Springboarding off of the Apostle Paul’s life focus, clearly expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:2, Pastor Greg launched an “open-ended” message series on January 12th, 2020 – focusing on “Just Jesus.” He is walking us through the entire New Testament, pulling passages from the Old Testament for context, and keep us focused throughout the year on “Just Jesus.”
This is week 48, Matthew, part 46 in the series. Today, Pastor G talks about Matthew 10:23. This is a controversial verse that has stumped many interpreters. Pastor G explains several competing scholarly theories and then gives his own best explanation for what Jesus really intended.
Whenever they persecute you in one town, flee to another! I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. ~ Matthew 10:23
Now, I said last week, the second half of that verse is VERY controversial. There are MAJOR differences of opinion on how to interpret that statement by Jesus.
As I’ve shared with you many times before, in MANY other places in Scripture, whenever Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man, He is hearkening back to a vision of the prophet Daniel.
“I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven, One like a son of man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days, And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Honor, and a kingdom, So that all the peoples, nations, and populations of all languages Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed. ~ Daniel 7:13-14
Whenever Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man He is telling those with spiritual understanding that He is the Messiah rather than claiming the title MESSIAH outright. This allowed Him to last a lot longer in His teaching ministry and this is why He cautions His disciples and healed people to not publicly use the title of Messiah for Him too soon.
MATTHEW’S THREE MAIN THEMES
1) Jesus is the Promised Messiah from the line of David.
2) Jesus is Moses’ Successor.
3) Jesus is Immanuel: A name that means “God With Us.”
Matthew carefully recorded all the times Jesus called Himself the Son of Man – 28 times in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew is making sure we realize that Jesus is the Messiah, the prophesied Son of Man that Daniel sees eventually, one day, at the end of days, coming with the clouds of heaven where He will finally be recognized for who He is by the entire world.
Now, here is the problem with Matthew 10:23. Jesus says the disciples won’t finish working their way through the villages and cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes! At first glance He seems to be saying this vision of Daniel’s – that is clearly referring to Judgment Day, the End of Days, what we as Christians understand as The Second Coming, will come to pass very soon. Jesus seems to be saying that is going to happen even before the Twelve finishes visiting the towns of Israel. But of course, that didn’t happen. Still today, 2,000 years later, it has still not come to pass.
NON-BELIEVER AND LIBERAL SCHOLAR THEORIES
Jesus was just wrong. He truly thought He would be coming in the clouds, revealed as the Messiah, very soon, but He was just wrong.
Others say Jesus was just a man and He was deluded. He was just insane.
Others say He was a liar, a conman.
CHRISTIAN SCHOLAR THEORIES
Jesus was speaking of His transfiguration
Jesus was referring to His triumphal entry.
Jesus was referring to His glorified form after His resurrection.
Jesus was referring to the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Jesus was referring to His coming in the limited judgment and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70A.D. foreshadowing the ultimate Judgment Day.
Jesus just meant He would rejoin the disciples on the journey soon, even before they went through all of Israel. (The “Catch-Up” Theory)
SOME ADDITIONAL CONTEXT
Mark 6 and Luke 9 both refer to the sending out of the Twelve but neither of them include all the details Matthew includes and neither of them includes the promise of the Son of Man coming before the Twelve go through all the cities of Israel.
John’s Gospel doesn’t refer to the sending out of the Twelve at all.
In Luke 10 we see Jesus sending out 72 disciples (some manuscripts say 70 disciples) with pretty much verbatim wording to when He sent out the Twelve but again He doesn’t refer to the coming of the Son of Man before they finish going through the towns of Israel.
Luke is the only Gospel to mention this sending out of the 72
So, this particular prophecy of Jesus, that the twelve would not finish going through all the cities of Israel before the coming of the Son of Man only occurs in Matthew 10:23.
One solution is Matthew isn’t always super concerned about preserving the exact chronology of events and teachings of Jesus. Sometimes he groups teachings from several different occasions together and gives us the appearance that Jesus gave one, super long sermon including all of those things.
Another solution is that one of two possibilities must be true.
1) The Twelve “finishing going through” all of the cities of Israel before He comes doesn’t mean what we assume it means.
2) The “Coming of the Son of Man” that Jesus is referring to is a different “coming” than the ultimate “Second Coming” of Christ He has referred to in other passages.
… you will not finish going through the cities of Israel …
This term “finish going through” has been translated from the Greek word telesete, a form of the verb teléo which means to bring to an end, to complete, to fulfill. For a little more context, teléo is also the root word verb for one of Jesus’ final statements from the Cross. Jesus shouts Tetelestai – It Is Finished referring to Him fulfilling, completing His mission of redemption. He has telesete (finished) His mission with His redeeming act on the cross.
