From:  Apocalyptic and History:  Matthew 24                                 Return to Home        

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2013

 

[Page 97]

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO:

-- Part Two --

THE FALL OF JERUSALEM DESCRIBED

(Matthew 24:1-15; Mark 13:1-14a; Luke 21:5-20)

 

 

Part Two includes:

8.  Persecution of Jesus' Disciples (Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:9, 11; Luke 21:12-15)  

            9.  Apostasy to be Common (Matthew 24:10a)           

            10.  Believers to Betray Each Other (Matthew 24:10b; Mark 13:12;

                        Luke 21:16-19) 

            11. Believers to Hate Each other (Matthew 24:10c; Mark 13:13a; Luke 21:16-19)

            12. Many False Prophets (Matthew 24:11)

            13. Diminished Religious Fervor (Matthew 24:12) 

                  Admonition:  Endure Regardless! (Matthew 24:13; Mark 13:13b) 

            14. Worldwide Preaching of Gospel (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10)

            15 Appearance of the "Desolating Sacrilege" (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14a;

Luke 21:20) 

 

 

 

 

 

8.  PERSECUTION OF JESUS’ DISCIPLES (Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:9, 11;

            Luke 21:12-15)

 

            Mark and Luke develop the imagery of persecution at considerably greater length than Matthew so it would be useful to note all three passages together,

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                        “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death;

and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.”  (Matthew)  

                        “But take heed to yourselves; for they will deliver you up to councils;

and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors

and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them.”   “And when they

bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you

are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who

speak, but the Holy    Spirit.”  (Mark)

                        But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you,

delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought

before kings and governors for my name’s sake.  This will be a time for you

to bear testimony.  Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate

beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which

none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”  (Luke)

 

            The adversity spoken of in Matthew falls into three categories, the broader area of "tribulation" (i.e., serious emotional, physical, or financial injury), "death" (either by courts of law or through extra-judicial, "lynch law" proceedings), and "hated by all nations," which was the psychological seedbed of the other injustices.  By referring to "all nations," Jesus stresses the fact that there would be no ethnic or national boundaries to these negative anti-disciple attitudes.  Although Jesus was speaking as a Jew to His fellow Jews, the adversities would be common when His disciples made their way into other localities and cultures.

            The expression “deliver you up to” implies organized action rather than random violence.  It most naturally suggests judicial action, such as that which the apostles faced in the book of Acts when delivered up to the Sanhedrin.  The terminology would also fit the Roman world in light of the fact that, except for occasional bouts of officially initiated persecution, accusations were normally lodged by private individuals before the government.  By the lodging of charges by one’s enemies, one was “delivered up” to the power of the state for trial on grounds of [Page 99]   being an illegal monotheist.  As likely as not, this was most often accompanied by the physical delivering up of the individual in order to assure their presence at trial.  Paul’s abuse at Philippi illustrates the procedure (Acts 16:19-20; cf. Acts 21:10-11).

            Grievous as it was to be on the receiving end, there is a certain inherent “logic” in persecution when it targets a small and socially despised religious movement:  by its very lack of following and the social classes that dominate it, how could it possibly be approved by God?  These “common sense” biases are backed up by the fact that the wisest and brightest of the world want nothing to do with such a movement.[1]   Of course, the first represents prejudices pure and simple while the last is intellectual arrogance, yet when they come together they provide a potent combination to justify the repression of a disliked spiritual minority.  

            Though the danger of death is not explicitly mentioned in either Mark or Luke’s recounting--though it does get introduced shortly afterwards in a different context--the element of intimidation involved in the idea of “tribulation” (Matthew 24:9) is brought out at length:  both mention being hauled before the judicial councils meeting in synagogues.[2]  “Any town with a (Jewish) population of 120 or more was entitled to such a council.”[3]  Luke does not mention what could happen there, but Mark mentions how one might be “beaten.”  Even without this happening, the very fact of being compelled to appear before a hostile ecclestical judicial body would be intimidating.  And those who were ethnic Jews would be potentially subject to such institutions in any town where the Jewish community’s self-governing religious rights were officially recognized.  The vulnerability would be the greatest in the period prior to the fall of Jerusalem and among those who attempted to continue practicing the cultic features of Judaism while professing faith in Jesus as Messiah as well.

            Furthermore, they would have to stand before powerful Roman rulers (“governors and kings”)[4] and answer for their faith.  Although death would--by its very nature--be a potential danger, Mark’s account stresses the tremendous pressure on the individual Jesus believer:  “do not be anxious.”  Although one would most naturally think in terms of pressure to repudiate one’s faith in order to avoid [Page 100]   death or a repetition in the future, the admonition is explicitly connected with deciding “beforehand what you are to say” to defend yourself (Mark 13:10).  This carries with it the idea found in Luke 21:14 (“not to meditate beforehand how to answer”), but stresses how the natural concern about the best way to defend one’s convictions could gnaw away at one on a deep emotional level. 

            In spite of the danger in which they stood, both Mark and Luke's recountings point out that this will simultaneously provide an opportunity to defend one’s convictions.  Comfort is provided to the apostolic listeners by telling them that the necessary guidance would be provided them so that they might speak the right words under the circumstances.  Mark describes this ability as being provided by “the Holy Spirit” (13:11).  Luke’s account puts the emphasis on the resulting skill, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom” with which to speak (Luke 21:15).

            Mark leaves out any reference to how effective the oration would be, but attributing it to “the Holy Spirit” would require the deduction that the result would be both expressive of the truth desired to be conveyed and impressive as well.  This implicit thought is brought out in Luke 21:15, where there defense is described as one “which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”   The fact that their foes would be unable to adequately answer them deepened their moral guilt in punishing them:  It is one thing to harshly treat the “heretic;” it is something considerably worse to mistreat someone who you have no way to adequately or effectively answer.          

 

“Tribulation:”

Ill-treatment in General

 

            Old Testament precedent.  The Suffering Servant of Isaiah is often spoken of in such concrete, individualistic terms that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a specific future individual is in mind in many or all of the references (49:7; 52:13-15; 53:1-10, for example).  In Christian terms, of course, this would be Jesus of Nazareth.

[Page 101]                   In certain other passages of the Torah and the prophets, it is less clear whether we have cases of direct Messianic prediction (with a secondary application to all human beings) or references to the human species in general (with a secondary application to the Messiah as the personification of the perfect servant of the Lord).  In the Eden curse on the serpent, it is warned that "he shall bruise your head" (Genesis 3:15).  Interpreted Messianically, this would refer to the hindrances, obstacles, and ultimate death endured by Jesus.  Interpreted as a broader reference to the "seed" (descendants of Eve) in general, it would refer to the Satanic hindrances inflicted on the human race.  The modern idiom might well be, "a dog biting at your heels."

            In a similar vein, Psalms 2:1-2 speaks of how "kings" and "rulers take counsel together against the Lord and his anointed."  The "anointed" would again be Jesus (in Messianic terms), but in the broader spiritual sense could be applied to all God had "anointed" to serve Him, i.e., all the individual men and women constituting the people of God.

            Other texts clearly refer to the faithful servant of Yahweh in general.   In Psalm 69:1-8 is found a strong word picture of an individual enduring unjust oppression.  Though certain phrases are accurate verbal descriptions of the sufferings Jesus underwent, other parts of the chapter make plain that the text is concerned with contemporary description rather than future prediction.  (For example, the charge made against the Psalmist in verse 4, is one never made against Jesus.)  Describing his agony of heart over the turmoil he was undergoing, the Psalmist proclaims his innocence,

           

                        Save me, O God!  For the waters have come up to my neck.  I sink in

deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the

flood sweeps over me.  I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched.  My

eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

                        More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me

without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me

with lies.  What I did not steal must I now restore?  O  God, thou knowest my

folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from thee.  Let not those who

hope in thee be put to shame through me, O Lord God of hosts; let not those

who seek thee be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel.  For it is

for thy sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.  I

have become a stranger to my brethren, an alien to my mother's sons.

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            The cause of the oppression is explicitly stated to be loyalty to God (verses 6-7).  It was not a case of irreconcilable personalities.  It was not a case of provocation.  It was a case where an individual attempting to live uprightly came face to face with individuals who were angered and outraged by the very efforts to live by a high moral standard.  Indeed, his very efforts to beseech God for relief became the excuse for mockery and the songs of drunkards (verses 9-12). 

 

            First century occurrence of such phenomena.  The exact nature of the “tribulation” is not spelled out, presumably because it could take a variety of forms.  When it took the form verbal intimidation, sometimes to the perpetuators themselves it might not be fully clear exactly what were the consequences they were threatening.  The Sanhedrin, for example, was so frustrated at one point with the apostles that they merely ordered them to stop preaching (Acts 4:17-18).  They resorted to “further threat[s],” the nature unstated and possibly only broadly alluded to at the time itself (verse 21).   The very act of specifying a threat demystifies it and makes it easier to handle on a psychological level.  In contrast, a vague but creditable warning is alarming because it can be fulfilled in many uncertain and unspecified ways, magnifying the potential forms it could take.  The mind frightens itself and fills in the worst. 

            Other texts also leave the exact nature of the retribution “hanging” ominously in the air.  We read of the possibility of individuals being physically “bound” and taken to another city for trial (Acts 9:1-2).  The punishments that could be inflicted were so severe that believers were “afraid” of those involved in the repressive steps (Acts 9:26).

            Specific punishments are also known.  In the book of Acts we also read of imprisonment by both Jews (Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-21) and Gentile officials (Acts 16:20-[Page 103]   23).    Both Romans (Acts 16:37) and Jewish (2 Corinthians 11:24) officialdom utilized judicial whipping.  Other punishments that might (or might not) stop just short of death[5]  were beating with rods (2 Corinthians 11:25) and stoning (2 Corinthians 11:25).

 

“Put You to Death”

 

            Old Testament precedent.  Psalms 109:20-25 speaks of those who would scorn a faithful individual and use that person's weakness as an opportunity to plot even murder,

 

                        May this be the reward of my accusers from the Lord, of those who

            speak evil against my life!  But thou, O God my Lord, deal on my behalf for

thy name's sake; because thy steadfast love is good, deliver me!  For I am

poor and needy, and my heart is stricken with me.  I am gone, like a shadow

at evening; I am shaken off like a locust.  My knees are weak through fasting;

my body has become gaunt.  I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when

they see me, they wag their heads.

 

            First century occurrence of such phenomena.   Not all oppression had to end in death, but it easily could in a spiritually dangerous period when public anger was great.  Hence we read of Stephen being stoned to death by his outraged listeners (Acts 7:57-60).  For reasons unstated we read of Herod the king laying “violent hands upon some who belonged to the church” (Acts 12:1).  His killing of James and John “with the sword” (verse 2) so pleased their local religious foes that Peter was cast into jail (verse 3), presumably to be tried and executed after the Passover was completed.           

            In a broader imperial context, Nero’s major local pogrom against Christians in Rome severely blackened his reputation among believers.  It probably did the same among moderate unbelievers as well since there were on-going suspicions that he was somehow behind the massive fire that was the excuse for the repression.  On [Page 104]   a much geographically wider scale, there was a more general oppression under Domitian, though here it seems more likely that Christians were dragged into an ever-widening target of perceived enemies rather than being the primary targets of his wrath.

