They think it’s all over

The last two posts were seeking to put forward the straightforward reading of both history and the biblical material that the Jewish War (66-70) was in a very real sense ‘the end’, or one of ‘the ends’. We have a long way to go with these posts (and if you want a good read in the meantime try Chris Bourne’s comments on the previous post) but I think now might be a good time to interject a ‘I probably still believe…’ but ‘I no longer believe…’ kind of comment.

If we simply think chronologically we are always looking for a ‘closer now than ever’, but if (chronological) time was somewhat adjusted / distorted / no longer a reliable gauge as a result of the eschatological events of Easter – witnessed to by the remarkable out-of-sequence event when a number of those who had died rose (and this has to be resurrection not resuscitation) so far ahead of ‘time’. Where are they now? Of course that is a question we also have to ask about the resurrected Jesus – and a different question to the one of ‘where are those who have died in Christ?’ It is almost as if time stopped moving forward and had a 90° shift. Try the diagram below:

 

easter-time

 

All diagrams are faulty but maybe there is something here to grasp. What if all those who have lived since Easter – or maybe since AD70 have lived the same distance from the ‘end’. What if we are not waiting for a set of events to happen but the ‘final’ end of this age were to take place whenever? What if there was no ‘second coming’?

So here is where I am. AD70 does not exhaust the issue of the ‘end’. The events surrounding AD70 are truly cataclysmic and the ‘sign of the son of Man coming in the clouds’ is truly visible in and through those events. But the end is not yet reached in fullness. My main reason for holding to this is not a set of ‘I will come’ texts but a belief in the resurrection of the dead. Consistently we have texts that give us explicitly or implicitly the concept of ‘he will come with’ and those of us alive when he comes will be (physically) transformed. For this central reason I do not see the ‘return’ of Christ as past, we still await a new heavens and a new earth. AD70 is very significant, and how we interpret Constantine is very important (thanks Chris for pushing this one in the recent comments), but there yet remains a consummation of all things.

This future coming of God is also described as ‘a New Jerusalem’ that does not rise up (‘didn’t we do well!’) but comes down from heaven, from the throne of God, which I would understand as being beyond a shift in the ‘spiritual’ realm that we then outwork in the socio-political realm. The outworking is vital for we have to understand the implications that result from the proclamation of the Gospel of the kingdom, but to borrow concepts from N.T. Wright, we do not build the kingdom, but we are involved in preparing the material for the New Jerusalem.

My suggestion then is that our viewpoint is largely determinative of our interpretation. With the majority of the Scriptures coming from pre-AD70 the viewpoint of the writers, the speakers and hearers has all-but totally those events as their focus. We look back – post AD70, and should not press those predictions into some future event. Neither do we need to, nor should, conflate all beliefs in the eschaton into those past events. Thus ends my approximation on I probably still believe…’ but ‘I no longer believe…’ It is not yet ‘all over’.

Not one stone

In this post I am following up from the last one which outlined the traumatic nature of the final few years of the 6th decade AD. (It needs to be read as background to this post.) That post outlined the trauma within the wider Roman Empire, mainly because of the great instability due the rival claimants to the throne in Rome, and the decade ended with major trauma and tragedy in Israel. It is remarkable that against the assault of Rome and the final siege of Jerusalem that the city held out for so long. As we look at the ‘Olivet discourse’ of Jesus (Matt. 24, Mk. 13, Lk. 21) we have to read Jesus’ words there in the light of that history.

There is no intrinsic reason to suggest that the signs Jesus presented are signs yet to be fulfilled, in fact quite the opposite. R.T. France suggested that there is a switch to a focus on the ‘end’ in Matt. 24: 36 with the words, ‘But about that day and hour no one knows…’ His proposal being that we have AD70 in view up to that point and from then on a focus on an unknown future date – the ‘parousia / eschaton’. However that is running ahead of ourselves.

Looking at the ‘signs’ here are substantial reasons why these events are past.

  • The signs are in relation to the question(s) concerning the destruction of the Temple, the ‘sign’ of Jesus’ coming and the ‘end of the age’ (Matthew); the sign that the destruction of the Temple was about to happen (Mark); when will occur the destruction of the Temple and the sign that it is about to take place (Luke). So only in Matthew do we get the extra phrase ‘end of the age’. We will return to this, but the thrust of the passage is, and this is certainly made explicit in Mark and Luke, about the destruction of the Temple.
  • They are geo-specific not universal references: ‘those in Judea flee to the mountains’;
  • They are seasonal references: ‘pray your fight might not take place in winter‘.
  • They are contextualised to a Jewish-religious context. ‘Pray your flight might not take place… on a Sabbath‘.
  • The references are not to ‘the end of the world’ but to being able to flee from trouble, hence the prayer that the flight might not be hindered – by Sabbath, winter, or pregnancy / young children.
  • When the final event of that era takes place: ‘the desolating sacrilege’, as referred to in Daniel, then there has to be a swift escape. The end is right at hand. This desolating sacrilege is ‘culturally-translated’ by Luke for a Gentile audience. He interprets it as ‘when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies‘.
  • Finally, Jesus declares that all these things would take place within the lifetime of that generation (a generation was reckoned to be 40 years and we have Jesus making these proclamations around 30AD).

