Showing posts with label #OlivetDiscourse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #OlivetDiscourse. Show all posts

Get ready for persecution. But don’t defend yourself.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 September

Mark 13.9-11, Matthew 10.17-20, Luke 12.11-12, 21.12-19.

After Jesus said the temple’s coming down, his students wanted to know when and how, so Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse, loosely telling ’em what’d become of them when the Romans destroyed the temple in the Roman-Jewish War, i.e. the great tribulation.

What’d become of them? Persecution. Which happened in Acts, happened over and over again in the various Roman persecutions, happened throughout Christian history whenever Christians went to lands where Christianity upended the status quo, and still happens. Never stopped. Our first-world rights to freedom of speech and religion aren’t perfect, but they’re still way better than the rest of the world. But don’t kid yourself: They’re hardly the rule; they’re a huge exception.

Now, your average American doesn’t know squat about history, and your average Evangelical doesn’t know squat about Christian history. Mostly ’cause their anti-Catholic bigotry calls it “Catholic history,” so they know little to nothing till the King James Version showed up—and even then, their version of events is all warped. So they believe the previous tribulations of Christians under persecution were nothing. And that the great tribulation is yet to come. They’re steeling themselves for it. “When they come for me, here’s what I’m gonna do.”

That’s where whatever Christian beliefs they have, start to turn profoundly dark. Many of ’em are planning to do some mighty violent things. Not just Simon Peter with a machete type things: They’re planning to shoot cops and soldiers. They already have the assault weapons and the armor-piercing bullets. Even though many of ’em claim they “love” our police, “love” our troops. Sure, that’s what they say now. But their gun stockpiles indicate no, they really don’t.

As for those Christians who aren’t planning to murder law enforcement officers, a number of us are already planning our defense if we’re ever hauled before courts and city council chambers and Congress. Watch David A.R. White’s godawful God’s Not Dead movies and you’ll see what I mean. They’re pretty sure the government is already coming for them, even though our local, state, and national governments are so predominantly Christian (yep, even here in my liberal state of California) it’s silly. They’re expecting persecution—so they’re getting their logical and legal defenses ready.

But here in the Olivet Discourse, what did Jesus say about such defenses? To not put any such thing together. To shut up and listen to the Holy Spirit and let him defend us. To practice faith. You know—exactly what fearful Christians aren’t doing. Have no intention whatsoever of doing.

Mark 13.9-11 KWL
9 “Look out for yourselves.
People will hand you over to senates
and you’ll be flogged in synagogues.
You’ll stand before leaders and kings because of me,
to testify of me to them.
10 Primarily, this testimony
has to spread the gospel to every people-group.
11 Whenever they may take you to hand you over,
don’t worry beforehand about what you should say.
Instead, whatever is given to you at that hour, say it.
For you aren’t to be the speakers.
But the Holy Spirit is.”
 
Luke 21.12-19 KWL
12 “Before all these things happen,
they’ll throw their hands on you;
they’ll hunt you down,
handing you over to synagogues and prisons,
dragging you away to kings and leaders because of my name.
13 It’ll turn you into witnesses,
14 so determine in your hearts to not prepare a defense:
15 I’ll give you a mouth and wisdom
which every one of your adversaries
will be unable to withstand or dispute.
16 You’ll also be betrayed by parents, siblings,
relatives and friends,
and they’ll put some of you to death.
17 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
18 But if every hair on your head isn’t destroyed,
19 save your souls by your endurance!”

Warnings when persecution comes.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 September

Mark 13.9, Matthew 24.9-13, Luke 21.12-19.

In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus warned his students what’d happen before, as he predicted, the Romans destroyed the temple in the great tribulation in the year 70.

But fearful Christians insist this passage isn’t at all about ancient Jerusalem, but our future: A seven-year worldwide tribulation. Darbyists manipulate the Olivet Discourse to defend their beliefs, and people believe ’em because they don’t know first-century history, don’t know their bibles, and aren’t depending on the Holy Spirit to help them defeat fear, paranoia, peacelessness, and the lack of basic discernment in interpreting scripture.

Today’s passage especially triggers their fears, because here Jesus speaks of the active persecution of Christians. Which, when Jesus taught this discourse in 33, was coming soon. Really, really soon. Probably before the year was out, Peter and John would cure some guy on the temple steps, Ac 3.1-10 and the Sadducee head priests would arrest and try ’em before the Judean senate for it. Ac 4.1-22 Things would only escalate from there.

Because when you legitimately follow Jesus—even in a country which considers itself predominantly Christian, even in a country full of Christian nationalists who want to make it officially Christian—you’re gonna get pushback. Just as Jesus himself did, from Pharisees who thought he was heretic. Who’d have him killed five days later.

It’s only common sense to expect Jesus’s active followers to be treated like our Lord, so that part doesn’t take the Holy Spirit to foretell. What does are the details Jesus included in his warnings about persecution. Christianity was gonna advance despite persecution. It always has, despite the careful plans of persecutors.

