Warning: Bible nerd alert.
Well it has been a while since I blogged. Good to get some thoughts down again.
This will also be my first time in a while writing on biblical studies, and it feels good to be back talking about a discipline I feel at home in…
So I have been writing a series of lectures on the Gospel of Matthew, and over the last two weeks have written on the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24-25, a section I have broadly referred to as Jesus’ Apocalypse. This section of Jesus’ teaching is thought by most people to be about the so-called ‘End Times’, with the vast majority of biblical commentators claiming at least most of the discourse is related to that event.
More specifically, Matthew 24:30 has been taken by most as referring to the Second Coming:
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
However I have taken a different view. I think that this statement, and indeed the entirety of Matthew 24-25 are about the coming judgement of Israel in the form of Jerusalem’s destruction (which occurred in 70CE). I agree with N.T. Wright, who says that Matthew 24:30 (above) is a clear allusion to Daniel 7, in which:
…the events referred to are the defeat and collapse of the great empires that have opposed the people of God and the vindication of the true people of God, the saints of the most high. The phrase about “the son of man coming on the clouds” would not be read, by a first-century Jew pouring over Daniel, as referring to a human being “coming” downwards toward the earth riding on an actual cloud. It would be seen as predicting great events in and through which God would be vindicating his true people after their suffering. (Wright, 1999: 51)
While this is not the place to get into a full-blown discussion on this topic, I would point out that such a “preterist” interpretation is the only one to make good sense out of Jesus’ statement that, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” (the verse that C.S. Lewis called “the most embarrassing verse in the Bible” with the [mis?]understanding that it was about the Second Coming).
Narratively speaking the thrust of the passage, from my perspective at least, flows from Matthew 23 where Jesus criticises the religious elite for their failure to uphold Israel’s covenant with God by their injustice and hypocrisy. Jesus goes on in his apocalypse to predict the fall of Jerusalem as a judgement for the (systemic?) injustice now embedded in that nation. This unjust system, paired with nationalistic hopes for liberation, will lead to the provoking of the Roman Empire, who will eventually come and put down any hint of rebellion against their regime.
Needless to say that Jesus’ apocalypse both proclaimed doom on the unjust system and its propagators, as well as encouraging an alternative lifestyle for individuals and communities hearing the message (the function of all ancient Jewish apocalypses was broadly something like this).
I won’t go on, because I don’t want to make this post too long. All I wanted to do was to get an unpopular idea off my chest, even if only to a small crowd. I would be happy to hear your thoughts on this, or even to take your questions or critiques, as I obviously have more to discuss regarding the entirety of the discourse.
Posted on November 22, 2010, in New Testament and tagged 70AD, 70CE, Apocalypse, Apocalyptic, Daniel 7, Fall of Jerusalem, Gospel of Matthew, Jesus' Apocalypse, Matthew 24-25, N.T. Wright, Olivet Discourse, Preterism, Preterist. Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.