AUDIENCE TIME IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Part 1 (The Audience of Jesus)
By Ward Fenley

INTRODUCTION Matthew 16:27-28 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. Toward the conclusion of the last chapter, Mark 8:38-9:1 was used to show how Jesus associated His coming in glory alongside His reproval of "this adulterous and sinful generation." If the clear use of the word "generation" (as well as words and phrases like "at hand," "a little while," and "quickly") was not enough to convince the gainsayers of the truth, Jesus clarified the implication of His timing by saying that there would be some who would not taste death until they had seen Jesus come in His kingdom. A most important question should be asked: how would the audience of Jesus have interpreted His words? Even beyond that, how would the churches to whom the apostles wrote interpret the letters and admonitions warning them of the nearness of the return of Christ? This brings us to a critical place in our observation of Scriptures dealing with the return of Christ: the analysis of the inferences of the audiences addressed by Jesus and the apostles.

THE AUDIENCE OF JESUS

In Matthew 10, Jesus Christ commissioned the twelve disciples. Jesus directed His commission specifically to the disciples as we see in verse 1:

Matthew 10:1 And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. In verses 5 and 6 there is, again, another reference distinctly mentioning the twelve and their particular commission. Matthew 10:5-6 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This may not seem relevant at first glance, but when the whole context of chapter 10 is considered, and the audience of the twelve is realized, then verses 22 and 23 become much more significant. Matthew 10:22-23 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. To whom was Jesus referring when He said "ye"? Some would like to think he was referring to a group of modern day "Jews." The Bible, however, says Jesus was referring to "these twelve" (verse 5). If we apply this same audience (the twelve) to the rest of the passage, including verse 23, it becomes obvious that it would be untenable to say that Jesus was referring to Christians two thousand years later. More importantly, for Jesus to say that the Son of man would come before the disciples had gone through all the cities of Israel would definitely imply that His coming would take place before their generation would pass away. Some might argue that those to whom Jesus referred were twentieth-century "Jews" that became His "witnesses" in 1948. This, however, has no scriptural support whatsoever. If we read the text with the twelve disciples whom Jesus addressed in mind, then His promise becomes much more consequential: Matthew 10:23 But when they persecute you (the twelve) in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you (the twelve), Ye (the twelve) shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. This is complimentary to the rest of the context. It is to be noted that many things Jesus said in chapter ten happen with Christians today and have happened throughout church history, such as "a manís foes shall be they of his own household." Regardless, the intent of the passage is obvious: Jesus was preparing the disciples to expect much tribulation and persecution before the Son of man would come (cf. Acts 14:22). We should also ask ourselves the question, "How would the disciples interpret the words of Jesus?" Once again, if we infer that the disciples understood the words of Christ with a grammatically-natural interpretation, it will clarify the meaning of these passages.

A very similar passage is found in Matthew 16 from which the disciples could only infer one interpretation.

Matthew 16:27-28 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. There is not a rational Christian alive, upholding futurism, who would say they have never had trouble with this passage. What could be clearer? Jesus again, speaking to His disciples, does not mislead them or lie to them. Instead, He makes utterly clear the fact that there were some of His disciples who would be alive when He returned. (It is fascinating to note that Jesus, upon Peterís inquiry as to the future of the apostle John, replied, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me." John 21:22. This is by no means a prooftext for this argument; however, John was the author of Revelation and was probably alive at our Lordís coming.)

Some interpret the passage in Matthew 16 as referring to the transfiguration. This, however, would make no contextual sense. Why would Jesus say, "eight days from now some of you will not taste death until you see Me come in My kingdom"? Would it be so amazing that some of His disciples would still be alive after eight days? Furthermore, if the transfiguration was His coming in His kingdom, were the angels present? Were there rewards for every man according to their works? It is a severe buckling of Scripture to separate verse 27 from verse 28. The prophecy that some of the disciples would be alive at the time when He would reward every man according to his works correlates perfectly with the statement of imminence in Revelation 22:12: "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." This can be seen more clearly when placed side by side. Also included is Matthew 25:31: (Chart)

Matthew 16:27-28 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels...

Revelation 22:12 And, behold, I come...

Matthew 16 and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

Revelation 22 and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.

Matthew 16 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death...

Revelation 22 I come quickly...

