A CLOSER LOOK AT THE "AD 70 THEORY"

Clan Hicks

everal good friends of mine, some of them preachers, have found the AD 70 theory of "last things" quite attractive. Christians everywhere are asking about it, even in some foreign countries. A lot of material promoting that concept has come forth in recent years, one book of over 750 pages and numerous smaller books have been published. Monthly publications have been started primarily to teach it and now they have an annual "Eschatology Conference" where for several days the theory is advocated by a variety of speakers. So everybody is hearing about it or will soon. Thus it will have to be studied.

My purpose in writing this is not to do an "exposŤ" on brethren who hold that concept. It is rather to provide helpful information. Honest men can sometimes make mistakes and inadvertently mislead themselves and others. It is the part of a true friend to want to help in such a case and this information is presented with that in mind. I sincerely hope it will help all of us by improving our understanding of the whole subject area with which that theory deals.

This is no hasty reaction. I have known of the AD 70 concept for at least 6 years during which time I have read some in their literature. But in the past 6 months I have engaged in an intensive and thorough study of their writings and have asked questions directly of the writers to be sure I understand their viewpoint as well as possible. I have tried to be open minded and to consider the theory objectively, but I believe it is inescapable that serious mistakes lie at the foundation of it. I hope we can all look at these with as much open mindedness as the advocates of the AD 70 theory always ask for.
 

WHAT THE THEORY SAYS

Simply put, this theory says 1) that in the year 70 AD the world ended, 2) the second coming of Christ occurred, and 3), so did the resurrection of the dead and the day of judgment. But wait, it is vitally important to know what they mean by that. One of their papers regularly carried this heading:
"The holy scriptures teach that the second coming of Christ, including the establishment of the eternal kingdom, the day of judgment, the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead, occurred with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70." (Studies in Bible Prophecy)
But what do they mean by this statement? The first time a preacher friend said that to me I replied, "What do you mean the world ended? I am looking out he window and it is still there! Do you mean you have seen Jesus Christ in person?" He explained that by "the world" he meant the Jewish world or Judaism, not the trees, the grass, and sod of our physical world. He said further that the "coming of Christ" was not in a physical sense but rather that He "came in judgment upon Israel." I did not disagree with that. In fact, I thought it was what we all believed.

In Mt. 24 Jesus spoke of the holocaust that would come upon Jerusalem and said of the temple: "There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down" (vs. 2). He then told of a number of "signs" that would indicate when this was about to happen and by which they could know to "flee into the mountains" (vs.1 6). At verse 34, Jesus said, "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled." Just prior to that He said the sun, moon, and stars would be darkened "and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." Jesus expressly said this would happen in that generation, so I believe it did. Up to this point I believe they are on Biblical ground and I do not disagree. But what comes next is where I believe a disastrous mistake is made.
 

WHERE IS THE DISAGREEMENT?

The error is not in saying these things occurred in that generation, that Christ "came in judgment upon Israel," that "the world of Judaism" ended, etc. The mistake is in saying that this was the only "coming of Christ there will be, that no other "day of judgment" is yet to come, and that no future day of resurrection is coming. They claim that AD 70 was all of it; the end!

But after vs. 34 Jesus turned to the matter of another coming of the Son of man and another ending. At verse 35, He speaks not of Jerusalem nor any city or country, but of "heaven and earth" itself, and says these "shall pass away." Then, instead of giving "signs" such as He said would precede the destruction of Jerusalem, he said: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels of heaven but my Father only" (vs. 36). Then follows in the rest of the chapter a number of illustrations predicting a circumstance of complete surprise. At verses 37-39 the "coming of the Son of man" is likened to the days of Noah when the people "knew not until the flood came and took them all away." This is not applied to outsiders, but to the disciples themselves because Jesus said next: "Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (vs. 42). At verse 43 the "good man of the house" would not have allowed his house to be broken up "if he had known" when the thief was coming. Again, this is applied to the Lords own people. "Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh" (vs. 44). Then the "faithful and wise servant" is cautioned to be prepared at all times (vss. 45-51), for if not "the Lord of that servant shall come in an hour that he is not aware of , and shall cut him asunder and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

The distinction between the destruction of Jerusalem, clearly the event referred to prior to verse 34, and that which is referred to after verse 34 is totally rejected by advocates of the AD 70 theory. This, I believe, is their central mistake. This is what throws it off course and out of harmony with all Bible passages that speak of things having to do with a world beyond this one and a life of immortality and perfect bliss. They insist on pressing all those "signs" into this one event and end up saying that the holy city, the "New Jerusalem" which John saw coming down from God out of heaven (Rev. 21), has already come and that we are in it now. If that were the case, Johns description of it would surely be misleading. He said that in that city there is no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away " (vs. 4). But we still experience all these.

