Climbing the Mount of Olives III.A: Matthew 24

Through the Clearing and Up the Hill: Last Thoughts on Method, Critical and Rhetorical

Here I will offer a relatively succinct, overly confident commentary on Matthew 24–25. It is the fruit of a tree that I’ve been cultivating for a little while now. You can find its main trunk here, and the nearest branch to this one is here.

Why am I writing in an overly confident way? Because the ability to make a confident statement with a straight face is often the coin of the realm in Biblical studies, especially in whatever makes it into churches. But not only there. Academic commentaries also use this style at times. I think I have some warrant for confidence, so it would be a shame to let anyone get away with sounding more confident than me. I am interested in convincing people of things that I think are true, and a large number of people respond to confidence by being convinced. What kind of fool would unilaterally disarm themselves in a rhetorical arms race?

But that’s the worse half of it. Even stated with all the explicit irony I’ve mustered here, the role of rhetoric in the field should make us all pretty uneasy all around. Still, there’s a better half to the approach as well, and this is the more spiritual part of my soulful approach to reading. The better part is that it helps me honestly convey the delight of the many “Eureka!” moments I have had the gift of being able to enjoy while studying the text over the last couple of decades. When various pieces of a puzzle snap together beautifully there really is a sense of profound assurance and delight. I intend to bear witness to this experience of joy in discovery. Even if it turns out that these moments of delight were just the brief revelation of a possibility for now, even that sense that the veil was briefly torn would have been enough. And yet, there really is still more! The commentary is best read, then, as a sincere expression of how I feel when the deep coherence of Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew’s Jesus, and my own limited grasp of it all coalesce. I think the experience invites us to follow at least a bit further, like Moses followed God: still seeing less than we’d like, we might become eager to carry on to the next “enough”.

Of course, I realize that there are other ways to read the text that also produce broadly similar experiences of joy and delight and assurance and confidence, and some of those are incompatible with my reading here. This is why my comments are explicitly overly confident. Here, I’ll indulge in some fanciness as I reflect on the basic epistemic problem that arises where rhetoric and the earnest pursuit of truth inevitably meet again. The trouble is that we can sometimes find beautiful and profoundly consilient models that powerfully account for the information we have, and these can still be wrong. Confidence is no proof after all. One of the most profound moments in the history of epistemology came when the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, which is now routinely scoffed at despite all of its beauty and power, fell to a still more powerful and consilient reading of the stars. It rearranged our (sense of) cosmos, but on further reflection this revolution also rightly rearranged our sense of certainty. At least it did this for those who thought deeply about the implications of the fact that our very best efforts could be so excellent and so wrong for so long. By going on a journey through the post-Copernican humility that we all need to learn today, I think there is a better assurance, a milder and gentler one, waiting for us on the other side of that overly possessive, initial “Eureka!” Ultimately, I hope to convey a delight that doesn’t have to prove itself absolutely right to be enough, enough, and more than enough, and this corresponds with a movement from a contained ‘infinity’ to an enduring process of ever-deepening intimacy. So yes, there are multiple models that can account for a great deal of everything we see, whether up in the stars or in the deeper wells of Matthew 25, 24 and 23. Matthew is like the stars but deeper still, because the text holds the stars and their eventual fall, along with a good bit more.

So let’s think about Copernicus and confidence as it relates to Matthew 24–25 at least a bit more. What I have to say here will seem revolutionary to some people. It will turn over some people’s worlds and tip them right side up. This is why we need to reflect on these moments more generally here, and calmly whisper assurances that it will all be okay. Copernicus led us to the revelation that the stars are just like us: it turns out that we’re made of the same stuff, and that they are beneath us at least as much as they are above us. In this way the Copernican revolution draws to mind the Apocalypse of Abraham, when God lifts Abraham above the stars and shows him how numerous his descendants will be, because he has been taken up in an exponential process of generation. Although the Copernican Revolution was an apparent fall of our models and idols into a bonfire that shattered the Platonic chain of being, it was also a kind of rise to a place above the stars. We also learned through the chemical revolution that unfolded during Kant’s lifetime that the stars are like us, in that they are made of matter that seems to be conserved without end: insofar as there is an endless kind of matter, it is down here as much as it is up there. It turns out that it only looks like some matter blinks out of being. In fact, matter-energy is consistently being conserved, both here and there. This understanding of matter’s perseverance shattered a certain kind of argument for the necessity of God, one that depended on the idea that matter is always vanishing by its own intrinsic nature, as we can supposedly (but wrongly) see whenever life decays after the end of its aion. This revelation destroys a certain argument from what seems obvious to the logical and indubitable need for a Creator-Sustainer to hold it in being. However, it also suggested that if there is a God, then Their gracious sustenance of materiality is utterly and perfectly unrelenting. A loss in the capacity for proof therefore corresponds with a deepening wonder at God’s grace toward flesh and matter ‘down here’, if there is a God after all.

On the other side of that desolation of the Ptolemaic astronomy and the apologist’s theory of matter, if we find a God it must now be one who is still more gracious to suffering flesh. This move from old certainties into a newer and gentler assurance can serve as a commentary on metaphysical overconfidence in general, including in how we comment on Scripture: fundamentally, after Kant, theology needs to work in the fields and the dirt of warranted trust, which is also the sphere of political life, because governments are built of this kind of trust. Having left the realm of absolute certitude, we are able to open our minds and hearts even wider to the ongoing work of reconciliation that God must have for us, if there is a God after all. Theologically, then, my method is ultimately pietistic more than classical. That’s why I wear my rhetoric like a mask, readily removed, but don’t want you to mistake it for my face: I insist that you know that on inspection, I’m definitely less certain than I feel and write here. For that reason I hope that in the end you will also feel more gently assured by the God who is love, one who moves in a strong and gentle stream of grace much more than the clicking of necessity. This corresponds with a God who provides us with warrant for faith, but not arguments for certainty.

There was a time when I couldn’t understand how the various Copernican revolutions weren’t taken as a vindication of Christian piety and of Matthew 24, with its falling stars and our own falling scales. That’s a more complicated history for another day. Here I’ll just note that the real history of the relationship between science, philosophy and religion has often been distorted because of both anti-religious and religious opposition to the work of reconciliation in history. [1] Polemics serve the interests of the various polemicists on every side, and polemics are popular because they manipulate threat responses all around, epistemically capturing audiences in a spiral of deepening mutual contempt. In our own post-Trump age of polarization, we can more viscerally understand how these dynamics bind and blind us. These times have hardened all around, and me with them, as I’ve seen the way strident errors require an equally strident rhetoric of response. Only after all of this is said and done can we have advance in justice, and hopefully de-escalation might become possible again after we have rescued the lives that we can from the maw of the way of death. Then we will be able to talk like Eriugena about the deep compatibility of discourse and science and religion. [1.05] But today, there is too much plainly anti-discursive religion, including too many people denying the real cost of COVID in human life along with so much other reality, for this to sound credible at socially relevant scale. This, too, is part of the reason that I am interested in moving from an explicit overconfidence, and then back into a place of gentle assurance. Along with this there comes some necessary and ancillary pain, including the pain that comes from playing with the rhetoric of certainty, while making room for the loss of excessive certainty on the other side.

With all of its own falling stars and the ensuing flames, Matthew 24–25 remains a deeply inviting text for those of us who have learned, after Copernicus, that the stars will fall in time after all. So allow me to be both literal and symbolic at once here: by current estimates, we can count how many billions of years of life our sun still has on our fingers. In 7 billion years it will be gone, but it will only be 5 billion before it ‘falls’ to Earth as a red giant, consuming our planet in the celestial fire that we now call plasma. This might not cut it for you, but I confess that that’s more than Biblical enough for me.

The more we look at the history of science and religion, the clearer it becomes that the idea of a secular Copernican revolution (rather than evolution) is an illusion. Our real history isn’t one of a simple conflict between old religious stupidity and new secular intelligence, emerging as if it was created ex nihilo from the minds of some great Western European Men. To be clear, the church is at least as much to blame for this narrative as anyone. I think the truth hidden in the lie of that old Enlightenment theory of a fundamental conflict (or at least division of magisteria) between religion and science involves at least these two insights:

First violence severs the psyche, leading to dissociation and a loss of soulfulness at personal and social scales. Our history has had more than enough violence on both religious and anti-religious sides to sever our psyche from our spirit and our flesh on these issues. This creates a feedback loop that has empowered all of the various polemicists who thrive on the manipulation of threat responses: violence begets violence. So we end up with some polemicists today who are sure that science will kill us all. Others are equally certain that religion will kill us all. On some level, I suspect that most of us know better and yet here we are. Those sirens still control us at social scale, whether as claxons herding us through threat response or as the enticements of spectacle.

Second, it is easy to confuse a continuous exponential curve for a truly disjunctive revolution, and the fact that knowledge is growing exponentially (like life) fosters the illusion that the scientific revolution happened ex nihilo. (In reality, the democratic and scientific revolutions have repeatedly been born from the church, often from marginal figures in the church, even if the church has become a cruel and neglectful parent at many points.) In all of these ways, the soulful whole at the center of exponential processes is always being excluded from the boundaries of consciousness. What do I mean by the soulful whole? I mean both the organism whose intergenerational reproduction produces exponential growth, and also the experience of being a human soul looking at an exponential curve as a whole. What does that mean? Just watch an exponential curve with an adjusting scale unfold, as it continuously seems to erase all of the vastness that went before it. Forty is dwarfed by four thousand, which is quickly dwarfed by four hundred thousand, and so on. Or to get at the same idea, you can imagine that you are Abraham vanishing before all of the unfolding stars that will descend from you: to be an ancestor is to be embedded in an exponential process that will dwarf you, until you become infinitesimal in comparison. Still, like matter, the days of small things only appear to disappear; they are always held within the growing gulf between past and future as each generation experiences its moment in the exponential process that is life, joining the turning of the lifetimes.

All of this gives me patience. I think that in a lot of our theology we are still awkwardly adolescent: painfully trapped between a pre-Copernican posture and a post-Einsteinian one, without the interval of historical reconciliation (Vergangenheitsbewältigung) that we need to suffer through, in between. We haven’t reconciled ourselves to the complexities of the real history that is unfolding through us. We are pre-Copernican in a basic sense because so much of our popular theology (and Platonist revivalism too) keeps pounding the Bible as of its ancient cosmology still held, even though we do know (I hope) that the sun goes around the Earth. This is part of why Copernicus was a real problem for the pious, and remains a problem for the few consistent fundamentalists who remain. But we are also pre-Copernican in so many of our commentaries because we assert that much less reliable observations and much less precise rational models of the text can yield a confidence that even far more rigorous fields, like Ptolemaic astronomy, couldn’t give us. For all that we’ve failed to internalize in our Biblical studies, we also can’t avoid rushing on, Adamically unprepared, to some post-Einsteinian future. After all, given that all movement is relative, weren’t Copernicus and Ptolemy both right? Not quite. General relativity makes way for a new, humbled, playful and still quite silly geocentrism only after the old, arrogant version of it has been dethroned. Copernicus will still have his day either way: we are still left with the horrible realization of the profound limits of human knowledge, precisely because knowledge is expanding so rapidly. Knowledge, too, is growing exponentially, and so old knowledge seems to vanish in the wake of what it has birthed. This is closely related to our forgetfulness of past generations. Even after Einstein, the Copernican revolution has still left us with an image of the cosmos that is incompatible with ancient cosmology. And relatedly, the post-racial future that we yearn for can only come on the other side of repentance, reparation, and the just reconciliation that follows. We can’t rush into a post-racial future any more than theology can rush into a serious post-Einsteinian defense of Copernicus, while failing to wrestle with the old cosmology that we really have left behind, just as biological science has left the illusion of race behind even as the social realities of white supremacy remain. This is the Vergangenheitsbewältigung that is needed in the history of science, and in the whole history of white supremacy with its invention of the pseudo-science of racism. In short, the virtue I’m after here is the humility that comes only through the death of our hubris and pride. That is the Copernican gain, and we only get it after meeting confident rhetoric with a moment of confident rhetoric to match it. Rhetorically this requires a moment where sinless hubris crosses sinful hubris before we pass over to the other side.

So what I hope to take up here, but only provisionally, is that overconfidence that turns a sublime experience of assurance and coherence and meaning into the self-conscious laughter of some fool who claims to have seen the light. After all, even Cohen’s sublime Hallelujah becomes a painful cliché once it has been elevated to the desecrating pinnacle of popular culture. Things become overexposed and commercialized, and that might include Christian language most of all. We can only breath life back into language by handling the sacred hymns and the blessed cliches with enormous care. Leonard Cohen, our constant companion through this study, was able to do this by eventually giving thanks for the opportunity to keep singing that Hallelujah hymn, especially because he really did need the money after being shamelessly defrauded. The point is to press into the pain of life, whether the pain of a pun, or a cliché, or a trope, or a rhetorical trick, because this is what it means to be present to people like us, especially at social scale. The pain of being wrong is part of what is taken up and held with agonizing tenderness on the cross.

In this very particular way we can say that Copernicus hasn’t really had his day in theology or anti-theology at social scale yet, even though the victory is already won. This is the inaugurated eschatology of Copernicus, itself a strange and lovely mirror of the reconciling work of the cross. Especially after Kant, we can see that Copernicus had less to do with the location of the Earth, and more to do with how willing we should be to question even a beautiful model that has, maternally, held so many sensory moments of observation. This is why I am, of course, utterly convinced of the power of my analysis here. It is also why I am utterly convinced that real wisdom lies on the other side of the death of that moment of gloriously fragile certainty. We haven’t yet internalized, in public and popular theology at social scale, the import of the move from Ptolemy to Copernicus to Einstein and beyond. But I am at least trying to do my part here. In some ways, the eye-opening fall of the old order can only come on the other side of the new age that has dawned, is dawning, and will dawn when our variously inflated human egos (at all scales, perhaps including cosmic some day) finally cease to stand athwart history, pointlessly shouting stop.

Or at least I can’t see a way out of the excessive rhetoric of some of our commentary tradition, except by going through it: I hope that by taking on the appearance of spin, of overly confident epistemic sin, I might meet the rhetorical systems on their own terms. Then, on the far side of it all, I hope that we can fall together into the arms of God by that same sort of rhetorical sword, its meaning transformed. If everything goes according to plan we will overcome the problem of overly confident rhetoric through cruciform irony, alloyed with the carbon of the deepest human vulnerability and sincerity.

There are no endings, only beginnings.

So one more time with feeling, let’s go.


(0) Structuring our Reading of Matthew 24–25

Interpreters have proposed a variety of structures for Matthew’s Gospel as a whole, as well as for its many parts. These various structures aren’t necessarily opposed to each other any more than our various anatomical systems are mutually exclusive. When looking at this gospel as a whole, we have treated the 5 main blocks of teaching in Matthew as analogous to the skeletal system. Meanwhile, the narrative movement through geography is like the circulatory system, and the use of chiastic touches is something reminiscent of the nervous system.

Nonetheless, a succinct and focused summary exists through an explicit and therefore singular structure, even if Matthew’s own structure is necessarily much more complicated than our simple outline. So in drawing up my structure for Matthew 24–25, I’ll draw on the numerous chiastic features of the text. Its use is warranted by the textual features that I’ll discuss, although tedious debates about whether the text “really is chiastic” won’t detain us. A chiastic sensibility clearly marks the text deeply enough for the following outline to find useful and illuminating anchor points, and will invite us into the process of perceiving the text as a whole whose parts mutually illuminate each other.

I have chosen to structure our summary chiastically for the following reasons, all of them rather neurological:

1 Memory

It is memorable. The chiastic touchpoints would have helped hearers remember and recite the text, and will also help my readers remember the summary.

2 Soulful Coherence

It binds together our reading precisely where later chapter divisions inappropriately divide our attention today. The heart of the chiasm straddles the chapters, and so it emphasizes that the pericope of 24–25 has become a coherent literary whole, as generally acknowledged. Chiasm therefore helps focus our attention on something that is obvious, but too often ignored, when commentators try to sharply divide the text into an “already” part that broadly corresponds to Matthew 24 and a “not yet” part that broadly corresponds to Matthew 25. Rather, the “already and not yet” permeates the whole pericope, especially through the themes of waiting, presence and teleology.

3 Aion and aionios are conceputally adjacent

A properly chiastic sensibility emphasizes the conceptual proximity of “aion” (lifetime) and “aionios” (lifetimeic) at the start and end of Matthew 24–25. Whether you ‘agree’ with the more general chiastic structure or not, the beginnings and ends of well-composed literary units routinely complement each other, as the end teleologically calls back to the beginning. This point can stand substantially independently of the case for a chiastic structure in the pericope: it is the deep root that gives rise to my general observations about chiasm in the text, and like a dandelion it lies in wait even if the rest of my chiastic foliage is chopped down. At the core of a competent reading of Matthew is a restoration of the linguistic, conceptual and literary nearness of “aion” and “aionios”. The general chiastic structure therefore holds this extra-chiastic end as well: even if it falls to the ground and dies, at least it establishes this deep root.

4 Parallelism teaches wisdom

Whether we’re discussing lines of Hebrew poetry, texts like Proverbs 26:4–5, or the whole narrative structure of the Bible as a tale of two temples, the principle of parallelism structures all of the various Christian canons we have at all of their literary scales. Why this obsession with parallelism? It facilitates comparison and contrast, which then allows us to generalize appropriately from the parallel pair to the spiritual continuity that the two soulfully bind together. This, in turn, allows appropriate generalization: the third in a sequence of parallels demonstrates understanding of the shared spirit of both elements. It then gives rise to indefinitely many soulful duplications of the underlying general structure. In this way we discover the deep spiritual structure that is not trapped in the pair or reducible to it, but indicated through their generative interplay. This parallelism layers across scales so that we can also have pairs of pairs. For example, the double fall of Shiloh and Gibeah prefigures the double fall of the Temple in Judah: first under two names, then within one, first sounding different, then a furious pun.

5 Chiasm is teleological

The deep structure of chastic parallelism binds the literary unit together teleologically, as a soulful whole. A chiasm begins naturally with a question or suggestion of an idea, and then develops it over the course of the discussion, like an artist unfolding a work. When we run our mind over a chiastic literary whole repeatedly, as one does when memorizing, we more deeply internalize enduring structures of creative wisdom even as we engage in the mere task of literal, fleshy ‘repetition’: the cruciform literary structure of chiasm already begins to teach wisdom through basic imitation. Like ‘mere’ praxis in general, it therefore involves a kind of generative and creative repetition that is not mere repetition.

With that rationale in view, these are the nine sections into which I divide the text. It is seraphically divided into three sets of three in the style of Dionysius the Areopagite and so, too, Bonaventure. [3] That body of literature has deeply formed my spiritual life for a long time, and I am happy to acknowledge the debt here. The structure is too nicely precise to be above the suspicion that it reflects my own intentions, I know. But here we are, image-bearers of God discussing the Bible. I think that we should, at least, be explicit about our own social locations in history, because this sort of transparency rightly opens us up to the reflexivity of a properly critical theory: reflection on ourselves, as individuals and as societies, enables the sustained work of plank removal to deepen and unfold at all social scales. So our goal here is not to erase our fingerprints, but to know God in them as well. We are trying to read the text, but that doesn’t mean that we are trying to read the text that we would be reading if no one were reading it. [3.5]

A: Question and clarifications

(a) 24:1–3: The question about “signs of your presence” and the “synteleia of the aion”

(b) 24: 4–26: The judgment on the nation is not the end

(c) 24:27–44: The elevation of the Son of Man as it relates to the nation

B: Parables enjoining enduring covenant faithfulness

(d) 24:45–51: Parable encouraging faithfulness, because a servant doesn’t know when the time of his stewardship, the master’s return, and his personal scale end will come.

(e) 25:1–13: Parable of the ten bridesmaids, five foolish and five wise. It encourages preparation for a long wait, centering an image of illumination that resonates deeply with Matthew and Torah’s fivefold structure.

(d’) 25:14–30: Parable enjoining the audience to invest wisely and be prepared, like the one with the five or two talents. A parable related to the biological and economical themes of exponential growth over time which also mark the discussion of the synteleia of the aion in Matthew 13.

A’: The answer begins, but continues to the last breath of Matthew 28

(c’) 25:31–33: The arrival in power of the Son of Man

(b’) 25:34–45: Danielic judgment of the nations, dividing the sheep and goats

(a’) 25:46, 26:1–5…28:20: The suspended answer to the question about the synteleia of the aion: a chiasm cracked open.

This conclusion leaves us with an end that is still unfolding over the remainder of Matthew’s Gospel: Matthew 24–25 is a pericope, but it is not an island. In this way, Matthew 25 leads us directly into the passion narrative, which is the fuller answer to the question in Matthew 24:1–3. This is emphasized by the fact that the language of the question about a “synteleia of the aion” will only be repeated with the final line of Matthew, verse 28:20. The Gospel’s final words are also fully exposited in the Gospel’s heart, sometimes considered the chiastic (or at least chiast-ish) center of the Gospel in Matthew 13. Structurally, too, the middle of Matthew is also the ultimate end, and in this way the text formally holds and reflects its explicit inaugurated eschatology.

A: Question and Clarifications

(a) 24:1–3: The question about “signs of your presence” and the “synteleia of the aion

1 Καὶ ἐξελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ τοῦ ἱεροῦ ἐπορεύετο, καὶ προσῆλθον οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπιδεῖξαι αὐτῷ τὰς οἰκοδομὰς τοῦ ἱεροῦ· 2 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· Οὐ βλέπετε ταῦτα πάντα; ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ μὴ ἀφεθῇ ὧδε λίθος ἐπὶ λίθον ὃς οὐ καταλυθήσεται.

