Archive for the ‘Eschatology’ Category

What in the world is Jesus talking about in Mark Chapter 13?

March 14, 2010

The Jerusalem Temple, remains of the western wall (

Reference: Mark 13:14-37

Question:
In my understanding, Jesus is taking about the end times in Mark 13:14-37. So how can you explain that Jesus is saying that “this generation” will experience the end times (referring to Mark 13:30) and now almost 2000 years after that this generation is gone and Jesus didn’t come back yet?

Answer:
The fact that Jesus is speaking of the end times is not in doubt, the question is, “what are the ‘end times’?” Often, when we think of the end times we think of the last days of the earth when Christians will be ‘raptured’ up to God and the rest will be ‘left behind’ (you know what I’m talking about). The reality is that we are living in the end times right now and have been since the time of Jesus. Jesus’ on this earth arrival ushered in the beginning of the end times. The end times is the coming of the Kingdom of God and the ousting-out of the kingdom of Satan. The Kingdom of God is the reign and rule of God through which the perfection of his creation will be reinstated on this earth, not as something new but as something RE-newed. That which is broken will be restored, that which is sick will be healed, that which is lost will be redeemed, etc.

All this to say, the end times is not something we wait for and fret about, we are living in the end times now and we are called to be an active part of bringing God’s Kingdom to this earth. What we wait for and what we long for, as believers, is the return of Jesus when he will bring this cosmic redemption to completion. In the meantime, we live in the tension of the already-but-not-yet nature of this age. In other words, Jesus has ALREADY ushered in his Kingdom, but NOT YET has it come in its fullness (see post on present suffering).

To the question at hand, yes Jesus is talking about end times, but he is not talking about some far-distant thing that will happen just before he returns. The realities that he mentions are end-times realities, but he is actually being much more specific, talking about something much closer to his contemporaries. Namely, the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. See Post on Matthew 16:28.

This entire passage of Mark 13:1-31 is based around Jesus’ statement to his disciples about the temple in Mark 13:2, “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” It is not insignificant that the context of this passage is a discussion about the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is looking toward the future destruction of the Temple (a historical event that took place in 70A.D.) and telling his disciples both what they can expect and how they should live their lives.

What the disciples can expect:

False Messiahs 13:6,22
Wars 13:6-8
Earthquakes 13:8
Famines 13:8
Persecution and trials 13:9,11,13
Dissension within families 13:12
The Abomination that Causes Desolation 13:14
Sun and moon darkened, stars fall from sky – 13:24-25
Son of man coming in power and glory – 13:26-27

What the disciples should be doing:

Watching 13:5
Don’t be alarmed 13:7
Be on guard 13:9,23
Preach the Gospel to All Nations 13:10
Don’t worry 13:11
Stand Firm – 13:13
Pray 13:18

The message about what followers of Jesus should be doing is clear… “Be ready!” But the words about what we can expect seem cryptic at best. Taken at face value it sounds like we should be looking for a time when the world is cosmically falling apart. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that the end times must be getting close because we have an earthquake or hurricane. The end times are not getting close, we are living in the end times right now and we have been for 2000 years.  We should be living our lives in a state of constant readiness and constant vigilance in spreading the good news about Jesus.

Jesus here, is addressing something much more specific within the end times. He is answering the disciples question about the temple. Believe it or not, all of the events that Jesus speaks about in Mark 13 are events that can be linked to the destruction of the temple in 70A.D, or that happened before or near that event. I will briefly look at those listed above one by one…

False Messiahs – This was already an issue in first century Palestine when Jesus arrived on the scene. False messiahs were popping up all over the place. This was true before Jesus and after Jesus, and is not something reserved for the ‘end of all things’. Thus, it would not have been strange for there to have been false prophets and false messiahs leading up to the destruction of the Temple.

Wars – The Jerusalem Temple was torn down in the Jewish War with the Romans in 70 A.D. And we have seen many wars since.

Earthquakes – On the day that Jesus died, there was an earthquake that had significant implications on the Temple and its future destruction. In the moment of Jesus’ death the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom signifying the end of the age of temple worship which was soon to come (Matthew 27:51).

