FOCUS: Daniel & Mt 24 on The Day of the Lord, Ac 2 & Joel 2 on the day of the promise of the Father. Ac 1:6 – 8 on our proper focus. Three principles of interpretation of Bible prophecy: immediate relevance, partial fulfillments, ultimate eschatological surprise & culmination. Positive & negative responses to Jesus in the Gospels (and Acts) in light of then current eschatological expectations; lessons for us in our time. Main schools of thought on matters eschatological, key concepts, texts, issues, alternatives; strengths and weaknesses. The significance of the culmination of history through the Second Coming. Why/how a disciple takes his/her own particular view. Balanced discipleship & stewardship in light of resurrection, judgement and hope.
Foundational anchorage: resurrection, judgement, stewardship & hope
A cautionary note -- eschatology in the Gospels (& Acts) & responses to Jesus
Principles of interpreting prophecy -- immediate relevance, partial fulfillment, ultimate eschatological surprise & culmination
Schools of thought on Eschatology
Taking a particular eschatological view to the life of discipleship & global witness in "such a time as this"
FOR DISCUSSION AND ASSIGNMENTS
INTRODUCTION:The redemptive, Christian view of history is that God is working out his purpose in the midst of human affairs. The pivotal event in that intervention is the incarnation, life service, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. But, just as he ascended to the Father, leaving the astonished disciples staring into heaven we read that:
Ac 1: 10 . . . while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” [ESV]
History has a culmination; indeed, a blessed hope.
And the study of that culmination as prophesied and as is being fulfilled by God in his own good time -- eschatology (literally, the [theological] study of last things) -- is a component of the full scope of the gospel, thus of a survey of systematic theology. In addition, since this survey is intended to equip disciples to be street-viable, it will have to give a firm framework of principles and address key concerns and issues likely to come up when someone who takes the prophetic dimension of the Bible seriously speaks up on the streets.
As we reflected on the six foundational principles in Unit 10, we saw that two of them are explicitly connected to the culmination of history, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement, thence to both our charge of stewardship and to our hope:
Heb 6: 1 . . . the elementary [= "basic" or "ABC"] instructions about Christ . . . this foundation . . .
In addition of course, the other four principles are more or less fairly directly connected to the culmination of history. Baptism is a dramatised burial and resurrection expressing our identity with Christ. Repentance and faith speak to he whom we trust, our Lord before whom we will account. Even, the laying on of hands is an expression of our stewardship of service, for which we will give an account, and for which we will be rewarded as good and faithful servants invited into the joy of our Lord.[I] repentance from dead works and
[II] faith in God,
[III] 2 teaching about baptisms,
[IV] laying on of hands,
[V] resurrection of the dead, and
[VI] eternal judgment . . . [NET]
Indeed, the whole gospel is profoundly eschatological in its focus. As, is the very concept of Messiah.
We can see that from the joyous outburst in Isaiah that we so often read and sing at Christmas time:
Isa 9:2 3 The people who walked in darknesshave seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
[ESV. NB: Attempts to dismiss Messianic import of Isa 7:14 etc.
(cf. Jewish Enc, 1906, on Messiah here in context) should
address the ever-increasing Davidic Kingdom aspect
of this Isa 9 passage as cited, in the context of the royal birth;
noting as well the meaning of the name "Immanuel": i.e. God with us.
On the related almah vs betulah debate cf. here. On the
further issue of what the Septuagint is and why it is
valuable and credible as a pre-Christian translation, cf. here;
Wiki's summary here is also worth reading.]
The messiah is the anointed King from David's line who shall reign with justice and righteousness, forevermore.
Well worth breaking out in song. Here, from a classic voice version of the Messiah chorus by Handel (with tasteful slides and the lyrics):
So also the coronation Psalm -- perhaps, used when a King appoints a crown prince as co-ruler to rule with him in preparation for taking over the full duties of kingship (as David did with Solomon, lending great stability to the Kingdom of Judah) -- goes forth:
Ps 2:1 Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
Psalm 110, is even more forceful:
1 The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
2 The LORD sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies! . . .
4 The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations . . .
Pretty militant stuff!
And already, we can hear the militant atheists limbering up attack talking points about these violent Bible-thumping fundy Christians. A pause is in order, for, first, these are Hebraic scriptures, and harsh strictures against such will carry equal force against Judaism that takes the scriptures seriously. More importantly, the issue in view is not standing in isolation from the context of the scriptures as a whole.
For instance, Philippians 2, picking up from Isaiah 45:18 - 23 by way of citing a C1 creedal hymn of the earliest Church, provides a clear illustration of the nature of the Davidic kingship, one built upon the basis of humble submission and servantly obedience, even in the teeth of the most outrageous injustice.
Indeed, as will be discussed in more details below, it is at the point where Jesus was seized by night to be put before a kangaroo court intent on judicial murder, that he gives his strongest rebuke to anyone who would seek to strike with the sword in the name of the gospel. That provides a vital balancing consideration regarding the force of God's eschatological judgement, by introducing the clear principle that the "weapons" of our spiritual warfare are not carnal; i.e. it is the pure word of God that is the weapon, not a double-edged Roman sword of iron or any modern update thereto. This pivotal passage calls us to have the self-same attitude as that of Jesus, the redemptive suffering servant exalted as Lord:
Phil 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves,
which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who,
though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God
a thing to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient
to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him
the name that is
above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. [ESV]
When we turn to how Jesus announced his ministry at his sermon in the Synagogue in Nazareth, we see a different facet, the spiritual anointing and deliverance brought by Messiah:
Lk 4:14 . . . Jesus returned [after his baptism by John in the Jordan and after the three three satanic temptations] in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.That is, the Spirit-anointed Messiah is come in the main to liberate, enlighten and empower.
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [ESV]
The same Isaiah brings forth the other side of messiah-ship, the redemptive suffering servant who redeems not only Israel but the nations:
Isa 52:13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you-
53:1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
[--> Not true of the Northern Kingdom, the tribes of Joseph . . . ]
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
Here, we see messiah as rejected, reviled suffering servant-redeemer, whose soul is an offering for sins, and who is raised from death. And, flowing from that, many will find redemption and God's will will prosper through him. This -- as has been discussed in Unit 1 -- is of course the chief prophecy alluded to in 1 Cor 15, where it outlines the core of the gospel message:
1 Cor 15: 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared [altogether to over 500 witnesses] . . . . 11 . . . so we preach and so you believed. [ESV]This is the very same view that is encapsulated at the beginning of the Revelation of John, in a way that underscores how the glorious return of Jesus is the culmination of the gospel:
Rev 1: 4 . . . Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. [ESV]
Plainly, the concept of messiah and the core of the gospel message are closely linked to eschatology.
It is also a complex concept to the point where in the early Rabbinic period after the crushing of the Jewish revolts, there was speculation about a Messiah ben Joseph (or, ben Ephraim) and a Messiah ben David. The first, on some accounts brings the ten lost tribes into union with Judah, and then is slain in battle in defense of Israel, whereupon the latter rules as Messiah over all Israel. In other discussions, e.g. cf. a current one here, it is suggested that Is 52 - 53 be viewed in terms of the Northern Kingdom being substituted for the South and suffering on its behalf through the Assyrian defeat and exile; but of course that Northern Kingdom was not an innocent lamb that had done no violence nor in whose mouth there was no deceit, nor did it offer itself as sin-bearing sacrifice of redemption that brings righteousness to many and indeed to the nations.
In this, we see that there is an indisputable tension in the various prophecies of Messiah, which has here coalesced (of course, by the time of the rise of Rabbinic Judaism, in implied opposition to the Christian view . . . ) around the concept of plural Messiahs. The Christian synthesis, as a messianic Hebrew summary by David Brown puts it, in effect replies:
It is common for Jewish objectors to point that "Jesus has not fulfilled all the prophecies," and to scorn the suggestion that some prophecies are for a later time and are to be fulfilled at the "second coming." The fact is, however, that prophecies about Messiah are of two seemingly mutually-exclusive types, as though they were talking about two different Messiahs. Jewish scholarship refers to Messiah ben-David and Messiah ben-Yosef. One is the positive, victorious Messiah who ushers in a kingdom of peace, the other is a suffering servant (as in Isaiah 53). The popular tendency is to think only of ben-David and ignore ben-Yosef, but the Messianic/Christian view accounts for both in one person . . . Both of these historic figures, which Jewish tradition has recognized as being prototypes of Messiah, arrive amid promises, are pushed down, and finally emerge in glory. Shouldn't the ultimate Messiah follow the same pattern?The tension in the foreshortened peaks we can see as we look on the mountain-range of OT prophecy of Messiah, is clear.
And so, it is in the end not surprising that upon his resurrection, the Disciples would ask their newly risen Lord: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” [Ac 1:6b]
The reply was that the times and seasons were veiled, but the promised Spirit would be poured out, empowering a programme of global witness. This of course alludes to Isa 52:15 & 53:11:
Isa 52:15 so [i.e. by his marring sufferings] shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand . . . .
Isa 53:11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
So, once the Spirit had been poured out as a mighty wind with tongues of fire, in the very first Christian sermon, Peter makes it plain that already in c.30 AD, the Last Days in which redemption goes out in the name of Messiah and the power of the Spirit poured out by Messiah were already operative. These last days, then, are the era in which -- having sent the Messiah who has been slain by the hands of wicked men but has so borne our sins, then has been raised up and exalted by God to carry redemption and light to not only Israel but the nations -- God is acting globally through the risen and exalted Messiah, who having received the promise of the Father, pours out his Spirit, empowering those who turn to him, and saving those who call upon him:
Ac 2:16 . . . this [Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit] is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:Hebrews 1 builds on this synthesis, right from its magnificent opening words:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ . . . .
29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ [as Peter cited from Ps 16:8 - 11] , that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing . . . .
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” [ESV, cf. vv. 22 - 41]
Heb 1: 1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.So, the Last Days are the global era of salvation, healing, deliverance and transformation by the poured out Spirit, inaugurated by the messiah promised aforetime in the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament. And so, eschatology properly starts from the prophetic scriptures and moves forward through the coming of Messiah and the sending out of the church into the world, leading up to the culmination of that mission of witness and completion of the establishment of the eternal Kingdom of Messiah, the Son of Man as is envisioned in Daniel 7:13 - 14.
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . .
Indeed, one may argue that when the prophetic "seventy weeks clock" is set in Daniel 9:24 - 27, in a sense the Last Days are already at least in gestation.
In this context the Christian synthesis of the prophetic scriptures of the OT as the context for the Messiah, the sacrifice of redemption, the gospel, the poured out Spirit, the witness to the nations and the culmination, pivots on a principle of prophetic foreshortening (or, seeing the main peaks) as an interpretive key to properly understanding this.
This brings me back to perhaps the very first eschatological sermons I ever heard.
For, Elder Smith of my home church (which is a former red brick Synagogue, with windows in the shape of the tablets of the law) was fond of explaining prophecy by figuratively pointing to Jamaica's Blue Mountains looming above us in Kingston.
|Kingston with the Blue Mountains, from Palisadoes Road, Jamaica. The city of just under 1 mn people -- the largest Anglophone city south of Miami -- is visible across Kingston Harbour, behind the port of Kingston. To the left of the picture are the Norman Manley International airport, Port Royal and the 1/4 million strong satellite city of Portmore. To the right beyond the picture lie Harbour Head, and Harbour View. The lower elongated peak with a line of housing running along its crest is Long Mountain, which juts into Kingston. Behind this mountain lies the University of the West Indies Mona Campus, as well as the Liguanea- Mona- Hope Pastures area, invisible to the onlooker from the tombolo along which the Palisadoes Road runs. (The tombolo seems to have largely formed from longshore drift from the Yallahs River to the east of this image, with doubtless a contribution from the Hope River also.) Also, behind Long Mountain lies the Hope River which provides a good fraction of Kingston's water, which reaches the sea at Harbour View as (sadly) a now dry watercourse. The mountain on the other side of that river, Dallas Mountain, is named after the same family that gave a Vice President to the USA, and also gave its name to the city of Dallas in Texas. It is from Papine in this hidden area, that the road and trail that one hikes to reach the Blue Mountain Peak at 7,402 ft, begins, with the Gordon Town Road. It has been said that this road takes its name from the town in the mountains where the Gordon Highlanders were once billetted, early in C19. (SOURCE:Doug Price, fair (academic) use; pardon defects and colour sharpening)|
Elder Smith would say that we see the main peaks all together, and so also see past the valleys and maybe even lesser peaks between. Eschatological Prophecy, on this view, is foreshortened like that: we are seeing the main peaks, not all the details of the timeline along which those peaks sit.
Dispensationalist, Clarence Larkin used this principle thusly, in his Dispensational Truth, Ch 3:
And so, on the foreshortening principle, starting with Jesus and the apostles:
1 --> Christians have seen Messiah as indeed the Son of David and Anointed King, but
2 --> he is also the Spirit-empowered liberator and healer of the oppressed and hurting, and the redemptive suffering servant who brings good news to all men. Where,
3 --> these "peaks" are distributed along a timeline, of incarnation, humble walk of service, rejection by many, betrayal and crucifixion that
4 --> simultaneously is the act that has purchased salvation, healing and deliverance, with
5 --> vindication of Divine Sonship through resurrection and exaltation. Further,
6 --> this leads to the last days era of the gospel message, Spirit-empowered -- anointed! -- witness and call to discipleship going forth to lead people from across the world to repentance and grace-driven transformation of life. Then,
7 --> all of this culminates in the Second Coming that fully establishes the Kingdom, envisioned as that described in Daniel 7:
Dan 7: 9 “As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened . . . .
13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaventhere came one like a son of man,and he came to the Ancient of Daysand was presented before him.14 And to him was given dominionand glory and a kingdom,that all peoples, nations, and languagesshould serve him;his dominion is an everlasting dominion,which shall not pass away,and his kingdom onethat shall not be destroyed. [ESV]
8 --> From this view of the OT prophetic scriptures, too, Israel is not forgotten or displaced, for we may see in Zechariah:
Zech 12: 10 1 The burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel: Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him: 2 “Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples. The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah. 3 On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it . . . .
I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn
[NB: Cf. here, Rev 1:7b: " . . . every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him . . ."]
. . . . 13:1 On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness . . . .
14: 1 Behold, a day is coming for the LORD, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken . . . .3 Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. 4 On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east,
[NB: Cf. here Ac 1:6 - 12, where the mountain of Jesus' ascension is identified in v. 12 as "the mount called Olivet . . . " and where in v 11 the two angels say: " . . . This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven . . . "]
Obviously, there is much more, hundreds of details in dozens upon dozens of texts.. . . and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. 5 And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him . . . .
9 And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one . . .
It is also worth pausing to highlight a challenge issued by YHWH to the imaginary small-g gods and idols of the nations (and of apostate Israel) -- or, more exactly to their spokesmen, so-called; again, in Isaiah:
Isa 44:6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
7 Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
8 Fear not, nor be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
There is no Rock; I know not any” . . . .
Isa 46:8 “Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
9 remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose’ ". . . .
48:3 “The former things I declared of old;
they went out from my mouth, and I announced them;
then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.
4 Because I know that you are obstinate,
and your neck is an iron sinew
and your forehead brass,
5 I declared them to you from of old,
before they came to pass I announced them to you,
lest you should say, ‘My idol did them,
my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’
6 “You have heard; now see all this;
and will you not declare it?
From this time forth I announce to you new things,
hidden things that you have not known.
7 They are created now, not long ago;
before today you have never heard of them,
lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’ . . . " [ESV]
So, here we see how the power to accurately prophesy reflects and demonstrates God's sovereign control of the world that he has made:
Isa 48:3b . . . I announced them;
then suddenly I did them,
and they came to pass.
He has given prophecies of old, so that when they suddenly come to pass we cannot assign them to some other cause; and, he boldly declares new things in our day that will also come to pass, so that we can know him as the living active God in our midst today. So, it is a key part of our understanding of God, that he is there and is not silent, he has spoken, and speaks and acts redemptively in our world in our time, not just the safely dim, distant past that we can conveniently forget.
The overall eschatological picture that emerges from the OT is thus complex and multifaceted, flashing with now one aspect and now another through the prophetic scriptures.
Synthesis is therefore a challenge, but a fascinating one. For instance, observe above how Zechariah subtly underlies both the account of the Ascension in Acts 1 and the greeting in Rev 1, both pointing to the identity of God as "him whom they have pierced," who shall return to that Mount of Olives, and so both Israel and the nations shall mourn as they behold him whom they have pierced.
This leads to the next challenge: the issue of how prophecy has in it many subtle details which makes it quite hard to pull them together into a coherent picture, where also some aspects are -- as we are warned -- deliberately veiled and foreshortened.
That veiling brings up a related issue: if we are genuinely free to decide and act, if we were to have a detailed, credible prediction of history ahead, would we not then think, nope I do not want to go down that road, so let me choose differently?
Would that then invalidate the prophecies?
Several passages and a whole book, Jonah, say, no. Indeed, even when we have rather explicit warnings of impending judgement, the matter is not one of simple doom. For instance, from Jeremiah, we may read the acted out parable of the Potter's House:
Jer 18: 1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words.”
3 So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.
11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’Similarly, dripping from the belly of the sea monster, Jonah warned Nineveh that in forty days it would be destroyed. From the king on down, they turned to God in sack-cloth, ashes and fasting as expressions of penitence, and God relented. Which made Jonah ever so angry and frustrated, for as ch 4 recounts, he wanted the destruction that he saw the Assyrians as ever so richly deserving: "That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster." (Jonah 4:2, ESV)
The response of God is devastating to those who want to rise up in rebellion against a perceived angry and overbearing Father-figure in the sky, or who may be tempted to a fatalistic "it can't be helped" despair. Let's play the tape, courtesy another acted out parable:
Jonah 4:5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.
6 Now the LORD God appointed a plant2 and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.
7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”
10 And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” [ESV]
In effect, the Potter's House principle is that when a word of corrective warning comes to us from God, even when it is a word of impending destruction for prolonged hard-hearted wrongdoing, it contains an implicit invitation to penitence; even, for a remnant if the community as a whole is stubborn.
So, if we choose to dismiss the destructive implications and consequences of the moral unsoundness of evil, to disbelieve words of warning, to retaliate against those who blow the unwelcome whistles, and proceed over the edge of the cliff, the fault for the consequence of going over a cliff is ours.
