Friday, January 1, 2010

Christ in All His Glory: Messianic Vindication

After the publication of an exegetical article regarding Matthew 16:27 on the website called, Theology Today (ref) a respondent asked some very good follow up questions which I would like to answer in this current article.
The contention of the former article is that Matthew 16:27 pertains to Christ’s vindication rather than to any sort of future “Second Coming”.  The article was partially written as a refutation to an heretical group called “Hyper-Preterism” (ref) which claims all major eschatological events occurred in the first-century or more specifically at the year AD70.  The article was partially written to reiterate the historic Christian interpretation of Matthew 16:27, not to introduce some new or personal interpretation. 

In the course of the article I made these statements in especial contrast to how even some non-heretical people may claim, “Jesus came back in judgment in AD70, but there is yet a final future return”:

The only “coming” of Jesus in the first-century was His “coming on/in/with the clouds” in vindication & glorification before the Throne of God. Further, 2 Thes 1:7 & Rev 1:7 talk about this vindication, not only of Jesus but of those who took up their cross & followed Him.”
In response to these statements, a commenter, Adam from Minneapolis asked:

Could you clarify the last two sentences in the above quote? Were you referring to Matthew 24:30, i.e. by indicating that Matthew 24:29-31 was fulfilled in AD 70? Also are you confirming that 2 Thessalonians 1:7 and Revelation 1:7 were fulfilled in AD 70?… The reason I’m asking these questions is that I used to be Pre-Trib, and then switched to a Post-Trib position a few years ago. I had believed that the Matthew 24 passage is one of numerous passages that validates the Post-Tribulation position. Now it’s really throwing me for a loop to consider that Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation events may have been fulfilled in AD 70 (meaning there is no future 7-year tribulation period which must precede Christ’s Second Coming). (ref)

Before reading any further, for context I encourage the reader to read the initial article & my short commentary of the entire chapter 16 of Matthew found here. 


The answer to the gentleman’s first question is that Matt 16 & indeed most of the N.T. references to Jesus “coming in the clouds” pertains to the big question of the time regarding Jesus; “Who do men say I am?” (Mk 8:27)
I think we Christians often take it for granted that presently even non-believers could tell you who Jesus claimed to be, but in His day there was much speculation (Mk 8:28).  Further, the Jewish officials had a power interest in relegating Jesus to some minor role, maybe as a prophet but certainly not as the Messiah.
The initial context of Matthew 16 is the Jewish officials questioning Jesus’ legitimacy:
Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. (Mt 16:1)
They weren’t looking for a sign of Jesus’ return; since they didn’t even yet believe He is the Messiah.  They wanted to know if He was really the Messiah He claimed to be.  We see them asking (or rather demanding an answer from) Jesus this question again in John 10:24

Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (Joh 10:24)
It is important to see that the pressing question of Jesus’ day WASN’T; “When is the Messiah coming back?” Rather, it was “Who is this Jesus fellow?” Thus much of the N.T. relates to answering that question.
As for answering the question of Adam from Minneapolis, Matthew 24:30 reads:

Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Mt 24:30)
The quick answer is, yes, this pertains to Jesus’ glorification & vindication as the Messiah He claimed to be.  It pertains to Dan 7:13 and it pertains to Mt 16:27-28 as well as to verses like Mt 26:64.  Jesus was about to ANSWER the question of His Messiah-ship in a very, very bold and powerful way.


Perhaps the meat of the question of Adam from Minneapolis concerns the tribulation referenced in Mt 24:29:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Mt 24:29)
Is this passage pertaining to the so-called “Great Tribulation” often considered to occur during the culmination of the world or is it something else?  Let us first examine a few commentaries to see how historic Christianity has interpreted the passage, especially before the advent of “Left-Behindism” (ref).
Baptist Theologian John Gill Commentary on Mt 24:29
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days,…. That is, immediately after the distress the Jews would be in through the siege of Jerusalem, and the calamities attending it; just upon the destruction of that city, and the temple in it, with the whole nation of the Jews, shall the following things come to pass; and therefore cannot be referred to the last judgment, or what should befall the church, or world, a little before that time, or should be accomplished in the whole intermediate time, between the destruction of Jerusalem, and the last judgment… therefore must be understood of things that should directly, and immediately take place upon, or at the destruction of the city and temple.” (ref)
Presbyterian Theologian John Lightfoot Commentary on Mt 24:29
That is, the Jewish heaven shall perish, and the sun and moon of its glory and happiness shall be darkened, and brought to nothing. The sun is the religion of the [Jewish] church; the moon is the [Jewish] government of the state; and the stars are the judges and doctors of both.” (ref)
Reformed Theologian John Calvin Commentary on Mt 24:29
“Christ comes now to speak of the full manifestation of his kingdom, about which he was at first interrogated by the disciples, and promises that, after they have been tried by so many distressing events, the redemption will arrive in due time… The tribulation of those days is improperly interpreted by some commentators to mean the destruction of Jerusalem; for, on the contrary, it is a general recapitulation (ἀνακεφαλαίωσις) of all the evils of which Christ had previously spoken. To encourage his followers to patience, he employs this argument, that the tribulations will at length have a happy and joyful result.” (ref)
So, as the reader can see the idea that the tribulation spoken of in Mt 24:29 pertains primarily to the destruction of Jerusalem and or the troubles that would come upon the Christians at the time, is not my own personal interpretation.  However, we also see a glimpse of an objection.  Calvin posits that the tribulation referenced is general distress Christians will always endure until the culmination yet to a “happy and joyful result”.  None of these commentators speak of it as a single event at the culmination.  To be sure, we can cite commentaries that do see Mt 24:29 as a Great Tribulation at the “end of time”, but my purpose was to show that this propositional interpretation is neither new nor the proprietary of cultic groups such as the hyperpreterists which imply they are some of the first to advocate it.  This view has historic continuity within the community of the saints and should not be allowed to be overtaken by heretical groups.

Further, as to the question of whether 2 Thes 1:7 and Rev 1:7 pertain to the same thing as Christ’s glorification and vindication as articulated in the previous article; the simple answer is, Yes!  That is the overarching theme of Jesus’ first appearance – His claim and revelation as the Messiah.

The discussion of the various tribulation positions is outside the scope of this response and will require another article.  But might I leave the readers with this consideration that ALL views seeing some future catastrophic single tribulation may need to be reexamined, if nothing else so that the believers may broaden their eschatological framework to be based on more than just a pre, mid, or post tribulation.

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