Monday, November 30, 2009

Chattel Slavery (3) - Equal under the Law

The references to servants in Exodus 21 are really important, because they give servants the same protection as other citizens. This is quite unique, as in most other jurisdictions, servants were not protected by the law. The point of Exodus 21:20- 21 is that a master who kills his servant must receive the same punishment as he would if he had killed any other person, as specified in Exodus 21:12-13. Servants were not excluded from the law.

If the servant gets up after a couple of days, the master does not receive the penalty for murder, because the servant will receive financial restitution to compensate him for his injuries. The master must pay silver to the servant as restitution, so he should not receive any physical punishment.

A clearer expression of Exodus 21:20-21 would be the following.

If a man beats his male or female servant with a rod and the servant dies as a direct result, he should receive the penalty for murder, but he if the slave gets up after a day or two, he must not be punished for murder, but the slave should receive financial compensation from him.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chattel Slavery (2) - Property

The problem with most translations of Exodus 21:20-21 is the last clause: “the slave is his property”. A literal rendering of the Hebrew text is,

He his silver
It is not clear who the “he” refers to. It could be the master and it could be the servant. The same applies to the possessive pronoun “his”.

The Hebrew word used for silver is “keseph”. It is sometime used for coins, but can also refer to silver metal. The same word is used in later in the same chapter to describe the penalty for a man who leaves a dangerous pit open.
And if a man opens a pit, or if a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls in it, the owner of the pit shall make it good; he shall give money to their owner, but the dead animal shall be his (Ex 21:33-34).
The word translated money is “keseph”. In this example, it refers to the money paid to make restitution for harm done to another person. It follows that in Exodus 21:20- 21, the word “keseph” also refers to restitution and not to chattel slavery. The passage is just a further amplification of the law of financial restitution that is described in Exodus 22.

The man does not need any other punishment, because he must make restitution for the damage he has done.

A better translation of the last clause would be,
He must receive some of his silver.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chattel Slavery (1)

A seriously misunderstood passage is Exodus 21:20-21.

If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.
The passage is often cited as proof that the Bible supported chattel slavery. This is not true, but this idea has been encouraged by bad translation.

The first problem is with the word “slave”. This is a serious mistranslation of the Hebrew. The word translated male slave is “Ebed”. The word translated female slave is “Amah”. The NIV translates these words in different ways in different parts of Exodus 21; as slave in verses 20 and 32, and as servant in verses 26 and 27. There is no reason for the difference, and servant is a better translation.

They boy Samuel called himself the Ebed of God. Gehazzi was the Ebed of Elijah. The suffering servant of Isaiah was an “ebed”. An Ebed might be bonded to his master for a time, because he has fallen into debt, but he would not be a slave in the modern sense of the word. The NIV is quite mischievous in the way it sometimes uses the word slave for this word. The NKJV is more consistent and always uses the word servant. The Israelites were not allowed to enslave their countrymen (Lev 25:39).

The passage refers to servants, not slaves.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Better Economic System (5) - Wealth

Many Christians get upset about disparity in wealth in a modern economy. The blame the economic system.

I have never met a Christian who is upset about their own wealth. I have never met a Christian who says that their income is too large.

If you are upset about your own wealth, the problem is easy to solve. Just give some of it away to someone who is poorer than you. If your income is greater than you need, give it away. Too much wealth is a problem that is easy to solve. Giving is the solution.

Christians who are upset about the unequal distribution of wealth are not upset about their own wealth. They are actually upset about the wealth of other people. They can see people that they think have too much wealth. This is a harder problem to solve. There are only two solutions:

  1. Persuade the wealthy person to freely give some of their wealth away.

  2. Force the wealthy person to hand over their wealth, so it can be given to those with greater need.

The first solution is not very popular, because it will not have much impact.

The simplest way to implement the second solution would be to get a gun, point in the back of too-wealthy people and force them to hand over some of their wealth, but that does not sound very nice. People who want a better economic system are really looking for a way to forcibly take wealth form the people that they think have to much, but without getting their hands dirty. Unfortunately, force is force, whether it comes out of the barrel of a gun, or a larger mob.

The New Testament model for dealing with surplus wealth is generosity and sharing. Forced giving is never part of the solution. The transformation of the gospel and the spirit makes the first option possible. The Spirit will lead some wealthy people into giving to people with insufficient means to prosper. This is the best way to eliminate the problem of inequality that everyone hates.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Better Economic System (4) - America

The American economy is not capitalism.

The American economy is made up of many of many people. Some are good, but many are influenced by a culture that enshrines selfishness, dishonesty, greed and pride.

America is governed by two parties that are almost the same. The real power rests with a coalition of political leaders, big business and military manufacturers. These groups look after their own interests. The largest political donations come from business leaders. In return for this support, the political leaders look after big business and military equipment manufacturers.

American laws protects big business and gives huge powers to large corporations. Limited liability laws foster the growth of big business. Banks are given monopoly powers that enable them to make enormous profits. American values justify the payment of huge bonuses to bankers.

America does not need a new economic system. It needs a new culture renewed by the influence of the Spirit of God. It needs Gods laws. The gospel and the law of God would transform the American economy. The huge businesses that have done so much harm would quickly wither away.

Strangely enough, America does need a new political system. The American political system maintains a fa├žade of liberty, but destroys freedom and distorts the economy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Better Economic System (3) - Communist Russia

The Communist Russian economy was not really a different system. It was really just a very different human morality and a different set of laws.

These laws prevented people from owning property. The political committee in a village could confiscate land and form it into a collective farm.
Laws prevented people from buying and selling freely, because the prices of most goods and services were set by political authorities.

The revolution crushed human values and turn the Russian people into selfish lazy people.

The Russian economy did not need a new system. It needs the gospel and the spirit to change human values. It needs God’s law to restrain greed and selfishness. If those two things were accepted, good business would emerge and evil practices would wither away.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Better Economic System (2) - Law

An economy is shaped by two things: human nature and law.

Law constrains human nature by putting boundaries on what sin and evil can do, but there are limits to what law can do. The only real solution to sin is the cross and the renewal of the spirit.

The best law is God’s law. Under God’s law people are free to buy and sell when they choose, which allows markets to emerge. The law prevents theft, which prevents greedy and selfish people from expropriating things that belong to other (Ex 20:15).

The law recognise land as productive an asset and prevents people from losing their land unjustly (Lev 25:14-17). It recognises the value of working livestock as productive capital that needed greater protection (Ex 22:1). Productive tools and equipment receive extra protection (Deut 14:6).

The laws on weights and measures prevent manipulation and inflation of the currency (Deut 14:13-16).

These laws are all that is needed for an economy function. We do not need an economic system. God’s law is all we need. It allows people to improve their situation by buying and sell. It allows them to accumulate capital, so they can be more productive. Freedom to trade and freedom to accumulate capital is all that is needed for an economy to function.

God’s law does not guarantee that a perfect, fair and abundant economy emerge. Greed, selfishness, dishonesty, pride and foolishness all conspire against that happening. The law explains this clearly (Deut 28:15-68).