3 Καθημένου δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τοῦ Ὄρους τῶν Ἐλαιῶν προσῆλθον αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ κατʼ ἰδίαν λέγοντες· Εἰπὸν ἡμῖν πότε ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον τῆς σῆς παρουσίας καὶ συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.[4]


1 As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the completion (synteleia) of the lifetime?”[5]

Our slightly modified NRSV translation isn’t optimized for general English usage, but is instead useful for highlighting important elements of the original language that are lost in attempts at smooth translation. The adjustments are warranted and elucidated by the extensive discussion of the verse in the previous section. To summarize simply, the sign of the presence of Jesus[6] is especially emphasized in contrast to the ongoing signs of the presence of anti-Christ, and is not necessarily associated with true historical finality even if each anti-Christ is bound to destruction. The phrase “synteleia of the lifetime” draws to mind the holistic completion of a great creative act, especially one of Temple construction: for example, the word synteleia is also used to describe Herod’s updates to the Second Temple and Josephus’s completion of his historical writing.[7]

The next occurrence of the word ‘synteleia’ in Matthew will be in the final phrase of the entire text: Matthew 28:20, and it comes with an assurance of the enduring presence of Jesus. The great conclusion of Matthew, centering the establishment of the communion meal and the closely related cross and resurrection, therefore intimately binds together the phrase “sign of presence” with the phrase “completion of the lifetime” around the ritual temple-meal that commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus. In this sense, the following answer from Jesus isn’t confined to Matthew 24–25. Instead, Matthew 24–4 to 28:20 is his answer, not only in word but in deed.

Jesus will proceed to clarify this while also talking about many more proximate ends in the intervening discussion. The life whose end (but not necessarily completion) is most immediately centered in what follows will be the life of the nation of Judah, as the final remnant of sacred Israel’s violent national political life. However, Jesus is eager to note that this war (like any war) will not signal the true completion of Israel or of Judah’s historical persistence, or its mission in history. Rather, it is the end of a theocratically legitimated, violent Judahite ‘nation-state’. In other words, Judah’s right hand[8] and the Herodian line are being cut off, and this will be the end of national life as it had been known. However, this more proximate end (telos) of national life is pointedly not the creative synteleia of life itself: Jesus assures his followers that through baptism and communion, his presence will remain with them even to that ultimate Temple consummation that is the beginning of sabbath rest. Through this narrative journey through the microcosm of a life to the macrocosm of the universal life, the phrase ‘synteleia of the aion’ takes on the capacity to refer to the lifetime of the entire universal cosmos. By extension, the lifetime of the entire universal cosmos also holds all lifetimes at all scales. In this way it holds life as a biological unity (the tree of life), each of our individual personal lives, the lives of all nations (with their associated angels and astronomical calendars), and the perceivable, intelligible, living, moving universe. In it we move and live and learn as an extension of its own inherent capacity for life, experience and knowledge, which is expressed as the Holy Spirit. [9] The various gods, understood as fallen angels in the literature of Second Temple Judah like Enoch, manifested in history in and through the kings who represented their nations and their god-angels. This is how group agents were discussed and understood, and this conceptual framework draws together stars, angels, and nations within the broader Biblical narrative of God redeeming the world by overcoming these errant god-nations. [9.25], [9.3], [9.35] This reading is an elaboration of early Christian readings, which saw the text carrying this kind of scaled capacity. It especially reflects the views of the Alexandrian School, and Ephrem the Syrian. [9.5]

(b) 24: 4–22: Judgment on the nation(s?)


4 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· Βλέπετε μή τις ὑμᾶς πλανήσῃ· 5 πολλοὶ γὰρ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου λέγοντες· Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ χριστός, καὶ πολλοὺς πλανήσουσιν. 6 μελλήσετε δὲ ἀκούειν πολέμους καὶ ἀκοὰς πολέμων· ὁρᾶτε, μὴ θροεῖσθε· δεῖ γὰρ γενέσθαι, ἀλλʼ οὔπω ἐστὶν τὸ τέλος. 7 ἐγερθήσεται γὰρ ἔθνος ἐπὶ ἔθνος καὶ βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν, καὶ ἔσονται λιμοὶ καὶ σεισμοὶ κατὰ τόπους· 8 πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων.


4 Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end (telos) is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The answer that Matthew’s Jesus offers begins with an emphasis on the issues raised by the question of presence. He indicates that wars are not the end that God seeks to fulfill, and neither are famines or earthquakes, not even at national scale. The Messianic and prophetic figures that repeatedly arose at the time, and ours, urging war as God’s goal are also false. This is not what the presence of God or of the true Messiah are like. Both human and natural violence are rejected as God’s ends, because earthquakes and famines are also rejected as the telos. Instead, all three causes of death are likened to birth pangs: they are a necessary accompaniment to the pursuit of God’s end and ends in history, at least here on the Mount of Olives, just to the East of Eden. In context, we appropriately understand Eden as the extrahistorical temple prototype whose redemption Jesus accomplishes in history, even as he also embodies the Temple in himself and his followers.

The analogy to birth pangs is deeply and enduringly illuminating. The goal and conclusion of birth are not the pain that always attends it, but every human lifetime unfolds in its fullness only on the other side those pains. The goal is the birth of the Messianic nation around the restored Temple. The goal is not to win a war or find a Messiah to lead one, because he has already been born and found and has won the battle over death itself. The end goal of Judah’s violent life is the international rebirth of the faithful and penitent nation, rooted in a new covenant, that the prophets had promised.


9 Τότε παραδώσουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς θλῖψιν καὶ ἀποκτενοῦσιν ὑμᾶς, καὶ ἔσεσθε μισούμενοι ὑπὸ πάντων τῶν ἐθνῶν διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου. 10 καὶ τότε σκανδαλισθήσονται πολλοὶ καὶ ἀλλήλους παραδώσουσιν καὶ μισήσουσιν ἀλλήλους· 11 καὶ πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται ἐγερθήσονται καὶ πλανήσουσιν πολλούς· 12 καὶ διὰ τὸ πληθυνθῆναι τὴν ἀνομίαν ψυγήσεται ἡ ἀγάπη τῶν πολλῶν. 13 ὁ δὲ ὑπομείνας εἰς τέλος οὗτος σωθήσεται. 14 καὶ κηρυχθήσεται τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ εἰς μαρτύριον πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, καὶ τότε ἥξει τὸ τέλος.


9 “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end (telos) will be saved. 14 And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end (telos) [9.75] will come.

The meaning of the word “then” (tότε/tote) that introduces this section is worth considering, because it recurs throughout the Mount of Olives discourse. It is particularly characteristic of Matthew’s Gospel, and can easily signify a sequence of historical events although it doesn’t have to.[10] For example, it can also indicate any time at all that fulfills certain conditions [11], like a regular sequence or pattern in history. The idea of a regular pattern fits most consiliently with the text as a whole, which has just named all kinds of of war, famine and earthquakes in general (rather than some particular one). Even more significantly, the remainder of Matthew’s Gospel will constitute the personal demonstration, by Jesus, of the pattern that he names here. Jesus will soon be hated by Roman and Jew alike. His disciples will fall away in fear. The high priest who ostensibly speaks for God, and Pilate who represents the fallen power of Rome, will speak and act falsely against Jesus, as will the populace that Empire and the Slanderer are riding. But Jesus endures faithfully to the end (of his aion) and so is saved. Matthew closes with the resurrected Jesus enjoining the disciples to proclaim the Gospel throughout all nations, assuring them that his presence will be with them until the consummation of all life. In essence, Jesus is summarizing what he will personally model in the remainder of the Gospel, and it is fitting to see these “thens” working in a way that refers to any time that fulfills the relevant cruciform conditions. Of course, if a general structure is in view it can also be applied in many particular cases, including the particular case of the ending lifetime of Judah that is centered here. The particular, in the case of both Jesus and Judah’s aions, is used to illuminate the general form.

So what end is primarily in view here? In the first, prototypical, instance it is the personal end (death) of Jesus as the Messianic King, which also prefigures the death (end) of Judah as a violent nation. Is the point therefore exhausted in his death, and the death of Judah? Not at all. Matthew 28:20 will conclude with instructions to continue with the new birth of baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This will give rise to Messianic siblings throughout all of the nations and generations, and the faithful among them will follow the enemy loving way of Jesus, even to their own ends when needed. The goal, of course, is not their deaths. That’s a necessity, not a goal: those are just birth pangs. The proximate goal is the birth of a non-violent intergenerational government. It has already been initiated in the baptismal ministry of John and Jesus, but it will truly begin to spread in ways that forever mark human history only after the movement is driven from the slashed-open womb of dying Judah. The ultimate goal is the assurance of the presence of Jesus among the living until the ultimate consummation of all life, and of each life. That is the end where all of the pieces come together to reveal the original plan of creation, manifest in the life of Jesus. It will ultimately all come together and will ultimately be named clearly as the synteleia of life, in the final words of the Gospel.


15 Ὅταν οὖν ἴδητε τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Δανιὴλ τοῦ προφήτου ἑστὸς ἐν τόπῳ ἁγίῳ, ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω, 16 τότε οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ φευγέτωσαν ἐπὶ τὰ ὄρη, 17 ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος μὴ καταβάτω ἆραι τὰ ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας αὐτοῦ, 18 καὶ ὁ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω ὀπίσω ἆραι τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ. 19 οὐαὶ δὲ ταῖς ἐν γαστρὶ ἐχούσαις καὶ ταῖς θηλαζούσαις ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις. 20 προσεύχεσθε δὲ ἵνα μὴ γένηται ἡ φυγὴ ὑμῶν χειμῶνος μηδὲ σαββάτῳ· 21 ἔσται γὰρ τότε θλῖψις μεγάλη οἵα οὐ γέγονεν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς κόσμου ἕως τοῦ νῦν οὐδʼ οὐ μὴ γένηται. 22 καὶ εἰ μὴ ἐκολοβώθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι ἐκεῖναι, οὐκ ἂν ἐσώθη πᾶσα σάρξ· διὰ δὲ τοὺς ἐκλεκτοὺς κολοβωθήσονται αἱ ἡμέραι ἐκεῖναι.


15 “So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), 16 then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 17 the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; 18 the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 19 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21 For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning (arche) of the world (cosmos) until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

This section contains practical warnings about the destruction of the Temple and the City in 70 AD. The phrase “let the reader understand” indicates that Matthew wants the prototype of Antiochus Epiphane’s desecration of the Temple to be properly understood as the model for the desecration of Herod’s temple as well. [12] It indicates that Matthew is part of a speech community that views itself as the competent interpreter of this typology, and that they want to ensure that incompetent interpretation is addressed directly. The logical progression of the discourse works like this: based on the previous discussions, should the disciples gather around the dying Temple and fight the Romans, filled with the assurance from false Messiahs and false prophets that God will never let the eternal Temple fall? Of course not. Just the opposite. The practical conclusion is that the disciples should anticipate the fall of Jerusalem and act to preserve life, as much as possible, in the situation. When fighting is futile, flight saves the lives that can be saved. And when flight is futile, faithful endurance in enemy love also saves the life that can be saved. In the end, faithful perseverance in the Way of Jesus will lead to the martyr’s ultimate vindication, in union with the Messiah.

Having seen the desecration of the Temple-man Jesus already, the disciples are prepared to properly interpret more proximate signs of the Temple’s coming destruction. Josephus attributes the Temple’s fall to the murder of a man named Zechariah, and the play with multiple Zechariahs in Matthew 23 may interact with this tradition in interesting ways.[13] A direct connection between Matthew and the incident Josephus reports is possible. But even if there is no direct connection, Josephus’s Zechariah illustrates the longstanding view, applied to both the first and second temple and to Gibeah and the topeths of Ben-hinnom, the spilling of innocent prophetic blood leads to the ultimate desecration and destruction of Jerusalem’s temples. [13.5] As the new Temple’s rejected cornerstone and as Prophet-Priest-King-Lawgiver, the dying Jesus represents a grandly synthesizing concentration and intensification of this same tradition. The connection between the corruption of the Temple and the spilling of innocent blood is an eminently reasonable one to draw: devotion to bad faith and violence naturally leads empire to kill its truth-tellers. That act manifests the denial and deception that gives the epistemic capture system its control, within its magical circle, but it also sets the captured people on a catastrophic collision courses with reality. [13.75] This routinely reaches its pinnacle in futile efforts to kill the truth by killing its most urgent bearers: it is a rejection of reality that is ultimately a rejection of life. As we’re seeing yet again in our generation, the truth marches on despite denial and projection’s attempts to cover it up. To the honest accountability seems to come far too slowly. Still, it comes all too quickly for people and spiritual beings who partner with the Slanderer, expecting to build something enduring on the basis of illusions and lies.

Among these warnings, notice the evocation of pregnancy again in verse 19, an echo of the conceptually clarifying image of birth pangs. Imagine a pregnant mother fleeing from a falling nation. Still, in her aching body she holds the hope of continued biological life for her tribe and nation, even through the horror of war. Jesus, the childless Brother-King whose siblings are born through baptism, doesn’t chide or criticize the pregnant women who need to flee. The point of his own celibacy is not that biological productivity is bad, even though he has eschewed children himself, and even though he encourages people to follow his example if they can. As in Matthew 23, Jesus mourns the pains and difficulties involved in the creation of new life, and he participates in the universal pain of truly lifegiving work through the cross. If we grant the high Christology that Matthew 22:46 gestures toward, we might amplify this further and suggest that he always already participates in the agony of new birth through the cross, as the lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.[14]

The claim in verse 21 that there has never been similar suffering, nor will there ever be similar suffering again in this cosmos, can be taken in several ways. We will explore two ways and their relationship here.

It is especially compelling to see Matthew’s Jesus speaking at the scale of the visible national and personal order here. This, too, can be indicated by “cosmos”: the word especially speaks to some perceivable, physical order of things, but does not necessarily refer to the universal cosmos in each instance. Constrained in this way, there is ample warrant for this stark language about a pinnacle of suffering that is never to be repeated. The ending sections of the Torah predict this national death and expulsion from the land, and this fulfillment of its covenantal terms is, precisely, not its abrogation.[15] With this language, Jesus predicts a final eviction from the land in accordance with the provisions and predictions there at the close of the Torah: no part of the Torah is to be overlooked, including this, and it will achieve its promises just as Moses said. This results in the horror of national death, with the many individual deaths that comes along with it, vindicating both Moses and Torah on their own stringent terms. As it said from the start, the land covenants of Torah reach their end in national death if the nation doesn’t faithfully observe it. Importantly, this violent conclusion of the violent national project doesn’t erase, break or invalidate Torah itself, nor does it make it irrelevant. But it does transform the way it will be read going forward, as it has for both Christians and Jews, both deeply impacted by the fall of ancient Judah even to today. The language that Jesus uses here would be utterly appropriate within its intended domain if that is the relevant cosmos. On this reading, the perceivable order (cosmos) that ends with a unique finality is the violent and theocratic nation centered on this Temple. Like Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism involves an effort to remain faithful to Torah even in the wake of this ultimate catastrophe for the theocratic nation-state.

Our second possibility considers a more universal scope for “cosmos”, and to be sure there are good reasons to think that Matthew’s Jesus goes beyond a narrow national cosmos as well. The suffering Messiah, as the divine figure he is for Matthew, also holds all later suffering within his own. At the most universal end of interpretation, we should look to the significance of the suffering of this “Son of David who preceded David” as the prototypical life that holds all suffering and birth, especially the horror that will soon fall on his own nation of Judah.[16] Matthew’s Jesus visibly and proleptically participated in these birth pangs about 40 years before the events of 66–70, through his own death, and he never leaves his people. In this sense his cross holds this greatest anguish for his nation, and by extension holds all the great anguishes of history at all of life’s scales.

The most consilient reading can hold all of this together coherently without setting the national and universal scales against each other, and also without confusing them. The Temple is already, simultaneously, the center of Judah’s national life and a microcosm of the universal cosmos. It links national and universal scales together. Likewise, the fall of the divine Prophet-King who represents his nation by synecdoche is inextricably linked to the fall of his prototypical nation. Therefore, what will come on his generation is the central and ultimate historical revelation of that ‘great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world (cosmos) until now.’

(c) 24:23–44: Discerning the Presence of the Son of Man


23 τότε ἐάν τις ὑμῖν εἴπῃ· Ἰδοὺ ὧδε ὁ χριστός, ἤ· Ὧδε, μὴ πιστεύσητε· 24 ἐγερθήσονται γὰρ ψευδόχριστοι καὶ ψευδοπροφῆται, καὶ δώσουσιν σημεῖα μεγάλα καὶ τέρατα ὥστε πλανῆσαι εἰ δυνατὸν καὶ τοὺς ἐκλεκτούς· 25 ἰδοὺ προείρηκα ὑμῖν. 26 ἐὰν οὖν εἴπωσιν ὑμῖν· Ἰδοὺ ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἐστίν, μὴ ἐξέλθητε· Ἰδοὺ ἐν τοῖς ταμείοις, μὴ πιστεύσητε· 27 ὥσπερ γὰρ ἡ ἀστραπὴ ἐξέρχεται ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ φαίνεται ἕως δυσμῶν, οὕτως ἔσται ἡ παρουσία τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου· 28 ὅπου ἐὰν ᾖ τὸ πτῶμα, ἐκεῖ συναχθήσονται οἱ ἀετοί.


23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’ — do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take note, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. [17] 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

This segment amplifies and emphasizes the theme of discerning the real presence of Jesus, as opposed to false Messiahs. It emphasizes that even signs and wonders should not persuade people that anyone other than the crucified one is the Messiah. This echoes the concluding warning of the Covenant on the Mount (Matt 7:22), as well as Mosaic teaching in a similar vein (Deut 13:1), that prophecy and power are no substitute for covenant faithfulness.

Does this sort of warning potentially impugn Jesus, because he was someone whose ministry has clearly included a lot of signs and wonders? Potentially yes, and the accusation that he cast out demons by Beelzebul illustrates that this sort of claim was also on the lips of his opponents.[18] This is part why it is so important the Jesus himself demonstrates covenant faithfulness, not only to the Mosaic covenant but also to the new covenant, a loyalty that is ultimately demonstrated by his endurance in faith to the end, resulting in the shedding of his innocent blood.

A major theme of Matthew’s Gospel whenever the language of signs arises is that the only sign that is offered to the generation is the Sign of Jonah.[19] This is an undisputed reference to his death and resurrection. The connection with Jonah emphasizes that Jesus is also a prophet who passes through death and into life so that he can deliver an effective message to Empire, ultimately bringing repentance. This cruciform and authentically prophetic sign holds up and vindicates all of the authentic signs of Jesus as well: the only sign that ultimately matters is the evidence of his faithfulness, and of God’s. The point is that Jesus is not a healer who strengthens his people so that they can try (and fail) to achieve domination, like the fallen gods do through their own nations and Empires. He is not a false Messiah or prophet using signs to deceive. Instead he is a wounded healer whose faithfulness to the Covenant on the Mount, which is his faithful endurance as a martyr to the end, is ultimately rewarded.

Next, Jesus will emphasize that the common social control method of inaccessible secret knowledge is also unacceptable among the followers of Jesus. At least after the resurrection, everything that God has to say through the lifetime of Jesus has already been revealed and made public. (26–27) There is secrecy earlier in the account of Matthew’s Gospel, but the point of the narrative is precisely that over the course of it, God is fully revealed in Jesus and so the time for secrecy passes away as the book unfolds.[20] In contrast to these manipulations, the Son of Man who is revealed in the Sign of Jonah is present in a way that is public and universal, like lightning, but also like birds of prey over the corpses littering a battlefield. When we pull together these images under the auspices of the single sign of Jonah, we arrive at the death and resurrection of Jesus as the public and universal symbol that will explicitly and visibly indicate his enduring presence throughout the world.

The warning about vultures could also refer to eagles, because the word aetos (ἀετός) is ambiguous.[21] This language works especially nicely in context if it includes a multi-layered and furious pun. While there are several ways to go here, consider how well the passage works if Matthew’s Jesus has a controversy recorded by Josephus in view: Herod had brought a statue of a Roman eagle into the Temple.[22] This intrusion of the Roman sign into the sacred sphere at the hands of this Edomite king prefigures the vultures that will descend on Judah in time. War does go from eagle to vulture as its own inner form is also unveiled in time: first appearing noble, it is really just a hungry scavenger. The point of the play on eagle-vulture would also be that the Temple was already a walking corpse, as those in Judah with eyes to see already knew publicly, if they could read the signs plainly flaunted in their faces. As any claimant to the Davidic throne would be eager to do, this focus on Herod’s eagle would also emphasize his opponent’s illegitimacy. At Herod’s hands Roman paganism postured as if it was spiritually regnant over YHWH, while thinly veiling its domination in the velvet glove of a local, illegitimate quisling king. As at Shiloh, Gibeah and Jerusalem once before, YHWH would not let a defiled Temple stand.[23] Still, the value of the corpse and vulture-eagle imagery doesn’t stop there. In the Sign of Jonah, Jesus indicates God’s ultimate and enduring solidarity with Judah even as the nation suffers through the results of its faithlessness. He is also the corpse, and the Roman-Herodian eagles are already circling him as he gives this body of teaching. The traditional prophetic movement from desolation to comfort is therefore compressed into the single Sign of Jonah. In this way the desecration of Herod, the destruction of Jerusalem, and ultimately the fall of every faithless nation held in the grips of fallen angels is taken up in the birth pangs of the cross. The enduring sign that embodies and indicates the presence of God even in the deepest darkness, and even in the most devastating shaking of our spiritual foundations, is therefore the Sign of Jonah, which is itself signified by the pair of communion and baptism.

Aside from this, the absence of the Temple, even today, is something that anyone on Earth can observe in principle. This, too, has a public character, rather than a secret one. The Wailing Wall bears silent witness to the underlying historical fact of the situation that Jesus addressed as publicly and universally as possible, for anyone on the planet to see. The message of the temple’s remnants, like the message of Jesus, is the diametric opposite of the false hope offered by false Messiahs and prophets who claimed the Temple could not fall. A desolate scar in the land is an indispensable part of the traditional Hebrew prophet’s painful vindication. Relatedly, Josephus famously records that all sorts of signs were visible prior to the Temple’s destruction, including in the sky, and this may also be indicated by the language of lightning here. Josephus also notes that the foolish interpreted these warnings as good omens, but the wise knew that they spoke of coming destruction.[24] With the sort of teaching offered here, the disciples would have been equipped to interpret these signs wisely.

