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Rethinking Matthew’s coming of the Son of Man

I came across this comment from Peter Enns this week: “I am very amenable to Andrew’s approach and others like it—although I still do a double-take at Matt 24:30-31.” That sort of remark—particularly from someone as sane as Peter Enns—usually makes me go back and look at the text again. I think I’ve got this whole thing right—the historical frame of reference of Jesus’ eschatology—and it troubles me when people disagree, especially when they are otherwise amenable to the narrative-historical approach.

But it’s funny how sometimes it doesn’t take much to cast a passage in a new light. Working through Matthew’s version of Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse again in reaction to Peter’s scepticism, it occurred to me that I may have over-restricted the scope of Jesus’ statement about the Son of Man (Matt. 24:29-31). Maybe.

Immediately after the tribulation of those days…

The meaning of the phrase “the tribulation (thlipsin) of those days” is given in the preceding passage. Jesus speaks of a period of time before the “end” when there will be wars, famines and earthquakes. These are the “beginning of the birth pains” (24:6-8). The disciples will be delivered up “to tribulation” and will be put to death; they will be hated by all the nations; but those who endure to the end of this very difficult period will be “saved”. But the tribulation will not come to an end until the good news about the coming intervention and reign of Israel’s God has been proclaimed throughout the empire (oikoumenē) “as a testimony to all nations” (24:9-14).

The period of “great tribulation” (thlipsis megalē)—presumably the “birth pains” of the age to come—kicks off with the appearance of Daniel’s “abomination of desolation” in the “holy place”, which must have something to do with the unclean Romans intruding into the temple. Those who are in Judea should escape to the mountains. The tribulation will be “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (24:21). Daniel made reference to a “day of affliction” (hēmera thlipseōs) for Israel in relation to the conflict provoked by Antiochus Epiphanes, which will be “such as has not occurred since they were born until that day” (Dan. 12:1). Josephus will later speak of the destruction of Jerusalem in the same terms: “Accordingly it appears to me, that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews, are not so considerable as they were…” (Jos. War proem 12; cf. proem 1). But Jesus offers some comfort: “those days” will be cut short for the sake of the elect, otherwise none will survive the hardships of this period (24:22).

So when Jesus then says, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…”, he must have in mind a set of events or circumstances that will occur in conjunction with the tribulation that his disciples will suffer around the time of the Roman assault on Jerusalem.

At that time the parousia of the Son of Man will not be pointed out by false prophets but will be as the lightning, which “comes from the east and shines as far as the west” (24:26-27). What this means is much debated, of course, but it’s where I think I may begin to revise my previous understanding.

Only Matthew uses the term parousia in this passage, and only Matthew specifies that the lightning shines from the east “as far as the west”—Mark does not have the saying, and Luke has: “as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day” (Luke 17:24). Since parousia has strong political connotations (the visit of a Hellenistic ruler to a city), I wonder if perhaps Jesus’ words are an implicit statement (by Matthew) about the coming rule of a king from the east over the whole oikoumenē to the west of Jerusalem. This is probably more than the disciples were asking for in verse 3 (“what will be the sign of your parousia”), but it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to suggest that Matthew has Jesus extend the horizon of their question.

…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

This is standard Old Testament language, used widely to express the theological import of national disasters, no doubt supported by a cosmology that saw causative links between events on heaven and events on earth. The closest parallel is Isaiah 13:10 LXX, which is part of an oracle of judgment against Babylon:

For the stars of heaven and Orion and all the ornament of heaven will not give light, and it will be dark when the sun rises, and the moon will not give its light. And I will command evils for the whole oikoumenē… (Is. 13:10–11)

Since similar language is used elsewhere in connection with judgment against Jerusalem (eg. Joel 2:31), I have tended to assume that this was the point of the imagery here: verse 29 would be a reflection on the catastrophe of the war against Rome. But if the saying about the parousia of the Son of Man in verse 27 has in view the “imperial” ambitions of Israel’s new king, then perhaps the heavenly signs of Matthew 24:29 presage the régime change that will come with divine judgment on Rome. If the imagery of stars falling from heaven comes from Isaiah 34:4, then we have further reason to think that Matthew’s Jesus has in view the “wrath of the Lord… against all the nations” (Is. 34:2 LXX).

This understanding would also make better sense of the Son of Man motif. Daniel’s symbolic son of man figure, which represents the saints of the Most High, is given kingdom, etc., following the destruction of the fourth beast—the oppressive, blasphemous kingdom which had made war against Israel. Judgment against apostate Israel is part of the narrative, but the longer term outcome of the crisis is that rule over the nations is given to faithful suffering Israel (Dan. 7:14, 27). That is precisely the New Testament story.

Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man…

The disciples had asked, ”Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3). Earlier the Pharisees had asked for a “sign from heaven”, but no “sign” will be given to this evil and adulterous generation of Israel except the sign of Jonah (Matt. 16:1, 4; cf. 12:39). The saying is difficult to interpret, but I am inclined to think that Jesus is not so much describing an event—the seeing of something in the sky—as referring them to Daniel’s vision, in the same way that he had referred the Pharisees to the story of Jonah. That is, people will see the “fulfilment” of such a vision: kingdom taken from the blasphemous and destructive beast, now understood to be Rome, and transferred to “one like a son of man”, who is both Jesus and his persecuted disciples. 

…and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

Zechariah issues a word of the Lord regarding Judah. There will be a siege against Jerusalem. The nations will be gathered against the city, and it will become “a trampled stone for all the nations” (Zech. 12:1-3 LXX). But the Lord will enable the armies of Israel to defeat their enemies and will save Jerusalem. He will “pour out a spirit of grace and compassion on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Zech 12:10). In response the people will look to YHWH and “shall mourn for him with a mourning as for a loved one, and they shall be pained with pain as for a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10 LXX). All the tribes of the land of Israel will mourn. On that day the Lord will “destroy the names of the idols from the land” and will remove the false prophets and unclean spirits (Zech. 13:2).

If judgment on Rome is in view here, it is perhaps more likely that it is the tribes of the earth which mourn and not merely the tribes of the land (either translation is possible). The allusion to the saying in Revelation also lends weight to the wider perspective. John writes to the churches in Asia as a “partner in the tribulation (thlipsei) and the kingdom and the patient endurance” (1:9). Jesus is “ruler of kings on earth”; he has “made us a kingdom” (1:5-6). He is “coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him”.

And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 

The “elect” are the disciples who were sent out into the empire to proclaim the good news that God has raised his Son from the dead and made him judge and ruler of the nations (cf. Matt. 24:14). They will have to endure considerable affliction, but if they stay faithful to their mission through to the end, they will be saved. Their task will be completed when the nations of the Greek-Roman world recognise that “kingdom” has been taken from idolatrous Rome and given to the Son of Man. At that point, symbolically speaking and in the language of Old Testament prophecies of restoration, Jesus sends out his angels to “save” his disciples.

Zechariah 2:10-16 LXX (=2:6-12 ET) provides an appropriate narrative. YHWH will gather his people “from the four winds of heaven” and bring them back safely to Zion. He has sent the prophet “to the nations who despoiled you; he is bringing his hand against them. Many nations “shall flee to the Lord for refuge on that day and shall become a people to him”.

The sending out of the angels, therefore, brings closure to the eschatological narrative. God judges his people; messengers are sent out to the nations of the Greek-Roman world to announce the wider political significance of the resurrection of Jesus; they suffer severe persecution; the nations are convinced that kingdom has been given to the Son of Man; the messengers are sought out, delivered from their afflictions, and are reunited with the renewed international people of God. The end. And the beginning of the next chapter in the long and tumultuous history of the family of Abraham.

Comments

Placing the primary locus of the coming with the clouds of heaven on Jesus being declared lord of the empire makes a lot of sense to me - if “the kingdom” being transferred to the Son of Man is the oikoumene.

Would this cause any realignment of passages where Jesus uses phrases like “this generation will not pass away” and “some standing here will not taste death,” etc.?

Would this cause any realignment of passages where Jesus uses phrases like “this generation will not pass away” and “some standing here will not taste death,” etc.?

This is a pressing issue because Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 24:34:

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matt 24:34)

Is it plausible that Matthew thought that not only the destruction of Jerusalem but also the establishment of Jesus’ reign over the nations would happen within a generation—especially if he’s writing in the 80s?

If Matthew has added this nuance to a discourse that originally only had the war against Rome in view, would that account for the chronological complication?

Maybe the idea of Jesus coming in the clouds isn’t limited to one event. We tend to lump all these references into “the Second Coming,” but maybe that’s a mistake. Just theorizing here.

For example, in the OT, YHWH coming down with the clouds indicates his coming in judgement or to do battle and it happens several times. Yet, these times are spoken of in prophecy as “the day of the Lord” or “the day of His wrath” etc. As the prophets look forward to these visitations (and perhaps backwards on previous visitations), they speak in a manner that could give the impression they are talking about a single, huge event. It’s this conceit that makes it easy for futurists to transport all the apocalyptic-sounding prophecies to the end of the world.

