Jamaican JW and others have raised some very interesting points regarding the Last Days and the prophecy of Matthew 24:4-31, commonly called the “last days prophecy”. So many points were raised that I thought it best to address them in a post.
There is a real temptation to which our Organization has succumbed frequently to explain away apparent discrepancies in an interpretation of prophecy by postulating a dual fulfillment. Back in the days of brother Fred Franz, we went way overboard with this and the similar “prophetic parallel” and “type/antitype” approach to prophetic interpretation. One particularly silly example of this was saying that Eliezer depicted the holy spirit, Rebekah represented the Christian congregation, and the ten camels brought to her were comparable to the Bible. (w89 7/1 p. 27 par. 16, 17)
With all that in mind, let’s look at the “last days” and Matthew 24:4-31 with our focus on the possibility of dual fulfillment.
The Last Days
There is an argument to be made for the last days having a minor and major fulfillment. This is the official position of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and part of that is the teaching that Jesus’ words recorded at Matthew 24:4-31 constitute the sign that we are in the last days. Any Witness will readily confess that the last days began in 1914 when Jesus’ words about “wars and reports of wars” were fulfilled in the outbreak of World War I.
It would likely surprise most of my JW brethren to learn that Jesus never used the expression “last days”, neither in the context of this prophecy, nor elsewhere in the four accounts of his life and preaching work. So when we say that wars, pestilences, earthquakes, famines, the worldwide preaching work, et all, are a sign we are in the last days, we are making an assumption. We all know what can happen when you “ass-u-me” something, so let’s make sure our assumption has some scriptural validity before proceeding as if it were the truth.
To begin, let’s look at Paul’s often-quoted words to Timothy, however let’s not stop at vs. 5 as is our custom, but let’s read to the end.
(2 Timothy 3:1-7) . . .But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, 3 having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, 4 betrayers, headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away. 6 For from these arise those men who slyly work their way into households and lead as their captives weak women loaded down with sins, led by various desires, 7 always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth.
“Weak women…always learning…never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth”? He’s not talking about the world at large, but of the Christian congregation.
Can it be said with confidence that these conditions existed in the sixth decade of the first century, but not afterwards? Were these characteristics absent from the Christian congregation from the 2nd century down to the 19th, only returning to manifest themselves after 1914? That would have to be the case if we accept a dual fulfillment? What good would a sign be of a time period if the sign existed both outside and inside the time period?
Now let’s look at the other places the term “last days” is used.
(Acts 2:17-21) . . .‘“And in the last days,” God says, “I shall pour out some of my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and YOUR sons and YOUR daughters will prophesy and YOUR young men will see visions and YOUR old men will dream dreams; 18 and even upon my men slaves and upon my women slaves I will pour out some of my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 And I will give portents in heaven above and signs on earth below, blood and fire and smoke mist; 20 the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and illustrious day of Jehovah arrives. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.”. . .
Peter, under inspiration, applies Joel’s prophecy to his time. This is beyond dispute. Additionally, the young men did see visions and the old men did dream dreams. This is attested to in Acts and elsewhere in the Christian Scriptures. However, there is no scriptural evidence that the Lord gave “portents in heaven above and signs on earth below, blood and fire and smoke mist; 20 the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood.” We might assume it occurred, but there is no evidence of that. Adding to the argument against the fulfillment of this part of Joel’s words in the first century is that these portents are tied to the arrival of the “great and illustrious day of Jehovah” or “day of the Lord” (to translate what Luke actually wrote). The Lord’s day or Jehovah’s day are synonymous or at the very least, concurrent, and the Lord’s day did not occur in the first century.[i] Therefore, Joel’s prophecy was not completely fulfilled in the first century.
James refers to the “last days” when he counsels rich men:
(James 5:1-3) . . .Come, now, YOU rich [men], weep, howling over YOUR miseries that are coming upon YOU. 2 YOUR riches have rotted, and YOUR outer garments have become moth-eaten. 3 YOUR gold and silver are rusted away, and their rust will be as a witness against YOU and will eat YOUR fleshy parts. Something like fire is what YOU have stored up in the last days.
Does that counsel only apply to the rich living in the first century and in the period that sees the arrival of Armageddon?
Peter again makes reference to the last days in his second letter.
(2 Peter 3:3, 4) . . .For YOU know this first, that in the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires 4 and saying: “Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep [in death], all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.”
Has this ridicule been restricted to only two time periods, one leading up to 66 C.E. and the other starting after 1914? Or have men been leveling this taunt at faithful Christians for the past two thousand years?
