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An Exegesis of "The Olivet Discourse" in Matthew 24 Based On A Novel Chiastic Reconfiguration Of The Text

Kuruvilla Thomas K.
Bangalore (1/3/2017)


Abstract

This study treats Matthew 24 as a "Functional Chiasmus" in order to arrive at a coherent reconfiguration of the text. Text that is arranged in the form of a functional chiasmus must be rearranged based on certain logical principles to be correctly interpreted. A functional chiasmus is a new concept; see definition here [1] or see the paper on the 70 weeks of Daniel [2] for a simpler example.

This study also contains an exegesis of the rearranged text. If you wish to skip the technicalities of a chiastic parse, you may read starting from Part 4 of the Discussion section, which has the reconfigured text.




Matthew 24 Timeline

Fig. 1


Introduction

Many scholars have come to the conclusion that the "Olivet Discourse" is an interweaving of several prophecies into one narrative, and we concur. We show how these prophecies can be unravelled by treating the text as a functional chiasm and in doing so we can solve many a confusion with the text including the "this generation will not pass..." problem. It appears that the chiasmus is one of the techniques used in the Bible to obfuscate prophecy until the time of its revelation comes.


Discussion

1. Presuppositions

One of the difficulties in parsing a functional chiasmus is that you need to have a rough idea of its contents to be able to parse it correctly which is a bit of a catch-22. In the case of this rather complex prophecy we based our parse on the assumption that it refers to 3 periods because verse 3 hints at 3 periods with 3 questions: when will this happen? (where "this" is the destruction of the temple alluded to in verse 2), what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age? All three periods have tribulations of various degrees and the signs heralding the each period take different forms.

  1. The First Jewish–Roman War (circa 66AD–74AD) and the destruction of temple in Jerusalem in the summer of 70AD. The sign of this period is the abomination that causes desolation. The tribulations of this period are localized to one geographical area-Jerusalem and its surroundings, and to one people-the Judahites living in the area who did not believe in Jesus. The seven year tribulation period applies only to this time.
  2. The advent of Christ's millennial reign (circa 2000AD). The tribulations of this period appear to be designed to test the faithful through persecution and tend to be less severe in nature - more climatic or man-made than astronomical. Our position is that Christ's 1000 year reign will be enforced on earth by a human representative in the same way that Satan's present reign is through humans; so there will be no glorious return of Christ at this time and because of that, many false messiahs will arise. There are signs indicating the start of this period in this passage and elsewhere in the Bible. The proverbs about the fig tree and the vultures apply to this period because it is possible to guess at the time and place arrival of the Messiah based on signs. In this period, the gospel will reach all nations.
  3. The "End of the Age" or the last days (circa 3000AD). The return of Christ in all His glory and the rapture happen in this period. This is the event for which no one knows the day or the hour - when Christ returns unexpectedly like a thief in the night. The tribulations of the period tend to be more apocalyptic involving the sun, moon and stars - the "end of the world" kind of tribulation from which there is no recovery.


2. Parsing the chiasmus

We will be using the NIV Bible for this parse.

Parsing this chiasmus involves dividing portions of the text into three categories as above. We will call the period of the First Jewish-Roman war Period 1, the Advent of Christ's reign Period 2 and the End-of-the-world time Period 3

Categorizing vs 4-44

Vs 4-14 appear to belong to Period 2. We have in these verses false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes and persecution. The gospel will be preached to all nations.

Vs 15-22 belong to Period 1. The "abomination" is a reference to Roman soldiers who destroyed Jerusalem and its inhabitants. These verses seem to refer to a localized event in Judea because only the resident of Judea are warned to flee to the mountains. The mention of winter indicates that this refers to only one portion of the globe and fleeing on the Sabbath is a problem that only affects Jews. So these warnings are addressed to the Jews living in Judea at the time.

Vs 23-28 belong to Period 2. Once again we have false prophets. The "vulture" adage in v 28 indicates that we should be able to discern where this event will take place based on signs.

Vs 29-31 belong to Period 3. The events are astronomical and apocalyptic. Christ appears in all His glory and the rapture takes place.

Vs 32-33 belong to Period 2. The proverb of the fig tree indicates that we should be able to discern when this event is at hand based on signs.

Vs 34 belongs to Period 1. The text "this generation will not pass away" refers to a period within one generation of Jesus' time.

