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Taking the First Steps Toward Understanding the Tribulation II

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Macro Not Micro

In short, the signs Jesus has delineated are “macro,” not “micro.” That doesn’t mean, however, that the word “summer” - a season - in verse 32 leaves us to drift about in a sea of ambiguity. That’s because verse 33 narrows its definition considerably...

So likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

Matthew 24:33

We know, then, that at the very least the word “summer”- depicting a whole season - means “even at the doors.” That brings us to Matthew 24:34.

Matthew 24:34

Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

Matthew 24:34

The word “generation” has stirred up a great deal of controversy - some of it rather heated. And that’s because it’s a very elastic term - and often indicates different time-spans. In some passages, it delimits a forty year span of time (e.g., Numbers 32:13); in other passages, it is reckoned at one hundred and twenty years (Genesis 15:13-16); in still other passages, twenty years is indicated, and, last of all, in others, it simply means “contemporaries.” But whatever its meaning in other passages of scripture, its meaning here in verse 34 is obviously controlled by verse 33. In short, just as the word “summer” in verse 32 is controlled by the phrase “even at the doors” in verse 33, so too is the word “generation” in verse 34. All three terms are clearly commensurate with each other.

 

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CommensurateMeanings

The bottom line is obvious: when the signs Jesus spelled out in Matthew 24 begin to appear, The Tribulation and The Second Coming are just over the horizon. Then, to emphasize their reliability, Jesus goes on to say...

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Matt. 24:35

Clearly, Jesus wants the church to lend credibility to the signs he has just delineated. He’s saying, “You can count on these signs to mean precisely what I’ve indicated - that when they appear, The Tribulation and the Second Coming are just “over the hill.” However, in the very next verse, as we’ve already noted, he goes on to stress that the signs are “macro,” not “micro” - that they delimit seasons, not days and hours.

Matthew 24:36

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Both Predictable and Unpredictable

The macro nature of the signs means the timing of The Tribulation is both predictable and unpredictable - meaning once the signs begin to appear we can know generally that The Tribulation is about to occur, but not exactly.

The Parable of the Fig Tree has now set the stage for the two parables that follow: a parable drawn from the story of the flood (verses 36-39) and the Parable of the Faithful Servant and the Unfaithful Servant (verses 43-51) - both of which revolve around the signs Jesus has spelled out in Matthew 24. The first parable is addressed to mankind generally - both believers and unbelievers. It begins the inclusio (see the schematic depiction of the inclusio on page 1).

Matthew 24:37-39

But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark,

And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Parable of the Flood: The Signs Will Be Ignored

The bottom line here is quite distressing: though the signs Jesus has sketched out will be glaringly obvious, there’s every likelihood that when they appear they’ll be largely ignored. Why? Because mankind will be so deeply engrossed in the “here and now.” That’s the meaning of this parable.

The emphasis here is not on the wickedness of Noah’s generation - which is what some commentators suggest; it’s on “life as usual.” That’s why Jesus has chosen the phrase “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” - a phrase that calls to mind the routine events of daily living. Indeed, in Luke’s account of the same teaching, Jesus adds to the parable a brief, one sentence description of Sodom that makes that perfectly clear...

Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded...

Luke 17:28

Life as usual!

LifeasusualWe need to pay close attention to what Jesus is saying: it’s life itself that will cause mankind to ignore the signs heralding the approach of The Tribulation - the emotional and intellectual investment we all commit to it - to “making ends meet,” saving for retirement, pulling together enough money to take that long-dreamed of vacation, getting the kids through school, signing them up for soccer, keeping our marriages on track, moving up the corporate ladder, having friends over for dinner, building a room addition, planting a garden, cleaning the swimming pool. Nothing sinful in and of itself - just the “daily stuff of life.”

It’s a simple but often overlooked truth: our lives become so crowded with the ordinary that the extraordinary is often disregarded. We don’t have time to consider its meaning. We brush on by it - assuring ourselves that it will pass - that it’s nothing more than an anomalous blip. We convince ourselves that it’s not the extraordinary that will lead to disaster, it’s failure to stay focused on the ordinary. And so “we keep on with the keeping on.”

It’s not that Noah’s contemporaries were unaware that he was building an ark. After all, it took Noah close to seventy years to complete it. Nor were they unaware of why Noah was building it - that God had warned him of impending judgment. Indeed, we’re told in 2 Peter 2:5 that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” - clearly implying that he repeatedly warned his contemporaries that judgment was imminent.

And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of theungodly...

2 Pet. 2:5

Jesus is telling us that anyone who is invested in the “here and now” - whose life is consumed in making a living, raising a family, and pursuing the “good life” - he’s apt to overlook the import of the signs when they begin to appear.

... and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away...

Matt. 24:39

The meaning here is not that they didn’t hear the warnings, it’s that they didn’t heed the warnings - they lent them no credibility. They were too caught up in the “affairs of life” - too absorbed in holding together “home and hearth.” “Life as usual” grinds on - and we become so deeply entrenched in it that even the loudest alarm bells are tuned out. Once again, it’s not that we don’t hear the alarm bells when they sound, it’s that we don’t heed them; they have no meaning for us - not really. We play down their significance. And if occasionally we do give the whole matter some thought, it’s cursory at best. We have only to consider the resurrection of Israel - a deafening alarm bell - a glaringly obvious sign emblazoned across the skies - and how little real thought is paid it - not just by unbelievers, but by believers as well.

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