There are beliefs that are pretty much clear in Scripture, though not without being challenged (what Scriptures / canon are we referring to and how do we interpret those Scriptures). There are others that are less easy to defend so allow me a speculation… though it is a ‘pure’ one so must be OK! Speculative in parts it may be but it actually reflects more than that for me – it is a belief, maybe not an absolute core one but a very important one that shapes a lot of my approach.
I have always been interested in eschatology. Brought up with an implicit secret rapture perspective, later adopting a restorationist viewpoint (five-fold ministry, church growing to a mature bride etc.) and now… Abandonned the unsustainable secret rapture viewpiont, along with a future antiChrist, literal millennium, but maybe still influenced by aspects of the Restorationist viewpoint which of course lends itself to progress (‘God is doing a new thing in our day’).
Most eschatologies have a deliberate or an implicit set of ‘untils’ involved. (Dispensationalist:) the world carries on until… until the scene is set with ‘wars and rumours of wars’, Israel in her land, gog and magog poised, oh and don’t forget the EU! (Restorationist:) until the church reaches maturity for Christ is coming for a bride without spot or wrinkle. The weakness of the latter is it is hard to avoid the final mature generation being the bride, with the question remaining concerning the identity of the former generations of saints. I too have an ‘until’.
I have an until partly to try to find an answer to why the Lord has not returned. His promise is delayed as he wishes all to come to repentance not wishing any to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Unless we hold to a universalist perspective the longer the delay the more who perish. The longer the ‘delay’ the more opportunity for repentance, but are there other factors?
I consider the work of Christ to be the finished work of Christ but it is not the finished work. ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you.’ ‘I make up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.’ ‘Of all that Jesus began to do and to teach…’ We cannot add to the work of Christ, but we can flow from it. We cannot lay another foundation, we cannot actually construct the building but we can (and must) contribute the materials for the project.
Matthew’s Gospel is one of fulfilments. He loves to quote Scriptures being fulfilled and it seems there is an overall framework to his Gospel from the opening lines with ‘the genesis of Jesus to the closing lines of the Great Commission that echo the words of Cyrus in 2 Chronicles 36 and his ‘great commission’ to send Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. The Great Commission is reasonably well known (Go, make disciples…) but Cyrus words less so. I will quote them below, and they are all the more remarkable as 2 Chronicles was normally the final ‘book’ of the Jewish ‘bible’. (Law, propets and writings.) The opening words of Matthew’s Gospel echo the first book, the closing words the final book. Truly Matthew is writing to show that there are fulfilments of Scriptures and of Scripture. Here are Cyrus words:
This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.
All kingdoms… go up… with them… // All authority… go into… I will be with you – all seem to be deliberate parallels.
The Jews re-entering the land were commissioned to rebuild the Temple, ironically something that the radical Stephen said was never desired by God! Jesus sends his disciples out to get to work on the rebuilding of the Temple, not in Jerusalem but somehow of living stones, regardless of ethnic background across the planet. This is our task that as yet is unfinished.
So that is my ‘until’.
So when will this happen? Here is the little twist. The building does not come up visibly from the earth but comes down from heaven from the throne of God. God is the builder. The building is in heaven waiting a manifestation here. The materials though are provided from the earth, the ‘gold, silver and precious stones’ are mined and deposited in heaven as we work.
Christ came at the fullness of times – when Jew and Gentile alike had no hope. He took the curse of exile so that there might be an outpouring of the Spirit on both the Jew and ‘those afar off’. His return, parousia, will come at the fullness of times: when sufficient material has been mined.
Now a little more, cos all the above is straightforward for me, but I have been making a few more speculations these past weeks. What if the age to come (in the sense of the New Jerusalem) could be a little unfixed. It will be complete, but maybe there could have been more. If art is needed has enough real quality art been ‘mined’? What about the films in the age to come – do we have enough material so that…
Yes, now we are in the realms of speculation. But this is the sphere of hope. Love is primary, but faith and hope are vital.
Maybe I am going too far… However, there is a fundamental question about the continuity / discontinuity element of the age to come. How like this one? How radically different? If there is a very real element of continuity then we need art, politics, education, business that is so reflective of heaven’s values, otherwise we will continue waiting for the parousia, or we could have had an even better age to come.