by Mark Mountjoy
Scripture reading:"And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come" (Matthew 10:22-23).
For most Bible scholars and students of the Scriptures Matthew 10:23 has long been considered to be a problematic and difficult text; it carries implications that contradict what Christians have long understood to be the orthodox basis of the Christian life; the direction of time and the goal of history: the final coming of Christ, the universal resurrection of the dead and the end of time. But is Matthew 10:23 really out of the ordinary? Is it a lone passage announcing a contemporary expectation of a first century return of the Lord, or will a cursory study of the entire New Testament show otherwise? It is not alone! Indeed, there are many other passages--passages that say the same thing, passages that have similar implications, yet these other instances do not carry the distinction of being “difficult.” Why not?
Could it be that some are not perceived to be difficult because they can seemingly be lifted out of a first century context with impunity? The majority of the New Testament's apocalyptic texts and passages (apparently since very early on in the Christian era) have never been understood, appreciated or appraised in light of the social world of the Apostles: the Second Jewish Commonwealth.
Some of these other passages seem so fantastic (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 cf. Revelation 12:7-13) that it seems unbelievable and impossible that such things could have already happened; and some are simply passed over in silence (without comment, e.g., 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 and 5:23-24; Hebrews 10:37 cf. James 5:1-9; 1 John 2:18-19) by virtue of the fact that they directly conflict with the Church's major creeds which affirm an eventual return of Christ at the end of time as we now know it.
But in the case of Matthew 10:23 there are some who assert that it is a problem, an anomaly, an apparent gaffe that goes against the collective testimony of both Christ and the Apostles. This general consensus has led some men of learning to insinuate that this verse somehow got put into the New Testament long after the Bible was completed. Some have gone so far as to plead that St. Matthew deliberately misrepresents the nearness of the Second Coming in order to comfort a persecuted and desperate first century church; however, there are many, many others like it.
This essay will closely examine Matthew chapter 10 in its entirety and attempt to provide a reasonable interpretation of its details in light of the little known and fascinating history of the late Second Temple period--the social world of the Apostles: the Second Jewish Commonwealth. In the same light we will also examine other similar texts to determine (with a fair degree of certainty) whether or not the coming of the Son of man was once understood to be impending within the scope and parameters of the end of the Second Temple and the downfall of the Mosaic era.
These are the issues to think about as I invite you to take a closer look at the probable meaning of this cryptic text.