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The Olivet Discourse and the Centrality of the Cross

Discussion in 'Christianity and World Religion' started by Patmosman_sga, Jun 19, 2002.

  1. Patmosman_sga

    Patmosman_sga Member

    The key to understanding Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 (also Mark 13 and Luke 21) is the apocalyptic “event” which happens "Immediately after the tribulation of those days.” As Matthew records it:

    Matthew, following the precedent of the Old Testament prophets, uses apocalyptic imagery to describe such "the coming of the Son of Man" after "the tribulation of those days" to "gather his elect from the four winds.” But what is this actually describing? The distinguished New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, in his book The Millennium Myth, addresses a popular misconception concerning this “coming.”

    So, if we are to fully understand the reality Jesus speaks of in the Olivet Discourse, we must, as Wright suggests, take seriously “the whole biblical picture.” In so doing, we will find that the often enigmatic apocalyptic language of the synoptics is interpreted more plainly within the canon itself.

    John (who gave us his fill of apocalyptic with Revelation) states in clear language in his Gospel the exact means by which Jesus gathers his elect:

    It would appear that John equates Jesus' death with "gather[ing] into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." Paul agrees, proclaiming that the cross is God’s instrument of reconciliation:

    But if the cross is the instrument through which Christ "gathers" his elect, what is the purpose of Matthew's apocalyptic imagery concerning something that, contextually, appears to be describing something that happens after the crucifixion? A careful reading of Matthew reveals that he is not ignorant of the significance of the cross in bringing "all these things" about:

    Luke, also, in an even more explicit manner, connects the cross with the cataclysmic "events" spoken of by Matthew and the other synoptics:

    (It is significant to note that the "curtain of the temple," guarding access to the Holy of Holies, was a tapestry resembling the stars of heaven.)

    Understanding the cross as the center of God's redemptive plan is key to understanding the eschatological prophecies concerning "the end of the age." For, in Christ, that "end" has come. Paul even goes so far as to equate Christ with "the end of the ages" (1 Corinthians 10:11). But history continues under the long shadow of the cross until it has served God's purpose in gathering all his people into one. For everything that God has spoken forth into being will endure for as long as it is accomplishing that for which he created it:

    Meanwhile, a "new" temple is being built, not of stones and mortar but, as Paul continues in his epistle to the Ephesians:

    This "temple" is, at one and the same time, a finished product (established from the foundation of the world) and a work in progress, building both upon and toward the ultimate victory of God in Christ.

    The big transition which takes place in the midst of history after the cross, however, is that any and every "event" which takes place from now on is understood by looking back to Calvary, whereas previously (that is, in the Old Testament), all such "events" looked forward to it.

    The fall of Jerusalem is the first major "event" to be understood from such a post-Calvary perspective. It is the primary focus of Jesus' discourse in Matthew 24. There are countless other "events" which have since taken place which have, for one all too brief moment, caused the whole world (or a significant portion of it) to be reminded of God's eternal truth, established from the foundation of the world and made plain in the death and resurrection of Christ: Whenever we are confronted with the harsh reality of our sinfulness and its devastating consequences, we cannot seek refuge in a temple made by human hands. We must go all the way to Calvary, be crucified with Christ, and find there the only path God has provided for redemption, restoration and resurrection.

    As the New Covenant transcends, encompasses and consummates the Old Covenant, so "the coming of the Son of Man" transcends, encompasses and consummates all of history, thus reconciling all things to God in Christ, whose suffering, death and resurrection form the pattern by which all his "elect" shall follow him into glory.

    This is basic Apostolic Christianity 101: As Christ did not enter into glory before first having to suffer, so his Church does not enter with him into that glory without likewise suffering.

    What, then, is "the sign of the Son of Man?" It is the cross, shining with a splendor that outlasts the sun, the moon and the stars of heaven, casting its long shadow over the whole of human history, gathering God's elect and reconciling all things to God in Christ.

    Where does "rapture" theology fit into this? It is beyond the pale of orthodoxy because it
    teaches "another gospel" than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul warns his young protégé about those who “devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:4).

    Vain speculations about “the end of the world” do not serve the kingdom of God well. Good stewards of the mysteries of God will guard well the grand depositum of faith bequeathed to us by the Apostles, who received them from our Lord himself. Central to the proclamation of the kingdom of God is the cross of Jesus Christ which is, at one and the same time, the sign and symbol of both the suffering servant and the glorified Son of Man who is forevermore King of kings and Lord of lords.
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