Good Question: Was Jesus a failed apocalyptic prophet that the embarrassed church had to re-work into something different?

 


[Draft: Aug 21]



(This is a different question than 'Was Jesus a Failed Messiah?')

 

Hi Glen Miller,

I recently discovered your excellent site when I was looking up arguments to go against an atheist with, and I was and am impressed with the high level of research and time that you put into each of the hard questions you tackle. So when I came across a blog post on a forum that really bothered me, I felt that you may do the best job of refuting it.

My apologetics question is basically, "Was Jesus a Failed Eschatological Prophet?" This is not just asking about a few verses, but about the purpose of Jesus' ministry and its "apparent" unfulfillment. Numerous references by Jesus (and other New Testament writers) to a nearing of the end times have always bothered me in the back of my mind, but this blog post (which I will copy in its entirety here) really shakes my faith. It basically tries to show that the thrust of Jesus' message was that His end-times kingdom was coming very soon, and all his followers like Paul and John believed this. Then when this didn't come true, the church distanced itself from the end times, such as in the last Gospel, John, where its message focuses more on eternal life than the apocalypse. I had originally came across this post in a forum because I was bothered with Jesus' statement in Matthew 26:64 that the high priest would see Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven. Yet this post I found was much broader in its attacks on Jesus and the New Testament message.

By the way, I did search your topics list to see if you addressed this issue, and your article to a Finland reader (
http://christianthinktank.com/qaim.html) was very helpful. I do not ask that you repeat your responses from that article, but only I wish that you would answer some of the other arguments mentioned in the blog post that has been bothering me, which is below (I apologize for the length of this post -- but I'm truly troubled by it):

 

 

PART THREE==================== (see Part One for series header)

 

 

 

What passages in the Synoptics might offer data relative to these concepts of 'apocalyptic urgency' and/or 'interim ethic'?

 

Ok. Now what we need to do is examine the rest of the synoptic material for traces of

'apocalyptic urgency' (i.e. urgency to action --other than simple acceptance of the message of Jesus/John-- that is tied specifically to the nearness of the Eschaton and not just to the 'standard' cycles of covenant judgment described in Deuteronomy 28); and/or

'interim ethics' (i.e. ethical commands that are comparatively different from pre-Jesus OT/Tanak ethics, with the difference being due to the fact that the world was about to end).

 

Notice that the urgent-action has to be more than simple 'change of behavior in conformity to pre-Jesus ethics' (this was the demand of the Hebrew prophets). It has to be action that must be 'hurried' because they might not have enough time to otherwise finish it before the Eschaton.

 

And, notice that this ethic must be likewise distinguishable from pre-Jesus ethics, and linked to prediction of some kind of RADICAL restructuring of human institutions (e.g. Christ physically reigning in Jerusalem with all other nations of the earth under His explicit authority.).

 

Using my spreadsheet again, here are the passages/pericopes that I flagged as possibly having some data relevant to Urgency/InterimEthics. (not all of the data is 'supportive' of the thesis, but just 'possibly relevant'): urgs.html .

 

 

First, I found several  pericopes that are represented in all 3 synoptics:

 

One. The Confession at Caesarea Philippi (Mat 16.13ff, Mar 8.27ff, Lk 9.18ff).  All three of these passages have the 'secrecy motif' (e.g. He sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah), so they count more as data against the 'it is urgent--get the word out NOW!' viewpoint. All three of the passages use the (probably) eschatological "Son of Man" terminology. Matthew, however, includes the disclosure by Jesus about 'building a church' and 'giving keys to the kingdom to His human followers'. It is therefore more forward looking and less supportive of 'short term urgency'. It makes provision for a (possibly) longer term future. Luke does not include this church-founding element--does that mean he is MORE eschatological than Matthew (in opposition to the hypothesis)? Probably just an authorial-selection choice (like a lot of the so-called 'watered down' passages might be)?

 

Two.  Healing of a leper (Mt 8.1ff; Mar 1.40ff; Lk 5.12ff). This is another 'secrecy' passage, in which Jesus tells the healed man to tell no one. He is instructed to obey the Law of Moses in offering a gift of being cleansed. This is opposite-to-urgency and certainly not an interim-ethic in the blogger sense.

 

Three. Coming of Persecution (Mat 24.9ff; Mr 13.9ff; Lk 21.12ff). This should be a prime place to look, since it is in the middle of eschatological sayings. But the only text in the category of urgency/ethic I can find are (1) the reference to the 'endurance of suffering to the end'; and maybe (2) the do not 'prepare speeches' wording...?  The latter is not an interim-ethic, since the directive is tied to how (the triune!) God will provide the words and not to any timing element [Spirit of the Father in MT, the Holy Spirit in MR, and Jesus in Lk!).

 

The former ('endurance motif') is clearly not a call to urgent action, but it 'looks a little funny' and we should glance at it briefly.

 

For commentators who see this period of persecution/tribulation as the period known as 'the Great Tribulation' (a period of several years immediately before the Return of Christ, and immediately after the rapture/removal of the Church from the world), this is clearly an interim (but not the same 'interim' we are in now), but the command is still just in continuity with the call to loyalty given the Hebrew Bible. Nothing really new here.

 

"During the Tribulation only believers who “endure to the end” will be delivered, not from hell, but from physical death (cf. use of saved in v 22). Endurance under trial is never a means to salvation from the penalty of sin for that would entail human merit (Eph 2:8–9). The passage does not assert that a believer must endure to the end of his life to remain saved or to prove he is regenerate. Salvation cannot be lost (John 6:37, 39; 10:28–29; Eph 4:30), and assurance rests on the promises of God and Jesus Christ, not on performance under severe trial (1 John 5:13) ... Endurance will culminate in a glorious, physical deliverance and rewarding of a faithful Jewish remnant. Not everyone will be slain (Matt 24:9, 22); Jesus will come to their rescue (v 31). The words are spoken to encourage those who will go through that terrible time not to lose heart." [Haller, H. M., Jr. (2010). The Gospel according to Matthew. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (R. N. Wilkin, Ed.) (110). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.]

 

For commentators who see this period of persecution/tribulation as the pre-70ad period (e.g. France), the reference is still just 'generic':

 

"In response to both the outward threats of vv. 4–8 and the destabilizing tendencies within the disciple community (vv. 9–12) the only remedy is deliberate, sustained faithfulness to the values and demands of God’s kingdom. This verse repeats the exhortation of 10:22b; see comments there. We noted there that “the phrase eis telos, ‘to the end,’ can hardly have … a specific reference, but simply means persevering for as long as may be necessary” and that “the thought loosely echoes Dan 12:12–13, a beatitude on those who remain faithful and will receive their reward ‘at the end of the days’.” Here, however, it comes between two references to “the end” in vv. 6 and 14 which clearly have a more specific reference. If, as the context here suggests, that “end” is the destruction of the temple which is the subject of the disciples’ question (see on v. 6), it would be possible to read eis telos here in the same sense: whoever stands firm throughout the historical process which will culminate in the destruction of the temple will be saved. But it is not easy to see what sort of “salvation” fits that scenario, and it is more likely that the adverbial phrase eis telos (not eis to telos) functions independently of the articular noun to telos, and has the same sense here that it had in 10:22b; in that case the call is for faithfulness “for as long as it takes,” and the promise is of the ultimate spiritual security (see on 10:22) of those who have stood firm in their discipleship. It is that promise, rather than physical safety at the time of the fall of Jerusalem, which best matches the dangers to faith spelled out in vv. 9–12." [France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (907). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.]

 

 

Some commentators see this period of persecution as a future part of the present age (which is characterized by the Gentile mission)--and, in the context of verse 14, must require a delay in the Parousia:

 

(13) The logion of this verse is found verbatim in 10:22b. Again in a context of tribulation and persecution the promise of ultimate salvation is given to the one who endures εἰς τέλος, “to the end.” Indirectly, the point is underlined that severe tribulation will be experienced before the coming of the end of the age. (14) Another characteristic of the time that precedes the end is the universal proclamation of τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας, “this gospel of the kingdom” (cf. 4:23; 9:35). This era is obviously to be sharply distinguished from the time of Jesus himself, when the mission of the twelve was explicitly restricted to Israel (10:5–6). This new time frame is inaugurated in the risen Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples in 28:19 (cf. Luke 24:47; and the apocalyptic universalism of Rev 14:6). The verb κηρύσσειν, “proclaim,” occurs regularly, as it does here, with εὐαγγέλιον, “gospel” (cf. 4:23; 9:35; 10:7; 26:13). Quite possibly Matthew’s unique expression “this gospel of the kingdom” (so too in 26:13) is a deliberate paralleling of Jesus’ teaching as recorded in his Gospel to Deuteronomy’s reference to this book of the law, the Second Testament thus corresponding to the First Testament (thus Grassi). The universality of the proclamation is stressed by the words ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ, “in the whole world” (the last word occurs in Matthew only here). The proclamation involves the providing of a μαρτύριον, “witness” (cf. 8:4; 10:18), i.e., the recounting of the events that constitute the gospel or “kerygma.” For πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, “all the Gentiles,” cf. v. 9 and 28:19. The concluding statement καὶ τότε ἥξει τὸ τέλος, “and then the end will come,” stands as the counterpart to the cautionary statement that “not yet is the end” in v. 6 (cf. v. 13; 10:22). The end of the present age, concerning which the disciples inquire in the question of v. 3, cannot come immediately but must be preceded by a period of universal evangelization (see Thompson). The parousia must therefore be delayed." [Hagner, D. A. (1998). Vol. 33B: Matthew 14–28. Word Biblical Commentary (695–696). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]

 

" (at 10.22) The point of the statement is clear: the one who faithfully endures this persecution εἰς τέλος, “to the end” (i.e., the end of the person’s life or the end of the persecution and hence the end of the age), will be saved (see 4 Ezra 6:25; 9:7–8; 2 Tim 2:12) and will enter finally into the blessed peace promised to the participants in the kingdom." [Hagner, D. A. (1998). Vol. 33A: Matthew 1–13. Word Biblical Commentary (278). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]

 

But in any event, 'endurance' (i.e. loyalty under duress) is not an interim ethic at all. It is an ethic for all time--with the Lord, with our spouses, with our children, with our situation.

 

Nothing in this passage thus qualifies as data for the hypothesis.

 

Four. The passage on the Rich Young Man/Ruler (Mat 19.16-30; Mr 10.17-31; Lk 18.18-30). I put this in the Urgency/Interim class because of the 'sell all/give all' phrase in the passage, but I have dealt with this already in this series. It was not a general requirement from Jesus to do so at all, as I noted.  But what is really telling about this passage is that in all three accounts, the young man asks about 'eternal life', and in all three accounts Jesus draws a conclusion (for the disciples) in terms of 'entering the kingdom (of God or of heaven). In other words, the overlap between 'eternal life' and 'entering the KoH/KoG' is substantial. There is no 'watering down' from 'kingdom' to 'eternal life' (contra the blogger's hypothesis) at all--they are present in all three of the synoptic accounts.

 

[We should also note--for soteriological reasons!--that Jesus never said to the man that he would get eternal life by making this donation, but only that he would have 'treasure in heaven'. Eternal life is not earned by good deeds, but 'treasures' is 'rewards' terminology and Jesus cast His answer in these terms:

 

"The rich young ruler thought of Jesus as a mere man, a “good Teacher.” He asks, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” The question shows that he thought he could do something good enough to merit eternal life.

 

"Some believe Jesus is providing a standard of works and discipleship as the way to receive eternal life or proving one had it. After all, this is what the rich young ruler asked about, and so Jesus was giving him the answer. But if this were true, no one could be saved, for what Jesus is demanding of the man is humanly impossible to attain.

 

"The proper interpretation of this passage depends on recognizing that Jesus did not actually answer the man’s question—at least not in a way that was possible for the man to obey. Jesus does not tell the man to believe on Him as He told others in John 3:16; 4:13–14; 5:24; 6:35, 47; 11:25–27. The reason is that what Jesus is doing here is pre-evangelism. He is showing the man that he cannot save himself by his own piety.

 

"Jesus first challenges the man to rethink his understanding of who Jesus is. Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” In other words, Jesus is God. Christ is implicitly affirming His own sinlessness and His deity.

 

"Second, Jesus met the young man on the grounds of his own false assumption and challenges that assumption. Since what is good is defined by the Law, Christ directs the young man to the OT commandments that have been given by the absolutely good God.

 

But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Jesus then gives specific instructions from the second table of the Law specifying man’s duty to his fellow man (Matt 19:18–19a). He sums up that portion of the Law with the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v 19b; cf. 22:39–40).

 

"The self-confident young man had not even begun to comprehend his need of a Savior. He claims, “All these things have I kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” Jesus then seeks to reveal his lack to him. He tests him on the tenth and final commandment, “You shall not covet” (cf. v 21 with Exod 20:17).

 

"Jesus then invites the young man to part with his wealth. If he would “go, sell … give” and “come, follow” Jesus, then he would obtain “treasure in heaven” (an eternal reward). Refusing this, he left sorrowful, for his great possessions were too much to give up.

