Showing posts with label Eschatology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eschatology. Show all posts

Monday, July 9, 2018

St Maximos the Confessor & God wisely dividing the ages





The following excerpt is from a very recent translation of St Maximos the Confessor’s (ca. 580-662) Responses to Thalassios, the Libyan abbot of a monastic community, probably in Carthage, whose letter to Maximos contained a lengthy series of questions, requesting written interpretations (p. 8).

What is presented below is (at least in my own estimation) one of the most profound responses to the eschatological question, “If God in the coming ages will show his riches (Ephesians 2:7), how is it that the ends of the ages have come upon us (I Corinthians 10:11)?”

Here is the written response by St Maximos:
He who brought all visible and invisible creation into being solely through the momentum of His will, had in His good counsel determined—before all ages and even before the very genesis of created beings—an ineffably good plan for his creations. And this plan was for Him to be mingled, without change, with human nature through a true union according to hypostasis, uniting human nature, without alteration, to Himself, so that He would become man—in a manner known to Him—and at the same time make man God through union with Himself, and thus He wisely divided the ages, determining that some would be for the activity of His becoming man, and others for the activity of making man God.  
Thus, inasmuch as the actual “ends of the ages” predetermined for Him to become man “have come upon us”—since the divine purpose of the Incarnation has been fulfilled through the events themselves—the divine Apostle, having carefully examined this, and seeing that the end of the ages intended for God to become man had come about through the very Incarnation of the Word of God, says: “The ends of the ages have come upon us”—not simply “the ages” as we ordinarily understand them, but clearly those which, intended for the actualization of the mystery of embodiment, have reached their proper limit, according to the purpose of God. 
Since, then, the “end of the ages”, predetermined according to God’s purpose to become man, “has come upon us”—inasmuch as God has in truth actualized and brought to completion His own perfect Incarnation—we must henceforth await those other ages that are to come for the actualization of the mystical and ineffable divinization of human beings, in which "God will show the overflowing riches of His goodness to us,” completely and actively effecting divinization in those who are worthy. For if He Himself reached the limit of his mystical activity of becoming man,—becoming like us in every way but without sin, and having descended into the lowermost parts of the earth to where the tyranny of sin had driven man—then there will certainly also be a limit of God’s mystical activity for the divinization of man in every way (with the obvious sole exception of any identification of man with God’s essence), making man like Himself and raising him beyond all the heavens, to where the natural grandeur of grace dwells and calls fallen man through the infinity of goodness. And this is what the great Apostle mystically teaches when he says: “in the ages to come, the overflowing riches of God’s goodness will be shown to us.”1


1. St Maximos the Confessor, On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture: The Responses to Thalassios 
(The Fathers of the Church, Volume 136), Translated by Fr Maximos Constas; Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2018; pp. 150-151











Sunday, July 1, 2018

Image, Likeness, and Nature








Recently I was involved in a discussion about social justice at an eastern catholic monastery. That discussion was immensely fruitful, filling in the void of many things I've considered over the years, as well as revitalizing older, more traditional considerations I had abandoned over the years in my quest for truth. One of the new considerations arising out of that discussion involved human nature, what that is exactly, and how it relates to the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherein all things, including human nature, are restored. This post is a result of such considerations.


What is human nature, and how is that "nature" restored according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? 


Human “nature” is a description of dynamic capacities. Western Christianity has emphasized that humankind is made in the image of God, describing it with a more scientific addendum called “nature,” being classified alongside the “nature” of all other animal species. This, however, is unfortunate because it appears to be almost completely disconnected from its historic usage, especially that contained within the wide stream of Eastern Christianity. 

Within the various expressions of Eastern Christian thought, it can be argued that to speak of human “nature” at all is to describe an abstraction, a potential. Unlike modern scientific categorization, human “nature” is unique precisely because its primary analog is not mammalians, or even any other creature; its primary analog is the incarnate Son of God. Human “nature” consists not only of being made as God’s image (which is technically more accurate than saying man is made “in” the image), but also after God’s likeness, the likeness of heavenly being itself (Gen 1:26; c.f. Gen 5:1,3 where the language is intentionally inverted, showing Adam “fathering a son” as his own likeness, after his image, thus implying his attempt to restore Seth to the image of God through likeness with his fathering). 

