Explorations in Theology

The series explores a theology that is human friendly! Jesus as the true human shows us who God is, and because of his consideration for us ('who are we, that God should make note of us?') defines who humanity was created to be. The nature of sin is to fall short of the glory of God. The glory of God as revealed in the truly human one - 'we beheld his glory full of grace and truth'. This volume is a foundation for the other volumes. And there are ZOOM groups available...
Volume 2 Significant Other and Volume 3 A Subversive Movement now also available!
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Let’s speculate

Could there be double meanings, meanings that go beyond that of the author’s original intended meaning? Well possible. We have simple examples – one being ‘a virgin will be with a child’, was not originally a prophetic word about the coming of Jesus, and yet it is quoted as fulfilment in Jesus. The double meaning is more significant, and the impact of that meaning is universal in terms of time and place; the original meaning was time- and location-bound.

In Acts 1:11 the angels said to the disciples,

Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.

So the obvious level is these disciples are staring into the sky as Jesus disappears from sight and in some way will come in reverse direction at some future date. However, the ‘return’ seems to be considerably more dramatic than the departure. Seen by a few, observed to be going up until a cloud obscured him from sight. At least, the return is not simply a reversal of direction. We have angels, trumpets, the sea going up its dead. ‘In the same way’ has to be primarily focused on ‘this’ Jesus. The one to return is not different to the one who left. The one who came was the revelation of God, leaving the disciples a mandate to proclaim the ‘gospel’ universally. That gospel proclamation was not centred in on ‘universal sin, death by Jesus in our place, repent and receive your ticket’ but on the total transformation of the universe through the death of ‘this’ Jesus in an obscure province of the one-world government situation. I am not diminishing all the ‘personal’ aspects that have impacted us, simply seeking to suggest they do not occupy centre-stage in the NT.

Let’s add a few more things… the disciples are looking into (not toward) heaven. They saw, or were trying to see into heaven (is that a double meaning, beyond that of the sky?) and they saw him go – two different verbs for ‘see’ are used, the second can carry the sense of ‘with discernment’.

Interlude… we are pushing into speculation, so a little freedom!

Could there be a double meaning of the more you see Jesus into the heavens the more you will see him come in the same way? If not in this verse, I am sure there is validity in that perspective. If we see that this Jesus has Ascended, it is this Jesus that is in the heavens, the Jesus who empties himself is the one in heaven, the one who receives the right to break open the scroll of human destiny (Rev. 4); if we see this Jesus we are going to be shaped by that. If we are shaped by that then this Jesus will be manifest in us, he will come, his kingdom will come, his will done on earth… more today than yesterday.

Why do you stand looking into heaven?

If the answer is ‘we want to know where he has gone’ we need to think again. If it is we want insight into the true nature of heaven as the place from which all things are shaped, so that our mouths and lives are a request for heaven to come, then Jesus will indeed come. We need a return of Jesus! A return of ‘this’ Jesus manifest among us. The one who walked among us, moved into our neighbourhood.

Let’s lay on one side for a moment the idea of a parousia, we need a presence, that presence was mediated through the ‘comforter of the same kind’, the Holy Spirit. Salvation is through Christ alone (particularism) but presence is universal (the two hands of God that some early church fathers wrote about). Presence… the more we look INTO the heavens and see that THIS Jesus has ascended there the more the universal presence (parousia) of God will come.

I understand how some can get to the place of ‘all is past’ with regard to fulfilment in AD70, but it would have to be added to with a crazy passion for the total transformation of the world through the spirit of ‘this’ Jesus not through the domination of ‘we will tell you what to do cos we have God on our side’.

I have no idea if a non-physical-parousia has any traction, but I think we should look for great revelations / appearances of Jesus before any physical in-person appearance. To do so we will need to get on board with an appropriate apostolic vision. The ekklesia was to be an outpost in a locality (or space) that was a mirror of what was in heaven.

Let this same Jesus come in the same manner.

