Jesus on Women – Part 5

November 9, 2012

Women in Apocalyptic Discourse

In this series on the sayings of Jesus about women, we have covered instances in which Jesus used women as his story illustrations, as well as statements Jesus made specifically about widows and about women in their family roles. Last week we looked at passages in which women were involved in Jesus’ confrontations with the Jewish religious authorities.

Today we will take a brief look at Jesus’ discourses on the destruction of the Temple and the coming of God’s kingdom (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 17, 21), because Jesus mentioned women in these contexts too.

The interpretation of these broader passages has been debated by learned scholars for centuries. I won’t claim enough wisdom to sort out all the details, but I will provide some context. Understanding of these teachings is complicated, because the language Jesus used bears the characteristics of apocalyptic literature. 

Apocalypse was a well-known form of writing among the Jews and early Christians and was usually concerned with coming judgment and salvation.* It characteristically used cryptic phrases and was rich in symbolism, which means that many of the details were not intended to be understood literally. If you go to your Bible and read the complete discourses, you will find that Jesus used language that hearkens back to well-known apocalyptic literature from the Old Testament, such as Ezekiel and Daniel.

For this discussion I will quote from Luke’s Gospel. He conveys these discourses a little more simply and does not assume that his audience is completely conversant with the Old Testament. He also divides Jesus’ statements across two different occasions, whereas Matthew includes them as one megadiscourse (Matt. 24-25)

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdomof God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.  People will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other….

“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

“It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife!  Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.  I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

Luke 17:20-37

The reference to Lot’s wife reminds us that not all women’s behavior is admirable. However, Jesus considers the mixed gender of his audience and includes an example describing women in the process of their routine duties. Matthew’s version is more specifically dichotomous:

Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Matthew 24:40-41

In the second discourse, Luke begins with this context:

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
Luke 21:5-7

Jesus goes on to warn his disciples of great persecution to come and betrayals by family members. He urges them to “Stand firm, and you will win life” (v. 19). Then he tells them,

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
Luke 21:20-24

The invasion of Jerusalem would be a time of great distress, which Jesus accentuated with a reference to its effects on expectant and new mothers.

So we have two more examples of Jesus acknowledging women and their presence in his audience.

In the final post in the series next week, we will look at some teachings that more directly address the treatment of women.


*Thanks for Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart for help with my explanation here. I frequently refer to their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.

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