Tuesday, June 5, 2012

When is the End Not “THE” End: Biblical Eschatology (4)


          One question we might ask at this point is why Jesus would speak like he does at the close of his “end times” discourse in Matthew 24 if he is referring to the Roman War rather than “the” End?

“Now immediately after the suffering of that time the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then the sign of the Human One will appear in the sky. At that time all the tribes of the earth will be full of sadness, and they will see the Human One coming in the heavenly clouds with power and great splendor. He will send his angels with the sound of a great trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from the four corners of the earth, from one end of the sky to the other.

          What are we to make of this kind of extreme and extraordinary rhetoric if it does not refer to climax and culmination of history? 

          It might surprise us to discover that this is stock language and imagery of Old Testament prophecy.  Such rhetoric refers to events that alter the course of life for the people of God, events that suggest that in some fundamental and substantial way, the known and accepted world of Israel has collapsed and it is entering a whole new kind of life for the people.  The prophet Joel speaks of the event that Peter later identifies as the event of Pentecost in just this kind of language.

28 “After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;
your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions.
29 In those days, I will also pour out my

    spirit on the male and female slaves.
30 I will give signs in the heavens and on the earth—blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 32 But everyone who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be security, as the Lord has promised; and in Jerusalem, the Lord will summon those who survive.

Pentecost was indeed a world-changing event for the new people of God, the church.  As such it rightly draws language of blood, fire, and smoke, the sun and moon darkened and turned to blood and shows that this language is not reserved just for “the” End but can also be used to describe other “ends” in the life of the people as well.

Thus, Jesus’ language in Matthew 24 would be perfectly suited to point to the coming horrific tragedy for Israel.  So long as they continued to resist Jesus’ call to follow him in his new way of being Israel and persisted in trying to be a people just like all the other peoples and nations in the world, this calamity would be their fate within a generation.

In the next post we’ll look at the matter of the so-called “rapture.”

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