Friday, January 26, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: Great Tribulation

The synoptic versions of the Olivet Discourse vary widely in the section dealing with the Great Tribulation. There are commonalities in elements of the narrative, but the phrasing is variant and details differ. All, however, picture a very difficult time which has a start and a finish, and which will challenge the Jews alive at that time even while the entire earth experiences tremendous stress. All three accounts segue into the return of Christ at the end of said tribulation.

Matthew and Mark both describe, almost verbatim, distress (Koine: thlipsis--pressure, and the internal stress that results) unique in that it was never equaled before nor will it be equaled after. So, the envisioned tribulation will surpass Noah’s flood according to this description, and that wiped out just about everything and everyone. Anything globally significant before WWII and the Holocaust, as well as those occurrences themselves, will also be surpassed on the same basis. The siege of Jerusalem in 66-70 CE isn't even in the ballpark by such a description--not in terms of severity, or scope, let alone in fulfilling cited prophecy.

Though Luke describes the circumstance by a different word (ananke), it's meaning (distress caused by external conditions) is roughly equivalent. Luke and Matthew do agree on describing that distress as great (megale). Although many events experienced in history up to the present could be described as great, nothing matches the depth and breadth of some of the events described in the Apocalypse. It seems to me that Jesus was referring to that unique level of things when he described the coming tribulation.

For the sake of the elect, the days of this tribulation are curtailed, which may explain the day variation of Daniel 12:11-12. Who might these elect be? Generally, the word signifies the chosen of God, and from the context, it can be assumed that the reference here includes Jews in Judea and Jerusalem looking for the Messiah. If others were meant to be encompassed by the term, we're certainly not told that in this discourse. Regardless, it's comforting to know that God has an agenda concerning time which has the aim of ending time without ending the elect.

Those aching to see the Messiah return, especially in the midst of such severe stress, could be susceptible to counterfeits. However, when Christ returns he won’t be slipping into town quietly, in a fashion that could be missed--not even by those not anticipating his return. Anything less than a cosmic, earth shaking event can't be the Messiah's return. Thankfully, it will not possible for the elect to be duped, which I suspect will owe much to the ministry of the Two Witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11:1-13.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: The Secret Rapture

Some look at the description of Christ's return within the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:26-31; Mark 13:21-27) and jump to the conclusion that the secret (i.e. pre-tribulational) Rapture of the church is an unscriptural teaching. The sudden catching away of the church prior to the Tribulation and the ascendancy of the Antichrist seems to fly in the face of the text, which plainly states that the return of Christ and the rescue of his saints occurs at he end of the TribulationI don't blame folks for holding this position, in fact, I thought this way myself in my early days as a Christian. 

What changed my mind was a "Eureka!" moment while poring over Revelation 12 (see this). When I understood the imagery in that passage, it was as if I'd been given a key that unlocked everything else the Bible said about eschatology. Suddenly, just about everything fell into place, including the Olivet Discourse. As it did, I no longer disdained the Secret Rapture teaching, but found myself, to my surprise, accepting it and thereafter promoting it.

The mechanics of Jesus' return as detailed in the Olivet Discourse are the same regardless of which approach to the Rapture one takes. Astronomical wonders and some uniquely associative heavenly sign immediately precede the visible return of Christ through the clouds. The series of events will be absolutely unmistakable and inescapable, like lightning illumining the whole sky. As he comes through the clouds, he will gather his saints together from the four winds (all over earth) and from one end of heaven to the other.

Pre-tribbers and mid-tribbers assume at least some saints were already in heaven (i.e., raptured, not just the dead in Christ) when Jesus finally arrives on earth. The text explicitly states that he gathers his saints from from all over the heavens so that is certainly a valid perspective. How those on the earth are gathered is not intimated, it is only said that they are gathered in the lot. I see nothing in the text which implies that those on the earth are quickly whisked up into the air just to experience a meteoric descent back to earth immediately afterwards with Jesus.

Post-tribbers have to assume that very thing, the sequence as follows: Christ appears in the heavens, gathers the saints from heaven and earth in the air (necessitated by 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) and then immediately returns to earth with them in tow.

Among other issues with that scenario, it does not jive with Revelation 19:19-20:5. That text clearly states that there are saints who did not take the mark of the Beast and that are raptured (raised from the dead, that is) in isolation from the rest of the dead. The passages that deal directly with the faithful dead being raised or raptured (1 Corinthians 15:50-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) clearly state that all the faithful dead rise together. Therefore, there must be a period when people die in faith but are not subject to the Rapture. The only way the math works out is for those unmarked, Tribulation saints to die after the Rapture has occurred.

