Continued from yesterday.
Our second point: Jesus said that all these things would occur before that time.
Let me set this comment in context. In Matt 23:36 Jesus said to his
followers this: “Amen, I say to you, all these things will come about
upon this generation” – and he is speaking of the avenging of righteous
blood. Then in 24:2 Jesus asks if his disciples see “these things” –
and he is speaking of the Temple and its stones that are about to
crumble into a heap. And then the disciples ask him when will these
things come about (24:3). We have here the evidence: “these things”
must refer in these texts to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Third, we can put this together as this: Jesus predicts that all these
things will occur within a generation. Not “some,” but “all.” This ties
in very well with the term “immediately” in Matt 24:29 – immediately
after those things (the birth pangs, etc.) then the Son of Man will “come” – whatever that means. This means that Jesus thinks
the destruction of Jerusalem will occur before or around A.D. 70. [Italics words accidentally omitted and now edited back in. Sorry.]
Fourth, this leads to what was for me the most startling revelation of what I perceived to be an honest reading of Matthew 24. When Jesus says “all these things” he includes the astral, heavenly wonders and the Son of Man’s so-called coming in Matthew 24:29-31. We could stop right here and the case would be made, but we need to go back now to the original quest we had – where does Jesus speak of the destruction of Jerusalem?
The answer to that question, simply put, is this: Matt 24:29-31/Mark 13:24-27/Luke 21:25-28 describe in apocalyptic and prophetic imagery (the) destruction (of Jerusalem) as the vindication of the Son of Man, that is, the vindication of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah who has been rejected. In this language, then, we see that the nation’s leaders have been judged as was Israel at the hand of Assyria and Babylon and now Rome.
Let me begin with the obvious: the word “coming” in Matt. 24:30 translates the Greek word erchomai, a term that means “coming” but not specific with respect to “descending” or “ascending.” To answer the direction of that “coming,” we need to look at the source for Jesus’ comments, and that source is Daniel 7:13 and there described the ascent of the Son of Man before the Ancient of Days to receive political dominion. I can’t tell you how significant this conclusion is for understanding the prediction of Jesus. The plain sense of these words, because Jesus is so clearly appealing to the Daniel text as somehow fulfilled in the future, is that Jesus sees the words of Matt 24:29-31 as his victorious, ascension-like reception of power as King and ruler over a body of people. Jesus is announcing the fulfillment of Daniel 7, that is his exaltation and authorization with power before God, and not his ‘return’ to earth. That event is in some sense his ‘appearing’ (parousia; 24:3, 27, 37, 39).
With the term coming settled, we can ask about the astral phenomena, the mourning, and the gathering of the elect. Very briefly, they are also about the same destruction of Jerusalem and the vindication of the Son of Man. When we read of the sun being blotted out, and the moon’s light being quenched, and stars falling out of the heavens those who read their Old Testaments will immediately think of passages such as the following: Isa. 13:9-10; 34:4; Ezek. 32:7; Amos 8:9; Joel 2:10 and 3:15. Perhaps one example will suffice: Ezek. 32:7 reads, of Pharaoh: “When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens, and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light.” That happened already. In other words, astral disasters are celestial metaphors for earthly political disasters – when Israel, when Judah, or when Egypt falls, when a political kingdom collapses, the ancients resort to heavenly phenomena falling, to the sun and moon failing to give their light, that is to cosmic sympathy and correlation. Incidentally, when Pentecost occurred Peter saw what happened as a fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32, and there is absolutely no idea that the sons and daughters speaking was the fulfillment but the astral phenomena yet to come – in fact, the speaking in tongues was simultaneously political disaster for Israel. It began the ending of her national privilege.
As for the mourning … this much can be said. What Jesus predicts here about mourning sounds very much like Zech. 12:9-10 wherein we read that Israel will wail tribe by tribe over the political disasters occurring around her. But, in fact, that wailing is one of sympathy for the nations being vanquished by God in his battle against those who oppress his people. As the stars, sun and moon correlate with God’s acts, so also will Israel wail over punishment – but this time, so suggests Jesus, the wailing will be by those Israelites who follow Jesus and they shall bemoan those Israelites who experience God’s just judgment on Jerusalem. That Israel is in view here, and not the world, is virtually proven by the fact that the term “tribe” refers to Israel.
The gathering of the elect has drawn the most fire for this interpretation but I would preface my interpretation with this observation: whatever we make of the gathering of the elect, it occurs within one generation of Jesus and in conjunction with the astral phenomena, the mourning, and the vindication of the Son of Man. I think it most likely that the regathering is a metaphorical description of the re-constitution of Israel as twelve-tribe people – a significant theme among the prophets of Israel and Judah, but now in terms of followers of Jesus and the Twelve apostles he appointed. That is, the destruction of Jerusalem will result in the reconstitution of Israel under the Twelve apostles. A variant interpretation, under the influence of Matt. 13:41, is that this refers to an angelic gathering of non-believing Israelites to Jerusalem for judgment. And yet another view would see this as a metaphor for evangelism of the Roman empire.