Mark 13.9 KWL
9 “Look out for yourselves.
People will hand you over to senates
and you’ll be flogged in synagogues.
You’ll stand before leaders and kings because of me,
to testify of me to them.”
 
Matthew 24.9-13 KWL
9 “Then they’ll hand you over to tribulation and kill you.
You’ll be hated people to every ethnic group because of my name.
10 Then many will be tripped up,
will betray one another, will hate one another.
11 Many fake prophets will be raised up,
and will lead many astray.
12 Because of the exponential spread of lawlessness,
the love of many will grow cold.
13 One who perseveres to the end—
this person will be saved.”
 
Luke 21.12-19 KWL
12 “Before all these things happen,
they’ll throw their hands on you;
they’ll hunt you down,
handing you over to synagogues and prisons,
dragging you away to kings and leaders because of my name.
13 It’ll turn you into witnesses,
14 so determine in your hearts to not prepare a defense:
15 I’ll give you a mouth and wisdom
which every one of your adversaries
will be unable to withstand or dispute.
16 You’ll also be betrayed by parents, siblings,
relatives and friends,
and they’ll put some of you to death.
17 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
18 But if every hair on your head isn’t destroyed,
19 save your souls by your endurance!”

Stop prematurely freaking out over the End!

by K.W. Leslie, 11 September

Mark 13.7-8, Matthew 24.6-8, Luke 21.9-11.

No doubt you’ve read the Sermon on the Mount. (You are Christian, right? It’s kinda required reading.) So you’re aware Jesus orders us followers not to worry.

Matthew 6.31-34 NRSV
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the gentiles who seek all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Kinda straightforward instructions. But when we’ve not surrendered our lives to Jesus—our entire lives, not just the religious bits and beliefs—we’re gonna suck at obeying them. We’re gonna worry. If we’re poor, about the necessities of life; if we’re wealthy, about staying comfortable and influential.

Professional End Times prognosticators try to make us worry about both. If we’re wealthy, they want us to worry about losing our wealth; if we’re poor, they want us to worry about losing our freedom. Believe it or don’t, it’s not because they’re trying to con us into buying their lousy books—or worse, their lousy food buckets for our End Times bunkers. It’s because they’re preaching out of their own paranoia. They worry even more than you do about the rubbish they write about. They write it because they believe it.

And they write it because they don’t believe Jesus. “Don’t worry about tomorrow”? That’s all they do. Because tribulation is coming. Oppressive governments, cashless societies, stealth drones that could blow you up when you least expect, spy cameras in every computer and phone, people trying to rig elections… They’re everywhere. Read the times, man!

All of ’em ignore today’s passage. Or in many cases flip its meaning over entirely.

Mark 13.7-8 KWL
7 “When any of you hear wars
and the noises of wars,
don’t panic. It happens.
But it’s not the end yet.
8 For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes will happen various places.
Scarcity will happen.
These are first birth pangs.”
 
Matthew 24.6-8 KWL
6 “You’re all about to hear wars
and the noises of wars.
Look, don’t panic, for it happens.
But it’s not the end yet.
7 For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes and scarcity will happen various places.
8 All these are first birth pangs.”
 
Luke 21.9-11 KWL
9 “When any of you hear wars
and instability,
don’t panic, for these things happen first.
But the end isn’t at hand.”
10 Then Jesus told them,
“Ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
11 Both great quakes and scarcity in various places,
and plagues will happen.
Both terrifying events
and signs from heaven will happen.”

I translated μὴ θροεῖσθε/mi throeísthe, “don’t wail aloud in terror,” Mk 13.7, Mt 24.6, Lk 21.9 as “don’t panic.” I could also go with “don’t freak out,” and have in the past.

’Cause people do. Did back then. They’d hear of violence, earthquakes, signs from heaven, and immediately think, “What does it mean?” Then spend a whole lot of time speculating what it might mean. Is it a sign from the gods, like ancient pagans insisted?—or like “prophecy scholars” still do?

Well I just showed you three synced-up Jesus quotes which say no it’s not. And if you don’t trust my translation, fine; read others. They’re all gonna mean the same thing though. Stop prematurely freaking out over the End!

Kingdom against kingdom.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 September

Mark 13.8, Matthew 24.7-8, Luke 21.10-11.

“Wait, you already did this text.” Some of it, yeah. Not all. I’m kinda going line by line through it. Last time was about “nations,” i.e. ethnic groups. Today’s about kingdoms.

And while the word “nation” in most bibles is more accurately translated “ethnic group,” the word “kingdom” comes from the Greek word βασιλεία/vasileía, meaning “the domain of a king.” In short, kingdom. It’s an accurate translation.

Lemme quote Jesus in the scriptures again.

Mark 13.8 KWL
“For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes will happen various places.
Scarcity will happen.
These are first birth pangs.”
 
Matthew 24.7-8 KWL
7 “For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes and scarcity will happen various places.
8 All these are first birth pangs.”
 
Luke 21.10-11 KWL
10 Then Jesus told them,
“Ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
11 Both great quakes and scarcity in various places,
and plagues will happen.
Both terrifying events
and signs from heaven will happen.”

