Archive for the ‘Bible Answer Man’ Category

Author’s note: I am going to publish two versions of this essay, one that includes the referenced sections of scripture in the body of the essay, and another that does not include the referenced sections in the body of the essay but encourages the reader to keep their Bible handy and read these sections as I mention them. This way, the reader can enjoy whichever version works best for them. This will be the version without printed references, so here is you first chance—read Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 now.

The Olivet Discourse—Or Is It?

In academic circles, Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are known as the Olivet Discourse. This is because the location the discourse took place was the Mount of Olives, or so we are told. To get straight to the point, the fact that all three sections are commonly referred to by the same title indicates that most scholars appear to believe that these are what are known as “parallel” records, meaning that they are simply separate records of identical events, and that variations between the records are insignificant enough to require them to be identified as records of distinct non-identical events. It is my belief however that these are not parallel records but are in fact records of separate albeit often similar discourses, and that the variations between the records are significant enough to require us to conclude that they are separate discourses.

Furthermore, the ramifications of this hypothesis are significant. If these three records are indeed parallel, then this can logically lead to certain theological and eschatological conclusions. If these records are distinct however, then this leads to different conclusions.

The first key point that must be made however is this—I do believe that the records in Matthew and Mark are in fact parallel records—the distinction lies between these two records and Luke.

The record in Mark is essentially an abbreviated version of Matthew. There is little variation, and Mark is shorter and contains fewer details than Matthew. It will therefore be a convention throughout this essay to imply that the parallel idea in Mark is included whenever I mention Matthew, unless otherwise noted.

Take a moment to re-read the three records again to see just how similar they can appear to be.

But now, let’s look at the distinctions—distinctions I believe are significant enough that they require us to conclude that these are separate records of separate discourses.

 

Jesus’ Audience and the Location of the Discourse-

Carefully read Luke 21:1, and Matthew 24:1. The record in Matthew clearly takes place on the Mount of Olives, hence the convenient label Olivet Discourse, where Jesus briefs his disciples, specifically Peter, James, John and Andrew on the signs of the end of the age. In the Luke account however, Jesus is teaching the people in theTemple, and there are no details in the record that suggest he departed from the Temple before beginning his discourse in verse six.

Compare and Contrast 1

Matthew 24 Luke 21
Audience? Jesus’ disciples The people
Location? Mount of Olives The Temple
Nature of the discourse? Private briefing Public teaching

 

Which Desolation?

Carefully read Matthew 24:15 and Luke 21:20. Both records use the word desolation, but the similarity stops there. Matthew speaks of the abomination of (or, “that causes”) desolation, while Luke addresses the desolation of Jerusalem. Matthew’s abomination of desolation takes place in the holy place, while a central feature of Luke’s desolation is the entire city of Jerusalem being surrounded. In addition, both the Matthew and Mark records cite the book of Daniel as the precedent for this event, while Luke does not.[1]

Compare and Contrast 2

Matthew 24 Luke 21
Which desolation? Abomination Jerusalem
Location? In the holy place Entire city of Jerusalem
Daniel cited as precedent? Yes No

 

Before or After?

Carefully read Matthew 24:6–9 and Luke 21:9–12. Even though the list of wars, rumors of wars, etc., is extremely similar, the other details are not. According to Matthew, these signs are just the beginning and after they happen Jesus’ disciples will be delivered to synagogues, etc. In the Luke account, the people are told they will be delivered to synagogues, etc., before these things happen. Additionally, in Matthew, Jesus’ disciples will be afflicted, killed, and hated of all nations,[2] whereas the people will be persecuted, imprisoned,and brought before kings and rulers. Similar? Yes. Identical? No.[3]

Contrast and Compare 3

Matthew 24 Luke 21
Who is targeted?[4] Jesus’ disciples The people
When? After these things Before these things
Nature of the trouble? Affliction/death Persecution/imprisonment

 

Unprecedented or Just “Really Bad” Tribulation?-

Carefully read Matthew 24:16–21 and Luke 21:21–24. Matthew qualifies his statement that the events he describes are a season of tribulation or affliction like none that has ever been seen before—or ever will be. Luke does not make this qualification, he just says that there will be great distress. One possible consequence of believing that these are parallel records is a doctrine known a preterism, which is the belief that most, if not all, prophetic events described in the Bible have already taken place, primarily during the 1stcentury at the destruction of the Temple. The distinctions between Matthew 24 and Luke 21 present real problems for preterism however, and especially the distinctions cited here. The destruction of the Temple, although horrific, was not unprecedented. But even more importantly, the qualification in Matthew states that the tribulation that corresponds to these events will be the worst the world has ever seen or will ever see. The destruction of the Temple simply does not meet this criterion.[5]

Contrast and Compare 4

Matthew 24 Luke 21
Nature of the tribulation. Never anything like it before or after. Yes No

 

Hebrew or Gentile Perspective?