It is worth pausing to state a definition of evil, one with roots in Augustine's reflections (including on the vexed question that accused God of creating evil):
Evil is best understood, not as something that has independent existence in itself, but rather as the privation/ loss/ frustration or twisting/ perversion of that which is good out of its proper purpose, function or use into futility, and/or abuse or mis-use or improper ends. To understand how that works, just think of what happens when slanders and hate spread like a hellish wildfire across a community through the abuse of the tongue to spread destructive and hateful falsehood; even as James so vividly warned against:
James 3:3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. [ESV]
Obviously, in a world created by the inherently good, all-wise God, such frustration or perversion of proper role, function and end of the power of language and communication -- as a key example -- will predictably lead to horrific chaos, harm, damage and even ruin. Thus, in that inherently good, all-wise Creator, God and Lord, we find the foundational IS who grounds OUGHT, leading directly to the situation where the commands or instructions and counsels of God are, as Deut 10:13 counsels, " for [our] own good". We therefore ignore such counsels at predictably bitter cost. (Oddly, too, as one of the good things is being or existence itself, nothing and no-one that exists can be wholly evil, not even the devil himself!) [For more details cf. here and here.]With that in mind, we can easily see how if one --or, one's community on the whole -- refuses to see (i) the consequences of evil, and dismisses (ii) prophetic correction, there remains only (iii) the destruction that such stubborn folly brings in its train. Which lays out what we may call the three main levels of prophetic judgement, which we can colour code:
YELLOW: We are fallen creatures in a morally ordered world, where sin leads to death: we are subject to the judgement of consequences. [Jas. 1:12 - 18, Rom. 6:23, Prov. 14:12 .]
ORANGE: God, in loving mercy, sends his prophets and especially his Son to warn, redeem, correct and call us to repentance and reformation: corrective judgements and chastisements. [Amos 3:7 - 8, John 3:16 - 17, Heb. 1:1 - 14, Matt. 28:18 - 20.]
RED: If we insist on disobeying God -- that is, on "sin/business as usual" -- we will surely be destroyed by our sin: destructive judgement. [Deut. 8:17 - 20, John 3:18 - 21, Rom 1:16 - 32.]
Unfortunately, the sort of stubbornly arrogant folly and hatred of correction that leads from one level to another is exactly what is predicted for the end of days, from no less a voice than that of Christ himself:
Matt 24:37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man . . . [ESV; Son of Man, of course, is an allusion to Daniel 7.]But, Noah had been steadily preaching and calling for repentance for 120 years, so how were the people of that age taken unawares?
Simple, and sad: they refused to listen, even at the last when miraculous signs were evident in substantiation of the prophet's words.
Thus, we can see the biting force of Peter's warning to our own era, with clear echoes of Jesus' Mt 24 discourse on the end of days, at the Mt Olives:
2 Pet 3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved.We have been warned.
In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.
4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,1 not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief . . . [ESV]
The choice is ours.
So also, we can see how the subject of eschatological prophecy is demonstrably multifaceted and complex.
Consequently, if we are to proceed soundly, we must use the principle of clarity: start from that which is certain and clearly stated, to form a stable and solid framework for our understanding of the culmination of history under him who is the Wonderful Counsellor, and the Prince of Peace.
The underlying theme of this unit, then, is that resurrection and judgement as aspects of the gospel framework, the two explicitly eschatological foundational principles of Heb 6:1 - 2, form these anchor points around which the rest of eschatology can be developed in a balanced way. So, we may proceed to study the doctrine of the culmination of history under the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Christ/Messiah -- Christ being simply the Greek word for "anointed," where Messiah is the Hebrew -- and living Lord of history and prince of peace.
Given the principles of foreshortening and deliberate partial veiling, it is no surprise that even a cursory reading of the Gospels will turn up any number of times and ways in which Jesus and his teachings were misunderstood or veiled, even from his disciples.
Somehow, systematically and repeatedly, he was commonly misunderstood.
Even by his disciples and the chosen circle of leaders in training; the twelve apostles.
At first this seems strange, for we now look back and see him by common consent as one of the greatest teachers who ever lived, and his powerful regular use of a great many parables is seen as an all but unique high point of the art of instruction. (Just how hard it is to teach by a short pointed story that turns a commonplace into a tool of deep insight can be gauged from its rarity otherwise.)
But, once we reckon with the concept of paradigms, and how they are double-edged, ways of not seeing just as much as ways of seeing, we can begin to understand. For, part of what is going on is that we have learned to see things the way Jesus taught us to see. So, we have a lot less to unlearn. (However, there is a sting in the tail: much of what we have to unlearn is the crust of traditions -- formal and informal, orthodox and heretical -- which we have imposed on what is actually there to be seen.)
A major aspect of the problem was that Jesus did not fit in well with either the party-line ideas that secured the apparent legitimacy of the established elites, or with what seems to have been a popular sentiment that used messianic hopes in light of the story of the Maccabean rebellion of the 160's BC, as the anchor for militantly nationalist hopes and ambitions in an Israel suffering under the Roman boot.
This comes out with particular force in Gethsemane, when Jesus was arrested by order of the elites.
Peter pulled a sword, and tried to strike the first stroke of the popular revolution against both the oppressive Roman overlords and their local elite lackeys, swinging at Malchus' head. Of course, he ducked so Peter only got the ear of the High Priest's servant. Which, Jesus promptly healed, gently but stingingly announcing that those who live by the sword perish by it. Peter was of course utterly deflated by that rebuke, and it is not hard to see how, having screwed himself up to be the hero of the revolution, he all too soon found himself unable to stand up to even a servant girl.
Behind this, is a colouring of militantly nationalistic eschatological hopes, with the story of the successful Maccabean uprising of the 160's BC playing the mood music. Here, we may pick up from 1 Maccabees 2:
. . . Mattathias the son of John, son of Simeon, a priest of the sons of Joarib, moved from Jerusalem and settled in Mode'in [in the hill country of Judaea]. He had five sons, John surnamed Gaddi, Simon called Thassi, Judas called Maccabeus [i.e. "the hammer"], Eleazar called Avaran, and Jonathan called Apphus.
He saw the blasphemies being committed in Judah and Jerusalem, and said, "Alas! Why was I born to see this, the ruin of my people, the ruin of the holy city, and to dwell there when it was given over to the enemy, the sanctuary given over to aliens? . . . " And Mattathias and his sons rent their clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourned greatly.
Then the king's officers [i.e. those of Antiochus Epiphanes, Selucid Greek ruler in Syria] who were enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Mode'in to make them offer sacrifice.
Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled.
Then the king's officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: "You are a leader, honored and great in this city, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts."
But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: "Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king's words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left."
When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice upon the altar in Mode'in, according to the king's command.
When Mattathias saw it, be burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar.
At the same time he killed the king's officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, as Phinehas did against Zimri the son of Salu.
Then Mattathias cried out in the city with a loud voice, saying: "Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!"
And he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the city. Then many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to dwell there, they, their sons, their wives, and their cattle, because evils pressed heavily upon them . . . [NB: This is cited as credible history, not as scripture.]With that stroke of the sword, the revolution was launched, that issued in the liberation of the nation and the restoration of the proper worship in Jerusalem. Of course, four of five brothers perished in the fight, but they won the independence of the Jewish state, until about 100 years after the revolt, one side of a dynastic clash invited the Romans to come in and help him win. They never left and soon Israel had become a colony of Rome.
Against this backdrop Israelite patriotism, resentment against corrupt local elites and hopes of liberation from Rome shaped popular understanding of the prophecies of Messiah.
So, it is utterly unsurprising that many Jews looked for a Messiah who would be a David-like champion warrior-king and deliverer of the nation, one who would perhaps even subjugate the gentiles under the prophesied end of times rule.
With that sort of now simmering, now boiling over ferment in the background, it was no surprise that there were many small revolts with a messianistic cast, and that there would be three major Jewish uprisings against Rome, the one in 66 - 70 that plays a part in NT studies, a later one among Diaspora Jews in Egypt, Libya and Mesopotamia, and a final one in AD 133 - 5 under Bar Kochba.
The net -- and (absent a miraculous intervention) predictable -- result was repeated defeat and exile, for Rome was no Selucid kingdom.
It is against this backdrop that Jesus came as a redemptive suffering servant and wounded healer, not a giant-killing military hero and Davidic King seeking to then and there re-establish Israel as an independent and dominant kingdom.
That backdrop is also why we can see the crowd's dangerous, misunderstanding reaction to the miracle of multiplication of bread and fish, as noted in John 6:
Jn 6:14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”Similarly, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday amidst the procession of pilgrims from Galilee, and was hailed as Son of David and King of the Jews, then cleansed the Temple of corrupt practices [perhaps for a second time in three years!], then stood day by day teaching in it as God's prophet, it obviously triggered a revolutionary ferment and a desperate desire to discredit, then when that failed, to destroy him.
15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself . . . [ESV]
Thus was set in train the course of events that led to the infamous kiss-of-death betrayal in Gethsemane, bought for thirty pieces of silver (just as had been prophesied).
