The coming of the Son of Man: A response to Sandy’s second post

In this post, Peter Bolt picks up where he left off.

Sandy began his second post by noting the difficulty of verse 34 for the ‘second coming’ reading. The seriousness of this obstacle should not be overlooked, and a referent for the coming of the Son of Man ought to ‘fit’ with the time frame of this verse.

The ‘coming of the Son of Man’ elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel is no problem really, because, any view that is based on exegesis ought to read the verse consistently across the Gospel, and, as in my previous post, consistently with Daniel 7:13-14 where it is a vindication scene (put simply, a coming from earth to heaven, not a coming from heaven to earth). It is perfectly possible (and, in fact, makes better sense) to always read statements about the coming of the Son of Man to be fulfilled in Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation. As the story goes on, Matthew’s language makes this coming imminent indeed, as Peter sits with the guards “to see the end” (Matt 26:58), and, as Jesus tells the high priests at his trial, “from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt 26:64). And, as in my last post, the rightness of reading Matthew (and Jesus) as if he read Daniel 7:13-14 of the exaltation is confirmed by Matthew 28:18 (and for Luke, see Acts 7:56).

Does “the coming of the Son of Man” refer to the ‘final judgement’? Well, yes it does! From the perspective of Old Testament expectation, there was a final judgement to come at the end of time, and this was the context in which the Son of Man would come to receive the kingdom from the Ancient of Days. However, when the Messiah eventually came, his resurrection introduced an interesting new period. The end had come, but then the final end was delayed, for the sake of allowing humanity more time to repent (see Rom 2:4, 1 Pet 3). So, prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the coming of the Son of Man does refer to the ‘final judgement’, but as the days rolled on, in a staggering historical fulfilment of this expectation, the final judgement of God fell upon the Messiah when he hung on the cross. When Luke wrote up the day of Pentecost, he even used the famous apocalyptic language to refer to these events, and the whole of the Book of Revelation enlists apocalyptic imagery to spell out what happened on that day. The end has come. So, whereas the Old Testament looked forward to the final judgement, those who live after Jesus’ death in a very real sense now look back on it!

The separation process that was attached to the final judgement is now operating in human history as the messengers of the Messiah bring the gospel to the world; this is the judgement that Matthew 13 and 25 were looking towards—the sending out of the angels into the world, etc. (see Matt 28:18).

The imagery of the thief is used to convey how certain people will be caught by an event that is unexpected and disastrous. This imagery in Matthew 24:43 can be applied to the generation of Israelites amongst whom Jesus lived and died. Despite Jesus’ warnings, they were taken by surprise by the coming of the Son of Man (i.e. the resurrection). And then, with this historical reality behind them, the image is even more poignant when applied to those from all over the world who will be caught napping when Christ finally returns at the consummation. There is no logical reason why the use of the same image entails its application to the same event. Even though the same image is used, the dramatic change in language indicates that a different event entirely is being spoken of: it is no longer the “Son of Man” in 1 Thessalonians and 1 Peter, but “the day of the Lord”—that is, the one who is now installed as Lord—since he has already come as the Son of Man (in the exaltation, in fulfilment of Daniel 7:13-14) and received the Lordship (in fulfilment of Psalm 110:2).

Ditto for the trumpets: trumpets are everywhere (!) in Scripture. There is no need for them to always be associated with the same event—especially since the New Testament separates out into two events what the Old Testament saw as one.

So all the ‘presumably-s’ of Sandy’s argument can be countered with ‘presumably not-s’. And, instead of Sandy’s “I think there’s little doubt that with talk of the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus is referring to his final ‘coming’”, I would say, “I think there is every doubt about this”.

In the material which follows on from Matthew 24:36-25:13, Jesus still has the same event in view, and is not addressing a ‘delay’ at all. Instead, he is still encouraging his disciples to be ready for the greatest event of all time, so they are not taken by surprise because they will be waiting expectantly for the moment. There is no ‘multiple fulfilment’ (which sounds like a nice compromise, but is a bit of a fiddle really, and mucks up the way the Gospel appears to be constructed), but a two-part fulfilment—not of the apocalyptic discourse, but of Daniel 7. In the first half of the chapter, the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days to receive the kingdom. In the second half of the chapter, this victory is then shared with the suffering saints. At the time of fulfilment, Jesus receives the kingdom in his resurrection/exaltation to the right hand of the Father, and then launches the mission to the nations and assures his friends of his presence. This will be his mode of operation “even until the [very] end of the age”, when the suffering saints will also enter the kingdom by way of resurrection, thus fulfilling the second half of Daniel 7.