Famines – The great ancient historian Flavius Josephus records the Jerusalem famine saying “Now of those perished by famine in the city, the number was prodigious, and the miseries they underwent were unspeakable” (Josephus 192).

The Abomination that Causes Desolation – Whenever you see footnotes in your bible that cross reference other parts of the bible, go to that address and figure out what it means. Jesus knew scripture inside and out and he used it to teach his disciples. These are words taken from Daniel. This particular passage in Daniel is speaking about desecration of the Temple. Thus Jesus, again is referring to the Temple and what will happen to it, namely that ‘no stone will be left on another’ (Mark 13:2).

The Gospel must be preached to all nations – This happened in Acts chapter 2… “There were staying in Jerusalem God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” (Acts 2:5). It is this group of people from every nation who heard the first sermon given by Peter.  While it is likely that not every nation under heaven was really there, we must take into account the figurative nature of the statement, and the fact that all known nations may have been represented.  Likewise, in Mark this may just as likely be a figurative statement about the need to preach the gospel to every nation before the Temple was destroyed.  Though we can be certain that it is the will of God that the Gospel be shared with every nation (even the one’s we don’t know about).

Persecution and Trials – One need only read the book of Acts to see the kinds of trials that Jesus’ followers went through in the years leading up to the destruction of the temple (Acts 8:1)

Sun and Moon Darkened – This is not a literal description of the universe falling apart, this is an allusion to Isaiah 13:10 and Isaiah 34:4, both of which use the same language to describe seismic shifts in the political landscape of Isaiah’s time, namely the fall of the Babylonian empire. Jesus uses the same figurative language to describe the fall of Jerusalem (that is Jesus being ironic).

Son of Man coming in Glory – Our classic view of the end times is that the ‘elect’ people will get to see Jesus floating down on the clouds. I won’t say that that is not true, but I will say that this statement by Jesus is not about the manner of Jesus’ arrival when he returns. Rather, it is about the shift that is taking place in the world as Jesus ushers in the Kingdom of God. The destruction of the Temple would be another powerful symbol that the Kingdom of God has arrived and the age of the Temple is over. Authority is shifting from the Temple to the Christ.

When Jesus ends his teaching to the disciples by saying, “THIS GENERATION will not pass away” (Mark 13:30), he is indeed referring to his contemporaries, the ones who could hear him speaking these words. They would soon experience the tragedy of seeing the Temple destroyed, some 40 years after his resurrection. However, this did not mean that Jesus would return immediately and the world would come to and end, rather, it was a powerful sign that the age of the Kingdom of God was being realized.

Cited

Flavius. Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus : Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1987), Wars 6.192

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The Parable of the Wedding Feast. How do I interpret this parable?

February 3, 2010

Reference: Matthew 22:1-14

Original Question:

Could you please explain the end of the parable in Matthew 22:11-13. All the people who were coming to the feast  were wearing wedding clothes, except one. First, how did the guy without the clothes get into the feast? For us the feast means the feast in heaven and the wedding clothes are our new life in Christ. So can I get into heaven without putting on the new clothes?  Or was the reason to throw the man outside not for wearing the wrong clothes but because he couldn’t reply to the King’s question? He calls the man Friend, so he wasn’t mad at the beginning of the conversation.

Modified Question:

How do I interpret this parable (and others)?

A note on interpretation of parables:

The interpretation of parables is not an easy task, and this parable is considered by many to be THE MOST DIFFICULT to interpret.  Unfortunately parable interpretation is a difficult task that scholars have made even more difficult for centuries by ‘over interpreting’ the parables.  The tendency of most people (including historical smarties) is to apply allegory to the parable where it does not belong.  Allegory is a literary device that uses elements of a story to represent elements of real life.  The Wizard of Oz for example, is an allegory.  The Tin Man represents the industrial revolution, the Scarecrow represents the midwest farmer, etc.  Almost every character and setting in the story has some symbolic meaning.  Some parables have allegorical elements, but we must resist the temptation to allegorize the parables.  Usually they are simple stories that have a specific intent.  They are not all-encompassing allegories in which everything has some hidden meaning.  Jesus was not trying to speak in some hidden code.  Thus, in this parable, we should be slow to assign specific allegorical meanings to each element and instead ask the simple question, What is Jesus’ message here?

