— Jini Druliner, via email
Answer: Scripture uses the word “world” in three different senses. One is that it is what God has made, namely the physical world. In that sense it is good, though marred by Adam’s sin and disfigured by death and natural upheavals. Still, as you point out, it is good and beautiful.
In another sense, the “world” is the theater of redemption; namely, it is where we live. In this sense it is also good.
But in the third sense, as used most commonly in the New Testament texts, “world” refers to that set of powers, opinions, priorities and philosophies that are arrayed against God and his kingdom. In this sense, the “world” is something evil. It is this world that we are not to love or be mesmerized or impressed by. This world tempts and torments us. Ultimately, it turns on us and consigns us to a grave. So much for all its promises to be the answer to what our heart seeks. This world is a sinking ship. And whether you are in first class or in steerage, it is going down. The real goal is to get on Noah’s Ark, which is an image for the Church and the Lord. The present accommodations may be less appealing, but at least the Ark will get us safely home.
Destruction of Jerusalem
Question: Regarding Matthew 24, it would seem Jesus’ predictions of Jerusalem’s ruin were fulfilled. However, what of his descriptions of alterations in the sun, moon and stars? Were these fulfilled?
— John Appleby, Clinton, Missouri
Answer: Biblical scholars have differing opinions on what elements of the Mount Olivet discourse relate to the destruction of the Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and what might refer to the end of the world. Some of the details quite clearly relate to the events of A.D. 70, such as wars, encamping armies, earthquakes and famines, which occurred around Jerusalem at that time.
Other details may be references to the end of the world, (e.g., the sun and moon darkened, signs in the heavens and the Son of Man coming on the clouds), or they may also have occurred in A.D. 70. Josephus, a historian at that time, describes clouds of smoke as Jerusalem burned, which dimmed the sun and eclipsed the moon and stars. He also describes strange wonders in the heavens, possibly a comet, and strange lights near and above the Temple at night.
A balanced approach would be to acknowledge that all the signs had a historical reference, rooted in A.D. 70, but also symbolically point to the end of the world, of which Jerusalem is a sign. Josephus does describe the clouds of the burning Jerusalem obscuring the moon and stars by night and the darkening the sun. Thus, the signs were fulfilled in a qualified sense and point to what will happen at the end.
As for Christ “coming on the clouds,” it is a prophetic language describing judgment on Israel for lack of faith. It is also clear that Jesus will come in judgment on this world as well.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN, 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed but anonymity may be requested.