Jerusalem and the Temple Destroyed

Matthew 24:1-35

Matthew 24:3 contains the question the disciples asked Jesus privately about His remarks in 24:1-2, when overlooking downtown Jerusalem; He told them that the place was going to be destroyed. Their question, as I mentioned last time, was a twofold one: When would “this” happen”, and “what would be the “sign of your coming and the end of the age”. In our text Jesus answers the first part of the question: “When will this happen?”

Verses 4-14 speak of the run up to this time of Jerusalem’s destruction: There will be false Messiahs, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, persecutions, hatred…

His message is that they should not be alarmed or deceived, for these things show us business as usual in this world, not the end.

What? You don’t believe me?

People in our time tend to be unfamiliar with history, but surely no one will claim that war, famine, earthquakes, persecution, hatred turning away from God and false messianic claims were just invented! No, of course not; these things have been going on since day one, and they will continue until day last…

The next section, in 24:15-28, tells of how they would know that the end has come for Jerusalem: “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel” they are to get themselves out of Judea as quickly as humanly possible. To fully understand this statement, we must first recognize that the word “desolation” means “emptiness”; a “desolate” place is a place that is empty. In this case, Jesus is referring to a pagan Roman army that has arrived at the holy city for the purpose of destroying it and murdering its inhabitants. In the end, the ruins of their once great city were desolate indeed.

24:22-25 tell of an opportunity to escape the siege of the city for those who had been unable to flee earlier, for without any warning, the Romans withdrew from the siege, fell back, joined with another Roman army that had come to reinforce them, and then returned to the siege. When this happened, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, the Jews celebrated, while the Christians fled. The Christians were saved, the Jews were not.

Finally, we see some transition in 24:26-28 where Jesus once again reinforces that we need never listen to anyone who tells us that He is coming or about to come soon. His coming did not take place when God’s judgment of the Jerusalem occurred in 70 AD; that is for certain. When He does come, everyone will know about it.

Remember the context in which this passage falls; Jesus has just completed the conflict with the Jewish authorities (21-22) and has just pronounced God’s judgment on their unbelief in chapter 23, then He tells the disciples Jerusalem will be destroyed; they ask about it, and He gave His answer that we have just surveyed briefly. Next time, we will look at His answer to the other question they asked in 24:3.

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Matthew’s Story Continues

As mentioned in the last post, after Jesus completed His final public address with His lament for Jerusalem in 23:37-39, He and the disciples left the Temple area and walked to the Mount of Olives which overlooks the Temple Mount. Their conversation begins along the way as the disciples call His attention to the Temple:

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.  “Do you see all these things?”he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (24:1-2)

It is vital that we catch the timing of this: First the lament for Jerusalem, they leave and as they do, the disciples call His attention to the Temple, and He tells them it will be completely destroyed.

You may recall that when Jesus first arrived in Jerusalem, He went to the temple and cleared it in an act of active prophecy, directing our attention to its having been corrupted by the reigning Jewish religious establishment. Then we had that odd little scene the next morning when Jesus cursed the fig tree; another prophetic act that hinted at what would happen in the city. That was followed by the conflict at the temple, which has just ended; Jesus laments the city, and now, only minutes later, after pronouncing judgment against the religious establishment, tells the disciples that the temple will be destroyed. They arrive at the Mount of Olives, and sit down privately; they ask Him a question:

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3)

It is important for us to notice that “this” can refer to nothing other than the destruction of the temple, for that is what they have been talking about: it is the context. It is also important that we note that their question contains a premise that the destruction of the temple is going to happen at the same time He returns and the age ends.

As the disciples would soon discover, the premise of their question was false; Jesus answered two different questions in His rather frank response that extends from 24:3 all the way through chapter 25.

This text is a controversial one today; there are many views on it and gallons of ink have been spilled as people record their thoughts. You may have a view that differs from mine, and that’s OK with me. Rather than get into a laborious discussion of the exegetic details, I will continue with Matthew’s larger narrative as we continue, for in my view, the larger narrative is vastly more important than getting lost in the details.

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Matthew 23:13-39

After the preamble of 23:1-12 that we discussed in the last post, Jesus continued into this passage, often referred to as “The Seven Woes”. In these verses, we reach the very climax of the confrontation that began when Jesus entered the city, in which Jesus, now very much on the offensive, pronounces the judgment of God upon the “teachers of the law and Pharisees”, representing the entire Jewish religious leadership of the day. For best results, please read the passage before you continue…

“Woe” is a noun meaning “great sorrow or distress” and is used in conjunction with the judgment of God in apocalyptic passages throughout the Old and New Testaments, as Jesus, whom you will remember is still on a prophetic mode, does here. It is important that we remember the makeup of the audience He is speaking to as set forth in 23:1 “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples”; for the most part, the religious leaders had retreated to their private lair to lick their wounds, but I’m sure their “eyes and ears” were lurking…

As we read His words, what forms is really the antitype of a disciple, a person who is the exact opposite of what it is to be a follower of Christ. In 23:13-15 we see that they have dedicated themselves to keeping people out of the Kingdom while Jesus invites all to enter. In 23:16-24 we see them characterized as “blind guides” whose fallacious reasoning is focused on their obsession with the minutia of the law instead of things that are truly important, which creates an unbearable burden upon the faithful.

