Is Luke 21.25-36 about the Second Coming—or something else?


Advent is once more upon us (pun intended!), and with it comes two sets of confusion:

  • the idea that Advent is the anticipation of Christmas (when it is really about looking forward to Jesus’ return and The End);
  • and the notion that the set passages in the lectionary are all about Jesus’ return.

As we are about to enter Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary, then we turn to the Gospel of Luke and its distinct focus. (If you need the lectionary for your electronic calendar, the best place to go is Simon Kershaw’s offering at Oremus. You can specify exactly which parts of the lectionary information you want in your calendar, and choose the appropriate format.)

I have previously argued (agreeing with G B Caird and R T France, who influenced Tom Wright) that in the parallel account in Matt 24 (and Mark 13), the section read in the lectionary which is commonly taken to refer to Jesus’ return is actually about the Ascension and the proclamation of the gospel to the nations, which we read about in Acts. The key elements of the argument are:

  1. the ‘technical’ language of parousia (used repeatedly by Paul in e.g. 1 Cor 15.23, 1 Thess 2.19) occurs in the second half of Matt 24 (Matt 24.37, 39) but is absent in the first half, except in Matt 24.27 when Jesus says all that is happening is not sign of his coming;
  2. English translations confuse this, by using the same wording (‘coming’) to translate both this word and the quite different present participle erchomenos;
  3. the language of the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ in Matt 24.30 is a direct allusion to Dan 7.13, which refers to the Son of Man coming from the earth to the throne of the Ancient of Days. Matthew conflates it with a reference to Zech 12.10, which talks of the Spirit being poured out on the House of David, and all the tribes of Israel seeing the one they have pierced—used in reference to Jesus’ crucifixion and then the events of Pentecost;
  4. the main stumbling block for the ‘traditional’ reading comes in Matt 24.34–35:

Amen I say to you: this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

  • Despite some attempts at fancy footwork, the term ‘generation’ does refer to those listening to Jesus, so Jesus emphatically states that all these events will happen within the next 30 to 40 years. If you do not think that ‘these things’ relate to the fall of Jerusalem, the Ascension, and the preaching of the gospel including the gentile mission, then the only coherent thing to do is (with Albert Schweitzer and others) believe that Jesus was a deluded apocalyptic prophet, and that the early Jesus movement was constantly concerned with managing its disappointed apocalyptic hope.

I think the strongest argument against this reading is that the events in Matt 24.4–35 don’t come in the right order, in that if the language of the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ refers to Jesus’ ascension, why doesn’t this come in the narrative ahead of what almost everyone agrees are events associated with the fall of Jerusalem? In response to this, I would note that the presenting question is about Jerusalem and its fate, and this is what Jesus addresses first. And the whole discourse deals with themes rather than chronology; Jesus talks of the events that are to come, drawing on language from Daniel to connect it with God’s purposes, and the suffering that will be involved—but only then turns to the source of hope and the reason why the disciples should stand firm. It is quite characteristic of both Mark and Matthew to organise their record of Jesus’ teaching thematically.


With all that in mind, let us turn to the Lukan parallel to Matt 24, and in particular Luke 21.25–36 which is the lectionary reading for the First Sunday in Advent in Year C. Matthew and Mark run quite closely in parallel, at least until Matt 24.36, when Matthew includes Jesus’ extended teaching about the parousia but Mark’s account finishes quite abruptly. But Luke’s record is quite distinct here, not least in setting the teaching in the city of Jerusalem itself (so that others can hear, and not just the disciples) rather than on the Mount of Olives. Let’s look at the relevant sections side by side (this is a photo of the page from Throckmorton, the standard English synopsis of the first three gospels):

You can see immediately that, even in this short section, Matthew and Mark agree closely, whilst Luke is looking quite different at several points. There are two main trends in Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching here.

The first is the downplaying of the cosmic and ‘eschatological’ language of the discourse in several different ways.

  • The language of sun, moon and stars loses its particular details (darkening, not giving its light, and falling) which comes from the source in Is 13.10 and Is 34.4. Instead, Luke postpones this detail to Peter’s Pentecost speech, where he cites similar language from Joel 2.28–32.
  • Matthew’s citation of Zech 12.10, and the language of ‘gathering the elect’ from both Matthew and Mark are omitted.
  • Several parts of the Matthew/Mark account are relocated earlier in Luke: Matthew’s reference to the coming of the Son of Man as lightning and the parallel with the ‘days of Noah’ are found in Luke 17; and the later ‘Parable of the Talents’ (highly abbreviated in Mark) becomes the Parable of the Pounds in Luke 19. Some other sayings gathered into this section by Matthew are found in Luke 12. (This is similar to the way that Matthew has gathered teaching of Jesus into the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5–7 which is found in other places in Mark and Luke.)

But the second, complementary, trend in Luke is the much more explicit association of these events with the fall of Jerusalem. As elsewhere in his gospel, Luke ‘translates’ Jewish apocalyptic ideas and language into more prosaic terms in order to make it understandable to a wider, non-Jewish audience.

