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AN EXEGESIS OF MATTHEW 3:2-12 AND RELATED TEXTS – JOHN THE BAPTIST’S ESCHATOLOGY “THE WAY” TO THE “KINGDOM” (THROUGH THE SECOND COMING) WAS “AT HAND” IN AD 70

“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2). 

When it comes to the Kingdom of heaven or Kingdom of God the NT teaches three aspects of fulfillment – 1.  the “already” 2.  the “receiving” and 3.  the imminent consummation or “not yet” to the Kingdom promises.  The Kingdom’s “already” and “receiving” in the NT can be seen in Jews and Gentiles entering Christ’s spiritual Kingdom through repentance and faith and observing it workout in their midst powerfully through Jesus’ healing and the driving out demons (and that of the disciples and Apostles).  The imminent “not yet” aspect to the Kingdom points to God saving a remnant (Jews and Gentiles) while at the same time judging the wicked among Israel and closing the Old Covenant (OC) age while at the same time establishing the New Covenant (NC) age through Christ’s Second Appearing in AD 70.  Israel had been waiting roughly two thousand years for the Messiah and His Kingdom and now within a span of forty years, it was truly “at hand” and within their grasp.

Unfortunately when most futurist eschatologies have addressed the eschatology of John the Baptist they are willing to develop a truly imminent “already” and “receiving” of the Kingdom promises as being “at hand,” but they have not been willing to see John’s eschatology as having a truly imminent “at hand” consummation to the Kingdom as it pertains to him coming to prepare the way of the “great and dreadful day of the Lord” or Second Coming of Jesus.  As we make our way through the eschatology of John the Baptist, we will readily see that this later “not yet” aspect to the NT’s Kingdom promises were no less “at hand” than the “already” and “receiving” aspects to the Kingdom.

Matthew 3:3 / Isaiah 40:6-7, 10 John prepares the way for Christ’s Second Coming

For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.’” (Matt. 3:3).

“The voice said, “Cry out!” And he said, “What shall I cry?”  “All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it; Surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.”  O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him.” (Isaiah 40:6-10).

What is “the way” in the desert that John is preparing as depicted elsewhere in Isaiah (to get a broader context)?

“He humbles those who dwell on high, he lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust.  Feet trample it down— the feet of the oppressed, the footsteps of the poor.  The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth.  Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws,” (Isa. 26:4-7).

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.  The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.  Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;  say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.  Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.  The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.  In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.  And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.  No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there.  But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”  (Isa. 35)

Who is the way and how does the Gospel make it level and fruitful?

All of the promises of God are yes and amen – that is, fulfilled “in Christ” (2 Cor. 1:20).  He is the embodiment of the Kingdom promises – the new Promised Land or the “Highway of Holiness” [“the way” (John 14:6)] in which all those who were to be saved (or ever will be in the eternal NC age) should enter and walk through faith and repentance.

The way of the Gospel would be level and smooth suggesting that the high mountains are the prideful among Israel that persecuted the poor and lowly and God would vindicate the poor and make low and level their prideful persecutors.  The low valleys would be brought up to be level as well – perhaps suggesting that the Gospel for the poor would be manifested in such a way as to lift up the persecuted and heavy burdened from their religious suppressors.  The rough and crooked in heart through the power of God through the Gospel would be made soft, smooth and straight.  Through the gospel the level land would become fertile and blossom into God’s New Paradise/New Creation.

No one among Israel could boast that they had a right to enter this way of the Kingdom through being Abraham’s seed, because God was able, and in fact did turn stones (Gentiles) into the sons of God or living stones in which they (along with Jews) were built up a New Temple and New Man (Matt. 3:9/1 Pet. 2:1ff./Ephs. 2-3).

The message of John is to prepare the way for Christ’s “at hand” Second Coming!

Unfortunately, futurists have avoided doing a thorough exegesis of Isaiah 40 in order to understand that John was preparing the way of Christ’s imminent Second Coming (“great and dreadful day of the Lord”).  This would be manifested in an imminent harvest judgment for the wicked and salvation for the righteous and repentant within the immediate context of Matthew 3:2-12.

In hermeneutics one is always called upon to go to the OT passage a NT author quotes, references, or “echoes” in order to find out how the NT author is using it, or see if there are other elements within that OT context that fits what the NT author is developing.  This is also very important in that in Jewish hermeneutics often times even if a small portion of an OT passage is quoted, the reader or listener is expected to draw upon the entire chapter, section or theology of the quote.  When we do this, we immediately find references of John preparing a way for judgment that harmonizes with John’s use of Malachi 3-4 in Matthew 11:10-14.

Here is Isaiah we quickly see that the way that is being prepared is not simply a way of an “at hand” “already” aspect to salvation, but includes Christ’s Second Coming in judgment as well.  We immediately see what this voice is to cry out, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.  The grass withers and the flower fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them.  Surely the people are grass.  The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isa. 40:6-7)  This is connected to the recompense judgment and giving of rewards, “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him.  See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.” (Isa. 40:10).

Isaiah 40:6-7 / 1 Peter chapters 1 and 4 – John’s imminent eschatology is Peter’s!

Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6-7 in 1 Peter 1:23-24.  The immediate context tells us that Peter’s first century audience was “ready” to receive the salvation and inheritance the OT prophets predicted would come at the revealing of Christ at His Second Coming.  Later we are told by Peter that this coming salvation and “THE judgment” of “the living and dead” was “ready” to take place and that “the end of all things is at hand.” (1 Pet. 4:5-7, 17).  Therefore, the contextual flow of Isaiah 40 tells us that John came to prepare the way of an “at hand” judgment and salvation “ready” to be revealed at Christ’s Second Coming.

Isaiah 40:10 / Matthew 16:27-28 – John’s imminent eschatology is Jesus’!

Again the message of the one crying out is that of a coming judgment through the Second Coming of Christ in the giving of rewards (Isa. 40:10).  This passage is directly applied to Christ’s Second Coming in Matthew 16:27-28 and Revelation 22:6-12.  Jesus taught that He was “about to” come within the lifetimes of some of His first century audience to reward:

‘For, the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father, with his messengers, and then he will reward each, according to his work.  Verily I say to you, there are certain of those standing here who shall not taste of death till they may see the Son of Man coming in his reign.’ (Matt. 16:27-28 YLT).

Isaiah 40:10 / Revelation 22:6-12 – John the Baptist’s imminent eschatology is John the Beloved’s in the book of Revelation 

Jesus through John the beloved in the book of Revelation, confirms the imminent fulfillment of John the Baptist’s eschatology in drawing upon Isaiah 40:10:

“The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.” “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”  I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”  Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.” “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”  (Rev. 22:6-12)

The message John was to cry out (as we continue going down into Isaiah 40:10) was that of God (The Christ) coming in judgment/recompense/reward.  The NT develops this as being fulfilled in an “at hand” AD 70 time frame.

John’s “preparing the way” of the Second Coming in Judgment of Isaiah 40 is John’s “preparing the way” of the Second Coming in Judgment of Malachi 3-4 

Jesus clearly identifies John the Baptist as the Elijah that was about to come before the way of judgment (the great and dreadful day of the Lord) would take place in which He would suddenly coming to destroy His Temple in fulfillment of Malachi 3-4:

“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind?  If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.  Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’  Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.  For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”  (Matt. 11:7-15).

“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me (John as Elijah): and the Lord (Jesus), whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple (AD 70 Matt. 23-24), even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.  But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:  And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.  Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years.  And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts.”

“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.  But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness (Christ) arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.  And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.  Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.  Behold, I will send you Elijah (John the Baptist per Jesus) the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:  And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.  (Mal. 3:1-5; 4:1-6).

Here Jesus quotes and echo’s the way of Judgment and salvation through Malachi 3-4.  John is the first messenger that prepares the way for God (Christ) who then comes suddenly to His Temple (in AD 70) purifying the priesthood and burns the wicked.  Since AD 70 the Church is God’s purified and established kingdom of priests and kings.  In AD 70 a clear “distinction” between the wicked OC kingdom and the NC righteous kingdom was revealed in power and great glory.

In Malachi 4:1-5 it is further elaborated that Elijah (whom Jesus says is John the Baptist) would come before this “way” of a fiery “great and dreadful day of the Lord” judgment would take place.

The book of James picks up various OT echo’s concerning the persecution of the rich over the poor (as does Malachi) and Christ coming as the Sun — in an “at hand” and “at the door” time frame to burn up the grass/wicked and bring salvation through the imagery of harvest rain to the righteous (James 1-5/Matt. 24:27-33, 34/Mal. 4:2).

The “at hand” “way” of the Second Coming – as Israel’s new deliverance from Babylon / New Exodus / Seeing God’s face – all on the way into the NC age or New Creation

Before leaving the theme of John/Elijah preparing the “at hand” “way” to the Second Coming of Christ to destroy His Temple in AD 70, it may also be helpful to see how this passage was understood among the Jews and then see how their interpretations could also fit an “at hand” AD 70 time frame.  Beale and Carson’s work is helpful at this point:

“Nothing in the immediate context of Isa. 40 suggests that Isaiah is referring to anyone other than Yahweh himself returning to Israel as king (Goldingay 2005: 5–7), but the references to special sons in Isa. 7–9 and to the messianic branch in Isa. 11, along with the Servant Songs yet to come (beginning in Isa. 42), do indicate God revealing himself through a specially anointed agent. The “shepherding” imagery of a text as close to ours as 40:11 also dovetails with other prophecies in which a messianic figure is likened to a shepherd (esp. Ezek. 34).