            On a local level, unsanctioned mob action could endanger believers.  Hence at Iconium we read of how both Gentiles and Jews were so angered by Paul and Barnabas’s preaching work that they attempted “to molest them and to stone them” (Acts 14:5).  To avoid the danger, the fled the city (verses 6-7).   At Ephesus, the situation became so tumultuous that Paul’s friends were fearful of the danger he would face if he addressed those who were angry at his monotheism (Acts 19:30-31).  

 

 

“Hated by All Nations”

 

            Old Testament precedent.  Just as first century Christians would be hated, earlier Jews had collectively faced similar contempt.  In Zechariah 8:13  there is both a blunt acknowledgment of this reality and a plea  that it not discourage them, "And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you and you shall be a blessing.  Fear not, but let your hands be strong." 

            Though the restoration of Israel would be a demonstration of God’s ability to bless the human race (through Israel in particular), it implies as well an active role of Israel consciously being a blessing to other nations.  Verses 20-23 speak in terms of a city to city outreach that would bring “men from the nations of every tongue” into the fold of fellowship with God.  Oddly, though the text, does not directly assert that the Jews themselves would be initiating the conversion, merely that “the inhabitants of one city shall go to another” proposing that they seek God’s favor and go to worship Him (verse 21).[6]   In light of verse 13, however, the most natural assumption would seem to be that this would be the result of predominantly Jewish cities proselytizing to those with a non-Jewish majority.  If this be the case, it is especially intriguing that it is not the temple nor any local religious institution but [Page 105]  the city acting as a collectivity that initiates the missionary endeavors. 

 

            First century occurrence of such phenomena.   Although one can theoretically do violence to another and even murder them without “hatred” existing, in the real world such rarely occurs.  Hence the existence of tribulation and death presumes--by their very existence--a major degree of rage and venom.  This is illustrated by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.  When their threats did not silence the apostolic preaching, and their arresting of them did not accomplish it either, “they were enraged and wanted to kill them” (Acts 5:32). 

            The expression “by all nations” has given cause for objection to the interpretation of a first century fulfillment of Matthew 24.  H. L. Ellison, for example, writes that the text “clearly looks beyond A.D. 70 unless we take the desperate step of making ‘nations’ an insertion by Matthew.”[7]  The examples we have earlier cited concerning the mistreatment of the apostles argue that he is incorrect.  Though, admittedly, they only cover a handful of cities, their geographic range and ethnic diversity are great.  In short, they are fairly representative of the kind of treatment--good, mediocre, and outright repressive--that first century believers might encounter.

            Furthermore, the New Testament narratives accept the inevitability of persecution as a given.  Jesus warned His listeners that if people persecuted Him, they would surely persecute His followers as well (John 15:20).  Indeed, their enemies would sometimes consider themselves especially religious because of the brutality toward disciples (John 16:2).  This was probably the reaction of the Pharisees felt to Herod’s execution of a prominent Christian (Acts 12:2-3).

            So natural was hostility from the world--Palestinian or Roman, Jewish or Gentile--that John writes, “Do not wonder, brethren that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).  Paul is quite as emphatic when he writes, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:10-12).

            The universal contempt for Christianity is documented from both New Testament and contemporary pagan sources.  In Acts 28:22 we find these words in [Page 106]   the mouths of certain Jews who (so far) were committed neither to nor against Christianity, “But we desire to hear from you [Paul] what your views are; for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”  This is highly useful evidence, for it comes from Roman Jews, individuals who would know the attitude not only of their fellow kinsmen but that of the surrounding culture as well.  From a pagan source, Tacitus writes that Nero blamed the fire that destroyed so much of Rome on the Christians because it was “a class hated for their abominations.”[8] 

            Up to here we are on firm ground.  Yet there is one further piece of evidence which, if it be authentic, indicates that the intense anti-Christian bias of the Gentile world was often shared by the highest levels of the Roman government.   As. F. F. Bruce sums up the evidence,[9]

 

                        According to Josephus, when the Temple was set on fire by the

Roman soldiery, Titus was dismayed and tried to save it.  This was no doubt

what Titus later wished to be believed.  But a historical fragment preserved

by Sulpicius Severus (sometimes, but doubtfully, thought to be taken from a

part of TacitusHistories which has long since been lost) describes a council

of war at which the fate of the Temple was debated.  Some thought that the

Romans would be charged with vandalism if they destroyed so magnificent a

structure, “but others, including Titus himself, expressed the opinion that the

temple should most certainly be demolished, in order that the Jewish and

Christian religions might be the more completely wiped out; for although

these religions were mutually hostile, they nevertheless shared the same

origin; the Christians were an off-shoot of the Jews, and if the root were

destroyed the stock would quickly perish.”  

 

 

            That Roman officials recognized the existence of the Christian community is clear (if nothing else, from Tacitus’ account of the anti-believer pogrom under Nero), but whether they recognized this clear a distinction between the two groups [Page 107]   by 70 A.D. is a different matter.  It was in the interest of the Christians to perpetuate the strong Jewish roots of the original membership to protect themselves since this was the only legal form of monotheism.   On the other hand, it was in their interest by this date, if not sooner, to clearly distinguish themselves from their ethnic roots lest ethnic war in Palestine be used to discredit them as well.   The difficulty of the simultaneous Jewishness and non-Jewishness of the movement was partly met by identifying themselves as the “true” Jews and the traditionalists as apostate.  Cf. Romans 2:28-29.  By this reasoning, Christians also were worthy of the legal protections traditionally afforded Jewish monotheists.

            The case for the genuineness of the fragment is enhanced by the fact that it certainly recognizes both the similarity and divergences from Judaism.  Furthermore, for Titus to have been convinced that the destruction of the temple would have been a devastating blow against Christianity argues that it was still--not quite--fully distinct.  It may also argue that the ethnic Jewish segment of the church, especially in Palestine, was still the large minority if not outright majority.  Those are the circumstances under which a blow against the Temple would most meaningfully (and legitimately) be considered a blow against Christianity.

            Such factors argue in favor of the credibility of the account.  On a subjective level, however, the specific way it is expressed makes one suspicious that the original form may have been verbally “strengthened” by Sulpicius Severus to make the point even stronger.  At the very least, the extract reflects a mentality we would expect among the Roman leadership due to the documentation available from the other sources we have examined.    

 

 

9.   APOSTASY TO BE COMMON (Matthew 24:10a)

 

            In Matthew 24:10 Jesus warns, “And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another.”  Each of these three phenomena (apostasy/betrayal/hatred) are deserving of separate treatment.  The numerical proportion of apostates is referred to as “many,” which is a literal reading of the Greek.[10]  One could use this fact to argue that there is no proportion implied,[11] yet [Page 108]   the very expression forces the mind in the direction of maximizing the percentage rather than minimizing it.  A minimization would certainly be a kinder and gentler interpretation of the steadfastness of early Christians under the stress of the Great Revolt, but the lack of contemporary data prohibits us from being confident as to which approach more accurately reflects the actual situation.

            Jesus conspicuously does not assert that the danger will be exclusively the problem of the spiritually weak.  Indeed, the severity pictured of societal rejection that is pictured in verse 9 argues that even the strongest might find faith rocked or even destroyed by the stresses of the day.[12] 

 

            Old Testament precedent.  The Old Testament also warned of the danger of falling away from the true God of Israel.  Deuteronomy 32:15-19 spoke of the danger of turning from Yahweh to idols--pointing out that they would even be offered gods past generations had never heard of (verse 17).  Isaiah 1:27-28 contrasts the redemption obtained by "repent[ance]" and the destruction of those who refuse to change for the better.  In the next to last chapter of the same book, the latter are described as those who "forsake the Lord" due to consciously having "chose[n]" to do so (Isaiah 65:11-12).

            Apostasy is pictured in Jeremiah 17:5 as the "heart turn[ing] away from the Lord."  Ezekiel 18 stresses--at length--that acceptability to God does not rest with what our parents did but with what we ourselves do.  Neither their piety nor their corruption is our responsibility; neither raises or lowers our own status in God's eyes.  Furthermore, even if one thoroughly departs from Yahweh, the conscious decision to correct one's lifestyle restores one to acceptability (verses 21-23, 27-28).

            Ezekiel 33:10-20 emphasizes the same message, that positive change is still feasible while warning that departure from the truth is equally possible.  Even superficial righteousness is no full assurance of acceptability.  The prophet warns of that subtle corruption of the heart that causes one to calculate that some specific evil can safely be overlooked because one is, overall, of such sterling moral character (verse 13).

            Hence the Jewish listeners who heard Jesus were fully aware that spiritual [Page 109]   steadfastness was not guaranteed.  That, rather, hinged upon one's own conduct and behavior.

 

            First century occurrence of such phenomena.  Apostasy is referred to in several of the New Testament epistles as both a real danger (2 Peter 2:9-10) and one that had actually occurred (2 Timothy 4:10; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude, verse 4).  No connection is ever made between the apostasies that had occurred and the persecution or adversity Christians suffered because of their faith.  Such a connection would be a most natural one, however, in light of the circumstances under which they lived. 

            On the other hand if apparent non-apostates could seek harm on the apostles, one would expect even fewer inhibitions among those who had left the faith behind.  In 2 Timothy 2:14-15 we have the vague but ominous words, “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will requite him for his deeds.  Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message” (2 Timothy 4:14-15).  The harm is not specified but since Paul immediately mentions his facing trial before the authorities (verse 16), it would seem to be that he said things that put the apostle at risk of punishment.  Whether Alexander was a Christian is not stated, but the opposition of a non-believer to Paul’s message would be virtually axiomatic and would have counted for nothing in encouraging Christians to react with similar hostility.   Others self-professed believers were also willing to harm Paul’s safety and welfare (Philippians 1:15-17).

            Olshausen denies the idea of a first century reference in Matthew 24:10 in two ways.  First, he asserts that the persecutions of that century were not as violent as the persecution predicted by verses 10-12.[13]    According to the data we have already examined, the trials of the era were indeed quite rigorous--periodically at least and in certain locations.  For example, when Nero came down hard on the Christians in his capital, Tacitus refers to how “an immense multitude was convicted” for their discipleship.[14] 

            Second, Olshausen asserts that more recent persecutions have been more severe than those in the first century.  He cites in particular that of the first French [Page 110]   Revolution when Christianity was legally abolished.[15]   If he had lived in our era, he would surely have cited as well the bitter anti-religious persecutions of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin. 

            The fatal flaw in the reasoning is that Jesus does not claim that what His first century followers faced would be the worst persecution that ever would rain down on the head of believers.  Jesus only stresses the horrible severity of it; not whether it would be lesser or greater than distant future generations might encounter.  Only in regard to the fall of Jerusalem does He speak in terms of events unprecedented in the past and unequaled in the future (verse 21).  He makes no such claim in regard to the persecution of the first century.  

