I am responding to this question primarily because it originated in a Christianity.SE chatroom discussion that I was involved in, which started (more or less) here, and because I was invited by the OP here to respond to the question. This answer is based on the Bible interpretations and doctrines of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), and of the "New Church" or Swedenborgian denominations that accept Swedenborg's teachings.
For the answer to the specific question to make sense, it is necessary to provide some background on Swedenborg's eschatology, which is intimately connected to his mode of interpreting apocalyptic material in the Bible, and also on his view of human spiritual history as consisting of multiple "churches" or dispensations, occurring one after another.
Swedenborg does not fit neatly into any of the common modes of interpreting the various apocalyptic material in the Bible—of which Matthew 24 is a prime example.
Preterism, the viewpoint requested in the question, most commonly involves interpreting the prophecies of Matthew 24 as having taken place within the lifetimes of the original apostles of Jesus.
Swedenborg most commonly interpreted Matthew 24, and the other apocalyptic material in the Bible, as referring to purely spiritual events that he believed took place in the course of the history of the Christian church, culminating in a spiritual Last Judgment and Second Coming of Christ that he said took place within his own lifetime. In Swedenborg's view, any political or social events that might be associated with those events in the spiritual world are distinctly secondary.
Swedenborg described these events especially in his small book, The Last Judgment, originally published in Latin, London, 1758. After describing the spiritual cataclysms of the Last Judgment symbolized by the apocalyptic passages in the Bible, which he said he witnessed with his own eyes in the spiritual world, he wrote:
The state of the world from now on will be exactly as it has been. This is because the immense change that has taken place in the spiritual world does not force any change in the outward form of the physical world. So there will be civic affairs just as before, peace treaties, alliances, and wars just as before, and all the other things that pertain to communities in general and in particular.
When the Lord said that in the last days,
There will be wars, and then nation will arise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines, plagues, and earthquakes in various places (Matthew 24:6-7)
he did not mean that this sort of thing was going to happen in the physical world, but that parallel things would happen in the spiritual world. In its prophecies, the Word does not deal with kingdoms on earth or the peoples there—or their wars, famines, plagues, or earthquakes. It is talking about parallel events in the spiritual world.
He goes on to say that although the Christian church and its various denominations will continue to function more or less the same as they had up until the Last Judgment, Christians will have more freedom of thought, and their minds will no longer be held captive by the dogmas of the church. You can read the entire passage (in a somewhat older translation) at these links: The Last Judgment #73 & #74.
I quote this to show that:
- Swedenborg interprets Matthew 24 and the other apocalyptic material in the Bible primarily as applying to the end of the reign of Christianity as it had existed up to his day, and,
- Swedenborg's mode of interpretation refers almost entirely to spiritual events, and only incidentally to material-world events, in a way much more thoroughgoing even than the idealist position, which still generally interprets Biblical prophecies as referring to events and trends in human society and government.
Without understanding these points about Swedenborg's eschatology and his mode of interpreting the "Little Apocalypse" in Matthew 24, what follows will make little or no sense to those unfamiliar with Swedenborg's teachings.
Swedenborg's view of human spiritual history
Swedenborg's interpretation of the Bible in general, and of the apocalyptic material in the Bible in particular, is complex and multi-layered. Though his most dominant interpretation of the apocalyptic material applies it to the spiritual end of the Christian Church as it had existed up to his time, he also interpreted the apocalyptic material in the Bible as applying to the end of various other "churches," or dispensations, in the spiritual history of humankind.
Swedenborg saw human spiritual history as being divided up into five general "churches," or dispensations:
- The most ancient, or very earliest church, represented in the Bible by the stories from Creation to the Great Flood.
- The ancient church, represented in the Bible by the stories from the Flood to the captivity of the Children of Israel in Egypt, and ending decisively with the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites.
- The Israelite or Jewish church, represented in the Bible by the stories from the Exodus (from Egypt) to the end of the Old Testament, and ending decisively with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.