 

"19:23–26. When the rich young ruler had left, Jesus tells His disciples it is impossible for such a man to be saved. In a classic understatement He says it is difficult for a wealthy person “to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus’ next statement is designed to show how difficult it is: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus is speaking literally of a hole in a sewing needle. There was no such thing in the city walls of that time as a small gate called “the eye of a needle” that camels could go through if they went on their knees. That is something possible, but Jesus is speaking of the impossible. The disciples are exceedingly amazed. To think of the largest of animals in Palestine going through the smallest of openings (a needle’s “eye”) was absurd indeed! They asked, “Who then can be saved?” If the rich man, seemingly blessed by God, could not make it, what hope would lesser people have, including themselves?

 

"The lesson to the rich young ruler is that if no one is as good as God, no one can be truly good. If no one can be truly good, no one can be good enough to live with a holy God for eternity. It does not matter how much one might try to keep the Law or how much one might try to give up or give away or go on to imitate Christ’s sinless life in continuous discipleship.

 

"The lesson to the disciples was that salvation on the basis of merit, even though apparently attested by affluence, is impossible. If one is trusting in his or her riches as proof of one’s righteousness, that person will fail to enter the kingdom. God will save by grace or not at all. Salvation is possible only through Him." [Haller, H. M., Jr. (2010). The Gospel according to Matthew. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (R. N. Wilkin, Ed.) (87–89). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.]

 

I should also mention that Jesus' command to this rich person--in historical context--might be more about the redistribution of (unearned?) wealth, under the Year of Jubilee and social justice motifs of the OT. In this perspective, the order to redistribute wealth would not be something required of all but the richest or most 'elite' of believers (even though even this is not seemingly required of believers who have the means to host churches in their home or have the means to 'shame the poor' at the communion services in Corinth (1 Cor 11.21ff).

 

This position is argued by J. Daniel Hays, in "Sell Everything You Have and Give to the Poor: The Old Testament Prophetic Theme of Justice as the Connecting Motif of Luke 18:1-19:10", in JETS 55/1 (2012) 43-63:

 

"POVERTY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE IN FIRST-CENTURY PALESTINE. Often the tendency for Western interpreters is to assume their contemporary affluent socio-economic situation as the default background context for understanding biblical exhortations regarding poverty. That is, in most Western societies there is a large majority group of middle class people with which the readers usually identify. Then at the top there is a small class of very wealthy people (e.g. millionaires and billionaires) and at the bottom there is an equally small class of poor people (e.g. the homeless). The social situation in Palestine of the first century, however, was quite different. "Peter Davids explains that at the time of Jesus there was not much of a middle class in Palestine at all. Indeed, there were two major socio-economic groups: a very small wealthy or upper-class urban elite and then a huge mass of very poor subsistence-level peasants. In first-century AD Palestine, the term "poor" probably referred to the vast majority of the population. That is, in all probability, most of the people that Jesus interacts with or speaks to, especially when outside of Jerusalem, were part of the large socio-economic group living at subsistence level, referred to in the Gospels as "the poor."

 

"James A. Sanders makes the same point in discussing Jesus' citation of Isaiah 61 in Luke 4. He notes that the listening audience in that synagogue would have identified themselves with the poor (for they were the poor).  Sean Freyne also draws attention to the severe social stratification in Galilee, noting that the Jewish aristocracy, particularly the priestly aristocracy, was precisely the ones who were oppressing the poor peasants.

 

"Bruce W. Longenecker comes to similar conclusions about the socio-economic situation in the first-century world. He argues that this reality is reflected throughout the Gospels and is especially clear in the Gospel of Luke. Longenecker notes, for example, that when John the Baptist asks Jesus if he was the coming one, Jesus answered with a list of actions associated with the eschatological liberation that the Coming One prophesied in Isaiah would bring: the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news preached to them (Luke 7:18—23). Longenecker then points out the irony of the list, observing, "Jesus' reply depicts a world in which healing blindness, curing disease, restoring hearing and raising the dead were as exceptional as encouraging the poor. The astonishment that would have attended Jesus' miracles of power is, we are led to think, comparable to the astonishment that would have attended Jesus' pronouncement of blessing to the poor." That is, the plight of the poor (the majority of the population) was so grim and hopelessly entrenched within the culture that any good news for them was viewed to be on a miraculous par with the resurrection of the dead.... [pp 48-50]

 

 

"The prophetic context of justice, as elucidated by the widow and unjust judge parable, provides a strong background for understanding Jesus' words to the ruler. Recall Jesus' concluding statement in the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge. As the Kingdom breaks in, God will see that his chosen ones (those with faith, humility, and prayer) get justice quickly. When this ruler in Luke 18:21 piously claims to have kept the law, Jesus sounds very much like Isaiah and cuts through the hypocrisy of cultic ritual and asks about justice, specifically in regard to the poor. As the Kingdom breaks in, Jesus, the Davidic King who will bring about justice, confronts one of Israel's rulers and tells him that if he wants to be part of the Kingdom then he must also be part of the inauguration of justice . .. starting with restitution to the poor. Furthermore, keep in mind that the entire audience for this exchange (i.e. the rest of the community) was probably part of the "poor" section of the society. That is, when Jesus says that the ruler should sell all he has and give it to the poor, it is "the poor" that are standing around them and listening. ... Jesus' demands on the ruler are far-reaching, with implications for his entire audience. But notice that this demand addresses the system of inequality where a few wealthy rulers/religious leaders are at the top while the entire rest of the community suffers and struggles in poverty at the bottom. The inauguration of justice, Jesus is announcing, involves changing the system in this community, alleviating the poverty that is all around the wealthy ruler. [pp56-57]

 

"CONCLUSION. It appears that the parables and stories in Luke 18:1-19:10 have numerous connections and interrelated themes. The two hypothetical parables at the beginning are closely connected and the stories that follow provide illustration and depth from encounters with real live people. From an OT perspective, the connections and allusions to the OT Prophets are evident everywhere throughout this unit. Justice, righteousness, widows, the poor, humility, rulers who don't obey, hostile Jerusalem, healing the blind, the coming Kingdom—these themes of Luke 18:1-19:10 are also the repeated themes found throughout the pages of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve.

 

"By stressing Jesus' citation of Isaiah 61 and 58 at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry (Luke 4), Luke sets the pattern for understanding Jesus against the backdrop of the Prophets. In 18:1—19:10, the opening Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge highlights the prophetic theme of justice, and the following Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector stresses the accompanying parallel theme of righteousness. As Jesus, the fulfillment of the OT prophetic promise, moves towards Jerusalem, he inaugurates justice as part of the "already" aspect of the Kingdom. As he calls people into the Kingdom, he insists that they come in humble faith, but also that they join him in working to establish justice (which is a critical prophetic part of the Kingdom)—especially in regard to the traditional OT vision of helping widows, the poor, and outcasts. As in the time of the Prophets, the current rulers refuse the call to justice, and thus do not enter into the Kingdom (and thus will face judgment). In contrast, two outcasts—a blind beggar and a tax collector—respond to Jesus and the call to believe in him. Thus as they are saved and are brought close to him, they join him in establishing the justice that the Prophets proclaimed as part of the coming Kingdom." [pp61-62]

 

If this perspective is true, then the 'go...sell... give' ethic is not even close to being an 'interim' ethic, but is rather a solid, OT/Tanakh ethic, incumbent on Israel's rulers and persistent in the prophetic corpus. It is a kingdom ethic--but of the more-mundane, theocratic kingdom of 'ideal Israel' in the OT. Again, this would NOT support the blogger's thesis, but would militate against it somewhat.

 

Five. The Sending of the Twelve (Mt 9/10 parts; MR 6.6b-13; Lk 9.1-6). I have discussed this passage in more detail elsewhere on the Tank (nostaff.html), but the reason I included it in the urgency/interim class was because of the 'no bag' remark: "He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. ".

 

I can see how some might assume that this low-prep directive might be indicative of 'urgency' (maybe), but that is not how this is traditionally understood--especially in light of Matthew's remark (omitted by Luke): "for the laborer deserves his food". The connection is not about urgency or immediacy, but about ministerial support (as Jesus experienced Himself).

 

But other motives (such as reciprocity, trust-learning) are possibly involved--none of which suggest urgency/interim ethic:

 

"The apostles’ message, like their Lord’s, would be authenticated by miracles (Matt. 10:8; cf. 9:35). They were not to make elaborate provisions for their travel, thus avoiding the impression they were engaged in a business enterprise... As the apostles ministered, they in turn were to be ministered to by their recipients."  [Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Mt 10:5–15). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.]

 

"The Twelve are told not to take money or extra clothes with them on the mission. Rather, their needs are to be met by the anticipated hospitality and support of those who receive their message (cf. 10:11–13; 40–42). The message of the Kingdom is not for sale (cf. Acts 8:20), but those who receive it should also receive its messengers." [Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (149). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

"The Twelve are not to take extra money or clothes with them on the mission. Their needs will be met by the anticipated support of those who receive their message (cf. 10:11–13a, 40–42). ... The proverbial saying about the worthiness of the worker probably distills biblical principles regarding day laborers and priests (Lev. 19:13; Num. 18:31; Deut. 24:15; 25:4; cf. Luke 10:7; 1 Cor. 9:9, 14; 1 Tim. 5:18). Hospitality to God’s messengers was viewed as a sacred duty (cf. Did. 11–13)."  [Turner, D. L. (2008). Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (271). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

"They are to travel light, like some other groups: (1) peasants, who often had only one cloak; (2) some traveling philosophers, called Cynics (probably represented as nearby as Tyre and the Decapolis, Gentile cities surrounding Galilee); (3) some prophets, like Elijah and John the Baptist. They are to be totally committed to their mission, not tied down with worldly concerns. The “bag” could have been used for begging (so the Cynics used it)... It is said that Essenes received such hospitality from fellow Essenes in various cities that they did not need to take provisions when they traveled." [Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Mt 10:9–10). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

 

"The essence of this instruction is to travel light by not making special provision for their material needs while on the mission; here is an opportunity to exercise the practical trust in God’s provision which they have been taught in 6:25–33. If the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (8:20), his representatives can expect no material security except in God. All the items listed are in Matthew objects of the verb “Do not get (ktaomai),” which does not naturally refer to what they are to carry but rather to fund-raising and acquiring special equipment for the journey. If they are not to go barefoot, basic clothing and equipment is assumed; it is additional provision which is forbidden. Money will not be needed, as they are to expect to receive appropriate hospitality en route. The “pack” (pēra) is a sort of traveling-bag, probably simply for carrying their food for the journey, though the pēra was also associated with Cynic itinerant teachers who used it when begging for food; the disciples will not need to carry, still less beg for, food. The prohibition of spare clothes and sandals probably suggests a mission of limited duration, though no doubt these too could have been supplied by well-wishers en route if necessary." [France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (384–385). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.]

 

So, nothing here either.

 

Six. The Conditions of Discipleship (Mt 16.24-28; MR 8.34-9.1; Lk 9.23-27). I placed this discourse of Jesus into this class because of the 'whoever wants to save his life will lose it, and vice versa' elements in each. The sayings are almost identical in the 3 accounts, with the major difference being that Mark has "for My sake and the gospel's sake" and MT/LK only have 'My sake'.

 

This too doesn't look like an ethic specifically for the pre-eschaton period, because it looks like simply another way of expressing the self-denial motif. Even if it has tinges of martyrdom in it (although Luke used the term 'daily' for taking up the cross--suggesting that it was not about martyrdom), that is still no different from OT/Tanakh ethics--as the Hall of Fame in chapter 11 of the Book of Hebrews illustrates.

 

Life/soul and gain/lose can be variously understood (soteriology-wise, ultimate salvation or eternal rewards), of course, but even then the meaning is still close to proverbial.

 

So,

 

"The presence of “For” (γάρ, gar) indicates that 8:35 provides a rationale for accepting the invitation for discipleship found in 8:34. The verse involves several puns in that the crucial terms (“save,” “lose,” “life”) possess double meanings (contra Best 1981: 41). “Save” (σῴζω, sōzō) is used first in the negative sense of not denying oneself and then in the positive sense of achieving eternal salvation in the final day (cf. 8:38). “Lose” (ἀπολέσει, apolesei) is first used negatively in the sense of not acquiring eternal salvation and then in the positive sense of denying oneself and acquiring eternal salvation. “Life” (ψυχή, psychē) is first used to describe human, physical existence that does not deny personal goals and desires, that is, does not repent (1:15), and then it is used to describe one’s personal being, that is, the real self that continues to exist after death. “Losing one’s life” must be understood in the sense of denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following Jesus, as referred to in 8:34. It is described as taking place “for me [Jesus Christ, the Son of God] and the gospel.”