In 23:25-28 we see that their great and awesome piety is nothing more than an external show for the benefit of others and to advance their social standing, while inside they are filthy with corruption. The final “woe” in 23:29-32 connects the leadership of that day with all of those who had come before and tortured and murdered God’s messengers for brining God’s truth to their guilty ears. Oh yes, the “teachers of the law and Pharisees” spoke of their high regard for the prophets of old, whom their ancestors had murdered, but even now they were plotting to murder Jesus: “Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!” (23:32)

The next paragraph is huge:

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation. (23:33-36)

And so it did come to that generation, for the book of Acts is full of this story as the early church was persecuted by the Jewish religious establishment, just as Jesus said it would be, until God stepped in and destroyed Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem was clearly on His mind as Jesus wraps up His address:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ (23:37-39)

For centuries God wanted a real relationship with His people, but time and time again they rebuffed Him. They turned their backs on Him, they perverted His laws, they murdered His messengers while pretending to be holy, and now they would murder His Son. Regrettably, they would pay a steep price for their obstinate unbelief. These were Jesus’ last words in a public address.

The harshness of chapter 23 stands in direct contrast to His words in the Sermon on the Mount, for the Sermon was a blueprint for a disciple, and the Woes describe the opposite approach, the approach of an adversary of God. With this, the stage has been set, the actors are all in their places, and Jesus has completed His work in Jerusalem for now. He and the disciples descend from the Temple area, cross the narrow Kidron Valley (more of a gulch than a valley), and ascend the Mount of Olives that overlooks the Temple. It is there where the action resumes a short while later as Jesus and the disciples discuss what has just taken place.

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Random Ramblings: November 18, 2017

We’re coming up on Thanksgiving here in America, a day set aside each year to give thanks to God for all of His blessings in our lives and to our Nation. Every year as we approach this big day I sit back in amazement at how this, out of all of the holidays of the year, is still my favorite.

So why should that amaze me?

Well that’s a fair question of course and the answer goes back fifty years or so…

I remember one time when I was just a young boy; it was Thanksgiving time and as was usually the case, my grandmother was staying with us for the holiday. We were both in the living room of the house and she said rather quietly, “I love Thanksgiving, it’s my favorite holiday.”

I doubt that she intended for me to hear this, she was probably just thinking out loud, but I did hear it, and to my 8 or 9-year-old mind, it was just crazy.  “Your favorite is Thanksgiving; you don’t get presents for Thanksgiving! Christmas is way better!”

Ah, to be young again…

Of course so many years have passed since then. It took me a while, but I totally get where she was coming from now- actually I began to understand the first year I had children of my own who were old enough to get into the whole Christmas hype. Funny, I never saw that particular hype before I was the one hearing about everything they wanted, had to have, couldn’t possibly live without.

Christmas wasn’t much fun after that- it was more of an obligation, a chore, a financial peril to be planned for, bills to be paid.

Thanksgiving isn’t like that. It is a time to reflect, to be thankful, to enjoy loving relationships, and even to relax a bit. Oh, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some planning that goes into it; of course there is the big turkey dinner. Yes it takes a little planning, yes it takes a little work, and yes, I am the one who has to do all of that in our house; but that’s OK because it’s a labor of love.

I’m looking forward to it.

I hope that this Thanksgiving is a blessing to you this year, and even if you aren’t here in America, I hope you’ll take a minute and reflect on all you have to be thankful for because if you do, it will be a blessing to you as well, for our God blesses us each and every day in ways we might not even notice unless we reflect for a bit…

Happy Thanksgiving America, and happy giving thanks world, our God has done great things for all of us!

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Jesus Goes on the Offensive

Matthew 23:1-12

In these verses, Jesus goes on the offensive against His foe, and it is important to recognize that His foe is actually Satan, and not the Jewish religious leaders who have been deceived into playing the role as Satan’s shills. I point this out again, because what these texts are really all about is the larger spiritual conflict; we have seen over and over again that these leaders were incapable of seeing the obvious right in front of them, and I have pointed this out many times in this study. For Jesus, the ball game is in His play to the disciples and the crowd; He knows that the Pharisees and teachers of the law aren’t going to change their minds because they have hardened their hearts. A few will understand and repent later… but precious few.

As for the crowds, many will respond in time, perhaps because of what they have heard Jesus say, but most did not. The disciples however are the real prize, for they are destined to lead the church forward in its infancy; they must hang on with Jesus, and as you will see, the next two chapters of this section are discussion between Jesus and the disciples alone. Finally, in our day, in our world, not much has changed from Jesus’ day, and often the battles we find ourselves in have similar dynamics as we must deal with people who are really not our foes, even though they are in our faces. In such cases, the battleground is really in the hearts and minds of those who witness the events as they unfold we would do well to remember this.

