Eutheos (Immediately) in Matthew 24:29 Undermines Historicism

“Immediately (eutheos) after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Matt 24:29).

Historicism is the eschatological position that says the thrust of prophecy in the Olivet Discourse and Revelation are fulfilled in the span of the church age. So for example, they would say that the great tribulation was not fulfilled in the first century, nor is it to be fulfilled in the future. Instead, it spans the entire church age (i.e. inter-advental).

You may by surprised to learn that most evangelical scholars are not preterists or futurists—they are historicists. But many are a mixture of preterist-historicist.

There are good reasons why historicism is not a valid interpretation, particularly on this point.

In Matthew’s account of the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24:29 he uses the Greek term eutheos, which means “immediately.” The event that follows the “tribulation (i.e. great tribulation) of those days” is the coming of Christ. Matthew says that the coming of Christ will occur immediately after the tribulation of those days. What is the nature of this tribulation? We are told specifically that this tribulation is caused by the abomination of desolation (Cf. Matt. 24:15, 21).

Historicism is not correct for several reasons:

1. The great tribulation is caused by the abomination of desolation

Historicists (and preterists) believe the abomination of desolation in Matt. 24:15 refers to when Titus destroyed the Jewish temple in A.D. 70. Assuming this for the sake of argument, the great tribulation then cannot be described as occurring over the span of the church age, because believers are not going through the great tribulation today that was caused by the Roman general Titus who destroyed the Jewish temple in A.D. 70!

2. Eutheos (“immediately”) in Matthew 24:29 creates a unified narrative

Since historicism believes that the abomination of desolation in Matthew 24 was fulfilled in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the temple followed by tribulation, then eutheos (immediately) must refer specifically to that tribulation, since the term has a temporal meaning requiring that the coming of Christ to occur in the first century. In other words, it is nonsense for them to claim as they do that “immediately” will happen millennia later after the abomination of desolation. Think about it. Why would the adverb “immediately” be used of Jesus’ prophecy for a millennia of tribulation.

3. Cause and effect action

The context tells us that God cuts short the great tribulation by the second coming (parousia) for the sake of the elect. There is a cause and an effect. The cause is the great tribulation being cut short for the elect. The effect is the elect are gathered by the parousia (v. 31). In short, there is no “gap” between the great tribulation being cut short and the parousia. It is the parousia that cuts short the great tribulation.

4. The church age is not the “unprecedented period of persecution”

I have never had any historicist explain to me why an unprecedented persecution of God’s people (v. 21) caused by the abomination of desolation should be interpreted as “the church age.” That is first rank straining of the text, in my opinion.  Instead, it comports with a short intense period of time—indeed, unprecedented as Jesus says!— that was caused by  the abomination of desolation.

Because of these reasons, I consider historicism a strained interpretation.

Prewrath has the natural reading of this passage. We understand that the abomination of desolation for Matthew refers to a futurist event of Antichrist in the temple. His desolating actions will cause a period of great tribulation; then after those days are cut short, it will be followed immediately with the coming of Christ.

 

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