Posts tagged ‘futurist’

May 14, 2015

Eschatology Between the Extremes

Background

Bible students (as all reformed Christians are) must be careful to distinguish among New Testament prophetic references to ”coming” (Greek: parousia) –– whether applicable to the end of the age in which they were written, or applicable to the end of the world at the end of time.1 That is, whether the correct interpretation of each prophecy is in the past or in the future, with respect to us in the present. Prophecies, by definition, of course apply to what was then the future at the time they were prophesied; the question is: whether they were fulfilled in our past (already), or are still in our future (not yet).

The destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 70 AD was clearly the fulfillment of the Lord’s prophecy rendered in the Olivet discourse of Matthew 24 during the time of His humiliation. The desolation of the temple capped off the end of the old covenant age. Those were “…the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:22) 2. After having ascended to the right hand of God the Father almighty, the Lord’s “coming” of which He foretold was not in Person but via the Roman armies, in judgment against apostate Judaism including those who called so vehemently for His crucifixion (Luke 23:21). It was the sign of His exaltation; the vindication of His identity as Christ, just as He had foretold before being condemned to death (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62).

There can hardly be any doubt that the book of Revelation was written prior to 70 AD, as from our historical perspective, the events which happened then manifestly align with the things signified to John in the Apocalypse shortly before they were to take place (Revelation 1:1; 22:6). The questionable “evidence” of a quote attributed to church father Irenaeus simply does not sustain a later date of its writing, which has been propounded as the majority report.3

Even so, the 1st coming of Christ and His finished work on the Cross in 30 AD is the pivotal focus of all of Scripture. Our glorified Lord’s reign has continued since His Ascension, well beyond 70 AD to the present day, unless the “millennium”4 (the time of Messianic reign) was only 40 years. The Lamb of God rose from the dead 3 days after His crucifixion; 40 days after that the Son of Man ascended (“…came up to the Ancient of Days…” per Daniel 7:13 [NASB]) and has been reigning ever since. This selfsame divine Person (“…and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” –Isaiah 9:6), the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ, is reigning now! He will continue to reign in heaven and by His Spirit in His people until “…the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. -1 Corinthians 15:24-25. The 2nd coming of the Lord which will happen then (the end of time) is still in our future.

The invisible “coming” of the Son of Man in wrathful judgment upon that wicked generation in 70 AD is certainly a frequent prophetic reference in Scripture as an outworking of the signal events of 30 AD; nevertheless “…it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” -1 John 3:2. A few verses earlier John exhorted believers to abide in the Lord with perseverance, so as not to be ashamed before Him at His coming (1 John 2:28). This is a clear reference to the yet to be fulfilled final judgment at the 2nd coming, when everyone must give account personally (cf Romans 14:10-12).

The Extremes

Rather than studying to arrive at an interpretive understanding of Bible passages according to context in light of the full counsel of Scripture, one extreme school of thought automatically relegates all “coming” passages to a preterist (fulfilled in our past) interpretation. At the other extreme, another school of thought presupposes “coming” passages to have a futurist (still in our future) interpretation. The all-preterist system can be called pantelism5; the hyper-futurist hermeneutic is adhered to in the system commonly known as dispensationalism.

Dispensationalism, considered to be “losing steam” more and more in recent decades, was propagated with the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible at the beginning of the 20th century. It refuses to accept at face value the text of Matthew 24:34: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” The events including the “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21) and the coming of the Son of Man in judgment to destroy the temple (Matthew 24:30), which happened leading up to and in AD 70, are among “all these things” spoken of by our Lord in the text. Furthermore, dispensational futurism does not allow for the many time texts such as “soon”, “at hand”, “near”, “coming quickly”, etc., employed throughout the New Testament, to apply according to the standard usage of those terms. Rather, almost 2,000 years (so far) are arbitrarily added to the interpretations in order to keep the occurrence of the predicted events in our near future. This provides for a continuingly impending end times perspective that may be sensational, but it just doesn’t make good sense. Besides, any interpretation that makes the text to have been meaningless or misinforming to the original audience must be rejected.

Pantelism may be seen as an overreaction to dispensationalism. Pantelism presupposes that all prophetic passages must have a preterist interpretation, inclusive of references to the resurrection of the body and the final judgment. With pantelism, the end of the old covenant age was the consummation of all things, and we are in the eternal state now. According to this thinking, the Lord’s still future descent from heaven (when the dead rise and the living are caught up together with them in the clouds) written of in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which corresponds to His Ascension depicted in Acts 1:11, somehow already happened and was not a physical event. There is a variety of explanatory particulars amongst the system’s adherents as to how that is reconciled with the Lord’s clearly physical Ascension, when the angels testified that He will come “in just the same way” (Greek hos tropos) as he was seen taken up.