Also, to be found within the tradition of Eastern Christianity is discussion about the uniqueness of human “nature” needing to become realized, not only rationally, but holistically in all actions and contemplation through the assent of a willing subject. Human “nature” necessitates a certain capacity for the reception of God, and such capacity is not a mere auxiliary that can be lost, a kind of addendum, but rather is definitive of human “nature” itself. Unless a human being is in communion with God, actively participating in the Divine life, that person can become and remain less than fully human, even though that person remains fully the image of God throughout one’s mortal existence. Human “nature” within Eastern expressions of the faith, therefore, presuppose this image and likeness of God. In other words, there exists an understanding and dialog about all mortal humanity existing immutably as the image of God, yet with a mutable likeness of God. To the degree that human “nature” ceases to actively participate in the Divine life of God, it ceases to develop and mature in God’s likeness as well; it ceases to share in the glory that it was created to become, and therefore disqualifies itself from eternal life. For some—certainly not most, or all—this mortal life will be the best life in which they exist and image their Creator.

Contemplating such a view of human “nature” also presupposes the reality of God’s grace bestowed. Within the Roman Catholic tradition, mankind was created before “the Fall” with a donum superadditum, a gracious gift of capacity “over and added” to the human capacity left to all mankind after “the Fall”, a gracious gift that must be restored throughout one’s life in order to reach God. (The equivalent of this original “gift” from an Eastern perspective is the “likeness” described above.) Unfortunately, such distinctions are not considered to be helpful for Western conceptions of the human constitution, especially those contained within Protestant confessionalism, which rely heavily on image-bearing through forensic appropriation. However, within the stream of Eastern Christianity, human “nature” presupposes that all humanity, pre and post “fall”, have received grace, and all are favored by being made in the image and likeness of the One who made it. All are born “naturally” with the capacity to receive God, but not all choose to appropriate it through likeness with God. Therefore, to become devoid of grace is to become “unnatural,” sub-human. Human life, by design, implies a necessary motion and growth into the appropriation of the life of the Creator, who is both infinite and eternal, thereby allowing participation in life with Him without end or limitation. Human life devoid of God’s graces results in an unfortunate detachment and distancing away from participation in the Divine life, now and forever. In other words, a life devoid of Grace is a reality, and not merely a potential, for Eastern Catholic thought. And although, from an Eastern perspective, it is not preferred to describe man as losing a gift that was added to him before he fell (as in the Western Catholic trajectory of thought), the most important emphasis of such trajectories of language is to note that man, as originally created, was threatened to lose participation in the Divine life of God itself, at that time and for all eternity thereafter. The Gospel of God dotted throughout the landscape of humanity was, of course, the assurance that human “nature” could and would be restored for all eternity. It was assurance of being raised from the dead-ones in Sheol/Hades, and also the end of Death and Hades itself. How that was to occur was eventually revealed with greater clarity, albeit in “shadows” of the coming reality, through the Divine administration given to Israel, i.e. the Old Covenant.

The historical and eschatological figures known to us in Tradition as “Adam” and “Eve” (narrated symbolically in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures as “Human Life”) illustrate this much. They were not created to know (in the intimate, holistic sense of knowing) eternal death, the permanent unraveling of and distancing from the Creator into non-being. The path of knowing intended for them was rather voluntary submission to the divine will, developing into a community of harmony with their Creator, thereby ascending further up the ladder of communion with him, an ever increasing appropriation of God-likeness, a perpetual increase in sharing and maturing thorough the uncreated glory of God. Human life was designed to participate forever in this Divine light and life. Therefore, within Eastern thought, to contemplate what it means to become fully human is to contemplate motion toward God, an ascension with God, and in a mystical eschatological sense (both prior to and after the incarnation and resurrection) to anticipate eternal life through the promised life of the Son of God, thereby sharing increasingly in that glory both now and forever. 