Another factor in taking this to be in reference to the events of 66-70AD is that is the way the followers of Jesus understood his words in that era. They did not stay in Jerusalem but took his warning to heart, this being viewed as a betrayal by other Jews.

The sign of the coming of the Son of Man (e.g. Matt. 24: 30) with the reference to Daniel should not be taken as a reference to a traditionally understood ‘Second Coming’. We looked at this Danielic reference in earlier posts, and in the context here in the Gospels it is in contrast to other signs in the heavens, signs of the ‘sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light, stars falling, etc’. Those are common apocalyptic signs that indicate a total shift in the earthly world of rulers and kingdoms. Daniel’s vision is showing that the Son of Man was given authority, rulership was placed in his hands, and judgement was brought on all other rulers. This did not take place in AD70, but in the Easter event(s). What takes place in AD70 was a visible sign of its reality that took place in AD70. The Temple curtain that was torn at the crucifixion, acted as a sign, yet it could be sown up again. Life could carry on as ‘normal’. But the destruction of ‘not one stone upon another’ had a finality about it. There is a parallel between the 40 years in the wilderness and the 40 years between crucifixion and destruction.

In closing this post I will look at possible objections to taking Matt. 24 and parallels as referring to AD70.

First Matthew 24:14 which has been taken as a marker of the Gospel to all tribes and then the end will come.

And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations, and then end will come.

I come from a tradition where this was a major text and impetus for mission and evangelism, with the belief that the end would not come before a Universal proclamation to all tribes. Statistics could be produced as to how many unreached tribes there were and therefore how the end could not come ‘at any moment’. However… (there is always a ‘however’).

However, the term to all the nations (pasin tois ethnesin) is simply the normal term for ‘to all Gentiles’. The hearers would not have sought to interpret it along an ‘all the tribes’ concept. The ‘ta ethne’ were the Gentiles not the ethnic distinctions. The contrast is the wider world as opposed to the Jewish world, this being an expansion of the previous phrase where the Gospel will be proclaimed ‘throughout the world’ (oikomene). So the commission was to take the Gospel in that period far and wide.

This was the passion of Paul and he made some startling claims:

  • Ro. 1:8 your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world (en holo tou kosmou)
  • Ro. 10:18 their words to the ends of the world (oikomene)
  • Ro: 16:25-26 Has been made known to all the nations (not in all the original MSS but where it is: panta ta ethne)
  • Col. 1:5,6 In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace (en panti to kosmo)
  • Col 1:23 The Gospel… proclaimed in all creation under heaven (en pase ktisei te upo ton ouranon)

Placed against those claims we can see that the commission to the disciples was to proclaim throughout their world, among the Gentiles, the Gospel of the kingdom. While that was taking place there would be opposition, and (seemingly) increasing tension that would eventually lead up the catastrophe of the Jewish War and the ransacking of Jerusalem. The further context from Luke positions this proclamation and opposition as occurring ‘before all this occurs’ (Lk. 21:12). This pushes us to understand the phrase ‘and then the end will come’ as different to the ‘end as at the final parousia‘. With the destruction of the Temple comes something bigger than the end of a building, but the end of an age – the Jewish age. (This does not necessarily mean that it is the end of any distinction in being a Jew, but the re-definition of ‘Israel’ seems to be necessary once the Son has been appointed as the mediator. Those who are ‘in Christ’ becomes the one and only critical factor, everything else has to be counted as ‘crap’ according to Paul.)

If the passage ‘and then the end shall come’ was listed after all the other signs it might be possible to see it as a reference to ‘the final eschaton’, but that verse is set in the context of the ongoing signs which lead up to the ‘sacrilege that causes desolation’, hence it seems that the simplest way of understanding the ‘extra’ question in Matthew on the lips of the disciples: ‘… and of the end of the age?’ is as a parallel to to the other questions they ask, and not as asking a new and different question. The question is not asking a further question, such as ‘tell us about AD70 and then also tell us about the parousia / Second Coming. If we understand it, as I suggest, then Mark and Luke have simply dropped that extra phrase from the question. Their one question then is also Matthew’s one question. This might be a challenge to us, but we have to ask if this is simply a challenge because of what we have been taught to understand, and we also need to ask if the challenge this presents us with would have been a challenge to those first-century believers. Consider:

But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself (Heb 9:26, emphasis added).