So, perhaps Jesus is not referring just to the Twelve simply “going through” the various cities or even “preaching and healing” in the various cities. Perhaps when He says they will not finish or telesete the cities before He comes, He is saying they will not be able to complete or fulfill or finish the overall mission of “evangelizing” all of Israel before the Day of Judgment comes with the Second Coming of the Son of Man. The original twelve disciples STARTED that mission but even today that mission is still ongoing by other disciples of Jesus in Israel and all around the world. We disciples of Jesus have still not telesete all of the cities of Israel.
Perhaps Jesus is just saying “All of Israel will not yet be converted when the Second Coming of the Son of Man occurs.” All of those explanations for “finish going through the cities of Israel” can solve our problem with this verse.
… until the Son of Man comes.
As I mentioned, the other possibility for understanding this problematic verse is that Jesus was referring to a DIFFERENT coming of the Son of Man than the ultimate Day of Judgment Coming we usually connect to this phrase. In other passages of Scripture, Jesus refers to a coming of the Son of Man in the past or present tense. He says “The Son of Man came”or “The Son of Man HAS COME.” or “The Son of Man is here.” Clearly, there are multiple comings of the Son of Man NOT just the final coming, what we would call the Second Coming of Christ.
He uses various tenses of the same Greek Verb erchomai which can mean to come, to arrive, to enter or in some cases it can even mean to go or to depart. Metaphorically, in other Greek writings it can mean to come into being, to arise, to come forth, to show oneself, to find one’s place or find one’s influence, to become known.
So, I’ve always wondered if this verse should have just been translated differently in one of these ways. Before the Son of Man DEPARTS or Before the Son of Man GOES. Before the Son of Man FULLY REVEALS Himself. Before the Son of Man is KNOWN. Before the Son of Man is widely recognized as the Messiah. Etc. If we go with that explanation — BOOM — problem solved. Jesus is possibly saying “You won’t finish evangelizing all of the towns of Israel saying the Kingdom is at hand before I go. Maybe He is referring to either going by dying or going by ascending back to heaven.” Or Jesus is possibly saying “You won’t finish evangelizing all of the towns of Israel telling them the Kingdom is at hand before I reveal myself through my transfiguration or my triumphal entry or my resurrection or my ascension.”
Perhaps our English translators just chose the wrong meaning of a word with multiple meanings in this case. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE that explanation. In my heart I think that is the right answer. Although no scholars agree with me so I’m probably wrong. LOL!
There are definitely multiple comings of the Son of Man and Jesus doesn’t always clearly differentiate between which one He is talking about in any given moment.
VARIOUS COMINGS OF THE SON OF MAN
As an embryo in the immaculate conception of Mary.
As an infant in the incarnation of the first Advent.
As the Lamb of God John the Baptist revealed to his disciples.
As the great prophet and teacher of the kingdom of God when Jesus began to teach.
As His glorified self during the transfiguration/
As the celebrated King and Messiah during His triumphal entry.
As our sacrifice when He died on the cross for our sins.
As our Risen Lord when He was resurrected three days later and revealed Himself to the disciples.
As our God when He ascended back to heaven forty days after that.
As our guide when He gifted His Holy Spirit.
As our judge when He came again in judgment at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
In the context of Matthew sharing Jesus’ prediction of judgment and destruction on the cities that do not receive the disciples that we read about a few weeks ago this may be a piggybacked prediction that this event. Some scholars say Jesus was indicating here in Matthew 10:23 that THIS particular coming of the Son of Man referred to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. That judgment did, in fact, happen less than forty years from the conclusion of His earthly ministry so the disciples may not have made it sufficiently through every town in Israel by that time. This is generally the most widely agreed-upon explanation for what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 10:23.
Most Christian scholars say that this was Jesus’ way of somewhat poetically referring to the 70AD siege and destruction of Jerusalem. He refers to this judgment in many different places in the Gospels and often it seems to be the main focus of His judgment prophecies even more so sometimes than the world-wide judgment we think of at the end of the age.
PASTOR GREG’S CONCLUSION
1) Jesus wasn’t just referring to twelve men finishing a short journey through all the cities. Clearly, He was referring to them finishing (completing, accomplishing) the overall mission of evangelism. Has everyone been given a chance to repent receiving the Kingdom of God Jesus was bringing? No. That’s a mission that is STILL ongoing in Israel (and the rest of the world) 2,000 years later. Jesus was right. It would not be finished before any of these options for His coming occurred.
2) Whether Jesus was referring to the coming judgment of Israel in 70AD or the ultimate coming judgment of all the world or one of these other types of coming or going or revealing that we discussed when He refers to the coming of the Son of Man, the first half of the verse is still true. We haven’t yet finished the mission of evangelism in all the cities of Israel or the rest of the world for that matter. There is still much more work to do. The mission field is HUGE and there will always be plenty of people left to reach before He comes again.