We believe that Christ is coming back. But good Bible scholars disagree about some aspects of the second coming, including what Jesus taught the disciples on the Mount of Olives. Thankfully though, we do agree on two principles. First, we agree that the closest context of a Bible passage best determines the meaning of that passage. Second, we agree that Scripture should interpret Scripture.
With this in mind, this little article has three objectives. First, to discern the closest context for what Jesus taught that day on the Mount of Olives.
Second, to find what Scripture interprets what Scripture. As an extreme example, recall how Satan came to Jesus to tempt Him, and if I could paraphrase their dialog, Satan said, "I think such and such Scripture applies in your situation." Jesus countered, "No, here is the Scripture that truly applies." Now we are among brethren, and with this story I am not implying anything about my brothers who disagree. I am simply using this story to illustrate that it is possible to use the wrong Scripture and it is possible to use the right Scripture. We want to use the right Scripture for this case.
And third, I want to show you a commentary that you can trust for sure.
Let me give you a Bible quiz. Of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) which one refers most often to the Old Testament? If you answered Matthew, you’re right. Matthew was written to the Jews. The Jews knew their Scripture, and Matthew wrote his book to show the Jews how Jesus fulfilled their Scripture. In Matthew we find 40 direct quotes, about 60 references in all, to the Old Testament Scripture.
Next question. Of all the Old Testament books, to which one does Matthew refer to the most? If you answered Isaiah, you’re right. Of the 60 some references to the Old Testament, 20 of them are to Isaiah. (See these 20 listed at The Rapture Solution website.) Deuteronomy and Psalms come next with 13 and 9 respectively. This shows a strong IsaiahMatthew connection.
Next question. Of all the chapters in Matthew, which one has the most Isaiah references? If you said Matthew 24, you’re right. This is the chapter where Jesus sat down on the Mount of Olives and taught His disciples about end time events. We call this the Olivet Discourse. Of Matthew's 20 Isaiah references, 6 of them are in chapter 24. This shows that Isaiah provides a contextual backdrop for what Jesus says in Matthew 24. In other words, knowing what Isaiah said will help us to understand what Jesus said.
One more question. In what part of chapter 24 are the Isaiah references clustered? If you said the part about the second coming (verses 2935), you’re right. In that short section Jesus points to six places in Isaiah. This means Isaiah can illuminate this second coming section that has been so debatable. Isaiah illuminates Matthew.
Here are the cluster of Isaiah references along with the Matthew verses about the second coming.
Matthew 24:29 says, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken." This refers to these two Isaiah passages:
For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. (Isaiah 13:10)
And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. (Isaiah 34:4)
Notice how Isaiah and Matthew parallel each other. The above passages are not so controversial in meaning, but the next ones are more so.
Next, Matthew 24:31 says, "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 refers to these two Isaiah passages:
And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (Isaiah 11:12)
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:1213)
How does Isaiah illuminate the meaning of "gather together his elect"? Isaiah reveals that it is the gathering of Israel, one by one, to Jerusalem.
Finally, Matthew 24:3435 says, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." This refers to these two Isaiah passages:
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17)
For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. (Isaiah 66:22)
How does Isaiah illuminate the meaning of "this generation"? Isaiah 66:22 defines it. No other verse in the whole Bible more closely matches Matthew 24:3435. Isaiah 66:22 has more words, more phrases, and more thoughts that match Matthew 24:3435. These are parallel passages. So what thought parallels "this generation"? It is "your seed and your name." In the context of Isaiah, that is the seed of Israel. The seed of Israel will not pass away when the heavens and earth pass away. The name of Israel will remain as long as the new heavens and the new earth remain.
Remember, the Jews who read Matthew’s gospel knew Isaiah. And surely the disciples who heard Jesus speak these words knew Isaiah well. And most of all Jesus Himself knew Isaiah as He spoke these words. It is apparent that Jesus had Isaiah in mind as He spoke these words, because He pointed to Isaiah over and over again. So, in light of all of this, if Jesus had Isaiah in mind as He spoke these words, should not we also have Isaiah in mind when we interpret His words?
I understand that some of us may have different passages in mind when we interpret these words. These different passages come from a different place, a different time. But remember, on that day, on that mount, in that moment, Jesus had Isaiah in mind as He spoke. And if the disciples knew Isaiah, then their mind would go there too. This makes Isaiah the closest context.
That means Isaiah is not some random remote reference to arbitrarily pick when we compare Scripture with Scripture. On the contrary, the Isaiah connection runs so deep that even if one or two Isaiah references were to drop off like drops of water, the central second coming passage in Matthew would still be saturated with Isaiah. This makes Isaiah the right Scripture to compare.
We can read all the commentaries in the world, but remember, it is Isaiah who illuminates Matthew. We can read books on all sides, but remember, Isaiah is the book that out weighs them all. We can even point to a New Testament passage and say, "This is what Jesus meant." But remember, when Jesus spoke these words, the New Testament was not yet written, and Jesus pointed to Isaiah.
What book illuminates Matthew? If you answer Isaiah, you’re right.
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