C. Use in Jewish Sources. The most significant pre-Christian Jewish uses of Isa. 40:3 appear in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Rule of the Community declares,

And when these have become a community in Israel in compliance with these arrangements they are to be segregated from within the dwelling of the men of sin to walk to the desert in order to open there His path. As it is written: “In the desert, prepare the way of [YHWH], straighten in the steppe a roadway for our God.” This is the study of the law wh[i]ch he commanded through the hand of Moses, in order to act in compliance with all that has been revealed from age to age, and according to what the prophets have revealed through his holy spirit. (1QS VIII, 12–16) (All quotations from the Dead Sea Scrolls are from García Martínez and Tigchelaar 1997.)

In short, the Essenes at Qumran viewed their monastic community as the fulfillment of Isa. 40:3. This same interpretation is reflected in an allusion to this Scripture in 1QS IX, 19–20. An allusion in 1QS IV, 1–2 applies the metaphor of making straight paths to the establishment of justice, truth, and the respect for the precepts of God. An even longer explicit quotation of Isa. 40:1–5 appears in a fragment of another Qumran scroll (4Q176 1–2 I, 4–9), but not enough context has been preserved for us to know how it was used.

From a very different, Pharisaic branch of Judaism, Pss. Sol. 8:17 seems to allude to this text when it refers to the Jewish leaders’ (probably literal) grading of rough roads to Jerusalem to prepare the way for the conquering Roman general Pompey to enter the city. This part of the welcome was appropriate for a king, albeit ironic because the king was a foreign invader. Other texts, especially apocalyptic ones, allude to Isa. 40:4–5 with its topographical transformations and its expectations of seeing the Lord’s glory in the context of a coming new age (esp. 1 En. 1:6; Bar. 5:7; As. Mos. 10:4; see Brooke 1994: 130–31). Targum Isaiah at this point appears to change the focus from Yahweh’s coming to the people’s return (Snodgrass 1980: 27).

D. Textual Background. The MT begins, “A voice crying in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,” which the LXX essentially translates literally (changing only the participle to the genitive: “of one crying”). Matthew, like Mark, follows the LXX verbatim. But the parallelism within the OT verse would seem to require that “in the wilderness” modifies “prepare the way” (just as it does in the next line with “make smooth”) rather than “a voice crying,” as in the Gospels. The MT thus continues, “make smooth in the desert a highway for our God,” which the LXX renders as “make straight the paths of our God,” omitting the redundant “in the desert.” Matthew and Mark again follow the LXX verbatim, except that they change “of our God” to “his,” which scarcely alters the meaning.

E. Hermeneutic Employed. The difference between “a voice crying in the wilderness” and a call to “prepare a way in the wilderness” has often been exaggerated. Both in fact fit John the Baptist’s ministry; he (or the Synoptic writers) could easily have seen a double meaning in the position of the phrase in the Hebrew text, as rabbis often did in their exegeses. But the Hebrew also allows for such a double meaning to have been originally intended (Taylor 1997: 25–29).

Originally, Isaiah had in mind a preliminary fulfillment in the return of the Jewish exiles from distant lands to Israel. But his language already reuses “exodus” imagery, making it natural for the evangelists to reapply this imagery in the greater restoration from (spiritual) exile inaugurated by the ministry of Jesus to which John’s preaching pointed (see Childs 2001: 299). And given that no return from Babylon (or Persia or Greece or Rome) ever came anywhere close to fully ending Israel’s hard service, paying for its sins, or leveling (even metaphorically) all its rugged places, and certainly no event prior to Christ’s coming ever revealed the glory of the Lord to all humanity, it seems reasonable to suggest that Isaiah had a more distant, grander fulfillment in mind as well. Hagner (1993: 48) comments, “The words of Isaiah occur in a context of comfort and deliverance from the exile, but they also allude to Messianic fulfillment.” At the very least, that is how a group such as the one at Qumran would have taken it, so that they could apply it to themselves, demonstrating that the NT’s hermeneutic was not a novel appropriation of the text.[1]

Jesus is the anti-type of the deliverance (through Cyrus, Ezra, and Nehemiah) and restoration of coming back into the land from bondage and slavery.  He is the one that sets the captives free from the slavery of sin.  He is the way of holiness found in the law by which a remnant of Jew and Gentile come into the Kingdom/Heavenly Land/New Creation.   He is also the coming “Root of Jesse” that would stand as the “banner” along this “way” ushering in the “second exodus” (Isa. 11:10-12).   This second exodus motif will be brought out further in our text where John is baptizing (in the Jordan) and later on in Matthew 4 (Jesus being tested in the wilderness as Israel was).

As far as understanding the building of a smooth road to be level for a conquering King – this too could be applied to AD 70.  If un-repentant, a way was being prepared by another conquering King – and it was ironic that they shouted they wanted Caesar as their king at Christ’s trial and then Christ came in AD 70 as their King (in judgment through the army of the Roman Empire “Caesar”) to destroy their city and Temple.

Christ as “the way” did bring about the in-breaking of the Messianic or NC age from AD 30 – AD 70.  In AD 70 Christ’s “at hand” Second Coming was fulfilled and the Church in the eternal NC age see Him “face to face” (Isa. 52:8/1 Cor. 13:12/Rev. 22:4-7).   Amen!  Selah.

Before leaving Matthew 3:2-3 I should point out that some Reformed theologians such as John Lightfoot have pointed out that one of the manifestations of the kingdom being “at hand” in 3:2 would be fulfilled in AD 70:

“1. The exhibition and manifestation of the Messias, Matt. 12:28; “But if I, by the finger of God, cast out devils, the kingdom of God is come upon you:” that is, ‘Hence is the manifestation of the Messias.’ See John 3:3, 12:13, &c. 2. The resurrection of Christ; death, hell, Satan, being conquered: whence is a most evident manifestation that he is that ‘eternal King,’ &c.: see Matt. 26:29, Rom. 1:4. 3. His vengeance upon the Jewish nation, his most implacable enemies: this is another, and most eminent manifestation of him: see Matt. 16:28, 19:28. 4. His dominion by the sceptre of the gospel among the Gentiles, Matt. 21:43. In this place which is before us it points out the exhibition and revelation of the Messias.[2]

And if it seems a strange thing to understand the coming of the Lord in Malachi 3-4 to be fulfilled in AD 70 perhaps this additional quote for commentators such as Adam Clark will help assure the reader of this authors “orthodox” standing in these matters:

“Malachi 4:1:  Behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven – The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

And all the proud – This is in reference to Mal 3:15 of the preceding chapter.

The day that cometh shall burn them up – Either by famine, by sword, or by captivity. All those rebels shall be destroyed.

It shall leave them neither root nor branch – A proverbial expression for total destruction. Neither man nor child shall escape.

Malachi 4:2:  You that fear my name – The persons mentioned in the sixteenth verse of the preceding chapter, ye that look for redemption through the Messiah.

The Sun of righteousness – The Lord Jesus, the promised Messiah; the Hope of Israel.

With healing in his wings – As the sun, by the rays of light and heat, revives, cheers, and fructifies the whole creation, giving, through God, light and life everywhere; so Jesus Christ, by the influences of his grace and Spirit, shall quicken, awaken, enlighten, warm, invigorate heal, purify, and refine every soul that believes in him, and, by his wings or rays, diffuse these blessings from one end of heaven to another; everywhere invigorating the seeds of righteousness, and withering and drying up the seeds of sin. The rays of this Sun are the truths of his Gospel, and the influences of his Spirit. And at present these are universally diffused.

And ye shall go forth – Ye who believe on his name shall go forth out of Jerusalem when the Romans shall come up against it. After Cestius Gallus had blockaded the city for some days, he suddenly raised the siege. The Christians who were then in it, knowing, by seeing Jerusalem encompassed with armies, that the day of its destruction was come, when their Lord commanded them to flee into the mountains, took this opportunity to escape from Jerusalem, and go to Pella, in Coelesyria; so that no Christian life fell in the siege and destruction of this city.

But these words are of more general application and meaning; “ye shall go forth” in all the occupations of life, but particularly in the means of grace; and: –

Grow up as calves of the stall – Full of health, of life, and spirits; satisfied and happy.

Malachi 4:3:  Ye shall tread down – This may be the commission given to the Romans: Tread down the wicked people, tread down the wicked place; set it on fire, and let the ashes be trodden down under your feet.

Malachi 4:4:  Remember ye the law of Moses – Where all these things are predicted. The Septuagint, Arabic, and Coptic, place this verse the last.

Malachi 4:5:  Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet – This is meant alone of John the Baptist, as we learn from Luk 1:17 (note), in whose spirit and power he came.

Malachi 4:6:  And he shall turn (convert) the heart of the fathers (על al, with) the children – Or, together with the children; both old and young. Lest I come, and, finding them unconverted, smote the land with a curse, חרם cherem, utter extinction. So we find that, had the Jews turned to God, and received the Messiah at the preaching of John the Baptist and that of Christ and his apostles, the awful חרם cherem of final excision and execration would not have been executed upon them. However, they filled up the cup of their iniquity, and were reprobated, and the Gentiles elected in their stead. Thus, the last was first, and the first was last. Glory to God for his unspeakable gift!

There are three remarkable predictions in this chapter: –

1. The advent of John Baptist, in the spirit and authority of Elijah.

2. The manifestation of Christ in the flesh, under the emblem of the Sun of righteousness.

3. The final destruction of Jerusalem, represented under the emblem of a burning oven, consuming everything cast into it.

These three prophecies, relating to the most important facts that have ever taken place in the history of the world, announced here nearly four hundred years before their occurrence, have been most circumstantially fulfilled.”[3]

I will disagree with Clark on one point here – and that is, the coming of the Sun of Righteousness is referring to Christ’s Second Coming (the great and dreadful day of the Lord) as depicted elsewhere in Matthew 24:27.  Once we get to this text I will argue that it is Christ coming and shinning from the east to the west as the Sun/Son that is in view and not “as lightening.”

