Monday, December 5, 2016

The End Times -- in Jesus' Own Words (I)

As mentioned in my previous post, I prepared for Advent a series of three talks for our local parish forum on the subject of the Eskaton, or End Times. The series focused just on what Jesus Himself told his disciples on that topic, as we learn from the synoptic Gospels and the Book of Revelation. Amid all the evangelical hullabaloo about the Rapture, the Four Blood Moons, the Shemitah and the like, it is a good thing to revert to the Most Knowledgeable Source and see what He had to say about His own Second Coming.

The three sessions were roughly divided this way: the first dealt with the harbingers of the last days; the second with the specific period referred to as "the Great Tribulation", and the third was devoted to Jesus' descriptions of the events around his prophesied return to earth after that Tribulation. As we shall see, the account given in the Gospels is a greatly condensed version of the fuller vision of these events that Jesus shared with John in the Book of Revelation.

I shall follow a slightly different plan in this series of posts, since those three subjects are simply too complex for each to be contained in the space of a single blog article. As I did in the forum, I shall start with the Olivet Discourse. That is the name given to Jesus' fifth and final teaching recorded in Matthew's Gospel (ch. 24), which he delivered while sitting with his disciples on the Mount of Olives, outside the walls of Jerusalem on Tuesday evening of the last week of his life. In contrast to his earlier teachings as reported by Matthew (e.g., the Sermon on the Mount in ch. 5), the Olivet Discourse was a private exchange; there was no surrounding crowd of followers.

Jesus and his disciples had just exited the Temple, after He had delivered a diatribe against its scribes and Pharisees, whom he had denounced as "hypocrites" and a "brood of vipers" (Mt 23). As they were going toward the gate to the Mount of Olives, his disciples called his attention to the splendid architecture of the Temple. Jesus astonished them with his reply: "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another -- which will not be torn down” (Mt 24:2).

This prophecy provoked the disciples into asking a series of questions about when "all these things" that Jesus foretold would come to pass. The Greek phrase ταῦτα πάντα (tauta panta, "all these things") turns out to be the key to unlocking the discourse that follows, as pointed out by R.A. Morey in his book, The End of the World according to Jesus: The Mt. Olivet Discourse and The Book of Revelation (Millerstown, PA: Christian Scholars Press, 2010).

For in response to Jesus' prophecy, his disciples ask him four separate questions, seriatim. (You can just imagine the words tumbling out, from first one disciple, then another and another.) Matthew's Gospel, however, gives us only three of them. For the fourth question, we have to go to the parallel passages in Mark 13:3-4 and in Luke 21:7. Taken in logical order (but not in the order narrated), and using boldface font to emphasize the disciples' use of the phrase tauta panta (sometimes just tauta alone) to refer to the destruction of the Temple), the four questions are these:

1) "When will these things happen?"
[Mt 24:3; Mk 13:4; Lk 21:7]

2) "What will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled"
[found only in Mk 13:4 and Lk 21:7]

3) "What will be the sign of your coming [again]?"
[found only in Mt 24:3]

4) "What will be the sign of the end of the age?"
[found only in Mt 24:3]

The last two questions, as you see, are reported only by Matthew. To understand how that could happen, one has to go back to the way Matthew structured his Gospel, mainly as a teaching narrative. Unlike Mark, who wrote for Roman Christians and laid out a narrative of action ("this happened . . . and then this ... next this ... immediately this took place"), and unlike the careful Luke, who took pains to research and craft an historically accurate narrative for his audience of educated Greeks, Matthew wrote for his fellow Jews, and wanted to demonstrate to them what a great rabbi Jesus was.

So he collected (as mentioned) all of Jesus' teachings into five great discourses and reported those as narrative units -- regardless of whether Jesus said those things sequentially or not. His Olivet Discourse collects (conveniently for us) all of what Jesus had to say about the End Times, and puts it together to make a unified teaching.

That does not mean, however, that Matthew presents Jesus' End Times teachings in a logical, or even in a straight narrative order. Nor does he have Jesus (as a modern teacher or professor might do) take up first one question and answer it fully before going on to the next. Instead, we find upon analysis of Matthew's 24th chapter (and the first 12 verses of ch. 25) that the answers to each of the questions are somewhat intermingled. Despite Matthew's best intentions, therefore, a modern reader can easily get confused, and fail to understand just which question Jesus is addressing at which point in the Discourse.

To make the Discourse easier to follow, I have hit upon the device of using differently colored fonts to make clear just which passages I believe go with which question. In what follows, I stress that my choices of which color to use when is my own subjective opinion. Others could arrive at other choices, and have other opinions about the proper flow and sequence.

Nevertheless, we have to make a start, and so I shall provide a link below to the handout I created for the first forum session, in which the four questions are colored blue, light brown, green and red, respectively, and then the text of Matthew 24:4-25:12 is colored to match them, along with the respective parallel passages (as far as they go) from Mark and Luke. (You may download the handout as a .pdf file from this link.)