I tend to structure Jesus’s words as poetry, because that is how he talks when he teaches people; he does it on purpose to make his teachings more memorable. He’s doing the Hebrew poetry thing where one repeats ideas, or builds off previous ideas. “This against that” in line 1; “another thing against yet another thing” in line 2. Ethnic fighting, then kingdoms fighting.

Again, Jesus is not listing the “signs of the times.” He makes this clear, even though many an End Times prognosticator totally ignores Jesus and claims these things are indicators—really clear ones!—that the End Times are upon us, and the great tribulation is near. These are the normal activities you’re gonna see in our fallen world. Humans are gonna be awful to one another, and both natural and manmade disasters are gonna happen. They don’t mean it’s the End. This is life. And life is suffering.

When Jesus says “Ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group” in line 1, he doesn’t supply a verb in line 2; in all three synoptic gospels it’s βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν/vasileía epí vasileían, “kingdom against kingdom.” He means for us to borrow the verb from line 1, ἐγερθήσεται/eyerthísete, “it’ll be raised up [against],” meaning somebody else is gonna provoke these ethnic groups and kingdoms to fight. You can speculate it’s the devil, and End Times prognosticators will speculate it’s the Beast. Me, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if this is the result of humans trying to manipulate other humans for profit and power. It’s what we do.

Nation will rise up against nation.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 August

Mark 13.8, Matthew 24.7-8, Luke 21.10-11.

You notice the title of this piece is “Nation will rise up against nation,” yet when I translate the gospel passages which usually get interpreted that way, you’ll notice I render ἔθνος/éthnos as “ethnic group.” Because that’s what an éthnos is.

Mark 13.8 KWL
“For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes will happen various places.
Scarcity will happen.
These are first birth pangs.”
 
Matthew 24.7-8 KWL
7 “For ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
Quakes and scarcity will happen various places.
8 All these are first birth pangs.”
 
Luke 21.10-11 KWL
10 Then Jesus told them,
“Ethnic group will be pitted against ethnic group,
and kingdom against kingdom.
11 Both great quakes and scarcity in various places,
and plagues will happen.
Both terrifying events
and signs from heaven will happen.”

Éthnos tends to be translated “nation” because for the longest time, people presumed a nation was a country consisting of a homogenous people-group. Ancient Israel consisted only of the descendants of Israel ben Isaac, and ancient Edom of the descendants of Esau ben Isaac, and Moab of the descendants of Moab ben Lot, and so forth. They all had the same ethnic background and race.

Racists especially liked this theory. Even though it’s not wholly true. The LORD let people immigrate, y’know, and become Israeli. Like Ruth the Moabite, or Uriah the Hittite. Like Moses’s Cushite wife. Nu 12.1 (This isn’t the same woman as Zipporah the Midianite, Ex 2.21 even though many Jews insist she is; this is someone from Cush, which is south of Egypt.) Like any of the various Hebrews and Canaanites with whom Israelis intermarried till Ezra ben Seraiah cracked down on the practice in the fifth century BC. Every culture has had intermarriage with neighboring countries and foreigners—and sometimes it was a scandal, and sometimes not. Pretending it never happened, of course implies it’s scandalous.

But racists still think of nation as meaning the very same thing as ethnic group. So whenever they talk about “this nation,” their nation, that’s what they believe it oughta be: A country which only consists of people like them. They wanna purge the country of other races—or at least make ’em second-class citizens. It’s not natural, they insist, for a country to be made up of, or led by, multiple races.

Wars and the noises of wars.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 August

Mark 13.7, Matthew 24.6, Luke 21.9.

I grew up during the Cold War. As a result I grew up with Darbyists like Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, who were absolutely convinced the United States’ disagreements with the Soviets and Chinese were somehow gonna escalate into the great tribulation. Lindsey in particular offered a lot of scenarios about how it might happen—which he had to update every few years as the international situation changed. Basically you take what everybody’s already anxious about—nuclear war—and tell ’em all their worst fears will come true, whip ’em into a panic, and use it to sell vitamin supplements… whoops, sorry, wrong conspiracy theorist. He sold books. Millions and millions of books. It made Lindsey a wealthy man.

Thing is, once the Cold War ended, Darbyists had to find a new boogeyman. Some of them never gave up on their polemics against the Soviets (now the Russians), and insisted Boris Yeltsin or Vladimir Putin had to trigger the End Times somehow. The current Russia-Ukraine war has borne them an awful lot of scaremongering fruit. Other Darbyists pointed to China, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, or any other nation which they personally didn’t like, and dug up out-of-context bible verses which helped ’em connect the dots and “prove” their theories. I’ve lost count of all the crackpots I’ve heard through the years.

Every time the United States got involved in war since, Darbyists and Darbyist-adjacent “prophecy scholars” insisted this was it. This was the war which’d lead to the tribulation, the rapture, the tribulation, the Beast, Armageddon, and the second coming. Thus far they’re batting .000, but just you wait: Next time we get tangled up in a war, they’re gonna claim that’s the war which triggers the End.