“People came to him from Jerusalem, from the whole province of Judea, and from all the country near the River Jordan. They confessed their sins, and he baptized them in the Jordan.  When John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him to be baptized, he said to them, “You snakes—who told you that you could escape from the punishment (or “wrath”) God is about to send?” (Matt. 3:5-7 GNT, WUEST).

 

Many miss the theological and eschatological significance of John being in the wilderness baptizing Jesus and Israelites in the river Jordan.  This marks the beginning of fulfillment for Israel’s new or second exodus and restoration promises.  As G.K. Beale points out,

 

“Just as Israel was led by Moses and had to go through the sea at the exodus to enter the promised land, and just as the second generation had to do the same thing at the Jordan River under Josuah’s leadership, as a miniature second exodus, so again, now that Israel’s restoration is imminent through Jesus, true Israelites must again identify with the water and the Jordan and their prophetic leader in order to being to experience true restoration.

 

This is also in fulfillment of the prophecies of Israel’s restoration as a second exodus through water (Isa. 11:15; 43:2, 16-17; 44:27-28; 50:2; 51:9-11), especially through rivers (Isa. 11:15; 42:15; 43:2; 44:27; 50:2).”[4]

 

Unfortunately scholars such as Beale further miss (or I should say are reluctant to acknowledge at this point having been confronted with Full Preterism), is that this second or new exodus was going to take place within another forty year (roughly) generation time period (AD 30 – AD 70).  Toward the end of this generation the unrepentant would experience a “wrath” that was “about to come,” not entering into God’s rest while the righteous followers of Christ would enter into God’s heavenly land – His “another day” “day approaching” “in a very little while” of which the old exodus generation was a mere type (Heb. 3-4, 8:13—10:37; 1 Cor. 10:11).   Moses in Deuteronomy 31-32 predicted a coming “perverse and crooked generation” in Israel’s “later days” which would bring an “end” to OC Israel.  This is the AD 30 – AD 70 new exodus generation predicted by the prophets.

I have referenced translations that render the Greek word mello  in (v. 7) as the wrath that was “about to” take place as being more accurate than other translations and thus fits the immediate context of imminence that we have seen in (v. 2) and being consistent with the same imminence that will be  developed in (vss. 10-12).  These are the verses that Partial Preterists begin seeing fulfilled in AD 70.  For example, John Lightfoot is on target in identifying the wrath of 3:7 and the baptism John is performing as pointing to the AD 70 judgment,

“…To fly from the wrath to come.] These words respect the very last words of the Old Testament, “lest I smite the earth with a curse,” Mal. 4:[6]; and denote the most miserable destruction of the nation, and now almost ready to fall upon them.

The receiving of John’s baptism signed and fenced those that received it from the ruin that was just coming.”  “…Think here, if those that came to baptism brought not their little ones with them to baptism: when, by the plain words of the Baptist, those that are baptized are said to “fly from the wrath to come?” that is, ‘the wrath of God,’ that was not long hence to destroy the nation by a most sad overthrow.”[5]

So in combining what we’ve learned so far from Beale, Lightfoot, and what the NT is teaching of John’s baptism ushering in a new exodus for Israel — we can glean that the unrepentant within this particular AD 30 – AD 70 generation was going to experience the unquenchable wrath of God while the repentant and followers of Christ would enter into the restoration and new exodus/Sabbath rest promises predicted by the OT prophets at Christ’s Second Coming or “great and dreadful day of the Lord.”

“And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matt. 3:10-12).

It is at this point that Partial Preterist theologians begin seeing and developing the imminence of John’s eschatology to AD 70.  John Lightfoot is on target in identifying the wrath of 3:7 and the baptism pointing to the AD 70 judgment,

“…To fly from the wrath to come.] These words respect the very last words of the Old Testament, “lest I smite the earth with a curse,” Mal. 4:[6]; and denote the most miserable destruction of the nation, and now almost ready to fall upon them.

The receiving of John’s baptism signed and fenced those that received it from the ruin that was just coming. To this belongs that of St. Peter, Epist. 1. ch. 3:20, 21: in that manner as Noah and his sons were by water delivered from the flood, “so also baptism now, the antitype of that type, saveth us” from the deluge of divine indignation, which in a short time is to overflow the Jewish nation. Think here, if those that came to baptism brought not their little ones with them to baptism: when, by the plain words of the Baptist, those that are baptized are said to “fly from the wrath to come?” that is, ‘the wrath of God,’ that was not long hence to destroy the nation by a most sad overthrow.”[6]

R.C. Sproul understands the imminence communicated in the metaphor of God having his ax at the root of Israel’s trees,

“The image of the axe does not indicate that the woodsman is merely thinking about cutting down a tree or that he has merely begun the task by striking at the outer bark.  The image is that the task is nearly complete.  The axe has already penetrated to the core of the tree, hinting that one more decisive stroke will make it fall.”[7]

Kenneth Gentry also sees this as referring to an imminent judgment and wrath being poured out upon Israel in AD 70,

“The wrath about which John speaks “came down upon Jews of Palestine in an unparalleled manner in A.D. 70,” when the Romans furiously destroyed Jerusalem, the temple, and untold thousands of Jews.  (Mt.3:10) – “Here John draws his imagery from God’s judgment against Assyria (Isa. 10:33-34):  that sort of judgment soon will break out upon Israel.”[8]  And of the winnowing fork metaphor Gentry also applies this to AD 70:

“…He who is coming” has a “winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (3:12).  This anticipates AD 70.”[9]

In further proving that the harvest gathering here was fulfilled in AD 70 Historic Premillennialist’s such as John Gill correctly point out that the threshing floor of this harvest judgment is local and addressing Israel in AD 70 (not an end of history or global event):

“Christ was just ready to publish; by which he would effectually call his chosen people among the Jews, and so distinguish and separate them from others, as well as purify and cleanse them, or rather the awful judgment of God, which Christ was ready to execute, and in a short time would execute on the unbelieving and impenitent Jews: hence it is said to be “in his hand”; being put there by his Father, who “hath committed all judgment to the Son”. That this is the meaning of the “Baptist,” seems evident, since “fanning” is always, when figuratively taken, used for judgments, #Isa 41:16 Jer 15:7 51:2.  By “his floor,” is meant the land of Israel, where he was born, brought up, and lived; of which the Lord says, “O my threshing, and the corn of my floor!” #Isa 21:10.”[10]

To this the book of Revelation agrees in that the coming “Day of God’s wrath” was imminently approaching its first century audience along with the harvest judgment scene in Revelation 6, 7 and 14.  In 14:20 the bloody harvest scene covers “…the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs” which commentators have long noted covers the distance of Israel.  Israel is the local scene in which John and Revelation’s harvest judgment takes place.

The problem for Partial Preterist’s such as Gentry, is that this time of the end consummation of the harvest depicted here will be further developed by Jesus in Matthew 13 and 24-25.  For a good explanation of the separation of the wheat from the chaff in our text as it relates to the final process of the harvest Morris writes,

“The thought of judgment is pursued and enlarged. John pictures the Messiah as having a winnowing fork in his hand. At harvest time the grain was threshed, for example, by having oxen tread it out, a process that shook the grain free from the husks but left them in the same heap. It was then winnowed: the threshed grain was separated from the husks by throwing it into the air, at first with a fork and later with a shovel (cf. Isa. 30:24). The heavier grain would fall straight down, but the lighter husks would be blown further away. If the winnowing fork is already in hand, the process of separation is about to begin (REB has “his winnowing shovel,” which would indicate that the last stage in winnowing is about to begin). The picture is one of imminent activity; judgment will not be delayed. And it will be wholehearted, for he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. The verb is unusual, but it clearly points to a complete cleaning out of the threshing floor. It is possible to understand this as meaning that the threshing floor will be cleaned by the removal of all the husks so that only the grain is left. But the further imagery of fire suggests that the cleansing will be by burning up the chaff. And he will gather his wheat signifies the preservation of those who are right with God, just as burn up the chaff the severe judgment of those who are in the wrong. Fire is often used in connection with the last judgment. That cannot be put out points to the impossibility of averting the punishment of evil. The putting of the wheat into the barn (Matthew has “his wheat” and Luke “his barn”) and the burning up of the chaff picture the satisfactory completion of the harvest.”[11]

This is important to establish at this point since I will be arguing that Matthew’s/Jesus’ end of “this [OC] age” harvest gathering in Matthew 13:39-43 is the same AD 70 eschatological harvest gathering of Matthew’s/John the Baptist’s here in Matthew 3:12.  And then once we reach Matthew 24:30-31 and 25:31-33ff. I will again argue that this is the same end of the OC age AD 70 separation/judgment that is taking place.  Simply put – John’s eschatology is Jesus’ eschatology.

What of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire? 

We have seen how the water baptism of John in the Jordan marked the prophetic second exodus that would be ushered in by Jesus and how the AD 30 – AD 70 “this generation” was Israel’s last days terminal generation.  But what of the baptism Jesus would bring for Israel – through the Holy Spirit and fire?  How could these be fulfilled by AD 70?

 

If you were a good Jew listening to John’s message of a coming Messiah who was going to baptize or pour out the Holy Spirit upon Israel within the context of a coming judgment, you no doubt would be thinking of Joel 2:28-32.  On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 Peter delivers a sermon in which he identifies his contemporary “this corrupt (or crooked) generation” as the “last days” generation predicted by Moses (Deut. 31—32:5, 20/Acts 2:40) and that this generation (in context) was to call out to the Lord and ask for forgiveness for crucifying their Messiah and be saved from “the coming great and dreadful day of the Lord” predicted by Joel 2 (cf. Acts 2:16-40).  So the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (manifesting in the miraculous speaking of known foreign languages) was a sign of an imminent coming salvation and judgment.  Paul underscores this same imminence and purpose of tongues in his epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:6-8; 7:29, 31; 10:11; 14:21-25).   It should not surprise us that since John came to prepare the way of an imminent “great and dreadful day of the Lord” judgment found in Malachi 3-4, that Jesus also would baptize Israel and pour out His Holy Spirit marking the same imminent “great and dreadful day of the Lord,” except through another prophet (Joel).