Even recognizing the eschatology of the New Testament as predominantly preterist, elevating the events of 70 AD over and above the events of 30 AD in their redemptive-historical significance is problematical to say the least. Denial of the future, bodily 2nd coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to physically resurrect the dead and eternally judge all who ever lived puts pantelism outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.

While the outright erroneousness of both of these extremes may be apparent to seasoned students of Scripture, many of today’s Christians have grown up under dispensationalist teaching, which has been popularized in the modern culture by best-selling books and movies such as the “Left Behind” series. Others, who have become disenchanted with dispensationalism, may have been swayed by pantelism as a seemingly logical alternative; but while pantelism eviscerates the interpretive errors of dispensationalism, the arbitrary misconceptions inherent in pantelism are just as bad to the other extreme, and even worse.

Context Not “Consistent”

The interpretation of any particular passage of Scripture is informed by the context, over and apart from the understanding gleaned from the usage of similarly framed wording in a different context. To presume otherwise leads unswervingly to a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bible, which is certainly not so simplistic as to apply the same meaning for a word or phrase every time it is used. The same word(s) or phrase(s) may have differing meaning, usage and interpretation in different instances, dependent upon the context. This simple hermeneutical principle may seem to be very basic and easy to understand, yet the failure to grasp it, or to override it with a presupposition of forced “consistency” has become a stumbling block to deriving sound, balanced counsel from God’s word, which unavoidably leads to one erroneous extreme or another.

As noted above, in the Olivet discourse of Matthew 24, the Lord foretold in verse 34 that “all these things” would take place before the passing away of the generation then living. So contextually “all these things” must apply to those stated in the preceding verses of that discourse. This does not mean, however, that whenever the Lord spoke, sentences preceding must necessarily be interpreted according to a subsequent statement. There is no such viable application of “consistency”, yet it is claimed to hold by some interpreters of the passage in Matthew 16 beginning with verse 24 where the Lord’s “take up your cross and follow Me” teaching is recorded. In this passage, Jesus encourages His disciples to self-denial through sufferings, by comparing worldly afflictions with eternal life (cf Romans 8:18), and associating material gain with loss of immortal soul. In that context, v. 27 sets forth the weighty consideration of His (2nd) coming to judge all men at the consummation of the kingdom: “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” Then, in v. 28 which follows, he assures them that His coming into His kingdom will be manifest before some of them die: “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.”

He does not give His disciples any time frame for the final judgment at His 2nd coming, which we know from other passages of Scripture is at the end of time, but He foretells that some of them standing there would see the outworking of the Son of Man’s (1st) coming in His kingdom in the fullness of time and history, the kingdom announced by John the Baptist in the spirit of Elijah. The reference of v.28 to the Lord’s near term “coming” (as a sign of the ascended Son of Man in heaven per Matthew 24:30) does not automatically mean that His coming referred to in v. 27 was also near! The Lord was teaching His disciples that at the end of time (cf 1 Cor. 15:24), He shall come with final reckoning, in His Father’s glory with His angels; and that while some of them were still alive, He was to come in the power of the kingdom of His mediatorial reign with the destruction of Jerusalem which was fulfilled in 70 AD.

What awesome encouragement! Not only that all things will be set right by the Lord in the end, but that the process of putting all enemies under His feet (cf 1 Cor. 15:25) was at hand, and some standing there would live to see the powerful manifestation of it. Presumptuously absorbing v. 27 in with the interpretation of v.28, causes a drastic missing of the mark. There is no sound reason why both verses, even though adjacent to each other, must together be preterist, or futurist for that matter. Indeed hyper-futurists have an insurmountable problem with the clearly indicated time frame of verse 28. On the other extreme, to preterize v. 27 further exacerbates error when it is then assumed that nearly identical wording in Matthew 25 (v. 31) must also have a preterist interpretation. Thus error spreads like gangrene, and the only thing that is consistent is the predetermined interpretations of those who refuse to let Scripture speak for itself.

Notes

1 What was the “age to come” for the New Testament writers is the age we are living in now, the gospel age, the new covenant age which began as the old covenant age passed away. The New Testament was written in the “last days” of the old covenant. We won’t be in the eternal state until the end of the present age which will be the end of time & history.

2 The Lord here references Old Testament prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, most notably Daniel 9:26 .

3 For a thorough, scholarly exposition in support of a pre-70AD date for the composition of the book of Revelation see Kenneth L. Gentry’s Before Jerusalem Fell.

4 The millennium is a reference to “a thousand years”, mentioned in Revelation 20 as the period of Christ’s interadvental reign. Postmillennialism (that the Lord’s 2nd Coming must be after His Messianic reign) is assumed here. Amillennialism is technically postmillennialism as far as timing; differing in the expected nature of the millennium. Premillennialism (that the Lord’s 2nd Coming must be before the millennium to set up His reign on earth) is the view routinely adopted by dispensationalists.