  • Luke replaces the rather oblique reference to Daniel in the phrase ‘desolating sacrilege’ (or ‘abomination of desolation’) in Matt 24.15 and Mark 13.14 with the much more mundane ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies…’ in Luke 21.20, just before the lectionary passage that we have (which shows why chunking the text into lectionary bites is not always very helpful).
  • This connects the teaching here with the earlier, uniquely Lukan, passage Luke 19.39–44 where Jesus weeps over the city because ‘the days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.’ Notice here the quite explicit references to the Roman siege of the city (‘build up an embankment’) and the anticipation of the question about stones that then comes in Luke 21.5 and parallels.
  • The language of the ‘roaring of the sea and the waves’ draws on the apocalyptic imagery of the sea as the peoples of the world from which four beastly empires emerge in Dan 7 and the Roman Empire as the beast from the sea arises in Rev 13.1. In fact, there are numerous surprising links between Luke and Revelation, including Luke’s unique addition of ‘patient endurance’ in the parable of the soils at Luke 8.15 connecting with John’s participation in ‘suffering, kingdom and patient endurance’ in Rev 1.9. In our passage, the language of ‘falling by the sword and going to prison’ in Luke 21.24 connects with the language of sword and captivity in Rev 13.10, and the ‘trampling by the Gentiles’ in the same verse connects with the image of the temple being trampled in Rev 11.2. In both cases, there is a clear focus on contemporary cultural reality, rather than the distant future.
  • Luke’s unique addition in Luke 21.28 and the further section of encouragement in Luke 21.34–36 connect the events quite specifically to the trials that Jesus’ own disciples will face.

I think it is this kind of shift which explains why Conzelmann saw Luke as displacing eschatological expectation with his own perspective of ‘salvation history’, in which God’s purposes are worked out and made manifest through the Gentile mission rather than in waiting for the eschaton. I think this is actually a false dichotomy, but it does reflect Luke’s unique emphasis on ‘salvation’ as something that comes in the present, and not merely in the future. (On this, see Mark Allan Powell’s very helpful study of salvation in Luke-Acts here.)


Commentators deal with this all in a variety of ways. Howard Marshall in his NIGTC p 780 explores all the ways in which ‘this generation’ has been understood, and opts for a reading that gives certainty that the events of the end ‘have begun’ but are not time limited. (It is worth noting that Marshall explicitly rejects France’s reading of the parallel passage in Matt on p 776—but he does so on the basis that ‘France applies the parousia language to the fall of Jerusalem’. The centre of France’s argument is that the parousia language is actually absent!) But as Tannehill (Abingdon) points out (p 308), the whole point of Jesus’ saying that the generation ‘will not pass away’ is that it offers a temporal perspective, and stripping it of its temporal significance renders the statement meaningless. Interestingly, Joel Green (in his very good NIC, and with whom I hesitate to disagree!) sees a switch to the eschatological perspective from the historical at verse 25, but Mikeal Parsons (Paideia, p 303) notes that the flow of the text here is ‘seamless’, though drawing more on cosmological images. Parsons then goes on to note something significant: that, in keeping with the consistent and distinctive emphasis in Luke on promise and fulfilment, this passage with its predictions of difficulties for the followers of Jesus is actually fulfilled in a range of elements of the narrative in Acts:


What does all this mean for preaching this passage on Sunday morning?

First, we need to take it seriously in its historical context, noting that Luke is writing to his first audience, and being careful to hear what God might be saying to us through what Luke wrote to his first audience.

Secondly, we need to ensure that we read this passage within the context of the whole of Luke-Acts, so that we see the connections Luke makes between the events of the fall of Jerusalem, Pentecost, and the gentile mission. The significance of the fall of Jerusalem, the suffering the comes, and the scattering of the (Jewish) followers of Jesus is bound up with the breaking out of God’s grace in Jesus to gentile as well as Jew—it is the reason that most of you (who I suspect are not Jewish) are reading this at all!

Thirdly, we need to note that, for Luke, the End was not simply something future (though it is that); rather, the ‘end days’ have already commenced with Jesus’ Ascension, the fall of Jerusalem, and Pentecost. God’s covenant grace has now been broken open to include gentiles within the ‘Israel of God’.

Fourthly, because of all this, the troubles that Jesus’ followers experienced throughout Acts are troubles that we ourselves might well encounter. Like them, we are to ‘hold our heads up’ and not be dismayed, since this Jesus is Lord, and he will return.


As we approach Advent, how do we make sense of the language in the New Testament about the ‘end of the world’? Why is it pastorally important to get this right? Is all the language about ‘rapture’, ’tribulation’ and ‘millennium’ helpful—or a distracting fiction?
Come and find out at Ian Paul’s Zoom teaching morning on Saturday 4th December:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/making-sense-of-the-end-of-the-world-tickets-207768409907


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43 thoughts on “Is Luke 21.25-36 about the Second Coming—or something else?”

