Skip to main content

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.

OD

Comments

Ted M. Gossard said…
I think I more and more agree with this position. But it still does seem a stretch to see Jesus coming back in Mt 24:30 simply in terms of the fall of Jerusalem. I'm not convinced yet on that.
Odysseus said…
Ted, I have received a few emails about this as well. Therefore, I will make a post regarding the 'coming' of Jesus and see how it lines up with the comings of YHWH in the Hebrew Scriptures.

OD

Popular posts from this blog

Pipe Smoking—The Why

“I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” — C.S. Lewis

In my last post I talked about my ingress into the fantastical world of pipe smoking. In this post, I want to talk about the “why’s,” the reasons I smoke a pipe. And that’s an important distinction. I’m not saying why you should smoke a pipe, I’m only speaking from my experience.

So, why did I start smoking a pipe?

I’m not really sure. Seriously. I just sort of fell into it. I mean, I guess part of it is the “old world” feel about smoking a pipe. I’m a lost romantic in a very unromantic world. I like “old” things—antiques, craftsmanship, clothes1, shaving2, etc.—and pipe smoking fits into a lot of those categories. There’s a quote I use when I give retreats on Celtic Christian Spirituality that goes like th…

Pipe Smoking—The Beginning

“I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” — C.S. Lewis



As many of you know, I smoke a pipe. And while I really don’t mention it a lot on this blog, if you were to visit me we would, more likely than not, find ourselves sitting outside having a nice conversation and I’d be smoking a pipe. I might even offer you one, if you’re so inclined.

What I’d like to do is write a little series on pipe smoking. Perhaps some “how to’s” and what not. Who knows? I might even start a YouTube channel about it.

But one thing I’d like to try to do is tie pipe smoking together with theology and biblical study. A lot of people find the two—pipe smoking and spiritual commitment—diametrically opposed to one another. But as we saw in the Lewis quote above, it can be quite helpful and s…

Pipe Smoking—The Pipe Parts and Stuff

“I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” — C.S. Lewis

In our previous post, we talked about the different shapes of a smoking pipe. So today we’re going to talk about the different parts of a pipe and some of the tools you’ll need for smoking your pipe.

Now that you have your first pipe (congratulations, by the way!), let’s talk about the different parts of your pipe.


As you can see in the above image, a pipe has two basic sections, the stummel and the stem. The stummel is the wood part and the stem is the mouthpiece.

The stummel can be made of different material but is generally briar wood. Briar (Fr. bruyère)comes from a flowering, evergreen shrub (erica arborea) in the heather family that grows in the Mediterranean Basin. After the shrub has reached maturity…