5 The term pantelism (from the Greek words for “all” and “fulfilled”) was coined by C. Jonathan Seraiah, who has written an excellent refutation of the viewpoint (see The End of All Things: A Defense of the Future). The label pantelism (instead of hyper- or consistent preterism) is a neutral term that does not use the pejorative “hyper” prefix nor define non-pantelist preterism as somehow “inconsistent”.

Here is an excerpt from a review of Pastor Seraiah’s book which is highly recommended: This book is a rich source of solid, confessional, biblical theology on important issues such as Christ’s resurrection and the believers’ resurrection, the Second Coming, final judgment, and the renewal of heaven and earth. Readers will be enlightened by his chapters on end-time views in historic Christianity, the development of the creeds, and the importance of God’s final triumph over sin and its consequences.

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January 4, 2014

New Heavens and a New Earth (and a Book Review)

Nounepiphany [ih-pif-uh-nee]
1. A divine manifestation
2. A moment of sudden understanding or revelation

We should all be on a quest to grow in grace through the renewing of our minds, seeking increased understanding of the pure, precious and perfect word of God. It is an amazing blessing when He embeds in us the zeal for such an effort, the reward of which can nearly amount to an ongoing epiphany. As we humble ourselves and faithfully ask for God the Holy Spirit of Truth to guide us in the Way, fervent study of the Scriptures transforms us wonderfully. Not to say that true Christians cannot legitimately arrive at differing interpretations of holy writ but submitting to the Bible as a whole, beyond one’s systematic presuppositions, is essential to correctly perceive its teaching and be enlightened thereby.

Matthew 24 Fulfilled by John L. Bray includes personal testimony of the author’s journey through his changing perspectives on eschatology. A verse by verse commentary on our Lord’s teaching in what is commonly called the Olivet discourse as delineated in the “little apocalypse” of Matthew chapter 24, it is not so technical as to exclude the Christian layperson from appreciating it. The volume very effectively incorporates the parallel gospel accounts as well as cross references from the Old Testament in the discussion. Perhaps the most valuable benefit of the work is the extensive bibliography. Multitudinous and sundry resources are not only cited but quoted copiously, several of which are older and out of print or otherwise obscure to today’s inquiring minds. That it is available in PDF makes it even more of a worthy addition to one’s library, since in that format the many works referenced can be bookmarked for instant retrieval. With the support of these many well-known older writers, including John Owen and Milton Terry, as well as many not so well-known older and newer ones, Bray ably presents the preterite perspective (he informs us that “preterist” is the noun whereas “preterite” is the adjective) of the “end times” teaching of the Bible. The preterite perspective takes Christ at His word when He said “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:34), indicating that everything He had foretold up to that point in​ His discourse would have a near term fulfillment, certainly within the lifetimes of some of those who were alive at that time. It does not attempt to apply any etymological alchemy to alter the time frame as stated, in order to accommodate ​a preconceived ​​futurist interpretation of the prophesy.

Having completed this comprehensive study, I am more convinced than ever not only of the complete fulfillment of the entirety of Matthew 24, but also that the references to “new heavens and a new earth” in Isaiah 65:17 and elsewhere foretell of the present gospel age and not the eternal state hereafter. Isaiah 51:16 says “And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’ “ which refers not literally to the physical creation 3,000 years earlier but symbolically to the establishment of old covenant Israel; the very same “heavens and earth” that would pass away in A.D. 70 as foretold by Jesus in the Olivet discourse (Matthew 24:35) and subsequently also by Peter in his second epistle: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10). It h​as become​ clear to me that Peter referred not to a physical destruction of the universe at the end of time but to that cataclysmic event of the Lord’s coming in judgment in those “last days”. The apostle then goes on to tell his 1st century readers “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13), which was couched in the same symbolic language to represent the establishment of the new covenant, having done away with the old. The critical thing to understand is that while this prophecy was near in the future for those old covenant Jews who recognized the Messiah’s first advent and were converted, we are now looking back on it with joy as new covenant Christians born/reborn and living under the new covenant, in the “new heavens and earth” of this gospel age. When Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple and its ordinances, which were types and shadows, were done away with. This happened within the generation of the original hearers of the prophecy. Since then the church is the new dwelling place of God, and we now worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. The new covenant church is the new bride of the Lamb, the new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth (cf Revelation 21:1).