"8:36–37 Although some see 8:35–38 as consisting of a series of four consecutive reasons for obeying Jesus’s call to discipleship (Gundry 1993: 434, 439–40; Evans 2001: 24), it is best to see the “for” of 8:36 as explaining 8:35 and not as a separate reason supporting 8:34 (V. Taylor 1952: 382). The reason why one should be willing to “lose” one’s life is because of the surpassing worth of gaining eternal life. This is more valuable than possessing the whole world (cf. Matt. 4:8–9/Luke 4:5–6). To acquire all the world and yet lose one’s life, that is, not acquire eternal salvation, is a terrible loss. This is why one should be willing to lose one’s life “for [Jesus] and the gospel” (Mark 8:35). The common nature of this proverb can be seen in Ps. 49:7–8; 2 Bar. 51.15. Just as Mark 8:36 explains 8:35, so 8:37 explains 8:36. When you have lost your life (8:36), nothing can ever buy it back (8:37). Both questions in these two verses are left unanswered because they are so obvious. Both assume an answer like “Nothing at all!” [Stein, R. H. (2008). Mark. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (408–409). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. ]

 

Or,

 

"The believer who desires “to save his life” (psychē) is one who refuses to follow Christ by denying oneself and taking up one’s cross. He does not wish to give his life for the cause of Christ and therefore, he “will lose it.” The term lose (apollymi) signifies that a believer loses the fullness of his future life in the Kingdom when he lives in opposition to God’s declared will. Scripture teaches that a believer may experience loss and/or reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:14–15; 2 Cor 5:9–10; 2 John 8). Rewards will enhance life in eternity (cf. 1 Tim 6:7–19). Thus, a believer who actually thinks he is saving his life by avoiding discipleship is actually destroying his opportunity for future rewards. ... When Christ says, “But whoever loses (apollymi) his life (psychē) for My sake and the gospel’s will save it,” He is describing the believer who follows after Him. Those who deny themselves and take up their cross to follow Christ may think they are losing their lives, but they are actually gaining them for eternity. When they get to the kingdom, their lives will be spiritually enhanced (cf. 2 Tim 4:8). Jesus wants His followers to know that as they enter into His sufferings, they can be confident of future reward (cf. 1 Pet 4:13).

8:36–37. Jesus uses an illustration within a question to reason why He should be followed. “What will it profit a man if he gains (lit., ‘to acquire by effort or investment’) the whole world, and loses his own soul?” The word soul (psychē) is the same Greek word translated life (psychē) in v 35 and should be rendered life in v 36. English translators intend for the word soul to mean that a person will lose his soul in hell. However, the context is clearly a discipleship/rewards context. ... Jesus takes the best-case scenario for His illustration. A man who gains the whole world is one who has lived for himself and has been successful in amassing great wealth. However, what profit will these vast riches be to him in eternity if he has lived only for himself? Such profit is worthless in eternity. He will leave all his wealth behind. As a believer he will enter eternity with a loss of the fullness of life he could have had. Christ’s second question in v 37 relates to this analogy. At the point the man enters into eternity, “what will a man give in exchange for his soul (psychē, ‘life’)?” What can he give to redo his life? His life is over and nothing can compensate for such a loss. Again, this relates to abundance in the life to come as a reward, and not deliverance from hell. A person should follow Christ because, although it is costly, he will preserve his life unto eternal reward and life enhancement." [Mershon, B., Jr. (2010). The Gospel according to Mark. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (R. N. Wilkin, Ed.) (175–176). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.]

 

Commentators often point out that Jesus' remark echoes Psalms 49.7-8 (not an 'interim ethic'...smile):  "Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit."

 

 

Seven. Interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13.18ff; Mr 4.13ff; Lk 8.11ff). I put this passage into this class because of the 'cares of the world and lure of wealth' clause. This cares/lure terminology is in MT+MR, whereas LK uses 'cares, riches, and pleasures of life', and MR has 'desire for other things'. These things are said to 'choke' the seed (Word) so that the seed bears no fruit. We just need to consider whether this is some kind of implicit urgency/interim ethic scenario.

 

To be such, it would have to somehow require disposition of wealth PRIOR to accepting the word of the kingdom. And the focus of the passage is on 'ordinary' problems of receptivity (e.g. lack of spiritual interest, persecution, preoccupation). These are not related to apocalyptic issues, but are standard problems we all face in living in the context of spiritual truth. This is still more about attitudes toward material goods than about ownership.

 

"The seed among thorns pictures those who get so encumbered with the basic enticements of this world that they produce no fruit. The seed again fails to accomplish its purpose. The terms used here do not appear frequently in the Synoptics. “Worries” is used elsewhere only in Luke 21:34; “lure” appears only here and in its parallel, Matt 13:22; and “desire” has no parallel akin to its use here, although it is used positively in Luke 22:15. The theme of riches and the problems of the rich are a concern (Matt 6:24–25; 19:23–24; Mark 10:25; Luke 1:53; 12:21). In this case, the failure lies with the distractions that prevent the person from benefiting from the word. The one thing the first three groups share is that none of them are fruitful. In the terms of the parable, they are all failures." [Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (435). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

"The danger of affluence is not so prominent an emphasis in Mark as in Luke or Paul, though it will be given stark expression in 10:17–27, where the story of the rich man provides an apt illustration of the point being made here. What is at issue here is not so much the possession of wealth in itself, but rather the mental attitude which it engenders, hence the ‘thought’-words μέριμνα, ἀπάτη, and ἐπιθυμία. ἀπάτη is a particularly powerful term, conveying here, as in its other NT uses, the sense of ‘deception’, even ‘enticement’, which threatens to seduce disciples from their true allegiance. " [France, R. T. (2002). The Gospel of Mark: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (206). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.]

 

 

 

 

Ok. Now I have passages which have TWO of the gospels with some textual element (possibly) related to urgency/interim ethic.

 

One. The Gerasene/Gadarene Demoniac (Mt 8.28ff; Mr 5.1ff; Lk 8.26ff). We have already looked at this passage and noted that this involved the opposite of 'leaving all/following Jesus'. The healed individual in MR and LK appeal to Jesus to 'leave and follow', but Jesus sends him home. This is the opposite of the 'urgency/interim' ethic hypothesis. We also noted that this is not a 'softening' of Jesus' position because it is the same in (earlier) Mark as it is in (later) Luke.

 

Two. Jairus Daughter/Woman's Faith (Mt 9.18ff; Mr 5.21ff; Lk 8.40ff). This is similar to the above, in that Jesus orders them to keep it a secret -- in Mr and Luke. This order is omitted in MT. The 'secrecy motif' is somewhat oppositional to the 'urgency/interim ethic' hypothesis.

 

Three. The Primacy of discipleship over family (Mt 10.37, no-MR, Lk 14.26ff). We have looked at this saying also, and found that it was a staple ethic of the pre-Jesus Biblical world. It is not mentioned in MR, but the strong wording is present in MT and LK. Nothing here supporting urgency/interim ethic.

 

Four. On forgiveness (Mt 18.21f; no-MR;  Lk 17.4). This is the 'how often should I forgive?' passage. I included this passage in this class because it possibly implied some time duration indicator. It probably doesn't, but Jesus' directive to forgive 70x7 times might suggest that believers would be sinning against believers for a long, long pre-Eschaton period. It probably cannot be used as support for this (since it is more about the magnitude of the base of the Father's forgiveness of us--from the following parable Jesus gives), but it certainly would not support the blogger's thesis either.

 

"Peter seemed to think that forgiving seven times was quite adequate, but Jesus’ hyperbolic answer indicates that forgiveness must be unending (cf. 5:21–26; 6:12, 14–15; m. Yoma 8:9). Whether 18:22 is translated “seventy-seven times” (NIV; BDAG 269) or “seventy times seven” (NLT), the following parable of the unforgiving servant (18:23–35) demonstrates that disciples have been forgiven by their heavenly Father of much more than they could ever forgive their fellow disciples. Thus, to be forgiven is to be freed to forgive. The response to offense mandated by Jesus is the opposite of Lamech’s vengeful boast that he would be avenged seventy-seven times upon anyone who injured him (Gen 4:24)." [Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (242). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

 

Five. On Temptations (MT 18.6ff; Mr 9.42f; no-LK). This passage contains the famous 'self-mutilation' texts (cut off hand/foot, tear out eye)--to avoid stumbling. MR and MT have basically the same content, although MR alternates 'enter the kingdom' with 'enter life' once. Both contrast 'enter life' with 'thrown into hell', but MR contrasts 'enter kingdom' with 'thrown into hell'. Both contain the 'fire' image of hell (MT: the eternal fire; MR: hell, the unquenchable fire). Matthew had reported another usage of this imagery by Jesus in 5.29-30.

 

This is so strongly worded (and visualized) that I thought that it was a good candidate for 'urgency/interim ethic'. In other words, if this self-mutilation directive was unique to the period or somehow connected with something other than radical self-denial ('hating one's life')--which was NOT an urgency/interim ethic, then maybe we had found some support for the blogger's thesis.

 

So, let's look at some of the remarks from the commentators and from background studies, to see if anyone picked up on this thought/possibility:

 

"Jesus used the amputation of a hand or foot and of the gouging out of an eye as hyperboles here as he had previously in 5:29–30. As awful as these images are, the prospect of eternal punishment is worse. It should go without saying that this language is hypothetical as well as hyperbolical. One’s hands, feet, and eyes do not cause one to sin, and ridding oneself of them would not get at the root of sin, the heart (15:18–20). The point is that one must deal radically with one’s sinful tendencies (cf. Prov 4:23)." [Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (237). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

"Many things may hinder one from believing in Christ. Hand (v 43), foot (v 45), and eye (v 47) refer to things one handles, places he goes, or things he sees that can cause him to stumble (cf. vv 43, 45, 47). Therefore Jesus commands to cut it off (hand or foot, vv 43, 45) or pluck it out (eye, v 47). Jesus is using hyperbole to make the point that drastic measures are sometimes required to remove hindrances to faith from an unbeliever’s life. Belonging to an unbelieving religious group, reading heretical books, attending a liberal, unbelieving school, or having close friends who are unbelievers, all can hinder faith in Christ. ...To turn from such hindrances may be painful, but Jesus reasons that “it is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands (feet, eyes) to go to hell.” It is better to believe in Jesus having cut out of one’s life things that a person once enjoyed, than to keep those things but never believe in Jesus." [Mershon, B., Jr. (2010). The Gospel according to Mark. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (R. N. Wilkin, Ed.) (180–181). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

 

"Following his source in Mark, Matthew adds to the warning against seducers a direct warning to the members of the church who are in a position to be seduced. While he repeats the sayings about severing one’s hand and eye that he has already used in 5:29–30 in connection with the second antithesis, he applies them differently. In the context of the second antithesis, Matt 5:29–30 is a warning against sexual seduction. Here the thought is more likely of a challenge to the little ones to avoid all contact with people who want to destroy their faith. The application in Matthew 5:29–30 is similar to rabbinic parallels that relate hands and eyes to sexual sins. Our text, on the other hand, is closer to Hellenistic parallels that compare the radical separation from bad friends or from evil in general to the work of a physician who may have to amputate parts of a body. That the hyperbole of severing a body part refers to real incidents—on the one hand to actual judgments against adulterers or violent persons, on the other to a physician’s practice—intensifies the power of the images and the urgency of the exhortation." [Luz, U. (2001). Matthew: A commentary (H. Koester, Ed.). Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (435–436). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg.

 

"For the poetical tracing of sins to different parts of the body cf. Pr. 6:16–19; Job 31:1, 5, and 7."(note: Proverbs 6.16-19 reads: There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.) [France, R. T. (2002). The Gospel of Mark: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (381). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.]

 

"Corporal punishment (cutting off appendages, e.g., Ex 21:24–25) is easier to bear than capital punishment, the decree of eternal death pronounced by the heavenly court. Some Jewish thinkers believed that one would be resurrected in exactly the form in which one had died (e.g., with limbs missing, as in the case of many martyrs) before being made whole, and Jesus employs this image." [Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Mt 5:29–30). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

 

"Self-mutilation was prohibited in Judaism, so Jesus does not intend for one to carry this out literally. He means it is better to accept rigorous discipline now than be punished later." [Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 1: Matthew, Mark, Luke (261). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]

 

"It was not a Palestinian custom to refer to an abstract activity but to the specific member of the body which is responsible for it. For this reason, Jesus speaks of the offending hand, foot and eye, all members which have highly important functions to fulfill. They characterize a man concretely as one who acts and who is responsible for his actions. The representation of the members as the acting subject (“if your hand leads you to offend”) belongs to the realism of Jewish thought. The radical demand that the hand or foot should be hacked off or the eye plucked out if they expose a man to the danger of final rejection juxtaposes the relative value of physical life with the absolute value of that authentic, imperishable life which is bestowed by God alone. Jesus did not hesitate to call for the renunciation of possessions (Ch. 10:21), family (Ch. 10:28f.) and of life itself (Ch. 8:34f.) if these things stood in the way of following him; here he demands the complete sacrifice of the sinful activity of the member. This was not a demand for physical self-mutilation, but in the strongest manner possible Jesus speaks of the costliest sacrifices. For the sake of the unconditional rule of God the members of the body must not be placed at the disposal of sinful desire. The sinful member must be renounced in order that the whole body be not cast into hell. Conversely, concern for the preservation of a hand, a leg or a foot must not lead a man to denial of the sovereignty of God or his allegiance to Jesus. This thought found heroic exemplification in the history of Jewish martyrdom (e.g. 2 Macc. 7:2–41, where the sacrifice of limbs and life is accepted in order to be true to God and to receive life from his hand) and was to play a crucial role in the martyr Church as well. Whatever in one’s life tempts one to be untrue to God must be discarded, promptly and decisively, even as a surgeon amputates a hand or a leg in order to save a life." [Lane, W. L. (1974). The Gospel of Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (347–348). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]

 

Nope--they all see it as expressions of loyalty and focus.

