Audience Relevancy in the Bible
Most Christians who love their Lord spend countless hours reading, studying and listening to others expound on what the Bible has to say about the Christian life. It is my purpose in this paper to bring to the attention of these believers who are open to possible new understanding the topic of “audience relevancy” when they are engaged in such activities.
To illustrate “audience relevancy” I have chosen to use a major portion of the twenty–fourth chapter of the book of Matthew using the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible.
“Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered to them…” We need to stop right here as we have the first indication of the “audience relevance” in this chapter. The question we must ask is Who is the “them” to whom Jesus is speaking? I believe it is quite evident from this portion of the passage that the word “them” refers back to “his disciples.” With this we have established the “audience” to whom Jesus was speaking – His disciples.
Picking up where we left off in the passage under study we have “You see all these [referring to the temple buildings], do you not?” Here we must identify who the “you” is. The “you” quite obviously is referring back to “his disciples.” No other person or group of people has been introduced into the passage, therefore, we must conclude that “you” here means “his disciples” as it did earlier.
Continuing on, “Truly, I [Jesus] say to you [His disciples], there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” Now that was truly a remarkable statement made by Jesus to His disciples. Jesus told them that all of the magnificent stones that made up the great temple in Jerusalem, which they were all looking at while He made the statement, would be pulled down to where not one stone would be left upon another. I would say that this definitely meets the requirement of what is called “a prophecy” of some future event! Make a mental note of this prophecy because later we are going to see that Jesus actually told His disciples when this prophecy would be fulfilled!
“As he [Jesus] sat on the Mount of Olives the disciples came to him [Jesus] privately, saying, “Tell us [the disciples] when will this [the pulling down of the stones of the temple] be, and what will be the sign of your coming (the word used here for “coming” in the original Greek language of the Bible is “parousia” which means “coming” or “presence”) and the close of the age?” The disciples had asked Jesus two questions: (1) When would the temple be destroyed, and (2) What would be a sign of Jesus’ parousia which would take place at the end of the “age” [not “world” as the old King James Version (KJV) of the Bible states]. Here we need to make note that Jesus needs to respond to two questions by His disciples: (1) When would the temple in Jerusalem be destroyed, and (2) What would be a sign of Jesus’ parousia, which would also take place at what is being referred to as “the end of the age.” We will also need to investigate what “age” the disciples were referring to in their question to Jesus.
“And Jesus answered them [His disciples], Take heed that no one leads you [the disciples] astray. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they [the deceivers that Jesus is talking about] will lead many astray. And you [the disciples] will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you [the disciples] are not alarmed; for this [the things Jesus is speaking about] must take place, but the end [presumably “the end of the age” which the disciples spoke of earlier] is not yet.” Let’s review and make note of the developments in the words of Scripture. Jesus, so far, answers His disciples questions by telling them: (1) That they should be careful so that no one would lead them astray, (2) That some others would appear on the scene claiming that they were Him, Christ the Messiah, and that they would be deceivers and many would actually believe these deceivers, and (3) That the disciples would be hearing of wars and rumors of wars, but the disciples should not become alarmed over this because all of these things had to take place before the end of the age came.
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places; all this is but the beginning of the birth–pangs.” In this portion of Matthew, Chapter 24, Jesus adds some “signs” that the disciples would see take place prior to the destruction of the temple and His parousia: (1) Nation would rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and (2) There would be famines and earthquakes in various places. I say that these signs would take place immediately prior to the temple destruction and His parousia because He likens these events to the “birth–pangs” which is an obvious reference to the pains experienced by a woman just prior to the delivery of a new child.
“Then they (here who the word “they” is referring to is not specified, but I believe that later on in our position papers you will understand that the word “they” is referring to the religious leadership of the Jews), will deliver you [the disciples] up to tribulation, and put you [the disciples] to death (we can see from this language that whoever the “they” are, they will be responsible for the death of the disciples Jesus is speaking to); and you [the disciples] will be hated by all nations for my [Jesus’] name sake. And then (at the time all of this is happening to the disciples) many will fall away (presumably from what Jesus had been teaching during His ministry), and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end (those who continue believing what Jesus had said during His ministry), will be saved. And the gospel of the kingdom (this was the message that Jesus had preached during His ministry and had passed on to the disciples) will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.” This last statement is very time specific. Jesus has just told the disciples that the end of the age, which we have already seen is tied to the destruction of the temple and the parousia of Christ, would not take place until the gospel of the kingdom had been preached “throughout the whole world…to all nations.”