This behavior has been going on long before my time. Dwight Wilson, in his 1991 book Armageddon Now! The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917, can give you a rundown of all the End Times-triggering world events since Darbyism got popular in the United States in the late 1800s.

The current crisis was always identified as a sign of the end, whether it was the Russo-Japanese War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Palestine War, the Suez Crisis, the June War, or the Yom Kippur War. The revival of the Roman Empire has been identified variously as Mussolini’s empire, the League of Nations, the United Nations, the European Defense Community, the Common Market, and NATO. Speculation on the Antichrist has included Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, and Henry Kissinger. The northern confederation was supposedly formed by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Rapallo Treaty, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and then the Soviet Bloc. The “kings of the east” have been variously the Turks, the lost tribes of Israel, Japan, India, and China. The supposed restoration of Israel has confused the problem of whether the Jews are to be restored before or after the coming of the Messiah. The restoration of the latter rain has been pinpointed to have begun in 1897, 1917, and 1948. The end of the “times of the Gentiles” has been placed in 1895, 1917, 1948, and 1967. “Gog” has been an impending threat since the Crimean War, both under the Czars and the Communists. Wilson 216.

Evangelicals just can not stop themselves from “discerning the news,” and trying to find the threads which lead to the End. Sometimes ’cause they wish Jesus would return as soon as possible (and I wish that too; maranatha!)… and others, believe it or don’t, because they don’t wish Jesus would return. They’re happy with things as they are. They’ll fight tooth and nail to delay his coming, delay any tribulation, delay delay delay—till their lives are in a good place, and they’re ready. Whenever that is.

Every little chaotic event makes ’em speculate the End is near, and of course nothing grabs their attention quite like war. Which is why Jesus, right after he warned his students of false Messiahs, warned ’em of war.

“Watch out. Don’t be misled.”

by K.W. Leslie, 14 August

Mark 13.3-6, Matthew 24.3-5, Luke 21.7-8.

Nope, not talking about Christian nationalism today. Although good gracious, it surely feels like American Christianity has been utterly misled by power-hungry Sadducees who don’t know the Holy Spirit, and don’t know how to do anything with bible other than misquote and mangle it. But I suspect it mostly feels this way because of the company I keep.

Anyway, enough ranting about that. Today’s passage isn’t about our present-day drama anyway. The Olivet Discourse is almost entirely about the first century, and very little touches upon the second coming. Primarily it’s about what that generation of Christians would experience within four decades of Jesus saying this.

It began during Holy Week in the year 33, when Jesus was in temple and people commented on how nicely the fourth temple’s construction was coming along. Jesus’s reply was there “won’t be stone upon stone which won’t be pulled down.” Lk 21.6 KWL

Which stunned Jesus’s hearers. This isn’t at all part of the popular first-century Pharisee teachings about the End Times. In most of the rabbis’ timelines, Messiah came to Jerusalem, worshiped God at temple, then turn round and conquer the world. (Most Darbyists have pretty much duplicated the general Pharisee scenario—but swapped out Messiah for the Beast, who they claim will pettily desecrate a still-has-yet-to-be-built sixth temple instead of worshiping there. Where’s this warped idea come from? Well, we’ll get to that.)

Okay. So pulling the temple down is a big, big deal. It’s as if someone blew up the world trade center of a Mammonist country. You wanna cut the heart out of every devout Judean, no matter their denomination? This’d be how.

Understandably Jesus’s students wanted to know where on earth this falls within the End Times timeline. ’Cause they unthinkingly expected things to play out the way Pharisees taught. Since Messiah himself says it’s not gonna be the way, okay; how does it work? Luke makes it sound like they questioned Jesus right there, but Mark and Matthew say it was on Olivet Hill east of the temple. Mark also says only four of ’em asked, while the other eight were… I dunno, off playing soccer or something.

Mark 13.3-6 KWL
3 While sitting himself at Olivet Hill opposite the temple,
Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew
are asking Jesus privately,
4 “Tell us when these things will be.
What’s the sign when all these things should end?”
5 Jesus begins to tell them,
“Watch out lest someone mislead you all:
6 Many will come in my name saying, ‘I’m Messiah,’
and will mislead many.”
 
Matthew 24.3-5 KWL
3 While sitting himself upon Olivet Hill,
the students came to Jesus on their own,
saying, “Tell us when these things will be.
What’s the sign of your second coming,
and the end of this age?
4 In reply, Jesus tells them,
“Watch out lest someone mislead you all:
5 Many will come in my name saying, ‘I’m Messiah,’
and will mislead many.”
 
Luke 21.7-8 KWL
7 They inquired of Jesus, saying, “Teacher,
so when will these things be?
What’s the sign when all these things should happen?”
8 Jesus says,
“Watch out. Don’t be misled:
People will come in my name saying, ‘I’m Messiah,’
and ‘The time has come.’
You ought not follow them.”