 

 

Six. The Coming of Elijah (Mt 19.9ff; Mr 9.9ff; no-LK). This is the post-Transfiguration discussion between Jesus and the Three. In this, Jesus tells them to tell no one about the vision until AFTER the Son of Man had risen from the dead. This contains the 'secrecy motif' (somewhat) which is not supportive of the blogger's thesis. However, this motif is not really about urgency at all, but it does contain a kernel of evidence against a high-apocalyptic view of Jesus.

 

If you look at how this 'do not tell' motif is understood, you can see that it is more about Jesus' concern that that some fellow Jews MIGHT understand His ministry as an apocalyptic one, in which He has come to 'destroy the enemies':

 

"This is the last time in Matthew that Jesus enjoins silence concerning miraculous events (cf. 16:20 for the most recent time). This and other commands for silence aimed to avoid “superficial political messianism” (Carson 1984:388), which would have further exacerbated the enmity of the religious leaders. After Jesus had been vindicated by his resurrection, the true nature of his messianic ministry would become clearer, and the story of his miracles could be told in a proper context." [Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (228). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

"The command to keep secret (9:9) the divine confirmation of Jesus’s messiahship/sonship at the transfiguration (9:7) parallels Jesus’s command to Peter not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah (8:30; cf. also 5:43; 7:36). Jesus’s particular understanding of the messianic role was so different from what was popularly held that a public declaration of his messiahship could only cause confusion and misunderstanding (see 8:30). Telling others what happened at the transfiguration before Jesus’s resurrection would also cause confusion, for the way of vindication and glory for the Son of Man was via the suffering of the cross (8:31). It was already clear that the disciples thought that the messiahship of the Christ did not or could not involve a cross (8:32), and some of Mark’s readers may have had a similar misunderstanding. However, Good Friday must precede the fulfillment of what the transfiguration points to. The Son of Man must first give his life as a ransom for many (10:45) before he comes in glory (8:38). The tradition of the transfiguration first became known to the followers of Jesus (and the other disciples) after the resurrection. Only then would it make sense." [Stein, R. H. (2008). Mark. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (423–424). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

"not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. The disciples were not yet ready to preach Jesus because they didn’t yet appreciate precisely how he fit into God’s plan. Jesus told them to remain silent until the Son of Man (that is, Jesus) had risen, a remark that echoes 8:31. The “silence” motif reaches from 1:25 to as recently as 8:29." [Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (475). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

 

"It quickly becomes apparent that the disciples did not understand the significance of the transfiguration. For this very reason Jesus demanded silence. Verse 9 is the last injunction to silence in Mark, it is the only one that gives a reason for the command, and it places a time limit on the “secret.Therefore this verse is the key to understanding all the commands of silence. Until Jesus had died and had been raised, his true identity and significance could not be known. He could not be proclaimed until then. Just as people pondered whether John was the Christ (cf. Luke 3:15), so, according to Mark, Jesus intended that during his lifetime they should ponder whether he was the Christ. The “messianic secret” was not the invention of Mark but the intention of Jesus." [Brooks, J. A. (1991). Vol. 23: Mark. The New American Commentary (143). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]

 

"The principal point here is that if the passion provides a vital element of Jesus’ messianic identity and mission (as in 8:31–38), then the glory of the transfiguration cannot be shared until it can be proclaimed in the light of the passion, which is its proper context." [Evans, C. A. (2001). Vol. 34B: Mark 8:27–16:20. Word Biblical Commentary (43). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]

 

Nothing here.

 

Seven. The anti-Korban passages (Mt 15.3ff; Mr 7.1ff; no-LK). These passages affirm the importance of supporting one's parents in accordance with OT/Tanakh Torah. These passages, of course, argue against some kind of austere/interim ethic, as is sometimes thought to be attached to the 'hate your family' passages we looked at elsewhere. Since even the 'hate your family' passages were seen to be non-interim directives, then these anti-Korban passages can count as strong evidence against the blogger's hypothesis.

 

Eight. The faithful and wise steward (Mt 24.3ff; no-MR; Lk 12.35ff). This is not in Mr, but MT+LK use the 'delay' wording in the story, as the rationale for the wicked steward's misuse of his master's assets. It contains the watchfulness motif and the 'unexpected hour' motif, but also suggests that the master has provided resources (food) adequate for an extended absence. The ethic in the story, therefore, is simple stewardship of assets entrusted to one's responsibility. This is not a 'new' ethic (!) for a transitional age, but one that is universal in time. The failure of Israel's leadership in the Hebrew bible is described in detail therein, and alleged 'delay' was used as an 'excuse' back then too (cf. Ezek 12.22).

 

Nine. Let the dead bury their dead (Mt 8.18ff; no-MR; Lk 9.57ff). I have already examined this passage in detail and there is nothing here either. It is interesting to note, though, that as 'promising' a text this is for urgency/interim ethics, it doesn't show up in Mark, but only in the allegedly watered-down versions of MT and LK. This is contrary to the hypothesis.

 

Ten. Jesus denounces the Scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23.1ff; Mr 12.37ff; Lk 20.45ff). The part of this long section I marked as possible evidence was the reference to tithing of mint, rue, and herbs. Jesus faults these leaders for their neglect of justice, mercy and faith--but still affirms the essential goodness of tithing these valued products. Although there might be an implicit reference to 'go...sell...give' everything (a la the Rich Young Ruler passage) embedded in the terminology of 'justice' and 'mercy', the affirmation of the tithe basically negates that. To give a tenth, implies to NOT give 'ten tenths--and this is data contrary to an urgency/interim-ethic position. Tithing was, of course, and OT/Tanakh directive.

 

"Tithing was the giving of a tenth of what one possessed to God. It was commanded in the Mosaic legislation (Lev 27:30; Num 18:21–28), and commended in the OT (Neh 10:37–39; 12:44; 13:10–12; Mal 3:8). Even before Moses, it was practiced, for Abraham offered a tithe to Melchizedek, “a priest of God Most High” (Gen 14:17–20; cf. Heb 5:5–10; 7:1–10). Tithing is rarely noted in the NT, and when it is, it occurs in passages that suggest the abuse of the practice, in the form of legalism or self-congratulation (18:12; Matt 23:23)." [Trites, A. A., & William J. Larkin. (2006). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel of Luke and Acts (185). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

"The first woe warns the Pharisees not to major on minor religious issues and ignore more important concerns. Much care went into getting tithes right, and the Pharisees tithed precisely. The tithe was the donation of a tenth of one’s material possessions for the nation, temple, or clergy. Appeal is made to Lev. 27:30 for the practice of tithing mint, rue, and herbs (Bornkamm, TDNT 4:66; Manson 1949: 98; SB 1:923–24; 2:189), but since the rabbinic regulations of this practice are later than the OT texts, we are dealing with a tradition in this pericope. The Mishnah discusses such tithes in several places: m. Šeb. 9.1; m. Ma˓as. 4.5; m. Dem. 2.1; and the entire tractate m. Ma˓asaer Šeni. (The differences with Matt. 23:23 reflect distinct settings, because Matthew lacks a general reference to herbs and speaks of mint, dill, and cummin.) ... Meanwhile, two central ethical imperatives—justice and love for God—are neglected. This is a serious omission, for these things are part of a basic response to God’s demands (Mic. 6:8; Zech. 7:8–10; Col. 3:12–13; Büchsel, TDNT 3:941–42).... The Pharisees handle externals well, but lack internal responses. This woe specifies the earlier charge and sets the ethical standard. ... A corrective concludes the woe. The virtues of love and justice should be practical while observing the tithing of herbs. Jesus condemns the Pharisees’ selectivity in choosing to follow only certain minor rules while consistently ignoring the important matters. What they practice does not rile him, but what they fail to practice and what they emphasize does. They omit the important matters while scoring well on more trivial pursuits. They should tithe, but they should also be kind to their neighbor and honor God." [Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (1115–1116). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

 

Eleven. Love of One's enemies from Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain (MT 5.42 with 7.12; Lk 6.30-31). This is the 'give to whoever asks for something' passage, and we have already noted that these commands are grounded on reciprocity, rewards, and the character of God. Nothing about urgency or interim goodness is here--it is rooted in Jewish scriptures and piety (pre-Jesus). He elevates it to a higher level of generosity, but this is rooted in the character of God (and the need to learn to trust Him for provision!):

 

"Giving alms and loaning to the poor was a central exercise of Jewish piety (Deut. 15:7–11). However, Jesus widens the obligation by admonishing his disciples generally not to turn away the one who wants to borrow. This is a powerful image of generosity, because the one seeking a loan could be unscrupulous, even one’s enemy, who might not repay the loan (cf. Luke 6:34–35). The Old Testament gives a low status to people who consistently seek loans and do not repay them (Ps. 37:21), but to give freely to whoever seeks assistance, especially to those from whom there is little chance of repayment, is the height of generosity." [Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 1: Matthew, Mark, Luke (42). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

 

Twelve. Do not worry about your life (Mt 6.19-21; 6.25ff; Lk 12.22ff). This is the well-cared for lilies and birds passage, in which Jesus attempts to get the disciples focused on the work and NOT on their culinary expectations or clothing requirements. Because it has (in the Lukan version only--note the time sequence dissonance with the hypothesis) the 'sell your possessions' phrase, it could be a good candidate for this urgency/interim-ethic category. We need to look at Jesus' argument here.

 

The passage divides fairly cleanly into two parts: (1) Do not worry about mundane needs, since God will provide these as you 'strive for' the kingdom and righteousness (Mt 6.25-33; LK 12.22-31) and (2) invest in spiritual treasures in heaven, which cannot be affected by the ravages of this world (Mt 6.19-21; Lk 32-34) . If either of these directives are based upon some expression of end-of-all-things-within-40-years, then we might have some data to support the hypothesis.

 

 

The do-not-worry section has Jesus giving reasons for them not to worry. Bock [BECNT, Luke] delineates these as he comments through the passage:

 

"Jesus gives a reason (γάρ, gar) for his call not to worry. He offers a two-part assertion that sounds like a proverb: life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. The point seems to be that, since there is more to life than food and clothing, to be overly concerned with them is to miss life’s important concern—a relationship with God (1 Tim. 6:6–19). The illustrations of nature in 12:24, 27, 28 operate on the level of food (ravens) and clothing (lilies and grass). God will care for these basics. Food and clothing only sustain and shield us. As Danker (1988: 249) says, “Living is more than having.” The Lord’s Prayer shows the proper relationship (11:3–4). Daily needs are to be placed in God’s hands and seen in relationship to him (Ernst 1977: 402), which is similar to the statement of 4:4 that people do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God (1 Pet. 5:7; Marshall 1978: 526).

 

"The first reason was that life consists of more than food and clothing. The second was that God cares for people in his creation.

 

"Continuing his appeal not to worry, Jesus offers a practical objection: worrying is useless. This is the third reason that Jesus offers (Marshall 1978: 527).

 

"Jesus develops his rationale about the pointlessness of worrying: if a person cannot do a little thing like adding a little time to one’s life span, then why worry about other matters that may well be beyond one’s control and will not add to one’s life.

 

"Having illustrated his point, Jesus returns to his basic exhortation of 12:22: disciples are not to be anxious about basic needs like food and drink. The hapax legomenon μετεωρίζεσθε (meteōrizesthe) normally means “to be lifted up, be puffed up” and can mean “to be overbearing.” It is a graphic picture of hovering between hope and fear, between heaven and earth (Danker 1988: 251). The picture is of anxious, emotional insecurity and instability as it races between various emotions. An idiomatic equivalent might be “to get worked up” over something. One who recognizes that God cares can be spared such anxious mood swings.

 

"Now comes the positive exhortation. What is to be the disciple’s priority? Jesus puts it simply: seek God’s kingdom. The present tense ζητεῖτε (zēteite, seek) indicates that this is to be the disciple’s habit; that is, “keep seeking his kingdom.” Disciples are to be engaged in the pursuit of representing God on earth. They are to seek God’s rule (K. Schmidt, TDNT 1:588). God’s followers are to respond to his call to walk as he desires. Followers also share in the spiritual benefits that come from such a walk (11:2). God’s commitment to disciples is to offer care, to provide fundamental things such as food and shelter. The reference to “the things added” alludes to life’s basics, not vast material gain. This limitation is indicated by Luke 12 as a whole. But to use guilt as a tactic against those who have material holdings is not the point of such a verse either (though concern for how such holdings are used is indicated by 12:32). The point is simply that God promises to provide basic needs for his disciples. Matthew 6:33 has a longer form of this saying. He speaks of seeking “first” God’s kingdom “and his righteousness,” and “all” these things shall be added to you. These are not different ideas, since to seek his kingdom is to seek to live in a way that honors God’s presence and rule."