  1. Good post. I’d have like to have seen a treatment of v34-36 though. Do you take these as a warning to the apostles prior to the destruction of the temple, or as a warning to all believers prior to the second coming? Perhaps an element of both/and?

    Reply
    • Exactly. This is what I find very confusing. I think Luke gives the impression that all of these words of Jesus relate to His return in judgement, not just regarding Jerusalem. I think it is easier to understand Matthew’s version as first relating to Jerusalem specifically, and then finally to Jesus’ return. Luke muddies the waters. It may in fact be that Luke believes that the two are effectively the same thing – the destruction of Jerusalem signals the time of Jesus’ return to earth in judgement. As I believe he wrote Acts and therefore his Gospel before AD 70, he had no reason to believe otherwise, as he wasnt looking back on the Jerusalem event – it had still to happen.

      Reply
    • Thanks Chris (and Peter).

      In their context, they appear to be words directed at the disciples—but I think they blur into wider instructions for all followers of Jesus, particular the command to ‘stay awake’ (agrupneo here, but gregoreo in the other gospels). Matt 10 does a similar blending of one context into another.

      What is striking is Luke’s omission of any distinction from one context to another, in contrast to Mark but especially to Matthew. He appears to remain entirely focussed on the immediate question of the fall of Jerusalem.

      Reply
  2. ” The language of ‘the coming of the Son of Man’ in Matthew 24:30 is a direct allusion to Dan 7:13, which refers to the Son of Man coming from the earth to the throne of the Ancient of Days.”

    The participle used here is erchomenon. However there are least two other contexts in Matthew where the same participle is employed:
    First: Matthew 3: 11 (words of John the Baptist), ” I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come (erchomenos) one who is more powerful —-.”
    Secondly: Matthew 11: 3 (again John the Baptist) “Are you the coming one
    ( o erchemenos) or do we look for someone else”? [echoing Isaiah 59 :20 ” The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who will repent of their sins.”] -surely a reference, in John’s understanding, to Jesus as the Messiah – the one who is to come to Israel?

    Given the use of the same root term and given the contexts of both passages; namely, either as references to the descent of Jesus into the world or, what is more likely(against the synoptic background) the coming (entry) of Jesus to be amongst his people as their Messiah; then how can this be necessarily reconciled with the presupposition that Matthew 24: 30 “has to be a direct allusion to Daniel 7:13” ? Is erchomenon susceptible to at least two possible interpretations?
    Finally, we read in Mark 14:61 -62 : when Jesus is confronted by the high priest with the question: “Are you the Christ —?”, he replies, “I am – and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming (erchomenon) on the clouds of heaven.” The fact of the #sitting# not to mention the fact of #where# he (Jesus) is sitting, both clearly taking precedence over the “coming”, surely highlights what is meant to be a descent – not an ascent!

    Reply
    • Thanks Colin. I am a little puzzled by your comment; ἐρχόμενος comes around 59 times in the NT in a whole range of contexts!

      The connection is the phrase ‘the coming of the Son of Man’. This only occurs in Matt 16.28 where again it cannot mean the parousia, in these three synoptic passages, and in Mark 14.62.

      The key observations here are a. it matches very closely the Greek of Dan 7.13; b. it is not obviously connected with the parousia, and c. the root of all this confusion is translating it with the same English word as parousia—which at the very least is moot. Reading in Greek eliminates this major confusion.

      I don’t understand why you think the use of ‘sitting’ in Mark 14.61 makes my reading less plausible; it makes the connection with Dan 7 even clearer. Daniel simply makes no mention whatever of a ‘descent’.

      Reply
      • Ian (a) I am simply referring to two contexts in which erchomenos refers to #coming into# rather than #rising up’. Granted they do not refer to the Son of Man. Nevertheless,can we limit our attention to the Son of Man terminology in order to pursue an argument while avoiding the use of this term in relation to other titles ascribed to Jesus – for example Messiah?
        (b) Re Mark 14:62 The reference to Jesus “sitting at the right hand of the mighty one ” surely refers to his heavenly exaltation; hence what else can his “coming on the clouds” mean other than a heavenly descent! As CEB Cranfield has said “the coming follows the sitting”.

        Reply
        • a. For sure, and we use ‘coming’ with the same double meaning. ‘When you come to the traffic lights, turn left’, which means ‘go to the traffic lights…’. I nowhere say ‘erchomenos always means going to rather than coming to’; I say ‘it does not always meaning coming to earth’, which most readers miss, so it is *obviously* about Jesus’ return until they realise that.

          b. That is only the case if you think Jesus is describing a chronological sequence. Why should we assume that? It is more obvious that they are synonyms, not least because that is precisely what Dan 7.13 says: the one like a son of Man both comes to the ancient of days and is enthroned. It is very clear that this is the text that Jesus is alluding to—but he uses ‘seated’ as a synonym for enthronement, and echoes the ‘coming on the clouds’ language. Dan 7 nowhere says that this Son of Man will then return to the earth; that is quite a new addition made by Christian theology.