However, it would be a grievous mistake to think that the Sign of Jonah is simply the scar that the Romans left in Judah, just as much as it would be wrong to interpret the sign (merely) as the death of Jesus. To be sure, the signs of his fall are markers of his presence, but they aren’t the only ones. Rather, the Sign of Jonah holds this prototypical national death in the broader framework of the death and resurrection of Judah’s true, non-violent king, which is a victory and vindication of the generative power of love and life even at the outermost extremes. In and through Matthew’s Priest-Messiah-Prophet-Lawgiver, Judah becomes the seed of a new kind of non-violent anti-Empire that is able to ingraft people of all nations into the Davidic royal family, through baptism and communion. This is a reversal of violent imperial integration, and as a reversal it takes up Empire’s unifying power, but without its coercive elements. At least it does this in principle, insofar as it is a manifestation of authentic faithfulness rather than a manifestation of anti-Christ. This is Matthew’s understanding of Jesus. Even when only half understood, its continuing vitality and applicability has been clear enough in all of the intervening generations for people to carry the elements of the tradition forward. This is true even if, like the Philistines with their stolen Ark of the Covenant, we don’t fully understand the dangerous treasure we have stolen.[25]

Today it isn’t enough to read the text consiliently within itself, but it also needs to be brought into conversation with the horrors of history as they have continued to reveal themselves to us. As with other Judahite sect leaders that vied to be seen as the true heir to the traditions of ancient Israel, Matthew’s Messiah raises questions about whether he is a supersessionist. So the previous discussion requires us to ask this today, with the utmost seriousness: what about the other spiritual and biological children of the ancient Judahites? Is it good for all of us, or just some? In some sense the issue arises between all kinds of sects of Jews and Christians who vie to displace each other rhetorically, spiritually and physically. However, the worldly ‘success’ of Christianity over the last two millennia has left us with the lion’s share of blood on our hands, and the fallen serpent’s share of slander on our tongues. Too often, we the institutional church have looked like the false gnostic god Yaldaboath, and unlike Jesus.[26] The resurgence of Christian Nationalism here and now means that we need to address these festering problems with fresh urgency.

I think that Romans 9–11 can offer us some help in working through through the process of historical repentance and reconciliation that is still before us. As Paul already warned there near the beginning of this whole divine project, we will continue to be conceited unless we’re made aware of the mystery that God will redeem all of Israel in the end, even as death and suffering befall all people and fallen nations here in life.[27]

Even more than that, the most compelling exegesis of the Sign of Jonah involves understanding its message to also contain the conviction that as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:22). The Christian hope was originally, and must be again, an assurance not just for all of Israel, but all of death-bound humanity. That is the meaning of the Sign of Jonah. This seems to me to be at least one ingredient in the antidote to our own conceitedness, and to the terror and slander and murder that it has repeatedly borne in history. The least conceited Christian hope, at least, is that every heart to love will come, but like a refugee. After all, this is how it all started when our shared spiritual siblings burst forth from dying Judah.[28]


29 Εὐθέως δὲ μετὰ τὴν θλῖψιν τῶν ἡμερῶν ἐκείνων ὁ ἥλιος σκοτισθήσεται, καὶ ἡ σελήνη οὐ δώσει τὸ φέγγος αὐτῆς, καὶ οἱ ἀστέρες πεσοῦνται ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, καὶ αἱ δυνάμεις τῶν οὐρανῶν σαλευθήσονται. 30 καὶ τότε φανήσεται τὸ σημεῖον τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, καὶ τότε κόψονται πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ ὄψονται τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐρχόμενον ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ μετὰ δυνάμεως καὶ δόξης πολλῆς· 31 καὶ ἀποστελεῖ τοὺς ἀγγέλους αὐτοῦ μετὰ σάλπιγγος μεγάλης, καὶ ἐπισυνάξουσιν τοὺς ἐκλεκτοὺς αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῶν τεσσάρων ἀνέμων ἀπʼ ἄκρων οὐρανῶν ἕως τῶν ἄκρων αὐτῶν.


29 “Immediately after the suffering 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 heaven will be shaken.

30 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 (erchomenon/ἐρχόμενονon) on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

The phrase “immediately after” is important here, especially because it is sometimes taken to create problems for inaugurated eschatological readings like ours. The phrase really does indicate a rapid succession of events, and doesn’t normally admit of a significant pause. Because verses 23–28 address the fall of Judah, sometimes called the tribulation, this passage is routinely taken to indicate an immediate end to history following the “birth pangs” of Judah’s fall. Jesus, then, was a failed eschatological prophet. The problem with this view is that this language, in its prophetic context, lacks any necessary connection to an end of history, and its original uses in Isaiah decidedly did not involve an end of history. Following Allison, the phrasing here blends Isa 13:10 and 34:4, both of which concern political confrontations.[29] Isaiah 13 addresses Babylon and evokes the possibility that the Medes will crush it and allow the people to be gathered back into the land by those means [30], [30.5], while Isiah 34 is an oracle against Edom after it betrayed Judah to Babylon. [31] Of course, there is no indication that Matthew’s Jesus considered Isaiah to be a failed prophet because the world had failed to end after those starfalls. It was understood to be poetic language. More to the point, the integration of an oracle against Babylon with one against Edom fits the context of Matthew’s Jesus perfectly. After all, the fourth beast of Rome, as Babylon writ large, was propping up the puppet Edomite dynasty of Herod. And the result would be devastation in “Edom” and in “Babylon”, because Judah had ironically, but utterly precisely, become both.

Aside from these traditional national scale applications, Matthew also integrates the image of the sun being obscured into its account of the crucifixion in 27:45. As in so many other ways, the prophecy here is echoed in the life of Jesus as he moves from his own tribulation, through the day of the darkened sun and then on to the strange new brilliance of the resurrection. As in Isaiah 13, there is an expectation that after this darkening there will be a restoration and ingathering of the people. In a related way, the imagery of the “coming (erchomenon/ἐρχόμενονon) of the Son of Man on clouds” is also carried through and fulfilled in the passion narrative that will immediately follow: already Jesus tells the High Priest that he will see him coming on the clouds “from now on,” meaning from the moment of his elevation on the cross and going forward.[32] The use of erchomenon rather than parousia here is of some interest. Like parousia, the language could refer to the arrival of a god in ritual observances. [32.25] Unlike parousia, this is the specific language used in the Septuagint in the relevant passage from Daniel 7. The direct reference is enough to explain the usage, although there will also be interesting play on this word, which is also the basic word for “coming”. [32.5] In that moment we see the perfect heights of cruciform irony, and how they alone can unlock Matthew. The point is that Jesus is being elevated to his position of greatest power even as he seems to be completely under the power of the fallen priesthood, which is subject to an Edomite pretender who is himself subject to the fallen angels of Rome. He will encompass all because he is about to go from the very bottom to the very top. The fulfillment of Matthew 24–25 in Matthew 26–28 illustrates that the Aion of Jesus is also the pattern for the aion of Judah and all nations, because his lifetime is the pattern of all the lifetimes, even the lifetimes of the universal cosmos and its living, angelic stars. They all fall in time. And everything in Christ will rise again in glory.

Next, the crucial language about the Son of Man, starting in verse 30 and continuing throughout the pericope, draws directly from a vision in Daniel 7. There the Son of Man comes riding on clouds, and the chapter exegetes the symbol’s meaning explicitly. It represents the elevation of a human and humane leader of an anti-empire to political power, in contrast to the beastlike leaders who lead their monstrous empires.[33] Here is the crucial passage in Daniel 7:11–14:

I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13 As I watched in the night visions,

I saw one like a human being

coming with the clouds of heaven.

And he came to the Ancient One

and was presented before him.

14 To him was given dominion

and glory and kingship,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

that shall not pass away,

and his kingship is one

that shall never be destroyed.

When Matthew was written, this fourth beast was widely understood to be Rome.[34]

The language of time in Daniel 7 is also significant, and worth special consideration. It uses a unique trip-olamic phrase to describe the kingdom that the Son of Man will establish. The temporal durability conveyed by the phrase transcends the normal play and ambiguity of olamic language. On their own, olamic phrases indicate continuation in time without explicit limit, a span of time that can be endless or very brief. But Daniel 7 emphasizes something more expansive: for example, it can be well taken to mean that the reign of the Son of Man will endure from generation to generation and even to the generation of generations itself. [35]

Crucially, Daniel 7 explicitly contradicts the notion that this victory over the fourth beast is any kind of final judgment in history. On the contrary, it says that the other beasts “are permitted to live for a time.” (Daniel 7:12) As Dale Allision also notes, there is no resurrection or final judgment in Matthew’s language here. [35.5] These areas of misreading represent two of the greatest points of strain for Dale Allison’s approach to the text: in terms of dating and in terms of his characterization of the scene. His failure here is highly uncharacteristic, and his own position on the dating of Matthew.

Falling in the middle of Daniel, the text that Matthew cites envisions some kind of victory that establishes a transcendently enduring, intergenerational government that is fundamentally different than the surrounding Empires, and it envisions this happening in the midst of history’s unfolding, not its end. Because of this, Daniel 7 fits perfectly with the fact that Matthew 24–25 heavily concerns itself with indicating when the end (telos) will not come. Where plenty of readers, both then and now, might expect a final battle or a summary judgment or the establishment of an Empire, Matthew’s Jesus pointedly envisions the proclamation of the Gospel to all nations: this is a perfect, discursive, non-violent subversion of normal imperial expectations. It moves from national to international scale by the power of the resurrected Messiah. This elevation of the Son of Man a replacement for the power of the sword: in fact, one of the central points of the whole body of New Testament literature, including Matthew, is that he has overcome the power of death on the cross, and not by inflicting death on others.

So even when citing these Danielic images which are often taken as eschatological, Matthew does not bend Daniel 7 away from its own non-finality. The events described in this section are what immediately follow the tribulation of Judah, as the resurrection of Jesus immediately follows his own personal tribulation. This point naturally leads into the conclusion of Matthew in 28:20, which strikingly affirms the Enduring Nearness of Jesus as the disciples are sent out among all the nations [36]. This is not to say that the idea of a Second Coming is incompatible with Matthew’s Gospel, in spite of the apparent paradox of someone returning even though they have never left. However, it does mean that those of us who value the doctrinally important language of “Second Coming” as well as the Gospel of Matthew must interpret that doctrinal language within the framework set by Matthew’s strident and ultimate emphasis on the Enduring Nearness of Jesus.

When considering the meaning of a “Second Coming” we also need to consider the genre of the vision, and that Daniel 7 is explicit that the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days instead of coming to Earth: this is an ascent, not a descent. In contrast, Matthew’s text is ambiguous on whether the Son of Man is moving to the Ancient of Days on the clouds, or if he is coming back to Earth from the pinnacle of the spiritual realm, which is where the governance of the Created order was understood to originate. This has led to scholarly fights over the direction in which Matthew’s Jesus says the Son of Man is moving.[37] The best reading doesn’t depend on either position, but instead appeals to more basic and uncontroversial features of the text. Competent readers of Daniel 7 would have understood that when the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days after he executes judgment on the fourth beast from those spiritual heights, this would necessarily have broadly visible historical effects, but not ones that literally correspond to the images. The spiritual is invisible but near at hand, and so its manifestations can be powerfully present in visible ways. To be at the heights of spiritual authority like Matthew and Daniel’s Son of Man is not to be absent or distant, but to be intimately involved in how things work at the spiritual source of Being, from which all power and all life and all visible things flow. So a natural reading of Daniel 7 would be that when the Ancient of Days spiritually blasted Rome with divine fire, this meant that a decisive war was won here on Earth and the empire was therefore abolished. This sort of violent interpretation would be a normal and competent application of Daniel’s vision, emphasizing the proximate and fleshy effects of spiritual power. [38] The point is that for the Son of Man to have potent historical effects, he doesn’t need to descend from his location of divine power and authority at the right hand of the Ancient of Days. Just the opposite, in fact. It is precisely from this regnant position that he can be powerfully present in all of history. In more contemporary terms, we might translate this image by saying that the Son of Man provides the model for all history.

Matthew’s Jesus doesn’t abandon this general notion that effective spiritual action, while itself invisible to normal perception, has broadly visible worldly consequences. This is why debates about the direction of the Son of Man’s movement are substantially beside the point: they look for power at one pole or another, when power is actually present at both, but especially the top. However, Matthew’s Jesus does use the Daniel tradition in a surprising way by bringing it into deep conversation with the prophetic suffering servant tradition, through the figure of the crucified Christ. Yes, this Son of Man does rise after God destroys the fourth beast with divine fire. But his victory is one that involves complete solidarity with those who suffer, it is non-violent, and it is a reconciling work that effectively launches an anti-Empire in history. Jesus defeats the fourth beast in accordance with the Covenant on the Mount, on the cross, and tramples over death by death through his enduring life and presence with us. In this way, the Kingdom he establishes is human and humane rather than beastly and cruel. It is also divinely authorized with an ultimacy that all of the violent and beastly empires lack. For the beastly empires, their power ends at death. For Matthew’s Messiah who has won victory over the beastly power of death itself, his power doesn’t stop there. For the logic of this to work demonstrably and visibly to all, the suffering servant must actually fully pass through the violence and humiliating public torture that the beast wields, defeating it rather than fleeing from it in fear. Through the Sign of Jonah, Matthew’s Jesus shows that the fire from God by which he overcomes the beast is not reciprocally beastly and violent. It is the fire of Life itself, especially resurrection life. In this way, Matthew’s Jesus competently and fully takes up all of the imagery of Daniel 7 in a perfectly coherent way. Like Daniel 7 itself, he is careful not to associate this victory in history with the temporal end of history. Still, the texts of both Daniel and Matthew emphasize that the victory is a truly enduring one, one that is not only for the ages, but arguably beyond the ages: his heavenly kingdom is not only built on rock instead of sand, but by his law-giving and law-fulfilling victory it holds the rock itself in place.

I need to pause and emphasize that some of the most controversial points I am making here amount to nothing but a minimally competent reading of the text at a merely literal level, in its cotext and context. Given this situation, I will step out of my normally overstated mode of discussion for a moment, because what I am about to say is actually understated:

We as the church should be deeply embarrassed by how poorly we have sometimes read this text. The basic elements of my analysis are controversial, but they are also right on the surface of the text: Matthew is eager to emphasize the many things that don’t indicate an end, and Daniel does not place the victory over the fourth beast at the end of history. Often, we seem to be looking for a victory that isn’t already won on the cross, and that isn’t even cruciform at all. We seek a violent victory rather than a Christian victory over violence. Our reading is simple and direct enough to be expected of a middle school student on any reading exam, if they can read a political cartoon and have accomplished a basic level of literally reading the words of Matthew and Daniel. Heck, I’m a nobody, and even I can see this. So we can say that the text is perspicuous in principle at least in these respects, provided we’re actually trying to read it, instead of reading various anti-theological and theological commitments over it. And yet somehow a number of extremely intelligent scribes, vastly more intelligent and academically equipped than me, have spent their lives poring over these texts, and yet some have somehow missed what any fool can see. The situation, against any reasonable expectation, is positively Biblical: even our own scribes just keep missing Messiah. The problems are so basic that they can only point to a non-intellectual constraint on our collective endeavors at reading. The blindness isn’t a matter of intellectual equipping, because so very little intellectual insight is required.

So what is the real problem? We have obscured what it means to be faithful to the foundational teachings of Jesus as articulated in the Covenant on the Mount. It has always been more than a little inconvenient for a Christian to read this text well, because the ethical demands are so extensive. It is unsurprising that devoted efforts at misreading became sanctified, especially after Constantine with the development of imperial court theology. As a result, we do not see the power or effectiveness of the Way, who is Jesus the crucified and risen Messiah, in his genuinely faithful people. This is a common failure, an understandable one, and one that the Gospels are eager to show us even characterized the apostles themselves, at least initially. What Jesus trains his disciples to do isn’t intellectually hard to understand, but it is incredibly spiritually and physically difficult to pursue the way of Jesus: it is a way of non-enabling, prophetically confrontational, but also utterly self-giving love. It requires devoted training, which means that it requires people who understand that this is the goal in the first place. We have prevented training by obscuring the goal. The effects of our willful blindness in history are plain for all to see: the Shoah, the endless colonial wars of aggression, white supremacy, the anti-Christian ‘nationalism’ that keeps crawling back from the pit right in the hearts of our churches, the children routinely raped in body and mind by genocidal “Indian Schools”, the abusive control over communion as a means of threatening people with endless torture, congregations stomped on and destroyed by their own bishops, an eagerly blessed war between Orthodox and Orthodox in Ukraine, the widowhood of every single government. Signs for all to see. Is it any wonder that we also fail to read our sacred texts competently? We have built so much that depends on our blindness. To see is just too costly.

The crucial piece that I think is generally missing from so much interpretation is the non-violent cross of Jesus, which transforms and subverts violent imagery by showing us God in victorious solidarity with suffering humanity at the hands of the imperial beasts. We desperately do not want a Gospel that invites us to come and die with Christ rather than kill for anti-Christ so that we can participate in his victory, even here in the middle of history. So we bury it like we bury the knowledge of our own imminent deaths. Insofar as we have not truly seen and understood this, we are easily tempted into those doomed but remunerative patterns of Empire, again and again. It is all still happening again as I write.

Taking a modified cue from Saint Francis, we might start again by listening to the birds sing before we dare to start preaching at them, or anyone else. Let the old structures built on the sand of threats and violence crumble to dust. In time, at any rate, they must. And then hopefully we will see all of the ways that the Temple has been rebuilt in us again, built of the living rock of rocks, the non-violent body of the crucified Christ. In other words: the birds, like Francis, are telling us to start again.

And now I’ll climb back down from this place of burning concern: my lips are far too dirty and my peoples’ lips are far too dirty for me to stay here long. I haven’t been given anything else to say with that degree of confidence, with that level of understatement. So let’s continue in our explicitly overconfident way.

The image of four winds gathering the elect is standard language, referring to a gathering of God’s scattered people to united worship and governance. In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, the image is best interpreted in light of the authors understanding of the new Temple being formed in communion with Jesus. Throughout Matthew 21–28, Psalm 118 serves as a kind of soundtrack, [39] with a special emphasis on the line, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Here we find Matthew’s deployment of the community-as-Temple motif that is also elaborated in the writings of Paul, and it is musically woven throughout the closing narrative of Matthew. According to this theme, those who are faithful to Jesus are building the new temple out of themselves, with Jesus the first stone. It is also worth considering the similar theme of ingathering in the Eucharistic prayer in the Didache, [40] a text that has a significant number of fascinating touchpoints with Matthew 24. [41] The same theme of ingathering from the directions to dine together at the table of the kingdom is also present when Jesus praises the Centurion’s understanding of faith, as faithfulness in carrying out commands, in Matthew 8:1–13. [42] There, the same motif reinforces themes of covenant faithfulness and internationality, immediately after the end of the Covenant on the Mount. The most consilient reading sees the angelic ingathering from the four winds as one that draws together faithful people from all nations into the kingdom of the Temple-people purified by baptism, centered on communion, and trained to do everything Jesus commanded them to do. Their lifetimes then generatively imitate his own aion, and through this process the third Temple that will fill the world is being steadily built up from generation to generation.

In this context, we can also make sense of the mourning that is mentioned in verse 30. Communion is a mournful commemoration of “the one that they pierced”. As Keener notes, the language here draws on Zechariah’s own evocative suffering servant language. [43], [43.4], [43.6] Like Zechariah, Matthew is answering questions about timing by reframing the discussion with a call to covenant faithfulness and the attendant mourning that comes with the repentance involved.[44]

While a far more detailed exploration of the many parts of this analysis would be deeply rewarding, here the point has been made definitively enough. Nothing whatsoever in this section requires or even really indicates an end of history. Something will immediately unfold after Judah’s tribulation. But what? The ingathering of people from every nation to the communion table, where they will weep and mourn as they come to understand, and therefore renounce, the wickedness of Empire. Moved in this way, they learn to follow the way of Jesus, abide by his covenant, and so they participate in his truly endless and even time-transcending reign.


32 Ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς συκῆς μάθετε τὴν παραβολήν· ὅταν ἤδη ὁ κλάδος αὐτῆς γένηται ἁπαλὸς καὶ τὰ φύλλα ἐκφύῃ, γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγὺς τὸ θέρος·33 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς, ὅταν ἴδητε πάντα ταῦτα, γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ἐπὶ θύραις. 34 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη ἕως ἂν πάντα ταῦτα γένηται. 35 ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ παρελεύσεται, οἱ δὲ λόγοι μου οὐ μὴ παρέλθωσιν.36 Περὶ δὲ τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης καὶ ὥρας οὐδεὶς οἶδεν, οὐδὲ οἱ ἄγγελοι τῶν οὐρανῶν οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός, εἰ μὴ ὁ πατὴρ μόνος. 37 ὥσπερ γὰρ αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ Νῶε, οὕτως ἔσται ἡ παρουσία τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου· 38 ὡς γὰρ ἦσαν ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ταῖς πρὸ τοῦ κατακλυσμοῦ τρώγοντες καὶ πίνοντες, γαμοῦντες καὶ γαμίζοντες, ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας εἰσῆλθεν Νῶε εἰς τὴν κιβωτόν, 39 καὶ οὐκ ἔγνωσαν ἕως ἦλθεν ὁ κατακλυσμὸς καὶ ἦρεν ἅπαντας, οὕτως ἔσται καὶ ἡ παρουσία τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου. 40 τότε δύο ἔσονται ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ, εἷς παραλαμβάνεται καὶ εἷς ἀφίεται· 41 δύο ἀλήθουσαι ἐν τῷ μύλῳ, μία παραλαμβάνεται καὶ μία ἀφίεται. 42 γρηγορεῖτε οὖν, ὅτι οὐκ οἴδατε ποίᾳ ἡμέρᾳ ὁ κύριος ὑμῶν ἔρχεται. 43 ἐκεῖνο δὲ γινώσκετε ὅτι εἰ ᾔδει ὁ οἰκοδεσπότης ποίᾳ φυλακῇ ὁ κλέπτης ἔρχεται, ἐγρηγόρησεν ἂν καὶ οὐκ ἂν εἴασεν διορυχθῆναι τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ. 44 διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ὑμεῖς γίνεσθε ἕτοιμοι, ὅτι ᾗ οὐ δοκεῖτε ὥρᾳ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἔρχεται.