Okay. The most obvious sign the Olivet Discourse is about the first century, and neither our present nor the time before a future great tribulation, is right here in Jesus’s first warning of the discourse. “Don’t be misled; people are gonna come in my name and claim they’re Messiah.”

The Olivet Discourse: The temple’s destruction, and preterism.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 August

Mark 13.1-2, Matthew 24.1-2, Luke 21.5-6.

In the synoptic gospels there’s a narrative we Christians have historically called the Olivet Discourse, named for Olivet Hill (KJV “the mount of Olives”) where Jesus told his students about the near future and his second coming.

Christians spend a lot of time analyzing and discussing it. For good reason; we wanna know about the second coming! (And want it to happen sooner rather than later.) We wanna know the future. We wanna know our futures. Should we make grand plans for our lives, or is the great tribulation gonna get in the way?

I grew up in churches which had adopted the Darbyist view of the End Times. It’s a futurist interpretation of the scriptures: It insists everything in the bible about the End Times takes place in our future, and none of it has yet happened. Yeah okay, there might be historical events which look like they fulfilled it, but they didn’t really. Darbyists have a timeline of the seven years before Jesus returns, and End Times prophecies are only to fit within that timeline. Anybody who claims otherwise is, depending on the zeal of the individual Darbyist, either naïve, seriously wrong, heretic, or secretly working for the Beast and intentionally trying to lead us astray. Feels like it’s usually that last one.

Thing is, when I grew up and studied history, I quickly came to the conclusion the historical events which look like they fulfilled it… in a ludicrously obvious way, do fulfill it. Everything Jesus said would happen, did. (Except his actual second coming. ’Cause come on.) That’s why the Holy Spirit inspired the gospel authors to include this lesson in their books: The gospels were written, and widely circulated, less than a decade before these events happened. Which meant Christians were ready for these events to happen, got out of the way, and could point out to every pagan around this proves Jesus knows the future. It’s a mighty useful evangelistic tool.

Of course people of our day don’t know ancient history, so of course this goes right over our heads.

We Christians who believe the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in the first century, and that most of the stuff in Revelation was also fulfilled by the second century, are called preterist 'prɛd.ər.ɪst —a word that’s related to the grammar word preterite, “past tense.” Some nitpickers call us “partial preterists,” because we don’t claim the second coming has also already happened. Yeah, on very rare occasion you’re gonna find a “full preterist” who does believe it—who claims Jesus appearing to John in Revelation somehow counts as his second coming. It doesn’t. Nor does “pretrist” automatically mean “full preterist”: It only means we believe the bulk of the bible’s End Times prophecies were fulfilled, so the only things yet to come are Jesus’s return, probably the millennium, and New Earth. Contrary to Darbyist fearmongers, there are no seven years of mayhem delaying his return.

If you wanna know about the events Jesus predicts in his Olivet Discourse, I refer you to the very useful Bellum Judaicum/“The Judean War,” written by Flavius Josephus in the years 75 to 79. He’s an eyewitness to when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in the year 70, and tells of it in gory detail. William Whiston’s translation is in the public domain, and is a bit of a slog to get through; there are better ones. I’m partial to G.A. Williamson’s The Jewish War for Penguin Classics.

Completing the cities of Israel before the second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 May

Matthew 10.23.

In the middle of Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, there’s this verse, only found in Matthew, which goes like yea.

Matthew 10.23 KWL
“When they persecute you in this city, flee to another!
Amen amen! I promise you, you might not finish the cities of Israel
before whenever the Son of Man might come.”

Because translators tend to automatically convert any sentence with οὐ μὴ/u mi, “never,” into absolute statements (like Luke Skywalker’s “I’ll never join you; you killed my father!”) they dismiss all the subjunctive verbs Jesus uses in such statements. He said might never, but they translate it as if he said never.

Because people find comfort in absolutes. Especially when the absolutes promise ’em something they want. We want Jesus to return! (Well, most of us.) So here, Jesus promises, with “amen amen,” that his students might not have to be chased through every city in Israel before he returns for them. And Christians nowadays, who want Jesus to return already, are happy to grab this paragraph and claim, “See? All we gotta do is be chased from town to town in Israel, and before we’re done, Jesus’ll come!”

This passage, paired with others, has evolved into a couple different popular End Times claims:

  • Once every Israeli city has been properly evangelized, Jesus will return.
  • Once every last Jew on earth has heard the gospel at least once, Jesus will return.
  • Once every city on the planet has been evangelized, Jesus will return.
  • Once every human on earth has heard the gospel at least once, Jesus will return.

So if we really want Jesus to return—if we’re really serious about it, and aren’t just claiming we want the second coming, when really we just want temporal religious power over our neighbors—we’ll get to work on evangelizing all the Jews. Or evangelizing everybody. We’ll make him return.

And if any other Christians aren’t contributing to the effort, we’ll make ’em feel super guilty. “Yeah you say you want Jesus to return, but what’re you doing to evangelize the planet? I don’t see anything.”

But I remind you: Jesus used a subjunctive verb, τελέσητε/telésite, “you all might finish.” Might finish, not shall finish. This might happen. Or not.

