Matthew 24: 4*“Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.
11and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
15“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’a spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—16then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.17Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house.18Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.19How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!20Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.21For 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.23At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.24For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.25See, 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.
27For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.28Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
*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.
*31And 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.
*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.
*33Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.
*34Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
*35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
*37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and 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. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Looking into the events prophesised in Matthew 24-33 can lead to a lot of speculation and uncertainty. Did any of these events happened, which ones and where?
The answer to these questions will never be proven. It will always remain a speculation and will need to rely on a rich imagination, until we read verse 34 and 35.
34Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.“
The word generation in Greek is ἡ γενεὰ
In the English Oxford Living dictionary, the noun generation is defined as “All of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively. ‘one of his generation’s finest songwriters’
Verse 34 is either ignored by some bible commentators or explained away by being an exaggeration such as in the Henry’s Concise Commentary: “Christ foretells his second coming. It is usual for prophets to speak of things as near and just at hand, to express the greatness and certainty of them.”
The commentator does not find it offensive to accuse Jesus of exaggeration, which is basically lying to impress the crowd!
Worse still, in verse 35, Jesus insists on the accuracy of what he just said: *35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
Did Jesus say that certain words of this prophecy will pass away and certain others won’t? No, he said “my words will never pass away” and this, to me, means all his words without exception.
If Jesus who prophesied about his second coming was to exaggerate about the time frame he set himself for those events, why then would anyone believe that those events themselves were not exaggerated? Is it then a matter of where he exaggerated and where he didn’t? Also, if Jesus, according to the Henry’s Concise Commentary, found the need to exagerate concerning the time frame for his second coming, how can we then trust that his claims to be the Son of God were not an exageration as well? Finally, if exaggeration is a type of lie, shall we then say that we’re not sure which bits Jesus lied about and which he didn’t?
Do you see what theologians and Christian leaders do to Christ and to the faith? Do you see what message are they sending to us? Through rhetoric and immaculate words they fashion a truth that reflects their own understanding, which is based on their own moral standard, clearly missing the point from Proverb 3:5: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;”
To me, it’s a matter of: is Jesus the type of person who would exaggerate and tell half truths? After all, he wasn’t talking to the religious leaders as in Matthew 23, trying to conceal the true meaning of what he was saying to them, to protect the mission. In Matthew 24, the context was very different. Verse 1 explains the setting as: “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.” In the whole chapter, Jesus was confiding to his friends and disciples.
If I am to believe what Jesus said in the Bible, I will either believe it in its entirety or not, especially that nothing in what he said in verse 34-35 contradicts the image that we have about him, or lead us to suspect that the meaning was tempered with. Moreover, if I can trust that a man called Matthew has written one of the four gospels of the New Testament, although historians don’t agree about who he is, what was his relationship with Jesus and how he aquired the information he wrote about, then I am, more than anything, able to trust every word Jesus uttered. For unlike those who love themselves more than the truth, I have no vetted interest in not believing in verse 34.
Furthermore, translation is usually another concern that could keep a Bible student from totally trusting a biblical text as it stands. However, in this case, the translation of this verse was debated and commented upon by various commentators. It is by far the closest to the Greek text.
Meyer’s NT Commentary for example states that “The well-nigh absurd manner in which it has been attempted to force into the words ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη such meanings as: the creation (Maldonatus), or: the human race (Jerome), or: the Jewish nation (Jansen, Calovius, Wolf, Heumann, Storr, Dorner, Hebart, Auberlen; see, on the other hand, on Mark 13:30), or: “the class of men consisting of my believers” (Origen, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius Zigabenus, Clarius, Paulus, Lange)…”
Therefore, there is no need to assume that the timeframe Jesus revealed in Matthew 24 is anything less than the truth.
Now, let’s go back to the begenning of the chapter. In Matthew 24:3, Jesus was asked three separate questions:
3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
The first question is: what will be the sign of Your coming?
The second question is: what will be the sign of the end of the age?
The third question is: when will these things be?
Jesus answered all three questions, but added two sets of information which the disciples did not ask about, which are: what need to have happened already before the actual sign occur? and what you need to avoid believing concerning the second coming?
So, let’s analyse all of these four points but in a different order:
-I-What you need to avoid believing concerning the second coming?
It is important to note that this part of Jesus answer was the part that the disciple did not ask about, yet Jesus put it at the front of his reply.
1- Don’t be decieved by lies: “4 …“Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’…”
2- Don’t fret when you see big things happening before the ultimate sing: “6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
-II-What needs to have happened already before the actual sign occurs?