- The first Christian church, represented in the Bible by the Gospels, and coming to its end in the cataclysms described in the first Revelation chapters 4-20, which Swedenborg believed were fulfilled in the spiritual world during his lifetime.
- The New Jerusalem or new (Christian) church, described symbolically in Revelation 21-22, which Swedenborg saw as beginning in his day and continuing forever after.
From time to time Swedenborg also spoke of subdivisions within these five general spiritual eras, in which various more specific churches, or spiritual perspectives, would come and go within the overall dispensation. The advent of Protestantism, for example, formed a distinct new "church" within the first Christian church.
Swedenborg's version of preterism
This lays the basis for Swedenborg's version of preterism, which can be seen as a subset of his overall view of eschatology and human spiritual history.
As mentioned previously, Swedenborg commonly interprets the apocalyptic material in the Bible as applying to the spiritual end of the Christian church as it had existed up to his time. However, since he saw human spiritual history as going through various dispensations, the same prophecies could also be applied to the end of earlier dispensations, such as the Jewish church (as Swedenborg commonly referred to it).
This, then, is Swedenborg's version of preterism. Jesus' prophecies in Matthew 24 can be seen as applying to the end of Judaism as the reigning "church" or spiritual dispensation on earth just as it can be applied to the end of the first Christian church as the reigning spiritual dispensation on earth (as he saw it). Indeed, it could in theory be applied to the end of any of the dispensations listed above, and even to their subdivisions.
Here is how Swedenborg himself expresses this principle. After quoting Matthew 24:36-41, he writes:
What those words mean in the internal sense will be clear from the following explanation, namely that they describe what the state will be at the time when the old Church is set aside and the new is established. It has been shown many times already that the setting aside of the old Church and the establishment of the new is that which is meant by the close of the age and the coming of the Son of Man and in general by the last judgment. It has also been shown that a like judgment has occurred several times on this planet, the first taking place when the Lord's celestial Church, which was the Most Ancient, perished among those living before the flood through the deluge of evils and falsities meant in the internal sense by the flood.
The second judgment occurred when the spiritual Church, which existed after the Flood and is called the Ancient, and which was spread through much of the Asiatic world, reached a point when it had destroyed itself.
The third occurred when the representative of the Church among the descendants of Jacob was destroyed, a destruction which took place when the ten tribes were carried off into everlasting captivity and were scattered among the gentiles, and finally when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews too were dispersed. Because the close of that age was reached after the Lord's Coming, many of the Lord's statements in the Gospels about the close of that age are therefore applicable to that nation also; many at the present day do apply statements to it. But though these can be understood in that way, they refer specifically and primarily to the close of the age which is now imminent; that is to say, they refer to the end of the Christian Church, which is the subject also in John, in the Book of Revelation. This will be the fourth last judgment on this planet. (Arcana Coelestia #4333, italics added)
As the italicized words show, Swedenborg was aware of the already existing preterist interpretations of Matthew 24, and he did consider the application of these prophecies to the end of the Jewish dispensation, which occurred with finality at the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, to be a valid, if secondary, mode of interpreting them.
Swedenborg's exegesis of Matthew 24
Swedenborg did not provide a sustained, sequential interpretation of most of the material in the four Gospels. Matthew 24 and 25 are an exception. For these two chapters Swedenborg did provide a detailed sequential spiritual exegesis. It is found in ongoing segments at the end of several chapters of his massive work Arcana Coelestia (Secrets of Heaven), which provides a verse-by-verse spiritual interpretation of the books of Genesis and Exodus.
For those interested in reading Swedenborg's entire exegesis of Matthew 24, here are links to each segment. The Bible passage links are to the ESV version of those verses. The links on the number ranges following the Bible passages are to the first numbered section in each segment of Swedenborg's exegesis in Arcana Coelestia. The rest of the exegesis of that segment can be read by clicking the "Next" button at the bottom of each section.
(His exegesis of Matthew 25 is beyond the scope of the question.)