It is also the reason why the authorities seized upon the hitherto all but silent Jesus' compelled -- I adjure you by the Living God! -- citation of the Son of Man prophecy of Daniel 7:13 - 14 during his trial before the Sanhedrin, to accuse him of blasphemy. For, a blasphemer -- whatever miracles (or, in their dismissive view, magic) he had done -- by the strictures in Deuteronomy 9, 13 & 18, had to be a false prophet. And, to their minds, to then see him beaten, bleeding and hanging helpless, nailed up on a tree -- and so, accursed of God and condemned by men -- was the final "proof" that he was nothing more than an accursed deceiver.
That, in turn is the context for Paul's ringing declaration of c. AD 57, at the opening of the epistle to the Romans:
Rom 1: 1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord . . . [ESV]This is also the context of his c. AD 55 remarks, towards the beginning of his first epistle to the Corinthians:
1 Cor 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews [--> who by and large would see a crucified messiah as a false and failed one] and folly to Gentiles [--> this was an age where many saw the body as the prison of the soul, so bodily resurrection would seem foolish], 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men . . . .
2:7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory . . . [ESV]
But, through learning from and understanding such tragic errors of misunderstanding, we can -- indeed, must -- also see how easy it is for us today to misunderstand the force and focus of the Messianic prophecies and the vision of God's culmination of history, in light of our own hopes, challenges, fears and aspirations.
So, let us walk with a humble, open-minded spirit as we tackle this most controversial of themes.
immediate relevance, partial fulfillment,
ultimate eschatological surprise, signs & culmination
As the example of Israel in C1 shows, one of the main challenges to interpreting Bible Prophecy -- and one that we are warned about time and again in the scriptures -- is that it is deliberately partially veiled and uses the principle of foreshortening. That means that, while we can get a general sense of our times and discover sufficient to discern our duty in our times, we will not be able to satisfy our itch to solve all puzzles.
However, it is also clear that prophecy must (a) be relevant to those who first hear it, then (b) it must be applicable to the people of God in successive generations, and then -- especially for prophecies connected to the end of days and the Day of the Lord -- (c) it will have an ultimate fulfillment.
From this (and bearing in mind also the veiled nature of prophecy), we may infer a three-fold principle of prophetic fulfillment, interpretation and application:
I: Immediate relevance and authenticationProphecy starts with the God who is there and is not silent, who redemptively covenants with men, selects spokesmen from -- or even for -- the covenant people, and speaks through these prophets. But in a world of many voices, we must know how to discern the sound from the deceptive. Thus, we see why there will be authenticating signs, and we can see as well across time how a body of well-tested and reliable prophecy reduced to writing become the scriptures that are a plumb-line to test new voices and views against.
II: Continued relevance through partial fulfillment(s)
III: Eschatological surprise, signs of the times and ultimate fulfillment
Hence, the significance of Luke's commendation of the Jews of Berea, who: "were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." [Ac 17:11b]
Thus, too, we hear Isaiah the prince of prophets: "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn." (Isa 8:20, NIV '84.)
Indeed, Moses -- himself an authenticated prophet raised up to deliver the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage and forge a godly covenantal nation in the wilderness -- speaks of the office of the prophet, with hints of the greatest prophet to come, Messiah:
Deut 18: 9 “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.
10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.
15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers-it is to him you shall listen- 16 just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’
17 And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.
20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’
21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’- 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. [ESV]The people of God are strictly forbidden to resort to pagan sacrifices (especially human sacrifices) and mediums or other occult sources of divination. Instead they are to seek the voice of the prophet God raises up. And such a prophet will have as defining characteristics, that he calls people to respond to the God of covenant in light of the terms of covenant, and will thus call to holiness and repentance.
In addition, such a prophet speaking from God will be accurate, showing the source of his visions to be God. And, once such a prophet is authenticated, the people are accountable to listen to his words, on pain of divine displeasure.
However -- unsurprisingly, given how the Egyptian magicians mimicked the genuine signs God gave Moses and Aaron until their rods turned snakes were swallowed up -- we are also warned that mere ability to work signs and wonders is not a proof of authenticity:
Deut 13: 1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.So, we are to heed authentic signs from the authentic tradition, and we are to pay no heed to those who prophesy falsely, or would pull us away from the service of God according to his Word.
4 You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.
5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil1 from your midst. [ESV]
In a previous day, we could more or less leave it at that, but given the many toxic talking points against the God of the Bible, the scriptures and those who take them seriously that rumble out today as thunder warning of the hostility, hate and bloody persecutions to come, we need to say a few words concerning the civil penalty against the false prophet in the Israelite theocracy, viewed as a traitorous rebel. First, we must note that this is in the context of the covenant nation, to preserve it from going astray after false gods, and to set the foundation for the Messiah to come who would save the world.
That foundation long since having been laid, and Messiah having long since come and been authenticated by the sign of the resurrection from the dead with 500+ witnesses, we can safely leave the judgement of false prophets in our day to God. We have no instructions to strike with the sword in the name of the gospel, and in fact (as we saw above) Jesus gave a stringent rebuke to the one who tried to do that: those who take up the sword will perish by the sword. And, he then backed that up by healing the severed ear of Malchus, utterly deflating Peter.
Our call in the era of the new covenant is to speak the truth, not to usurp the state and turn it into a tyranny over men's consciences.
Instead, the state is tasked to uphold the civil peace of justice as God's servants (and that, per Rom 13:4, is the legitimate use it has for the sword, not to embark on wars of theft by conquest on whatever excuse, including religious claims . . . ), and per 1 Tim 2:1 - 4, we are to pray for kings and all in authority so that the gospel may have free and peaceful course. Indeed, we are specifically warned against corrupt abuse of religion to dominate the state and using it to persecute the people of God, not least by repeated bad examples that we should obviously avoid.
Obviously, the implicit premise in "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's . . . " [Matt 22:21b] is that the ruler is "God's servant for your good . . . an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer." [Rom 13:4] So, where a ruler turns tyrant, by whatever means -- corruption of a legitimate ruler, usurpation, palace coup, or invasion etc -- such is falling afoul of the remit of rulers as God's servants to do good by upholding justice, rewarding the good and restraining or punishing evildoers.
There is abundant prophetic precedent for such to be warned in the name of God and called upon to turn from their evil ways.
If such a misruler further presents himself as in effect a political messiah, promising to deliver superhuman salvation and prosperity, or otherwise usurping the loyalty due to God alone -- such as conscience, or interfering with worship and the freedom required to teach the Word of God, and duties to do the right -- that ruler becomes a false messiah, and is subject to the strictures against counterfeit Christs.
That is a solemn thing to have to say, but there is no doubt that the Apostles -- ultimately, at the cost of their lives -- have made the matter plain: "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" [Ac 4:19 - 20], and "We must obey God rather than men" [Ac 5:29].
(NB: These issues point onward to the vexed questions of nationhood and government under God, and to the question of reformation and what to do when remonstrance is not enough. The reformers held, on precedents tracing to Moses in Egypt and onwards, that there is a time when a ruler or a regime become illegitimate and where it is in order for existing or emergent lower magistrates to act for and/or with the people, to interpose themselves. They taught that beyond a certain point, it is in order for such interposing magistrates to act with the people in their own defense from tyranny, and even for neighbouring powers to help rescue the people from tyranny, leading to new and better government under God. But of course, history shows us that such an exercise is fraught with perils and can easily become a worse state than what was rejected. Thank God, by his grace we have inherited from those who stood up in the face of such tyranny, one of the great blessings of liberty: the regular general election by which governments are accountable before the people under God. For a more detailed discussion cf. here on in context.)There are many vexed debates and points of concern, but it is clear that in the era of the Spirit poured forth, the life-transforming gospel and the word backed up by the Spirit who carries out the Word with power are their own best defence.
For, God's scandalously, shamefully objectionable and distastefully unfashionable, utterly unflattering "foolishness" backed up by the demonstration of the Spirit's power is greater than man's vaunted and eloquent worldly wisdom that tickles ever-itching ears with what they want to hear, and God's oh so obvious "weakness" is mightier than man's greatest strength.
Where, the very sign of the cross is a demonstration of how the gibbet on which the powerful but corrupt and willfully blind get rid of the inconvenient whistle-blowing voice of Divine correction, by God's grace, sways the future.
To kill the prophet is, after all, sadly proverbial.
So also, the word of the prophet will be applicable with power to the generation who hear it; as a sign. If it were not, it would have no basis for authentication and preservation for the future that it shall sway.
The issue of partial fulfillments is subtler.
One of the principles of Bible interpretation in the New Testament is the power of example. Speaking of the experience of the Israelites in the Wilderness, Paul observes: "these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did." (1 Cor 10:6, ESV.)
Basic human nature is the same in all times and places, and the sorts of challenges we face will be similar to what has happened before. Sadly, we tend to forget this and make the same mistakes over and over, which is the root of the common saying as to how history tends to repeat or at least echo itself. So, by studying sacred history and the counsels of the prophets of the past, we may often be able to speak prophetically into our own time, once we discern the signs of our times.
That is the context in which we hear the principle of discerning the signs of the times:
Jesus: Matt 16:1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.
2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”
So he left them and departed. [ESV]
Paul: 1Cor 10: 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil . . . . 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. [ESV]Sadly, too many of the leaders of Israel in Jesus' day, even in the teeth of the sign of the resurrection with 500+ witnesses, refused to heed the prophet. On the strength of that, it is sad but unsurprising to see the following exchange with Gentile and Jewish rulers at Paul's trial before Herod Agrippa in 59 AD:
The Chronicler: 1 Chron 12: 32 Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command. [ESV]
Ac 26: 19 “. . . O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance . . . "Just so, we see how the prophecies, teachings, counsels and examples of the scriptures should be studied, understood and applied to our own times in all ages. For, since the same patterns and processes are often at work, all it requires is to discern the signs of our times, as we prayerfully study the scriptures and seek to serve God.
