December 23, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: He predicts endings

See Matthew, Chapter 24; Mark, Chapter 13; Luke, Chapter 21.

Let’s face it: If you’ve, read those chapters referenced above, you know that it’s difficult to sort out when Jesus is talking about the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem and when he is talking about the end of the world and the final coming of the Son of Man.

Ever since the time of Jesus on earth, people have been trying to figure out when the end of the world is coming from hints in Matthew’s Gospel. We shouldn’t do that. What we should do is learn from what Jesus said: “Of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” We must be prepared always, if not for the end of the world at least for the end of our lives.

At the beginning of Jesus’ discourse, there’s no doubt that he’s talking about the destruction of the temple. The disciples remarked about the magnificence of the temple which, at the time, had been under construction for 48 years and wouldn’t be completed for another 34 years. The enormous stones that hold the Temple Mount today give testimony to how majestic it was. Yet it was all destroyed in the year 70, six years after its completion.

The early Christians in Jerusalem were aware of Jesus’ prediction about the destruction of Jerusalem. According to Eusebius and Epiphanius, two ancient sources, they fled Jerusalem around 67 or 68 after Galilee was pacified by the Romans. Under the leadership of Simeon Bar-Cleopha, a cousin of Jesus and the second bishop of Jerusalem, they went to Pella in the hills of Perea on the eastern bank of the Jordan River.

Scholars believe that they were obeying Jesus’ advice, “Those in Judea must flee to the mountains.” Eusebius wrote that they were following “a certain oracle given by revelation before the war.” Since the Gospels were written after the Christians fled, this oracle would have been as the word implies—an oral prophecy.

Prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem is clear, but the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus are not. Many of the first Christians thought they would come simultaneously. Scholars have differed about when Jesus stopped talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and began talking about the end of the world.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that he is speaking about the end of the cosmos when he says that the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light and the stars will fall from the sky. That, he says, will signal the glorious appearance of the Son of Man “coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” This was meant to remind us of Daniel’s vision of “one like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Dn 7:13).

Then, Jesus said, will come the final judgment. †


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