 

 

10.  BELIEVERS TO BETRAY EACH OTHER (Matthew 24:10b; Mark 13:12;

            Luke 21:16-19) 

           

            Mark and Luke both paint an event starker picture than in Matthew of the degree pervasiveness of rage over the new faith that would be widespread in their world.  In Matthew the emphasis is on the fact of betrayal; in Mark, the grim addition is that this will occur even within the family circle.  Luke takes it even further by noting that the danger could come from even a broader array of sources--“parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends.”  Instead of protecting each other, even there there will be the threat of death.  The psychological pain would be intensified because these were the ones we would most naturally trust--the ones we would think least capable of committing such a serious and dangerous act against us.[16]   

            The same intensification is found in regard to hatred as well.  In Matthew the emphasis is again on the broad picture of Christians being hated (presumably by those who have fallen away, in particular); in Mark and Luke it is made even more emphatic by the warning that believers would be “hated by all.”  (In a strict chronological sense, since Mark is usually regarded as having been written prior to Matthew, Matthew’s account “generalizes” and “softens” the brutal realism found in Mark.)

[Page 111]                   Luke adds a word of reassurance from Jesus that is not found in the other two accounts, “But not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives” (21:17-18).  Since he had just explicitly stated that physical death would occur for some as punishment for their faith (verse 16), he must have in mind here some concept of a survival of the inner person in spite of such a physical fate.  Furthermore, it is an “intact” survival of the “whole” person for “not a hair of your head will perish”--in other words, even death does not alter one iota of the true existence of the human being, the inner essence or soul.[17]  We have here a fascinating balance of immediate reality versus future reward:  death may be inevitable; but the triumph of death is not.

            One wonders how these words sounded when Jesus spoke them.  He had spoken previously of how certain of the phenomena mentioned in this section and, for that matter, other sections of the current message, would find a reflection in what was left of His own life:  there would be a betrayal by a “brother” and “friend,” trial before Jewish and Roman authorities, heavenly phenomena at His death, and even ultimately death would do Him no permanent harm because of the resurrection.[18]  It does not take a great imagination to suspect that at least the passing thought went through His mind of how like His own future some of theirs would be.    

 

            Old Testament precedent.  We can approach this in different ways.  First of all, by looking at it from the standpoint that the church will inevitably reflect society and whatever warts society has will be reflected within the community of believers as well.  Societies, of course, have often been besieged by bitter internal divisions that resulted in the abuse of its own people.   Betrayal of others was a phenomena referred to in the prophets as afflicting both Israelite and outside societies.  We read of the latter in Isaiah 19:1-4, where strife between the ethnic kinsmen of Egypt is predicted.  Here, however, none of the parties is free of guilt.  Rather, God exploits their divisive hostilities to weaken their society and prepare them for foreign conquest.

[Page 112]                   Zechariah 8:9-12 refers to similar internal divisiveness among Jews of a former generation.  Here again, the divisiveness is described as an expression of God's wrath upon their chronic rebelliousness.  This does not mean that God somehow compelled them to act in bitter, anti-social ways.  Rather, He utilized their fundamental moral weaknesses and caused them to bear the bitter results of their own behavior.  They sowed the seed of division and God assured that they reaped its full consequences.

            Micah presents a picture of a society in which all the fundamental family and political ties have been destroyed.  This permitted not merely betrayal but any and all other types of injustice as well,

 

                        The godly man has perished from the earth, and there is none upright

among men; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts his brother with a

net.  Their hands are upon what is evil, to do it diligently; the prince and the

judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul;

thus they weave it together.

                        The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn

hedge.  The day of their watchmen, of their punishment, has come; now their

confusion is at hand.  Put no trust in a neighbor, have no confidence in a

friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom; for

the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her

mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man's enemies are

the men of his own house.  But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait

for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.  (Micah 7:2-7)

 

            The difference between the situation described in Matthew 24 and such texts as these is that society's general moral state is not discussed--only how it affects Christians.  Yet if a society targets its own members for injury, there would certainly be no intellectual or emotional impediments against targeting believers in particular!  Indeed, by virtue of living a more restrained lifestyle, they would become natural targets because of their very nonconformity.  Hence it would be a [Page 113]   natural leap from betraying and mistreating one's fellow citizens to betraying and abusing those who are even more different due to their dissenting religious and ethical convictions.  In this revulsion lies the root of the outbursts of anti-Christian persecution that occurred in the first century (Matthew 24:9).  Reflecting the biases and limitations of their culture, Christians would tend to carry with them into the church the same inclination toward rooting out dissent at any price.

            Secondly, to approach the matter from a slightly different angle, not only does the church reflect the society, it itself a mini-society.  It represented a cross-section of the world as it was and carried with it the weaknesses and temptations existing in the broader society.  Hence it would not be surprising that in some places a specific congregation’s moral strength might be weak indeed and the membership locked in a perpetual civil war.  Consider Paul’s description in First Corinthians of the conditions in the church of that city.   If one were to superimpose vigorous external repression on an intensely divided group, such as pictured there, it would be easy to imagine some of the members utilizing the situation to settle old scores.  Even in places lacking such open schisms, popular resentments might break open concealed fault lines between Christians that had not been noticeable in less tense times.   

            Sadly, in the religious society of the past there was precedent for oppression of the faithful by the nonobedient majority.   We read in the Torah and the historical chronicles of the Old Testament of repeated cases of how true prophets were treated with scorn, rejection, and even bodily assault.  It was almost a truism that the dedicated prophet would encounter mistreatment at the hands of his theoretical cobelievers.   Jesus referred to how common it had been for the prophets to be killed by such people (Luke 11:47-48), a pattern from the past He depicts as certain to continue in the mistreatment of His own disciples (verse 49).   Hence His listeners would have been well familiar with the scripturally recorded pattern of betrayal by those whom one should most be able to trust reflected.

 

[Page 114]                   First century occurrence of such phenomena.  We have already quoted Tacitus concerning how large a number of  Christians who suffered under Nero.  But how did his police authorities obtain their names?  Tacitus informs us that “an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted. . . .”[19]   “Upon their information” implies that those first arrested betrayed the identity of their fellow believers.  Are we to believe that such weakness was found only among Christians in Rome?  Since this is utterly improbable, we have to assume similar betrayals in other places.

            Furthermore, the evidence from twentieth century military and political history proves that severe pressure causes many to betray their convictions.  Even highly motivated individuals have different levels of self-control; what will not faze one will entirely crack up another.  Should we expect men and women to react any differently when faced with brutality because of their religion rather than their nationalism?    

            What made the situation more dangerous for first century church members was that not all the potential betrayers and enemies were external ones.  Any form of communal living (marriage, lodge, church, business) creates points of annoyance and even resentment.  A certain number of people simply do not get along.  A certain number of people will take advantage of others and avenge real or imagined wrongs when given the opportunity.  Hence the betrayal might even be by a respected “faithful” Christian who takes the opportunity to settle a personal grudge.[20] 

            Some have suggested the possibility that the text, “in the circumstances of nationalist unrest [refers] to those outside the community regarding believers as traitors.”[21]  This likely occurred as well, but is not what the passage has under consideration.  The text identifies those who “betray” and “hate” as those who “fall away,” i.e., the betraying and hating will be done by apostate Christians, not local nationalists.

            Another unlikely suggestion is that the text “may refer . . . to divisions with the community” rather than to actions by outright apostates.[22]   In a period of schism coreligionists may indeed “hate” each other, but do they often “betray” each other into the hands of a persecuting authority, as this text indicates they would?  It [Page 115]   would be far too dangerous a strategy, for if the suspicion got back to the betrayed can there be any doubt whose name(s) they might reveal in retaliation?   Under severe persecution one can easily enough conceptualize that individuals might buckle and betray others, but as a result of internal church division it seems very unlikely.  Certainly those Tacitus referred to betrayed because they themselves had already been arrested and were under pressure rather than because they were out to even old scores and stood in no immediate personal danger. 

 

 

11.  BELIEVERS TO HATE EACH OTHER (Matthew 24:10; Mark 13:13a;

            Luke 21:16-19)

 

 

            Old Testament precedent.  The Psalmist repeatedly bewails the undeserved hatred he was forced to endure.  He speaks of “how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me” (Psalms 25:19).  As he discovered, with some people one doesn’t actually have to do anything to be hatred.  One merely has to exist.   Sadly there are those “who hate me without cause” (Psalms 35:19).

            The line between hatred and related phenomena such as jealousy, envy, and malice is very thin.  When we speak of Joseph being sold into Egyptian captivity (Genesis 37) we usually think in terms of it being done out of  “jealousy” but were not his brothers’ actions so severe that it virtually amounted to loathing as well?  In other cases also, when such related attitudes are involved we might well ponder whether these two verged on, or crossed the line over, into overt hatred as well.

 

            First century occurrence of such phenomena.  The New Testament epistles condemn hatred (Galatians 5:19-20; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8), admonitions that logically deplore hatred of fellow believers as well as of outsiders.  The existence of such condemnations implies the possibility--or even more--of individuals adopting such attitudes.  Even without apostatizing, it was possible for hatred to control one’s attitude toward one’s spiritual brothers and sisters (1 John 2:9, 11; 3:16; 4:20).

[Page 116]                   By its very nature, once hatred becomes deeply imbedded it is extremely easy to strike out at others.  Matthew 24:10 does not make clear whether the betrayal results from the hatred or is the rationalization of the betrayal.  In actual practice hatred could lead to apostasy and betrayal; the opposite scenario could also occur, individuals feeling overpowered by a hostile environment could apostasize and then emotionally justify their reversal by contempt for their (ex) fellow believers.  The person restores his or her own “self-respect” by thinking as basely of the betrayed and his motives as humanly possible and by attributing to him the “real” blame for the ill fate that has overwhelmed him.

            The potential for this is clearly implied in the New Testament epistles.  The intense divisiveness of the factions depicted in First Corinthians could easily have dissolved beyond rivalry and resentment into such hate.  Diotrephes (as described in Third John) so desired to dominate the local congregation, what would his likely attitude have been toward those who refused to submit? 

            The traditionalist movement that desired to maintain Christianity as a sect of Judaism (rather than accepting believing Gentiles as uncircumcised but spiritual pars) had such deep-rooted anger against Paul that it would be but one step to something even worse.[23]     Philippians 1:15-17 refers to those who wish “to afflict me in my imprisonment.”  Once that mind-frame is embraced the potential for evil is virtually unlimited.

 

 

 

 

12.  FALSE PROPHETS (Matthew 24:11)

 

            Of this danger Jesus tells His apostles, “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matthew 24:11).  In the Old Testament, “prophet” carried the various ideas of speaking on behalf of God, of being authoritative as such a spokesperson, providing moral and ethical teaching, predicting the future, and of being a miracle worker.  We find similar usages of the term in the New Testament [Page 117]   as well.[24]   In Matthew 7:21-23 the individual who prophesies is described as a person who could also claim to cast out demons and perform supernatural wonders.   Miracle working is ascribed to sages in the Old Testament as well, but not as a uniform pattern.  (Neither in the New Testament for that matter.) 

            In Matthew 10:40-41 the usage implied is more along the essence of the nature of a Old Testament prophet.  Here the reception given a prophet is paralleled with that giving an apostle; the theme in common is presumably that both are to be regarded as spokesmen of God.  (Jesus goes on to comment that the reception of any righteous person is parallel to receiving Jesus Himself.)[25]   Hence false prophets here should be considered as a broad term that could include several different phenomena, from teaching to prediction to claimed miracle working.

