Has Bible Prophecy Already Been Fulfilled?-Part 4A

By: Dr. Thomas Ice; ©1999
Dr. Ice deals with Matthew 24:34, the key passage used by preterists to explain why they believe biblical prophecy must have already been fulfilled.


Has Bible Prophecy Already Been Fulfilled? Part VI-A

In previous articles in this series I have been dealing with major passages used by preterists (Latin for “past”) in their attempt to teach that almost all Bible prophecy was fulfilled by the first century A.D. In my previous two articles we saw that Matthew 10:23 and 16:28 do not support a past fulfillment of Bible prophecy as claimed by preterists like R. C. Sproul. This article will deal with the most widely used verse in the Bible by preterists in their attempts to establish their thesis concerning Bible prophecy. That key passage is Matthew 24:34, which says, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (see also Mk. 13:30; Lk. 21:32).

The Preterist Interpretation

R. C. Sproul says in his recent book, “I am convinced that the substance of the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in A.D. 70 . . .” Ken Gentry, in a recent book where he and I debate this issue, declares of Matthew 24:34: “This statement of Christ is indisputably clear—and absolutely demanding of a first-century fulfillment of the events in the preceding verses, including the Great Tribulation.” Gary DeMar believes “that all the events prior to Matthew 24:34 referred to events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.” In fact, DeMar dogmatically declares: “An honest assessment of Scripture can lead to no other conclusion. The integrity of the Bible is at stake in the discussion of the biblical meaning of ‘this generation’.” Why does DeMar make such a polarizing, though misguided overstatement? I think it can be understood by Dr. Sproul’s framing of the issue from the following explanation:

The cataclysmic course surrounding the parousia as predicted in the Olivet Discourse obviously did not occur “literally” in A.D. 70. . . . This problem of literal fulfillment leaves us with three basic solutions to interpreting the Olivet Discourse:
  1. We can interpret the entire discourse literally. In this case we must conclude that some elements of Jesus’ prophecy failed to come to pass, as advocates of “consistent eschatology” maintain.
  2. We can interpret the events surrounding the predicted parousia literally and interpret the time-frame references figuratively. This method is employed by those who do not restrict the phrase . . . to Jesus’ contemporaries.
  3. We can interpret the time-frame references literally and the events surrounding the parousia figuratively. . . . All of Jesus’ prophecies in the Olivet Discourse were fulfilled during the period between the discourse itself and the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70.

The third option is followed by preterists.

Dr. Sproul’s framing of the possible interpretations of “this generation” distorts the first possibility with the perspective of liberalism. How so? Many interpreters, such as myself, interpret the entire discourse literally, but we dogmatically reject any notion “that some elements of Jesus’ prophecy failed to come to pass. This does not mean that we have abandoned literal interpretation, nor does it “logically lead” to a failure in the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy.

A Futurist Interpretation

Those of us taking a consistently literal interpretation of the entire Olivet Discourse take a different literal interpretation of “this generation” than supposed by Dr. Sproul’s suggestion. I believe that the timing of “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 is governed by the related phrase “all these things.” In other words, Christ is saying that the generation that sees “all these things” occur will not cease to exist until all the events of the future tribulation are literally fulfilled. Frankly, this is both a literal interpretation and one that was not fulfilled in the first century. Christ is not ultimately speaking to His contemporaries, but to the generation to whom the signs of Matthew 24 will become evident. Dr. Darrell Bock, in commenting on the parallel passage to Matthew 24 in Luke’s Gospel concurs:

What Jesus is saying is that the generation that sees the beginning of the end, also sees its end. When the signs come, they will proceed quickly; they will not drag on for many generations. It will happen within a generation. . . . The tradition reflected in Revelation shows that the consummation comes very quickly once it comes. . . . Nonetheless, in the discourse’s prophetic context, the remark comes after making comments about the nearness of the end to certain signs. As such it is the issue of the signs that controls the passage’s force, making this view likely. If this view is correct, Jesus says that when the signs of the beginning of the end come, then the end will come relatively quickly, within a generation.

In spite of the preterist chorus that “this generation” has to refer to the first century, an alternate literal interpretation relates it to the timing of the fulfillment of other events in context. While it is true that other uses of “this generation” refer to Christ’s contemporaries, that is because they are historical texts. The use of “this generation” in the Olivet Dis­course in the fig tree passages are prophetic texts. In fact, when one compares the use of “this generation” at the beginning of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 23:36 (which is an undisputed reference to A.D. 70) with the prophetic use in Matthew 24:34, a contrast seems obvious. Jesus is contrasting the deliverance for Israel in Matthew 24:34 with the predicted judgment of Matthew 23:36.

