Daily Office Lections: Zechariah 1:7-17; Revelation 3:7-13; Matthew 24:15-31
In this third week of Advent, we will be focusing on the Gospel readings in the daily office lectionary. It would be helpful, perhaps with study Bible in hand, to go back start reading from the beginning of Matthew 24.
Since Matthew 24 and following are prophetic and apocalyptic texts, I want to spend today's post giving some guidelines on reading such Scripture passages.
1) The word 'apocalypse' means 'unveiling.' It has no necessary etymological or thematic tie to zombies or the end of the world. I had the privilege of taking a class this past summer on Origen of Alexandria taught by the Very Rev. Dr. John Behr; and he pointed out that the Cross is the Apocalypse for it is at Calvary that we most clearly see who God is. Thus, when we talk about Eschatology (the study of last things), we are also talking about Teleology, that is, what is our telos, our end.
2) The Coming of the Son of Man, the Day of the Lord, the Eschaton find their fulfillment in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Thus, the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds happened on the Cross and at the Ascension. Now, that doesn't mean that there is no future dimension to such prophecies (for Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the quick and the dead) but simply that we can't read Matthew 24 (or other prophetic texts) as speaking solely to future events. We have to read prophecy on multiple levels, not as an either/or but a both/and; and oftentimes as a both/and/and/and.
3) Prophecies have proximate and ultimate fulfillments, and also immediate and theological fulfillments. So in Matthew 24, Jesus is speaking of things that are happening at that moment (immediate); things that are happening in the ecclesiological and heavenly realms (theological), things that will happen soon (proximate); and things that will happen at the end of the age (ultimate).
4) The proximate fulfillment: Much of what Jesus is speaking of in Matthew 24 was fulfilled in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed Herod's Temple in Jerusalem. Thus, he predicts, four decades prior to the event, that "there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:2). He also points out that a prophecy given by Daniel six centuries earlier will soon be fulfilled -- "the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place" (Matthew 24:15). In AD 70, the Roman general, Titus, before having the temple destroyed, desecrated by installing a statue of himself there, and entering into the Most Holy Place.
5) We need to read Scripture as Scripture, that is, letting it be what it is instead of making it into something else (e.g. a long form fortune cookie). And we need to read it with the Fathers in the way that they read it. To put a finer point on it: we need to carefully consider how the writers of the New Testament, and the Lord himself, understood and interpreted the Old Testament passages, and let that hermeneutic guide our reading of Scripture. So when we read prophecy, or any Scripture passage, we do so with the Church Ancient.
6) Finally, we should always be asking: What does this say about Jesus, his person and work? As cliché as it is to say -- it's all about Jesus. So we are on the road to Emmaus and as we read Scripture in the power of the Holy Spirit, our Lord explains to us how Moses and all the Prophets speak of him (Luke 24).