If those Tribulation saints must die during the Tribulation but after the Rapture, the post-tribulation perspective is untenable. The mid-tribulation perspective is not knocked out, not at least by the passage mentioned above. It does have issues with what follows in the Olivet Discourse, however (namely, Matthew 24:36-44; Mark 13:32-33; Luke 21:34-36). It seems the escape of the Rapture, at least for the broadest measure of the Church, must happen suddenly in the midst of ordinary life, and hence pre-tribulationally, according to the scriptures. 

I must admit my approach to the Rapture in the Olivet Discourse is not a slam dunk. The language Jesus used in these passages is ambivalent enough for anyone so determined to justify in their own mind seeing these passages in another light. I do believe my approach to the Revelation and Daniel is more than solid and that everything else fits together within my interpretative schema, whereas nothing does under a mid- or post-tribulational regimen. If either of those approaches are right, no worries, bad things will happen to awake the slumbering before Christ returns, and they won't be caught with their pants down

If my approach is right, we need to be ready now.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Pregnant Refugees in the Olivet Discourse

A common feature of all three accounts of the Olivet Discourse is the announcement of woe upon the pregnant and nursing (Matthew 24:19, Mark 13:17, Luke 21:23). It is placed in about the same place in the unfolding story in Matthew and Mark but in a slightly different place in Luke. It wouldn't appear to be a different detail, so can it be used to "align" all three accounts? I think that it could, but if it is, it removes any possibility at all that the Lucan account was referring to events foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

If the woe is the same woe in all three accounts, then Matthew and Mark's reference to the gospel being preached to all nations is a detail skipped over by Luke. The surrounding of Jerusalem and its desolation mentioned by Luke is just a different way of saying "the abomination of desolation" used by Matthew and Mark. Even though the Lucan description of this section would fit the events of 66-70 CE, the phrase "all that is written will be fulfilled" doesn't fit at all with 70 CE. Considering that at our late date all that is written still hasn't been fulfilled makes that especially so!

The only way to keep the preterist hope alive, therefore, is to see the woe on the pregnant and nursing as referring to two distinct occurrences of such a plight. Otherwise, the language of the end which dictates the interpretation of Matthew and Mark, would carry for Luke's account as well. The dual fulfillment of things like the "Abomination of Desolation" (seemingly fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes, yet used by Christ to refer to something yet undone) perhaps allows for such an approach, but I think it strains credulity to apply it to the pregnant refugees.

So in the end, I must dismiss it, and with it, the preterist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Applying Christ's Citation of Daniel's Abomination

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)..."  Matthew 24:15 ESV

What should the savvy reader have understood was to occur in time as a result of Christ's citation of Daniel in the Olivet Discourse? Daniel did prophesy (9:26) the destruction of Jerusalem, as did Christ, which led to the Olivet Discourse in the first place. So there's that. However, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Abomination of Desolation are two different things which happen at different times, vastly separated as it has turned out. So, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans should have been expected, but not equated with the Abomination of Desolation, and especially so since it was not followed rather quickly by the end.

The repatriation of Jerusalem and Judea by Jews scattered after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora should have been expected at some point (especially for those reading after 135 CE). That those Jews will make a treaty with the Antichrist for seven years should also have been anticipated, as well as the rebuilding of the Temple. Perhaps that rebuilding will occur before the treaty, but if it does not, it will certainly be accomplished by the midpoint of the treaty. That temple will be desecrated by the Antichrist by standing up the Abomination of Desolation (Revelation 13:14-15) three and half years into the treaty, at which point, the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea will flee.

Furthermore, since the focus of this part of the Olivet Discourse is Jerusalem and the Jews living its environs, and since Daniel was cited, the inference has to be that these prophesied events fall within Daniel's 70 Weeks. The prophecy of the 70 Weeks is about God’s redemptive work with the Jews (note 9:24), not at all about his efforts to redeem Gentiles (see Romans 11:25-29). Hence, the lack of any reference to redeemed Gentiles in this part of the discourse makes perfect sense and validates the assumption. Redeemed Gentiles are not in the mix, not addressed, and if anything, can only be presumed to be part of the elect gathered from the ends of heaven.

