Saturday, October 31, 2009

Harmony of the Olivet Discourse Part 2

Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36; 17:22-37)
In the previous article the disciples asked "when will these things be? What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" They receive their answer and what an answer it turned out to be. Matthew 24 and 25 are one of the greatest prophetic sections of the entire Bible.    
III. Jesus Answers (24:4 – 25:46)
The Beginnings of Birth Pangs (24:4-8)
4 So Jesus answered. He said to them, see [that] no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name saying, I, I am the Christ, so many will lead astray. 6 And you will be about to hear of wars and reports of wars. See [that] you are not troubled for all [these] things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will be aroused against nation and kingdom against kingdom and there will be famines and plagues and earthquakes according to places. 8 But all these [are] [the] beginning of birth pangs.                  
In the first part of Jesus' answer to the disciples He tells them to watch out! "See that no one deceives you" is a strong warning and a command for them to be discerning. As Dr. Glasscok notes this "warning is prompted by their eagerness for a sign. The danger of being misled (planese) was increased if one was too enthusiastic or anticipated some symbolic indication of the event."  (Ed Glasscock, Moody Gospel Commentary – Matthew, p. 464)   The Greek word planao means "to cause to stray," "to lead astray." This warning is given because many will speak in the name of Christ, appear to be Christian, maybe hold to some of the fundamentals, but their teaching will lead people astray. Their teaching is characterized as deceptive - to lead away from the truth and lead one into error (or theologically, "to lead away into error and sin"). 
So the command by Jesus to blepo – "to see, discern," to see the error for what it is – a deception that leads one astray from the pure word and intent of God. The deception seems to involve the trouble that will come build up and the error of why, and what to do as a result. Jesus says – watch out – I will tell you what to do and what it means. I want you to stand and discern what the deceiver says –measure what they say against what I say.    
The second sign is, you will be about to hear of wars and reports of wars. The "wars" do not seem to be upon them. Though some interpret "you will continually hear" of wars, but Dr. Linski observes rightly, that here the "circumscribed future with the present infinitive reveals that the disciples are soon to hear of wars, namely right at hand." (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel (Minneapolis, Min: Augsburg Publishing House, 1964), p. 930)  This might better read, "the clamoring before war" or, "pre-war propaganda." 
But the Lord provides them comfort by saying see [that] you are not troubled for all [these] things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. Here the Lord just puts two imperatives together in what the older grammarians call asyndeton – the practice of leaving out the conjunctions between two co-ordinate sentence elements (e.g., I came, I saw, I conquered). So, literally it reads, "See to it, be not troubled!"  They are not to be troubled because "it is necessary," "there is need of," or "it is right and proper," for all these things must "become," "arise," or "appear in history." The One who tells the beginning from the end comforts them by reminding them of his trustworthy word. Prophecy is comforting, it is history spoken in advance by the one who is sovereign. These things will come about because He has said they will. It is necessary because He has a plan for the ages and wars and rumors of wars are a necessary condition.
But things are not over yet because the end is not yet. The word for "end" is tello meaning "to set out for a definite point or goal." There is an ultimate goal in mind for all these events to take place.  For nation will be aroused against nation and kingdom against kingdom.  Individual nations will be against or opposed to other nations within a single kingdom. But there will also be individual kingdoms against other kingdoms. So that within kingdoms there are nations, but within the confines of the whole earth there are kingdoms. Kingdoms will become the larger governing bodies of the earth, something like the many headed beasts of Daniel and Revelation. The governing body of many nations aligned into a single ruling head.   
Along with all the animosity between nations, there will be famines and plagues and earthquakes. A famine is literally "scarcity of harvest," and the most common reasons for a famine are a lack of water and warfare. However, a famine is often pictured as a divine judgment of sin (2 Sam. 21:1; 24:13; 1 Kgs. 8:37; 2 Kgs. 8:1; Isa. 51:19; Jer. 14:12-18; Ezk. 5:12), and is part of the "four severe judgments" for Jerusalem – the sword, the famine, the wild beasts, and pestilence (Ezk. 14:21). The worst kind of famine for them is given in the figurative sense, "a famine…of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11) which is threatened to those who have despised and rejected the message of the Lord. The absence of the word of God is for any nation a time of trouble as His word keeps sin down, without it sin only increases and woe to those who live is a land without the word of God. Famines speak of lack of abundance, lack of God's goodness. Scarcity will add to the hostility between nations.
A plague may be of any form of trouble or harassment, "but the term most often has reference to evil, or to disease of pestilential proportions, epidemic in its occurrence and fatal in its effects." (Wycliffe Bible Dictionary (Peabody Mass:Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), p. 1348) Most notable of the plagues of the Bible are those of the Exodus, the water to blood (Ex. 7:14-25; Ps. 78:44; 105:29), the frogs (Ex. 8:1-15; Ps. 78:45; 105:30), Lice (Ex. 8:16-19; Ps. 105:31), swarms (Ex. 8:20-32; Ps. 78;45; 105:31), pestilence affecting the livestock (Ex. 9:1-7), boils (Ex. 9:8-12), Hail (Ex. 9:13-35; Ps. 78:48; 105:32-33), locusts (Ex. 10:1-20; Ps. 78:46; 105:34-35), darkness (Ex. 10:21-29; Ps. 105:28), death of the firstborn (Ex. 11:1-10; 12:29-32; Ps. 78:51; 105:36).  One can only imagine the type of viruses that will quickly spread through the nations in those days. 
There seems to be two types of earthquakes, volcanic and tectonic. Though there are many earthquakes described in Scripture, the largest will be seen in the last days (Rev. 16:18). These are all great signs, but Luke alone adds "and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven (Luke 21:11).  All these will occur according to places, upon places, as the accusative preposition acts distributive "from place to place" or the more modern "in various places."
Here is described a set of forces that man cannot control. With increased sin will come increased scarcity and disease. And to top it all off, earthquakes will add to the devastation in increasing number and uncertainty. Trouble will be upon the earth, but Jerusalem and God's people Israel is the focus of this message.   