 

So, the basic idea then has nothing really to do with urgency/interim ethics, but with simple priorities and focus--befitting those who seek to follow and serve the Lord Jesus:

 

"Jesus knew that material things often occupy the thoughts of most people, much of the time. Luke had already drawn attention to this tendency to absorption in material issues in the parable of the sower (8:11–15; cf. Matt 13:18–23; Mark 4:13–20). In the interpretation of that parable, disciples are warned that it is possible for the divine word to be “crowded out” or “choked” by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life (8:14b). The result of this stifling is the sad failure to achieve their expected potential: “And so they never grow into maturity” (8:14c). The exercise of patience was required to bring forth this productive, excellent fruit from the good soil: “The seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest” (8:15). Here, we have further teaching and a pertinent reminder that life consists of far more than food and clothing (12:23). Admittedly, these items are always needed by people, especially by those who are barely making ends meet in an economy where the rich are getting richer and the poor are being badly oppressed and exploited. But Jesus taught his followers not to worry about everyday life." [Trites, A. A., & William J. Larkin. (2006). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel of Luke and Acts (192–193). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

Then comes the second part about 'spiritual treasures in heaven'. Only Luke as the 'sell possessions', but the thrust of both versions is the same--it is about Christ-like generosity and serving others, and not about how 'short the time is'. It does have a future aspect (i.e. rewards in heaven)--and it encourages that perspective--but the reality of future rewards for righteousness was much, much older than Jesus ministry on earth (cf. the Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11).

 

"Jesus explains the rationale for his exhortation with a proverbial saying about loyalty. One is loyal to the things one values most. The references to the heart and to treasure are figurative for “priorities” and “that which is valued.” If one values people, then one will work to meet their needs. If one values self, then one will collect possessions that perish. As Danker (1972: 152) says, “If one’s bank deposit is made in Heaven First National, then the real choices of a man’s life will be governed by that perspective.” If so, one will invest in others. " [Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (1167–1168). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

"Luke highlighted the open-handed generosity taught by Jesus. In a world filled with real need, it was incumbent upon those who would follow the “man from Nazareth” to reach out in compassion and minister to those in distress (12:33–34). Instead of just being concerned to build up a store of treasure for oneself (as in the parable of the rich fool, 12:13–21), there was to be a willingness to part with possessions in order to meet the pressing needs of others, a point stressed by Jesus and buttressed by wonderful promises of blessing in the good time coming (Matt 19:29). In the stories of Acts, we see striking examples of people like Barnabas, the generous-hearted man from Cyprus who willingly shared his possessions for the sake of needy members of the Jerusalem church (Acts 4:34–37). By contrast, there were also people like Ananias and Sapphira who fell into the trap of duplicity; they wanted to appear to be generous, and so they deceptively inflated their account of what they had given. Their sad hypocrisy was revealed and exposed, with sobering results (Acts 5:1–11). By contrast, genuine concern on the part of disciples to meet the down-to-earth needs of people in the present life is to be viewed in the light of eternity, for “the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes” (12:33; cf. 6:38) Jesus spoke the revealing and exposing truth: “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (12:34). If one’s heart is on the eternal treasures, they will be more giving during their life on earth." [Trites, A. A., & William J. Larkin. (2006). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel of Luke and Acts (194). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

" Jesus points the disciples to permanent treasure. He exhorts them to sell their possessions and offer alms, that is, give charitably to the poor. Pursuing the kingdom means caring for others, rather than for self. The security that one has in God frees one to be generous with possessions and to be generous with others (L. Johnson 1977: 155). Alms were often regarded as an act of piety, both in the NT and in Judaism. To show concern for others rather than for oneself is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching, where love for others has a high place. To give up possessions to aid the poor shows the highest degree of such commitments. ... The value of such action is that its significance can never be taken away or destroyed. The figurative reference to purses that do not grow old alludes to the money bag (βαλλάντιον, ballantion) used by business owners (Rengstorf, TDNT 1:525–26; BAGD 130; BAA 263; only in Luke’s Gospel: 10:4; here; 22:35, 36). The picture of the thief and the moth suggests that nothing can affect the quality of such work. Moths are a common figure for riches that are naturally spoiled, since the little creatures can ruin expensive clothes. They depict decay (Marshall 1978: 532; Bauernfeind, TDNT 7:275–77). Heavenly treasure will not fail or spoil, unlike its earthly counterpart, which can disappear in a fleeting moment because it stays bolted to earth upon death. The picture is of heavenly treasure laid in nonperishable (ἀνέκλειπτον, anekleipton; BAGD 64; BAA 127; a NT hapax legomenon) receptacles. Such treasure is laid up in heaven for the one who cares for those in need. The treasure refers to the benefits of being faithful to God, so that one stores up God’s pleasure by having done his will. This faithfulness reaps rich, everlasting reward as a result (1 Cor. 3:10–15; 2 Cor. 5:10). God notices where people place their accounts, and death does not close them. Lack of attachment to possessions is a constant NT theme (1 Cor. 7:30; 1 Tim. 6:7–19; Luke 14:33 [an exposition of 12:33]; Plummer 1896: 329). The stress is not on literally selling all, but on making use of one’s resources in a way that benefits others. Zacchaeus is the positive example of how resources are to be used (19:1–10). ... This exhortation is given here because of the persecution a disciple will face. This opposition might lead to martyrdom or the destruction of one’s possessions. To be tied to possessions might cause a disciple to be divided in allegiance. Others attribute the remarks to an eschatological expectation of the kingdom’s nearness, but this is not clear (Luce 1933: 233). Acts 2 and 4 show that this exhortation was put into practice in Jerusalem, but it was not insisted upon. Rather, it was undertaken voluntarily, as seen in Peter’s recognition of Ananias and Sapphira’s right to keep some proceeds (Acts 5). This response to Jesus’ teaching shows that the expression probably addressed an attitude of readiness to give over all into God’s service. ... Matthew 6:19–21 is similar in concept, though in Luke this verse has very distinct wording. Where Matthew speaks of laying up treasure as the main exhortation, Luke has a direct, nonfigurative command to sell possessions and give alms. The Lucan command is summarized by the aorist tense and calls for decisive action (T. Schmidt 1987: 148). Both accounts, however, share the next verse’s proverbial expression: where your treasure is, there your heart is also. Distinct sayings are more than likely." [Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (1166–1167). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

 

The future-oriented 'rewards' aspect is not connected to the 'eschatological crisis' of the short-term, last-days scenario, but rather to the more general future-rewards generosity of God. This directive (to sell and give) was not a 'requirement' for end-time believers, but was a result of God's gift of His Spirit to the church.

 

"Others attribute the remarks to an eschatological expectation of the kingdom’s nearness, but this is not clear (Luce 1933: 233). Acts 2 and 4 show that this exhortation was put into practice in Jerusalem, but it was not insisted upon. Rather, it was undertaken voluntarily, as seen in Peter’s recognition of Ananias and Sapphira’s right to keep some proceeds (Acts 5). This response to Jesus’ teaching shows that the expression probably addressed an attitude of readiness to give over all into God’s service. ... Matthew 6:19–21 is similar in concept, though in Luke this verse has very distinct wording. Where Matthew speaks of laying up treasure as the main exhortation, Luke has a direct, nonfigurative command to sell possessions and give alms. " [Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (1166–1167). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

 

"In a way v. 34 sums it all up. The heart as the seat of human yearning must have its proper attraction: a heavenly treasure. The maxim does not tell the reader what that treasure is or even why it lasts; it suggests rather why the seeking for the kingdom can find an obstacle in the seeking for food, drink, and clothing—attractions that seduce. Even though the maxim in itself is devoid of an eschatological dimension, yet in the context it assumes one; however, that background is not the eschatological crisis, but the fate of the individual after death (so W. Pesch, “Zur Exegese,” 374). In such a context one must guard that the heart is not seduced by earthly possessions." [Fitzmyer, J. A., S.J. (2008). Vol. 28A: The Gospel according to Luke X–XXIV: Introduction, translation, and notes. Anchor Yale Bible (982). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]

 

And the parallel from the very non-apocalyptic Gospel of Thomas 76.3 (Nag Hammadi II 2) supports the position that it was not understood as a statement about the eschatological crisis:

 

You too search for his treasure which does not perish, which stays where moth cannot reach (it) to eat (it) nor worm deface (it).

 

[The critical edition of Q: Synopsis including the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Mark and Thomas with English, German, and French translations of Q and Thomas. 2000 (J. M. Robinson, P. Hoffmann & J. S. Kloppenborg, Ed.). Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis; Leuven: Fortress Press; Peeters.]

 

This motif of repayment-after-death shows up often in Jesus' teachings, and it is not correlated to an imminent Return at all. Cf Luke 14:12-14:

 

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”  (Lk 14:12–14).

 

 

Contrary to the hypothesis--btw--is the fact that the Lukan version is stronger than the (earlier) Synoptics--when it should be the other way around:

 

"Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Wealth and poverty are prominent themes in the synoptic Gospels, but not in John’s Gospel. While Mark has some material on the subject (e.g., Mark 12:41–44), the “vast majority of the teaching is found in Q material, blocks of which occur in Matthew 6 and Luke 6, 12, and 16. Of the two Gospels, Luke has both more material than Matthew and a stronger form of the material which both include. For example, Luke includes woes along with his Beatitudes (6:20–26), which sharpen the teaching by explicitly stating the obverse. Therefore, it can be said fairly that Luke has a special interest in the topic, although the same general attitude is shared by Matthew and perhaps also by Mark. The three Evangelists give a consistent picture of Jesus’ attitude toward wealth and poverty” (DJG 705)." [Trites, A. A., & William J. Larkin. (2006). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel of Luke and Acts (192). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

 

And, finally, we should note that this 'treasures' motif pre-dates the earthly ministry of Jesus. It can be found in the intertestamental literature:

 

"A treasure in heaven (12:33). Various Jewish texts speak of good works (such as almsgiving) as a means of storing up true treasures. Sirach says, “Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend, and do not let it rust under a stone and be lost. Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold” (Sir. 29:10–11)." [Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 1: Matthew, Mark, Luke (430). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

 

"...for those who act in accordance with truth will prosper in all their activities. To all those who practice righteousness 7 give alms from your possessions, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. 8 If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. 9 So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. 10 For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps you from going into the Darkness. 11 Indeed, almsgiving, for all who practice it, is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High. " [The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Tobit 4:6–11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.]

 

And has parallels in pagan philosophy--which is NOT rooted in Jewish apocalyptic (smile):

 

"If a person seeks such heavenly treasure, the implication is that his heart, i.e. his affections, is directed in the right way, whereas if a person piles up earthly treasure, the evidence shows that his affections are earthbound and hence his heart is not truly related to God. Hence the saying provides a motive for the preceding command, by showing that the person who continues to hold on to earthly wealth and does not fulfil the command in v. 33 is not really seeking after the kingdom of God. The two attitudes are mutually exclusive. The saying has parallels in pagan philosophy (Epictetus II, 22, 19; Sentences of Sextus, 136). Luke has the plural form of the personal pronoun, diff. Mt., which is grammatically better and indicates the universal application of the saying." [Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Gospel of Luke: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (532). Exeter: Paternoster Press.]

 

So, there seems to be nothing here either.

 

Thirteen.  On Serving Two Masters (Matthew 6.34, in the Sermon on the Mount; Luke 16.13). I included this in the possible urgency/interim-ethic class because of how strong the statement about money was. The "cannot serve two masters" sounded like it MIGHT be about harsh tradeoffs in an interim period, or about 'sell-all/give-all/follow-now" ethics.

 

But this looks more like the other 'focus' or 'priority' or 'loyalty' or 'watch out for materialism' passages, in which the eternal ethic of spiritual centeredness is in focus (in keeping with the Greatest Commandment--Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all and all and all... would that we little believers could actually do that more and more and more in our lives....sigh).

 

"Divided loyalty is impossible—a disciple cannot be the loyal slave of both God (producing heavenly treasure) and wealth (producing earthly treasure). God’s kingdom demands exclusive loyalty, as Jesus reminded Satan (4:10, citing Deut. 6:13). One’s devotion to it must be single-minded." [Turner, D. L. (2008). Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (198). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

"Against those who might protest that they can accumulate both spiritual and earthly treasures, Jesus replies that they have only two options. They must choose between competing loyalties. “Master” suggests a slaveowner who required total allegiance. People could not serve two masters in the way in which people today often work two jobs. “Money” is more literally mammon, referring to all of a person’s material resources. Of course, many people do try to cherish both God and mammon, but ultimately only one will be chosen. The other will be “hated,” even if only by neglect. “Love” and “hate” in Semitic thought are often roughly equivalent to choose and not choose. ... Many perceptive observers have sensed that the greatest danger to Western Christianity is not, as is sometimes alleged, prevailing ideologies such as Marxism, Islam, the New Age movement or humanism but rather the all-pervasive materialism of our affluent culture. We try so hard to create heaven on earth and to throw in Christianity when convenient as another small addition to the so-called good life. Jesus proclaims that unless we are willing to serve him wholeheartedly in every area of life, but particularly with our material resources, we cannot claim to be serving him at all (cf. under 8:18–22)." [Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (124). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]

 

"On the other hand, then, is the opposite, “serving Mammon,” a pseudo-religious captivation by materialism. The term “mammon” (μαμμωνᾶς) is interesting for a number of reasons. Originally an Aramaic term, ממון, in its Greek form it designates “wealth” and “property” as a personified and demonic force.2 The name recognizes the religious structure of materialism. Antiquity had long before recognized that the relentless pursuit of money and possessions is tantamount to the worship of a pseudo-deity. Naming this pseudo-deity by a foreign name indicates its demonic and even magical character. Serving this Mammon results in self-enslavement; one has lost control. To many of those who are in the service of this pseudo-deity, the worship of the true God may appear to be compatible. Things could be neatly arranged: serving materialistic goals in the secular world, and serving God in the religious world. Such a combination, popular as it may be, however, renders the service of the true God impossible. Once Mammon is granted power, the demands by this pseudo-god crowd out everything else, and the worship of God becomes an empty gesture. The problem is not, therefore, spending money or owning property, but becoming possessed by Mammon’s demonic powers. ...What ethical conclusion then does one draw from it? One must choose: one can either serve God in freedom or serve Mammon in slavery. One cannot do both because theologically they are antithetical and absolutely irreconcilable. Ethically, one is obliged to serve God in the proper ways. What then is the consequence for one’s handling of money and possessions? The message is that money and property are not just that, but that they can easily ensnare and possess people. They exercise power that is none other than what we call materialism. Materialism, however, is a pseudo-religious way of life, the service of a pseudo-god identified by the name Mammon. Contrary to expectations, Mammon does not liberate but enslave. Discipleship of Jesus is clearly incompatible with such entrapment by Mammon. How is one to prevent it? The answer given in the SM is not that money or ownership of property is by itself evil. Rather, the SM presupposes that the disciples have possessions. [Footnote there: SM/Matt 6:24 par. may reflect the position held by the historical Jesus concerning wealth (cf. also Luke 14:33; Mark 10:17–22 par.). This would imply that Jesus did not require total poverty for everyone, but only for those whom he recognized as being in the grip of Mammon.] How else could they be exhorted to give alms? The issue is not the money but the service of Mammon and the enslavement of those who are caught up in it. That enslavement makes money and possessions a trap of self-destruction. The worship of the one God is the best means of keeping oneself free from such entrapment, once one recognizes that a clear choice has to be made." [Betz, H. D. (1995). The Sermon on the mount: A commentary on the Sermon on the mount, including the Sermon on the plain (Matthew 5:3-7:27 and Luke 6:20-49) (A. Y. Collins, Ed.). Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (458–459). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

 

 

So, this is simply another --but strong--restatement of the basic principle of the Greatest Commandment, and not something 'interim'.