We might, however, do better than most Western forensic notions of restoring human “nature” by considering that God identifies our nature as being fully human only when it is penetrated wholly, body and soul, by the glory of the resurrection of Jesus, our savior, who himself was “plan A”, so to speak, and not an addendum to God’s predestined plan for human glory. In other words, it is favorable to perceive that all human life from the very beginning was created with the potential for infinite maturation in likeness with God, and is called to choose that life as freely as God offers it, to make his own life subsist in that deepest reality, and in such choosing, discover the presence of, and enter into communion with his Creator, now and forever.

At this point it may be suggested that this Eastern trajectory of thought is not helpful or accurate to the “facts” of holy Scripture, for human nature is, allegedly, demonstrably “evil.” Evil, within such a presumptuous framework of language, is considered a “thing” attached to or infused with nature, permeating its essence. But from within the variety of Eastern Catholic perspectives, “evil” is not an attribute of nature, or even “natural” per se. “Evil” is the way we humans, made as God’s image and after God’s likeness, describe a product of choice, a choice relating with human life that has the capacity to participate and mature in the Divine life, both now and forever. “Evil” can also be considered sociologically as an inclination of will contrary to the Divine will, an inclination subject toward that which is not, as apposed to God, who is the very ground and source of all being itself (i.e. what “is”). The “evil” which Christians are prone to describe in their daily lives is woven throughout the narratives of holy Scriptures, and is revealed in a variety of ways through creation as well, but especially and dramatically in the Torah as transgression of participation in the Divine life. 

To speak of the world or God’s creation as being evil in an ontological sense is another byproduct of misunderstanding or misusing the language of evil “nature”. Referring to the world as evil, and not merely an evil “age” or generation, is simply mistaken. However, to describe human “nature” as “evil” is even more problematic, for it disregards the various and punctiliar stages of “Adamic” life recorded throughout the Scriptures that have clearly detached from participation in the Divine life, and instead have (unfortunately) co-opted the Scriptural participatory narrative with an overly generalized and all-pervasive “nature” that, after the Fall, could never have received God, nor can still, except by super-added grace. By this historical co-opting, “being evil” (at least, forensically) is assumed to be the truth everywhere and at all times (at least, for those who are not, theoretically, “forensically” united with God). For both Paul and Eastern Catholic Christianity, we find something very different. We find participation in the Divine life as essential to understanding the history of humanity and the gloriously cosmic restoration of human life through the promised incarnation and resurrection. 

All of creation, Paul says, has been subjected unwillingly to the corruption of humanity for whom it had been created, and such was decided by God “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20). Such “corruption”, according to Paul, indicates this created capacity of all human beings that we’ve been describing from the beginning. Corruption is as equally holistic in Paul’s thought as glorification is. Corruption, therefore, describes not only the definitive end of this mortal existence, i.e. eternal death and non-being, but also the disordered desires that accompany a mind fixated on the flesh—a mind enveloped within mortal existence in such a way that it is distanced enough from communion with eternal glory, and thereby hostile to God, and because of such cannot submit to God’s instruction and thereby please Him (Rom. 8:6-8). Nevertheless, through the promised incarnation, human “nature” has been, and continues to be, restored holistically.

One might then ask, ‘What are we to do with the statements of Paul and other Scriptures that seem to describe all of humanity fixated on the flesh?’ The answer to that question is actually quite simple: take them seriously, and interpret them within their own limited historical context. Historically, it would have been impossible and counterproductive for Paul to presume omniscience for all, especially the “nature” of all, for his letters clearly reflect a limited knowledge base, which allows for both human free will and Divine intervention. Paul seems, rather, to be interested in describing the generation in which he lived, that generation within the “last days” of the Old Covenant administration. He comments frequently about first century Israel’s antiChristian activities being thoroughly corrupt, so much so that Jesus promised to come and destroy their idolatrous temple to bring about peace for the world and allow salvation for all through such terrible judgments. That generation, according to Paul, was even worse than previous generations of Israel’s history that also had corrupted themselves and been judged by the Lord. But not all generations had become thoroughly corrupt. The Scriptures clearly teach cycles of reform. Not perfect reform, but blessed reform, to be sure; and such reform always necessitated drawing near to the Lord in his holy House, and fixating their minds on the things of God’s Spirit, drawing near to Him who worked miracles and wonders in their midst, Who secured the promise of future resurrection from the dead-ones for them. Such a hope was surely taught, but sadly faded away in numerous generations as the people increasingly fell away again and again into the bondage of fleshly corruption. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, however, reverses such misfortunes, primarily through his actual resurrection from the dead-ones and the subsequent outpouring of his Holy Spirit. After Pentecost, quite literally the whole world began to change. 

