Wednesday, December 21, 2016

It's not about the Signs: Matthew 24

In Summary:
Jesus leaves the Temple, after lamenting that Jerusalem’s “house is being left…desolate” (Matthew 23:38). As He does this, the disciples point out the Temple buildings. Given that Jesus had been there more than once or twice, it is likely the implication is one of highlighting the impressive nature of the structure. Jesus is, well, not impressed. He is well aware of the future of the building. Not one stone will be left another (24:2).

The disciples are, understandably, distressed by this statement. As a result, they ask Jesus about when these events will occur. The answer from Jesus is not nearly as comforting as most of us would like. He describes a world that begins falling apart, tribulations, and judgment. Not exactly a pleasant picture.

The chapter closes out with a reminder to be ready because we do not know the day and the hour when Jesus returns. Actually, let us be very specific. He states it this way: “you do not know which day your Lord is coming.” (Matthew 24:42, emphasis added). While other lords, like Caesar or Presidents, schedule their visits in advance, Jesus does not. There will be signs along the way, but they may be ambiguous.

In Focus:
The focal point of the chapter is Matthew 24:45-46, where Jesus highlights the need to be ready for His return. All the rest, while relevant, supports these two verses which address the disciples’ question from verse 3. Jesus’ return will be preceded by many signs and many false Messiahs, but then He will show up when He is not expected.

And judgment will fall. The more commonly cited parts of this passage, such as the idea of one man in a field, one taken, one left—the one who is “taken” is taken to judgment. Jesus provides this context around His statements, as He highlights the blessing on the slave who is doing the work he should be doing. That should remind us of our priority. After all, the obedient slave is honoring his Master, not calendaring his Master’s return.

In Practice:
What, then, does this look like?

First, it is a warning to many of us Bible nerd types. Yes, there are signs that will warn of Jesus’ return. No, it’s not our job to figure them out. And besides, what part of “coming at an hour when you do not think He will) (v. 24)” do we not understand? If we took all the energy expended in setting dates and poured it into evangelism and missions, amazing things might happen.

Second, it looks like a lifetime of obedience. Be ready? How? By consistently serving the master.

Third, it looks like a lifetime of service and compassion to others. Note that verses 48-50 highlight one of the not-to-dos: mistreatment of our fellow slaves. How are we behaving toward our fellow servants of Jesus?

Fourth, it looks like a lifetime of proclaiming the Kingdom. There is coming a day when the King comes back. When He does, all nations, all peoples will see Him (v. 30). What will be the response to His glory? Weeping by so many, but salvation for those who believe. How, though, can they believe in Him they have not heard (Romans 10:10)? Get to work, Church. The day is coming.

In Nerdiness: 
There is, of course, nerdiness to be found in trying to sort out the signs. One must keep in mind that the judgment on the Temple came through in AD 70, and so some of these signs related to that event. Same with some of the other warned events—they are about the collapse of Judea as a Roman province.

Another nerd point is a translation comparison in 24:41. “Two women will be grinding” is probably the most “literal” way to translate the phrase, but the verb carries the idea of “grinding grain,” and so “grinding at the mill” is accurate. It just uses more words.

Third, embedded in this text is the warning to watch for false claims of Jesus’ return. And that miracles and signs will accompany the false Messiahs. Actions don’t tell all..truth matters.

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