So ‘end of age’ cannot simply be taken in all contexts as future, and in the Olivet Discourse I suggest we should not understand it this way when taken in context.

I would also raise a question concerning the (R.T. France) position of a shift at Matt. 24: 36 (‘that day’) from AD70 to the parousia as taken as one passage the language of ‘but of that day’ is probably more easily applicable to the preceding material, with ‘that day’ referring to the climax and final destruction of Jerusalem. If there is a shift there is a focus on signs relating to the earlier period but a remarkable absence of signs relating to the latter.

We also read that the judgement of Jerusalem will be ‘until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled’ (Lk. 21:24). This could be an indeterminate time, or it could indicate that there would be a future date when there would be a ‘return’ to Israel by the Messiah. In Luke 13: 35 where Jesus prophesies impending disaster on Jerusalem he says:

See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes whend you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’

Likewise in Acts 3:14-26 the promise of refreshing is given in a Jewish / Jerusalem context to the generation that had rejected Jesus. So whether there is a time-limit on ‘the trampling of Jerusalem’ or not, any future seasons of favour and presence of Messiah is in the context of acknowledging that Jesus is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

The tension of Israel’s position beyond the resurrection and of Israel beyond AD70 is a huge one, yet regardless of how we resolve that one the centrality of Jesus in the purposes of God has to be the one immovable aspect.

The understanding that the Olivet discourse is centred in on AD70 (future for the disciples but past for us) is not a novel idea. Indeed suggesting that it was not fulfilled in AD70 would often have been considered a novel idea in history.

If any one compares the words of our Saviour with the other accounts of the historian (Josephus) concerning the whole war, how can one fail to wonder, and to admit that the foreknowledge and the prophecy of our Saviour were truly divine and marvellously strange. (Eusebius – bishop of Caesarea 263 – 339).

So in conclusion:

  • I consider that we cannot take Matthew 24 and parallels with respect to what we might consider the Second Coming of Christ.
  • I do not however think that the ‘Second Coming’ is past, and that there is no ‘new heavens and new earth’ to be anticipated.
  • I suggest that the end of the Jewish era is an important milestone in the purposes of God. The people who were chosen in Abraham to be a blessing to the nations had found themselves to be under a curse. It was this curse (curse of the law) that Jesus took on the cross, exhausted it so that the blessing of Abraham in the Holy Spirit might come to the Gentiles and Jews alike.
  • The death of Christ brought about the end of the ‘no prophet can ide outside of Jerusalem’ era as the horizon was changing. From Jerusalem the horizon was shifting to Rome, and in the same way as Jesus ended his days in Jerusalem so Paul ended his days in Rome.
  • It is in this sense that there is one ‘end’ yet many ‘ends’. AD70 marked an end (and can be described as ‘the end’) yet we look forward to ‘the end’.

Again it is to do with perspectives and horizons. The fulfilment of the purposes of God for the world took many twists along the way. There are new beginnings but the same finish goal. Since Jesus there were ‘ends’ that that were not anticipated. The cross is the end, certainly the resurrection, the Ascension as Son of Man, the destruction of Jerusalem as judgement is a further sign of the end. Yet all the above does not exhaust the hope for the end that is yet to come.

Seeking to illustrate it a series of events seen from one perspective (bottom left) are seen as (and are ‘theologically’) one event. They are the ‘end’. Seen from another perspective (a ‘sideways view’) they are a series of chronological events but intrinsically all related as ‘eschatological’.

perspective_end

About this site

I am the main contributor to this site, though there are guest writers from time to time. Hopefully, what is presented are perspectives not the final word!

I am currently developing a part of the site with a focus on the 'gates of society'. That section will develop more as a forum with links to other articles, so that it becomes a resource for the future. I will also be looking for other contributors into the various subject-areas.

In my spare time(!!) I enjoy putting together wordpress sites, and also coaching people to make their own - open to hearing from you on that too.

Magazine articles

Just some more blogs? No, of course not, nothing even similar... well maybe very similar indeed, but hopefully you can use them differently. At the foot of this home page you will find 10 more blogs, these ones are grouped together, they will only be replaced every few months with a new set of 10. They can be downloaded as an emagazine, or read here as blogs (click on one and read, or use the 'emagazine' link in the menu above). Here on this site you can also add your comment.

Their core focus will be toward the gates of influence in society. They will not be the final word, hopefully provocative with some practical aspects thrown in.

