Seeking a Sign? PI

Jesus dealt with this in Matthew 16, let’s take a look what this means and how it applies to eschatology.  

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away. Matthew 16:1-4 

The Pharisees were hounding Jesus for more miracles to prove who He was. Just like many Christians today, who are so focused on fads and new teachings, they totally ignore Who and What Christ is. Even though Jesus gave them miracles that were greater than even Moses had shown, their faith was absent and their focus was skewed.

The leaders were so concerned with appearances and their made-up doctrine they could not, nor wanted to see the real Truth. Sound familiar? They interpreted and applied their ideas and judgments from the Law, but did not understand God’s plain truth as revealed in the Scriptures. So, they focused on trivial matters and burdened the people with silly laws that were not scriptural. Just like false teachers do today! They became obstacles to the truth and facilitators of confusion. They literally believed, with passion, the weather report based on superstitions, but not God’s Word based on fact! They could see the sky and predict tomorrow’s errands, but were unwilling to see God at work or His plan.

A sign from heavenhea. Literally means, point to the sky and show us! This did not refer to a sign from God; Jesus already gave them that. This was an astrological proclamation. Often the leaders would use astrologers and star predictions for understanding the signs of the times and the future, even though God did directly forbid it (2 Kings 20:8-9; 2 Chron. 32:24; Isa. 38:7).

They relied on superstitions and not spiritual maturity. Superstitions were rooted in Jewish custom; Josephus wrote that the heavens, as shown to men, had a special portion to predict future events (Judges 6:17; Isa. 7:11-14; 8:18; 19:20; 20:3; 37:30; 38:7; 66:19; Ezek. 4:3; 12:11; 24:24-27; Matt. 24:29).

Elijah countered the astrologers by making a sign on the spot (1 Kings 18:38).

They were looking for proof from fables, and refused to see the real proof as predicted by the prophets. Thus, it can be said the leaders were looking for a sign from God, but that is unlikely due to the fact that Jesus already gave them many.

The best sign in eschatology is the buildup of our faith and the deployment of our spiritual formation into the lives of others. We pave the way for His Second Coming by our faith development and deployment, not by our feeble theories and the chasing of signs!

Their problem was not the lack of signs, but the refusal to adhere to them. God had given them the signs, but they refused to read or obey them (Duet. 32:5-20). The ultimate sign would be the resurrection (Matt. 12: 39-40).

We need to understand our Lord’s worth; He is Worthy, He sees us as worthy to be saved. We need to see that worthy means honorable and precious, so we need to empty ourselves of pride and concerns so as to be worthy to worship Him. The this becomes the beacon sign to the unbeliever.

 

Revelation Interpretive Difficulties

This book of Scripture is called “apocalyptic” writing, and it is a form of prophecy. Apocalyptic writing is a type of literature that warns us of future events but in which the full meaning is hidden to us for the time being. Apocalyptic writing is almost a secret, giving us glimpses through the use of symbols and imagery of what is to come. We may not know the meanings now, but time will reveal it.

The key to unlocking these imageries is seeking what they meant back then, to the early church, to the first century Jew and Christian and how the churches in Asia Minor would have understood them, not what they mean in a current newspaper, 2000 years removed, which also removes any cultural or language understandings.

Apocalyptic writing is found in Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Matthew as well as in Revelation. Prophecy, as literature and meaning for us today, contains past, present, and future events. Examples include the many prophecies concerning Jesus that already have been fulfilled, and parts of Daniel and Revelation, as well as Matthew 24 that will yet come to pass. Prophecy does not always follow a clear logical and systematic pattern, often jumping from thought to idea to another point and so forth. It also may jump over large periods of time. Thus, in Prophecy, we need to be aware of two essential forms of language.

First there is the Literal (Didactic). This is the simple and direct meaning, or in other words, what it says is what it means. It has a plain meaning. Zechariah, chapter seven is a good example, as are much of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The imagery had a clear meaning to the people to whom it was first presented, so don’t jump to conclusions or read in what is not there. If you get frustrated with it, put it aside. Most Bible scholars debate the meaning, so it is improbable that you will have a clear insight. Some people are not ready or able to comprehend this part of the Bible; if so, that is OK! Focus on the parts of Revelation that are crystal clear.

