Often, some of the most troubling and difficult passages of scripture for many Christians to discern and understand come to us from three different places in the New Testament: Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. These particular passages of scripture have become so famous throughout Christendom they have their own moniker…the statements made by Jesus are commonly referred to as “The Olivet Discourse.” It is frequently labeled as such because Jesus was literally sitting with His disciples on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem when He spoke those words to them – hence the term “The Olivet Discourse.”
That being said, I believe to be able to fully comprehend what Jesus is saying collectively in these three different passages, I think it is extremely important to build some critically, interpretive contextualization by beginning our examination back in chapter 23…not in chapter 24. But before you go and read the entire chapter of Matthew 23, I want to make just a couple of quick opening statements to sort of set the stage for us during this discussion.
For starters, I want you to know that when it comes to the topic of the “End Times,” for the majority of my Christian walk I pretty much adhered to the eschatological teachings that would be described as Pre-Tribulational Dispensationalism with a heavy dose of Pre-Millennialism thrown in for good measure. It was what I was taught, it was in all of the books I had ever read, and in all of the sermons I had listened to, and it has largely been the dominate teaching in the Western Church for well over 120 years now if not more.
The problem for me though, came to a head when I decided to sagaciously study the Bible FOR MYSELF and attempt to come up with a cogent understanding of what it was I did in fact believe about the second coming of Christ and all things Eschatological. And most importantly, I decided to do so with nothing more than the Bible as my guide and as my proverbial Master Teacher, while attempting to seclude and separate myself from all other outside influences. And when I was done doing that (over the course of many, many months), there was just absolutely NO WAY I could support, buttress, or ever continue to try and substantiate almost any part or portion of the Pre-Trib, Dispensational viewpoint.
But surprisingly enough, what I DID FIND, was a greater understanding and comprehension of what the Bible WAS teaching and at the expense of potentially sounding like a braggart, I now have far more understanding and comprehension of what we typically call “The End Times” than I ever have before…and for the first time in my Christian walk, I feel like I am no longer puzzled and left wanting for more substantial answers and clarity about things that previously had continually left me in a state of spiritual bewilderment.
The second point I’d like to make are statements concerning biblical principles and ideologies which are “essential” vs. “non-essential.” In other words, for the duration of this series there is a good chance that you are NOT going to agree with me, nor with some of the things I am going to present to you … and that’s okay! As I’ve often said many times before while pastoring our local church, when it comes to biblical teachings that fall into the “non-essential” category, it is perfectly fine for Christians to have passionate debates concerning these kinds of things, but they should never ultimately divide over them. And frankly I don’t know why, but nothing seems to boil the blood of a lot of Christians faster than discussions about the “End Times!”
Soooo many Christians attach very deep and strong emotions and passion to their particular beliefs about the end times … and while in and of itself that is okay, and it is good to know what you believe and WHY you believe it, I think it is also important to remember that somebody … somewhere … IS going to possibly disagree with you and yet they are still a genuine Christian and follower of Jesus Christ.
So let’s be careful to be willing to extend civility, respect, and common decency with one another when we have these kinds of discussions and heated debates. Because don’t forget this, Jesus isn’t going to be impressed with your acerbic, vitriolic, mean-spirited exegetical acumen – even if it is biblically and doctrinally correct! Instead, He’s going to be far more impressed with your willingness to be civil, respectful, patient, tender hearted, and gentle towards your neighbor even if you don’t obtain 100% agreement across all areas of theological and doctrinal positions with one another.
So again, please don’t forget the oft repeated and common mantra: In essentials – unity, in non-essentials – liberty, and in ALL things – charity (LOVE)! And if you’re at a loss as to how to find some common ground with your brothers and sisters in Christ in regards to these kinds of Eschatological teachings then start right here:
In regards to the return of Christ and His second coming, we may not all be on the same planning committee, but we most certainly CAN BE on the same welcoming committee … amen?
Okay, go ahead and read through Matthew 23:1-36 and then come back to this post.
I want to start by focusing in on the following phrase, “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses.’”
