27 January 2008

New Testament Eschatology -- New Testament Background Continued

The Olivet Discourse Continued

For the last several posts we have been going through a sermon attributed to Jesus commonly called 'The Olivet Discourse'. Within this sermon, some people see the 'end of the world'. But our investigation has been leading us to a different conclusion. Specifically, it has been leading us to the destruction of the Temple (and Jerusalem) in 70 CE. While some people would agree with us up to this point, they would contend that with the next section(s), Jesus has switched from talking about the Temple's destruction and moved to the 'end of the world' and his Second Coming. They see this for a number of reasons. First, as we have noted, over and over Jesus referred to his contemporaries (i.e., the disciples and the nation as a whole that was living at the same time as Jesus). Second, Jesus gave them signs and symbols that were clues for them about the destruction of the Temple. Third, the persecutions that Jesus described were taking place during the life of the early church. But then, starting at verse 36, some believe that Jesus changed his focus. We looked at this verse a little differently last time, so we will start with it here.

Matthew 24.36. 'However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.'

Here, some claim, Jesus clearly stated a new topic. Whereas before there were signs pointing to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus claims that there are not signs to point to the end of the world. Whereas before, Jesus apparently knew when the fall of Jerusalem would take place (because he gave the disciples clues to when it would happen), here Jesus claims that he doesn't know when the end of the world would be.

But, as we noted last time, that doesn't really make sense in the context. Certainly Jesus gave his contemporaries signs for them to look for, but did he give them the exact moment? Did he say, like Moses to Pharaoh, 'at midnight tonight'? No. Verse 36 doesn't start a new topic. It gives the disciples another clue to the fall of Jerusalem. While there were signs that would lead them to understand that it's destruction was close, those signs didn't tell them the exact moment. That is the whole point of signs. If Jesus knew when Jerusalem was to be over thrown, he would have simply told them -- August 70 CE. But he didn't. Because he didn't know. That's what he told them in verse 36. In other words, as Jesus was going through telling the disciples all of the signs, Jesus wanted to make sure they understood that the exact moment was not known to anyone but YHWH. That was what they asked about and that is what he told them. 'I don't know for sure, but here are some things to look out for that will let you know that it's coming.' That's the meaning of verse 36.

Now let's turn to the next section.

Matthew 24.37-44. “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

“Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.

In this section, some people see all kinds of things, most predominately the 'rapture' of the church. That is, some will say, 'Perhaps Jesus was talking about the fall of Jerusalem in the generation of the disciples, but now he is definitely talking about the Rapture.' Is that really what is going on here? Is that what Jesus was talking about? I don't think the context supports this view. Let's break it down and see what Jesus was referring to in this section.

First, the phrase 'Son of Man'. As we saw in a previous post, this phrase refers to Daniel 7. In that passage we see that the Son of Man is exalted to a place of honor (the right hand of the Ancient One) and vindicated. I submit that this is still the meaning when Jesus used it here. In fact, that is the only reference to the Son of Man. The exalted one defeated the monsters who were attacking and persecuting and oppressing God's people. At his exaltation, the Son of Man was vindicated for his actions. This exaltation included all the power and authority of the monsters being given to the Son of Man. That is, all power and authority in 'heaven' and on 'earth' would be given to the 'Son of Man'. Whenever Jesus said the phrase 'Son of Man', that is what is being heard. The phrase 'Son of Man', then, refers to Jesus' exaltation and vindication.

This vindication will be 'like it was in Noah's day.' Everyone was living like nothing was going on -- life as usual. But then the flood came and 'swept them all away'. According to the story, the flood was YHWH's judgment. Jesus said, 'That is they way it will be when [I am vindicated].' Then he describes those who will be 'swept...away', i.e., those who will be judged. 'Two men will be working in the field; one will be taken, the other left.' How someone jumps from judgment to rapture in these statements is rather shocking. Jesus just said his vindication would be a judgment like that of Noah's day. The person 'taken' is not in taken in rapture but rather the person is taken in judgment! The phrase 'will be taken' is equal to 'the flood came and swept them all away.' In other words, the destruction of Jerusalem (including the Temple) would be YHWH's judgment just like the Flood of Noah's generation was YHWH's judgment.

And, just so we don't miss the fact that Jesus didn't change subjects, he told the disciples, i.e., those with him on the Mount of Olives, 'So you, too, must keep watch! For you don't know what day your Lord is coming...you also must be ready all the time...' Once more we see that Jesus is telling the disciples about things they will experience. He isn't skipping around and talking about different things here--some things they will experience and other things thousands of years in their future. No. He is clearly focused on answering the disciples question about when the Temple would be destroyed.

That's enough for now. Next time we will finish up our New Testament background with a glance at the closing stories Jesus told his disciples as recorded in the rest of Matthew 24 and all of 25. Until then...