Note that this exegesis focuses almost entirely on the application of Matthew 24 to the spiritual end of the first Christian church.
Application to events in the 1st century AD
As stated above, it is quite valid from a Swedenborgian perspective to apply the prophecies of Matthew 24 to the end of the Jewish dispensation, which, Swedenborg believed, took place within the lifetimes of the Lord's original disciples. This constitutes an affirmation of Jesus' words in Matthew 24:34:
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
Unfortunately, since Swedenborg saw this as a secondary interpretation, he did not provide any detailed exegesis of Matthew 24 as applied to the end of the Jewish dispensation. The statement quoted above from Arcana Coelestia #4333 is one of the few that hints at this interpretation. Here is another, from the same series interpreting Matthew 24:
What the Close of the Age or the Last Judgment is has been explained already, namely the final period of the Church. It is called the final period of it when no kindness or faith exists there any longer. It has also been shown already that such closings or final periods have been reached on several occasions. The close of the first Church has been described by the Flood; the close of the second Church by the uprooting of the nations in the land of Canaan, and also by the many uprootings and exterminations referred to in the Prophets. The close of the third is not described in the Word, but is foretold; it was the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering throughout the whole world of the Jewish nation, with whom the Church existed. The fourth close of an age is that of the present-day Christian Church, which is foretold by the Lord in the Gospels and also in John, in the Book of Revelation, and which is now at hand. (Arcana Coelestia #4057, italics added)
Elsewhere, commenting on a similar prophecy of Jesus in Luke 19:41-44, Swedenborg wrote:
Those who think of these words and of those which immediately follow from the sense of the letter only, because they see no other, believe that they were spoken by the Lord concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. However everything that the Lord spoke, because it came from the Divine, regarded not worldly and temporal things, but heavenly and eternal things. Therefore by Jerusalem over which the Lord wept, here as elsewhere, is signified the church, which was then entirely devastated, so that truth and therefore good no longer existed, and thus that they would perish forever. This is why he says, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for your peace," that is, the things that belong to eternal life and happiness, which are from the Lord alone. For as was said above, peace means heaven and heavenly joy through union with the Lord. (Apocalypse Explained #365.9)
Here Swedenborg interprets Jesus' words about the coming destruction of Jerusalem as referring to the spiritual devastation of Judaism at the time of Jesus. The physical events associated with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple were merely outward representations of inner destruction and devastation in the reigning religious culture and institutions of the time. As explained above, this spiritual destruction of the old religion and the beginning of a new one is the primary focus of Swedenborg's interpretation of all the apocalyptic material in the Bible.
Taking their cue from Swedenborg, various Swedenborgian exegetes have also interpreted Matthew 24 primarily as it applies to the spiritual end of the first Christian church. They, too, provide only hints about the application of Matthew 24 to the spiritual end of the Jewish era.
Here is what one classic Swedenborgian exegesis of Matthew 24 has to say on the subject:
The Lord had explored the church at Jerusalem, where was the presence of God and heaven in holy representatives, and had shown that the love and the truth of that Divine and heavenly Presence were totally destroyed in the church—that the holy representatives were a husk only, with no good fruit, but decay and corruption within. The Jews were doing nothing of the use of a church in making known and interpreting to mankind the Presence of God. And now their house should be deserted, and the Divine Presence, with the duty and privileges of the church of God, should be given to those who would recognize and receive the Divine in the Divine Human. With this prediction, the Lord left their temple forever. (Matthew's Gospel, by John Worcester. Boston: Massachusetts New-Church Union, 1898, p. 123)
(Note that the word "should" is here used in its older meaning of "would.")