32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

34 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away (parerchomai/παρέρχομαι) until all these things have taken place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away (parerchomai/παρέρχομαι), but my words will not pass away. 36

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Much like the last section started with an interpretively crucial “immediately” this section starts with an interpretively crucial phrase that is repeated twice: “all these things.” The second use of the phrase is important because it says that everything discussed will happen before this generation passes away or passes by. If that includes the claim that the Gospel will be proclaimed to all nations and then the end will come, and this is the end of the universal cosmos, then Matthew’s Jesus is a failed prophet. After all, that generation is dead, but here we are.

On its face, it seems incredibly odd to claim that Matthew intends to present Jesus as a failed prophet. Still, it could be that Matthew’s author did expect a very imminent end of history in the wake of Jerusalem’s fall and was soon disappointed, but the Christian community went on to faithfully preserve the embarrassing document. However, there is also no evidence in the ensuing reception and propagation of Matthew that it was modified from its supposedly humiliating form in this respect. Other modifications did occur, so it isn’t that scribes refused to do this in principle. They just couldn’t have done it with respect to this text. After all, here we are discussing the riddle it presents.

So in looking for a consilient reading of the text that doesn’t make Jesus out to be a failed prophet, we aren’t fundamentally engaged in dubious and desperate Christian apologetics. Instead, we are responding appropriately to an apparent problem with our reading, at least on its face. Those who feel a need to flash their gimlet-eyes at anything that is good for the early Christians don’t need to be troubled, even if Matthew’s author and competent readers were untroubled by any “delay of the Second Coming”. If my analysis is granted, they simply need to accept that while some Christians did apparently expect an imminent end of history, Matthew, like 2 Peter, represents another perspective that saw itself as a corrective to their view. Dale Allison prefers a dating of Matthew that places it close to the end of the first century, which would put it in close proximity with common dates for 2 Peter. [44.5], [44.6] This reading may impact debates about the dating of Matthew, and it is right to move from reading the text to drawing inferences about history in this way: we can more reliably read Matthew as a whole in its broad context than we can date it precisely. So our more speculative efforts to offer precise dates should be based on the type of work I am doing here, rather than the reverse. [45] Some might find in this reading further evidence for a late first century dating, bringing the Gospel’s expected eschatology more in line with the kind of late dating that Allison advocates, even has he strains his own reading of the apocalypse to fit the bill. I’m happy if my reading helps Allisonians reduce this internal tension by classing Matthew’s eschatology with 2 Peter’s. Those with different priors might also find evidence in my reading that competent readers of the apocalyptic and prophetic tradition did not expect an imminent Second Coming, even before the fall of Jerusalem. I’m content as long as the horse of consilient intertextual reading is plodding properly along: the location of the text in time and space is hard to determine, and so our close reading of the literature will keep coming first, with our less certain inferences about the text’s own history second in the deeply intertwined process of refining our understandings. [45.1] I’m willing to bet that this will guide us safely through the flood of possibilities we face in the miraculous bodily arks that our great grand-parents, too, have given us.

So regardless of exactly when we place our text within first century Judah, does the text of Matthew 24–25 do anything to suggest that we have passed right over the intended message of its author, insofar as we read Matthew’s Jesus as a failed prophet? Yes it does.

So where might we have gone wrong? One worthy approach is represented by R.T. France and those who follow his mode of reading, like Jeanine Brown and Kyle Roberts. [45.5] Their approach is substantially similar to ours here up to this point in the text, and remains similar in that it doesn’t find the embarrassing failed prediction of an imminent Second Coming here. They draw our attention to a clear transition in verse 36, away from talking about “this generation” and into a discussion of “the Day and the Hour”. This corresponds to a related reversal in the message: while there were signs for the destruction of the Second Temple that would come on the generation, the Day of the Son of Man (understood as the Second Coming) comes without warning signs. This approach is eminently respectable, even as prominent scholars like Dale Allison disagree with it.

Our own approach is distinct, in that it sees the text following the same temporal pattern in the Timaeus, from aion or lifetime (which lacks strict calendrical order) down to the more specific unit of day and hour, by way of the lifetimes of the stars. Days and hours are held within lifetimes and generations, and so we will take this move from “generations” to “days” as a movement from general to specific, including within the generation. The point of the text then naturally continues to include warnings about the coming destruction of Jerusalem just as generations include days and hours. The logic is simple: yes, this destruction will happen within your lifetimes and so you must stay continually prepared for it, but don’t try to pin it down to the exact day, because nobody knows that exactly. And besides, that isn’t the point. The text will then move back up from specific to general in the final section of Matthew 25, the judgment on the sheep and the goats. In this way, our interpretation follows broadly in the vein of France, Brown, Roberts, Wright and other similar interpreters, but offers a robust way of integrating perspectives like Allison’s and Hart’s that see more continuity in the text at this point. We end up with a reading that has more continuity internally, but also more continuity with its broad Greco-Roman-Judahite context.

Regardless of how we see the transition from “generation” to “day”, we also need to think carefully about the relationship between “all these things” and what has already come before in the chapter. Some commentators rightly note that “all these things” refers to all of some set. So maybe the set of things that will happen within the generation is not everything in the chapter, either. What if this “all” refers to some smaller piece of the text? This can clarify things enormously if it pertains to any set of statements except for that single pesky one about the end coming following the international gospel proclamation in verse 14. While this sort of reading can’t be ruled out, it is not necessary or desirable for us, as we will see.

Similar efforts have been made to find play in the word “generation”. Maybe Jesus wasn’t referring to what would happen within the ~40 year period after his death, but to something else? While previous arguments to this effect have rightly been broadly rejected by scholars, [46] the relationship that we have extensively explored between generations, ‘olamic phrases and the language of aion and aionios opens fresh avenues here. [47] Still, the work of Keizer, Ramelli and Konstan does not lead us to evade the temporal limitation of what Jesus is saying, like previous attempts. Instead, it enables us to pass into it and through it, just as Jesus passes through and over the cross. Yes: everything that has been described does happen to the prototypical generation, already in the Aion of the Messiah, and therefore it also happens to the Temple and Judah within the nation’s generation. This passing over of death itself brings new life at personal, national and international scales. However, this suggestion doesn’t have to carry our reading on its own. There is some complementary play in another element of the language here that deserves our explicit attention. Reflection on the word parerchomai, translated here as “pass away”, will further increase the profound consilience of our reading.

Parerchomai can mean “pass away”, but it can also refer to passing over, missing, neglecting, setting aside, or passing by in space or time. [48] It is a natural play on the meaning of “Passover”, the festival of national liberation that will be celebrated in Matthew 26, and which serves as the prototype of communion. And sure enough “parerchomai” plays a central role in the Passover discourse in Matthew 26, in a way that deeply engages the structure of Passover. The 14-day timing of Passover, which is also mentioned in the discussion of God passing over the first sons of Israel in Exodus 12, also arguably inspires the structure of Matthew’s sets of 14 generational “yoms”. To read the genealogy (with all of its genesising) [49] in this way also puts it in conversation with apocalyptic literature’s modes of engaging with the traditional Mosaic calendar by way of yoms of various length. [50] 2 Peter demonstrates explicit use of this concept to address errant (in its view) eschatology, insisting that a day to the Lord is like a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8).

Let’s consider the usage of parerchomai across Matthew to see if there are other instances of play with this meaning. This sort of study is especially rewarding in Matthew because, among the gospels, it has especially formulaic and repetitious language. In this it reflects the Torah: the deliberate use of stichworter freights words with additional particular meanings and narrative associations. As Tim Mackie nicely puts it, this conceptually links narratives to invite intertextual reflection and the exploration of themes. This exercise is fascinatingly illuminating in light of this Passover connection. None of this is definitive, but it is quite beautiful. If Matthew’s author hoped to do something like the author of 2 Peter and tamp down imminent expectation of the end by equipping the saints with a more flexible and generative eschatology, he could have done this brilliantly by writing something like the Gospel of Matthew. Let’s review the usage briefly. In each case, I will translate pererchomai as “passover” to highlight the linguistic play regarding Passover, especially with the fourth and final cup of Passover at the close of Matthew in view. Notice that in Matthew 26 the First Born Son of the Father now takes the judgment of Passover, unjustly, on himself:

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ ” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup Passover me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot Passover unless I drink it, your will be done.”

The theme of the fourth cup is further elaborated with the wine and gall that Jesus does taste on the cross [51], and is interwoven with Matthew’s highlighted Passover psalm, Psalm 118. [52]

As the word is repeated twice in Matthew 24, urging us to notice it, it is also repeated there in Matthew 26. Similarly, “parerchomai” is also repeated twice at the start of the Covenant on the Mount in Matthew 5:18, along with echoes of the same language about heaven and earth that we find here in Matthew 24:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth Passover, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will Passover from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

There is more to say here than we have space for. But for now, notice that Matthew’s Jesus enjoins Torah observance here, even as he also makes it clear that the type of observance practiced by the scribes and Pharisees is not enough to enable entry into his Messianic reign. That requires faithfulness to the Covenant on the Mount. The picture is one in which all who observe the Covenant on the Mount are part of the Kingdom, but those who also practice Torah receive higher honor. Another possible consideration here is that “heaven and earth” could also refer to the Temple, which was an explicit microcosm of heaven and earth. In this case, it is also possible that Jesus is suggesting a nullification of the Torah after the Second Temple’s destruction, given how important Temple observances are to Torah. Alternatively, even given this association with the Temple, Jesus might also be saying that Torah observance will also continue and be honored until the whole world has participated in his eucharistic Passover. However we read this it is sure to upset plenty of people, so I will turn back to the more basic exegetical point for now: Passover itself is central to Torah observance, marking a beginning of its calendrical festival observances each year. It continues through the years in its strange dance with Easter, wandering with the unruly heavenly bodies from year to year. So the more general sense that the Torah would not pass by, or be neglected in its divine application, also makes good sense of both Jewish and Christian developments since then: he is not only saying that Torah will not perish in some minimal sense, carrying on some limnal half-life, but also suggests that it remains effective and not neglected (in some contestable way).

The next occurrence of “passover” comes in the discussion of the Gadarene demoniacs. Consider the stringent purity requirements involved in preparing for Passover as you read Matthew 8:28. Also consider how closely this follows on the discussion of the Roman Centurion, another pagan occupying force intruding in the land:

28 When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could Passover that way. 29 Suddenly they shouted, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. 31 The demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And he said to them, “Go!” So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. 33 The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. 34 Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood. And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town.

As in Exodus 12, the divine enemies of YHWH are destroyed, in a way that anticipates the death of Pharaoh’s army’s in the Sea of Reeds. As in the observance of Passover, the land is symbolically cleansed. Presumably the people can now Passover there, where the power of the legions has been broken by Jesus passing by.

Notice that the one remaining occurrence is pointedly related to a meal that prefigures the Passover of Matthew 26. Here, too, Jesus blesses and breaks the bread in order to multiply his kingdom:

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is Passedover; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

As throughout so much of history, the disciples are worried that there won’t be enough communion for all. So they guard their table from the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” here in the Assyrianized and Samaritanized North. [53] And yet Jesus invites them in. A similar theme is explored nearby in the narrative when Jesus ventures to Caanan, even farther afield than the lost sheep of Israel who the disciples were already concerned with not feeding. This, in turn, brings us back to possible interactions between Matthew and the Didache around these matters, with Matthew’s Gospel repeatedly taking the side of inclusion even as it winsomely acknowledges (and overcomes) the ingroup’s hesitance. [54]

With all of this in view, take another look at Matthew 24:

34 Truly I tell you, this generation will not Passover until all these things have taken place. 35 Heaven and earth will Passover, but my words will not Passover.

We can now parse this in a wide variety of ways, but I would offer this amplified reading as the one that unlocks the “correct” side of the pun in each case:

34 Truly I tell you, this generation will not celebrate Passover until all these things have taken place. Indeed, we are about to see it happen in my own Aion as an anticipation of the tribulation and national resurrection that will happen in your own aions that imitate it, at both personal scale and the scale of our dying nation. But it won’t die: still Judah’s right hand of violent power will be cut off, so that it is not utterly thrown into Ben-hinnom. (At the close of Matthew 25, we will see that the same pattern obtains internationally). 35 Heaven and earth will Passover, as you spread the communion Passover meal to the ends of the Earth and so establish the third temple everywhere. In this way, you will see that the angels are gathering them in from the four winds where they have been scattered like seeds. But my words will not be neglected or passed over.

This play on Passover also helps us appreciate the placement of the miniscule parable of the fig tree here on the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives had fig trees on them, and they would have been blooming there just before Passover. What the disciples should understand is that the Passover of the Son of Man is about to unfold. Can they read the signs that are hidden in plain sight, much like the fairly blatant and insistent wordplay at work here? [54.5] If the wordplay is present, it is a bit too obvious. A bit of a groaner, even. I’m content with that reality: this is how it would look if Matthew meant for it to be seen by those who are bothering to pay attention in the right way.

From this standpoint, we are also in a good position to interpret the preceding verses: Jesus is saying that wherever communion is practiced, they will know that his presence is right there with them at the very gates. He is coming to uproot violence from their hearts, and from their nations, even in their own cruciform falls.

In verses 36–42, Jesus emphasizes the watchful preparedness and faithfulness that will characterize the next series of parables. This language will also be echoed in the scene in Gethsemane, after Passover, when Jesus prepares to take the fourth bitter cup alone.

The references to Noah nicely draw in a theme that is central to the Enochian literature, and the ensuing warnings emphasize that there are also personal scale implications here. In the coming disaster, some will be killed and others will escape. The imagery also echoes the selective nature of Passover, which may also explain the passive voice: in Exodus 12, God takes some sons (a notion that is especially evocative of fallen angels or gods) but leaves others. A fuller exploration of the context would be fruitful, but here our basic points are well-enough established.

The imagery of the thief in a night further reinforces the central message of preparedness and endurance. Beyond this, in the prophetic literature this motif of the thief in the night is repeatedly connected to judgment on Esau/Edom in particular. [55] This prophetic reference is therefore especially pointed in its application to the Edomite Herodian regime that was gobbling up the grain of Galilee, like the locusts of Joel. Joel provides the third reference point for this sort of language. Pulled together in this context the image would imply a kind of poetic justice: Herod’s tax collectors had behaved like locusts, devouring the grain to build his Temple. But judgment will creep into his house (the Temple that he has made, but without ultimate divine support) at an unexpected time. In this way, the closing warnings carry forward the explicit theme that has characterized this entire section from the start: the imminent fall of the Temple within the generation, even as the exact hour and day isn’t known.

This theme of expectation within the generation continues throughout the three parables that follow it. We explore them in the next section of this project, here.


[1] Derrick Peterson. Flat Earths and Fake Footnotes: The Strange Tale of How the Conflict Between Science and Religion was Written into History. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2021)

“Duhem writes, “New thoughts passed through [the 1277 condemnation of Aristotelianism] many of which can be rediscovered, barely modified, in the writings of our contemporaries who philosophize about the principles of science.” As we will see in the chapter on Copernicus and Galileo, “the shift in human self-understanding [to an infinite universe was] inseparably bound up with a changing understanding of God and of God’s relationship to man and to nature.” The condemnations placed a newly recharged emphasis on the infinity of God and his omnipotence to create and change conditions as he pleased, leaving it up to investigators to empirically determine just what it was he had made. Far from a fun bit of speculation to do at the pub, this led to the notion of an infinity of perspectives, variables, and frames of reference for finite observers to take into account. The mind was sent reeling before this abyssal God in medieval thought experiments, to which Galileo, and even Newton were directly indebted for formulating things like the laws of inertia, frictionless planes, the theoretical isolation of variables, and other ideal conditions necessary for the formulation of laws of nature. Thus, for example, space could not be defined as that which contained a body, as Aristotle held, for in theory God could destroy the whole world around the apple that Eve took from the tree, and yet the apple would remain as it is, including its dimensionality. Rather than a container, space, it was thought, was a notion relative to bodies that were all created by God simultaneously and, as created, could ultimately be defined only relatively to one another. It would be too much to say this anticipated Einstein’s notion of relativity, and yet some of the conceptual similarities, as pointed out by theologians like T. F. Torrance, are there. As such, when this and a host of other changes are kept in mind, “the revolution to which [historians of science like Alexander] Koyré calls our attention seems much less revolutionary. We are more nearly right when we speak of modern science, and thus also of our own culture, as a product of the self-evolution of the Christian culture of the [Patristic and] Middle Ages.” Others have taken Duhem’s searching even further. William A. Wallace’s work for example has criticized Duhem, but only to the extent that he underplayed even earlier sources outside the Parisian masters post-1277, such as “Robert Grossetest at Oxford and Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and Giles of Rome at Paris, all who did their work before the condemnations of 1277, or in essential independence of them.” Perhaps one of the earliest examples of such precursors for Duhem’s notion of theological change was discovered, for example, in the work of John Philoponus, sometimes called “John the Grammarian” (c. 490–570), who is notable among other things for his work on astrolabes. In contrast to Aristotle — who described vision as a ray coming out from the eye itself — the notion of the light of grace as gift, along with his own observations, led Philoponus to reorient entirely the framework for optics as receptive. Nor could matter be eternal, said Philoponus, and the heavens by the same chain of reasoning were created and so not divine, immutable, or a separate system to terrestrial mechanics. Rather, both the glittering wheels of the heavens and the brooding, damp stone of the earth were brought into being by the creation and continued preservation of God, subject to singular principles straddling both. This was a remarkable moment in history. Even Galileo remarked concerning his own dependence upon many of the anti-Aristotelian arguments found in Philoponus. And so Wallace can finally remark: “Thus we too are advancing the continuity thesis first proposed by Pierre Duhem, only enhancing it now to show a fuller dependence on medieval [and patristic] thought than has hitherto been proposed by historians of science.” Unfortunately, the general response to Duhem’s work was only a very loud silence. Herbert Butterfield — himself not a historian of science but an especially gifted and thorough generalist in history — could write that “the work of Duhem . . . has been an important factor in the great change which has taken place in the attitude of historians of science to the Middle Ages.” Nonetheless, what should have been the centenary celebration of Duhem in 1961 passed without comment. In 1977 no less a figure than Thomas Kuhn — author of one of the most influential books of the twentieth century, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and the coiner of the now ad nauseum phrase “paradigm shift” — could write “Pierre Duhem’s search for the sources of modern science disclosed a tradition of medieval physical thought which, in contrast to Aristotle’s physics, could not be denied an essential role in the transformation of physical theory that occurred in the seventeenth century. . . . The essential novelties of seventeenth-century science would be understood only if medieval science had been explored first . . . More than any other, that challenged has shaped the modern historiography of science.” 124 Strangely, if the case is as Kuhn said, it remains thoroughly mystifying why he did not cite Duhem in his main and most famous work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. So conspicuous is this absence that Kuhn’s own commentators picked up on it and noted that “Kuhn ignored his debt to Duhem while respecting his [that is, Duhem’s] leading followers.” 125 Indeed, another goes so far as to say that there is “nothing of real relevance to this particular issue in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that was not raised already in Duhem . . . many of the Kuhnian theses that have created such a stir in philosophy of science seem at most to be (often rather less clear) restatements of Duhemian positions.” 126 Silence nonetheless reigned. Even early on in his career, before he had even turned to the history of science, Duhem had made powerful enemies that hindered his reception. Chief among them was the enormously influential French scientist Marcellin Berthelot (1827–1907), whose ideas had received devastating criticisms at the hands of Duhem’s doctoral work on thermodynamic potential in physics and chemistry. We need not detain ourselves with the specifics. This criticism led Berthelot in a panic of anger to declare that “this young man will never teach in Paris.” It was no idle threat, for the well-placed academics who owed the advancement of their careers to Berthelot’s paternal favor were legion. Others with no particular debt to Berthelot nonetheless were well aware enough of the order of things to do nothing about the blackballing of Duhem. In the same savage gesture Berthelot informed major publishers in Paris that they would become the targets of his considerable ire should they ever release anything written by Duhem. Duhem’s daughter Hélène laments the situation in somewhat melodramatic terms that nonetheless seem to fit the afflicted circumstances of Duhem’s academic career: “This young man will never teach in Paris,” declared Berthelot. . . . Then began that thirty-year struggle between the Sorbonne on the one side and Pierre Duhem on the other. He will be the enemy, the man never to be spoken of, all of whose productions will be ignored, whose discoveries will all go unmentioned, whom by this silence and oblivion they will hope to discourage, whom even today they affect not to cite, even when a sentence in a work seems to be taken verbatim from one of his books. 127 Berthelot was not the only obstacle to the eventual reception of Duhem’s work. For one reason or another the second half of Le System du Monde (comprising five of the ten volumes), was delayed in publication for nearly forty years after Duhem’s death. It is notable that the torturous delay in publishing only ended when a lawsuit was leveled against the publishing company. 128 It did not help that because of his Catholicism, Duhem was also taken to be an ultramontane Catholic zealot — an ultramontane, that is to say, is one who believes the pope’s authority transcends all borders, geographic or national — who was seen as a deep threat to the stability of the French state. Later, in the 1960s after the full breadth of Le System du Monde had been published, many who read Duhem also dismissed him as nothing more than a Catholic apologist disguised as a historian. Quite ironically, on the other side of things, since Duhem considered himself as something of a subversive in terms of his disagreements with the reigning Catholic neo-scholastic theology of the day — which was officially sanctioned by the Church and consisted largely in variations and commentary on Thomas Aquinas — Duhem also found few supporters among the theologians of his time. As Eugene Klaaren noted in the 1970s, Duhem’s findings regarding the contribution of the medievals to the sciences has often been neglected for — quite ironically — very theological reasons: “many Christians have tended to slight the fourteenth-and fifteenth-centuries” so that “Thomists, Calvinists, and Lutherans alike have not found their heroes in these periods.”

[1.05] John Scotus Eriugena. Periphyseon III, 723C-724A.

“The Divine Authority not only does not prohibit the investigation of the reasons of things visible and invisible, but even encourages it…. If Christ at the time of his Transfiguration wore two vestures white as snow, namely the letter of the Divine Oracles [i.e. Scripture] and the sensible appearance of visible things, why we should be encouraged diligently to touch the one in order to be worthy to find Him Whose vesture it is, and forbidden to inquire about the other, I fail to see. For even Abraham knew God not through the letters of Scripture, which had not yet been composed, but by the revolution of the stars.”