No doubt this is a radical shift in perspective from the futurist mindset pervading the church today, which pushes already fulfilled prophesy into the “not yet” of our future. The Bible says nothing about a rebuilt physical temple despite the popularity of dispensational premillennialism. The modern mindset seems to have developed a natural aversion to the preterite understanding of Bible prophecy, and embracing a biblically sound, historical viewpoint requires a prayerful focus on determining what sayeth the Scriptures rather than expecting them to validate preconceptions made popular by the rise of dispensationalism only since the 19th century. While the tide of eschatological consensus may be turning, a remaining obstacle to a hermeneutically sound, historical understanding of Scripture is the fear of going too far so as to depart from orthodoxy traditionally adhered to by the church (and some do!). In that regard let me hasten to affirm that there will be one great, final, visible, glorious, personal Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15), to coincide with universal, physical resurrection and judgment. This blessed hope is cherished even as we find that Scripture teaches there are also other ways in which He comes. Read Matthew 24 Fulfilled (only $8.95 in PDF) which compellingly exonerates the preterite perspective of Bible prophecy, going no further than where it can be exegetically shown to apply. As John L. Bray did at the end of that work, I herewith quote what Dr. Milton S. Terry (1898) wrote in his book Biblical Apocalyptics:

…it is important to observe that the preterist and historical method of interpretation followed in this volume conserves the substance of every fundamental doctrine of the Gospel of Christ. It may helpfully modify some current conceptions of “the great and notable day of the Lord,” for it treats the imagery of collapsing skies, and falling stars, and sounding trumpets, and dissolving mountains, and great white throne, and scores of similar figures of thought as expressing great realities, but not spectacular physical phenomena. Our interpretation no more denies or sets aside the doctrines of eternal judgment, of heaven and hell, of resurrection of the dead, and the coming and kingdom of Christ than does the refusal to affirm the literal “fire and brimstone” of future retribution deny or invalidate the doctrine of eternal reward and punishment beyond this mortal life.

Nearly nineteen centuries of the manifested power and glory of Christianity in the world ought to have thrown some light on the nature of the coming and the kingdom of Christ. It can scarcely be a question among intelligent believers in Christ that the beginning of the era of our Lord and Saviour was the most signal and significant epoch in the history of mankind. It marked a “fullness of times,” a crisis of ages. The exact point of transition from the old to the new may be with many an open question. But whether we place it at the birth of Jesus or at the time of ​His crucifixion, when ​He cried, “It is finished,” or at ​His resurrection, or at ​His ascension, or at Pentecost, or at the fall of Jerusalem, the great commanding fact is still before us that the manifestation of the Christ, with which all these events must ever appear in vital relation, opened a new era in human civilization.

We now submit the thought that these nineteen centuries of Christian light and progress are relatively but the misty morning twilight of the great day of Christ. It may be that ​He must reign a thousand times a thousand years before he shall have put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor. xv, 25).

The coming of Christ in ​His kingdom and power and glory is not one instantaneous act or event. It is a long-continuing process comprehensive of ​His entire work both of redemption and of judgment. He comes in the power of his Spirit to convict the world respecting sin and righteousness and judgment (John xvi, 8); ​He comes in like manner to forgive the sins of the penitent and to lead the disciple into all the truth; ​He comes and is present wherever two or three are gathered together in ​His name. He has been coming through all the Christian centuries to receive unto ​Himself the faithful souls who have looked for ​His heavenly appearing and glory (John xiv, 3; xvii, 22–24). As truly as Jehovah came of old in the clouds of heaven to execute judgment on the Egyptians (lsa. xix, 1), so did the Son of man come in the clouds and with the angels of ​His power to execute judgment on the great city that was guilty of ​His blood and drunken with the blood of ​His saints and martyrs. He sitteth at the right hand of Power and sendeth forth continually ​His innumerable company of angels to minister for them that shall inherit salvation. Such triumphal administration of judgment, mercy, and truth has been, is now, and shall for ages be the work of ​His Messianic reign. And in full accord with these revelations of ​His power and glory we cry out with the Hebrew psalmist:

The Lord cometh, H​e cometh to judge the earth:
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And peoples with ​His truth.

And we also respond with the Christian apocalyptist: Amen: come, Lord Jesus.

Just like in the days of Noah when the entirety of the evil society of mankind was destroyed, the wicked generation of apostate Israel was obliterated along with all the elements of the old covenant “heavens and earth”. My constant prayer is for a clearer, more widespread understanding of Messianic prophecy and its historical fulfillment. Recognition of this revealed truth leads ​immediately​ to the question, “How then should we live?”. Fresh understanding and appreciation of our blessed position in Christ is critically significant for a more positive outlook and a more practical application of the gospel in the everyday life of Christians and the church in the new covenant here and now. We are not on a sinking ship where it is futile to polish the brass; that’s how it was for old covenant Israel in the years just prior to A.D.70. We are the church militant in the Kingdom of Christ which has come in power and glory, which must grow until it fills the earth. God’s people just need to be enlightened and exhorted to greater faith and obedience; perhaps the first step in that direction is for the scales to fall from our eyes.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)