Vs 35 belongs to Period 2. The text "my words will never pass away" is a reference to the Gospel that is preached to all nations by this period, and so connecting this verse to v 14. See Luke 16:16,17

Vs 36-44 belong to Period 3. Things will be "as it was in the days of Noah". No one knows the hour of the coming of Christ in glory and the time of the rapture. Christ will return like a thief in the night

3. Build the reconfigured text

From this parse, it appears that verses 4-35 form a Functional chiasmus as below:

A1   4-14 Period 2. False messiahs, wars, and rumors of wars and persecution
  B1   15-22 Period 1. Abomination of desolation. Flee to the mountains.
    C1   23-28 Period 2. False messiahs, lightning from the east, vultures
      X   29-31 Period 3. Apocalypse. astronomical events, Christ in glory, rapture
    C2   32-33 Period 2. Fig tree parable.
  B2   34 Period 1. This generation will not pass away.
A2   35 Period 2. but my words will never pass away.


We now reconstruct the phrases in the right order based on the chiastic structure above and based on the ordering rules of a functional chiasmus [1].

We lead with central pivot point 'X'. The corresponding subunits (For example; subunit A1 corresponds to A2) are placed contiguously to form units (For example, A1,A2 is a unit ) so that we get a list of such units.


The sequence selected for rearrangement is:

X  [A1,A2]  [B1,B2]  [C1,C2]       (1)

We have the following sequence when we include verse 36-44:
X         - Period 3
[A1,A2] - Period 2
[B1,B2] - Period 1
[C1,C2] - Period 2
v 36-44 - Period 3

We still have text for the periods in a non-contiguous form. We can treat this as a regular chiasmus and leave it as is or we can treat this as a doubly applied functional chiasmus as below. Doing so will make the text easier to read and neatly solve the "this generation" confusion.


M1   X Period 3
  N1   [A1,A2] Period 2
   XX   [B1,B2] Period 1
  N2   [C1,C2] Period 2
M2   v 36-44 Period 3

The sequence selected for rearrangement is:
XX  [N1,N2]  [M1,M2]        (2)

Note: We placed [N1,N2] before [M1,M2] in order to get the time periods in temporal sequence and also to get it to flow with the rest of thee chapter. The rules of functional chiasmus allow this and as there is no discernible change in meaning

Translating this sequence (2) into the sub-units of the first chiasmus, we get:

[B1,B2]  [[A1, A2], [C1,C2]]   [X, v 36-44]        (3)

Further translating (3) into verse numbers, we get:

[15-22,34]  [[4-14,35], [23-28, 32-33]]   [29-31, 36-44]        (4)

We arrive at the reconfigured passage in the next section by rearranging the verses so they are in sequence (4). Verses in Matthew 24 outside the chiasmus are included for completeness.


Note: There may be a simpler more elegant way to reconfigure this passage but this is the best we have so far.


4. Matthew 24 Reconfigured

Introduction (vs. 1-3)

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”


Period 1 First Jewish–Roman War (circa 66AD–74AD) (vs. 15-22,34)

15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. 22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.


Period 2 The advent of Christ's millennial reign (circa 2000AD) (vs. 4-14, 35, 23-28, 32-33)

4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

23 At that time 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 perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.


Period 3 The "End of the Age" or the last days (circa 3000AD) (vs. 29-31, 36-44)

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ 30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.





5. An exegesis of the reconfigured text.

The passage has been split into 4 sections for analysis: The introductory statement and the 3 periods.

5.1 Introductory statements (vs. 1-3)

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”


The disciples were admiring the temple at Jerusalem that Herod built when Jesus predicts that the temple will be completely destroyed. From history we know this prediction of "not one stone here will be left on another" came true, quite literally, circa 70 AD.



3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”


The disciples then asked three questions: when will this happen? (the destruction of the temple), what will be the sign of the coming age of Christ?, and what will the be sign of the end of the world? As we see below Jesus gives more details on all three events and answers the questions about the signs in three different ways; He gives a definite sign for the first event, a set of signs that indicates approximately when the second event happens, and says there will be no sign at all for the third.



5.2 Period 1 First Jewish–Roman War (circa 66AD–74AD) (vs. 15-22,34)

5.2.1 A Brief history of the First Jewish–Roman War (circa 66AD–74AD)

We go into detail on this war in our paper on "The 70 weeks of Daniel" [2] but here is a short summary condensed [3] from as relevant to this passage:

The Roman General Vespasian and his son Titus began the campaign to crush a Jewish revolt by attacking the Judahite centres surrounding Jerusalem in 67AD. A large number of Judahites in these towns fled Roman punishment to take refuge in the fortified city of Jerusalem. According to fourth-century church fathers Eusebius and Epiphanius, Jerusalem's Judahite Christians fled to Pella before the beginning of the war, so escaping the carnage that befell the rest of the population.

