Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jesus’ Discourse in Matthew 24-25, Part II: The Broader Context in Matthew

As I mention below, I’ve read Jeffrey Gibbs’ book, Jerusalem and Parousia: Jesus’ Eschatological Discourse in Matthew’s Gospel (Concordia University Press 2001). I cannot do full justice to Gibbs’ detailed argument in a blog post. He seeks to place Jesus’ eschatological discourse in Matthew 24 within the broader context of Matthew’s gospel. Gibbs spends most of the book (which is based on his dissertation) discussing the rest of Matthew. He does so that we can read Matthew 24 in context.

A little context will help here as well before we dig into chapter 24.

I generally take chapters 21 through 25 (and lapping over into the first five verses of chapter 26) as a connected unit. Very briefly:

Mt 21.1-17. Jesus enters Jerusalem as the Davidic king, enters the temple and clears out those buying and selling (including those selling sacrificial doves) and disrupting the money changers (who were necessary to exchange “secular” money into temple money).

In quoting Is 56.7 (“My house shall be called a house of prayer,”) Jesus rebukes Israel for having hid their light under a basket rather than being a light unto the Gentiles. (In this, Israel has rejected her Abrahamic vocation.)

In invoking Jeremiah 7.11, (“a robbers’ den”), Jesus identifies the current generation of Temple goers with those whom Jeremiah prophesized to. The specific point of the robber’s den reference in Jeremiah 7 is not that there was stealing gone on in the temple. The point is much, much more serious than that. The point was that an utterly corrupt Israel wrongly looked upon the temple as a sanctuary. (Recall that a robber’s den is not where robbers rob, it’s where robbers seek rest and sanctuary in between their thieving.)

Jeremiah says that God is going to destroy the temple; he will not let it be a sanctuary for an apostate Israel: “Therefore I will do to the house which is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh” (Jer 7.14). Jesus could hardly make a more chilling reference than by echoing Jeremiah’s prophesy in calling the temple of his day a “den of thieves.” Jesus is saying that God will destroy the temple as he did in Jeremiah’s day.

Mt 21.18-22 provides short interlude to Jesus’ presence in the temple, but the upshot is the same: The fig tree has no fruit, and so is cursed. The faithful prayer casts the mountain – “this mountain” (almost certainly a reference to the temple mount) – into the sea. Again, judgment and destruction.

Mt 21.23-23.39. Jesus returns to the temple, and is immediately set upon by the chief priests and elders regarding what he did and said the day before. Where does he get off, they ask him. Jesus speaks with them (21.23-22.22), the Sadducees (22.23-46), then speaks to the crowds and disciples about the scribes and Pharisees (23.1-33).

Jesus has condemned all of official Israel. He then prophesies judgment for Israel and Jerusalem (23.24-37), and implies the temple’s destruction (23.38).

In so doing Jesus is explicit as to the timing of when this will occur: “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (23.36). From the moment of his entry into Jerusalem as the Davidic king, Jesus attacked the temple and prophesied its destruction. Judgment will come within a generation. The axe is already at the roots.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


March 01, 2008 1:10 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home