Saturday, May 31, 2014

Absalom (part 4)

Continuing on then, the Absalom story moves along to his insurrection against his father, King David.  Clearly, it is not going to be a mystery as to why this insurrection is going to take place.  Absalom feels slighted by his father.  As far as he was concerned, his father, having never spoken out against nor condemned his son Amnon for his heinous crime against Absalom’s sister (the rape of Tamar), at least according to the Scriptural record, was by extension in complicit agreement with the action. 

Surely, Absalom felt that, having waited two years for some type of movement, his father was never going to take action in this matter, so he would have to take justice into his own hands.  The fact that he had been forced to flee from home when he carried out what he saw as just retribution against Amnon, with his father not reaching out to him for three years, would have to have been galling.  His self-imposed exile would come to be interpreted as a banishment, with Absalom never receiving the honor that he believed was due to him for avenging the shame that had been brought to his sister and his family. 

His actions, as far as he was concerned, constituted a measured response.  He did not respond like Simeon and Levi of old, following the rape of their sister.  He did not slaughter an entire community of men because of the actions of just one individual.  No, he simply carried out that which should have been carried out by his father.  Absalom could have reasoned that his father should have thanked him for fulfilling the obligation that he was obviously refusing to carry out, but he did not. 

Even when he was called out of exile and invited to return to Jerusalem, his father still maintained an effective position of banishment, forcing him to remain separate from the king and not allowing him to see his father’s face.  When summoned from Geshur, surely Absalom felt that his father had finally come to his senses, realizing that Absalom had acted justly in dispatching Amnon with prejudice, with this dispatching taking place after a two year period of patient waiting. 

When finally summoned to the throne room, it had been seven years since the rape of his sister had been perpetuated, five years since he had dealt Amnon death’s fatal blow, and two years since he had returned to Jerusalem.  Even then, the summon for Absalom had not been solely the desire of the king, but had come at the request of Joab, who, having had his fields set ablaze by Absalom in order to gain his attention, reluctantly agreed to intercede to the king on behalf of his frustrated son, doing so because now the issue was of personal consequence.  So when Absalom comes before the king, it was only because of Joab’s influence over David (which was significant because of what Joab knew about the Bathsheba/Uriah incident), which meant that David was still not going to look favorably upon his son. 

While he must have been grateful to finally see him, as David kissed an Absalom that was bowed down before him with his face to the ground, based upon what follows, one can be confident that David’s response was not what Absalom had long desired.  At this point, because of all that had happened (or not happened) in regards to the situation of the rape, it probably became quite clear, at least in Absalom’s mind, that his father had forfeited the legitimate and moral right to rule the Creator God’s people.  Thus Absalom would take matters in to his own hands in order to correct the prevailing issue of injustice as he saw it.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

Absalom (part 3)

Absalom returns to his home after years in banishment and under the authority of a foreign power, but he has not regained or attained to his proper position.  Similarly, even after the Egyptian exodus, Israel’s exodus is incomplete.  First, Israel wander in the wilderness for forty years.  Then, when they finally do enter the promised land, they must begin the process of subduing the land as a whole by driving out the inhabitants that their God said were defiling the land. 

This proved to be a feat that, for them, could not be accomplished, as Israel never achieved a complete consolidation of both land and power.  In a sense, then, their exodus, though very much real, and though very much a sign of their God’s blessing upon them (so that they could be a blessing) was never complete.  There was always one more battle to be fought, one more challenge to overcome, and one more temptation to resist. 

This is how the believer is able to consider his or her own exodus (salvation, redemption) as well.  Though the believer has been retrieved from exile by an operation of grace and Divine favor, that exodus---though the believer has certainly entered into the kingdom of God that was inaugurated at the Advent and confirmed by the Resurrection and Ascension (just as Israel had entered into the place that their God had for them)---will not be complete until that kingdom is finally consummated.  There will always be one more battle to fight, one more challenge to overcome, and one more temptation to resist. 

More than that, there will always be evil that needs to be pushed back, which is done through one act of the manifestation of the mysterious power of the Resurrection and the Gospel at a time (caring for orphans and widows, giving up a cup of cold water or food or clothes to those in need).  It is in this way that the believer continually works out their ongoing salvation (our exodus), with fear and trembling, here within this world, with a constant desire to see the face of their King and their God.  That said, this study returns to Absalom. 

“Absalom lived in Jerusalem for two years without seeing the king’s face” (14:28).  This was not good.  One can be sure that neither the king nor Absalom reveled in this situation.  Absalom sends for Joab and says to him “Why have I come from Geshur?  It would be better for me if I were still there” (14:32b).  This does not sound at all unlike what Israel would say to Moses on numerous occasions during the time of their incomplete exile, with the regular refrain of “wouldn’t it have been better for us to have stayed in Egypt?” 

Absalom continues and says, “Let me see now the face of the king.  If I am at fault, let him put me to death!” (14:32c)  In response to this, “The king summoned Absalom, and he came to the king.  Absalom bowed down before the king with his face toward the ground and the king kissed him” (14:33b).  Thus, having seen the face of the king and having not been put to death, Absalom’s exile was concluded, and his exodus was consummated.  Those that live in this day, presumably as sons and daughters of the King, look forward to the same.  Did Absalom feel as if his exodus was complete at this point?  It can be said that it was, but only in a sense.  

Absalom (part 2)

Adam, of course, represents all of humanity.  Though humanity was in exile, one can rest assured that the Creator God longed to have a relationship with the beings that He had created in and as His own image in and for the world, as He was most assuredly bound together with His creation.  The Scriptural narrative insists that the Creator God longed to see humanity and the whole of His once good creation restored to goodness and right relationship with Him.  This is evident because the Creator God would eventually summon Abraham so as to put in motion His project of putting things right in the world. 

Yes, just as David longed to go to Absalom, so too did the God of creation yearn for a restoration.  David was said to have been eventually consoled over the death of Amnon.  However, he did not take action based upon this consolation, nor upon his desire to be with his exiled son.  Likewise, the Creator God, desirous of consolation over the death that entered into His world and which had come upon mankind, and desirous of mending that broken relationship so as to recover what had been lost, entered into history in order to do something about it.  The Creator God wanted to bring exodus to creation’s exile. 

Joab, the general of David’s army, sees the pain of his king, seems to understand the exile that both he and his son are experiencing (albeit in different ways), and makes an attempt at intercession.  He “realized that the king longed to see Absalom” (2 Samuel 14:1b).  Thus he sends a widow with a story of pain and heartache to the king, which evokes the response that Joab desired to hear, as his plan seems to be coming to fruition.  The woman continues speaking to David, and speaking on behalf of Joab (who has knowledge of the king’s grieving over Absalom and his desire to see him because he has been consoled from the death of Amnon), she makes reference to the Absalom situation, inquiring why “the king has not brought back the one he has banished” (14:13b). 

Now, this is the first time the text speaks of banishment.  As far as is known to this point, Absalom has fled.  There is no textual indication he was banished by the king.  Rather, it would appear to be the case that  he has fled willingly.  However, this use of “banished” actually points out David’s ability to take actions to set things right.  His lack of doing so, because of the very fact that David desired to see Absalom but did not make any moves to bring this to pass, was akin to an ongoing act of banishment. 

Again, this should cause an observer to perform a thoughtful consideration of the Genesis narrative, in that the Creator God banished humanity from that for which it had been created, but without prodding on the part of anybody else (like Joab), the same God also moved to end the banishment and restore the relationship that had been broken.  In this, David falls well short of the divine ideal with which he is charged as the representative of the Creator’s covenant people.  With Joab’s influence, exerted through the woman that he has sent to speak to David and after calling Joab to see him, David eventually gets the point and tells his general to “bring back the young man Absalom” (14:21b).  With this, David makes a move to end Absalom’s exile, beginning to grant him an exodus (as the Israel story is seen in Absalom). 

“So Joab got up and went to Geshur and brought Absalom back to Jerusalem.  But the king said, ‘Let him go over to his own house.  He may not see my face.’  So Absalom went over to his own house; he did not see the king’s face” (14:23-24).  As can be seen, this is the beginning of an exodus for Absalom.  However, his exodus is incomplete.  There is still a measure of exile in his return, as he is not allowed to see the face of the king.  The broken relationship is not fully mended.  Indeed, this is similar to the experience of Israel as a whole.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Absalom (part 1)

Now David’s son Absalom… - 2 Samuel 13:1a  (NET)

In this way, David’s son Absalom is introduced into the Scriptural narrative.  The story of Absalom well embodies the ongoing story of Israel, founded in the exodus by which they were defined (a life and worldview practically centered upon a remembrance of the Passover) and almost always at risk of being exiled from their promised land if they failed to uphold the covenant responsibilities that had been assigned to them. 

Absalom is introduced by way of the story of the rape of his sister, Tamar.  Chapter thirteen of second Samuel begins with “Now David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister named Tamar” (13:1a).  For some reason, Tamar is not presented as David’s daughter, but rather, as Absalom’s sister.  It is said that Amnon, another of David’s sons “fell madly in love with Tamar” (13:1b).  This “love” eventually resulted in her being raped by Amnon.  Obviously, Tamar is humiliated and disgraced.  A pall of exile (part of Israel’s own story) is cast over her life.

Afterwards, “Tamar, devastated, lived in the house of her brother Absalom” (13:20b), and “Absalom hated Amnon because he had humiliated his sister Tamar” (13:22b).  Absalom understood that Amnon, through his actions, had brought the shame of exile to his sister.  She was suffering.  In due time he planned on bringing her vindication, with this occurring through the killing of Amnon.  Absalom held a grudge against Amnon for a considerable length of time, and the story of Absalom’s revenge picks up “Two years later” (13:23a).  Absalom conceived a plan by which he could secure his revenge, and send Amnon into the exile of death.  After Amnon’s demise has been accomplished, it is reported that “This is what Absalom has talked about from the day that Amnon humiliated his sister Tamar” (13:32b). 

With Amnon’s death, Absalom most likely feels as if he has brought vindication to his sister, somehow relieving her of the shame and disgrace that she has experienced.  However, in the process of doing what he believed would bring his sister’s suffering to an end and thus providing her with something like exodus (Israel’s story constantly superimposed on individual stories), Absalom brings exile upon himself. 

Surely, Absalom calculated this as part of the risk of what he was undertaking, and would have imagined that something like this might be necessary.  It is said that “Absalom fled and went to King Talmai son of Ammihud of Geshur” (13:37a).  Absalom’s exile brought a measure of exile to David himself, as part of him was bound up with his son, so “David grieved over his son every day” (13:37b).  Interestingly, Absalom’s self-imposed exile from his homeland lasted longer than his grudge against Amnon.  While he had plotted against Amnon for two full years, Absalom remained in Geshur for three years (13:38).  Throughout that time, “the king longed to go to Absalom, for he had since been consoled over the death of Amnon” (13:39). 

Clearly then, this correlates rather well with the broad narrative scheme of the Scriptures that begins with the first exile---an exile that was truly self-imposed---which was that of Adam and Eve.  Though obviously their exile began on a different basis from that of Absalom, in that they did not commit a vengeful murder, they did in fact bring death upon themselves and upon the whole of their progeny.  It is not surprising then, to find that vengeful murder is in the heart of one of their sons, as evidenced by Cain’s jealousy-fueled murder of his brother Abel.  Having brought death, Adam and Eve were exiled from the place of the Creator God’s presence, from the Garden of Eden, and from the Creator’s good creation.  Like Absalom, fleeing from possible punishment, their exile began with their attempting to flee from the Creator God by hiding themselves in the garden. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Inspired Scripture (part 4 of 4)

Which brings this study to Ezekiel, and to a passage of Scripture that must be taken to be extraordinarily important for a right understanding of that which is contained in the letter to Timothy.  That passage, of course, is the thirty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel, and that which is referred to as the “valley of the dry bones.”  The words of Ezekiel were spoken to a people in exile, who were looking for a return to their promised land. 

They were spoken to a people that were expecting another exodus from their world that was marked by chaos (much like can be seen when the Creator God speaks in the creation account of Genesis).  These words were held out in hope to a people in a hopeless situation, that their God would act on behalf of His people and through His people to establish His kingdom.  They spoke of a man, a people, a being, that would be raised up from out of that chaos, and inspired (God-breathed) to carry out the Creator God’s purposes in and for His world. 

Ezekiel writes: “The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and placed me in the midst of the valley, and it was full of bones” (37:1).  Bones, quite obviously, denote death---something apart from the Creator’s obvious intentions for His creation.  When looking at the account of the creation of man from the second chapter of Genesis, which is the one in which the Creator God breathes the breath of life into His image-bearing creation, and seeing that it is man that is brought forth as the first order of creation, it is possible to effectively compare it to this first verse from this chapter in Ezekiel. 

If man, according to the second chapter of Genesis, was the first of the Creator God’s works (and this is not an attempt to debate the order of creation, especially when bearing in mind that the Genesis account is not a scientific or chronological account, but rather, that it was meant to show the supremacy of Israel’s God, as a narrative of origins that was in competition with other creation narratives in its own time), and if, according to the second verse of chapter one, the world was in a less than desirable state (though this does acknowledge the risk of setting up a dichotomy between the two accounts and then attempting to use them seamlessly), then one can hear an echo of Genesis in the words of Ezekiel. 

Continuing, Ezekiel writes “He made me walk all around among them.  I realized there were a great many bones in the valley and they were very dry.  He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’  I said to Him, ‘Sovereign Lord, you know.’  Then He said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and tell them: “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  This is what the sovereign Lord says to these bones: Look, I am about to infuse breath into you and you will live… I will put breath in you and you will live.  Then you will know that I am the Lord.”’” (37:2-5,6b) 

A bit later Ezekiel writes “He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath---prophesy, son of man---and say to the breath: “This is what the sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these corpses so that they may live.”’  So I prophesied as I was commanded, and the breath came into them; they lived and stood on their feet, an extremely great army” (37:9-10).  Ezekiel, as has been observed with the rest of the examples that have been used, quite obviously drew from the Genesis account of the Creator God’s breathing the breath of life into a specific and purposefully designed part of His creation, re-packaging the tale for Israel in exile---the people that the Creator God had chosen out to represent Him within His creation. 

Now, there is not going to be an attempt to interpret these passages from Ezekiel so as to draw conclusions from them.  This is merely an acknowledgement of how the knowledge of the Creator God and the understanding of His character and purposes that are conveyed within are terribly crucial for correctly considering the movement of that God and the assessment of the purpose of Scripture that is conveyed in the Timothy letter. 

It would seem to be implied that the Scriptures, as the breath of the Creator God, are to be ingested and absorbed by His people so that they might understand Him and His purposes, and therefore understand His purposes for them.  They do indeed reprove and correct and train, mysteriously infusing the Spirit of the Creator God into those that are shaped by them, who learn to inhabit the Creator God-oriented narrative that they present, so that those people so effected might fulfill the purpose for which Adam had been intended.  This is how one must hear this powerful statement from the letter to Timothy. 

Finally then, one must look to John.  Now, unless it was part of the oral tradition about Jesus known to Paul, what is written there would have no bearing on the letter to Timothy (if indeed second Timothy was composed by the Apostle Paul), as John was composed late in the first century.  The testimony from the Gospel of John draws these thoughts together to capture and convey what is subtly present in the words written to Timothy. 

In the twentieth chapter of John, as Jesus meets with His gathered and fearful disciples following His Resurrection, He, the one that John presents as the living word and the incarnation of the Creator God, recapitulates that God’s action towards Adam, saying “’Peace be with you.  Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’  And after He said this,” as drawing out all the appropriate implications that are surely intended by the Author of creation and the author of the text, while also bearing in mind the inspiration of Scripture as communicated to Timothy, “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (20:21-22)  Yes, the Creator God breathed and gave them a purpose, which was to carry out His work.  Certainly, in that light and along such lines, might one declare that the Scriptures are inspired.   

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Inspired Scripture (part 3)

When Scripture is referenced as being God-breathed, one is forced to discern what it means to be God-breathed?  What would the recipient of this letter, immersed within a world of self-identification that was shaped by the Scriptural narrative to which the author refers, have understood when he read about the Creator God-breathed nature of the divinely shaped writings that were set apart to be used by that God for His purposes (holy)?  Answering this question drives necessitates a return to the beginning of the story, to Genesis, and to the creation of the divine image-bearer. 

In the second chapter of Genesis it is written that “The Lord God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (2:7).  Here, the Creator God breathed.  In the first chapter, one finds that “God created humankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.  God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply!  Fill the earth and subdue it” (1:27-28a).  Yes, the second chapter confirms that the Creator God breathed life into the being that He created as and to bear His image into the world---into the being that He intended to tend to His good creation, spreading the knowledge and glory of Himself as His representatives.  Has this mission gone unchanged?  Is this not a great work for which the Creator God continues to train those that are called by His name, doing so through that which is primarily designed to communicate knowledge of Him, that being the Scriptures (and the church)? 

Though this would be a more than sufficient basis upon which to build a doctrinal foundation that should animate all believers in their representation of and service for the kingdom of the God of Israel, this is not an isolated occurrence.  Though this study is certainly not designed to be an exhaustive presentation of the Creator God’s acts of breathing, there are other important instances of such things in Scripture, to which the author of the second letter to Timothy makes reference and most likely expects to be called to mind by this simple reference. 

In the book that bears the name, Job makes reference to the general understanding of the creation narrative and of man’s place in it when he speaks and says “for while my spirit is still in me, and the breath from God is in my nostrils” (27:3).  Later on, Elihu will speak to Job and say “But it is a spirit in people, the breath of the Almighty, that makes them understand” (32:8).  He will continue on to say “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (33:8). 

In Ecclesiastes, the “preacher” insists that “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the life’s breath returns to God who gave it” (12:7).  In Isaiah, as reference is made to the covenant God’s creation and His creative power, the prophet writes “This is what the true God, the Lord, says---the one who created the sky and stretched it out, the one who fashioned the earth and everything that lives on it, the one who gives breath to the people on it, and life to those who live on it” (42:5).  Jeremiah and others make the point that “There is no breath in any of those idols” (51:17b).  Idols, which are designed to represent a god, have no breath, whereas a human, a divine image-bearer, is animated by the Creator God’s very breath.  A stark contrast indeed. 

While it is not necessary to take the time to draw all of the possible conclusions that can be teased out from these passages, certainly, these passages from the book of Job, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, which well encapsulates the exile and exodus narrative that appears to be foundational within Scripture, provides a tremendous perspective from which one can view/hear the words on offer to Timothy.    

Monday, May 26, 2014

Inspired Scripture (part 2)

On a wider scale, the movement contained here in the third chapter of the second letter to Timothy goes beyond the instructional movement of the letter, as encouragement is conveyed to the recipient.  The movement to be recognized draws from a long-established understanding about the Creator God, the nature of that God, the work of that God, and yes, the movement of that God. 

In order to hear the words as part of the movement, the word “inspired” must be addressed.  The Greek word here translated “inspired” is “theopneustos.”  There are two parts to this word.  The first, “theo,” is “God.”  The second, is “pneustos,” or generally speaking, “breathed.”  The root word for “pneustos” is “pneuma,” which, in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures primarily employed by the authors of the New Testament) and in the New Testament, while also used formally as a stand-in for the Spirit, is routinely translated as “breath.”  It is the suffix of the word that allows for it to be understood as “breathed.”  An acceptable rendering of the word would then be “God-breathed.” 

With the equivalence that is created between breath and Spirit, it could be said that the word, and therefore the concept being communicated by the word, could be understood as “God-Spirited.”  This would seem to reinforce the common notion of “inspiration,” meaning that the Creator God placed His very Spirit in the words of Scripture, therefore forcing an acknowledgment that the Scriptures themselves are that which have been inspired by the Creator God.  Now there is no real need to dispute this assertion, but stopping there would cause one to fall short of grasping the bigger picture of what the author has in mind when these words are penned. 

Stopping at that point, which only allows one to see an assertion about the words of Scripture, would leave an observer in a position that is short of the understanding about the Creator God that has been (and is being) conveyed throughout all of Scripture.  The Scriptures, first and foremost it would seem, are designed to teach about the Creator God, so that those that recognize Him might effectively reflect His glory---as through the Scriptures, those that do indeed desire to be fully human are taught, reproved, corrected, trained, and equipped to serve the purposes of the God whose image they wish to rightly bear (that is to be fully human).  To presume that Scripture teaches about itself as being inspired would seem to travel an awkward and most likely unintended path towards idolatry.   

So as one considers the thought of the holy writings being “God-breathed” or “God-Spirited,” and without getting into a detailed language study, it can be said that it is the Spirit of the Creator God that is conveyed through the holy writings of Scripture.  Therefore, the idea that the Scriptures are designed to teach about Israel’s God and about how to be His divine image-bearers in His world does not trail too far behind this thought.  The Scriptures, being inspired, convey the nature and the essence of the Creator, doing so to those that have been created for His specific purposes. 

Is this taking things a bit too far?  Isn’t this a complication, or perhaps a distinction without a difference?  Would it not simply be easier to hear the verse as an affirmation that the Bible is inspired in every way and therefore one hundred percent reliable and infallible in every way?  Of course that would be easier.  In doing that however, and in taking what is truly an easy route to a conclusion that falls short of what is intended, one is left relatively impoverished when it comes to attaining to the full richness of the language employed. 

Indeed, if the Scriptures truly are inspired, should they not inspire the reader to find out what they are saying about the very God that is said to have inspired them?  If one wanted to apply that notion of inspiration to the New Testament writings, all of which were composed within a thoroughly Jewish mindset and by people that were shaped and given their identity by the narrative of Scripture in the light of their understanding of the nature of their God, then one would need to hear the voice of the movement of Scripture and thereby the implicit and underlying understanding of what the Creator God expects from His people as a result of His movement, as this speaks from behind the text.

Inspired Scripture (part 1)

Every Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17  (NET)

A powerful statement indeed!  Too often, however, there is a tendency to become focused on the first part of the statement, that of Scripture being inspired by the Creator God.  Though it is customary to go on to quote the last part, it is often seen as something of an add-on, proving the fact of its inspiration because it provides teaching, reproof, correction, and training.  In addition to that, some users reference the verse in a post-Reformation context, using it as a proof text for the infallibility of Scripture, which was a relatively late development (historically speaking) proposed essentially in response to the doctrines of the infallibility of Pope and church.  This, of course, while certainly worth considering when contemplating the value of the sacred text of Jesus-followers, is entirely anachronistic and not really worth pursuing if one desires to hear the letter speak on its own terms and within its own setting. 

There is a movement here in what is found in the text.  Naturally, it is a movement in the sense that this particular Scripture is not designed to be heard in isolation.  Prior to the sixteenth verse, the author of the letter (presumably the Apostle Paul) writes: “You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about.  You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:14-15). 

With this one is reminded that there is no reference being made here to anything that would be considered as part of the New Testament.  At the time at which this letter is written, if indeed composed by the Apostle Paul and forwarded on to Timothy during the Apostle’s lifetime, the only “New Testament” writings that can be safely and confidently presumed to exist would in fact be the letters of Paul.  While it is possible, and indeed probable that the letters of James and Peter would have been in existence at that point, it certainly cannot be said that Paul was referring to their or his own letters as “holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” 

By no means would Paul, based on what can be known about his personal disposition through his letters, and though they were certainly meant to be impactful for their recipients, have considered his letters to the churches as being inspired Scripture on par with the writings of the Hebrew Scriptures (the law and the prophets).  Though Paul can be heard offering words from the Lord in contrast to words that come from him, and though Paul can be heard speaking confidently and tersely at times, this does not allow for the presumption that Paul thought extraordinarily highly of his own writings. 

Any attempt to make this insistence on his part would be solely due to the preservation of the writings and the value of the teaching and instruction contained therein, as Christians have studied and preserved the writings for well nigh two thousand years.  However, that does not allow for going well beyond that which is warranted when the letters and what is contained therein are considered on their own terms and in their own contexts.  That said, it would seem to be undeniable that the Creator God has most certainly and mysteriously worked through the New Testament writings to bring about a portion of His purposes for the world, which actually goes towards proving the point of this study. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 39 of 39)

It was in response to these direct and specific questions that “Jesus answered them” (Matthew 24:4a).  Jesus did not set about answering an unasked question about the end of time.  No, He answered the question that He was asked.  No, one does 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 the thrust text of this study, 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. 

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.  However, 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, one gets 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. 

Had one been in the position to hear Jesus speak, that one may not have been able to know the hour that the Temple was going to come crashing down.  However, that same one could be certain that, according to His words, when it did, it would be possible to be supremely confident that He ruled as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Indeed, it is appropriate to 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 participation in that kingdom along the lines outlined in the narrative found in Matthew.  Is it not that knowledge that should animate the lives of believers in this day?             

Saturday, May 24, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 38)

To whom is Jesus referring when He speaks of sheep?  It is those to whom the Son of Man, the King, speaks and says “For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I was naked and you gave Me clothing, I was sick and you took care of Me, I was in prison and you visited Me” (Matthew 25:35-36).  He, as the Son of Man, the King, goes on to add: “I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for Me” (25:40).  If a believer is looking for an answer as to what sort of person he or she is required to be, this is as good as any, especially when the goats are described as those that did not do these things.   

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).  Based on what has been seen with the 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 attention or be at all considered as a random placement.  Matthew wants to draw attention to the fact that all that has just been 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, is not only absurd but also 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 one final review, Matthew writes “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 (the end of their world), say “Tell us, when will these things happen?” (24:3b) 

To that Matthew adds “And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3c)  That question is based upon the quite popular seventh chapter of Daniel.  According to what would have been the popular understanding of that passage, the coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days, together with the concordant receipt of His kingdom, will mark the end of one age and the beginning of another.  Apart from that, one must 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. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 37)

Before tackling the specific text from which this study commenced and provided the title of the study, it will be appropriate to take the opportunity to bolster the conjecture in which this effort has been engaged concerning second Peter.  To get there, one must first look to Matthew.  As Jesus continues on with His discourse about the fall of the Temple, he says to “stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, He would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into” (Matthew 24:42-43).  Because of what has been determined, that the author of second Peter is referencing the prediction that the Temple would indeed fall, it is not at all surprising to hear him say “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (3:10a), as the analogy is drafted into use. 

Along the same lines, if second Peter is being written with a knowledge of that which will eventually come to be communicated in Matthew twenty-four, then it is also unsurprising to hear the regular references to Noah and the judgment of the flood, especially considering what Jesus can be heard to say with “For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be.  For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark” (24:37-38).  To that, Jesus adds “And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away.  It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man” (24:39). 

If Jesus’ prediction is, in fact, in mind, and if questions concerning the legitimacy of His prediction and therefore His ministry and therefore the church and its proclamation concerning Him, then this provides an interesting avenue by which to approach something to be found in the first chapter of the letter, which is “Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing.  You do well to pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place” (1:19a). 

In the third chapter of the letter, after insisting that the day of the Lord will come like a thief, a question is proffered: “Since all these things are to melt away in this manner,” as one remembers the three uses of “these things” in the synoptic recountings of Jesus’ discourse (while also remembering that, if this is indeed written before the Temple’s fall, that there is no access to Matthew, but rather, only the oral tradition and possibly Mark, if it was written before the fall, though this particular letter seems to make reference to that which would find its way into the Matthean tradition), “what sort of people must we be?” (3:11) 

Jesus proposes an answer to this question about the sort of people that His people must be as they wait for the fall of the Temple and the coming of the Son of Man to receive His kingdom.  He says “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time?  Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes.  I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions” (24:45-47).  He then goes on to provide a contrast with an evil slave. 

Jesus continues, saying “At that time,” the time when the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days and the Temple falls, “the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (25:1), with a further contrast between those that were wise and foolish in their preparation in relation to the coming of the bridegroom (who clearly stands in for the Son of Man for purposes of this parable).  Following that, Jesus offers up that which is referred to as “the parable of the talents,” saying “For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them” (25:14).  Like the previously mentioned slaves, these slaves were all given certain responsibilities. 

Continuing to seek the answer to “what sort of people must we be?”, Jesus is heard saying “When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him” (another telling mention of angels---not even the angels in heaven know when the Son of Man is going to come to the ancient of days), “then He will sit on His glorious throne.  All the nations will be assembled before Him,” as Daniel seven indicates, “and He will separate people from one another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.  Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (25:31-34). 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 36)

Sticking with Matthew’s presentation for the purposes of this analysis, the reader is now in a state of superior comprehension of the words of Jesus when hearing such things as “Whenever they persecute you in one place, flee to another.  I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (10:23); “The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin as well as all lawbreakers” (13:41); “For the Son of Man will come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each person according to what He has done” (16:27)---a clear Daniel seven reference; and “I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (16:28).  It is now understood that the last of these mentions of the Son of Man can be equated with the fall of the Temple, as would be made clear later in Matthew.  For the followers of Jesus then, seeing the Son of Man coming in His kingdom was the same thing as seeing the Temple fall. 

Something mentioned within the previous analysis of second Peter, which was the fact that talk of “heaven and earth” was a common way of referencing the Temple, leads back to that which precedes Jesus’ statement that “as for that day and hour no one knows it---not even the angels in heaven---except the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36).  Just before Jesus says this, and immediately after He speaks about the generation that will see the Temple fall, Jesus says “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (24:35). 

This, as has been alluded to several times, is also identically reported by the three evangelists---a fact that, like the other identically reported statement that preceded it, should not escape attention.  Now, does one take this statement, allow imagination to wander about again, and hear Jesus going off on a tangent about the end of the world when He speaks these words, or is to be heard within context, speaking in a very understandable way?  Obviously, the latter option is the more prudent and proper choice. 

Jesus has not changed the subject.  Jesus has not gone off on a tangent.  He is speaking about the fall of the Temple.  He is continuing to answer the question posed to Him at the beginning of the chapter following His declaration that not one stone of the Temple would be left upon another, as to when this would happen.  He has given the bulk of His answer, telling His disciples and other hearers the types of things that they would see and which should prepare them for the Temple’s fall, and re-asserts the finality of His prediction when He says that “Heaven and earth,” the Temple, “will pass away, but My words,” this prediction, “will not pass away.” 

In other words, Jesus says, “Oh yes, the Temple is going to fall.  You can count on it happening.”  Beyond that, one can hear Him making an existential claim, in that even though the Temple will pass away, His words---words that spring from the true Temple, will never pass away.  Also, because it is coincident with the fall of the Temple that Jesus (the Son of Man) will be going before the Father (the Ancient of Days) to receive His kingdom, those who are listening to Him, and those who come to believe in Him through the preaching of His disciples, can have confidence that His words are words that will endure.  His words about the Temple will indeed prove to be true---they will never pass away.  History will prove Him correct and He will reign as the Son of Man.     

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 35)

This line of thinking becomes especially poignant when one considers that Jesus’ dealings with and in the Temple are a central feature of the Gospel accounts, and that all three make it more than clear that it is this ongoing clash with the Temple authorities, culminating in Jesus’ enacted judgment (in the mold of Jeremiah) against the Temple that ultimately resulted in the collusion with the Roman authorities that was productive of His death by crucifixion. 

While this can be said, it is more than possible that Mark did in fact write His Gospel before the Temple had come to its end, as is often posited.  Mark’s Gospel lacks the embellishments (in the sense of a more rounded-out presentation) on Jesus’ life that are to be found in Matthew and Luke, with this lack of embellishment being quite understandable.  If Mark writes before the Temple’s fall, whereas Matthew and Luke write after the fall and because of that fall, then it is understandable that Mark’s account would be more direct and straightforward, lacking the material details and stories to be found in the narratives on offer in Matthew and Luke.  Understandably, composing their accounts of Jesus in a post-Temple-fall world, Matthew and Luke could be far more comfortable relating more of Jesus’ life story, as preserved and transmitted via the oral tradition. 

Together with these important realizations, if one also holds to the idea that the early church, having rightly comprehended what Jesus meant by His fall-of-the-Temple-focused discourse (as recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21), tightly connected the fall of the Temple with the coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days in order to receive His kingdom, then the heavy inclusion of all of the Son of Man language throughout the Gospels makes even greater sense.  While this study will not take the time to offer an in-depth review of all of the mentions of the Son of Man, it is worth taking a bit of time to review and to draw out some conclusions and inferences that would have been obvious to Jesus’ original audience. 

In a superficial review, one cannot help but notice that John has the fewest uses of “Son of Man.”  Mark clocks in with the next fewest, while both Matthew and Luke are replete with its usage (Luke nearly doubling Mark’s count, while Matthew more than doubles Mark’s usage).  While John obviously pursues its agenda on a different path than do the synoptics, Mark’s relative restraint in using the term is understandable if it is, in fact, cautiously and expectantly composed before the fall of the Temple.  If Jesus presents Himself as the Danielic Son of Man, while tying the expected reign of the Son of Man to the fall of the Temple, it would not be odd to see a pre-Temple-fall composition being a bit more judicious in the use of the term.  If both Matthew and Luke are composed and disseminated post-Temple-fall, then all things considered, it would make far more sense to include far more Son of Man language. 

Of course, one does not simply assert that a lack of details in indicative of a pre-fall composition, as Mark could certainly have been just as precise and non-verbose, as opposed to his evangelistic counterparts, while writing after the Temple’s fall.  Once a position has been achieved in which it possible to correctly and contextually hear Jesus’ Son of Man language within His crystal clear, prophetical, and predictive speech about the coming fall of the Temple, doing so in the light of Daniel’s seventh chapter, it would be a tremendous dis-service to fail to reflect on a few of its appearances prior to the Temple speech in which Jesus connects the Temple’s fall with the Son of Man’s arrival and kingdom acquisition.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 34)

As one hears the words of the second letter of Peter (as a perfect example, though one could also comb through Paul’s letters as part of this exercise) and considers the possibilities surrounding the potential interpretation of what is to be found there, while also considering the possibility that it was produced before the fall of the Temple, in demonstration of the church’s expectation of that fall and what it would mean for their faith,  it is appropriate to think about the time frame in which the written synoptic Gospels are said to have been produced. 

If indeed it was well understood that Jesus, as reported by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, was speaking of the fall of the Temple as something that would occur within the lifetimes of many of those that heard His answer to the disciples’ question about when the Temple would be thrown to the ground with not one stone left upon another, then this can also help to explain the time period that saw the relative explosion of Gospel narratives on to the scene in the first century. 

Though there are ongoing debates about the time frame for the production of the synoptic Gospels, and though there could certainly be written records that would be incorporated into the Gospels themselves that were composed at an early stage, it is generally accepted that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Mark preceding the other two) in the forms in which the church possesses them, were all composed roughly around the year seventy.  Some suggest an earlier dating for Mark, perhaps in the late sixties.  If true, this is not problematic for our suggestion. 

However, if the insistence of this study is correct, and the early church did indeed hold Jesus’ prediction concerning the Temple in very high regard (again considering that Jesus is reported to have made precious few predictions), giving it a place at the center of their teaching about Jesus as the thing that would bring about a great validation of His ministry, then it would be quite understandable to place all three of the synoptic Gospel accounts as being produced shortly after the very fall of the Temple that was predicted by Jesus as recorded by the Gospel authors. 

Remember, a great deal of weight has been placed on the fact that, despite numerous differences in details throughout the whole of their accounts of Jesus’ ministry and of His time and activities in the Temple, all three coalesce to identically report His talk about the generation that will see the fall of the Temple, along with the words that immediately followed.  This single fact should be endlessly fascinating.  It would make perfect sense for all three of the evangelists works to spring from the fall of the Temple, with all being produced after that event in a veritable rush to generate and disperse the written account that would include His words about the Temple’s fall. 

It is possible that, in the minds of the authors and the Jesus communities, the fall of the Temple would be the final piece of the puzzle, validating all that Jesus had said and done.  Now, with the Temple destroyed, which also meant that the Son of Man had most certainly gone before the Ancient of Days to receive His kingdom (for if one prediction was correct, then the prediction tied to it must be considered to be correct as well), all of the preaching and teaching about Jesus that had been taking place within the nascent church movement, and all of the persecution undergone by the church, primarily at the hands of the Temple authorities, could be seen to not have been done or experienced in vain. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 33)

Yes, the early church clearly understood that Jesus was the true Temple.  He was the house of God.  He was the place where heaven and earth came together.  Naturally, if talk about the church as the Temple of the Holy Spirit is taken seriously (as Paul indicates), in both a communal sense and in accord with the responsibility of the individuals members that compose the body of Christ, this informs the Christian as to his or her responsibilities in association with a life lived in response to the Gospel claim that Jesus is Lord.  The Christian is to be the place where and heaven earth come together---bringing heaven to earth as a singular purpose. 

Getting back to the course of thought that Isaiah suggests, Jesus can be heard doing the same thing, though omitting the explicit reference to the earth and its foundations.  Naturally, given the nature of allusion, as Jesus intends to call to mind the broad picture being painted by Isaiah, a reference to the earth and dramatic happenings in relation to the earth to go along with the happenings with the sun, moon, stars, and the power of heaven, is implied.  Again, all of this is offered by Jesus in the context of His discourse about the Temple. 

Returning then to second Peter, one is able to read and hear him from a more enlightened perspective.  This can be done while keeping clearly in view Jesus prediction about the fall of the Temple, along with the need, amongst the followers of Jesus in the years after His death, Resurrection, and ascension, for this prediction to come true.  Having laid the groundwork the author writes “Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day.  The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because He does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (3:8-9).  By way of reminder, this study is insisting that the promise is the judgment prophesied against the Temple, and that this will coincide with the coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days, which will signal the fact of Christ’s reign. 

Continuing on then: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare” (3:10).  There’s that heaven and earth language again, and it leads into “Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?”  (3:11-12a)  Does one not recognize the Daniel seven reference, which then also is a reference to the oral traditions (if indeed this is written in the sixties of the first century) concerning Jesus’ speech about the Temple, to the coming of the Son of Man?  The thought is rounded out with “Because of this day, the heavens will be burned up and dissolve, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze!  But, according to His promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness truly resides” (3:12b-13). 

Indeed, they were waiting for it to be made clear to all that Jesus was the true Temple, which would be demonstrated when the Temple in Jerusalem was taken out of the way just as Jesus had said would happen.  Jesus was to be recognized, by all, as the new heavens and the new earth---the place of the coming together of heaven and earth, which is part and parcel of the meaning behind His ascension.  When it comes to being the place where righteousness dwells, when righteousness is understood as the Creator God’s covenant faithfulness, which is that which was represented by the Temple, then when it is Jesus that is left standing, resurrected following His crucifixion by Rome, whereas the Temple was destroyed by Rome never to rise again, then yes, Jesus is that which represents the covenant God’s covenant faithfulness to His people and to His creation.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 32)

In response to the scoffing, the author of the letter appears to remind them of the days of Noah, in which the Creator God is said to have initially warned Noah about the pending judgment (thinking about the judgment that Jesus pronounced in the Temple, the carrying out of that judgment by the Romans in the year seventy, and the judgment rendered in favor of the saints of the Most High God when the Son of Man receives His kingdom, which Jesus linked to the fall of the Temple), but withheld the watery judgment of the earth for what appears to be at least one hundred years (and possibly one hundred twenty years), writing “For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water.  Through these things the world existing at that time was destroyed when it was deluged with water.  But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (3:5-7). 

Now if the mind is allowed to wander, there will again exist the temptation to retreat into inappropriate ways of hearing what has been said.  However, if one remains focused, it is possible and appropriate to hear the Daniel seven context and the favorable judgment on behalf of those being persecuted.  Without going into too much detail, one can also think about the fact that Jesus, at His trial, had accused the High Priest---the chief Temple authority---of being the very entity that was warring against the saints of the Most High God in the seventh chapter of Daniel.  According to the book of Acts, Stephen made this same accusation at his trial.  In both instances, the accuser died at the hands of the accused. 

Together with talk of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly, one must also consider the usage of “heavens and earth,” which could not be more important, as this can be rightly understood to be a reference to the Temple---the place where heaven and earth meet.  Yes, the Temple was the place of the coming together of heaven and earth.  Any reference to “heaven and earth,” especially if it is in the context of talk of the Temple, is a reference to the Temple itself.  Though this is offered as conjecture (though not unsupported conjecture) when it comes to second Peter, it is far from being conjecture when such talk is heard in the Gospels. 

This prompts a brief return to Matthew twenty-four (though one could also look to both Mark and Luke), as are minder of of Jesus saying, as He answers the question about when the Temple will be cast down with not one stone left upon another, that “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken” (24:29).  Though the reference to Isaiah ends there, it has already been noted that Isaiah continued on to eventually write “So I will shake the heavens, and the earth will shake loose from its foundation” (13:13a).  Isaiah, as has been established, was referring to Jerusalem and the Temple being overcome by Babylon, using apocalyptic language of heaven and earth that reaches beyond mere symbolism and drama, conveying Jewish opinion concerning the Temple---the place where heaven and earth came together. 

The tradition of such thinking concerning the house of the Creator God reached all the way back to Jacob, as it is when he is in Bethel (the house of God), that he has the dream in which a ladder reached from earth to heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending.  Yes, the house of God is where and heaven and earth came together.  Little wonder then that the Gospel of John, in its portrayal of Jesus that reflected the development of Christian understanding about Jesus and a better grasp, in the late first century in the time period after the fall of the Temple, of Jesus’ sayings about Himself, has Jesus telling Nathanael and the other men that had been called to be His disciples, that they “will see heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (1:51b). 

Friday, May 16, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 31)

Is all this talk of the message of Jesus’ prediction about the fall of the Temple being an included and important part of the message of the earliest Christ-followers pure conjecture?  Is there any scriptural basis, or any evidence from the time period of the early church upon which to base such conjecture and related assertions?  The second letter of Peter presents an interesting possibility.  Now, this will not be an open and shut case by any means.  Again, this is conjecture, and is far from being dogmatic, especially considering the questions that surround the composition of the letter itself. 

Second Peter is something of a mystery.  There are many that insist that it is a composition of the Apostle Peter himself, while there are just as many that insist that it is a composition by another individual, composed well after the time of Peter’s death.  If it was composed by Peter, then according to the traditions about the dating of Peter’s death, which is said to have occurred in the late sixties, it had to have been written before the fall of the Temple, which took place in the year seventy. 

If one adopts the mindset that the prediction about the fall of the Temple, which would coincide with (or indicate) the Son of Man receiving His kingdom from the Ancient of Days and which Jesus said was going to be seen by the generation to which He was speaking, was a crucial component of the message about Jesus that greatly served to validate the message about Him, then one is provided with an interesting backdrop against which to view a portion of second Peter.  If this conjecture is not too terribly wide of the mark, it may actually perform a role in the ongoing debate about authorship and time frame for the letter. 

If the letter was composed by Peter before the fall of the Temple, if it is believed that the fall of the Temple (and all that goes along with that) is crucial to the message of Jesus, and if the ongoing presence of the Temple, in light of the fact that the traditions about Jesus included His well-understood prediction that the Temple would fall relatively soon, the fact that the Temple remained standing would have been a major thorn in the side of the young community of Jesus loyalists, practically mocking their allegiance to Jesus (who would be little more than a false prophet perhaps rightly executed if the Temple continued to stand).  Thus, one can make note of much of the third chapter with a renewed interest and focus.  Beginning in the third verse the author writes: “Above all, understand this: In the last days blatant scoffers will come,” understanding quite well what is meant by the “last days” (essentially, the time before the Son of Man receives His kingdom and the time in which the Temple will fall), “being propelled by their own evil urges and saying, ‘Where is His promised return?” (3:3-4a) 

Continuing the scoffing towards the claims of the Christians, and especially the claims concerning the Temple, with a still-standing Temple serving to counterfeit all other claims being made about Jesus including His Resurrection, one reads “For ever since our ancestors died,” thinking about Jesus’ assertion (reported identically in the synoptic Gospels) that this generation will not pass away until all these things take place, “all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation” (3:4b).  While the church claimed that the Creator God had acted dramatically within history to resurrect Jesus, to which the church then pointed as the evidence of the beginning of the renewal of that God’s creation, even not-so-keen observers could scoff at this remark, offering up the insistence that things are continuing pretty much as they have always been.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 30)

However, if the Temple fell, as Jesus apparently predicted it would, and if the message about Jesus and about His words included the insistence that Jesus was, in fact, the new Temple, that the Temple continued in those that believed in Him as Messiah (as the place in which the Creator God, by His Spirit, truly dwelled), that Israel’s God had raised Him from the dead, and that He was the Son of Man that had now gone before the Ancient of Days and received the power of the long-awaited kingdom of God, then a shift in loyalty and allegiance (faith) would be a very natural thing to occur. 

If the Temple fell, and did so in line with Jesus’ predictions (perhaps one can think about the report of the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place and the author’s comment about the reader understanding), and if it was all tied-up with Jesus’ ministry, His crucifixion, His Resurrection, His ascension (understood to be the joining of the realm of the Creator God and the realm of man---the coming together of heaven and earth), the witness of the church, and the coming of the Son of Man to receive kingdom authority, then it would be more than clear that the Creator God had acted just as decisively within history as He had when the Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians. 

If the Temple had come to its end, and if the person that had predicted such a thing, who had been said to have been raised from the dead by the Creator God, was also reported to have insisted that He received His kingdom at the same time, then it would make all the sense in the world for the covenant people of the covenant God travel all the way down that path, worshiping Him and honoring Him as so deserved.  Of course, historically, the actions of Gentile Christians did much to dissuade the Jews from traveling that path.    

It would be one thing to go and preach a risen Lord.  That would be a matter of meta-physical speculation and, when you get right down to it, faith.  It would be quite another to go and preach a risen Lord, with a desire to accurately share the message that He preached, speaking about the Creator God’s kingdom coming through Him, with that tied to the fall of the Temple while the Temple of Jerusalem still stood.  With a clear understanding that Jesus did, in fact, predict the fall of the Temple, then it may very well have been the most important issue at hand in the witness of the early church.  The destruction of the Temple, with it occurring within the time frame that Jesus very clearly gave in one of His most straightforward answers, and as it appears that this is actually something that He must have said (otherwise it would not be so stringently reported and insisted upon by the Gospel authors), would be the thing that, rightly and understandably, gave weight to all other claims about Jesus. 

Frankly, if He was truly going to be considered as a legitimate prophet, then the Temple had to come crashing down.  It would be one thing to predict such a thing in a time of relative peace and stability under the Romans, and another thing altogether to insist upon such an occurrence when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies and the Jews are in the process of open rebellion against Rome.  Here, one is forced to think about Jesus’ statement that many would come in His name (Messiah, Son of Man, etc…), claiming to be the messiah (Matthew 24:5) in the midst of wars and rumors of wars, and to consider his talk about people saying “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There He is!”, while adding that those that say such things during times of duress are not be believed (as it is only natural to make predictions about the possible destruction of the Temple when the Jews are in open revolt against Rome).  So when Jesus says “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (24:24), and then adds, “Remember, I have told you ahead of time” (24:25), better sense of this can be made. 

Jesus spoke about the fall of the Temple “ahead of time.”  Yes, Jesus made His prediction in association with the time of relative peace and stability.  This was risky stuff for Jesus.  There is great faith on display.  If He was to be held up as anything but a failed messianic pretender, then it was ultimately necessary for the Temple to be destroyed.  The Resurrection only mattered if Jesus received His kingdom as the Son of Man, and He had very clearly said that He would come to His reign (or His reign would be confirmed) when the Temple fell.       

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 29)

This makes a great deal of sense.  Jesus was painting Himself into a corner, relying on Israel’s prophetic tradition and demanding that He be judged in the same way that all prophets were judged---based on the verifiability of their predictions.  In His actions in the Temple, Jesus presents Himself in the mold of Jeremiah, and does so by making reference to His very words.  Had his words of the Creator God’s judgment against the Temple not come to pass, Jeremiah would have lambasted as a false prophet and held up to scorn rather than honor. 

However, Jeremiah’s words did come to pass, the Temple fell, and even though His words were not exactly grand proclamations for Israel, he is held up as a great prophet of Israel (a prophet being one who calls corrupt powers to account, not necessarily one who makes predictions about the future).  The same standard would have applied of Jesus.  Would anybody listen to Him, or have any use for Him, if the singular distant prediction that He made, which was well understood to be a prediction about the demise of the Temple within the lifetimes of many of His hearers, did not occur?  One would think that the answer to that question would be in the negative. 

Certainly, the Resurrection was and is vital as a witness to Jesus.  However, those that witnessed and interacted with the risen Jesus following His Resurrection were limited in number.  Accordingly, skepticism towards such a claim would be natural and completely understandable, as people simply did not come back to life, especially after undergoing a Roman crucifixion.  While Jesus obviously staked a great deal of validation on His Resurrection, He also appears to have staked a great deal on the fall of the Temple as well (and His biographers seem to have staked much on this claim as well).  

If Jesus staked much on this claim, then His church could do no less.  Not only did He claim that the Temple would fall, but perhaps more importantly, as it concerns the church that would follow Him, He claimed that when the Temple fell, He, as the Son of Man, would go (or have gone) before the Ancient of Days to receive His kingdom, power, and authority (or this event would be confirmation that this had in fact already occurred).  Is this not important? 

Now, to get a taste of where this idea might be headed, it could be said that one gets a sense of this way of thinking in the first chapter of Romans, as Paul declares that Jesus “was appointed Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the Resurrection from the dead” (1:4a).  The letter to the Romans, of course, was written between the Resurrection of Jesus and the fall of the Temple.  If the early Christians knew that Jesus had staked His claim on the fall of the Temple, explicitly linking its fall with His receiving of His kingdom, then one can easily hear this as Paul speaking about this appointment as an appointment-in-waiting, expecting the validation to come.  One can also imagine Him being quite confident that the validation would come, especially considering the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to Paul, which was the basis for Paul’s dramatic transformation from persecutor of the church to its chief proponent and the originator of Christian theology/philosophy, and the complete re-orientation of his life around the claims of Jesus.

It is quite likely that, as the message of Jesus went forth, and as the church presented itself, through and in union with their risen Lord, as the new Temple, that Jesus’ words about the fall of the Temple that was to take place relatively soon had an important place in talk of Him.  Why would this not be the case?  Indeed, it would be odd if this was not the situation at hand.  Why can such a thing be said?  Well, one would have to consider the question in accordance with the fact that the issue of Jesus, as Messiah, was a primarily a Jewish issue. 

Salvation for the world was to be through the Jews, and any proper understanding of the role of the Messiah cannot be divorced from the history of Israel and the Creator God’s role for His chosen people.  Why would the Jews, especially, whose lives were oriented around the Temple, shift their allegiance from the Temple (and therefore the God represented by the Temple) to Jesus?  It is a legitimate question.  If they had the Temple, then why would they need to seek their God in some other place or person?  It was the lack of the Temple, during the period of the Babylonian exile, that forced the Creator God’s people to seek Him.   

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 28)

Recall Mark’s account of the disciples’ question, as he reports their asking “when will these things happen?  And what will be the sign that all these things are about to take place?” (13:4)  In Luke, the disciples pose a similar question which, one can also recall, differed from Matthew’s report, as there they instead went on to ask “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age” (24:3c).  As has been adequately demonstrated, this question was not making reference to Jesus’ return to earth, nor to the end of the world, but was a question that was ensconced in a worldview shaped by the presentation of Daniel seven, as the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days to receive His kingdom, thus ending the present age and ushering in the age in which the Creator God exercises cosmic dominion through the Son of Man. 

So how should this statement by Jesus be heard?  It should be heard as plainly as possible.  When Jesus says that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” making reference to the fall of the Temple, what He means is that this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Simple.  Jesus is informing His hearers that the Temple will fall during the lifetimes of many of those that were listening to Him speak at that moment.  Seeing as how the Temple actually did fall in the year seventy, with not one stone left upon another, and with this taking place roughly forty years beyond the time of His speech, it appears that He was right.  As one contemplates that, it should be remembered that Jesus was very clear in His insistence that the fall of the Temple would coincide with “the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (24:30b).         

So, pausing here for a bit before going on to the remainder of the statement about that generation and their capacity to witness these things, it’s now clear that Jesus was referencing the fall of the Temple when He spoke in this manner.  Would this really have been so clear to those that heard Him?  Was this really and truly clear to His disciples?  Were these words of Jesus unambiguously clear to the early church?  It would seem so.  The fact that identical language is in use at this point in the records of the three evangelists, when such a thing cannot be said up until this point, goes a long, long way in demonstrating that Jesus’ disciples and the early church well understood what Jesus meant, taking this speech about the Temple and about the coming of the Son of Man (presumably an earth to heaven movement) quite seriously.  Indeed, it would appear that a great amount of weight was placed on these words. 

This, in fact, when one gets right down to it, is one of very few places where Jesus can be seen offering up a prediction that could be empirically verified and tested by a watching world.  Yes, He often speaks about His pending death and Resurrection, but it is with these words about the Temple that He pushes His predictions (prophecies if you like) into a time in the future, with a determinate end-point (i.e. this generation).  Now, one could argue that these words, as recorded in the Gospels, did not actually come from Jesus, and that they are interpolations by later authors, placing words in Jesus’ mouth.  However, the univocal witness of the Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as Jesus reaches this point in His discourse about the Temple, forces one to consider that there was an expectation, throughout the time following Jesus’ ascension, that the Temple needed to fall, so that Jesus could receive a final validation as a prophet. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 27)

Redundancy is necessary to break through the clutter of so much ridiculous, textually irrelevant, and ultimately unhelpful “end times” speculation that has grown up around these Matthean, Markan, and Lukan passages.  In Jesus’ discourse on the fall of the Temple (as He answers His disciples’ question in regards to His statement about the stones of the Temple being cast to the ground), “He,” of course, is the Son of Man, and He is right at the door, ready to go before the Ancient of Days to receive His kingdom. 

When will this appearing before the Ancient of Days and the reception of a kingdom take place, or when will all know for sure that this appearance and reception has taken place?  When the Temple falls.  That is still the context.  Even though this will happen, and even though most of Jesus’ primary audience would consider the fall of the Temple to be a horrific and cataclysmic event equivalent to the sun, moon, and stars falling from the sky and the world being rocked from its foundations, signaling the Creator God’s judgment upon Israel, it is actually to be understood as the time in which the Creator God renders His judgment against those that do battle against His people, establishing His kingdom reign through the Son of Man.  So in effect Jesus here delivers a message of hopefulness.  Helpfully, Luke again renders Jesus’ words with slight differences, there reporting Him as saying “So also you, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near” (21:31).  This statement about the kingdom of God, considering the overt Daniel seven context, is unmistakably clear in its message.     

Though Matthew and Mark have been nearly identical from their report of words concerning the gathering of the elect, to the mention of the fig tree, and on to the Son of Man being near and at the door, with Luke diverging slightly from that Matthean and Markan renderings, the three synoptic evangelists all go on to agree, word for word, with what Jesus has to say next.  Matthew reports: “I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (24:34).  This type of congruence, considering the regularity of differences that are encountered, especially when comparing Matthew and Mark to Luke, should arrest attention.  Clearly, much rested on these words, as well as those that would immediately follow, which will be observed momentarily. 

What is one to make of these words?  How would they have been heard?  How should they be heard?  Well, in all honesty, this is all rather uncomplicated.  All that has to be done to grasp the meaning of these words of Jesus with one hundred percent confidence is to reach back to what has premised all that Jesus is saying throughout this lengthy discourse which was set in motion by His triumphal entry, subsequent actions in the Temple, and all that took place in the Temple prior to His explicit leaving of the Temple.  Doing so, one once again hears Matthew reporting that “as Jesus was going out of the Temple courts and walking away, His disciples came to show Him the Temple buildings” (24:1).  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)  This, as is quite obvious, is what prompted the disciples to say “Tell us, when will these things happen?” (24:3b) 

Now, as He has progressed through His answer, Jesus finally informs them that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”  This is quite specific.  Jesus has said “the Temple will be torn down.”  The disciples have asked “when?”  Jesus effectively says, “Pretty soon.  In fact, this generation will see it.”  If one is willing to put the blinders to pre-conceptions, turn a deaf ear to so many fanciful interpretations that have attempted to hold sway through the years, and inhabit the narrative in order to hear Jesus speak, what one finds is that this is about as straightforward of an answer as Jesus ever gives when a question has been on offer to Him.  Frankly, there’s very little mystery here.  In addition to that, the eyes and ears are drawn to the “these things” of the first and third verses of the twenty-fourth chapter, and the “these things” of the thirty-fourth verse of the chapter.  The repetition provides a clue as to the explicit connection between the verses as part of this revealing and informative answer on the part of Jesus. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 26)

While Matthew uses language identical to Mark, Luke, though presenting the apocalyptic words of Jesus with marked differences, makes things a bit more obvious for his audience.  There one finds, “And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth nations will be in distress, anxious over the roaring of the sea and the surging waves.  People will be fainting from fear and from the expectation of what is coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man arriving in a cloud with power and great glory.  But when these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because you redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:25-28).  This use of “redemption” by Luke is crucial.  Redemption, for a Jew, was equivalent to exodus.  When the Creator God delivered His people from the power of Egypt, granting them exodus, that was a redemption.  Any use of the word “redemption” would be deeply rooted in thoughts of exodus. 

When the Creator God brought the creation forth from its state of chaos, He was thought to have granted it an exodus, redeeming it from its own state of exile.  When a large contingent of the tribe of Judah was dragged off to Babylon in exile from their homeland, it was redemption for which they longed.  They looked for another exodus.  Indeed, John the Baptist built his own movement on the foundation of thoughts of exodus/redemption, as baptism in the Jordan was a re-enactment of Israel’s crossing the Jordan into their Promised Land, thus stirring thoughts of their exodus that defined a people. 

Israel in Jesus’ day, for the most part, sought redemption from Rome--- hopeful that their God would grant them another Egypt-like exodus (the Romans leaving Israel rather than Israel leaving Egypt), even though that exodus would not involve them leaving their land of promise.  A need for redemption, for exodus, implied conflict and oppression, and a situation from which the Creator God’s people needed to be delivered. 

Without going into details of the variety of situations to which Luke may have been referring, it is undeniable that the reference to Daniel, followed by mention of redemption, must be equated to the Danielic insistence that the elect holy ones of the Most High were gathered together (as Matthew and Mark have Jesus saying) to possess the kingdom, and to have a role in that kingdom that was being granted to the Son of Man.  By way of reminder, this coming to power of the Son of Man, with the gathering of the elect for redemption, takes place in concert with the fall of the Temple, which is the preface to all that Jesus has said to this point in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, the thirteenth chapter of mark, and the twenty-first chapter of Luke. 

With this said, Jesus speaks about a fig tree.  There is not a pressing need to go into any great depth of detail here about the symbolism that may be at work, though certainly the previous fig tree that has figured in the Temple-related narratives of Matthew and Mark is called to mind.  This, however, would not be the case for Luke, as he makes no mention of Jesus’ words toward the fig tree and its withering away.  Regardless, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all report this mention of the fig tree as part of Jesus’ discourse about the fall of the Temple.  Through Matthew, Jesus says “Learn this parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out leaves, you know that summer is near.  So also you, when you see all these things, know that He is near, right at the door” (24:32-33). 

What things?  Obviously, it is all the things that have been mentioned that will signal, for Matthew, the coming of Jesus (as the Son of Man) to the Ancient of Days and the end of the age (the end of the present age and the beginning of the age in which God rules through His Messiah), that would occur or be confirmed by the fall of Jerusalem’s Temple.  The “things” are messianic claims, wars, rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, famines, earthquakes, the abomination of desolation, and so on.  These things are signals that “He is near, right at the door.”