Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Mallards on a pond in the village of Raspordin

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Oct 12, Mat 24-25

Today's reading is Mat 24-25.

In this chapter, Jesus relates prophecies concerning events after His death. In short, the temple will be ruined, judgment will come upon all the nations then He will return.

The disciples seem to think all these things will happen simultaneously and immediately. Jesus makes it clear they are mistaken.

First, in Mat 23:4-14, we see signs that will characterize life in what will be known as the “church age,” the time period that will commence immediately after the temple is destroyed. Jesus depicts the horror of the destruction of Jerusalem and the razing of the temple in Mat 24:15-29. Then we see an allusion to a period of great tribulation (Mat 24:21-28). After that time of tribulation, we see the return of Christ prophesied in Mat 24:29-31.

After telling them about the signs that will occur before His return, Jesus says, quite clearly, that "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (Mat 24:34). "This generation" refers to the time of the men standing in front of Him, their generation. In other words, the signs indicating His return will be completed before their generation passes. 

This is a crucial point in understanding the nature of the imminent return of Christ, the doctrine that teaches us He can come back at any moment. Once the signs are completed, it will leave every generation that follows after that of the Apostles waiting for Him to return. 

The disciples thought it was their generation just as nearly every generation since then has believed. However, Jesus never tells them how long it will be until He returns. He merely states that He will return sometime after the signs are completed.

Consider this, knowing all the signs have been fulfilled allows every generation to eagerly await His imminent return. We don't have to see all the signs again for Him to come back. That means no modern-day event indicates the day is nearer or farther away.

This has been difficult to accept for those who believe we're still waiting for some of these prophesied events to occur. Oddly, the disciples mistakenly thought everything would happen in the near-future while many others mistakenly believe they will happen in the far-future. The truth of the matter is that most of it happened back then in the first century. Now, we await His return. Still, there are those who believe Jesus can't come back until some significant events take place.

For instance, some believe that the return of Israel as a nation in 1948 was a sign marking the beginning of the end. Those folks claim the final generation began in 1948. But to the Jews of the first century, when the text was written, a generation was forty years. Jesus could just as easily and accurately have said, "Forty years will not pass until you see these things." 1948 was nearly seventy years ago. If we are to understand the intent of the author of Matthew, then we should see that the generation that saw Israel made new has already passed, according to the tradition of the culture of the first century. Yet, the end has not occurred.

Either Jesus was wrong about His time frame--or there is a human misunderstanding about the prophecy. We know Jesus was not only right but perfectly accurate. The only available option to those of us who believe in the inspired word of the Bible is to assume we have misread or misapplied the passage. Since the generation passed, 1948 must not have been the last generation. For this reason and others, we should be cautious about how much spiritual value we place on modern Israel.

There are all manner of books and articles written on analyzing the times and predicting the end. Yet, Scripture tells us it will happen in the "twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor 15:52) and when the people cry "Peace and safety!" (1 The 5:3), coming "like a thief in the night." (1 The 5:2). This should keep the body in high anticipation of His imminent return.

There is no scenario that should cause us to think it could not happen in the next moment. Yet, we hear things such as "The Temple has to be rebuilt!" Or, "We haven't seen the two witnesses of Rev 11:3 yet.” The identities and timing of the two prophets or "olive trees" as they are described in Rev 11:4 is so vague it would be a mistake to think their appearance or lack thereof trumps Christ's imminent return.

BTW, speaking of "Left Behind," a book very loosely based on Mat 24:40, the ones "left behind" in Mat 24:40-41 are the blessed ones. This verse is closely tied to Mat 24:38-39, where all the wicked get "swept away" in the flood. In this scenario, believers are the survivors! They actually want to be left behind! The evil ones are the ones who are taken away. The entire series of novels is based on a misreading of the text.

We should be careful of which resources we use to influence our theology. We should be equally careful not to read into a passage our preconceptions. It is upon us to conform our thinking to the Scriptures, not the Scriptures to our thinking. 

Notice, Mat 25 follows the warning in Mat 24 that the Lord will return quickly at a time that no one knows. Virtually all of Mat 25, as rich as it is in life lessons, boils down to one simple principle. We should live life as if Jesus is coming back at any moment, diligent to watch for His return, prepared for His arrival and working at being His ambassadors all the while. It is a somber but encouraging coda to Mat 24. We don't know when He's coming back, but we can have confidence that He surely will. Meanwhile, we are to be diligent to do the things He tells us to do and portray the gospel at every opportunity putting God on display in how we live our lives.

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