Peace be with you.


22 January 2008

New Testament Eschatology -- New Testament Background Continued

The Olivet Discourse Continued

As we move through our background study, which is turning out to be longer than I expected, we have been working through a sermon attributed to Jesus commonly called 'The Olivet Discourse'. To the surprise of many of us, the Olivet Discourse has not been about the 'end of the world' but about the destruction of Jerusalem. We will slow down a little bit and look at this next section in more detail. The reason for this is that a lot of people think that Jesus changed topics and moved from the destruction of Jerusalem to the 'end of the world'. We want to determine if that is the case. This is important because, as I have stated before, Matthew 24 (and the parallel passages) is part of the foundation for how the disciples interpreted the time they were living in.
Matthew 24.32-36. "Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

"However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows."

In this passage, some people see the Israel of our day. A lot of people interpret the 'fig tree' as the re-establishment of Israel in 1948. The phrase 'this generation' then, refers to the world wide group of people who were alive at that time. This reaches its climax when Jesus predicted 'heaven and earth' would 'disappear' (i.e., be destroyed). For these people, the 'end of the world' clock began ticking in 1948 and will stop with the complete destruction of the cosmos. But is this accurate?

A few things need our attention in this passage. First, as we have seen up to this point, Jesus used the word 'you' (roughly 17 times so far, including the four or five times in this section), obviously meaning the disciples and his contemporaries. Second, Jesus said 'when you (disciples) see all these things' meaning all of the things he had been talking about in the previous verses. Thirdly, and tied to both of these, is the phrase 'this generation', solidifying that Jesus meant his contemporaries (we'll return to this momentarily). So, Jesus hasn't changed topics. He was still referring to the destruction of Jerusalem.

But what about the 'fig tree'?

Good question. As noted above, a lot of people believe that Jesus was referring to Israel in that phrase. That is, Jesus was referring to a re-established nation of Israel. That took place in 1948. Therefore, he must have been talking about things that we will see. But, this idea really doesn't stand up to scrutiny.  The 'lesson from the fig tree' is about recognizing the signs of change. This can be seen when we read the parallel passage in Luke 21. There Jesus said 'Notice the fig tree, or any other tree' (v.29, emphasis added). His point was not the tree. His point was the changes observed in the tree represented the change of the season. Likewise, when the disciples and their contemporaries started to see the things Jesus had been talking about, they would know that 'his return [was] very near'.

This is further seen by his following statement. Jesus told the disciples that their 'generation [would] not pass from the scene until all these things take place'.

But 'generation' means the people who will see the things Jesus talked about.

I certainly agree with that statement. But, more times than not, this thought is tied to the previous one about Israel starting again in 1948. The meaning of such an interpretation is that the generation that saw Israel re-established in 1948 would be the one who would see the 'Second Coming of Jesus'. This is populated by a lot of books, including (but not limited to) 'The Late Great Planet Earth' by Hal Lindsey. The very popular 'Left Behind' novels are also based on this view. But, again, as we have seen, Jesus was not talking about the 'Second Coming' and/or the 'end of the world'. Jesus was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem that his contemporaries would experience. Moreover, consistently throughout the Gospel of Matthew, the term 'generation' always referred to Jesus' contemporaries (see for example, Matthew 11.16-19, Matthew 12.41-42.

What about the 'passing away of heaven and earth'?

These, of course, would be seen as poetic images of authority. As we noted last time and in our Old Testament background, the desolation of the cosmos was often used as a way of expressing the fall of a nation. With that understanding, we can see that Jesus told his disciples that Jerusalem would 'disappear' (i.e., the Jerusalem they knew would disappear) but his words would be fulfilled. That is, he was a (the) true prophet.

Lastly, Although Jesus had been giving the disciples certain 'signs', i.e., things that pointed to the coming judgment, the exact moment was not known beforehand, not even to Jesus (v.36). This is crucial because it kept his first-century followers in an expectant mood. They were continually looking at their world for the predicted signs. And, if the signs were adding up, they would know that the fall of Jerusalem would be soon, 'right at the door'.

Once more we see that each paragraph has dealt with Jesus answering the disciples initial question about when the Temple would be destroyed. However, the next section(s) seem to deal with the Second Coming (finally). We will look at this next time. Until then...

Peace be with you.


18 January 2008

New Testament Eschatology -- New Testament Background Continued

The Olivet Discourse Continued

In the last couple of posts, we have been painting a 'broad-brushed' picture of Jesus' sermon commonly called, 'The Olivet Discourse'. And what we have seen is that Jesus has been warning his contemporaries about YHWH's 'judgment' on Jerusalem. The disciples, shaken by these claims, questioned Jesus as to when this would happen. Jesus has started answering this question. He specifically addressed things that they and their fellow first-century Jews would experience. We now continue to look at Jesus' sermon as the background for our understanding of New Testament Eschatology.
Matthew 24.23-28. “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.