Obviously then the matter of whether Jesus spoke of only one event or of two separate events in Mt. 24 is important. We have already noted the fact that one event was said to be preceded by warning signs and from it they would know to "flee into the mountains." The other event was to come as a surprise, "in such an hour as ye think not," and for that reason they would have to be ready for it at all times. On what basis then is it said that no such distinction exists and that these are one and the same event?

This is where another very incorrect premise occurs in the promoting of that theory. They argue that Luke 17 is a parallel passage to Matthew 24. In Luke 17 the "signs" occur in a different order, with some being applied to the destruction of Jerusalem, which in Matthew 24 occur after the statement "Heaven and earth shall pass away" (Vs. 35). From this the conclusion is drawn that only one event is spoken of -- the destruction of Jerusalem; and that all the signs are intended to point to that one event. This makes the passing of heaven and earth, the second coming, the resurrection, the judgment, and everything else happening in the Jerusalem calamity of AD 70.

This is an error of procedure plain and simple. Luke 17 is not a parallel passage to Matthew 24. The parallel in Luke is in chapter 21, not chapter 17. The parallel in Mark is chapter 13. Thus there are three actual parallels and in all three, Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, the "signs" all occur in precisely the same order and in each case are followed immediately by the statement that "Heaven and earth shall pass away." This does not occur in Luke 17. The setting is the same in the three parallels. They are looking at the temple and discussing the beauty of its buildings and Jesus is saying that it will be totally destroyed. In Luke 17 the setting is entirely different. They are not even at the temple but are in the house of one of the chief Pharisees (14:1).

There is no question that Luke 21 is a parallel to Matthew 24. If Luke 17 is also seen as a parallel then it would have to be parallel also to Luke 21 in the same book. That would be peculiar. The truth is there are all sorts of differences in Luke 17. It is true that some of the same prophetic symbols occur there as in Matthew 24. But these symbols occur in many places in the Bible. They were commonly used among the Hebrew people both to forecast a major occurrence and to describe one that happened in the past.

It is also true that the very first sign given in the parallel chapters, that of false teachers saying "I am Christ," is not given in Luke 17. One that is given in Luke 17, that of Lot and his wife , does not occur in the three parallels. Yes, Luke 17 refers to one event, the destruction of Jerusalem. It precedes Luke 21 which speaks of two events, just as Matthew 23 speaks of the same single event and precedes Matthew 24 which speaks of the two events. The fact that some of the same symbols occur there does not make Luke 17 a parallel account to Matthew 24. These typical Hebrew symbols occur in many Bible passages such as Isaiah 19:1 and Psalms 18:10-12. It does not mean they are parallels. A comparative study of Luke 17 clearly shows it is not a parallel, but the AD 70 theory depends heavily on the mistaken assumption that it is.
 

HOW DID BELIEVERS LIVING AT THE TIME PERCEIVE THE EVENTS OF AD 70?

In the year 66 AD a very stubborn Jewish revolt against the Romans provoked a war of 4 years duration which culminated in the total destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. It was a time of unbelievable suffering for those who remained in the city. At the start, a Jewish commander named Joseph was given charge of the defense of Gallilee. That was the direction from which the Romans came into Judea and he was one of the early captives. He saw the rest of the war from inside the Roman camps and wrote it all down. He came to be known as Josephus the historian and he is the chief source of our knowledge about these events.

But Jesus had predicted them more than 3 decades earlier and Josephus reports as an eye witness that everything happened exactly according to the Lords predictions. The signs were literal and believers recognized them. When these began to occur the Christians fled the city as Jesus had instructed, and took refuge in an interior village called Pella. Josephus says the signs were so obvious that the Jews in not recognizing them were "as if stupefied."

He even said there were signs in the heavens such as "chariots and armed troops on high, wheeling through the clouds around the whole region and surrounding the cities." He wrote: "At one time, when a star very like a sword stood above the city, as also a comet that continued to be seen a whole year, at another, when before the rebellion and commotions that preceded the war, whilst the people were collected at the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth of the month of April, about the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shown around the altar and the temple as to seem a bright day." Yet the Jews understood nothing of it and the price they paid was to endure such great tribulation as never had been before and never will be again on earth. Jesus even predicted this (Matthew 24:21-22).

Yes this was a pivotal point in history and a time which was the subject of many Bible prophecies and it was understood by the Christians of the time. Some of the apostles yet lived and Holy Spirit inspiration had not yet been withdrawn. So they knew what was going on. But what was the understanding of those who lived at the time? When the smoke died down and the dust all settled, did they believe the second coming of Christ had occurred, as had the judgment and the resurrection, and that the holy City John described in Revelation 21 and 22 had come down and they were now in it, in the eternal kingdom of God?

I believe several of the New Testament books were written after AD 70 and these continued to point forward to such a time as being yet to come. But the advocates of the AD 70 theory deny this and insist that all of the New Testament was completed before AD 70. So we look to other writings, by men who knew the apostles and whose writings are known to have been after AD 70 and ask what their view of it was. Ignatius was born in AD 50 and was martyred in the year 107. He was said to have been a disciple of the apostle John. Polycarp, although he lived a few years later, was also said to have been a disciple of John. Their writings are significant because AD 70 advocates claim John as a teacher of their concept in the book of Revelation. But these disciples of John, as all their contemporaries, say clearly in their writings that the resurrection and eternal kingdom which are the Christians hope, are looked for in the future at the end of the world.