It will affect every aspect of society. Let’s just touch one – economy (is it a little ironic that this is from the word oikoumene? True economy is not tied to empire, to moving as many boundaries as we can so that our (market) share is increased. Trade became ‘buying and selling’, but it was at one time barter. I give you this for that which you have. At best a sharing. But push it one step further back and we have gift. The NT view of gift seems to be that which is given without strings attached to someone else, another situation, so that that person / situation can take a step toward their destiny, and without the gift they will stay at their current level or even lose that. How about we gaze into heaven and see this Jesus, the Jesus of gift, not of trade and transaction. Then make space for this same Jesus to come. We might be involved in the world of commerce. We might have our hands tied by certain rules and expectations. After all we do live in the ‘(un-)real world’. But in that world we can make space for something reflective of this Jesus.

In concluding these set of posts I am not claiming I am right, and far more important than being right is the realisation that nothing is meant to be theory or something that gives me the inside track. My beliefs are to shape me and I am not too unhappy if my beliefs were wrong at certain points, but I was shaped by heaven and helped others find a shape suitable for themselves.

I do see a future ‘return’ of Jesus, but also pull for incredible irruptions of Jesus in the here and now. That could increase, not because the Bible says it will, but because we give space for it. To do so means we will have to go beyond the boundaries that convention has set for us. What is from heaven has to find a shape on earth, look just like what is here already, but in the interactions demonstrate the humanisation (and creationisation) of all things. The incarnation past, has to connect to the incarnation present that is shaped by the revelation / appearing / presence of this same Jesus.

A Quick Q & A

Yes very artificial – I set the questions and I give my answer. Oh to have sat exams like this in the past! I will give some real quick answers here to where I am at. Are the answers correct? Probably not all are, but they are a true representation of where I am at.

Do you believe in a personal return of Jesus?
Yes. There is a whole element of a movement from heaven to earth (New Jerusalem, heaven holding Jesus until, dead coming with Jesus etc.).

Do you believe in a millennial rule from Jerusalem?

Do you believe that there will be A future antiChrist?
Maybe but I do not see that as something prophesied in Scripture.

Do you believe that everything can be transformed without the parousia… a kind of optimistic post-millennialism?
No, but I am very optimistic.

And a tribulation?
The ‘great tribulation’ was in the years 66-70AD and has been repeated in different places / times since. Tribulation is also related to our location, standing in the squeeze (literal meaning) between what is and what we long for.

Do you believe that those who die (in Christ) go to heaven?
I do, tentatively. I do not wish to emphasise that as the resurrection of the dead is the central hope, and is so strong that (almost) nothing else gets a look in.

What about eternal destinies?
It is pretty impossible to know what Jesus believed about ‘hell’, although he mentions the word numerous times, but always in a context that is different to the one that we commonly use it. I settle on ‘eternal punishment’, not eternal punishing, and a very generous inclusion of as many as possible in the age to come.

What about ‘all Israel’ being saved?
Two responses to that one. There is not a temporal clause in the verse, it is not ‘and then all Israel will be saved’ but ‘in this way all Israel will be saved’ (kai houtos). ‘All Israel’ was a rabbinic term and then they went on to say who were not included, and the ‘who’ were the Jews by race who disqualified themselves, so the term is not a term that meant anyone descended from Abraham. (In Rom. 11:31 Paul writes of Jews receiving mercy NOW, not then at some future time.) Secondly, we need to go back to re-define the term ‘saved’. It is a saved from the falling short of the glory of God (not being human) to be saved for a reason. That reason is to be a channel and means by which the presence of God can be expressed within the world. So I do not see this Scripture as something that Paul is saying will happen before or at the end. It was his hope within his lifetime.

I am sure there are a thousand other important questions, but as these are simply my responses they are probably not worth asking. They do illustrate though that I am very conservative in my approach. The next post (maybe posts) will focus on being a little more speculative, realising that with their Scriptures in hand many Jews could not see how Jesus could be the Messiah. In the light of that it is not unreasonable to suggest that any attitude that says ‘I’ve got that one nailed’ could well be wrong.

The centre for eschatology

The anchor point for me for eschatology is the resurrection of Jesus. Broadly speaking those Jews who believed in resurrection (probably the majority, the Sadducees having a lot of influence at Sanhedrin level, did not have the same sway with the general population) expected two signs that would mark the end: the resurrection of the dead and the outpouring of God’s Spirit.

