Posts Tagged ‘Questioning your answers’

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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There is a saying making the rounds in certain circles of Christianity today that both excites me and bothers me at the same time. That saying is…

“Jesus is perfect theology.”

Most people who use this expression love it, frankly because, who could possibly argue with it? How could Jesus ever not be perfect theology?

Just so we’re clear, I believe this statement is true—Jesus is perfect theology. He was, is, and (always) will be perfect theology—and therein lies an additional and important insight.

You see, what always bothered me about this saying wasn’t so much the saying itself, but how people used it, in other words what people who said it said next. Because whether they realized it or not, they were using this catchphrase as a kind of binding maxim, that is, “an established principle or proposition,” and (again, whether they realized it or not) were counting on this “established principle” to preempt any dissent from their next statement.

The next statement varies, but one of the most common ones is, “I’ll take the words of Jesus over the words of Paul any day.” And now we have a problem, a big problem, because that statement is simply bad theology, hence the need to preface it with what appears to be an unassailable truism.

First, the statement “I’ll take the words of Jesus over the words of Paul,” ignores the orthodox hermeneutical principle that “holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The same Holy Spirit that “moved” Peter, also moved Paul, and also moved Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A statement in scripture is not somehow “more inspired” because Luke (for example) is quoting Jesus as compared with Paul receiving revelation and writing “the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations but has now been manifested to His saints” (Colossians 1:26).

Second, as is almost always the case with biblical issues, the statement “Jesus is perfect theology” must be put in context. Was Jesus “perfect theology” five minutes after he was born? Hmm? Or did he grow in wisdom as the scripture says? (Luke 2:40.)

Finally, these combined statements essentially ignore the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost—one of the most extraordinary and significant events is scripture and in the history of the world, and the profound changes that occurred as a result. Very simply, the rules changed at Pentecost. Jesus himself anticipated this and spoke to his disciples during his earthly ministry to be ready for it when it came.

You see, Jesus was perfect theology is his earthly ministry and he is perfect theology now in his ascended ministry. But the Gospels do not represent his ascended ministry—the Church epistles do.

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.

I’ve been seeing a significant number of online articles and Facebook memes this year, desperately attempting to defend Christmas by claiming that the popular theories about early Christians deliberately attempted to co-opt Roman and pagan winter solstice festivals have been debunked. I know I will get called a Scrooge for this, but this is both tragic and ironic, first because it is a logical non sequitur, and secondly because it entirely misses the point.

If you want to celebrate Christmas, by all means, knock yourself out. Christmas is a wonderful holiday that millions of people look forward to and celebrate every year—and they enjoy it—so please have at it.

But please stop trying to defend Christmas as anything other than what it is—a TRADITION.

First, the notion that Jesus Christ was born on December 25th is biblically indefensible. There is absolutely no biblical evidence whatsoever that Jesus was born on December 25th.

Second, the notion that as Christians, we should celebrate the birth of Christ is likewise biblically indefensible. There isn’t even a suggestion, let alone a commandment or mandate the Christ’s birthday, whether we know the date or not, is supposed to be celebrated. There is absolutely no biblical evidence whatsoever that Jesus’ disciples and their immediate successors celebrated his birthday.

Third, if you belong to one of the various flavors of Christianity that requires you to “observe” Christmas in an obligatory sense, you truly do not understand the New Covenant.

“Had it been the will of Christ that the anniversary of his nativity should have been celebrated, he would have at least let us have known the day.” [Ezra Stiles, 7th President of Yale College, writing in 1776.]

All of the holiday traditions associated with the birth of Christ developed much later and over time completely separate from any biblical support (since there simply isn’t any).

As a matter of fact, it is much easier to develop a sound biblical case against celebrating Christmas, than it is to develop one in support. The scriptures of the New Testament clearly teach that God has a very low opinion of the “traditions of men,” and Christians are clearly instructed not to esteem one day above another, regardless of the rationalization. All the collective handwringing about “keeping Christ in Christmas” misses the point that Christ is not “in” Christmas anymore than he is in any other day of the year.

But where Christ truly is, should you choose to accept Him, is in you—and you are in Christ. And the ramifications of this truth are beyond stunning. And therein lies the danger of traditions—they distract, deflect, and de-emphasize the biblical truths that would turn everyday into Christmas if we would only spend as much time and effort making them a reality as we do our traditions. If you’re not as excited about say, August 16th or October 18th as you are about December 25th because Christ is in you, then maybe it is high time you put your traditions on the shelf and allowed Jesus to reveal himself in you (Gal. 1:16)—an experience that so overwhelmed Paul the apostle that he immediately separated himself from all distractions so that he could fully embrace this Truth.