As we make our way through the analysis, we will find certain clues that the different authors provide as to when their respective accounts were written. The troops of Titus razed the Holy Temple of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, after putting to the sword all of the Jews who remained inside to defend it against the Romans' siege and subsequent storming of its ramparts. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew are  believed to have been written before that momentous event, when Jesus' words about it were still a prophecy to those who heard them.

But the Gospel of Luke was most likely written as the last of the three synoptic Gospels, after all Christians had left Jerusalem because of its invasion and destruction. We can use the details of the Olivet Discourse that each author includes, as well as the ones he leaves out in comparison, to help us relate what is narrated to that author's unique perspective, and to shed a little more light on the whole of what Jesus said about the End Times.

And now another point of clarification: as we shall see, a good part of the Discourse relates to the answers that Jesus gave to the first two questions listed above -- concerning the destruction of the Temple, and the signs when that was about to occur. Since that event actually came to pass in A.D. 70, and we are now in A.D. 2016, only the most determined amillenialist (i.e., one who sees the entire spectrum from Jesus until now as a progression toward His eventual return, without regard to specific prophecies in the Bible) would contend that Jesus' prediction about the fate of the Temple was part of his teachings about the "End Times." Rather, I shall employ that phrase to refer only to the future days preceding the actual parousia, or "Second Coming", of Our Lord. (As I mentioned, the Greek term for those days is "the Eskaton"; the same term in Hebrew is "acharit-hayamim".)

Thus in the posts that follow in this series, we shall start first with the two questions referring to what would happen in A.D. 67-70, and then deal with the latter two questions in the later posts, that will also address the text of Revelation. Until my next installment appears, therefore, you are free to study the whole Discourse as shown and color-coded in the linked handout; my more detailed comments as to each question and response will be reserved for the post(s) that deal with that particular part of the account as given by the three synoptic Gospels.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sundry Remarks (and a New Blog for You)

Out of the gallimaufry of Weblogs that I track in my categories in the columns to the right, one of my favorites is the Rev. Dr. Hunwicke's Mutual Enrichment. He is classed under the very few liturgical blogs ("Liturgi-cannon" in my jargon, also explained at the right) that I follow, and though he certainly excels at that topic, he frequently comments on Catholic matters, since he has left the Church of England to become a priest in the Anglican Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. So he could equally be classified among the more numerous (Anglo-)Catholi-cannon in the far right column, but I prefer to keep his link where it can be the crowning ornament in a far less crowded category.

Today, Fr Hunwicke (the British like to dispense with periods after titular abbreviations) pointed us to another Catholic (that is, Anglican Ordinariate) Weblog of which I had, to my regret, been unaware before. It is called ignatius his conclave -- apparently the Brits don't always need capital letters, either -- and I commend it wholeheartedly to your attention. By scrolling down to the bottom of the blog's home page, you may begin with the earlier posts and proceed sequentially to the most recent one, at the top.

You will be treated to a fine snapshot of the current consternation that surrounds the goings, comings and latest sayings of Pope Francis I on the topic of (among others) divorce and remarriage, and in particular, the Pope's refusal thus far to acknowledge or respond to five questions put to him by four senior cardinals, that asked him to clarify statements made in his most recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris laetitia ("The Joy of [Family] Love"). But you will also experience the gentle art of British satire, subtly practiced by a master. I have added it to my blogroll of (Anglo-)Catholi-cannon, where I intend to follow it regularly.

After all, things in the Episcopal Congregations (i.e., ECUSA) have just not been as comment-worthy lately (we are still waiting on word from the courts in South Carolina and Ft. Worth!) as what has been happening across the Tiber. To be sure, the satirists like Christopher Johnson still have their occasional field-day with the utterly vacuous outpourings from those the Congregations have chosen as their spokespersons, but your Curmudgeon has lost his taste for a sport that amounts to shooting fish in a barrel. Likewise, the desultory coming apart of the Church of England (foretold quite some time ago on this blog, and again here) is no subject for either joy or sport. When looked at too closely, it generates only despondency.

And as the Episcopal Congregations and Church of England go, so goes, as Dr Kirk of the newly linked ignatius blog puts it, the "Anglican soi-disant Communion", or Anglican Communion (so-called). The GAFCON group is struggling to preserve its core, but "turning and turning in the widening gyre, ... things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world..."

So perhaps, drawing on the inspirations provided by superior bloggers like Drs Kirk and Hunwicke, your Curmudgeon will start a series of posts that tries to draw back and portray the wider picture of what is going on. Did Yates have a prescient vision when he wrote these words?
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand. 
(Or did he rather have a vision in 1921 of what turmoil the election of 2016 would engender? [He who has ears, let him hear.])

For my local parish, I have been doing a series of presentations on "The End Times -- in Jesus' Own Words." Amid all the evangelical hullabaloo about the Rapture, the Four Blood Moons, the Shemitah and the like, it is a good thing to revert to the Most Knowledgeable Source and see what He had to say about His own Second Coming. I hope you will find the series instructive -- I will start working on it right away, and post as time permits. Until then, keep up to date by following the blogs linked at the right, and use the Guide to This Site to understand how we got to this point.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Professor Is Right Again

Professor Helmuth Norpoth of Stony Brook University on Long Island correctly called this election for Donald Trump back in February, when everyone -- and I mean everyone -- was confident that Trump would lose by a big margin. Later in the season, he was joined by a different professor using a different model, but who went contrary to the popular trends and predicted the same result.