Thank you, Jordan Daniel Wood, for drawing this to my attention.

[2] For a similarly reference-dense summary of this whole project, see my journal entry: On the Road Bound for Glory. Z/9/ZZ. I use dense referentiality there because Matthew’s gospel is also densely referential, and so requires this sort of reading of us as well. If referentially dense writing is not for you, then the Bible isn’t your kind of book.

[3] Pseudo-Dionysius, Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, ed. John Farina, trans. Colm Luibheid and Paul Rorem, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1987), 160–166.


What is the first rank of the heavenly beings, what is the middle, and what is the last?

[200C] 1. How many ranks are there among the heavenly beings? What kind are they? How does each hierarchy achieve perfection?

Only the divine source of their perfection could really answer this, but at least they know what they have by way of power and enlightenment and they know their place in this sacred, transcendent order. As far as we are concerned, it is not possible to know the mystery of these celestial minds or to understand how they arrive at most holy perfection. We can know only what the Deity has mysteriously granted to us through them, for they know their own properties well. I have therefore nothing of my own to say about all this and I am content merely to set down, as well as I can, what it was that the sacred theologians contemplated of the angelic sights and what they shared with us about it.

[200D] 2. The word of God has provided nine explanatory designations for the heavenly beings, and my own sacred-initiator has divided these into three threefold groups. According to him, the first group is forever around God and is said to be permanently united with him ahead of any of the others and with no intermediary. Here, then, are the most holy “thrones” and the orders said to possess many eyes and many wings, [201A] called in Hebrew the “cherubim” and “seraphim.” Following the tradition of scripture, he says that they are found immediately around God and in a proximity enjoyed by no other. This threefold group, says my famous teacher, forms a single hierarchy which is truly first and whose members are of equal status. No other is more like the divine or receives more directly the first enlightenments from the Deity.

The second group, he says, is made up of “authorities,” “dominions,” and “powers.” And the third, at the end of the heavenly hierarchies, is the group of “angels,” “archangels,” and “principalities.”


Concerning the seraphim, cherubim, and thrones, and theirs, the first hierarchy.

[205B] 1. We accept that this is how the holy hierarchies are ordered and we agree that the designations given to these heavenly intelligences signify the mode in which they take on the imprint of God. Those with a knowledge of Hebrew are aware of the fact that the holy name “seraphim” means “fire-makers,” that is to say, “carriers of warmth.” The name “cherubim” means “fullness of knowledge” or “outpouring of wisdom.” This first of the hierarchies is hierarchically ordered by truly superior beings, for this hierarchy possesses the highest order as God’s immediate neighbor, being grounded directly around God and receiving the primal theophanies and perfections. Hence the descriptions “carriers of warmth” and “thrones.” Hence, also, the title “outpouring of wisdom.” These names indicate their similarity to what God is.

For the designation seraphim really teaches this — a perennial circling around the divine things, penetrating warmth, [205C] the overflowing heat of a movement which never falters and never fails, a capacity to stamp their own image on subordinates by arousing and uplifting in them too a like flame, the same warmth. It means also the power to purify by means of the lightning flash and the flame. It means the ability to hold unveiled and undiminished both the light they have and the illumination they give out. It means the capacity to push aside and to do away with every obscuring shadow.

The name cherubim signifies the power to know and to see God, to receive the greatest gifts of his light, to contemplate the divine splendor in primordial power, to be filled with the gifts that bring wisdom and to share these generously with subordinates as a part of the beneficent outpouring of wisdom.

[205D] The title of the most sublime and exalted thrones conveys that in them there is a transcendence over every earthly defect, as shown by their upward-bearing toward the ultimate heights, that they are forever separated from what is inferior, that they are completely intent upon remaining always and forever in the presence of him who is truly the most high, that, free of all passion and material concern, they are utterly available to receive the divine visitation, that they bear God and are ever open, like servants, to welcome God.

[208A] 2. This, then, is the explanation insofar as we can understand it of why they are called what they are, and I must now say something about how I understand the hierarchy which exists among them. Now I think I have already said enough about the fact that the aim of every hierarchy is always to imitate God so as to take on his form, that the task of every hierarchy is to receive and to pass on undiluted purification, the divine light, and the understanding which brings perfection. What I have now to do is to discuss, in words which, I pray, will be worthy of these superior intelligences, the scriptural revelation concerning their hierarchy.

The first beings have their place beside the Godhead to whom they owe their being. They are, as it were, in the anteroom of divinity. They surpass every visible and every invisible power which is subject to becoming. They constitute an entirely uniform hierarchy. One has to think of them as utterly “pure,”75 [208B] not because they are free of all profane blemishes and of all tarnish or because they are innocent of earthly imaginings, but because they utterly transcend all weakness and all the lesser grades of the sacred. Because of their supreme purity, they are established beyond all the most godlike powers, and firmly adhere to their own order which is eternally self-moved according to an immutable love for God. They know no diminution at all toward inferior things, for they have as their own godlike property an eternally unfailing, unmoved, and completely uncontaminated foundation.

They are “contemplative” too, not because they contemplate symbols of the senses or the mind, or because they are uplifted to God by way of a composite contemplation of sacred writing, but, rather, because they are full of a superior light beyond any knowledge and because they are filled with a transcendent and triply luminous contemplation of the one who is the cause and the source of all beauty. [208C] They are contemplative also because they have been allowed to enter into communion with Jesus not by means of the holy images, reflecting the likeness of God’s working in forms, but by truly coming close to him in a primary participation in the knowledge of the divine lights working out of him. To be like God is their special gift and, to the extent that is allowed them, they share, with a primordial power, in his divine activities and his loving virtues.

They are “perfect,” then, not because of an enlightened understanding which enables them to analyze the many sacred things, but rather because of a primary and supreme deification, a transcendent and angelic understanding of God’s work. They have been directed hierarchically not through other holy beings but directly from God himself and they have achieved this thanks to the capacity they have to be raised up directly to him, [208D] a capacity which compared to others is the mark of their superior power and their superior order. Hence they are founded next to perfect and unfailing purity, and are led, as permitted, into contemplation regarding the immaterial and intellectual splendor. As those who are the first around God and who are hierarchically directed in a supreme way, they are initiated into the understandable explanations of the divine works by the very source of perfection. [209A]

3. The theologians have clearly shown that the lower ranks of heavenly beings have harmoniously received from their superiors whatever understanding they have of the operations of God, whereas the higher ranks have been enlightened in initiations, so far as permitted, [209B] by the very Godhead. For they tell us that some of them are sacredly initiated by those of higher rank. Some learn that the “King of Glory,” the one raised up into the heavens in a human form, is the “Lord of the heavenly powers.” Others, as they puzzle over the nature of Jesus, acquire an understanding of his divine work on our behalf and it is Jesus himself who is their instructor, teaching them directly about the kindly work he has undertaken out of love for man. “I speak of righteousness and of saving judgment.”

Still, there is something here which I find surprising. The very first of the heavenly beings, those who are so very superior to the others, are nevertheless quite like those of more intermediate status when it comes to desiring enlightenment concerning the Godhead. They do not first ask, “Why are your garments red?” They begin by exchanging queries among themselves, [209C] thus showing their eagerness to learn and their desire to know how God operates. They do not simply go leaping beyond that outflow of enlightenment provided by God.

So, then, the first hierarchy of the heavenly minds is hierarchically directed by the source of all perfection, because of its own capacity to be raised up directly to this source. It is filled with its due measure of utter purification, of infinite light, of complete perfection. It becomes purified, illuminated and perfected in that it is unmixed with any weakness, filled with the first of all light, and achieves perfection as a partaker of primary knowledge and understanding.

In summary, we can reasonably say that purification, illumination, and perfection are all three the reception of an understanding of the Godhead, namely, being completely purified of ignorance by the proportionately granted knowledge of the more perfect initiations, being illuminated by this same divine knowledge (through which it also purifies whatever was not previously beheld but is now revealed through the more lofty enlightenment), [209D] and being also perfected by this light in the understanding of the most lustrous initiations.

[212A] 4. This, so far as I know, is the first rank of heavenly beings. It circles in immediate proximity to God. Simply and ceaselessly it dances around an eternal knowledge of him. It is forever and totally thus, as befits angels. In a pure vision it can not only look upon a host of blessed contemplations but it can also be enlightened in simple and direct beams. It is filled with divine nourishment which is abundant, because it comes from the initial stream, and nevertheless single, because the nourishing gifts of God bring oneness in a unity without diversity.

This first group is particularly worthy of communing with God and of sharing in his work. It imitates, as far as possible, the beauty of God’s condition and activity. Knowing many divine things in so superior a fashion it can have a proper share of the divine knowledge and understanding. Hence, theology has transmitted to the men of earth those hymns sung by the first ranks of the angels whose gloriously transcendent enlightenment is thereby made manifest. Some of these hymns, [212B] if one may use perceptible images, are like the “sound of many waters” as they proclaim: “Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place.”82 Others thunder out that famous and venerable song, telling of God: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory.”

In my book Divine Hymns I have already explicated, to the best of my ability, the supreme praises sung by those holy intelligences which dwell beyond in heaven. I think I have set down there all that needed to be said. For the sake of my present purpose, I will simply repeat that when the first rank has directly and properly received its due understanding of God’s Word from the divine goodness itself, then it passes this on, as befits a benevolent hierarchy, to those next in line. [212C] The teaching, briefly, amounts to this. It is right and good that the revered Godhead, which in fact is beyond all acclamation and deserves all acclamation, is known and praised by those minds which receive God, as far as possible. To the extent that they conform to God they are the divine place of the Godhead’s rest, as scripture says.85 And this first group passes on the word that the Godhead is a monad, that it is one in three persons, that its splendid providence for all reaches from the most exalted beings in heaven above to the lowliest creatures of earth. It is the Cause and source beyond every source for every being and it transcendently draws everything into its perennial embrace. [212D]

[3.5] Here as elsewhere, my interests are both structuralist and ‘poststructuralist’ in a way that accords with the insights of contemporary literary theory.

Michal Beth Dinkler, Literary Theory and the New Testament, ed. John J. Collins, The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019), 119.

Poststructuralists’ ultimate goal is not to wrest control from the author or the text, nor to destroy meaning altogether, but to explore the meaning-making activities that reading always requires, and to draw attention to their interpretive implications. Reader-response critics in particular wish to account for textual features and the great variety of readerly activities that concretize those features. There’s a crucial nuance here that would be easy to miss. Consider this publisher’s description of one of the first works of reader-response criticism in NT studies: “First published in hardcover in 1991, Robert Fowler’s Let the Reader Understand was ahead of its time. Using reader-response criticism, a pioneering method for reading the Gospel of Mark, he invited contemporary readers to participate actively in making the meaning of the Gospel.”

The blurb presents reader-response critics like Fowler as offering an invitation, as though we could accept or decline an opportunity to be involved in meaning-making. But this is misleading. The reality to which reader-response criticism points is that interpreters of all kinds always participate in meaning-making. It’s simply what happens when we receive and interpret a text. There is no reading without interpretation; there is no “meaning of the Gospel” without readers’ active participation.

[4] Michael W. Holmes, The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature, 2011–2013), Mt 24. All of the Greek texts in this article use this edition.

[5] Translation based on the NRSV, with my own minor modifications in verse 3.

[6] Climbing the Mount of Olives II.2: Reading the Sign of Your Presence in Matthew | by Daniel Heck | Aug, 2022 | Medium

[7] Climbing the Mount of Olives Part II.1: The Aion in Matthew | by Daniel Heck | Jul, 2022 | Medium

[8] Climbing the Mount of Olives Part II.1: The Aion in Matthew | by Daniel Heck | Jul, 2022 | Medium


[9.25] Heiser on divine court.

[9.3] The hospitality of nations.

[9.35] Richter

[9.5] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 3, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 330–331.

A fourth approach also thinks of both AD 70 and the end of the world. Unlike the third, however, it finds not a chronological sequence — first the destruction of the temple, then (soon) the end — but a single prophecy with two fulfilments. Already Ephrem the Syrian reported: ‘It is said that he [Jesus] was speaking of the punishment in Jerusalem and at the same time referring to the end of this world’ (Comm. Diat. 18:14). According to Meier, Matthew, p. 283, vv. 14–22 refer simultaneously to AD 70 and the future. We are reminded of the Antiochean school’s notion of theoria, according to which the OT can prophesy two things at once. That some such idea was not foreign to our text’s age is clear from Jewish apocalypses such as 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, which use past events (e.g. Jerusalem’s first destruction) as transparent ciphers for contemporary events (e.g. Jerusalem’s second destruction).

[9.75] Other commentators also see significance in the fact that the word “telos” is used, but not the word “synteleia.”

[G] Jeannine K. Brown and Kyle Roberts, Matthew, ed. Joel B. Green, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 216.

Although usually rendered as “the end” in English translations, Matthew takes care to distinguish this temporal horizon (τέλος, telos) from “the end of the age” (συντελεία τοῦ αἰῶνος, synteleia tou aiōnos; 24:3). The latter phrase, occurring five times in Matthew (with or without the article; 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20), always refers to the end time. Matthew seems intent on distinguishing telos from synteleia in this chapter for the temporal horizons of the fall of the temple (70 CE) and the end of the age when Jesus returns, respectively.

“The question which Jesus is here answering was about when the temple would be destroyed, and that is the ‘end’ most naturally understood here” (France, Matthew, 903).

[10] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 595.

Cf. Mk 13:33–37; Lk 12:35–38; 13:25. This parable most naturally focuses on the same time of judgment as the preceding one (24:45–51; though the transitional tote need not signify so much, being a favorite Matthean particle — cf. Jeremias 1972: 52).

[11] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1012.

τότε (Hom.+) a correlative (s. ὅτε and ὁπότε) adv. of time, in the NT a special favorite of Mt, who uses it about 90 times (AMcNeile, Τότε in St. Matthew: JTS 12, 1911, 127f). In Mk 6 times, Lk 15 times, Ac 21 times, J 10 times. It is lacking in Eph, Phil, Phlm, 1 Ti, 2 Ti, Tit, Js, 1 Pt, 1, 2, and 3J, Jd, Rv.

① at that time

ⓐ of the past then (Demetr.: 722 Fgm. 1, 2 and 11 Jac.; Jos., Ant. 7, 317; 15, 354; Just., A I, 31, 2; D. 60, 1f) τότε ἐπληρώθη then was fulfilled Mt 2:17; 27:9. εἶχον τότε δέσμιον vs. 16. Cp. 3:5. (Opp. νῦν) Gal 4:8, 29; Hb 12:26. ἀπὸ τότε from that time on (PLond V, 1674, 21; 2 Esdr 5:16b; Ps 92:2) Mt 4:17; 16:21; 26:16; Lk 16:16 (s. B-D-F §459, 3). Used as an adj. w. the art. preceding (Appian, Bell. Civ. 4, 30 §128 ἡ τότε τύχη; Lucian, Imag. 17; Jos., Ant. 14, 481) ὁ τότε κόσμος the world at that time 2 Pt 3:6 (PHamb 21, 9 ὁ τότε καιρός).

ⓑ of the fut. then (Just., A I, 52, 9, D. 50, 1; Socrat., Ep. 6, 10 [p. 238, 7 Malherbe]) τότε οἱ δίκαιοι ἐκλάμψουσιν Mt 13:43. (Opp. ἄρτι) 1 Cor 13:12ab.

ⓒ of any time at all that fulfills certain conditions ὅταν ἀσθενῶ, τότε δυνατός εἰμι 2 Cor 12:10.

[12] Jeannine K. Brown and Kyle Roberts, Matthew, ed. Joel B. Green, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 216.

The themes addressed thus far derive from Matthew 24:4–14 and 23–28. Between these two sections sits a pericope whose language points most directly to Jerusalem’s destruction (24:15–22). The paragraph begins with an allusion to Daniel’s “abomination of desolation” (a refrain in Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11) set up in “the holy place” or temple (24:15). While the original referent of Daniel is the altar to Zeus erected by Antiochus IV in the Jerusalem temple in 167 BCE (cf. 1 Macc 1:54), Matthew reengages this image to portend the temple’s desecration and destruction to come, providing the aside “let the reader understand” to point his audience forward as well as backward. Jesus’s particular instructions for fleeing Jerusalem (24:16–20) fit the Jewish conflict with Rome of 70 CE. The sense of urgency would make sense in the context of Rome’s efforts to restore control over the whole region (“those in Judea”; 24:16) as they retake Jerusalem and the temple from Jewish zealots.

The breakout to the mountains whose caves provided traditional hideouts … makes sense only to escape the temporal dangers of a brutal war. The disciples need only worry about those things that might hinder flight — pregnancy and nursing children; winter, when the rains make the roads impassible and food becomes more scarce; the sabbath, when fleeing Christians would stand out like sore thumbs and would antagonize other Jews.




[14] The motif is present in Revelation 5, 1 Peter 1:19–21, and John 1 and draws from Isaiah 53. While not explicitly present in the same way in Matthew, the suffering servant schema and high Christology are, and sheep are identified with the righteous nations at the close of Matthew 25, as in Daniel 8.



[17] Keener’s review is helpful because it helps to illustrate the lack of consideration for the synthesis I offer here. Even though many of the pieces are present, there is an absence of efforts to consiliently read Matthew as a whole on these issues in his review. Especially note that the visibility of the communing church and its connection to the resurrection is not considered, and the nuanced connection between the cross and the loss of Jerusalem is also not explored.

Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 577–581.

In Matthew, the tribulation seems to begin with the sanctuary’s desecration in a.d. 66 and concludes with Jesus’ return (24:29). If, as I think most likely, Matthew writes some years after 70, this allows several interpretive options: in Matthew 24 Jesus (1) skips from this tribulation to the next eschatologically significant event, his return (Fuller 1966; cf. Lk 21:24; especially compare Mt 24:21, “nor ever shall,” with Dan 12:1; cf. Jos. War pref. 1); (2) regards the whole interim between the Temple’s demise and his return as an extended tribulation period (“immediately” — 24:29; e.g., Carson 1984b: 507); (3) prophetically blends the tribulation of 66–70 with the final one, which it prefigures (see Bock 1994: 332–33); (4) begins the tribulation in 66 but postpones the rest of it until the end time; (5) intends his “return” in 24:29–31 symbolically for the fall of Jerusalem.

I currently favor options (1) or (2) with elements of (3). (Against the view of a “spiritual” coming are the many emphatic statements about a personal, visible coming in the context — 24:27; Gundry 1982: 491.) The third option may in fact deserve more attention than my current inclination has given it: certainly the prophetic perspective naturally viewed nearer historical events as precursors of the final events. Early Jewish texts also telescope the generations of history with the final generation (Jub. 23:11–32). As in Mark, the tribulation of 66–70 remains somehow connected with the future parousia (Hare 1967: 179), if only as a final prerequisite. Further, the context may suggest that Jesus employs his description eschatologically, as in some Jewish end-time texts; in this case, the disasters of 66–73 could not have exhausted the point of his words (cf. Harrington 1982: 96). In any case, the view (circulated mainly in current popular circles) that Matthew 24 addresses only a tribulation that even readers after 70 assumed to be wholly future is not tenable; Matthew understands that “all these things” (probably referring to the question about the temple’s demise — 24:2; Mk 13:4) will happen within a generation (Mt 24:34), language that throughout Jesus’ teachings in Matthew refers to the generation then living (e.g., 11:16; 12:39, 45; 16:4; 23:36; cf. 27:25). Further, Luke dispenses with much of the symbolism and lays the emphasis almost entirely on the Roman conquest of Jerusalem, in which Judean slaves were carried among the nations. For Luke, the “abomination” that brings about desolation becomes simply the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem, promising desolation (Lk 21:20; A. B. Bruce 1979: 292; Cole 1961: 202).

Second, believers should flee the impending judgment with the greatest of haste (24:16–20). Although John and Matthew’s Jesus earlier speak of a warning to flee the coming wrath through the baptism of repentance (3:7; 23:33), the “eschatological” judgment here is the imminent destruction of Jerusalem. Although people fleeing a ravaged countryside normally took refuge in cities, Jesus warns the people of the land to flee from both city and open countryside (cf. Lk 21:21). People could leave Jerusalem safely until the spring of a.d. 68 (Jos. War 4.377–80; 410; Lane 1974a: 468). Later deserters to the Romans, suspected of having swallowed jewels to escape with them, were often cut open by Syrian auxiliaries (Jos. War 5.550–52); once the city fell, many captured Jerusalemites died entertaining Gentiles in the games (Jos. War 7.23–24, 37–40).

The command to flee to the mountains (24:16) makes good sense and is probably authentic. Most scholars today accept Eusebius’s report (H.E. 3.5.3) that the Christians did indeed flee to Pella. That Pella is not in the Judean mountains (Moule 1965: 106) but in foothills and reached from the Jordan valley thus makes doubtful any suggestion that Jesus’ saying was merely conformed to the events of 66–70 (Meier 1980: 283; Gundry 1982: 482).146 Nevertheless, Palestine’s central mountain range provided a natural place to flee (e.g., 1 Sam 23:14; Ezek 7:15–16; Jos. War 2.504; cf. Ps-Philo 6:11, 18; 27:11), as mountainous areas with caves often did (Diod. Sic. 34/35.2.22; Dion. Hal. 7.10.3; Appian C.W. 4.17.130; Arrian Alex. 4.24.2). Although the exhortation is too general to be sure, the language might even allude to the familiar 1 Maccabees 2:28 (cf. Dodd 1968: 82).

The admonitions to leave the rooftop without entering the house (24:17) and to leave the field without returning for one’s cloak (24:18) indicate that life matters more than even its basic necessities, which might later be replaced (cf. 1 Macc 2:28; Phaedrus 4.23). Because the flat rooftops were approached by outside staircases, one could descend without entering the house to retrieve possessions. One normally slept in one’s outer garment (Deut. 24:13; cf. Mt 5:40) and wore it as one went to the fields and during the cold of morning labor in the fields, but left it at the edge of the field as the day grew warmer (Lane 1974a: 470; Anderson 1976: 296; Meier 1980: 284–85). As essential as this outer cloak was, Jesus declares hyperbolically that the urgency of running at the news of impending destruction was more urgent still. Others also left behind cloaks as they fled in haste (Ovid Metam. 4.101; Gen 39:12–13; Mk 14:51–52); some moralists emphasized the priority of saving one’s life over possessions in an emergency (Phaedrus 4.23.11–15).