Titus moved to besiege the centre of rebel resistance in Jerusalem in early 70AD. The Roman armies established a permanent camp just outside the city, digging a trench around the circumference of its walls and building a wall as high as the city walls themselves around Jerusalem.

By the summer of 70, the Romans had breached the walls of Jerusalem, ransacking and burning nearly the entire city. The Second Temple (the renovated Herod's Temple), was destroyed on Tisha B'Av (29 or 30 July 70). According to Josephus, in a city of 1.1 million, 1 million Judahites were killed and 100,000 taken captive; it was almost the entire population of the Judahites in the area.

During the spring of 71, the Romans started "mopping-up" operations in Judea to besiege and capture the few remaining fortresses that still resisted. In the autumn of 73, they moved against the last Judean stronghold, Masada. When the Romans finally broke through the walls of this citadel in 74, they discovered that 960 of the 967 defenders had committed suicide.



5.2.2 An analysis of vs. 15-22,34

15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— "


The "abomination that causes desolation" is the Roman army (see Luke 21:20, 21) that killed the Jews and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple. The "abomination that causes desolation" is mentioned in several place is Daniel, most notably Daniel 9 [2]. It is the sure sign indicating the start of this period of tribulation.



16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.


Jesus exhorted his followers to flee immediately on seeing the Roman soldiers. According to some historians the Judahites fled to Pella [4] which is located at the foothills of the Transjordanian Mountains.



21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.


The Romans were completely ruthless and thorough in their efforts to annihilate the Jews and destroy their city. This level of comprehensive destruction of a people and their city has never been equaled.



22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.


As we see in the paper on "The 70 weeks of Daniel" [2] the Romans were set a time limit of 7 years for the destruction of the Jews. After that the protection of the Jews was reinstated by God for the sake of the "elect" who are the Judahites who believed in Jesus, listened to his word and fled to the mountains.



34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.


The events of 70 AD happened within a generation of Jesus' time. The Judahites who converted to Christianity are the only people who moved from the old covenant to the new without a break-within one generation-and those that did not were killed . This spiritual continuity is one possible meaning of the phrase "the sceptre will not depart from Judah" - if we take it to mean a kind of spiritual sceptre.



5.3 Period 2 The advent of Christ's millennial reign (circa 2000AD) (vs. 4-14, 35, 23-28, 32-33)



4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.


Jesus outlines some of the signs of the this period: False messiahs, wars, rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes.



9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.


The time of tribulation comes in the form of persecution and executions. Many will fail the test but those who patiently endure will be saved.



14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.


The gospel will be preached to the remaining nations and especially to the Israelites. It is not clear what will "end" at this time; it could be the end of the tribulation.



23 At that time 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 perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.


Although we do not believe that Christ will come in all His heavenly glory at this time, the Messiah's arrival will be made known almost simultaneously around the earth just as lightning in the east is visible in the west. The Messiah will not be in secret or isolated places. Jesus uses the "vultures" proverb to warn against believing in the wrong Messiah. Just as circling vultures indicate the presence of a carcass on the ground, so also there will be obvious signs that indicate the presence of the real Messiah.



32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.


Just as tender twigs and sprouting leaves on a fig tree indicate summer is here, so also the signs of this period (wars, pestilences, earthquakes etc. ) indicate the Messiah will come soon.



5.4 Period 3 The "End of the Age" or the last days (circa 3000AD) (vs. 29-31, 36-44)

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’


It is not clear what the "distress of those days" refers to from this parse. It could be a reference to a period of tribulation during the last days mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. Extreme astronomical events take place after the distress.



30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.


Here in the last days we will see the Son of Man in all his glory. The "gathering of elect" may be a reference to the rapture.



36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.


Jesus says that there will be no sign at all for the glorious return of Christ. The coming of the Son of Man and the rapture will happen at a completely unexpected time.





Conclusion

The main idea this paper introduces is the chiastic reconstruction of the text. We hope that we have shown that this allows a far more coherent and straightforward interpretation of this otherwise frustrating passage.


For those who accept this interpretation, there are several implications that are relevant today:

References

[1] A Definition of Functional Chiasmus - by Kuruvilla Thomas K.
[2] An Exegesis Of "The 70 Weeks Of Daniel" Based On A Novel Chiastic Reconfiguration - by Kuruvilla Thomas K.
[3] First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE) by Wikipedia.
[4] Flight to Pella
[5] Jewish Christian by Wikipedia




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