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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.

OD

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