To do so though there are some things we need to know…

The Parable of the Feast in Matthew (an Explanation)

“Friend, where is your wedding garment” - 14th Century Russian icon of the 'Parable of the Feast'. Note the man on the right being bound and thrown out in the street.

First of all, we need to know WHO Jesus is talking to.  This will help a great deal with our understanding.  Remember, he’s not talking to us, though once we have come to an understanding of Jesus’ intent we can apply it to our lives.  For now though, Jesus is talking to some first century Palestinian audience.  Most likely he is addressing this parable to the religious leaders of Israel.  We can gather this given the context and tone of the previous parable, the immediate transition from the previous parable, and the opening of this parable “Jesus told them”, we can assume that “them” refers the religious leaders that he was already pissing off in chapter 21.

Secondly, we need to understand who this parable is about.  Like the previous parable in chapter 21, it is likely that this parable is also about the priests and Pharisees, though we might be able to apply this to the broader population of Israel.

Lastly, this parable is eschatological (see other posts dealing with eschatology).  It has to do with God’s coming kingdom.  We can gather this from the language of banquet and feast.  These terms would have been synonymous with the end times for first century listeners.  So also is the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” which would have been synonymous with judgment and the end.

Even with this little bit of knowledge we can begin to piece together the intent of this parable.  Essentially what Jesus is communicating to his listeners here is that it is often those who we may not expect who will be invited into the Kingdom.  Imagine what this would have been like for the Pharisees and teachers of the law to hear.  They think that they are a shoe-in for heaven, they think that they have lived there lives perfectly and all their ducks are in a row.  Jesus has other ideas though.  He sees a group of people who think that their merit and their Jewish-birth-status will earn them salvation.  They think that they are already there at the feast, but the reality is that they haven’t even responded to the invitation.

For us the message is simple. “The Kingdom is like a prepared banquet, and to refuse its invitation is to encounter judgment” (Snodgrass, 320).  It is a harsh message to be sure.  We would probably like it better if Jesus was more “nice guy” and just let everyone come without the whole destruction and killing part.  But remember that our God of grace and love is also a God of justice and judgment.

At the end of the parable we still need to deal with another part that can be a bit confusing.  The last 3 verses (Matt. 22:11-13) are thought by some to be part of another parable that was added on to this one.  Whether or not that is true, we still need to deal with the intent of what Jesus was trying to say, when he talks about a man who was at the feast without the proper clothes for the wedding feast.

Fortunately we have already dealt with who Jesus is addressing and to what the parable is referring.  In this apparent addendum to the parable we are dealing with a man who has shown up without proper wedding clothes.  Likely his clothes are his every day dirty clothes.  Some of us may be tempted to equate the wedding clothes of the other guests as “being clothed in the righteousness of Christ” or something similar, but that is the kind of allegorizing that we should avoid.  We need to deal with Jesus’ intent toward a first century Jewish audience, not our own external understanding and Christian imagery.  “What is important is that the man made no preparation to wear something fitting to the feast he chose to attend” (321).  Simply put, this man in his dirty clothes represents those unrighteous people who make no preparation for the coming Judgement of God.  Again, these are harsh themes, but they are important for us as we look toward the return of Christ and consider our own preparation and the pursuit of those who are far from God.

Because of the complexity, length, and two-part nature of this parable it has more than one theme.  It has three…

1. The refusal of Israel’s religious leaders to respond to the invitation to the banquet.

2. The gathering of the kingdom of God

3. The separation that takes place at Judgment.

There is no need to assign specific meaning to the man’s non-response at the end, or the king’s initial reference to him as ‘friend’.  The important thing is that he showed up for the banquet unprepared and he was Judged accordingly.  This is a hard teaching for us but the message for our lives should be very clear.  We need to be ready for the banquet.  Christ promised that he would come “and come quickly” (Revelation 22:12 NASB).  Our task is to ready our lives and the lives of others that we meet. Whether we like to hear about God’s Judgement or not does not make its reality any more or less real.  Fortunately, our salvation is based not on our merit but on Christ’s work on the cross.  Our readiness then, is the product of believing in him.  If we believe in him, our lives will reflect the kind of clothes we are supposed to be wearing to the banquet.

See Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus by Klyne Snodgrass

What did Jesus mean when he said “many here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom?”

January 27, 2010

Reference: Matthew 16:28 “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Question:

What is this talking about? Is Jesus talking about his resurrection or about the 2nd coming?

Answer:

This question calls for me to use my favorite pseudo academic phrase.  Here it comes….are you ready?… “scholars have been debating this question for ages.”  There I said it, and it actually made me feel a little smarter, though it probably didn’t change the reality of my condition.  All that to say, I can tell you what I think, but there are other people who are way smarter than me who have come down on every side of this debate.

Let me cut to the chase, I don’t think that Jesus is talking about his resurrection here, nor do I think he is talking about his 2nd coming.  It seems unlikely that Jesus would say to his disciples and the others gathered there that “some” of them would be alive at his resurrection, especially since it only happened about a year or less following this event.  Similarly, it is unlikely that Jesus would be talking about the second coming because that hasn’t happened yet, and all the men and women who he was talking to are now dead.  Thus, Jesus must have been referring to some other significant event.  But what?

The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem 70 AD.

The statement is an eschatological one.  Thus it has to do with the coming of God’s kingdom, and the end times.  But note that Jesus does not say that, “they will see the Son of Man coming INTO his kingdom”, it says “they will see the Son of Man coming IN his kingdom.”  That little preposition is important.  It means that Jesus’ presence will be here IN his kingdom as it is made manifest here on earth, it does not mean that his kingdom is here and Jesus is coming INTO it.

So what significant event could Jesus be talking about here.  Clearly Jesus is referring to something that some of the people listening to Jesus will experience, but others will not.  It is toward this that I submit the 3rd interpretive option, the view that Jesus is referring to the distraction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD  This was an historically and escheat logically significant event that occurred about 40 years after Jesus spoke these words to the disciples.  Thus, many of those who were there would have lived to see the day that Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed.  Jesus himself predicted this very event in Matthew 24.  This event was significant in that it closed the chapter on Temple worship which was no longer necessary.  Jesus had become the temple, and his Holy Spirit had now been given to us, thus the temple was present with us and in the church.

Therefore, when the Temple was destroyed it was a powerful, eschatological, signifier that the kingdom of God was coming into the world, and Jesus is “IN his kingdom.”


Present suffering in the midst of Jesus’ promises.

January 15, 2010

Question:

Jesus says that God knows what we need and will give us what we need. Why do then so many children, christians suffer from hunger… ?

Answer:

Yikes!!!

I wish there was an easy answer to this one.  Even theologians spend years on trying to figure out the complexities of suffering, especially suffering of the innocent.  There is an answer, but unfortunately it would take volumes to do it justice, so what I’m about to do would probably make my theology professors cringe, but I’ll give it a shot anyways…

Haiti Broken: If God promises provision, than why do so many experience poverty, tragedy, and lack?

The issue of suffering coupled with the (seemingly) contradictory promises of provision that we see throughout scripture have to do with two (for the sake of time) very weighty Theological topics, namely, Sin and eschatology.  I’ll start with the first word since we hear that a lot more often…

Sin:  Sin is missing the mark, a fall from perfection, or more pointedly, a separation from God.  It is something much bigger than the ‘bad things’ we do from day to day.  What we often fail to realize when considering Sin and the Fall of humans in Genesis 3 is that the consequences of that Fall weren’t just personal (having to do with individual lives) they were cosmic (having to do with everything in the universe).  Not only did Sin, deceit, and evil become a part of human nature, but sin crept into nature itself.  As God said in Genesis 3, because of what Adam and Eve did the ground was curses as well.  Nature, creation, the entire cosmos were infected with a brokenness that we all still experience today.  Take for example what we saw this past week in Haiti, the brokenness of our planet, the poverty of our brothers and sisters, the chaos of disaster.  These are not the results of some 200 year-old Haitian deal with the devil as Pat Robertson would suggest.  However, they are the result of the brokenness that exists in this world, a brokenness that is the direct result and consequence of our original separation from God.  The ramifications of sin are Cosmic.  Hence, innocent children are the poorest of the poor; nature seems to turn against us, rather than being a gift to us; and yes, bad things happen to people who do good things.