When Christians say that they do not like this or that economic system, they are really saying that they do no like God’s decision to make humans free. They are also saying that they do not like God’s law. They assume that we can install some mysterious system that will be better than what God has given us.

What many Christians seem to want is for the state to come in and impose a perfect state of peace, harmony and prosperity. As long as people are free to choose between good and evil, this is impossible. Any solution that state imposes just becomes another vehicle for sin and evil.

God’s law is the best restraint on sin and evil. The gospel and the Spirit are the only cure for sin and evil. Once they have done their work, Christians can create prosperity and plenty by generosity and sharing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Better Economic System (1)

Many people believe that the world needs a better economic system. Some Christians say that capitalism is a bad system. Others say that capitalism is deficient, but is the best system that exists.

This sort of thinking is confused. An economic system is not something that can be pulled off a shelf and imposed on society. The idea that an economic system can be replaced by another, in the same way that problems with the way an operating system like Microsoft Vista can be resolved by purchasing Windows 7 and installing it over the top is misleading.

An economy is not a machine or computer, but is created by people interacting together. The shape of the economy is determined by the way that people function and interact with each other. An economy is shaped by two things: human nature and law.

Most of what people do not like about an economy is the result of human nature. The fall of man means that greed, selfishness, violence, dishonesty, pride, foolishness have become natural. The recent economic crisis has revealed all these aspects of human nature.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Prophetic Distractions (6) - Jesus is Coming Soon

Most Christians believe that Jesus is coming soon.

The strange thing is that Christians in every age have believed that they were living near the end of the world. For example, Martin Luther thought that he was living near the end of the world. He assumed that Jesus would return during his life time. He was not alone in this view. It has been common since the days of the early church.

Looking at the whole of history, most people who have believed that Jesus was coming soon were wrong. That suggests that we should be careful assuming that Jesus is returning soon. It is easy to be wrong about this.

A belief that Jesus will return during the lifetime of my generation is quite arrogant. It assumes that I belong to a pivotal generation in the purposes of God. I doubt that this is true for me. Looking at the western church, I cannot see how it can be the peak of God’s work on earth.

Humans can only see their own time in history clearly. Even previous the generation seem quite dim. Earlier generations fade into irrelevance. Our limited perspective means that we get deceived about our own importance. In contrast, God sees all generation from the same perspective. I suspect that from his perspective, we are just not that important.

I believe that Jesus’ return is thousands of years away. I will be ready, if I am proved wrong, but I do not believe that Jesus is coming soon. When I study the scriptures, I see thousands of prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled. I cannot see how they can be fulfilled in one generation. One prophecy is that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jesus. If such a glorious season were to last only a few years, it would not really be glorious. I can imagine this glorious time lasting for thousands of years.

Does it matter? Yes it does. When Christians believe Jesus is coming soon, they fall into short-term thinking. Many in my generation gave up their university studies, because they believed that Jesus would return before they graduated. Short-term thinking prevents people from investing in activities that will only bring benefits in future generations. This lack of long term commitment has crippled the church and held back the Kingdom of God.

Cultures that lose hope for the future collapse inwards and die. That is what seems to be happening to the Western church, as belief in the imminent return of Jesus has become pervasive.

Of course, there is a sense in which all those who died believing that Jesus would come soon were correct. Jesus came for them on the day that they died. Given that death was never far away throughout their lives, it was true that Jesus was coming for them soon.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Prophetic Distractions (6) - The Big Gap

Looking for a gap in Daniel 9:24-27 is another prophetic distraction. This gap is used to twist Daniel's vision to justify the belief that there will be a seven year tribulation, just prior to Christ’s second coming. Those with this view see the passage as a description of the activities of the anti-christ. Careful study will show that it is really a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem.

The seventy "sevens" are seventy weeks of years. The expression describes a period lasting 490 years (70x7). The starting point is given in verse 25. Daniel is told that the seventy "sevens" will begin "from the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem". This decree was issued by Artaxerxes King of Persia in the time of Nehemiah (Neh 2:1-9), so it would have been issued in about 445 B.C.

Six events are decreed for the seventy "sevens". They were all fulfilled through the ministry of Jesus. It is generally believed that Jesus was crucified soon after A.D. 30, so his ministry falls at the end of the seventy "sevens". The six events decreed are:

  1. "to finish the transgression". The Jews filled up their cup of iniquity by condemning Jesus to death. The transgressions of the nation were filled up.

  2. "to put an end to sin". Jesus was the lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

  3. "to atone for wickedness". Jesus’ death on the cross was an atonement for wickedness.

  4. "to bring in everlasting righteousness". Christ is our righteousness (1 Cor 1:30), so his people have an eternal righteousness in him.

  5. "to seal up vision and prophecy". With the coming of Jesus the vision and prophecy of the Old Testament period was brought to completion. It was sealed up in Jesus.

  6. "to annoint the most holy". The word Messiah means "annointed one", and Jesus was the Messiah who fulfilled this part of the vision.

The angel was promising Daniel that the Messiah would come within 500 years of the decree to restore Jerusalem. The birth and ministry of Jesus fulfilled the promise.

A number of events are specified for the last "seven" (Dan 9:26,27). A number of commentators say that a seven year tribulation just before the second coming is being described. To support this view, they put in a gap between sixty-ninth and the seventieth "week", which coincides with the church age. This allows them to place the events of the last week thousands of years after the events of the earlier "weeks". There is no justification for this. Daniel makes no mention of a gap, and there is no precedent for one in any other part of the Bible. An examination of the events described shows that they all occurred within about 500 years of the decree for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. This is what we would expect from the statement that seventy "sevens" were decreed.

Four events are decreed for the last "seven" (vv.26,27)
  1. "The Annointed one will be cut off and will have nothing". This is a description of the death of Jesus. His life was "cut off". At his death he was deserted by all his disciples, and left with nothing.

  2. "The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: war will continue to the end and desolations have been decreed". This very vividly describes the destruction of Jerusalem. The people of the ruler was the Roman army. They destroyed the city and the temple. There was war to the end, which came like a flood of terrible desolation.

  3. "He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven’, but in the middle of that ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering". The person referred to here is not the coming ruler, who would destroy the city, but the Messiah mentioned in verse 26. Jesus established a covenant which has brought salvation to great numbers of people. During the last "seven" which covered his whole life, from birth to ascension, Jesus confirmed a covenant which would last for ever. The effect of the new covenant is to put an end to sacrifices and offerings. The perfect sacrifice of Jesus makes them unnecessary.

  4. "and one who causes desolation will come on the wings of abominations until the end that is decreed is poured out on the desolate". This is a more literal translation than is usually given. Misleading translations have caused a lot of misunderstanding about this verse. The subject of this verse, the one who makes desolate, is not the one who made the covenant, but the Roman ruler, who would destroy Jerusalem. His coming was an abomination for the Jewish people. The desolation is not poured out on a person, but on those who are desolate. The Jews were a desolate people once they had rejected the Messiah. Jesus was referring to this when he told them that their house would be left desolate (Matt 23:38).