But if Jesus has been made the judge of the Earth, we would expect these divine visitations from heaven to be taken over by him. Perhaps the destruction of Jerusalem and the assumption of rulership over the Roman Empire are both such visitations, with Matthew 24 referring mostly to the former and Daniel 7 referring to the latter.

I haven’t thought through this. Just shooting from the hip.

I apologize in advance for how long this comment is. Because of the string of textual quotes I have, it ended up being very long. I ask of your grace in reading this. These are my thoughts on all of this.

I think it makes a lot more sense to align the transition of the “kingdom” to “this generation” instead of the other way around as Phil suggested. Putting the emphasis on Rome as the time of the kingdom transition seems to depart rather starkly from what is presented in the gospels especially Matthew. (I’m posting several texts from Matthew plus several diversions into Isaiah).

Mat 8:8-12 ESV But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. (9) For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (10) When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. (11) I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, (12) while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Here we see the “sons of the kingdom” being the apostate of Israel as they are tossed into “gehenna” in the war against Rome, and the “many from the east and the west” are the Gentiles from outside Judea on both sides, who come to the new covenant by faith. Here Jesus is quoting from Isa. 43:4-5:

Isa 43:4-9 ESV Because you [Jacob] are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples [LXX=”princes”] in exchange for your life. (5) Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. (6) I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth [land], (7) everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (8) Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! (9) All the nations gather together, and the peoples assemble. Who among them can declare this, and show us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to prove them right, and let them hear and say, It is true.

Later, Jesus told the 12 that they would not finish preaching in Israel before he came [Greek:erchomai]. This is clearly by AD70 in that all of them (except maybe John) were killed by this point.

Mat 10:17-23 ESV Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, (18) and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. (19) When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. (20) For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (21) Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, (22) and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (23) When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Next we have Matt. 13 and the parable of the tares:

Mat 13:38-43 ESV The field is the world [Gk: kosmos], and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, (39) and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. (40) Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. (41) The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, (42) and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (43) Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Jesus quotes here from Daniel 12:3 which is at the time of the shattering of the “holy people” (Judah), after the “time times and half a time” and the “abomination of desolation.” This is the eschatological resurrection at the end of the second temple age. Notice that Jesus alludes back to his discourse in Matt 8, where we have a “gathering” (presumably from the same east and west) and a tossing into the fire and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” just as in Matt. 8.

Mat 16:27-28 ESV For the Son of Man is going to [Gk: mellei - “about to”] come [Gk: erchesthai] with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (28) Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

The coming of the son of man is concurrant with the coming of his kingdom, as we see in places like Daniel 7 and 2 Tim. 4:1. In vs. 27 Jesus quotes from Isa. 62:11, which speaks of Israel’s hope of remarriage with God. Notice how some of the pertinent parts of this greater context beginning in Isa 60.

Isa 60:9-12 ESV For the coastlands shall hope for me, the ships of Tarshish first, to bring your children from afar, their silver and gold with them, for the name of the LORD your God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because he has made you beautiful. (10) Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you. (11) Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut, that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession. (12) For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste.

Here we again have the children being gathered from afar. We have her struck in wrath, but mercy shown. The gates are always open (Rev. 21:24). This is the kingdom of God transfered away from apostate Israel and given over to the new covenant church.

Isa 60:19-20 ESV The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. (20) Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.

This is in Rev. 21:4, 23. This is a depiction of the New Jerusalem.

Isa 61:3-8 ESV to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (4) They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. (5) Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; (6) but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. (7) Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy. (8) For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

After the eschatological judgment on Israel, we have Zion rebuilt (the church). Here we have priests and ministers to the nations. Shame in Israel (the true Israel) is no more. Here they received “recompense” (Matt. 16:27) and an everlasting covenant.

Isa 62:1-4 ESV For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. (2) The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. (3) You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. (4) You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.

The nations see the righteousness of God when he marries Israel, which we see as the coming of Christ in Rev. 19. Here we have a “great feast”, which would be the eschatological supper Jesus referred to in Matt. 8. There’s a “new name” given, in contrast to the old. It is not said what that name is, but it’s not much of a stretch from the context of Isaiah that this is comparing the name of “Jew” to the name of “Jesus.”

Finally in Isaiah:

Isa 62:11 ESV Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”

This is the passage Jesus quoted from in Matt. 16:27, connecting the kingdom to his coming in the apostles lifetimes.

Next in Matthew we have this:

Mat 21:40-45 ESV When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” (41) They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” (42) Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? (43) Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (44) And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” (45) When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.

Here the kingdom is taken away from the apostate leaders of Israel and given to “a nation” [Gk: ethnei] able to produce its fruit. Rome does not fit in this passage or any of the previous ones, except for some from Rome and elsewhere in the “west” and also in the “east” would enter into this new Jerusalem.