These are the things the reader should understand from Christ's citation of Daniel's abomination. If the reader understands these things, and remembers that the Abomination is within the end which comes after the completion of the Great Commission (as per Matthew 24:14) the whole of the Olivet Discourse becomes much clearer.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: Abomination of Desolation Part II

Primarily, there are two things occurring in regard to the Abomination of Daniel referenced by Christ in the Olivet Discourse: suppression and replacement. The normal activities in the Temple have to be stopped, and other ones, unclean ones, have to take their place. Antiochus models that, but doesn't fulfill it, the Romans did one but not the other. What does fit the bill, for both Daniel and the Olivet Discourse, is described in Revelation 13:14-15, even though its location is merely implied by Revelation 13:5-6 (see Daniel 9:27) rather than specified.

Since Jesus did command the reader of Daniel's prophecy to understand, particularly as it relates to the end Jesus is prophesying, the Abomination of Desolation at the end of the age spoken of by Daniel was clearly meant to be understood. Oh, it may take some consideration, some thought (which is the burden of the Koine "noeito" which is translated "understand"), but it was certainly meant to be understood. I think that principle of perspicuity holds for all end-time prophesy. Without a doubt, such prophecy becomes clearer the closer we get to its fulfillment (Daniel 12:9-10).

The elephant in the room in all this unpacking is that the Abomination of Desolation presumes a place that can be abominably desolated. I think I have well established that the destruction of that location in 70 CE was not part of its ultimate desolation as envisioned by Daniel and Jesus and which still awaits. That can only mean that at sometime, the holy place must be rebuilt according to biblical standards and prepared for the offering of holy sacrifices once again. Make no mistake about it, the Temple will be rebuilt, it must be in order to fulfill that spoken by the prophet and by the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

At some point after the Temple is in place, the Abomination will be stood up, and those in Judea at that time are told to hit the pike; however, they are not directed to a location in the Olivet Discourse, or in Revelation 12, or anywhere in Daniel. Though Petra is often offered as a possibility by commentators, that is sheer speculation without so much as a shred of definitive biblical proof. At best, we can say that the refugees will probably run into the desert more than a Sabbath Day’s journey (~ ¾ of a mile) to a place where God will take care of them for 1260 days (3 ½ years). What is certain is that they are in hiding after their flight and are not to let anything (like purported sightings of the Messiah, even if evidenced by great miracles) draw them out.

That these refugees are believing Jews is easy enough to deduce: they are in Judea; they are sabbath keepers; they are actively looking for the Messiah. Furthermore, they must be those that would be mindful of the words of Jesus or this section of the discourse, which counsels them, would be fruitless. God's word never goes out void, so it seems to me, that some of those Jews, maybe a lot of those Jews, maybe even all of those Jews would be Messianic. It is easy enough to put together the pieces and see that the Abomination of Desolation will occur after Jews have rebuilt the Temple, and that many of them have turned to Jesus as Messiah.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Olivet Discourse: Abomination of Desolation Part I

There is a difference between the Synoptic accounts of the Olivet Discourse concerning the sign of desolation. Matthew and Mark are similar in specifically citing Daniel’s Abomination of Desolation, whereas Luke merely mentions a desolation which comes on the heels of armies surrounding Jerusalem. By the hermeneutic cited elsewhere, the Lucan description cannot be taken to undercut the specification made in Matthew and Mark. So, whereas the Lucan description could be made to serve a preterist interpretation, Matthew, Mark and the actual passage referenced from Daniel strictly forbid it, so it cannot be valid.

Jesus understood Daniel's prophesy as being unfulfilled in his day. Though he would have been well-familiar with Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabees, he treated Daniel’s words as not yet having been fulfilled. Therefore, the abomination Daniel was speaking about was not accomplished (at least with any finality) by Antiochus placing an idol of Zeus in the Temple and sacrificing a pig on the Jewish altar. It certainly seems to be a picture of things to come, but it wasn’t the intended, ultimate fulfillment.

Furthermore, Daniel specifically says that the abomination comes midway through a covenantal arrangement with, presumably, the pompous little horn. There was no such instrument with Antiochus Epiphanes, nor was there any with the Romans in the 60's. So Daniel was not referring to Antiochus when prophesying this, and Jesus did not envision Titus (Emperor Vespasian/General Titus) when citing it. What Daniel spoke of is not an incursion and destruction (as in the case of the Romans), but a cessation of proper sacrifice and a substitution of detestable (unclean) things.

“Wing” (Hebrew: kanaph=wing, covering), as is translated in some English versions, in this part of Daniel is nonsensical, though wing is often a perfectly good translation when this word is used. Its range of meaning extends from edge or corner to covering, and it is the latter that makes sense in this context. Besides, for “wing” to be intended, translators (e.g. NIV following the LXX and Theodotion) must add the phrase “of the Temple” which is not in the Hebrew at all—not even a hint! The Abomination does cover or overspread the Temple, figuratively, which makes perfect sense in light of Revelation 13:15.

