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Jesus’ Apocalyptic Message in Matthew

Yet another “box” in the new edition of my textbook on the New Testament, this one a rather factual reflection dealing with the heightened apocalypticism found in the Gospel of Matthew.


Another Glimpse Into the Past

Box 8.3  Jesus’ Apocalyptic Message in Matthew

As we will see in greater detail in Chapter 16, apocalypticism was a popular worldview among Jews in the first century. Apocalyptic Jews maintained that…

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  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 26, 2018

    I like reading these boxes. Keep going.

  2. Avatar
    rivercrowman  October 26, 2018

    In your book “God’s Problem,” you note the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes is usually dated “to about the third century BCE” (p. 190). I believe you have conjectured elsewhere that the book’s Epilogue (12:9-14) was likely a later addition, to perhaps make the rest of the book more palatable for inclusion in the Old Testament Canon. The final verses 12:13-14 sound like God’s final judgment. Could the Epilogue have been added as late as the first or second century CE? Thank you for your thoughts about this.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2018

      Good question. I don’t know how early they’re attested.

  3. tompicard
    tompicard  October 26, 2018

    Dr Ehrman
    Do you make any distinction between the terms “eschatological” and “apocalyptic” ?

    I have recently been reading Dr Meier’s books and he almost always calls Jesus (and John the Baptist), eschatological prophets (once stating Jesus having a “tinge of apoclypticsm” or something to that effect). And you always refer to Jesus as an “apocalyptic prophet”.

    When we read Jesus’ discourses we do not often see apocalyptic messages, nothing in his messages really compares to the apocalyptic messages as in the book of Revelation and in Daniel (beasts coming from the ocean, dreams, angels explaining about mystical horsemen, etc).

    any comment/explanation . .

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2018

      Ah, great question. I think I’ll devote a post to it.

  4. Avatar
    dankoh  October 26, 2018

    How widespread was this eschatological view among Jews? The Jesus Movement and the Essenes held to it, but I don’t think the Pharisees did so, and I’m sure the Sadducees did not. My impression that expectations of it came and went depending on the political situation; up during the Maccabean revolt, down during the Hasmonean times, up again under Roman rule. (Of course, the Hasmoneans would want to tone down any such idea as long as they were in charge.)

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2018

      Pharisees were apparently also apocalyptically oriented. They held to the resurrectoin of the dead, e.g.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  October 28, 2018

        There must have been varying degrees of Jewish apocalypticism. For example, today every self-avowed Christian and Muslim is supposed to be, technically speaking, an apocalypticist, but only a handful of them actually live their lives as if the eschaton is going to happen at any moment. Most simply live their day-to-day lives without any thoughts of the eschaton. Such concerns are left sitting on the back burner. It is only the eccentrics, the radicals, the hardcore fundamentalists who make the eschaton a daily concern.

        The same was probably true in Jesus’s day. The average Galilean was probably a believing apocalypticist, but he simply went about his daily grind without being overly focused on these ideas. That’s why Jesus and his followers felt the need to go around preaching as they did, because they were clearly much more concerned about the eschaton and felt the need to lift every Jew out of complacency. Dr. Ehrman would understand this, because there was a time when felt the same urgency.

  5. Avatar
    jhague  October 26, 2018

    Were most apocalyptic Jews poor and living desparate lives and therefore hoping for a change (the first shall be liast and the last shall be fiirst)? They saw the apocalyptic message as a way out of a hard life? So the change had to happen in their life time.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2018

      Yup, life was hard and short for most (as for most people)

  6. Avatar
    mkahn1977  October 26, 2018

    I notice here it’s the acts not the faith that Matthew talks about. More passages here that fit the criterion of dissimilarity?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2018

      Yes, I think a lot of Matthew’s apocalyptic material may be authentic.

  7. Avatar
    brenmcg  October 26, 2018

    *Jesus anticipates that this cataclysmic event is very near: his own generation will not pass away before it takes place (13:30).*

    I think this verse is a comment on the generation (a wicked and adulterous one) rather than the nearness of the end-times.

    Heaven and earth will also “pass away” but pass away to the new age. the pure of faith will be allowed to pass away to the new age without going through the end-times but certainly not this generation.

    • Avatar
      stevenpounders  October 28, 2018

      Matthew 16:27-28
      27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

  8. Avatar
    ask21771  October 27, 2018

    Where the trading partners of ancient rome making significant profits off their business with the city

  9. Avatar
    DavidNeale  October 27, 2018

    I’ve started learning Koine Greek! I bought the Cambridge “Elements of New Testament Greek” for Kindle. Today I learned the alphabet and started on present tense verb endings. But noun cases / declensions are going to be a challenge for me. (I’ve never learned a language which has them – I learned French and Spanish in school, but not Latin or German.)

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2018

      Good luck with the nouns. The verbs are far more challenging!

  10. Avatar
    jspradlin  October 27, 2018

    Does the Ax at the root of the tree saying come from Deut: 20:19-20? I cannot find anything from a Google search to answer this. It makes sense not to cut down a food source you may need in a multi-season siege. Any other tree that is not a food source is going to become fuel for campfires and metal workers. I think a modern day saying would be ‘You are either for us or against us’. It sounds like war drum beats to me.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2018

      I’m not sure if it is an allusion to Deut 20:19-20, though the idea is similar. Trees that don’t produce fruit are to be cut down.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  October 28, 2018

      Think of it as The Great Pruning. If you’re not producing good fruit, you’re going to be removed to make space for a branch that does.

  11. Avatar
    rburos  October 28, 2018

    Is it fair then, to say that Paul’s view of sin as a cosmic force that enslaves us (i.e. his letter to the Romans) is this same form of apocalypticism?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 28, 2018

      It is certainly apocalyptic, but it is a different strain of it (Matthew doesn’t see sin as a cosmic power trying to enslave people)

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