Our principal synoptic sources, Mark and Q, provide us with sayings of two sorts about the coming of the Kingdom of God and the Son of man: that the Kingdom was future, and that it had come and was present, in the teaching and activity of Jesus. Click on End-of-Time Sayings.
Now it is well known that the early church lived in a state of intense expectation of end-of-time events; click on imminent coming, and end of the age. But as months lengthened into years, and years into decades, with no appearance of Christ on clouds of glory, Christians responded to this delay in two ways.
Paul and the author of the Fourth Gospel responded to the problem of
delay by emphasizing the present reality of
the end-of-time events, such as resurrection, judgment, salvation. Though early on he was something of
an apocalyptic cheer-leader, expecting that most believers (including
himself) would still be alive at the grand finale, Paul eventually faced
the reality of his own impending death and nourished the hope that he
would depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:20-23;
compare 2 Corinthians 5:1-9). For Paul the decisive death and resurrection
experience has already taken place, as the believer has been united with
Christ in baptism (Galatians 2:19-20; Romans 6:3-4).
The future hope
was being “updated,” even if it was not being abandoned altogether
(Philippians 3:20-21). Click on revision.
2. Others, in the face of the continuing and awkward delay of the second coming, chose to reinforce the usual end-of-time teaching, and evidently did so in a more apocalyptic mode; these would include not only the authors of 2 Thessalonians, Revelation, and 2 Peter, but also the author of Matthew.
Of the two dimensions of Kingdom of God and Son of man expectation, the present and the future, Matthew seems to emphasize the future — even as we acknowledge the fact that he does not suppress Q passages which represent the kingdom as present. This apocalyptic exuberance is evident from the material found only in Matthew [here in green], as it is also in Matthew’s “improvements” on material from Mark.
As difficult as this text is, and whether these are the words of Jesus or of an early Christian, it does reflect a pronounced apocalyptic outlook. The same is true of the allegorizing interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds (13:24-30), with much of the stock terminology of apocalyptic literature, including an echo of the apocalyptic Daniel 12:3 in verse 43.
As for material derived from Mark, we may note two examples of a
heightening of future, apocalyptic expectation by Matthew. In Mark 9:1,
Jesus announces that within the lifetime of some of his listeners they
will see (or perhaps, recognize) that God’s reign has begun, with
manifestations of his power. In Luke 9:27, Mark’s saying is
abbreviated, and the nuanced statement of an already present kingdom
becomes a somewhat general statement about seeing the kingdom, whatever
the author intends by that. But in Matthew 16:28 Mark’s announcement of an
already present kingdom becomes a full-blown prediction of the second
coming, yet to happen in the future.
Another example of Matthew’s heightening of end-of-time teaching is
evident in his version of the so-called Little Apocalypse in Mark 13.
Having enumerated the various tribulations to come, Mark turns to the
cosmic disasters which will accompany the end-of-time events. This
collapse of the physical universe will happen “in those days, after that
suffering,” with no specific dating offered; but Matthew writes
that these events will take place “immediately
after the suffering of those days” (24:29), thus
suggesting an imminence lacking in Mark. Matthew adds to the ominous
character of these events by telling of the appearance of “the sign of the Son of Man
. . . in heaven,” and the mourning of all the tribes of the earth
(24:30). He also adds the standard apocalyptic phrase, “a loud trumpet
call” (24:30), to the sending out of the angels, when the
Son of Man comes on the clouds of heaven.
Thus, if the end-of-time events have been delayed, Matthew’s readers are to be encouraged with renewed end-of-time zeal. (Luke also adds some phrases [here in purple], which seem to make the pronouncements more vivid, but without raising—and perhaps reducing—the level of apocalyptic expectation.)
“. . . the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This is a characteristic editorial phrase of Matthew.
Matthew 8:12 “. . .
the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It is reasonable to conclude that Matthew found the phrase, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, in the Q source (Matthew 8:12 || Luke 13:28) and decided to employ it in five other places as a kind of judgment refrain.
We note first that while in Mark Jesus heals a blind man, called Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), in Matthew’s re-working of Mark two blind men (unnamed) are healed (Matthew 20:29-34). Similarly, Matthew has two demoniacs (unnamed) healed (8:28-34), instead of one, Legion (Mark 5:1-20 || Luke 8:26-39).
Even more striking is Matthew’s version of the withering of the fig tree. In Mark, a day passes before the disciples observe that the tree has withered , whereas according to Matthew the tree withers at once (Mark 11:12-14, 20-23 || Matthew 21:18-21). The reader’s attention is drawn to the miraculous character of the event by the disciples’ query, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” Click on The Fig Tree for a more comprehensive discussion of this text.
In general, it is not unusual for stories with miraculous features to flourish around great religious figures. (See also Popular Anecdotal Material in Matthew.) Those in Matthew are relatively restrained, representing only a modest progression in comparison with the full-blown miracle stories of the so-called infancy gospels of the apocryphal New Testament, coming from a century or two later (the child Jesus clapping his hand, to make clay birds fly away; stretching timbers that were too short in Joseph’s carpenter shop; or raising to life a play mate who had fallen from a roof top).
July 19, 2003
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