Wednesday, October 23, 2013

He shall make it desolate, even until the consummation (Matthew 24)

Wow, chapter 24 looks pretty intense, at least there are a ton of notes on it, so I get the feeling this is going to be a heck of a lot more work than the last chapter.

So Jesus points out the Temple, and tells his disciples that the whole of it is going to be torn down (which I know the SAB doesn't keep track of prophecies that came true, but before the end of the 1st century, the temple was destroyed, and has yet to be rebuilt), this leads to the disciples asking Jesus to tell them more about the future, and Jesus unloads a whole lot of stuff on them. Note that while the SAB says this is all talking about the end of the world, Jesus actually says in verse 6 that "the end is not yet." Still, the general thrust of Jesus' speech here is the events leading up to the second coming and thereafter the end of the world, so make of it what you will.

I'm not sure what to make of the hodge-podge of icons the SAB tosses up over this chapter, including prophecy, absurdity, science/history, injustice, cruelty/violence, contradiction, and interpretation. Women and family values get tossed in about half way through as well. Perhaps I should address this chapter by icon?

Prophecy: Yes, this is all Jesus talking about the future, and I assume that the SAB brings out the "prophecy" icon when it feels that there was a prediction made that didn't come true. I think it's not hard to see that a lot of the things that Jesus talks about here have indeed come to pass, and since the world isn't ended yet, anything that hasn't happened (there are a few, admittedly) still could. I think that the issue that the SAB has with this is the idea that "all of these things will happen within the lifespan of Jesus' contemporaries" as they seem to take verse 34 as saying. Verse 34 actually says, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." I think the interpretation hinges on what you think "This generation" means. It's not unreasonable to take the position that the SAB takes, but I've always taken the position that he was talking about the generation that sees certain things come to pass will see the end. What certain things? Some have suggested that the generation that sees the recreation of the nation of Israel is the generation talked about here, and that's a possibility. (The SAB even mentions this possibility with respect to the failed modern-day prophecy of Hal Lindsey on verse 32.) Another is the generation that sees the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, as that sets the stage for the "abomination of desolation" which is something horrible that's supposed to happen in the temple. There's a lot of room for interpretation here, and I think it's a bad idea for even (maybe especially) Christians to try to read too much specific in here. (The supposed failed prophecy of verse 14 I discussed back in Matthew 10.)

Absurdity: As usual, I have a hard time figuring out what the SAB specifically finds absurd here, so I don't think I can address this one.

Science and history: I don't see any obvious historic problems with this chapter, so I'm guessing the issue here is the scientific note on verse 29? This all goes back to some similar things I said when going through the early part of Genesis. Just because the verse says "the moon shall not give her light" doesn't mean that Jesus is making a scientific statement about the nature of moonlight. The very fact that English has the word "moonlight" means that we can talk about it while being aware that it is, by nature, reflected sunlight. Now, as for stars falling from Heaven, this could just be a description of a meteor shower, which people today who know the true nature thereof still refer to as "shooting stars". In short, I think the SAB is reading way too much into this short verse.

Injustice, cruelty and violence: I'd be willing to say that there's some unjust and violent stuff happening here, but usually when the SAB calls something unjust or cruel, it's trying to say that God in particular was being unjust or cruel, which I don't see any particular basis for here. Some awful stuff happens during this time described, but I don't see any of it explicitly said to be the doing of God.

Contradiction: The SAB marks a handful of passages with contradictions. The only one I haven't covered elsewhere is Will Jesus' second coming be visible to all? to which I would say that the single verse in the "no" column is not meant to be taken as for all time.

Interpretation: Not sure how to address this one since I'm not sure which verse(s) it refers to, and I tend to find these interpretive differences uninteresting to me, since I usually care very little what the Watchtower Society or Hal Lindsey might have had to say about it.

Women, family values: I guess verse 19 is the particular verse that this issue refers to, but I think it's easily addressed. Jesus isn't saying that pregnant and nursing women are especially cursed, but only points out that when things get really difficult, it may be especially difficult for this subsection of society.

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