The vision given to Daniel is a description of the events surrounding the life of Jesus. He was told of the salvation that Jesus would bring. And although he may not have understood it, he was also told that his people would reject the Messiah and be destroyed. If the Jews had understood this passage, they would have known the time when the Messiah would come and what would happen to them. Perhaps Simeon and Anna did understand this passage and realise that they lived in the time when the seventy sevens would be complete.

The vision is not a description of the manoeuvrings of the anti-christ or a tribulation that is yet to come. It is a description of the ministry of Jesus, his rejection by the Jews, and their consequent destruction.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Prophetic Distractions (5) - This Generation

Another prophetic distraction has been the word "generation" in Matthew 24:35.

I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
The confusion about this statement is strange, because Jesus words are precise and clear. The events Jesus described in the previous verses were close and would take place with in the lifetimes of most of his listeners.

I have watched with amusement as the length of a generation has expanded from 25 years to 40 years, and now to 51 years, and the starting point shifted from 1948 to 1967. I can imagine that Christians will soon be quoting Psalm 90:10 to prove that a generation is 70 or 80 years, or perhaps they will choose another "prophetic marker" to extend the time frame into the future.

I cannot understand why Christians refuse accept the straightforward meaning of Jesus's words. Going through verbal gymnastics to squeeze out a different meaning is a distraction.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Prophetic Distractions (4) - Prophetic Markers

Many Christians see the emergence of Israel is a marker for biblical prophecy.

The reality is that it was just one event that had to happen. At some point God will open the eyes of the Jews and they will acknowledge Jesus as saviour and Lord. This event, often referred to as the Calling of the Jews, is the next epochal event in history. Before it can happen, at least some of the Jews had to return to the land of Palestine.

However the process by which this happened was probably not God’s perfect plan. There are many prophecies about this event in the Old Testament, but most speak of people returning in faith and in peace and blessing. These have not been fulfilled yet. We have not yet seen the real miracle that God promised.

Ezekiel 38:8 seems to speak of God’s second best.

In the latter years you will come into the land that is restored by the sword, whose inhabitants have been gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel which had been a continual waste.
This is not a return in peace and blessing, but a return “by the sword”. The birth of the nation was accomplished by secular men and women by political and military power. It was the work of a well organised nationalism rather than an act of God. The expansion of Israel has been accomplished by political alliances and military power. God allowed this to happen, because he can use all things for good, but that does not mean that this was his perfect plan.

The emergency of Israel had to happen so that God’s greater purposes can be achieved, but we cannot be sure that the timing of these events happened exactly according to his plan. They may have happened before God intended. Therefore, it is risky to turn the years 1948 or 1967 into markers for prophetic history.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prophetic Distractions (3) - Israel Determines History

In recent years a strange doctrine has emerged. A belief has emerged that what happens in the church is determined by what happens in the nation of Israel. Some Bible teachers urge Christians to watch what is happening in Israel to understand what is happening in the church. This is a false teaching.

Firstly, what happens in the church is determined by the Holy Spirit. He is not constrained by political or national leaders in any nation. The only thing that constrains his work is the unwillingness of Christians to go with him. We can hold back his activity by refusing to trust and obey him.

Secondly, the leaders of the nation of Israel are not Christians. They have refused to acknowledge that Jesus is their messiah. They do not walk in the Spirit, so they do not hear his voice. Many are totally secular. They do not acknowledge God. They do not honour his law. The leaders of Israel continue to disobey the law, so they are living outside the blessing of the covenant. A nation in this state cannot be the determiner of the Holy Spirit’s work on earth.

There truth is the reverse. What happens on earth is largely determined by the church. When the church is weak and lost, the world goes down hill. When the church is in touch with the Holy Spirit and walks in his power, the world is changed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Prophetic Distractions (2) - Bible Codes

The Bible codes is another prophetic distraction. It is a series of messages supposedly contained within the Bible text, that when decoded into words and phrases demonstrate demonstrating foreknowledge and prophecy. The primary method for extracting messages is the Equidistant Letter Sequence. A starting point (in principle, any letter) and a skip number are chosen. Beginning at the starting point, letters are selected form the text at equal spacing, according to skip number. For example, if the skip number is ten, then every tenth number is taken. Most people using this method work with the Hebrew text of the Torah.

This method has a couple of problems.

  1. The most serious problem is that we do not have a completely accurate version of the Hebrew Bible. Even the Masoretic text, which is generally considered to be the most reliable, is fully of minor errors. In places words are missing, and in other places words appear to have been added. This is the natural consequence of copying by hand over many centuries. This does not matter for understanding the meaning, as most of these glosses do not affect the meaning at all. However, it becomes a serious problem for counting sequences of characters, as just one character missing, will change the rest of the sequence.

  2. If we had the original Hebrew text, the equidistant letter sequence would give a totally different set of words and phrases. The fact that we do not have the original text, means that even if God had put words into the original Hebrew Text, we cannot get at them, because we do not have that text.

  3. There are a huge number of starting characters and a huge number of skip numbers that can be chosen. What comes out of the process will determined by the original choices. I am suspicious of any method that relies on trawling many options to get something meaningful. You can only find what you already know.

  4. I came across an article in a statistical journal that used the equidistant letter sequence method in Tolstoy’ War and Peace. The authors found a whole lot of predictive words and phrases. War and Peace is a wonderful novel, but I do no believe that Tolstoy was so inspired that God used him to hide a prophetic message.

The Bible Code is a bit of a distraction. Even if Hitler’s name is hidden somewhere in the Hebrew Torah, it does not help me to be a better Christian. I would prefer ten clear words spoken by the Holy Spirit to a thousand words from a Bible code.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Prophetic Distractions (1) - Hebrew Calendar

A prophetic distraction that has emerged among Christians in recent years is to take the Hebrew calendar and look at the meaning of the number for a year and use that to explain what God is going to do. I have several problems with this practice.

  1. The Holy Spirit inspired the scriptures. He has not inspired a calendar.

  2. There is no guarantee that the Hebrew calendar has numbered the number of years since Adam’s birth correctly. Biblical scholars have considerable disagreement about how a Biblical chronology should be calculated, so the number of years that elapsed during certain parts of history uncertain. Estimates of the year of Adam’s birth by serious biblical scholars vary by a couple of hundred years. Jewish scholars disagree about the date of the first temple and the exile. All this means that we cannot be absolutely certain that the year we have currently started is actually 5770 years from the birth of Adam. If several years were missed in a couple of places, we might be only in the year 5760 and the connection between current events and the meaning of 5770 breaks down.

  3. Over a long period of history calendars can easily go wrong. According to our Gregorian calendar, which was maintained during the dark ages by careful Christian monks, we are supposedly in the 2009th year since the birth of Jesus. We now know that was probably wrong. Mathew says he was born under during the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 BC. Luke describes dates his birth against first census of the Roman provinces of Syria and Iudaea, which probably took place in 6 BC. If these dates are correct, we are actually living in the year 2014 or thereabouts. That is why I did not get excited about the year 2000. I knew it was not actually the year 2000, but probably about the year 2005.

