A Handful of Mud: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (VIII)

March 4, 2010

As often happens in the world of blogging (i.e., more or less journaling publicly), I have changed direction (for this post, anyway) since my last piece.  Fortunately, this is not like classic publication, say, in a journal or Bible dictionary.  It is not difficult—or even terribly unexpected—to change.  And, who knows?  Perhaps I should just stop stating where I intend to go next and “be spontaneous.”  We’ll see.

Why did I opt to change in this case?  Further reflection caused me to see some things in ground we had already covered, which needed to be “tweaked.”  In this case, “doubling back” allows for some greatly enhanced insight, as you will see.

The first area of correction is the outer layer of the chiastic structure I proposed for Matthew 24:3-28.  I now suggest that the mirroring structure encompassed 24:1-28.

Accordingly, I now see a different outer later (‘a’ below).  I now strongly suspect that it is a pairing of Jesus’ statement about the destruction of the Temple and the apostles’ question about that (‘a’; vv. 1-3a) and the apparent proverbial statement about vultures gathering around a carcass, which would be a figurative way of describing the destroyed Temple (‘a’; v. 28).

a (24:1-3a) The destruction of the Temple and when will it be (question 1)?

b (24:3b) The question (2a) in the middle: “What is the sign of your parousia?”

c (24:4-12) Among numerous thinks that will take place, false messiahs and false prophets will mislead many.  Also, the experience of “tribulation” (Greek thlipsis) during the preliminary period of “the beginning of birth pains” (i.e., before the really rough time at “the end of the age”)

d (24:13) The one who endures to “the end” (i.e., of the age [2b]) will be saved.

e (24:14) Gospel of the kingdom preached to the whole world/all the nations and then “the end (i.e., of the age

)” shall come

e’ (24:15) Abomination of desolation standing in the Holy Place (see Dan. 9:27; 12:11)

d’ (24:16-22) Taking flight during “great tribulation” (see Dan. 12:1)

c’ (24:23-26) False messiahs and false prophets will attempt to mislead

b’ (24:27) The obvious visibility of the parousia (as opposed to the Greek term erchomai being used more times in the rest of the passage) of the Son of Man

a’ (24:28) Vultures gathering around the carcass (figurative for the destruction of the Temple, etc.)

Besides that parallelism, though, coming to grips with the need to include 24:1-2 brought me face-to-face with the end of chapter 23.  As I considered it in the light of the fresh structurings of 24:1-28, 29-31, I quickly realized aspects of the end of chapter 23 that, while I knew they were there, never had hit me quite as frontally in regard to how chapter 24 grows out of 23.

What do I mean?  First, the other—and initial—reason why the apostles ask about the destruction of the Temple is because Jesus had just stated in 23:38: “Your house (i.e., the Temple) is left unto you desolate.”  Since the Greek word rendered “desolate” here (eremos) is cognate with the word “desolation” (eremoseos) in “the abomination of “desolation” (24:15), it becomes fairly clear that Jesus is indeed somehow answering the apostles’ first question, about the destruction of the Temple, in v. 15.

Second, Jesus’ statement in 23:39—that they would not see Him again until it is said “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”—is the apparent reason the question about His “coming” is then asked.  Interestingly, although 23:39 contains a participle of erchomai, the apostles’ question in 24:3 contains the noun parousia.  Still, both are used—seemingly as verb and noun equivalents—throughout the Olivet Discourse (i.e., relevant additional uses of erchomai in Matt. 24:30, 42; 25:13, 31 and of parousia in 24:27, 37, 39).

Relatedly, Jesus’ statement in 23:39 may well be the reason for the emphasis in this passage on both the preaching of the gospel before “the end of the age” arrives (24:14).  That would provide the knowledge and opportunity needed for people to say in true faith “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!”  However, it may also be just as closely related to the middle of the chiasm in 24:29-31.  After all, the word “mourn” in v. 30 echoes Zechariah 12:10, where the mourning is true repentance, related to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Also, Matthew 24:30 refers to being able to “see” (Greek orao, as in 23:39) the Son of Man “coming” (erchomai).  Thus, the two passages seem to be speaking of general prediction (23:39) and specific prediction as to how it will be fulfilled (24:30).

What is particularly intriguing to me, though, is that, at the heart of the chiasm in 24:29-31, is the wording “all the families of the earth.”  That appears to mean that, in relation to  Christ’s coming, those who will say “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord” (23:39) will be from “all the families of the earth” (24:30), which is also “all the nations” (24:14), the target audience of Matthew’s version of the Great Commission (28:19).

Insightfully, as the completion of the proclamation of the gospel in 24:14 will just precede “the end of the age” (24:14), the Great Commission is to continue to its completion at “the end of the age” (28:20).  Surely these two statements are indeed closely linked in God’s providential control of the end of the age.

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