 

Fourteen. The Watchful House Owner (Mt 24.42-44; Lk 12.39-40). This passage is embedded in other passages we have discussed (the 'Faithful and Wise Slave'), but it singles out a different image--that of the owner of the house, instead of the steward of the house. The theme is still 'watchfulness' and 'unexpectedness' of some future event. Both passages have identical wording for the payload: "you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." We have seen this in Mark (e.g. 13.33) and other passages, so there is no timing or development differential between the Synoptics on this. Nothing interim about loyalty, discipline, and patience....

 

 

 

Ok. Now I am down to passages which have ONLY ONE of the gospels with some textual element (possibly) related to urgency/interim ethic.

 

One. Jesus heals the multitudes (Mt 12.15ff; Mr 3.7ff, Lk 6.17ff). This has the secrecy motif in all three parallel passages, but only in MT is it addressed to humans (MR+LK have Jesus ordering the vanquished demons to silence). But this is not connected to urgency/interim ethics either, for it is explicitly explained by MT as fulfillment of OT/Tanakh prophecy--that the messiah would be a 'quiet power': This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 18 “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. 20 He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. 21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (NRSV).

 

Two. Question about the Resurrection (Mt 22.23ff; Mr 12.18ff; Lk 20.27ff). This is the Jesus versus Sadducees passage, in which the topic of marital status in the Resurrection (Eschaton) is discussed. Jesus makes a statement (in LK only) that 'those who belong to this age marry...' in contrast to those 'worthy of a place in that age neither marry or are given in marriage'. I put this as a possible, since it could (?) be interpreted as an 'anti-marriage' interim-ethic datapoint. But this would only be the case if the 'those worthy' applied to living people BEFORE the resurrection, and the text makes it clear that it refers to POST-resurrection people (e.g. cannot die, like angels).

 

"Jesus says that in this age the realities of preresurrection life are that “men marry and [women] are given in marriage.” [Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (1622). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

"First, Jesus stated that conditions in the resurrection are not like those on earth. Since there is no death and hence no need to replenish the race, there is no need for procreation. This could be taken to mean that earthly relationships like marriage will come to an end in heaven. More probably all human relationships are lifted up to such a high level in heaven that the exclusiveness of marriage will not be a factor in heaven as it is on earth. The continuation of earthly relationships is implied in 1 Thes. 4:17–18." [New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (Lk 20:27–40). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.]

 

So, although it calls marriage 'of this age', it does not seem to eschew it or establish some anti-marriage short-term ethic. So, this doesn't seem to add any evidence one way or another to the question.

 

[We should also note that EVEN IF this could be some radical ascetic anti-marriage pre-Eschaton ethic, it is in the wrong gospel to support the hypothesis (smile)--it is only mentioned in LK, and not in MT or MR.]

 

Three. Healing of Deaf person with a speech impediment (Mt 15.29ff; Mk 7.31ff, no-LK). This is another 'tell no one' passage, and falls in line with the others.

 

Four. Blind Man of Bethsaida (Mr 8.22ff). This is apparently another 'do not tell' passage, in which Jesus sends the healed person home--and tells him even to avoid the village where the crowd was. This anti-urgency and/or anti-leave-all-and-follow counts against the hypothesis, at some level.

 

Five. Commissioning of the Disciples (Mat 28.16-20). This is the 'go and make disciples' passage in which the Risen Jesus directs His disciples to 'make disciples of all nations' and promises to be with them 'to the end of the age'. This is very long-term oriented (as are the other Mission to the Gentiles passages), and does not have a hint of 'be back soon' in the passage.

 

Six. Luke's ending to the Synoptic Apocalypse discourse (Lk 21.34ff). This is another 'stay awake' and 'do not get distracted' passages:

 

But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

 

It IS about the Parousia (or at least events surrounding it), but there is no 'interim ethic' in the passage per se. Watchfulness and spiritual sensitivity are enjoined so that His followers (whatever century they are in) will notice the signs, when they begin to appear:

 

"The motif of being weighed down spiritually was not uncommon (Wis. 9:15; Philo, Gig. 7; Act. Thom. 109; Epictetus, Diss. 1:15; Lövestam, 125–127). κραιπάλη** is ‘carousing, intoxication’, and hence the effects of drunkenness — a ‘hangover’ (cf. Is. 24:20; Ps. 78 (77):65; Is. 20:9). μέθη is ‘drunkenness’ (Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:21**; H. Preisker, TDNT IV, 545–548, overlooks the present verse); see Is. 24:20; Lk. 12:45; Mt. 24:49; Eph. 5:18; 1 Thes. 5:7. Clearly we have here a theme of catechetical instruction, expressed in language reminiscent of Is. 24:20. A warning against literal drunkenness is no doubt included, but the main force is probably metaphorical, warning disciples against succumbing to the intoxicating attractions of the sinful world (cf. CH 1:27; 7:2; Rev. 17:2, 6).... If men’s attention to spiritual things is dulled by such worldly concerns, they will not observe the signs, and ‘that day’ (10:12; 1 Thes. 5:4) will come upon them unexpectedly." [Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Gospel of Luke: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (782). Exeter: Paternoster Press.]

 

This is the same message we have seen earlier in both Mark and Matthew.

 

Seven. Martha and Mary (Lk 10.38ff). This a milder form of a 'distraction' passage, in which Jesus commends Mary for being unconcerned about the appearance of the house (or better, 'less concerned').

 

"Jesus is “Lord,” according to the narrator, and this disallows attempts to tie him into the stratagems of others. Instead, his status as Lord identifies him as the one whose design transcends self-oriented or conventionally correct plans and whose message takes precedence over the same. Thus, over against the attempt of Martha to assert the priority of her enterprise over that of her sister, Jesus provides his own two-sided valuation of the scene before him. Martha is engaged in anxious, agitated practices, behavior that contrasts sharply with the comportment of a disciple characteristic of Mary. Martha is concerned with many things, Mary with only one. Hence, Martha’s behavior is negatively assessed, Mary’s positively. What is this “one thing,” this “better part” Mary has chosen? Within this narrative co-text, the infinite range of possibilities is narrowed considerably: She is fixed on the guest, Jesus, and his word; she heeds the one whose presence is commensurate with the coming of the kingdom of God. With Jesus’ presence the world is being reconstituted, with the result that (1) Mary (and, with her, those of low status accustomed to living on the margins of society) need no longer be defined by socially determined roles; and, more importantly in this co-text, (2) Mary and Martha (and, with them, all) must understand and act on the priority of attending to the guest before them, extending to Jesus and his messengers the sort of welcome in which the authentic hearing of discipleship is integral." [Green, J. B. (1997). The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (437). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]

 

 

Notice that Mary and Martha are not commanded to 'sell their house', nor to leave it and follow Jesus. They are to use the resources God has provided to them to learn of, and assist in the spread of the message of God's love and intervention into our condition. This is not anything 'interim', but was illustrated in the lives of earlier prophets (cf. the widow who supported Elijah in 1 Kings 17).

 

But the passage is more about the upsetting of cultural norms (transformed by Jesus) than it is about ministry support:

 

"Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet (10:39). To sit at the feet of a respected rabbi was the position of a disciple. In Acts 22:3 Paul says he was instructed “at the feet of Gamaliel” (NRSV), a leading rabbi of Jerusalem (cf. Luke 8:35). The Mishnah speaks of a similar position: “Let thy house be a meeting-house for the Sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst.” Mary’s initiative in taking this position is particularly shocking, since rabbis did not have women disciples. Girls did not even receive a formal education; they were taught only in household duties like sewing and weaving. In the Mishnah it is said that “if any man give his daughter a knowledge of the Law it is as though he taught her lechery.” [m. Sotah 3.4] ... Martha was distracted by all the preparations (10:40). Literally, “distracted by much service [diakonia].” Jewish society placed a high value on hospitality, and a woman’s honor and reputation depended on her ability to manage her household well. Since service was a woman’s highest calling, Martha’s complaint against Mary would be seen as legitimate. Yet for Jesus all her hard work is a mere distraction compared to Mary’s desire to sit at Jesus’ feet as a disciple and learn from him. Jesus shatters cultural expectations by affirming the status of a woman as his disciple." [Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 1: Matthew, Mark, Luke (417). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]

 

Mary is recognized as a disciple, but is not ordered to leave her home or sell her possessions (jointly owned, presumably, by Martha and Lazarus).

 

Eight. Necessity of Watchfulness (Mr 13.33ff). This is similar or parallel to the other 'master on a journey' passages in Matthew 24 and Luke 19. There is no directive given in it expect to 'keep awake'.

 

Nine. On Almsgiving (Mt 6.1-4, in the Sermon on the Mount). This is an 'anti-self-promotion' passage, in which alms are supposed to be kept 'low key'. The reason given is 'your Father will reward you', and not anything about 'the end is nigh'.

 

Ten. On Anger (Mt 5.21ff, in the Sermon on the Mount). I included this because of the reference to the 'altar', which was destroyed in 70AD. Because of this time-reference, I thought it might contain data about an interim ethic. But upon examination, it looks like a continuation of OT thought (relationship with God is impacted by our relationships with others) and like an ethical principle that would 'outlive' any religious ritual scenario.

 

"In keeping with the teaching of 5:22 on the consequences of anger and abusive speech within the community, Jesus poses a concrete situation in which personal reconciliation takes precedence over religious duty. Significantly the situation here does not pertain to one’s own anger but to the anger or grudge of another. Disciples are thus responsible not only to reign in their own anger but to take steps to reconcile with others who are angry at them. It is not a question of arguing about who offended whom but of both offender and injured party taking responsibility for reconciliation. Such reconciliation to a fellow disciple (NLT’s “someone” and “that person” both translate the word “brother”) must be addressed before one offers a sacrifice in the Temple. Jesus’ stress on the priority of reconciliation and justice over sacrificial worship is in keeping with such OT texts as 1 Sam 15:22; Isa 1:10–18; Hos 6:6, and Mic 6:6–8. As in the model prayer (6:12, 14–15; cf. 18:15–17), divine forgiveness is linked with human forgiveness. The Temple imagery is interesting in light of the likelihood that Matthew is addressing a Christian Jewish community. According to Acts, the Christian Jews in Jerusalem continued to observe the Temple rituals (2:46; 3:1; 5:12, 42; 21:26; 22:17; 24:12, 18; 25:8; 26:21)." [Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (88–89). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

This was how the post-Temple church understood it:

 

"What goodness! What all-surpassing love is shown to humanity! Showing no regard for the honor rightfully his, he calls us to pour forth love toward our neighbor. He explains that he did not speak his earlier threatening words out of hatred or desire to punish but from the most tender affection. For what can be more gentle than these words? “Interrupt the service you are offering me,” he says, “so that your love may continue. To be reconciled to your brother is to offer sacrifice to me.” Yes, this is the reason Jesus did not say “after the offering” or “before the offering.” Rather, precisely while the very gift is lying there, when the sacrifice is already beginning, he sends you at that precise time to be reconciled to your brother. Neither after removing nor before presenting the gift, but precisely while it lies before you, you are to run to your brother. ... What is his motivation in making such an immediate command? It seems to me he has two ends in mind toward which he is hinting and preparing. First, as I have previously said, he desires to show how highly he values love and considers it to be the greatest sacrifice. So he does not even receive the sacrifice of worship without the sacrifice of love. Next, he is imposing such a necessity for reconciliation that it admits of no excuse. The person who has been commanded not to offer sacrifice to God before one is reconciled will hurry to the one who has been grieved and eradicate the enmity between the two. He does so that his sacrifice may not lie unconsecrated." [CHRYSOSTOM, THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 16.9. Simonetti, M. (2001). Matthew 1–13. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT 1a. (103–104). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

 

Eleven. On Divorce (Matt 5.21ff, in the Sermon on the Mount). This is one of Jesus' statements on divorce, with some parallels in Mr 10.11f , Luke 16.18, and in another passage of Matthew (19.9). The wording of this directive (i.e. "whoever divorces") indicates an on-going practice, but it seems more a regular ethic than an 'interim' one. Nothing about this is tied to the Eschaton.