But all these [are] [the] beginning of birth pangs indicating the progress of time, or rather, a process must transpire before the birth of the Kingdom of the Messiah! This equating of signs to "birth pangs" is directly from the Old Testament and in particular Jeremiah chapter thirty.  In Jeremiah, the Lord says:
For thus says the LORD, 'I have heard a sound of terror, Of dread, and there is no peace. 'Ask now, and see If a male can give birth. Why do I see every man With his hands on his loins, as a woman in childbirth? And why have all faces turned pale? 'Alas! for that day is great, There is none like it; And it is the time of Jacob's distress, But he will be saved from it. (Jer. 30:5-7)
This day is the "time of Jacob's trouble." The idea of birth pangs is for this period of Jacob's trouble or what the Lord calls the Great Tribulation and is an ongoing thesis of Scripture (cf. Deu. 4:30; Dan. 12:1; Zeph. 1:15). The picture is that of a woman who is pregnant. It takes nine months to go through the process of all the events that must transpire in order to produce a healthy baby. The baby starts out inside the woman and she experience morning sickness, and then after a while as the baby develops inside her, she starts to feel the burden of the extra weight, the kicking, the sleepless nights, the increasing pain the bigger the baby gets. The baby is real, but she cannot hold it yet in her arms. It is there but she cannot see it yet. She just sees a big belly. The last month or so is the worst. The pain becomes great as the baby finishes developing all its functions. Each month, each week, each day has its purpose. On the last week she is so tired of the baby inside her she cannot wait to finally get the baby out! On the last day the pain of child birth is great, but the wait is worse so when the final moment arrives she is relieved, the final travail turns to joy as the baby has finally come and she can now hold that beautiful new creation.
As can be seen, the picture of birth pains is more than just the final hour. Birth pains are present the entire nine months, but in varying degrees. There is a process that must transpire in order for all things to work out just right. The Great Tribulation is pictured as maybe the final week of the pregnancy when the pains are the worst. The agony is nonstop. Her hands are on her belly all the time, the baby's kicking and movement debilitating. These are just the beginning of the birth pangs!
Their Death Foretold (24:9)

9 Then they will give you into the hands of another into tribulation, and they will kill you. And you will be hated by all the nations through my name.
Then they will give you into the hands of another.  "They" referred to here are those who are associated with the false Christs. "Into the hand" is an old Jewish idiom associated with destruction (cf. Lev. 26:25; Deu. 19:12; Jos. 7:7, etc). Death follows this phrase and sure enough they [the disciples] will see trouble and even death. All this because they are disciples of Jesus Christ and the nations hate everything about Him.  In the Greek "in the hands of another is a compound meaning, "to give over into (one's) power or use."
The one problem that faces this verse is the adverb "then." Normally, this adverb is translated "then" with reference to time. Matthew uses the adverb ninety times! It seems he uses it loosely, sometimes using it as a conjunction. Mark uses the conjunction de meaning and, even, also (Mark 13:9), while Luke uses "But before all this they will lay their hands on you"  (Luke 21:12). It therefore must be reckoned that Matthew is using the adverb in the sense of "manner or degree," rather than of "time or place." With this in mind he may be using tote as its compound, as it is made up of the rel. pron. 'ho', meaning "who, which, that, this" and 'te' meaning "as…so, not only…but also, both…and." So, he may be saying "not only this, but also, they will give you into the hands of another." 
There may be two interpretations of the "you" used here. Is Jesus using the you to refer to the disciples or is He using the "you" as a generic you as He had just done as He spoke to the Scribes and Pharisees? At the end of the previous chapter, Jesus says, "from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered…" (Matthew 23:35). They most certainly did not murder them, but the idea of the common or generic you is to include them with the group previous groups that did the acts. It is used as association – guilt by association.
I take the you here as referring not directly to the disciples, though it is true that they did die because of their association with Jesus, but instead this you refers to a future Jewish remnant professing Jesus as the Christ – the Messiah, and they pay with their lives. The timing is during the future Tribulation, the Church has been raptured out of this world and a strong Jewish believing group has grown up in the midst of Tribulation, and they will be chased down, hunted and experience hatred and  death.           
In the next article the Tribulation, deception and death will highlight the discussion as the characteristics of the day is described. Oh what a day of trouble it will be.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harmony of the Olivet Discourse Part 1

Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36; 17:22-37)


The Olivet Discourse follows the series of confrontations between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders in the temple compound (Matt. 21:12-23:39). They had questioned and ridiculed Him. The hypocrisy and false religion which so characterized the Scribes and Pharisees resulted in it now being the time to lament over the city and leave it and them desolate.  So, the Lord after pronouncing the seven woes, pronounces the Temple's destruction, and lays out the plan for the future. Does His plan include a period premillennialists call the Tribulation which finds no Church present or just a local tribulation with the Church present?

This set of articles looks at Matthew's version of the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25) and presents a grammatical look at a harmony alongside the other gospels. The translation presented is my own but I do not suggest it is better than any of the other established translations – it is just that mine has a specific purpose – to be as literal and hold to the word order of the original as to bring out the original author's work and intent.

One of the most important questions concerns whether the church can be found in this section of Scripture (and it cannot!)?  Dr. Enns notes, "If Matthew 24 deals with the church, then the church must go through the Tribulation; the fact the church will not go through the Tribulation can be defended both exegetically and theologically. Exegetically, verses like Romans 5:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:9 state rather forcefully that the church will be spared the wrath of God – which is the Tribulation. Theologically, the matter is resolved by asking the question, what is the purpose of the Tribulation? The answer is that the Tribulation is a time of outpouring of the wrath of God on unbelievers (Rev. 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; cf. Isa. 24:5-6, 21; Rev. 3:10). How does the Church relate to the wrath of God? It doesn't. Christ bore God's wrath for believers…Further, God's purpose in the Tribulation relates to Israel, to discipline the nation and bring it to repentance (Dan. 9:24; Jer. 30:7)." (Mal Couch gen. ed.. Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, p. 286)

 Four Views within Premillennialism
The Olivet Discourse is the most important spot in the New Testament with respect to sequential events leading to the end-times. It is important to note that dates are not specified, just events corresponding to the general Jewish concept of measuring periods or ages without specific reference to time, but keeping the sequential aspect intact. It is hard at times to distinguish a clear break or shift within the period described, so within premillennialism there are differences of opinion. Dr. Chafer observes, "Few portions of the New Testament place recorded events in a more complete chronological order than this address."  (Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, p.277)  There are typically four different views concerning the events of the tribulation period of Matthew 24:4-26. The first is held by Dr. Chafer who holds that 24:4-8 describes events of the present church age but prior to the seventieth week, calling them the "beginning of sorrows." Then the tribulation follows in verses 9-26. The second view is held by Dr. Scofield who holds to a double interpretation of verses 4-14, partly applicable to the church age and partly to the tribulation.  A third view is held by Dr. English who holds that verses 4-14 refer to the first half of the week, the beginning of the end. Verses 15-26 refer to the latter half of the tribulation – the Great Tribulation. A fourth view is held by Dr. Gaebelein who holds that verses 4-8 outline the first half of the tribulation and verses 9-26 describe the second half.

Matthew 24-25

I.  The Destruction of the Temple Foretold (24:1-2)

1 Then Jesus went out, transferring Himself from the temple. His disciples drew near to show Him the buildings of the Temple. 2 Then Jesus said to them, [do] you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, in no way will one stone be left here upon stone that will in no way be thrown down.     

The phrase Then Jesus went out relates a special type of action because a participle is used. The grammar points out (with special emphasis) to "he who went forth from" the Temple. The participle answers the question "who went out from the temple?" The answer is, "he who went forth from the temple was Jesus whose name means the Savior!" He is transferring Himself from the Temple area proper down the Kidron valley to the Mount of Olives, but before He gets very far in His departure, as the imperfect he was transferring himself suggests, His disciples ("learners" or "pupils") approached close to him to point out the Temple buildings. Herod's Temple was grand with various buildings covering the area of Solomon's original temple, but adding a Roman Guard area separate but close and high in order to keep watch over and keep order within the central place of Jewish life.

