Friday, January 18, 2013

The End Back Then, Part 5: Be Ready

A long time ago, Jesus was asked the questions which are on the minds of many believers even today: what would be the signs indicating His return, Judgement Day, and the end of the world. He warned of upcoming false Messiahs, wars, and disasters. He explained that His disciples would become witnesses to the world. He described the event which would be the most horrendous in all of history, before or after; the Siege of Jerusalem. That terrifying tribulation was promised to soon yield the His return and a powerful judgement on all mankind.

This is Part 5 of a five part series entitled "The End Back Then." The series entries are:

The End Back Then, Part 5: Be Ready
Can you imagine the utter ecstasy faithful Christians will have the day that their Savior, Jesus Christ, returns? The God that they love more than any person in the world will come for them, and Jesus, who loved them enough to sacrifice His own life for them, will be overjoyed to finally destroy the metaphysical barriers keeping them from living together happily ever after. Should you be on guard for such a joyous occasion? We will find the answer to that question in our study.

Matthew 24:32-51, Mark 13:28-37, and Luke 21:29-36 (plus Luke 17:26-35) further suggest an imminent Judgement Day way back then, but emphasize being prepared for the Second Coming. So we find in Matthew 24:32-33, and similarly in Mark 13:28-29 and Luke 21:29-31, Jesus saying:
"Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that [the Kingdom of God] is near, right at the door." NIV
You see the tender twigs, summer is near. You see "all these things" (contextually false messiahs, the wars, war rumors, natural disasters, the Gospel preached in the [known] world, and the siege of Jerusalem), then the Kingdom of God is "right at the door." We all know about how long it takes to enter the threshold of a door. It does not take about 2000 years.

The final nail in the prophesy-timing-failure coffin is recorded identically in Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32 from Jesus' own mouth:
"I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." NIV
As we saw in the previous study, Jesus' Second Coming was part of "all these things" which were described. The generation living at that time has long since turned to dust, but we are still waiting for Jesus to deliver us. Well, some of us are, anyway. ;-)

You should be aware that there is some disagreement among scholars as to what is meant by "this generation." As we saw in the previous study, John Gill did not think that Matthew had been referring literally to the Second Coming of Jesus, so here he would essentially, and ironically, agree with me, saying posthumously:
" respects that present age, or generation of men then living in it; ... and must, since all these things had their accomplishment, in and about forty years after this..."
However, the word interpreted as "generation" here can also refer to "a people," so the scholars who instead agree with me that Matthew had previously described Jesus' return, such as John Darby, suggest alternately that the generation not passing away means something like things like:
"Unbelieving Jews should exist, as such, until all was accomplished."
So there you can see cognitive biases in two different polarities, and yet both are used to preserve their versions of the same truths. It is not the Bible that has contradictions; rather it is the Bible interpretations which are in contradiction. ;-) Each one drifts from the more obvious, more literal meaning, because to believe the words as they are written would mean either that God had failed to keep His word or that Jesus was not as advertised. Either option is unconscionable for the devoutly committed believer.

Moving on, Jesus said that His words would never pass away (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33), which is essentially just a promise from Jesus/God that this prophesy would indeed come to pass exactly as described. But it has not gone according to plan...

Jesus then went on to explain how only God, the Father, knows when the exact day and hour will initiate Judgement Day and establish the Kingdom of God (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32). This is quite interesting, because it is an explicit differentiation between God the Father and Jesus. Jesus does not know something that God does know. That would seem impossible if Jesus was also God, so this verse (among others) has been used by those sects which claim that Jesus was not divine, or that Jesus was a creation of God instead of being part of God.

From there, the three accounts diverge a little in content, but focus on the same overall message: be vigilantly watchful for Jesus' return. Mark 13:33 puts it as:
"Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come." NIV
Now if you subscribe to any of the modern mainstream Christian teachings, this is a really dissonant verse. Modern Christianity harps on having a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who is abounding with forgiveness and love. But if that is the case, why would you need to be "on guard" for when He shows up? What real close, personal friendship do you have with anyone in which you have to be on guard for when they show up, other than perhaps a sparring partner? The call for being on guard is because this is not a message of reconciliation and love, but rather a message of potential punishment and fear.

Mark 13:34-37 continues on with a parable about a master who left a servant in charge of his house, and how that master had better not find the servant sleeping, implicitly due to the punishment to be rendered. And with the parable portraying a master who goes away, how can you have a personal relationship with someone who is gone? (Mind you, this is before Facebook and cell phones, or even the post office.) Jesus never intended to have a close, personal relationship with anyone in this life, which is the reason for this warning about drifting from the faith. Matthew 24:42-51 has an "enhanced" version of this same parable, where the master will take such a deviant servant and "cut him to pieces."