“So if someone tells you, ‘Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,’ don’t bother to go and look. Or, ‘Look, he is hiding here,’ don’t believe it! For as the lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west, so it will be when the Son of Man comes. Just as the gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near.”

Once more we see that Jesus was warning his disciples, i.e., those with him on the Mount of Olives, about being tricked into believing that 'the Messiah' had returned. At least twice, Jesus said 'you' (and a couple more if we include the 'understood you') meaning, plainly, the disciples who were with him. It seemed that leading up to this judgment of YHWH upon Jerusalem, there would be 'false messiahs and false prophets'. Why would this be? One reason is that of expectation. It is well recorded that during this time the Jews were expecting the Messiah to come soon. This can be seen in Jesus' birth stories as well as some of the early church history found in Acts. What Jesus was doing here is, again, two fold: 1) the disciples had been given clues throughout the ministry of Jesus that he was the Messiah; 2) therefore, when this all starts to happen in their lifetime, they would need to realize that those 'false Messiahs' weren't Jesus. The followers of Jesus would be yearning to see Jesus, to be with Jesus, but those 'false Messiahs', those 'anti-Messiahs', those 'Antichrists', would not be Jesus. So, he 'warned [them] about this ahead of time'.

The statement about the 'lightning flash' is tied to this. However, it as much about knowledge, as it is speed, or, rather, suddenness. I have heard many a fanciful tales about the Second Coming of Jesus will be so sudden that it will be like lightning flashes. Some have even calculated how fast lightning travels and how long it would take a 'single bolt' to travel around the entire planet and so forth and so on. I think it should be seen how that really has nothing to do with this passage. This poetic image is tied to the previous statements about the 'false Messiahs' and the following image of the 'vultures'. When the disciples started seeing or hearing about the 'Messiah', they should realize that the judgment of YHWH was about to be pored out on Jerusalem. And when it started, it would be swift. It would be as certain as a lighting flash. It would be as easily recognized as 'vultures' around a carcass.

However, the word 'vultures' is problematic. Once more the New Living Translation lets us down. I understand why they rendered the word as 'vultures', but it is a let down nevertheless. A better rendering would be 'eagles' (and this is how it's translated in a variety of other English translations). However, it is hard for us to imagine eagles circling a carcass. That is the job of vultures. And yet, by using the word 'eagles', Jesus gave the disciples (and us) another clue. The eagle was the symbol for the Roman army. Here we see a hint for the 'tool' that YHWH would use to judge Jerusalem. When the disciples and their contemporaries saw the Roman army 'gathering' against Jerusalem, they should recognize that this was the judgment of YHWH. They would need to get out of the city as fast as possible, not even returning to their homes to gather some belongings. They shouldn't listen to the claims that the 'Messiah' had come to save them (there were plenty of those around). The Messiah wouldn't be there. They would have to flee to the mountains as soon as possible. Because once the 'eagles' (or 'vultures) started gathering, there would be nothing left of Jerusalem but a 'carcass'.
Matthew 24.29-31. “Immediately after the anguish of those days,

the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world -- from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

At last we have some of the language we have seen in the Old Testament passages of this series. In fact, the NLT has references to some of those passages. So, what would the disciples understand by Jesus use of that imagery? Exactly. The whole topic has been about the fall of Jerusalem. Jesus has been telling them again and again that it would be something that they and their contemporaries would experience. And, as if to drive the point home, Jesus uses the poetic images of cosmic destruction. They would have certainly seen the connection.

A couple of additional points here and both have to do with 'power'. We see that the 'powers in the heavens will be shaken' and the 'Son of Man coming...with power'. This isn't accidental. The point is that of a power shift. The beginning of the end for the 'rogue powers' was through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth. He stated that the Kingdom of God had come. The ruling powers were finished. God was going to rule once more. And, somehow, it would be through Jesus. As to what exactly the 'powers in the heavens' were, I'm not certain. There are several possible answers: Herod (the quasi-Messiah), the Old Covenant, the Jewish hierarchy, the 'principalities and powers' of the demonic, all the aforementioned, etc. But I think this detail misses the point. Sure, it's fun to speculate but the real point is that the power was shifting. The 'rogue powers' would be over turned and the True Power would reign.