The second form of language is the Figurative (Predictive). This is the category into which most of prophecy and thus Revelation falls. We are to always view prophesy with the attitude that it has a plain meaning until we have clear and compelling reasons to place it in the figurative category.

Our task is to determine the points and ideas that apply today and point to tomorrow.

The bottom line is that it will happen at some point in history, and come to pass in a literal and plain way. We may not understand it until it is right on top of us. Daniel 7-12; Joel 2; Isaiah 11; and Zech. 4 are clear examples of figurative language. Furthermore, some of the language in Revelation is “word pictures” that John is trying to describe in their language and culture as well as technology, such as Daniel, chapter seven, and many parts of Revelation. For example, if he was describing events we might see in our lifetime, how would he describe a helicopter if he had never heard of or seen one? For most parts of Revelation, John was using imagery from Ezekiel, Daniel, and other Jewish literature that they would have known. Unfortunately, today few of some so called Bible scholars who write the popular books are even aware that there is an Old Testament, let alone how to inductively read it.

The key to the understanding of Revelation is in the Old Testament!

Apocalyptic writing can also be cryptic and symbolic such as the fish which was a secret greeting to see if another person was a Christian, too. When we come to words that seem peculiar to our modern minds such as stars, the first-century Jews would know that it meant “angels.” Lampstands meant “churches;” the phrase, wife of the Lamb meant “Jerusalem,” and the great prostitute was a covert slogan to refer to “Nero” or any corrupt leader in power. Babylon was referring to Rome (Rev. 1:20; 17:1-5, 18; 21:9-10). Consequently, the inscription key is understanding the Old Testament and Jewish customs and thought, not today’s newspaper headlines!

It is important to note that 28% of the Old Testament is prophecy, most of which came to pass in the life and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament has over 20% prophecy too, of which most (although this is debated) have not yet come to pass. Thus, prophecy is important because God has dedicated a significant portion of His Word to it.

Again, do not read in what is not there!

Exegetical look at Matthew 24, Part VI

Vs.36-50: No one knows…angels, or the Son… Why did Jesus not know, when He is the omnipresence God? God keeps most of His plans secret for good reason (Deut. 29:29; Zech. 14:6-9). We would become preoccupied with them and miss our purpose for being here on earth. Just look at some Catholics and how they are overzealous with artifacts; in fact there are enough so-called pieces of the cross of Christ in European Cathedrals to build a large church! There is also the obsession for the Holy Grail (the cup of Christ in His last supper). They look to “stuff” and not to substance!

· This is one of the “hard saying of Jesus.” Scholars debate whether Jesus, being also fully man, could not predict His second coming because either He did not know, or the time was not yet set up. These two views seem to nullify His omniscience. According to Catholics, and some Protestants, the knowledge was too high for Jesus to communicate to mere humans (St. Thomas Aquinas). Luther said the divine nature was unable to communicate this to the human nature. The Reformed view is that there is no distinction or confusion between the divine and human natures, as Jesus was fully God and fully man. Jesus had all knowledge, but when He was in human form, only the Father had this knowledge. In addition, the Father has knowledge that the other members of the Trinity do not have.

· Even the Holy Spirit did not have this knowledge. So, if someone says, “the Holy Spirit told me the day and time,” they are either being dishonest or are deluded—to which this passage attests!

· Son refers to Jesus the Divine Person, a part of the Godhead of the Trinity—one God, three manifestations. The Son is the manifestation that lives on behalf of us and redeems us before the Father. The Spirit convicts the unbeliever to know God and paves the way for Christ’s work (see doctrine channel at http://www.intothyword.org and article on the Trinity).

· Days of the flood refers to people carrying on their daily lives, unconcerned with God—only focused on self. This also refers to the evil, sinful nature of people!

· Taken refers to being taken to Judgment (Jer. 6:10-12)! Most people think this is the rapture, but, it is never explicitly taught or illustrated, although the text does “allow” for such as view. (What is my view? I do not have one. After 20 years of carefully studying the books of Revelation and Daniel, I am not ready to publicly form one; I still need more study!)

· Israel, as a nation, had rejected their Messiah and thus would be forced, by their own will, to go through a great tribulation.

· Thief will come literally means to “break in,” as to dig into the clay and brick sides to get inside the home. This could only happen if the people were not there—as in not ready (Ex. 22:2-3).

