The Days of Noah
What Did Jesus Mean By This?
In 2 Parts
Matt. 24:37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Jesus compares the coming of the Son of man, to the days of Noah. Fortunately for us, Jesus doesn’t leave us in the dark, guessing what He meant. He explains it very clearly. It is important to note that He is not saying the days before the coming of the Son of man will be like the days of Noah, but that the coming itself, will be comparable to the days of Noah, as He has explained them. This is a very important distinction.
However, before we can get into His explanation, we need to back up just a little. There are a few verses that will help shed light upon this statement of Jesus. The first one is verse 34.
34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
There can be no doubt, that when Jesus referred to “this generation,” He intended that present generation of Jews to whom He was speaking, not some far future generation of men. "This" is a demonstrative pronoun which points to something near, or present, not something far off or distant. For that, you would need the pronoun, That. When we look at each instance where “this generation,” is used, it ALWAYS designates that current generation, living at the time of Jesus and His Apostles. This phrase is found on the lips of Jesus at total of 17 times, and it always points to that generation in which He and the apostles lived.
This is the main reason C.S. Lewis called verse 34, The Most Embarrassing Verse in the Bible. Why did Mr. Lewis find this verse so embarrassing? Because it states unequivocally, that everything said before it, from verse 4 to 33, would occur within the generation of the apostles. This included the event described by Jesus in verse 30. Jesus stated that after the tribulation of those days,
30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
The embarrassing part for Mr. Lewis, was that Jesus appears to say that those of that generation would see the Second Coming of Christ. At least, that is how he and many others interpreted it. I also held this position for many years. However, this is a huge error. That is not what Jesus said. He said that those of that generation would see “the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” The error Mr. Lewis made, as well as others who still do, was equating the coming of the Son of man with the Second Coming.
The coming of the Son of man and the Second Coming of Christ, are not the same thing!
There are two main reasons they are not the same. The first is that the Coming of the Son of man is time restrictive. This means in every instance in which this phrase or similar is used, it is given a time frame of occurring within that present generation. I will not restate all the evidences for this here, as I have already dealt with this at length in the study, The Coming of the Son of man. However, I will give one brief example of this. In Matthew 16, Jesus said to His disciples,
28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
Here, we see Jesus telling them that some will still be alive to witness the Son of man coming in his kingdom. If this was a reference to the Second Coming, then some, i.e., more than one, would still be walking the earth today. This is not the intent of His statement here. He was telling them that some will die before the coming of the Son of man in His kingdom, but some would not. Some would live long enough to see His kingdom being established in the earth. Again, this requires the coming to occur during the lifetime of the apostles. It is a time restrictive event. The Second Coming of Christ, as we define it, has no such restrictive timeframe.
The second reason they are different is that the Coming of the Son of man is described as the coming judgment upon Judea, Jerusalem, and its temple. It is a coming in Judgment and a manifesting of the Kingdom of God, whereas the Second Coming is stated as being a coming of deliverance for God’s People [Heb. 9:28; Jn. 14:3].
This is most important to understand going forward. When Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of man, or any other form of the saying (Matt. 10:23, 16:28; Mk. 8:38, 13:26, 14:62; Lk. 12:40, 21:27;), He is speaking of the time when He comes in power and great glory to bring Judgment upon His enemies. This judgment also brings the old Sinai system to a close by the demolition of its earthly, visible symbol, the Jerusalem temple. When Jesus came and established Israel’s New Covenant in His blood, it automatically made the Sinai Covenant obsolete.
Heb. 8:13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.
When Jesus said “this generation shall not pass away” till everything He just previously said was fulfilled, this included the the coming of the Son of man, not the Second Coming. In reality, the Second Coming, as we understand it, is not a topic of the Olivet Discourse of Jesus. I struggled with this fact for a long time. However, after it become clear to me, it also became undeniable. The subject of the Second Coming, as we understand it, is not dealt with by Jesus in His Olivet Discourse [Matt. 24, Mk. 13, or Lk. 21]. This is of paramount importance to understand. Acceptance of this fact is key to unlocking the whole of the Olivet Teaching.
