An accurate understanding
by Barry Newton
Last summer over the airwaves of San Antonio, a talk show personality proclaimed, “He was caught with toast in his car.” What? What is so incriminating about possessing a slice of white or wheat bread heated until it becomes slightly crunchy?
Toast, as it turns out, is slang in some subcultures for a gun. Suddenly the meaning of those words convey an entirely different message.
Such situations reveal that, at times, sincerity or even demanding a literal understanding of the plain message can both be inadequate tools for interpretation. In this case, sharing a common linguistic foundation would be required to obtain the most accurate understanding.
In a similar way, the biblical language of the sun and moon being darkened, stars falling from the sky and the celestial bodies being shaken, such as is found in Matthew 24:29, immediately calls to mind the end of the world. What could possibly exist after such horrific events?
However, long before Jesus walked the Temple complex contemplating the future of those glorious buildings and massive stones in Jerusalem, Old Testament prophets had established linguistic conventions for describing political upheaval.
Much like the modern poet who sang: “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone, only darkness every day,” the prophets sometimes described the angst associated with national destruction using the imagery of sweeping scorching fires and extinguished or falling celestial bodies
(Ezekiel 32:7-9, Isaiah 34:3-5, Isaiah 13:1,10 and Amos 5:18-21).
If even the devastation wrought by human kings could be portrayed as shaking the earth, drying up the land and sending a fiery desert blast (Isaiah 14:16-17; Isaiah 25:4), how much more dramatic and picturesque God’s judgment should be on a nation!
Conversely, some of the language they artfully used to depict blessings and the establishment of a nation as their enemies fell away involved the imagery of streams flowing to quench parched ground and the sun shining brighter than ever (Isaiah 30:25-26, 25:5-6)
Before making too many dogmatic statements about the significance or insignificance of some guy with toast in his car, we need to understand the speaker’s background. To understand Jesus, we ought to study well what he knew well, namely, the Old Testament.