NT Eschatology—Gospels Part 05
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 the “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 were living at the same time as Jesus). Second, Jesus gave them signs and symbols that were clues for them about the coming war with Rome and 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’ll start with it here.
Matthew 24.36: “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows.”
Here, some claim, Jesus clearly started a new topic. “While there were signs pointing to the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple,” they say, “Jesus claims that there won’t be signs pointing to the end of the world. Beforehand, 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 even he doesn’t know when the end of the world would be.”
But, as we noted last time, that line of thinking doesn’t really make sense in the context. Certainly Jesus gave his contemporaries signs for them to look for, but did he tell them the exact moment when Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed? Did he say, like Moses to Pharaoh, “at midnight?” No. 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’s the whole point of signs. If Jesus knew when Jerusalem was to be overthrown, 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 telling the disciples all of the signs, he wanted to make sure they understood that the exact moment wasn’t known to anyone but Yahweh. That’s what they asked about and that’s what he told them. “I don't know for sure, but here are some things to look out for that’ll 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: “As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One. In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One will be like that. At that time there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left. Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming. But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know.”
In this section, some people see all kinds of things, most predominately the so-called “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’s definitely talking about the Rapture.” Is that really what’s 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.
First, the phrase “the Human One” (or “Son of Man”). As we saw in a previous post, this phrase refers to Daniel 7. In that passage we see Israel represented by a human being, a True Israelite, who’s 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’s the only reference to the Human One. The exalted one defeated the monsters who were attacking and persecuting and oppressing G_d’s people. At his exaltation, the Human One was vindicated for his actions. This exaltation included all the power and authority of the monsters being given to the Human One. That is, “all authority in heaven and on earth” would be given to the Human One. Whenever Jesus said the phrase “Human One,” that’s what people heard. The phrase “Human One,” then, refers to Jesus’ exaltation and vindication.
This vindication will be like “it was in the time of Noah” (verse 37). In Noah’s time, 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 Yahweh’s judgment. Jesus said, “That’s the way it will be when I’m vindicated.” Then he describes those who will be “swept...away,” i.e., those who will be taken in judgement. “At that time,” he said, “there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left.” (verses 40-41). 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” was not in taken in rapture but 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 and the Temple would be Yahweh’s judgment upon Jesus’ generation just like the flood was Yahweh’s judgment of Noah’s generation.
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, “Therefore, [you] stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming…Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know” (verses 42-44). Once more we see that Jesus is telling the disciples about things they’ll experience. He isn’t skipping around and talking about different things here—some things they’ll experience and other things other people will experience thousands of years in their future. No. He’s laser 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. Click here for the next post in this series.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC