Some Thoughts on Matthew 24 and Pastor MacArthur

Here is a quote from Pastor John MacArthur on why Matthew 24:1-35 cannot refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

When in 70 A.D., for example, was the sun darkened, the moon not giving its light, the stars all falling out of heaven and the Son of Man appearing in heaven in gathering the elect from the four corners of the earth? When in…at that particular time did all the tribes on the face of the earth mourn? No way, absolutely impossible. And in 70 A.D. it was the Romans against the Jews. It wasn’t nation rising against nation and kingdom rising against kingdom and earthquakes and pestilences all over the world. No. It’s impossible. It cannot refer to 70 A.D. so that also is an unacceptable view.

I want to make a couple of comments about this. I will not discuss the sign of the Son of Man because that is more complex. But Pastor MacArthur makes several bad assumptions in this section to support his view. 

First, there are numerous places in the Bible where the terminology “the sun was darkened…” is used. It never refers to this literally happening. Here are a few: 

Isaiah 13:10, here it refers to the destruction of Babylon (vs. 1). There was no literal fulfillment. 

Ezekiel 32:7-8, here it refers to the destruction of Egypt (vs. 2). Again no literal fulfillment. 

Amos 8:9-10, here it refers to God sending Israel into exile. Again no literal fulfillment. 

Acts 2:19-20, here it refers to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and fulfillment of Joel 2:30-31 and the prophecy found there. Peter seems to think this is being fulfilled right there in front of them. Again no literal fulfillment. 

My question is why would Pastor MacArthur assume that Jesus meant this literally? 

Second, why would he assume that “tribes” does not mean Israel mourning? He seems to think tribes means people all over the world. But in the NT tribes refers almost exclusively to Israel. Did Israel mourn when their city and the Temple was destroyed? In fact, one could argue that the repentance of the Jews in Acts 2:37 was part of this mourning. 

Third, his assumptions about nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom are wrong. Tacitus a Roman historian who lived between 55-117 A.D. speaks of wars in Britain and Armenia, as well as numerous disturbances, commotions, and insurrections all over the Roman Empire. Josephus another Roman historian writes that there were so many civil wars in Rome that he cannot even write about them, except in brief. What Pastor MacArthur has done is taken our perspective on nations and throw it back on the NT writers. 

Fourth, the Bible does not say there will be earthquakes “all over the world.” It says, “earthquakes in various places.” (Matthew 24:7) We have at least three earthquakes recorded in the N.T. One when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51). One when the stone rolled away (28:2). That one is called a great earthquake. And one when Paul and Silas escaped from prison in Acts 16:26. Again this one is called great. The historians of the time also list numerous earthquakes, include Pompeii, which was severely damaged by earthqake in 63 A.D.  Pastor MacArthur says this about verse 7

And notice what it says at the end of verse 7, ‘in various places.’ In other words, these things aren’t going to happen here and there from time to time. But they’re going to come in large doses in many places at the same time.”

Why does he interpret it this way? The verse does not say in many places or all over or in great quantity. In fact, the phrase “various places” could easily mean that they happen here and there and from time to time.

Fifth, Matthew mentions famines in 24: 7. Acts 11:28 specifically mentions a famine that covers the whole land. This famine may have been the reason for some of the relief effort mentioned in passages like I Corinthians 16:1-5 and Romans 15:25-28. Historians of the time also mention numerous famines as well. So 24:7 does not demand hundreds of famines happening all over the world. 

Sixth, after wars, earthquakes, and famines in Matthew 24:7 we read this in verses 9-10:
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” Pastor MacArthur does not address these verses in this paragraph, but he does in another sermon. In that sermon he makes it clear that this is referring to the persecution of Christians at the end of time. Again why this assumption?

Here are the parallel passages from Mark 13 and Luke 21

Mark 13:9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.

Luke 21:12  But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.

When I read these passages I can only think of Acts. All this stuff is in Acts. They were beaten (5:40) they were stoned (7:57-60), they were persecuted from town to town (8:1), they were thrown in prison (Acts 12:4, 16:24), and they were brought before councils and rulers (Acts 22:30, 23:1, 24:1, 25:1, and 26:1). Why is this not even addressed by Pastor MacArthur?