I’m sure some reading this will think that I am “anti-Christmas” and I assure that I am not. I have enjoyed many Christmases and experienced more than a few disappointing ones as is likely the case with many of us. Christmas can be a wonderful holiday tradition that encourages us to be with ones we love, and oftentimes reach out to others for whom Christmas may not be so merry. And those are good things—and I never oppose good things. Plus, Vince Guaraldi’s, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the some of the best Christmas music—ever.

So I do sincerely wish you one and all a merry and blessed Christmas. May you enjoy time spent with loved ones, eggnog, eating too much, and presents under the tree. But I also encourage you to go deeper—deeper than traditions about Christ to straightway into the truth that is in Christ.

I tripped over an article on the Internet today about NASA “changing/updating” the astrological signs, and of course, after I clicked on it to read it, up popped an additional article by Snopes.com attempting to debunk the NASA claim. Ironically, the Snopes article pre-dates the other article, and is apparently based on previously published but essentially identical information.

Understanding the accurate birth date of Jesus Christ requires an accurate understanding of both astronomy and astrology—or more precisely, archeo-astronomy—what ancient cultures knew and believed about astronomy and astrology. And although as a Christian, I do not believe in or endorse horoscopes, the basic premise behind these articles is actually rooted and grounded in sound astronomical observation and does have bearing on our understanding of precisely when Jesus was born.

What both articles clumsily refer to is called the procession of the equinoxes, and it is well-known and understood by both ancient and modern astronomers and astrologers alike. As a matter of fact, understanding the procession of the equinoxes is how the ancient Mayans developed a calendar that “ended” on the winter solstice (December 21) 2012, that caused such a hullabaloo few years ago.

The procession of the equinoxes occurs because the Earth’s rotational axis is actually tilted off its orbital axis by approximately 23º. (Ironically, the axial tilt, or “obliquity” also oscillates over time between approximately 21º and 24º.) Because of the axial tilt, the celestial North Pole (the point or spot drawn in the heavens directly above the Earth’s rotational axis, combined with the Earth’s orbit, and the rotation of the Milky Way galaxy, causes this spot to draw a circle in the heavens. The time it takes to draw a full circle is approximately 25,920 years and is known in astronomical communities as the “Great Year” or “Platonic Year.”

The combination of these various orbits and rotations results in the constellations appearing to rotate around the Earth despite the fact that they appear stationary to the naked eye, repeatedly showing up in the same location seasonally each year. The key component however is that this happens very, very slowly and is not observable to the naked eye. It is only noticeable due to prolonged observation and recording of the precise position of the constellations against our sun. By tracking exactly what date each constellation rises behind the rising sun on the vernal equinox (over many, many years), we discover that the constellations rotate approximately 1º every 72 years.

The reason this matters, for those who put any credibility in horoscopes anyway, is that for many followers of such practices, the star charts they are using are up to 2000 years old, during which time the constellations have shifted about 27º, which means the dates for what sign occurs when have changed too.

You see, the “sign” one is “born under” is determined by the position of the sun (what constellation it is in) on the day you were born—not by the date on some chart that says “Pisces” (for example) is between February 19 and March 20. Where these articles got it right (even though they themselves were highly skeptical) is that due to the procession of the equinoxes, those dates are now Aquarius, and March 11 to April 18 is now Pisces. Enter your birthdate into any simple astronomy software and check for yourself. My birthdate is October 18, 1961. Although I never followed horoscopes, I grew up with the understanding that I was either a Scorpio or a Libra, when in reality I am a Virgo! Horoscopic interpretations aside, the dates are purely scientific.

What’s truly amazing however is how ancient societies who were limited to physical observation combined with rudimentary mathematical extrapolation could know about the Great Year.

The end result is that archeo-astronomy, or, what ancient cultures knew and believed about astronomy and astrology plays a major role in our understanding of the accurate birth date of Jesus Christ.

Such massive strides have been made over the past 50 years in the field of archeo-astronomy, that historians now recognize that if one does not understand the astronomy of that culture, you probably do not understand that culture as well as you think you do.

This means we will be taking a long look at Hebrew archeo-astronomy.

More to come.