Carefully read Matthew 24:16–21 and Luke 21:21–24. The gospels are widely considered to have different emphases. While all readers can benefit from the various perspectives, Matthew is generally considered as being delivered to a Jewish audience from a Jewish perspective, while Luke is considered as being delivered to a Gentile audience from a Gentile perspective. The Matthew record warns those who hear to pray that their flight is not on the Sabbath, a point that would only matter to Torah observant occupants of Judea.[6] The Luke record makes no such reference.

Altogether, this makes for a pretty convincing list of distinctions.

Contrast and Compare All

Matthew 24 Luke 21
Audience? Jesus’ disciples The people
Location of discourse? Mount of Olives The Temple
Nature of the discourse? Private briefing Public teaching
Which desolation? Abomination Jerusalem
Location of desolation? In the holy place Entire city of Jerusalem
Daniel cited as precedent? Yes No
Who is targeted? Jesus’ disciples The people
When? After these things Before these things
Nature of the trouble? Affliction/death Persecution/imprisonment
Nature of the tribulation, never anything like it before or after. Yes No
Hebrew or Gentile perspective? Hebrew Gentile
First century or future? Future First century

 

Conclusion-

Luke 21 was written to primarily Gentile believers who would witness the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Matthew 24 is written to a future generation of Jewish believers who will witness the abomination of desolation.

This is important in the debate between preterist/post-millennial believers, and pre-millennial believers. Preterists and post-mils claim that the events of Matthew 24 were fulfilled in the first century and therefore to expect a future fulfillment of these events is futile. A pre-mil believer on the other hand suggests that it was the events of Luke 21 as distinct from Matthew 24 that were legitimately fulfilled during the first century, but that the events of Matthew 24 (since they are an entirely different record) have yet to be fulfilled.

The Luke record offers no assistance in understanding what the “abomination of desolation” (spoken of by Daniel the prophet) is, only Matthew and Mark’s records accomplish this.

Preterism and post-millennialism hold that ancient Israel finds its continuation and/or fulfillment in the Church, and as a result it is very difficult for preterism and post-millennialism to not turn into subtle or even flagrant anti-Semitism.

Partial and full preterism and post-millennialism are seeing a resurgence today, especially in certain charismatic circles. The arguments are rarely convincing to well-educated believers as they are usually an ad hoc mixture of pre and post-millennialism.

 

[1] Once the precedent of the prophet Daniel is understood, it is impossible to reach the conclusion that the abomination of desolation occurred at the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. The abomination of desolation involves defiling the Temple in a rather specific manner. In A.D. 70 the Temple was destroyed but not defiled in this manner.

[2] The implication here is international, even global. The events of Luke 21, circa 70 A.D. were localized or at most regional.

[3] While the tribulation of the Jewish/Roman War ~A.D.66–70 clearly included many deaths, not merely persecution and imprisonment, the clear implication of the Matthew 24 record is that far greater numbers will die.

[4] Another key distinction is in view here. Between A.D. 66–70 the Jewish nation was at war with Rome, resulting in the destruction of the Temple. In the Luke account all who dwell in Judea are encouraged to flee Jerusalem/Judea. In the Matthew account, “those who dwell in Judea” are encouraged to flee, but with an added distinction. The phrase “pray that your flight is not on the Sabbath” targets Torah observant followers of Christ—a very unique group indeed.

[5] When confronted with this inconvenient fact, most preterists quickly become “partial” preterists—those who believe only some of the prophecies of scripture were fulfilled in A.D. 70, leaving room for them to cherry pick which prophecies have been fulfilled and which have not.

[6] This point is examined more fully in my essay The Remnant and Israel’s Petition.

