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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.



Pinball said…
Jesus' rhetoric here is very interesting - and I daresay, discomforting. I'm trying to imagine being a disciple hearing this.

"Wars and earthquakes and all kinds of stuff are coming, but don't worry."

"Whew. Cool! You were freakin' me out there, Jesus."

"Oh, brother, I'm just gettin' started! You're going to be arrested and killed! Who's comin' with me?"


That's how it feels to me when I read this. Another thing that struck me for the first time was Jesus's almost off-handed comment about pregnant and nursing women. It's almost as if he is seeing the entire scene in his mind and commenting on it for the disciples. He sees a very pregnant woman trying to get out of town in the midst of calamity, and his heart breaks for her. His comment comes across to me as, "Man, it's going to suck for those poor women." I imagine he got a lump in his throat and his eyes welled up at this point.

Keep it comin', Cap'n. You know a lot of stuff, but this is where you really shine.
Pinball said…
By the way, dude, your style here is absolutely impeccable. I LOVE the recaps. Your brevity in those is prodigious. I'd be writing way too much. Your post lengths are also perfect. Again, I'd try to write the whole thing all at once. You give us just enough to chew and ruminate and then leave us hanging until the next meal. I find my stomach growling in between. Very good. Dickens had nothing on you.
odysseus said…
In all honesty, I have to reign myself in when I write this. I can very easily keep rolling. Besides, it's hard to find a good stopping point sometimes. As the series goes on, we'll see if I 'really shine' or not.

And Dickens...well...I guess if he wrote about eschatology, MAYBE. But I doubt it.

Thanks, though.


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