Lastly, that statement about the 'Son of Man'. Remember when we started this study we talked about suitcases? The phrase 'Son of Man' is a suitcase. Within that phrase, that suitcase, is the understanding of Messiah from Daniel 7. In Daniel 7, we have a court room scene. Daniel sees monsters violently oppressing the 'people of God' until one person, one like a 'Son of Man' comes to the 'Ancient One', the Judge (i.e., YHWH) as the representative for the people. Justice is served and the monsters are stripped of their 'sovereignty, power, and greatness' and given to the Son of Man. The Son of Man is vindicated and establishes a kingdom that is eternal. All of that is packed into the phrase 'Son of Man'. That's what the disciples hear. Jesus is saying that at the fall of Jerusalem the disciples and their contemporaries will witness the fulfillment of Daniel 7. The rogue powers (whomever or whatever they were) would be stripped of their authority and given to him. At the fall of Jerusalem, Jesus would be vindicated. And the world would have a new King.

Next time, we will conclude our New Testament background and (perhaps) start in with some of the apostles eschatology. Until then...

Peace be with you.


14 January 2008

Is Windows REALLY cheaper than Linux?

I have seen a lot of ads and opinion columns lately that talk about mainstream computer companies selling Linux powered systems. For instance, Dell sells Ubuntu and Lenovo sells SUSE. What is staggering to me is the price. The Dell laptop sells for $45 less than the same Dell laptop selling Vista. The Lenovo, according to this news article, sells for only $20 less. So the question is: Would the average Windows consumer want to save a few dollars and [perhaps] have a frustrating experience with Linux? Would the money saved be worth it if one had to learn a completely different OS (Operating System)? Obviously, the answer would be a definite, 'No'. But is this really the case? Is there really only a few dollars difference between these systems and user experiences?

To answer that, let's look a little deeper and see if we can make an educated decision. I will focus on the Dell systems that sell Vista or Ubuntu.First, the hardware is exactly the same. I custom configured each system just to make sure. Therefore, we need to realize that we would not be skimping on our hardware choices. The Window's laptops don't come with superior hardware. This should be a big eye-opener -- Linux can and does run on the same hardware as Windows. Virtually gone are the days of dreadful hardware problems. I state 'virtually' because some hardware issues still linger. But this isn't just an issue for Linux. Not by a long shot. No matter what Microsoft may tell us (or our local sales associate), there are plenty of issues with Windows and hardware. Be rest assured, then, if the system comes from Dell (or any other company) with Linux pre-installed, it will work with the hardware. Guaranteed.

The price difference, then, has to be the software. Is the difference between these two really just $45? I don't think so. Vista Home Premium alone costs about $240. Ubuntu is FREE. So if the hardware is the same and the OSes have a difference of $240, how can there only be a $45 difference between the two systems? I don't know either. It seems like someone is not being honest here. Either, Microsoft is really over pricing their software at the consumer level, or the hardware manufactures are not pricing their systems correctly. Another side of this is that Microsoft is giving the computer manufactures a huge price break. Why would that happen? What would be the motivation? Simply put, to keep people from buying the other system. If I have always used Windows, and the latest version is only $45 more than this Linux stuff, why would I want to switch? Here are a few reasons why a switch might be advantageous.

First, Vista is a completely different OS from XP. There are some major changes for no other reason than just to change them. These changes are supposed to make it easier on the user but I haven't found that to be the case. Things that are important for configuration (like network settings) are buried deep within the system. So, if one is used to making necessary changes to the system, there will be a learning curve.

Second, if we decided to get Microsoft Office (all that's on the system is a trial version), it will cost an additional $400-$500 dollars. And this new Office has also changed. From my experiences, most people just don't like it. Again, these changes are supposed to help the user be more productive but it just seems to frustrate them. Another learning curve.

Third, Windows give the user a false sense of security. What I mean by that is Vista comes with an antivirus app and subscription (which, if we bought it as a stand alone app, would cost us an additional $50), plus a antispyware app (Windows Defender). The antivirus subscription runs out in a year so we would have to renew it. Or, after the subscription runs out, we could uninstall it and install a free antivirus app like AVG Free Edition. However, most of my customers have problems with viruses and/or spyware. Since their computers come with these apps already installed, they are lulled into thinking everything is alright. They don't have to worry about an antivirus app because it has been included, right? Wrong. Most of the time, when I work on someone's system, the antivirus app has expired and the customer doesn't have a clue. 'Sure I have an antivirus program', they'll say. But when I look at it, it will be a couple of years old! Thus, the reason they called me.

But, there are free alternatives even for Windows. And yet, for some reason, people who purchase Windows based computers don't like 'free' software. They are suspicious of it. They believe that it will be inferior to the purchased apps one can get for Windows. This is, really, just a lack of education. There are plenty of good, free apps out there for Windows. It might just take a little time to find them. But remember this, most retailers aren't going to tell you about free software. In fact, they will even degrade free software. Thus, continuing the cycle.