 

            Old Testament precedent.  False prophets (i.e., those who refused to worship only Yahweh, who refused to conform their message to his will, or who openly advocated the worship of other gods) were a recurring problem in Israel until the time of the Babylonian exile.  Afterwards the Israelite spiritual consensus embraced a strict monotheism that ruled out any religious reverence for other deities. 

            In the earlier period such was not the case.  Their polytheism, however, did not have to take the form of an overt rejection of their Judaism.  It was quite possible for a person to be an ecumenicalist, worshipping at the Jewish altar when appropriate but regularly attending various pagan rites as well.  Likewise a false prophet might fall in either category.

            Jeremiah 23:23-32 contains a stern rebuke to the polytheistic prophets of that era.  Some of their tales sprang from their own misguided desires (verse 26), while others were knowingly lifted from the predictions of others (verse 30).  Lamentations 2:14 describes the predictions of such men as "false and misleading."

            If the origin of their words was within themselves or the writings and orations of their contemporaries, the purpose (in part) was to undermine monotheistic Judaism, while building up the confidence of their own religious substitute.  Sometimes this took the form of a war of nerves.  Nehemiah was faced [Page 118]   with the message of such individuals, whose words were intended to undermine his self-confidence (Nehemiah 6:10-15) and thereby keep the walls of Jerusalem from being rebuilt.  This course was resorted to when his enemies could not accomplish their goal by any other means (verses 1-9).

            Others were not as stouthearted.  In 1 Kings 13 we read of an elderly "prophet" (verse 11) who had no scruples against proclaiming as revelation a message that he had not received (verses 18-19).  As a result, the young prophet who had come to rebuke the pagan altar at Bethel lost his life (verses 20-25).  The older prophet is not explicitly labeled a pagan one.  Assuming he was merely self-willed, his false claim probably grew out of misguided humanitarianism:  the young man had been instructed not to eat until he returned from his preaching mission to Bethel.  What possible harm could come from telling the proverbial little white lie when it was in his own interest to rest and be strengthened?  In this case, it cost him his life.

            Since the older man went out of his way to both find and mislead him, however (verses 11-14), it is far more likely that he was one of the ecumenical Judeo-pagan prophets in favor of the Bethel altar.  The deception, then, would presumably grow out of a hope to render the hostile predictions null and void by causing the man to ignore the instructions that went with the message.  If the messenger was himself repudiated by God, how could there be a danger from the message he had delivered?

            Although it is easy enough to recognize that an individual might be either a true or a false prophet, how does one determine which category he falls within?  In a specific case (rather than mere abstract theory), how can a man or a woman tell the difference between the two?   The very fact that a person admitted that he was a prophet serving a different god than that of Israel, was prima facie evidence that his message was unreliable and to be rejected (Deuteronomy 18:20).  Linked with this test is that of the fulfillment of his predictions (verses 21-22)--implying that a false prophet would find that his predictions would fail to materialize.

            What is not stated in Deuteronomy 18 is how long one was to wait for the fulfillment before one ceased to recognize his claims.[26]   Here, however, we are most [Page 119]   likely intended to think of terms of datable predictions, things that were to occur (or not occur) by a specific point announced in advance.  (The contemporary equivalent would be the multitude of false predictions of the date of Jesus’ second coming.)  

            The true prophet needed to do more than just an apparent worshipper of Yahweh.  The message had to be in conformity with the existing written revelation as well.  Even supposed miracles could not vindicate such departures from the Divine norm,

 

                        If a prophet arises among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you

a sign or a wonder, and the sign of wonder which he tells you comes to pass,

and if he says, "Let us go after other gods," which you have not known, "and

let us serve them," you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or to that

dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether

you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  You

shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him, and keep his command-

ments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and cleave to him. 

(Deuteronomy 13:1-4)

 

            The apostle Paul speaks in similar terms.  Here it is the gospel he had proclaimed that is authoritative regardless of even alleged miracles that individuals might work in support of rival religious systems (Galatians 1:6-9).

            Of particular relevance in the context of the grim prediction of the future found in Matthew 24, is the fact that false prophets normally took the exact opposite approach:  they spoke an upbeat, positive message of Israel triumphant over foes (Jeremiah 14:13-16).  Unfortunately, when the future was grim these predictions would not change the reality and they would perish at the hands of the sword and famine that they had insisted would not disturb the land.  The priest-prophet Pashur is cited as one specific such individual (Jeremiah 20:1-6).

            Zechariah 13:1-6 speaks of a day when prophecy would utterly vanish.  This is often interpreted as a reference to the ending of false prophecy, but the text itself [Page 120]   seems to be speaking in terms of honest men and women who have come to discover that their gift has vanished.  Be that as it may, the reader of Jesus' warning would have been fully aware of how the Torah and prophets had spoken of false prophets in the past.  Their challenge would be to avoid making the same mistake of their foreparents in falling for such distorted messages

 

            First century occurrence of such phenomena.   False prophets appeared within the Christian community.[27]    The psychological imbalance that produces such behavior as false prophesying is one that can afflict the imbalanced and unstable even among the most orthodox.   But this is hardly likely to have been the only source that attracted believers in Jesus since the Palestinian ones lived among orthodox Jewish communities that were still seeking a politico-religious Messiah.  Since one’s religious commitment rarely fully shakes off one’s cultural past and heritage (nor, in the bulk of cases should it), it is inherently likely that they might be tempted by one or more of the dynamic nationalist prophets that came their way.

            As to the spiritually unbalanced whose lack of stability (or conscious intent?) resulted in religious claims of authority that bore no ground in reality, the New Testament explicitly indicates the frequency with which they occurred.  John directly speaks in terms of their large numbers within the believing community, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

            In addition there are implicit indications of the presence of false prophets in the description of false teachers found in various New Testament epistles--certainly in the broader sense of forthtellers (rather than foretellers) of the Divine will.[28]

            Such false pretenders also existed in contemporary Judaism.  Two of them are referred to in both the New Testament and Josephus as well.  One was Theudas the magician.  Gamaliel refers to him (quoted by Luke in Acts 5:36), but does not label him a prophet.  Josephus, in contrast, does use the epithet and provides a concise summary of his insurrection and death.[29] 

[Page 121]                   A Roman tribune quoted in Acts 21:38 refers to an unidentified Egyptian false prophet who had stirred up insurrection in Palestine.  Josephus, in his Antiquities, again goes further and identifies him as “a prophet.”  In this case, hundreds of his followers were killed in a military confrontation but the man himself disappeared never to be seen again.[30]   In his Wars, Josephus again labels this man a “false prophet.”[31] 

            Felix’s reign as governor was characterized by the appearance of a number of such individuals.  In Jerusalem these pseudo-seers  deluded the people under pretense of divine inspiration” into believing that God would quickly act to change the political order (i.e., drive out the Romans).  Before the situation could blossom into an open revolt, Felix militarily crushed them.[32]   In a different work Josephus refers to the same individuals as “imposters and deceivers.”  He notes that they “pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs” in the wilderness.  Instead they met their death in the wilderness.[33] 

            Of the entire reign of Felix, Josephus makes plain that such false prophets had risen in substantial number under prior rulers as well.  The historian notes that “the country was again [our emphasis, rw] filled with robbers and imposters, who deluded the multitude.”[34] 

            During the siege of Jerusalem, the politico-religious leadership of the city encouraged the emergence of such individuals in order to maintain their will to resist when the odds seemed so hopeless.  However ethically dubious, Josephus notes that the strategy worked well.[35]      

 

“Lead Many Astray”

 

            Once again we lack explicit data referring to this occurring.  On the other hand, it would not be surprising if it did.  After all, Jesus did not assert that “most” believers would make this mistake.  He merely asserts that “many” would.  “Many” is an assertion that it would be common, but it is not an assertion of the proportion of believers involved--either large or small.  

   

[Page 122]

 

13.  DIMINISHED RELIGIOUS FERVOR (Matt 24:12)

 

            It would be a time of moral unconcern, “And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.”  Standing by itself, this statement could be applied to either believers or the general citizenry in the part of the world in which the events would occur.  Although both are likely a faithful representations of the historical period, Jesus specifically has in mind the danger to His disciples (verse 13).  What is not clear is whether the danger will be to believers because most of their people have fallen into this trap or because most of surrounding society will be pushing them in a similar direction. 

            The text does not require love to have become “frozen,” merely “cold”--i.e., dramatically weakened and diminished.[36]   There might still be a veneer of religious or moral commitment--the text could refer to either or both--but the flaming heart that keeps it glowing and vibrant has been toned down to where its very survival may be in doubt.  The prevailing wickedness threatens to destroy it entirely.[37]

 

The Problem:  “Wickedness”

 

            The term means “general immorality and license.”[38]   It means “literally ‘absence of law’ or ‘violation of law.’  It describes the total anarchy which rages where no norm is any longer respected.”[39]   There are two aspects to the concept:  one is violating God’s will; the other is ignoring it, acting without authority, endorsement, or approval.  The first ignores the prohibitions of the divine will; the second ignores God’s silence, that there is no encouragement from God to act in the first place.  A person no longer cares; he just does what he or she wants to do and lays aside all other considerations.  It’s done because it “feels” good, “looks” good, or can be somehow rationalized as contributing to a desirable “good.”

            This anomia (the Greek word utilized) is rebuked not only here but in other texts as well.  Being religious does not justify it (Matthew 23:27-28) and it will result in condemnation by Christ and severe punishment (Matthew 7:21-23; 13:41-42; translated “iniquity” in all three texts).  Christ hates it and so He is honored by God [Page 123]   (Hebrews 1:8-9; rendered as “lawlessness”).  It is branded as sin (1 John 3:4-5; again rendered “lawlessness”).  

            Both forms of the phenomena existed in the Old Testament era as well.  The condemnation of overt violations of the Torah is abundant throughout the “major” and “minor” prophets.  Easier to overlook are the references to acting not so much in defiance as out of no concern as to the provisions of the Torah.   In Judges 17:6 we read that, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.”  Job implies that he had not followed that life course in dealing with the Divine will and offers to submit to Divine retribution if he had (Job 31:7-8). 

            When Proverbs speaks of keeping the commandment within one’s heart (4:20-21), the implication is that one can drift into unconcern about such matters and no longer take it into consideration in making one’s life choices.  Proverbs 16:2 implies the folly of such an approach.  Since “all the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,” unless one is operating from conscious moral guidelines there is nothing to impede a person from doing what he wants to do, whenever he wants to do it, and to whoever he wants to do it.  

            Finally, the religious leadership in the days of Ezekiel is pictured as acting in such a manner as if they had no care at all as to whether something was right or wrong (Ezekiel 22:26).  From these varied examples we can see that the “who cares” mentality was common in the past and Jesus is warning of it being a temptation yet against in the future.

 

 

The Proportion:  “Most”

 

            Old Testament precedent.  Many texts of the Old Covenant, speaking of the popularity of idolatry, would seem to imply that the strong majority of the population was refusing to practice strict monotheism.  In the days of Elijah they were so few and scattered that the prophet was convinced that the cause of Yahweh [Page 124]   was hopeless (1 Kings 19:14).  God reassured him that temporal judgment was about to fall on the apostate political leadership. "Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him" (verse 18).  Seven thousand is--in itself--a substantial number, but as a proportion it was modest if not minuscule.  Jesus speaks in Matthew of a day when there would, similarly, be few faithful remaining.

