How do you respond to Matthew 24:1–44?

This is Jesus’ Mount of Olives discourse in which, according to many scholars, he prophesies concerning the conditions at the end of the age. “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place (vs. 6)…nation shall rise against nation…there will be famines and earthquakes (vs. 7)…many false prophets will arise and lead many astray (vs. 11)…this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world (vs. 14)…at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now (vs. 21)…Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn (vs. 30).”

Some scholars (such as N.T. Wright) argue that this passage is not about the end of the world as such, but only about the end of the Jewish world as they knew it. It is an apocalyptic (and thus heavily symbolic) description of things that were to take place within several decades after Jesus spoke of them. In support of this view, consider that the entire passage is structured as a response to the disciples’ question concerning when the temple will collapse (vs. 1–3). And Jesus tells his audience in no uncertain terms that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (vs. 34, emphasis added). If this interpretation is accepted the passage has no bearing on the issue of God’s foreknowledge. In fact, we learn from Josephus that there were others in the early first century who were predicting that the temple was going to be destroyed, and we have no reason to think any of these people had divine foreknowledge.

Other scholars, however, argue that at least part of the passage refers to the very end of world history. Even if this latter group of scholars are right, we are reading too much into the passage if we suppose that it demonstrates that the future is exhaustively settled. Jesus prophesied that there will be wars (vs. 6), false messiahs (vs. 5, 24), famines and earthquakes (vs. 7) and persecutions (vs. 9). This simply means that the general features of how the world will end are settled and that God knows them as such. Given that the omniscient Lord knows perfectly the evil hearts of people and of fallen angels, and given that he knows that Satan and the kingdom of darkness are going to make one last all out effort to destroy God’s plan, as many other New Testament passages make clear, it should come as no surprise that God can accurately predict the turmoil the world will be in when history finally comes to a close.

Category:
Tags: ,
Topics:
Verse:

Related Reading

What do you think of Thomas Aquinas’ view of God?

Question: You have written (in Trinity and Process) that the relational God of the Bible is the antithesis of the immutable God of Thomas Aquinas. Could you explain this? Answer: Aquinas and much of the classical theological tradition borrowed heavily from Aristotle’s notion of God as an “unmoved mover.” God moves the world but remains…

What is the significance of Jonah 1:2; 3:2, 4–10; 4:2?

God “changed his mind” (3:10) about the destruction he planned to carry out on Nineveh. If all events in history are eternally settled and known by God as such, his word to Jonah that he planned to destroy Nineveh in forty days was insincere as was his inspired testimony that he in fact changed his…

Topics:

Hearing and Responding to God: Part 1

A reader contacted Greg asking about making “right decisions” assuming an open future and in light of the fact that God seems to rarely speak clearly. In this first response, Greg acknowledges that even with the best of intentions, our decisions can have outcomes that are unexpected even to God! How can we move forward…

God’s Love and Your Freedom

The most distinctive aspect of the revelation of God in Christ is Jesus’ demonstration that God relies on love to defeat his enemies and to accomplish his purposes. More than anything else, it was the perfect love of God revealed in the incarnation, ministry, and self-sacrificial death of Jesus that in principle defeated evil and…

Is homosexuality a sin?

There are three passages in the Old Testament (Gen. 19: 1-13; Lev 18:22; 20:13) and three in the New Testament (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; I Tim. 1:10) that have traditionally been read as prohibiting homosexuality. On top of this, the entire biblical narrative presupposes that sex is supposed to take place between a man…

How do you respond to Joshua 11:19–20?

“There was not a town that made peace with the Israelites, except the Hivites…all were taken to battle. For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed…” (cf. Exod. 7:3; 10:1; 14:4; Deut. 2:30) Some compatibilists argue…