New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 21: Matthew 24 + JST Matthew 24

Today covers only one chapter, an interesting one. Known sometimes as the Olivet Discourse (because it’s given on the Mount of Olives) or the Little Apocalypse (because Gr. apokalypsis is the word for “revelation.” The Book of Revelation would be the “big” revelation/apocalypse, and Matthew 24-25 is the little one.) Several things are of interest. 

First, prompted by several (different?) questions, Jesus speaks of the future, both of earthly and heavenly things.

not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down...

not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down…

Notably, the Jerusalem temple with its massive 100+ ton stones will be destroyed, and Jesus will return triumphantly, heralding the establishment of a new earth. The difficulty for modern readers is the connection between these.

v.29 “immediately following” the destruction of the temple and such, “the sun will grow dark, the moon will stop shining, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, all the tribes of the Land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with tremendous power and glory.”- (Mat 24:29-30 Complete Jewish Bible)

It’s clear to us in retrospect that Jesus’ triumphant return and the transformation of the earth did not occur shortly after the destruction of the temple. It’s also quite clear that the New Testament portrays Jesus, the Apostles, and Paul as expecting all these things to happen quite soon, within their day. There are several ways of understanding that.  Jesus spoke, often, with human knowledge. Specifically on this question, he admitted not knowing the exact day and hour.

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mat 24:36 NRSV. The KJV reads differently, lacking “the son,” based on inferior manuscripts.)

Though divine, Jesus was limited in some ways by his mortality, and this appears to have been one of them. He thought like a Second Temple Israelite, sharing with many of his Jewish compatriots an “apocalyptic worldview,” which focused on The End, among other things. I don’t have a ton of time to get into that, so see this article on Apocalyticism from Eerdman’s Dictionary of Early Judaism, this one more specifically about Jesus from the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 2nd Ed.  So while admitting a lack of knowledge, (assuming the New Testament is reliable here, see below), Jesus appears to have thought an end was soon. That may make some uncomfortable, especially when we are accustomed to thinking that Jesus’ perfection meant he always did everything right the first time, knew everything, would have been the best basketball player in the world who never missed a shot, etc. (I have heard the latter, and other similar examples.) I don’t think that’s the right way to think of Jesus. He was certainly divine in a way we are not, but human just as we are “yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15)

Perhaps this is part of what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he said that Christ was “made like his brothers in every way” (Heb. 2:17). Jesus was a first-century Jew. The languages of the time (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic) were his languages. Their customs were his customs. He fit, he belonged, he was one of them.- Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation

What about “translated correctly”? It’s very difficult to attribute this to scribal errors or later false tradition, because why would a later Christian scribe have Jesus speak something that could remotely be made to look like a false prophecy? Scribal tendencies ran the other direction. Notably, it is exactly the fact that things did not happen just as Matthew 24 portrays that bolsters the historicity of this prophecy, because it’s NOT the kind of thing anyone would make up.

Second, Joseph Smith was sensitive to this. The JST largely deals with the apparent confusion of divine timing by reworking the whole chapter, both by changing words as other JST but also by rearranging verses. WVS (a BYU professor) has a parallel text here. Watch the JST verse numbers carefully in his comparison, as they’ve been rearranged to match up to the Matthew text.  See also “Joseph Smith- Matthew” in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

Third, how should we understand the questions of the disciples? As restatements of the same question, or as different questions?

¶ And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us,

when shall these things be? and

what shall be the sign of thy coming,

and of the end of the world?

I’ll address the third question. If you pick up most modern translations (including the very conservative revision to the KJV called the New KJV), you’ll find that the last line reads “the end of the age” not “the end of the world.” Growing up in the 80s as a bookish kid, I can’t hear “the end of the world” without thinking of all-out nuclear war, mushroom clouds, radiation poisoning, and so on. But nothing remotely like that is in view. Greek aiwn (EYE-own) doesn’t refer to creation or the planet, but an indefinitely long period of time, a time period, an age. It corresponds very nicely to Hebrew ‘olam. Jews then and now say ha’olam ha’ba  “the coming age” to refer to the coming golden age, post-messiah, when all things will be set right. It is the end of the fallen degenerate age or aiwn that Jesus’ disciples are asking about. Notably, Paul implies that the “god of this world/age/aiwn” is Satan. (See my little essay here.)

The JST may well pick up on this in some ways, since it paraphrases “the end of the world” as “the destruction of the wicked” in v. 4.

what is the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world, or the destruction of the wicked, which is the end of the world?

As for the other questions, the JST addresses them separately.

Tidbits-

  • “Abomination of desolation”- This phrase, taken from Daniel (as are several other themes of Matt 24), refers to desecrating the temple, as had been done by Antiochus Epiphanies before the New Testament period. The Markan parallel to this Matthew 24 phrase reads clearer. “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains” Mark 13:14. The Romans, like Antiochus, were likely to insist upon altars and sacrifices to their political leaders and other deities, setting them up where they ought not to be, thus defiling the Jewish temple.
  • Christians apparently read Matthew 24 and took it to heart. When the Romans came to destroy the temple between 66 and 70 AD, they fled to Pella, saving their lives. See this article in the Ensign, supplemented by this article on “Pella, Flight to” in the Dictionary of Later New Testament and its Developments

 

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