Let’s once again turn to the commentators for further support.

John Lightfoot writes,

“…it shall come to pass “in the last days.” We have elsewhere observed that by the last days is to be understood the last days of Jerusalem and the Jewish economy, viz. when the τέλος τοῦ αἰῶνος Ἰουδαϊκοῦ, the end of the Jewish world drew near. And there would be the less doubt as to this matter if we would frame a right notion of “that great and terrible day of the Lord;” that is, the day of his vengeance upon that place and nation. Which terror the Jews, according to their custom and fashion, put far off from themselves,…”[12]

Adam Clark writes,

“Acts 2:20:  The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood – These are figurative representations of eclipses, intended most probably to point out the fall of the civil and ecclesiastical state in Judea: see the notes on Mat 24:29.  That the Sun is darkened when a total eclipse takes place, and that the Moon appears of a bloody hue in such circumstances, every person knows.

Acts 2:21:  Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved – The predicted ruin is now impending; and only such as receive the Gospel of the Son of God shall be saved. And that none but the Christians did escape, when God poured out these judgments, is well known; and that All the Christians did escape, not one of them perishing in these devastations, stands attested by the most respectable authority. See the note on Mat 24:13.”[13]

“Acts 2:40:  Save yourselves from this untoward generation – Separate yourselves from them: be ye saved, σωθητε: the power is present with you; make a proper use of it, and ye shall be delivered from their obstinate unbelief, and the punishment that awaits it in the destruction of them and their city by the Romans.”[14]

Matthew Henry writes as a possible meaning of the “last days” here,

“…Or, in the days immediately preceding the destruction of the Jewish nation, in the last days of that people, just before that great and notable day of the Lord spoken of, v. 20.[15]

“That one great thing which they should prophesy of should be the judgment that was coming upon the Jewish nation, for this was the chief thing that Christ himself had foretold (Mt. 24) at his entrance into Jerusalem (Lu. 19:41); and when he was going to die (Lu. 23:29); and these judgments were to be brought upon them to punish for their contempt of the gospel, and their opposition to it, though it came to them thus proved. Those that would not submit to the power of God’s grace, in this wonderful effusion of his Spirit, should fall and lie under the pourings out of the vials of his wrath. Those shall break that will not bend. First, The destruction of Jerusalem, which was about forty years after Christ’s death, is here called that great and notable day of the Lord, because it put a final period to the Mosaic economy; the Levitical priesthood and the ceremonial law were thereby for ever abolished and done away. The desolation itself was such as was never brought upon any place or nation, either before or since. It was the day of the Lord, for it was the day of his vengeance upon that people for crucifying Christ, and persecuting his ministers; it was the year of recompences for that controversy; yea, and for all the blood of the saints and martyrs, from the blood of righteous Abel, Mt. 23:35. It was a little day of judgment; it was a notable day: in Joel it is called a terrible day, for so it was to men on earth; but here epiphanē (after the Septuagint), a glorious, illustrious day, for so it was to Christ in heaven; it was the epiphany, his appearing, so he himself spoke of it, Mt. 24:30. The destruction of the Jews was the deliverance of the Christians, who were hated and persecuted by them; and therefore that day was often spoken of by the prophets of that time, for the encouragement of suffering Christians, that the Lord was at hand, the coming of the Lord drew nigh, the Judge stood before the door, James 5:8, 9. Secondly, The terrible presages of that destruction are here foretold: There shall be wonders in heaven above, the sun turned into darkness and the moon into blood; and signs too in the earth beneath, blood and fire. Josephus, in his preface to his history of the wars of the Jews, speaks of the signs and prodigies that preceded them, terrible thunders, lightnings, and earthquakes; there was a fiery comet that hung over the city for a year, and a flaming sword was seen pointing down upon it; a light shone upon the temple and the altar at midnight, as if it had been noon-day. Dr. Lightfoot gives another sense of these presages: The blood of the Son of God, the fire of the Holy Ghost now appearing, the vapour of the smoke in which Christ ascended, the sun darkened, and the moon made blood, at the time of Christ’s passion, were all loud warnings given to that unbelieving people to prepare for the judgments coming upon them. Or, it may be applied, and very fitly, to the previous judgments themselves by which that desolation was brought on. The blood points at the wars of the Jews with the neighbouring nations, with the Samaritans, Syrians, and Greeks, in which abundance of blood was shed, as there was also in their civil wars, and the struggles of the seditious (as they called them), which were very bloody; there was no peace to him that went out nor to him that came in. The fire and vapour of smoke, here foretold, literally came to pass in the burning of their cities, and towns, and synagogues, and temple at last. And this turning of the sun into darkness, and the moon into blood, bespeaks the dissolution of their government, civil and sacred, and the extinguishing of all their lights. Thirdly, The signal preservation of the Lord’s people is here promised (v. 21): Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord Jesus (which is the description of a true Christian, 1 Co. 1:2) shall be saved, shall escape that judgment which shall be a type and earnest of everlasting salvation. In the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, there was a remnant sealed to be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger; and in the destruction by the Romans not one Christian perished. Those that distinguish themselves by singular piety shall be distinguished by special preservation.”[16]

And lastly a Partial Preterist author Kenneth Gentry writes,

“Acts 2:20 must highlight AD 70, for it appears in the very context of Jerusalem and incudes tongues-speaking which is a sign of coming judgment upon Israel (cf. Dt 28:49; Isa 28:11; 33:19; Jer 5:15; 1 Cor 14:21-22).  Peter’s sermon not only blames the Jews for Christ’s recent death (Acts 2:22-23, 36), but urges the Jerusalemites to “be saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40).”[17]

The purpose of the baptism or outpouring of the Holy Spirit within Israel’s “last days” (not the last days of the Church age or that of world history) between AD 30 – AD 70 was to warn of an imminent judgment coming and to confirm that God was in fact including Gentiles to be built up as God’s new Tabernacle (Acts 10-11; Acts 15/Amos 9).

Baptism of fire – if you were a good Jew Malachi 3-4 would come to mind.  Since we have covered Malachi 3-4 already and since the immediate context describes an imminent judgment of fire approaching, it is safe to say that this baptism of fire is also referring to the wrath that would be poured out upon the wicked in AD 70.

Before leaving this theme of baptism, perhaps the anti-type of a baptism that was in the process of “saving” the first century Christians in 1 Peter 3:20 is worthy of some comment at this point.  Of this spiritual baptism of fire and persecution that would test the faith of Christians and eventually burn the wicked in AD 70 David Green writes,

“Union / identity with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection is the essence of spiritual baptism. In I Peter, it is the “suffering” or “fiery” aspect of spiritual baptism for Christians that is the running theme. Peter wrote his epistle to the persecuted, scattered Jewish believers who were living as aliens and strangers (1:1; 2:11). Many of them were being distressed by various trials (1:6), being slandered, reviled and maligned (2:12; 3:16; 4:4,14); their faith was being tested by fire (1:7).

This same baptism was predicted by Jesus in Matt. 20:22,23 (AV); Mk. 10:38,39 (cf. Lk. 12:50), where Jesus asked James and John, “Are you able to . . . be baptized with the baptism which I am baptized?” And they answered, “We are able.” And Jesus said, “. . . You shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.”

Christ was prophesying to His disciples that they were going to become sharers of His sufferings, i.e., they were going to be experientially / spiritually unified and identified with Him in His sufferings, death and burial. They were going to be “crucified with Him” (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20; 5:24) through persecution, but were also going to endure unto victory through the power of Christ’s resurrection.

Union with Christ in His sufferings was further borne out in I Peter when Peter told his readers that it was their calling to patiently endure their persecutions, just as Christ when He suffered, kept entrusting Himself to God. (2:23) “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose” (4:1), and, “you share the sufferings of Christ” (4:12,13).

It was this spiritual baptism that was saving the first-century Christians. Just as a small remnant, eight souls (I Peter 3:20), had been brought safely through the flood waters in Noah’s day (I Peter 3:20), so was a small remnant (Rom. 9:27,29) being brought safely through the fire of God’s Last-Days wrath. (Matt. 24:38,39; Lk. 17:26,27; II Peter 2:5-9)

Their saving baptism was a refining, purifying baptism, as they were being sovereignly preserved by God through their persecutions until the end of the age. As Paul said in II Cor. 4:17, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (Cf. Acts 14:22).”

Green may be on to something here.  The rain and wrath that God poured down upon the wicked of the land was for 40 days and nights in Genesis 7. As God had preserved Noah and his family through these 40 days, God was preserving and saving His Church during this 40 year transition period. This is similar to what we had seen in the development of the type and anti-type in the wilderness exodus motif 1 Cor. 10:11; Hebs. 3-4/Ps. 95.  Just as God had preserved the faith of Joshua and Caleb during the 40 days of spying out the land and then another 40 years before entering it, God was preserving the faith of these Christians through the persecutions and fiery trials they were undergoing. As the gospel was going throughout the land, it was a living river that by AD 70 would have reached to the heads of the Christians producing salvation Ezek. 47. But for the wicked and unbelieving, the wrath of God remained upon them and thus they were in the process of perishing and would be finally swept away in the fiery flood that consumed and baptized Jerusalem in AD 70.

Let’s now turn our attention to how the various futurist systems have inadequately dealt with the eschatology of John the Baptist.