Mat 22:2-14 ESV “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, (3) and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. … (7) The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. … (10) And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. … (13) Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (14) For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Again we have this connected train of (a) the kingdom; (b) judgment on Jerusalem; (c) a gathering of many people from afar; (d) a casting of the original people into a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. The scope never falls outside the events of AD66-70.

Mat 23:32-36 ESV Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. (33) You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to [gehenna]? (34) Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, (35) so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. (36) Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

What is so striking about this text, besides that here we have the destruction of Jerusalem linked to “this generation,” is the eschatological judgment of “all the blood shed on earth.” This is directly quoted in Rev. 18:24, which connects Jerusalem as the Babylon and Harlot of Revelation, and connects it to the marriage feast of Rev. 19.

Rev 18:21-24 ESV Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more; (22) and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters, will be heard in you no more, and a craftsman of any craft will be found in you no more, and the sound of the mill will be heard in you no more, (23) and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more, for your merchants were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. (24) And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.”

The sounds of the craftsmen and the light of lamps in the citiy is a typical theme of judgment on Israel especially in Isaiah. This text also connects back to Rev. 11:7-8, as the beast that comes out of the Abyss (cf. Rev 17:8) makes war and the city where Jesus was crucified (Jerusalem) is full of dead bodies. This event is when the kingdom transfer per Daniel 7:22,27 occurs.

Rev 19:1-7 ESV After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, (2) for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” …(6) Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. (7) Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;

Rev 17:5-8 ESV And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” (6) And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. (7) But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. (8) The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.

Rev 11:7-8 ESV And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, (8) and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.

Rev 11:13-19 ESV And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (14) The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come. (15) Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (16) And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, (17) saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. (18) The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” (19) Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

Notice how the dead are judged (cf. Dan. 12:3, which happens at the shattering of Daniel’s holy people, Judah), and there is a rewarding or recompense (cf. Matt. 16:27 and the Isa. texts).

Dan 7:22-27 ESV until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom. (23) “Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces. … (26) But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. (27) And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’

Obviously Rome has a part to play in this drama, but nothing in the narrative suggests that any of this happens at the “fall” of Rome 400 years later. Everything is connected back to Jesus’ “this generation.” Rome’s “power” over the covenant people of God (which was depicted in the metal man image of Daniel 2) all comes crumbling to the ground at the coming of the Son of Man in judgment against Jerusalem as seen in all these texts in their context. The Harlot (apostate Jerusalem) and the Beast (Rome) had an unholy alliance. This is depicted in the feet of iron and clay - clay being the reference to Israel throughout the OT; and notice that it’s the feet (Rome-Judah alliance) that’s the target, not the legs of iron (Rome). The whole statue falls, because the whole statue is the image of Old Covenant Israel under bondage to those four empires. That empire reign ends at the end of the 70 weeks. What results at its shattering in AD70 is the Mountain of the Lord replaces it and grows to cover the whole earth (Dan. 2:35, 44). The metal man image does not extend past the existance of the old covenant nation which was within it.

Hey Jerel,

Thanks for the amazing response and the effort you spent putting it together.

For the most part, I agree with everything you put together except for the fact that I’m having trouble seeing how pagan Rome’s power over the people of God was shattered with the destruction of Jerusalem. Rome’s power seems intact to me. Their persecuctions go unabated. How does this equate to the destruction of the beast as a predecessor to the kingdom per Daniel 7 / Revelation?

I mean, this is where the amils get out of it by basically making Rome basically irrelevant in light of freedom from sin and death and a spiritual reign of Christ in his church. Andrew (and I) are looking at the actual political event of Rome’s authority being handed over to Jesus Christ, although as you’ve noted, that has some difficulties attached to it. How would you speak to that issue? How is Rome’s power broken in the destruction of Jerusalem?

Hi Phil,

Sorry for the delay in my response. I’ve been swamped with work and family issues and also we live on a small farm and that has taken a lot of time lately.

I really appreciate your sincere questions and kind attitude. Just to let you know, I am very familiar with the approach Andrew advocates. I rarely comment over here but I have read all the posts for a few years now and I have read all of Andrew’s books related in any way to it. You might say eschatology has been a primary hobby focus for me for the past 8 years (I am a former pastor and was theologically trained as an amil so yeah I totally agree with your comment about how “amils get out of it.”)

