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Another Translation

by Tim O'Hearn

Many people today subscribe to an interpretation of certain scriptures. This interpretation generally did not exist until the middle to late 1800s, and yet people buy into it as if the apostles believed and taught it. It is based on a literal interpretation of the Revelation, a failure to consider the historical contexts of Daniel and Matthew 24, and a belief that Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled two millennia ago still await their final consummation. This interpretation goes by a number of names: Premillennialism (which truly does date back to the first or second centuries), Dispensational Premillennialism (which is the 1800s version), Rapture theory. I do not intend to address the whole doctrine at this time, as other articles in Minutes With Messiah have done so to one extent or another. I just want to look at one passage, and see if there are other ways to interpret it, besides the one held by this interpretation.

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matt 24:4-8)

These were the first recorded words Jesus used in response to the apostles’ questions about the timing of the destruction of the Temple, the sign of his coming, and the end of the world. And in this passage we see that part of the problem with the interpretation of the Dispensational Premillennialists may be predicated on questions of translation.

The disciples had asked him three questions as if they felt they were related. The first is pretty clear. When will the Temple be destroyed, as Jesus had just predicted? Since we now know that it was destroyed in 70 AD, and has yet to be rebuilt, we can assume that Jesus’ answers to the other two questions also relate to that date. But the questions seem to refer to a different time. “What are the signs of your coming, and of the end of the world?” Obviously the earth was not destroyed in 70 AD. Obviously (to some) Jesus has not “come” again, after his ascension in 32-34 AD. At least, those would be obvious based on the common translations into English. An equally valid, if not more valid, translation would be, “What is the sign of your presence and the end of the age?” Calling it the end of the world (cosmos) is much different than calling it the end of the age (eon). Could it be that they were simply asking that if the Temple was to be destroyed, how would they know that Jesus would be with them, even though it was clearly the end of the Mosaic era? This seems to make more sense in the light of the context.

In answer, Jesus says that it would be easy to deceive people at the time of the destruction of the Temple. There would be war, famine, and natural disasters all through the world. “These are the beginning of sorrows.” Now some have pointed out that, contrary to current doctrine, these signs were not to immediately precede the end. They are the beginning, not the end, of sorrows. That might even be a valid refutation of premillennial doctrine. However, there is another possible translation. “These are the origin of sorrows.” It may be that Jesus is telling them the obvious: bad things happen, and the result is sorrow. Because of the sorrow generated by these things, the disciples might doubt his “presence.” He goes on to show them that in spite of the reasons for sorrow, they can see the destruction of Jerusalem coming, and the fact that most were able to escape that destruction would be the sign of his presence. What appeared to be sorrowful for others need not be sorrow for them.

That is a lesson that applies even today. Other than that, though, there appears no reason to believe that a prophecy that was fulfilled within thirty years should apply to our future.