Is Matthew 24 history or prophecy?
It is a crucial prophetic question. The passage clearly portrays a period of intense tribulation that will precede the Second Coming of Jesus. Has this terrible period of tribulation already occurred or is it yet to occur? And what about the Second Coming of Jesus? Has it already occurred? Have all the events described in Matthew 24 been fulfilled or do some of them await fulfillment?
The Conflicting Views
The Premillennial viewpoint, both historic and modern, holds this passage to be predictive, yet-to-be fulfilled sometime in the near future. According to the Premillennial view, the return of Jesus will be immediately preceded by a period of worldwide, unprecedented tribulation that will particularly focus on the Jewish people.
The majority viewpoint of Christendom, both Catholic and Protestant, is the Amillennial view. This view spiritualizes Bible prophecy and concludes that there will be no future Tribulation or Millennium. Amillennialists argue, instead, that we are simultaneously experiencing both the Tribulation and the Millennium right now and have been doing so since the Cross. We are supposedly in the Millennium because the Holy Spirit is restraining evil through the Church. And we are simultaneously in the Tribulation because the Church is experiencing persecution.
Although Postmillennialists argue that the Millennium is still future, they maintain that the tribulation aspects of Matthew 24 were fulfilled in the First Century destruction of Jerusalem. They conclude, therefore, that there will be no future Great Tribulation.
The group with the strangest attitude toward Matthew 24 are those Amillennialists who are also what is called "Full Preterists." (The word, Preterist, is Latin for "past.")
There are degrees of Preterism. A moderate Preterist believes all of Matthew 24 was fulfilled in the 70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem, except the Second Coming of Jesus. But the "Full Preterist" takes the position that every aspect of Matthew 24, including the Second Coming, happened in 70 A.D.! They argue that Jesus returned spiritually in the destruction that the Romans inflicted upon Jerusalem. They also argue that the prophecies refer to the end of the Jewish Age and not to the end times.
Matthew 24 thus emerges as a key prophetic passage. Those who spiritualize prophecy (Amillennialists and Postmillennialists) either argue that its tribulation prophecies were fulfilled in 70 A.D. or have been fulfilled in the history of the Church, and they therefore reject the idea that it points to a period of severe tribulation immediately preceding the return of Jesus. Amillennialists who are Full Preterists argue that all of it, including the prophecy about the Lord's Second Coming, was fulfilled in 70 A.D. Those who interpret prophecy more literally (Premillennialists) contend that all aspects of the passage await fulfillment. They therefore feel that it definitely points to a future period of tribulation before the Lord returns.
So, what about our central question? Is Matthew 24 history or prophecy? Is it past or future? Was it fulfilled in 70 A.D. or is it yet to occur?
I believe Matthew 24 was prefilled in prophetic type in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and is therefore yet to be fulfilled in history. And I think I can prove that from the passage itself.
Read the proof as we continue with the next segment in this "Olivet Discourse" series!