However, with Ubuntu...well...that's a different ball game entirely. First of all, as I noted above, Ubuntu is free. It doesn't cost you one red cent. And, according to their website, it will always be free. Furthermore, Ubuntu comes with a great 'Add/Remove...' applet. Kind of like Window's 'Add or Remove Programs' in the Control Panel but much more powerful. See, with Windows, the 'add' part of that applet is for adding it through the use of a different source like a CD. For example, I go and purchase Microsoft Office, I can then use that 'Add or Remove' applet to install it. However, a lot of the time, the 'Add or Remove' applet will state something like, 'This can't be added through Add or Remove programs. Please use the installer application on the CD.' But in Ubuntu, the 'Add/Remove...' applet does just what it states. We launch that applet and it scans an Internet 'warehouse' (particular for the OS) for all the thousands applications we can install. All free of charge. It will even have the apps currently on our computer already selected. To add a new application, we just select it and then click the 'Apply' button. The app will be installed and then we can close the 'Add/Remove...' applet. To uninstall an app, yep, you guessed it, we just unselect it, click the 'Apply' button, and it will uninstall the app. It's just that darn easy.

As an added bonus to this setup (one location for the OS and all the applications) is that of 'Automatic Updates'. We're familiar with this in Windows. We will sometimes get an update message in the system tray telling us to install the latest Microsoft updates. Well, there is the same thing in Ubuntu as well. But with an added advantage. Not only does this update check the OS, it also checks all of the apps on the system. So, let's say that there is an update to the image editor application, GIMP (GIMP is very, very similar to Photoshop), we don't have to go to the manufactures web site and download it and then install it like we would with Vista. The Automatic Updates for Ubuntu will let us know when GIMP needs to be updated. All we have to do is click on the 'Apply' button and it will install the update. Another great thing about this is that the update has already gone through vigorous testing to make sure it would work with the Ubuntu and not crash it.

Another thing to remember is that Ubuntu (and Linux as a whole), does not get viruses or spyware. Therefore we wouldn't have to worry about those apps. We could just run our systems without worrying about them crashing because of some malicious code.

As another plus, Ubuntu comes with OpenOffice.org. OO.o is a full productivity suite very similar to Microsoft Office 2003. In fact, it can open, edit, and save files in Microsoft's file format, including their new 2007 format. Microsoft Office, however, can neither open nor edit nor save files in OpenOffice.org's default format, the new Open Document Format (ODF). My point here is that Microsoft is compatible with a lot of documents out there (a lot of government office are moving to this new format) but OpenOffice.org is. And it, too, is free.

Now, granted, there will be a learning curve with Ubuntu. But, like I stated above, there will be a learning curve with Vista and Office 2007, too. In my opinion, there is a greater learning curve moving to the new Microsoft products. I have seen it time and time again.

One last thing.  Most of the time, Ubuntu can be installed and used on a lot older hardware.  I currently am running it on a 5-year old laptop.  That's right, 5-years old.  That is something that can't be done with Vista.  Vista has to have the latest and greatest hardware just to function -- forget all of the cool visualization (in the biz, this is called 'eye-candy'.  Ubuntu had this before Vista).  Therefore, to get the longest life from your hardware, Linux is the way to go.

To summarize, the Linux systems come pre-installed with a host of applications (office suite, photo management and editing, music players, PDF readers, etc.), easy updates for all the software, no viruses, no spyware, works longer on your existing hardware (has a longer lifespan), etc. And it only costs $45 cheaper? Well, not really. If we add Microsoft Office, then the difference becomes $450-$550. Add to that the headache of the lack of security (viruses, spyware, security openings, etc.), and a new, frustratingly different user interface and the Linux systems almost sell themselves.  Heck, with the money saved on a Linux laptop, one could almost by two!

Peace be with you.


New Testament Eschatology -- New Testament Background Continued

The Olivet Discourse

Last time we gathered a bird's eye view of Matthew 23 and the beginning of 24. To summarize, Jesus blasted the religious leaders of his day and proclaimed that the Temple would be destroyed (Matthew 23). The disciples, hardly able to grasp this, pointed out the Temple and its buildings as they left it (Matthew 24.1). Jesus told them as plainly as possible, that yes, they had heard him correctly. The Temple would be completely demolished and 'not one stone' would be 'left on top of another' (v.2). Still in shock by this, the disciples approached Jesus and asked him when that would happen (v.3). In this post we will examine part of Jesus' response.
Matthew 24.4-14. Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.

“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.

Again, this isn't going to be an exposition of the Olivet Discourse, but I do want to point out a couple of things. First is the pronoun 'you'. Jesus answered the disciples question specifically. In fact, his first thought was of them. 'Don't let anyone mislead you.' Jesus used the word 'you' five times in these verses. The disciples would no doubt conclude that Jesus was talking to them about things they would experience.
Matthew 24.15-22. “The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.