· Watch…be ready refers to being active, in faith and practice, and not be waiting, sitting and doing nothing. Do not be distracted from that which Christ has called you! Do not waste your time in the particulars of eschatology; it really is not that important for us to know or to teach!

· Servant. Wealthy people had servants whose job it was to watch for their return, as they had many homes for winter and for summer. The servants were to be ready, so food, provisions, and the chores needed to have been done. Those who failed, who were lazy or took advantage of others and their master’s things, were fired or imprisoned. Thus, they could only be abusive if the master was not present. Our Master is always present!

The study of eschatology is important, but, compared to issues such as prayer, Bible study, who Christ is, basic doctrine, faith development, living in the Spirit, and growing in character and service to our neighbors and people in need, it really is not that important for us to know or to teach! Do you agree or disagree, and why? (It is OK to disagree with non essential doctrine, as long as we do not divide over it!)

Exegetical look at Matthew 24, Part V

Vs.32-35: Fig tree. This is the first of seven “futures” of the Kingdom parables. Fig trees give clear signs of what they are doing so you know what comes next; they lose their leaves in the winter, then they start to produce fruit before the new leaves bud. At this time, the fig trees would be “in leaf.” In Mark, Jesus uses this parable to predict the destruction of the Temple (Mark 11:12-25). By knowing Scripture, not popular reasoning, we will know for sure when the events are upon us all!

· This generation normally refers to “you people,” as in race and mentality; it can also refer to who is there, and in being stubborn (Lev. 26:18-20; Judg. 2:19). This is not about time; it is about the mentality and the people, such as the race of Jews. Some have said this meant only the people then; the destruction of the Temple and the reign of Nero comprised the Tribulation (“Preterism” means fulfilled eschatology). Also, that in 70 A.D., all that Jesus spoke of in Matthew, chapter 24, was fulfilled and now we are in the age of Jesus’ reign. I guess they have not looked out a window lately! Yes, some of it was fulfilled, but not all; so, “this generation” did see some of what is to come, in fact, most or all of it except for His Second Coming!

· The Dead Sea scrolls predicted a 40 year tribulation versus the seven year one in Revelation!

· My words. These are words only God would proclaim; no O.T. Prophet would dare to say these things in this way. Their words were given to them by God; Jesus spoke as God (Jer. 31:35-37; Zech. 1:5-6). For the Jews, to whom Matthew is written, this meant the authority of the O.T. Scriptures.

· Jesus does not give us an exact timeline of when and how these events will take place; even Revelation and Daniel do not! This gives birth to needless speculation and obsession, because we fail to see His main point—being prepared, and being encouraged that things will get better after they get worse!

What can you do to make sure you are not distracted by theological trivialities that may seem fun to learn and investigate (and they are), but deter you from what Christ has called you to do?

Exegetical look at Matthew 24, Part IV

Vs.29-31: The sun will be darkened. This is a reference to a significant astronomical event in the form of O.T. judgment language (Psalm 18:6-19; Isa. 13:10; 24:23; 34:4; Jer. 4:20-28; Ezek. 32:7-8; Joel 3:14; Zech. 14:6). The question is not if or when, as many of us obsess over; rather, He will come and we had better be prepared with our attitude and mindsets!

· Darkness was the most frightening prediction (Ex. 9:21-23)!

· The sign of the Son of man refers to God bringing about the opportunity for people to repent for having caused Him grief. Then, the Kingdom of Heaven will flourish (Dan. 7:13-14; Zech. 12:10; Rev. 1:7). Sign refers to the first real evidence of Christ’s second coming.

· Morn. Jesus is coming back and this time it will not be subtle; it will hurt, hurt people who do not believe and believers who have become apostate as in cause pain while still being glorious (Dan. 7:13-14; Zech. 12:10-12)!

· Clouds mean judgment. This refers to a spectacular event, the numbers of angels testifying to God’s glory. It could also mean an extraordinary storm of clouds. Such as numbers of angels testifying to God’s glory (Ezek. 30:3; Dan. 7:13; Zech. 12:10; Matt. 16:28; 24:30, 34; 26:64).

· Son of man means He is Lord and King! (See study, Matthew 10: 16-26).