1- “6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars…”7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”
2- “7 And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.
3-“9and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.” “9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you,”
4- “10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.
5- 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. and in verse 5, he said about this: “5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.“
6- 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.
7- 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
-III- What will be the signs of Your coming?
IV-When will these things be? This means what will be the signs of your coming?
-V-What will be the sign of the end of the age?
What is the meaning of age in this context?
Most people confuse beween the end of the age, the end of time, the end of the world and the end of the universe. So, what is an age in the history of humanity from a biblical perspective?
Now, let’s compare Jesus’ prophecy and promise with how Paul understands the second coming to be.
Paul’s Intake on the 2nd coming of Christ:
First, who is Paul?
He is a first century christian religious teacher and an Apostle (c. 5 – c. 64 or 67), born Saul of Tarsus, who claimed to have encountered Jesus after the resurrection when he was a Roman Jewish zealous in charge of persecuting the followers of the new faith.
Paul claimed to have had direct revelations from Jesus through the spirit. We find this statement in few areas especially Galatians 1:11-12. But he confessed that not all his biblical writing was based on revelations. One of these most important confessions (and perhaps the only one) can be found in 1 Corinthians 7: 10-12. Nevertheless, Paul chose to show no evidence of this to the Corinthians for example when they asked him to do so plainly in 2 Corinthians 13:3.
In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul discusses the second coming of Christ in a letter to the Thessalonians who begun to believe that the second coming had already taken place based on the teaching of some leaders. In my opinion, this believe was very much based on the fact that most of the criteria described by Jesus had already taken place at that point. Paul discusses this in 2 Timothy 2: 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeusand Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” The interesting thing to look at probably at another time is to know who Hymenaeusand Philetus was and if he thought of himself to be wicked. After all the man was still a Christian. He was not only confessing Christ, but also taking him at his word. We can conclude here, that although Paul’s teaching on the Gospel is sound (which was the part he claimed to have received from Jesus on the first day of his conversion), Paul was unable to absorb and then reflect the true love that Jesus had/has for mankind, thus he found himself resorting to harsh methods using fear to control the flock.
The following is Paul’s intake on the matter in 2 Thessalonians 2:
“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, splendour whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”
For a twenty first century believer, from a Protestant background, who strongly believe that the coming of the Messiah is an indicator of the end of the world, 2 Thessalonians 2 can strengthen or at least justifies this belief, in the first instance. Generally, people combine Paul’s belief about the second coming of the Messiah with what he wrote in 2 Timothy 3: 1-9. Since his description of social events is close to home for people from every generation, then this will ensure to keep the expectation going for all generations, without exception!
So, without pausing and examining what Paul was actually saying in 2 Thessalonians 2, and without abandoning our prejudice and conscious or unconscious biases, we will only see what we want to see, not what is actually there.
In these verses of the second chapter of Thessalonians 2, Paul of the first century, (about 40 or 50 c.) is trying to calm down a bench of anxious believers (to say the least) who are panicking that they might have been left out and were not picked by Jesus, among the remnant. It is totally understandable for someone who left everything for their new faith, and exposed themselves to terror and persecution to panic when told that they were not chosen by God and that they actually may go to Hell as a result. We can imagine that the outcome of such a theory could have proven disastrous for the people and the church alike. Paul had to get involved to reassure them, destroy the origin of their fear in the simplest way possible, and propose a newer and fresher theory. However, Paul does not tell us here or tell the Thessalonians for that matter, what was the source of this understanding. He does not point to a particular book or a teaching or a witness or a vision as a pillar to this particular ‘truth’ the way for example Peter did when he was about to do without the Mosaic law about food, drink and general social life in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 10. The precision Paul has chosen to follow in 1 Corinthians 7: 10-12 is non existent here either. And the fact that he does not want to specify the origin of his belief about the second coming of Christ, leaves me to conclude that it was NOT received through direct revelation from Jesus Christ, for if it was so, Paul would be eager to shout it loud, in order to strengthen his version of truth against that of the opponent.
So, what is actually the content of this new theory?
I consider verse 3 in 2 Thessalonians 2 to be the summary of his theory. He will then proceed to explain this in more detail in the next nine verses. He says: “3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.”