Matthew 16 till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

Jesus said in Matthew 16:28, "Verily I say unto you..." The word verily or truly is certainly a testimony to the validity of Christís promise, especially when considering what He would perform when He came. Those who say that verse 27 refers to a different event than verse 28 must contend with a grammatical pattern used by Jesus in the N.T. Wherever Jesus uses the phrase, verily, verily it never introduces a new subject or idea. It always is continuing the same theme. Therefore, verse 28 could not be referring to the transfiguration. (To understand the purpose of the transfiguration, examine 2 Peter 1:16-19. This passage explains that the transfiguration was merely a proof that what Jesus said in Matthew 16:27,28 was going to take place, despite the scoffers of their day (cf. 2 Peter 3:3,4)). In fact, the whole purpose of the transfiguration of Jesus was to prove to the disciples that He was not lying. He would come back before some of them would taste of death (Matthew 16:28).

An astonishing passage that will take some exposition concerning audience time is Matthew 21:33-45. This particular passage is spoken before the chief priests and the Pharisees. Jesus, in no uncertain terms, makes sure His audience knows He is referring to them:

Matthew 21:33-45 Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. At this point, we will not investigate the details outside of the manifest references to His audience and their consequential appraisal of the parable. We do see, however, that Jesus distinctly shows the Pharisees that the anger of the Lord was most kindled when He sent His Son last of all. The phrase last of all should not be overlooked, for this is what will form the Phariseeís proper assessment of His parable. If the Lordís anger was kindled because they slew His Son, it follows that those on whom His miserable destruction would come would be those who killed His Son. The Householder (the Father) sent the Son last of all. Why would He wait two thousand years to destroy the murderers of His Son? Last of all should be clear evidence that the Jews had filled up the measure of their fathers. The Pharisees concluded from the parable that "He spake of them." Why would they conclude this? Jesus was, in fact, speaking in language the people could understand. Even though the parables were designed to keep the truth from the Pharisees, this particular parable was easily understandable to them, as they recognized that Jesus was referring to them as the "wicked men." The Pharisees used the phrase wicked men to describe themselves (verse 41). Were they wrong in their perception? Would we be so bold as to add to the phrase, "they perceived that He spake of them; however, He was not really referring to them even though they were the ones who crucified the Lord of glory"? It is fascinating to note that the Greek word for "perceived" is ginosko, a word that actually means to know. In other words, "they knew that He spoke of them." The Pharisees were very aware of the fact that Jesus was telling them they were the ones who would be miserably destroyed.

When Jesus appeared before the high priest prior to His crucifixion, He spoke to the high priest in a manner that would unmistakably bring the priest to a certain conclusion:

Matthew 26:63-65 But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. Was the high priest thinking, "Oh, He is referring to a distant judgment two thousand years from now"? Or, was the high priest clearly understanding Christ Jesus, and thus concluding, "This Man just told me hereafter He is going to come in judgment." At this point, it is worth considering the word hereafter. Even though there was no time limit specified, there was certainly an implication that Jesus was going to get vengeance upon this man within his lifetime; for Jesus said, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." If we try to comprehend the frame of mind of the high priest, it will help us understand how he interpreted the words of Jesus.

In Luke 12, Jesus invokes His disciples to seek the kingdom of God, and then makes three statements that would give the disciples the distinct impression that the kingdom would come to them in their lifetime.