If the tomb was truly empty and Peter’s claim that ‘this was that’ was true then there was only one possible conclusion, that time had radically changed. ‘What must we do?’ was a very pertinent question. In response they were told to repent (more than a religious word, Josephus uses it for a change of mind / direction over how to respond to the Roman occupation, there is a political element within the word and the NT context) and be baptised into the name of Jesus and you will receive the eschatological gift of the outpoured Spirit.

The allusions to forming a new people is so strong, even the record of ‘about’ 3000 crossing over to the life side is in contrast to a defining moment in the wilderness when 3000 perished in the Golden calf incident (Exod. 32:38). Then the people of faith lost 3000 to continue on their way; at Pentecost the record says that 3000 are added to the people of faith who continue on their way. (‘About’: Luke uses that phrase when the number is to be noted, covering his back… a prime example is the disciples in Ephesus, ‘about twelve’. Even if one cannot exactly count 3000, one can count if there were 11, 12, or 13!) Baptised into Jesus – we might think this is radical for us Gentile believers some 2000 years on, for Jews who were baptised into the Jordan to enter their inheritance (hence John the Baptist locating himself by the Jordan) being told that now they were to be baptised into the name of Jesus had to include the sense of ‘no other dependency of being in the covenant’. As we read through Acts there was a sell by date when the offer would run out – the sell by date was within ‘this generation’ (for example, ‘save yourselves from this crooked generation’ – Acts 2:40 / Deut. 32:5). ‘This generation’ being reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching and also of the reality that between Egypt to the promised inheritance was a generation.

Did the early church expect a ‘return’ in a generation? It seems they at least expected an ‘end’ within a generation – same as the proclamation of Jesus. Did they anticipate a return as we usually refer to within a generation – for me the jury is out on that.

Jesus, through the resurrection, became the first born of many and the first born of all creation. A new humanity came out of the tomb, one marked not by class, gender nor faith. Potentially a universal humanity, being conformed to the image of Jesus.

So back to my conservative approach to eschatology. I expect a ‘return’ in the sense of a personal return of Jesus, a return that is more than something that is secret but something that brings the whole of creation to a fullness, cleansing it where the presence of God is universally experienced. The resurrection is the guarantee of this. I am not looking for signs along the way that can be ticked off, prophecies yet to be fulfilled, one-world government to arise (already and always has been present – that is what we are saved from!).

When that day comes the dead in Christ will be raised. The hope of going to heaven when I die is hardly, if at all, present in Scripture (and I hesitate to say I believe it as in acknowledging it I am in danger of weakening the centre, the hope of resurrection). Resurrection was always the theological solution to God rewarding the faithful. If people had lived faithfully, but had died and there was no resurrection of the body then those people would not be rewarded – same question in the ‘rapture’ (NOT!!) passage in Thessalonians: ‘what about those who have died?’ The renewal / rebirth would take place (future) and if those who had died were not raised they would miss out. Paul, following in the path of his mentors the Pharisees insisted that the dead in Christ will rise first. We who are live will be transformed. Bodily resurrection, embodied existence was the hope. Nowhere is the answer to ‘what about those who have died?’ being they are in heaven. That might be a ‘correct’ answer but it is not the central biblical answer – not by a long way.

If then there is a personal return why the delay? We could probably ask the same question about the cross. Why not a crucifixion (or equivalent) right back in the beginning? Paul seems to answer that one with it needed to take place at the ‘fullness of times’ for there to be a total cleansing, total deliverance. I, therefore, assume that there is more to be made manifest yet before the return of Jesus. Peter answers (apologetics in view, 2 Peter 3:3-12) with three reasons:

  • don’t think of time as we do, a thousand years for us is as a day to the Lord.
  • the delay in time means more can come to salvation – that in itself is a challenge, for to many the delay means more that ‘hell will be populated!’ Not Peter’s perspective.
  • we, through the way we live, can hasten (bring forward) that date. I appreciate that the Greek can be translated as simply ‘longing for’ but if the ‘delay’ is in part due to not longing for it, it seems justifiable to translate the verb (speudo) as hurrying along, the most common meaning.

