Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Coming On the Clouds of Heaven:

A Reply to Shabir Ally’s
Execrable Blasphemies and Calumnies
Against the Son of Man

Part IIIb

By Anthony Rogers

[Continued from Part IIIa]

Not One Stone Here
(Matthew 24:1-2)

Immediately after Jesus upbraided Israel’s religious leaders, pronounced woe’s upon them, and said that their house was being left to them desolate, we read:

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1-2)

The words that Jesus had just uttered about their “house” being left to them desolate were spoken in the temple courts. Although some Christians, unaware of the exacting fulfillment of Christ’s words, have wanted to project the fulfillment of them onto a temple presumed to be built in the future, believing that at that time His words will be fulfilled, Jesus makes it clear that it was the Temple He just left (24:1a), the temple and temple buildings His disciples drew to His attention (24:1b), the very Temple that was “here” at the time He was speaking (24:2), that was going to be utterly destroyed.

The statement that not one stone of the temple (Luke 21:5-6) and its buildings (Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2), the latter of which included such things as the “portico of Solomon” (John 10:23), the “treasury” (Matthew 27:6; John 8:20), etc., would be left upon another, might not inappropriately have been taken as prophetic-hyperbole were it not for the fact that the fulfillment answers to it in such an exacting manner. The temple and its buildings were completely destroyed. The city itself was laid even with the ground, with the exception of three towers and a remnant or corner portion of a retaining wall on the west side, the latter of which was not part of the temple structure or its buildings. According to Josephus, a first century historian and eyewitness to the events:

Nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change: for the war had laid all the signs of beauty quite waste: nor if anyone had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again; but though he were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it notwithstanding. (The Jewish War, 6.7-9)

Now when Titus was come into this [upper] city, he admired not only some other places of strength in it, but particularly those strong towers which the tyrants in their mad conduct had relinquished; for when he saw their solid altitude, and the size of their several stones, and the exactness of their joints, as also how great was their breadth, and how extensive their length, he expressed himself after the manner following: “We have certainly had God for our assistant in this war, and it was no other than God who ejected the Jews out of these fortifications; for what could the hands of men or any machines do towards overthrowing these towers?” At which time he had many such discourses to his friends; he also let such go free as had been bound by the tyrants, and were left in the prisons. To conclude, when he entirely DEMOLISHED the rest of the city, and OVERTHREW its walls, he left these towers as a monument of his good fortune, which had proved his reinforcements, and enabled him to take what could not otherwise have been taken by him. (JW, 6.409-413) (Emphasis mine)

And now the Romans set fire to the extreme parts of the city, and burned them down, and entirely DEMOLISHED its walls. (JW, 6.434) (Emphasis mine)

Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because their remained none to be the objects of their fury, (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done,) Caesar gave orders that they should now DEMOLISH the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison, as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came there believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind. (Flavius Josephus, JW, 7.1) (Emphasis mine)

That the ENTIRE city and temple were DEMOLISHED and that nothing was left that would suggest Jerusalem was ever inhabited was not considered by Josephus to be an inapt description of the events. Indeed, he might as well have come out and said, “not one stone was left standing on top of another that was not thrown down.”

At another place, Josephus records the speech of one Eleazar, reflecting on the state of Jerusalem three years after the war:

And where is now that great city, the metropolis of the Jewish nation, which was fortified by so many walls around, which had so many fortresses and large towers to defend it, which could hardly contain the instruments prepared for the war [with Rome], and which had so many ten thousands of men to fight for it? Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now DEMOLISHED to the very foundations, and has nothing but that monument of it preserved, I mean the camp of those that has destroyed it, which still dwells upon its ruins; some unfortunate old men also lie upon the ashes of the temple, and a few women are there preserved alive by the enemy, for our bitter shame and reproach. Now who is there that revolves these things in his mind, and yet is able to bear the sight of the sun, tough he might live out of danger? Who is there so much his country’s enemy, or so unmanly, and so desirous of living, as not to repent that he is still alive? And I cannot but wish that we had all died before we had seen that holy city DEMOLISHED by the hands of our enemies, or the foundations of our holy temple DUG UP after so profane a manner. (JW, 7.375-379)

The fulfillment of these things is not only attested in the eyewitness account of Josephus, but is also perfectly confirmed in the archaeological record. Kathleen Kenyon, a leading archaeologist, in whose honor the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem was later renamed the Kenyon Institute, wrote the following:

The recent excavations have provided striking evidence of Titus’s destruction. . . . In the destruction of these buildings, walls were razed, paving stones torn up, and the drain clogged with material firmly dated to the last part of the century by the pottery. In the drain were human skulls and other bones, washed down from the ruined city higher up the slope.