I think the primary issue with our differences is you are seeing the fall of Rome as a political means, with a literal king on the throne who advocates Christianity as being a central cog in the NT narrative, and I am seeing the demise of the beast more spiriutally (yes a little like the amils) but also historically as well (which is were we line up together on virtually everything except for when and how). I would say there are numerous problems with the Constantine view (one of my teachers took this view of Daniel and Revelation so I’m not unfamiliar with it). One of them is that the historical events that happened at the rise of Constantine do not mesh up anywhere with OT or NT prophecy (though I would grant that this event could be one of many ways in which the river of Exzekiel 47 gets a little larger, or be one of the kings of the nations entering the New Jerusalem in Rev. 21 - but not with any of the parousia/resurrection/judgment passages that were said to happen at the time of the kingdom). Also, 400 years or so does not fit the “at hand” / “this generation” language found over 100 times in the NT. Those are two basic primary reasons but more specific ones are these here next.

Daniel 7 posits the transfer of the kingdom at the time of the coming of the Son of Man to defeat the Little Horn and open the books of judgment. The whole motif of kingdom transfer was the primary reason why I wrote what I did to show that what Daniel had in mind was what the NT authors believed was about to happen in their generation. The man of lawlessness in 2 Thess. 2 fits the bill of the little horn significantly as many scholars atest, and that gentleman was already on the scene circa AD56. One other thing I find interesting is Dan. 7:12 where after the little horn is destroyed (which I take as Nero), the lives of the other beasts (the Lion-Bear-Leopard-terrifying one-alliance) are prolonged for a season. Some think this is covenantal only, ending at AD70 while others are inclined to take a more political view and say this is the operation of Rome as an entity that would continue to persecute the church, mildly off and on (which is what history actually shows) until the time of Constantine. I’m inclined to take the latter but open to other possibilities.

The answer to your question about how the events of Daniel 2 could be the fall of Jerusalem… first, this isn’t a novel interpretation. James Jordan expounded on it in his tome on Daniel (“The Handwritting on the Wall”). Jordan takes a covenantal view, which for the most part I’m inclined to take also. Once one correctly identifies the “clay” as Israel rather than as fragility of Rome (a once popular view among reformed circles but clearly not from the wholistic biblical/propetic narrative), and that each metal was identified as an empire which held Israel, and that the feet of clay mixed with iron is crushed not the iron legs (Rome), and that the entire statue falls (not Rome singularly) and is replaced by Christ’s kingdom, then it becomes easy to see this is about the fall of a covenantal structure that embodied Old Covenant Israel (and the new covenant people for 40 year exodus time period). This is where lining up all that I showed from Matthew is helpful. This is the story you find there. If you stretch the Dan 2/7/9/12 prophecy outside of the people who lived in the metal man kingdom, then you abandon the historical-narrative approach and make is extend well into the future past anything the authors had in mind.

Duncan McKenzie in “The AntiChrist and the Second Coming: vol 1” takes the position that this is about the watcher gods or demons behind the political leaders who are cast into gehenna at AD70 at the Parousia of Christ, so that explains how Rome was still in operation post AD70 but not in any legal/covenantal sense — Christ reignes supreme over all nations and over the satanic enemies/principalities.

Kurt Simmons in “Adumbrations” and “Consummation of the Ages” takes the position that the fall of Rome from God’s economy of nations does happen in AD70 not at Constantine, and is political, but only as it related to old covenant Israel. He lays out a huge amount of the historical events and shows how the 7 heads and 10 horns in Revelation line up in Daniel and with history to show that they cannot, from the narrative, extend past AD70.

Regardless of which view one takes (I think they all have strengthes and weaknesses), for me it also boils down to exegeting Revelation with Daniel and Isaiah and Matthew in particular. Since I take the new heavens and earth in Rev 21-22 to not be literal of creation but to be covenantal, ie the change of the kingdom from old covenant Israel to new covenant Israel (or church), per Isaiah 65-66 in context, I cannot see any major prophetic event in Revelation extending past AD70. The great white throne judgment (Daniel 7), the resurrection (Daniel 12), the new heavens and earth (Isa 65-66) I see as all concurrent, at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.

The significance of this is huge, because in large part I see this as the end of the Hadean system of judgment (tied as it was to the old covenant, and extending all the way back to the Garden imagery of access denied and cherubs guarding, through the tabernacle/temple imagery and motiff, and it’s desolation beginning at the cross but ending 40 years later at the judgment of that last wicked generation of God’s covenant people). This to me is the “summing up of all things in Christ.” We now live in the “age to come,” in the kingdom, in the new heavens and earth arrangement, in reconcillation to God, and with the Hadean system gone forever.

Blessings

Well said above Jerel.

If any man be in Christ he is a new creation” i.e., new Israel – servant of God, light to the world.