Another Swedenborgian exegesis has this to say about the opening words of Matthew 24:1:
After the Lord had delivered his discourse to the scribes and Pharisees, in which he described, under their awfully corrupt and hypocritical character, that of the church of which they were the representatives, he went out, and departed from the temple. This was the Lord's last visit to the temple, and his final departure from it. How solemn and significant, under such circumstances, are the words, he "went out, and departed from the temple!"—a sign to the Jews that their hose was left unto them desolate. He was the glory of their house, and his departure from the temple, after his last visit to it, made it truly like Israel when the ark of God was taken—"Ichabod, the glory is departed" [see 1 Samuel 4:21]. (Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, by William Bruce. London: James Speirs, 1910, p. 512)
The author then applies the prophecy to the spiritual destruction of the first Christian church, as is usual in Swedenborgian interpretation of the passage.
However, moving on to Matthew 24:2, he says:
After the disciples had shown him the buildings of the temple, Jesus turns to them and pronounces the doom of the sacred structure to which his attention had been drawn. See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. How solemn and expressive! Not less so spiritually than naturally. The stones of the temple were symbols of the truths which constitute the church—collectively, of those truths built up into a system of religious doctrine. The temple aptly represented a system of doctrinal truths framed by the wisdom of man; for the temple which then existed was not Solomon's, but had been built by Herod. Nevertheless it represented the principles of the church as a unity—such as that which the Jewish hierarchy elaborated, but which was no more like a heaven-derived form of pure and sound doctrine than the temple of Herod was like that of Solomon. Yet there it stood in its entirety and seeming stability. But the hand of him whose touch reduces things of human creation to their original elements was upon it. Its stones were to be thrown down and dispersed. The result in such cases is, that the unity of the church is broken up, though the elements are preserved. And so we find even in our own day that amid the desolation of the Christian sanctuary, many single truths are preserved, though they no longer exist in such a unity as to form a whole. Their connection is broken, and their unity is destroyed. We may see and admire many particular truths, but we no longer see them in combination, such as that which made them rise in a form of beauty, a house of prayer, the place where God inscribed his name. There is not left one stone upon another that is not thrown down. (p. 514-515)
Though the author here also reverts to applying the interpretation to the destruction of Christian doctrine over the centuries of a corrupted Christian church, the application to Jewish teaching is clear enough. The ancient Jewish system of doctrine and teaching, represented by the stones (symbolizing individual truths) forming the unified whole of the Temple (representing the system of truth being taught) had become so corrupted and falsified that it was aptly represented by the coming destruction of the Temple, when not one stone would be left upon another.
This provides a taste of how Matthew 24 generally, as seen from a Swedenborgian perspective, can be seen to refer to the end of the Jewish dispensation, and therefore to have been entirely fulfilled spiritually within the lifetimes of Jesus' original disciples.
We will turn now to the specific verses whose exegesis is requested in the question.
As would be expected, Swedenborg's exegesis of these passages focuses on their application to the end of the first Christian church as he saw it. However, his commentary on them can be applied to the end of the Jewish dispensation as well.
The coming of the Son of Man: Matthew 24:29-31
Here are Swedenborg's brief spiritual explanations of some of the key phrases in these verses. For his full exegesis, refer to the chart of section numbers from Arcana Coelestia above.
The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light [Matthew 24:29] means love to the Lord, which is "the sun," and kindness towards the neighbor, which is "the moon." "Being darkened" and "not giving light" mean that that love and kindness will not be in evidence and so will disappear. For "the sun" means a heavenly kind of love and "the moon" a spiritual kind; that is, "the sun" means love to the Lord, and "the moon" kindness towards the neighbor that comes through faith. (Arcana Coelestia #4060.2)
Applying this prophecy to the Jewish religion as it existed at the time of Christ, then, the darkening of the sun and moon refers to the loss and lack of any genuine love for God and of kindness toward the neighbor in that religion. These, of course, are the two Great Commandments given by Jesus; and the lack of these, except in superficial and hypocritical form, among the Jewish leaders was Jesus' great charge and judgment against them in the Gospels.
And the stars will fall from heaven [Matthew 24:29] means that the deeper insights of good and truth will perish. When mentioned in the Word, "stars" have no other meaning than these insights. (Arcana Coelestia #4060.4)
In other words, there would be no real understanding of what is spiritually good and true; that sort of insight would perish, symbolized by the stars "falling from heaven." This echoes Jesus' common charge against the Jewish leaders that they obey the superficialities of the Law, but completely miss the spirit of the law.
