This is the second part of a series of blogs I'm writing about the "end times". You know the kind of stuff. Tribulation. Rapture. Antichrist. New Heaven and Earth. Have you sorted all this stuff out? Did you read the Left Behind series? Have you been told we're living in the "last days"? Did you read "88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988"? Did you read its sequel, "89 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1989"? No, really. Did you? Have you listened to preachers tell you that Barack Obama is the Antichrist? Did you know the Antichrist used to be Ronald Reagan? Note the number of letters in his name! Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6)=666. Lol. No, really. LOL!
End Times prophecy teachers have made quite a name for themselves over the last 40 years or so. Lots of books. Lots of predictions. Lots of current events "proving" their theories. Lots wrong. Wrong enough to cause many people to question Christianity and some to walk away from the faith. There are now websites for "ex-Christians" where many of them share a similar tale of buying into the latest prophecy pundit and finding themselves un-raptured and disillusioned. End Times teachings have sadly been the cause of much hurt in the Church.
So, with references coming up in my series through the Gospel of Luke, I'm currently getting my head around some of this stuff again. Not to frighten you about the coming Apocalypse or to share with you the current Antichrist. I'm here simply to share the tools that have helped me make better sense of not only prophecy, but the Bible in general. As I said in the last blog, I don't pretend to have all the answers. There are still many points that puzzle me. But I want you to know this: The Bible isn't a Book for mystics. This is a Book meant for you to read and understand. Even a Book like Revelation. Ooh, now that is a bit tricky in spots, but realize that Revelation was not meant to be an incomprehensible riddle for its original audience. For example, John meant for his audience to understand not only what "the Beast" referred to, but who. "Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666." Rev. 13:18. BTW-I doubt anyone in John's day read his letter, and with wisdom, deciphered the name "Ronald Wilson Reagan" as "the Beast". That would indeed be puzzling!
So, where to begin? Well, let's take on Matthew 24 shall we? Not all today, but piece by piece, let's see if we can make sense of a prophecy that has been interpreted by some to be past, while others say it's continually being fulfilled, and others yet who say it is all still in the future. Let's start with the context of Matthew 24. What was going on? Who was there? Who was speaking and who were they speaking to? What was the subject of the discussion? Where did this happen? When did this happen?
When the Biblical authors wrote, they didn't include chapters and verses. Those were added in much later in order to make it easier to find and reference things. But they just wrote really long letters. Matthew 24 isn't its own piece of literature. It's part of a much longer discourse shared by Jesus. Open your Bible to Matthew and notice that from the beginning of Ch.23 until the end of Ch.25, we pretty much have nothing but red letters. All Jesus stuff. All one long speech.
So, let's back up to Ch. 23. That's how we'll get the context of Ch. 24. This is Jesus going off on the Pharisees. He had a few issues with them and really let them have it. "Woe to you!". Now, notice the number of times Jesus says "you" in this short passage. In hopes to gain clarity about the context of this conversation, we need to ask "who was Jesus speaking to?" The answer may seem obvious, but it's important. In the end of His list of woes, He said this, "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation."
Quick quiz: Who did Jesus say was going be condemned for their treatment of the prophets? Answer: The Pharisees and teachers of the Law. That's why He kept saying "you" when He gave this speech. When Jesus said "you", these guys knew that He meant them. None of them cried out how unfair it was of Jesus to condemn the 21st century inhabitants of Israel for crimes they didn't commit. None of them pictured Jerry Seinfeld or Benjamin Netanyahu being burned in the fiery flames of judgment 2000 years later. They certainly didn't try to get Jesus killed for His condemnation of someone else did they? He was condemning the people He was speaking to. They knew that when someone spoke to them and said "you", it meant the person he was speaking to, not someone else. If I were to say to my wife, "Could you please get me a glass of milk?", she would know I was speaking to her, not someone in another place or another time. Make sense? We always have to remember that the Bible records interactions between real people about real situations. In Matthew 23, this involves Jesus and the generation of people living in Judea in the AD30s. No one else is in this picture. No one.
He followed that up with His famous "lament over Jerusalem", which refers to the rejection of Jesus by that particular generation and the end result of that rejection. Jesus said, "Look, your house is left to you desolate." Which house? Well, the house He was currently standing in when He said it. The house of the Lord. The Temple in Jerusalem. See? Nothing mystical in His statement. Nothing metaphorical at this point either. The "house" of the Jews was going to be left desolate. When? Good question. You're thinking just like the disciples. That was their next question for Jesus. He walked out of the Temple and said, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down."
"Crud! Seriously? The Temple's going down? Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
Quick quiz: What's the subject Jesus is talking about? Answer: The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Okay, so it makes sense that the disciples' question would be about that subject, right? Remember, Jesus had just told the teachers of the Law to expect to be condemned and to watch their "house" be destroyed. That's the context.
If you don't have a Strong's Concordance, I recommend you use one online. That will allow you to see the Greek word translated as well as its definition. You'll see in this case that the last word in the disciples' question is "aeon", which is defined as "age". Unfortunately, the KJV translated "aeon" as "world" all those years ago and people have been thrown off by it ever since. Jesus wasn't speaking about the end of the world. Just the end of their world. The Jewish world. The Jewish Age, to be precise. That's what the Greek word "aeon" used in the disciples' question means. Age. The Mosaic, 613 law-abiding, animal sacrificing, priestly garb-wearing, and dwelling in the promised land Age. It was coming to a close and the destruction of the Temple would mark it. The end of the Temple meant the end of the Mosaic Age and it would come about by Jesus "coming". A coming in judgment, which we'll get to next time.
Remember to ask context questions when you're reading Scripture, especially tricky stuff like prophecy. Who, what, where, when, why, and how? Answering questions about the context will help us unravel much of the mysteries in these texts and keep us from saying unkind things about Ronald Wilson Reagan, who turned out to be a fine President, but a rather weak Antichrist.
Dave became the Senior Pastor in April 2015 at TCC after serving as the Director of Children's and Praise Ministries for 9 years. He graduated in 2011 from A.W. Tozer Seminary with a Masters in Christian Leadership. He and his wife, Katie, live in Sequim with their 6 children, 2 dogs, 15 chickens, and 50,000 honeybees.
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