Time for an perspective shift. Matthew chapter 24 is not about Jesus returning in this generation or any other one. It never has been and never will be. As we come to the end of the chapter we can look back on it, and look at how it goes. It stated with a warning not to be deceived by false prophets, then when we see wars breaking out not to be afraid. Yes really, because God is still in control.
We will be hated all over the world, says Jesus, and sin will be rampant everywhere. I’m not a fan of those either. I can understand people saying these are the end times, because it looks a lot like that now. People have said they were living in the end times in times past, and I forgive them for thinking it too, things looked a lot like Jesus described then too. The problem is not that they have got the timing of the plan wrong but that Jesus did not bring a plan but a perspective. A perspective on how to live in troubled times and how to live as a faithful and wise servant. A sensible servant.
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.
Weeping and gnashing of teeth
45 ‘Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, “My master is staying away a long time,” 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Matthew 24:45-51 NIV UK
Jesus came not to give a plan but a perspective. A perspective on how to live in troubled times and how to live as a faithful and wise servant. A sensible servant. In the middle of life that is a mess it brings hope because the mess has been promised, not as a good thing, but as a picture of what life will be like. We can endure because we have hope and we know the one who is ultimately in control.
We live in hard times as we wait for eternity. But in this hardness we have Jesus as our strength and the Holy Spirit as our guide.
Verses 45 to 51 above are not in Mark and are treated separately in Luke. But if fits here in Matthew because it links the talk to the disciples on the mount of Olives back into the Old Testament and forward into the future. Backwards the sensible servant links to Joseph going into Egypt as a slave, getting stitched up (not literally) by hos Masters wife and doing tome in Jail before becoming the guy who blessed the known world with grain in a famine as Pharaoh’s head of distribution. It also points to the passage about the good wife in Proverbs.
Weeping and gnashing of teeth is a Jewish thing, it is about the Jews who rejected Jesus. The phrase appears outside the Gospel of Matthew only once, on Luke 13:28-29, 28 ‘There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. The context is judgement on Jews who reject Jesus. The other six passages are in Matthew, which was written to the Jewish Christians. The phrase does not exist outside of a Jewish context. It points to the crying and anger that guilty people feel when they are judged.
Gnashing of teeth does not necessarily point to conscious torment for eternity, as some see the afterlife fir those who reject Jesus. It is used in Acts 7:54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him, it says about the trial of Stephen, it is simply a sign of anger, of rage. The Jews who rejected Jesus will be angry and weep at God’s judgement. The text says that the victim will be cut into pieces but this is very likely to be figurative as it also shows the victim remains alive. Remember that this is an apocopalypric section of the Bible using symbolic language. It could mean to cut off from the people, different theologians differ on this, it is probably best to accept that the meaning is lost to time.
The return of Jesus is closely connected to his ascension, he has gone away but is coming back. This is why I am avoiding the term Second Coming, because second coming associates Christ’s coming with the first coming, the birth at Bethlehem. Even though second coming is almost a Biblical term, the book of Hebrews says, he will appear a second time, but the context is post passion, “So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.“ Hebrews 9:28. The parables about Christ’s return liken it to a man going on a journey. The Greek word translated as coming, as said a few days ago on this blog, means going towards a destination, not necessarily to where the observer is.
God is calling us to struggle with him in the hard places, to be a people who make a difference. To be sensible servants of God.