Mark 13; Matthew 24; & Luke 21
In perhaps the bravest move of His ministry, Jesus gets eschatological.*
The general question I have about the lesson told in the three Synoptic Gospels here is whether the realities that Jesus describes are supposed to represent a specific series of events ushering in what Christians call ‘the end times,’ or whether they are a more general description of the condition of the world prior to the Second Coming of Christ.
For that matter, are these prophecies (and really all of the ‘sticky’ ones that have yet to be fulfilled) meant not as predictive tools but merely interpretive tools? This is essentially the same tension in social science theory, an arena in which I am more confident (for which reason I’ll draw my example from there and not Biblical prophecy):
The realist theory of international affairs makes certain claims about the way states interact based on the dynamic distribution of power between them. For example, one sub-theory states that if a strong state sees a rival getting stronger to the point of equality with itself, then it will go to war before that equality is achieved so as to change the trend in power distribution and to avoid losing primacy to the rival and being forced to guard its security against a stronger foe.
There is general consensus among realists that the theory is a valid interpretive tool. That is, I can look at a conflict in history such as the Pelopponesian War or WWI (for example), and realism will help me to understand the logic behind why that event occurred.
However, there is not consensus around the idea that the theory is predictive. Many realists would maintain that you cannot look at the relationship between China and India, say, and predict with any degree of certainty whether and when/how they will go to war based on the realist theory. In this latter example, the theory can help to explain interactions as they happen, but not serve as a prognostication of future events.
Now my question is whether prophecy can be viewed the same way? Is it God’s intent that we will react to prophecy either by prophets or by Jesus by seeking to predict how the history of creation will unfold in the future? Or, rather, is that more of a human tendency separate from God’s intention, which is to provide people living through the horrible events described in the passage an explanation as to why those things are happening and how they are consistent with an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God?
I understand that the analogy to theory breaks down because whereas theory is the best guess of finite humans with limited knowledge, prophecy is the word of an omniscient God. I also recognize that the lesson of the fig tree, as referenced in this passage, does seem to indicate that the theory has predictive value (although I think I can read it from the interpretive perspective as well).
I am leaning toward the latter understanding, but it’s a brand new idea for me, and I’m certainly open to evidence that I’m misconstruing or overlooking some crucial elements.
* Rhetorical hyperbole