Polycarp, for example, in his epistle to the Phillipians exhorted the people to do faithful service to him "who cometh as judge of quick and dead; whose blood God will require of them that are disobedient to him. Now he that raised Him from the dead will raise us also; if we do his will and walk in His commandments and love the things which he loved..." In the same epistle he said: "For if we be well pleasing unto Him in this present world, we shall receive the future world also, according as He promised us to raise us from the dead..." The disciples who lived in the immediate time of the AD 70 holocaust unanimously looked for the future world yet to come at the appointed day of resurrection. If it happened in AD 70 all the personal pupils of the apostles who ever wrote misunderstood it.
 

THE TESTIMONY OF THE LORDS OWN FAMILY

A piece of historic information that may have been providentially preserved to help with this question is the testimony of the next generation of Jesus fleshly family. The historian Eusebius records that a few years after AD 70 the emperor Domitian decreed that all descendants of David were to be executed. Jesus and His brothers and sisters were descendants of David so their families were affected. The grandchildren of Jesus brother Judas were yet living and were taken before the emperor for questioning. Eusebius says that during this questioning, "When asked also respecting Christ and His kingdom, what was its nature and when and where it was to appear, they replied 'that it was not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom, but celestial and angelic; that it would appear at the end of the world, when in glory He would judge the quick and dead and give to everyone according to his works..." Upon which Domitian, despising them made no reply; but treating them with contempt, as simpletons, commanded them to be dismissed, and by decree, ordered the persecution to cease." (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Page 103).

That this was the view held by the Christians of that time is indicated as Eusebius goes on to say that being "Thus delivered, they ruled the churches, both as witnesses and relatives of the Lord." It is also reflected in that the earliest creeds, when men tried to clearly state the fundamentals of their belief, always affirmed that Jesus the Son of God, came to earth from heaven to suffer and die for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended back to heaven, from whence He will return again at the end of this physical world, at which time the dead will be raised to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Then begins Gods endless day of eternity. I believe this view emanated from the apostles, who were taught it by Jesus personally, and were guided in teaching it by the Holy Spirit of God.
 

CONCLUSION

I have no objection to studying Bible prophecy. If the emergence of the AD 70 theory causes such a study and we become better informed on that part of scripture it may serve at least one good purpose. But every time men have gone too far in that by interpreting prophecies beyond the definitions given Biblically, they have ended up creating much confusion and setting forth concepts which are in opposition to clear and explicit Bible statements. This is why it is a typical feature of men who specialize in prophecy interpretation that they give forth reams and reams of "explanation" to justify their conclusions. The 750 page book we mentioned spends 250 pages "explaining" one Bible chapter, 1 Corinthians 15. Why so much explanation? Because that is a resurrection chapter describing in detail the concept of dying and being raised to life again and states that the entire hope of the Christian is bound up in this. Paul even says there that "If in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable" (vs. 19). But the book seeks to cancel that out and make it mean something not even involving physical death and resurrection, and focuses on events here in earthly life. That sort of thing takes a lot of "explaining."

It is good to learn all we can about anything the Bible speaks of, including prophecy. But we need to confine ourselves to what is revealed and be careful about speculating beyond that. When the apostles asked a question of this sort which ranged beyond Gods intention to reveal, Jesus replied: "It is not for you to know the times or the season which the Father hath put in His own power," and He told them to go to Jerusalem and be ready to get about the job of teaching the Gospel (Acts 1:7-8).

There are some things we need to know about Gods plans for our future and these do not require any speculative rationalizations to discover. They are stated clearly, and often, in Gods word to us. For instance:

1. We can know that "God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained." The fact that He raised Jesus from the tomb is our assurance that such a day will come (Acts 17:30-31).

2. We can know that there will come a day "When the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, and before him shall be gathered all nations of the earth and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats" (Mt. 25:31-32).

3. We can know that it is impossible for men in the flesh to inherit the eternal kingdom of God. "Now this I say brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption."

4. We can know that death and resurrection stand between all of us and that inheritance: "For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Cor. 15:53).

5. We can know that the holy city, New Jerusalem, will be a city that comes down from God out of heaven, not one that has always been here and is subject to being over run by human military forces (Rev. 21 & 22).

6. The central question upon which we must focus is: "Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and Godliness" (2 Pet. 3:11).

This concept has always been the essence of the Gospel. It is revealed to us, not to see if we can explain it away nor to find out how far man will go in speculating upon it, but because our eternal destiny depends on being prepared for it. Human theories which dispute it can be a very dangerous substitute for what God has revealed, especially when you consider why He revealed it: to enable us to be prepared.