Jesus Creed discussion
These are some comments that would have been posted to an eschatology discussion on Jesus Creed if I could have got them past the spam filter.
Joel, you write: ‘So while many of the eschatological concepts were indeed applied to the Roman situation, these were never intended to be the ultimate fulfillment.’ But my question then is: How do you do know that? What are the (biblical) criteria in any particular instance for thinking that a prophecy has more than one fulfilment? Jesus could warn his disciples that something like the descration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes would happen again within a generation, but do we really have the prophetic authority to do the same thing? Or to put it another way, why shouldn’t Jesus speak only about AD 70, or Paul only about the confrontation with anti-Christian Rome? On what grounds do you make the rather Platonic claim that these are only shadows of things to come?
I’m not at all sure that this notion of progressive understanding is helpful, but even if there is some point to it, is every prophecy open to reinterpretation and reapplication? If not, how do we decide which are still open and which are closed? What in principle is wrong with leaving these things in the past? The Old Testament prophets foresaw exile to Babylon. The exile happened. The prophecies proved correct. End of story. The New Testament foresaw the vindication of the faithful and suffering church and the defeat of the virulent and oppressive paganism of Rome. It happened. They got it right. End of story. These were the birthpangs of the age to come. That age has now come. We are God’s peculiar people in the midst of the peoples of the earth, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, as we were always intended to be. Let’s get on with it.
Greg, you asked me whether I believe that Jesus returned in AD 70, and I answered no (the word ‘no’ is there – what more do you want?) and went on to outline - in language that is condensed but, to my mind at least, not ‘intentionally vague’ – what I think NT eschatology teaches. But I somewhat resent the fact that this is being made an inquisition regarding my beliefs. Interpretation is a process of enquiry, questioning, probing, testing hypotheses, viewing things differently, as part of a responsible hermeneutical community. I am not trying to state ‘my beliefs’ – I am seeking to understand how the authors of the NT saw their future. That is a very different kind of activity. I am not asking people to judge whether my beliefs are orthodox or not. I am asking them to look carefully at the arguments presented in The Coming of the Son of Man and help us all to work out whether the thesis makes sense or not, whether it is a plausible reading of the texts.
If it will help, however, this is roughly what I think NT ‘eschatology’ teaches, though to extract ‘eschatological’ material from the whole narrative is already a distortion.
Jesus was raised from the dead – bodily, in the sense that this event was an anticipation of a renewal of creation.
The complex parousia motif that emerges across the NT speaks of the vindication of the faithful community in Christ and the overthrow of the power that radically opposed it and threatened its survival. I am not going to reduce that to a belief in the ‘second, bodily coming of Jesus’ – in my view, that would misrepresent the NT.
The destruction of Jerusalem would have been a factor in this vindication: it demonstrated concretely that Jesus was right when he said that Israel was on a broad path leading to destruction and that the salvation of the nation depended on taking a painful narrow path that led to life.
But the birthpangs of the age to come extend beyond AD 70 because the faithful community comes into conflict with Rome – the ‘beast’ which makes war against the saints of the Most High.
It is the vindication of this community that is signified by the language of the Son of man coming to receive the kingdom or the Lord descending to defeat his enemies. These are OT motifs that describe how God preserves his people during times of political-religious crisis and judges the nations that oppose them, and I think that the NT uses them in much the same way.
As part of this vindication there is a resurrection of those who suffer and die in Christ, which like Christ’s resurrection is an anticipation the renewal of creation. This is John’s ‘first resurrection’ of the martyrs. They reign with Christ throughout the age of his lordship as head of the church. This is their ‘reward’ or ‘crown’ for the faithful endurance of persecution. They represent the fact that Christ and not Caesar is sovereign over the people of God.
That vindication of the faithful against both Jerusalem and Rome is now behind us. What lies ahead is the frankly much bigger hope that death and evil will not have the final say in creation. The vision at the end of Revelation is of a second resurrection of all the dead to be judged according to what they have done; there appears a new heaven and a new earth in which there is no more death, wickedness and suffering, and at the heart of which is the living God. If you’re ticking the boxes, that ought to mean that I am not a ‘hyper-preterist’.
This is the vision that should now motivate the church and give shape to its mission. The parousia motif belongs to a very different context: it is fundamentally an assurance that God will remain faithful through the very difficult period of eschatological transition that the early church faced. It doesn’t entirely lose relevance for us because we confess as Lord the one who suffered and rose and who received dominion and glory and a kingdom. But he suffered for the sake of that hope of new creation, and I think we need to embrace the full scope of that hope in ourselves as new humanity in Christ.