Even more dramatic were the finds in Site N, the area in which the fine street of Herod Agrippa was uncovered. Reference has already been made to the collapse of the staircase leading east from the street. The TUMBLE OF STONES was remarkable even for Jerusalem where tumbles of stones are a phenomenon all too common in excavations. The magnitude of the disaster perhaps made a special impact owing to the excellence of the DESTROYED BUILDINGS as shown by the magnificently-dressed stones, and the period of the collapse was very precisely pin-pointed by the discovery at its base of a hoard of coins of the First Revolt, hidden by defenders who could not recover them before the city was overwhelmed by Titus. Even more indicative of the complete desolation of this area that had formed part of the city of Herod Agrippa was the state of the ruins. (Kathleen M. Kenyon, Jerusalem: Excavating 3000 Years of History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), p. 185ff.)

While many have attempted by hook or by crook to find some way around this, the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction is literally written in stone. Even the illiterate cannot fail to read it aright, which isn’t to say that men of lesser character or those with theological blinders and a love for unbiblical traditions have not tried. Suffice it to say, those who experienced the ordeal or perished in the conflagration would not find much consolation in the words of modern day naysayers.

The end of those who doubted the words of Christ in the first-century thus serve as a severe warning to those who continue to war against the Son of Man, the exalted Lord. The same Lord who poured out His wrath on those who condemned Him to death, those who bitterly persecuted His people and despised their testimony, all came to a miserable end. It will be just the same on the final day when He will sit on His glorious throne and all nations will be gathered before Him (Matthew 25:31-46). As the Psalmist declared, only those who submit to the Son shall escape His wrath (Psalm 2:12).

The End of the Age
(Matthew 24:3)

As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3)

Following the woes pronounced on the Pharisees and the solemn declaration that not one stone of the Temple or its buildings would be left on top of another, the disciples ask when these things will all happen. As some would have it, aided in some cases by either archaic or inexact renderings of the passage, the disciples were asking about the end of the world. For example, a number of translations read:

and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of THE WORLD? King James Version

and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of THE WORLD? American Standard Version (1901)

What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of THE WORLD?” Contemporary English Version

and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the consummation of THE WORLD? Douay-Rheims

What will be the sign that you are coming again, and when will THE WORLD come to an end?” God’s Word Translation

What will be the signal for your coming and the end of THIS WORLD?” J. B. Phillips

What events will signal your return, and the end of THE WORLD? Living Bible

What sign will signal your return and the end of THE WORLD?” New Living Translation

and what token of thy coming, and of the ending of THE WORLD. Wycliffe

What will be the sign of your arrival and of the end of THE WORLD? Moffat

and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of THE WORLD? Jerusalem Bible

and what is the sign of your presence and the end of THE WORLD? Richmond Lattimore, The Four Gospels and the Revelation

and what is the sign of your coming, and of the end of THE WORLD? Lamsa Translation

and what will be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world? Latin Vulgate

A failure to consult the Greek text at this point, one that is perpetuated in the notes of Study Bibles and commentaries, has doomed many interpretations of the rest of the discourse from the start. An accurate translation is supplied not only in the NASB cited at the start of this section, but in many other translations:

and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of THE AGE? English Standard Version

and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of THE AGE? New International Version

And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of THE AGE? New King James Version

And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of THE AGE? New English Translation

And what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of THE AGE? Revised Berkeley Version in Modern English

And what is the sign of Your coming and of the end of THE AGE?” Holman Christian Standard Bible

and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of THE AGE? Lexham English Bible

And what will be the sign that it is time for you to come again and for THIS AGE to end? New Century Version

and what [is] the sign of thy presence, and of the full end of THE AGE? Young’s Literal Translation

As Ralph Earle, Th.D., mildly states, the latter versions are correct:

World. The normal Greek term for “world” in the NT is cosmos, which we have taken over into English in a broad sense. It occurs 187 times and is translated (KJV) as “world” except in 1 Pet. 3:3 (“adorning”).