Hi Jerel,

I appreciate the time you took putting that together, and it definitely helped me understand you better. I’m not sure I agree with all of it, but you’ve motivated me to research the position further, and at the very least, I think we agree more than we disagree.

My biggest issue is still whether or not Rome’s power could be said to be broken in any meaningful sense in AD 70. If it’s broken in a “spiritual” or “covenantal” sense, that seems to have had literally zero impact in the historical life of the people of God. The apostles witnessed Rome ascendant, not Rome defeated.

Take, for instance, the manner in which Satan ruled the Empire. He did it as the spiritual animus of the Romans (as well as the unfaithful religio-political hierarchy in the region of Judea, although it’s highly questionable whether that rule could be said to extend to the nations). Satan ruled the nations through the Romans. If Jesus defeats Satan and takes rulership of the nations, it makes sense to me this would happen in a similar way.

It’s also difficult for me to understand how a spiritual/covenantal reign of Jesus would be considered gospel in the first century, whereas its easier for me to see how the message that King Jesus will judge the powers in Jerusalem followed by the judgement on the nations would be.

The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD was probably the biggest historical event to happen to the Jews, but it would have been a relatively small ripple in the world of the ethnoi.

Phil,

I can appreciate where you are coming from, the questions you ask are ones I asked myself on my own journey. I think you may be mistaken regarding the effect the dest. of Jerusalem had on the rest of the world, from a historical perspective. And, I think that the primary significance we are missing here is the theological one - what the dest. of J meant to the church and the rest of the world (I laid out some of that case above). It certainly was a much grander “historical” event than some Galilean nailed to some wood on top of a hill outside Jerusalem. The crucifixion had virtually no “ripple” to the ethnoi, at least in how is was perceived historically, but the ramifications of it were clearly profound in a “spiritual/covenantal” sense. Sure, it also had political ramifications, in that these two events were instrumental in Jesus ruling the nations and being declared Lord not Caesar, even though Casear could still declare himself Lord. But the removal of the Caesar system isn’t required for Jesus to rule the nations. As Psalms 110 says, “rule in the midst of your enemies.” And, as Jesus himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world, for if it were my servants would fight.” His reign, from heaven, is certainly much different than world political schemes.

But I’m not sure we actually get Rome as the primary enemy of Christ or the church in the NT narrative. But Israel is. This is seen throughout Acts, and is seen in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10. This event in 2 Thess of retribution, flaming fire, eternal punishment, revealing from heaven with angels, and glorification in the saints are all gospel motiffs, and are directly connected with the dest. of Jerusalem as we see from Acts that those who were persecuting the Thessalonians were the Jews. The role the beast had in Revelation was in propping up the harlot (Jerusalem), until it turned on her and ate her.

As far as the satan’s role, I agree with you in large part but I think the stronger emphasis on the satan in the NT narrative is in empowering Jerusalem to persecute the church. Rome’s part in this drama really only comes into play as we move into the great tribulation, first against the church from about AD64-67, then to the Jews from AD66-70. This seems to be what Revelation is describing by the release of the the beast from the abyss in Rev. 13 & 17.

I think the words of Jesus on the Mount of Olives in describing the situation leading up to the dest. of Jerusalem are critical:

Mat 24:4-14 ESV And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. (5) For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. (6) And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. (7) For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. (8) All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (9) “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. (10) And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. (11) And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. (12) And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. (13) But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (14) And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

What I don’t think is appreciated very often is that this event was so extreme in the history of the church (not just Israel as you suggested) that very few remained faithful to the end or alive from the intense persecution.

Mat 24:21 ESV For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.

This isn’t to make light of the persecution that the church suffered at the hand of Rome post AD-70, but it certainly wasn’t as intense physically/politically, and it didn’t have the theological impact the the fulfillment and removal of the Old Covenant system had on the church in a spiritual sense. For a larger treatise on that premise, see Kenneth Gentry’s “Before Jerusalem Fell.”

I’m not sure how much of the history you have studied, but you might check out the book “Final Decade Before the End” by Ed Stevens. He is quite a bit more literalist and fundamentalist than you and I, and there’s a lot I don’t agree with him in his overal eschatological position, but his research into the history of this time period is without equal.

http://tinyurl.com/yxr9zfg4

Hi Jerel,

Thanks again for the response and also for taking my questions/challenges in the spirit in which they are offered, which is genuinely to learn your responses and not debate per se.