Perhaps I can also offer a few retorts to Peter Collier’s comment. The “abomination of desolation” being the desolate house of Matthew 23 is an interesting thought, but (and even though I agree that the temple has no significance from that moment on) since the apocalyptic discourse appears to throw expectation for this event forward, and, as it is associated with the greatest suffering ever (vv. 21-22) which was expected before the resurrection day (Dan 12:2), it is with no surprise that I read the passion narrative as pointing to Jesus’ death as this abominable sacrilege: Israel and the Gentiles killing the Son of God, how wicked indeed! There is no real indication of a change of subject in verses 36 and onward, but the expected event is the “that day” and is still the sequence of 15-21, then 29-31, with the coming of the Son of Man at the centre. The “sign” is the coming of the Son of Man. Knowledge that there will be a sequence of events shouldn’t be taken as knowledge of timing, for now (v. 36) Jesus disavows knowledge of the exact timing. The coming of the Son of Man (in the exaltation) introduces “the end of the age” in which the harvest is gathered (see 28:18-20), looked forward to by the parables of Matthew 13 and 25. The length of the chapter indicating it must be for more than just the apostles seems to be a very, very strange argument to me, so I will leave it to one side. And, for the record, Pete, I don’t dismiss any of the apocalyptic language of the chapter (or, indeed, of the Gospel) but I take it all with deadly seriousness!

The apocalyptic discourse is Jesus’ most amazing speech, and, when read as an apocalyptic preparation for his own death and resurrection, the momentous significance of both those events in God’s cosmic plans becomes simply enormous. And so too does the mission to the nations: this, indeed, is the last days gathering of the elect—the separation of sheep and goats—from the four corners of the earth. This mission is the only reason the consummation has not yet arrived.

Thank you, Sandy, for provoking a little more discussion on these things. They leave me breathless. Good thing I am off to the Sunshine Coast for holidays!

4 thoughts on “The coming of the Son of Man: A response to Sandy’s second post

  1. Peter, Sandy: thanks for the posts. Very helpful.

    Peter: Just a question about the scene of the sheep and the goats at the end of Matthew 25. I’m just trying to see how this fits into the framework in this post. You wrote:

    The separation process that was attached to the final judgement is now operating in human history as the messengers of the Messiah bring the gospel to the world; this is the judgement that Matthew 13 and 25 were looking towards—the sending out of the angels into the world, etc. (see Matt 28:18).

    The text says,

    When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. (v. 31)

    Then the nations are judged, and the reward/punishment is eternal.

    Correct me if I’m misunderstanding: does your perspective then mean that the separation of the sheep and the goats (the nations) is the ministry of the gospel following the ascension/resurrection (coming of the Son of Man), culminating in eternal life/punishment respectively?

    In other words, is this a compressed picture of the age of the ministry of the gospel?

  2. Michael,
    yes, that is how I take it. Jesus looks towards the end when humanity will be separated into ‘sheep and goats’ with the consequences of eternal life and judgement. He then goes to his death, and once he rises from the dead, this separation process begins. Now in this gospel age the judgement process continues as people either receive or reject Christ, as they believe or disbelieve his gospel. To use a Johannine phrase, now in this gospel age, believing the gospel is the means by which we pass from death to life.

  3. There’s various theories about the “abomination.” Apparently, the OT pattern is that “desecrations” were committed by the corrupted priesthood (such as idols in the Temple), but “abominations” were committed in the Land (like child sacrifice). Jesus refers to the former. They slew Adam, but He forgave them. Then they slew Eve, massacring Christians once the “restraint” of Rome (which we see all through Acts) was taken away. And again from the OT we know that the shedding of innocent blood calls up the destroyer. This is the desecration that brought desolation. The destruction of the Temple was not the crime but the punishment. Only God’s priests, the Adams, can commit “desecration” in the Garden.

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