Jesus said that the abomination will stand in the holy space. In Rome’s destruction (really, obliteration) of Jerusalem nothing stood--literally, the Romans threw everything down and stood up nothing. That kind of destruction was actually prophesied by Daniel (9:26) as having already occurred when the Abomination takes place, really, as something parenthetical to the cutting off of the Messiah. So Rome's destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE is prophesied by Daniel, just not as part of the Abomination of Desolation.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Dispensational Quality of the Olivet Discourse

There is, in my view, an unmistakable dispensational quality in what the scriptures say about the last days (see this, this, and this). Gentiles are on one schedule for redemption, Jews are on another. Don't take that to mean that I see a way to God other than Jesus Christ, I do not! Everyone who is ultimately saved will be so because he or she recognized Jesus as the Son of God, who died for our sins and rose from the dead, and therefore put all his or her hope in him.

God merely has one agenda for bringing that salvation in Christ to the Gentiles, and another for bringing that same salvation to the Jews.

In the Olivet Discourse, this reality can be seen in what Jesus prophesied concerning the Abomination of Desolation (Matthew 24:15-31; Mark 13:14-27Luke 21:20-28). Notice how the context changes at the introduction of that sign in Matthew (it is more subtle in Mark and Luke but still discernible). Earlier in the discourse the emphasis was on the nations (Gentiles), but once the subject of the Abomination is broached, the emphasis shifts to the Jews. That dichotomy, it seems to me, is clear enough to be obvious and yet its import can be easily missed.

Notice, specifically, how instructions given to those who see the Abomination are given to those in Judea and to sabbath observers. The Jewishness of such a designation can scarcely be overlooked. Furthermore, for the sake of the the elect, tribulation is curtailed and rescue is accomplished, but it's marked by the sign of the Son of Man which causes the tribes (phulai) of earth to mourn. That distinction highlights the Jewishness of the sufferers as opposed to the "Gentileness" of the mourners.

If we consider the original context for this sign (Daniel 9:24-27), it becomes very clear that the Abomination of Desolation (and thus the Tribulation signified by it) is part of the redemptive plan God has for the Jews. It has nothing to offer Gentiles but mourning because of their unbelief. As for all those Gentiles who believed the gospel preached to them: they are not addressed, not mentioned, therefore, the inference is that they're not even around until gathered from one end of heaven to the other when Christ returns!

The Tribulation, redemptively, is for the Jews and Jerusalem, and brings nothing but wrath and the portent of judgment to the Gentiles. Believing Gentiles will be off the scene at that time and not return until after the Tribulation.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Olivet Discourse: The End

The synoptic accounts introduce the actual ending sign in the Olivet Discourse differently from one another. Matthew gives us a detail that Mark and Luke do not mention. Mark and Luke merely mention enduring to the end to be saved (as does Matthew just before its unique statement), whereas Matthew further states that the Great Commission will be completed, "and then the end will come." A break that can only be inferred in Mark and Luke is thereby clearly delineated in Matthew.

So, let's review the schema of the Olivet Discourse as I've interpreted it.

The Discourse is Jesus' answer to the question, "What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” In the early segments of his answer, Jesus reveals two general signs which lead up to the end:
1) Birth pangs of false Christs, wars, famines, earthquakes, persecutions, falling away, false prophets and lawlessness occurring throughout the age. Like birth pangs they will increase in frequency and intensity through the age. My interpretation of the seals of the Revelation being historical fits in quite well with this description--once a seal has been broken, it's effects continue throughout the age; and
2) The Gospel being preached to the entirety of the world. This effort began at the Day of Pentecost and has moved forward throughout the age (note my interpretation of the First Seal). Regardless of whether progress is assessed by every ethnic group being reached or by every habitable place having a witness, the sign that we are not at the end yet is the continuing effort to complete the Great Commission. Once it has been accomplished, the end is here!
The break between the signs leading up the end and the end itself is communicated by the phrase: "then [tote, again] the end will come." The end, in this case, is not a hard stop like a period in punctuation, but is more like a period in history. The end is actually a finite span over which the very last things will occur. What the breaks tells us is that final period will not begin until the Gospel has been preached everywhere.