That’s it! That’s the sum total of what the Bible had to tell us about the “last days”. If we go with a dual fulfillment, we have the problem that there is no evidence that the latter half of Joel’s words were fulfilled in the first century and the absolute evidence that the day of Jehovah did not occur then. So we have to be content with a partial fulfillment. That doesn’t fit with a true dual fulfillment. Then when we get to the second fulfillment, we still have only a partial fulfillment, since we’ve had no evidence over the past 100 years of inspired visions and dreams. Two partial fulfillments do not a dual fulfillment make. Added to that is the need to somehow explain how signs supposedly identifying the last few years of this system of things as the last days have been occurring for 2,000 years.
However, if we simply accept that the last days begin after Christ was resurrected, then all the incongruity goes away.
It’s simple, it’s scriptural and it fits. So why do we resist it? I think that it is mostly because as beings of such brief and fragile existence, we just can’t deal with the concept of a time period termed “last days” that is greater than our life span. But isn’t that our problem? We are after all, but an exhalation. (Ps 39:5)
Wars and Reports of Wars
But what about the fact that the First World War marked the start of the last days? Wait just a minute. We’ve just scanned every passage in scripture that deals with the last days, and nothing was said about their start being marked by war. Yes, but didn’t Jesus say that the last days would begin with “wars and reports of wars”. No, he did not. What he said was:
(Mark 13:7) Moreover, when YOU hear of wars and reports of wars, do not be terrified; [these things] must take place, but the end is not yet.
(Luke 21:9) Furthermore, when YOU hear of wars and disorders, do not be terrified. For these things must occur first, but the end does not [occur] immediately.”
We discount that by saying, “All that means is that the wars and the rest mark the start of the last days”. But that isn’t what Jesus is saying. The sign marking his presence is recorded at Matthew 24:29-31. The rest are things that happen from shortly after his death on down through the ages. He is warning his disciples so that they can be prepared for what was to come, and he forewarned them so as not to be taken in by false prophets claiming the Christ was present invisibly (Mat. 24:23-27) and not to be spooked by catastrophes and cataclysms into thinking he was about to arrive—“do not be terrified”. Alas, they didn’t listen and we still aren’t listening.
When the Black Death hit Europe, after the 100-years war, people thought the end of days had arrived. Likewise when the French Revolution broke out, people thought prophecy was being fulfilled and the end was near. We have discussed this in greater detail under the post “Wars and Reports of Wars — A Red Herring?” and “The Devil’s Great Con Job”.
A Last Word About a Matthew 24 Dual Fulfillment.
The foregoing has caused me to arrive at the conclusion that there is no dual fulfillment for any of Matthew 24:3-31. The only fly in my ointment has been the opening words of verse 29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…”
Mark renders it:
(Mark 13:24) . . .“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
Luke doesn’t mention it.
The assumption is he’s referring to the tribulation of Matthew 24:15-22. However, that occurred almost two millennia ago, so how can “immediately after” apply? That has led some to conclude (by “some” I mean our Organization) that there is a dual fulfillment with the destruction of Babylon the Great being the major counterpart to the destruction of Jerusalem. Perhaps, but there is no dual fulfillment for the rest as much as we’ve tried to make that happen in our theology. It seems like we’re cherry picking.
So here’s another thought—and I’m just putting this out there for discussion…. Could it be that Jesus intentionally left something out? There was to be another tribulation, but he didn’t refer to it at that point in time. We know from John’s writing of the Revelation that there is another great tribulation. However, if Jesus had mentioned that after talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, the disciples would have known that things were not going to happen as they envisioned—all at the same time. Acts 1:6 indicates that is what they believed and the next verse indicates that the knowledge of such things was intentionally kept from them. Jesus would have been letting the proverbial cat out of the bag by revealing too much, so he left blanks—huge blanks—in his prophecy of the sign. Those blanks were filled seventy years later by Jesus when he revealed things pertaining to his day—the Lord’s day—to John; but even then, what was revealed was couched in symbolism and still hidden to some extent.
So casting off the shackles of the dual fulfillment methodology, can we just say that Jesus revealed that after the destruction of Jerusalem and after false prophets had appeared to mislead the chosen ones with false visions of hidden and invisible presences of Christ, there would be an unspecified (at the time of that prophecy at least) tribulation which would end, after which the signs in the sun, moon, stars and heavens would appear?
A good candidate for that great tribulation is the destruction of Babylon the Great. Whether that turns out to be the case remains to be seen.