What is meant by Christ’s words, “Heaven and earth will pass away” (Matt 24:35)?
In each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), we read about Jesus’ account of the Great Tribulation. The passage was set during Holy Week.
According to the Scriptural accounts, the Disciples, walking through the Temple, were amazed by the grandeur of the Temple buildings. Jesus, however, was less impressed, remarking, “Truly I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down” (Matt 24:2).
He then warned them of the many signs that will precede the end times, including the rise of false teachers, the onset of wars and persecutions and then the Tribulation itself, where people will urgently need to flee their homes. Finally, as Jesus described, the sun will be darkened, and the people “will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt 24:30). He subsequently assured His listeners that even though no one knows the hour when these things will happen, they will surely happen. He emphasised this by saying, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matt 24:35).
Some of this discourse was predicting the destruction of the Temple of Solomon by the Romans in AD 70, but Jesus was using this as an opportunity to teach us about the end of the ages. He reinforced the importance of vigilance in His followers’ spiritual lives, so that they would be ready for any eventuality at any time. Heaven and earth are absolute and permanent realities. The word “heaven” in this passage is the translation of the Greek word οὐρανός, which can also be translated as “sky”, or even “outer space”. Jesus is saying that these current physical realities, no matter how grand, are transient and have a use-by date. However, His words are absolute; they have no use-by date, and will definitely be fulfilled and validated. Moreover, heaven and earth were made to serve humankind, but the words of Jesus were uttered to govern humankind; thus they are more authoritative than anything in heaven or on earth.
Jesus’ intent in these words is to shake off any complacency in His Disciples. Uncertainty makes people careless, but certain conviction leads to preparedness, especially when feeling threatened. Thus, Jesus is strengthening His Disciples’ faith to recognise the adversity of the end times, and to be ever-prepared. In this life, we most often live for the transient things; those things that are outwardly appealing, but lack substance. We may live without any true purpose. Jesus Christ is giving us a purpose. The things of this life will pass away, but Jesus is elevating us to the eternal things that will not pass away. The purpose of our lives is not to indulge in the things of this life, but to cleanse our hearts so that we can worthily partake in the eternal realities. As we do not know when our life will end, or when these things will take place, being ever-ready is the surest way to prepare for the eternal realities.
† Fr G. L.
Source: Lychnos August/September 2018