In Paul’s New Theory about the Second Coming of Christ, Paul does not present a different time frame than the one Jesus specified in Mathew 24 for example. He also, never claimed that Jesus will only come back at the end of time. The only thing he adds in these verses is the conditionality between the coming of Christ and an important historical event that HAS to happen before people can safely say that Jesus has come back. Paul interprets the ‘abomination of desolation; a subject of the prophecy in Daniel 9:25-27 / 11:29-32 / 12:11-12 as being a man’s claim to be the Devine. A man who dares to make such a claim and leave an impact on society could only be a ruler or an institution supported by a ruler. Let’s search in our history books to find out if such thing existed prior to this day or not.
A Brief Historical Examination
It was very common (and acceptable) before, during and even after Christ for rulers to appoint themselves as the sons of the Devine. When I say acceptable, it is not only by the citizens of the country but even by the Bible itself.
1- In the East, most prosperous pharos claimed to be the sons and daughters of the Devine. The King of gods in Egypt was Amun-Ra or Amon [his female version is Amunet and is considered as the “The Female Hidden One”]. S/He was believed to be the Father of the Pharaohs. According to the Bible, these kings were very prosperous. Jacob’s son; Joseph the pious also married the daughter of a priest and raised his children within their culture. The Bible declares that it was God’s plan for Jacob to be saved in Egypt through Joseph’s union with the Egyptians.
2- Julius Caesar was born into a patrician family, the gens Julia, which claimed descent from Iulus, son of a legendary Trojan prince called Aeneas who was, supposedly the son of the goddess Venus. Julius Caesar then was formally deified as “the Divine Julius” in 42 BCE, and his son; Caesar Augustus became henceforth Divi filius (“Son of the Divine One”). This of course happened about a century before Paul became an Apostle.
3-Between 1st and 4th c. other Roman Emperors claimed divinity. Paul was raised during the reign of Emperor Tiberius 14–37. He refused to be worshipped as God. When Paul was about 42 years of age however, Caligula 37–41 came to power. He allegedly cried out the Homeric line:”Let there be one lord, one king.” In AD 40, he began implementing very controversial policies that introduced religion into his political role. Caligula began appearing in public dressed as various gods and demigods such as Hercules, Mercury, Venus and Apollo. Reportedly, he began referring to himself as a god when meeting with politicians and he was referred to as “Jupiter” on occasion in public documents. A sacred precinct was set apart for his worship at Miletus in the province of Asia and two temples were erected for worship of him in Rome. The Temple of Castor and Pollux on the forum was linked directly to the imperial residence on the Palatine and dedicated to Caligula. He would appear there on occasion and present himself as a god to the public. Caligula had the heads removed from various statues of gods located across Rome and replaced them with his own. It is said that he wished to be worshipped as “Neos Helios,” the “New Sun.” Indeed, he was represented as a sun god on Egyptian coins.
Caligula’s religious policy was a departure from that of his predecessors. According to Cassius Dio, living emperors could be worshipped as divine in the east (in fact, as the sons of the Devine) and dead emperors could be worshipped as divine in Rome. Augustus had the public worship his spirit on occasion, but Dio describes this as an extreme act that emperors generally shied away from. Caligula took things a step further and had those in Rome, including senators, worship him as a tangible, living god.
Religious reforms took place afterwards with Emperor Claudius [governing from 41 to 54].
It was estimated that Paul wrote his two letters to the new church at Thessaloniki, probably between 51 and 53, thus Emperor Nero who preceded his uncle was not taken into consideration in these letters.
2 Thessalonians 2 seems like a vivid description of Caligula’s acts of madness. What Paul, and other believers have witnessed during the Emperor’s reign must have shed a new light on Daniel’s prophecies. And although Caligula’s reign only lasted about four years ending with his death at the hands of his own guards, this must have set enough fear in the Jews of that era to begin expecting it to reoccur over and over again. Sure enough, less than 13 years later, Nuro appoints himself as a Devine to be worshipped by the people of the East.
What is intriguing though is the fact that Paul puts forward a condition to the second coming of the Messiah that did materialise in his own time. So, why did he not think Caligula to be the abomination Daniel professed about?
There are few possible explanations for this:
First, perhaps, because Paul regarded all Roman Emperors and their subjects to be pagans and it may not have made a big difference for him, the fact that Caligula, unlike any other Emperor, claimed to be the Devine in the flesh. However, this is very unlikely as Paul lived in Rome and must have noticed Caligula’s crazy endeavour to be the sole worshipped deity throughout the Roman Empire.
Second, there was a mysterious knowledge that Paul was trying to remind the church of, that was communicated previously, and Paul did not dare to express it in a written letter for fear that the document maybe read by an unwanted third party. He says: “5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time.”
