Thursday, January 28, 2010

Addressing a response to my Matthew 24 Challenge

Instead of responding in the comment section of my Matthew 24 challenge, I figured I would just write a whole new blog post since Marcus McElhaney WROTE an excellent blog of his own in response. So what i'd like to do here is go through some of the things he said in response.

"The disciples asked Jesus two separate questions: When will the temple be destroyed? When will the end of the world happen?"

The first problem I see is that I don't find "when will the end of the world happen" anywhere in the text. Instead, the verse reads, "what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?" This is significant because the disciples did not say, "when will be the end of the world?" If they did, then kosmos would have been more appropriately used by Jesus. However, I will admit that "world" is used by some Bible translations to translate aion, but "age" seems to be more of a reasonable translation in light of the context. And since the context is what is in question, it would suffice to engage Marcus' primary point to establish whether "world" would be an appropriate translation. And this would inevitably lead to a future fulfillment of Matthew 24.

"The Emperor Caligula had tried to set up idols in the holy pace in the Temple. The interesting thing to me is that Jesus said that when you see the abomination that causes desolation standing in the holy place he seems to be describing a person not an idol and as far I can tell Caligula's order was never presented. This is why I've never thought that Jesus was merely describing AD 70. I would argue that it was in this paassge Jesus is sifting from talking about the temple to the end of the world."

Let's see how Jesus describes what is going on in v. 15:

"Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place..."

In light of Marcus' comment's, I still find that there is good reason to believe that Jesus was speaking about the events leading up to 70 A.D. And to illustrate this, it would be important to bring in the parallel account in Luke where more details are given:

"When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near." (Luke 21:20)

This clearly links the military action associated with the destruction and the desolation of the temple. In addition, Jesus changed the subject from the worldwide preaching of the gospel to the abomination that will make the temple "desolate." In referring back to Daniel 9:27, 11:31 and 12:11, Jesus draws on these themes to speak of something that would be set up in the temple at the time of the destruction. Whatever this was, it would be the thing that makes the temple "desolate," as Matthew 24:15 and Luke 21:20 explicitly affirm.

But what was this "abomination?" Clearly, Jesus is making a dual fulfillment application of the Daniel passages. That is, Daniel 12:11 seems to be fulfilled in part when Antiochus Ephiphanes set up a pagan altar in the temple in 168 B.C. And the fact that Jesus speaks of this type of abomination as a future thing implies that Daniel 12:11 had not been completely fulfilled. This is important in considering Marcus' view because whatever it was that "desolated" the temple, it had to be of the same type as the ancient context. That is, unless it can be demonstrated that Jesus was speaking of something of a different type, which is what Marcus seems to be implying, then my view seems to be more reasonable because every Jew knew the story: Antiochus Ephiphanes rendered the temple unclean with his erecting a pagan statue. And there is nothing in the Daniel account or the Olivet discourse that explicitly affirms that the "abomination" is some sort of "anti-Christ" figure. Maybe it is, or maybe it isn't. But whatever it is, we can only go by what the text is trying to describe; namely, that something is going to desecrate the temple in such as way that Antiochus' profanations will only pale in comparison. In other words, I don't see that Marcus' view is more reasonable than a 70 A.D. fulfillment.

"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

This has not happened yet. It can only happen once and it has not happened ever in any history we can point to."

Here, Marcus describes Matthew 24:30-31 as something that could not have happened in 70 A.D. But unless i'm mistaken here, I believe that Matthew 24:34 provides me with justification in interpreting these verses within the context of the first century:

"Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place."

What generation could Jesus have been speaking of other than the disciples? Therefore, "all these things," or everything that Jesus mentioned, including the "Son of man coming on the clouds of the sky, etc." took place in the events leading up to the destruction in 70 A.D. And though I realize how unlikely it may seem to the modern, western mind, I believe this view is entirely justifiable and far more reasonable than the futurist view.

Because this could lead to a very technical discussion, i'm just going to address v. 30 and leave v. 31 for another discussion.

"And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory."

First, let's consider the language of "coming" with regards to judgment, which is clearly what is going on in Jesus' account. It is important to recognize that Jesus is speaking to a Jewish audience who would have the Hebrew Scriptures in mind when hearing familiar references. For instance, could they have heard an echo of Micah 1:3-4:

"For behold, YHWH is coming forth from His place. He will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. The mountains will melt under Him and the valleys will be split, like wax before the fire, like water poured down a steep place."