  4. The truth is that we cannot be absolutely certain about the exact number of years that have elapsed, either since the creation of Adam, or from the birth of Jesus. That does not matter. We can get on and do God’s work, with out having an exact answer to that question. However, it does become a serious problem, if we want to use dates in either the Gregorian or Hebrew calendar to predict the future. The dates are just too uncertain for much significance to be placed on them.

  5. God works out his plans in history. His plans are not determined by planets or by numbers, but come from his heart. The idea that events on earth are shaped by the numbers on a calendar is only one step away from the view of the astrologers that events are on earth are determined by the movements of the planets. It is an insult to the character and power of God.

  6. The Holy Spirit loves to speak. He can speak clearly. He said to Agabus, “A severe famine is going to spread throughout the Roman Empire” (Act 11:28). That is just example of what he is capable of doing. Christian prophets should focus on learning to hear the Holy Spirit speak. Looking for signs in dates and shadows is a pointless distraction.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Polticians and Glory

Why is that when there is any glory going down, the political leaders turn up flies round a cow pat. The fall of the Berlin wall is a case in point.

Gordon Brown the British Prime Minister was clear that political leaders had nothing to do with the fall of the wall. He said,

This wall was torn down not by the demands of political leaders, not by dictat from on high, not by the force of military might but by the greatest force of all - the unbreakable spirit of the men and women of Berlin.
Despite having nothing to do with fall, when the time came to celebrate the fall of the wall, all the political leaders were there in the front row.

Even Hillary Clinton was there basking in the glory of the wall. I am not sure why. The wall was only there because the Russians won the Second World War.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Capitalism and Big Business

Capitalism does not create big business. The State created big business. Large corporations are the result of limited liability laws and other laws that protect big business. Banks that are too big to fail are the result financial regulation.

The American system is not capitalism. It is a system of collusion between political power, business power and military power. (The technical name for this system is fascism, but most Americans are not ready to accept that yet.) This collusion between politicians, big business and the military system has produced the problems that America is now facing. Further regulation will not resolve these problems, but will give more protection to business, which will eventually leader to a new crisis.

Capitalism needs very few laws to function effectively: a law against theft; a law providing for contracts to be enforced; and not much more.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Capitalism and Socialism

Capitalism is system that allows people to pool their resources to be more productive and earn more income. People are free to use that income as they choose. They can choose to give it to others.

Socialism is system of distribution, in which political power is used to compulsorily take the stuff that one group of people have produced and give to others. That does not sound like the gospel to me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Matthew 24 (11) - Clear and Precise

Jesus' message in Matthew 24 is a wonderful example of a clear precise prophecy.

Jesus was very clear about what would happen. The walls of the temple would be smashed and destroyed. This prophecy was fulfilled.

Jesus explained clearly why these events would happen. They would be the consequence of the stuff described in the previous chapter.

When asked when these things would happen, he gave a very precise answer. They would not happen immediately, but they would come in the lifetime of most of the people listening.

Jesus gave good advice about what people should do when the troubles started. They should flee to the mountains. Those who heeded this warning were kept safe (Acts 4:36-37).

Jesus also gave a couple of signs that would show them when the time to action was close (Jerusalem surrounded by an army). This prophecy was fulfilled, too.

Jesus also warned them not to be deceived by wars, famines, earthquakes and false religions. These types of event are ubiquitous in every age, so they are not a sign of anything, except that a people have lost the blessing of God.

When asked about the second coming, Jesus said two things. First he did not know when it would happen. Second, there would be no signs of the second coming. It would occur when life was going on as normal on earth, so most people including Christians will not be expecting it.

Jesus also explained that this lack of signs does not matter. He told several parables, which explain what we should do. “Get on with doing the job you are called to do, so you will be ready when Jesus returns”.

This is all very clear and precise, and gave Jesus listeners everything that they needed to know. Nothing is missing. No unanswered questions. But many Christians cannot accept Jesus’ clear precise message and turn it into something confusing, with multiple fulfilments, so that they can get what they want.

They ignore Jesus’ statement that there will be no signs for the second coming and try to find signs.

They ignore Jesus’ statement that he does not know the day and the hour, and claim that they can know the month and the year and the season.

They ignore Jesus’ explanation that famines, earthquakes and wars are common in every unrighteous age, and turn them into the true signs of the second coming.

No wonder many Christians are confused.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Matthew 24 (10) - This Generation

Matthew 24:35 is one of the most “beaten up” texts in the New Testament. Jesus made an emphatic statement.

I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
The confusion about this statement is strange, because Jesus words are precise and clear. Some things will happen. The things that will happen are described in the phrase “all these things”. In the Greek text this is “tauta panta”. This alludes back to Matthew 23:36 and the judgements described earlier in that chapter.
I tell you the truth, all these things (tauta panta) will come upon this generation.
The phrase is used again in Matthew 23:34.
Even so, when you see all these things (tauta panta), you know that it is near, right at the door.
Jesus description of the the traumatic events are marked off a the beginning and the end by the phrase all these things (tauta panta).

The expression also alludes to the original question asked by the disciples. They asked when the temple stones would be cast down and smashed.
Tell us when will this (tauta) happen?
Matt 24:4-33 describes what will happen in precise detail. Therefore, the passage is a description of the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the collapse of the temple.

Jesus also explained exactly when these things would happen. They would not happen immediately and some other events must happen first. However the events are quite close and would take place with in the lifetimes of most of his listeners. People should be prepared and ready to take the appropriate action to escape.

All this is quite straightforward.

Unfortunately, during the 1960s, Hal Lindsay and his mates decided that the fig tree is a reference to the state of Israel. They decided that a whole series of so-called end-time events would take place within a generation of 1948. This interpretation did not come out of Matthews gospel, but was read into it.

They determined a generation as 25 years and that Jesus would return in about 1973 (1948 +25). This was fine during the 1960s when the western world was unstable and 1973 was a far off. However, 1973 came and went without anything untoward happening. The so-called prophets did not admit they were wrong, but started to scramble for a way out.

I have watched with amusement as the length of a generation has expanded from 25 years to 40 years, and now to 51 years, and the starting point shifted from 1948 to 1967. I can imagine that Christians will soon be quoting Psalm 90:10 to prove that a generation is 70 or 80 years, Will Isaiah 65:20 be used to prove that a generation is 100 years long, in an attempt to avoid admitting that their shonky predictions are wrong.

I cannot understand why Christians refuse accept the straightforward meaning of Jesus's words. These things that he described in Matthew 24:4-34 would happen during the lifetime of people present when he was speaking. I cannot see any point in going through verbal gymnastics to squeeze out a different meaning.

