Jesus and the Future: The Gospels
Part 3: Other Teachings of Jesus in the Gospels
In this series of blogs, we are investigating Jesus’ teaching on the future. In Part 1 and Part 2, we looked at Jesus’ most important prophecy about the future in the Olivet Discourse. In this blog, we’ll begin to investigate other teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. “Regarding the near future, Jesus prophesied there would be (1) persecution of his followers and (2) a judgment of ‘this generation’ with particular focus on the Jewish religious leadership for their rejection of him. Regarding the distant future, Jesus taught that (3) the Son of Man would come with power and (4) there would be a future resurrection, final judgment, eternal reward and punishment” (p.87). These first two themes are particularly important to note because they highlight the fact that Jesus “prophesied concerning his immediate followers and the current generation alive at the time” (p. 87). Not all of Jesus’ prophecies concerned the distant future.
It is striking how often Jesus talks about persecution when he refers to the future. For Jesus, facing persecution is not an “if,” it is a “when” (p. 89). Matthew 10:16–25 is quite similar to the Olivet Discourse, and it reminds us that we “each have the responsibility to endure unto the end; endurance to the end is not an optional add-on reserved only for super-spiritual people” (p. 92).
Mark 8:34–38 reminds us that Jesus did not shy away from hard teachings. He wasn’t willing to sugarcoat the call to discipleship. If you want to follow Jesus, you have to take up your cross. This is no seeker-sensitive discipleship program! Similarly, Jesus warns his disciples in Luke 12:1–12 that the cost of following him will be life itself, but that physical death is not the end for those who trust in him.
2. Growing Conflict, Rejection, and the Judgment of Jerusalem
Jesus’ conflict with the Jewish leaders escalated throughout his ministry—a conflict that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. One way to approach this investigation is to look at all the times Jesus refers to “this generation.” This investigation reveals that every time Jesus refers to “this generation,” he refers to their disobedience and unbelief (p. 101). For example, Matthew 11:16–19 contains a memorable metaphor: “Thus the simile actually likens the unbelief of the present generation to the children who flatly refuse to participate in anything offered to them” (Donald A. Hagner, quoted on p. 101).
Jesus often depicts the unbelief of “this generation” in parables. Mark 11:12–22, the account of the cursing of the fig tree, should be seen as an “acted-out parable of judgment” (p. 111). Jesus wasn’t angry or grumpy when he cursed the fig tree; he was providing a strong warning against the fruitlessness of the Jewish leaders. Sadly, they didn’t heed Jesus’ warning and received their just punishment in AD 70.
Luke’s account is similar to Mark’s, but readers should not miss Luke’s record of Jesus’ own sadness at the unbelief of his contemporaries. Luke 19:41 tells of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem because he knows it will soon be destroyed.
3. A Call to Patient Waiting for the Coming of the Son of Man
We must also examine Jesus’ teaching on the “coming of the Son of Man.” The title “Son of Man” is one of Jesus’ favorite ways to refer to himself. At first glance, the title might seem to reference Jesus’ humanity. But further investigation shows that the title is strongly linked to Daniel 7:13 and refers to Jesus’ heavenly enthronement. Furthermore, “Son of Man” didn’t have the same political connotations as the term “Messiah,” so Jesus probably used it to avoid socio-political baggage (p. 122).
The title “Son of Man” has both an “already” and a “not yet” sense to it. Matthew 16:27–17:2 showcases this dynamic well: The Son of Man will come with his angels and the glory of his Father (not yet), but some of Jesus’ hearers will not die until they see “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (already). The latter was fulfilled at Jesus’ ascension; the former will be fulfilled in his second coming.
Luke also connects Jesus’ coming with the Daniel 7:13 Son of Man, but unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke refers solely to Jesus’ second coming, not to his ascension and heavenly enthronement. Jesus also tells many parables that encourage patient endurance for those feeling the tension between the “already” and the “not yet” of the coming of the Son of Man. You may find yourself in need of this same encouragement: Stay awake! The Son of Man is coming soon!
4. Future Resurrection, Judgment, Reward, and Punishment
The Gospels often connect Jesus’ second coming with two other future events: resurrection and final judgment. Jesus’ teaching about the future resurrection is often instigated by the questions of skeptical Sadducees (e.g. Matt 22:23–33 and parallels). In this particular example, Jesus responds to his critics with a heavy hand, claiming that they “know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt 22:29).
The Synoptic Gospels also contain key teaching from Jesus about final judgment and eternal reward and eternal punishment. In this vein, Jesus often uses fire as a metaphor to describe the horrors of eternal judgment (e.g. Matt 3:12; 7:19–23). These passages also illustrate the separation of those who will receive eternal reward from those who will receive eternal punishment. In these scenes, Jesus himself stands as the judge, separating those who do his will from those who do not. Matthew 7:19–23 contains an especially chilling scenario: even those who have prophesied, cast out demons, or performed miracles are sentenced to eternal punishment. These passages stand as poignant reminders to avoid false assurance of salvation, even from religious actions that lack a life-giving relationship with Jesus.
Two other passages from Matthew deserve further comment. First, Matthew 8:11–12 contains a vivid description of sinners who are “thrown into outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” While this study has observed many references of horror that refer to AD 70, this reference most likely refers to the final judgment, not just the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Finally, Matthew 19:28 states that the disciples will “judge the twelve tribes of Israel.” The term “judge” here means “representative.” The disciples should be seen as “representatives of all believers and the twelve tribes of Israel as representatives of the entire world” (p. 145).
Note: This blog is based upon Jesus and the Future: Understanding What He Taught about the End Times by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Alexander E. Stewart, and Apollo Makara. It was written by Mark Baker and Jimmy Roh and edited by Andreas Köstenberger.