The Second Coming is not a topic of concern in the Olivet Discourse
I realize this may have caused a few heads to explode(figuratively speaking, of course), or at least a little table pounding(maybe literally). As I just stated, I wrestled with Matthew 24 for several years, trying to figure out where the subject matter was divided between the temple’s destruction and the Second Coming. I knew that the temple’s destruction was definitely part of the prophecy. I also was under the illusion that the Second Coming was as well. Why was I under such an illusion? Because I was making one of those grave errors. I was trying to force my own dispensational eschatology into the words of the disciples. I could not do this and remain true to the New Testament text. It was like trying to force a square peg into a round hole, which is impossible to do without altering one or the other. I realized that I was not allowing the disciples to have their own eschatological ideas. I was trying to force my own upon them, and it wasn't working. What was I forcing upon them? I read the words,
Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
We must allow the apostles to have their own eschatology, when asking these questions.
I knew that the “these things” had to be referring to the temple’s destruction. That seemed to be a no-brainer. But then when I came to the rest of the questions, it also seemed, without question, to point to the Second Coming. I cannot tell you the days and hours I wrestled with this. That is until one day I put it all away. I had to take a break from this topic, clear my head, and get a fresh perspective. I don’t remember how long I stayed away from this topic. It was several weeks, or a month or so.
When I came back to it, instead of starting again with the Olivet Prophecy itself, I investigated its background. I went back to at least Matthew 21, and began taking note of the events and conversations leading up to this scene on the mount of Olives. As I did this, I discovered several things I had not noticed before, which were related to this topic. The first thing that struck me, was the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen [Matt. 21:33-44], which Jesus told to the chief priests and Pharisees. Jesus’ point of the parable was that because of the wickedness of the husbandmen (the leaders of Israel), He would "miserably destroy those wicked men" and give the vineyard (the Kingdom of God) to another nation, who would bring forth its fruit. Jesus didn’t leave this to guesswork, for He clearly said to the chief priests and Pharisees (composite of the Sanhedrin),
43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
He then told them another parable, wherein He said in conclusion,
7 But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
We have two parables told back to back by Jesus, spoken to the leaders of Israel, wherein He warned them that they should be stripped of any influence of leadership in the Kingdom of God, and also that their city would be destroyed and burned to the ground.
After His denouncement of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23, He ends with a pronouncement of judgment upon Jerusalem and the temple.
36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
In verse 36, He states that the judgment due all the righteous blood shed from Abel to Zacharias [2 Chron. 24:17-22] would come upon “this generation.” He then laments Jerusalem’s resistance to His offer of love and care,[Lk. 19:44] while they killed those that He sent to them. He then pronounces “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” Up to this point, Jesus had always referred to the temple as “my Father’s house,” or as “my house.”[Mt. 21:13] However, now He disowns it. It has become their house, and it is left to them as desolate. When Jesus walked out of the temple that day, He never physically returned to it. The temple had become desolate, or Ichabod (the glory has departed-1 Sam. 4:21).
As suddenly as He came to the temple, He departed it. For the prophet Malachi said 400 years prior to His coming,
3:1 . . . the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.
They “delighted in the Lord, the messenger of the covenant,” or at least in their idea of Him. However, when He actually came,
. . . He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. [Isa. 53:2-3]
As He was leaving the temple, His parting words to Jerusalem and its inhabitants was “ Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Of course, some of the leaders saw Him when they arrested, beat and crucified Him. It would seem His intent here, is they would not see their Messiah until they were able to confess and recognize Him as such. The phrase, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” was on the lips of those who greeted Him on His entry into Jerusalem just the day before. The crowds cried out,
“Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” [Matt. 21:9;Ps. 118:26]
This was a public proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. Jesus is stating that they would not see Him again, until they acknowledged Him as Messiah by faith.
To summarize to this point, the backstory to the Olivet Discourse, is the coming judgment upon Jerusalem, its inhabitants, and the desolation of its temple. We then come to the part when Jesus was leaving the temple with His disciples. The Gospel of Mark gives us the best description of the conversation between Jesus and His apostles at this point. According to Mark 13, we have this,
1 And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!
2 And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
As they were departing the temple complex (Greek, hieron - the entire precincts, as opposed to naos - the house of the temple itself), the disciples directed Jesus’ attention to the magnificence of the temple buildings and their stones. The Jerusalem temple was considered one of the wonders of the world at that time. Obviously, it is not that Jesus had never noticed them before. It is more likely that the disciples were reacting to Jesus’ statement about the temple being left desolate. It is like they were saying, “Jesus, do you mean this glorious temple? Really? Are you sure?”