One thing that has cropped up a couple of times that I’d like to clear up for the sake of our conversation is that I do not believe all the things you believe are fulfilled by the fall of Jerusalem are actually fulfilled by the fall of pagan Rome. I think the Olivet Discourse is probably entirely subsumed by the fall of Jerusalem. This might be obscured because, if I understand you correctly, you believe Daniel’s prophecies, the Olivet Discourse, and Revelation all to be exhausted by the same event, and I don’t (at least for the time being).

So, when you argue, for example, that the persecution of Christians by Rome in the 3rd/4th centuries doesn’t qualify as a great tribulation, I agree with you - the tribulation Jesus speaks of and warns his disciples to flee from is the destruction of Jerusalem. In fact, the destruction of Jerusalem almost entirely dominates Jesus’ apocalyptic projections (I say almost because there are some things in the Beatitudes that seem to have more relevance to dealing with Rome). I just wanted to be clear that in no way am I trying to say that all apocalyptic passages are talking about the fall of pagan Rome, or even that most are. Most are not.

Because apocalyptic prophecy is not simply a historical report before it happens, we find the areas in history that do not seem to line up nicely and neatly with prophetic expectation, even though they might in broad brush strokes, and a lot of the debate among the… um… official? eschatalogical views are around how to deal with this problem.

The Futurists deal with it by saying that a day will come when historical events -will- nicely and neatly line up with prophecy. But generally all the other views deal with the issue by the prophecies being fulfilled to some degree or another in a trans-earthly sense and, insofar as Israel expected all the prophecies to have a this-worldly fulfillment, they were in error.

Where I am primarily having difficulty with your view is not the significance of the fall of Jerusalem in prophecy. Where we have our difficulty is that there is an eschatological expectation that YHWH will rule the nations and Israel will reign with him. If I’m reading you rightly, your take on the fulfillment of this prophecy is that the destruction of Jerusalem removes the OT “guardians” of Israel from power as well as the corrupt religio-political structure that has been persecuting them, so YHWH and faithful Israel reign over the nations in the sense that the covenant people have been freed from all other powers and are spread abroad through the nations.

I think that’s cogent, but it’s a theological explanation that fills the vacuum of a perceived historical one. I guess I’d want to see some evidence that these early witnesses saw the fall of Jerusalem as God and Israel ruling the nations, even in retrospect. The perspective that the fall of Jerusalem was God ending the Old Covenant conclusively and judging unfaithful Jerusalem is abundant in early church writings - they are far from silent on the subject. But is there any indication that first or second century believers would have interpreted scripture or history in the way you suggest?

Obviously, a lack of such writings doesn’t prove anything one way or the other, but it would speak to my concern that we may be theologically filling gaps in ways not intended by the original authors or audience.

By contrast, there was a vibrant awareness in the fourth century that Constantine was fulfilling prophecy. Once again, that doesn’t prove anything. The history of exegesis is full of examples of people assuming some great event in their own time is a fulfillment of prophecy (Pope qua Antichrist, for example). But, Constantine proclaiming Christ as Lord over the very empire that ruled over and persecuted Christians and executed Jesus does seem at least on the surface to fulfill the expectation that God and Israel would rule over the nations, every knee shall bow, Egypt and Assyria shall worship, etc.

And I suppose my preference is for a historical fulfillment over a theological one. Can you help me understand how the eschatological expectation of God ruling the nations was primarily God’s covenantal rulership over faithful Israel? Have I misunderstood you?

I do have some questions/quibbles/objections to some of your take on Daniel, but I think the crux of what’s keeping me from adopting the entirety of your position is the expectation of God’s rule over the nations and how the fall of Jerusalem could possibly be a fulfillment of that expectation.

I think the point that is missed in the metal man image is the role that those nations are playing. Why is that group of nations represented? Because the Kingdom of Judah was placed into receivership under their authority until the end of the Old Covenant. The nations prior to Rome had either been eliminated or reduced in power generations before, but they are still represented in the statue that isn’t knocked down until the rock strikes it. I’d argue that this is because the role they are playing isn’t tied to their tangible, secular power, but instead their role as guardians of the covenant nation until the end of that covenant. God said that he’d protect those in exile until they were called back. All of the scripture that Andrew and Jerel quoted indicates that this call back happened at the time of the full establishment of the New Covenant, at the complete end of the Old Covenant. So, it’s not about Rome’s political history. It’s about their role in the ruling over Judea until The End.

it’s not about Rome’s political history. It’s about their role in the ruling over Judea

Exactly! Well put.

Doug those are great thoughts. It is a “metal man”, i.e. an image of one man, made out of metal. It’s the fall of the one man that is in view. It clearly is about a jurisdiction over the old covenant people that ends with the arrival of the Messiah’s kingdom. The problem with the fall of Rome view in my opinion is it doesn’t connect with the old covenant people in any way. It’s clear to me that the book of Daniel concerns primarily the fate of Daniel’s people, the Jews.