Here again, Jesus refers to the disciples specifically ('you' is used twice) but extends the warnings to other people within the same generation. This is crucial because we see that Jesus isn't mixing up different times, different eras. He is still talking about his (and by extension, the disciples) own generation. It is that generation that will experience what Jesus is talking about here.

A key piece to this is the reference to Daniel and the 'sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place'. In the book of Daniel, Daniel is told that 'his people' Israel would experience this. This wasn't some 'end of time' scenario but a 'time of the end' scenario. However we want to interpret Daniel, one thing is certain, Jesus ties it to the destruction of the Temple that he and the disciples just left.

Furthermore, the suddenness of this desolation would be so quick that people wouldn't even be able to gather their stuff. If they were in Judea, they must drop everything and get out right away. People outside the city shouldn't even return to get a coat. The suddenness is so emphatic here. And the uncertainty is also a factor. Jesus told the disciples that he wasn't sure exactly when it was going to happen (it might be in Winter or on the Sabbath -- another indicator that Jesus was speaking about his contemporaries) but it was going to happen to them nonetheless.

So, think about this for a minute. The disciples are sitting with Jesus on a hillside over looking the city and Temple. Jesus is telling them a rather scary story about the complete and utter destruction of their beloved city -- the city of God, the place that God promised to dwell. Jesus is painting a picture that would leave some of them gasping in horror. I'm sure they are imagining the smoke rising from the ruins. I'm certain some of them are hearing the wailing of the wounded and dying. I'm sure some of them were weeping. Jesus is telling them that he doesn't exactly know when it will happen, but it will happen and they will experience it. Because of his love for them, he starts giving them clues to help them as the time approaches. Can you feel the cloud of darkness forming around the disciples? Can you feel the despair?

Next time, we will continue with Matthew 24. Until then...

Peace be with you.


10 January 2008

New Testament Eschatology -- New Testament Background

We started this series by taking a glancing look at the Old Testament and saw how the prophets used poetic language that depicted the complete desolation of the cosmos as a symbol of the destruction of various nations, such as Egypt (Ezekiel 32.2, 7-8, 11-12), Babylon (Isaiah 13.1, 10, 19), and even Israel (Jeremiah 4.14, 16, 23ff). With these things in the back of our minds, we now turn our attention to the New Testament. While we will be addressing some of the New Testament passages that refer to eschatology there is one question that a lot of people don't ask but it's just under the surface yearning to be asked -- 'From where did the New Testament writers get their eschatology? What was the basis for their 'time of the end' beliefs?'

The most obvious answer is the Hebrew Scriptures. Since (almost) all of the New Testament writers were Jewish, they would have been very familiar with the passages we have glanced at (and many, many others). But there was an added element that made them rethink their view of the 'time of the end'. That added element was Jesus. Jesus said things that made them believe that 'the end' would come within their lifetime. That is what they believed and what they taught. Furthermore, because of his resurrection, their Jewish understanding of what this meant had to be rethought. Jewish thought was that the resurrection would happen at the end of history to all people (or at least all of God's people). But, the resurrection of Jesus took place to one person in the middle of history. Therefore, they had to look at their Scriptures in a different light. Because of this, and before we look at some of the New Testament letters, we will look at some statements of Jesus, specifically what is commonly called 'The Olivet Discourse'.

Let's paint the scene. While in the Temple, in front of his disciples and crowds of people, Jesus is berating the religious leaders of his day (Matthew 23). His closing statements are quite shocking:
Matthew 23.29-36, 38. 'What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. Then you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.’

“But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?

“Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city. As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar. I tell you the truth, this judgment will fall on this very generation...And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.”

Can you imagine the silence of this scene? The temple was the very center of the Jewish world and here is this (so-called) prophet claiming that it would be abandoned and desolate and the Jewish people, especially the leadership, would be responsible! I can see Jesus leaving the Temple and everyone just standing there in stunned silence for what seemed like an eternity. And then everything just erupts! The disciples chase after Jesus and, still in disbelief at what he just said, point to the beauty of the Temple. 'Surely, he didn't really mean that', they think. So, they point out the Temple, just to make sure. Jesus replies, 'Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another' (Matthew 24.2).

Well, that settled it. Jesus was definitely talking about their Temple. Not some future Temple as some people today would have us believe. Nope. They showed Jesus their Temple and he told them that their Temple would be 'completely destroyed'. No question about it. So, if we were standing there with them that fateful day, what do you suppose would be the one question on everyone's mind?


And that is exactly what we find.
Matthew 24.3. 'Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?'