There was something Paul shared with the church that became clear and evident on a later date through other events: 6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time..
If Paul wanted to talk about the devil, why did he have to use innuendo? My assumption that he was referring to the ongoing world system and who was upholding life as it was, which involved the Roman Empire, the Senates and the World’s top bureaucracy. This sounds like believing in a conspiracy theory based on the fact that the richest and most powerful people of the world are the ones who make the world system. This system knows who this lawless man is, it is in contact with him, and covering up his secret until the day he decides to come out and reveal himself to every one. This is why Paul says in verse 7 “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.” In the NIV, the word mystery is replaced by “secret power”. Most if not all translations agree that this word invokes a mysterious secret referring to evil forces at work. This means that the lawless man is already here and at work, but through systems that allow him to remain hidden from view, until a time where he will do without the system, abolishing it, and revealing himself to the masses to govern them directly. Paul makes it clear to tell us that this lawless man is not the real God we need to worship and obey although he (the lawless man) believes himself to be as such.
As with the first coming of Christ, perhaps Paul expected that Jesus second coming must be sudden, global and its effect must be immediate. This very belief about the Messiah was what stopped the main stream Jewish leaders and their followers from accepting Jesus’ claim to be the chosen One. The Pharisees waited for three years for Jesus to show a godly like authority not as a religious leader but as a worrier and the saviour of Jerusalem from the yoke of the Roman Empire. Instead, Jesus told his disciples to accept the authority of Rome and concentrate on cleansing their temple (spirit-soul) from the inside out. When it became clear to the religious leaders that Jesus did not fit their understanding of who the Messiah would be and the role they are expected to play, they became hostile towards him and eventually condemned him to the cross.
You would think this is only a Jewish thing and that the Christians would know better as the disciples of Christ. This perception of how Jesus should behave in the face of evil and what role should he play is still widespread in the Christian circles to this day. Paul was part of that child-like human dream to endure life’s tribulations in the hope that the big brother may come at any moment to stand by us, punish the bullies and eliminate evil from its roots. Though Jesus never claimed that he will do this. Instead, he came to bring rest and salvation for whoever is able to understand it and take it for what it is. Jesus brought the Spirit of Christ into the hearts of the remnants, those who overcame their inner obstacles and embraced all what Jesus was about; certainty about who he was vis-á-vis to the Father, and the freedom from religious slavery. Jesus did not only condemn the Synagog. He condemned all religious forms from the beginning of creation till then, and he would condemn the church itself if he was to speak out-loud now.
Paul’s limitation of understanding of the human condition was expressed loud and clear in the verses between 10 and 12. The Apostle sees people to be truly free to choose what is right and avoid what is wrong. According to him, there is no DNA that shapes who we are and limits us not to be who we are not. There is no environmental conditioning that puts further limitations to our potentiality and mould us into who we become as adults. There is no diseases or brain tumours that can alter our inner working, control our emotions and change us from the inside out. For him, we are all in the exact same situation, only our choices differ. The good person is good purely because s/he chose to be good, or just because they love God whereas the bad person is bad purely because s/he has chosen to do bad things or maybe because s/he didn’t love God! How come people who love God, love God and those who don’t, don’t? Why we choose to do what we do? Why it’s nature for some to be sweet and obliging and others can’t help to be but pain wherever they go? Paul stays silent on this but finishes condoning the opponent theory by making some serious threats, capable of silencing the complaints of those who believed it.
Paul regards his version of the truth to be plain to every one. His version of the truth is the fact that Jesus will not come again until the abomination takes place. This abomination, he explains, consists of an evil man who claims to be God, displays power and works wonders and miracles. Such ruler comes in Paul’s time, who is of course Caligula. Though Paul doesn’t understand how come people think that Jesus has already come for the second time! The Apostle is now frustrated with the people. He accuses them of not receiving the love of the truth and warns them that they will perish because of it. He even claims that God himself has sent people delusion to believe a lie because they didn’t receive the truth. So, what caused them not to receive the truth? Was it the fact that God sent them a delusion?! And why would God do such an evil thing?
I am not sure what Paul meant exactly, but one thing is for sure, this warning must have worked wonders to silence the anxious small congregation.
—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”
- The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Caligula: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Caligula*.html#22
- Philo of Alexandria, On the Embassy to Gaius XI–XV.
- Cassius Dio, Roman History LIX.26.
- Cassius Dio, Roman History LIX.28.
Claudius 41–54, Hardrian 117–138, Commodus 161–192, Constantine I 306–312