No Problem Passages
November 1, 2020 · C.E. Carter
I want to have no problem passages in Scripture. I’m becoming more and more convinced that every morsel of the Holy text is deeply meaningful and connected to every other piece, and I want to know how it all fits together.
Case in point: I’ve been on a big eschatology study recently. I’m specifically trying to understand the passage in Matthew 24, and its parallel accounts in Mark 13 and Luke 21. This conversation between Jesus and his disciples is known as the Olivet Discourse, and I want to understand it and understand how it fits into the rest of Scripture. My hypothesis is one of partial preterism: that most of these prophecies have already been fulfilled in Jesus’ future, but our past. A little study of history and an examination of the text makes a whole lot of sense (grab coffee with me sometime if you’re curious), but I always got tripped up on Matthew 24:29-30 where Jesus says,
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the son of man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and great glory.”
The whole “sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky” stuff, I understood. That’s apocalyptic language, and is used elsewhere in the Bible to indicate the destruction of a city or a nation. Here, Jesus is quoting Isaiah 13, when Isaiah was prophesying the destruction of Babylon, and he’s using this language to foretell a similar coming destruction of Jerusalem, not to foretell the melting of the solar system. That’s the importance of letting Scripture interpret itself.
That’s all well and good…but what’s this “Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and great glory” stuff? Isn’t the “coming” of Christ the return of Christ at the end of the world? And if so, then wouldn’t the word “immediately” imply that the great tribulation described isn’t referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, but instead to a future event, since Christ hasn’t returned yet? But then, how could “this generation not pass away untill all these things take place” (Matt 24:34)? I was stuck, and I remember scratching my head for a while on this, torn between these two interpretations. Neither quite lined up with Scripture, and I was confused and discouraged in my eschatological endeavors.
And then, I read Daniel 7:13-14, the passage Jesus is quoting, which says,
“I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His kingdom is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”
My jaw dropped. The “coming” of Christ in Matthew 24 was not His coming back to judge the world, but His coming on the clouds before the Ancient of Days, clothed with power and glory, with “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18) given to Him, to rule an everlasting and unshakable kingdom composed of people from every tribe and nation. Unlike the second coming of Christ at the end of the world, this has happened! Where I had assumed because of the popular view among Evangelicals that the “coming” of Christ in Matthew 24 was His second coming, I had failed to let Scripture interpret itself, and was sweetly surprised at the meaning, richness, and coherence of the text. More to come on what this all means. Lesson learned.