By Samuel M. Frost, Th. M.
Recently I have come to appreciate Jesus’ saying as recorded by Saint Matthew, who is one of the “foundations” of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21.14; Ephesians 2.20 – and, yes, I defend the thesis that Matthew, Jesus’ disciple and Apostle, wrote this gospel). Jesus said, “Think not that I have come to destroy the law or the prophets. I have not come to destroy them, but fulfill them. Truly I say to you that until heaven and earth pass not one jot or tittle shall pass from the law until all is accomplished” (5.17-18). After Matthew has set the stage in the first four “chapters” (there are no chapters in the Scriptures, we put those in there), he launches the mission of Jesus in chapter 5, known popularly as ‘the sermon on the mound.’ It frames the whole mission of Jesus. He came to fulfill every single jot and tittle of the Scriptures, and not one jot or tittle shall pass away until every single jot and tittle is accomplished. We know that many jots and tittles have indeed been fulfilled, never to be repeated. But, even these will not pass away until every single one is fulfilled. Then they will pass away.
But, that was in another blog-article I wrote, so I won’t cover that here. What I want to cover here is the fact that Jesus said that “heaven and earth” will pass away, too, along with the jots and tittles of Scripture (that is, in the new heavens and new earth, we won’t be comparing translations or Bible versions, or noting if P46 should be read over the Alexandrian Text. The word of God will, in its fullness, be written in us – I won’t need a “Bible” in heaven). This statement lead me to another one recorded by the blessed Apostle, Matthew found in 24.34-36.
There, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36 But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” The grammatical structure here is almost exactly like that of 5.17-18. I have to delve a little into the Greek, so forgive me.
“Truly, I say to you” is the same in both passages. The word “pass away” (parerchomai) is the same in both texts. The subjunctive phrase, starting with “until” (eos an) is the same. And, of course, “heaven and earth” is given the same rendering ( ho ouranos kai he ge), where ‘heaven’ is singular. Thus,
Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας· οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι. ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται (Matthew’s text, 5.17-18)
ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη ἕως ἂν πάντα ταῦτα γένηται. ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ παρελεύσεται, οἱ δὲ λόγοι μου οὐ μὴ παρέλθωσιν. Περὶ δὲ τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης καὶ ὥρας οὐδεὶς οἶδεν, οὐδὲ οἱ ἄγγελοι τῶν οὐρανῶν οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός, εἰ μὴ ὁ πατὴρ μόνος (Matthew’s text, 24.34-36).
I have placed in bold the similarities in syntax. The similarities are certainly remarkable as well as the subject matter. The translation, or my translation, of 24.34-36 is, “Truly I say to you that this generation shall by no means pass away until all these things be accomplished. The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but by no means will my words pass away. Now, concerning that day (when the heaven and the earth pass away) and hour no one knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the son, except the father only.” No one knows this day except the Father. Not even the son of man, Jesus (the human being).
Now, first and foremost, it is a virtually settled matter that a great deal of, if not most, of what Jesus said in the previous verses (24.1-34) occurred in the generation of the first followers of him. There is no shortage of materials showing that from the earliest post-first generation of the Church to today that Jesus is pointing to the razing of Jerusalem, the exile of Israel from here land, and the calamities that surrounded those years (up until 66-73, even until 135 A.D. with the Simon Bar-Kokhba Revolt. That Jewish revolt left reportedly 580,000 Jews dead after a three and a half years siege by the Romans under Emperor Hadrian. Jerusalem had been renamed Aelia Capitolina, named after Hadrian’s family line and the god, Jupiter. Hadrian, after the Kokhba Revolt renamed Israel, Syria Palaestina (you may have heard the name, Palestine in the newspapers)).
