In this study of the coming of the Lord, we will specifically be looking at passages that mention the future coming of Jesus in some way. In this particular post, we will be looking at these sayings in Matthew’s account of the life and teachings of Jesus. We will also not be looking at any parables just to keep things simple (like the ones found in Matthew 13 or 25). That being said, if you think there was a passage that I absolutely should have covered, let me know and I can write a follow up blog on it!
Again, I’ll only post these once a week so I stay balanced. Being one of my favorite subjects, I can binge study the subject if I’m not careful.
Also, these articles will be as short as possible. Use them as launching pads for your own studies so that you can reach your own conclusions. I’d be glad to answer questions you have about these passages, but I don’t want to dominate the conversation so to speak.
Finally, remember the test of the prophet we discussed in the first article: if a prophet says something and what he says doesn’t come true, then there is no need to listen to that prophet. In other words, this series of articles is attempting to take what Jesus said about the timing of His coming seriously. How do we deal with the many occasions that Jesus and His disciples talk about His coming as if it was imminent?
Passages under consideration: Matthew 10:23; Matthew 16:27-28; Matthew 24:3, 29-34; Matthew 25:31; Matthew 26:64
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.Matthew 10:23 (NRSV)
Speaker: Jesus (Matthew 10:5)
Audience: The twelve disciples (Matthew 10:5)
Context: Jesus giving them their mission (Matthew 10:5-8)
Jesus told His disciples they were being sent into the midst of wolves (Matthew 10:16). They would be brought before councils, flogged in their synagogues, and dragged before governors and kings (Matthew 10:16-18). When one town would persecute them, they were to flee to the next town after shaking the dust from their feet (Matthew 10:14, 23). They would not finish fleeing from town to town before Jesus would come again. As Ulrich Luz in the Hermeneia commentary series points out, this quotation of Jesus calls into question the validity of this passage as being an authentic quotation of the Messiah. If it is a legitimate quotation of Jesus, then the dilemma is greater: was Jesus wrong when He said He would come within the lifetime of His disciples?
If we assume that Jesus was talking about an earth-burning, time-ending event in Matthew 10:23, then He was obviously wrong since nothing like that occurred within His disciples’ lifetimes. But if we assume that Jesus, being the Son of God, was correct in His prediction, then our trouble with this passage doesn’t come from any short-comings of Jesus but of ourselves. Perhaps by reading into this text our own expectations, we make Jesus’s fairly plain statement here way more difficult than we need to.
If, however, we accept it as legitimate, then we simply need to look in Scripture for another way to understand what Jesus meant by His “coming,” something we will do in a few sections below.
For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.Matthew 16:27–28
Speaker: Jesus (Matthew 16:24)
Audience: His disciples (Matthew 16:24)
Context: Jesus warns His disciples about judgement after telling them the cost of discipleship (Matthew 16:24-26).
One key expression here is “in the glory of his Father.” Not only does this set the stage for future passages like Matthew 25:31, but it also gives us some hints as to how Jesus would come again. For example, the Father “came” in judgement on Egypt. His glory, in that instance, was signified by a cloud: “An oracle concerning Egypt. See, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them” (Isaiah 19:1). Like the Father, Jesus’s glory is often connected to clouds, but, like the Father, one should not automatically assume that the Son would literally ride on a cloud.
Then, Matthew follows up this comment with a very stunning announcement: some of His disciples would be alive at His coming. This agrees with what was stated earlier in Matthew 10:23. Ulrich Luz offers some insightful comments here:
The view of the judgment of the Son of Man ends with a solemn word of comfort. The comfort consists in the announcement that the coming of the Son of Man is so imminent that “some of the ones standing here” will still experience it…An even greater problem is that the coming of the Son of Man is temporally determined as in 10:23 and 24:34. He is coming while “some” of the first generation are still alive.Luz, Ulrich. Matthew: A Commentary. Ed. Helmut Koester. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001. Print. Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. (Emphasis mine – bold)
Luz, while saying that this was a “problem,” correctly interprets the force of Jesus’s words here. Again, we must call to our attention the test of a prophet from Deuteronomy 18: if Jesus was wrong about this, then why should we view Him as anything more than a good moral teacher? The other option, of course, is to say that this quotation is not authentic and that we shouldn’t pay attention to Matthew. I’m not wiling to go there myself, and I hope you aren’t either, but many unfortunately have.
For me, this passage is no problem at all, but it actually vindicates Jesus as the Son of God and is some of the best proof, in my opinion, for the validity of His claim to be the Messiah!
