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Luke 21, the Olivet Discourse, and the Literal-Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutic

April 29, 2010

In my recent reading through Luke 21, again I’m reminded of the simplicity of scripture and how important it is to actually read what a passage says, instead of just talking about it and picking out verses here and there in support of some other idea.  Yet how often we hear someone talking about a text and explaining that it means such-and-such, or is a parallel to this other text — and go along with what they’re saying, when if we just read the account straight through it becomes much clearer.

Many times I’ve heard the local preacher speak of the Olivet Discourse, and he would read the verse in Matthew 24:15-17:
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house.”

Then he would turn to Luke 21 and remark that Luke is talking about the same event, but Luke is writing to Gentiles and making it clear what it really means, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.”  Therefore, the actual “abomination that causes desolation” spoken of by Daniel, was the event in A.D. 70 when the Romans came and destroyed the temple.

But just read each text, in full, paying attention to each verse and the sequence of events.  Luke 21:20-23 describes an event that includes Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, and people fleeing from Jerusalem, and a similar warning for “pregnant women and nursing mothers.”  But notice the additional verses inserted into Luke’s account, verses 23-24:  “There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”  Verse 25 then picks up, after the unspecified time period in verse 24, to tell about the signs given at the end, when Christ returns.  Verse 27:  “at that time” the Son of Man returns.

In Luke’s account in verses 20-24, the subject is the city of Jerusalem, and judgment there until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled — followed by a later event, the distress at the time of Christ’s return.  Matthew 24 has a longer, more descriptive section about an event that concerns desolation of the temple (“the holy place”) with no specific mention of Jerusalem by name — verses 15 through 22.  Verse 23 says “at that time” in reference to the appearance of false Christs, and verse 27 mentions the coming of the Son of Man, who shows up in verse 30 (another “at that time”) — which comes right after verse 29, “immediately after the distress of those days.”

If Luke 21:20-23 is really a parallel to Matthew 24:15-22, as preterists and confused teachers claim, then Christ returned in A.D. 70, because that is clearly what is taught regarding the event in Matthew 24.  But then what about Luke 21:24, the time when Jerusalem is trampled on by the Gentiles?  What — Christ returned in A.D. 70, and now we’re in the millennial age which is also the times of the Gentiles, and so now we’re awaiting Christ’s next return (a “third” coming) that comes in Luke 21:25-27?  Oh, but all the verses in Luke’s account,  from verses 20 through 27, are talking about one event, the same event as in Matthew 24?  What confusion that comes when people attempt to wrest a meaning out of a text, one that simply isn’t there, to support their own preconceived ideas.  If people would only read the accounts straight through — verse by verse reading — all questions would be laid to rest and the false teachers would have no followers.

Instead, too many people listen to these outside ideas, the views of preterists and partial-preterists as they reference this point or that point — rather than going back to the source itself to see if they are actually talking about what the source says.  This example concerning Luke 21 and Matthew 24 is really just another result of the overall low view of scripture evident in such teachers:  the details don’t matter, we only need to skim the surface and get the broad picture, the overall spiritual or allegorical meaning, and “find Christ” in some spiritual meaning.  The same philosophy that broad-brushes whole chapters of Isaiah with the one simple idea of the future glory of the Church, fails to look at the words in the Olivet Discourse and fails to understand that words have meaning.  If such individuals took this approach with all the Bible, including salvation passages, they would be rightly condemned as liberal theologians and heretics who fail to see the obvious, literal meaning of soteriological passages.  Their inconsistency is what saves their souls, at least as far as a profession of faith that others can observe; but when someone who may well be saved nonetheless uses the same reasoning and  tactics as liberal unbelievers, why should we give them any credence as valid Bible teachers?

Reference the following for related reading:  “Dangers of the Parallel Passage Approach.” Point 3 is very relevant here:

“(3) There is a danger of reading into a text an interpretation drawn from another text. It may even tend to foist some preconceived interpretation from one passage upon another.”

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