 

            First century occurrence of such phenomena.  Not only would the fervor of  love” dramatically decrease, it would be a widespread phenomena:  "most" would fall prey to it (Matthew 24:12).   Is Jesus speaking of the fellowship of disciples or of the broader Jewish community in Palestine in which they dwelt?  The text itself leaves open either possibility and it is quite possible that Jesus left the point intentionally vague so no one could point with arrogant pride at anyone else.

            There is no explicit piece of evidence which we can cite either in favor of this phenomena either within either the church or the citizenry of geographic Palestine.  On the other hand, the general situation was such that it would be astounding if it had not occurred.

            For the sad fact is that in a period of intense societal pressure (famine, war, threatened war, religious deception publicly exposed as false), the disillusionment can affect virtually everyone.  The human psyche is extremely flexible, but at some point it throws its hands up in despair and becomes incapable of dealing with further stress.  Confidence ebbs; optimism vanishes; and the accepted truisms for which one has labored and sacrificed for years can easily become less important and virtually ignored.

            This does not make the phenomena right, but it does indicate that the reaction is a quite human one that can affect anyone regardless of religious belief.  Since Jews were far more likely to be deeply drawn to the independence movements of the day (due to the belief in an yet unarrived Messiah), one would anticipate it affecting them the most.  On the other hand, at least elements of these movements would entice some Christians and everyone lived in potential danger from the consequences of insurrection.

 

[Page 125]

The Result:  Diminished Religious Fervor

(“Men’s love will grow cold”)

 

            Old Testament precedent.  In its Biblical usage “love” can refer to one’s fervency toward God or one’s fellow man.  Of the former, religious enthusiasm runs in cycles.  It reaches a peak, declines, stabilizes, increases, peaks—and then starts over again.  The heights will vary; the lows will vary; the length of time for each period will vary.  The only certainty is that things will not indefinitely stay the same.

            The Old Testament was well aware of periods when Jehovah sparked no fear in the heart and the moral restraints of the Torah impeded all too few from excess and destruction.  Jeremiah 9:3 speaks of one such era as one when, “They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, says the Lord.”  Hosea depicts the popular lack of commitment through an allusion to nature, “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you, O Judah?  Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (6:4).

            “Love” of one’s fellow human being also had its highs and lows.  The Psalms and Proverbs bear abundant witness to the willingness of individuals to abuse, misuse, and take advantage of their fellow citizens.   

 

            First century occurrence of such phenomena.  The need to maintain love is a well-known major theme of First John, implying an acute recognition that it could evaporate.  A loss of love is explicitly referred to in the mini-epistle to Ephesus, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first . . . ” (Revelation 2:5).  Human nature knows no geographic boundaries.  So the same admonition and failures certainly occurred in other places as well. 

 

 

ADOMINITION:  ENDURE REGARDLESS! 

(Matthew 24:13; Mark 13:13b) 

[Page 126]

            Although many would give up hope, Jesus implores His disciples not to let the despair of others rub off on them.  He insists that, "He who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13).  Somehow, from somewhere, they must summon up the internal resources to persevere when others are convinced there is no hope.

            Many of the Psalms are efforts by the authors to summon up such internal reserves of strength when the future looks grim and bitter.  In a historical context, we find King Asa facing discouragement from contemporary warfare (2 Chronicles 15:5-6).  A prophet urged him not to give up, "But you, take courage!  Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded" (verse 7). 

 

            First century occurrence of such phenomena.  Although some interpret “the end” under discussion to be “the end” of Jerusalem,[40] it is more likely that the reference is to the end of one’s life.[41]   In contrast, the reference to “the end” in verse 14 is most likely an allusion to the fall of Jerusalem.  Although the terminology is the same, the fact that an entirely new theme is introduced argues that the intended frame of reference has altered,

            If “the end” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, then the salvation promised would need to be that of being spared perishing in the city’s fall.[42]   Of the period preceding that fall Jesus had just warned (verse 9) that some disciples would violently die at the hands of their enemies.[43]   Nor does the certainty of escaping physical death fit the warnings of the danger of flight in winter, on the Sabbath, etc. (Matthew 24:19-20); such warnings assume that it was distinctly possible that Christians might be endangered by them as well.

            Not only is the admonition that one must be faithful to God a natural outgrowth of the Old Testament stress on abiding fidelity throughout one’s life, it best fits the immediate context.  This is indicated by reading verses 12 and 13 together (our emphasis added), “And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end will be saved.”  In other words, the individual whose love endures to the end.  The contrast is between those (the majority) who shed that love and that faithful minority who retain it.  

 

[Page 127]

14.  WORLDWIDE PREACHING OF GOSPEL (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10)

 

            The “Great Commission” that ends this gospel account (Matthew 28:18-20) is foreshadowed in the prediction of Mark 13:10, “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.”  In the more detailed wording of Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.”  It has been insisted that this attitude “is a far remove from Jewish exclusiveness.”[44]    Perhaps from the Judaism dominant in the first century, but then again perhaps not:   consider Jesus’ allusion to proselyte making among his foes in Matthew 23:15.   Furthermore, there was a considerable Old Testament strain of thought pointing to the sharing of Israel’s good news with the surrounding world (see Old Testament precedents below).

            What was the scope of “the world” here and in Matthew 28:18-20?  Although we today think in terms of the “world” as everyplace on this globe (will a future generation think in terms of a “civilized world” encompassing every planet bearing human immigrants?), the concept may well have been subject to considerable variation in the first century itself.  The “world” would tend to be the part known of or of importance to the speaker.[45]  Regardless of which specific meaning the early church put upon the expression, the New Testament narratives interpret the phenomena of “world-wide” preaching as having been accomplished in the first century itself (see below).

            The question has risen as to whether the reference to “nations” means the Gentile nations as distinct from the Jewish nation or whether both were encompassed by the term.[46]  In favor of the former is that it is the more typically Biblical use of the word “nations;” in favor of the latter is the natural broadness of the term “all” and the fact that though a great many Palestinian Jews had already heard the message of Jesus--either from Him personally or via His disciples--it is inherently probable that many had still not done so.

[Page 128]                   Another question concerns the immediate (in contrast to the ultimate) interpretation the disciples likely placed upon the prediction and its implicit commandment to preach.  Being Jews and since Jesus had explicitly enjoined a Jews-only ministry during His preaching years (Matthew 10:5-7), it would have been natural for the apostles to interpret this as only a command to preach the kingdom gospel to fellow Jews scattered throughout the world.  Certainly this was the interpretation placed upon the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 and its demand for a world-wide preaching.  This can be seen from the fact that it was not until the conversion of Cornelius that the door was open to the preaching of the apostolic message to the Gentiles.     Even that did not stir the on-going turmoil made explicit by the apostle Paul refusing to bind circumcision and traditional rites of the Torah upon Gentiles; many who were willing to accept Gentile converts were unwilling to go this far.[47]   

            Some have interpreted this prediction as an invention by Matthew to explain why the end of the world/age had not occurred:  even though Jerusalem had been destroyed, this prerequisite also had to be met.[48]   This not only ignores the other New Testament texts that think in terms of that criteria having been fulfilled, it would not have resolved the alleged problem of non-fulfillment:  The preaching is placed prior to the destruction of Jerusalem (verse 15), as if that was the period in which the preaching was to be accomplished.  Hence he would seemingly have solved one problem of “nonfulfillment” (the “end” not coming) by creating for himself yet another (the world-wide preaching of the evangelistic message not having been accomplished).  

     

            Old Testament precedent.  Jonah's preaching mission to Nineveh is the closest to explicit missionary work one finds in the Old Testament.  And even that is only to one city, on one specific occasion, and not part of a broader commitment.

            On the other hand, Jews were widespread in the centuries before Jesus--for merchant-trade reasons not to mention the misfortune of exile after defeat in war.  To the extent that they were practicing monotheists, there was an implicit testimony in their religious and moral lifestyle that was inescapable to those they interacted with.  Some would look with anger upon these "strange" people, while others would [Page 129]   be attracted by their "eccentric" religious practice.  Either way, they would be a living testimony to monotheism as a theological alternative in a world with hundreds of religious options.

            Isaiah 9:1-2 speaks of an enlightenment that would come to the Gentile areas of Palestine, "the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (verse 1).  To them would come "a great light" that would benefit those who "walked in darkness" (verse 2).     (Messianically, this was used by Matthew to describe Jesus' preaching work in that region (Matthew 4:12-17).)

            Although geographically, Galilee is part of Palestine, the text stresses the fact that non-Jews were common in the region (presumably predominant in the population, since it is called “Galilee of the nations,” verse 1).  In Isaiah’s day, those Gentiles would have been the Assyrians, who had been brought in to replace the deported Jews.[49]   Since the entire area is to be blessed with “a great light” (9:2), it follows that resident Gentiles were to share in that blessing.   To what extent this was to be true of Gentiles residing beyond those geographic boundaries is not stated, though one would naturally assume that if it were available to the local Gentiles it would be available to others as well.  Although verse 2 is clearly alluding to then future events, so vivid is the picture--so real, so compelling, so current--that the author uses the present tense to describe it.[50] 

            Isaiah 42:5-9 speaks of an era when there would be a "light of the nations" and not to Israel alone.  The promise in verse 6 is that “I have given you as a covenant[51]  to the people, a light to the nations.”  The text has been read in two different ways:  The “I” will be a covenant to Israel and (in contrast) a light to the nations; others take it to mean that the individual will be both covenant and light to the Gentiles.[52] 

            Note the two key words “you” and “covenant.”  In other words he will be “the means through which people will come into a covenant relation with the Lord.”[53]   J. Alec Motyer effectively stresses how the various terms used in these verses interlock to portray the radical transformation that is the result of this servant’s outreach to the Gentiles, “Within the all-embracing concept of ‘covenant’ there is the ‘light’ of truth, the healing of personal disabilities (exemplified in opening blind ‘eyes’), the end of restrictions imposed by others (bringing out ‘captives’) and the transformation of circumstances (‘darkness’).”[54] 

[Page 130]                   Who is this “I”?  It has been interpreted collectively as of all Israel.[55]  On a literal individual basis it has been applied to the Cyrus.[56]    Whatever application the text might have to one or more of these, those accepting a Christocentric reading of scripture will, of course, find its ultimate and fullest fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth.  Messianically interpreted, this concept of being a light to the nations is applied to Jesus (Luke 2:34-35).  (We say "concept" because the text itself is not directly quoted.)

            In words of encouragement to the prophet himself, God speaks of how the prophet would be a "light to the nations" (Isaiah 49:5-7).[57]  In some manner or in some form the prophet would be a teacher, an enlightener, even to those outside his ethnic/national community.

            Isaiah 51 seems to speak of a new system of direct application to the Gentiles, "Listen to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go forth from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples" (verse 4).  Since the alien nations are traditionally pictured in the Torah and prophets as lacking knowledge of the God of Israel, how could His law function as a “light” to them?  In an indirect sense it would be a light whenever the exemplary moral conduct demanded by the Torah and the prophets was manifested in actual behavior:  it would show outsiders the type of character that could be aspired to as an ideal. 