The problem is that Christians want to push the passage into the future. I cannot see why that is so important, as there are plenty of other biblical passages that describe the future for us. We do not need this passage for the future, unless we a stuck a particular version of eschatology. It would be more honest to let that failed doctrine go.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Matthew 24 (9) - Great Tribulation

There is common teaching that a seven year tribulation will follow a secret rapture of the Christians from the earth. The truth is that there is no place in either the Old or New Testament where a seven year tribulation is explicitly mentioned. Although this idea is popular, it has no basis in the scriptures.

Most Christians would be surprised to discover that the "greatest tribulation" has already occurred, when Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed by the Roman armies in AD 70. When prophesying this event, Jesus said,

How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers..... For there will be a great tribulation, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equalled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive (Matt 24:20-22).
The destruction of Jerusalem was an absolutely terrible event. Anyone who does not believe this should read the account by the Jewish historian Josephus. This means that the greatest tribulation which will ever take place on earth has already occurred.

Tribulation is actually a normal part of the Christian life. We are taught in the Bible that we should always expect tribulation.
In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world. John 16:33 (NASB)
We must go through many tribulations to enter the kingdom of God. Acts 14:22
Tribulation will be a normal experience for Christians in every age. When they are true to Christ, they will be a threat to the world, and this will always bring opposition. The Greek word "thlipsis", which is translated as tribulation, affliction or trouble, literally means pressure. Our word tribulation comes from the Latin word for threshing sledge. It often refers to trouble in a spiritual sense, and describes the pressure that all Christians will experience if they live in obedience to Jesus.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Matthew 24 (8) - Son of Man in Heaven

A passage that is often misunderstood is Matthew 24:30.

At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
The first part of this verse is often misunderstood, because it has been incorrectly translated. I have given a literal translation of the Greek text. The verse is often interpreted (and translated) as if it was a description of the second coming. There are a number of reasons why this is not true.
  1. This is one of the events that Jesus said must happen before the generation listening had passed away. That generation did not see the second coming, so Jesus must have been describing something else. Various interpreters have twisted these words to give them a futuristic meaning, but the most obvious meaning is that Jesus was speaking to those who were listening.

  2. Jesus told the high priests that they would see the same thing.

    The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his clothes (Matt 26:63,64).
    The priest who tried Jesus did not see the second coming, but they did see the fall of Jerusalem.

  3. It is not the Son of Man who appears in the heavens. The sign that he is in heaven appears. It is a sign that appears, not the Son of Man.

  4. The Greek word translated as "coming" is erchomai. Jesus uses a different word (parousia) in the second part of the chapter, when speaking about the second coming (Matt 24:27,37,39). It means "coming, appearing or presence". The fact that Jesus uses a different word here is an indication that he is not speaking of the second coming.

  5. Jesus had already made it clear that his second coming has no connection with the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt 24:23-28). The event described in this verse comes "immediately" after it.

The verse is actually speaking about the vindication of Jesus. A sign proving that he is in heaven will appear on the earth. Events on earth will prove that Jesus is in heaven at the right hand of God, ruling over the whole of creation. Jesus is telling his disciples that the time will come when he will be vindicated. The sign of Jesus' vindication was the destruction of Jerusalem. It was destroyed in an exact fulfilment of his words. This was proof that what he said was true. It also meant the destruction of those who opposed him, which proved that God was with him.

By putting an end to the Jewish system of sacrifices and offerings, God was showing that Jesus was the true saviour. The destruction of the capital city was a sign that Jesus is crowned as king in heaven. (The advance of the gospel described in Matthew 24:31 was also part of that sign.)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Matthew 24 (7) - Abomination of Desolation

A common belief is that a future Antichrist will set up an altar to himself in the Jerusalem temple. This event is often called the Abomination of Desolation. The expression "abomination that causes desolation" comes from Daniel 9:27. Some Bible teachers teach incorrectly that Daniel’s prophecy refers to the end of the world. This is not correct. The passage describes the effects of the cross and the destruction of Jerusalem .

Jesus confirmed this interpretation when warning his disciples of the destruction of Jerusalem. When asked for a sign, he warned of a number of false signs that would occur. He then gave the key sign. Its fulfilment would mean that the destruction of Jerusalem is at hand.

So when you see standing in the holy place "the abomination that causes desolation," spoken of through the prophet Daniel - let the reader understand - then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (Matt 24 15,16).
The meaning of the expression is made clear by Luke in his account of Jesus' words. He records Jesus' explanation of his words:
When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city (Luke 21:20,21).
The "abomination that causes desolation" is not some future antichrist, but quite simply the Roman army surrounding Jerusalem. It would make the city desolate. The Roman army is called an abomination because it carried ensigns consisting of eagles and images of the emperor. These were often worshipped by the soldiers. In the Bible an abomination is an idolatrous practice.

The sign that the desolation of Jerusalem is at hand was the Roman army surrounding Jerusalem. When they saw this sign the Christians were to flee to the mountains. There was a tremendous urgency attached to this warning.
Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of his house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers. Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath (Matt 24:17-20).
There would be no time to wait around or to gather possessions together. The flight would have to be instantaneous to avoid being caught by the siege.

Jesus' warning saved the lives of many of his followers. Although a million Jews lost their lives in the siege of Jerusalem, none of them were Christians. The Christians heeded Jesus' warning and fled at the first signs of the siege.

Jesus' words were also a warning not to confuse the siege of Jerusalem with the events described in Zechariah 14. That passage describes a siege in which the Lord would miraculously rescue his people. Many Jews expected this to happen in AD 70, but were disappointed. Jesus' warning makes it clear that Zechariah 14 describes a later stage in Jewish history. His disciples did not expect this dramatic rescue in AD 70. They knew in advance that Jerusalem would be destroyed.

The abomination of desolation has already occurred. Christians should not be looking forward to it happening in the future.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Matthew 24 (6) - Gospel to the Nations

There is a very common belief that the gospel must be preached to all nations before Jesus returns. This view has been a strong motivator for missionary activity. The fact that modern communications are making the preaching of the gospel to all nations possible is seen as a sign that Jesus is coming soon. Many Christians believe that the gospel will soon have been preached to all nations and that Jesus coming will follow soon after. This event is referred to as the great end-time harvest.

This belief is based on Matthew 24:14:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to the nations and then the end will come.
The first problem with this belief is based on an incorrect understanding of the purpose of Mathew 24:1-39. These verses are relate to the destruction of Jerusalem and not the second coming of Jesus (see link). Jesus specifically said that there would be no sign before the second coming.

Jesus was saying that the preaching of the gospel throughout the world was a sign of that the destruction of Jerusalem was near. God's purpose in giving the sign was that all the nations would understand the significance of the fall of Jerusalem (cf Exodus 32:12, Deut 2:25).

There is some confusion about the word "end" in this verse. The Greek word translated as end is "telos", which means end , last part, close or conclusion. It is not the same as the world "sunteleia" which is used in the expression "end of the age" in Matthew 24:3. That word, although often translated as "end", really means consummation. The disciples were asking about the end of the age so it was the appropriate word. In verse 14, Jesus is not speaking about the end of the age, the consummation, so he just uses the word telos. He was warning of the end of the Jewish nation in its current form, so this word was appropriate.

