We’ve been talking about how the Bible has different pictures of the End time. In so doing, we’ve discovered that the same thing happened to the pioneers in our church, and to the disciples.
Today, I want to look at exaclty how that played out in one account.
Matthew 24 begins with Jesus remarking that the Temple will be destroyed, “not one stone left standing on another.” In response, the disciples asked Jesus an apparently simple question: “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (v. 3b)
In their minds, the destruction of the Temple, Christ’s return, and the End were all parts of one single event. The destruction of the Temple would be the End, as far as they could imagine. Now, probably Jesus could have told them that some of them would live to see the Temple destroyed, but that His coming would be delayed by millennia, but he didn’t. I say ‘probably’ because there is his statement that even he did not know the precise time of his return. Even if he could have rounded it off to say, 2000 years or so, it would have been helpful–to us, maybe. But not to them.
Remember, Daniel asked a more direct question “how long?” and got a very direct answer 2300 years! But look at what it did to Daniel: “I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. . . I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.” We humans don’t deal well with extremely long time spans of say, nearly 300 lifetimes! And at the time Matthew 24 was given, the disciples had a much more stressful time just ahead of them– passion week and the crucifixion. So if Jesus had, in his superior knowledge, teased out the time differential within their question, they might well have been overwhelmed and despaired, as Judas’ fate demonstrates.
So Jesus answered their question, telling them the things they really needed to know concerning each one, but not overwhelming them with unsought and unnecessary detail. He had more to tell them, but they could not bear it right then.
Reading this passsage in Matthew makes me more tentative in my views. I may be in possession of revealed truth in answer to my questions; God may have indeed given me the answers that I sought. But this passage reminds me that, however clear and appropriate God’s answers may be, I may be mistaken about my questions!
To be honest, I see this all the time– in others, alas! more clearly than in myself. People ask what they think is one clear question, when in fact the question consists of several different issues mixed together, and/or contains assumptions which make any answer unclear or mistaken. You know, like the old riddle about why Moses did not take an bees on the Ark?
Because Moses didn’t go on the Ark. That was Noah.