            This text, however, seems to assume a more active role in shedding of the “light” upon “the peoples” when it uses the expression of how “a law will go forth from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples.”   It speaks as if the spreading of this “light” were to be a conscious effort--proselytizing or the equivalent. 

            The concept of a “law” going forth gives every verbal indication of being the conceptual equivalent of the new covenant predicted in Jeremiah 31:31-34.  In Hebrews 8:8-13 this text is applied to the gospel message that early Christians were sharing in the communities where they resided.  Indeed, if any “law” were to go forth, at any time, how else could it do so without the conscious communicating of it with others?   

[Page 131]                   Isaiah 60 speaks of how the various nations would come to gain spiritual light, “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you, and nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (verses 2-3). 

            “Nations” would suggest the spread over a wide geographic region, one that crossed multiple political boundaries.  “Kings” are mentioned in particular as accepting the Divine “light” in order “to show that not merely the common people but even those of high rank” responded in a receptive manner.[58]   It may also be because leaders follow as well as lead; they may encourage their citizens in a certain direction; on the other hand, the astute ruler may embrace a policy because the people are already receptive.  Either or both might also be the case in this text; the passage does not inform us. 

            Here the imagery is rather different than in the preceding examples.  Instead of the light being sent to the nations, the light is so inherently attractive that the outsiders would themselves initiate the reconciliation by coming to it.  The truth would be so appealing that it would exert a pull without explicit efforts at conversion.  On an individual (wife/husband) basis that concept is developed in 1 Peter 3:1-2.

 

            First century occurrence of such phenomena.   A substantial  number of commentators deny a first century intended frame of reference, primarily upon the basis that the wording must be interpreted in the sense that the twentieth century puts on the expression “the whole world.”[59]   Of course, the normal practice and the proper one--barring unusual factors--is to either interpret the terminology in the sense that its original hearers understood it, or, at least, compatible with their understanding.  (The latter would be the case when other texts indicate Jesus had an immediate intent, but was laying the groundwork for a broader understanding when His disciples could grasp the full logical impact of His language.) 

            In both senses, it would be “the world” in the sense of the Roman Empire as the primary point of reference.  Of course, a slightly wider intent could be included [Page 132]   since Parthia was on Rome’s eastern border and there were at least periodic contacts with points even further east.  Even in this “broader” sense, the southern half of Euroasia and the northern part of Africa would be the most intended.

            Regardless of the specific definition placed upon the expression “the whole world,” it is clear that the New Testament writers regarded it as fully accomplished within the era of its writing, that is, prior to the fall of Jerusalem.  Mark 16:16 records a form of the commission to teach the gospel to “all the world” and verse 20 seemingly implies that they accomplished this by the time the book was circulated.  There we read how they “preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.”

            Other texts are even less demanding of an interpretative gloss.   Colossians 1:5-6 refers to how the gospel was bearing fruit “in the whole world.”  Verse 23 goes even further in asserting (in clearly hyperbolic language) that the gospel had “been preached to every creature under heaven.”  Romans 10:14-18 quotes as precedent for that the fact that “not all [have] heeded the gospel” the fact that Isaiah had written of how “their voice has gone out to all the earth and their words to the ends of the world.”  

            Indeed, even before the apostles began any mission to the nations, the groundwork was laid to accomplish the goal of “universal” preaching of the gospel.  At the first Pentecost after the resurrection, we read of how “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).  From this array thousands were converted in the following days and weeks (Acts 2:41; 4:4).  When these individuals returned to their homelands, it provided a jump start to Christianity even before formal missionaries traveled there.         

 

“As a Testimony to All Nations”

 

            There is no claim of universal conversion, only of universal opportunity.[60]   The determining factor will be their individual response.[61]  Since the New Testament presents both threats and promises--hinging upon disobedience or obedience--then the idea is that the testimony is “God’s will to save them, if they receive it, and of their doom, if they do not.”[62]  Another way of expressing the same idea is that, “The witness would be for or against them according to the use made of this opportunity.”[63] 

[Page 133]                   Implicit in this is a plea that the church remain upbeat and optimistic no matter how trying the external circumstances might become.  “This statement anticipates the great commission in 28:20 and implies that the church is not to circle the wagons until the danger passes but is to engage in active mission.  In spite of the trauma, the community’s responsibility to love and to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom remains in force.”[64]  

 

“Then the End will Come

 

            Three interpretations have been suggested:  It refers to “the end” of Jerusalem, to “the end” of the world or to “the end” of the life of the apostles.  The last is fanciful because there is nothing in the text to suggest only the apostles were the only ones under consideration.  The cessation of the physical cosmos is ruled out by our analysis that, at the very minimum, this first part of the chapter is speaking of the fall of Jerusalem.  Hence, by default, we seem driven to the destruction of Jerusalem being under discussion.         

 

 

 

15.  APPEARANCE OF THE "DESOLATING SACRILEGE"  (Matthew 24:15;          Mark 13:14a; Luke 21:20)

 

 

            Jesus next points to a terrible outrage that would occur in the then future.  The wording of the description, however, dramatically shifts between Matthew/Mark and Luke,

[Page 134]                  

                        “So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet \

Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand).”  (Matthew)

                        “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to

be (let the reader understand). . . .” (Mark)

                        “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that

its desolation has come near.”  (Luke)

 

            The word “prophet” in connection with Daniel context does not refer to which section of the Old Testament the book fell within (i.e., Law/prophets/writings) but the fact that Daniel is accepted as having a prophetic gift that permitted him to see future events.  The description refers to function rather than location.[65] 

            The Greek, translated here into English as a “desolating sacrilege,” is the Septuagint wording found in Daniel 11:31 and Daniel 12:11 (see English translations below).    At least a major element in the conceptual picture is the idea of “a detestable violation of something sacred that evokes horror and dismay.”[66] 

            Matthew specified where the “desolating sacrilege” was mentioned in the Old Testament while Mark omits that information.  Writing to an individual unacquainted with the Jewish sacred writings (Luke 1:3-4), however, the reference to “desolating sacrilege” would make no sense because the recipient, Theophilus, would have no reason to be acquainted with the text. Therefore Luke does what both Matthew and Mark urge-- “let the reader understand” -- by explaining what the reference means, that is, to an invading army circling Jerusalem.  In some ways this is odd:  The Roman/gentile Luke makes explicit that the invasion is to an army while the other accounts do not.  Even the Romans would have understood--however vaguely--that the destruction of the center of a religious system was a “sacrilege” and that when an army produces the result it would be appropriate to describe it as a “desolating sacrilege.”  So it is certainly not out of fear of offending Roman sensibilities that the difference occurs.

 

 

[Page 135]                   Old Testament precedent.  Instead of building upon a conceptual foundation from several different texts or broad principles, this one is built firmly upon Daniel’s prophecy of “weeks,”

 

                        And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off, and

shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy

the city and the sanctuary.  Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end

there shall be war; desolations are decreed.  And he shall make a strong

covenant with many for one week; and for half of the week he shall cause

sacrifice and offering to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come

one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator. 

(Daniel 9:26-27) 

 

            In Daniel 11:11 the length of the pollution is referred to, “And from the time that the continual burnt offering is taken away, and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.”

            In several other places in the book of Daniel itself other references to the same or a similar phenomena.  In Daniel 8:13 the question is raised of, “For how long is the vision concerning the continual burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled under foot?”

            In more concrete language the event is described in Daniel 11:31, “Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering.  And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.”  The responsible ruler will do all this out of personal egoism,

 

                        And the king shall do according to his will; he shall exalt himself and

            magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against

the God of gods.  He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for

what is determined shall be done.  He shall give no heed to the gods of his

fathers, or to the one beloved by women; he shall not give heed to any other

god, for he shall magnify himself above all”  (Daniel 11:36-37)

[Page 136]

            In spite of their obscurity, the texts do permit at least a few safe assertions:  (1) the tragedy will be inflicted by a ruler; (2) the motivating factor will be personal ego; (3) it will be accomplished through the ruler’s military forces; (4) something will be erected-- presumably to be worshipped; (5) the sacrifices for the God of Israel will cease.   

            Daniel’s prediction has been applied to events even future to our own era.[67]    Regardless of the meaning in Daniel, the framework of interpretation provided in Matthew 24 argues that the phrase was applied to the fall of Jerusalem.  Whether it had that originally in mind, whether it is a secondary “fulfillment,” or whether the terminology is used because it was so bitterly appropriate are questions that we need not resolve for the purpose of this analysis.   

 

            First century occurrence of such phenomena.   Laying aside the interpretation that it refers to events at the end of the world,[68] we must seek an explanation within the context of the fall of Jerusalem.  The original allusion is usually taken to refer to Antiochus Epiphanes, who in 168 B.C. erected an image of Zeus Olympios in the Jewish Temple, and offered burnt animals before it.  It is not uncommon to find commentators finding here a double allusion:  a reference to that earlier tragedy and a reference as well to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.[69] 

            During Caligula’s rule (37-41 A.D.), his egomania led him to order to be installed within the Temple a statue of himself, pictured as the god Zeus.[70]  He failed to carry out the intention due to his death.  Hence, the sacrilege never occurred, while in Matthew 24 a successful sacrilege is depicted.  

            The next event that comes to mind at the hands of an external foe is the Great Revolt.  In this context, the reference to “desolating” naturally leads to the belief that the text is making a broad allusion to the vast destruction inflicted by the Roman army in conquering Jerusalem.  It was “sacrilege” in that it was inflicted by a pagan army upon the people of God’s Abrahamic covenant.[71] 

            Others see a more specific reference here to the ensigns of the Roman army.[72]    Since these were worshipped by the soldiers, when erected near or within Jerusalem [Page 137]   they would be “abominable”; since the army that bore the banners inflicted “desolation” on all that withstood them, that term would also apply.  This approach has been criticized on the ground that “the Roman eagles” were already in Jerusalem, due to the presence of occupying Roman forces, “at the very moment when these words were uttered.”[73]    

            In rebuttal, it could be argued that in Jesus’ day they were in Jerusalem as occupiers, while in A.D. 70 they were there as destroyers, desolators of both city and countryside.  After the fall of the temple the standards were brought into the holy temple compound itself and sacrifice was given to the image of Caesar they bore.[74]   This was truly unique and so inflammatory it had never been attempted previously.    

            Another approach is to interpret the text as a reference to the imperial cult in Jerusalem.  As noted above, Emperor Caligula had intended to put a statue of himself in the Temple but had been prevented by his death.  After citing this incident, Suzanne de Dietrich goes on to note that, “In the year A.D. 70 the Emperor Titus placed a statue on the site of the burned Temple.”[75]    Imperial images were peculiarly “sacrilege” in that they represented a living and breathing human being who claimed to be “god” in contradiction to Yahweh of the Jews.  Roman ensigns could not come anywhere near this level of insult.

