Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XXII)

April 7, 2010

One of the more bizarre eschatological viewpoints I have encountered in the past several decades is the “Full (or Consistent) Preterist” position.  I was asked to write a book review for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society on a book by one of the leaders of their movement.  Then, sometime later, I was asked to write the entry on “Preterism” for the Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, one of the editors of which was my former colleague and friend, Ergun Caner.  Those two assignments allowed me to become conversant with the quirky claims made by extreme Preterists.

Since that time, however, I have come to call into question one of my own ongoing assumptions (i.e., something that is not proven, just taken for granted) about the way biblical eschatology develops progressively through Scripture that, at first glance, may even sound somewhat like the Full Preterist viewpoint.  However, as you will soon see, any resemblance is just that: “first glance” and surface only.

What is it that I have been rethinking?  It is the assumption that the coming back of the ascended Christ was first revealed as being to the earth.  But, before you have an initial knee-jerk reaction to that statement, let me hurriedly add that I do not call into question the bodily Second Coming of Christ for even a second.  That is the focal belief of the Full Preterists that unequivocally places them outside of the orbit of evangelical theology.  That same belief is unceremoniously crushed just by looking at Acts 1:11, where an angel says to the apostles: “This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you have seen Him going into heaven” (HCSB).  Fairly obviously, there is no other way to understand that statement other than a bodily return of Jesus to earth.

However, the issue I am seeking to address is what was the initial idea of “coming” encountered in Scripture?   I think you may well be surprised as I discuss the relevant material.

Think about the “coming” of Christ in the Old Testament.  Yes, from Messianic prophecy, it is assumed that the Christ is “coming.”  But, where does it clearly say that He is coming back to earth after ascending to heaven?

Yes, from Jesus’ handling of Isaiah 61:1-2, we can, from our vantage point in the progress of revelation, infer what in that passage refers to what we call the First Coming and Second Coming of Christ.  But, the Second Coming aspect is only described as “the day of our God’s vengeance” (61:2, HCSB).

Actually, the only passage in the OT referred to in the NT which emphasizes Christ’s “coming” is Daniel 7:13, which reads: “And I saw One like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven” (HCSB).  As I have emphasized in several earlier posts in this series, Daniel 7:13 is particularly important because it is quoted by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:30) and by John in the Apocalypse (Rev. 1:7).

The oft-overlooked angle on Daniel 7:13 is that the Son of Man’s ‘”coming” there has nothing to do with coming back to earth.  Instead, it speaks of the Son of Man “coming” into the presence of the Ancient of Days in the heavenly throne room.

What is the significance of this observation?  Well, it appears that whatever Jesus is talking about in the Olivet Discourse, when Daniel 7:13 is quoted, does not refer to His coming back to earth, even though there is absolutely no doubt that He will come back to earth.

Moving to the NT, there are passages in the Gospels that make it clear that Jesus will come back to earth, such as Jesus’ statement in Matthew 23:39: “You will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (HCSB).  However, a verse like John 14:3 points the other direction: “If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to myself, so that where I am you may be also” (HCSB).  Notice that, in this context, the emphasis is not on Christ coming to earth, but in His coming to receive His own to go to the heavenly “dwelling places” He has prepared for them (14:2).

The major significance of these observations for wider NT eschatology is that, when you encounter 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 (the earliest of the NT epistles to deal with eschatology in any depth), which also refers to Christ coming for His own—but not to earth, it is not the first time that scenario is seen in Scripture.  The reason I emphasize that point is that what I just said is essentially completely contrary to what is assumed by virtually all evangelical scholars as they do their exegesis and theologizing about the eschatological events.  Many go so far to as ridicule the very idea of a “Rapture” (i.e., Christ coming to take away the church at some point before His Second Coming), assuming but seldom offering anything close to proof for their contention that all there will be is a bodily Second Coming of Christ to earth.  In line with the emphasis of this series of posts, such thinkers deny that there is any taking of the people of God earlier in the Apocalpse than the Second Advent in 19:11ff.