          (If Cranfield is right, then one again, Jesus is a failed apocalyptic prophet who did not in fact return in the lifetime of the High Priests.)

          Reply
          • In the case of coming following sitting, it is not so much Cranfield who is right, it is the text that says that. Cranfield is only repeating what the text says.

          • No, Cranfield is taking it as a sequence, rather than treating the two as synonyms. The text does *not* say ‘sitting…and then’ or ‘seated…and from there…’

          • Yes, that accurately represents the theory that is now being put across. I’d affirm Cranfield in thinking another understanding of the words is likelier:

            (1) Seated is stationary and coming is energetic – so we wouldn’t take them as synonyms unless there were a compelling reason.

            This is because even if there were two unrelated verbs here that were not incompatible, it would not be necessary to take them as synonymous. Here, however, we have two that are incompatible, so cannot be synonymous. But in sequence they are compatible. So the text can be understood without injury that way (rather than the other way). All the more reason not to take these particular two verbs as synonymous.

            (2) 2 crucial OT sayings are spliced here (Ps 110, Dan 7), each of which is foundational in its own right. The idea that they refer to the same thing is not usual.

            (3) They each individually appear several times in the NT and are taken as self-sufficient without being bolstered by the other of the two.

            (4) Hebrews takes Ps 110.1 to refer to post-ascension, pre-parousia. An interim period.

            (5) Dan 7 and 1 Cor 15 etc are more of a final victory accomplished, so not an interim period.

            (6) Which confirms the present sequence.

            (7) Which is not to say that the vision envisaged is not of Christ coming *from* the visible heavenly court.

          • Thanks Chris for the careful engagement here. But I think your points answer themselves.

            Ps 110.1 is indeed used in the NT to signify the post-ascension, pre-parousia state of Jesus at the right hand of the Father.

            I am arguing that Dan 7.13 is also used, in the NT, in this sense as well. This is not viciously circular, since:
            a. this is exactly how it is used by Stephen in Acts 7
            b. I cannot think of a single place where this language of ‘coming of the Son of Man’ is identified with parousia language
            c. The sense of Dan 7 itself is of the SoM enthroned with the Ancient of Days and receiving his kingdom. This is exactly how the NT sees Jesus ‘as Lord’.

            So, whilst the two images look different, in that one is static, and the other appears dynamic, since that dynamic movement is *very clearly* in Dan 7 movement *to* God and his throne, they both (in different ways) speak of the post-ascension pre-parousia status of Jesus as the one who exercises kingdom authority.

            I should add that we cannot read Dan 7 into the eschaton simpliciter, on the basis that it speaks only of authority, since we need to relocate it from the single eschatology of Judaism into the split, partially realised eschatology of the NT.

          • Such a perspective could involve several counter-intuitive disjunctions. For example:

            (a) the coming of the Son of Man at the end of the eschatological discourse is not in chronological order visavis the rest of the discourse despite the remainder (pre-bdelugma, bedlugma, post-bdelugma) being in chronological order.

            (b) But if it *both* is out of chronological order in an otherwise chronological sequence *and* the word ‘after’ appears, and the acceptance of the word after in its only possible sense restores chronological order, then…the Ascension is not being spoken of.

            (c) This Mark 13 coming looks like a rapture of believers, but Paul in Thess is still awaiting such a rapture, and so is Rev 7 which is very similar to Mark 13. So, again, the Ascension is not being spoken of.

            (d) ‘Behold he comes with the clouds’ suffers chronological disjunction from ‘every eye will see him’ if the former refers to the Ascension. It is far more economical to read that the Son of Man is coming in the future and will *therefore* be seen.

            It looks to me that:
            Neither Ps 110 nor Dan 7 is used in its original sense, but both are used in senses that affirm what is considered important about Jesus: (a) he is presently victorious, (b) he will be decisively manifest in the future and claim his own. This will involve approaching earth with clouds (an idea that articulated the first Christians’ pressing need for vindication more clearly than anything else that can be extracted from the OT) as in Rev 14. Mark who knows Rev is also riding the high wave of expectation of these intense years that postdate the articulation of the Rev 1 oracle.

          • Yes I definitely am, as usual. This comes of being left alone with one’s own thoughts.

            The main point is that there are all sorts of passages where the natural flow of chronology within a sentence would be violated if the coming of the Son of Man were the Ascension.

            1- Mark 13 is the main one, where the chronology of the entire passage (which is otherwise straightforwardly sequential) is doubly violated by (a) the Son of Man portion being majorly out of sequence and by (b) ‘after that tribulation’ having to be ignored.

            2- There is also Rev 1. The coming with the clouds is future, namely the future moment when every eye will see Him. Rev 14 (likewise future) has the Son of Man’s approach to earth seated on a cloud (a clue to how the original picture has been readapted to fit contemporary needs and expectations).