24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”
25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”
28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”
29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am-except for these chains.” [ESV]
But this brings us to the culmination of all things and the principle of birth pangs, as Jesus pointed out in Matt 24:
Mt 24: 1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come . . . [ESV]
That is, as the end of days approach, just like birth pangs, certain painful signs -- notice how the very first one is deception and apostasy from the Faith in service to deception -- will come in waves, with accelerating frequency. As the pangs of a woman in the labours of childbirth build up to the breakthrough point, they will be more and more frequent and more and more intense, but it is never easy to predict the "just when" of the point of breakthrough.
So, we can see how the ability to discern the signs of the times and apply prophetic revelation will in the end help the faithful in that generation to know that the end is coming, even as birth pangs presage the arrival of a new baby, through pain to joy.
Of course, there is a key trap here: date-setting, which is a counterfeit that brings the genuine currency into disrepute, apart from being flagrantly disrespectful to the sovereign authority of God.
The counsel on that is plain: " “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority" (Ac 1:6) and“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." ( Mt 24:36.)
So, anyone who sets out on an exercise in date setting is in grievous error. Such errors only contribute to how that day to come will surprise the onlooking rebellious and worldly, even as a thief who breaks in by night surprises the sleeping household. Peter is plain:
2 Pet 3:2 . . . you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.
4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.
7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,1 not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies2 will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. [ESV]We have been solemnly warned.
And, we see the power of the three-fold principles of interpretation.
With cautions and principles of interpretation in hand, we can turn to fleshing out enough on schools of thought that we will not be "lost" when such topics come up for debate. We also need to prepare ourselves to address cases where the notion of taking prophecy seriously is derided and made an occasion for ridicule and dismissal or even demonisation as a "dangerous, irrational, potentially violent fundy fanatic."
Given the increasing stridency, militancy and calculated ruthlessness and smears spread by all too many of those bent on de-Chrisianising Western Civilisation, we had better take the second issue first:
1 --> Peter warns us in no uncertain terms: "scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires . . . " [2 Pet 3:3b.]As we address the issue of schools of eschatological thought, it is wise to reflect on what is clearly established first as a basis for dealing with what may well be partly veiled. For that, 1 Cor 15 is as good a place to initially focus our attention as any:
2 --> So, a first step to disarm such scoffers is to point out that their behaviour and attitudes are precisely what was prophesied. They and their mocking, dismissive spirit are actually predicted signs of the end of days.
3 --> Indeed, they are simply paving the way for that general hostility and persecution of those faithful to the gospel that Jesus warned about in even more explicit terms: "you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake." [Mt 24:9b]
4 --> So, it will be important to expose the twist-about false accusation, stereotyping and scapegoating, demonisation tactics of such mockers, exposing just how dangerous and destructive they are as ideological bullies, slanderers, and threats to liberty, justice and good order in the community.
5 --> They are seeking to distract our attention and blame others, even as they impose their own agendas and party-line on us all. Unfortunately, we can already name all too many cases in point.
6 --> Having corrected on attitudes, poisonously destructive tongues and hidden agendas, we can turn to the core facts that such are ever so eager for us to forget.
7 --> For instance, Isa 52:13 - 53:12 lays out a clear case of messianic prophecy fulfilled in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (700 years before the event), and we have 500 eyewitnesses and a gospel backed up by 2,000 years of life transforming impact. As well as excellent historical authentication of the key documents of the NT and OT.
8 --> On the strength of such, we have good reason to take Jesus, his apostles and the prophets he built upon seriously; this is not irrational fanaticism.
9 --> Indeed, what is irrational and fanatical is to make up one's mind ahead of and in the teeth of the evidence that such miraculous intervention by God in the course of history is impossible. That is a huge begging of the question through the classic fallacy of the closed mind.
10 --> And to pretend that such closed minded question begging can be dressed up in a holy lab coat, before which we are required to kowtow, is simply a further instance of closed-mindedness. Indeed, we may cite Harvard Prof Richard Lewontin in his notorious January 1997 New York Review of Books article as a classic in point:
11 --> Unfortunately, many are so taken in by such question-begging a priori materialism or the like that they cannot see just how badly such ideologies stumble.. . . [T]o put a correct view of the universe into people's heads we must first get an incorrect view out [--> a major begging of the question] . . . the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth [--> science simply cannot be the only source of truth or knowledge, and indeed this is a philosophical not a scientific claim; it self-refutes] . . . . It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [--> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [--> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen . . . [“Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997. Bold emphasis and notes added. Cf more detailed citation and discussion here.]
12 --> Similar cases can be argued to address those who would mock the gospel and a respect for its prophetic element from other directions, but this is the big one in our civilisation, so let it stand as the slice of the cake with all the ingredients in it.
1 Cor 15: 20 . . . Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death . . .[ESV]1 Thess 4:13 - 18 picks up with much the same theme of hope, introducing one of the key debated issues, the "catching up" or rapture of the church:
1 Thess 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.1 Thess 5 then immediately picks up, showing that eschatology was a significant focus of C1 Christian teaching. The principle of surprise at the end is particularly emphasised, in a context of calling us to live up to our vocation as children of the day, not the night:
14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. [ESV]
1 Thess 5:1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.
2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.
5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. [ESV]By the time 2 Thess was penned, probably several months later about AD 50, Paul had to counter false eschatological teaching that the day of the Lord has already come, and apparently he had to expose a fraudulent epistle purporting to be from him. In addition, he introduces the concept of the man of lawlessness, commonly taken to be the eschatological figure the -- not just "an" -- Antichrist. This man takes his place in the Temple [evidently that in Jerusalem] proclaiming himself as God, committing the abomination of desolation.
In some readings of Revelation 13,
|Eschatological Beasts of Rev 12 - 13. The red Dragon is often seen as Satan, the leopard-like beast from the sea as the -- not merely an -- Anti-Christ, rising from the chaos of the nations, similar to Nero (the first Roman Emperor to specifically attack and persecute the church, about whom there was a legend of his coming back to life). The number of the Beast, 666 or 616 depending on manuscript, reduces to the numerical equivalent of Nero's name in two languages.Some would view the second beast, from the land as a false prophet who leads a false religious system that establishes the Antichrist in the usurped place of God, as a focus of ultimate loyalty and worship. An ultimate fulfillment is envisioned, but there are many who have tried much the same trick, starting with Nero. (Permission: "Art used by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992." [Image source here; as a part of a gallery of illustrations of the Revelation of John. Note the context of the similarly seven-headed Dragon of Rev 12:2, the Beast from the Earth and the Idolatrous Mark of the Beast System.])|
. . . this figure arguably is associated with "the [first] beast," and has as side-kick a second figure (associated with the second "beast"), often termed the false prophet. It is this second Beast that compels men to worship an image of the first, and which forces people to take the infamous mark of the beast, "the number of a man, and his number is 666." [Rev 13:16. (N.B.: some MSS read 616, both apparently being codes for Nero Caesar; i.e. the mad, demonic Roman emperor who first persecuted the church at Imperial level is arguably a partial fulfillment, an antichrist who foreshadows the ultimate one. Similarly, unfortunately, there is no shortage of false and/or corrupt religious or ideological establishments and leaders volunteering to be foreshadowings of an ultimate false religious system that demands to control the consciences of men and to forcefully bring them before a false altar of worship to one abomination or another.)]
So, in 2 Thess 2, Paul writes:
2 Thess 2:1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.Rev 20 addresses the same general topic, and introduces yet another of the pivotal themes, the Millenium, with also the key concept of a Day of Judgement:
3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?
6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.
8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.
9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. [ESV]
Rev 20: 1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended.There are of course many other briefer passages, but the above is sufficient for us to see the outlines of Christian eschatology insofar as a timeline can be assigned to it.
After that he must be released for a little while.
4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.
12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
We see that there is an era of witness where the gospel goes out to the world, with both increasing success and increasing opposition, with signs of the end beginning to take the aspects of birth pangs as the end draws closer: increasing intensity, closer and closer together heading for the breakthrough crisis, a crisis that we know is coming, but which is not easily predicted as to just when it will happen. But, ironically, even as the signs are clear and pointing to crisis, many will be willfully ignorant, mocking, hostile and even hateful to the point of violence and bloody persecution.
The Day of the Lord, the culmination of the crisis, will not happen until the man of lawlessness is revealed, perhaps by the abomination of desolation Jesus highlighted in Matt 24: "when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place . . . " (MT 24:15, Cf. Dan 9:27, 11:31, 12:11).
There is discussion of the resurrection of the dead, Jesus being the first fruits and guarantee of the full harvest to come, those who are his at his coming (often seen as a reference to the rapture of 1 Thess 4:13 - 18), and a final delivering up of the dead from wherever they are. The dead face judgement, with eternal consequences. On that, it is useful to briefly remind ourselves of Rom 2 on principles of such judgement:
Rom 2: 1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.In short, we are judged by the light we have or should have, and what we have done with it, including when we have judged others ourselves. So, the issue is penitence and persistence in turning from the wrong to the right, as none of us can live up to his own standards, much less those of God. (Other passages allow us to deal with the universality of judgement, and the judgement of those who are redeemed, for reward.)