Jesus had just pronounced their house would be left desolate (23:38), and after leaving the leaders of Israel and the Temple, His disciples seem to point to the Temple's magnificence with all its courts, porches, and edifices, such a grand and strong structure it must have been. But Jesus pronounced its desolation declaring it would be no more.

He would leave them and their temple would not only be left without its true glory, namely, Christ, but moreover, in no way will one stone be left here upon stone that will in no way be thrown down. My translation is rather clumsy, but the literal and raw version points out the important fact that Jesus was not speaking figuratively, but literally referring to the structure and its stones. Their exuberance for the structure is amplified as recorded by Mark as he writes, "Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings" (Mark 13:1), or as Luke records, the temple was "adorned with beautiful stones and donations" (Luke 21:5). As Dr. Walvoord points out, "The temple had been under construction since 20 B.C., and, though not actually completed until A.D. 64, its main buildings apparently were largely finished." (John Walvoord, Matthew, Thy Kingdom Come, p. 179)  For all the Temple's beauty it is nothing without the presence of the Lord! The double negative with the subjunctive expresses emphatic negation and can be translated "by no means" or "never" – the structure will come down (cf., Mat. 5:20).

Jesus' comment concerning its destruction is in the Greek a bit complex. In the first place, He says, [do] you not see all these things?  The demonstrative pronoun "these things" is in the neuter which goes with its antecedent the Temple, which in turn includes all its buildings. But the question is placed as Dr. Nicoll says, "you ask me to look at them, let me ask you in turn to take a good look at them." (W. R. Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol.1, p.288) Then He says, amen – truly, most assuredly I say to you, no, not one stone, the double negative being the strongest possible wording one can find in the Greek. The sense is that not one stone will be left upon another. They will all be thrown down.

II.  The Disciples Questions (24:3)

3 But the disciples came to Him who is sitting upon the Mount of Olives according to one's own, saying, tell us when will it be, these things? And what [is] the sign of your coming and the end of the age? 

 Once the Lord reached the height of the Mount of Olives, He sat down. The view of the Temple mount from the other side of the Kidron valley is spectacular. The height of the Mount of Olives is higher than the Temple mount and the Lord is identified as he who is sitting upon the Mount of Olives. No doubt He was looking down upon the activity within the temple. The phrase the disciples came to him according to one's own indicates that they came to Him privately, either, they separated themselves from the crowd, or that each one of them had their own individual question, but they all asked the question: when will it be, these things? The singular "when will it be" contrasts with the plural "these things" demonstrating that the disciples understood that Jesus prophecy of the destruction of the Temple was about be fulfilled and that this prophecy was directly related to the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. This is further declared by their question, and what [is] the sign of your coming and the end of the age.  They knew something was up – but what?

The Old Testament is full of descriptions of the signs of the coming of the Messiah. They believed Him to be the coming Son of Man, the Messiah, as their question clearly indicates. They knew the Old Testament signs, but this situation had thrown them. This seems to be something new, something different from what they thought. They ask for the one definite "sign," "mark," or "token" of His parousia – "presence," "coming," or "advent." He is present with them now, but when will He become the Messiah, the Priest-King?

The third part of the question concerns the end of the age. The word in the Greek is aion and means "age," "a period of time," "an unbroken age." In the Jewish mindset the world is divided by God into seasons, times, or ages. They had just passed the age or dispensation of the Mosaic Law when the Jewish leadership rejected their King (it is hard to distinguish the end of the age of the Law, is it at the end of chapter 23 with the official rejection of the King or at His death on the cross or even at the destruction of the Temple? There are arguments on all sides, but it seems that there is not one specific event that ended the age, but both the rejection and the crucificixion are an inseparable package and this might be called the period of the rejection of the Law). The rejection was official and Jesus' death on the cross was to come – more prophecy was to be fulfilled.

A dispensation and an age are different in the following ways: (1) An age seems to exist over more than one dispensation, and (2) the age seems to be a specific term closely related to the end of the world as we know it.  Dr. Darby says, "They class together the destruction of the temple, the coming of Christ, and the end of the age. We must observe, that here the end of the age is the end of the period during which Israel was subject to the law under the old covenant: a period which was to cease, giving place to the Messiah and to the new covenant." (John Darby, John Darby's Synopsis of the Old and New Testaments)                                  

In the next article Jesus will answer one of their questions in detail and will present familiar wording recalling the Old Testament period known as the "birth pangs." When will this all happen and will the Church join in with the birth pangs?