            3- Further, unless there is more than one rapture, then Mark 13 joins Rev 7 and 1 Thess 4 in the category of future rapture, and has the Son of Man as agent of this rapture.

            4- Also it is not likely that writers would speak of something so magnificent as the Ascension without any sense of upward movement by Jesus. Nor any sign of his beginning from earth and proceeding away from earth.

            5- When we speak of ‘parousia’, it is a matter of definitions, since an event referred to can be the parousia without using that word.

            So I am inclined with Prof Bauckham and many others to doubt whether the coming of the Son of Man is the Ascension, and would place the origin of the theory in a desire to overcome a difficulty, which desire creates at least as many alternative difficulties.

  3. Regarding the specific verses of Luke 21: 25-28, it is hard not to conclude these are not referring to the fall of Jerusalem. It’s all very well saying Luke is just using ‘apocalyptic’ language, but that language doesnt seem to apply to actual events.

    I dont really accept that he ‘downplays’ the cosmic signs. He makes it clear that because of events in the heavens and on earth, people are so scared they ‘faint with fear’ because of what seems to be happening. And note that he refers to the ‘distress of nations’, not the distress of the Jewish people. It is clearly world-wide, and even if he was only referring to the then known world, as he probably was, that extended far beyond Palestine!

    “People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

    – note that ‘they’ refers to the people of the nations who are filled with terror at the events they are witnessing. Im pretty sure that does NOT apply to Jesus’ ascension to heaven as they did NOT witness that!

    Whilst you did give strong arguments for most of the events described in Matthew being fulfilled in AD 70, I think Luke undercuts that understanding, as I think he views the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world/return of Jesus as being effectively the same event, or at least one following on very quickly from the other.

    Peter

    Reply
    • In that case Jesus, Matthew, Mark and Luke were clearly wrong, and we should not believe any of them. Jerusalem was indeed destroyed; the world did not end.

      Interesting to See Schweitzer still has his followers!

      Reply
      • I dont even know who Schweitzer is, but I assume it’s not a compliment!

        But you didnt actually respond to the specific points I made regarding the text of Luke. That would be useful.

        Peter

        Reply
        • Schweitzer was a great missionary doctor who was also a famous organist and Bach scholar – one of the most famous men of his day. He had four doctorates in different subjects, and wrote groundbreaking works on the historical Jesus and on Paul’s mysticism.

          The anti-ideological message of his Jesus book is accurate if obvious. The book is highly useful for its summaries of 19th century views of Jesus. Not many Jesus scholars currently go along with his central picture of the aims of Jesus, nor would I. But the book shows a superior level of joined-up historical thought, and the idea that Jesus was primarily an eschatological prophet has been more popular than any of the alternatives.

          Reply
        • Schweitzer is one of the many German critics who believed that Jesus was in error and a deluded apocalyptic prophet whose predictions did not come true in his lifetime as he expected.

          Reply
  4. On Mark/Matt,

    (a) Many things predate the abomination;
    the abomination predates the tribulation or persecution;
    the Son of Man comes ‘after’ the persecution.
    Therefore the coming of the Son of Man is not the Ascension.
    Also the Ascension is only 50 days away as Jesus speaks.

    (b) There is no requirement for Jesus to have been wrong (in this case, no likelihood either) because:
    -it is hard for a claim to ignorance to be wrong. Almost all claims to ignorance are right.
    -he could be right or wrong only if he said the words in question, whereas all we know is that he is reported as having said them.
    -the words include the later Christology very atypical of Mark ‘the Son’.

    (c) Mark is in the situation of most historians as having sometimes to put words in people’s mouths. He puts the words that faithfully represent what he understood to be right. Matt and Luke take no independent step here other than to base what they say on Mark with adjustments.

    (d) Believing sources is not an all or nothing affair – very far from it. The best witness in the world will sometimes be in error, and so on.

    (e) Trustworthiness of sources re the future is quite a different matter from re the past. The future is something that no-one has witnessed, and chances of predicting it accurately are extremely low.

    Reply
    • (a) so you disagree with Ian Paul?
      (b) you seem to be saying we dont really know what Jesus actually said?
      (c) again you seem to be saying what we have in the Gospels are not necessarily reliable as to what Jesus said, as opposed to what the Gospel writers ‘think’ he might have said, presumably to accord with their own views.
      (d) the Gospels may be full of errors, including as to what Jesus said, because they are based on witness testimony. If that is the case, is it not more reasonable to conclude one should take them with a pinch of salt?
      (e) yes if youre not the Son of God…unless of course you believe the Gospels were written after the fact, and the authors really did put words into Jesus’ mouth re the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, so that he would be viewed as a real prophet. That is the typical view of atheists that I have debated with.

      Reply
      • (a) Scholars never agree totally with each other, because they can see how multi-faceted each question is: its multiplicity both of subdivisions and of options.