Responding to their admiration, Jesus said, “Do you see these great buildings?” Well, of course they saw them. Jesus said this to emphasize the fact that He was talking about the temple they were admiring so much. He then said, “There will not be left one stone on top of another, that shall not be cast down.” In other words, Jesus was telling the disciples that all of those magnificent stones, weighing several tons each, would no longer be stacked upon each other. They will all be cast down, littering the ground.
They then continued their walk up the slopes of the Mount of Olives. It appears the disciples congregated together apart from Jesus, to discuss what they just heard. For a Judean, this would be a difficult thing to wrap your head around. Besides this, the temple’s destruction came with its own set of implications. They knew that the temple’s demise would also mean the sacrifices and offerings performed in it, would come to halt. They understood that with the temple’s destruction would come the end of the Sinai or Levitical offerings. They had been taught in the synagogue that before the temple’s destruction, according to Daniel's Seventy Weeks Prophecy, the Messiah would come and establish His Kingdom, ruling from Jerusalem.
They must have thought that this statement by Jesus about the temple’s destruction, was a signal that He was about to ascend to David’s throne, and restore the Davidic Kingdom to Israel. At least, this appears to be what they were taught by the Pharisees in the Synagogue. So the twelve appointed a committee of four to ask Jesus further about what He said. Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to Him privately, to ask their questions.[Mk. 13:3]
This brings us to the second error many make, including myself. This is the mistake of superimposing one's own eschatology upon the disciples. It is all too easy to read their questions with your eschatological glasses on. When the disciples asked, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”, it seems the most natural thing in the world to read it as though they were asking about His Second Coming.
This may be a shock to many, but the disciples had no concept of what we call, the Second Coming. This was not in their eschatological framework. They had not even, at this point, come to terms with His being crucified, even though He plainly told them so. You might asked, “Well, what about them asking him about his coming?” That was a question I often asked myself, until I learned that’s not what they were asking. They had no idea He was going away, so how could they ask about His coming? In their minds, the Messiah was to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem, then gather the scattered tribes of Israel from all over the world, and rule the nations, while sitting on the throne of His father, David. The Messiah was to rule the world from Jerusalem, exalting Israel as the head of the nations. If you ask any modern day rabbi what the Messiah will do when he comes, that will be the basic answer they will give you. Their concept of the Messiah has changed little over the last two thousand years.
After His resurrection, He spent 40 days “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” [Acts 1:3] Even after this period of intensive teaching, they still retained the leaven of the Pharisees' teaching in their minds. Just before He ascended back to the Father, the disciples asked Him, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” They were still expecting Him to go into Jerusalem, establish His throne and kingdom, with them ruling beside Him. After all, He had promised all twelve apostles, thrones whereby they would judge the tribes of Israel [Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30].
They had a totally different eschatology than most modern Christians do today. So, what about them asking Him about His coming? Okay, they were not asking about His coming, as in a Second Coming, they were asking about His Parousia, or Presence. Wait a minute, this makes even less sense than coming. Why were they asking about His Presence, if He was already there with them? I know, sounds crazy, but stick with me.
They were not asking about His presence, in the sense of His being with them as He already was, living with them day in and day out. This is a very special kind of Presence. I have already dealt with this topic at length in my study, Parousia, a Coming or a Presence?. The Presence they were inquiring about was His Messianic Kingly Presence as King of Israel. They were asking since the temple was going to be destroyed, would this signal His ascension to the Throne of David, and begin His reign as King over Israel and the nations? The end of the world is better translated as, the end of the age. This is how it is translated in most all modern translations. The demise of the temple signaled the end of the Age of the Levitical Economy or System, and the beginning of the Messianic Age.
Next, we will begin to study what Jesus meant by comparing the days of Noah with the coming of the Son of man.