2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man-you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself-that you will escape the judgment of God?
4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.
6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.
11 For God shows no partiality . . . [ESV]
We also get glimpses of a timeline, and that has led to the rise of many schools of thought, pivoting on the best interpretation of the key cluster of passages and their link to the OT passages that seem to deal with much the same grounds. A good place to begin assessing this (with due regard for both foreshortening and the principle of partial veiling) would be to adapt Grudem's timeline diagrams of the three main positions on the millennium:
1 --> The main points at issue among the schools of thought are the nature and timing of the millennium, the rapture, the tribulation and related judgements, pivoting on the degree of "literal" vs. "symbolic" reading given to the key passages.
2 --> The best balance is probably to take the standard rule for interpreting documents: take the words at face value unless there is good reason to see them otherwise, as figurative in one way or another based on context, genre etc. But,
3 --> given the issues of partial fulfillment, foreshortening and veiled-ness, there must be room for disagreement with charity.
4 --> When it comes to understanding the relationship of Jesus' Olivet discourse of Mt 24 to the events of the uprising of AD 66 - 70 (the focus of the Praeterist view, which sees the prophecies in Mt 24 and Rev as effectively fulfilled in the first century, by the time of the Jewish uprising and Domitian's reign as Emperor), it is probably best to see this as a partial fulfillment that also served to authenticate the prophetic office of Jesus of Nazareth.
(The cynical assumption that since prophecy is "known" to be impossible, any known accurate-to-history biblical prophecy is to be immediately assigned a date after the events, i.e. the so-called vaticinium ex eventu (or post eventum), so patently begs the question at stake that it needs no further refutation. Suffice to say that under such rules, no historical evidence could ever be presented that successful Bible prophecy is possible or has occurred; not because that has been investigated and eliminated, but simply by arbitrary assumption ahead of the facts. Moreover, it seems that the Christians in Jerusalem in the 60's, taking Jesus' Mt Olive discourse prophecy seriously, removed themselves from the city when it was about to be besieged, and so were not engulfed in the catastrophe. And, there are features of the prophecy that evidently were NOT fulfilled at that time, so a better interpretation would be that this was a partial fulfillment and validation.)5 --> In short, we can take as valid the point that the so-called Praeterists have a point, that this passage definitely has in it things that correlate to what happened during the Jewish uprising. However, that does not lock out the possibility of future partial and even a culminating fulfillment.
6 --> But that leaves open the further question, how does one come to hold a particular eschatological view in light of various schools of thought, and how does this relate to one's life of discipleship?
7 --> For the amillennialists, the millennium is viewed as a figurative description for the era of the church. This tends to be associated with seeing Matt 24 and the book of Revelations as addressing historical, past events.
8 --> While some noted theologians seem to take this view, it tends to run into challenges with some of the more explicit passages and details, e.g. it does not seem very plausible that Satan is currently bound and in a sealed over pit "so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended."(Rev 20:3)
9 --> That said, some will be able to build a theology they can live with, that is amillennial. As, can be done for any other position. The issue then, is what balance of difficulties in addressing the veiled aspects of prophecy one is willing to live with.
10 --> The post-millennial view seems to become more plausible in times of great revivals that sweep the world. On this view, the church age evolves into an era (perhaps, not a literal 1,000 years) in which the nations willingly turn to Christ, leading to his return in triumph. This is challenged by the way in which both repentance and rebellion are progressing over the centuries, leading to what looks like a titanic clash as birth pangs come with increasing frequency. That seemingly fits in better with the rebellion and abomination of desolation led by the man of lawlessness, and believers being hated of all nations.
11 --> So, while it is possible to seriously argue for a- or post-millennial views, with all due respect to those who differ, some form of pre-millennial view is more likely to be plausible. That is, the church era leads to a period of tribulation which precedes the establishment of a millennial kingdom with Satan bound. Then, at the end, we see a final rebellion once Satan has been loosed, its definitive defeat, and the final judgement and establishment of the eternal kingdom of God.
12 --> This last is a bit odd: why on earth would peoples descended from survivors of the tribulation who have lived among resurrected believers of all ages and have been under the government of the risen and exalted Christ rise up in a patently hopeless rebellion after a thousand years of peace?
13 --> To that, we may ask, why did Judas, who saw Jesus up close and who was an eyewitness to many miracles, betray Christ? Why did the Jews of the 60's AD rise up in obviously futile and doomed rebellion against Rome? And more.
14 --> In short, sin is not rational. Just to make a suggestion of a science-fictionish scenario, what if the report were spread as the millennium draws to a close, that Jesus represents not God, but the imperial conquest of an alien super-race which used advanced technologies to fool us into believing in his resurrection and second coming, etc? And, that Satan is the genuine liberator, who hopes to set us free from alien overlordship and the rule of traitor immortals who have been rewarded for their betrayal of humanity? Sadly, people -- especially if they are angry -- too often believe what they want to believe, not what it is sensible to believe.
15 --> So, some form of a pre-trib view may well be the easiest to defend theologically. That, however, takes us into debates about a tribulation and pre-/ mid-/ post- trib rapture views, as well as bringing up the issue that a two-phase resurrection of the dead may seem a little odd. (Grudem reminds us, so would be a two-phase coming of Messiah, to one looking at the OT scriptures. Certainly, we are seeing the main peaks, not the valleys and lesser peaks.)
16 --> Whichever of pre-/ mid-/ post- trib rapture views one may elect to take, if one decides that a pre-mill view is the best on balance, one thing is certain, from Paul's exhortations to the young churches in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch: "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." [Acts 14:22.]
So, we must set our faces like a flint to stand in the face of the many challenges to come. So also, we face the issue of:
to the life of discipleship & global witness in "such a time as this"
Oddly, eschatology is not a strictly Christian exercise; we all desire to know the future and so we tend to have various models or visions -- or nightmares -- of the future.
For instance, in past decades, Marxism was a form of political messianism that had an elaborate and highly persuasive "scientific" theory of the long-term evolution of societies based on economic production arrangements that was seen as leading to revolutionary crises that would culminate in the withering of the state and the golden age utopia of communism: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. After decades of global conflict under the shadow of nuclear annihilation, this powerful myth collapsed at the turn of the 1990's; after costing well in excess of 100 million lives through the crimes of nihilistic dictators and their malevolent secret police, as well as the horrific blunders of unaccountable state-bureaucracies.
As a result, in our time, even nominally communist states like China have long since in practice quietly abandoned the ideological myth of inevitable progress to the communist golden age. Market based capitalism, for all its flaws and challenges, simply turned out to be the superior approach to building a successful industrialised economy.
But, along the way, that outcome was by no means a foregone conclusion, and the world went through a wild and bloody ride that came to the brink of nuclear armageddon at least twice: over the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and over the Yom Kippur Arab/Israeli war of 1973.
Then, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of Marxism, there was a palpable pause, and even speculations about "the end of history."
That didn't last long, and now the Caribbean and world face a titanic clash over widely divergent visions and agendas for the future.
For instance, we can easily watch vivid documentaries on satellite-based Cable TV that week after week regale us with theories of imminent catastrophe and emergence into a new age of either order or chaos. This has become a bit of a growth industry, especially given the prominent play being given to the debates over climate variability and whatever degree human influences may be disrupting the earth's weather systems.
This particular vision/nightmare for the future is definitely being used to argue for global government, or at any rate global governance.
(BTW, once we have an entity that has power to make laws, power to judge cases under such laws, and power to execute policy under such law [which implies taxing power to fund the process] -- i.e. legislative, judicial and executive arms -- we by definition and by function have a government; even if that is not explicitly acknowledged. And, frankly, we should think twice before setting up a global government largely in the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats able to manipulate and play voting blocs off against one another in international bodies.)
The more optimistic secular visionaries hope for a breakthrough to solar system colonisation, and beyond that, perhaps even galactic colonisation.
On the longer view, though, the universe is running down and faces ultimate heat death if it continues along the trend lines we can see, over the course of billions of years to come. Long before that, the sun would burn out as a mainstream star and would go red giant, gobbling up our home planet, perhaps in 4 - 5 billion years. Eventually the observed cosmos is expected to reach so-called heat death.
If we look across at the increasingly restive world of Islam, we find a militant IslamIST eschatology that projects a vision of global domination for Allah, Allah's prophet & laws, through Allah's warriors.
This ideology projects an end of days scenario to play out across this century, based on Mohammed's suggestions recorded in the Hadiths. (these are various collections of the sayings and deeds of Mohammed that collectively serve as Islam's second major religious authority. In fact, one cannot properly interpret the Quran without studying the Hadiths.)
The Hadiths-based IslamIST end of days scenario envisions titanic clashes in the Middle East linked to the rise of the so-called Black Flag Army from Khorasan [more or less Iran and regions east of Iran including Afghanistan, Pakistan etc.]. The rise of this invincible army will then directly lead to the rise and global domination of the pivotal figures, the Mahdi and Prophet Isa [their version of an end of days Jesus]. This is a driving force behind what is ever more clearly a clash of civilisations in our time.
What would be very interesting from a Caribbean-based, gospel-rooted Christian perspective is to see how these very different visions of possible or even prophesied futures, are likely to interact and where that may lead us.
