A Handful of Mud: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (IX)

March 5, 2010

In this post, I am finally getting to the long-promised comparing the observations made in regard to several studies related to aspects of Matthew 24 and the contexts of Daniel 7 and Zechariah 12 (the two passages Jesus chooses to cite side-by-side at a key juncture in the Olivet Discourse [Matt. 24:30] and which John also uses together in Rev. 1:7) with what is found in the Book of Revelation.  Since John was there to hear Jesus give the Olivet Discourse, and since Jesus is also the ultimate author of Revelation (Rev. 1:1) and John is His amanuensis (i.e., stenographer), so to speak, it is to be expected that the two would agree in their overall teaching, even if, of course, the progress of revelation fills things in quite a bit in the Apocalypse.

Through long-term teaching and research/writing, I have had much more than a passing acquaintance with all these passages for well over 20 years now.  Frankly, though, I have never approached anything like the insights gleaned in these past few weeks.

What made the difference?  I believe it was the chiastic analysis, in other words, thinking in parallelism, the way that was so often the case in the Ancient Near East, as opposed to the inductive or deductive approaches which so often dominate in our Western cultures today.  Not only do we tend to read back what we think upon the biblical world, but also how we think.

As we begin with these comparisons, it is helpful to lay out the apparent chronological sequence of the events seen in Matthew 24, first from the chiasm in vv. 3-28, then from the smaller, but more detailed, inversion in vv. 29-31.  Here is my (now adjusted) mirroring analysis of vv. 3-28:

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 stuff at “the end of the age”)

d (24:13) The one who endures to “the end” (i.e., of the age

) 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 [answering question 2b]) shall come

e’ (24:15) Abomination of desolation standing in the Holy Place (answering question 1; 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 (this wording repeated from ‘c’ strongly suggests that the two passages are talking about the same time period)

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 at the end of the age [but likely also in the partial fulfillment of the destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70], etc.)

In this elegant structuring, the wider questions have to do with the destruction of the Temple in the ‘a’ layer (24:1-3a, 28) and the parousia (i.e., coming) of Christ, the Son of man in layer ‘b’ (24:3b, 27).  The latter question, however, is not really fully addressed until 24:29-31 (see below).  Looking to the Book of Revelation, since a (the) Temple seems to be standing in Jerusalem (11:1ff.), its destruction may be implied in ch. 13, with the construction of the “abomination of desolation.”  That is the extent of the usage that may be related to the Temple in Revelation (other than the 144,000 standing with Christ on “Mt. Zion” in 14:1ff.).

In layer ‘c’, we realize from the wording “the beginning of birth pains” (24:8), which speaks of a period well before the hard labor just before a baby’s birth) that the use of the word “tribulation” is in keeping with numerous passages like Matthew 13:21; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; and Romans 5:3, which have to do with affliction in the present age.  This is exactly like the usage in Revelation 1:9 and 2:10.  The killing of God’s people in predicted in Matthew 24:9b and paralleled in Revelation early on in 2:13 and 6:9-11.  A further parallel exists between the phenomena in Matthew 24:4-12, 23-26 and Revelation 6:1-8—parallels pointed out by many commentators.  That makes perfect sense if the unsealing of the scroll in Revelation 6:1-17 is a preliminary sequence before the so-called Tribulation period, due to all the seals being on the outside of the scroll (i.e., so that the content of the scroll cannot be viewed until all the seals have been removed).

In layer ‘d’, the period of “great tribulation” (Matt. 24:21) will require tremendous endurance (the Greek verb hypomeno) 24:13), even the fleeing for your life.  Revelation 7:14 refers to that same period of “great tribulation.”  Fleeing takes place in Revelation 12:6, 13-17.  The need for endurance (the cognate Greek noun hypomone) is emphasized in a very similar-sounding context in Revelation 13:10 and 14:12.

In layer ‘e’ (Matt. 24:14), the very same time in which the Abomination of Desolation is set up in the Holy Place (which is the most likely event related to the destruction of the Temple

, the gospel will be proclaimed to “all the nations,” so that “the end” (i.e., of the age) can come (question 2b).  In Revelation 13:14-15, the image of the Beat is very likely the “abomination of desolation.”  Then, just a few verses later, in 14:6, just before the final “harvest” is about to be reaped by the Son of Man (14:14-20), the eternal “gospel”—the only use of euangelion in Rev.) is climactically preached to “all nations… .”

Bottom line: The amount of obvious parallels between the above chiastic understanding of Matthew 24:3-28 and the Book of Revelation is little short of astounding.  However, that is not all that needs to be considered here to get a full picture of the relationship between this crucial portion of Matthew 24 and the Apocalypse.  We must also look carefully at how Matthew 24:29-31 stacks up with Revelation.  However, since this post has gotten this long, I am going to wait until next time to play that out, as well as summarize my overall findings from a theological perspective.


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