Jesus gave two signs of the destruction of Jerusalem. The first was the preaching of the gospel to the nations. The second immediate sign was Jerusalem being surrounded by armies. The people of Jerusalem should escape to the mountains (Matt 24:15,16, Luke 22:20,21). Both these signs were fulfilled before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Jesus warning saved the lives of many believers. Although a million Jews lost their livens in the siege of Jerusalem, none of them were Christians. They heeded Jesus' warnings escaped with their lives.

Some people may find it hard to believe that gospel had been preached to the whole world by A.D.70 when Jerusalem was destroyed. Yet this is exactly what the Bible teaches. On the day of Pentecost there were devout men in Jerusalem "from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). They would have taken the gospel back to their own lands. In Romans 1:8, Paul gives thanks the Christian faith is spoken of "all over the world". Colossians 1:6 says that "all over the world the gospel is producing fruit. The most specific fulfilment is given in Colossians 1:23.
This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every nation under heaven...
This sign of the preaching the gospel must not be confused with the Great Commission, which required disciples to be made of all nations. That task is still not complete, but Jesus prophetic sign only required the gospel to be proclaimed as a "testimony" and a witness before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. An examination of the Bible shows that Jesus words were fulfilled.

It follows from these points, that Jesus was not saying that the preaching to all the nations is a sign of his second coming. Those who use this verse to support this view are interpreting it incorrectly. There is no scripture that states that the second coming will be proceed by a great end-time harvest.

God has commissioned us to make disciples of all nations and establish his kingdom on earth. Christians in all centuries have a responsibility to work on that calling, which is far from complete. Even if the kingdom of God is established in our lifetimes, there is no reason why the second coming should come straight away.

We are seeing a great advance of the gospel in our time. A great harvest is taking place. We should rejoice in this, but it is a mistake to see it as a sign of the second coming. I believe that we are getting close to a great victory for the kingdom of God. We will see an even greater harvest in the days ahead, before God's purpose is complete. God's purpose is not just to harvest the earth. The harvest is not an end in itself. They farmer completes the harvest, for what comes afterwards. God's purpose is that the whole earth will filled with his glory, as his people establish his kingdom throughout the earth.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Matthew 24 (5) - Coming on Clouds

In Matthew 24:30, Jesus warned the people of Jerusalem that,

They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
This is often misinterpreted as a description of the second coming. The expression "coming on the clouds" is not a description of the second coming of the Lord. It is a phrase used by the prophets to describe the judgement of a nation. In Isaiah 19:1, the Lord is described as coming on a swift cloud to Egypt. The context makes it clear that this is a description of the collapse of Egypt, and not the second coming. The expression is used in a similar way throughout the Old Testament (Is 13:6; Micah 1:3-5; Ps 97:2,3).

There is a good reason for the similarity of these descriptions to the second coming. Individuals are judged at the second coming, but nations are judged within history. When God has a case against a nation or system, he will bring judgement against it through the events of history. Although the timing is different, both are judged on the same standard, so similar language is used to describe them.

When Jesus speaks of "coming on the clouds" in Matthew 24, he is saying that he will come in judgement against Israel. The Jewish system has been tried and found wanting, so it will be destroyed. There is a confirmation of this interpretation in Matthew 26, where Jesus uses the same expression. He said to the priests, who were trying him,

I say to you all; in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matt 26:64).

The priests did not live to see the second coming of Jesus, but they did see the destruction of Jerusalem and the collapse of the Jewish system. They also saw Jesus being vindicated by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the growth of the church. Obviously Jesus was describing these events when he spoke of "coming on the clouds".

Jesus is also referring back to Daniel 7:13,14, where one who comes on the clouds (into the presence of God) is given authority and sovereign power over all nations. His kingdom is everlasting and will never be destroyed. In the interpretation, Daniel is told that this sovereignty will be given to the saints (Dan 7:27).

By quoting Daniel, Jesus was claiming that he would be given sovereignty over the nations. He will rule them from heaven, through his people on earth. The nations will mourn, because they must submit to his power, and acknowledge his glory. They know that if they refuse, they will be destroyed by his judgements. The destruction of Jerusalem was a warning that any nation or system that opposes Christ will eventually be destroyed.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Matthew 24 (4) - Sun and Moon Fall

Jesus used very strong and vivid language to describe the passing of the Jewish nation (Matt 24:29-31). Many people expect these passages to be fulfilled literally. This leads to an incorrect assumption that Jesus is speaking about the end of the world. Jesus’ words were based on the apocalyptic language of the Old Testament. Failure to understand this has led many people to see them as a description of the second coming. Jesus is actually describing the consequences of the fall of Jerusalem.

Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken (Matt 24:29).
The time frame of these verses is made very clear: "immediately after the tribulation of those days". They apply to that part of the great tribulation which takes place in "those days" when Jerusalem will fall. The word immediately shows that there will be no gap or delay. These verses describe the consequences of the fall of Jerusalem.

Jesus speaks of the sun and moon being darkened, and the stars falling from the sky. These things are not to be understood literally. Jesus is using symbolic language to describe the fall of the Jewish nation. The Old Testament prophets often described the collapse of a great nation in the same language. One example is found in Ezekiel 32:7,
When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light.
Ezekiel is speaking about the defeat of Egypt by Babylon. The words give a graphic description of the collapse of Egypt before a greater power. They were not fulfilled literally, but in a prophetic sense they were fulfilled. Other prophets used the same kind of language to describe the collapse of a nation. The heavenly bodies were used as symbols of human governments, so the fall of a human government was described sun and moon falling from the sky. In Revelation 12:1, Israel was described as the sun, moon and stars.

Jesus is prophesying the end of the nation of Israel. The disciples, who were familiar with the Old Testament, would have understood his words. The destruction of Jerusalem would not just be a temporary setback for Israel. It would actually cease to exist as a nation. After AD 70 the Jews existed as a people, but they ceased to be a nation with their own government and their own land. They lost their political independence.

For many Jews, this idea would be impossible to accept. They traced their political independence right back to Moses. They believed that a time would come when a king of Israel would rule all the nations of the earth.

This was a false hope, so Jesus used dramatic language to bring home the seriousness of his message. He wanted them to know that the nation of Israel was coming to an end. The nation would not just be defeated, it would be destroyed. This was a shocking message, so dramatic that it need reinforcing.

Jesus final warning was equally strong.
Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather (Matt 24:28).
The vultures were the Roman army. The carcass was Jerusalem. This shocked his listeners, but his warning proved to be correct.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Matthew 24 (3) - Earthquakes and Wars

Many Christians believe that earthquakes, wars and famines are a sign that the second coming is close. The belief is incorrectly based on Matthew 24:4-7. In this passage, Jesus was warning his disciples about the destruction of Jerusalem. The disciples had asked for a sign that would indicate that the fall of Jerusalem was near. Before giving that specific sign, Jesus spoke of misleading signs. He warned that some people would be deceived.

