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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Did Jesus Predict the Rapture within 40 Years of his Death? Part 3

The Problem of “γενε ατη” (“this generation”) and
πάντα τατα” (“these things”) in Matthew 24
Part 3 – Examination of πάντα τατα

For this third installment of the series, I would like to give some brief interpretive comments about Matthew 24 and some of the relevant parallel passages. While a complete commentary of the entire Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21) is far beyond the scope of this series, I think that we have reached a point that we can now examine the critical verses that are contained within and look at their theological, historical, and grammatical contexts to determine the best interpretation of Jesus’ comments.

As we discussed above there are several different interpretive possibilities of Matthew 24:34 and what is meant by Jesus’ statement “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” We noted that the first class of interpretations hinges on the clause γενε ατη” (“this generation”) and attempts to make it mean something other than the lifetime of those present with Jesus. I gave several different interpretations that expositors have used to formulate this view and also various reasons as to why I think that these main formulations fail to be convincing.

The second class of interpretations see “γενε ατη” (“this generation”) as referring to the lifetime of those present with Jesus but interpret “πάντα τατα” (“these things”) as pointing to something other than the last day of the earth at Jesus’ second coming. In the second part of this article I gave a brief summary of various hermeneutical themes such as sensus plenior that I think will be helpful for a full and adequate understanding of this passage. However it will not be until our concluding discussion in Part 4 that I will bring the interpretation of the passage in this section and the hermeneutics of Part 2 to a proper marriage. Here I will be giving a brief sketch of the interpretation of various relevant passages that I find most convincing and the various reasons for that conclusion. It is to that position that I will now turn my attention.

The follow comments will be listed under themes found in the Olivet Discourse and will be more staccato than continuous. The follow metaphors or themes that are expressed in the Olivet Discourse often have deep roots into the Old Testament that will be helpful in understanding how Jesus uses them in this famous sermon.

1.      Hyperbole is a kind a literary exaggeration used to illustrate severity or extreme degrees. It is used intentionally as a literary device. What we find in a vast majority of ancient, Biblical, and even modern texts, is a wide usages of hyperbole for rhetorical effect. Here we will show that not only was hyperbole common in the Old Testament, but it was also very frequent surrounding the theme of divine judgment. Here are a handful of examples that can be drawn primarily from the Old Testament, but also in some cases eluded  to elsewhere in the New Testament:

a.       Great Tribulation
                                                              i.      Exodus 11:6 – “There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.”
                                                            ii.      Daniel 9:12 – “You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem.”
                                                          iii.      Daniel 12:1 – “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.”
                                                          iv.      Joel 2:2 – “a day of darkness and gloom,
   a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains
   a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times
   nor ever will be in ages to come.”
                                                            v.      Ezekiel 5:9 – “Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again.”
a)      In this verse we have almost a direct corollary between Ezekiel’s pronouncement of  judgment on Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 BCE and Jesus’ pronouncement of judgment on Jerusalem in the Olivet Discourse.

b.      Sun, Moon, and Stars
                                                              i.      Isaiah 13:10 – judgment of Babylon (539 BCE) - The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.
                                                            ii.      Isaiah 34:4 – judgment of Edom (703 BCE) - All the stars in the sky will be dissolved
   and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.
                                                          iii.      Ezekiel 32:7 – judgment of Egypt (568 BCE)- When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light.
                                                          iv.      Joel 2:10 – judgment of Judah (586 BCE)- Before them the earth shakes,
   the heavens tremble, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine.
                                                            v.      Amos 8:9 – judgment of the northern kingdom (722 BCE)- “In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I will make the sun go down at noon  and darken the earth in broad daylight.

c.       Sign of the Son
                                                              i.      Daniel 7:13-14 - “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
                                                      ii.            Mathew 26:64 - “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
a)      This one is particularly interesting because at Jesus’ ascension he now tells the apostles that from then on they will see him “coming on the clouds.” This was not to be a one-time future event but rather a perpetual state of authority that Christ would be seen in. What does this mean for our passage when we look back two chapters? We will find out.

d.      Gathering the Elect
                                                              i.      “Angels” can be “messengers”. In fact some have thought that rather than angelic intervention, that preaching may be what is in view.
                                                            ii.      “gather” (συνγω) being used in a non-physical sense can be seen in John 11:51-52 rather than some kind of eschatological end time gathering. It can refer to a spiritual calling and gathering rather than a physical one.

2.      It is also helpful at this point to see v34-35 as a transitional statements: 33”So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
a.       V34 is a conclusion statement. If Jesus was not changing subjects, the placement of this verse here would be unintelligible. There would be no reason to add a conclusion and transition statement at this point what Jesus was not changing the subject.
b.      Distinct move from “this generation” to “that day” between the two sections. One referring to events that will take place in the timeframe of an approximate generation, and the other using the standard Hebraic term for the final eschatological period, “that day.”
                                                              i.      Before v34 it speaks of “days” after v34 it speaks of “day” (a common Jesus term meaning the final judgment).
c.       Before v34 there are signs of what Jesus is addressing and it is possible for people to know what is coming (notice the warnings for people to take heed, abandon their possession, take for the hills, etc.) After v35 there are no signs and no one can know. One will be taken and one will be left. They will not know the time or hour. This ability to know is drastically different on either side of this transition statement.
                                                              i.      In addition to this, Jesus claims that he doesn’t know the time of his second coming (v36) but that he does know the time of the destruction of Jerusalem (24:6, 25, 29, 30, 34)
                                                            ii.      In fact, as a historical aside, what is interesting to note is that when the siege of Jerusalem took place, it was actually the Christians who survived largely because they believed it was the fulfillment of this very passage and fled for the hills. What no one seems to ever mention when discussing this passage is that if the early church thought that Jesus’ second coming was going to happen in that generation and that the fall of Jerusalem was the culmination of history, then what would have been the point to abandon their goods and seek refuge in the hills? If they were going to be “raptured” (a somewhat anachronistic usage I know) then what would be the point in warning them to flee the wrath on the city?
d.      Before v34 the time frame is a short 40 years, after v34 there is a long period 24:48, 25:5, 19)
e.       Notice that the summation statement of “these things” expressly EXCLUDES the second coming. When we see “these things” then we will know that Jesus is NEAR. The coming is not included in “these things” and thus when a generation will not pass before all of “these things” takes place, does NOT include the second coming. What follows after v35 then deals with the second coming AFTER the signs and shows that it will be unknown and will be preceded by a LONG period of expectation.
f.       Vv.25:31 begins final judgment descriptions. This is AFTER a period of LONG expectation.

We find a helpful summary statement from D.A. Carson in his commentary on Matthew in the Expositor’s Commentary Series. He states,

“If our interpretation of this chapter is right, all that v34 demands is that the distress of vv.4-28, including Jerusalem’s fall, happen within the life time of the generation then living. This does not mean that the distress must end within that time but only that ‘all these things’ must happen within it. Therefore v34 set a terminus a quo for the Parousia; it cannot happen till the events in vv4-28 take place, all within a generation of A.D. 30. But there is no terminus ad quem to this distress other than the Parousia itself, and ‘only the Father’ knows when it will happen” (p507).  

In our final section of this series we will make some final interpretive conclusions about the passage and address the question once and for all, Did Jesus err when he said “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”?

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