After laying out some basic laws about how to deal with slaves and bulls that gore people to death, the book of Exodus started describing the sanctuary for YHWH in detail along with the clothes that Aaron and all other priests are supposed to wear. Snooze fest.
Meanwhile, in Matthew, we have Jesus laying out some pretty angry and apocalyptic stuff. I won’t paste it here, but I recommend following the link to this section at BibleGateway and then coming back. Link.
So, we have at least five layers to think about in order to digest this passage. I. What did Jesus say? II. What did Jesus mean? III. What did the author of Matthew write. IV. What did the author of Matthew mean then? V. What does this mean to us now?
I. What Did Jesus Say: We don’t know. The Gospels were written sometime between 60 and 120 C.E. None of them were even remotely contemporaneous records of Jesus’ words. And, they do not strictly agree in the sense that would suggest they are recording records of testimony. I can’t take seriously the notion that we have a record of one word spoken by Jesus.
II. What Did Jesus Mean: This is a different story. I know something of the ministry of Martin Luther King. I can’t say any of his speeches from memory, but I know what he was about. Others would know quite well what he stood for. I believe Paul’s letters, and the later written Gospels capture Jesus’ ministry.
III. What Matthew wrote: This is the problem, Matthew wasn’t just dictating events like a court reporter; in fact, he wasn’t even dictating events like a news reporter. He was providing important stories and comments from Jesus. And, I suspect he was slipping in some of his own thinking too.
IV. What did Matthew mean: So, in 70-100 C.E., when Matthew puts into the mouth of Jesus, speaking in 30 C.E. a phrases like, “I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation” (23:36), and “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened,” (24:34), what does he intend for Jesus to be saying? Does the author of Matthew mean that the world is ending? Does it help to know that the temple was destroyed by the Romans sometime around 70 A.D.?
V. What does this mean to us: We have two ideas presented in these passages. One, a great tragedy. Destruction of “the world,” whatever that means. Two, a great promise, the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. I take from this that the destruction of the old Jewish hierarchy removed a barrier for the new Jewish faith to grow. That the Kingdom of God, was in some sense aided by the painful, painful loss of everything precious to the adherents of the old ways.