            Another approach is to apply the text to a specific individual.  The reading in Mark 13:14 in particular has led to such speculation.  For example, Hugh Anderson observes that, “The words ‘set up where it ought not to be’ can only refer to a similar profanation of the Temple [just as Caligula had attempted earlier], and since the participle ‘set up’ is masculine in Greek (whereas the noun ‘desolating sacrilege’ is neuter) it seems that an individual person is in view here, a successor in the Antiochus-Caligula line of desecrators.”[76]  Assuming this is not reading more into it than is intended[77] who is that person? 

            In terms of other New Testament texts, the mysterious Man of Sin in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 comes to mind but that does nothing to attach a name to the description.  Benjamin W. Bacon, for example, argues that one or more of the gospel writers considered the “Antichrist” figure of this text to have been in the writer’s mind as the intended abomination of desolation.  This would certainly provide the [Page 138]   kind of ominousness suggested![78]  Paul does mention that this individual “takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (verse 4), though there is nothing in the text to make one think of the Jerusalem temple in contrast to the spiritual temple of the church.  One could think in terms of the emperor being symbolically installed in the ruins of the Jerusalem temple via the emperor worship that was carried out.  And this triumph might well result in many apostatizing from Judaism into overt paganism (verse 10) as the result of disillusionment from the failed Revolt against Rome.   Even so the connection seems strained and unnecessary.  

            The Emperor might also be described as present through the intermediary of his soldiers when they stood in the temple where he (and it) had no business being.[79]  In a literal sense, it could be “Titus, the Roman general who stood in the Holy of Holies when the temple was finally captured. . . .”[80]  In a broader sense it could be the accompanying army, to which the stricken temple would have been an object of curiosity.[81]  In such cases it would be a literal “he” involved.

            Although there was plenty of blame to be applied to the polytheist outsider, the monotheist defenders of the land were also guilty of serious excess as well.  Hence the expression could be interpreted as referring to the sacrilegious activities of the Jewish zealots when they controlled the city--and the temple in particular.[82]  They were an “abomination” in that their conduct defiled the temple and the holiness of the city; their continued resistance guaranteed destruction or “desolation” by the Roman foe. 

            These rebel forces turned the temple into a fortress.  They even polluted its sanctity by bringing within it the wounded bodies of those fallen in combat for their side.[83]    They appointed their own high priest, thereby defiling the “holy of holies” whenever such illegitimate pretenders entered it.[84]   He was so inappropriate and inadequate that he has been dismissed as merely “a clown.”[85]    

            They even stooped to murdering Zacharias in the middle of the temple.[86]    Later both priests and those who came to sacrifice were killed in the crossfire between competing factions.[87]    They even utilized the food and supplies set aside strictly for priestly use[88]  and melted down the holy objects used in the worship of the temple.[89] 

[Page 139]                   C. VanderWaal argues that the behavior of the militant revolutionaries in Jerusalem and the temple is the topic of discussion.  As he reasons it, it would be too late to flee if the temple were already occupied by the Romans; indeed, it would be too late to flee when the city itself was surrounded.[90]    Craig S. Kenner contends that the desecration occurred earlier yet, when certain priests were killed when the war with Rome first broke out.  What the Romans did, he concedes, was even a worse defilement but that the context better fits the 66 AD incident rather than the 70 AD destruction.[91]  

            Stanley D. Toussaint argues against the zealot interpretation because “no idolatry” was involved in their behavior.[92]   That implies too rigid and narrow a definition of how defilement had to have occurred.  Others contend that the reference to “standing” in the temple argues for something more specific than the broader excesses of the Zealots and that objection seems far more well founded.[93] 

            An examination of the other recounting of the same reference indicates that Jesus had two ideas in mind.  The first was an object.  In Mark 13:14 we read, “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be.”  “It” is not a word used for humans, but could rightfully be used of any pagan object of worship, including the Roman ensigns but not excluding statues of the emperor as well.

            The second was the Roman armies themselves and their destructiveness.  In

Luke 21:20-21 the warning is, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you know that its desolation has come.  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. . . .”    

 

 

“In the Holy Place

 

            Some limit this to the Temple; others to Jerusalem and the area immediately around it; yet others to all of Palestine.[94]    Broaddus objects, “ ‘Holy place’ cannot well mean distinctively the temple in this case, for when the Roman standards stood in the temple, it was too late for fleeing to the mountain.”[95]    For those in Jerusalem, [Page 140]   yes; but the instruction to flee is not given to citizens of Jerusalem in particular but to those who “are in Judea  (verse 16).    If interpreted of the fall of Jerusalem, the idea would be that anyone within striking distance of these hostile forces should seek refuge further away.

            This approach has the virtue of assuming that Jerusalem (or the Temple) is the focus of Jesus’ remark and that does appear most likely.  In all fairness, however, in a broader sense the very presence of a hostile, invading, pagan army anywhere within Palestine would have struck many as an inherent sacrilege of a “holy place.”   The siege of Jerusalem would have brought about even more intense feelings in this direction and the ultimate destruction of the Temple--of that there could be hardly a greater form of desolating sacrilege, even separate from any accompanying acts of polytheistic worship.  

            Oddly, some attempt to apply the prediction to the church itself.  For example, although Daniel Patte concedes that the desolating sacrilege applies to the destruction of the temple he contends that it applies at least equally “to the profanation of the community of the disciples (the new ‘holy place’).”[96]   The fact that the catastrophe is one that can be escaped by physical flight (24:16-18) argues that the text cannot refer to some internal degradation of the church’s moral character.  That obviously could not be escaped by physical flight. 

            Patte concedes that his approach does carry the idea of a flight from the corrupted church but does not suggest what the idea would have meant in actual practice.[97]  He may have in mind that the church would have so lost its basic character that physical flight was justified even if all the other members remained behind.   But that would be far more of a flight from fellow members rather than from a defiled church. 

 

“Let the Reader Understand”

 

            Some believe this to be a marginal note that has crept into the text.[98]  Certainly this is preferable to the theory that it alludes to an earlier written source utilized by either Mark or Matthew--or both.[99]  That is an allusion one would not [Page 141]   normally “catch.”  So far as the text goes, at least in Matthew, the reference to “Daniel” would provide a seeming cue as to what the reader is to understand when he reads, i.e., the true meaning of Daniel.[100]  Yet the remark is also found in Mark where the name “Daniel” is omitted.  In that context one would immediately think of the book current being read, “Understand what I have written!”  (This is a meaning not impossible in Matthew, too, for that matter.)   

            Certainly this was not a statement addressed to Jesus’ listeners.  That is excluded by the use of the word “reader;” listeners would have been described as “listeners” or those who “heard” Him. 

            Why the silence?  There was always a point beyond which it was not politically prudent to be but so blunt.  This reality could easily have been in mind in Mark and Matthew.[101]  Indeed, the admonition would also fit if the meaning of the warning had been the subject of oral preaching.  The writers might have desired readers/listeners to recall it, without the danger of putting it into explicit words where less friendly hands might utilize it against the community of believers.  On the other hand, if this were the motivating factor why is Luke so much more explicit?   

            The plea to “understand” assumes that the conduct would be so brazen that the reader could readily grasp what was being referred to if he were educated in Christianity or Judaism (the reference to a desolating sacrilege being to Daniel).  The text combines vivid condemnation with the avoidance of going across that line where the government might feel compelled to strike out in retaliation for the criticism.  One was on extremely “thin ice” when one bluntly criticized the Roman government or its army.  At least a fig leaf of discretion might well have been regarded as imperative.   

            In the context of Daniel’s original prediction it is made clear that his readers would not understand the events he predicted.  The meaning of those words would remain “sealed until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:9).  The “wicked” would be unable to “understand; but those who are wise shall understand” (Daniel 12:10).  Once the events occurred, the intent of the prophecy would be obvious to the morally astute.  Without using the terms “wicked” or “wise” Matthew makes plain [Page 142]   that the identity of the desolating sacrilege of his day would be obvious as well.   If one were willing for it to be.

            Yet there is admittedly a strange ominous sound in the words if one meditates upon them long enough.  C. S. Mann argues that “there is an air of hidden meaning here, almost of menace, as though a clue had to be hidden from the prying eyes of outsiders.”[102]  But this may just as easily come from an exegete’s constant search to seek out a “deeper” truth:  sometimes there isn’t anything more intended than the obvious.   

           

 

 

 



NOTES

 

[1]Pasquier Quesnel, The Gospels:  with Moral Reflections on Each Verse (New York:  Anson D. F. Randolph, 1855; 1867 edition) 1:295.  

 

[2]This approach seems better than to distinguish between the punishments of council and synagogue as in Robert H. Gundry, Mark:  A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 739.

 

[3]C. S. Mann, Mark, in the Anchor Bible series (Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1986), 516.  Cf. William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  1974), footnote 51, page 459.

 

[4]The word “kings” includes rulers of a lower rank as well:  R. A. Cole, The Gospel According to St. Mark, in the Tyndale New Testament commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961), 200; S. D. F. Salmond, St. Mark, in the Century Bible commentary series (Edinburgh:  T. C. & E. C. Jack, Limited, 1922), 354.

     

[Page 143]   [5]Owen, 310.

 

[6]Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries series (London:  Tyndale Press, 1972), 153, stresses this active role of the Jewish people and refers to verse 20, but does not explicitly develop the Jewish “missionary” theme apparently implied by verses 20-23.  In her discussion of these verses (155-156), she omits any reference to a distinctly Jewish element in producing the spiritual changes.  Likewise, on verse 13 Carol L. Meyers and Eric M. Meyers, Haggai, Zechariah 1-8, in the Anchor Bible series (Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1987), 424, refer to its “universalistic” tone but makes no mention either there or in the discussion of verses 20-23 (437-442) of a specifically Jewish role in producing the result.  Hinckley G. Mitchell, “Haggai and Zechariah,” in Hinckley G. Mitchell, John M. P. Smith, and Julius A. Bewer, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and Jonah, in the International Critical Commentary series (Edinburgh:  T. &. T. Clark, 1912), concedes the ultimate receptivity of the Gentiles in those latter verses (215-216) but construes verse 13 in a very passive rather than outgoing/ “missionary” sense:  the Jews would be “universally recognized as the special objects of the Divine favor. . .” (211).  

 

[7]Ellison, 167. 

 

[8]Annals XV:44.  Cf. the remarks of Donald R. Dudley, The World of Tacitus (Boston:  Little, Brown, and Company, 1968), 165, on this text of Tacitus.

 

[9]F. F. Bruce, New Testament History (Garden City, N.Y.:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971), 383.

 

[Page 144]   [10]Craig S. Keener, Matthew, in the IVP New Testament Commentary series (Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 1997), 346. 

 

[11]Blomberg, 355.

 

[12]Montague, 263.

 

[13]Olshausen, 234.

 

[14]Annals XV:44.

 

[15]Olshausen, 234. 

 

[16]Bock, 338.

 

[17]Cf. Luke T. Johnson, 323; Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 738; Robert E. Obach and Albert Kirk,  A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Mahwah, New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1986), 213.

 

[18]See Barnwell, 231-232.  At greater length also see R. H. Lightfoot, The Gospel Message of St. Mark (Oford:  Clarendon Press, 1950), 48-55.

 

[19]Annals XV:44. 

 

[20]Montague, 264.

 

[21]W. F. Albright, W. F., and C. S. Mann,  Matthew, Volume 26 of The Anchor Bible  (Garden City, N.Y.:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971), 292.

