Most scholars agree that Matthew 24 is answering two questions posed by the disciples when Jesus departs the temple for the last time (Matt 24:1). He declares that the temple is doomed and will be dismantled stone-by-stone (Matt 24:2). They assume the destruction of the temple means the destruction of the world (Matt 24:3). But Jesus separates the destruction of the temple from the second coming and the end of history. We see him drawing a line between the two events between verses 34 and 36 in Matt 24.
Some see a problem with this due to Luke 17. They argue that because of Luke 17 Matthew 24 in its entirety must be focusing on AD 70. This is because Luke 17 seems to mix up the material that we claim is so well-structured and sorted in Matthew 24. And if this is so, then we no longer have any warrant for separating the two events.
In response I would note the following.
First, this issue is not really a crucial matter. Orthodox preterists see no doctrinal problems arising if we apply all of Matthew 24 to AD 70. We generally do not do so because of certain exegetical markers in the text. But if these are not sufficient to distinguish the latter part of Matthew 24 from the earlier part, it would not matter.
As I argue elsewhere, however, I do believe we should recognize a transition in Matthew 24:34–36. That being so, how do we explain the problem of Luke’s “mixing up” the Matthew 24 material? This leads to my second point.
Second, the two texts record different sermons. The Lord presents the discourse recorded in Matthew 24 on the Mount of Olives (Mt 24:3) after looking out over Jerusalem (Mt 23:37). Whereas in Luke 17 he is on his way to Jerusalem (cf. Lk 17:11; 18:31; 19:11). In Matthew Jesus is answering his disciples regarding their question about the temple’s future (Mt 24:1–3). In Luke 17 he is interacting with the Pharisees (Lk 17:20–23) about the coming of the kingdom, when he turns to speak to the disci-ples. No one is commenting on the temple, as in Matthew 24:1–2. In fact, we find Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse four chapters later in Luke 21:5–24.
As Morris notes regarding liberals who argue that Luke places this teaching in the wrong context: “It is much better to hold that . . . Jesus [either] uttered the words on more than one occasion or . . . Luke is correctly applying them to another situation” ( Morris, Acts, 286). So no matter what Jesus is speaking about, Luke is not shifting the material around. He is recording a different sermon altogether.
Third, similarity does not entail identity. That is, because similar prophecies occur in Matthew 24 as in Luke 17 does not mean they apply to the same events. We see that similar expressions do not require identical realities when Scripture refers to Christ as a “lion” in some places (Rev 5:5), whereas in other places it calls Satan a “lion” (1Pe 5:8). Consider the prophetic concept of “the day of the Lord.” As I point out on pages 341–43 above, in the Old Testament it occurs in several places and applies to different historical judgments. For instance, the day of the Lord comes upon Babylon, Idumea, and Judah (Isa 13:6, 9; Eze 13:5; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; Am 5:18, 20; Ob 15; Zep 1:7; Mal 4:5). Even though the language is the same (after all, all wars are basically similar) and the phrase occurs in the singular (which suggests there is only one day of the Lord), these must be different events.
Fourth, Jesus is employing stereotypical language. By that I mean that some images can apply to different events. For instance, Sodom frequently represents man’s rebellion deserving God’s judgment — even when not referring expressly to Sodom itself (Dt 29:23; Isa 1:9–10; 3:9; 13:19; Jer 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Lam 4:6; Am 4:11). Notice Jesus’ own reference to Lot from the Sodom episode (Lk 17:28–29, 32) and to Noah’s flood (Lk 17:27; Mt 24:37–38). The flood in Noah’s day becomes an image of God’s judgment in other contexts (Isa 54:9; Eze 14:14, 20; Heb 11:17; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 2:5).
Likewise, Old Testament judgment language is often stereotyped, so that it can apply to different historical episodes. For instance, in the historically distinct judgments upon Babylon, Edom, and Egypt we read of the stars and moon being darkened or wasting away (Isa 13:1, 10; 34:4–5; Eze 32:2, 7–8). Using the hyper-preterist approach we should argue that these are the same events because of the same language. But instead, scholars recognize the common use of stereotypes in prophecy.
Fifth, Jesus is merely pointing out common life issues. In both chapters that we are considering, Jesus uses mundane activities as cameos of every day life. These are not alluding to historically datable events. Consider, for instance, Christ’s references to the two men in the field (Lk 17:36; Mt 24:40) or the two women grinding at a mill (Lk 17:35; Mt 24:41). These are portraits of daily life activities that will be caught up in and overwhelmed by God’s judgment. Thus, these serve as compelling images of the disruption of daily life cycles, as in Exodus 11:5; Job 31:10; Isa 47:1–2.
Sixth, the record of the temple cleansing exposes the interpretive error. Using the hyper-preterist’s method of noting inter-linking language as evidence that the same events are in view is mistaken. For if you use this method you will conclude that the Gospels are in error in assigning a temple cleansing to the beginning of Christ’s ministry (Jn 2:13–17) as well as one to its end (Mt 21:12–13). The language is so similar that liberals say that one of the Gospels must be making a mistake by putting it in the wrong historical context. Yet the integrity of the Gospel record demands that Christ did this twice.
Consequently, exegetical integrity does not require that the latter portion of Matthew 24 reflects the same event as the earlier portion.