I think we can also add a theological reason to the three that Peter suggests. The New Jerusalem (built by God, coming from the throne of God and from heaven) consists of many precious stones. That New Jerusalem is at the same time a Temple (actually a Holy of Holies, no outer courts), a redeemed people, and a renewed creation. It represents the future, what we could truly call the fulfilment of the restoration of all things. The original tabernacle / temple was constructed according to the pattern shown in heaven, BUT the materials, the precious stones, were provided for by the people. Paul in 1 Cor. 3 warns that there is a fire coming that will show the nature of the material used in building. Wood, hay or straw will be consumed; but if the material used was gold, silver or precious stones that material will survive the eschatological fire. I suggest in the light of this that the material for the future is what we provide, God does not provide it, but only God can use the material to create the future. The building is of God, the material provided by us. I surmise that the ‘fullness of material’ has not yet accumulated.

And who do we expect?

Coming king, coming to rule. Words carry meaning and we can change the meaning of words by our preconceptions. I referred in a previous post to the teaching of Reconstructionism (Theonomy) that we might be turning another cheek now, but then – and they are post-millennialists with the kingdom of God coming, being expressed in the world before the ‘coming’ of Jesus through the exercise of law – we will not be turning the other cheek for the Old Testament law lays out in no uncertain manner how those who do not go God’s way are to be treated!

Every knee will bow… and we have understood that to be (excuse the clumsy language) an imposition of God’s good will whether people really want it or not. Language!

The language used for the parousia is full of imperial imagery as is the entire ‘good news’ proclamation in the NT (even the word parousia was imperial after all). The mistake I think though we can make is to make the way that Caesar ruled as the lens through which we see the future reign of Jesus (the language being parallel is a contributing factor, though I suspect it is really fuelled by how we understand the rule of God, who comes to crush all his enemies). The NT point, though, is that Caesar and Jesus are not parallels, but they are contrasting opposites. Caesar ruled by the sword (hence Paul’s rather tongue in cheek ‘submit to the governing authorities’ instruction), Caesar took life to maintain peace; Jesus refused to take up the sword or even to defend his own life, his ‘rulership’ is released through the laying down his life, peace being established through his death.

I have referred to Phil 2: 6,7 in previous posts and want to go there again, quoting the NRSV (I wonder what the translators will do when the Updated Version comes out this year). I quote it below with unjustifiable word in bold:

Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself…

There is no ‘though’ in the Greek. It could write:

Lionel Messi, being one of the best footballers ever was inducted into the hall of fame… but if I changed that to:

Lionel Messi, who, though being one of the best footballers ever was inducted into the hall of fame…’

My change is anything but subtle and furthermore makes no sense at all! The added ‘though’ in the translators for Phil. 2 only makes sense if we are inferring Jesus is acting in a way that is counter to how God acts. And I think that is often how we see it. His incarnation is not a revelation of God, it is not really ‘God’ with us, but a god in disguise who is with us with the parousia then truly revealing this God, for then Jesus will not be the one laying down his life but the one who (like Caesar) will crush all before him.

I hope you are not disappointed in this. Why follow Jesus? Not in order to avoid hell-fire, but to become God-like, to be freed to lay down our lives. That is why the going to heaven / going to hell divide is not even close to the centre (for me of the Gospel). Salvation is not a saved from (other than ‘from our sins’ our many failures to be human, to be God-like in insisting we will create our own destiny) but a salvation for, the for being as per the one we follow, for the world.

In Acts 1:11 those seeing Jesus ascend were told that he will come in like manner as to how they saw him go. Maybe that was a simple reference to ‘you were looking up into the sky and he ascended, so one day you will look up into the sky and he will descend’, but any future parousia is so different to how he left. Seen by a few, then to be seen by all; they are left, he is gone; but in the parousia all those who have died returning, total transformation and all to happen in a moment – no time for gazing into the sky when that happens!

In the same way – tropos – often carries with it the sense of ‘way of life’. The Jesus who came as human, came truly representing God; the Jesus who lived is the one who is to come, the same revelation of God will be present, he will come in the same way, the same Jesus, the same life-motivated Person will be seen and welcomed. Truly peace on earth and good-will to all, regardless of location.