All These Things

When challenged or threatened about the veracity of other interpretative details, preterists almost always fall back to what Gary DeMar calls the “time texts.” Their under­standing of “this generation” (Matthew 24:34) in the Olivet Discourse becomes, for them, the proof text that settles all arguments and justifies their fanciful interpretation of many other details referred to Christ as “all these things” in verse 34. Dr. Gentry explains:

We find the key to locating the great tribulation in history in Matthew 24:34:
. . . This statement of Christ is indisputably clear—and absolutely demanding of a first century fulfillment of the events in the preceding verses, including the great tribulation (v. 21).

Yet “all these things” of Matthew 24:3-31 are allegorized to fit into their first century fulfillment scheme. Since “this generation” is controlled by the meaning of “all these things,” it is obvious that these things did not occur in and around the events of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70.

Contextual surroundings determine the nuance of a specific word or phrase. It is true that every other use of “this generation” in Matthew (11:16; 12:41,42,45; 23:36) refers to Christ’s contemporaries, but that is determined by observation from each of their contexts, not from the phrase by itself. Thus, if the contextual factors in Matthew 24 do not refer to A.D. 70 events, then the timing of the text would have to refer to the future. This is the futurist contention, that the events described in Matthew 24 did not occur in the first cen­tury. When were the Jews, who were under siege, rescued by the Lord in A.D. 70? They were not rescued, they were judged, as noted in Luke 21:20–24. But Matthew 24 speaks of a Divine rescue of those who are under siege (24:29-31). This could not have been fulfilled by the first century fact that the Jewish Christian community fled Jerusalem before the final siege. Matthew 24 speaks about the deliverance of Jews who are under siege. This did not happen under the first century Roman siege.

The statement just preceding Christ’s “this generation” statement says, “even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33) The point of Christ’s parable of the fig tree (Matthew 24:32-35) is that all the events noted earlier in Matthew 24:4–31 are signs that tell those under siege that help is coming in the Person of Christ at His return to rescue His people. In contradiction to this, preterists teach that “all these things” refer to the non-bodily, non-personal, coming of Christ through the Roman army in the first century. They are forced to say that the whole passage speaks of a coming of Christ via the events leading up to what Christ actually says will be His return. Yet, contra preterism, Christ says in the fig tree parable that preceding events instruct the reader to “recognize that He is near, right at the door.” Had a first century reader tried to apply a preterist understanding to Matthew 24, it would have been too late for him to flee the city. Instead, they were told to flee the city when the siege first occurred, as noted in the first century warning of Luke 21: 20–24. Instead, the Jewish generation that sees “all these things” will be rescued as noted in Luke 21:27–28. Once again the question arises, “When was Israel rescued in A.D. 70?” They were not. Neither were “all these things” (Matthew 24:33, 34) fulfilled in the first century. These will all be fulfilled in the tribulation, which will take place in the future.


I do not believe that Christ’s Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24; Mk. 13; Lk. 21) contains a single sentence, phrase, or term that requires a first century fulfillment, except for Luke 21:20–24. Since the timing of “this generation” is not innate in the phrase itself but is governed by its immediate context, then I believe it refers to a future generation because the events de­picted have yet to take place. This can be seen most clearly in Luke’s account of our Lord’s Discourse since he answers all three of the disciples questions. I believe that Mat­thew and Mark only deal with the future questions.

Luke’s account includes the answer to the disciple’s question (Luke 21:20–24) about when there will come a time when “there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down” (verse 6), multiple time references are necessary. This is evident in the wording of the question in verse 7.

The first part of the question—“when therefore will these things be?”—relates to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. This explains the first century section in verses 20–24. Christ’s answer to their second question—“what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”—relates to “signs” preceding His Second Advent. This is a different event than that of their first question, and the event is still future to our day. The second question is answered in verses 25–28, which follows the long period of time described in the second half of verse 24—“Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” Thus, verse 32, (“this generation will not pass away until all things take place”) will be fulfilled in the future, for the scope of “all these things” refers to verses 25–28, not verses 20–24. Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum explains:

Then Jesus stated that the generation that sees this event, the abomination of desolation, will still be around when the second coming of Christ occurs three­and-a-half years later. . . . Verse 34 is intended to be a word of comfort in light of the world-wide attempt at Jewish destruction. It must be kept in mind that the abomination of desolation signals Satan’s and the Antichrist’s final attempt to destroy and exterminate the Jews. The fact that the Jewish generation will still be here when the second coming of Christ occurs shows that Satan’s attempt towards Jewish destruction will fail, and the Jewish saints of the second half of the tribulation can receive comfort from these words.


1. R. C. Sproul, The Last Days According To Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), p. 158.

2. Thomas Ice and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999), pp. 26-27.

3. Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Atlanta: American Vision, Inc., 3rd edition, 1997), p. 75.

4. Ibid., p. 73.

5. Sproul, Last Days, p. 66.

6. Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51—24:53 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), pp. 1691–92.

7. DeMar, Last Days Madness, p. 72.

8. Ice and Gentry, Great Tribulation, p. 23.

9. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah: A Study of the Sequence of Pro­phetic Events (San Antonio: Ariel Press, 1982), p. 446.


Read Part 4B

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