The Old Covenant had begun to become obsolete, and thereby was ready to vanish away, the promised “end” of which occurred in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, as well as Hades and its power over death, leaving only the New Covenant administration of eternal life in Christ. Under the New Covenant, all nations are being drawn into the hope which is ultimately contained in the resurrected life of Christ alone. Under the new Covenant, all nations are being drawn into the Body of Christ, in which absolute assurance of salvation is found, and participation in the Divine life is manifest. Outside of Christ and his Body there is no absolute assurance, only relative assurance, filled with doubts and plagued with autonomous reasoning. However confident one’s own faith or hope in “afterlife” might be, it is most assuredly subject to scrutiny apart from participation in the embodied life of Christ’s Body. For God did not pour out his Spirit in the first century in order to produce a copy of himself in paperback. Rather, it was to produce living epistles read by all men. The deposit of faith and life in Christ is contained in the pillar and ground of the truth: the Church (1 Tim 3:15). That doesn’t mean that all human beings discovered outside of the Christian Church cannot or will not ultimately be saved by Jesus and granted eternal life. What it means is that all human beings outside of the Church can only be saved by Jesus, for he alone is the first fruit of resurrection, the absolute assurance of which is received through participation in the Divine life of his Body, the Church. Most unfortunate, however, are those generations in which human beings seek the Church for absolute assurance and yet find absolute confusion and corruption. Such is, sadly, a reality as well; and such corruption will be judged by Jesus in history, leaving the many tender mercies of our God to be granted unto those outside, and not inside, such assemblies.

Much more needs to be said about that, but most importantly it must be clearly stated that the Christian Church is the pillar and foundation of God’s truth revealed to mankind. All human beings, even those outside the Church, have the capacity to receive God and become fully human in union with him. However, with that said, it’s a sad and obvious gamble to remain outside the Body of Christ (even when it seems as if every visible and accessible Christian assembly is thoroughly corrupt), for such a description entails fixation upon life in the flesh, including a false, imaginary, and misleading view away from the Divine life, which ends in death, and not toward life in the Spirit of God who raises the dead, or even the Son of God who became man and was raised and vindicated, who sits enthroned in the heavens, thereby securing life eternal for mankind. 


It is through such activity—living with hope and absolute assurance in the Divine Life—that mankind collectively learns to share in the glory of God, and ascend the ladder of Divinity. Through holiness, the light and life of God permeates the darkness of every domain, of every generation. Such was not possible prior to Pentecost, for it is at Pentecost that the light of eternal life—resurrection life—began to penetrate and illumine the pitch-blackness of Israel’s story and the gloomy shadows across the world. Prior to Pentecost there was only hope that somehow, some way, God would grant eternal life with Him. The so-called underworld of Hades, Sheol, etc. was all that was known and anticipated. However, after Pentecost there was absolute assurance of future resurrection and vindication for all who died in Christ, because God had become man, had died, and was raised from the dead-ones for them. Moreover, in AD 70, the resurrection of all the saints from Hades had been fulfilled. After AD 70 the actualization of eternal life in Christ meant that after their mortal bodies had faded away, their participation in the kingdom of God would be secured. The hope that the Christian Church teaches is not that human beings get to escape “this world” into the next, only to magically wake up on some final day along with all the dead-ones of history and finally escape the despair of mortality forever. They do escape upon death, but not this world. They escape this age, this generation, yet they continue to live in and with this world, in this kingdom of God where heaven and earth have already joined under the New Covenant, being active in its continual renewal and reform, assisting all of human life in its motion toward God as it was originally created to be. In Christ the great reversal has begun. The dynamics of human “nature”, including its image and likeness, are being restored in union with God, sharing in the glory that it was created to become, both now and forever. 













Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Matt 23-25: The Olivet Discourse (part 4 of 5)



This might be the last part of a series I started earlier this year. I don't know for sure if it's the last post, but it might be. If it's not the last post, there will only be one more, final post in this series. 

This series is all about the Olivet Discourse, which can be found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 23-25. In many places of this blog I have already discussed the larger literary structure of Matthew's Gospel, as well as many micro-literary structures within their larger literary sections of discourses and narratives.

In the previous post I also typed up a lot of quotations from Church Fathers, covering the span of about a thousand years, most of whom also lived within the first six centuries, and all of whom interpreted Jesus' initial response (i.e. the first set of answers found in 24:4-22) to his disciples' three consecutive questions in 24:1-3, "when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming, and [what will be the sign] of the end of the age?", as prophesying the persecution of the early Christian Church, the Jewish wars, and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. Likewise, many Church Fathers interpreted the last response of Jesus (i.e. the third set of answers found in 24:36-25:30) as prophesying the "end" of the physical world we live in today, and not the Jewish wars or destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.

As noted in the last two posts (here and here), many Church Fathers have assumed that Jesus was answering the first of his disciple's questions first. And as I also pointed out, Jesus was actually answering the third question first. When the disciples asked their third question, "and [what will be the sign] of the end of the age?", Jesus answered that question first, not third.

I realize that's a significant claim, and significant claims require significant evidence. That's why in this post I'm going to walk you through each literary section pertaining to Jesus' answers. All I'm going to point out are the literary parallels. If you pay attention, you will see what I mean. I can assure you of that. It's obvious once the literary parallels of each section are mapped out for you (which is what I'm going to present next). 

Matthew 24 begins like this:

The disciples then ask,
 “Tell us… 
1st --> …when will these things be
2nd --> and what will be the sign of your coming 
3rd --> and [what will be the sign] of the end of the age?”




Answer to Question #3, part one:  the signs preceding "the end" of the age (24:4—14) 
Answer to Question #3, part two:  the sign of "the end" of the age (24:15—22)

Answer to Question #2, part one:  the signs preceding Christ’s coming (24:23—29)
Answer to Question #2, part two:  the sign of Christ’s coming (24:30—35) 

Answer to Question #1, part one:  when these things will be--> "Watch therefore" / "No one knows the Day or Hour" (24:36—44) 
   Answer to Question #1, part two:  when these things will be--> "Master" & "Servant" / "Wailing & Gnashing of Teeth" (24:45–51)

Answer to Question #1, part one (prime):  when these things will be--> "Watch therefore" / "No one knows the Day or Hour" (25:1—13)


   Answer to Question #1, part two (prime):  when these things will be--> "Master" & "Servant" / "Wailing & Gnashing of Teeth" (25:14—30)






Let's now look at Jesus' response, beginning with the first section (which answers the third question), that most early Church Fathers thought was clear prophecy about the persecution of early Jewish Christians and the Jewish wars leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. The basic structure, again, looks like this:

Question #3: "...and [what will be the sign] of the end of the age?”
Answer to Question #3, part one:  the signs preceding "the end" of the age (24:4—14) 
Answer to Question #3, part two:  the sign of "the end" of the age (24:15—22)


Below is the actual text of this basic structure.

Matt 24:4-14, Part one (answering Q#3)
And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will stumble and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matt 24:15-22, Part two (answering Q#3):
So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 

Notice all of the explicit literary parallels. It is only in this section of the Olivet Discourse where "the end" is mentioned by Jesus. "What end?", you might be asking. The "end" of the old covenant in AD70 is the most obvious answer, which is also what the early Church Fathers interpreted these verses as meaning, because the historical parallels and time indicators within the text are crystal clear if someone is familiar with the history of the Jewish wars leading up to Jerusalem's destruction. (There are many excellent books about that subject, but some very concise ones can be found here and here.) But there are more parallels to be found. 