Premillennial Dispensationalism and John the Baptist’s eschatology

Matthew 3:2:  The Dispensational position on our text is that the ‘kingdom” was a literal earthly kingdom to be established on earth through Messiah’s reign similar to that of David and Solomon’s reigns.  It is pointed out that since this is what the Jews of Jesus’ day were expecting, it must be accurate.  They believe that the kingdom was literally “at hand” BUT it got “delayed” or “postponed”:

“The rejection of Christ by the people delayed [or postponed] its [the kingdom’s] establishment until the Second Coming of Christ (25:31).  The “character” of the kingdom today is described in the parables of Matt. 13.”[18]

Therefore, Dispensationalism teaches “three phases” of the kingdom:  First, a literal kingdom that was literally “at hand” but got postponed due to the Jewish rejection of Christ.  Second, a spiritual aspect of the kingdom is introduced in the “seven mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” to be fulfilled during the present Church age found in the seven parables of Jesus in (Matt. 13:1-52).  The third phase is the arrival of the literal kingdom (that got postponed the first time around) established on the earth at the Second Coming of Jesus (Matt. 24:29—chapter 25).

Matthew 3:3 & Isaiah 40: I find it interesting that one Dispensational author admits that John came to prepare a way for the remnant of Israel to be saved,

“John was thus a voice of one calling in the desert to prepare a remnant to receive the Messiah.”[19]   

If the mission was to prepare a way of salvation for the “remnant” of Jews (and thus not every Jew or a majority of Jews had to accept Christ), with the kingdom being “at hand,” then there was no need to have the kingdom postponed or delayed since the NT develops that a remnant of Jews (along with the Gentile inclusion) was indeed saved.

There is really no exegetical work done by Dispensationalists trying to examine the context of the passage John references in Isaiah 40 as being salvation 40:2 and judgment 40:6-7, 10 and how that relates to the imminent judgment scene John is developing within the immediate context.     

Matthew 3:7:  Some Progressive Dispensationalists such as John MacArthur, have given lip service to the “wrath [about to] come” in 3:7 as “possibly” being fulfilled in AD 70, but if so, only in a partial or typological way allegedly awaiting the ultimate fulfillment of God pouring out His wrath at Christ’s future (to us) Second Coming.[20]

Matthew 3:10:  In regards to God having already laid His ax at Israel’s tree some see it as a judgment upon Jerusalem, but don’t want to really reference it to AD 70 and the imminence that saturates the rest of Matthew 3:

Judaism was in danger of being removed.  Unless there was productive fruit in keeping with repentance (v. 8), God would remove the tree [tree=Judaism=Israel].”[21]  Why are these Dispensational commentators afraid to point out that in AD 70 the kingdom would in fact be “taken” from Israel and “given” to the “nation” of the Church (Matt. 21:43-45)?  Therefore, when the “at hand kingdom” would come in AD 70, the OC kingdom would be judged (with the kingdom being taken from her – the removing of her tree – ie. gather and burn up the chaff) and the remnant would experience salvation through their repentance and be “given” the kingdom (ie. gather His wheat into the barn).

However, MacArthur of 3:10 refreshingly and boldly writes,

“Irreversible judgment was imminent”[22]

But he fails miserably to exegetically connect this “irreversible imminence” of (v. 10) with the immediate contexts of (verses 2, 7), and gives vague and shallow connections of v. 10) to that of (vss. 11-12).

Matthew 3:11-12:  MacArthur does write concerning the baptism of fire,

“Because fire is used throughout this context as a means of judgment (vv. 10, 12), this must speak of a baptism of judgment upon the unrepentant.”[23]

Here he connects the baptism of fire in (v. 11) with the “irreversible judgment [that] was imminent” of (v. 10), and with being burned up with unquenchable fire” in (12).  But because being burned up with unquenchable fire for his theology means something that is connected with a far distant judgment at the end of world history — at best he can only make a thematic connection with the fiery judgments and not an actual and exegetical one connecting them as the same “imminent” judgment.

Louis Barbieri however does connect this baptism of fire with the Second Coming of Jesus in Malachi 3:

“Those who reject Him (chaff) would be judged and cast into eternal unquenchable fire (cf. Mal. 4:1).”[24]

Matthew 11:10-15; 17:11-13: There seems to be a denial among Dispensationalists when it comes to Jesus’ teaching that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah’s coming before the great and dreadful day of the Lord could occur (cf. Mal. 4:1-5).  Most seem to think that this is fulfilled when allegedly Elijah will come in our future in fulfillment of Revelation 11.  But John (as Elijah) came to prepare the way for Christ’s Second Coming and judgment (Mal. 3:1-2; Mal. 4:1-5; Isa. 40:3-7, 10).  Dispensationalists are also exegetically impotent to connect the imminence throughout Matthew 3 with the imminence in the NT concerning the Second Coming of Jesus that John came to prepare the way for.          

Weakness of this view

First, there is NO exegetical evidence whatsoever that John the Baptist nor Jesus, was ever offering a literal earthly kingdom that was “at hand.”  A literal earthly kingdom was offered to Jesus and He clearly rejected it and went on further to develop that His kingdom was spiritual (cf. John 6).  Everywhere Jesus describes His kingdom throughout the gospels, it is always described as a spiritual (spiritual water, bread, life, etc…) kingdom that is “not of this world” and when it would come it would not be visible, but would be realized “within.”  The rest of the NT develops a spiritual kingdom never a literal or earthly one.

Secondly, there is NO exegetical evidence anywhere in the teachings of Jesus in the gospels or in the NT authors, that the kingdom John the Baptist and Jesus said was “at hand” got “delayed” or “postponed” thousands of years.  Not a single verse!

Thirdly, it is the NT’s teaching that Christ’s “rejection” (ie. His death and resurrection) actually established the “already” aspect to Israel’s OT promises concerning the Davidic kingdom – hardly “postponing” them.

Fourthly, exegetically speaking the imminent “at hand” aspect of the Kingdom is connected to an “about to” come “wrath” or “irreversible imminent” eschatological harvest judgment that would result in removing Israel (the trees) (vss. 10, 12).  There is really no exegetical work at all being done to harmonize all four of these imminent time statements to the harvest judgment and salvation imminently coming in AD 70.

Fifthly, Dispensationalism admits that John was coming to prepare the way for Christ’s Second Coming (“the day of His coming” / “the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord”) in a fiery judgment as predicted by Malachi 3:2-5/4:1-5/Isa. 40:3-4, 10/=Matthew 3:3, 10-12.  However, men like MacArthur will not connect the exegetical dots in our passage let alone in the rest of the NT which teaches that the “Irreversible judgment [that] was imminent” in John’s day to his first century audience is the Second Coming event of which John came to prepare the way of – for that same first century audience!

Sixthly, Dispensationalism constantly ridicules Covenant Theology and Preterism for pointing out that the OT and NT uses highly apocalyptic/symbolic/metaphoric language in prophetic literature (not literal), and clearly John did not come to prepare a literal highway for Jesus to enter this literal kingdom on earth that they have imagined He was teaching in the book of Dispensationalism 7:7-77 apparently.

Seventh, If John came to prepare a way for the “remnant” of Israel to be saved in order for the kingdom and Christ’s Second Coming could be realized, then there was no reason to have the kingdom “postponed” because a “remnant” was saved prior to Christ coming in the judgment upon Jerusalem in AD 70.

Eighth, There is nothing but pure eisegesis and Dispensational dogma that separates John’s coming harvest judgment and salvation in Matthew 3 related to the kingdom’s arrival and what Jesus will teach on the same subject matter in Matthew 13.

This view has to read into the text (eisegesis) an offer of an alleged earthly/literal kingdom that is nowhere found here or anywhere else in the NT, a “delay” or “postponement” theory that is nowhere found here or anywhere else in the NT, and is confused and impotent on how all four imminent AD 70 references or images (vss. 2, 7, 10-12) harmonize within Matthew 3 let alone how the rest of the NT harmonizes them!

Strengths of this view 

Dispensationalism is forced to at least accept that “at hand” is a genuinely imminent time statement for the first century audience John is addressing.  But unfortunately as we will see later, when it comes to the kingdom being “at hand” associated with Christ’s Second Coming, “at hand” takes on a totally different meaning for the same first century audience.

Dispensationalism does accept that the coming of Christ in judgment found in Malachi 3-4 is the Second Coming event and not just “a” minor AD 70 coming (per Partial Preterism).

We can find points of agreement that the kingdom was genuinely “at hand” (but not “postponed”) and that Matthew 3:10-12 refers to the Second Coming of Christ to bring about an “Irreversible judgment [that] was imminent.”  No debate on those points.

Amillennialism

Matthew 3:2:  Concerning the kingdom being “at hand,” Amillennialism emphasizes the spiritual nature of the kingdom (over against the Premillennial Dispensational view) and that the kingdom’s “already” aspect was present or would imminently be present – realized in the heart,  “bearing forth fruit” with their “repentance.”  For example William Hendricksen writes,

“…heaven’s (ie. God’s) reign in the hearts and lives of men would begin to assert itself far more powerfully than ever before, was about to begin; in a sense, had even now arrived.  Great blessings were in store for all those who, by sovereign grace, would confess and forsake their sins and would begin to live to God’s glory.”[25]

Matthew 3:3 & Isaiah 40:  Hendriksen sees Isaiah 40:3-5 as typologically being fulfilled when the remnant of Israel came out of the wilderness captivity of Babylon and back into the Promised Land through the restoration and preparing the way of God through Ezra and Nehemiah’s ministries.  As far as how John prepares the way, he writes,

“…to prepare the way of the Lord, that is, by God’s grace and power to effect a complete change of mind and heart (see verse 2). This implies that they must make straight his paths, meaning that they must provide the Lord with a ready access into their hearts and lives. They must make straight whatever was crooked, not in line with God’s holy will. They must clear away all the obstacles which they had thrown into his path; such obstructions as self-righteousness and smug complacency (“We have Abraham as our father,” verse 9), greed, cruelty, slander, etc. (Luke 3:13, 14).