But here [Matthew 24:3 – AR] the Greek word is aion, from which we get “aeon.” It is translated “world” 38 times in the KJV, and “age” only twice (Eph. 2:7; Col. 1:26). Most often (71 times) it is rendered “ever,” in such combinations as “forever” or “evermore.” THIS WOULD SEEM TO SHOW THAT THE DOMINANT EMPHASIS OF AION IS THAT OF TIME RATHER THAN SPACE…

Most recent versions have “age” in our passage and similar ones. THAT SEEMS TO BE BEST. (Ralph Earle, Th.D., Word Meanings in the New Testament, One-volume Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, [1974], 1989), p. 22) (Bold and Italics original; upper case mine)

Marvin Vincent concurs:

Of the world (aionos). Rather the existing, current age. They do not ask the signs of the Messiah’s coming at the end of all time, to judge the world. (Marvin Vincent, D.D., Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. 1: The Synoptic Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, Epistles of Peter, James, and Jude (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., [1887], 1980), p. 127) (Emphasis original)

More robust are the words of Milton Terry in his classic textbook on Hermeneutics:

It is ... important that, in this and other Scriptures which speak of the sunteleia tou aionos, consummation, or completion of the age, we disabuse our minds of the misleading impression begotten by the common translation, “end of the world.” A misinterpretation of this phrase is the root of many false assumptions. “It is not surprising that mere English readers of the New Testament should suppose that this phrase really means the destruction of the material earth; but such an error ought not to receive countenance from men of learning. The true signification of aion is not world, but age. Like its Latin equivalent aeuun, it refers to a period of time. The ‘end of the age’ means the close of the epoch or age—that is, the Jewish age or dispensation which was drawing nigh, as our Lord frequently intimated. All those passages which speak of ‘the end,’ ‘the end of the age,’ or ‘the ends of the ages,’ refer to the same consummation, and always nigh at hand. In 1 Cor. x, 11, St. Paul says, ‘The ends of the ages have stretched out to us;’ implying that he regarded himself and his readers as living near the conclusion of an aeon, or age. So, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we find the remarkable expression, ‘Now, once, close upon the end of the ages, hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’ (Heb. ix, 26); clearly showing that the writer regarded the incarnation of Christ as taking place near the end of the aeon, or dispensational period. To suppose that he meant that it was close upon the end of the world, or the destruction of the material globe, would be to make him write false history as well as bad grammar. It would not be true in fact; for the world has already lasted longer since the incarnation than the whole duration of the Mosaic economy, from the exodus to the destruction of the temple. It is futile, therefore, to say that the ‘end of the age’ may mean a lengthened period, extending from the incarnation to our times, and even far beyond them. That would be an aeon, and not the close of an aeon. The aeon of which our Lord was speaking was about to close in a great catastrophe; and a catastrophe is not a protracted process, but a definitive and culminating act.”1 (Milton Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House/Academie Books, [1883], 1999), pp. 441-442) (Italics original)

1 The Parousia. A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of our Lord’s Second Coming, pp. 58, 59. Lond., 1878….

Terry states the same elsewhere:

It is, according to Matthew’s phraseology, the end or “consummation of the age.” ... It is the solemn termination and crisis of the dispensation which had run its course when the temple fell, and there was not left one stone upon another which was not thrown down. That catastrophe, which in Heb. xii, 26, is conceived as a shaking of the earth and heaven, is the end contemplated in this discourse; not “the end of the world,” but the termination and consummation of the pre-Messianic age. (Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan” Baker Book House, [1898], 1988), p. 225)

Ironically, there is a Greek word, planao, from which we get the word “planet,” that is used in the very next verse (24:4), and again in the verse right after that (24:5). But in these places the word is used in its original signification, which is for something that goes “astray.” Hence the translation: “Take heed that no man lead you astray”; “shall lead many astray.” The ancients came to apply this word to the planets, which they took to be wandering or straying stars.

Suffice it to say, there is no support in this passage for the idea that Jesus was talking about the end of the world – cosmos.

[Continue to Part IIIc]