their assignment, the Great Commission:
“It is not for you to know the times and seasons… But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)
While the gospel was proclaimed in many of the nations surrounding Judah within that first generation, to this day it has yet to be proclaimed to all nations throughout the entire world.
Two Distinct Generations
While I believe that, by divine intention, it is not readily apparent, Jesus spoke to two Distinct Generations in the Olivet Discourse. While He said concerning Israel’s desolation, “all these things will come upon this generation” (Matt 23:36), referring to those living at the time, He afterwards gave specific signs which would indicate that His return and the end were near. In that context, He addresses the very generation that will see the signs of His coming and the end of the age, saying:
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near — at the doors! 34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matt 24:32-34)
What were the signs He mentioned which would indicate that the end is near? In Matthew 24:7-8 He said that when nation rises against nation and kingdom against kingdom with famines and earthquakes in many places it would be just the beginning of the birth pains indicating that the end is drawing near.
After that, in verse 9-10, He said that we would then be hated by all nations and persecuted, and many would depart from the faith (cf. 2Thess 2:1-4). In 11-13, He warned that many false prophets would arise, deceiving many, and that wickedness would increase to such a degree that the love of most people would grow cold, but that those who endure to the end would be saved. Here I would point out that enduring to the end refers to enduring to the end when Christ returns, not enduring until Jerusalem is destroyed in 70AD. Then in verse 24, He said that there would be false signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
In 15, He gives the sign of the abomination of desolation in the holy place in the temple court of Jerusalem, saying that those in Judea at that time must flee because it will mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation. The Apostolic Fathers unanimously believed that this was something yet to occur in their future. Irenaeus (160 – 230AD) said, years after the 70AD destruction of Herod’s Temple:
“But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom…and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance.” 
“And in the midst of the week,’ he says, ‘the sacrifice and the libation shall be taken away, and the abomination of desolation [shall be brought] into the temple: even unto the consummation of the time shall the desolation be complete.’ Now three years and six months constitute the half-week.” 
In the same manner as Futurists today, the Early Fathers believed, according to Scripture, that the temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt and the abomination of desolation would be set up in a rebuilt temple, beginning the time of the Great Tribulation.
Finally, Jesus mentions the signs which will immediately accompany His coming:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt 24:29-31)
It is in this context that Jesus says in verse 34, “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” “This generation” in the context, refers to the generation which shall see the beginning of the specific signs He mentioned being fulfilled. No one is recorded as having seen the Son of Man coming in 70AD, and much less do we see where all the tribes of the earth mourned upon having seen Him coming with power and great glory.
“Shall not taste death until they see…”
“Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’” (Matt 16:28-17:5)
Preterists often cite Matthew 16:28 as evidence that Christ had to have come a second time and established His kingdom on earth in 70AD while many of the disciples were still alive. However, when one reads the following verses, it becomes evident that the coming in His kingdom He was referring to occurred only six days after when Christ was transfigured before Peter, James and John, giving them a preview of His coming kingdom. Peter himself made reference to this as being a foretaste of the coming of Christ in His kingdom. He said of his mountaintop encounter with the glorified Christ:
“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.” (2Peter 1:16-18)
Peter clearly understood the declaration of Jesus, “there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” as having been fulfilled when they saw Him transfigured on the mount with Moses and Elijah.
Apparent Delay Implied in the Parables
While Jesus told His disciples to live in a state of expectancy, saying to them, “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt 24:44), at the same time He implied in parables that He would not come within the timeframe anticipated by His followers.
In the parable of the faithful and the evil servant, Jesus said that the evil servant said in his heart, “My master is delaying his coming,” and instead of being occupied in his master’s business, he began to live according to his own fleshly desires (Matt 24:48-51). In the parable of the ten virgins, “the bridegroom was delayed” – so much so, that even the five wise virgins slumbered and had to be awakened to receive the bridegroom (Matt 25:5). In the parable of the talents, He compared His coming to “a man traveling to a far country,” not returning until “after a long time” (Matt 25:14,18).
It is clear that Jesus wanted His disciples to live in anticipation of His soon return, diligently laboring to fulfill the Great Commission with the expectation that He could return within their own lifetime while at the same time indirectly indicating through His parables that His return would be much farther in the future than they anticipated. He concluded His parables with a call to be watchful which not only applied to His disciples, but also to future generations until He comes. He said: “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:37).
His House must be Filled
To Paul, it was revealed that during the present time, blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. At that time, Christ the Deliverer will come out of Zion and all Israel will be saved (Rom 11:25-26).
Here we see that Christ will not come again until the gospel has been proclaimed to all nations and the fullness of the Gentiles has come into the fold. As soon as the last of God’s elect firstfruits from among the Gentiles has come into the fold, Christ will return, and all Israel will be saved when they look upon Him whom they pierced (Zech 12:10). At that time, the nation of Israel will be reborn in a day (Isa 66:8-10).
