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Frequently Asked Questions - New Testament

FAQs - New Testament

This is a difficult passage to interpret, and there are many differing interpretations of it. I think that the key concept is that of changes that come when a transition occurs from one phase of God’s plan to the next. Christ had just identified John the Baptist (in v.10) as being the forerunner of the Messiah, foretold in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. In v.13 he also identified him with ‘Elijah’ whom Malachi prophesied would return before the coming of the ‘great and dreadful day of the Lord’ (Malachi 4:5).

Hence, the appearance of John the Baptist signaled the transition to the Messianic era, the time when God’s Kingdom would advance much faster and further than it had ever done before, the time when the Gentiles would come into the Kingdom in great numbers.

I do not think that it refers to the violence suffered by the OT prophets, because the wording of v.12 indicates that the violence begins from the days of John the Baptist. Rather it seems to indicate violence that begins after the time of the OT prophets, i.e. in the times of John and Baptist and Jesus Christ.

Who then are the ‘violent’ who take it by force? One possible interpretation is that spiritual warfare really intensified during the time of John the Baptist and of Christ (before He resurrected). That may explain the many instances of demonic possession recorded in the gospels when Christ had to cast out demons. Satan was hard at work, trying his best to prevent Christ from carrying out His work and ministry, and attempting to snatch the kingdom of heaven by force. But his efforts failed when Christ died and rose again, and all power (authority) was given to Christ in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18). Satan still works today, but as a defeated enemy, who has received the deathblow at the cross.

Another possible interpretation is to take the ‘violent’ as men, e.g. the Pharisees, Saducees, etc. who opposed Jesus (who represents the kingdom of heaven). Hence their efforts to oppose, arrest and crucify Christ would constitute the violence suffered by the kingdom of Heaven. John the Baptist himself (who also represents the kingdom of heaven) was arrested and executed by a violent man, king Herod.

Yet another possible interpretation is that the violent are the common people who when they saw John the Baptist and Jesus, and the miracles performed, got excited and thought that the political messianic kingdom was about to begin, and so they wanted to launch a violent rebellion, overthrow the present government and crown Christ as king of Israel. John 6:14,15 - "Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, He departed again into a mountain himself alone." (cf. Acts 1:6).

The truth is that the kingdom of heaven is spiritual, not a political one yet. It is a kingdom of Christ dwelling and ruling in the hearts of men. Violence is not the means that God will use to establish His kingdom (as Liberation theology advocates). Christ explained the true nature of the Kingdom of heaven in the parables of the kingdom (Matthew 13) in order to correct this prevalent misconception.

It is hard to say which of these views is the right one. We will know the answer one day, when we see Christ!

1. Many have held that this verse refers to the Transfiguration, the very next section in both Matthew and Mark (Matt 17:1-5). There are just 2 problems with this: The transfiguration took place only 6 days later, and what Jesus said "will not taste death" seems to imply something in the distant future. Secondly it is not entirely clear how the Son of Man comes in His kingdom (Matt) through this event, especially since v.27 already mentions His second coming.

2. Others take this to refer to the Resurrection of Jesus or to Pentecost. This view also faces the difficulty that even these events are still not far off enough to warrant the phrasing "some standing here which shall not taste death."

3. Others interpret this verse as referring to the Second Coming and explain that "some who are standing here" refers not to those then standing there, but to the final generation, prophetically foreseen, who will be raptured rather than resurrected. This means that the words were calculated to be misunderstood by the disciples.

4. Some take the phrase "the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" symbolically, referring to the rapid multiplication of disciples and the mission to the Gentiles. Some of those standing there would live to see Jesus’ Gospel proclaimed throughout the Roman Empire and a rich "harvest" (cf. 9:37-38) of converts reaped for Jesus Messiah.

I think that the best view is the transfiguration – because it fits into the context.

All that the Bible says in Matthew 17:3 is that "And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him." This is not the only time when a deceased Old Testament person appeared. Luke 16:23 – "And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame."

Since it is unlikely that Abraham was in a resurrected state in this appearance, it is also unlikely that Moses was in a resurrected state. So in the transfiguration what the disciples saw was the disembodied spirit of Moses. The body of Moses is still in the ground, awaiting the resurrection of the saints (Deuteronomy 34:5,6 records that the Lord buried Moses in a valley in the land of Moab – if it was God’s will for Moses to be resurrected earlier than others, why bury him?) After all angels are also spirits without bodies (Hebrews 1:14), and yet men can see them appear.

"Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come." Some on the basis of vv.38 and 39 which speaks of those who were taken away by the Flood, claim that those who are taken away in vv.40-42 must then be the ones who are judged. The comparison with the days of Noah however, is not given to specify who are taken away, but the suddenness of the event. The people were doing their normal routine right up till the point of the Flood. Thus when Christ comes people will also be doing their normal routine right up till the time of the ‘taking away’. We believe that the taking away here is the Rapture, and not the second Coming (cf. v.31 – "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."). This time, the ones who are left behind are the ones who will have to go through the judgment (unlike in the Flood)!

Yes, it means that some dead believers were miraculously resurrected. This was one of the signs that Jesus was truly the Son of God, since it was his death and resurrection that brought about these amazing events.

The question we would ask is whether the resurrection of these believers was to the same kind of bodies they had before (just like the resurrection of Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain, and Jairus’ daughter) who all eventually died again; or the resurrection to the same body that Jesus had - in which case they would not die any more but go to heaven after appearing to many.