 

Twelve. On prayer (Matt 6.5ff, in the Sermon on the Mount). This is basically the same motif as in 'On Almsgiving': avoid self-promotion, Father will reward you. Nothing interim about that...

 

Thirteen. On Reproving another Believer (Matt 18.15-20). This is the 'church discipline' passage and is connected with the 'Keys to the Kingdom' passage in Matthew 16.19 (and somewhat related to the 'forgiveness of sins' passage in John 20.23). This passage in neither in (earlier) Mark nor (later) Luke. There are several things in this passage that seem to indicate an 'on-going' period before the Lord's return: (1) the establishment of problem resolution 'escalation procedures'; (2) the use of 'church'; (3) the promise of 'guided ethical development and decisions'; (4) the promise of the presence of the 'invisible' Jesus, and (5) the probable 'synchronized decisions' understanding of the verb tenses.

 

"I am there among them. The presence of Jesus with the church during the process of discipline is similar to the rabbinic notion that God’s presence (the Shekinah) is with a group as small as two people who are studying the Torah (m. Avot 3:2, 3, 6). Jesus’ promise that he is with his church speaks of nothing less than divine activity (Joel 2:27; Zech 2:10–11). It recalls 1:23 and anticipates 28:20. The high Christology of Matthew is once again obvious." [Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (240–241). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

I am with them” parallels “it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” Jesus implicitly equates himself with God and promises his continuing spiritual presence in the church after his death. Echoes of the Immanuel theme of 1:23 (God with us) reverberate." [Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (281). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]

 

"When Jesus is the subject, it depends on the expectation, already firmly set before us in 16:21; 17:9, 23, that his mission will not finish with his earthly death but will be continued through his resurrection. The disciple community will continue even after that to be not merely the followers but also the companions of Jesus. His spiritual presence among them is the source of their authority to declare the will of God and to expect God to hear their prayers." [France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (698). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.]

 

"Emphatically introduced with the ‘Amen, I say to you’, favoured by Matthew, the present verse is a near repetition of 16:19, which has been discussed in detail earlier. The main difference is the move from singular to plural: from Peter to the whole church. We saw at 16:19 that the binding and loosing is best understood as having to do with the regulation of behaviour. It has to do with bringing to bear on the lives of those who would be disciples the significance of all that Jesus was and brought. Having been instructed by Jesus, the church is able to prohibit and command in a manner that is backed by God himself. In the context of the attempt to bring back an erring brother or sister, the specific point will be that the church is able to confirm the standard of behaviour to which the erring one is being called to conform once more. The movement from individual reproof to the involvement of others and finally of the whole church ensures that severing a person from the fellowship of the church, where this needs to happen, is finally based on the most assured understanding of what God requires and therefore what God will give his backing to. The one whom the church declares to be out of step with God is indeed out of step with God! ... Such a role may have been given foundationally to Peter, but he is not to be set over against the church in such a role since the only proper context for him to exercise such a role is in solidarity with the church which shares with him the experience of having learnt from Jesus and the consequent calling to speak with authority about what God requires. .. Mt. 1:23 anticipated that in Jesus’ life and ministry God’s presence would be manifested in some decisive manner; and the unfolding of Matthew’s story has clarified from various angles the precise manner in which this presence of God was to be realised. But now, as in 18:5, we move from a horizon determined by the presence of Jesus to one determined by an early church context where Jesus is no longer physically present. Does ‘Emmanuel’ still remain true? Yes, it does. But its focus now is not the physical presence of Jesus but the group gathered in his name, because to such a group his abiding presence is promised. In this new way his presence continues to mediate the presence of God." [Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (750–751). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.]

 

"This presence of Jesus should not be understood as a metaphor (as in the case of Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 5:4) but is the literal presence of the resurrected Christ, in keeping with the promise to be articulated in 28:20 (cf. 1:23b). The community founded by Jesus (16:18) is assured that he will be present in that community until the close of the age." [Hagner, D. A. (1998). Vol. 33B: Matthew 14–28. Word Biblical Commentary (533). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]

 

And on the passage in John and its connection with the 'binding / loosing' passages in Matthew:

 

"The majority of commentators still interpret the Matthaean saying in the light of the rabbinic use of the terms “binding” and “loosing” for determining whether actions are “forbidden” or “allowed” by the Law, and so view the saying as relating to a kind of magisterial office. Certainly that usage was current in Rabbinism, but the terms were also applied to imposing or relieving the “ban” on offenders, i.e., their exclusion from or readmittance to the synagogue (see Str-B, 1:738–47). There is increasing conviction among other scholars, however, that Schlatter’s judgment is right, that “this mode of speech plainly shows that originally the formula ‘loose and bind’ describes the activity of the judge” (Der Evangelist Matthäus, 511). The language refers to the judge’s declaration of the guilt or innocence of persons brought before him, who are “bound” to or “loosed” from the charges made against them. In Matt 16:19b it would denote Peter’s authority to declare people forgiven or condemned according to their response to the message of the kingdom of God. With this Jeremias agrees: “The authority of the messengers includes both the communication of salvation and the imposition of judgment. It is the judge’s authority to acquit and to pronounce guilty that is described by this pair of opposites and the synonymous phrases ‘bind and loose’ and ‘forgive and retain sins.’ As pairs of opposites are used in Semitic languages to describe the totality, these pairs of words mean that the messengers receive total authority” (New Testament Theology, 238). The saying therefore, alike in Matthew and in John, is fittingly placed in a context of commission to disciples. Interestingly, while the Matthaean saying is set in the ministry of Jesus, it has in view Peter’s work in the era following the Resurrection (Peter was certainly no rock-man on whom the Lord could build his church in the period approaching his passion!). John’s context is specifically that of the commission of the risen Lord in v 21 and the gift of the Spirit in v 22. It entails therefore the double context of the continuance of the mission of Jesus through his disciples in the world, and the continuance of that mission through the Holy Spirit to the world in and with the disciples. (This latter aspect is the theme of 15:25–26; 16:8–11.) With the double context, there is a double aspect of the mission: that of declaring salvation and judgment. The Gospel makes it plain that Jesus was sent primarily to reveal God and to redeem mankind: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (3:17). But the rejection of the revelation and of the Revealer inevitably entails a negative judgment upon the rejectors. So we have the paradoxical saying, at the close of the narrative of the healing of the blind man: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see should see, and that those who see should become blind” (9:39). The ministry itself concludes in the lifting up of Jesus, which is declared to be the judgment of this world and its prince (12:31)—condemnation for those who range themselves with the crucifiers of the Christ, and forgiveness for those who receive his word. This process of judgment continues through the witness of the followers of Christ and through the Spirit of Christ who works with and through them. Disciples proclaim forgiveness of sins and so entry into the saving sovereignty of God through the redemption of Christ, and judgment on those who reject the revelation and redemption of Christ." [Beasley-Murray, G. R. (2002). Vol. 36: John. Word Biblical Commentary (383–384). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]

 

There is also the possible (probable) notion of 'overlap' or 'synchronized decision making' in the Matthew 18 and John 20 passages. The verb tenses in those two verses could easily convey the sense that the decisions that the Church makes in history (in these cases) are simply 'results' of the decisions having already been made in heaven. That is, that the presence of the Risen Christ in the agency of the post-Easter Holy Spirit, mediates decisions already made by God to the historical church--as the church seeks His will and direction, in the context of spiritual harmony and love. Let's note this first for the John passage ("sins are forgiven") and the Matthew 16 passage ("will be bound/loosed"):

 

"It should also be borne in mind that, according to the best text, the verbs “are forgiven” and “are not forgiven” are in the perfect tense. The meaning is that the Spirit-filled church can pronounce with authority that the sins of such-and-such people have been forgiven or have been retained. If the church is really acting under the leadership of the Spirit it will be found that her pronouncements in this matter do but reveal what has already been determined in heaven." [Morris, L. (1995). The Gospel According to John. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (749–750). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]

 

"Another difficulty is the interpretation of the two future perfect periphrastic verbal constructions. If the constructions are translated, “will be bound … will be loosed,” Jesus promises that the apostles’ decisions on earth will be ratified in heaven (Matt. 18:18; Cadbury 1939). If they are translated, “will have been bound … will have been loosed,” the implication is that heaven’s prior decisions are ratified on earth by the apostles (cf. 18:18; John 20:23)." [Turner, D. L. (2008). Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (405). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

This would suggest that the two Ages are now overlapping (kingdom present AND still future), as opposed to a simple bifurcation: one Age begins only when the prior Age ends. All of the NT data (and later material, mostly) indicates that the New Age began with the ministry of Jesus on the earth, but that it is 'running alongside' (e.g. parable of weeds) or 'developing inside' (e.g. parables of leaven).

 

So, this passage in Matthew actually provides contrary data --it is not simply 'silent' in the matter--to the blogger's hypothesis. And, since this teaching is only present in Matthew and not in Luke, the historical 'linear abandonment' argument is not supported either. (Of course, Luke could have simply not included the teaching for simple selection reasons--so it is not data AGAINST the linear-abandonment hypothesis.)

 

Fourteen. Parable of the Rich Fool (Lk 12.13-21). We have come across this multiple times already, as an illustration of the many 'do not focus on wealth' passages. This is not eschatological (except perhaps in the individual sense of eternal rewards), but is about priorities, not apocalyptic time tables.

 

"Ironically, the years of ease this man eagerly anticipates are unexpectedly cut short by the one who has authority over his life (Danker 1988: 248; on drinking as reflecting selfish prosperity, see Goppelt, TDNT 6:139–40). He did not fulfill his moral responsibility before God to care for the needs of others. Now God issues a rebuke and takes action: he calls the man a fool and requires his soul. God rejects his covetousness (Pilgrim 1981: 110). The soul that had hoped for ease (12:19) is now ordered to attention. Ἄφρων (aphrōn, fool) is an important term, for in the OT a fool is one who either acts without God or without wisdom about potential destruction (Job 31:24–28; Ps. 14:1; 53:1 [53:2 MT]; Eccles. 2:1–11; Sir. 11:18–19). All the benefit of self-directed planning and labor comes crashing down by God’s command. God demands an account of the man’s mortal soul (ἀπαιτοῦσιν, apaitousin; Fitzmyer 1985: 974; Wis. 15:8 [of the short, “borrowed” time our souls live before returning to dust]; BAGD 80; BAA 159), and his grain and wealth cannot pay his debt. ... One lingering question—one of deep irony and tragedy—remains for the man. Who will possess the things he has prepared for himself? The point of the question is that the one person who will not enjoy the ownership is the man (Arndt 1956: 316). The man has new, more eternal concerns! The pursuit of possessions has left him empty in terms of his ultimate priorities before God (the OT has similar thoughts: Job 27:16–22; Ps. 39:6 [39:7 MT]; 49:6 [49:7 MT]; 90:10; 103:15–16; Eccles. 2:18–23; Plummer 1896: 325). In this “you can’t take it with you” parable, Jesus shows that to focus on possessions and not be concerned with spiritual things is a grave, long-term error. Though riches may be enjoyable in the short term, they do not exist in the long term. Their mere possession does not bring accreditation before God (James 1:9–11; 5:1–6). ... 12:21  Jesus applies the parable by noting that this is the fate of all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich toward God. Οὕτως (houtōs, so it is) indicates a comparison. The basic contrast is between ἑαυτῷ (heautō, to himself) and εἰς θεόν (eis theon, toward God). The parable does not condemn planning or wealth per se. Rather, Jesus’ complaint is against the person who takes wealth and directs it totally toward the self. Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10) will be a counterexample of a penitent rich man. Storing up treasure for oneself and not for God is the problem. “Laying up treasure” is a concept with Jewish roots (Sir. 29:8–17; Tob. 4:9; Ps. Sol. 9.5; Nolland 1993a: 687; see also the exegesis of Luke 12:33). The main element of the comparison is that wealth is ultimately a wasted accumulation, for the person cannot present it to God for admission to heaven. As Fitzmyer (1985: 974) says, “Divine scrutiny of the life given will not be concerned with barns bursting at their seams.” Life does not consist of one’s possessions, and to regard life as such is to be gripped by greed (Luke 12:15; Plummer 1896: 325). It is important to note that the issue in the parable is not wealth, but how wealth is directed. The sin is accumulating riches for oneself. Pilgrim (1981: 112) sees three errors: (1) hoarding one’s possessions, (2) assuming that life can be secured and measured by possessions, and (3) regarding property as one’s own." [Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (1153–1154). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

Fifteen. Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (Mt 25.1-13). This parable ends with the common "keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour" directive. We have seen this many times, and this is a call to vigilance, self-discipline, and loyalty. This passage is unique to Matthew, and contains the 'delay' word--which we have discussed earlier.