 

[Page 145]   [22]Ibid.     

 

[23]Alford, New Testament for English Readers, 164, believes it clearly crossed the line.

 

[24]J. Andrew Overman, Matthew’s Gospel and Formative Judaism:  The Social World of the Matthean Community (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1990), 117 and note 129 (of same page), sees an ambiguity in the use of the term because the specific connotation may shift from passage to passage.  Actually the same is true in the Old Testament as well. 

 

[25]Ibid., 117, argues that this is in a context of “missionary activity,” which this author finds hard to find; on the other hand, it makes imminent sense as one logical application of the text. 

 

[26]This question is raised in the context of a discussion of why Jeremiah was not executed for predicting the destruction of Jerusalem by Gerald L. Keown, Pamela J. Scalise, and Thomas G. Smothers, Jeremiah 26-52, Volume 27 in the Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, Texas:  Word Books, 1995) 26-27.

 

[27]It interpreted in exclusively Christian terms by such commentators as Saldarini, 53, 104, 115, and Smith, 284.  It has been specifically interpreted as applying to the Judaizing faction that wished to retain the faith as a Messianic cult within the confines of the traditional practices of Judaism, by Alford, New Testament for English Readers, 164.   To apply it as equivalent to the false Christs of verse 5 (Owen, 311) seems inherently unlikely.

 

[28]McGarvey, 205-206.

 

[Page 146]   [29]Antiquities XX:5:1.

 

[30]Antiquities XX:8:6. 

 

[31]Wars II:13:5.

 

[32]Wars II:13:4. 

 

[33]Antiquities XX:8:6.

 

[34]Antiquities XX:8:5.

 

[35]Wars VI:5:2.

 

[36]Owen, 311. 

 

[37]Newman and Stine, 737.

 

[38]A. Lukyn Williams, Saint Matthew, Volume 15 of  The Pulpit Commentary (Reprint, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1961), 433. 

 

[39]Suzanne de Dietrich, Matthew, translated by Donald G. Miller.  Volume 16 of The Layman’s Bible Commentary (Richmond, Virginia:  John Knox Press, 1961), 123-124. 

 

[40]Alford, Greek New Testament, 83.

 

[41]McGarvey, 206. 

 

[42]A temporal interpretation is adopted by Alford, New Testament for English Readers, 164.  

 

[Page 147]   [43]Owen, 314. 

 

[44]Sherman E. Johnson, Matthew-Mark, Volume Seven of The Interpreter’s Bible (New York:  Abingdon Press, 1951), 546.

 

[45]On this potentially shifting usage, see Henry Cowles, 211.

 

[46]Floyd V. Filson, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, in the Black’s New Testament Commentaries series (London:  Adam & Charles Black, 1960), 253.

 

[47]Gundry, Matthew, 481, points out that this was the root objection to Gentile prosetlyization, not a mission to Gentiles in and of itself.

 

[48]Overman, Church and Community in Crisis, 333.  

 

[49]S. H. Widyapranawa, A Commenty on the Book of Isaiah 1-39:  The Lord Is Savior: Faith in National Crisis, in the International Theological Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 51. 

 

[50]John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah:  Chapters 1-39, in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series.  (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 242-243.  This is a replacement volume for Edward J. Young’s earlier work on Isaiah (see below). 

 

[51]For some useful remarks on the meaning of the word “covenant” in this context, see R. N. Whybray, Isaiah 40-66, in the New Century Bible series (Greenwood, South Carolina:  Attic Press, Inc., 1975) 75.

 

[Page 148]   [52]Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah.  Volume Three:  Chapters 40-66, in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 119-120, examines the pros and cons of the two views, coming down on the side of the second choice.  Whybray, 75, concurs in this conclusion on the basis of an analogy with Isaiah 51:4.  Others who concur in this reading of Isaiah 45:6 include J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah:  An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 1993), 322, and James D. Smart, History and Theology in Second Isaiah:  A Commentary on Isaiah 35, 40-66 (London:  Epworth Press, MCMLXV), 85.  George A. F. Knight, Isaiah 40-55:  Servant Theology, Revised Edition, in the International Theological Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), 48, scrambles the rhetoric and seems to advocate both views.  His clearest remarks, however, indicate that his basic instincts go with making a distinction between the two phrases.  Hence he has “a light to the nations” as meaning, “A People with whom God has made covenant for the good of the nations” (48).  

 

[53]Motyer, 322.  Claus Westermann, Isaiah 40-66:  A Commentary (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1969),  regards the meaning as “no more than conjecture.”  Hence he argues that, in a very broad sense, it “mean[s] that the person addressed is destined to become a tool or means whereby God effects something on others” (322).  In this passage, that “something” is explicitly labeled as being the “covenant.”  Hence the proper understanding requires that the role of God’s covenant play a central role in the interpretation. 

 

[54]Motyer, 322.

 

[55]Smart, 85.

 

[Page 149]   [56]John D. W. Watts, Isaiah 34-66, in the Word Biblical Commentary series (Waco, Texas:  Word Books, Publisher, 1987) 119.   In Isaiah 49:5-7, he also adopts a “political” reading, suggesting that in that text the light is Darius (187).      

 

[57]Whybray, 139, applies the reference to “me” in the text to Isaiah personally.  Steven Scherrer A Commentary on the Book of Isaiah:  Isaiah as Sacred Scripture (Maryknoll, New York:  Jerome Publications, 1993), 120, suggests the propriety of applying it to anyone who conveys the redemptive message to the world--Isaiah, Israel, or the Messiah. 

 

[58]Young, Isaiah . . . Chapters 40-66, 445. 

 

[59]Olshausen, 234, and John P. Lange, Matthew, Third Edition, translated by Philip Schaff (New York:   Charles Scribner & Company, 1865), 424. 

 

[60]Keener, 346.  

 

[61]Montague, 264.

 

[62]Thomas Adam, Posthumous Works  (York, England:  A. Ward, 1786), 3:83.

 

[63]Williams, 434.

 

[64]Garland, 237.

 

[65]Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, translated by David E. Green (Atlanta:  John Knox Press, 1975),  452, however, believes that the reference is to Daniel’s place among the prophets in the Septuagint version, which is different from Daniel’s traditional placement in the Hebrew among the “writings.”

 

[Page 150]   [66]Gardner,  345.

 

[67]Michael Kalafian, The Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks of the Book of Daniel (Lanham, Maryland:  University Press of America, 1991), provides a concise summary of representative interpretations of the broader context:  from the premillennial standpoint, 99-100; from the amillennial view, 137-141, cf. 218-221; from the “higher critical” standpoint, 184-186.  For interpretive options also see the concise summary of  John J. Collins, Daniel, in the series Hermeneia--A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, Minnesota:  Fortress Press, 1993), 357-358.

 

[68]This approach was upheld by Olshausen, for example (237).

 

[69]For example, Richard B. Gardner (345).  Some see in the 168 B.C. incident the root of a play on words that underlies the expression.  George R. Beasley-Murray, Preaching the Gospel from the Gospels,  Revised Edition (Peabody, Massachusetts:  Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 152, notes that “[t]he author of 1 Maccabees calls [the erecting of Antiochus’ idol] ‘the abomination of desolation’ (1:54).  The name rendered in Hebrew Baal Shamayim, i.e., ‘Lord of Heaven’; the Jews replaced Baal by Ahiqqutz, ‘an abomination,’ Shamayim by Shomem, i.e, ‘that desolates.’  So ‘lord of heaven’ became ‘an abomination that desolates’--not, however, simply of the spirit, but an abomination that brings about destruction.  Such is the meaning of Daniel 9:26-27 [as well].”   

 

[70]Montague, 266.

 

[71]For various forms of this interpretation see Boles, 463,  Ellison, 167, Foster, 138, Gardner, 345, McGarvey and Pendleton, 628, Riley, 41 Adam Clarke, Commentary:  Matthew to Acts (Reprint,  New York:  Abingdon Press, [n.d.]),  229, , Kilgallen, Luke, 248; and Henry J.  Ripley, The Four Gospels with Notes,  Twelfth Edition (Boston:  Gould and Lincoln, 1869), 1:197. A. Irvine Robertson, 114. 

 

[Page 151]   [72]Cowles, 212, Owen, 312, and John A. Bengel, Gnomon of the New Testament, translated by James Bandinel and Andrew R. Fausset, revised and edited by Andrew R. Fausset (Edinburgh:  T. & T. Clark, MDCCCLIX) 1:312. Herman C. Waetjen, A Reordering of Power:  A Socio-Political Reading of Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis, Minnesota:  Fortress Press, 1989.  Although he avoids endorsing it, this is the only phenomena of the Great Revolt mentioned by Mark E. Wegener, Cruciformed:  The Literary Impact of Mark’s Story of Jesus and His Disciples (Lanham, Maryland:  University Press of America, Inc., 1995), 173.

 

[73]Alford, Greek Testament, 237, in rejecting what he calls the view of “the principal commentators” of his day.  Cf.  Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King:  A Study of Matthew   (Portland, Oregon:  Multnomah Press, 1980), 274.

 

[74]As Toussaint, 274, himself concedes.

 

[75]de Deitrich, 125.

 

[76]Anderson, 296.

 

[77]Ibid., concedes that this may be the case.

 

[78]Benjamin W. Bacon, The Gospel of Mark:  Its Composition and Date (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1925), 130-131.  Cf.  Anderson, 296..

 

[79]H. A. Guy, The Gospel of Mark (New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 1968), 159.

 

[80]Donald H. Juel, Mark, in the Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament series (Minneapolis, Minnesota:  Augsburg, 1990), 179-180. 

 

[Page 152]  [81]Mitton, 105, seems to intend this idea.  

 

[82]Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred:  Poetics of Violence in Mark (Minneapolis, Minnesota:  Fortress Press, 1994), 38, believes both the zealots and the Romans are being described.

 

[83]Wars IV:3:12.

 

[84]Wars IV:3:6.

 

[85]Montague, 267.  The term is also used by Martin, 78.

 

[86]Wars IV:5:5.

 

[87]Wars V:1:3.

 

[88]Wars V:1:2.

 

[89]Wars V:13:6.

 

[90] VanderWaal, 49-50.

 

[91]Keener, 348-349.

 

[92]Toussaint, 274.

 

[93]Gundry, Matthew, 482.

 

[94]For approaches see Lange, 425.

 

[Page 153]  [95]John A. Broaddus,  486.

 

[96]Patte, 338. 

 

[97]Ibid., 338-339. 

 

[98]Alford, New Testament for English Readers, 165.

 

[99]Mentioned by Mann, 516, without affirming or denying.

 

[100]Robert M. Fowler, Let the Reader Understand:  Reader-Response Criticism and the Gospel of Mark (Minneapolis, Minnnesota:  Fortress Press, 1991), 84, argues that it is an implicit plea for the correct interpretation of Daniel. See this source also for interesting comments on identifying “who” the reader is considered to be.

 

[101]Myers, Strong Man, 335.

 

[102]Mann, 522.  He parallels it with Revelation 13:18 where one has to read something deeper into the text in order for it to equate anything in human experience.  He also introduces the possibility of a reference to the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2:4.