"When I read the Bible, God is communicating with me."
I will refer to this as "definition one". In contrast, I will offer definition two:
"When I read the Bible, I am looking at a historical document of how God communicated with someone thousands of years ago. In this way I learn about God."
Now I am not saying that this is the only correct definition of the phase "The Bible is the Word of God", rather I use it to contrast with definition one. And I am not saying that God cannot, nor will not communicate with us in the miraculous sense when we read scripture. But I suspect that many make the claim that He has, when in fact He has not. And I will claim that the use of definition one will lead one to make erroneous conclusions about when to expect the second coming of Christ.
To make my case, I want to look at an unrelated example of how some Christians are coming to a boneheaded conclusion on the age of the earth by using the definition one. Of course I am talking about the young earth creationists (hereafter referred to as YECs). When I read Genesis chapter one with definition one in mind, what is my conclusion as regards the age of the earth? It has to be only thousands of years old, since God created the earth in only 6 days, and the remainder of Genesis gives us a historical account of generations of people who existed since the creation. Now I realize that some old earth creationists make the claim that the Hebrew word for day "yom" can refer to an undefined period of time just as it can be in English. But hey, look at the text in Genesis one where it says: "So the evening and the morning were the third day" (and fourth day, and so on). The reference to evening and morning necessitate that the "day" is 24 hours! (In a "definition one" context). Let's face it. Modern science has influenced our interpretation of scripture, and that can be a good thing.
Let's take another approach. Let's use definition two. If I want to try to
understand a passage, such as Genesis one, then I should imagine what it was
like back then, thousands of years ago, when the communication from God actually
took place. If I think that God was communicating how old the earth was, then
I need to ask: How did these people thousands of years ago receive the message?
How old did they think the earth was? What were their debates like? I think
that you will probably agree with me that they didn't give a hoot nor holler
how old the earth was. So if anyone, whether a YEC or an old earther, is looking
at Genesis one for clues as to how old the earth is, and unaware that the people
who first received the text also heard other competing creation stories, then
they are unaware of the proper context, and cannot appreciate the message as
it was intended. For more on this see my article:
Genesis in Context
Go read it now, and then come back.
Matthew 24 (now using definition two) is a record of a conversation that took place thousands of years ago between Jesus and His disciples. In order to understand what Jesus said, we need to imagine what the disciples may have thought at that time. Jesus and His disciples are in Jerusalem admiring the architecture when Jesus remarks that all the stones will be thrown down. In keeping with definition two, note that Jesus is not addressing all Christians in future centuries. In this context Jesus is a Jew speaking to fellow Jews about the destruction of the Temple, which is the center of Judaism. His disciples inquire, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" I think that it is inescapable that the disciples believed that the three questions are related. The stones will be thrown down when Jesus returns and the age is ended. Jesus does not say to His disciples, "Tell your children, that they should tell their children that some day I will return". Rather, he says, "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming." Now if I were to mistakenly apply definition one to this passage (as a YEC probably would) and imagine that Jesus is speaking to me (and all the believers) rather than only to his disciples in the 1st century, then I would not expect that Christ had already returned. But we know when the stones were thrown down. The Roman army sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Some of the disciples were alive when this took place, and no doubt saw the return of Jesus. If this is not clear enough, Jesus says in the same conversation, "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled" (verse 34, and also in Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32) and "Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom". (Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27)
Isn't it ironic, that the Jews fail to accept the first coming of the Messiah, and many Christians fail to accept the second coming of the Messiah!
September, 2015 addendum
When are the end times? Every preacher it seems will tell you that we are now in the end times, and they have been saying that for nearly two thousands years! May I make a suggestion? I submit that the end times happened a long time ago. Was it the end of the world? No, unless you were in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and in that case the world ended for you. What did the apostle John say about the end times in the first century A.D.? He said "this is the last hour". (1 John 2:18) And what does the the book of Daniel say? The angel Gabriel provides a schedule of the seventy sevens in Daniel chapter 9. What are the seventy sevens for? To finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness. Some expositors say that the seventy sevens should be understood as a prophetic clock where the duration is seventy weeks of years, or a total of 490 years. The problem with this clock is that the same expositors say the clock stopped for a undetermined about of time after the 69th seven. What good is a clock that stopped? Throw it out. Let's look for a solution where the clock keeps running. Why are the seventy sevens divided into 3 parts? Part one is seven sevens. Part two is 62 sevens. And part three is one seven. One reason for the division is that there were significant events that separated the divisions. The coming of the Messiah and the end of the 69th seven fits that idea. But there was no significant event between the first seven sevens and the next 62 sevens. I have a suggestion. Perhaps the divisions exist because there are different kinds of sevens. And perhaps the last seven is a period of 70 years, demarking the 1st and 2nd coming of the Messiah. And perhaps it was be easier to figure out for those who lived in the first century A.D. for this was the audience for which the prophecy was intended. Jesus was not talking to us when He said to watch for when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies in Luke 21, He was rather talking to Jerusalem residents in the first century.