        (b) This is exactly the all-or-nothing I spoke about. All and nothing are the 2 extremes of a spectrum, and consequently are the least likely possibilities. Which makes the fact that they are sometimes treated as the *only two* possibilities remarkable.

        Jesus will have said many thousands of things, and all agree that only a small minority of what he said has reached us or (likely) is even known to his biographers. (We ourselves know only a small minority of what our nearest and dearest have said, even though we are still alive and interacting with them to this day.)

        Is its verbatim nature something we ‘know’? It is a big claim to claim to know something so extreme as that, and big claims need to be evidenced. The synoptics are not 100% verbatim vis-a-vis each other, let alone vis-a-vis actual events. However, they are more verbatim vis-a-vis each other than almost any comparable literature. This reflects reverence for Mark, though of course that reverence is partly Hobson’s choice.
        Mark (says Papias’s Elder, a disciple of Christ) took care not to leave out anything he had heard Peter say of Christ. This gave him a lot of material. It did not give him enough to make an entire rounded narrative from beginning to end, but it gave him a lot.

        (c) ‘Not *necessarily* reliable’ – what is the alternative? The alternative is *necessarily* reliable, which removes the need for scholarship, study and analysis (and thought) altogether. Is it that second option that you advocate?

        (d) This goes from one extreme to another. See (b). The thing one should take with a pinch of salt is testimony that is largely unreliable, not testimony that has the potential to be unreliable. (If it has no such potential at all, we are back to objection (c).) See how far away from each other those 2 options are along a spectrum.

        (e) What is meant by ‘the Gospels’? – you are treating them as an amorphous mass, and you are treating four separate questions as one single question.
        Also the date they were written has no intrinsic connection to their reliability.
        Authors putting words into Jesus’s mouth is only one possibility. Another is that they are reproducing what was handed down to them. Another is that they are reproducing what was commonly being said.
        To have Jesus speak of Jerusalem and the temple is to have Jesus speak of subjects that will have interested him and which he is likely to have spoken about. It is not remarkable that he speaks about these. Nor, secondly, is it remarkable that someone who performed the cleansing should predict the temple’s destruction as well as prophetically enacting it. Nor, thirdly, is it remarkable that someone who spoke in terms of a new body of believers incorporated into himself would be in favour of abrogating the temple.

        Reply
  5. It is wrong to try and fit Revelation into a linear timeline, likewise the sayings of Jesus mentioned here should not be pegged into a sequence of events. I think they are better understood as bullet points or a series of headings that Jesus spoke on but are unrecorded. Luke could see this it seems.

    Reply
  6. How about it being true in many times and places: the overthrow of Jerusalem, or the sack of Rome, or the Tudor realignment, or the Russian revolution or….., Different parts of the imagery speak to different times, and maybe to all eternity

    Reply
    • Well, it might have resonance in all these situations…as I have commented here and elsewhere.

      But the first question is: to what is Jesus referring to when speaking to his disciples? I think the answer is clear: the fall of Jerusalem.

      This is important for Luke, because it is part of the extension of Israel to include the gentiles.

      Reply
  7. Where γενεὰ appears in LXX (180 times), does it ever mean a line down the generations, rather than a single generation? Then it might indeed refer to the whole church era which ends with the Second Coming. Here are those 180 appearances:

    https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g1074/lxx/lxx/0-1/

    We know that Jesus was not speaking in Greek. I am not arguing that an inference of what he actually said in his native tongue should take precedence over the gospel Greek (although an mp3 would be nice), but the LXX can help.

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    • Yes, indeed, an important place to look. And the repeated, overwhelming meaning is ‘people alive at a particular time’. Ex 1.6 is a typical example: ‘Then cJoseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation.’

      And the Hebrew term dor has the same sense ‘a period, an age, of men living at a particular time’ (BDB lexicon).

      Moreover, Jesus *specifically* uses it with an emphatic temporal reference ‘All these things will happen before this generation passes away’. I think it would be hard for Jesus to have made it clearer.

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        • Possibly…or possibly not. When Matt 1.1 echoes this using γένεσις, he then sums up by saying ‘So all the generations (γενεαὶ) from Abraham to David were fourteen generations (γενεαὶ)’. He appears to treat them synonymously.

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  8. I don’t really want to get involved in this debate again! You know what I think. I think we have to explain the fact that Jesus speaks of the parousia within the life of his generation, not evade it.
    But one thing specifically about Luke that has not been mentioned (unless I have missed it) is that, assuming Luke is redacting Mark, Luke has eliminated virtually all of the OT allusions or at least has reduced them (eg “desolation’) such that he doesn’t seem concerned they be recognised. His is the only allusion to Dan 7:13 anywhere in Jewish or Christian literature that does not have “coming in/with the clouds” (most have “clouds of heaven”). “Coming in a cloud” suggests, if anything, other OT texts. But doesn’t it also suggest Acts 1:9? and the words of the angels: “Jesus will go in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Early Christians thought coming in clouds could describe both Jesus’s ascension and his parousia.

