Hyper Preterism grossly undervalues the role of the Holy Spirit in the ministries of the earliest Christians. Verses which speak of the then-present works of the Spirit are ironically presented as being in a state of non-fulfillment until the fall of Jerusalem. Consequently, the comforting words of Jesus are misinterpreted in order to perpetuate a false system. Such is the case with Matthew 10:23.
Matthew 10:23 is NOT a “Preterist Time Indicator” pointing to AD70
By Todd Dennis
April 20, 2008
It is very easy to read our ideas into the text of the Bible. In theological terms, this is known as eisegesis (Greek: eishègeisthai ‘to lead in’), which is the process of interpreting in such a way as to introduce one’s own ideas into the text or context. With Hyper Preterism’s “time texts,” eisegesis is oftentimes the rule rather than the exception. In my opinion, such is the case when it comes to the “coming of the son of man” reference in Matthew 10:23.
It has become a working assumption in Hyper Preterism that the “coming” passages in the New Testament refer only to AD70. And the eisegetical presupposition that Matthew 10:23 is a “Preterist time indicator” is considered to be unassailable. This is true, despite the fact that there is not a hint or reference regarding AD70 in the text or context of the chapter from which to support this conclusion.
The “time indicator” claim is likewise made in reference to Matthew 16:27-28. However, as we have seen, there is not a hint of AD70 in the text or context of Matthew 16:27-28. This exposes a very embarrassing situation for Hyper Preterist scholarship. I have seen my fair share of HyP books (including a much heralded book recently released) which lead off with that passage as the cornerstone proof of the AD70 narrative.
In Matthew 10:23, the Lord Jesus is recorded as saying : “Whenever they persecute you in one town, escape to the next; for I solemnly tell you that you will not have gone the round of all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Weymouth)
Prior to advocating any particular view of this passage, opposition must first be noted in reference to the Hyper Preterist narrative, which makes this statement a declaration of an event which would take place forty years thereafter.
Hyper Preterism (HyP) teaches that the “coming of the son of man” is nothing other than the fall of Jerusalem in AD70. However, if anything is certain about this text, it is that neither AD70, nor the fall of Jerusalem is anywhere mentioned. Assuming that AD70 is the focal point is to assume the very matter in question… which is an indicator of its own — that there is a fundamental weakness in the Hyper Preterist interpretation of Matthew 10:23.
Another matter to note in reference to Hyper Preterist eisegesis in Matthew 10:23 is that there is also no mention of the end of the Mosaic system in this entire passage… nor any other global or historical telos/eschaton which fits their model ; that is, unless more eisegesis (i.e. “this means forty years later”) is presupposed in references to the “kingdom of god is at hand” and “the day of judgment.”
Rather — and now on to advocacy — the overwhelming context of the entire chapter is the personal and individual “personal eschaton” of those witnesses who were spreading the gospel. Here is a list of passages preceding and following Matthew 10:23 which specifically relate to the threat of persecution in the wake of the mission for which they were being prepared :
16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves
17 But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues
18 And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony (Greek: marturyon 3142) against them and the Gentiles.
19 But when they deliver you up
21 And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.
22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end (Gk. telos 5056) shall be saved.
Now Our Passage:
23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.
With its contextual book-end:
28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul
If we were to widen the scope of investigation, we could see the commands to follow Jesus’s own suffering (such as seen in verses 24,25,29, and especially v. 38), noting the “end” to which this persecution leads.
But for now, pay particular attention to the climactic contextual moment of this discourse:
39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
This statement is utterly remarkable, considering the parallel given in the context of Matthew 16:27-28:
16:25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
All of these points are extremely suggestive of the “persecution eschatology” being advocated at this blog, which is that Jesus Christ loved His disciples enough to both 1) warn them of the impending persecution they would face, and 2) comfort them with promises of the glory which was going to be revealed in them thereafter.
Dr. Israel P. Warren, author of Modern Preterist book “The Parousia,” made an instructive comment on how this effects Matthew 10:23 as well as 16:28 (and I would include 26:64 in the exact same light):
“The purpose of it was to comfort his disciples under his announcement that he was about to be put to death, and their expectations of honor and place in his kingdom be disappointed : that they must deny themselves and take up the cross, as he had done, and be willing to lose life itself if they would preserve it. Yet he would not have them discouraged, for their Lord would, after his death, speedily return in the glory of his new kingdom, which would thenceforth be established in power. He would then be invested with the office of administering judgment and reward, and would repay his faithful servants for all they had done and suffered for his sake.” — Parousia, pp. 27, 28.
The coming in mind, therefore, is very present in the person of the Holy Spirit. At any rate, the significance of the pre-resurrection work of the Holy Spirit is typically overlooked entirely, not to mention the transformation of humanity at Pentecost. This event was the very return of the High Priest out of the Most Holy Place that some would rather see in the fall of Jerusalem. In John 14, Jesus explicitly tells His disciples that the comforter would come immediately after His departure. Amazing to me is how this return of the High Priest out of the Most Holy Place in the person of the Holy Spirit is ignored by HyP. Even more remarkable is how the Holy Spirit is sometimes said to no longer have His ministry in the post-AD70 age!