Even the most staunch dispensationalist commentary will affirm that this wasn't a literal appearing of Jehovah to bring destruction to Samaria. Instead, it is figurative language used to describe the fact, not necessarily the means by which, Jehovah would bring judgment upon the land. To find out the means by which He did this, visit 2 Kings 17:1-8. And as far as I can tell, there was nothing supernatural about the invasion of Samaria; especially not a literal appearing or coming of Jehovah. Therefore, we cannot read Matthew 24:30 as a literal appearing on the basis of "Son of Man coming" alone.

What about the "coming on the clouds" language? First, we can't assume it is literal unless there is a good reason for believing so. And with the Hebrew context in mind, there would be good reason to believe that it is not literal. After all, what is normally associated with "clouds" and God? Isn't it normally judgment, whether God is visibly present or not?

"Behold, YHWH is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them." (Isaiah 19:1)

"He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind." (Psalm 104:3)

In Isaiah 19:1, is this describing a time when Jehovah literally came down on a cloud and judged Egypt? Interestingly enough, the passage also describes Jehovah as "present," yet no Egyptian actually saw Him. Also, He is described as having clouds as "chariots" But there is no event, to my knowledge, where God performed a visible act of judgment whereby he came down on a cloud as a chariot. And so very often, God accomplishes His judgment by the means of bringing pagan nations against His people, which is clearly the means by which He does so in Matthew 24. And since we have many indicators of this in Matthew 24, why allege that Jesus is speaking of a physical appearing whereby God judges when the Hebrew context tells us that this is not always the case?

Next, there is a very important "cloud" reference that cannot be overlooked. This is where Jesus is referencing Daniel 7:13 in describing what is going to take place with His "coming." Notice that the account has the Son of Man goingup instead of down:

"I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him."

If Jesus were referring to a physical coming to earth to judge, why would He reference a text in which He was not coming to earth? Instead, He is making a prediction in which He would have exaltation and authority; the kind of authority He would need in order to pronounce such a judgment on Jerusalem, which is why the Pharisees were to appalled at Jesus' statement in Matthew 26:64-65:

"Jesus said to them, 'You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.' Then the high priest tore his robes and said, 'He has blasphemed!'"

It is very interesting to note how this affirms my view even further; namely, that this "coming" would happen soon. Why else would Jesus tell them, "hereafter you will see." If Jesus were referring to an event thousands of years later, how could He be telling the Pharisees that they would see this? A possible objection might be, "but the Pharisees didn't actually see the Son of Man in this regard, so how could it have happened back then?" To answer this, consider the fact that the Bible often equates "seeing" with "understanding." For instance, in John 12:40, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:10 to explain why some are not believing:

"He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them."

Therefore, is it not likely that the "seeing" in Matthew 24:30 is likely with reference to "understanding," since Jesus was basically telling the Pharisees that they would "see the Son of Man...coming on the clouds of heaven?"

Next, let's consider what Jesus means with, "And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky." This needs to be read very carefully so as to not miss what is being said. What is it that will appear in the sky? Jesus, or the sign? It would seem that the sign is what appears. Also, consider the fact that according to the BDAG Greek lexicon, ouranos can mean, "The portion or portions of the universe distinguished from planet earth, heaven." And also the, "transcendent abode, heaven...the dwelling place (or throne) of God." And even in isolating Matthew 24:30 from its context, the fact that Jesus alludes to a place (Daniel 7:13) where the Son of Man is going to heaven rather than coming to earth, further supports the idea that this isn't speaking of a literal and physical coming of Jesus.

But we still need to answer what this "sign" is referring to? Whatever it is, it is something which proves that Jesus is enthroned in heaven and has the authority to rule and judge. Thus, it is completely reasonable to see the "sign of the Son of Man [appearing] in the sky" as the destruction that would take place in 70 A.D. What better way could Jesus prove He was the one spoken of in Daniel 7:13 than this?

Last, but not least, in order for my position to be true, "all the tribes of the earth will mourn" would have to more likely fit into the first century context than an "end-times" scenario. The first issue to consider is a translation issue. Since the context of Matthew 24 is within the destruction of Jerusalem, "land" would seem to be a more appropriate translation, and is a very justifiable translation of ge, as almost any Greek dictionary or lexicon will affirm. And if it is the case that the entire context of Matthew 24 is localized, then "all the tribes of the land will mourn" is very reasonable in light of what happened in 70 A.D.

I want to thank Marcus for taking the time to write his blog and address my challenge. I think these conversations are important to have, as long as they are done with respect. I consider Marcus to be my brother in Christ and would never see an issue like this as a reason to divide from him and i'm sure he feels the same way. And if he, or anyone else, would like to respond, i'd be very interested in reading other views.