Watch out that no one deceives you (Matt 24:4).
Jesus then listed some false signs. These are events that take place before the destruction of Jerusalem, but are not actual signs of that destruction. They are the "birth pangs" and not the death throes. They mark the beginning of a new age, not the end of the old one. They are more connected with the birth of the kingdom of God, than with the end of the Jewish kingdom. They would take place prior to the end of Jerusalem but they are not immediate signs of it. Events of this kind will also take place throughout history. (This is especially true of the persecution.)

The false signs given by Jesus are listed below:

1. False Messiahs
For many will come in my name, claiming, "I am the Christ" (Matt 24:5).
There would be many false messiahs, and many Jews would be deceived. The Jews were looking for a political leader who would overthrow the Romans. This made them vulnerable to false messiahs, who were numerous and often successful. The centurion who arrested Paul in Jerusalem spoke of an Egyptian who started a revolt and led 4000 terrorists out into the desert (Acts 21:38; see also Acts 5:36,37; 8:9,10).

False Messiahs became more common, as the destruction of Jerusalem got closer. Jesus had warned that false messiahs would come giving a false hope to the people. They would even do signs and wonders that would deceive some people. Jesus' warning was proved correct when a great number of false messiahs arose in Jerusalem. Some were in the pay of Rome.

One told the people that if they got into the temple they would be saved. Those who listened were killed when the temple was destroyed. There were a number of strange signs. For half an hour, a bright light covered the temple. For a while, a star resembling a sword hung over the city. These signs were probably performed by false prophets using satanic power. If the Jews had listened to Jesus' warning they would not have been deceived.

2. Wars.
You will hear of wars and rumours of wars.... nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Matt 24:6, 7).

Rome had enjoyed a long period of peace, but not long after the ascension of Jesus, war and strife became widespread in the empire. In Rome four emperors died violently in a space of eighteen months. A war between the Syrians and the Jews led to the death of 20,000 Jews.

3. Famines
There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains (Matt 24:7,8).
Acts 11:28 records a famine that occurred during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. This famine spread to many parts of the empire, and was followed by a pestilence in which thousands of people died.

4. Earthquakes
There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains (Matt 24:7,8).
Earthquakes are recorded in a variety of places prior to AD 70. The city of Pompeii was severely damaged by an earthquake in AD 63. Others took place in Crete, Smyrna Miletus, Laodicea, Colossae, Rome and Judea.

5. Persecution and betrayal
Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other (Matt 24:9,10)
This persecution began when the gospel was first preached in Jerusalem at Pentecost. Peter and John were put into prison. Later James was put to death. Paul was beaten and imprisoned many times for his faith. Persecution was a normal experience for the early Christians (Acts 9:1). During these times of persecutions, many denied their faith and betrayed their brethren. Many of the Epistles were written to encourage believers who were in danger of losing their faith.

All these false signs took place as Jesus said they would. They were events that could have easily misled the Christians into thinking the destruction of Jerusalem was at hand. Jesus was advising that it would be quite safe to stay in Jerusalem and preach the gospel while they were taking place. The Christians were not to be alarmed by them.

Many Christians believe that these are signs of the second coming of Christ. They spend a lot of time looking for earthquakes, wars and famines. This is foolish. Even if Jesus were talking about the second coming (he was not), he warned that these were false signs. He specifically told Christians not to be deceived when they hear about them (Matt 24:5). Today, despite Jesus’ warning, many Christians are being deceived by these very things.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Matthew 24 (2) -Two Questions

The message of Matthew 24 was prompted by the disciple’s questions as they sat with Jesus on the Mount of Olives. They came to him with two questions:

  1. When will these things be (the destruction of Jerusalem)?
  2. What will be the sign of your coming (parousia), and the end of the age?
The disciples thought this was just one question, because they had assumed that these events would come at the same time. They believed that the destruction of Jerusalem would come at the second coming of Jesus. He had already taught them about the day of judgment which would follow his coming at the end of the age. When they heard him speak of judgment against Jerusalem, they assumed that it would come at the end of the age. They could not imagine a world without the Temple of Jerusalem, and assumed that the destruction of the Temple, must mean the end of the world. They wanted to know both the sign and the time of these events.

Whatever the confusion of the disciples, Jesus makes it clear that the destruction of Jerusalem is different from the second coming and the end of the age. He treats their question in two parts. Firstly, he gives the sign and the time of the destruction of Jerusalem (question 1). Then he speaks of the sign and the time of the second coming (question 2). Matthew 24 has two parts. Verses 4-35 deal with the destruction of Jerusalem. Verses 36-51 deal with the second coming and the end of the age.

The correctness of this approach can be seen from verses 34,35.
I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Jesus says that "all these things" will take place before the present generation passes away. We should be very clear about what Jesus means by "all these things". He is referring to the things about which he has just spoken (vv. 4-33) Yet in verse 3 he uses the same expression to describe the destruction of Jerusalem. And in Matthew 23:35,36 the same phrase is used to describe the judgment which will make the house of the Jews desolate. This means that the events described in the first section of Matthew 24, refer to the destruction of Jerusalem. And when in verse 34, he says that "all these things" shall happen before the present generation has passed away, he is also referring to the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt 23:36).

To avoid the clear meaning of Jesus’ statement, some people place another meaning on the word "generation". They translate the word as "race" or "nation", making Jesus say that the nation of Israel will not pass away before the fulfilment of these things. Not only does this make Jesus’ statement rather vague, but it also has no basis in scripture. There is no other place in the gospel where the word has this meaning. Matthew always uses it to refer to people living in the present. Jesus is referring to the people who were present (see also Matt 16:28).

Jesus was warning that a terrible calamity will come upon the generation which is standing before him. The only catastrophe that took place within the appropriate time span was the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This is clearly the event to which Jesus was referring. Matthew 24:4-35 is a description, and a warning of the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus gives emphasis to his prophecy by saying that heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will never pass away.

In Matthew 24:36-51, Jesus goes on to answer the second of the disciple’s two questions. He gives a description of the second coming and the end of the age. He makes this clear by dropping the expression "these things" and taking up the phrase "that day". This phrase would have been familiar to the disciples. Jesus had used it many times to describe the last judgment (Matt 7:22; 11:22). They would understand that he is now talking about the day of judgment at the end of the age.

Jesus states clearly that there will be no signs before the second coming. In fact he does not even know the day or the hour. He warns his followers to be prepared, so that whenever it comes they will be ready.

This is not the usual interpretation of Matthew 24. Most people see it as a description of the events leading up to the second coming. In view of this, some further arguments in favour of dividing it into two parts will be given.
  1. The destruction of Jerusalem is an important event. We would expect Jesus to make some comments on it. The only lengthy description and warning is found in Matthew 24:4-35. If as some people say, this refers to the second coming, then Jesus has let a vital event in the history of Israel pass without comment. This would be impossible. It would also mean that Jesus had avoided the disciple’s question.