Especially, as that is the context in which -- should the Lord tarry -- we will increasingly have to live and serve as disciples and witnesses in the months, years and decades ahead in an environment that is strongly shaped by these forces.
That brings us back to facing the tidal waves concept raised in the preliminary remarks (and as was already cited in unit 2) for this course:
. . . we are now in the age of Google, YouTube, blogs and other freely accessible web soap-box and forum technologies, Dan Brown and his The Da Vinci Code, the vituperative New Atheists, Radical IslamISTS, and many others.
As a result, we now face a flood of superficially persuasive and atmosphere-poisoning materials that target God, the Scriptures, Jesus, the Christian Faith and Christians today (including personal hate and slander sites) and much more. This backs up an unprecedented and rising tidal wave of direct and undermining attacks against the Christian faith in the Caribbean and elsewhere that we can find on our streets, on our verandahs, on our TV's and computers, in our schools and offices, and even in our churches.
A flood of attacks that finds us too often in a sad spiritual condition, and by and large utterly unprepared to soundly answer on the reason for the hope that we have:
However, before we can get to that, we have to address what is in effect a three-way spiritual power confrontation in our region under the shadow of the birth pangs and fore-shadowings of the culmination of history. In steps of thought:
1 --> Let us face a painful fact: if we were not in a spiritually weakened and ill-grounded condition, we would not be anywhere near so vulnerable to deceptions and being misled as we so plainly are. That is exactly what Paul so frankly counsels in Eph 4:
Eph 4: 10 ( . . . He [Jesus] who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)2 --> So, plainly, if we are ever so unstable, vulnerable to every wind of false but enticing doctrine and are easily caught in the spider-webs of deceitful schemes of men benumbed to the voice of conscience and willfully en-darkened to shut out the truth of God, that is a mark of our immaturity and disobedience to those whom Christ has sent to equip us for stable maturity and powerful service.
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,4 to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!- 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,5 which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another . . . [ESV]
3 --> And this, in the teeth of Jesus' very first sign/warning of the end of days in the Olivet discourse -- deception, and how this is followed by a warning against false prophets and allowing our love to grow cold, even in the teeth of the rise of lawlessness:
Mt 24: 3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray . . . .3 --> Romans 1 amplifies these themes tellingly, as it exposes and describes the heart and mind of the willfully rebellious and en-darkened:
11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved . . .
Rom 1: 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
32 Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. [ESV]
4 --> Paul could not have penned a more sadly apt description of the mindset, boastings and behaviour of many in our current day if he had been present to see it in person.
5 --> For, after many centuries in which our civilisation has had free and full access to the gospel and to abundant evidence that points so decisively to the reality of the good and wise, loving Creator God to whom we owe gratitude and allegiance, many have willfully turned their backs on God and have deliberately excluded him from what they are willing to accept as knowledge.
6 --> So, passions have spun out of control and we end up in the horrific "wise in one's own eyes" moral inversion that "call[s] evil good and good evil. . . . put[s] darkness for light and light for darkness, . . . put[s] bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter." (Isa 5:20 - 21.)
7 --> The heart of this intellectual and moral collapse into absurdity is the rise of an intellectually arrogant evolutionary materialism that likes to dress up in the lab coats of science (since, we have been lured to see science as "the only begetter of truth"), but it is in fact little more than a contemporary resurgence of the same basic philosophical system, worldview and cultural agenda that Plato challenged in Athens, in 360 BC, in The Laws, Bk X (inserting shorter paragraphs to make the reading easier):
[The avant garde philosophers, teachers and artists c. 400 BC] say that fire and water, and earth and air [i.e. the classical "material" elements of the cosmos], all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art, and that as to the bodies which come next in order-earth, and sun, and moon, and stars-they have been created by means of these absolutely inanimate existences.The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them-of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only . . . .
[T]hese people would say that the Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states, which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.- [Relativism, too, is not new; complete with its radical amorality rooted in a worldview that has no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT. (Cf. here for Locke's views and sources on a very different base for grounding liberty as opposed to license and resulting anarchistic "every man does what is right in his own eyes" chaos leading to tyranny.)]These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth.They are told by them that the highest right is might [ Evolutionary materialism leads to the promotion of amorality], and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions [Evolutionary materialism-motivated amorality "naturally" leads to continual contentions and power struggles; cf. dramatisation here], these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others [such amoral factions, if they gain power, "naturally" tend towards ruthless tyranny; here, too, Plato hints at the career of Alcibiades], and not in legal subjection to them . . .8 --> In short, once one swallows evolutionary materialism as the only acceptable "scientific" explanation for the world, then it has consequences: radical relativisation of knowledge and morality, breaking the barriers to the rise of might makes right nihilism, hence factions and chaos that opens the door to tyranny as the lesser evil to anarchy.
(And, in reply to the usual twist-about, distractive talking point that is routinely used at this point: of course, many atheists and fellow travellers are nice decently upright people. That's not the issue and objectors should know it. What is at stake is that a worldview dressed up in the august lab coat has been let loose in our civilisation, a view that has no credible foundational IS that can objectively ground OUGHT. So, it leaves the door wide open for exactly what Plato warned against: "They [the youth] are told by them [the avant garde materialist ideologues] that the highest right is might . . . and hence arise factions . . . " In the end, that issue of the door being left open for nihilistic factions has to be addressed, and it simply cannot be soundly addressed on evolutionary materialist premises.)
9 --> In short, what has happened so far and wide in our civilisation at large over the past 100 - 200 years is exactly what we should have expected once evolutionary materialism was put back in the driver's seat for the first time in 2,000 years. And, it is unsurprising that with this have come various forms of neo-pagan ideologies, cults and new religions, as attempts to fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts.
10 --> Similarly, it is also no surprise that many, overawed by the sophisticated theoretical apparatus and bold claims put forth in the name of Science and Philosophy, have ended up making fatal compromises that undermine the integrity of the Christian faith. The iconoclastic former Bultmannian and late Evangelical Theologian Eta Linnemann's summary is acid but sadly apt:
Theology as it is taught in universities all over the world . . . is based on the historical-critical method . . . . [which] is not just the foundation for the exegetical disciplines. It also decides what the systematician can say . . . It determines procedure in Christian education, homiletics and ethics . . . .Research is conducted ut si Deus non daretur (“as if there were no God”). That means the reality of God is excluded from consideration from the start . . . Statements in Scripture regarding place, time, sequences of events and persons are accepted only insofar as they fit in with established assumptions and theories . . . .Since other religions have their scriptures, one cannot assume the Bible is somehow unique and superior to them . . . . It is taken for granted that the words of the Bible and God’s word are not identical . . . the New Testament is pitted against the Old Testament, assuming that the God of the New Testament is different from that of the Old, since Jesus is said to have introduced a new concept of God . . . .11 --> In reply to such de-christianisers from the north (who are inadvertently fulfilling the prophesied "mockers" and skeptical dismissers of the truth of the last days of 2 Pet 3:1 ff), and in light of the solid eyewitness-historical and prophecy-fulfillment foundations of the gospel highlighted in 1 Cor 15:1 - 11, we may confidently cite Peter:Since the inspiration of Scripture is not accepted, neither can it be assumed that the individual books of Scripture complement each other. Using this procedure one finds in the Bible only a handful of unrelated literary creations . . . . Since the content of biblical writings is seen as merely the creation of theological writers, any given verse is nothing more than a non-binding, human theological utterance.For historical-critical theology, critical reason decides what is reality in the Bible and what cannot be reality; and this decision is made on the basis of the everyday experience accessible to every person [i.e. the miraculous aspect of Scripture, and modern reports of miracles -- regardless of claimed attestation -- are dismissed as essentially impossible to verify and/or as merely “popular religious drivel”] . . . .Due to the presuppositions that are adopted, critical reason loses sight of the fact that the Lord, our God, the Almighty, reigns.[Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993), pp. 83 – 88 as excerpted. Emphases in original; parenthetical notes in square brackets: [ ].]
2 Pet 1:16 . . . we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.12 --> We can therefore best remedy our vulnerability to the de-christianising challenges from within our civilisation that surge into our communities, our schools and our churches from the North by paying heed to the voice of genuine and sound scripture, and by listening to faithful and well-informed teachers who through God's grace will guide us in the truth and guard us from deception, paying particular attention to the prophetic warnings in those scriptures.
17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.
21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [ESV. (It is of course utterly predictable that some would try to label this epistle a fraud. The New Bible Dictionary first acknowledges that it happens to have relatively poor external attestation as MSS and/or citations in the Fathers, but then notes tellingly: ". . . the internal evidence favors authorship by Peter. If a forger knew 1 Peter [which is of course explicitly alluded to in 2 Pet 3:1], it seems he could have been more careful to follow its style exactly. The allusions to Peter's career agree with the existing records and can best be explained as the testimony of an eyewitness.")]
13 --> The second tidal wave, from the east, is less familiar.
14 --> However, the Islamic missionary movement -- the Dawah (including the radicalised, militant forms best described as IslamISM) -- tries to appeal to us by saying that Islam somehow was the predominant religion of our ancestors in Africa who were brought here as slaves, so it tries to attract us through our longing for authentic roots.
