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An Exegesis of "The Olivet Discourse" in Luke 21 Based On A Novel Chiastic Reconfiguration Of The Text

Kuruvilla Thomas K.
Bangalore (2/3/2017)


Abstract

This study treats Luke 21 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 chiasmus is very similar to the one we saw in Matthew 24 [6] with a few minor differences and a little additional information.

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.




Luke 21 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 another Olivet passage Matthew 24:3 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 8-36

Vs 8-19 appear to belong to Period 2. We have in these verses false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes and persecution, betrayal by loved one. The signs in the heaven could be a reference to the sign of the woman in revelation 12 which we believe will happen in this period.

Vs 20-24a 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. So these warnings are addressed to the Jews living in Judea at the time.

Vs 24b belongs to Period 2. The time of the gentiles ends with the start of Christ's reign. (24a is about the Romans and 24b is about the gentiles so the two sentences do not belong together.)

Vs 25-28 belong to Period 3. The events are astronomical and apocalyptic. Christ appears in all His glory and the redemption through rapture takes place.

Vs 29-31 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 32 belongs to Period 1. The text "this generation will not pass away" refers to a period within one generation of Jesus' time.

Vs 33 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 as we see in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. (See also Luke 16:16,17)

Vs 34-36 belong to Period 3. No one knows the hour of the coming of Christ in glory. Christ will return unexpectedly just as a trap closes suddenly without warning.


3. Build the reconfigured text

From this parse, it appears that verses 8-33 form a Functional chiasmus as below:

A1   8-19 Period 2. False messiahs, wars, and rumors of wars, persecution, betrayal.
  B1   20-24a Period 1. Abomination of desolation. Flee to the mountains.
    C1   24b Period 2. The time of the gentiles is fulfilled.
      X   25-28 Period 3. Apocalypse. astronomical events, Christ in glory, rapture
    C2   29-31 Period 2. Fig tree parable.
  B2   32 Period 1. This generation will not pass away.
A2   33 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 34-36:
X         - Period 3
[A1,A2] - Period 2
[B1,B2] - Period 1
[C1,C2] - Period 2
v 34-36 - 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 34-36 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 34-36]        (3)

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

[20-24a, 32]  [[8-19,33], [24b, 29-31]]   [25-28, 34-36]        (4)

We arrive at the reconfigured passage in the next section by rearranging the verses so they are in sequence (4). Verses in Luke 21 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. Luke 21 Reconfigured

Introduction (vs. 5-7)

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

Period 1 First Jewish–Roman War (circa 66AD–74AD) (vs. 20-24a, 32)

20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24a They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations.

32 “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. 8-19, 33, 24b, 29-31)

8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

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

24b Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

Period 3 The "End of the Age" or the last days (circa 3000AD) (vs. 25-28, 34-36)

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”





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. 5-7)

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them 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.



7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”


The disciples then ask for a sign for when Jesus' prophecies will take place.




5.2 Period 1 First Jewish–Roman War (circa 66AD–74AD) (vs. 20-24a, 32)

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. 20-24a, 32

20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.


Here, Luke plainly says that armies surrounding Jerusalem are the sure sign indicating the start of this period of desolation. Matthew, Mark and Daniel refer to the armies as the "abomination that causes desolation".



21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23a How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!


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.



23b There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24a They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations.


The Romans were completely ruthless and thorough in their efforts to annihilate the Jews and destroy their city. The remaining small number Jews who were not killed were taken as prisoners



32 “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. 8-19, 33, 24b, 29-31)

8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.


Jesus outlines some of the signs of the this period: False messiahs, wars, rumors of wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes. The "great signs from heaven" may be a reference to the sign of the woman in Revelation 12 among other things.



12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.


The time of tribulation comes in the form of persecution but the faithful will have the Holy Spirit to guide them.



16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.


This passage appears to expand on the phrase in Matthew 24 that "the love of most will go cold". Many will fail the test of tribulation but those who patiently endure will be saved.



24b Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.


Jerusalem will be taken over by the Gentiles until the advent of Christ's rule which ushers in the age of Israel.



29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.


Just as 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. 25-28, 34-36)

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.


Extreme events take place in the skies and on earth so that the people are in great distress and terrified.



27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”


Here in the last days we will see the Son of Man in all his glory. Then the redemtion of the saints through rapture is imminent.



34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”


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. The "thief in the night" parable of Matthew 24 and the "returning home-owner" parable of Mark 13 is replaced here by the "suddenly closing trap" parable.





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
[6] An Exegesis of "The Olivet Discourse" in Matthew 24 Based On A Novel Chiastic Reconfiguration - by Kuruvilla Thomas




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