NT Eschatology—Questions 2
I have received some comments and emails regarding my understanding of the “coming” of Jesus in Matthew 24. Since this, to me, is foundational to the rest of this series, I thought I would address it now before we move on.
Basically, the question is, “I have always been taught (or believed) that the ‘coming’ Jesus talked about in Matthew 24 was his ‘Second Coming’ at the end of time. So, I’m not so sure if I agree with you. Can you give me some passages to help support your view?”
It’s a fair question. I’ve not always held this view and, like so many others, saw the “coming” of Jesus as the “Second Coming” at the end of history. But, once I started looking into eschatology, I realized that there were other views out there and some were better at addressing some of my concerns. To sharpen the point, I saw other “comings” in the Bible. Please, consider the following.
Genesis 18.13-14: [Yahweh] said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Me give birth? At my age?’ Is anything too difficult for [Yahweh]? When I return to you about this time next year, Sarah will have a son.”
Did you notice that? Yahweh promised Abraham and Sarah that Yahweh would “return” to them the following year. But, when we read the passage, Yahweh is nowhere to be “seen.”
Genesis 21.1-3: [Yahweh] was attentive to Sarah just as he had said, and [Yahweh] carried out just what he had promised her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son for Abraham when he was old, at the very time God had told him. Abraham named his son—the one Sarah bore him—Isaac.
What’s fascinating about this passage is manifold. First, in Genesis 18, Yahweh appeared as a human being (verses 1-2). Then Abraham was told that Yahweh would return to them (verses 10-14). Now, we would expect this to be a “physical” return, wouldn’t we? I mean, that’s how Yahweh appeared to them the first time. And that’s what we think of in the New Testament. But that is not what the passage is telling us. Yahweh’s “return” was the birth of Isaac. Yahweh fulfilled the promise. So, the fulfilling of a promise can be seen as a “coming” of Yahweh.
Another passage that we don’t often think of when we think of the “coming” of Yahweh is 1 Samuel 24. I’m sure we remember the story. King Saul has heard that David and his men are hiding in the wilderness near Engedi. So he gathers 3,000 of his best warriors and goes after David. At some point, Saul goes into a cave at Wild Goat Rock to relieve himself and David and his men are further back in that very cave! “Now’s your chance,” they tell David. “Yahweh has delivered your enemy right into your hand.” David sneaks up on Saul. However, instead of killing him, David just cuts off part of Saul’s robe and creeps away. Once Saul left the cave and ventured a little ways away, David comes out and tells him what happened. Now, what’s interesting about all of this is the song David wrote about this scene. He wrote:
Psalm 18.6-11: In my distress I cried out to [Yahweh]; I called to my God for help. God heard my voice from his temple; I called to him for help, and my call reached his ears.
The earth rocked and shook; the bases of the mountains trembled and reeled because of God’s anger. Smoke went up from God’s nostrils; out of his mouth came a devouring fire; flaming coals blazed out in front of him! God parted the skies and came down; thick darkness was beneath his feet. God mounted the heavenly creatures and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. God made darkness cloak him; his covering was dark water and dense cloud.
Now, did any of that take place in 1 Samuel 24? Nope. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real. David saw his rescue from Saul as Yahweh “coming” to his aid and used poetic language to describe it. So, deliverance from an enemy can be seen as a “coming” of Yahweh.
There are a lot of other passage that contain similar poetic language but we will only give a couple of examples. In Isaiah 13 we read:
Isaiah 13.6-13: Wail, for the day of [Yahweh] is near. Like destruction from the Almighty it will come. Then all hands will fall limp; every human heart will melt, and they will be terrified. Like a woman writhing in labor, they will be seized by spasms and agony. They will look at each other aghast, their faces blazing.
Look, the day of [Yahweh] is coming with cruel rage and burning anger, making the earth a ruin, and wiping out its sinners. Heaven’s stars and constellations won’t show their light. The sun will be dark when it rises; the moon will no longer shine. I will bring disaster upon the world for its evil, and bring their own sin upon the wicked. I will end the pride of the insolent, and the conceit of tyrants I will lay low. I will make humans scarcer than fine gold; people rarer than the gold of Ophir. I will rattle the heavens; the earth will shake loose from its place—because of the rage of [Yahweh] of heavenly forces on the day his anger burns.
In this passage we have several things: the day of Yahweh, desolate land, destruction of sinners, the heavens turned black, extinguished stars, darkened sun and moon. On this day Yahweh will “bring disaster upon the world for its evil” and “rattle the heavens” and move the earth from its place. This was a message Isaiah received concerning the destruction of Babylon and it was fulfilled in roughly 539 BCE. One of the questions that comes in here is, if this type of thing literally took place, then where is the passage that talks about Yahweh creating a new heavens and new earth? A literal reading of this passage would lead one to believe that the entire planet was destroyed. “The earth will shake loose from its place” would completely destroy all life here and perhaps even the planet itself. This is poetic language used to describe the judgment of Yahweh on Babylon.
Another example is found in Micah 1. There we read:
Micah 1.1-5: [Yahweh’s] word that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Judah’s Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem:
Listen, all you peoples! Pay attention, earth, and all that fills it! May [Yahweh] God be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. Look! [Yahweh] is coming out from his place; he will go down and tread on the shrines of the earth. Then the mountains will melt under him; the valleys will split apart, like wax yielding to the fire, like waters poured down a slope. All this is for the crime of Jacob and the sins of the house of Israel. Who is responsible for the crime of Jacob? Isn’t it Samaria? Who is responsible for the shrines of Judah? Isn’t it Jerusalem?
There are a couple of things here. There’s the “coming” of Yahweh resulting in the trampling the “shrines of earth” and melting of the mountains. This passage was fulfilled in roughly 722 BCE by the Assyrians. Again, none of this actually or literally happened. The poetic language is used to show that the fall of a nation is the work of Yahweh. So, the destruction of a nation is seen as a “coming” of Yahweh.
In this post we have looked at different “comings” of Yahweh. Yahweh “came” at the fulfillment of a promise, the deliverance from an enemy, and the destruction of a nation. It’s with the last one that the New Testament is most concerned. It’s used throughout the entire New Testament. I believe it’s the basis for Jesus’ conversation with the disciples in Matthew 24 (parallel passages are Mark 13 and Luke 21) and their use of the “coming of the Lord” throughout the rest of the New Testament. Next time we will start looking at some of the New Testament passages. Click here for the next post in this series.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC