It has been on my mind for awhile to deal with the whole issue of eschatology, and to be honest, as I approached the issue, I began to realize how little I understand. The more I read various views (which initially seemed rather convincing) the more I began to realize that none really answers all the questions satisfyingly. So although I have gained a greater appreciation of the various view’s attempts to harmonize the Scriptures and their theology, I believe I have been plunged into an ocean to vast to traverse. So without going into the idea that Eschatology’s seemingly illusive nature might have something to teach us (perhaps God did not intent the issue to be clear), allow me to begin my public processing of the issue.
I intent to, over the next bit of time, go over these issues, starting as far away and moving inwards with relevant source material, today starting a commentary of Matthew 24, which I believe to be the furtherest yet still specific point from which to broach the subject at hand. I must say, some of my thoughts have been provoked by a good friend’s honest and earnest approach to this subject.
So without further chit-chat: My introduction to the Olivet discourse (Matthew 24)
This is one of the last major teachings Christ gives His disciples, and deals mostly with judgment and the behavior expected of a Christian during this time of judgment. The problem in this text (which we will face) is that some of what Jesus says refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, and some of what He says refers to His coming at the end of the age (or so I will argue). As one commentator points out, the first coming of the Messiah to suffer was hard to conceive, thus we should not doubt that since He came literally to suffer, He will also literally come in person as well, to reign.
We may also say that there is a unity between the two judgements in mind (of Jerusalem and at the end of the age) in a theological sense, and thus some of what Jesus says may apply to both. The first of these judgements, which involves the destruction of Jerusalem, is a result of the rejection of His earthly ministry by the Jewish people. The second judgement is about what will follow the preaching of the gospel to the world. However I am cautious to approach these chapters with the assumption that everything in it applies to only one of these judgements (scholars seem to vary vastly on which part applies to which).
The mixing of prophecies leading up to the events of A.D. 70 and those which apply to the end of the age make this a difficult passage to interpret. Matthew also shares much in this passage with Mark and Luke, yet also has large variations.
Some commentators (and dear friends I have) understand the entire discourse to refer to a single event. They would say that Jesus is excepting His return within a few years, and that the judgment of Jerusalem is but a part of the judgment on the whole world. However, the language used appears against this: As opposed to teaching that He would be coming soon in glory, Christ appears to be discouraging this idea (v6, 8, 14 and 23-28). Furthermore we should not forget the fact that He said He did not know the date of His return (v36). If He did not know it, how could he affirm so confidently that it would happen within a few years?