Saturday, February 18, 2012

Son of Man, The Temple & The Hour (part 2 of 2)

Tying off Jesus’ Temple-fall-and-coming-of-the-Son-of-Man related speech, and continuing a clearly pronounced connective theme, Matthew writes “When Jesus had finished saying all these things” (26:1a).  There is a heavy synoptic use of “these things,” and the fact that it appears in a related passage in Peter’s second letter, its usage here simply cannot escape our attention or be at all considered as a random placement.  Matthew, most especially it would seem wants to draw our attention to the fact that all that we have just heard from Jesus, from the fourth verse of the twenty-fourth chapter, through the final verse of the twenty-fifth chapter, was presented in relation to the fall of the Temple and the coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days for the purpose of receiving His kingdom.

This, of course, includes Jesus’ insistence that “as for that day and hour no one knows it---not even the angels in heaven---except the Father alone” (24:36).  What Jesus is saying here could not be any more obvious.  In fact, by this point, it would take a willful refusal to acknowledge the point that is being made, or to hear Jesus talking about anything but the fall of the Temple when He makes this statement.  This probably does not even need to be said, but to somehow connect this to some kind of rapture or to the return of Jesus to earth, considering the incredibly obvious context that is on offer, strains credulity to the point of breaking. 

Throughout the whole of Matthew twenty-four, Jesus has never once wavered from answering the question that was posed by His disciples, and which was prompted by His statement about the Temple.  By way of review, we can read “Now as Jesus was going out of the Temple courts and walking away, His disciples came to show Him the Temple buildings” (24:1).  In response to what He sees, Jesus says “Do you see all these things?  I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another.  All will be torn down!” (24:2)  His disciples, who did not imagine that He was talking about anything but the Temple being torn down, with not one stone being left on another, which would have been catastrophic and unimaginable to their way of thinking, say “Tell us, when will these things happen?” (24:3b)  To that is added, by Matthew, “And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3c)  We know that the question is based upon the quite popular seventh chapter of Daniel, and that the coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days, and the concordant receipt of His kingdom will mark the end of one age and the beginning of another.  Apart from that, we remember that Mark and Luke simply have the disciples adding, “And what will the sign that all these things are about to take place?”  Yes, the disciples know that Jesus is speaking about the fall of the Temple and want to know how they will know when it is that this singularly cataclysmic event will occur. 

In response, we find that “Jesus answered them” (24:4a).  Jesus did not set about answering an unasked question about the end of time or about the time that He would return to earth following His crucifixion, Resurrection, and ascension.  Such an idea is nowhere in sight.  No, He answered the question that He was asked.  No, we do not always expect this from Jesus, but then again, He is not answering a challenge from the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, or experts in the law.  He is answering His disciples, and as usual, when it comes to them, He is speaking plainly.  Yes, to the crowds He speaks in mysterious language, but He gives answers to His disciples.  So Jesus answers them.  His answer begins in verse five of chapter twenty-four, and it runs to the end of chapter twenty-five. 

The entire time, the focus of the answer remains unchanged, though He does provide interesting information in the process---unexpected information (unexpected in terms of Mark and Luke’s presentation of the disciples’ question, but anticipated in the question from the disciples as presented by Matthew) about the connection of the fall of the Temple to the time of the Son of Man’s coming to the Ancient of Days.  He even reinforces the connection, speaking about the Son of Man beyond our thrust text, repeating the term three times in rapid succession, from verse thirty-seven to verse forty-four.  In all three cases, the Son of Man comes to receive His kingdom at an unexpected time---no one knows the hour.  The Temple is going to fall.  Jesus says that His disciples can count on this happening.  When?  No one knows the hour, but here’s the types of things that will precede the event, and it is to be conceptually linked with the Son of Man appearing before the Ancient of Days.   

Throughout the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew (as well as Mark thirteen and Luke twenty-one), Jesus gives His disciples a great deal of information, clueing them in so that they will have a decent idea as to when the Temple is going to fall.  It bears repeating however, that He could not be more clear that they will not know the exact moment that events will coalesce and conspire to bring down the Temple.  When it comes to that, “as for that day and hour, no one knows it---not even the angels,” the ones that will be sent out to gather His elect (24:31) and that accompany the Son of Man when He comes in His glory (25:31), “except the Father alone.” 

With the repeated mentions of the Son of Man, which seems to override the importance of fall of the Temple and truly becomes the point of the discourse, we get the sense that Jesus’ words, though initially prompted by the question about the Temple, becomes less about them knowing the exact time of the Temple’s collapse, and more about them knowing that when it happens, and when Jesus’ prediction comes true, that they can then know that He, the Son of Man, has had His universal dominion confirmed and that He indeed rules as King and Lord of all.  If we had been hearing Jesus speak, we may not have been able to know the hour that the Temple was going to come crashing down, but we could be certain that, according to His words, when it did, we could be supremely confident that He ruled as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Indeed, we can look to the place where the Temple once stood, see that it stands there no longer, and know that Jesus spoke truly, that He rules His kingdom, and that He demands our participation in that kingdom along the lines outlined in the narrative found in Matthew.  Is it not that knowledge that should animate our lives in this day?     

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