In the parable of the great supper, Jesus also implied that He wouldn’t return until the fullness of the Gentiles had come in. In this parable, the master had planned a great banquet for his invited guests, representing the nation of Israel. However, Israel rejected the invitation. The master became angry and told his servant to go to the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind, referring to the Samaritans who were held in contempt by the Jews. After having invited them, the servant said that there were still many empty seats. At this point in the parable, Jesus made reference to the Gentiles when He said in continuation:
“Then the master said to the servant, 'Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” (Luke 14:23-24)
This parable of the master’s house being filled with those from the highways and hedges, referring to the Gentiles, rather than the Jews who were initially invited, is parallel with what Paul saw concerning the fullness of the Gentiles. God is holding off the feast until His house is filled. As soon as the fullness of the Gentiles has come in and His house has been filled, Christ will come.
This is the primary reason given by Peter for the seeming delay in Christ’s coming. After saying that in the last days we would be mocked for still awaiting Christ’s return, he explained:
“But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering TOWARD US, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9)
Here we see that, in spite of how we may perceive it, the Lord hasn’t delayed His coming. Since He inhabits eternity, “shortly” does not mean the same to Him as it does to us. He then explains why He hasn’t come yet. He is longsuffering toward us, patiently waiting until all of us, as His elect firstfruits, have come to repentance. In other words, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in and His house is full.
“The time is near… I am coming quickly”
In the book of Revelation Jesus begins by saying, “the time is near,” and three times He repeats the phrase “I am coming quickly” (Rev 1:3; 3:11; 22:7,12). Many are scandalized by the fact that nearly 1900 years have passed since Jesus made these declarations. Preterists attempt to demonstrate that the book of Revelation was written before 66AD, instead of the generally accepted date of 96AD, in order to argue that Christ meant to say that He was coming in 70AD. I present the arguments against the early dating of Revelation in my blogs: “The Objective Evidences for a Late Dating of John’s Revelation” and “The Interpretive Arguments for an Early Dating of John’s Revelation.”
In my book, “Last Days – Past or Present?” I demonstrate in more detail why Christ’s coming is yet future. But without going into further detail here, it should be evident to any unbiased student of the Scriptures and history, that no past event can reasonably be argued to have been the Second Coming of Christ in power and great glory to receive His own and to reign upon the earth.
The admonitions to be watchful because the time is near must be understood in the light of the abundance of Scriptures which clearly imply a delay. The gospel must be preached to all nations and the fullness of the Gentiles must come in, filling His house. Only the Lord knows when that will have come to pass.
Also, as Peter explained, we must take into account the relative nature of time. Our sense of time is not the same as the Lord’s. For Him, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. The same is true of a child’s sense of time in comparison to that of an elderly person. When my children were little, we often went on long trips, even driving from California to Guatemala a couple of times. As an adult who had made the trip before, I knew how long it would take, and to me it seemed like a much shorter trip than it did to my 4-year-old son Cristian. After about an hour, he was already complaining, asking why it was taking so long. It wouldn’t have been of any use trying to explain to him every highway we would have to take, since he wasn’t old enough to understand. I started out by telling him that we would be arriving soon, and tried to keep him occupied with other things so he wouldn’t think about how long it was taking. Then when that failed, I would tell him something like, “when you see the big bridge, we are getting closer,” or, “when you see the ocean, it will be just a bit further.” My wife and I knew from the beginning how long it would take to reach our destination, but it was no use trying to explain to him how long the trip would last, since he wouldn’t have understood. And even if he could have comprehended the time required, it would have only made the trip more unbearable for him.
I believe that, in a similar manner, the Lord told His disciples that it wasn’t for them to know the times and the seasons, but rather that they were to busy themselves in proclaiming the gospel throughout the earth while at the same time being watchful for the signs which would indicate that His coming was at the doors. May He find us occupied doing what He commissioned us to do when He comes.
“Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.” (Matt 24:44-46)
 Hyppolytus (AD 170 to 236),Treatise on the Antichrist, Sections 47-67
“These things, then, will come to pass, beloved, and the one week being divided into two parts, and the abomination of desolation being manifested then, and the two prophets and forerunners of the Lord having finished their course, and the whole world finally approaching the consummation, what remains but the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ from heaven, for whom we have looked in hope?
Tertullian (AD 160-220), Luke 21:1-38
“Then, having shown what was to be the period of the destruction, even ‘when Jerusalem should begin to be compassed with armies,’ He described the signs of the end of all things: ‘portents in the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity – like the sea roaring – by reason of their expectation of the evils which are coming on the earth."
 Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1, Irenaeus: Against Heresies Book 5 Chapter 30 section 4
 Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1, Irenaeus: Against Heresies Book 5 Chapter 25 section 3,4