“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” says Jesus as part of the Bible Sunday gospel (Matthew 24:30-35). But what is the significance of that? Context is important. You may remember that the Bible says “There is no God” – but you do need to look at where, and what it means. The whole quote is better ‘Fools say to themselves, “There is no God!” ‘ Psalm 14:1, and 53:1
So what is the context here? This text comes from a chapter about persecution, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the final judgement. Each of the first three gospels has a similar section, and in each it is difficult to separate the parts about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD from the parts about the final judgement at the end of time.
This text is important to both: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. Christians needed to know in the first century, when everything was falling apart in their world, that God was faithful and reliable. In the twenty-first century we also need to know that.
But we might ask, which words matter? Three things come from scripture:
- We need to know a simple statement of gospel: Because of God’s love and Jesus’ death, there is life, forgiveness and hope for any and all who will admit their failure and need, and turn to Jesus’ Way. (its not the precise words that matter, but the message)
- Secondly, the words which describe what it means to live as a disciple ( / follower / student) of Jesus. The stories which tell us what he is working at, and how we need to learn, obey, and relate to one another . . Words to guide us in Christian life are valuable.
- And particularly from this passage, we might add as part of that, words of support for hard times and tight corners. Jesus insists that God will “gather his chosen people” 24:31 at the end. Or you might think of promises about not being alone, of your prayer being heard, or of not being tested beyond the possibility of resistance. These are important words of scripture, but they need to be known and understood. Exaggeration will lead to disappointment and disillusion; ignorance to despair; right hearing will equip and encourage us for life.
Again, you may remember that Jesus quotes Deuteronomy (Old Testament scripture) to the devil in the wilderness – and the devil also quotes or rather misquotes scripture – context and meaning matter!
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” says Jesus Matthew 24.35. We must understand, from the context and comparison of text with text, what is meant. Then we are equipped.