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Monday, June 01, 2015

Blink and You’ll Miss It

The “Rapture, I mean.

Or maybe the Judgment of the Sheep and Goats. Or both.

Has the Church failed to notice the return of Christ to earth to judge the nations?

Or more specifically, did his prophesied return actually take place in AD 70 when, under Titus, the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, eventually conquering the city and sacking the temple, thereby fulfilling the word of the Lord about it that “not one stone will be left upon another”?

Some Christians certainly think so.

These believers are called Preterists, and they point you right out of the Bible to secular historical information sources to make their case. Gary Amirault, for instance, says this about understanding what Preterists believe:
“We suggest those who want to study this out completely to do the following:

1.    Get a copy of Josephus. Many Christian publishers have produced this work. I recommend trying to find an out-of-print version produced by Zondervan publishing edited by Cornfeld. It may be difficult to locate a copy, but it will be worth it if you find it. Most good seminaries will have more than one version of Josephus. He was a Jewish Priest and military commander who was captured by the Romans just prior to the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 A.D.

2.    Read the section entitled War of the Jews. You will be amazed!”
Perhaps so. But bear in mind we will also be making ourselves entirely dependent for our understanding of God’s prophetic word on the testimony of a single historian who can make no claim to inspiration. And Preterism has huge implications for other areas of theology, which I hope to address in a future post.

As Gary Amirault says, “Rejoice, ye new heavens and earth!”

If Gary is right about his eschatology, we’re living in the new heavens and new earth right now. I’m not so much inclined to rejoice about that as to be deeply, deeply disappointed.

A More Extensive Explanation

Now admittedly, both the Lord and the apostles made statements about the timing of his return that require a more extensive explanation than is usually available in the immediate context of these verses. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the Bible student who cares about such matters will diligently search the scriptures, comparing one statement with another to determine as closely as possible the Lord’s intended meaning.

What such enigmatic prophetic statements do not require is illumination from external sources like Josephus. History books will not help us here.

Things He Left Unsaid

The Lord fully anticipated that the meaning of many of his words would be lost on his disciples. After all, he had three years with these men, not three decades. His teaching was far from comprehensive, not because he was an ineffective communicator but because their assumptions and blind spots made them poor students. It would take years for some of them to get their heads around the full implication of his words.

So there were many things left unsaid. The Lord made no claim to have filled in all the blanks for them. In the upper room he tells them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now”.

Deliberate Obscurity

Further, the things he did say were often deliberately obscure. They were seeded by the Lord in the heads of the disciples in figurative language anticipating a future day in which his Spirit would unfold them.

Until that happened, the disciples were constantly conflating his literal statements with his figurative ones.

Breaking Down Preconceptions is a Process

My point is this: These men walked with the Son of God daily for three years, a privilege we have never experienced. If it took three years of breaking down preconceived notions in the hearts and minds of the disciples, and many months and years afterward as the Spirit taught them before truths like the new status of Gentile believers in Christ sunk in and were fully absorbed and acted on, it is pretty presumptuous to imagine that every statement the Lord made about the future is going to conveniently unpack itself for us just because we are curious.

Some things in scripture are always going to be more difficult to understand than others, and many misconceptions must be rooted out of us as we study the word of God before we are in a place where we can fully comprehend them.

Some things, perhaps, await a full explanation in heaven.

In the study of the Lord’s prophecies about his return, then, it is neither necessary nor even feasible to attempt to provide a full and satisfying explanation of exactly what the Lord may have meant by each of his statements, nor is it possible to answer every question his words raise. It’s certainly not possible for me, though I’m happy to tell you what others have suggested.

Instead, it should be sufficient to demonstrate that the historical events alleged to represent the return of Christ to earth simply do not fulfill the criteria established by the Lord and his apostles.

If what he predicted has not yet occurred in human history, then surely his prophecies await a future fulfillment.

What Is Clear

What IS evident about the Lord’s return to judge the earth is that nobody could possibly miss it or mistake it for anything else:
“For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
It will be spectacular. “All the tribes of the earth” will see him “coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”. The return of Christ will not be something easily mistaken for a comet, and earthquake, a tidal wave, a titanic battle or even a mass hallucination.

In contrast, here’s the sort of thing Josephus has to say about events around the time of the Roman assault on Jerusalem in 70 AD in Jewish Wars
“Besides these [signs], a few days after that feast, on the one- and-twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us remove hence’ ”.
Josephus is an interesting guy and all that, but I’m not sure hearsay about visions of chariots remotely approximates the description of the Lord’s return found in Matthew. I’m definitely sure it is not authoritative for the believer.

Preterists and the New Testament

In the words of my favourite Wikipedia moderators:
Preterism is a Christian eschatological view that interprets prophecies of the Bible as events which have already happened. Daniel is interpreted as events that happened in the second century BC, while Revelation is interpreted as events that happened in the first century AD. Preterism holds that Ancient Israel finds its continuation or fulfillment in the Christian church at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The term preterism comes from the Latin praeter, which is listed in Webster's 1913 dictionary as a prefix denoting that something is ‘past’ or ‘beyond’, signifying that either all or a majority of Bible prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70. Adherents of preterism are commonly known as preterists.”
I’m thinking of doing an in-depth series of posts on the Preterist interpretation of a ten verse list of New Testament verses compiled by Don Preston in his booklet “Can God Tell Time?” To Preterists, these verses confirm that the Lord Jesus has already returned.

One such example is Matthew 10:23
“When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
Don Preston says this verse teaches that “Jesus said He would return in the lifetime of His disciples”. I don’t think so.

If you’re interested, let me know.

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