Now, you all know how much I enjoy using the New Living Translation. It is, in my estimation (and that's not saying a lot), one of the best new Bible translations on the market. It captures the very essence of the texts with all of the shock and impact of how I imagine the original hearers and readers felt. But this is one of the places where I feel it lets us down. The disciples didn't ask about the 'end of the world' but about 'the end of the age' (Greek = aion). This is significant because all through Jesus' ministry he had been talking about the coming of God's kingdom. He even taught the disciples to pray for God's kingdom to come 'on earth'. This meant that God's age of rule was being ushered (somehow) through Jesus' own ministry. And for that to happen, the (then) present Jewish age would have to be dissolved. It's time was coming to a close.

On another side of this, as was noted in previous posts, 'the end of the world' could be a really good translation if we keep in mind the symbolic language of the poet and left it in its historical context. That is, as I stated above, the Temple was the center of the universe to the Jews and it's complete destruction would be nothing less than 'the end of the world' to them.

On another side again, I think when we see or hear the phrase 'the end of the world' we think in terms of our understanding of what that would mean. That is, a cosmic desolation that is almost more than we can imagine. The complete and utter destruction of the whole cosmos. It is because of this (i.e., we reading our definition into the phrase) and how that understanding is fueled by a lot of modern interpretation of Jesus' answer, that I think 'age' would be a better translation.

So, to summarize this: Jesus just blasted the religious leaders of his day and proclaimed that the Temple would be destroyed. The disciples, hardly able to grasp this (since, one of the 'jobs' of the Messiah was to either establish the Temple or re-build it), pointed out the Temple and its buildings as they left it. Jesus told them as plainly as possible, that yes, they had heard him correctly. The Temple would be completely demolished and 'not one stone' would be 'left on top of another'. Still in shock by this, the disciples (I would imagine) approached Jesus very timidly and asked him when that would happen (understanding that what Jesus was talking about was nothing short of the complete end of their 'world').

I submit that Jesus actually answers their question. Jesus was not talking about the end of the 'world' as we understand it, but, like the prophets before him, Jesus used poetic (apocalyptic) language to describe the fall of Jerusalem. Over and over again, Jesus was emphatic that the disciples would witness the events he was describing.

Next time, we will start looking at Jesus' answer to the disciples. Until then...

Peace be with you.


06 January 2008

New Testament Eschatology -- Old Testament Background


In this last stop of our very brief Old Testament poetic expedition, we come to the book of Malachi. It is here that a fascinating picture comes to us. The fourth chapter states:
Malachi 4. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all.

"But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant—all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel.

“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

The importance of this passage is profound and yet it is mostly overlooked. This is the passage that bridges the Old Testament with the New Testament. As can be seen, this passage has all of the 'classic' symbols of apocalyptic (poetic) language: judgment day, burning like a furnace, the arrogant and wicked consumed, etc. As we know, this language is typical of the desolation of a nation. But which nation? It is referring to Israel as can be seen in verse 4 (see also Malachi 1.1).

While we could chase a lot of rabbits in this passage, I want us to focus on the last paragraph. YHWH promised that Elijah would come before the 'great and dreadful day'. Now, some people have supposed this passage refers to the 'end of time'. But we have been given a clue that points to a more ancient fulfillment. Elijah.

With this image of Elijah coming before the 'great and dreadful day', let's look at a couple of passages in the Gospels. Our first passage is found in Luke, the first chapter.
Luke 1.11-17. While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

Did you notice that? the angel told Zechariah that John would 'turn the hearts of the fathers to their children'. This is a direct quote from Malachi 4. The angel is saying that John was 'Elijah' who was promised in Malachi. To look a little further in this amazing symbol, this poetic image, let's look at Matthew 17.

Matthew 17.10-13. Then his disciples asked him, “Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?”

Jesus replied, “Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, but he wasn’t recognized, and they chose to abuse him. And in the same way they will also make the Son of Man suffer.” Then the disciples realized he was talking about John the Baptist.

Not only did the angel say that John would be 'Elijah', but Jesus also recognized this. The implication here is, simply, that if John was Elijah, then Jesus must be the Messiah. That is the question asked by the disciples and answered by Jesus. Jesus even used the Messianic phrase, 'Son of Man' pointing, again, to the possibility that he is the long awaited Messiah and, therefore, John was 'Elijah'.

Now do we see why I stated that Malachi was a bridge passage? It referred to things that would bridge the Old Testament story with the New Testament story. It spoke of something that would happen to Israel, within her lifetime, in the 'natural' realm. When we open the New Testament, we see the fulfillment of that prediction in John the Baptist.

But what about the 'great and dreadful day'?

This question will be addressed next time as we start looking at some of the New Testament passages. Until then...

Peace be with you.


02 January 2008

New Testament Eschatology -- Old Testament Background Continued


We have been taking a very brief look at the Old Testament use of a literary genre called Apocalyptics. This is a very poetic type of literature where cosmic language is often used to describe the destruction of a nation. In this post, we are going to look at some of the 'time statements' of prophecy, i.e., when they should take place.