(NB: The historical claims used to do this, e.g. those advanced by Dr Sultana Afroz of UWI's History Department to the effect that perhaps 3/5 of Jamaica's black slave population were Muslim, the Maroons were an Islamic community [an "umma"], and key slave uprisings such as the 1831 Baptist War that led directly to Abolition were Jihads, are arguably quite poorly founded, but many do not know that.)
15 --> As the Islam in the Caribbean apologetics primer points out, we also need to be aware of key Islamic claims regarding the scriptures, the gospel and Christian theology, based on statements in the Quran:
. . . (9) Islam views the Old Testament prophets and Jesus as Prophets of Allah, and regards the Bible as inspired, to the extent that it has not been corrupted. In particular, the concept of the Trinity is viewed as an attempt to elevate Mary — yes, Mary — and Jesus to divine status alongside Allah, that is Shirk, and Christianity is therefore often viewed as idolatrous. Muhammad, as Allah’s final Prophet, has the last say on matters of revelation and fact.16 --> We must particularly observe how, in a foundation document -- the Quran [claimed to be God's final and corrective revelation to humanity], Islam's founder tellingly failed to get a central tenet of orthodox Christian theology, the triune conception of God, straight:
(10) As Surah 4:156 – 158 records, the Quran specifically denies the crucifixion of Christ: “they killed him not, nor crucified him . . . . Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself.” Thus, the Quran’s message is explicitly incompatible with the core gospel message: “on which [we Christians] have taken [our] stand. By this gospel [we] are saved if [we] hold firmly to the word . . . . that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . . . And if Christ has not been raised [from the dead], our preaching is useless and so is [our] faith . . . [we] are still in [our] sins.” [1 Cor. 15:2 – 5, 14, 17.]
(11) As Dr Patrick Sookhdeo — who is familiar with Caribbean Islam from his upbringing in his native Guyana — also reports, “Muslims believe that Jesus will come back to earth as a Muslim, will marry and have children, then die and be buried near Muhammad. Some traditions assert that at this second coming He will destroy every cross, kill all Jews, convert the Christians to Islam, and reign as king of all Muslims.” [Sookhdeo, p. 22.]
(12) Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam [NOI] is somewhat divergent from mainstream Islam, as it is rooted in the rejection of racism in the United States, and views Islam as the answer for the Black man. It is somewhat syncretistic between Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness and more orthodox Christian beliefs, has Afrocentric elements and views the White race as the product of breeding experiments over six hundred years by an evil scientist. In some cases, NOI spokesmen reportedly may go so far as to view white people as incarnate devils.
"Allah forgiveth not that partners should be set up with him; but He forgiveth anything, else to whom He pleaseth; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin most heinous indeed." With: "Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an Messenger of Allah and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not "Trinity": desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One Allah: glory be to him: (for Exalted is He) above having a son . . . " [Quran, An Nisa, Surah 4:48 & 171, Yousuf Ali]. And also: "Allah will say "O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, `worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah"? He will say: "Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden."
[Q, 5:116, Yousuf Ali. Notice the loaded language and the suggestion that Christians as a whole worship Mary as a god alongside the true God. We need hardly elaborate -- but this has come out in live on the radio public debates -- that the typical Islamic conception of the "sonship" of Christ in view in the text is not that of eternal essential sonship and incarnation by holy miracle but instead bears far more resemblance to the scandalous pagan legends about the predilections of the gods for pretty human girls. That is the suggestion implied by Q 4:171: ". . . (for Exalted is He) above having a son." (cf. rebuttals here.)]17 --> That failure of the accuracy test is telling. But that is not all, there is a direct challenge to the historical core of the gospel. For, we may cite from Surah 4, a denial of the historically well documented and otherwise uncontroversial fact of Jesus' crucifixion and death on the cross:
". . . they uttered against Mary a grave false charge. (156) That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";― but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not.― (157) Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. (158)." [Q, 4:156 - 158, Yousuf Ali.]18 --> Going beyond, this then connects to the sort of militancy we face. For, in Islam, there is a principle of abrogation, by which the relevant later Quranic texts supersede earlier texts. This has the implication that the more militant Medina texts take priority over the earlier, more irenic Meccan ones. And since Surah 9 is last or next to last chronologically, it is particularly important.
19 --> This gives sadly telling force to 9:5 and 9:29 ff, the verse of the sword and the verse of tribute, which are taken by many militants as a mandate for global domination by force:
Q9:5 But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.20 --> It is in this context of militancy, conquest, domination and utter, hopeless subjugation that we should understand the implications of the following aspirational map by the Research Division, World Islamic Mission, showing how IslamIST radicals envision the world being subjugated at their feet across this century. Let us particularly observe the "After 100 Years" inset map:
Q 9:29 - 32 Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger nor, acknowledge the Religion of Truth from among the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizyah [--> an oppressive and even impoverishing "protection money" poll tax imposed as the yearly price of being tolerated as a subject people] with willing submission and feel themselves subdued. (29)
21 -->The eschatological character of this aspiration can be further understood from Joel Richardson's summary on the rise of the pivotal Islamic end times figure, the Mahdi:
The coming of the Mahdi is the central crowning element of all Islamic end-time narratives . . . . The Mahdi is believed to be a future Muslim world leader who will not only rule over the Islamic world, but also the non-Muslim world as well. The Mahdi is said to lead a world revolution that will establish a new Islamic world order throughout the entire earth . . . .
The Mahdi’s ascendancy to power is said to be preceded by an army from the east who will be carrying black flags or banners of war. Sheikh Kabbani states:Hadith indicate that black flags coming from the area of Khorasan will signify the appearance of the Mahdi is nigh. Khorasan is in today's Iran, and some scholars have said that this hadith means when the black flags appear from Central Asia, i.e. in the direction of Khorasan, then the appearance of the Mahdi is imminent. [Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, The Approach of Armageddon? An Islamic Perspective (Canada, Supreme Muslim Council of America, 2003), p. 231.]Another tradition states that:The Messenger of Allah said: The black banners will come from the East and their hearts will be as firm as iron. Whoever hears of them should join them and give allegiance, even if it means crawling across snow. [Abu Nu’aym and As-Suyuti, related by Thawban, as quoted by Muhammad ibn Izzat, Muhammad ‘Arif, Al Mahdi and the End of Time (London,Dar Al-Taqwa, 1997), p. 44.]Islamic tradition pictures the Mahdi as joining with the army of Muslim warriors carrying black flags. The Mahdi will then lead this [invincible] army [on a victorious path across the Middle East] to Israel and re-conquer it for Islam. The Jews will be slaughtered until very few remain and Jerusalem will become the location of the Mahdi’s rule over the Earth . . . .Egyptian authors, Muhammad ibn Izzat and Muhammd ‘Arif comment . . . :The Mahdi will be victorious and eradicate those pigs and dogs and the idols of this time so that there will once more be a caliphate based on prophethood as the hadith states… Jerusalem will be the location of the rightly guided caliphate and the center of Islamic rule, which will be headed by Imam al-Mahdi… That will abolish the leadership of the Jews… and put an end to the domination of the Satans who spit evil into people and cause corruption in the earth, making them slaves of false idols and ruling the world by laws other than the Shari’a [Islamic Law] of the Lord of the worlds. (Emphasis mine) [Izzat and Arif, p.40]
[Will Islam Be Our Future?A Study of Biblical and Islamic Eschatology, hosted at Answering Islam.org, ch 4. Acc: Mar 31, 2012. (NB: Joel Richardson is a protective pseudonym.)]
22 --> It is sobering to note in this context the infamous Gharqad Tree hadith (tradition of the Islamic prophet, from a cluster of collections second only to the Quran in Islam) which is actually embedded in Clause 7 of the Hamas Covenant:
Sahih Muslim: Book 041, Number 6985:Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.23 --> This speaks for itself, sadly, but all too shockingly clearly.
(In response, let us just quietly note the often repeated -- and far too often ignored -- lesson of history that the Jewish people are the canaries in the mines, and the implacable hostility to Jews just exposed is therefore a loud wake-up emergency alarm and call to action to all of us who now must face IslamIST militancy. This sort of toxic thinking -- never mind the inevitable retaliation against whistleblowers -- must be resolutely and repeatedly exposed and those who advocate it must be publicly exposed, stared down and publicly named and shamed until they convincingly show by consistent and sustained deeds that they have turned away from such indefensible and inexcusable hate against Jews and other stereotypical demonised scapegoats.)
24 --> Against such a sobering and potentially chaotic and dangerous backdrop, in these last days we are called to live by the truth in love, to so ground ourselves that we are not vulnerable to winds of doctrine and the cunning craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming, and to boldly go forth with the message of the gospel, being equipped to give a solid answer as to the reason for the hope we have in Christ.
25 --> That will require that we come to understand how others understand our common world, our place in it, and how they see the future unfolding, and it will call for us to so soundly ground our own beliefs that we will not be found wanting in the face of a challenging time close to the culmination of the ages.
26 --> And, not just in our region: as people in the main descended from the peoples of the 10/40 window and culturally bridging North and South, East and West who have learned how to live together in our common region, we have much to offer the world, and in particular, the positive message of the gospel.
27 --> But to do so effectively, we must make the effort to so ground ourselves that we own the message for ourselves and can understand our times so as to know what best to do; making the most of our opportunities in the face of what will all too often be evil days ahead as the world races to the culmination of the ages.
That is an appropriate focus for the final unit of this course. To which, let us now turn.
FOR DISCUSSION AND ASSIGNMENTS