Matthew 10:22-23 and The Coming of the Son of Man – Part 1
And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
These words from Jesus, recorded by Matthew, have caused no little consternation among the commentators throughout the ages. As Robert Mounce states succinctly: “Verse 23 is difficult.” (Robert Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary, Matthew (Peabody, Mass; Hendrickson, 1991).
Donald Hagner lists the top three most common attempts to explain these verses:
1. The “Eschatological view”– that Jesus was predicting his final coming in the lifetime of his apostles, which proved false of course.
2. Jesus was predicting the coming judgment of AD 70. He says that since Matthew wrote after AD 70, that this was his way of “explaining” Matthew 10.
3. The resurrection of Jesus, or perhaps even Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit. (Donald Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 33A, Matthew (Dallas; Word Publishers, 1993 , 279).
Other suggestions have been offered as well. Leon Morris suggests that Jesus may have had his resurrection in mind, or even his ascension shortly thereafter (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, Pillar New Testament Commentary, (W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 257). Morris notes that Albert Schweitzer based his entire eschatological narrative on this verse. His insistence that Jesus was here predicting his coming at the end of time and the material universe, which patently did not take place, led him to reject the inspiration of scripture. The same has happened with countless others as well.
Craig Bloomberg opines that verse 23 applies to a:
Post-resurrection ministry, however, it is better viewed as a reference to the perpetually incomplete Jewish mission, in keeping with Matthew’s emphasis on Israel’s obduracy. Christ will return before his followers have fully evangelized the Jews. But they must keep at it throughout the entire church age. (Craig Blomberg, (1992). Matthew, New American Commentary, Vol. 22, (Broadman & Holman Publishers., Logos), 176).
John A. T. Robinson noted some other suggestions as to the meaning of the text before us:
Moffatt puts it “before the Son of man arrives” as if Jesus referred to this special tour of Galilee. Jesus could overtake them. Possibly so, but it is by no means clear. Some refer it to the Transfiguration, others to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, others to the Second Coming. Some hold that Matthew has put the saying in the wrong context. Others bluntly say that Jesus was mistaken, a very serious charge to make in his instructions to these preachers. (Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament (Broadman Press, 1933), Logos).
R. T. France attempts to avoid the problematic nature of the text by claiming:
Certainly the context is not concerned with chronological predictions, but with the continuation of the mission, and the mention of the coming vindication of Jesus functions as a spur to their preaching. (France, R. T. (1985). Matthew: An introduction and commentary, Vol. 1, (InterVarsity Press. 1985), 188–189–Logos).
To suggest, however, that Matthew 10:22-23, “is not concerned with chronological predictions” is, to say the least, disingenuous and flies in the face of Jesus’ emphatic statements.
We can summarize the different options that have been offered:
1.) Jesus was predicting his second coming, the supposed “end of time” coming. In this he was patently wrong.
2. Jesus was promising nothing more than that he would meet his apostles when they had finished the Galilean ministry.
3. Jesus was referring to his upcoming Transfiguration.
4. Jesus was referring to his upcoming resurrection from the dead.
5. Jesus was referring to his Ascension to the Father – in fulfillment of Daniel 7:13-14.
6. Jesus was referring to the auspicious events of Pentecost.
7. Jesus was referring to his coming in the judgment of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
8. Jesus was not making any kind of chronological prediction about the timing of his coming – whatever he might have had in mind by “the coming of the Son of Man” supposedly does not give us any chronological information. (!)
As the reader can see, Matthew 10 continues to be a source of consternation and discussion. I don’t want to seem naive but it seems to me that prejudice, presuppositonal theology and tradition has clouded the proper view of this important text.
To help resolve the problem of the prophecy and determine the proper view of this text we have to honor the actual context, and show that all but one of the suggestions above are completely untenable. Let me illustrate.
The context is undeniably the issue of flight from persecution: “you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.” The issue is NOT, as some commentators posit, simply a prediction of on-going evangelism. The text unequivocally and irrefutably discusses the flight from persecution after the preaching of the Gospel. This irrefutable fact is the Achille’s Heel of suggestions #2-8.
In part two, I will demonstrate further that the majority of the proposals to solve the conundrum of Matthew 10 cannot be sustained by the context, and that there is one simple, and virtually undeniable solution.