So when you [the disciples] see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),” Jesus is telling His disciples that they would see the abomination of desolation as prophesied by Daniel in Dan. 9:27; 12:11, “then let those who are in Judea (at the time of this significant event) flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle. And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days!” (the days when the abomination of desolation takes place). Through these statements, Jesus is giving a stern warning to the disciples, and for that matter any other believers at that time as we can safely assume that this message was spread to other believers after Jesus had died and was resurrected. “Pray that your (those who would see the signs and leave the city) flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. For then (at the time of the appearance of the abomination of desolation) there would be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. Then if any one says to you [the disciples], Lo, here is the Christ! Or There he is! Do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Lo, I [Jesus] have told you [the disciples] beforehand. So if they (the false Christs and false prophets) say to you [the disciples], Lo, he [Christ] is in the wilderness, do not go out; if they (the false Christs and false prophets) say, Lo, he [Christ] is in the inner rooms, do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming (here the Greek word is again “parousia” as it was earlier, meaning “presence”) of the Son of man (a title for Christ the Messiah). Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man (Christ the Messiah) in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man [Christ] coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; (note that the parousia of Christ occurs after the tribulation mentioned) and he [Christ] will send out his [Christs] angels with a loud trumpet call, and they (the angels) will gather his [Christs] elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you [the disciples] see all these things (What things? It seems obvious that the “things” are those that Jesus has been talking about to His disciples!), you [the disciples] know that he [Christ the Messiah] is near, at the very gates. Truly I [Jesus] say to you [the disciples], this generation [!!!!!] will not pass away [die] till all these things take place.” Oh my! This last sentence is a bombshell! Let’s look closely at it in some detail.
1. Jesus has stated to His disciples that their generation would not die [pass away] until all “these things” had taken place!
2. The context of “these things” must include:
a. The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.
b. The end of “the age.”
c. The disciples would witness the appearance of false Christs and false prophets.
d. There would be wars and rumors of wars.
e. There would be famines and earthquakes.
f. There would be a period of tribulation.
g. At least some of the disciples would be “put to death.”
h. The gospel of the kingdom would be preached throughout
the world and to all nations.
i. The “abomination of desolation” prophesied by Daniel would take place.
j. There would be an exodus of believers from Judea who
would “flee to the mountains.”
k. The “parousia” or “presence” of Christ would take place (which some Christians refer to as the “second coming.”
Jesus said that all of these conditions and events would take place during the generation of the people to whom He was speaking! Serious students of the Bible who carefully study this passage of the Scriptures arrive at one of the following conclusions:
1. Jesus made a mistake in saying what He said to His disciples.
2. Jesus purposely misleads His disciples by making these statements.
3. What Jesus said in this passage was true and accurate and it took place exactly as Jesus said it would.
It has been said that if you conclude that either #1 or #2 above is correct, then you probably are a candidate for leaving your Christian beliefs behind as you will have to place everything that the Scriptures say into a category of doubt. What in the Bible could you trust as being true if you believe either #1 or #2 is true?
For those of us who have a love relationship in Christ, conclusion #3 is the only choice that can be true. However, in order to conform our belief and understanding to what the Scriptures teach we most likely are going to have to change a number of our doctrinal beliefs! This is easy for some Christians, but difficult for the majority of us.
From what I have written above, I think you can understand why I believe that every Christian must understand “audience relevancy” when they approach the Scriptures. Some portions of the Scriptures are written directly to a specific audience of people and we must handle these words in a manner that honors that truth. The Bible is a document FOR all people, but is not written TO all people. In those cases where the words are addressed to a specific person or group of people, we must exercise wisdom in applying the particular section of Scripture to ourselves today.
I invite you to come along with us on this journey as we release additional position papers on this topic in the future.
Your eternal brother in Christ,