It is evident that, both in Isaiah and in John’s preaching as recorded by Matthew, “the wilderness” through which a path must be made ready for the Lord is in the final analysis the people’s heart, inclined to all evil. Though the literal meaning is not absent, it is subsumed into the figurative. The root idea is indeed the actual desert. “But the very sight of the [literal] wilderness must have had a powerful effect on stupid and hardened men, leading them to perceive that they were in a state of death, and to accept the promise of salvation that had been held out to them” (John Calvin on Matt. 3:3).”[26]

So as one can see the Amillennialist is limited in his exegesis of an “at hand” kingdom only addressing its internal affects within the heart and not really dealing with imminent aspects of the kingdom’s arrival in the eschatological areas that are developed throughout the immediate context.  Nor is there any discussion that within the context of Isaiah 40:3-5 the Second Coming is mentioned as a part of the way that is being prepared.

Matthew 3:7:  In trying to address the “approaching wrath,” Hendriksen does not deal with the Greek word mello here and how it is used throughout Matthew’s gospel.  If he were, he would translate it as the wrath that was “about to be” poured out upon the hypocrites and “Brood of vipers” to whom John is addressing.  He does however connect this “wrath” with the Second Coming of Christ:

“…the final outpouring of this wrath is reserved for the future (Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; 2 Thess. 1:8, 9; Rev. 14:10).

“…this final manifestation of wrath (Zeph. 1:15; 2:2) is connected with the (second) coming of the Messiah (Mal. 3:2, 3; 4:1, 5).[27]

Matthew 3:10:  As usual futurists such as Hendriksen do not know how to deal with NT imminence and throw everything they can at it.  Everything from the old viewing things from the two mountain tops and “prophetic foreshortening” to pointing out that AD 70 could be in view in that it was a near event.  Note the Amillennialist’s struggle with John’s imminent eschatology and that of the NT’s in general:

“Judgment is at hand. The axe lies right in front of (πρός) or, as we would say, “at” the root, with sinister intent, ready to hew down one tree after another. Right now, therefore, is the proper moment to repent and to believe. In this connection see also Ps. 95:7, 8; Isa. 55:6; Luke 13:7, 9; 17:32; John 15:6; Rom. 13:11; 2 Cor. 6:2; 1 John 2:18; Rev. 1:3. Continued: … every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire. The question might be asked, “But was the day of the final manifestation of God’s wrath upon the wicked actually that close? Is it not true that many centuries have passed by since the Baptist spoke these words, and still the Lord has not returned for judgment?” The following facts should be borne in mind:

First, John reminds one of the Old Testament prophet who, in speaking about the last days or the Messianic age would at times look upon the future as a traveler does on a distant mountain range. He fancies that one mountain top rises up right behind the other, when in reality the two are miles apart. The two comings of Christ are viewed as if they were one. Thus we read “A shoot shall come forth out of the stock of Jesse … and he shall smite the earth” (Isa. 11:1–4). “Jehovah has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and … the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:1, 2). “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.… The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of Jehovah arrives” (Joel 2:28–31). Cf. Mal. 3:1, 2. This has been called “prophetic foreshortening.”

Secondly, Jerusalem’s fall (a.d. 70) was drawing perilously near, and foreshadowed the final judgment.

Thirdly, impenitence has a tendency of hardening a person, so that often he is left in his present lost condition. Without genuine repentance death and the judgment are for him irrevocable and “at the door.”

Fourthly, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

Fifthly, as the references given above (p. 205, beginning with Ps. 95:7, 8) indicate, John was by no means the only one who emphasized the imminence of the judgment and/or the need of becoming converted right now. Therefore, if on this score we find fault with the Baptist we would also have to blame the psalmists, the prophets, the apostles, and even the Lord himself! Surely, no true believer is ready to do this.

Sixthly, all this does not necessarily mean that the Baptist himself always saw the present and the future in true perspective. See on 11:1–3. It only means that the Holy Spirit guided him so that in his actual preaching as here recorded he had a perfect right to say what he said.

The “fire” into which the unfruitful trees are cast is evidently a symbol of the final outpouring of God’s wrath upon the wicked. See also Mal. 4:1; Matt. 13:40; John 15:6. Jesus spoke about “the Gehenna of fire” (Matt. 5:22, 29; 18:9; Mark 9:47). This fire is unquenchable (Matt. 3:12; 18:8; Mark 9:43; Luke 3:17). The point is not merely that there is always a fire burning in Gehenna but that God burns the wicked with unquenchable fire, the fire that has been prepared for them as well as for the devil and his angels (Matt. 3:12; 25:41).[28]

Hendriksen is throwing everything he can at John the Baptist’s teaching and how the NT develops imminence hoping that something will stick!  If imminence is to be taken literally here, then AD 70 would fulfill this, but only in “foreshadowing” way.  Why?  Because Hendriksen assumes that this wrath associated with the Second Coming must be future and an world of history kind of event.  Then on the other extreme he appeals to 2 Peter 3:8 and interprets it in such a way that imminence doesn’t have to be interpreted literally at all.  So in this approach when Peter says “the end of all things is at hand” – it really didn’t communicate imminence to Peter’s first century audience because “at hand” could really mean thousands and thousands of years.  Concerning his two mountain peaks illustration – the two were viewed to take place imminently together, because Jesus places his rejection in His first coming and His Second Coming to take place within the same AD 30 – AD 70 “this generation” (Luke 17:25/Luke 21:27-32).  Since they both take place within the same “this generation” time frame, NT imminence can be interpreted literally and refer to Christ coming in the judgment upon Jerusalem and thus God pouring out His wrath upon those that had rejected His Son.

What is helpful from Amillennialists such as William Hendriksen is that they seem to recognize that John’s eschatology here is a microcosm of the rest of the NT’s eschatology.  Therefore, how you interpret one is how you must interpret the other.  Of course I have no disagreement on this point.

Matthew 3:11:  In regards to what the baptism of fire is, Amillennialists tend to agree with the Full Preterist that this is indeed referring to the Second Coming:

“Nevertheless, it would appear from the context (both before and after; see verses 10 and 12) and from Joel’s Pentecost prophecy (Joel 2:30; cf. Acts 2:19), considered in its context (see Joel 2:31), that the ultimate fulfilment of the Baptist’s words awaits Christ’s glorious return to cleanse the earth with fire (2 Peter 3:7, 12; cf. Mal. 3:2; 2 Thess. 1:8).[29]

Matthew 3:12: Simon Kistemaker seems to understand that John’s end time harvest metaphors here in 3:12 answer to the same end time harvest scene elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel in the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 13:

“Throughout the Gospel of Matthew the theme of separation and judgment unfolds.  The wheat is gathered into the barn, but the chaff is burned up with unquenchable fire (Matt. 3:12); the weeds are separated from the wheat, and tied into bundles and burned, while the wheat is gathered into the barn (Matt. 13:30).”[30]

As far as the threshing floor judgment, Hendriksen correctly connects it with the Second Coming,

Thus also Christ at his return will thoroughly clear the area where the judgment will take place. No one will escape detection.[31]

Of the Christians or “grain” being gathered into the barn or kingdom, Hendriksen connects that with Christians inheriting the New Heaven and Earth in 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21-22 at Christ’s Second Coming.  And the same time frame is given for the unbelievers or “chaff” – they are thrown into the Lake of Fire for eternal punishment at Christ’s Second Coming (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).[32]  After all this is the eschatological “not yet” to the kingdom promises.

Weaknesses of this view

It fails to honor the context in that the “at hand” of the kingdom is not just a spiritual “in the heart” “already” aspect to the kingdom, but includes the kingdom’s imminent “not yet” salvation and judgment motif throughout the passage.  This is further evidenced in that it is the Second Coming that John was to prepare the way for in Isaiah 40:3-5, 10 and Malachi 3 and 4.

There is no study on mello in 3:7 which should be translated as a wrath that was “about to” be poured out upon those that would not repent.

It fails to understand or develop NT imminence in any kind of Biblical or consistent way.

Strengths of this view

There is some attempt to find the eschatological imminence or kingdom “not yet” promises being fulfilled in the AD 70 judgment – but not consistently.

The ax laid at the tree and the coming baptism of fire are correctly identified with the Second Coming event as predicted in Malachi 3 and 4.

Unlike Dispensationalism, there are not two different kingdoms or phases of the kingdom – one for Israel and another for the Church in which they separate the salvation and judgment harvest motifs here in Matthew 3 from Jesus’ parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13.  Amillennialism seems to equate the two as the same end time harvest event.

This position correctly sees the eschatology of John the Baptist here to be a microcosm of the NT’s eschatology as a whole.  Therefore, its struggle with John’s imminence here is its struggle with NT imminence.

Partial Preterism

Since I have already quoted heavily from Partial Preterism I will simply address the weaknesses and strengths of this view.

Weaknesses of this view

Unlike the Amillennial view, the weaknesses of this view is in its failure to harmonize and use the analogy of Scripture principle of interpretation concerning the “great and dreadful day of the Lord” and the imminent coming judgment and wrath whereby the wicked are thrown into “unquenchable fire” (all being fulfilled in AD 70) with the rest of the NT’s teaching on these eschatological topics.  There isn’t even any attempt to harmonize the coming harvest separation and judgment of Matthew 3 with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 13 from some of their leading theologians.

Strengths of this view

Unlike the Amillennial view, the strength of this view is that it seeks to take the imminence throughout Matthew 3:2-12 seriously and finds its fulfillment in the fall of Jerusalem.  It also acknowledges that the “great and dreadful day of the Lord” in Joel 2/Acts 2 and Malachi 3-4 was fulfilled in AD 70 using the common prophetic language of the OT and NT – apocalyptic and metaphoric language.