And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven [Matthew 24:30] means a manifestation of divine truth. "Sign" means a manifestation. "The Son of Man" means the Lord in regard to divine truth. (Arcana Coelestia #4060.5)
In terms of events in the first century AD, this refers especially to Jesus Christ himself, and his teachings. This was a "manifestation of divine truth" to the Jewish people, and to the surrounding nations as well, which the Jewish hierarchy ignored and rejected.
And they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory [Matthew 24:30] means that at that time a revelation of the internal sense of the Word—the sense in which the Lord is present—will take place. "The Son of Man" means divine truth within the Word. "The clouds" means the literal sense. "Power" refers to the good and "glory" to the truth present there. . . . This is the kind of coming of the Lord that is meant here, not a literal manifestation of him in the clouds. (Arcana Coelestia #4060.7)
Once again, in terms of events in the first century, this refers especially to Jesus Christ himself opening the Scriptures and teaching his followers the spiritual truth within the Scriptures, and especially how they relate to himself and his mission. It was in the inspiration and power of this deeper understanding of the Scriptures that the early Christians formed an entirely new religion distinct from the Judaism from which it originally came.
The taking away of some people: Matthew 24:39-41
At that time two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left behind [Matthew 24:40] means those within the Church who are governed by good and those within the Church who are governed by evil; the former will be saved and the latter condemned. For "the field" means the church in regard to what is good. (Arcana Coelestia #4334.7)
In short, this is simply a spiritual prophecy about the salvation of religious people who are good—meaning those who truly love and serve God and the neighbor—and the damnation of religious people who are not actually good, even if they put on an outward show of virtue and piety. This would apply to religious Jews of the first century just as it would to people in any other time of religious and spiritual upheaval.
Two women grinding at the mill; one will be taken and the other left behind [Matthew 24:41] means the future salvation of those within the Church who know the truth, that is, who are led by good to have a love for the truth, and the future condemnation of those within the Church who know the truth, but who are led by evil to have a love for it. (Arcana Coelestia #4334.9)
Swedenborg's explanation of why "grinding at the mill" means this is too long to quote here. You can read it if you wish in Secrets of Heaven #4335. However, the general idea is that those who love the truth because they want to be guided by it into the good of loving and serving their neighbor will be saved, whereas those who love the truth so that they can use it for self-aggrandizement and for gaining wealth, reputation, and so on will be condemned to hell spiritually.
The application of this to first century Judaism is quite clear in the Gospels. Jesus harshly condemned the Jewish leaders of the day for using their access to spiritual truth, not to bring salvation to the people, but to enhance their own wealth and power. Such people, the prophecy says when spiritually interpreted, will be condemned to hell. But those who love to study the Bible and learn from it so that they can show love and kindness to their neighbor more effectively will be saved.
As explained above, Swedenborg and Swedenborgians apply Matthew 24 primarily to the spiritual state of the historical Christian church, which is believed to have become so corrupt over the centuries that its place as the leading spiritual light in the world has been taken away.
However, a parallel spiritual interpretation of the prophecies of Matthew 24 can also be applied to the end of the reign of Judaism as the leading spiritual light in the world, which is believed to have taken place during the lifetime of Jesus and his original disciples. The destruction of the Temple is seen as the overthrow of a corrupted form of Judaism that had become more about wealth and power for the religious leaders than about guiding the people to justice, mercy, compassion, salvation, and all of the other religious and spiritual virtues.
To my knowledge, no Swedenborgian commentary written so far has provided a detailed application of the prophecies of Matthew 24 to the spiritual events that took place in the first century AD, such that they were all fulfilled within the lifetimes of Jesus' original disciples. However, the above answer will, I hope, provide some reasonable sense of how such an interpretation would be made from a Swedenborgian perspective.