Luke 12:31-48 But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not. Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all? And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath. But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. First, Jesus tells them that it is the "Fatherís good pleasure to give you the kingdom." The encouraging words of Jesus emphasizing the sovereignty of God in giving the disciples the kingdom surely were meant to declare the immutable counsel and decree of the Almighty to give them, as the elect of God, the kingdom. Second, He likens them as "men that wait for their Lord when He will return from the wedding." Were the disciples doubting the timing of our Lord, saying, "He of course was not referring to us"? Or, even more blasphemous, "Maybe it is not really the Fatherís good pleasure to give it to us now. Jesus means much, much later." Truly, the disciples were encouraged in their waiting for their Lord because their Lord would come soon. Jesus also uses a phrase that Peter repeated in his first epistle. Jesus said, "Let your loins be girded about." Why did He say this? Was it not to prepare them for the coming of the Lord? In 1 Peter, it is even clearer, especially within its context. 1 Peter 1:13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; Peter, being one of the disciples, knew exactly what the Lord meant by saying, "Let your loins be girded about." Girding the loins is preparing for something to happen. They were to be watchful, sober, and prayerful. "But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." 1 Peter 4:7. Examine carefully Peterís words in chapter 1:13: "hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." How would Peterís audience perceive this encouragement? Certainly, they would be expecting Jesus to be revealed to them. It is inconceivable to think that a member of Peterís audience would respond, "Peter was not actually saying that the revelation of Jesus Christ will take place in our lifetime." Or rather, "Peter thinks that Christ will come back in our generation but he is mistaken." The foundation of these arguments is hollow and demeans apostolic authority and the credibility of Jesus. It is clear that both Jesus and Peter used the phrase "gird up" to encourage preparation for the Lordís coming as they waited for Him and that it would take place within their generation. Third, Jesus said "Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not." It is very dangerous to say that Jesus would emphasize His two-thousand-year future coming just to keep first-century Jews on their best behavior. As mentioned previously, this would not only be deception by our Savior, it would also be terribly disappointing to those whom He loved so much. Even Peter asked if He was referring to the disciples or all those listening. Some might argue that Jesus was referring to all throughout history. This is incongruous with the obvious audience reference, especially in light of the many statements of imminence already cited, not to mention the fact that Jesus specifically answered Peterís question with His words in verses 47 and 48: Luke 12:47-48 And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. Jesus was merely making a distinction between those who knew the Lordís will and those that knew not His will. Those who knew His will would receive the greater judgment, and those who had never known His will would be as Jesus said, "beaten with few stripes." This is exactly why Peter, in 2 Peter 2:20,21, explained the gravity of knowing the "Lordís will," and yet rejecting His commands: 2 Peter 2:20-21 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. Peter knew that the words which Jesus spoke to him in Luke 12 were applying to his own generation; hence, the admonition was so imperative. Of course, the objector would argue that if the Lord has already come, then there would be no incentive for godly living. Quite the contrary; the eternal age has begun, and the lake of fire immediately consumes the haters of God upon their physical death.

Later, in Luke 12, Jesus uses language that should make it expressly clear that His judgment would come upon the first-century generation:

Luke 12:54-56 And he said also to the people, When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time? If the signs were not to happen for another two thousand years, why would Jesus question how it was that they could not discern the times? His comparison with the face of the sky was to show that it should be even more obvious that judgment would destroy the God-hating Jews of the first-century. This is especially clear in light of the Pharisees radical deviation from the true religion of God, and more importantly, the fact that Messiah had arrived and was performing miracles promised in the Abrahamic Covenant. As we examine Christís usage of the sky analogy, we see a clear statement of imminence. "When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is." The word straightway is the Greek word eutheos which Strongís defines as immediately. That is, when there is a cloud out of the west, immediately they say, "There comes a shower!" And so it is! Or, and so it comes. Pertaining to the judgment, the same is true. When they saw the signs, they said, "Here comes the judgment," and so it came. The judgment of God did not tarry (Hebrews 10:37). The signs were fulfilled, and, therefore, God kept His promise of immediate judgment. And so it was!

Luke 19 gives us the account of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem because of the coming judgment:

Luke 19:41-44 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. Our Lord saw the pending judgment coming upon Israel and declared that it would certainly come. The fact that He mentioned that the stones would not be left upon another testifies to the correlation with Matthew 24, especially verses1 through 3 and verse 34. Matthew 24:1-3 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to show him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

Matthew 24:34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

The disciples and the Pharisees understood without a doubt that Jesus was speaking of their generation.

The examination of audience time in Luke 21 is abounding with clarity as it pertains to whom Jesus was referring. Consider these passages and how those hearing Jesus would perceive His words:

Luke 21:19,20,28,36 In your patience possess ye your souls. And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh... And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh... Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. Once again, the disciples were the audience of Jesus. This is specifically seen in Luke 20:45 where the writer intentionally points out the fact that the audience was restricted to the disciples even though others were present. Luke 20:45 Then in the audience of all the people he said unto his disciples... The disciples were the ones to whom the Olivet discourse was directed regardless of whom the judgment would affect. Therefore, the designation of His disciples as the target audience is a strong indication as to how the disciples interpreted Christís words and how we should interpret Christís words. Jesus explicitly promises that their patience would reap life everlasting. It would be foolish to speculate that Jesus was referring to patience unto physical death, especially in light of the following promise of redemption. He, therefore, besought the disciples to watch and be patient that they would obtain the age to come (cf. Luke 18:30).

Ward Fenley


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