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The Use of the Second Person Plural (“You”) in Matthew 24

The following article, The Use of the Second Person Plural (“You”) in Matthew 24, was first published on The American Vision.

While doing my daily stroll down Facebook lane, I came across an advertisement for a debate on the timing of the “abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15) between two former full preterists. Brock Hollett has jumped the shark and rejected even a partial preterist position and adopted a form of premillennialism while arguing like a dispensationalist as I point out in my book Debunking a Debunker of Preterism: A Response to Brock Hollett’s Book Debunking Preterism.

Debunking a Debunker

Debunking a Debunker of Preterism: A Response to Dr. Brock Hollett

In this brief 50-page response to Dr. Hollett’s book, Gary DeMar reveals that there is nothing new, novel, or even proper about the eschatology in “Debunking Preterism.” Dr. Hollett, like most futurists, simply looks for ways to ignore the time statements and the impending judgment language of what the Bible says is “soon” to befall Jerusalem in the first century.

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It’s hard to take Hollett’s current arguments seriously since he made such a radical jump from one well-argued position (e.g., “A Critique of R.T. France’s Division of Matthew 24,” Fulfilled Magazine [Spring 2012], 8–9.) to one with unconvincing arguments for his new position.

Here is what I wrote in my initial Facebook comment:

“When YOU see the abomination of desolation…” Audience indicator. Debate over. A future interpretation would require a rebuilt temple, something the NT never mentions. It would also negate what Jesus says in Mt. 24:33–34. There’s nothing to debate here.

My friend Mike Bull had something similar to say: “People are still debating this?” They are and charging $20! The following material in this short series will save you $20 if you were planning to attend the debate.

As you can imagine, not everyone agreed with my FB comment. One commenter turned to the book of Deuteronomy as an example of how “you” does not only refer to a present audience but also a future audience. Why go to Deuteronomy when you have Matthew 21, 22, 23, and 24 to see how the second person plural is used by Jesus? Immediate context should be the first place an interpreter should look. How does Matthew use the second person plural when he has a specific audience in view?

Let’s look at Deuteronomy and compare it to Matthew 24:

Now Moses called all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land—the great trials which your eyes have seen, the signs, and those great wonders” (Deut. 29:2–3).

The commenter went on to argue the following:

Who is the “you” in these verses? Very clearly the initial audience Moses is addressing who had seen the signs God did when delivering them out of Egypt. But as we continue to read, we find that “you” in many instances cannot refer to them as it refers to events that took place many centuries later. Dt. 29–30 is just one of many such examples where we see this. And if we see such a precedent in prophetic texts in the old testament, then it is at least possible that we have the same in the new.
Therefore, just as we would not force the fulfillment of what Moses predicted in Dt. 30 back into the time of his initial audience based on his usage of “you,” so too we should not force the fulfillment of all Jesus predicted in the Olivet discourse based on his usage of “you.”

How do we know that some of the events would take place to later generations? Because we are told in Deuteronomy 29 and 30 that there are future events with future generations in view. This is not the case in Matthew 24. There is no indication that two audiences are in view or that the Olivet Discourse is mixed with contemporary and distant future events. The near/far interpretation is a popular view. I discuss it in detail in my book Prophecy Wars.

Prophecy Wars

Prophecy Wars was written after my debate with James Hamilton and Sam Waldron. The following topics are specific to that debate: 1. Exegetical Gerrymandering of the Time Texts; 2. “It Doesn’t Matter if Jesus Said ‘This’ or ‘That’ ”; 3. What Commentators Say About “This Generation”’ 4. Sam Waldron, John Murray, and the Olivet Discourse; 5. Flavius Josephus and Preterism, in addition to six more chapters.

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Bear in mind that the use of the audience reference “you” is not the only factor employed to argue that Matthew 24:15 is fulfilled prophecy. We are told by Jesus that the generation of His day, the one to whom He is speaking, would not pass away until all the events He prophesied took place. What Jesus says in Matthew 24:34 is clear as I point out in my books Last Days Madness, Is Jesus Coming Soon?, Wars and Rumors of Wars, and in John Bray’s Matthew 24 (which is being reprinted):

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

That generation passed away, therefore “all these things” spoken by Jesus had taken place because the use of “this generation” in Matthew’s Gospel and elsewhere in the gospels refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking (Matt. 11:16; 12:41, 45; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12, 8:38; 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:29; 11:30, 31, 32, 50, 51, 17:25; 21:32). Here are four examples from well respected orthodox Bible commentators who would not self-identify as preterists (for a more complete list see my book Wars and Rumors of Wars, pages 155–165):

  • “This generation” has been used frequently in this gospel for Jesus’ contemporaries, especially in a context of God’s impending judgment; see 11:16; 12:39, 41–42, 45; 16:4; 17:17, and especially 23:36, where God’s judgment on “this generation” leads up to Jesus’ first prediction of the devastation of the temple in 23:38. It may safely be concluded that if it had not been for the embarrassment caused by supposing that Jesus was here talking about his parousia, no one would have thought of suggesting any other meaning for “this generation,” such as “the Jewish race” or “human beings in general” or “all the generations of Judaism that reject him” or even “this kind” (meaning scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees). Such broad senses, even if they were lexically possible, would offer no help in response to the disciples’ question “When?” [1]
  • “The phrase ‘this generation’ is found too often on Jesus’ lips in this literal sense for us to suppose that it suddenly takes on a different meaning in the saying we are now examining. Moreover, if the generation of the end-time had been intended, ‘that generation’ would have been a more natural way of referring to it than ‘this generation.’” [2]
  • “Matthew uses genea here for the tenth time. Though his use of the term has a range of emphases, it consistently refers to (the time span of) a single human generation. All the alternative senses proposed here [in 24:34] (the Jewish people; humanity; the generation of the end-time signs; wicked people) are artificial and based on the need to protect Jesus from error. ‘This generation’ is the generation of Jesus’ contemporaries.” [3]
  • “The significance of the temporal reference has been debated, but in Mark ‘this generation’ clearly designates the contemporaries of Jesus (see on Chs. 8:12, 38; 9:19) and there is no consideration from the context which lends support to any other proposal. Jesus solemnly affirms that the generation contemporary with his disciples will witness the fulfillment of his prophetic word, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the dismantling of the Temple.” [4]

Part two will be posted on August 11, 2020.

  1. R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (NICNT) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 930.
  2. F. F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 227.
  3. John Nolland The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 988–989.
  4. William L. Lane, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 480.

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Source: American Vision