Now right from the very beginning, any reader of Matthew’s gospel needs to implement some very basic, sound, but hugely important exegetical principles to avoid falling into any interpretive confusion and errancy.
So question #1 is, “Who is Jesus talking to?” That’s right, the crowds and His disciples. That’s it. He’s not talking to anybody else. He’s literally looking into the faces of 1st Century human beings and speaking directly TO THEM.
Now, that’s not saying that the things He ends up stating may or may not have some kind of potential spiritual application for OUR 21st Century lives, but we cannot ever state with even a mere ounce of accuracy that He is speaking TO US. Because He’s not … He’s speaking TO THEM!
And Jesus essentially goes on from that point and describes to the people what it is that the Scribes and Pharisees are doing right in their own epoch of time and amidst their own community; which of course is itself yet another indication that we can be assured Jesus is speaking directly TO THEM.
Additionally, even though He is speaking TO THEM, Matthew points out that He is actually talking about the Scribes and Pharisees. And Jesus is warning his Disciples that the Scribes and Pharisees are only interested in the honor and praise of men and how they love to be recognized as “leaders” in the community; but Jesus warns them they are really just full of pride and arrogance and should not be revered or listened to at all.
And then in verse 13 He says, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
Now right here, something very important occurs, Jesus switches gears as it were, and changes His attention to a completely different group of people…the Jewish leaders. And now, instead of looking into the faces of the crowds and His disciples, He directs His attention directly at the Scribes and Pharisees who were in their midst and begins to address THEM. He then spends the next 24 verses chastising them for their erroneous and sinful ways and declares no less than 8 “WOES” upon them in a disparaging and castigating tone.
(As a side note: a lot of people like to run around nowadays declaring, “How dare you judge me? Jesus would never judge anyone – He just loves everybody.” And yet in this chapter we see Jesus not just judging people, but PUBLICALLY … OPENLY … IN FRONT OF EVERYBODY telling these Jewish Leaders that they are Hypocrites, Arrogant, Prideful, Sons of hell, Fools, Blind guides, Unjust, Merciless, Robbers, Self Indulgent, Lawless, and Unfaithful! But that’s a whole different topic)
Okay, let’s return to the text. So Jesus has publically castigated the Jewish authorities and warned the people to be wary of them and their unrighteous practices and he finishes by saying the following starting in verse 34: “34 Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous bloodshed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
Now, who is being sent prophets and wise men according to Jesus? That’s right, those 1st Century Scribes and Pharisees that He was directly talking to. And who were the actual prophets and wise men that got sent to them? That’s right, the Apostles and other Christian believers, just like we eventually see recorded in the book of Acts. And who was going to crucify those prophets and wise men? That’s right, those same Jewish authorities. And who was going to scourge those prophets and wise men? Right again, those same Jewish authorities. And who is being credited with the guilt of innocent blood by Jesus? Right yet again, those same Jewish authorities.
And if there is ANY DOUBT WHATSOEVER still remaining about whom Jesus is speaking to, He clarifies His statements with absolute certainty by providing a literary capstone as it were, upon everything He has told them, when He says, “Truly I say to YOU, all these things will come upon THIS generation.”
Jesus was speaking directly to those first Century Jews and He publically rebukes them. And then He declares that they are going to act wickedly and sinfully towards His Bride, the people of God, the New Testament church, and He prophetically tells them that they are also going to scourge, persecute, and even crucify some of them IN THEIR LIFETIME … in other words IN THAT GENERATION. The context is clear … the subject of who He is speaking to is clear … and the timeframe of when all this will occur is CLEAR … is it not?
If we read these passages objectively, exegetically, and without trying to force any presuppositional opinion into them, then there is no way anyone could ever try and declare that these statements by Jesus are somehow going to occur in the 21st Century correct?
Are we in agreement? I sure hope so; because there really is no other option.
You means you
I don’t mean to belabor the point but pretend if you will for a moment that we have all been transported back in time to 1942 and I am your Commanding General in WWII and each of you is a Captain in my army. After I gather you all together in the War Room I hand each of you a very short, concise manual on my plans for our future, militaristic endeavors and operations.
