SYNOPSIS – Normalcy or Chaos? Disciples must be prepared at all times for the sudden arrival of the “Son of Man” – Matthew 24:36-39.
Famously, Jesus compared the final years that will precede the “coming of the Son of Man” to the period leading up to the Great Flood – “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be.”
Some interpreters take this saying to be a prediction of a return in the future to the same conditions that existed in Noah’s time, a return to the moral anarchy and violence that prompted Yahweh to destroy humanity by floodwaters. Often included in this view is the belief in the return of the “fallen angels” with their hybrid offspring, the Nephilim – (Genesis 6:1-4).
Allegedly, the last days will be characterized by moral and societal chaos of the same order, along with celestial and terrestrial upheaval. As chaos prevails, everyone will know that some calamitous event is imminent.
This view ignores the use of an analogy in the saying of Jesus, its literary context, and the point of the analogy. The gospel of Luke adds to the analogy, and further clarifies the point, by comparing the “days of Noah” to the “days of Lot.” This serves to stress the single point of the analogy.
- (Matthew 24:36-39) – “But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For just as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; thus will it also in the coming of the Son of man be.”
- (Luke 17:26-30) – “And as it came to pass in the days of Noah, even so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise, even as it came to pass in the days of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all: after the same manner shall it be in the day that the Son of man is revealed.”
No one except God alone knows the timing of the “coming of the Son of Man.” The reference to the “days of Noah” illustrates this. In the passage, Jesus said nothing about “signs” in the heavens or on the earth; nothing about gross sin, violence, terrestrial upheaval, or the return of “giants,” angel-human hybrids, or the “Nephilim.”
Instead, as before the Flood, men and women will go about their daily routines, “eating, drinking, marrying, planting, building, buying, and selling.” This describes everyday routines, chaos. Men will go about their daily business as if nothing untoward is about to occur, despite the testimony of Noah, Lot, or any other preacher of righteousness – (2 Peter 2:5, “if God did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness…).
The error of the men of Noah’s day was a failure to heed the call for repentance preached by Noah. Humanity went about its business as if judgment and recompense would never occur. Men went about their routine affairs right up until the horrific destruction of the Flood fell upon them.
Jesus pointed to the indifference of men to the inevitable judgment announced by Noah as an example for his contemporaries. He did not mention anything about the wickedness of that past generation. Only Noah and his family believed God “about things not yet seen” and, therefore, prepared the ark. In contrast, the men who failed to respond to the preaching of Noah were wholly unprepared when the Flood struck – (Hebrews 11:7).
For the rest of humanity, the Flood arrived suddenly and without warning. Likewise, the sudden arrival of the “Son of Man” will catch many men off guard. The conditions described by Jesus indicate a time of normalcy, not chaos.
In the version in the gospel of Luke, Jesus states the kingdom is not coming “with observable signs” (paratérésis). This translates a Greek word used by medical practitioners to diagnose diseases by observing symptoms, as well as for making close astronomical observations.
Unlike a disease or the movement of the planets, the timing of Christ’s arrival cannot be calculated by watching global affairs or discerning the significance of cosmic signs. When the Son arrives, it will be like “lightning flashing out of the one part under heaven and flashing into the other part under heaven”; sudden, unmistakable, and visible to all.
In Luke’s account, Jesus added the illustration from the “days of Lot.” Before the Son arrives, people will go about their regular affairs, “eating, drinking, marrying, being given in marriage, buying, selling, planting, and building.” In Lot’s day, fire from heaven fell suddenly and destroyed Sodom, thus will it be on “the day the Son of Man is revealed.”
In Luke 21:34-36, Jesus warns against becoming too comfortable in this life. Disciples must take heed:
“Lest at any time their hearts are overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life, and so that day comes upon (ephistémi) them unexpected (aiphnidios). For just as a snare shall it come upon all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch, therefore, and pray always to be accounted worthy to escape (ekpheugō) all these things.”
The Apostle Paul used this saying of Jesus in his letter to the Thessalonians to make a similar point:
(1 Thessalonians 5:2-3) – “For yourselves know accurately that the day of the Lord is coming thus as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, ‘Peace and safety,’ then unexpected (aiphnidios) destruction comes upon (ephistémi) them as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape (ekpheugō).”
“Unexpected” (aiphnidios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament except in these two passages. According to Paul, the “Day of the Lord” will arrive when it is least expected, and just like a “thief in the night.” Mankind’s boast of having achieved “peace and safety” points to times of normalcy, not chaos and violence.
Likewise, the Apostle Peter warned of a coming time of “scoffers walking after their own lusts who will scoff; Where is the promise of his coming, for since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation!” – (2 Peter 3:2-4).
In times of catastrophic events, even atheists are tempted to believe something “apocalyptic” is imminent. In contrast, in times of normalcy and prosperity, the human tendency is to assume life will continue like usual with little anxiety about the end of the age, and no motivation to prepare for its arrival.
Jesus painted a picture of normalcy for the period just prior to his return, not one characterized by global catastrophes, cosmic destruction, or moral anarchy. The unprepared will be overtaken by the sudden and unexpected arrival of the Son of Man.
This is the point of the analogy. No one knows the day or hour of his coming and no one can calculate it. That day will arrive suddenly and without warning, “just like a thief in the night,” therefore, followers of Jesus must always prepare for its sudden arrival.