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The Bible is full of stories about migration. Whether Abraham’s journey to Canaan, the children of Israel going to Egypt, or the Exodus there from, the Bible is replete with such stories. In fact, there are so many I am not going to attempt any kind of summary at this time. What I am going to do however is cherry pick one story… BUT! I am telling you in advance that I am going to cherry pick one story, unlike most of the other articles I am seeing about “What the Bible Says About Immigration” that cherry pick one story and then claim how “clear” the Bible is on the subject.

One very famous story that involves migrants is the story of Ruth. It begins with a Hebrew family migrating to Moab due to a famine in Judea. After living there for apparently a rather short time, the father dies, and in due order, the two sons of the family marry Moabite women. After about ten years, the two sons also die, leaving the women alone. Soon, word arrives that the famine in Judea has ended and the mother, Naomi, determines to return home. Although all three women start the journey, Naomi rather quickly adjures her two daughters-in-law to return to their parent’s homes as she has nothing to offer them. One heeds her counsel and returns home, while the other, Ruth, insists upon going with her.

The rest of the story is a striking tale of redemption. Ruth meets and marries a great man who provides for both her and her mother-in-law, and the two (Ruth and Boaz) are early ancestors of both King David and eventually the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

During the story (and how Ruth meets Boaz) Ruth receives a kind of “welfare” stipulated in the Law of Moses for the poor, widows, orphans, and “foreigners.” It should be noted that Ruth had to work for it, and there were no government programs where one could receive benefits and not work. But a key point in the entire story is this… Ruth was so thankful for the kindness and generosity showed to her that she made the following declaration…

“Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” [Ruth 1:16 NAS]

The point being this. Yes, the Bible urges us to be kind to immigrants, but it also urges immigrants to adapt to the culture of their host country and be thankful they were allowed to come and become productive members of society.

Yes, I am cherry picking one Bible story that involves immigration, and there is much more that can be said about this and other similar stories, but this one very famous story stands against the all too common and permissive interpretation that we are supposed to allow everyone in who wants to come without limits or conditions. If we consider ourselves to be a “Christian” nation, should we welcome immigrants? The Bible seems pretty clear that we must. But it is also equally clear that to require them to do so in compliance with our laws, values, and customs is equally appropriate.

Caveats and Provisos

I have several friends who often reach out to me as a kind of “Bible Answer Man.” I enjoy answering their questions whenever possible. Something that happens rather frequently however, is that I’m not always so sure my friends realize that they are not necessarily asking simple questions, and therefore texting or messaging an answer isn’t really practical. This happened earlier today, when one such friend messaged me that he had finished reading a significant portion of the Old Testament and was struck by how violent and ungodly the history of the Jews was at times. The following is my reply—a highly condensed summary of Old Testament history and at least one lesson we can take away. I hope you enjoy it.

 

What Not to Do

One of the keys to understanding the Old Testament in general, and the Old Covenant in particular, is that it is often more an example of “What Not to Do,” rather than “What to Do.”

From the beginning (Garden of Eden), God instructed humanity that they were free to do what they wanted (free to eat of any tree in the garden; Gen. 2:16), as long they understood that He alone determines what is good and what is evil (prohibited to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; Gen. 2:17), and that the consequences of humanity setting its own standard for good and evil would result in calamity (surely die; Gen. 2:17).

Large portions of the Old Testament are stories that are examples of this paradigm working itself out in the material realm—humanity trying to direct and control their lives independent from God—and the result is exactly what is to be expected—confusion, frustration, and all manner of problems.

The Hebrews, despite being God’s “chosen people” were no exception.

God sent them a deliverer to free them from slavery in Egypt, and yet once free they complained to go back (Numbers 11). This lack of faith in God’s way of doing things caused them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

Once the 40 years were over and a new generation came of age that had the faith to face the challenges of the Promised Land, the Hebrews crossed the Jordan River to enter the Land.

Under Joshua’s leadership the nation generally prospered, but also saw its fair share of problems (for doing things their own way), like the defeat at Ai (Joshua 7).

Next, the Hebrews entered the period of the Judges. A particular phrase that is found twice in the book of Judges characterizes this period—“Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). Independence from God–not a good idea.

The end of the Judges came because the Hebrews demanded a king (1 Sam. 8). A king was not God’s intention at this time, and the prophet Samuel, speaking to the people on God’s behalf, warned them what would happen if they had a king (1 Sam. 8:10–22).