Famines and earthquakes will be found in various "places", but the abomination of desolation as spoken of by Daniel the Prophet will be found in "the holy place." Interestingly, Luke 21:20-22 associate this timing of the "abomination of desolation" with Jerusalem being surrounded by armies. There are also signs preceding the "end" of the age, signs of tribulation that are merely the "beginning" of birth pangs. The actual sign of the "end" of the age coming to a close is described as "great tribulation" after a period of time when the people of Israel are told to flee from Judea to find salvation.






Let's now look at the second section, in which Jesus responds to the second question asked. The basic structure looks like this:

Question #2: "...and what will be the sign of your coming"
Answer to Question #2, part one:  the signs preceding Christ’s coming (24:23—29)
Answer to Question #2, part two:  the sign of Christ’s coming (24:30—35)



Below is the actual text of this basic structure.

Matt 24:23-29, Part one (answering Q#2):
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Matt 24:30-35, Part two (answering Q#2):
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.


Again, the literary parallels with this section are obvious. Some of the signs preceding Christ's "coming" include fellow Israelites saying "Look! Here is the Messiah!", misleading and directing people away from Jesus' disciples and toward the truth of his "coming." They were told that such misleading examples would all be false Messiahs because a sign of the real "coming" of the Son of man would appear in the heavens above, which they could see. An army of angels would be sent out, leading with a loud trumpet call, to gather his elect from across the sky as far as one could see, covering the whole land of Israel. (Such a visible anomaly was, by the way, recorded by Josephus and Tacitus, who were both independent historians of the first century Jewish wars.)

Tacitus (Histories 5:13) recorded these events in his history of the Jewish wars:
In the heavens appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armor. A sudden lightening flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of their departure.


Jesus also said that when they saw all those things they would know that the Son is near. Indeed, it is even said that that generation would not pass away until all those things took place. This, of course, echoes themes which have already been explicitly stated elsewhere Matthew's Gospel:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You* brood of vipers! Who warned you*
to flee from the wrath to come? (Matthew 3:7) 
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:23) 
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of this age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:47) 
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Matt 16:27)

But someone might still ask, "What was meant by him 'coming on the clouds of heaven', or 'the sun being darkened and the moon not giving it's light', or 'the stars falling from heaven', or 'the powers of the heavens being shaken'?"  

I'm glad you asked. 

People today usually assume that such a description must be prophesying events yet to take place after today (e.g. after 2018 AD). But that is mistaken. It's actually a series of cosmic themes woven throughout Israel's Scriptures. The Sun, Moon, and stars were understood to be symbols of both earthly and heavenly rulers (e.g. Judges 5:19; Genesis 37:9), whereas mountains and "land" (often, and unfortunately, mistakenly translated as planet "earth" in English Bibles) were associated with temples and empires.

Below is a very short list of what is found in Israel's Scriptures:

In Isaiah 13:9-11 we find the prophet of the Lord prophesying the fall of the Babylonian empire to the Medes in 539 B.C.:
Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.

Isaiah 34:2–4 describes the Lord’s anger against Edom and Bozrah, who allied together with Northern Israel against Southern Israel (i.e. Judah, where Jerusalem resided):
For the Lord is enraged against all these nations, and furious against all their heavenly host; he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter. Their slain shall be cast out, and the stench of their corpses shall rise; the mountains shall flow with their blood. 

All the hosts of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.


Ezekiel 32:7-8 promises the fall of the Egyptian army by the Babylonians in 587 B.C., at a time when Babylon came to destroy Jerusalem while the princes of Egypt allied with Israel against Babylon:
Thus says the Lord God: I will throw my net over you with a host of many peoples, and they will haul you up in my dragnet. 