And so, with Warren in mind, this reading sees the reference to going through the cities as referring thematically to the persecution that they would face, and the seeing of the son of man’s power and glory as the resulting reward for their obedience and endurance… whether that be in life or in death (see Matthew 16:27-28 and “shall not taste of death”).
Paul strikes a similar chord in Second Corinthians:
2 Cor 6:1-10 We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. 2 (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) 4 But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, 5 In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; 6 By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, 7 By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, 8 By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; 9 As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; 10 As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
This was standard evangelical exhortation in the apostolic era, has been standard teaching throughout the centuries, and it still is to this day. Paul is using the A) certainty of persecution and the B) comforts and blessing to follow as a means of encouraging courage and endurance.. just as our Lord is in Matt. 10 — just as your pastor does every Sunday. There are numerous examples of this A/B type of reasoning in the New Testament.
To close out the advocacy section of this post, I’d just like to make another reference to the “end” that we are all racing towards : the end of our soujourn in this world. Like Paul noted (“the time of my departure is at hand”), our own personal race as a witness of the gospel has its end/telos — which we must all face in this age/world — and which is followed by the glory of the just rewards and judgment that await in that age/world to come (Heb. 9:26, cf. Luke 20:35):
“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” but “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Jesus speaking in a “time specific” way to his immediate audience (extending chronologically as far as their lifespan), is a common rhetorical device by which the Word speaks to all generations. The church has been correct all these years to read their lives in the context of the New Testament. ‘This is that’ today, just as it was then. Likewise, legitimate time specific references to acts of Providence (such as the falls of Jerusalem in 586BC and AD70) operate in like manner. And even today the Logos, though collectively received in the form of the written Word, speaks directly to the individual as the Living Word.
Revelation 2:7 “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”
These New Testament themes should be taken very personally regarding our walk today, as we likewise bear our crosses and face the need to endure persecution to the end of our days.
To take the HyP position that the New Testament doesn’t speak to post-AD70 life has disastrous consequences to how people approach their Christian walk. If we do not share the charge of the New Testament to be transformed from old to new, but agree with Hyper Preterism that our salvation as something that was settled in AD70, then we will live differently.
The transformative process of persecution/glorification (being made new) in the work of the Holy Spirit is accomplished through trial, tribulation and other forms of fleshly necrosis… and the shaking of the old is something that all Christians must endure even now.
We, too, must “turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that (we) may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” (Acts 26:18)
Forsaking Local for Global ; Personal for Historical ; Judea for Empire
There are many other points that can be brought out in the opportunities this passage provides (including those coming from the references to speaking, acknowledging, witnessing, teaching, greeting, hearing your words, testimony, etc.). However, I would like to give one final thought in this post before closing for the sake of brevity. That thought is regarding the paradox of the followers of Christ having evangelized the entire known world prior to AD70, yet not having covered all the cities of Israel.
It is taught in all Hyper Preterist literature that the gospel would be preached to the entire Roman Empire before AD70. A list of verses is usually offered to prove that the gospel had been preached to the whole world. Here are a few of the verses given to shore up the teaching that the gospel was indeed preached throughout the entire Roman Empire (at the very least) prior to AD70 :
- Matthew 24: “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world (oikoumene) for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”
- Colossians 1:5-6 “For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit”
- Colossians 1:23 “This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”
- Romans 1:8 “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. “
- Romans 10:18 “Their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world“
- Romans 16:25 ..the preaching of Jesus Christ.. which was kept secret since the world began, 26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
- 1 Timothy 3:16 “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
So then, this model defies intuition by suggesting that the disciples were A) able to evangelize the entire known world before AD70, yet B) were not able to the cover the cities in their own back yard after 40 years of evangelism!
Keep in mind that it was the cities that supposedly would not yet be reached — even forty years later [Note that the Greek word for cities is from “polis” (as in Metropolis), not “kome,” which is used dozens of times for “village”]. On top of this, it is not even ALL the cities of Israel under consideration, as Jesus had just told them not to go into “the way of the Gentiles” or the cities of the Samaritans (10:5)! This greatly narrows the scope of their commission.
This fact also provides a very important chronological cue, because after His resurrection, Jesus widened the commission’s scope to the entire world! Therefore, this commission, and all of the associated aspects, were bespeaking the pre-resurrection time frame. In evidence of the distinctly different nature of the “great” commission after His resurrection, Jesus assures his disciples that they would not have to wait at all, but that He would be “with them” at all times (28:20), as “all authority” had already been given to Him (v. 18).
Matthew 10:23 is constantly presented in HyP literature as a prime example of extreme chronological nearness for the “coming of the son of man” — which is then equated with the events of AD70. Seemingly unaware of this paradox, HyP scholarship embarrassingly stumbles around, declaring on one hand that the gospel was preached to “every creature” before AD70 — and yet that not even all the cities of Israel had heard the gospel.
