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 Olivet Discourse: Dispensationalism

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, whereas 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. 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 change, 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, tribulation is curtailed and relief provided 
for the elect, but that action is marked by the sign of the Son of Man which causes the tribes (phulai) of earth to mourn. That distinction contrasts the Jewishness of the sufferers against the "Gentileness" of the mourners.

If we consider the original context in Daniel for this sign, it becomes very clear that the Abomination of Desolation (and thus the Tribulation signified by it) is part of God's redemptive plan for the Jews. Nothing is offered to the Gentiles by it but mourning due to their unbelief. As for all those Gentiles who did believe in the gospel, they are not addressed, nor even mentioned. The inference, therefore, is that they're not around until they are gathered from one end of heaven to the other when Christ returns!

The Tribulation, redemptively, is for the Jews and Jerusalem. It brings nothing but wrath and the portent of ultimate judgment to the Gentiles who experience it. Believing Gentiles will be off the scene at that time and not return until after it is over. There is one redemptive track in history for the Gentiles, and another for the Jews.

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 mostly 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 than 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.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Olivet Discourse: When Is the Answer

I have stated that the question which Jesus was actually responding to in the Olivet Discourse was: "What would be the sign of his coming and the end of the age?" The entire address is taken up with his response to that and the question about the destruction of Temple was entirely ignored. That may seem hard to swallow, but as I will demonstrate, it does produce a coherent, consistent interpretation of the whole discourse. Regardless, however one may interpret this passage, to be on the mark, that interpretation must end up with Jesus back here in a new age--anything else misses the point.

Although it seems out of place in the setting, Jesus was not speaking only to those who were with him, but also to all of us who would come later in time and hear his answer through the transmission of its witnesses. This is revealed by the breadth of his answer. John was the only one of that bunch that lived more than another 50 years (at least according to tradition), and the scope of Jesus' answer is actually much longer than that when it’s carefully examined. In fact, it is so broad that we are encompassed within its detail today, and in a very real sense, those that were hearing him were stand-ins for all of us.

Jesus described that scope (v. 4-8) as encompassing wars, famines, earthquakes and false Messiahs (all in the plural). However, Jesus stated that such, even in the plural, would not be a reason for any eschatological alarms to be sounded. The end was not yet, even after a multiplication of such things. In his account, Luke adds pestilence, terrors and signs in the heavens to the mix, all in the plural as well. We have been seeing these things throughout history, and are still seeing those things today, yet they still should not be alarming because they're not the telling sign of the end of the age.

Furthermore, the occurrences of these signs are represented as akin to the progression of labor, but just the beginning of it (v. 8). Labor starts slowly and builds in a cyclical pattern of increasing intensity, and culminates in a grand conclusion. The process can be quite lengthy, a few hours if one is lucky, over a day if not. A proper reading of these signs must incorporate a lengthy process (i.e, labor) of repetitively building events (wars, famines, earthquakes, false messiahs) that themselves take a lengthy time to develop, and that's just the start. Clearly, Jesus envisioned a very a long time in his answer.

He also spoke of false prophets arising and leading many astray (v. 11). History has seen its share of those, although it seems to me, the most significant (e.g., Muhammed, Joseph Smith and Charles Taze Russell) arose long after the Temple was destroyed. If the termination of the prophesy is the end of the age and Jesus' return, these false prophets, as well as historical false messiahs, such as Bar Kochba, Menachem Schneerson, and even Sun Myung Moon would have been in view by Jesus as he spoke about such, such a long time ago.

In these issues alone, I have already demonstrated the difficulty of compressing all of these signs into the short span of time before 70 CE, but let us remember that the terminus of the prophetic answer was the end of age and Jesus' return. This is certainly reinforced by Jesus tying the fulfillment of the Great Commission (v.14) to his answer. Even now, we're only just reaching the point where this sign is even remotely fulfilled and the end will not come before it is accomplished. Preterism, it seems clear to me, is a non-starter in interpreting Matthew 24.

Jesus also referenced the desolation mentioned by Daniel (v. 15) as a sign. At the time Jesus spoke this, Antiochus and the Maccabees were a well-known and understood aspect of history, and yet Jesus spoke of Daniel's desolation as happening in the future. As Jesus would have used the term, it referred to an idol being placed in the Temple and the altar being desecrated. Jesus was saying that Antiochus' actions were not the ultimate fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy, but that it would be fulfilled as the most salient sign of the imminent end of the age.

History tells us that Rome's actions at the Temple in 70 CE were not the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy either, because they do not fit the bill. Whereas the Romans burned the place, killed its defenders on its grounds and dismantled it, they did not set up Daniel’s desolation. Hadrian's efforts in 130 CE to put a Roman face on a formerly Jewish city weren't even close to fulfilling Jesus' reference to Daniel, and nothing has occurred throughout the rest of history that is even remotely similar to Daniel's description. That means that the Abomination of Desolation, as cited by Christ, is something yet to happen.

It is common among naysayers, and preterists too, to say that Jesus and his first followers anticipated the end occurring quickly, within their lifetimes at most. Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE, and they see that event as the scope of the Olivet Discourse. Preterists see it as fulfilled, the unbelieving see it as reportage after the fact, but either way, the events of 70 CE don’t line up with the facts as Jesus stated them. Neither viewpoint can be true!

What is true is that the Gospel has not yet to be proclaimed to all nations, the desolation spoken of by Daniel has not yet occurred, and Jesus has not yet appeared. So the age has not ended and this prophetic discourse, therefore, is still in force.