CLAIM: Preterists argue that Jesus would return before the disciples were finished with their ministry. If Jesus invisibly returned in AD 70, then this passage would be perfectly fulfilled.
RESPONSE: Regarding this passage, D.A. Carson writes, “This verse is among the most difficult in the NT canon.” He then goes on to define seven different interpretations held by commentators. For this reasons, we shouldn’t place too much doctrinal weight on such a difficult passage. That being said, there are two possibilities for this passage:
OPTION #1: Jesus was referring to meeting the disciples later—not his second coming at all.
Matthew never uses the expression “until the Son of Man comes” to refer to Jesus’ Second Coming. The Greek for “coming” in Matthew 10:23 is erchomai (pronounced AIR-comb-eye)—rather than parousia (the normal Greek term used). For this reason, Matthew might be referring to Jesus meeting these men after they finish their mission. Therefore, this might not be eschatological at all. There is no indication from the disciples that would lead them to believe that Jesus was leaving for heaven (Jn. 14:1-5). They must have interpreted this statement as in the immediate context. Therefore, Jesus’ comments are referring to the disciples’ ministry before he meets with them.
OPTION #2: Jesus was excluding the Church Age from this statement.
Matthew wrote his gospel for the Jews. The Church Age has an emphasis on the role of the Gentiles. Therefore, Matthew might have excluded the Church Age from this passage, focusing instead on Israel’s mission. Paul Benware argues, “The primary point being made by the Lord is that the evangelization of the rebellious nation of Israel will not be finished by them but will await His return, which is the point made by Paul (cf. Rom. 11:25-29) and the prophets (Zech. 12:10)… Israel rejected the message of the apostles, who then turned to the Gentiles with the gospel of Christ. But the requirement that must be fulfilled before the Son of Man could return was Israel’s repentance (cf. Matt. 23:39).” This interpretation would make sense of this passage for a number of reasons: First, verses 16-22 seem to extend beyond the disciples contemporary ministry. Second, this fits with the language of Daniel 7:13 (“one like a Son of Man coming”). Third, this fits with Paul’s view that all Israel would be involved at the end of human history (Rom. 11:25-32).