And yet, in spite of the (genuinely remarkable) world-wide explosion of evangelism… somehow a few of the (non-Gentile / non-Samaritan) cities in Israel slipped through the cracks, and did so according to the foreknowledge and prophecy of Jesus Himself. To call that feat quite unlikely is an understatement. Rather, it is a manifest absurdity!
During the ministry of Jesus alone, all of the cities were likely covered (see map above). However, those that may not have been at that time would certainly have been covered shortly thereafter.
My opposition point above even allows that the focal point of Jesus’ declaration was the cities and the evangelism of the collective disciples. Rather, I advocate that the focus here is the same as in Matthew 16:27-28 – the individuals Jesus was sending out to be persecuted right then and there. He was maturely and warmly providing comfort in the face of the coming sufferings. This was no cold calculation regarding the amount of time it would take to collectively propagandize most of the cities prior to the fall of Jerusalem. This was a show of Jesus at His most humane and loving.
TIME TEXT TAP DANCE
I have heard that there is an alternative take on this passage now circulating. Recognizing that the “unfinished evangelism” interpretation leads to difficulties such as the paradox listed above, the new interpretation focuses on the “continuation” of the evangelism.
The reasoning goes like this: What Jesus is actually saying is that the disciples will continue evangelizing Israel until Jesus comes in AD70. In other words, in no way would they finish their evangelism until the Son of Man comes in AD70 (also an amusing interpretation, seeing as how HyPs teach that every last Christian fled to Jordan in AD66).
Here is Young’s literal rendering of that verse:
“And whenever they may persecute you in this city, flee to the other, for verily I say to you, ye may not have completed the cities of Israel till the Son of Man may come.”
For those who want to address this alternative HyP argument, it will be helpful to compare the word “flee” with “completed”. If the “not have completed” is tied to the command to “flee” the cities, then the utter nearness of the coming of the Son of man is displayed. This is clearly something coming much sooner than 40 years later when all the disciples were dead except for John.
However, it is unnecessary to even critically oppose this alternative interpretation, as it proves the point of this article without me having to write a word. In this new interpretation, Matthew 10:23 ceases being a “time text” pointing to AD70 altogether!
The only way to make this a time text is by demanding a fine set of assumptions – not least of which is that the time when “the Son of Man may come” is actually AD70! Obviously, this is assuming the very point in question (which is the most heinous of fallacies). By reasoning thus, saying that the coming must be AD70 and only AD70 (despite how this language is used in Matt. 26:64), a nice tidy bit of circular reasoning is packaged and ready for consumption.
For HyP to present a corporate view of AD70 in this passage, fulfillment would need to be delayed well into the future, long after the vast majority (if not near totality) of the audience was already dead. This undercuts the very comfort that this saying of Jesus intended to provide. Accordingly, if this were His intent, it might have made more sense for Jesus to have stated, “if they persecute you don’t worry, because you will soon be dead.”
HyP must show how this very language in Matthew 26:64 points to the future, when Jesus plainly speaks of the immediate present. This is no small hurdle, and the only response I’ve received from a HyP author on this point is: “it doesn’t matter”.
FORSAKING THE INDIVIDUAL FOR THE COLLECTIVE
At a later date I will tie the typical coldness of this misreading of the Bible into how the individual is consistently forsaken by Hyper Preterism — then and now — for the sake of upholding a method which is focused on the corporate events of the distant past. This is not to say that hyper preterists are cold to people. There is a difference between a system of theology and the people who embrace it. Therefore, if one wants to take it personally, then it would have to be in context of the sanctifying or de-sanctifying effects of the system itself.
So then, with the complete lack of any references to AD70, yet with abundant references to the personal sufferings as evangelism meets bitter rejection, Matthew 10:23 stands with Matthew 16:27-28 as another example of :
A) (Opposition) The eisegesis of the Hyper Preterist “AD70 Coming of the Son”
B) (Advocacy) Jesus Christ warning and then comforting those who live godly in Him that they will be persecuted for providing testimony of the gospel, but will be glorified afterwards for their endurance.
A faithful commitment to “audience relevance” will reveal the personal nature of Jesus’ solemn warning to, and gracious comforting of, the disciples He was sending out as sheep to wolves:
Matthew 10:23 “Whenever they persecute you in one town, (you) escape to the next; for I solemnly tell you that you will not have gone the round of all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Weymouth)
Instead of insisting that the Lord may only come once to the collective world, we would do better to accept that it is He who is, who was, and who is always coming to each individual in their times and seasons. (For more information on this subject, visit “The Subjective Coming of the Lord“)
For a broader examination of this suffering/vindication motif in scripture, refer to the book of Job. It is important for all Christians to become very familiar with the place of suffering and vindication because, whether we realize or not, our transformation in Jesus Christ is being managed according to the very same operation of the Holy Spirit. We are likewise being exhorted — even now — to “cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light” because “the day is at hand.”
John 12:25 He who holds his life dear, is destroying it; and he who makes his life of no account in this world shall keep it to the Life of the Ages.