The “woe” (cf. 18:7; 23:13) over the pregnant and nursing (24:19; cf. Sib. Or. 2.190–92, if pre-Christian) signifies the difficulty of the flight and survival (Lk 23:29; 2 Bar 10:13–15; cf. Apoc. Elijah 2:35–38); the pregnant may also be more susceptible to death (e.g., Dion. Hal. 9.40.2).150 But it probably indicates no less the sorrow of losing infants in the trauma (cf. 2 Bar. 10:13–15). Jerusalem’s siege did, however, produce worse sorrows than mothers merely lamenting their children: recalling the language of the curses of the law (Lev 26:29; Deut 28:53–57; cf. 2 Kings 6:28–29; 2 Bar 62:4), Josephus tells us of starved women eating their children (War 6.208–12; cf. Sifra Behuq. pq.; Lam. Rab. 4:9, §12). Conditions provoking a mother’s abandonment of her children represented the severest of judgments (1 Enoch 99:5), as did situations producing cannibalism (Diod. Sic. 1.84.1; Appian R.H. 12.6.38).

Verse 20 also reveals foresight concerning the Sabbath and winter (whether Mk 13:18 may omit the Sabbath for theological reasons or Matthew may add it to the tradition is debatable). Commentators suggest that on the Sabbath city gates might be shut; one could also not secure animals for transport. Many Jews considered willfully riding horseback on the Sabbath a deathworthy, almost unforgiveable sin (e.g., p. Ḥag. 2:1, §9; 2:2, §6). While Jewish people agreed that one could break the Sabbath to save life (1 Macc 2:41; Montefiore and Loewe 1974: 258), only Jesus’ followers recognize the peril of their situation (Gundry 1982: 483).154 In much of the Mediterranean world winter was the rainy season (Hesiod W.D. 450), the cold of which kept men from their fieldwork (Hesiod W.D. 494; in Greece, this was especially late January to early February, W.D. 504–5). Winter’s cold limited both land (Num. Rab. 3:6; cf. Beasley-Murray 1957: 76) and sea travel; even armies stopped traveling campaigns during this season,156 and some soldiers who nevertheless marched in “wintry” mountain regions (colder than the Judean hills) reportedly lost their hands and feet (Herodian 6.6.3). Further, cold winter rains could flood the roads and bury them deep in mud (m. Taʿan. 1:3; Jeremias 1969: 58), and the usually dry creekbeds (wadis) were filled with water and difficult to cross (cf. Hom. Il. 5.87–88; 13.137; Od. 19.205–7; Ap. Rhod. 1.9; Livy 44.8.6–7; Appian R.H. 12.11.76; Herodian 3.3.7). Some rivers could, however, flood not only in winter but in spring when mountain snows melted (e.g., Arrian Alex. 7.21.2–3; cf. Herodian 8.4.2–3); indeed, in spring 68, because the Jordan was flowing high, Gadarene fugitives were delayed in crossing and slaughtered by the Romans (Jos. War 4.433; Davies and Allison 1997: 350). The warning to pray in advance regarding the coming peril (24:20) accords well with Jesus’ instructions elsewhere (26:41; cf. 6:13; Prov 22:3; 27:12).

Although Jesus’ words specifically and most importantly surround the fall of Jerusalem, the memory of which would remain fresh for Matthew’s audience and hence vividly vindicate Jesus’ words, they might also provide Matthew’s community, and especially its missionaries, with some current principles. Disciples who remember the nature of the time ought not to be attached to worldly possessions; they should value their lives enough to flee immediately. Nor ought they to believe false prophets of peace proclaiming that judgment will not strike their own localities; rather than sparing a locality, God sometimes warns his servants to leave (Gen 19:15–30).


[19] Climbing the Mount of Olives II.2: Reading the Sign of Your Presence in Matthew | by Daniel Heck | Aug, 2022 | Medium

[20]Climbing the Mount of Olives Part II.1: The Aion in Matthew | by Daniel Heck | Jul, 2022 | Medium

[21] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 22.

ἀετός, οῦ, ὁ (since Hom., who, as do many after him, writes αἰετός early Attic [cp. Jos., Bell. 5, 48]; ins, pap, LXX; Test12Patr, ParJer; ApcMos 33; Jos., Bell. 1, 650f, Ant. 17, 151; Tat. 10, 1f; DELG s.v. αἰετός) eagle symbol of swiftness Rv 12:14 (s. Ezk 17:3, 7); cp. 4:7; 8:13 (s. Boll 37f; 113f — ἀ. πετόμενος as Job 9:26). Eating carrion, in the proverb (cp. Job 39:30) ἐκεῖ (ἐπι)συναχθήσονται οἱ ἀ. Mt 24:28; Lk 17:37 (where vulture is meant; Aristot., HA 9, 32, 592b, 1ff, and Pliny, Hist. Nat. 10, 3 also class the vulture among the eagles; TManson, Sayings of Jesus ’54, 147, emphasizes the swiftness of the coming of the Day of the Son of Man). Moses forbade eating of its flesh B 10:1, 4 (Dt 14:12; Lev 11:13). — M-M.

[22] verse 28

Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 559–561.

The temple was renowned for its beauty (Jos. War 6.267; ARN 28A; 48, §132B) and known throughout the Roman world (2 Macc 2:22; Ep. Arist. 84–91; CIJ 1:378, §515; Lohse 1978: 151). Perhaps because Judaism’s cult was centralized (Sanders 1992: 50), its temple was larger and more magnificent than virtually any other temple of antiquity (Sanders 1992: 55–69; cf. Wilkinson 1978: 76; Patrich 1988). The Pharisees, who generally disliked Herod, were sometimes displeased with his abuse of the temple (especially regarding his golden eagle there — Jos. Ant. 17.151–52; War 1.651; Schürer 1961: 144, 157); nevertheless, even they regarded the temple as the most holy site in the world’s most holy city (e.g., m. Kelim 1:6–9; Mek. Pisha 1.48ff., Laut. 1:4). (In succeeding centuries popular synagogue Judaism seems to have liked eagle decorations — Goodenough 1953–68: 8:121–22.) Diaspora Jews were intensely committed to the temple, as attested both by their payment of the annual tax for its upkeep and remarks in Egyptian Jewish literature (e.g., Sib. Or. 3.575–79). A Diaspora Jew like Philo emphasized Jewry’s unanimous love for the temple and expected it to remain forever (Spec. Leg. 1.76; Sanders 1992: 52); even in the Ptolemaic period, before Herod’s grand temple, an Egyptian Jew might view the temple as invincible (Ep. Arist. 100–101). Indeed, if the Greeks believed that gods might fight to defend their temples (e.g., Herod. Hist. 8, §37), why should not Israel believe the same about its temple (4 Macc 4:9–12)? Galilean peasants and other Galilean pilgrims like these disciples would certainly have marveled at its grandeur (see Beasley-Murray 1957: 19; Freyne 1988: 181). Mack asserts, “apart from Mark’s passion narrative, there is no indication that Jesus or his early followers looked for the destruction of the temple” (1988: 10n.4); but few scholars today would find his position consistent with our data. That Jesus actually uttered such a judgment against the temple a generation before it happened is difficult to doubt historically. Whereas the later church may have forgotten the significance of some of Jesus’ words and deeds against the temple, they nevertheless preserved them: a symbolic act of judgment there (21:12), testimony of witnesses the Christians believed to be false (26:61; cf. Mk 15:29; Jn 2:19; Acts 6:14), and Q material like that of the house being left desolate (Mt 23:38//Lk 13:35). Jewish Christians who continued to worship in the temple (Acts 2:46; 21:26–27) nevertheless remained faithful to a saying of Jesus that they would surely not have created (cf. Hare 1967: 6). Further, those who question the authenticity of Jesus’ more specific threat to destroy and rebuild the temple based on lack of contemporary expectations for the temple’s destruction and renewal have not examined contemporary expectations carefully enough (Sanders 1985: 365n.5). Some of Jesus’ sectarian contemporaries also predicted judgment on the temple; for instance, if Testament of Levi is pre-Christian at this point, it promises the desolation of the sanctuary on account of the priests’ uncleanness (Test. Levi 15:1; cf. 14:6). The Testament of Moses, which accuses priests of polluting the altar (5:4), prophesies judgment against the temple (6:8–9), and because the Roman ruler destroys only part of the temple in the oracle, the prophecy undoubtedly predates A.D. 70. In some texts, enemy rulers may want to destroy the temple (Sib. Or. 3.665), but God will establish it eschatologically (3.657–60). Sanders 1993: 262 cites the repeated expectation in some strands of early Jewish literature that God would bring a new temple down (1 Enoch 90:28–29; 11QTemple 29:8–10; cf. the hope of restoration in the seventeenth benediction of the Amida). Indeed, some interpreters already took 2 Samuel 7:13–14 as messianic (see 4QFlor), which may have supplied ample reason for picturing the messianic Son of David as building the new temple (Witherington 1992: 92, following Juel 1977: 204).

[23] Climbing the Mount of Olives Part II.1: The Aion in Matthew | by Daniel Heck | Jul, 2022 | Medium

[24] Josephus, The Jewish War: Books 1–7, ed. Jeffrey Henderson et al., trans. H. St. J. Thackeray, vol. 3, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA; London; New York: Harvard University Press; William Heinemann Ltd; G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927–1928), 459–469.

They owed their destruction to a false prophet, who had on that day proclaimed to the people in the city that God commanded them to go up to the temple court, to receive there the tokens of their deliverance. [286] Numerous prophets, indeed, were at this period suborned by the tyrants to delude the people, by bidding them await help from God, in order that desertions might be checked and that those who were above fear and precaution might be encouraged by hope. [287] In adversity man is quickly persuaded; but when the deceiver actually pictures release from prevailing horrors, then the sufferer wholly abandons himself to expectation.

(3) [288] Thus it was that the wretched people were deluded at that time by charlatans and pretended messengers of the deity;* while they neither heeded nor believed in the manifest portents that foretold the coming desolation, but, as if thunderstruck and bereft of eyes and mind, disregarded the plain warnings of God. [289] So it was when a star,* resembling a sword, stood over the city, and a comet which continued for a year. [290] So again when,* before the revolt and the commotion that led to war, at the time when the people were assembling for the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth of the month Xanthicus,b at the ninth hour of the night, so brilliant a light shone round the altar and the sanctuary that it seemed to be broad daylight; and this continued for half an hour. [291] By the inexperienced this was regarded as a good omen, but by the sacred scribes it was at once interpreted in accordance with after events.* [292] At that same feast a cow that had been brought by some one for sacrifice gave birth to a lamb in the midst of the court of the temple; [293] moreover,* the eastern gate of the inner court — it was of brass and very massive, and, when closed towards evening, could scarcely be moved by twenty men; fastened with iron-bound bars, it had bolts which were sunk to a great depth into a threshold consisting of a solid block of stone — this gate was observed at the sixth hour of the night to have opened of its own accord.c [294] The watchmen of the temple ran and reported the matter to the captain, and he came up and with difficulty succeeded in shutting it. [295] This again to the uninitiated seemed the best of omens, as they supposed that God had opened to them the gate of blessings; but the learned understood that the security of the temple was dissolving of its own accord and that the opening of the gate meant a present to the enemy, [296] interpreting the portent in their own minds as indicative of coming desolation. Again, not many days after the festival,* on the twenty-first of the month Artemisium,a there appeared a miraculous phenomenon, [297] passing belief. Indeed, what I am about to relate would, I imagine, have been deemed a fable, were it not for the narratives of eyewitnesses and for the subsequent calamities which deserved to be so signalized. [298] For before sunset throughout all parts of the country chariots were seen in the air and armed battalions hurtling through the clouds and encompassing the cities. Moreover, at the feast which is called Pentecost,* the priests on entering the inner court of the temple by night, [299] as their custom was in the discharge of their ministrations, reported that they were conscious, first of a commotion and a din, and after that of a voice as of a host, “We are departing hence.”

But a further portent was even more alarming.* [300] Four years before the war, when the city was enjoying profound peace and prosperity, there came to the feast at which it is the custom of all Jews to erect tabernacles to God, one Jesus, son of Ananias, a rude peasant, who, [301] standing in the temple, suddenly began to cry out, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds; a voice against Jerusalem and the sanctuary, a voice against the bridegroom and the bride, a voice against all the people.” Day and night he went about all the alleys with this cry on his lips. [302] Some of the leading citizens, incensed at these ill-omened words, arrested the fellow and severely chastised him. But he, without a word on his own behalf or for the private ear of those who smote him, only continued his cries as before. [303] Thereupon, the magistrates, supposing, as was indeed the case, that the man was under some supernatural impulse, brought him before the Roman governor; there, [304] although flayed to the bone with scourges, he neither sued for mercy nor shed a tear, but, merely introducing the most mournful of variations into his ejaculation, responded to each stroke with “Woe to Jerusalem!” When Albinus, the governor, [305] asked him who and whence he was and why he uttered these cries, he answered him never a word, but unceasingly reiterated his dirge over the city, until Albinus pronounced him a maniac and let him go. [306] During the whole period up to the outbreak of war he neither approached nor was seen talking to any of the citizens, but daily, like a prayer that he had conned, repeated his lament, “Woe to Jerusalem!” He neither cursed any of those who beat him from day to day, nor blessed those who offered him food: [307] to all men that melancholy presage was his one reply. His cries were loudest at the festivals. [308] So for seven years and five months he continued his wail, his voice never flagging nor his strength exhausted, until in the siege, having seen his presage verified, he found his rest. For, while going his round and shouting in piercing tones from the wall, “Woe once more to the city and to the people and to the temple,” [309] as he added a last word, “and woe to me also,” a stone hurled from the ballista struck and killed him on the spot. So with those ominous words still upon his lips he passed away.

(4) [310] Reflecting on these things one will find that God has a care for men, and by all kinds of premonitory signs shows His people the way of salvation, while they owe their destruction to folly and calamities of their own choosing. [311] Thus the Jews,* after the demolition of Antonia, reduced the temple to a square, although they had it recorded in their oracles that the city and the sanctuary would be taken when the temple should become four-square.a But what more than all else incited them to the war was an ambiguous oracle, [312] likewise found in their sacred scriptures, to the effect that at that time one from their country would become ruler of the world. [313] This they understood to mean someone of their own race, and many of their wise men went astray in their interpretation of it. The oracle, however, in reality signified the sovereignty of Vespasian, [314] who was proclaimed Emperor on Jewish soil. For all that, it is impossible for men to escape their fate, even though they foresee it. Some of these portents, then, [315] the Jews interpreted to please themselves, others they treated with contempt, until the ruin of their country and their own destruction convicted them of their folly.


[26] The Apocryphon of John provides context for my Yaldabaoth reference. The broader text also illustrates the generally well-established relationship between timekeeping, the stars, and the understanding that the heavenly bodies were divine living beings, even if some or all of them were seen as fallen or in rebellion.

“And when she saw (the consequences of) her desire, it changed into a form of a lion-faced serpent. And its eyes were like lightning fires which flash. She cast it away from her, outside that place, that no one of the immortal ones might see it, for she had created it in ignorance. And she surrounded it with a luminous cloud, and she placed a throne in the middle of the cloud that no one might see it except the holy Spirit who is called the mother of the living. And she called his name Yaltabaoth.


[28] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 579.

The command to flee to the mountains (24:16) makes good sense and is probably authentic. Most scholars today accept Eusebius’s report (H.E. 3.5.3) that the Christians did indeed flee to Pella. That Pella is not in the Judean mountains (Moule 1965: 106) but in foothills and reached from the Jordan valley thus makes doubtful any suggestion that Jesus’ saying was merely conformed to the events of 66–70 (Meier 1980: 283; Gundry 1982: 482).146 Nevertheless, Palestine’s central mountain range provided a natural place to flee (e.g., 1 Sam 23:14; Ezek 7:15–16; Jos. War 2.504; cf. Ps-Philo 6:11, 18; 27:11), as mountainous areas with caves often did (Diod. Sic. 34/35.2.22; Dion. Hal. 7.10.3; Appian C.W. 4.17.130; Arrian Alex. 4.24.2). Although the exhortation is too general to be sure, the language might even allude to the familiar 1 Maccabees 2:28 (cf. Dodd 1968: 82).

[29] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 3, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 357–358.

This paragraph, which ends the account of the tribulation and narrates the parousia in the traditional language of the OT theophany, so that Jesus’ coming is the arrival of God’s glory, lacks imperatives. The verbs are all descriptive futures.

29. Having, in v. 28, moved the mind’s eye from earth to sky, the text now directs our gaze even higher. This imaginative raising of vision leaves distress behind and prepares for envisaging the good help that comes from heaven (v. 30).

εὐθέως δὲ μετὰ τὴν θηῖψιν τῶν ἡμερῶν ἐκείνων. Mk 13:28 reads: ‘But (ἀλλά — cf. 24:22 diff. Mk 13:20) in those days after that tribulation’. Matthew’s εὐθέως* is reason either for dating Matthew shortly after AD 70 or for regarding vv. 15ff. as still wanting fulfilment; see pp. 329–31.

ὁ ἣλιος σκοτισθήσεται, καὶ ἡ σελήνη οὐ δώσει τὸ φέγγος αὐτῆς, καὶ οἱ ἀστέρες πεσοῦνται ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, καὶ αἱ δυνάμεις τῶν οὐρανῶν σαλευθήσονται. Bengel, ad loc.: ‘According to the course of nature, the sun and moon are eclipsed at different times: then, however, they will be troubled at once.’ The statements about sun and moon are the same in Mk 13:28; but in the third clause Mark has the periphrastic ἔσονται ἐκ / ἐκπίπτοντες, and in the fourth clause ‘the powers’ are said to be ‘the ones in heaven’. The prophecy — which shows that the matter of our Gospel is bound up with the meaning of the cosmos in its entirety — is largely a free conflation of Isa 13:10 (‘For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not give its light’195) and 34:4 (‘all the host of heaven shall rot away,197 and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall’). Related forecasts can be found throughout the OT, intertestamental and early Christian literature.199 In many instances the post-exilic texts may be read more or less literally, as perhaps here: the lawless behaviour of the heavenly bodies — and perhaps comets201 — is the sign that God has let them go and their time is up: a new world is coming (cf. 2 Pet 3:10, 12). But there are also texts which use the language of cosmic destruction in a symbolic manner, and our text seems to employ the symbolism of the OT theophany.203

‘The powers of heaven’ may simply be a summarizing expression that includes the sun, the moon, and the stars. But we should not forget that the ancients identified the heavenly lights with living beings;205 so we could here think of the fall of evil beings, ‘the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places’ (Eph 6:12) or, alternatively, of the heavenly hosts who come down to do battle against evil (cf. T. Levi 3:1–3).

The supernatural darkness of the consummation is richly symbolic. Not only does it belong to the correlation of beginning and end, but it is a sign of both divine judgement.207 and mourning and becomes the velvet background for the Son of man’s splendour (24:27, 30). Moreover, on the literary level it foreshadows the darkness of Jesus’ death (27:45) while that darkness in turn presages the world’s assize.

Perhaps the falling of the stars and the resultant darkness adds to the UrzeitlEndzeit correlation in more than one way. Jewish legend spoke of a falling of stars near the beginning of the world: the fall of Satan and his hosts was often depicted as a crash of stars from the sky: 1 En. 86:1–3; 88:1–3; 90:24; Rev 12:4; Apoc. Elijah 4:11; cf. Isa 14:12.

[30] J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah: A Commentary, ed. Peter Machinist, Hermeneia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015), 194.

Isaiah 13 appears to be a unified composition directed against Babylon (vv. 1, 19) and involving the Medes (v. 17) as God’s army of judgment. While the text sees this as a paradigm of worldwide judgment of the wicked (vv. 5, 10–11), the focus is on Babylon, and the reference to everyone returning to his own land (v. 14) suggests that with the destruction of Babylon, the exiles of its farflung conquests will be free to return to their own lands. Despite the heading, then, it is difficult to attribute this oracle to Isaiah, son of Amoz, in the late eighth or early seventh century BCE. The focus on Babylon as the enemy from which exiles may return suggests the period of the Babylonian exile, and the focus on the Medes as the agent of judgment suggests a period early in the Babylonian exile before the rise of Cyrus and the replacement of the Median empire with the Persian empire (cf. Jer 51:11, 28), thus sometime early in the period between 597 and 545 BCE.1 The description of the merciless Medes is probably rooted in the reports of the earlier Median conquest of Aššur (615 BCE) and participation in the fall of Nineveh (612 BCE) and thus points again to the first half of the sixth century. The author is clearly familiar with the earlier work of Isaiah of Jerusalem, but he reuses his motifs, such as the signal flag on the mountain, much as the author of Isaiah 24–27 reuses motifs from Isaiah of Jerusalem. One should probably consider the possibility that the author of chap. 13 and chaps. 24–27 are one and the same disciple.

[30.5] Jeannine K. Brown and Kyle Roberts, Matthew, ed. Joel B. Green, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 216.

Although usually rendered as “the end” in English translations, Matthew takes care to distinguish this temporal horizon (τέλος, telos) from “the end of the age” (συντελεία τοῦ αἰῶνος, synteleia tou aiōnos; 24:3). The latter phrase, occurring five times in Matthew (with or without the article; 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20), always refers to the end time. Matthew seems intent on distinguishing telos from synteleia in this chapter for the temporal horizons of the fall of the temple (70 CE) and the end of the age when Jesus returns, respectively.

“The question which Jesus is here answering was about when the temple would be destroyed, and that is the ‘end’ most naturally understood here” (France, Matthew, 903).

[31] J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah: A Commentary, ed. Peter Machinist, Hermeneia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015), 432.