If it’s a hypothetical statement, why does Jesus make a promise of it by beginning it with “Amen amen” (KJV “Verily”)? Because what he’s properly promising is the Son of Man will come. And he might do it before his apostles finish traveling the entirety of Israel… and he might do it after. Might do it long after. But regardless the second coming will happen.

As for when it happens, or what prefaces it… well we always gotta remember Jesus said this about his second coming:

Mark 13.32 KWL
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

Jesus didn’t know when he’d return. He had an idea of what might have to happen first, which is why he expressed what might have to happen first. Thing is, Christians want something more concrete than that: We wanna know what has to happen first. We want the timeline of events. We want to feel some sense of control over these events, and knowledge is power. But not even Jesus has that power. It happens when it happens; it’s not for us to know when. Ac 1.7 It’s for us to share Jesus. Ac 1.8 Including with all the cities of Israel. And the world.

How the mistranslation confuses people.

Let’s check out how the KJV translated it:

Matthew 10.23 KJV
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

Thanks to this rendering, this passage “is among the most difficult in the NT canon,” as stated by D.A. Carson in the 1984 edition of the Expositors Bible Commentary. Well duh: It’s profoundly likely Christians have thoroughly, thoroughly proclaimed Jesus to all the then-residents of Israel, achieved at multiple times throughout Christian history. Did it after the Roman Empire became Christian; did it during the Crusades (even though our methods of evangelism at the time were pretty psycho); did it during the French occupation, and the British occupation, and during the newly-recreated state of Israel.

Israel has been overrun by Christian evangelists multiple times. Hence Christians have realized “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come” can’t be interpreted the way we presume. Something’s off here.

Carson pitched a few theories, which I’ll summarize for your convenience:

  • Remember how Jesus sent out the Twelve, Lk 9.1 then the 72, Lk 10.1 to go preach the gospel? This is another case of that. He had them go round Israel again, but he said he’d catch up with them before they were done. This is about that, not the second coming.
  • “The Son of Man be come” doesn’t refer to the second coming, but of some other major revelation of Jesus as Messiah. Like his triumphal entry of Jerusalem, or his resurrection.
  • “The cities of Israel” aren’t literally Israel. It’s a metaphor for the whole world. We’ve gotta track down everybody on earth, figure out their language, and make sure they understand the gospel.
  • Jesus doesn’t know the date of his return, Mk 13.32 and he incorrectly assumed it’d take place in a few years. Whoops. His bad. (Or alternatively, it was gonna take place in a few years, but we did something to delay him, and thus nullified this prophecy. Our bad.)
  • This prophecy isn’t activated till the End Times. First the seven-year tribulation has to start, and then we gotta proclaim Jesus to all of Israel… who is, because of the Beast’s persecution of them, a lot more open to the idea of Jesus’s return. But we’ll barely finish going the rounds before the second coming.
  • “The Son of Man be come” isn’t the second coming, but the Lord’s judgment upon Jerusalem, which the Romans destroyed in the year 70.

Carson, and preterists like myself, tend to lean towards the last theory. After all, the Olivet Discourse was triggered by Jesus’s statement the temple would eventually come down, and how was that gonna happen? What events came first? So even though Jesus brought up his second coming, he was still primarily talking about Jerusalem’s destruction, and in the 17 years between his rapture and Jerusalem’s fall, there’d barely be enough time to evangelize Israel.

But I still remind you this is not Jesus’s declaration of what will happen, because Jesus lacked full knowledge. He didn’t know when he would return! Still doesn’t know. When he became human—and he’s still human, y’know; he didn’t shed some human suit when he took his seat at the right hand of the Father—he surrendered his power, and limited himself to the power of the Holy Spirit. Which ain’t nothing! But it means he only knows of the future what the Spirit shows him, and apparently the Spirit doesn’t want any human, Jesus included, to have a comprehensive knowledge of the future. For some of these events, he doesn’t want us to intervene. ’Cause we totally would—’cause we have our own ideas about how the End should play out. And they’re nowhere near as benevolent as God’s ideas. They’re a lot more petty and vengeful.

So yeah, Jesus was making an educated guess about what might happen before his return. Hence all the subjunctive verbs. Which our translations don’t show… because again, we have our own ideas about how the End should play out. And when Jesus spoke about the End, we don’t want to imagine him guessing. We want him knowing. We wanna tap his foreknowledge, so it can become our foreknowledge. We want it to be definite, so we can be masters of our destiny.

But that’s not for us to have. We’re to trust God. Ac 1.7 He knows what’s coming, and what he’s doing. Our job is to simply share Jesus with Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the planet. Ac 1.8 Be okay with the fact Jesus isn’t telling us everything. He’s Lord; he doesn’t have to.

Family members and loved ones may turn on you.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 May

Mark 13.12-13, Matthew 10.21-22, Luke 21.16-18, John 16.2-3.

In Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, he warned his students of the tribulation they’d undergo. Not just the Romans destroying the temple, but how Christians would be persecuted.

