All these things – Matthew in Advent day 10

There’s an angel standing in the sun
And he’s crying with a loud voice
“This is the supper of the mighty one”
Lord of Lords, King of Kings
Has returned to lead his children home
To take them to the new Jerusalem

Songwriters: Mike Rutherford / Peter Gabriel / Phil Collins / Steve Hackett / Tony Banks
Supper’s Ready by Genesis lyrics © Carlin America Inc

The checkerboard of nights and days
Man will die, man be saved
The sky will fall, the earth will pray
When judgement comes to claim its day

Lyrics by M Turner. The King Will Come by Wishbone Ash
The King Will Come lyrics © B Feldman & Co Ltd T/as Miles Music

Eschatology is the study of the last things. Sometimes I think 1970s Prog Rock writers did it in a more understandable way than the Bible.

The Last Judgment is by Michelangelo on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.
The last Judgement by Michelangelo from Wikimedia Commons

The Gospel of Matthew is written as a series of six narrative sections, telling the story of Jesus’ life, interspersed with five sections of teaching. The beginning of the Gospel links back into the past of the Old Testament. This, the last of the teaching sections, links forward to the future. Advent is a time when we look forward to the return of Christ.

Destruction of the temple – the context

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’

Matthew 24:1-3 NIV UK

Into the fire. There are a lot of different theories about the end times. To takes sides is to an extent is to attract criticism. I have seen very harsh words exchanged on this when I moderated a Christian chat room and a Christian discussion board at St Pixels, an experimental internet church which started in 2004 and still has an online presence on Facebook and Twitter. I have seen people being accused of not being a Christian because they did not follow a particular understanding around the return of Jesus. It is with trepidation that I now blog about it.

To understand Matthew chapter 24 we must look at the context of the chapter.

Matthew’s Gospel is very structured. It consists of five narrative passages of what Jesus did followed by a section on Jesus’ teaching. The sixth and last section, the trial crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in only narrative. Each new narrative section starts with, “After this Jesus…” or similar words. They come at Matthew 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1 and 26:1. Matthew’s Gospel is meticulously planned, nothing is here by chance.

Chapter 24 is written in a form that was common in those times called apocalyptic, a form which is neither literal nor analogy. It comes between two other apocalyptic chapters. Chapter 23 ends with the judgement of the Pharisees and says all these things will happen in that in that generation. (Matthew 23:36)

Matthew repeats the phrase all these things, ταῦτα πάντα in Greek, from chapter 23 in chapter 24. The woes to the Pharisees and the talk to the disciples on the Mount of Olives are linked.

‘Do you see all these things?’ [Jesus] asked. ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

Matthew 24:2, 24:34 NIV UK my bold.

The context of Chapter 23 that Jesus is talking about the destrurction of Jerusalem and the temple in that generation, which did happen in AD 70 when the temple burnt down.

If you look at the chapter following chapter 24 things could not be different. Chapter 25 is a series of stories about a king coming to take his kingdom, the ten virgins, the talents and the final judgement. Somewhere the context between the judgement of the Pharisees and the people changes to the return of Christ to earth. That change comes in Chapter 24, but where in Chapter 24? That question is still being argued over.

Then there’s the disciples’ question, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ They thought it was one question, the Jewish expectation was that the Messiah would come and the present age would come to an end. Instead Jesus came and brought the kingdom of God with him. But this age ends with his return, which has not happened yet. We are living in the age where God’s Kingdom and the kingdom of this world overlap.

So we have to look at the disciples’ question in two parts:

  1. When will this happen?
  2. What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?

There are two kingdoms. We have a choice. We can live in the kingdom of this world or we can live in the kingdom of God. Your choice.

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