Matthew 24:37-41 plays expands this theme of judgement, likening Jesus' return with the Flood of Noah. Just like the Flood, Judgement Day would come unexpectedly (despite all of the signs previously noted).

Luke 17:26-27 draws that same Flood comparison, but Luke 17:28-31 goes further in judgement references by citing the destruction of Sodom as a similar, unexpected, disastrous event. Luke 17:32-35 goes further still, reminding Jesus' followers that if they do not forsake this life, they will lose the eternal one. Punishment will come with Jesus, so be ready, or else...

And for anyone who still thinks that I err, and that this whole series has nothing to do with the Second Coming, the parallel of Luke 21:34-36 should dispel that notion:
"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." NIV
So what have we discovered in this series?

The timing is explicit: The fruition of these signs would occur in close proximity to the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, though the precise day was unknown.

The scope is defined: These signs would ultimately herald in Jesus' Second Coming, Judgement Day, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

The failure is obvious: The Siege of Jerusalem did happen, but it did not usher in Judgement Day, Jesus' return, or the Kingdom of God. And that siege certainly was not the worst event in human history.

The way that Jesus ends this prophesy is significant. It is not with flowery words about how He will be looking forward to rejoining the love of His faithful followers, and bemoaning the losses of those who just would not yield to the light. It is a message of fear. It is a warning that they (Jesus' own followers) had better keep their act together, or else they would be severely punished. There is no hint of God's grace here at all.

It is funny that you do not commonly hear that message from the pulpit.


  1. "Modern Christianity harps on having a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who is abounding with forgiveness and love. But if that is the case, why would you need to be "on guard" for when He shows up? "

    That really jumped out at me. This is something I never really thought about when I was a Christian, but we did hear that we need to be on guard for the return of Jesus. I think we always interpreted it as a warning from straying. If we are good Christians and keep up our personal relationship with Jesus, then there is no problem. But we need to be on guard to not stray or we will have some trouble if Jesus comes back.

    I think you are really getting at a larger point though, that it doesn't make a lot of sense for the God of forgiveness and love to be punishing people at all.

  2. Yeah, that is an aspect of where I was headed. You allegedly need Jesus' forgiveness because you made mistakes, but being Christian does not stop you from making mistakes. So it should be expected that you make some more mistakes. Will you then be punished for those mistakes? Did not Jesus' forgiveness cover all of your future mistakes too?

    On the relationship side, if I am having a close, personal relationship with someone who is away, why would I have reason to be on guard when they return?

  3. I think that's exactly the point, if you have the relationship you don't need to worry. I always interpreted the "be on guard" as a warning not to destroy the relationship. Don't stray from the faith. Keep your unbelief in check, etc. I honestly couldn't tell you if that is the message that was being sent out, or if it is just how it was received by me. I was "struggling with unbelief" since I was pretty little.

  4. I think I understood that, Hausdorff, but I think I did a lousy job explaining myself. ;-) Fatigue sucks.

    There are different kinds of backsliding. One is struggling with unbelief, as you mention. The other is simply being sinful even though you believe; slipping into old habits, following new temptations, etc. As I understand what Jesus is allegedly saying here, it is more the latter case then the former. I could be wrong about that, but that is the impression I get from parts like Luke 21:34 where it says "drunkenness and the anxieties of life" when listing what would bad to be tangled up in when Jesus came back.

    If it is a relationship with Jesus, like a relationship you and I may have, I could be very sinful and yet keep on a relationship with you... provided my sins do not involve robbing you blind or punching your mother, obviously. ;-) If I am still having a relationship with Jesus despite my sinfulness, then what would I need to be on guard for? That is a better representation of what I am referring to here.

    Is that any clearer, or do you think I am a bit off base here?

  5. That makes a lot of sense, and I think you are right. :)

  6. TWF:

    I'm sure your aware of the basic defense of the "this" generation being "this generation of which I speak" (i.e. those who will experience these things in a similar way and referring back to people mentioned in Luke 21:25-28 and before, and those experiencing great earthquakes and such). It would be similar to how he speaks of "these things", that is to say "these things of which I speak".

    May all be well with you,
    Felix Zamora

  7. Hi Felix,

    I apologize, maybe it's fatigue, but I am not certain of the meaning of the defense you are presenting here. Would you mind expanding it and being a little more explicit?