The biggest loser in this election was not Hillary Clinton. She lost, and lost decisively, to be sure -- but the professors' models predicted she would lose, and they've been infallible in past elections for decades. (Of course, as I write this, she has declined to concede, and no doubt will seriously consider trying to mount an Al Gore-style challenge in the closest States. So be it -- there is no one, not even Bill, who at this point could convince her to stand down if she has decided not to. UPDATE 11/09/16: Hillary called Trump in private to concede the race, we are told -- she did not make a speech.)

No, the biggest loser -- actually, losers (to use a term beloved of our President-elect) -- are (1) the Beltway elite; and (2) the mainstream media -- who gave it everything they had, and still fell way short.

The Beltway elite -- everyone from the K Street lobbyists to the RINOs to, sad to say, Paul Ryan -- know that Donald Trump is beyond their power to control. His unpredictability spells their ruin (witness the debacle that Wall Street will endure tomorrow, as I write this some eight hours before the markets open). [UPDATE 11/09/16: From a reported deep plunge in after-hours trading, mirrored on several world markets, the Dow Jones has recovered nicely -- it seems that Wall Street suddenly sees good prospects with the news of Trump's victory, rather than the dire consequences predicted by the left.] Their cozy arrangements, consultancy contracts, special breaks in legislation that they themselves write -- all this will be out the window with a Trump administration, and they will have to go begging for jobs and sources of revenue. (Note that the District of Columbia went 93% for Clinton, and just 4% for Trump; there were similar percentages in the neighboring affluent counties of Maryland and Virginia.)

It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch -- because they way underestimated how much their haughty arrogance had angered the rank and file of the American public. (A friend reminded me of a highly prescient Doonesbury cartoon ridiculing one of Trump's earlier feints toward a run for the presidency. One of the Doonesbury regulars acidly remarks: "Who's going to be his constituency? The forgotten a--holes?")

Exactly, Mr. Trudeau; exactly. Spot on. And I know you will keep it up.

As will the second crowd of biggest losers, the mainstream media. The difference between them and the beltway elite, however, is that they will be unable to recognize how much ground they have lost.

Starting tomorrow, it is child's play to predict the memes that will dominate the post-election mainstream media: "Trump will need to 'reach out' [one of their favorite mantras] to heal the divisions he has caused with this election . . ." "The world will become a good deal more scary with a Trump at the helm -- he could land us in a war with Russia . . .". "Trump will be bad for business and the economy, because no one can predict what he will do . . .". "Trump will destroy what it took President Obama so long bring about that is beneficial to this country: Obamacare, Dodd-Frank financial restrictions, environmental limits on growth and emissions, restraining global warming and the melting of the icecaps (remember the poor polar bears!), bringing peace and security to the Middle East, putting Israel in its place, raising the minimum wage, solving the immigration problem, regaining the world's respect for our country in the United Nations and in foreign affairs . . ." and on and on and on, ad nauseam.

It is my dearest hope that with each repetition of these vacuous liberal mantras, the mainstream media will lose ever more and more of their readers and listeners, to the point where they, too, will have to look around for other lines of work.

And last but not least, James Comey's stalwart agents in the field may finally be able to investigate some people worthy of their attention: start with Comey's former boss, Loretta Lynch, and her attempts to squelch the ongoing investigations into Hillary's violations of our secrecy laws; move on to Patrick Kennedy and the whole corrupt bunch at the State Department who lied about Benghazi and then have been enabling and hiding Hillary's outrageous and dangerous disregard for our security; then to the IRS and its illegal targeting of conservative non-profit groups; then to Eric Holder and his scheme of gun-running, while also letting others get away with voter intimidation; and ...  oh, yes -- did I mention a certain former Secretary of State? And her husband? Who together enriched themselves by selling access and favoritism at this country's expense? And broke all the laws about charitable organizations in the process?

Who knows where all this is going to lead, indeed? Certainly not the entrenched elite, nor their lapdogs, the mainstream media.

Mind you: I do not blindly endorse Mr. Trump and his ways. (Indeed, I agree with C.S. Lewis, who once wrote: "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busibodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some time be satisfied; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own consciences.") Mr. Trump will have to mind his manners a lot more, and surround himself with advisers who are much more knowledgeable than he is in particular areas. But that is what businessmen who are promoted to head up major corporations traditionally do.

No, what I am celebrating tonight is the radical shakeup of the Washington establishment. They have needed it for a long, long time.

And no one can assure us that a shakeup of this magnitude will be totally beneficial in all ways -- some things that are truly good may perish along with so much else that is so bad, and deserves to come to an end. As I have maintained throughout this campaign, America is under God's judgment -- which is why we were presented with the Hobson's choice we had. We are not out from under that judgment yet, because America has not yet turned back from its ways, and repented of its manifold sins and wickedness. Whether it will do so under its new government remains to be seen.

So fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a riveting ride.