Lesson: Jeremiah 33:14-16
14 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”
After the righteous and reforming King Josiah was killed in battle at Megiddo (from which we get the Greek word Armageddon) in 609 BCE, the fortunes of Judea took a sharp downward turn. Babylon threatened Judea’s existence, and Judea had a series of hapless kings from 609 until Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Babylonians deported many Judean leaders to Babylon in 597 and a larger number in 586 (the Babylonian Exile). Jeremiah’s prophesy (i.e., speaking for YHWH) began around 609 and continued until 586 BCE when he died in Egypt.
Most Bible scholars agree that the Book of Jeremiah underwent substantial revisions between the time of Jeremiah (627 to 586 BCE) and the First Century. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there were different versions of the Book of Jeremiah. The Greek Septuagint Translation (the LXX – dating from 300 to 200 BCE) has some chapters that are not in the Hebrew versions.
Sections in the book that are in “poetry style” are generally attributed to the prophet, and parts in “prose style” were added later by writers whose theological outlook was closely aligned with the Deuteronomists. (In fact, Chapter 52 in Jeremiah is virtually word-for-word with 2 Kings 24:18 to 25:30 written by the Deuteronomists after the Exile.)
Jeremiah is mostly a prophet of doom and gloom, but today’s reading is in prose style and is optimistic. These verses are a repetition of Jer. 23:5-6 and are not in some other versions of the Book of Jeremiah that were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were likely added around 450-400 BCE.
The verses anticipate a Messianic Age when YHWH will fulfill the promise that the Davidic line would rule forever (2 Sam. 7) and a righteous Branch from the House of David would rise up to bring justice and righteousness (a right relationship with God) to Israel and Judea.
The promise to David was qualified, however, by Solomon’s prayer (1 Kings 8:22-26) that the Davidic line would rule forever if it were righteous. As the Deuteronomic Books point out, the people of Ancient Israel were not always righteous (did not worship YHWH faithfully), and this was seen as the reason for the conquests by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Syrians, and Romans.
The Jewish Publication Society Translation of the last word of verse 16 is that the LORD is our “Vindicator.”
Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians was Paul’s first writing that exists and was written around 50 CE. Accordingly, it is the oldest writing in the Christian Scriptures.
Thessalonica is a seaport city and was the capital of Macedonia. Even today, Thessaloniki (as it is now called) is a charming city of one million persons, and the cultural center of Greece. The saying there is that “Thessaloniki is to Athens as San Francisco is to Los Angeles.”
According to Acts 16 and 17, Paul went to Philippi and then to Thessalonica. He spoke gratefully in Philippians 4:16 of gifts sent to him by Philippians when he was in Thessalonica.
The letter encouraged the community to be steadfast in the face of persecution. In today’s reading, Paul reassured the people that even those who died before the Parousia (Second Coming) will participate fully in it (v.14). Paul also expected the end times (not the end of the world, but the end of the world as we know it) to come during Paul’s own lifetime (v.17).
The idea of a Second Coming developed early in the Jesus Follower Movement because, in his earthly life, Jesus of Nazareth did not fulfill all the traditional “job descriptions” of the Messiah – the nation was not unified; the Romans were not expelled; Shalom (peace and order) did not reign. The expectation developed in the Jesus Follower Community that at the Second Coming, the Kingdom of God/Heaven will be accomplished and the coming of the Messiah will be fulfilled.
The theme of this short letter (five chapters) is one of encouragement to remain steadfast. In the passages just before today’s reading, Paul expressed gratitude for the good report he received from Timothy (v.6) and his pain at not being able to visit this community (v.4).
In today’s reading, he urged the Jesus Followers in Thessalonica to increase in love for one another (v.12) and to remain holy and blameless “at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (v.13) . For Paul, the “heart” (v.13) is not a synonym for feelings, but the center of knowledge and understanding. He also expected that the Parousia (the Second Coming) would occur soon.
Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
25 Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
The Gospel According to Luke is generally regarded as having been written around 85 CE. Its author also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Both are written in elegant and deliberatively crafted Greek, and present Jesus of Nazareth as the universal savior of humanity. Both emphasize the Holy Spirit as the “driving force” for events.
The Gospel follows the same general chronology of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the Gospel of Mark, and more than 50% of Luke’s Gospel is based on Mark. The other portions of Luke include (a) sayings shared with the Gospel According to Matthew but not found in Mark and (b) stories that are unique to Luke such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan.
Today’s reading draws upon images and metaphors for the coming of the Son of Man as described in the Septuagint (LXX) translations of the Hebrew Bible. The signs in the sun, moon, and stars (v.25) are derived from Joel 2:30-31, Zephaniah 1:15 and Isaiah 13:10. The fear and foreboding and the heavens being shaken (v.26) are parallel to Isaiah 34:4. The Son of Man “coming on a cloud” is based on Daniel 7:13.
The lesson of the fig tree is found in the other Synoptic Gospels and the reference to “this generation” (v.32) demonstrates the belief in the early Jesus Follower Community that the Day of the Lord would occur shortly. Similarly, the admonition to alertness (vv. 34-36) is found in the other Synoptic Gospels.