A Handful of Mud: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (V)

February 23, 2010

This will be my next-to-last post given over to understanding how Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10 are used in Matthew 24, which appears to be John’s reason for citing those passages together in Revelation 1:7.  In my last piece, I addressed the first question the apostles asked Jesus in Matthew 24:3: “When will these things (i.e., the destruction of the Temple; see v. 2) take place?”  Today, I will do my best to make sense of their second—two-part—question: “What will be the sign of your coming (question 2a) and of the end of the age (2b)?”

To get the simpler aspect out of the way first, in regard to question 2b, early in the Olivet Discouse it says clearly: “The end is not yet” (24:6).  Shortly after that, another verse speaks of “the beginning of birth pains” (24:8), which is a way of describing the Braxton-Hicks—so-called “false labor”—pains that often occur weeks or a month or more before the hard labor just prior to when the baby is born.  On the other hand, 24:14 refers to the gospel being proclaimed to “all the nations” before  “the end” will come (see Matt. 28:19 for how Jesus’ command to “make disciples” similarly targets “all the nations” and continues until “the end of the age”).  Thus, the completion of the world-wide proclamation of the gospel appears to take place right on the doorstep, so to speak, of “the end of the age.”

Also related to 2b, it is hard to argue around the implication that the reference in Matthew 24:21 to “great tribulation” (thlipsis megale; see Dan. 12:1 for the origin of the terminology and Rev. 7:14 [tes thlipseos tes megales] for the focal usage in the Apocalypse) when things will be so bad that, unless “those days” were limited, not even the elect would survive, must be relatively close to “the end of the age.”  Daniel 12 describes the time of unparalleled “distress” (thlipsis in the Septagaint [aka LXX], the Greek translation of the OT) in v. 1 as closely related to the escape of the Jews (Daniel’s “people”; v. 1) seen in Revelation 12:6, 14 and to the resurrection at the end of the age (Dan. 12:2, which is, of course, detailed in Revelation 20.

Coming to grips with question 2a is a little more complicated.  The apostles’ request for a “sign” related to the coming of the Son of Man causes the reader to seek something in the passage that would fit the bill as a definite “sign.”  The other tricky part is that, although the apostles ask for a sign related to the parousia (Greek “coming, arrival, presence”) of Christ, and even though parousia is used in Matthew 24:27, 37, 39, the only other place in the Olivet Discourse where “sign” is used in a verse that makes sense is 24:30, where the word for the Son of Man “coming” is not the noun parousia but the verb erxomai. It appears that the answer to that head-scratcher is that the terms become more or less interchangeable ideas (perhaps as noun and verbal equivalents) as you move through Matthew 24:3-31.

From what I am able to tell from my in-depth study, the most insightful way to answer question 2a is through interpreting an elaborate and elegant chiastic (inverted parallel, if you’re not familiar with the term) arrangement in vv. 29-31:

a- (Matt. 24:29a) Immediately after the “tribulation” (thlipsis, also used in v. 9) of those days

b- (24:29b) Cosmic phenomena mentioned in Joel 2:30-31, before the “Day of the Lord” (2:31)

c- (24:30a) The “sign” seen… in heaven

d- (24:30b) The Son of Man

e- (24:30c) “Will mourn” (Greek kopsontai) (Zech. 12:10)

f- (24:30d) “All the tribes of the earth” (Dan. 7:14)

e’- (24:30e) “Will see” (Greek opsontai) (the idea is in Zech. 12:10 [LXX], but a different Greek word is used, so Jesus’ choice here is clearly intentional)

d’- (24:30f) The Son of Man

c’- (24:30g) “Coming on the clouds of heaven” (Dan. 7:13)

b’- (24:31a) [Jesus] will send out His angels with a loud trumpet (also in Joel 2:1, where it declares the coming of the “Day of the Lord”)

a’- (24:31b) [Jesus] will gather His elect from the four winds

Even at a quick first glance, it certainly appears that there is far too much clear parallelism here to be “coincidence.”  If nothing else, the mirroring of “Son of Man” in the ‘d’ layer and kopsontai/opsontai in the ‘e’ layer must be intentional.

For the immediate purpose of our study here, the ‘c’ layer appears to answer question 2a in its simplest form (i.e., without wider theological ramifications).  The “sign” of Jesus’ coming is Him (i.e., the Son of Man of Dan. 7:13) “coming on the clouds.”  However, there is a lot more to this beautiful chiastic structure than this terse answer

So, in my next post, we will explore this elaborate  inverted parallel structure more and attempt to synthesize into a coherent whole what has emerged as we have poked our way through Matthew 24, after coming to grips with the original contexts of Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10.  This will amount to doing a biblical theology study of this passage and those that inform it (as well as taking a look at the systematic theological possibilities, also).

Then, in the following post, I will (finally!) take what we have learned from our study in Matthew 24 and apply it to the significance of the use of Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10 in Revelation 1:7.  I think you will see that I have not been wandering around in the biblical boondocks, as it were, and you may be very surprised at the amount of insight gained from the far-reaching biblical exercise of the past several posts!

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