The first four volumes will be uploaded here in quick succession, after that a breather before the next one. You can access earlier volumes from the emagazine page using the menu at the top of this page.

So you see - nothing like a blog!!

WordPress design

I develop WordPress based web-sites specifically made for your site. This site here is based on WP and uses a theme that I have developed. It can be as simple as a set of posts and some pages, or a few additional elements can be added such as this animated set of tabs that are activated here. I also plan the sites so that they are mobile-friendly, being responsive, they adjust to the device being used to view them.

If interested in a site feel free to make contact. I also have various courses on WP theme development. If interested in taking one of them online, or indeed you would wish to contact me about presenting a course to a small group.

Previous posts

Until he comes

If we hold to a pattern of ‘Incarnation = Jesus present”, then he is absent until a so-called ‘Second Coming’ (when he is very much present again) we do have a few hoops to jump through Scripture-wise. The term most-associated with the ‘return’ of Christ is the term parousia which is probably best translated as […]

Hope for a home

A situation that is still ongoing since 2003, some 12 years, is not unique but is sadly typical is of the ‘River Lane’ site in Leatherhead (I lived there for a number of years, my daughter and husband, and many friends still live there). In 2003 they bought land, and amazingly land that is probably […]

Random Read #8

If you have not read Derek Flood’s book Disarming Scripture I would strongly recommend it. Either alongside it or before looking to read it the review / critique by Greg Boyd and the replies by Derek are rewarding to consider the objections and to get behind Derek’s approach. Greg’s four part review and critique: Must […]

Magazine Articles

Editorial Vol 2.1

In this issue there are a number of articles to respond to. Dyfed reviews Roger Mitchell’s thesis Church, Gospel & Empire. Roger’s book is his thesis so we should not expect it to be an easy read, however, with Dyfed’s review I think the book will be accessible for most. In a recent blog Roger […]

When is a Gate not a Gate?

It is a simple question. Should religion be treated as a gateway in the model of the city that we explore on this blog? Martin and I have both, perhaps instinctively, said no. Then Martin invited an article on the topic: then I got to thinking: then, well, you’ll see.

Ownership, stewardship & forgiveness

“So the business leaders of today are not capitalists in the sense in which Arkwright and Rockefeller were capitalists. Modern titans derive their authority and influence from their position in a hierarchy, not their ownership of capital. They have obtained these positions through their skills in organisational politics, in the traditional ways bishops and generals […]

It’s the Economy stupid!

So much talk about the economy, but what is the economy? Is it just pounds and pence? Dollars and Euros and cents? The Cambridge dictionary defines it as “the system of trade and industry by which the wealth of a country is made and used.”

W.I.L.D. voices for the poor and the powerless

For some time I have been wrestling with the issues of money, care for the poor and how our present western economic system seeks to support people in need. As a community at Antioch, Llanelli we have a focus on ‘God’s presence and the poor’ and over many years see the day to day pressures of folks who are increasingly struggling financially in these challenging times.

Church, Gospel & Empire: a review

‘How is it that the best of church experience in both traditional and radical expressions tends to relapse to hierarchical domination and control?’ This is Roger Haydon Mitchell’s chilling question in his introduction to his newly published PhD thesis, Church, Gospel & Empire.

Art shaping culture

It has been received wisdom for a while now that economic power is shifting from the old world to the new world. Continental Europe is faced with tremendous headwinds to do with spiraling social costs and an ageing population that means growth over the next 100 years will be hard to come by. In the developing world on the other hand very low wage rates and high worker motivation are combining to create a compelling long term argument for excess growth rates and wealth creation for those markets.

Values: unelectability

I watched a film recently ‘Ides of March’. A film looking at people on the campaign trail. The governor has sex with the intern (definitely a big ‘no’ in the film)… However, the areas that were far more challenging though were to do with the ethics of winning votes. One example were meetings with fellow politicians to gain their endorsement. Making a deal so that votes could be guaranteed – in return a position in the forthcoming government.

Wealth: redefinitions

Definitions of course have their limitations, but I was provoked and challenged when sitting listening to a Zimbabwean speak. His question to us was to consider what are we were investing into. To help us he used the two phrases of ‘artificial’ and ‘creational’ wealth. One he said was how the (industrialised) West defines wealth, but is illusionary. This he, therefore, termed ‘artificial’.

Come back Christian nation

Abortion, gay marriage, Sunday trading (sorry, strike that one off, as we like that now)… All evidence that we are losing it. The ‘look, once we could see Cathedrals and church spires on the landscape, now Mosques are where churches once stood’ type of statement are all laments about what is disappearing.