The first king, Saul, was a mixed bag. He wasn’t necessarily a good king, but he was good at “being king.” He was a strong leader, and the nation of Israel generally prospered under his leadership. But in keeping with our theme, he sought to do things his own way, relied on his own abilities, and eventually paid the ultimate price for it.

The second king was David, who is the Hebrew king by which all others are judged. He was a valiant warrior, a strong leader, and quite the musician. And yet despite his glowing reputation, he was acutely human and committed grievous sins including adultery and murder. The key distinction about David, and the precise reason why he was a great king, was because his heart always (re)turned to God.

The third king was David’s son Solomon. Solomon was a strong leader, but again had equally strong human weaknesses. He had 700 wives and concubines (the Old Testament equivalent of a porn addiction), many of whom were foreign. His foreign wives brought along their foreign gods, which would prove to be Solomon’s demise. Despite building the renowned Jewish Temple and having extraordinary wisdom, Solomon was undone by his human weaknesses.

Under all three kings, the Hebrew nation was united. This unity was not artificial, it was genuine, but it also relied heavily upon the strength and leadership of the Hebrew kings, and Saul, David, and Solomon were all strong, capable, if not always exemplary, leaders.

By the end of Solomon’s reign, the Hebrew nation had defeated their enemies, built the Temple, developed a flourishing economy, become the center of the civilized world, and achieved peace and unity. Israel had reached the pinnacle of its strength and influence. The problem with reaching the top however is that the only way to go is down.

When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam assumed the throne. He was young, inexperienced, arrogant, and worst of all, prone to following bad advice.

Rehoboam’s nemesis was a young leader named Jeroboam ben Nebat. According to the Talmud, he was “an extraordinarily gifted, superior person with an abundance of charisma, as well as a great organizer and, above all, a magnificent scholar.”[1]

Had Rehoboam genuinely sought the best interests of the people, the people, and even Jeroboam himself, would have likely united behind him. But in one of the most colossal blunders of all time, Rehoboam ignored the sound advice of older wiser men, and listened only to the advice of younger less experienced men who told him to deal harshly with the people. Realizing that Rehoboam was not listening to them or even his own father’s advisors, ten of twelve tribes declared their independence and made Jeroboam their king. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the House of David. Jeroboam ruled over the ten tribes of the “Northern Kingdom” called Israel, while Rehoboam ruled over the two tribes of the “Southern Kingdom” called Judah. Both men claimed to be God’s chosen king.

Judah’s capital remained Jerusalem, while Israel established their capital at Samaria. This fact is critical because the Torah commands all able-bodied males to engage in three pilgrimage festivals each year. Jeroboam knew and therefore feared allowing citizens of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) to travel to Jerusalem for the feasts. He knew that if he allowed it, the hearts of the people would “turn back” to Rehoboam. Consequently, he made the fateful decision to forbid his citizens from travelling to Jerusalem, and as an alternative established idolatrous worship practices in the Northern Kingdom. All subsequent monarchs of the Northern Kingdom of Israel followed Jeroboam’s lead.

In the Southern Kingdom, however, good and bad kings were cyclical. Every other generation or so a good king would step forward and strengthen the faith of the people. This never happened among the kings of the Northern Kingdom. They followed the mold of Jeroboam for the next 200 years.

In 721 B.C., the Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom (Israel), razed Samaria, and deported their leading citizens.

In 605 B.C., the Babylonians invaded the Southern Kingdom (Judah) and after three separate sieges, eventually destroyed the Temple and the city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., and carried the bulk of the population into captivity.

Both the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities were the result of the Hebrews turning way from God and doing things “their way.”

God’s intention, as expressed in the Everlasting Covenant cut by the members of the Godhead before the foundation of the world, has always been to be a loving Father to His children—approachable, kind, compassionate, and most of all—intimate—directly and easily accessible to each individual child of God. It is humanity that has made things difficult by defaulting to the (wrong) idea that God is distant, separate, unapproachable, and judgmental. Humanity exacerbated this problem by always inserting “something” between themselves and God, whether a person (priest/mediator) or a system (code/religion), or both—when God’s intention has always been relationship—unmediated, dynamic, and organic.

The violence, unrest, idolatry, and all manner of chaos that is rife throughout the Old Testament can be traced to a single source—humanity attempting to go its own way independent from God. The result has been that we have always attempted to create God in our image—always wanting him to do things the way we want them done. Classic “What Not to Do.”

Jesus Christ came to set that right.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 102a.