It’s something the students needed to hear. Something all Christians need to hear. ’Cause the assumption most people would come to is when God’s on our side, we should never, ever suffer. Suffering’s for losers; for people who lack God. Our God’s a winner, so his followers oughta be winners—people who call down fire on their oppressors 1Ki 1.9-12 or when people just try to put ’em to death, God always supernaturally rescues ’em. Da 3.24-25, 6.19-22 It’s an assumption Christians still make: “I’m working for God, so he’ll keep me safe.”

God guarantees no such thing. The only thing he does guarantee is in this life, we have tribulation. Jn 16.33 Suffering happens. Happened to Jesus too. Imagining that the righteous, the obedient, “good people” don’t suffer: That’s karmic thinking, not reality. In real life, good people die all the time. The universe doesn’t sort everything out; the universe is meaningless, and bad people will sometimes prevail.

So Jesus wasn’t gonna fill his students’ heads with ridiculous happy thoughts. He leveled with them: Bad stuff’s gonna happen to Jerusalem. Bad stuff’s gonna happen to you. They can’t handle who I am, and that you follow me. At some point they’ll come for you. And your family and friends might side with them, not you.

Or as Jesus puts it:

Mark 13.12-13 KWL
12 “And a brother will hand over a brother to death;
and a father his child,
and children will turn against parents and have them put to death.
13 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
One who lasts till the end: This person will be saved.”
 
Matthew 10.21-22 KWL
21 “And a brother will hand over a brother to death;
and a father his child,
and children will turn against parents and have them put to death.
22 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
One who lasts till the end: This person will be saved.”
 
Luke 21.16-18 KWL
16 “And you’ll also be handed over by parents, siblings, relatives, and friends.
They’ll put some of you to death.
17 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
18 Or they might not destroy a hair of your head.
19 Gain your lives by your endurance.”
 
John 16.2-3 KWL
“They’ll make you excommunicants from their synagogues.
But the hour comes when everyone who kills you
might think it’s to offer service to God.
3 They’ll do these things because they don’t know the Father, nor me.”

The Spirit empowers us to speak.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 June

Mark 13.9-10, Matthew 10.17-20, Luke 21.12-15.

When Jesus warned his students about the coming tribulation in his Olivet Discourse, he told ’em he (or the Holy Spirit, depending on the gospel) would have their back when it came time to testify before kings and leaders. He put it this way.

Mark 13.9-11 KWL
9 Now look at you yourselves. They’ll turn you in to the Senate. They’ll cane you in synagogues.
They’ll stand you before leaders and kings because of me, to witness to them.
10 You have to first declare the gospel to all the gentiles.
11 When they turn you in, don’t premeditate what you might say:
Instead whatever’s given you at that hour, say it, for you aren’t speaking; the Holy Spirit is.”
 
Matthew 10.17-20 KWL
17 “Watch out for the people: They’ll turn you in to the Senate and their synagogues. They’ll flog you.
18 They’ll take you to leaders and kings because of me, to testify to them and the gentiles.
19 When they turn you in, don’t worry about what you might say at the time you give a defense:
20 It isn’t you speaking, but your Father’s Spirit in you speaking.
 
Luke 21.12-15 KWL
12 “Before all these signs they’ll lay their hands on you and persecute,
turning you in to synagogues and prisons,
dragging you before kings and leaders, because of my name:
13 This will become your chance to testify!
14 So make up your minds to not pre-prepare your defense:
15 I’ll give you a mouth and wisdom which they can’t withstand,
which contradicts everything brought in opposition to you.”

Jesus is speaking of when we’re put on trial—or not, ’cause if you weren’t a citizen, Romans didn’t bother with due process, and a lot of countries behave the same way. (Too often Americans don’t either. We don’t always recall that rights aren’t granted by our Constitution but by our Creator—so due process isn’t an American right but a human right.) If given the chance to defend ourselves, or simply speak for ourselves, don’t have a premeditated, canned answer. Speak off the cuff. It’ll sound authentic… for it’ll be authentic. And he and the Holy Spirit will help.

Now this was considered a risky idea in Jesus’s day, and in the Roman Empire. Because if you were a politician or attorney back then, you were expected to know the art of public speaking; in other words classical forensic rhetoric. It was expected of every public speaker, especially if you were in government. If you had to stand before a court, a senate, a praetor, an emperor, or the general public, you had to know and follow Roman standard expectations for public speaking. If you didn’t, and spoke for yourself instead of hiring someone else to do it for you, you were considered uneducated, amateurish, stupid, and not to be taken seriously or listened to.

The rules of rhetoric.

Aristotle of Athens taught there were three things every public speaker oughta have.

CREDIBILITY (Greek ἔθος/éthos, “[good] habits”). Speakers gotta sound like they know what they’re doing. They have to have practiced in front of enough crowds to where they’re comfortable in speaking. This’d help them come across as sincere, knowledgeable, confident, trustworthy—in short, believable. ’Cause if the listeners don’t believe you, there’s no point in speaking.

