Sunday, February 07, 2010

Mt 24 for Feb 5

There are two verses, one here, one in the previous chapter, with an important implication that wouldn't have been unnoticed by the original readers. It is impossible to avoid the implication of Mt 23:10 that the Lord is telling the disciples that their leader, namely He Himself, is the Messiah. The same with Mt 24:5" Many will come "in My name, saying 'I am the Messiah.'" If they are coming in Christ's name, saying 'I am the Messiah', what does that say about who Jesus says the name "Christ" properly belongs to?

Mk 14:62 is often regarded as the Synoptics' "direct" statement by the Lord of His identity as Messiah. However, this is pedantic. We saw in Mt 11:3-6 one way Jesus answers the question of who He is. Mt 24:5 is another, as also 23:10. It is saying the thing by obvious implication.

However much we love eschatology or dislike it, there is no getting around that there is conflict described as part of its events, a very "Old Testament" idea: in the prophets "a day against everyone who is proud and lofty / And against everyone who is lifted up, / That he may be abased" (Is 2:12) is envisioned. We hear Isaiah's "against every fortified wall" (Is 2:15) here in Mt 24:2.

So did the disciples (24:3). But the Lord makes eschatology, like every other aspect of theology, intensely personal. In Mt 24 Jesus doesn't time the eschatology, He personalizes it. Putting ourselves in the disciples' place at that time, how would we like to be told, "see to it that no one misleads you" (24:4)? That is not speculative theology about timing. That is describing a danger to watch for.

Mt 24:9-14 is no different in that respect, using a three-fold invocation of "many" to emphasize the solemnity: many will fall away, many false prophets will arise, and the love of many will grow cold.

As with many of the points Jesus makes in Matthew earlier, about what is impossible and impossible (cf. 19:26; 21:21-2), we are drawn away from self-reliance in Mt 24. Nothing could be more direct than to be told that "false Christs and false prophets" are trying to "mislead, if possible, even the elect" (24:24). Part of the resolution is Mt 24:25.

However, Mt 24:25 is not the only resolution to the problem of what the false Christs and false prophets are trying to do. If all we had to ward them off was Mt 24:25, we would have basically our own knowledge. We know God and His ways, but the better half of the relationship is that God knows us (Mt 7:23). If anything is out of the realm of possibility that any man could do, it is what Jesus talks about in 24:22. For our sake, a whole period of time is "cut short." It would be as if God wanted the team which is ahead at the end of the 3rd quarter of the Super Bowl to win, but if He had left the game to go into the 4th quarter, that team would have lost, so God cut short the game.

For God to cut short the commonly recognized prophetic time of trial is one thing. For Jesus to announce it here is quite another, in what it says about Him. Here at the end of the Lord's ministry to the disciples, He is plainly using language with them that forcefully implies who He is, the Messiah predicted to govern God's kingdom coming, AND its preceding events.

What about those details about the preceding events? The language that He uses about what they should do (24:15-20) is very gripping, and, at the same time, very deliberately instructional, at the simple level of a how-to. How are we to understand that Jesus is speaking of eschatology, the last days, yet is saying things about getting things out of one's house, and what it would be like to be pregnant or have small children, or the weather at that time, or what to do about if it's a day of rest, ... and to pray about such details?! This too, is only language that can make sense of the Messiah Himself is speaking to you about something that is completely under His governance.

Finally, we can understand 24:13 in that light. "The one who endures to the end, he will be saved" is about the events of that time, and about how He governs the events of that time so sovereignly that (look at 24:9!) enduring to the end is not at all about one's physical life, but about coming through these events as a rescuee.

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