Eschatology: Enter Jesus, onto the scene of a broken world cosmically torn apart by Sin.  Eschatology is the theological study of the end times.  Bad theology over the years has painted a doomsday picture of the end times, and for some, it is true that the return of Christ, and the end of this age will not be a good day.  But at its core, the return of Jesus, and the end of this age is actually our greatest hope.  Jesus taught us to pray, “your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”  That is an eschatological prayer.  A prayer that looks to the coming of God’s reign and rule when all that is wrong will be set right, all that is broken will be fixed, all that is tainted by Sin will be redeemed.  It is the time when the cosmos (and our individual lives) will be set right, and we will be made whole again.

So why do I mention this in light of Jesus’ promises in Matthew 6 that he knows what we need and will provide for us?  Here’s why…  Jesus was an eschatological preacher.  He came with a message that said the time of renewal is coming, and I am the one who will usher it in.  Matthew’s gospel is a perfect example of this teaching from Jesus.  Note all the times that Jesus talks about the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of heaven” he is referring to the ultimate reign and rule of God that will set all things right.  So you ask, “if Jesus came, than why do things still suck so bad?”  Good question.  The reason is as follows…

Already (but not yet):  The Kingdom of God has ALREADY COME, but it is NOT YET HERE in its fullness.  This element of eschatology is often referred to as “The Already but Not Yet”.  As my seminary professor used to say, we live in the overlap of the ages.  In other words, Jesus has ALREADY ushered in powerful change in the world by his coming, but that change has NOT YET reached its fulfillment.  Jesus has ALREADY freed us from our sin, but NOT YET do we live in a world without sin.  Perhaps most significantly, Jesus has ALREADY conquered death through his resurrection, but NOT YET have we experienced the same freedom from death (though we will).

All that to say, when Jesus says something like he does in Matthew 6:28-34 (below) about God’s care for us and his provision for us, we must understand this within a framework of eschatology.  Even in that passage he urges that even before we think about our physical needs we should “seek first the kingdom”.  In other words, that is where our real hope is.  God will care for us, but for some of us that care may not come until Christ comes again, think of all the children and good christian people who lost their lives this week in Haiti.  Are we to call God a liar because he did not provide for them?  Of course not, for in the last days God’s perfect justice, perfect love, and perfect restoration will set all things right.

That said though, as followers of Jesus, we must avoid at all cost the attitude that everything will be taken care of in the end, so I don’t have to care about the world now.  Wrong!  Before Jesus left he commissioned his Church and sent his Holy Spirit to empower the church to go into the world and start doing the work of the Kingdom right now.  After all, Jesus has ALREADY ushered in the kingdom, so the church has a responsibility to do the business of the kingdom, and that business is restoration.

Haiti is so poor that most Americans who were there were missionaries who felt a call to serve them.

I am amazed as I watch footage of the earthquake victims in Haiti that almost all of the Americans who were there were Christian missionaries.  These are people who know the business of the Kingdom.  They bring Jesus into the homes of the poor and the powerless, and in doing so they bring with them a kind of realized eschatology, or glimpse of end time restoration right now.  That is what we are supposed to be about.  Christians and children will continue to suffer from hunger, so Jesus says to the Church, “go take care of them, be my hands and feet, be the Kingdom come, right now and I’ll do the rest.”  We the church and the Holy Spirit, need to be the ALREADY and Christ will return with a big bang, but NOT quite YET.  That’s why he says in Matt 6:34, “don’t worry about tomorrow” (below) because he’s got it taken care of.

28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.