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    • And that is the point. Ian does not accept that that is a fact. But as I said in my response above, that is not the impression that Luke gives. Only a select few saw Jesus leaving the earth, and during the destruction of Jerusalem it does not appear ‘nations’ were in fear at the signs they were witnessing in the heavens.

      And yes, coming on the clouds has always reminded me of the angels’ words – just as you saw Jesus rising up through the clouds, so he will return, in clouds.

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    • ‘I think we have to explain the fact that Jesus speaks of the parousia within the life of his generation, not evade it.’

      He nowhere does this! In Matt 24, ‘parousia’ is not mentioned anywhere prior to Matt 24.34—except to say ‘Please note, this is *not* the parousia!’.

      We only think this because of reading in English, and confusing the two quite different phrases translated ‘coming’. They are even different parts of speech!

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      • Ian, you are not seriously suggesting that the NT only speaks of the parousia when it uses that word? Just for a start, 1 Cor 4:5 uses erchomai for the parousia. Is Rev 22:12 not about the parousia? Jude 14?
        I think it is a serious weakness in discussions of these Gospel passages that exegetes do not relate them to the same language used elsewhere in the NT. Yet you admit that Matthew borrows the word parousia from general Christian discourse.

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          • I think that is a reference to the parousia. And that is just the kind of language that any of us would use. Christians have always assumed that Jesus might well come in their lifetime, though for almost everyone that has not been the case.

        • ‘Ian, you are not seriously suggesting that the NT only speaks of the parousia when it uses that word?’ No, not at all.

          What I am pointing out is that

          a. the NT is not always speaking about the parousia when it uses the language of erchomai. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t. For example, it is striking that in Revelation, Jesus ‘coming’ to a church is clearly a coming within history to bring blessing or judgement. So we need to read the term in its context.

          b. in Mark 13 the term parousia occurs not at all. That, at least, should make us sit up and think.

          c. in Matt 24, the authors *does* introduce the term parousia. But what is striking here is that, having set up the question of the parousia in Matt 24.3 as the second of the disciples’ two question, he then avoids using it in reference to ‘all these things’, but only reintroduces it in Matt 24.37. (The occurrence in v 27 is actually to clarify that these ‘signs’ are not about the parousia, so in Matthew Jesus is triply emphatic that ‘these things’ are not the parousia!).

          d. here in Luke, the author goes a stage further, and uses clearer language to state that ‘all these things’ are about the fall of Jerusalem.

          Therefore I think the claim that ‘Jesus speaks of the parousia within the life of his generation’ is contradicted by the textual evidence. erchomai *can* refer to the parousia on occasion, but there is a wealth of textual evidence that it does not in Matt 24.30.

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          • The fact that Mark 13 does not use the word parousia is no more significant than that the book of Revelation doesn’t. Luke doesn’t use it even when he clearly does talk about the parousia in Acts.
            The word was not part of the tradition of Jesus’s sayings. Matthew uniquely introduces it in his redaction of material from Luke 17, where the rather confusing variety of terms with “day” needed clarifying. He doesn’t use it in redacting Mark because he found Mark perfectly clear, using language everyone knew was parousia language. What he did do was add to Mark additional elements that emphasised that the parousia, when it comes, will be unmistakably obvious to everyone. His additions do not help people see that Mark is talking about the fall of Jerusalem. Quite the opposite: they make it even less appropriate to that event.

          • Thanks Richard–and thank you for persisting in your fascinating interrogation of my exegesis!

            I still think your argument here is entirely circular! You claim that ‘Mark was perfectly clear, using what everyone knew was parousia language’. But that is only the case if you *already assume* that erchomenos was *always* about the parousia. The data of the NT shows that this is not the case!

            So which of Mark’s erchomenos language related to the parousia? I think Matthew shows us very clearly, by limiting it to the material *after* Jesus’ statement ‘all these things’.

            And I am not at all persuaded that ‘Matthew was redacting Luke’. This is surely one of the clearest examples of Matthew and Mark having a shared tradition, and Luke doing something quite different.

            I am also puzzled by your reading of Matt 24.26–27:

            26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

            Jesus is here *distinguishing* the parousia from the sequence of events, rumours, and the need to look for signs. Lightning comes with no warning! We do not need to look for signs of the parousia, but we do need to read the signs of the fall of the temple.

