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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 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.



Ted M. Gossard said…
Good summary of this.

I'll have to read up on this and do a little further study myself. But your view is certainly viable and does make good sense out of the passage, or at least good enough sense out of it for me, though I may have more questions about it, in my further study of it.


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