Saturday, February 4, 2012

All Will Be Torn Down (part 3 of 4)

What we have to do when we hear the disciples ask about Jesus’ coming, is hear them asking that question as first-century Jews whose mindsets were thoroughly influenced by the imagery on offer in the extraordinarily popular and influential work of Daniel.  In the seventh chapter of Daniel, a vision is reported in which “with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man was approaching.  He went up to the Ancient of Days and was escorted before Him.  To Him was given ruing authority, honor, and sovereignty.  All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him.  His authority is eternal and will not pass away.  His kingdom will not be destroyed” (7:13b-14).  In this vision, one like a son of man came to Ancient of Days.  This is the coming to which the disciples make reference, and to which Jesus will make reference in His answer as reported by Matthew. 

Is this a leap of logic and an unsupported assertion?  Well, we have already discussed the issue of common sense, demonstrating that the disciples could not possibly have been asking Jesus about a coming to earth when He was already there, as there is nothing in the Gospel narratives to that point that would suggest that such a question would be appropriate or that such thinking would be warranted.  The prevalence and popularity of Daniel in that time and culture compels us to hear talk of coming along the lines that it suggests, which was a coming before the Creator God of that one that represented Israel, that Israel might be delivered from those under which it suffers oppression.  That, of course, was a primary concern of the day. 

Matthew underscores the fact that Daniel is in mind and that it was an instructive work in that day, as later on, as Jesus answers the disciples’ question, He makes reference to Daniel, saying “So when you see the abomination of desolation---spoken about by Daniel the prophet” (24:15a).  It is fascinating to make note that it is Matthew alone that has Jesus specifically naming the book of Daniel as part of His responsive discourse.  Though Mark makes reference to it by mention of the abomination of desolation, there is no specific mention of Daniel.  In Mark, it is the mention of the abomination of desolation that first calls Daniel to the mind of the hearer or reader, whereas the one hearing Matthew’s tale has already had Daniel called to mind by the mention of the signs of Jesus’ coming.  It therefore makes sense that Matthew’s Jesus makes mention of Daniel, whilst Mark’s Jesus merely makes a reference.  Both build on the crucial reference.  For Matthew’s purposes, Jesus’ coming (not to earth but to the Ancient of Days) is what marks the end of the age (of Israel being oppressed, among other things) and is linked to the destruction of the Temple.  He makes that explicit in the foreground, with his framing of the disciples’ question.  This linkage is also found in Mark and Luke, but as we know, they do not have the disciples marking their query with a concern for the end of the age, so the connection between the two comes later in Jesus’ response to the question. 

When we attempt to move along and listen to Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question, as they react to all that He has said and done in the Temple, we should not attempt to interpret and apply every statement that Jesus makes.  Rather, we should listen to Him with the full realization that He is responding to a question, whether it be the question on offer in Matthew, Mark, or Luke, about the fall of the Temple.  We are not allowed to take a flight of fancy and hear Jesus talking about anything but that which He has been asked to address.  The obvious intent of the authors do not allow for this.  So as Jesus answers, we hear every word in connection with His statement, in reference to the Temple, that “not one stone will be left on another.  All will be torn down,” and the disciples’ inquisitive response to that statement.  This is not exactly a far-fetched or groundbreaking idea, especially when we consider how Temple-centric the Gospel narratives have been since Jesus made His triumphal entry. 

Drawing from Matthew, we hear Jesus’ answer, as He tells His disciples how they will know that the Temple is about to fall.  He begins by saying “Watch out that no one misleads you” (24:4b), which is quite prescient, considering the many strange paths down which many erstwhile interpreters have attempted to lead God’s people, as they present Jesus’ discourse in isolation from all that comes before it.  Continuing, Jesus says “For many will come in My name, saying ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many.  You will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come” (24:5-6).  What is “the end”?  In context, of course, “the end” is the fall of the Temple, for that is the question that Jesus has been asked.  We do not import foreign notions into the text.  The end is the fall of the Temple, and for Matthew, we already and also know that this end is connected to the son of man appearing before the Ancient of Days, as detailed in Daniel 7.  Both Mark and Luke have Jesus here speaking of the end, and since neither one of those records have the disciples asking about the end of the age (which we know is not the end of the world), this reinforces the fact that the end of which Jesus speaks is the end of the Temple that currently stands in Jerusalem, for that is the object squarely in view.      

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