  9. Toward the end of Jesus ministry he seems to have his time so fully occupied that he hardly had time to sleep or get a haircut. His final words are like missives given by someone leaning out of a railway carriage… don’t forget this… remember to do x y z… etc.
    what a contrast to his earlier sayings “consider the flowers…”

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  10. Re CEB Cranfield ( The Greek NT Commentary P 444) – His remarks on Mark 14:62 are as follows:-
    ” But while it is true that Dan 7:13 refers to a coming #to# God rather than #from# him to the earth, the order of the two quotations rules out this interpretation here; for in Mark the coming follows the sitting”.
    Evidently then by certain foregoing criteria, Cranfield epitomizes Jesus as a “failed apocalyptic prophet”!
    Forgive my retreat into theological antiquity for including yet another quotation; one which refers among other things to the troublesome text [Matt24:34] ” When the profound realities underlying a situation are depicted in the dramatic form of historical prediction, the certainty and inevitability of the spiritual processes involved are expressed in terms of the immediate immenence of the event” [CH Dodd -“Parables”]. This is a phenomenon which I believe has been described as “shortening of the historical perspective”. Apparently, it occurs frequently in the OT; and perhaps less frequently in the NT?
    Previously in this blogsite I have made reference to three well known passages in Luke – the Magnificat, the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis – each of which speaks of God’s saving activity in the future as somehow having already been completed in the present . Simeon, for example, speaks of his eyes ” having seen God’s salvation”. In reality what he has actually seen is the #source# of that salvation – the infant Jesus. The actual process of salvation is for the future. Is it possible, for example, for Matthew 24:34 to be seen in similar light : that “this generation” would experience a foretaste of the glorious future promised throughout Scripture through witnessing the death and resurrection of Jesus?

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    • Thanks for the citations. I can see why that is tempting—but elsewhere in the NT, even fairly realised eschatological hope has a yet-to-be-completed element to it. The absolute language of Matt 24.34 appears to rule that out—Jesus is triply emphatic!

      Cranfield insists on making the two citations a temporal sequence, when there is no temporal marker (like ‘then’ or ‘after’). Chris is correct when he notes above that Jesus is drawing on two OT texts, both of which talk about the rule of the Son; one uses the language of ‘sitting’ (Ps 110.1), the other uses the language of ‘coming on the clouds’ to the throne. Both communicate the same thing: the exaltation of Jesus at the right hand of God and beginning his reign.

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      • Sorry Ian – but you seem so preoccupied with maintaining that there is no temporal link between sitting and coming that you somehow fail to recognise in this instance that the term “coming” actually connotes #movement#; even though it is something you have acknowledged previously in this discussion ! To me , what you are presenting is a static interpretation of a text which speaks not only of authority, but also, at the very least, some form of the exercise of that authority. Your final sentence above (beginning :
        “Both communicate – – ” simply focuses on the former and not the latter!
        And yes Jesus is being #empthatic# in Matt 24:34, but as I have already tried to show, the interpretation of certain New Testament passages does not necessarily follow a pattern of straightforward logical deductions (as you yourself have noted above in your analysis of Cranfield’s interpretation of Mark14:62).
        Finally, as you indicated previously, “erchomenous comes around 59 times in the NT in a whole range of context”. Whose to say that not only does Jesus cite Mark 14:62 to emphasise his divine authority, but in this instance to reinterpret the Daniel passage in such a way as to indicate the direction (so to speak) of how that authority would be exercised? In this context, logically speaking, either “coming” means coming #down#or coming #to# or both!
        Otherwise it is redundant.

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  11. My timeline of the development of parousia thought is as follows:

    (1) The Lord was from very early times expected to descend from heaven. However (a) this was swiftly to be followed by a re-ascent, (b) its central purposes were for him to take his own and to bring resolution to the issue of those who had died in Christ without yet seeing the fulfilment of the blessed hope.

    (2) When the Christians suffered persecution (particularly intense from the mid 60s) the need and wish for this descent and rescue became particularly acute.

    (3) Because of the persecution, the idea arose that it would not be just a rapture, not just a rescue, but also a vindication of the Christians and a shaming of their enemies.

    (4) The inspired oracle in Rev 1 uses the *clouds* of Daniel’s Son of Man to introduce the idea of a cosmic figure, a deus ex machina, descending to put things to rights, to vindicate and shame in this way. The new use of this verse effectively introduces a shift into the Christians’ Christology (aided by the already-existing use of ‘Son of Man’ for Christ in Hebrews), whereby a title that was not even present in the time of Paul not only comes onto the stage but actually takes centre-stage. Christ comes to be seen primarily as the heavenly deliverer that was required at that time.

    (5) Revelation is written from this understanding, though the oracle (like Rev’s other oracles) may predate it.

    (6) Mark is written with Revelation in the background, and chs 13-14, and the passion with which they are written, reproduce the same hope of this glorious appearing of the Deliverer, to rescue, vindicate and shame. It becomes important that Jesus’s own Christology be centred on the Son of Man as his secret central identity. Because of the ubiquity (and vaguer meaning) of bar enash in Aramaic it is easy to make a Greek rendition of the words of Jesus that includes ‘knowing’ sprinklings of ‘Son of Man’ here and there, and thereby to put across the present understanding that Jesus saw himself fundamentally as Son of Man; because his final decisive coming will be what makes sense of everything.

    (7) The possibility and reality of such Christological shifts is then confirmed post-70 as Soter comes to the fore. This has not a little to do with Mark’s (and others’) incessant playing off of Jesus against the Roman emperor.

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