Chapters 34–35 of Isaiah have some striking similarities to both Isaiah 24–27 and Isaiah 40–55. They do not stem from the eighth-century Isaiah of Jerusalem but appear to come from a later period, during and after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. The fierce animosity toward the Edomites reflected in chap. 34 compares to the feeling toward the Edomites found in other prophetic books from that later period (Isa 63:1–6; Jer 49:7–22; Ezek 35:1–15; Joel 4:19; Obadiah 10–16; Mal 1:3–4; cf. also Ps 137:7–9). From the point of view of the Judeans, the Edomites had treacherously taken the side of the Babylonians in Judah’s darkest hour, taking advantage of the calamity overtaking Judah and Jerusalem, in order to expand into former Judean territory. From the point of view of the Edomites, Edom’s behavior may have been seen rather as finally enjoying a long-delayed opportunity for revenge for the many centuries of Judean hegemony and oppression over Edom. In any case, this bitter animosity fits the situation during and after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in the very late seventh century and continuing on for most of the sixth century BCE far better than it would fit in the late eighth century. Amos expresses some complaints against the Edomites (1:11–12), and he envisions a restoration of Davidic hegemony over all of Edom (9:11–12), but that is in the context of a liturgy of complaints against all of Israel’s neighbors and in the expectation of a restoration of Davidic hegemony over all of greater Israel’s former vassals. Edom is not singled out for particular hostility in the way it is in Isaiah 34, in which the virulent hatred for Edom makes it the paradigm for all enemy nations.

Isaiah 35 contains a promise for the restoration of Judah’s fertility that appears to be the intentional inversion or counterpoint to the threatened destruction of Edom in chap. 34 that will leave the Edomite territory a scorched and barren wasteland forever. The linkage between the punishment of Zion’s enemies in chap. 34 followed by the restoration of the fertility of Zion’s territory in chap. 35 suggests that the two chapters are from the same period, and probably from the same author. There are motifs in Isa 35:8–9 that echo earlier motifs from Isaiah of Jerusalem of a pilgrimage to Zion (Isa 2:2–5), or a highway back to Zion (Isa 11:16), or a path from which one does not stray, because the divine teacher constantly alerts his people any time they threaten to stray to the right or left from the way (Isa 30:21), so the author of Isaiah 34–35 is using the earlier tradition, but his use of it is tending toward the imagery of the highway in the wilderness found in Second Isaiah (see, for example, Isa 40:3–5). There are also close links to Isaiah 24–27, where a similar impending universal judgment on all the nations and a subsequent deliverance of God’s people is proclaimed in the light of an already accomplished or imminently expected destruction of particular foreign enemies — there presumably Assyria and soon to follow, Egypt. Whether the author of Isaiah 34–35 was the same as the author of Isaiah 24–27 or the same as the somewhat later author of Isaiah 40–55 is impossible to say for certain, but each of these authors, whether two or three, stood in the same Isaianic tradition, and they were not all that far removed from one another chronologically.


[32.25] Johannes Schneider, “Ἔρχομαι, Ἔλευσις, Ἀπ-, Δι-, Εἰσ-, Ἐξ-, Ἐπ-, Παρ-, Παρεισ-, Περι-, Προσ-, Συνέρχομαι,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 666.


A. The General Use of ἔρχομαι.

1. The stem of the word ἐρχ- stands in “suppletive” connection with ἐλθ-, ἐλυθ- (and ἰέναι). In class. Gk. the word has the senses of “to come” and “to go.” It is used both of persons and of inanimate objects. Special relationships or nuances are given by prepositions or the context, e.g., “to come to or towards,” “to go away,” “to return,” “to sail” (of ships). The word is used of the occurrence of natural events or fateful happenings, or of the rise of states of mind. In the pap.1 it is also used for receipt of letters, for transferring, e.g., property by inheritance or purchase, for making an agreement or for undertaking other enterprises. In R. Heberdey-A. Wilhelm, Reisen in Kilikien (1896) 154, Inscr. №260, 4 f. a patriot concerned about and acquainted with affairs of state is called ἄνδρα φιλόπατριν διὰ πάσης πολιτίας ἐληλυθότα.

2. Of particular significance is the cultic use of the word. In ancient forms of prayer the coming of the deity is besought in the typical formula ἐλθέ or ἐλθέ μοι. The address to the god then follows in the vocative; either his name is mentioned, or his nature and activity are depicted in a list of subst. and adj. In any case, he is described precisely in his divine manifestation. By the invocation ἐλθέ μοι the god is brought down in order to fulfil what are usually the very egotistic desires of man. The formula ἐλθέ or ἐλθὲ μοι is particularly common in the prayers of the magic pap. (Preis. Zaub., I, 214, 296; III, 51, 338 f.; IV, 2746, 2786, 2868; V, 249; VIII, 2 ff., 14 f.; esp. striking is II, 83 f.: ἐλθὲ τάχος δʼ ἐπὶ γαῖαν ἀπʼ οὐρανόθεν <μοι> ὁμιλῶν, “Come down quickly from heaven to earth to speak with me.” Along with ἐλθέ we have ἔρχου, δεῦρο, and εἴσελθε. Very typical is IV, 1023 f., 1031, 1041, 1045: εἴσελθε, φάνηθί μοι, κύριε; also εἰσερχέσθω ὁ θρόνος τοῦ θεοῦ … εἰσενεχθήτω ὁ θρόνος, V, 32, 35. In some passages assurance is given that invocation of the deity by magical formulae will be successful: εἰσελεύσεται θεός, XII, 159; τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθόντος, IV, 1047: cf. XIII, 12, or ἐπὰν εἰσέλθῃ οὖν ὁ θεός, XII, 564 f.)

In this connection we are esp. reminded of the Orphic hymns, which often end with a petition for the coming of the god or gods in question. The prayers introduced by ἐλθέ (or ἔρχεο, ἔλθοις, ἔλθοιτʼ) are normally of 1–3 lines in which the subst. which depict the nature of the god are ranged alongside one another in the vocat.4 In the Homeric hymns the ἐλθέ formula is rare; Cer., 360: ἔρχεο Περσεφόνη; Ad Hestiam, 4 f.: ἔρχεο τόνδʼ ἀνὰ οἶκον, ἕν̓͂ ἔρχεο θυμὸν ἔχουσα, σὺν Διὶ μητιόεντι. Cf. Hom. Il., 23, 770: κλῦθι, θεά, ἀλαθή μοι ἐπίρροθος ἐλθὲ ποδοίιν. Impressive and typical is Plat. Leg., IV, 712b: θεὸν ἐπικαλώμεθα· ὁ δὲ … ἀκούσας ἵλεως εὐμενής τε ἡμῖν ἔλθοι. Hellen. influence may be seen in two prayers in Joseph. which have the same introductory formula: Ant., 4, 46: ἐλθέ, δέσποτα τῶν ὅλων, δικαστής μου καὶ μάρτυς ἀδωροδόκητος; 20, 90: ἐλθὲ σύμμαχος. The cultic use is also attested in IG, XIV, 966; the god gives a man the direction ἐλθεῖν ἐπ[ὶ τὸ] ἱερὸν βῆμα καὶ προσκυνῆσαι, εἶ[τ]α ἀπὸ τοῦ δεξιοῦ ἐλθεῖν ἐπὶ τὸ ἀριστερὸν καὶ θεῖναι τοὺς πέντε δακτύλους ἐπάνω τοῦ βήματος … V. also Preisigke Sammelbuch, 1142: Μηνόφιλος ἐλθών (ἐλθών is here used like ἥκων, of coming to worship the deity). For the coming or manifestation of the deity, Eur. Fr., 353 (TGF): ὀλολύζετʼ, ὦ γυναῖκες, ὡς ἔλθῃ θεὰ χρυσῆν ἔχουσα Γοργόνʼ ἐπίκουρος πόλει. BCH, 30 (1906), 141, the statement of Eros: ἐλήλυθα ἀγγελῶν τοιοῦτο πρᾶγμά τι· πρᾶγμ[ά τι] τοιοῦτο [ἀγ]γελῶν [ἐλ]ήλυθα. In the same connection we should mention Reitzenstein Poim., 342, 19 f.: ἦλθεν ἡμῖν γνῶσις θεοῦ and ἦλθεν ἡμῖν γνῶσις χαρᾶς.

3. In the Septuagint it is used for 35 Heb. words (mostly for בּוֹא). Its meaning is predominantly local, but it also occurs in cultic statements, either generally for coming to divine service or with προσκυνεῖν, λατρεύειν, θύειν for coming to the house of God, to the sanctuary or to Jerusalem. It is used of prayer which comes to God in 2 Ch. 30:27; cf. ψ 101:1; 118:41, 77, prayer for the coming of the divine mercy. The word is also used with reference to the coming of God, of His Word, of His angels and prophets to men. It is used esp. of the coming of the Messiah (Da. 7:13: καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ὡς υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ἤρχετο [Θ ἐρχόμενος]). The Messiah is ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου ψ 117:26. It is also used of the coming of Satan (Job 2:1). Another use is for the coming and going of ages (2 Ch. 21:19) or generations (Qoh. 1:4); γενεὰ ἡ ἐρχομένη is the coming generation in ψ 21:31 etc. A very common use in the Psalms and prophets is for the coming of eschatologically decisive days (the days of salvation and judgment). A universalistic eschatological statement occurs in ψ 78:1: Nations will come to the inheritance of God. In Is. 32:15 there is a promise of salvation which is related to the coming of the Spirit. In the Psalms, Job and elsewhere it is strongly emphasised that evil, misfortune, suffering, tribulation and death come over men. But so, too, does good (cf. Bar. 4:36: ἡ εὐφροσύνη [joy] ἡ παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ). Yet the statements that evil and bad things come on men predominate.

In Jos.: ἔρχεσθαι εἰς τὴν ἑορτήν, Bell., 1, 73; 6, 300 (cf. Jn. 4:45); στρατιᾶς, μεθʼ ὅσης ἐπὶ πόλεμόν τις, ἀλλʼ οὐκ ἐπʼ εἰρήνην ἔρχεται; Ant., 12, 395 (cf. Lk. 12:49); ἐλθοῦσαν τὴν βασιλείαν, Ant., 17, 66 (cf. Mt. 6:10; Lk. 11:2); μηνῶν ὁδὸν τεσσάρων ἑλθόντες, Ant., 3, 318 (cf. Lk. 2:44).

Test. XII: “to come,” “to come with hostile intent,” “to appear” (Jud. 22:2); A. 7:3, of the eschatological coming of God.

4. In the NT, as elsewhere in Gk. literature, the term has the basic sense of “coming” and “going.” It is used indifferently of persons and things. The coming often has the sense of appearing, of coming forward publicly, of coming on the scene. It is often used of decisive events, of happenings, of natural phenomena, also of conditions etc. (e.g., τὰ σκάνδαλα, τὰ ἀλαθά). ἔρχεσθαι ἐπί τινα is used in a hostile sense in Lk. 14:31 (“to go against someone in battle”). Both meanings occur, then, in both a literal and a figurative sense.

The following prepositional combinations should be noted: εἰς τὸ χεῖρον ἐλθεῖν, Mk. 5:26 (in the sense of getting constantly worse); εἰς ἀπελεγμὸν ἐλθεῖν, Ac. 19:27 (to come into disrepute); εἰς ἑαυτὸν ἐλθεῖν, Lk. 15:17 (to come to oneself, to a sensible frame of mind). Once in the NT we have the common Gk. phrase ἐλθεῖν εἴς τι in the sense of moving on to a new subject. Paul writes in 2 C. 12:1: ἐλεύσομαι δὲ εἰς ὀπτασίας καὶ ἀποκαλύψεις κυπίου (“I will now go on to speak of visions and revelations of the Lord”).

[32.5] Jeannine K. Brown and Kyle Roberts, Matthew, ed. Joel B. Green, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 218.

Jesus’s prediction of the fall of the temple culminates at 24:29–35. Many Christians, scholars included, understand this part of Matthew 24 to refer to Jesus’s parousia or “reappearing.” Yet Matthew does not mention that term in this section of text; instead, he uses ἔρχεσθαι, erchesthai (“to come”) drawn from Daniel 7:13–14 to signal Jesus’s future, prophetic vindication at the temple’s destruction (24:30)…An allusion to Daniel 7:13–14 is central to the vision of the “sign of the Son of Man” in Matthew 24:30. The relevant text of Daniel reads, “one like a son of man was coming (ἔρχεσθαι, erchesthai) on the clouds of heaven, and he was presented to the Ancient of Days … and authority was granted to him along with all the nations of the earth according to their offspring and all glory was serving him” (7:13–14 LXX).

[33] On the connection between beastlike leaders and their beastlike Empires, see Daniel 4. The imagery mocks traditional Babylonian imagery, and is also an example of social synecdoche: the leader represents the nation. Note [34] further emphasizes the point at a lexical level by describing the easy conflation of “king” and “kingdom” in Aramaic.

[34] John Joseph Collins and Adela Yarbro Collins, Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, ed. Frank Moore Cross, Hermeneia — a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 311–312.

Four kings will arise: The reading of the Greek and Latin versions has “kingdoms,” which is more consistent with the subsequent usage at v 23* below but for that very reason can be understood as harmonization.305 In chap. 8, too, the beasts in the vision are interpreted as kings rather than as kingdoms (8:20–21*). It must be admitted, however, that the Aramaic מלכין (“kings”) and מלכון (“kingdoms”) could be easily confused, so it is difficult to be certain of the original reading. If the MT reading is correct, it has some significance for the interpretation of the “one like a human being,” insofar as the beasts are not simply collective symbols but can also be understood to represent the rulers. In any case, the angel’s minimal interpretation does not do justice to the depth of meaning conveyed by the symbolism of the beasts.306

There is general agreement that the kings in question correspond to the four kingdoms of chap. 2, which are identified in modern scholarship as Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Greek. The prevailing traditional interpretation identified the fourth kingdom as Rome. Yet in 4 Ezra 12:11–12*, where the eagle that rises from the sea is identified as “the fourth kingdom which appeared in a vision to your brother Daniel,” the interpreter adds, “But it was not explained to him as I now explain…it to you.” Also Josephus, who held that Daniel “wrote about the empire of the Romans and that Jerusalem would be taken by them” (Ant 10.11.7 §276), nonetheless knew that the vision in Daniel 8 referred to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. There was also an extant tradition, independent of Daniel, in Sib Or 4:88–101 of a fourkingdom schema in which Greece was the fourth. There is, then, some evidence of continuity in this tradition of interpreting the fourth kingdom. It reappears in Porphyry and in Ephrem Syrus, Polychronius, and others and is attested in a gloss in the Peshitta version.309 Whether these later authors learned this interpretation from tradition is uncertain. They may have inferred the identity of the fourth kingdom from the correspondences between Daniel’s vision and the known history of Maccabean times and from the identification of the Greek kingdom in chap. 8.


[35.5] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 3, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 361–362.

Here, Allison concedes important details about the text. Note bolded areas, which involve insertions in the interest of his Schweitzerian position, although the context contravenes them. The tabernacle and temple language, as well as the cloudlike theophany, also fit with our thesis here that a liturgical context is substantially in view.

καὶ ὄψονται τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐρχόμενον ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ μετὰ δυνμεως καὶ δόξης πολλῆς. Compare Ps 138:5 (‘great glory’); Mt 16:27; 26:64; 1 Thess 4:16–17; Rev 14:14; 4 Ezra 13:3; b. Sanh. 98a. So Mk 13:26, with ἐν νεφέλαις (Matthew is here closer to the LXX) and πολλῆς immediately after δυνάμεως. The words draw upon Dan 7:13–14, although ὄψονται231 may come from Zech 12:10.: On the Son of man in the teaching of Jesus and in Matthew see 2, pp. 43–52. His origin and destination are not here stated; but one naturally envisages a heavenly figure descending to earth, somehow in the vision of all. δύναμις here means not ‘miracle’ but (as in 22:29) the divine ‘power’ which overshadows the powers of all false prophets and messiahs. On δόξα236 see 2, pp. 675–6. With the heavenly lights darkened, the one light will be the eschatological doxa.

‘On the clouds’ does more than just recall Daniel 7 and other texts in which heavenly figures appear on clouds. In Exod 13:21–2 the Lord goes before Israel in a pillar of cloud, while in Exod 40:35–8 the cloud over the tabernacle is the glory of God. In these texts as in others — some of which reflect the Canaanite designation of Baal the storm god as ‘Cloud Rider’ (cf. Ps 68:4) — a cloud is the visible sign of the invisible presence of God and so a regular element of the theophany. So the Son of man’s coming on the clouds marks the approach of God himself.239 But this drawing near of the divine presence must mean judgement for those who have set themselves against God. In line with this, Dan 7:13 itself depends upon Jer 4:13 (‘he comes with the clouds’), where the arriving clouds connote the swiftness of judgement (cf. Isa 19:1). Perhaps the reader of Matthew will also recall the eschatological promise that the cloud of divine presence will someday return: Isa 4:5; 2 Macc 2:8.

31. ‘Compared with 16:27, what is striking here is the total absence of God the Father. The Son of Man acts completely on his own authority, sending out his angels to gather in from all the earth his elect … Mt raises the divine majesty of the Son of Man to the greatest heights possible.’

The happy conclusion not only fails to mention God the Father but, even more surprisingly, alludes neither to the judgement of the wicked nor the resurrection of the dead.



[38] John Joseph Collins and Adela Yarbro Collins, Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, ed. Frank Moore Cross, Hermeneia — a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 303–304.

■ 11*. the beast was slain: In the context it is reasonable to assume that the beast was slain by order of the court. The narrative is elliptic, however, appropriately enough for a report of a dream, where scenes follow each other without explicit causal connection. Note, however, that the beast is not brought before the court as a prisoner and that we are not told how or by whom it is slain.237 committed to the burning fire: Compare 1En 90:24–27, where stars, shepherds, and blind sheep are thrown into an abyss of fire; also 1En 10:6; 18:11; 21:7–10; 1QS 2:8; 4:13; CD 2:5; and others. Hellfire becomes the standard place and mode of eschatological punishment from this time on; compare the lake of fire in Rev 20:10*. In Jewish tradition there is a progression from Topheth, or Ge-Hinnom, where human sacrifice was offered by burning children,238 to the idea that sinners will be punished there by burning, to the notion of Gehenna as a place of eschatological, fiery punishment.240 The location of the fire is not specified in Daniel 7. Because the beast symbolizes a kingdom, the emphasis is on destruction rather than on the eternal punishment of individuals in hell.

■ 12*. As for the rest of the beasts: H. L. Ginsberg interpreted the survival of the other beasts as recognition of the fact that “right through the Greek age and well into the Roman, there existed residual Median and Persian kingdoms in the shape of the two more or less independent principalities of Atropatian Media, called Atropatene for short, and Persis,” and that a Babylonian kingdom could be said to exist briefly from 307–301 B.C.E., when Seleucus I was confined to the east, and from 292–261, when a coregent had authority over Babylonia.241 Ginsberg also emends v 4* so that the first beast was “taken away” or destroyed. This suggestion is excessively ingenious. It is doubtful whether a Jewish author would have regarded these “more or less independent principalities” as extensions of the great “beast” empires. The point of Dan 7:12* is surely to distinguish the fourth beast from its predecessors. In fact, the descriptions of the first three beasts are not very condemnatory, except for the basic fact that they are represented as beasts. The first is given the heart of a man; the violence of the second is most probably directed against the first, not against God or his people. No actions of the third beast are described. In short, the first three beasts do not merit the same sentence as the fourth, and so they are merely deprived of their sovereignty.


[40] Climbing the Mount of Olives II.2: Reading the Sign of Your Presence in Matthew | by Daniel Heck | Aug, 2022 | Medium

[41] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 3, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 327–328.

Vv. 1–3, 4–9, 13–14, 15–25, 29, 30c–1, 32–3, 34–5 all have close Markan parallels and are usually accounted for on the theory of Markan priority. Vv. 26 (in the desert or the inner rooms), 27 (the lightning), and 28 (the body and the eagles) closely resemble Lk 17:23–4 and 37 and so have their source in Q. This leaves unaccounted for vv. 10–12 (scandals, false prophets, cold love), 30a (the sign of the Son of man), 30b (the mourning), as well as the addition of the trumpet in v. 31. Although most now attribute vv. 10–12 to redaction — perhaps as a sort of substitute for Mk 13:9–13, which Matthew moved to chapter 10 — we are unpersuaded. Wenham, Rediscovery, pp. 256–9, offers reasons for finding material pre-Matthean tradition; and the way in which Matthew’s new material splits Mk 13:13 asunder (contrast Mt 10:22) coheres with this view.

We are encouraged in this judgement by Didache 16:3–6, which has parallels to both vv. 10–12 and 30–1:

Matthew 24

Didache 16:3–6

v. 10: ‘many will stumble’

v. 3: ‘many will stumble’

v. 12: ‘lawlessness is multiplied’

v. 4: ‘lawlessness increases’

v. 12: ‘love will grow cold’

v. 3: ‘love will be turned into hate’

v. 30: ‘and then will appear the sign of the Son of man’

v. 6: ‘and then will appear the signs of truth; first, a sign of a spreading out (ἐκπετάσεως) in heaven’

v. 31: ‘with a great trumpet call’

v. 6: ‘a sign of a voice of a trumpet’

That these parallels are confined to non-Markan clauses is striking and suggests at this point a common source for the Didache and Matthew (cf. Kloppenborg (v)). Our own guess is that, in composing chapter 24, Matthew drew upon a small apocalypse akin to what appears in Did. 16:3–6.

This conclusion differs from Wenham, Rediscovery, who argues that Matthew, Mark, and Luke used a lengthy, pre-synoptic apocalypse which may have belonged to a pre-synoptic Gospel. We concur that Mark adopted a coherent apocalypse: Mark 13 is not his collection of previously scattered sayings (cf. p. 332). We also agree that a form of that apocalypse may have been known to Paul and the author of Revelation, and even concede the possibility that Luke 21 reflects a non-Markan version of that same tradition. But we are not persuaded of this for Matthew 24. The many agreements are inconclusive evidence for such.


[43] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 586.

As in Mark 13:26, the language of seeing the Son of Man coming with the clouds (presumably of God’s glory; cf. 1QM 12.9) alludes to Dan 7:13, but Matthew includes an additional allusion to Zech 12:10, in which the nations mourn (24:30). Other early Christian writers connect these texts in Daniel and Zechariah (Rev 1:7), perhaps suggesting that Matthew here echoes authentic Jesus tradition rather than simply redacting Mark without such tradition; cf. Bauckham 1993: 319–21.