Jesus, now in full Old Testament prophet mode, opens His assault by telling the people that they must do what their leaders tell them to do, acknowledging their position in the seat of Moses, and then tells the people not to do the things their leaders do, for they are hypocrites (23:1-4).

He explains their hypocrisy by reminding the crowds that everything their leaders actually do is for show; to impress people with their importance, their righteousness, and their positions (23:5-6). Then beginning in verse 7, Jesus asserts His divine authority, in my view as a preamble to what follows in 23:13 ff. They are not to call their leaders “Rabbi” or “teacher” for they have only one Teacher. They are not to call anybody “father” for they have only one Heavenly Father. They are not to call anyone “instructor” for they have only one Instructor, and He is the Messiah (who by the way is the One who is speaking).

I’m not quite sure what else He could have said that would assert His superiority over everyone present that would have done so more thoroughly than He did in these verses.

Then, a familiar refrain: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Personally, I think this was for the disciples’ benefit, since they have heard Him say this a number of times, and haven’t seemed to comprehend it before.

As verse 12 is reverberating across the Temple mount, Jesus is about to deliver God’s judgment upon the Jewish leaders, and all that they represent, but we must wait until next time to hear it!

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Perspective on Matthew’s Continuing Narrative

Matthew’s Gospel is one long narrative, with five themes that make up the five main sections of the book. Yet, even though there are shifts in theme, it is still one long narrative. Actually, if it helps you, we can think of the five main themes as phases of the narrative. Our discussion of this continuing narrative left off last time right in the middle of the section that comprises chapters 21-25 in which the theme (or phase) is the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish authorities.

During this time, Jesus acted in the role of an Old Testament prophet who exposes the utter hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders and their complete lack of righteousness (cf. Jer. 7:14, 26:4-12; Ex. 9:1-10; Dan. 9:26). By means of prophetic symbols (21:1-22) and parables (21:28-22:14) Jesus has warned the Jewish religious leadership of their impending judgment, and even of the impending judgment on the very temple over which they preside. When these leaders are reduced to silence in debate, Jesus seizes the offensive and exposes and denounces their prevailing character traits (23:1-36) and expounds on the doom that awaits them and the consequences that doom will bring upon their beloved city (23:37-39, 24:1-34).

There will be a shift of scene in this process (cf. 23:1 and 24:1-3) yet the theme continues, for chapter 23 prepares us to recognize what is being discussed in 24:4 -25. In these last two chapters, Jesus is answering the disciples’ questions that resulted from the narrative of chapter 23. The tone of chapter 23 seems harsh to our modern sensibilities, and we might wonder how such a loving Jesus could be so harsh. It is important for us to understand that the Jewish religious leadership has established a system that essentially excluded God, and in doing so, they were effectively trying to strangle the life out of God’s precious children; and why were they doing so? Because they had allowed themselves to become corrupt to their very cores. We can say that in chapter 23, Jesus brought this problem to their attention in a way that would have been hard for them to miss in one final attempt to bring them to repentance, or at least to bring some to repentance, and in this effort, Jesus succeeded. The majority as we know did not repent, and ultimately their actions caused the Son of God to be nailed to a cross to silence the truth.

In connection with this, it is also worth noting that the harsh things Jesus said in chapter 23 are well within the conventions of the ancient world for prophetic pronouncements, both in the Hellenistic world and in the Judaic past, which is to say that what sounds surprisingly harsh to the modern ear, would not have seemed as much so in Jesus’ time.

Finally, these verses carry a warning note for the church, lest we should succumb to same temptations to place our pride, prejudice, materialism and perceived position above the needs of the people we lead, and the will of God.

In our next post, we will join Jesus as He has a little heart-to-heart with the Jewish leadership.

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Jesus Seizes the Initiative

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’

If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Matthew 22:41-45

Jesus has sent three waves of frontal assault into headlong retreat; now His counter attack begins; it seems harmless enough, for He begins with a simple question about the Messiah’s paternity; the Pharisees who were there gave Him a clear and correct answer, at least from their point of view, the Messiah is the son of David.

By asking them this question, Jesus is actually giving them His answer to the authority question from 21:23, for what He is about to tell them is that He is much more than the just the son of David. He quotes Psalm 110, in which David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (“by the Spirit”) acknowledges this son as his Lord; how can that be if the son in question is merely David’s offspring?

That is the question that shuts everyone up, and as Matthew has pointed out in the text, no one dared ask Him any more questions, for in this quotation of David himself, is revealed the transcendent character of the Messiah, who sits at the very right hand of God Himself.

Jesus has come from God, full of the authority of God!

Of course the Jewish religious leaders are now even more anxious to kill Him, because, whether they knew it or not, they were acting as the agents of Satan.

In the next post, I will give some background about what happens next in Matthew’s narrative, in which Jesus pronounces God’s judgment upon the religious leadership.

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