The disciples had originally asked Jesus, which was in the air at his time, when the end of the world would be (24.1-3). Jesus answers them in so many words that there will be coming catastrophes against Israel so great that if God didn’t cut them short, the extermination would be unreal. This is typical Bible-speak for “the days ahead don’t look good”. And, provided with historical accounts of that period, they weren’t good at all for Jews, Christians, and Jewish Christians. After Caesar Vespasian sent his son, Titus (who would later become Caesar Emperor) to destroy Jerusalem, the situation for the Jewish people was grim. After Hadrian, it was almost complete annihilation. Christians also suffered great persecution beginning with Nero Caesar (65 A.D.) and ending with Maximinus II in 311 A.D. Amazingly, Christianity not only survived, but thrived in numbers during those centuries following that first “generation”.
Somehow, I got stuck on history! Back to the topic! The question the disciples asked concerned the end of the word, or age, in their theology at that time. We have all wanted to know when it will all end. Virtually every religion has some sort of “end” to it, and even the atheistic community has an eventual burnout of the solar system. The Bible is not lost on this basic, fundamental question. And, Jesus answers them, first with telling them what will happen to them in their generation (and, with what would happen in every succeeding generation of Christians who bear the testimony of Jesus – famines, persecutions, wars, rumors of wars, calamity, uprisings, tumult, and the like). But, keeping that generation specifically in mind, Jesus lets them know that the days ahead are not paved with gold, but with blood.
In the verses preceding verse 34, Jesus also lets them know that He, the Son of Man, is in charge. He will “send his angels” (the son of man has angels at his command? A man has the power to send angels?). He will come with the clouds of the heavens (which is descriptive only of God!). The son of man will judge and protect and gather together his people, whom he has foreknown from eternity, gathering them together as a mother hen gathers her chicks. In other words, all hell is coming after the Church, but the Church will prevail because Jesus is their Defender. This message has comforted millions of persecuted souls over the span of history and has given them the hope that in spite of mutilations for Christ, Christ is King!
But, Jesus does eventually get to the passing away of heaven and earth. And, interestingly, the words “that day and hour” refers to this. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but that day and hour no one knows.” He doesn’t tell them. And we don’t know, either. It will happen, as surely as the jots and tittles are all accomplished, “heaven and earth will pass away” along with the jots and tittles.
The fact that Matthew has so structured the saying in 5.17-18 with 24.34,35 provides us with a remarkable deduction from these two texts. 1. Whatever one wants to have “fulfilled” in the Destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, it was not the accomplishment of every jot and tittle (else they, too, would have passed away). 2. It was not the passing away of heaven and earth (for, if that were the case, then every jot and tittle would equally pass away, which they have not). What is of interest here is that that generation did “pass away”, which is the same word used. Therefore, we know what “pass away” means when Matthew used it here and there. That generation is no longer here. They have passed away. And, if we applied this meaning to “jots and tittles” then they would not be here, either! That’s what “pass away” means. “This generation shall not disappear until all things are fulfilled.” The “all things” concerns only those things spoken of that were to happen to them, but, clearly, the jots and tittles of the Hebrew Scriptures (the law and the prophets) are still here with us! Therefore, also, heaven and earth in both passages are speaking of the normal, everyday understanding (and biblical understanding) of what ‘heaven and earth’ means; the things you see “up there”, and the dirt you walk on “down here.” Jesus is specifically telling them that great tribulations were going to come upon his generation, and that his generation would, indeed, pass away. Heaven and earth will also pass away, but not until every jot and tittle of the Scriptures are accomplished. This is Matthew’s way of telling the readers, don’t confuse this, with that, because this is not that. Concerning that day and hour, no one knows except God the Father.
In conclusion, then, Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets, the Hebrew Scriptures, down to every jot and tittle. Not one jot or tittle, after he finishes doing what he is doing, will pass away (be removed) until he has fulfilled every single one of them. That means, that every jot and tittle will remain until every single one of them are accomplished. Then, and only then, will they be removed, along with the heaven and the earth (which, too, will pass away). That generation of the first believers and disciples of Christ has “passed away.” They are gone. Their bodies have long been decomposed. This tells us what “passed away” or “disappears” means in the Matthaen lingua. So, have the written “yods” (jots) and keraiai (strokes of a pen) passed away? No. Then, neither has “heaven and earth.” They will. When? When the Son of Man accomplishes everything written. When is that? Only the Father knows.