Progressive Partial Preterism

Matthew 3:2-12:  In response to the kind of vague comments Amillennialists give about a pure inward aspect of the kingdoms arrival and a call for repentance throughout all ages, Russell makes the point that the repentance in our passage is urgent for a specific immediate audience (the Jews) concerning a specific coming national judgment,

“These warnings of John the Baptist are not the vague and indefinite exhortations to repentance, addressed to men in all ages, which they are sometimes assumed to be; they are urgent, burning words, having a specific and present bearing upon the then existing generation, the living men to whom he brought the message of God.  The Jewish nation was now upon its last trial; the second Elijah had come as the precursor of ‘the great and dreadful day of the Lord:’ if they rejected his warnings, the doom predicted by Malachi world surely and speedily follow; “I will come and smite the land with a curse.’  Nothing can be more obvious than that the catastrophe to which John alludes is particular, national, local, and imminent, and history tells us that within the period of the generation that listened to his warning cry, ‘the wrath came upon them to the uttermost.’”[33]

Russell is also helpful in demonstrating that although the “way” John is called upon to “prepare” here in Matthew 3:3 is found in Isaiah 40, we still see the “way” of judgment found in Malachi 3-4 (as is quoted in Matt. 11:10) within our passage,

“It is impossible not to be struck with the correspondence between the language of the Baptist and that of Malachi.  As Hengstenberg observes:  ‘The prophecy of Malacki is throughout the text upon which John comments.’  In both, the coming of the Lord is described as a day of wrath; both speak of His coming with fire to purify and try, with fire to burn and consume.  Both speak of a time of discrimination and separation between the righteous and the wicked, the gold and dross, the wheat and chaff; and both speak of the utter destruction of the chaff, or stubble, with unquenchable fire.  These are not fortuitous resemblances:  the two predictions are the counterpart one of the other, and can only refer to the self-same event, the same ‘day of the lord,’ the same coming judgment.”[34]

Russell also does a great job of using the analogy of Scripture principle of interpreting scripture when he connects the Matthew 3:2-12 with that of the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13:

“It is indeed surprising that expositors should failed to recognize in these solemn predictions the reproduction and reiteration of the words of Malachi and of John the Baptist.  Here we find the same final separation between the righteous and the wicked; the same purging of the floor; the same gathering of the wheat into the garner; the same burning of the chaff [tares, stubble] in the fire.  Can there be no doubt that it is to the same act of judgment, the same period of time, the same historical event, that Malachi, John, and our Lord refer?”[35]

Weaknesses of this view

Russell should have spent some time on the use of mello in Matthew 3:7 to add strength to his case on imminence throughout Matthew 3.

Although doing a good job on showing how the context of Malachi 3-4 can be seen ever here in Matthew 3, he could have spent some time developing the context of Isaiah 40 of which John specifically references to make a case for an AD 70 judgment scene.

Russell’s view of a partial and literal “rapture” of Christians during the events of AD 67-70 at Christ’s parousia I believe is gravely mistaken and has some problems even here at the outset.  Since he equates the gathering of Matthew 3 with Matthew 13, we should not that the tares are “gathered” at the same time as the wheat (actually they are gathered first).  So if the eschatological “gathering” within John and Jesus’ teaching throughout Matthew’s gospel refers to the same event, then this would require that the wicked tares were gathered/raptured in the same way the righteous wheat were gathered/raptured.  There is no discussion of this serious problem for Russell’s view and even modern day Progressive Partial Preterists that hold to his literal rapture theory taking place in AD 70.

Strengths of this view       

As previously noted, Russell is strong in pointing out John’s references to Malachi here in Matthew 3 – and not just in Matthew 11.

His refutation of an Amillennial type general repentance spanning thousands of years in the kingdom being “at hand” is excellent when he points the reader to stay within the text itself arguing for a local, national, and imminence throughout Matthew 3 which exegetically points us to a first century audience being called to repentance for a particular national judgment coming in AD 70.

His appeals that Jesus is simply “reiterating” and “reproducing” the same separating harvest and fiery salvation and judgment scene as that of Malachi and John are excellent (Matt. 3=Matt. 13).  We saw this point made by Kistemaker, but here we have more exegetical evidence demonstrating that both were fulfilled to close the OC age in AD 70 and are not referring to an end of the planet earth or history events.

Full Preterism Synthesis

Since so much truth has been presented so far within the Partial Preterist and Progressive Partial Preterists views thus far of our text, I shall only “fill in the gaps” so to speak.

Matthew 3:2:  There is a broader OT and NT theme that needs to be understood for the Amillennialist when it concerns the kingdom being “at hand” in that when the kingdom comes is when Christ comes and salvation and judgment are both rendered (Matt. 13:39-43; Luke 21:27-32; Matt. 25:31ff.).  The NT does not merely address the eschatological “already” of the kingdom being “at hand,” but it also develops the eschatological “not yet” as being “at hand.”  To literalize one as genuinely imminent while spiritualizing the other making it span thousands and thousands of years is pure eisegesis.  This is the same exegetical pitfall that Premillennial Dispensationalism falls into when it literalizes “at hand” here in Matthew 3:2 in relation to the kingdoms offer and coming but will not acknowledge this same meaning concerning Christ’s Second Coming and arrival of the kingdom.

Since the broader context of the kingdom being “at hand” includes the eschatological “not yet” judgment, this interpretation fits much better with the immediate context and imminent judgment and salvation being developed in verses 7, 10-12.

Matthew 3:3 / Isaiah 40:6-7, 10:  Unfortunately, not much exegesis has been done in Isaiah 40 which is the OT passage that describes the way John is preparing.  In hermeneutics one is always called upon to go to the OT passage a NT author quotes, references, or “echoes” in order to find out how the NT author is using it, or see if there are other elements within that OT context that fits what the NT author is developing.  This is also very important in that in Jewish hermeneutics often times even if a small portion of an OT passage is quoted, the reader or listener is expected to draw upon the entire chapter, section or theology of the quote.  When we do this, we immediately find references to preparing a way for judgment that harmonizes with John’s use of Malachi 3 in Matthew 11:10-14.

Here is Isaiah we quickly see that the way that is being prepared is not simply a way of salvation but judgment.  We immediately see what this voice cries out in (v. 6) – “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.  The grass withers and the flower fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them.  Surely the people are grass.  The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”   This is connected to the recompense judgment of rewards in (v. 10) See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him.  See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.”  This passage is directly applied to Christ’s Second Coming in Matthew 16:27-28 and Revelation 22:6-12 in which it is taught that His return would take place within some of that first century audiences lifetimes or within an AD 70  “soon” or “quickly” time frame.  Peter also quotes Isaiah 40:6-7 in 1 Peter 1:23-24 of which the immediate context tells us that Peter’s first century audience  was “ready” to receive the salvation and inheritance the OT prophets predicted would come at the revealing of Christ in His Second Coming.  Later we are told by Peter that this coming salvation and “THE judgment” of “the living and dead” was “ready” to take place and that “the end of all things is at hand.” (1 Pet. 4:5-7).  Therefore, the contextual flow of Isaiah 40 tells us that John came to prepare a way of judgment – which answers to an imminent “not yet” aspect to the kingdoms arrival not just to its “already” or inauguration.  The use of Isaiah 40:10 by Jesus in Matthew 16:27-28 also confirms an imminent AD 70 time frame as does the book of Revelation.  Peter’s use of Isaiah 40 also answers to the same imminent AD 70 time frame.

The prideful mountains of the Sadducees and Pharisees needed to be brought low and level in humbling themselves in repentance as they awaited the coming of their King.  He was “the way” and the “highways of Holiness” and no one could travel upon it without such a humbling.  Also, if non-repentant, a way was being prepared by a conquering King – and it was ironic that they shouted they wanted Caesar as their king and not Christ and then Christ came in AD 70 through the Roman armies as their conquering King to destroy their city and Temple.

Matthew 3:7:  Here the Greek word mello is used to describe a judgment and wrath that was “about to be” revealed upon these brood of vipers if they did not repent.  Mellos use in the NT is predominately understood with the meaning “about to” and not “will” or “shall.”  Within Matthew’s gospel itself it is best translated this way.  We will examine this more when we come to Matthew 16:27.  But if we translate mello here as “about to be” as the GDT and WUEST do, we find it in harmony and consistent with the imminence throughout Matthew 3.

Matthew 3:10-12:  In further proving that the harvest gathering here was fulfilled in AD 70 perhaps Premillennial Dispensationalists should listen to Historic Premillennialists such as John Gill when he points out that the threshing floor of this harvest judgment is local and addressing Israel in AD 70 – and not an end of history type event,

“Christ was just ready to publish; by which he would effectually call his chosen people among the Jews, and so distinguish and separate them from others, as well as purify and cleanse them, or rather the awful judgment of God, which Christ was ready to execute, and in a short time would execute on the unbelieving and impenitent Jews: hence it is said to be “in his hand”; being put there by his Father, who “hath committed all judgment to the Son”. That this is the meaning of the “Baptist,” seems evident, since “fanning” is always, when figuratively taken, used for judgments, #Isa 41:16 Jer 15:7 51:2.  By “his floor,” is meant the land of Israel, where he was born, brought up, and lived; of which the Lord says, “O my threshing, and the corn of my floor!” #Isa 21:10.”[37]

To this the book of Revelation agrees in that the coming “Day of God’s wrath” was imminently approaching its first century audience along with the harvest judgment scene in Revelation 6, 7 and 14.  In 14:20 the bloody harvest scene covers “…the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs” which commentators have long noted covers the distance of Israel.  Israel is the local scene in which John and Revelation’s harvest judgment takes place.

But in the case of Premillennial Dispensationalism, the harvest of Matthew 3:12 along with Matthew 13:39-43 being fulfilled together at the end of the OC age destroys their entire artificial system!