The timing of the event is as much a part of the event as the description of what is going to happen. However, more times than not, the 'time statements' are given in real time. That is, they give a concrete (or dare I state 'literal') timetable about when something would take place. A lot of the time, however, people will try and use the proverb 'A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day' as a way of dealing with these time statements. But that is not always possible. In fact, more often than not, the prophecies come to pass exactly when they are said to. Here are just a few examples.
Genesis 7:1-4. When everything was ready, the LORD said to Noah, “...Seven days from now I will make the rains pour down on the earth. And it will rain for forty days and forty nights, until I have wiped from the earth all the living things I have created.”

Please note two things that the YHWH said to Noah: 1) it would start to rain in seven days and 2) it would continue to rain for forty days and nights. Now, to me, a very sensible question would be, 'How would Noah understand the time statements?' I think he would have understood them exactly the way we would today. And he wouldn't have been mislead.
Genesis 7.10-12. After seven days, the waters of the flood came and covered the earth...The rain continued to fall for forty days and forty nights.

Here, just a few short verses later, we have the fulfillment of that prophecy. This shows us that YHWH meant exactly what was said to Noah. Seven days equaled seven days. Forty days and nights equaled forty days and nights.

Another example can be seen from the book of Exodus. Moses has been going back and forth between YHWH and Pharaoh and YHWH has been sending various plagues to Egypt so that Pharaoh would release the Israelites. Finally, Moses comes to Pharaoh and says:
Exodus 11.4-5. 'This is what the LORD says: At midnight tonight I will pass through the heart of Egypt. All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest servant girl who grinds the flour. Even the firstborn of all the livestock will die.'

There are a couple of things here we should mention. First, is Pharaoh. The reason he is important is that he is a person outside the covenant family. If there was some sort of proverb about how YHWH used time, it would probably not be known to Pharaoh. Second, is the time itself -- 'at midnight tonight'. Why would YHWH, through Moses, give Pharaoh a specific time if there was some sort of different meaning of that time?

In other words, if I told my child that she needs to have her room cleaned up by four o'clock this afternoon or else she would be grounded, what type of motivation would it be if I really meant (or might really mean) some other time entirely? After a while of this type of double-standard, she would completely loose all confidence in me. I would be seen as...well...a liar. It would seem that I don't mean what I say. If I say that I want something done at a specific time, then that's exactly what I mean. The same thing appears in this passage. Through Moses, YHWH told Pharaoh that judgment would fall 'at midnight tonight'. YHWH didn't mean four o'clock tomorrow or 7:27 a.m. in two weeks. YHWH knew what YHWH meant. Moses knew what YHWH meant. And Pharaoh knew what YHWH meant. 'Midnight tomorrow' meant exactly midnight tomorrow as the fulfillment of this warning shows:
Exodus 12.29. And that night at midnight, the Lord struck down all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn son of the prisoner in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed.

Our last example is a couple of passages that deals with the Babylonian captivity:
Jeremiah 25.11. This entire land will become a desolate wasteland. Israel and her neighboring lands will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years.

Jeremiah 29.10. This is what the Lord says: 'You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.'

Here we see that a plain, 'normal', or human understanding of these two passages would lead us to believe that Israel would be in Babylon for seventy years. And we wouldn't be alone.
Daniel 9.1-3. It was the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede, the son of Ahasuerus, who became king of the Babylonians. During the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, learned from reading the word of the LORD, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years. So I turned to the LORD God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes.

Here we see that the prophet Daniel understood Jeremiah's 'seventy years' to mean seventy years. With this understanding Daniel started praying and fasting on behalf of Israel, supposedly because the time was almost over. However, the angel Gabriel came and told him that the exile wouldn't be over until 'seventy sets of seven' (v.24). This shows us something else that is crucial to understanding New Testament eschatology: if something other than the plain, normal, human understanding of time is meant, YHWH reveals that. People aren't left to figure it out on their own. Over and over again, when YHWH gives specific time tables, they mean exactly what they normally mean unless YHWH states differently.

On last thing. We have looked at specific time signatures and found that, unless otherwise stated, they should be understood exactly the way humans understand time. However, there are some statements in the Bible that don't have specific time statements. Some prophecies have the elusive phrase, 'in the last days'. This phrase could mean the final days of a nation, the final days of a certain era (or age), or, perhaps, the final days of time itself. This term is more general and more specific time signatures aren't given. The goal for such a general statement is two-fold: 1) certainty that things will change; that the current situation will not last forever but; 2) it's also meant to keep the people prepared and looking.

Next time will conclude our very brief Old Testament eschatology background. Until then...

Peace be with you.