1 Corinthians 15:22-26 may shed some light on the order of resurrections: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."

This passage tells us that there are at least three resurrections to new bodies:

1. Christ the firstfruits
2. They that are Christ’s at His coming
3. All the rest of the dead

Based on this, I would be more inclined to believe that these saints who were resurrected when Jesus died, died later on. They were like Lazarus. Because if they had the same body that Jesus had, they would have preceded him and been the firstfruits rather than Christ. But Christ’s resurrection body was clearly the first of its kind, unlike all who were raised from the dead before Him.

In Mark 5:19, the instruction was given to the demoniac who lived in a Gentile region called Decapolis. In Mark 5:43, the instruction was given to the family of Jairus, who was the synagogue leader at Capernaum, in Galilee a predominantly Jewish area. The Gentiles would not seek to kill Jesus on hearing the news of the demoniac’s deliverance, but the Jews would (cf. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they sought to put Him to death, John 11:53 – "Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death."). Since it was not yet time for Jesus to die, the truth has to be kept from the Jews until the right time. In Mark 8:26, the blind man was healed at Bethsaida was also in Galilee. In Mark 8:30 the disciples were instructed to tell no man that Jesus was the Messiah. Luke 8:48 is the parallel passage of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:43)

The genealogies in Genesis 5, 11 and Luke 3 are not meant to be comprehensive. This explains why Cainan was left out in Genesis 11. In biblical language, the word "son of" may mean "descendant of" (e.g. Matthew 1:1 - "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham."), and "begat" may mean "ancestor of".

A comparison of the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17 with the same records found in Samuel, Kings and Chronicles shows that some generations have been left out (e.g. Matthew 1:11 - "Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren" - leaves out Jehoiakim, who was the father of Jechonias cf. 1 Chron 3:15-17). (e.g. 2 - In Matthew 1:8 - three names have been omitted between Joram and Uzziah: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah).

The purpose of these genealogies is simply to trace the lineage of a person particularly through certain key persons in his lineage.

Other examples of ‘gaps’: Exodus 2:1,2 gives the impression that Moses was the firstborn son of the Levite man and woman. But we realise later on that he was the third child, after Aaron and Miriam.

This is not an easy verse to understand, but a few points will help us to arrive at the best way to understand it:

a. V.28 is limited in scope to all messengers from God, e.g. the prophets in the Old Testament. All the prophets of the Old Testament only foretold the coming of God’s kingdom (see Matthew 3:2). John the Baptist was more than a prophet, since he was the forerunner of Christ (vv.26,27). In fact he was the greatest among the prophets of the Old Testament (v.28), because he had the distinct privilege of announcing Christ’s arrival. But he still belonged to the Old Testament.

b. God’s Kingdom was manifested on earth when Christ dwelt on earth and died to make an atonement for sin. The messengers that came after the inauguration of God’s kingdom had the greater privilege than those who came before it. Their gospel message of salvation through faith in Christ is more important than the message of the Old Testament prophets.

c. "He that is least in the Kingdom of God" refers to the apostles (cf. Luke 10:23,24). They are more blessed that the prophets because they had the privilege of seeing Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and of being personally sent by Jesus Christ to proclaim this message. The apostles were the authority behind the whole New Testament.

Hence this verse does not mean that we Christians are greater than John the Baptist, but that the apostles of Christ were greater than him. Why was this point so important? So that people would listen to the word of the apostles rather than to John the Baptist (cf. Acts 19:1-5).

Whenever we speak on interpretations about prophecies concerning the Last Days, there is always a tentative element in them. We cannot speak with 100 % certainty. So the following is probably what the passage means:

The context of the passage begins in v.20 when the Pharisees asked Christ when the Kingdom of God will come. In His answer, Jesus stressed that the coming of His kingdom will be known by the whole world (v.24, not a secret coming), and unexpected by the world (vv.26-29) and sudden (vv.31-36).

Verses 34-36 describes a sudden removal of people while they are in the midst of routine activity. This refers to the rapture of believers living at the time of Christ’s return. They are taken to meet the Lord at his coming (cf. Matthew 24:31, 40-42). Notice that reference is made in the preceding verses to the days of Noah and the days of Lot. In both of these historical events those who were taken away were saved, and those who were left behind were destroyed. It is reasonable to conclude that the ones who are taken away in vv.34-36 are believers.

Verse 37 is the reply that Jesus gave when asked "Where, Lord?" This may be its meaning: "Just as you do not find a fallen body by wandering over the desert, but by looking first to the sky, so do not go from place to place searching for the Son of Man. Rather, look to the heavens." (Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Book II, pp. 387-388).

I think that the hour does not refer to a particular pin-point moment in time, but rather, a gradual transition. This is the way to explain the enigmatic phrase "the hour cometh and now is". The 3½ year ministry of Christ culminating in His death and resurrection, was a process of God’s revelation through His Son.

Hebrews 1:1,2 - "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds."

In fact, the ending point of the hour’s coming may even be in AD 70 when the Temple was destroyed, and then it would not longer be feasible to worship God at the Temple. Luke 21:6 - "...the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down."

Another place where the same phrase is found is John 5:25 - "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live." Once again, it is not a pin-point moment, but a gradual revelation. The hour began to come when Christ was on earth and raised the dead (e.g. Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, etc.) but it will culminate in the time when Christ will raise all believers who have died at His return.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

November 19 & 26 - The End of the World

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10