  2. In the equivalent account in Luke’s Gospel, only the first part of the disciple’s question is recorded; the part dealing with the destruction of Jerusalem.

    When will these things happen? And what will be the sign they are about to take place. Luke 21:7
    And Luke only records the first part of Jesus answer (the equivalent of Matt 24:4-36). He only records the part about the destruction of the temple. Luke recognises that Jesus’ comments about the second coming are part of a separate topic, and records them separately in Luke 17:20-37. Here we see the Holy Spirit inspiring a writer to divide the prophetic discourse in half, a confirmation that it covers different topics.

  3. The events in the first part of Matthew 24 are limited to the locality of Palestine. This is indicated by the reference to Sabbath travel (v.20). This would only be a hardship in Palestine. Likewise, the command not to go down off their houses was only relevant in Palestine, where houses were all joined together, so people could flee along the rooftops. In contrast, the second part of the passage is universal in application.

  4. The first section gives an impression of very tumultuous times. There are wars, famines, earthquakes and persecutions. The second section describes a more normal situation; people are eating and drinking, getting married, and working in normal employment. The two sections obviously refer to different times.

  5. Jesus gives a specific sign for the events described in the first part of the chapter; the abomination of desolation (v.15). In the second part Jesus absolutely refuses to give any signs. He tells three parables which all teach that there will be no warning signs prior to his coming. This would be illogical, if he were speaking about the same events.

  6. In the first section Jesus tells his followers to flee from Jerusalem into the mountains. This would be pointless behaviour at the second coming, as his followers will simply be taken (vv.40,41). It would be good advice if Jerusalem was about to be besieged by a foreign army, which is what Jesus was really describing.

  7. There is a sense of immediacy in the first part of the chapter. Yet the parables in the second part suggest that there will be considerable delay before Jesus returns.

  8. In the first few verses of Matthew 24 Jesus speaks about the Jerusalem Temple. It can have no relevance to the second coming as it was destroyed in A.D. 70, so these verses cannot apply to the second coming. Some commentators get round this by saying that the temple will be rebuilt. This is no help as Jesus is specifically talking about the temple which the disciples were looking at. If Jesus was speaking about a future temple he would have informed his disciples of this. Actually, there is no place in the Bible which says that the temple will be rebuilt. In this age the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

We can conclude that the first part of Jesus’ prophecy describes the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It is his answer to the first question that the disciples asked. It has no connection with the second coming.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Matthew 24 (1) - Background

One of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible is Matthew 24, sometimes known as the Olivet discourse (there are parallel accounts in Mark 13 and Luke 21). This passage is often misunderstood, so it needs careful consideration. Most people assume that this passage gives a number of signs of the second coming of Jesus. This is not true. Verses 1-35 are actually a warning of the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus was giving a strong warning to the Jews of what would happen to them, if they rejected him. Only at the end of the passage is the second coming described, and here no signs are given.

Before looking at Matthew 24 in detail, we must get an understanding of the context in which Jesus was speaking. Matthew records a long confrontation between Jesus and the leaders of the Jewish nation. It began in the time of John the Baptist. When the Pharisees and Sadducees came out to him, he told them to flee from the coming wrath and produce fruit worthy of repentance. He warned them that the axe was already at the root of the trees, and every tree that did not produce good fruit would be cut down and thrown on the fire (Matt 3:7-12). This was the first ominous warning to the Jewish nation. History shows that they did not repent, and Matthew 24 describes how the axe would fall.

Early in his ministry, Jesus gave a similar warning. After seeing the faith of the Gentile Centurion he said that many of the Gentiles would take a place in the kingdom of heaven, but many of the Jews, to whom the kingdom really belonged, would be thrown our into the place of darkness, and weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:11,12).

Matthew 12 records how the Jews accused Jesus of using the power of Satan to cast out demons. From that time on Jesus spoke in parables, so that they would not be able to understand what he was saying (Matt 13:13). The Jewish nation seemed to be set on a collision course with the purposes of God. This confrontation came to a head after the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matt 21). The Jewish leaders again questioned Jesus’ authority. Jesus responded with the parables of the Wicked Tenants and the Wedding Banquet, which warn that those who refuse to acknowledge him will find themselves shut out of the Kingdom.

This debate reached a climax in Matthew 22. The Jewish leaders had already begun to plot ways in which to kill Jesus (Matt 12:14). Now they tried to trap him with trick questions about paying taxes to Caesar, the resurrection, and the commandments. Jesus’ answers were so confounding, that no one dared to ask any more questions.

Jesus responded by denouncing the Pharisees and Teachers of the law publicly. Matthew 23 records this terrible accusation: of pride, false teaching, lack of mercy and faith, false judgment, dishonesty, greed and self indulgence. They are denounced in a series of seven woes. Jesus then announces:

Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers. Matt 23:32
This sentence gives a picture of a cup which is nearly full, and is being filled up to overflowing by the present generation of Jews. The nation has been rebelling against God, and grieving him for many centuries. Now with the rejection of the Son of God, they would fill up the cup of God’s wrath, bringing judgment on their nation. The law had warned that a nation that refused to be corrected would be punished for its sins, seven times over (Lev 26:23,24). This is exactly what would happen.

Jesus pronounced a terrible sentence against the Jewish nation.
Upon you will come all the righteous blood, that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berakiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all these things will come upon this generation. Matt 23:35
Upon this generation will come judgment, for all the prophets that have been killed. They will pay the price with their blood. Jesus then wept for Jerusalem and said.
Look, your house is left to you desolate. Matt 23:38
Jesus had longed to draw the people of Jerusalem to himself. Now he knew that they would reject him. He declared that God’s immediate purposes for the Jews were finished. Their house would be left desolate. The temple, which had been the dwelling place of God, had become a place of desolation. It was now deserted by God, so its destruction was inevitable. After pronouncing this terrible sentence, Jesus left the temple, never to return.

The disciples expected the Messiah to rule from the temple, and that it would be a centre of worship for all people on the earth (Acts 1:6). They were shocked by Jesus’ words. They could not accept the idea that God would desert the temple, so they pointed out the wonder of its buildings. But Jesus made his meaning clear when he said,
Do you see all these things…I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down. Matt 24:2
The temple would be totally destroyed. This is the context in which Jesus made his prophetic statement on the Mount of Olives. The leaders of the nation had repeatedly questioned and rejected his authority. Jesus declared that the consequence of this rebellion, would be the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. All these things would come upon the present generation.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Self Interest

The term “self interest is important in neoclassical economics, but it is not worth the trouble. Most people do not understand what it means and it is two easily confused with selfishness. We should use expressions that better describe our meaning.

To me there are three key issues.

First, economic choices are made by people. Many factors are taken into account when people make decisions, ranging from selfishness to generosity. Those who believe in God will be influenced by his requirements.

Second, people generally understand their own needs and wants better than others do. People who think that they can decide what other people should want are dangerous.

Third, capitalism does not need selfishness or greed to function.