December 28, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 24:29-31.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary this is the centerpiece of chapter 24. It contains several references to the scriptures including Deuteronomy, the prophets Isaiah and Zechariah, and the apocalyptic writing of Daniel. Both Mark and Luke include this passage and the theme recurs in Revelation.
These references would have resonated with Matthew’s community. Barclay tells us that this apocalyptic concept was “an essential part of the Jewish though of the future…the Day of the Lord, that day when God was going to intervene directly in history, and when the present age with all it incurable evil, would begin to be transformed into the age to come.” The gospel writers identified the Day of the Lord with the second coming of Jesus.
Barclay writes, “Non of these pictures is to be taken literally; they are pictures, and they are visions; they are attempts to put the indescribable into human words and to find some kind of picture for happenings for which human language has no picture. But from all these pictures there emerge certain great truths. (i) They tell us that God has not abandoned the world; for all its wickedness, the world is still the scene in which God’s purpose is being worked out. It is not abandonment that God contemplates; it is intervention. (ii) They tell us that even a very crescendo of evil must not discourage us. An essential part of the Jewish picture of the Day of the Lord is that a complete breakdown of all moral standards and an apparent complete disintegration of the world must precede it. But, for all that, this is not the prelude to destruction; it is the prelude to recreation. (iii) They tell us that both judgment and a new creation are certain. They tell us that God contemplates the world both in justice and in mercy; and that God’s plan is not the obliteration of the world, but the creation of a world which is nearer to his heart’s desire.
“[T]he basic truth in them is that, whatever the world is like, God has not abandoned it.”
I quoted Barclay at length because I read this passage over and over and could not reconcile it with the way I conceive of the future. It is a good reminder that I don’t have the mind of the Jewish Christians of the time. And I sometimes forget that much of the scriptures including the gospels are metaphoric language and that our language is inadequate to describe God and His will and intent for us. I am reassured to think about this in terms of a re-creation of the world, a creation that is nearer to God’s purpose. It is easy to let the violence and darkness in the world obscure God’s love and desire for us. That’s what I need to keep foremost in my mind and expectation.