On page one I outline how we are going to board several different navy vessels and put out to sea from the eastern seaboard towards Europe and I give each of you your own personal marching orders.
On page two I outline how we are going to make an amphibious assault on the beaches of Normandy and push inland towards the German forces and what each of your particular companies are supposed to accomplish.
On page three I outline how we are going to use Apache Helicopters and F14 Tomcats as air support for all of our land units.
On page four I outline how we are going to use some of the latest satellite communication technology invented during our successful mission to the Moon.
And on page five I end everything with a little, rousing, pep talk that I want you to read aloud to all of your troops along with this final definitive assertion, “And mark my words, all of these things are going to take place in this current army during this current campaign.”
Now, if you’re a smart military leader, and one that is not only paying attention but also a student of history, you’d quickly recognize two very distinct things:
#1, Apache helicopters weren’t even created yet in WWII so where are those going to come from? Additionally, neither were F14 Tomcat jet fighters.
#2, we wouldn’t have any new satellite communication capabilities from our mission to the Moon because we didn’t have a successful mission to the moon until decades later in the 1960’s!
But … and here’s the real crux of the situation … regardless of what you think about the assets mentioned in my briefing, and regardless of how you want to interpret them or understand them, you cannot deny that the real context and timeframe of everything I presented to you is encapsulated in the final statements of, “…mark my words, ALL of these things are going to take place in this current army during this current campaign.”
Now would any of you think that after receiving that kind of briefing I was somehow talking to a completely different army or even to an army that was going to come into existence in another 200 or 300 years later on down the road?
Of course not, you’d correctly think and understand that I was talking directly to YOU and YOU alone! Which means that even though you may not understand everything I was talking about, and just because you aren’t aware of the kinds of technologies I mentioned, you’d still have to admit that somehow they are all going to come to fruition during your next campaign and that very military operation because I just told you so!
Now admittedly, that is a very primitive and rudimentary example of what I want to point out to you, but I want to spend just a little bit of time talking about this Greek word “generation” that is used here in Matthew because there are A LOT of confused Christians out there (including some very well known Authors and Pastors) who can’t quite seem to get their exegetical minds wrapped around this very simple word and very simple concept.
The Greek word used here by Matthew in chapter 23, verse 36 is the word genea and it is used 37 times in the New Testament; so for us to get a complete understanding as to what that word actually means and how it is intended to be understood is really quite simple. All we have to do is look up the other 36 verses that utilize it and we can then see clearly what its proper meaning and usage is.
For the sake time I’m only going to list out the ten instances it is used by Matthew in his gospel account since we’re in the book written by him:
Matthew 1:17, “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.”
Matthew 11:16, “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children.”
Matthew 12:39, “But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.’”
Matthew 12:41-42, “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”
Matthew 12:45, “Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”
Matthew 16:4, “‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.’ And He left them and went away.”
Matthew 17:17, “And Jesus answered and said, ‘You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.’”
Matthew 23:36, “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
Matthew 24:34, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Now, this should go without saying but at NO TIME WHATSOEVER can the use of the Greek word genea, in ANY of those aforementioned passages, be forced to mean some kind of different generation other than the one Jesus Christ was DIRECTLY speaking to RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF HIM! I want to say that again: “At NO TIME WHATSOEVER can the use of the Greek word genea, in ANY of those aforementioned passages, be forced to mean some kind of different generation other than the one Jesus Christ was DIRECTLY speaking to RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF HIM!”
And that’s really important …… so you need to remember that as this series of blog posts continues on in the future. In addition to that, it is worth noting that no reputable scholar is in disagreement with any of those passages and the biblical prescription that when the term “generation” is used, it means the people living at that time for about the span of forty years.
So in our text here in Matthew 23 Jesus is telling THAT generation, the people living in THAT period of time, that THOSE Jewish leaders would see all those things come upon THEIR generation.
Alright, let’s finish up in part one by looking further at what Jesus says in verse37: “37Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38 Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39 For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Now again, these passages often seem to confuse and bewilder many Christians but if we just use some sound, exegetical principles and practices I believe it is easy enough to understand completely what Jesus is saying here.