Matthew 24:3, 29-34
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”Matthew 24:3
Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.Matthew 24:29–34
Speaker: Jesus (Matthew 24:4)
Audience: The Disciples Who Asked the Question (Matthew 24:3)
Context: Jesus is responding to a question which came from a comment He made about the fall of the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 24:1-2).
There is obviously a lot of ground to cover in Matthew 24, so I apologize in advance for not being able to get to everything; however, I believe our point can be made fairly quickly.
First, this passage is answering the disciples’ question about the fall of the temple and Jerusalem, something they connected to the coming of the Lord.
Second, Jesus doesn’t correct their assumption but endorses it in passages like Matthew 24:15-20 when He talks about the holy place, Judea, and the danger of these events possibly happening on Sabbath. These, and parallel passages from Luke, point to the fall of Jerusalem which took place in AD70 at the climax of the Jewish-Roman war.
Finally, like in Matthew 10 and Matthew 16, Jesus said this would happen within His generation.
Some confusion might come about because of the language Jesus used to describe His coming: the sun would turn to darkness, the moon wouldn’t give its light, and the stars would fall from heaven. Of course, if these things were meant literally, then that obviously didn’t happen in the first century. There is, however, another option. Kind of like the example from Isaiah 19 about the clouds, the prophets do use this language to talk about the fall of nations.
Joseph, for example, used the symbols of the sun, moon, and stars to talk about the hierarchy in his family. Isaiah also used this “decreation” language when prophesying about the fall of Babylon (Isaiah 13:9-13). Jesus’s audience, who would have been familiar with these passages, would not have been expecting the cosmos to collapse at the fall of the temple, so neither should we read into this passage our twenty-first century understandings of the universe.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.Matthew 25:31
I’m not including a “Quick Facts” section here since it is technically the same context as the section above covering a few of the many passages in Matthew 24.
Personally, I don’t see how one could read Matthew 25:31 and think of a different coming than what was found in Matthew 16:27-28 or Matthew 24:30 since both passages talk about Jesus coming in glory with the angels. The major argument to divide these passages comes from what I see to be a misunderstanding of Matthew 24:36: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36).
The argument goes, “Since Jesus knew that the fall of Jerusalem would be within that generation, Matthew 24:36 and following must be talking about a different “signless” coming.”
Here’s two responses: (1) Just because someone knows the general time does not mean they know the specific time. For example, the doctor might know that the baby is coming in nine months, but that does not mean that he can know the specific day and hour of the child’s arrival in most circumstances. So just because Jesus knew the general time (this generation) does not mean he knew the specific time (the day and hour). (2) Jesus already hinted that He did not know the specific time of the fall of Jerusalem in verse 20 when He told them to pray that they wouldn’t have to leave Jerusalem on the Sabbath or in the winter. Apparently, He did not know the day, hour, or even the season that it would happen.
On the basis above, I see no reason to separate Matthew 24:1-34 from the following chapter and a half.
Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”Matthew 26:64
Audience: The Council of Priests and Leaders of Jerusalem (Matthew 26:59)
Context: Jesus is on trial, and the high priest commanded Jesus to say whether or not He was the Messiah (Matthew 26:63).
Jesus has already said three times that some of His disciples would be alive to see the coming of the Lord. In this text, Jesus appears to imply that even some of His enemies would alive to see His coming.
While there are many texts one could appeal to in Matthew to talk about the coming of the Lord, these stand out to me because they specifically mention His coming. In them we find statements of imminence. That is, Jesus appears to say in almost all of these passages that his disciples and enemies could expect Him to come again within that generation. Now, we can say that Jesus was wrong, that Matthew didn’t accurately report what Jesus said, or we can accept what Jesus said and force ourselves to rethink the ways we view the coming of the Lord that don’t line up with the time restraints Jesus Himself places upon our interpretations of His sayings.
In other words, if our understanding of the nature of the coming of the Lord appears to cause Jesus to be a false prophet in that His predictions concerning the timing of His coming didn’t come true, then we should forfeit our inferior understanding of the nature of His coming. Those who come from a Church of Christ background should be familiar with this argument when dealing with the nature of the kingdom in Matthew 3:3 and Mark 9:1. We ask the question, “Does ‘at hand’ mean ‘at hand.'” Well, I believe it does, and I am only trying to be consistent with that idea. Let me know what you think about Matthew. We still have a lot of New Testament to cover.
I know some of you want more details, so here they are. This is intended for the more advanced reader. Keep your Bible handy, make use of the pause button, and take lots of notes. In this bonus audio I will be talking about several of the judgement passages in Matthew and how I see those being fulfilled. Hope you enjoy!