· Trumpets were used to announce the coming of or the succession of a king. They were used to summon people together and for a war cry to motivate troops and scare the enemy (Judg. 7:8-25; Isa. 11:12; 27. 13; Jer. 4:5, 19-21; Zeph. 1:16). Here, it is a popular prayer Jesus uses to refer to a future gathering of believers in Christ (Zech. 9:14-16; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

· Some have thought that this section can also refer to the coming defeat of Satan and His dominion, but there is no textual support; rather, it is about His second coming (Matt. 13:40-43; 16:27; 25:31; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:14-17).

Exegetical look at Matthew 24, Part II

Vs.6-14: Are not troubled. Suffering is a part of life; it will happen; we have to learn to cope, seek Him, and prepare for it so we can help others and ourselves through it.

· Sorrows literally means, “the spasms from giving birth;” troubles are like being pregnant, with the possibility that the birth will give us both opportunity and pain.

· We are called not to be discouraged when bad things, troubles, disasters, and tribulations happen in the world (2 Chron. 15:6; Isa. 13:8; 19:2; Jer. 51:46; Hos. 13:13). We live in a fallen world where sin has corrupted everything and everyone, so disasters will come. We are called to prepare, plan ahead, and look to Christ as the Deliverer. He is in control!

· They will deliver you was a forewarning that knowing and making Christ known is dangerous; we will face persecution both overtly and/or covertly.

· Persecution was what distinguished the early church from other groups, even many zealous ones who were not persecuted.

· Tribulation means “The Day of the Lord” which will come about in the last days. (This term has been wrought with controversy in the last 100 years. I, for time sake, will not explore all the theories; however we will when we get further in the book of Revelation).

· He who endures. This is also a call, a call to keep you from being spiritually or emotionally defeated when tough times come. We are to always see our Lord and not our situation (John 10:28-29; Rom. 8:31-39). This is an aspect of the character of faithfulness, as it will help you persevere under stress and chaos. Christ keeps us secure, not our environment!

· Offended, betray. Under cultural, family, and physical pressure, many early Christians gave up on the faith; some betrayed others, and some reverted to paganism or Judaism.

· Deceive. This leads to and comes from Apostasy—a blatant disregard for God and His truth as well as the forsaking of His love and acceptance! Love cannot function where God is not honored, sought, and glorified! We cannot be deceived when our eyes are on Christ and His Word!

Exegetical look at Matthew 24, Part I

Vs.1-5: Show Him the buildings. The disciples were excited to see the splendor of man’s creations and saw God’s glory in them. The Temple, considered by some to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was the central symbol of Judaism, and believed to be invincible and indestructible. Jesus refocuses them on God and away from things that soon would all be rubble!

· Do you see? Jesus’ primary audience and challenge is to Israel.

· Most Greek philosophers considered even the most extravagant building as unimpressive, though it was of more value to them.

· Not one stone shall be left. This was fulfilled in 70 A.D. The Qumran was one of the few first century Jewish groups to see the impending fall because of hypocrisy and apostasy. Other groups said the Temple represented God, and since God would not destroy Himself, they felt safe (Jer. 4:7-15)! All things in this world will be meaningless and destroyed eventually; only God will remain, along with those whose faith is in Him!

· Tell us when. Jesus responds to the disciples with the “Olivet Discourse,” named for the place where it was spoken. Jesus groups together two questions as one (in meaning, not necessarily in chronological order), the time of the destruction of the Temple, and the End of Ages.

· Wars…are signs of Jesus’ coming, but also of life in a fallen world. The emphasis is on not being negligent toward such things! If we knew the exact time and day, Christians would probably be callous, lazy, and unproductive, as history has shown with such groups who think they know.

· When. Most scholars, over the centuries, have stated it will be when the Gospel has been preached to all nations (Matt. 28: 16-20).

· Take heed. People with various intentions—from deliberately deceiving others to being deluded individuals—will claim to be the Christ. We are called to be discerning so we will not be deceived! We are to always evaluate everything by the Word, while being sensitive to the Spirit.

· Many will come. And, many did in Jesus time, attracting large crowds and followers, according to Josephus, a first century Jewish historian. No one claiming to be Jesus would ever contradict the Bible (Isa. 8:20; John 16:13-15; 1 John 2:18-29)! The key to knowing who is real and who is fake and their motivations is that false prophets seek political and self-fulfilling aspirations; real followers of Christ seek to glorify Him and Him alone (Psalm 69:30; Rom. 15:5-9; Rev. 16:8-9).