First and foremost, we need to recognize that there is a continuation of thought here. First Jesus was speaking to the crowds and His disciples and warning them about the actions of the Pharisees and Scribes; and then He switches and begins to address the Pharisees and Scribes directly.
And without pausing, as one continuation of thought, right after He publically denounces the Jewish leadership He immediately goes into another prophetic statement about the Jewish people as a whole by using the metaphorical moniker “Jerusalem,” because Jerusalem had always been recognized as the City of David and the abode of the tribe of Israel from time immemorial.
Jesus is basically saying, “Because you have rejected me time and time again, and you have continually rejected every prophet ever sent to you, and you are now rejecting the very Messiah of God Himself standing here in your midst, judgment is coming upon your house! And what was once the Holy City of God, flourishing with vibrant, vivacious, energetic frivolity will now be completely desolate!!”
So this was a dualistic, prophetic judgment not just on the Scribes and Pharisees individually but also upon the nation of Israel corporately as a whole.
Now these kinds of statements don’t have much meaning and impact upon us today as Westernized, 21st Century people, but they would have been highly caustic and supremely impactful for the ears of that 1st Century Jewish audience who were hearing it firsthand … because without Jerusalem, the Jews had no home. And without Jerusalem, they had no precious temple upon which their entire socioeconomic existence was based and universally functioned.
Jerusalem WAS Israel … and Israel WAS Jerusalem! Destroy her and you destroy the very fabric of the people who so highly revered, respected, and admired her. Without Jerusalem, there is no Israel.
Therefore, when you stand up and declare that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed and left as a sign of desolation and destruction to the nations around her (as Jesus prophetically did) … people stand up and take notice. At least they would have back then.
This kind of prophetic and judgmental announcement by Jesus is hugely important (contextually speaking) for being able to understand everything else He is going to eventually say in chapter 24; (which we will begin to do in part two).
Lastly here in chapter 23, the final statement made by Jesus also seems to routinely bring some confusion to Christians who read it. He says to them, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Now right from the get go I’m willing to freely admit that I could be wrong in my interpretation of this statement but it seems to me it is really actually pretty straight forward and easy to understand.
To me this is first and foremost a clear reference back to when Jesus had just recently made His triumphal entry, literally just a couple of days prior to this (see Matthew 21:9), and all the people shouted in the streets in unison, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
And commensurate to that, I think most people would recognize that when a person is unwilling to surrender to Christ, and is unwilling to accept Him as Savior and Lord, the Bible teaches that that person is spiritually “blind” and unable to “see” God correct? Because only those who have surrendered and declared that He is Lord are the ones who really “see” Him correct?
In fact, Jesus once told the Jewish leaders that because their hearts were hard and unreceptive to His life and teachings, they were “blind guides” who were “leading the blind” and all He was doing was reiterating the same kind of things that Isaiah had said in Isaiah 43:8 which says, “Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, and the deaf, even though they have ears.”
In other words, if you are still dead in your sins and unrepentant, than you are never going to declare with your mouth, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” But when your eyes have been spiritually opened, and you’ve been brought out of darkness into His marvelous light, you will gladly declare, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” especially when you get to see Him face to face at the end of all things and at the time of His second coming.
So Jesus is telling these Jewish, unrepentant, haughty leaders that judgment is coming to their door and unless they repent and turn from their sin and declare Him as Lord, then they will never declare, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” because their eyes will remain blind and unopened to spiritual truth.
Either way, you can agree or disagree with me, I’m okay with that. I’m actually open to other ideas or opinions about this verse as I’m sure there are certainly other ways it could possibly be interpreted or understood.
As I rap up part one in this series, I hope you see and understand precisely the proper contextualization that is contained in the statements of Jesus in Matthew chapter 23 because as I often state on numerous occasions, “Context is king!” and we can’t forget that.
It is this very understanding and exegetical foundation that is going to be so important and allow us to begin looking more closely at what follows chronologically in Matthew chapter 24. And without this understanding and foundational background I think it would essentially be virtually impossible to come to any cogent, concise apprehension about what Jesus ends up saying in that next section of scripture.
See you in part two.