Another problem for Dispensationalism is that when baptism of the Spirit is introduced in  3:10, so is Joel 2 and Acts 2.  Louis Barbier is correct to point out that Joel 2 would be in the minds of John’s listeners – which now introduces another problem text for Dispensationalism, Acts 2.

“Those hearing John’s words would have been reminded of two Old Testament prophecies:  Joel 2:28-29 and Malachi 3:2-5.  An actual outpouring of the Holy Spirit did occur in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, but experientially Israel did not enter into the benefits of that event.  She will yet experience the benefits of this accomplished work when she turns in repentance at the Lord’s Second Advent [which he also references Mal. 4:1].”[38]     

Interestingly enough, earlier he claims John’s eschatological purpose was to call a “remnant to receive Messiah.”  Well when we closely examine the context of Acts 2, contrary to his statement, a remnant of Israel was entering into the benefits of that event and that the great and dreadful day of the Lord of which they were to be saved from (if unrepentant) was within their “this perverse and crooked generation” (Acts 2:16-40).

Acts 2 creates a lot of consternation for Dispensationalism, because the system teaches that OT promises and prophecies cannot be applied to or fulfilled through the Church:

Lewis Sperry Chafer. “That the Christian now inherits the distinctive Jewish promises is not taught in Scripture.”

J. Dwight Pentecost. “…it would be impossible for the church to fulfill God’s promises made to Israel.”

Charles C. Ryrie. “The church is not fulfilling in any sense the promises to Israel.”[39]

It is more than difficult to understand how in this system:  1.  Israel had been cut off at the cross, 2.  the Church was born on Pentecost, 3.  the Church can’t fulfill OT promises made to Israel, and yet 4.  OT promises made to Israel were being fulfilled in the very inception of the Church  on the day of Pentecost when Peter clearly says, “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel,…” and applies the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the early Church (which consists of a “remnant” of Jews – clearly “experiencing the benefits of this accomplished work” and later Gentiles “all flesh” experience this as well Acts 2:16-17; 11:15-18).  Dispensationalists are actually willing to add words to Peter’s “this is that” by claiming,

“Peter’s phraseology “this is that” means nothing more than “this is [an illustration of that]…”  In the reference there is not the slightest hint at a continued fulfillment during the church age or a coming fulfillment toward the end of the church age.”  “…The reference is solely in an illustrative sense to Jewish listeners.”[40]

And,

“Peter says that the events of Acts 2 are what Joel spoke of but not necessarily the fulfillment of what Joel spoke of!”[41]

The book of Acts is not the story of the cutting off of Israel at the cross, and the beginning of the Church age (a “parenthesis” and something never taught in the OT), but rather, it is how Israel was being restored and transformed through the Gospel being built up as ONE new Tabernacle/Temple fulfilling OT prophecy (ex. Amos 9/Acts 15).

As far as the Second Coming or “that great and notable day of the Lord” a first century Jewish audience is being called upon to repent and be saved because they crucified the Lord (vss. 20-21ff.).  Here again a remnant responds to his preaching and are saved through faith and thus baptized (vss. 37-38).  Peter in (v. 40) makes it very clear that they are to be saved (in context  from Christ’s coming in judgment vss. 20-21) from within their “this perverse and crooked generation.”  This is a quotation talking about Israel’s “end” (cf. Deut. 32:5, 20, 29).  Christ coming in AD 70 to close the OC age was Israel’s (after the flesh) “end” of which many did not “discern.”  This lack of discerning Israel’s end in AD 70 continues today in the embodiment of Dispensational theology.  They are constantly trying to resurrection Israel after the flesh (thinking 1948 was the beginning point) when in fact God raised OC Israel into the NC Israel of God in AD 70!

Briefly, another problem Dispensationalism has in Acts 2 is that the rejection and crucifixion of Christ did not “postpone” the Davidic kingdom promises, but it rather fulfilled and established them (cf. Psalm 16/Acts 2:22-40).

The problem for the Progressive Partial Preterism of Russell was in his inability to prove a literal “rapture” or “gathering” of the Church took place in AD 70.  If this is the case then surely the wicked were likewise “raptured” or “gathered” as well – if not why not?  There is more harmony for the Full Preterist view in that the righteous were “gathered” into the kingdom in a spiritual “within” event which restored God’s presence to them – and the righteous dead were raised from Hades or Abrahams Bosom to inherit God’s presence.  The wicked were “gathered” to judgment in that their hearts were hardened to the point of no return, their bodies literally burned outside the walls of Jerusalem and then their souls thrown into the Lake of Fire – as Christ’s parousia in AD 70 was the event which emptied Hades (cf. Rev. 20:10–22:6-7, 10-12, 20).  The fulfillment was a spiritual fulfillment not a literal “rapture.”

Concluding our section on the eschatology of John the BaptistFull Preterism Synthesis

As a Full Preterist I agree with Amillennialism’s understanding that John’s eschatology is the NT’s eschatology in a nutshell.  Similar to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24-25, whatever your view is here will dictate your understanding of the rest of the NT’s development of last things.

Full Preterism is a synthesis of the Amillennialist’s understanding of how Matthew 3:2-12 is fulfilled throughout the rest of the NT and yet we do not struggle with confusing and often times competing views of imminence in Matthew 3 or throughout the rest of the NT as we watched Hendriksen struggle to explain.  There are also partial and undeveloped teachings from Partial Preterism that form the foundation for a Full Preterist understanding of John’s eschatology.  The passages Partial Preterists say were fulfilled in AD 70 concerning the great and notable day of the Lord, are the passages the classic Amillennialist say are referring to the ONE Second Coming.  We agree with BOTH Reformed positions here.

Progressive Partial Preterists such as Russell had some great comments on our passage, but needed to do some additional digging – which I believe I have provided.

Matthew 3:10-12 and John’s imminent harvest judgment scene also crushes the foundation of  Partial Preterists such as Kenneth Gentry.  Since this imminent harvest judgment is the same one Jesus reiterates in Matthew 13:39-43 to take place at the end of his audiences “this [OC] age” in AD 70, this places the resurrection of Daniel 12:2-3, 7, 13 to take place at this time as well.  And as we will develop later, this same “end of the age” “gathering” is the resurrection to take place at Christ’s Second Coming depicted in Matthew 24:30-31 – to be fulfilled in that AD 30 – AD 70 “this generation” (Matt. 24:34).  Selah.

 

 



[1] Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (pp. 12–13). Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos.

[2] Lightfoot, J. (2010). A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Matthew-1 Corinthians, Matthew-Mark (Vol. 2, pp. 49–50). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Adam Clark, Commentary on the Bible [1831]

[4] G.K. Beale, A NEW TESTAMENT BIBLICAL THEOLOGY THE UNFOLDING OF THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Acaddemic, 2011),  412

[5] Lightfoot, J. (2010). A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Matthew-1 Corinthians, Matthew-Mark (Vol. 2, p. 78). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[6] Lightfoot, J. (2010). A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Matthew-1 Corinthians, Matthew-Mark (Vol. 2, p. 78). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[7] R.C. Sproul, THE LAST DAYS ACCORDING TO JESUS, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 1998), 23.

[8] Kenneth Genry, Thomas Ice, The Great Tribulation Past or Future?, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Kregel Publications, 1999), 18, bold emphasis MJS.

[9] Kenneth Gentry, HE SHALL HAVE DOMINION A POSTMILLENNIAL ESCHATOLOGY, THIRD EDITION: REVISED AND EXPANDED, (Draper, VA: Apologetics Group Media, 2009), 175.  Bold emphasis MJS

[10] John Gill, John Gill’s Espositor, Online Bible Software, Version 2.10.06, 2007 Bible Foundation.  www.onlinebible.us, emphasis added

[11] Morris, L. (1992). The Gospel according to Matthew (pp. 62–63). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.

[12] Lightfoot, J. (2010). A commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Matthew-1 Corinthians, Acts-1 Corinthians (Vol. 4, p. 30). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[13] Clark, Ibid.

[14] Clark, Ibid.

[15] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2068). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[16] Henry, Ibid., 2068

[17] Kenneth L. Gentry, HE SHALL HAVE DOMINION A POSTMILLENNIAL ESCHATOLOGY THIRD EDITION:  REVISED AND EXPANDED, (Draper, VA:  Apologetics Group Media, 2009), 342-343

[18] Charles Ryre, RYRE Study Bible, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1986, 1994,), 1420.

[19] The Bible Knowledge Commentary, An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty NEW TESTAMENT edition, (Colorado Springs, CO, 1983, 2004), 24, emphasis mine

[20] John McArthur, The MACARTHUR Study Bible, (Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1997), 1396, 1518

[21] The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Ibid., 25, bold emphasis mine.

[22] MacArthur, Ibid., 1397

[23] Ibid.

[24] The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Ibid., 25

[25] William Hendriksen, & S.J. Kistemaker, NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY The Gospel of Matthew, (Grand Rapids: MI, Baker Book House, 1953 – 2001),  197

[26] Ibid., 198-199.

[27] Ibid., 204.

[28] Ibid., 205-206.

[29] Ibid., 208-209.

[30] Simon Kistemaker, The Parables of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1980), 148.

[31] Ibid., 210.

[32] Ibid., 210-211.

[33] J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia A Study of the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1887 – 1909),  15-16

[34] Ibid., 14-15.

[35] Ibid., 23-24.

[36]

[37] John Gill, John Gill’s Espositor, Online Bible Software, Version 2.10.06, 2007 Bible Foundation.  www.onlinebible.us, emphasis added

[38] The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Ibid., 25.

[39] Keith A. Mathison, DISPENSATIONALISM Rightly Dividing the People of God?, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1995), 19 (bold emphasis added).

[40] Curtis I. Crenshaw and Grover E. Gunn, III, DISPENSATIONALISM TODAY, YESTERDAY, AND TOMORROW, (Memphis, TN:  Footstool Publications, 1985), 153.

[41] Ibid., 153.

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