What occurs during that final period which is the end? Daniel's 70th Week is what is indicated by the reference to Daniel's Abomination. Therefore, what is actually outlined in the Olivet Discourse is a Labor Period followed by a Delivery Period which culminates in the Return of Christ. The Labor Period is long and drawn out, and has been going for almost 2000 years. The Delivery Period has not begun yet (since the Great Commission has not been accomplished yet), but once it does it will last only seven years, and finish with Christ in Jerusalem ruling and reigning here on earth.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Olivet Discourse: Persecution and Its Effects

The three accounts of the Olivet Discourse seem to have different takes on the persecution that is mentioned as a sign by Jesus (Matthew, Mark and Luke)After using birth pangs to metaphorically describe the progression of signs, Matthew's account has Jesus saying that "then" (Koine: tote) persecution will occur. Whereas Mark's account does not describe the persecution in terms of sequence in relation to the rest of the action, Luke's account has the persecution occurring before (pro) the birth pang signs. Is persecution, and all that is associated with it, to occur before or after the birth pangs?

The force of the "then" in Matthew's account is "at that time," rather than "afterwards"; therefore, Matthew is locating the beginning of persecution at the time of the things that had been mentioned before. Mark seems to be addressing the persecution as if it was occurring within the stream of events mentioned previously (false Christs, wars, earthquakes, famines, etc). Luke places the persecution as occuring before (at least) the terrors and the signs in the heavens (v. 11). So, there isn't really any difference, after all.

We are told that believers will be handed over (betrayed would be the implication from Mark 13:12 and Luke 21:16) to be afflicted (persecuted, as in NIV, is not as precise), and killed. Luke specifically (v.12) places this as occurring very early in the scheme of things, and in doing so, certainly emphasizes early Jewish opposition to Christianity (note: synagogues). However, that cannot be the exclusive scope of the persecution since kings and governors (plural) are also mentioned in the same phrase. Mark and Matthew are less specific, implying that persecution will be the case near the end or even throughout the period in question.

We are also told that believers will be hated (Matthew 24:9). The word refers to moral choice, i.e., picking one above others, and is the same word used to convey the same thought in Luke 14:26. The notion is that the world will like everything better that it likes Christians. This will be the case globally, in all nations. It serves as an interesting counterpoint to the gospel being preached in all nations (v 14).

Packed into the reference to “all nations” is a broad sense of elapsing time; for how long does it take to be hated in each and every one of the cultural/linguistic groups (Koine: "panton ton ethnon")? One has to become known to each and every one in order to be detested in each and every one. Therefore, to see this discourse merely in terms of Rome in the first century is a mistake. When this was written, there were boundaries and there were barbarians--it was known and understood that Rome did not include all of them. 

At that time (tote, again) many will fall (into a snare), which implies not so much apostasy as it does deceit, which is reinforced by the mention of false prophets. Associated with this fall is their betrayal (handing over) and detesting of one another. So, false prophets will arise and cause many believers to stray resulting in internecine detestation and betrayal. Anything in any age which foments hatred toward brothers or sisters in Christ is false absolutely, it's source will always prove to be devilish rather than from God. Listening to it will turn the persecuted into persecutors!

Through the multiplication of lawlessness or a lack of restraint (wickedness is not a good translation), love will be made cold. The voice of the verb is passive, and so refers to action that is being done unto the subject or is arising from the action of another. Therefore, the chilling believers referenced are not volitionally active, their love does not grow cold by choice, but chills as an effect of being exposed to the multiplication of lawlessness. The wear and tear of exposure to lawlessness is insidious and lethal.

What is shocking to me in all this is the use of the word “many” (Koine: polus). It refers to a whole bunch, to a great number. Jesus was saying that things will progress at the time in question in such a lawless fashion that the occurrence itself chills the love (agape) of many or most! It is possible, maybe even probable, for believers to fall into despair and lose hope in the face of lawlessness and to end up hating the lawless. What happens to the Great Commission, and Christlikeness, in such a circumstance?

Given such a description, one has to wonder if Jesus will find faith when he returns? Life lived in this age leading up to the coming of Christ will be an assault on our faith. There is a challenge to meet, there is an occasion to rise to, there is something to be proven, and it won't be done for us. But the one who bears under the assault to the end will be saved! 

According to the Olivet Discourse, then, persecution of those bearing the name of Christ will start in the midst of the signs stated in the first third of the address and will proceed until the end of the age. We know the entire span of the age is envisioned because disciples cannot be hated by all nations until all nations have been confronted by the gospel, and because we are told that those who endure to the end will be saved. Being hated is something all true Christians ought to anticipate throughout all time and everywhere, but when it comes our way, we can't let it turn us into a hater in response.