“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt 24:23-25).
Steve Hays makes this insightful point:
ii) But I’d like to make another point. Consider vv23-27. This doesn’t fit the fall of Jerusalem. So it suggests that at this juncture, the oracle is looking beyond the fall of Jerusalem to a more distant denouement.
I take the thrust of vv23-27 to be that Christians won’t have to go looking for messiah when he returns. The onus will not be on them to apply criteria to ID the messiah. Rather, when he comes back, the return of Christ will be so unmistakable that this will undoubtedly be the true messiah, in the person of Jesus.
But it’s hard to see how the fall of Jerusalem fills the bill. To begin with, Jesus refers to false prophets and messianic pretenders who perform signs and wonders. That’s a stock phrase that triggers associations with the miracles of the Exodus. But Jesus said even that’s an unreliable indicator. Yet Exodus-redux miracles are far more impressive than what happened at the fall of Jerusalem. So if even miracles on the scale of the Exodus fail to ID the true messiah’s return, the fall of Jerusalem would surely fall short. There was nothing supernatural about the fall of Jerusalem. At best, Josephus reports a few miracles. But even if we credit them, those are less spectacular than Exodus-style miracles. If, in the greater case of Exodus-redux miracles, these are unreliable criteria, then a fortiori, the lesser case of Jerusalem’s downfall would be even more ambiguous.
On a related issue, see my post here:
Preterism Fails to Find Prophetic Fulfillment of ‘Many Messiahs’ from Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:5