Dan 2:28 ESV but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these:

Dan 9:24 ESV “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.

Dan 10:14 ESV and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

Dan 11:14 ESV “In those times many shall rise against the king of the south, and the violent among your own people shall lift themselves up in order to fulfill the vision, but they shall fail.

Dan 12:1-2 ESV “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. (2) And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Dan 12:6-7 ESV And someone said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream, “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” (7) And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream; he raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven and swore by him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished.

I didn’t quote it but the abomination of desolation and the time period of time, times and half a time are all connected with this eschatological event. Jesus placed the Abom of Des at the fall of the Second Temple, which was the shattering of the power of the holy people, and was the time of the resurrection and Daniel rising to receive his inheritance according to the rest of Daniel 12. The time/times/half a time is connected with the destruction of the beast in Daniel 7 and Rev. 12:14 and 13:5. I looked everywhere but I can’t find a connection to the fall of Rome being the shattering of the holy people or any sort of “day of the Lord” event (which, from the typical OT military “day of the Lord” perspective, the tribulation of the “fall” of Rome was about as rough as an old man slipping into a hot bath).

From Dan. 12:6-7

“How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?”…that it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished.

Jerel,

The reference “a time, times, and half a time” is a very clear reference. The “shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end” is just as clear. So what’s so hard about understanding “all these things would be finished”?

I’ll tell ya, it’s like listening to people trying to explain away Matthew 24:34. Insisting that “all” doesn’t mean all, and “this generation” doesn’t mean Jesus’ generation. It all points to AD 70 and you just can’t get around it.

I do thank you for your words here. Very clear and concise. Much appreciated.

Hi Rich,

I’m sorry my questions and objections seem intellectually recalcitrant to you, but surely you can see that no position really escapes the “plain meaning” criticism, if that’s even a valid criticism.

If your position is correct (and it may be), we’d have to adopt some fairly nuanced concepts of terms like “resurrection,” “kingdom,” “rule,” and oikumene that may not correspond with a typical way of understanding those words.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that you probably didn’t hold this view from reading the Bible as a child (forgive me if I’m wrong about this - I’m making assumptions), but rather came to it later in life through works or interactions that convinced you of the position. If this is the case, then I hope we can agree that the interpretive issues are more complex than just the “obvious meaning” of these passages.

Phil,

My words weren’t meant to belittle your questions or objections. They weren’t even given with you in mind. They were more of a general statement (in a bit of frustration I do admit) of overall Christendom, especially those who have been exposed to what is plain. Those who just reject without even considering something for whatever reason - and there are many, such as rejecting it just because it’s different from what they currently hold to. Take for example Andrew’s narrative perspective when it comes to reading the scriptures. Isn’t it an obvious methodology when reading them? Yet, there are those who will reject reading the scriptures in such a manner and continue on pouring futurism with a universal bent into every word when the text confines it to “this generation” or to Israel for example. They’ll even go on to write books in an attempt to explain why “this generation” doesn’t mean “this generation”. I’ve been exposed to such people and attempts for so long I am a little jaded. I then come across someone, such as Jerel, here and there who puts forth something so clear and concise (and correct) I sometimes feel the need to speak out. Sometime not wisely nor in proper context. This being a case in point.

Sorry if my words seemed directed at you. They were not. I’m glad you ask questions and such. Shows an open mind. I even enjoyed reading your various comments and/or questions to Andrew. Probably ever bit as much as I enjoy reading Andrew’s write-ups, even though I completely disagree with his focus on Rome and its role in the Scriptures - as Jerel pointed out. I’ve surely leaned much. Again, sorry.

Hey Rich,

No worries, and thank you for your kind reply. I wasn’t offended so much as taken mildly aback by what appeared on the surface to be a reductionistic way of framing the issue, and I didn’t come out looking very good!

I appreciate your contributions here very much as well and am glad to see you chime in. Also, I can very much empathize with dealing with the constant onslaught of futurism (and the hermeneutic that supports it) and the relief that comes from hearing someone else talk some sense.

BTW I meant to say that I read the Pete Enns article when he published it and I was quite disappointed in it, yet not surprised. He has never really been willing to engage this topic in much detail. Usually, one of his minions waves their hand and says “most scholars believe Revelation was written post-AD70” and viola, problem solved.

This is surprising, because this view of eschatology fits better with his views on Genesis than the futurist view he holds. It’s like these scholars grab hold of a narrative-historical view in one part of the bible then abandon it in the opposite end.