If, however, you have been paying attention to what I laid out earlier in this post, you know by now that viewpoint will not fly biblically.  Daniel 7:13 and its use in the NT, as well as a clear passage like John 14:3, demonstrate that “coming” terminology related to the Son of Man/Christ teach that Christ comes for (i.e., His own) before He comes to (i.e., the earth).

Whether you perceive it or not, since I argued my case in a laid-back manner, what you just read has massive exegetical/theological ramifications.  In occasional future posts, I will trace out some of the implications for understanding for understanding the Book of Revelation, as well as for evangelical eschatology.

As I close, let me say that I still think the Full Preterist position is completely out in left field.  They have a point in their sense that (an aspect of) Christ’s “coming” is not back to earth.  They lose everything they gain, though—and a lot more—by trying to say Christ’s coming is only in judgment, in A.D. 70, and by denying a future literal Second Coming for Jesus.  Their view is a classic example of the danger of a half-truth (i.e., which is also a “half-falsehood”).

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4 Responses to “Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XXII)”

  1. This is an excellent study. I agree with you on your conclusions about Daniel 7:13-14, that Jesus is pictured ascending to the Father and not descending to the earth. This does indeed have implications when we see this passage referenced in Matthew 24:30 and Revelation 1:7. I’ve also recently come to view John 14:3 the way you do, as Jesus coming for His own when they (we) pass from this life.

    If you don’t mind the question, which passages do you see as speaking of a bodily return of Jesus to this earth in our future? I consider myself to be a partial-preterist and, at this point in my eschatological studies I would list the following passages as having been fulfilled in 70 AD:

    Matthew 10:23, 16:28, 24:30, 26:64 (and parallel passages in Mark and Luke); 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8, 2:8; James 5:7-9; 1 Peter 4:7; Revelation 1:7, 3:11, 19:11-16, 22:7, 22:12.

    Passages which I would see as very likely pointing to a future bodily return of Christ would be Acts 1:11, I Corinthians 15:21-24, I John 3:2-3, and Revelation 20:9 (in keeping with the amillennial viewpoint).

    I’m no longer sure how to view I Thessalonians 4:13-17, which you brought up in your post. It does seem to parallel Matthew 24:29-31, which I believe was fulfilled in 70 AD.

    Any thoughts you may have on this are appreciated. I’ve only read through a few of your posts, and it’s possible that you may have discussed this more in depth in other posts.

    • boydluter said

      Adam,

      Thank you for your kind words! I need to leave to go to the airport, but wanted to reply before I got out of town because who knows when I will get back to it. While there is a lot that could be said, the answer to your main question is that, even though there might be other passages that speak of a physical Second Coming of Christ to earth, Acts 1:11 and Revelation 19:11ff. are enough. Why? There is the clear prophecy of a physical return of the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:11–the passage which the full preterist types have no answer for) and there is an end of the age fulfillment of it (Rev. 19:11ff.).

      For whatever it’s worth, my Brother,
      Boyd

    • Boyd,

      You’re welcome. Thank you also for your reply. Like you, I haven’t seen a reply from any full preterists to Acts 1:11. Possibly someone has replied to it, but I haven’t seen it. I agree that this passage clearly depicts a physical return of Christ.

      We happen to differ on how we see Revelation 19, but that’s a smaller point if we agree that Acts 1:11 “is enough” in speaking of a physical return. I personally see Revelation 19 as describing the judgment upon apostate Israel in 70 AD, as I wrote here:

      http://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2010/02/07/revelation-chapter-19/

      Have a great trip!

      • boydluter said

        Adam,

        I agree that our differences on Rev. 19 are within the bounds of orthodox Christianity, while the full preterist view is out of bounds. From what I have read, there have been some rather bizarre things take place in hyper-preterist circles over the years. I only really became fully aware of the view when I was asked to review a book by John Noe–I think that’s his name–some years back for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.

        Blessings, Boyd

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