Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Matthew 24, First Thought Commentary: Part 5

36"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
_Matthew 24:36-44
This passages continues from Jesus' previous discussion about God's judgment of the powers that be (see part 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this series). Jesus has been talking in apocalyptic imagery usually in reference to the return of Yahweh to the temple for judgement. But here Jesus talks of the 'coming (Parousia, a word quite mysteriously absent from this chapter up until v. 37) of the Son of Man' which he apparently sees as himself. Jesus sees Yahweh's return as so caught up in his own mission that he can talk of one in terms of the other.

Jesus has given all these "signs," has discussed all of these things that will and/or are happening, including the false proclamation of would-be messiahs, the Jewish revolt against the Romans, and the fall of the Jewish Temple, and yet from all of this he can still say, "No one knows about that day or hour." The question we might be tempted to ask then is this: if, in the end, Jesus doesn't know when it's all going down then why should we have listened to everything he has just said? Couldn't he have just said, "I don't know?" Since the "when" was the question he was presented with in the first place (see v. 3)?

Well possibly what Jesus has been getting at this whole time is that the "when" just isn't what's important. Basically what Jesus has said up to this point, in response to the "when" question, is a lot of "how" and not very much "when." His focus has been on how they should respond to some events as they lay on the horizon--with hope and without being deceived. they asked when and Jesus, until now says, "well lots f folks will tell you this or that is how it will end but don't believe them." When he finally gets to the "when" question his quick response is "nobody knows" which suggests to me that that's just not important. Why do we think it's so important to calculate the end and to figure out the "when" when Jesus himself didn't know and didn't even seem to be trying to figure out when? If Jesus doesn't know then it must not be worth knowing. I think it's funny that we generally equate readiness with calculation. Many of the dispensationalists of our time justify their calculating and "interpreting" with the argument that they are trying to promote a readiness for Jesus coming. But in the passages following, readiness seems to be something quite different.

He turns to an illustration, as Jesus tends to do. "Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left." Now he frames the illustration by using the context of a well known story, namely the story of Noah. Noah was ready and everyone else were not ready, consequently Noah was left as he boarded the ark and everyone else were "taken" by the flood. Jesus relates his own coming with this by saying that some will be ready and therefore left and others will be unready and therefore taken. The implication here is that one can be ready, they can prepare, for the parousia not through calculation and figuring out when it will happen but by leading a life that knows there's an ark to board, that knows the storm is coming, that knows that rescue is on the way. Jesus illustrates for the disciples that they are asking the wrong question. What they should be asking is how to live a life which is always ready for the parousia. This is a question to which we will return.

Interestingly enough, dispensationalists often look at this passage as though it is teaching about "the rapture" in which the people of God will be "taken" and everyone else will be "left behind," hence the title of the wildly popular Tim LaHaye series. Ironically, it's not the ones who are left behind who are in the wrong but it is those who are taken as in the days of the flood. It's vague as to where they are taken but it is clear that what they are being taken with (since "taken with" is actually the verb being used) is something as destructive as the flood itself which would have reversed creation itself had God not interrupted (reminiscent of verse 22).

In the illustration the distinctions are not made between people in a way that is readily visible. They are in fact doing the exact same work while one is ready and the other is not ready. Readiness will apparently not keep you from working, it will not change one's attitude toward their work as though it's not something worth doing because the end is near. People should go about the work that needs doing but at the same time be ready by leading a life of readiness. Perhaps Martin Luther's attitude is one which we should heed to, "if I knew the world were going to end tomorrow I would plant a tree" (as quoted by Barbara Rossing on page 1 of The Rapture Exposed). We should not, with knowledge of the immanence of the coming, stop what we're doing, stock up our food, and run for the hills. We should, however be found working in the fields, grinding with a hand mill. Notice that both of these images are about producing and preparing food, a very basic need and a very basic issue within (not out side of, where many conservative evangelicals place their soteriology) history. There may not be much to this food reference besides that the work being done is good work but I thought it worth noting.

because the Son will come when we do not expect it, we should stop asking "when" and start asking "how." How do we live a ready life? How do we find ourselves living a life full of the knowledge that there is an ark to board, there is rescue at hand, so that when the time come to choose we will not be taken with the floods of judgement? The answer to this question has something to do with not being complicit with those powers which Christ is coming to judge but we shall see in more detail what this looks like as we close the chapter in the next and final post in this series.

Matthew 24:1-8

Matthew 24:9-14

Matthew 24: 15-28

Matthew 24:29-35

Matthew 24:36-44

Matthew 24:45-51

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