Zechariah 12:10

An Oracle.

The word of the Lord concerning Israel: Thus says the Lord, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the human spirit within: 2 See, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of reeling for all the surrounding peoples; it will be against Judah also in the siege against Jerusalem. 3 On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it shall grievously hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth shall come together against it. 4 On that day, says the Lord, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness. But on the house of Judah I will keep a watchful eye, when I strike every horse of the peoples with blindness. 5 Then the clans of Judah shall say to themselves, “The inhabitants of Jerusalem have strength through the Lord of hosts, their God.”

6 On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a blazing pot on a pile of wood, like a flaming torch among sheaves; and they shall devour to the right and to the left all the surrounding peoples, while Jerusalem shall again be inhabited in its place, in Jerusalem.

7 And the Lord will give victory to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not be exalted over that of Judah. 8 On that day the Lord will shield the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the Lord, at their head. 9 And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.

Mourning for the Pierced One

10 And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. 11 On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land shall mourn, each family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; 13 the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; 14 and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.

13 On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

Idolatry Cut Off

2 On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more; and also I will remove from the land the prophets and the unclean spirit. 3 And if any prophets appear again, their fathers and mothers who bore them will say to them, “You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the Lord”; and their fathers and their mothers who bore them shall pierce them through when they prophesy. 4 On that day the prophets will be ashamed, every one, of their visions when they prophesy; they will not put on a hairy mantle in order to deceive, 5 but each of them will say, “I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the soil; for the land has been my possession since my youth.” 6 And if anyone asks them, “What are these wounds on your chest?” the answer will be “The wounds I received in the house of my friends.”

The Shepherd Struck, the Flock Scattered

7 “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,

against the man who is my associate,”

says the Lord of hosts.

Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered;

I will turn my hand against the little ones.

8 In the whole land, says the Lord,

two-thirds shall be cut off and perish,

and one-third shall be left alive.

9 And I will put this third into the fire,

refine them as one refines silver,

and test them as gold is tested.

They will call on my name,

and I will answer them.

I will say, “They are my people”;

and they will say, “The Lord is our God.”

[43.6] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 3, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 360–361.

καὶ τότε κόψονται πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαὶ τῆς γῆς. Compare 1 En. 62:5 (where the wicked ruling class sees the Son of man). This combination of Zech 12:10 (‘when they look (ἐπιβλέψονται) upon me [v.l.: him] whom they have pierced, they shall mourn’ (LXX: κόψονται), 12 (‘the land shall mourn, each tribe by itself’225), 14 (‘and all the tribes (πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαὶ) that are left’), and perhaps 14:17 (LXX: ἐκ πασῶν τῶν φυλῶν τῆς γῆς) has no synoptic parallel. But Rev 1:7 also conflates Dan 7:13–14 and Zech 12:10, 12, and 14: ‘Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn on account of him.’ Despite the striking agreements, the Apocalypse does not seem to presuppose Matthew. Rather, a pre-Matthean origin for both the christological exegesis of Zech 12:10–14 and the confluence with Daniel 7 is indicated. These things probably belonged to Christian oral tradition.

The people mourn on earth because they see in heaven the sign of the Son of man, which we have argued is the cross. But whether their mourning is unto repentance (as in Zechariah; cf. on 23:39) or (so most) despair (cf. Apoc. Pet. E 6) is not stated.

Zech 12:10–14 was a well-known early Christian testimonium. It is cited in Mt 24:30; Jn 19:37; Rev 1:7; Barn. 7:9; and Justin, 1 Apol. 52:12; Dial. 14:8; 32:2; 64:7; 118:1. With the probable exception of Jn 19:37, the application is always to the parousia (which fact explains the conflation with Dan 7:13 in Matthew and Revelation). Whether the text was given an eschatological interpretation in pre-Christian Judaism is not proved; but rabbinic tradition did come to read it as a prophecy of the slaying of Messiah ben Joseph (b. Suk. 52a).

Matthew and his first readers presumably identified the pierced one with the smitten shepherd of Zech 13:7 (cf. 26:31). They may further have remembered that the mourning of Zech 12:10 is ‘as for an ἀγαπητόν’ (cf. 3:17; 12:18; 17:5).


[44.5] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 1, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 138.

To sum up: Matthew was almost certainly written between A.D. 70 and A.D. 100, in all probability between A.D. 80 and 95.

[44.6] Ruth Anne Reese, 2 Peter and Jude, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 121.

The information about when the epistle was written and to whom is sparse, and making decisions about that information is connected to other introductory issues. For example, if one accepts that the apostle Peter is the likely author of the epistle, then the date that is given needs to be prior to the commonly accepted date for his martyrdom — sometime between 64 and 68 CE. If, however, one accepts a theory of pseudepigraphical authorship, then one is able to ascribe to a wider range of possible dates for the book. Those who have argued for pseudepigraphical authorship have usually chosen a date sometime between 80 and 110 CE. A date prior to the outbreak of empire-wide persecution is often chosen since there is no allusion to such a persecution in the book of 2 Peter.


[45.1] John Kampen, Matthew within Sectarian Judaism, ed. John J. Collins, Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2019), 13–14.

The identification of the time and place of the Jewish community in which this gospel originated is not a simple matter. A variety of locations for the composition of the first gospel have been proposed. Included in this list, among others, are Alexandria, Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum,19 Caesarea Maritima, Transjordan, Damascus, Phoenicia, and Edessa. None of these has been found particularly convincing by a broader range of scholars. The most widely accepted location in modern research has been Antioch, sometimes more by default than conviction.21 Some of the scholars who from the late 1980s to the present day have applied the methodologies of the social sciences to the study of Matthew have favored a Galilean locus, usually Sepphoris or Tiberias. Among those scholars was Alan Segal, who, while very amenable to the arguments for Galilee, proposed that Galilee and Syria should be considered one geographical area, particularly from the standpoint of the development of Jewish and Christian hostility.23 Highlighting the similarity to apocalyptic literature such as Enoch, Frederick Grant pointed to northern Palestine or as far north as into Syria as the environment in which this literature developed. The wide spectrum of these proposals regarding provenance demonstrates the difficulties involved in making this determination. There is no conclusive evidence in the text pointing to a specific location. This means that speculation on location of composition is integrally connected with interpretation. In this volume I am building on the work of scholars of the social scientific approach, many of whom were inclined toward a Galilean provenance. More significantly, here I will advance what I consider four important characteristics of the first gospel that should be considered when discussing the question of the provenance of this gospel.

[45.5] Jeannine K. Brown and Kyle Roberts, Matthew, ed. Joel B. Green, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 220–223.

As already suggested, the disciples’ two-part question of 24:3 divides Matthew 24 between vss. 35 and 36, with the first section dedicated to what will lead up to the siege of Jerusalem and the temple’s destruction. In contrast to the many events or happenings that will presage that destruction (its birth pangs; 24:8), Jesus’s reappearing will come with no warning: “but about that day and hour no one knows” (24:36; with the “that” pointing ahead to the parousia of 24:37). The words about the Son not knowing the time of Jesus’s “reappearing” (παρουσία, parousia; 24:37, 39) appear to have caused NT copyists concern, with the phrase “nor the Son” missing from some manuscripts from an early date. It is easy to see how Christians copying Matthew in the second and third centuries would omit this phrase to preserve a high Christology; it is more difficult to understand why they would omit it if originally in Matthew.

To make his point that the “reappearing of the Son of Man” will have no attendant warning signs, Jesus compares it to the arrival of the flood in the time of Noah (24:37). The people, apart from Noah and his family, were completely taken by surprise and the floods swept them away (24:38–39). Likewise, the suddenness of Jesus’s parousia means that there will be no time for preparation: if two people are together, “one will be taken and the other left” (24:40–41). Although this scenario has sometimes been read as referring to a “rapture” away from the earth, the context suggests otherwise.77 In fact, by analogy with the flood, being taken could suggest judgment (being swept away by the flood), while being left would align with God’s protection of Noah and his family. The point of the two scenarios is to portray normal, daily activity interrupted by Jesus’s reappearing, with the warning of 24:42 providing the crucial theme: “be watchful [γρηγορεῖν, grēgorein], because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”79

After introducing the twin motifs of the suddenness of Jesus’s reappearing along with the need for always being prepared (“keeping watch”), Matthew includes two brief parables about watchfulness (24:43–51) before offering three more extended parables (Matt 25) that provide the conclusion to the Eschatological Discourse. In the first parable (24:43–44), Jesus contends that any householder would “keep watch” (γρηγορεῖν, grēgorein) if they knew the precise time when a thief would attempt to break in. From this analogy, he argues that his disciples should be prepared since they will not know the hour of the Son of Man’s coming. Once he has introduced the parousia as the focus of 24:36–51, Matthew now can include the more generic term erchesthai (“coming”) here and at 24:42. By this point, it is clear that both terms refer to the one event of Jesus’s return or reappearing, although the combination of “Son of Man” and “coming” here at 24:44 might provide “an allusive hint that the parousia may be viewed as a further and final fulfillment of [the Danielic] enthronement vision.”

Jesus’s second parable about being prepared contrasts a wise and faithful slave with a slave who is unfaithful to his master’s wishes. Timing is everything in this parable, with the faithful slave serving the other slaves “at the proper time” (ἐν καιρῷ, en kairōi) and so being prepared “when [his master] comes” (24:45–46). In contrast, the evil, unfaithful servant exploits the master’s delay (χρονίζειν, chronizein) to mistreat the other slaves (24:48–49). When the master returns at an unexpected “day” (ἡμέρα, hēmera) and “hour” (ὥρα, hōra; cf. 24:36), he will punish the evil slave (24:50–51), in contrast to the reward of more responsibility to be given to the faithful and wise slave (24:46–47). The emphasis lands on the unexpected timing of the master’s return and the corresponding need for being perennially ready. This parable also introduces a motif of a delayed return (24:48), which Matthew will also employ at 25:5 and 19 to explain the delay of Jesus’s parousia for his own audience.

The description of the punishment for the evil slave is problematic (24:51). The use of the verb, διχοτομεῖν (dichotomein, “to cut in two”), raises the question of how someone who has been cut into pieces could subsequently be assigned a place with the hypocrites (presumably, in judgment).83 Yet if we consider this judgment from within the parable’s story world, we may not feel a need to reconcile the discordant pictures since Jesus’s parables often include unlikely, even startling details (e.g., ten thousand talents at 18:24). As the parable’s concluding line, Matthew 24:51 bridges from the parable’s story to its metaphorical meaning and so the details of the parable should not be pressed for metaphorical meaning. Two Matthean motifs are signaled in this description of judgment of the unfaithful slave: hypocrites (e.g., 6:1–18; 23:13–36) and the “weeping and the grinding of teeth” (also at 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 25:30), which signals sorrow and anger (see note at 8:12).

We have seen that Jesus’s teachings about the time of his own “reappearing” (24:36–51; also 25:1–46) differ markedly from his predictions of what will signal the siege of Jerusalem and the temple’s destruction (24:4–35). There will be an abundance of harbingers (birth pangs) for the fall of the temple, while the parousia will be characterized by unexpected timing and so a sense of suddenness (24:36–41, 50; 25:5). While this distinction should caution against charting the signs of Jesus’s return, this has not stopped many Christians across history and today from fixating on certain contemporary events as sure signs of Jesus’s reappearing. Such timelines and charts may give a temporary sense of control over what we perceive to be disturbing and unpredictable events. Yet Jesus’s overarching message regarding his parousia is attentiveness and readiness. Fears will not be alleviated by detailed charts but by a trusting readiness that seeks to live out justice, mercy, and loyalty in one’s day-to-day life. As the parables of Matthew 25 will show, readiness (25:1–13) is about faithfulness (25:14–30), and faithfulness is about living out mercy and justice to the “least” (25:31–46).

[46] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 3, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 366–368.

ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι. So Mark. Compare v. 2.

οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἡ γενεὰ αὓτη ἔως ἄν πάντα ταῦτα γένηται. Compare 23:36; 1 Clem. 50:30 (αἱ γενεαί … παρῆλθον). So Mark, with μέχρις οὗ instead of ἕως ἄν (cf. 5:18; 11:13 diff. Lk 16:16) and (probably) πάντα after ταῦτα. γενεά (see 2, pp. 260–1) and πάντα ταῦτα (cf. vv. 2, 8, 33; LXX Dan 12:7) have both been given several meanings and so there are the following explanations:

(i) ‘All these things’ refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, which came to pass within the ‘generation’ of Jesus’ audience. In favour of this, v. 3’s ταῦτα does refer to the temple’s destruction. Against it, the πάντα ταῦτα of vv. 8 and 33 naturally have a much wider reference.

(ii) ‘All these things’ refers to the eschatological scenario as outlined in vv. 4–31 and declares that it shall come to pass before Jesus’ ‘generation’ has gone. In favour of this is the imminent eschatological expectation of many early Christians (cf. esp. 10:23 and Mk 9:1) as well as Jn 21:20–3, which reflects the belief that Jesus would come before all his disciples’ had died. So most modern commentators.

(iii) Patristic opinion could identify the γενεά with the church: the church, against which the gates of Hades will not prevail, will endure to the end.

(iv) Occasionally γενεά is equated with the Jewish people or the human race in general.275 While the latter equation creates banality, the first perhaps fits the broader context: Jesus promises that the tribulation in Judaea (v. 16), however terrible, will not obliterate the chosen people (cf. Dan 12:1). But, given that our verse immediately trails the parable of the fig tree, surely the chronological sense of γενεά is more natural.

(v) ‘This generation’ might be the generation that sees ‘all these things’ — from Matthew’s perspective therefore perhaps some future generation.

(vi) According to Gundry, Matthew, p. 491, ‘this generation’ may mean ‘this kind.’ The sense is qualitative, not chronological: ‘The emphasis would then fall on the perversity of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees … and the chronological extent of the generation would remain open.’

(vii) Calvin, ad loc., seems to hold that ‘all these things’ are the evils of the discourse, all of which fell upon ‘that generation’ of the church, although they continue to plague the saints thereafter.

(viii) Meier, Matthew, p. 289, raises the possibility of interpreting ‘the verse in the light of Mt’s presentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection as a ‘proleptic parousia’ ”

We favour interpretation (ii). γενεά plainly refers to Jesus’ contemporaries in 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; and 17:17 as well as in the close parallel in 23:36, and the placement of our verse after a prophecy of the parousia is suggestive. If it be objected that this makes for a false prophecy and raises the issue of 2 Pet 3:3–4, we can only reply that some of Jesus’ contemporaries were perhaps still alive when Matthew wrote, so he did not have the problem we do. In summary, then, the last judgement will fall upon ‘this generation’ just as earlier judgements fell upon the generation of the flood and the generation in the wilderness.


[48] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 775–776.

παρέρχομαι mid. dep.; fut. παρελεύσομαι; 2 aor. παρῆλθον, impv. in H. Gk. παρελθάτω Mt 26:39 (also v.l.-ετω; B-D-F §81, 3; Mlt-H. 209); pf. παρελήλυθα (Hom.+).

① to go past a reference point, go by, pass by w. acc. someone or someth. (Aelian, VH 2, 35; Lucian, Merc. Cond. 15) an animal Hv 4, 1, 9; 4, 2, 1; a place Papias (3, 3). Of Jesus and his disciples on the lake: ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς Mk 6:48 (s. HWindisch, NThT 9, 1920, 298–308; GEysinga, ibid. 15, 1926, 221–29 al.; Lohmeyer s.v. παράγω 3; BvanIersel, in The Four Gospels, Neirynck Festschr., ed. FvanSegbroeck et al. ’92, II 1065–76). διὰ τῆς ὁδοῦ ἐκείνης pass by along that road Mt 8:28 (constr. w. διά as PAmh 154, 2; Num 20:17; Josh 24:17). παρὰ τὴν λίμνην GEb 34, 60. Abs. (X., An. 2, 4, 25) Lk 18:37; 1 Cl 14:5 (Ps 36:36). Of someth. impers. get by unnoticed, escape notice (Theognis 419; Sir 42:20) Hs 8, 2, 5ab.

② of time: to be no longer available for someth., pass (Soph., Hdt.+; ins, pap, LXX; JosAs 29:8 cod. A; Tat. 26, 1 πῶς γὰρ δύναται παρελθεῖν ὁ μέλλων, εἰ ἔστιν ὁ ἐνεστώς;) ἡ ὥρα ἤδη παρῆλθεν the time is already past Mt 14:15. Of a definite period of time (SSol 2:11 ὁ χειμὼν π.; Jos., Ant. 15, 408) διὰ τὸ τὴν νηστείαν ἤδη παρεληλυθέναι because the fast was already over Ac 27:9. ὁ παρεληλυθὼς χρόνος the time that is past 1 Pt 4:3 (cp. Isocr. 4, 167 χρόνος … ἱκανὸς γὰρ ὁ παρεληλυθώς, ἐν ᾧ τί τῶν δεινῶν οὐ γέγονεν; PMagd 25, 3 παρεληλυθότος τοῦ χρόνου). τὰ παρεληλυθότα (beside τὰ ἐνεστῶτα and τὰ μέλλοντα; cp. Herm. Wr. 424, 10ff Sc.; Demosth. 4, 2; Jos., Ant. 10, 210) things past, the past (Demosth. 18, 191; Sir 42:19; Philo, Spec. Leg. 1, 334, Leg. All. 2, 42) B 1:7; B 5:3. — ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη Mt 24:34 belongs here, if γ. is understood temporally.

③ to come to an end and so no longer be there, pass away, disappear (Demosth. 18, 188 κίνδυνον παρελθεῖν; Theocr. 27, 8; Ps 89:6; Wsd 2:4; 5:9; Da 7:14 Theod.; TestJob 33:4 ὁ κόσμος ὅλος παρελεύσεται) of pers. ὡς ἄνθος χόρτου παρελεύσεται Js 1:10. ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ Mt 5:18a; 24:35a; Mk 13:31a; Lk 16:17; 21:33a; cp. 2 Pt 3:10; Rv 21:1 t.r. ὁ κόσμος οὗτος D 10:6 (cp. TestJob 33:4). ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη Mt 24:34 (but s. 2); Mk 13:30; Lk 21:32. αἱ γενεαὶ πᾶσαι 1 Cl 50:3. ἡ ὀργή vs. 4 (Is 26:20). τὰ ἀρχαῖα παρῆλθεν 2 Cor 5:17. — Pass away in the sense lose force, become invalid (Ps 148:6; Esth 10:3b τῶν λόγων τούτων· οὐδὲ παρῆλθεν ἀπʼ αὐτῶν λόγος) οἱ λόγοι μου οὐ μὴ παρέλθωσιν (or οὐ [μὴ] παρελεύσονται) Mt 24:35b; Mk 13:31b; Lk 21:33b. ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου Mt 5:18b. οὐδὲν μὴ παρέλθῃ τῶν δεδογματισμένων ὑπʼ αὐτοῦ 1 Cl 27:5.

④ to ignore someth. in the interest of other matters, pass by, transgress, neglect, disobey τὶ someth. (Hes., Theog. 613; Lysias 6, 52 τὸν νόμον; Demosth. 37, 37; Dionys. Hal. 1, 58; Dt 17:2; Jer 41:18; Jdth 11:10; 1 Macc 2:22; ApcEsdr 5:17 τὴν διαθήκην μου; Jos., Ant. 14, 67) Lk 11:42; 15:29.

⑤ to pass by without touching, pass of suffering or misfortune (Jos., Ant. 5, 31 fire) ἀπό τινος from someone (for the constr. w. ἀπό cp. 2 Ch 9:2) Mt 26:39; Mk 14:35. Abs. Mt 26:42.

⑥ to pass through an area, go through (Appian, Bell. Civ. 5, 68 §288 ὁ Ἀντώνιος μόλις παρῆλθεν=Antony made his way through [to the Forum] with difficulty; 1 Macc 5:48 διελεύσομαι εἰς τὴν γῆν σου, τοῦ ἀπελθεῖν εἰς τὴν γῆν ἡμῶν· καὶ οὐδεὶς κακοποιήσει ὑμᾶς, πλὴν τοῖς ποσὶν παρελευσόμεθα) παρελθόντες τὴν Μυσίαν κατέβησαν εἰς Τρῳάδα Ac 16:8 (lack of knowledge of this mng., and recognition of the fact that passing by is impossible in this case, gave rise to the v.l. διελθόντες D); cp. 17:15 D.

⑦ to stop at a place as one comes by, come to, come by, come here (Trag., Hdt. et al.; ins, pap, LXX, EpArist 176; Philo; Jos., Bell. 3, 347, Ant. 1, 337) παρελθὼν διακονήσει αὐτοῖς he will come by and serve them Lk 12:37; ‘παρελθὼν ἀνάπεσε’=‘come here, recline’ 17:7; of Lysias who came with a substantial force Ac 24:6[7] v.l. — M-M. TW.







[54.5] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 3, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 365.

Whether coincidence or not, Jesus is presented as speaking on the Mount of Olives during Passover season. The Mount of Olives was known for its fig trees, and at Passover fig trees would have been in bud; so the setting is strikingly appropriate.

[55] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 592–593.

The image of a householder (in parables, e.g., 13:52) being unprepared for a nocturnal thief would catch the attention of uncomfortable homeowners (burglary was common; see, e.g., Lewis 1983: 77; Sib. Or. 3.380); one could not predict the coming of a thief. Although the image is a general one (thieves preferred night and mist; see, e.g., Hom. Il. 3.10–11; Phaedrus 1.23.3–4; Job 24:14), the saying may employ the image of a nocturnal thief as divine judgment developed from the biblical prophets (Jer 49:9; Obad 4–6; cf. Joel 2:9). Although Mark does not explicitly report this saying of Jesus (Mt 24:43), it is unquestionably pre-Matthean and came to figure prominently in early Christian discussion of the end time (1 Thess 5:2, 4; 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 3:3; 16:15).



Community Organizer. Enemy Lover. Pastor. Practices honest, serious, loving and fun discourse. (Yes, still just practicing.) Author of According to Folly, etc.

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Daniel Heck

Daniel Heck


Community Organizer. Enemy Lover. Pastor. Practices honest, serious, loving and fun discourse. (Yes, still just practicing.) Author of According to Folly, etc.