Thursday, October 27, 2011

Matthew 24 (Olivet Discourse) 2- or 3-Question View Critique

The interpretation of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 (vv.1-35, in particular; see parallel account in Mark 13 and Luke 21) has been intensely debated by Bible expositors for hundreds of years. The passage is referred to as the Olivet Discourse, because Jesus Christ spoke these words on the Mount of Olives, hence the "Olivet" part. A discourse, of course, is simply a teaching, conversation, or communication of some thought or idea. So this is the conversation (discourse) that Christ had with His disciples while they were on the Mount of Olives -- the Olivet Discourse.

This current article is not intended to address the interpretation of this passage in its totality. Instead, this article specifically addresses the erroneous views that verse 3 of this passage contains not one question, which includes qualifiers or descriptors, but instead contains either two or three separate questions.

First, let's see what verse 3 actually says (all quotations taken from the NASB):

As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

For example, some interpreters hold to a 2-question view that asserts that the two questions are (1) when will the temple be destroyed, and (2) what are the signs of your coming (and they say this "coming" references the Second Coming of Christ, or His Consummation Coming). Conversely, other interpreters see three distinct questions and hold to a 3-question view. In this view, these three questions are fairly obvious to determine, (1) when will these things happen (referring to the destruction of the temple that Christ prophesies in verse 2), (2) what will be the sign of Your coming, and (3) when will be the end of the age.

Now that the stage has been set, let's get into why neither multiple-question view is tenable.

Whether one believes verse 3 has two or three questions in it, the interpreter falls into grave problems with the text. The only tenable view is that it is one question with qualifiers.

First, we have verse 6, which ends with, "...but that is not yet the end." This is clearly addressing final qualification of verse 3 that speaks of "the end of the age."

Second, verse 9 begins with the word "Then," which indicates that those things just spoken of that are just the "birth pangs" that lead up to the end precede what Christ is going to say will happen next. Connecting what comes after that "Then" with "the end" spoken of in verses 3 and 6, He then says, "But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved." Then again connecting His following words to "the end" again, verse 14 states, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come." There is no break in thought anywhere up to this point.

Third, He then makes a transition into a point of application in verse 15, where He begins by saying "Therefore." The verses following this statement, up through verse 28, are practical warnings to his listeners so they know what to do to avoid the coming destruction of Jerusalem. We must make a very careful notation of verse 25 as well, "Behold, I have told you in advance." If Christ was telling them of some distant event that would be completely irrelevant to them (because they would be long dead), then why make such a statement? If the answer is, "Well, He was warning them to warn their progeny," then deal with the very next sentence: "So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them." If the warning was to future generations, then this should have been, "So if they say to your descendants...." There is absolutely no indication in the text that this warning was not directly for them, but for some future generation. Making such an interpretation is blatantly disregarding what the text itself actually states.

Fourth, given the continuity of the text thus far, we now come to verse 27, which states, "For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be." Now they have an enormous problem. Now we have the "coming of the Son of Man," that is, the "Your coming" of verse 3, intertwined or equated to the "the end of the age" in verse 3. This is proof that those two things are not two distinct questions, but are two ways of expressing the same question -- they're qualifiers or descriptors. Note that the most important point, thus far, is that literally nowhere just Christ appear to address independently of these two statements (these two statements being "Your coming" and "the end of the age") the supposed separate question of "when will these things happen." From verse 6 through verse 27 -- this whole section -- we have Christ specifically addressing "the end" and the "coming of the Son of Man."

Fifth, we now come to the infamous verse 29, which begins by stating, "But immediately after the tribulation of those days...." Note that in verse 9 we are told, "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name." Verse 29 is clearly referring to this tribulation that Christ mentioned in verse 9. Context demands such an interpretation. The "immediately after" becomes meaningless if "immediately" takes on a sometime-2,000-years-or-more-in-the-future meaning. Therefore, we now know that verse 29 is in the same context as everything that proceeds it.

Sixth, verse 30 continues the progression of thought by beginning with, "And then...." There is no disconnection; no new thought.

Seventh, verse 33 implores His hearers, stating, "so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door." The thought process is nowhere disconnected up to this point (as is shown above). Instead, this is a continuation of Christ's answer to the single question in verse 3.

Eighth, and finally, the crux of the whole issue comes into play with verse 34, "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." He is still speaking to His disciples that asked Him the question in verse 3, and He says that "this" generation -- the current one -- will not pass away until "all" these things take place. He didn't say "some," He said "all."

If this passage is addressing two separate questions, the first being "the destruction of the Temple" and the second being "the signs of your coming," then when exactly did Christ even address the first question? Every single statement He makes either refers to "the end" or to the "coming of the Son of Man." Period.

Both the "2-question" and "3-question" views are untenable, because they make arbitrary breaks within the text, they make certain words meaningless, and they fail to grasp the fact that Christ strings together the whole discourse in ways that completely contradict such interpretations. These views can only be reached by inserting one's views into the text (eisegesis) instead of simply extracting from the text what it clearly states (exegesis).

Soli Deo Gloria!

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