 

 Sixteen. Parable of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl (Mt 13.44ff). I included this in the 'possibles' class because of the 'sell all that he has' terminology.  But--IMO--this verse is about Jesus 'selling all' (in His sacrifice) to 'buy' the Kingdom (His redeemed people), and NOT about some super-good-works on our part needed to 'buy eternal life' from God!

 

"In this parable “a man” (i.e., Christ) finds a “treasure (i.e., the kingdom, or believers) hidden in a field (i.e., the world).” He enthusiastically “sells all that he has and buys that field.” ... The problem this parable addresses is the value of the citizens of “the kingdom” to Christ. The parable explains that they are of supreme value. Jesus is the one who gave all He had for the buried treasure in the field. He gave His life for His own (1 Pet 1:18–19). His sacrifice shows how precious to Christ are “the kingdom” subjects (1 Cor 6:20; 2 Cor 8:9). ... In the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, some incorrectly identify the treasure as eternal life. In this view the man who sells all is seen as a seeking sinner buying his own eternal life by committing his life to Christ in radical, obedient discipleship. The problem with this interpretation is that the Bible consistently teaches that a person is born again, not by his sacrifice but by the Lord’s. No one must think he can pay any part of the redemption price himself. .. The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and of the “pearl of great price” are also parallel. Both involve the purchase of something valuable. Thus it would be natural in context to interpret the pearl hunter and man seeking to buy a field as the same individual and the objects purchased as having a similar or identical identification. ... What is the value of the citizens of the kingdom to Christ? They are of supreme value. Just as the businessman gave “all that he had” for a valuable pearl, so Jesus gave all He had (His life) for His own. In Jesus’ case He purchased them not for what they were but for what they would become through His grace." [Haller, H. M., Jr. (2010). The Gospel according to Matthew. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (R. N. Wilkin, Ed.) (65). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.]

 

"These sayings may refer to the mission of Jesus seeking men for his Kingdom, with a plain statement of the price which must be paid for that Kingdom’s inauguration." [Albright, W. F., & Mann, C. S. (2008). Vol. 26: Matthew: Introduction, translation, and notes. Anchor Yale Bible (170). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]

 

Those who see the person finding the treasure/pearl as being a believer/disciple, still see the parable as about the value of discipleship (not 'salvation' proper), and not about 'timing' or 'selling all'. The 'selling all' passages we have looked at do not speak of 'selling everything to BUY something else'(!), but for meeting the material needs of others. So it is inappropriate to connect this 'selling' with any kind of 'interim ethic'.

 

"The parables of the treasure and pearl indicate the incomparable value of the kingdom, which will cause a man to do everything possible to possess it. Another possible interpretation equates the man with Christ (as in v. 37) who sacrifices His all to purchase His people." [Ryrie, C. C. (1994). Ryrie study Bible: New International Version (Expanded ed.) (1484). Chicago: Moody Publishers.]

 

"The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl. In both of these parables, a person sacrifices everything to acquire one highly valuable, intensely desired object. Although some interpret both parables as pictures of the redemption of the church by God through Jesus, this tends to neglect the context and read Pauline theology into Matthew. Although Matthew did speak of Jesus as a ransom for many (20:28; cf. 26:28), another approach better fits the context. Throughout Matthew 13, Jesus is speaking parabolically of the mixed response to his Kingdom teachings and deeds. One may trace positive responses to the Kingdom as well as negative responses. As to positive responses, in the parable of the sower there was good soil that produced fruit (13:8, 23). The secrets of the Kingdom were revealed to the disciples (13:11). The parable of the wheat and weeds speaks of the glorious future of the righteous as good seed gathered into a barn (13:43), and this is reinforced by the parable of the fishing net (13:48). The parables of the mustard seed and yeast speak of the almost imperceptible growth of the Kingdom from insignificance to greatness (13:31–33). ... It seems very likely that the parables under consideration here fit into this pattern of positive response to the Kingdom. The Kingdom is portrayed as a hidden treasure and a valuable pearl, and it is pursued by men who sell all they have in order to gain it. Surely this fits the picture of discipleship one finds throughout Matthew. Jesus’ first disciples left their families and fishing gear to follow Jesus (4:20, 22; cf. 9:9). Following Jesus entails the sacrifice of losing one’s life for Jesus and thereby finding it (16:25–26). The rich young ruler would not sell all he had to follow Jesus (19:21–22), but all who do make such a sacrifice will be richly rewarded (19:27–29). Thus, these parables present both the sacrifice required in following Jesus and the disciples’ joy (13:44; cf. 2:10; 28:8; for temporary joy see 13:20) in the present possession of the Kingdom as well as its future rewards. Despite the lure of wealth (13:22) and the many distractions of life in this world, millions continue to follow Jesus at great cost in the present life but with greater prospects for the future." [Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (194). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

Seventeen. The Sending of the 70 (Lk 10.1-16). This motif is included in the 'take no bag' discussion earlier, and the details of the passage are discussed elsewhere on the Tank (nostaff.html).

 

Eighteen. Teaching on Humility (Lk 14.7-14). The ending of this passage ('you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous') I have already discussed. The first part of this passage (7-11) ends with the exhortation to humility (and the consequences of self-exaltation). As such, the ethic of humility (not very 'interim' of an ethic at all, from a biblical perspective!) is affirmed--without reference to the Parousia. It is grounded in service and modeled by our Lord:

 

"Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. In place of self-assertion and aggressiveness, Jesus advocated a spirit of humble service (see Mark 10:35–45), and modeled it himself (22:24–27; John 13:1–17), even to the extent of the total self-giving and obedience that led to the cross (Phil 2:5–8). Here, that attitude is played out in seating arrangements, which were a sign of status. In the Jewish etiquette of the time, one was expected to take an inconspicuous place and only move to a more prominent position if the host invited him to do so." [Trites, A. A., & William J. Larkin. (2006). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel of Luke and Acts (211). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers. ]

 

Nineteen. The Healing of the Ten Lepers (Lk 17.11-19). I added this since it was a case where someone responded in faith and gratitude for God's work. In the passage, the Samaritan returns to Jesus before going to the priest to receive public recognition (and therefore, acceptance back into the mainstream of social and economic life). But, instead of Jesus telling the man to 'follow me', He tells him to 'go on his way'. This is somewhat unexpected under an urgency/interim ethic hypothesis, and is another case of Jesus NOT letting someone 'leave their family to follow Him'--as we have noted earlier.

 

Twenty. The Last Judgment (Mt 25.31-46). I included this in the class because of the 'transitive treatment' ethic described ('as often as you did it to X, you did it to Y'). The passage itself is clearly eschatological (but without any timing markers in it), but the discussion in this section of the series is about the ethics in such passages--not the timing or interpretation of the elements.

In this case the ethics are clearly anchored in the reality of the eschatological judgment, but there is no hint of immanency or even 'suddenness' of it. It thus has nothing to say on the interim-ethic issue.

 

We should also note, of course, that the 'transitive treatment' ethic is pre-Jesus (e.g. Proverbs 19.17: whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord), and reaffirmed in many ways in the gospel narratives:

 

(Matt 10.40-42) you will be given a reward like theirs. The solemn words of 10:37–39 about one’s deepest loyalties in the face of persecution are now balanced somewhat by these concluding words of the discourse, which stress reward. Those who receive the messengers of the Kingdom will be rewarded because reception of the Messiah’s messengers amounts to receiving the Messiah, and reception of the Messiah amounts to receiving the Father. More specifically (10:41), those who receive a prophet (cf. 5:12) or a righteous person will receive a reward equivalent to the prophet or righteous person’s reward. The words “prophets and righteous people” occur together again in 13:17. These are to receive hospitality due to what they stand for, prophets for the message and righteous people for the character of God." [Turner, D., & Bock, D. L. (2005). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (157). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]

 

"This passage returns to the theme of hospitality toward the messengers of the gospel (10:11–14). The principle here is like that of the appointed messenger or agent in Judaism, who represented his sender to the full extent of his commission. God, his glory and law, and Israel were also connected in this way in Jewish tradition. This principle had always been true of the prophets (e.g., 1 Sam 8:7; cf. Num 14:2, 11; 16:11): one who embraced them embraced their message and thus God’s will. Those who provided for them were likewise rewarded (1 Kings 17:9–24; 2 Kings 4:8–37). A cup of water was the only gift the poorest person might have, but it would symbolize enough. Cold water was highly preferred for drinking" [Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Mt 10:40–42). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

 

Twenty-one. The Lawyer's Question (Lk 10.25ff). This passage is the lead-in to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In this passage a man asks Jesus about how to 'inherit eternal life'. Jesus answers by holding up the two great commandments (the standard of perfection no human can ever attain...). Jesus basically advances the 'ethic' of the Hebrew Bible (Deut 6.5 and Lev 19.18), and not some 'sell all and follow' directive.

 

If we argued that Luke 'watered down' the ethic to this 'steady state' command, the close parallels in Mark 12.28 and Matt 22.34 would prove us wrong. In Mark's version, in fact, Jesus commends a scribe with the observation that 'you are not far from the kingdom of God'. This shows that the ethic of Luke (related to 'eternal life') is the same as in Mark (related to 'kingdom of God').

 

The interim-ethic is not really interim at all. It is the OT fundamental principle of loyalty to and love of God, and loyalty to and love of those things which God is loyal to and loves (i.e. our neighbor). It needed to be restated as sharply as possible --in good prophetic inflammatory style (smile)--to call attention to its foundational importance. The ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus and the post-Easter apostles focused on this 'need for more focus' on the part of Israel, and those outside of Israel, called to the Heavenly Banquet by grace.

 

Twenty-two. The Unjust/Crafty Manager (Lk 16.1-13).  I put this in the class of possible passages because of the 'make friends with money' phrase, even though it is not very 'eschatological' in the wording/tone of the parable.  In fact, there is an explicit reference to 'eternal dwellings/booths'--most likely a reference to post-mortem life.

 

This story is very, very confusing to most of us, but the point of it can be summarized thus:

 

"In the parable, a normally unrighteous man acts to his benefit. He has been shrewd. Jesus’ remark is that those of the world (“the sons of this age”) give more foresight to their future, they are more shrewd in their dealings with people than are God’s children (“the sons of light”). God’s children should be shrewd with possessions by being generous. Such acts show charity and foresight. The description of God’s children as children of light is common in Judaism (1 Enoch 108.11; 1QS 1.9; 2.16; Klostermann 1929: 163; Marshall 1978: 621) and the church (John 12:36; Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:5). The Jewish idiom as evidenced in 1 Enoch and at Qumran is evidence for the parable’s authenticity, since it indicates that such an expression was available to Jesus in a Palestinian context. In pointing to the children of this age, there is an inherent comparison with God’s children as the children of “the age to come.” Jesus is saying that God’s children, who have a heavenly future, should be as diligent in assessing the long-term effect of their actions as those who do not know God are in protecting their earthly well-being (1 Cor. 15:58 is similar in tone, as are the other parables of the “prudent”). Christians should apply themselves to honor and serve God in their actions as much as secular people apply themselves to obtain protection and prosperity from money and the world. The point is not so much the means chosen to do this, though that is important, as it is the wisdom of having such a concern. ...  The reference to “they may receive you” is (1) a reference to friends who receive the benefit and welcome the generous one into heaven, (2) a reference to angels who represent God, or (3) a circumlocution for God himself (6:38, 44; 12:20, 48; 14:35). God responds to disciples who love their neighbors with concrete action, even down to the use of money. Such disciples evidence an active walk with God that is a product of a faith commitment to him. The disciple is aware of heavenly reward and will respond appropriately. This yields a better way to take the remark than seeing the friends as the subject (so Arndt 1956: 357), since they could not provide eternal habitations. God will reward the person who is generous with money."  [Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (1332–1333). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

So, even though it seems to be about 'rewards' --or at least, 'recognition' by God--it is still just about basic generosity (perhaps in the form of alms, but not necessarily so), and this is not an apocalyptic-only or apocalyptic-mostly ethic, as we have seen.

 

Twenty-two. Two Blind Men Healed (Mt 9.27ff). We have already noted that this is contrary to an 'urgency' ethic, since Jesus tells the healed persons to tell no one. We probably would have expected Him to tell them to 'leave all and follow Him' because the 'hour draweth nigh' or some such--if the urgency/interim-ethic hypothesis were correct.

 

Twenty-three. Zacchaeus (Lk 19.1-10). We have seen this incident crop up in many, many of the discussions above. It is a very strong piece of evidence AGAINST any 'sell-all-give-leave-follow' interim-ethic hypothesis. It is a great illustration of many of Jesus' statements about the proper use of material possessions--and, btw, of the MEANS of accumulating such possessions. In other words, Jesus did not make Zacchy quit his 'lucrative' job, but rather Zacchy responded to the gracious welcome by God with a heart that moved in step with the generosity and servanthood of Jesus...

 

 

 

Ok, we looked at some 70+ passage in the Synoptics (with possible evidence of interim-ethics or urgency-based ethics), and found either (1) nothing to support the hypothesis; or (2) positive data AGAINST it.

 

So, our investigation supports the earlier summaries by scholars that the ethics of Jesus were NOT based on such a view of His Return.

 

We will now check--in Part 4 -- for other passages in the NT dealing with this...

 

==== on to Part 4   =====

 


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