I love the Bible–I really do. I enjoy hermeneutics as well–the science and art of interpreting the scriptures. This entry however is about “unscientific hermeneutics”–in other words, this is not about a rigid set of principles, it’s about an observation I have made between those who seem to interpret scripture from a religious mindset and those who interpret scripture from a relational mindset.

I recently saw a Facebook meme by a high profile minister. It read:

“Those who repent will be given the grace to change.”

Now this may be true if we are speaking of an unbeliever confessing Christ for the first time. I say “may” because one could argue that God gave them the grace to repent in the first place. And therein lies the rub.

If we are speaking about a person who is already in Christ, then this quote is inaccurate and reflects a religious mindset. Once a person is saved, then the default paradigm of being in Christ is…

The accomplished work of the cross supplies the grace we need that enables us to repent and change.

If we have already been saved and yet still have to repent in order to receive grace, the cross was in vain.

Religion teaches us that there is something we must do and then God can respond. Relationship teaches us that God has already done everything that needs to be done in Christ and therefore supplies us with the resources necessary to fulfill what He has called us to do. In other words, religion essentially gets it backwards.

As I have said in previous entries, that if there could be such a thing, the Old Covenant would be the perfect religion–it was written by God, but is kept by human effort. And furthermore, that much of Christianity is merely Old Covenant paradigms veiled in New Covenant terminology. Jesus did not come to start a new religion, or perfect an existing one–He came to put an end to religion in favor of relationship.

So here are a couple more doctrines that got flipped at the cross.

Old Covenant: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all they soul, and all thy strength.
New Covenant: Behold, I give you a new commandment–to love others as I have loved you.

Old Covenant: Give and it will be given to you, pressed down, shaken together and running over.
New Covenant: Freely you have received freely give.

So here is my unscientific hermeneutical principle: If you suspect that something you hear smacks of religion, try flipping it over and see what you get.

A good friend of mine once shared the following illustration of forgiveness…

It’s like a debt. If someone sins against you, it’s basically like you holding an I.O.U.—they owe you for the hurt or damage done—but you don’t cash in the I.O.U. (demand payment), you hand it over to Jesus. This doesn’t mean that the person who hurt you does not owe you—they do, they created a debt—but you’re just not demanding payment.

The Old Testament standard for sin induced debt is quite clear, and equitable to a fault…

(19) …if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; (20) Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again. [Leviticus 24:19–20 KJV]

Keep this in mind for second while I share a different illustration, closely related to the first, shared by a different friend.

So you’re sitting at home one afternoon, minding your own business when a knock comes at your door. You open the door to find your neighbor Joe. Before you can barely get, “Hey Joe, how are you?” out of your mouth, Joe hauls back and punches you square in the nose, and then runs off.

More mentally stunned than physically hurt, you step back inside to get a washcloth and some ice for your bloody nose, and begin to try to process what just happened. Once again, before you’ve barely had a chance to figure it out, the phone rings—its Joe.

“Hey________” (insert your name here), he says, “I’m really sorry.” “I don’t know what I was thinking, I was confused and angry,” he continues. “You didn’t deserve that, would you please forgive me?”

“Sure Joe,” you respond, “of course I forgive you.” You hang up the phone and presume that life is pretty much back to normal.

To make a long story short, the exact same thing happens the next day—knock on the door, punch in the nose, phone call, “please forgive me,” “of course,” etc.

And the next day…

And the next…

This continues daily. Each day Joe punches you, calls you, asks for forgiveness, and you “forgive” him.

But there is also absolutely sign that this pattern is going to stop any time soon.

So now we have come to the place where we must combine what we have learned from each illustration…

In the daily punch-in-the-nose story, each day you “forgive” Joe. Technically, he “owes” you a punch in the nose for each day, but you have forgiven him in that you do not “demand payment.”

So here’s the big question. Even though you have “forgiven” Joe, because there is no sign of his behavior changing, when do you stop answering the door?

I have heard some Christians suggest that to truly forgive means you must continue to allow “Joe” to “punch you in the nose.”

But now, let me alter the illustration slightly and see if the same principle applies.

What if you were a third party and were watching this happen to a friend or loved one? What if the person getting “punched” was a good friend, a spouse, or a child? Would you counsel them to “forgive” and continue “opening the door”? Are you “loving” your friend, spouse, or child by telling them they must continue to “forgive” and allow themselves to be hurt?

Do you think this is what Jesus meant when he told Peter “Until seventy times seven?”

What do you think?