And I will cast you on the ground; on the open field I will fling you, and will cause all the birds of the heavens to settle on you, and I will gorge the beasts of the whole earth with you.
…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. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over you, and put darkness on your land, declares the Lord God.

Jeremiah 4:23-24 describes a looming judgment against Judah in the days of the first temple, before it was destroyed:
I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.


In Psalm 18 we read about God judging King Saul and delivering David:
Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.

He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub and flew; He came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water.Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire.


Micah 1:3—4 is a vision of coming judgment against Samaria, the capital of Northern Israel:
Behold, the Lord is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place.


Amos 8:9 describes the fall of Samaria in 722 BC:
And it will come about in that day, declares the Lord God, that I shall make the sun go down at noon and make the earth dark in broad daylight.


Habakkuk 3:3–11 is a prayer for protection during terrible affliction and judgment:
God came down from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. ...He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations; then the aged mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low. …The mountains saw you and writhed; the raging waters swept on; the deep gave forth its voice; it lifted its hands on high. The sun and moon stood still in their place.


Haggai 2:1-9 is self explanatory, and obviously describing a distant and great judgment after the second temple period in which he lived:
In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet: 

“Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’”

Not surprisingly, the author of Hebrews 12 quotes this passage from Haggai as though it was awaiting near-fulfillment in the first century, with the destruction of Israel's temple in AD70:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.”
The phrase “once more” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, things that have been made—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Hopefully now you're beginning to see how clearly the Olivet Discourse utilized well known cosmic imagery to describe the persecution of the early Christian church, the Jewish wars of 66-70AD, and the destruction of their temple.







Finally, let's now look at Jesus' third response, answering the first question from his disciples, which most early Church Fathers (mistakenly) thought was clear prophecy about the end of the physical world. The basic structure looks like this:

Question #1: "…when will these things be?"
Answer to Question #1, part one:  when these things will be--> "Watch therefore" / "No one knows the Day or Hour" (24:36—44) 
   Answer to Question #1, part two:  when these things will be--> "Master" & "Servant" / "Wailing & Gnashing of Teeth" (24:45–51)
Answer to Question #1, part one (prime):  when these things will be--> "Watch therefore" / "No one knows the Day or Hour" (25:1—13)
   Answer to Question #1, part two (prime):  when these things will be--> "Master" & "Servant" / "Wailing & Gnashing of Teeth" (25:14—30)



Below is the actual text of this basic structure.

Matt 24:36-44, part one (answering Q#1):
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you* also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Matt 24:45-51, part two (answering Q#1):
Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him off and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Matt 25:1-13, part one-prime (answering Q#1):
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. 

Matt 25:14-30, part two-prime (answering Q#1):
For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 



As you probably noticed, this third section is much longer than the previous two sections. I don't know why that is. It just is. But all four sections are clearly parallel and structured by a symmetrical A-B-A'-B' pattern. 

In this third section, part one (24:36-44) mirrors the content of part one-prime (25:1-13), and part two (24:45-51) mirrors the content of part two-prime (25:14-30). The literary parallels are absolutely unmistakeable. 

The disciples ask, "when shall these things be?", and Jesus responds with time statements. 

Part one says, "concerning that day and hour, no one knows... watch therefore...". Part one-prime ends with "watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." Parts one and one-prime both mention marriage imagery, which is unique to those sections alone, showing that they clearly parallel each other. 

In part two Jesus interjects with a description of a "servant" and some other "servants" who are anticipating the "coming" of their "master." In part two-prime Jesus interjects again, only this time he offers a parable about "servants" and when their "master" comes in judgment to collect debt. Unique to parts two and two-prime is the emphasis upon such wicked "servants" encountering a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth." 

Like I said earlier, the parallels are glaringly obvious.  

I also hope this series has been helpful so far. It has taken me a while to type it all up. 

All discussion that is left of the Olivet discourse is with the closing section, 25:31-46. As I mentioned in the first post of this series, the closing section mirrors chapter 23:1-12. I think I have typed enough for one evening. I guess that means I will have to save that post for last. 


Stay tuned for one more...







* The "you" of the Greek text is second person plural.