If you aren’t actually sincere, knowledgeable, confident, or trustworthy, you gotta fake these things—although Aristotle preferred you actually have a good character, instead of faking one. (Word will get out, y’know.)

So speakers had to prove they knew what they were talking about. And y’notice the folks who gave their testimonies in the bible, tended to talk somewhat knowledgeably about their subjects. Stephen’s big long speech about Israeli history, given during his trial, tends to strike people as unnecessary, but it absolutely wasn’t: It was so the Judean senate would recognize Stephen knew his bible. So when Stephen came to his conclusions—that God didn’t need a temple, plus the senate had assassinated their Messiah—these conclusions couldn’t be dismissed as if they came from some babbling moron. It’s no wonder they wanted him dead.

PASSION (πάθος/páthos). Speakers have to be passionate about their causes. They gotta connect with the audience, and evoke strong emotion in their listeners.

Yes, to manipulate them. ’Cause if your logic and reasoning isn’t strong enough to make your case, you can at least gain the audience’s sympathy, and maybe tip a ruling towards your favor. So tell a heartwarming story. Tell a joke. Use puns. Exaggerate. Shout a little. Cry a little. Pause dramatically. Shock ’em with the unexpected.

Nowadays we consider emotional manipulation, in public speaking, to be wrong. Logic, not emotion, should rule the day. And to a large degree the ancient Greeks and Romans agreed. But the reality is, we humans are emotional creatures, and a lot of us do let our emotions rule. So rhetoricians figured it’d be stupid to ignore this tactic. They taught their students to do it… so everybody did it. Audiences even expected speakers to do it: It wasn’t considered a good speech unless it tugged your heartstrings a little.

So this is what Paul did in his own trials: Spoke of his past as a prosecutor. Spoke of his dramatic conversion. Spoke of his new zeal for the gospel and God’s kingdom. Then took a shot at evangelizing his hearers—as Agrippa Herod realized, and Paul totally admitted.

LOGIC (λόγος/lóghos, “message”). By lóghos Aristotle meant a well-reasoned message, explained with a little inductive or deductive reasoning.

Inductive thinking takes common knowledge (whether there’s any truth to it or not, which is the usual flaw with inductive reasoning) and try to base our conclusions on it. Deductive takes a statement, finds exceptions to it (“If my client were poor he’d rob a bank, but he’s not poor”), and whittles away at the statement till you can’t help but reject it. Rhetoricians shrewdly advised their students to not finish their chain of reasoning (“…therefore he didn’t rob that bank!”), because the audience usually had enough sense to figure that part out… plus they felt clever for doing so, and making ’em feel good keeps ’em on your side.

We see the apostles practice inductive logic by quoting bible, which their listeners trusted, and drawing conclusions from it. As for deductive logic, this appears far more often in the apostles’ letters than their speeches, but we see it pretty clearly in Peter and John’s defense:

Acts 4.19-20 KWL
19 In reply Simon Peter and John told them, “Decide, by God, if it’s right to heed you or God:
20 We can’t not talk about what we saw and heard.”

Supernatural public speaking.

Paul had been to academy, the ancient equivalent of university, studying under Rabban Gamaliel the Elder. Jesus’s students, particularly the Twelve, had not. They’d only been to synagogue. (Though their rabbi was Jesus of Nazareth, which counts for an awful lot!) So while Paul definitely received training in rhetoric, as other accounts of Gamaliel make clear, it wasn’t something you’d expect to find in synagogue lessons. Jesus was an out-of-the-ordinary teacher, so he might’ve taught basic rhetoric to his students… or they might’ve picked up some of it by listening to him speak.

Either way, it startled the Judean senators when they saw Peter and John’s παρρησίαν/parrisían, “speaking ability” (KJV “boldness”). These guys were comfortable with public speaking. Yet they had no rhetorical training the senators were familiar with; they’d never been to academy; they only studied under Jesus. Either Jesus slipped ’em some advanced subjects, or (which Jesus makes clear in the Olivet Discourse) they’d been gifted by the Holy Spirit.

’Cause God can do that. When we have the ability to hear the Spirit—and we do!—and we practice listening to him, he tells us what to say. No, he won’t take over our lips and work us like a ventriloquist’s dummy. He simply tells us what to say, and it ends up being just the right thing. It’s supernaturally good.

Is it therefore guaranteed the Spirit will get us an acquittal? Absolutely not. Stephen got killed. Eventually Peter got killed. Eventually John got exiled; eloquent or not, he didn’t talk his way out of it. The Twelve were martyred, all proclaiming Jesus till the end.

Jesus doesn’t promise any pretribulation rapture. He only promises those who endure to the end will be saved. Mt 24.13 We might not convince anyone. Might get killed. But despite our death, Jesus is resurrection and life. We may die, but thanks to Jesus, we’ll live. Trust him.

And if you ever find yourself in circumstances where you gotta defend yourself under pressure, trust the Holy Spirit. He may not give us an instant crash course in Aristotelian rhetoric. But he’ll still tell us just what we need to say.