The return of Jesus is not in order that we can self-justify ourselves with ‘see we picked the right side and now you will see who is powerful’, it is not ‘so he came as Saviour, now he comes as judge’. First time round he came as judge, and brought all things to a place of judgement; second time he will come as Saviour… or better whenever he comes he comes as Saviour and judge. The same Jesus.

More of my conventional approach in the next post.

The end… past?

And then the end will come! That is pretty definitive, and on the lips of Jesus. It will come after ‘this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations’ (Matt. 24:14). And it seems the ‘then’ did not envisage a protracted period of time. This will happen and then the end.

Lifting material from a previous post I think Paul considers that (at least) part of the task was already completed. Here is the extraction from that post:

Paul seems to have thought that in his lifetime Matt. 24:14 (‘to all the nations’) was already fulfilled (and of course Jesus said all these things in a generation). Here are four examples of this perspective:

But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world” (Rom. 10:16-18).

At the end of Romans 10 Paul jumps between addressing the Jewish and the Gentile situation; here he is addressing the Gentile situation. The message has (not will eventually) gone throughout the whole earth and to the extremity of the oikoumene. That final word was a very common way the civilised world of Rome was described. The oikoumene was the Roman world, and here he adds the ‘extremities’ of it, suggesting that this was indeed the whole earth.

There is a second text in Romans (16:25-26, though it is not in every manuscript I include it here, for it accords with Paul’s perspective, and even if it was added it represents an early perspective):

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles.

To ‘all the Gentiles’ (ta ethne: same word as in Matthew 24:14). Indeed rather than refer to ethic groups it was the most common way that those who were not Jews were described. The Gentile world was the ‘ta ethne’ world.

Then there are two in Colossians.

You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God (Col. 1:5-6).

The ‘whole world’, and in a book that is fairly ‘cosmic’ the use of the word kosmos is quite fitting here.

[P]rovided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven (Col. 1:23).

Which has been proclaimed to every creature (literally ‘all creation’); same as in the disputed passage of Mark 16:15 where we read on the lips of Jesus:

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”

So Paul uses ‘the whole earth’, ‘the extremities of the oikoumene‘, ‘all the ethne‘, ‘the whole kosmos‘, ‘all creation’. That is a fairly strong perspective and I don’t think we can really push Jesus’ words in a different direction. We might wish to use them as a missiological imperative, but it does not seem to be what Jesus meant in that context.

Might not fit with our ideas but we have to come to see that in some way ‘the end’ is past; or some kind of end has already taken place. An age has ended, could this be what Jesus is referring to when he addressed his first disciples:

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

In Jesus’ teaching about the ‘end’ there is a continual focus on ‘this generation’, and we have to see the years of 66-70AD (the Jewish Wars) as being so critical. I find it hard to believe that they are not central to any understanding of Jesus’ teaching about the ‘end’. Something definitively ended in those years of great crises. (As per the original Exodus the entry to the land 40 years later started something for the nation, so in this situation 40 years after Jesus’ exodus something truly came to an end.) The ‘coming of the son of Man’ (or maybe better ‘the sign of the coming of the Son of Man’ fit into that context. The original vision in Daniel 7 is of one ‘like a son of man’ coming to the Ancient of Days and that to the Son of Man was given

dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed (Dan 7:14).

In Matthew 24 (and parallels) the sign of the Son of Man having received this kingdom would take place immediately after the suffering of those days, with the Son of Man coming (not to earth) but in the cloud – the same as in Daniel 7. Jesus received all authority (past tense) not will receive all authority. Those references are past tense, hence Jesus could say to the assembled Jewish authorities that

“You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of Power
and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 26:64).

Something of an end has taken place, and I understand why there are those who suggest every aspect of the end has already taken place. I still look to a future ‘end’, in that way I am very conservative, and have written in the previous posts about what I do not see (future antiChrist, millennium etc.) as I do not see those as being very conservative! No offence intended should you passionately see them in Scripture, I don’t. And I do not see them as very important. The end has always been about a Person not a series of events. By insisting on certain things will take place, a kind of ‘signs of the times’ we can be in danger of looking for the signs and missing the activity and presence (after all parousia means presence) of the one who is the ‘End’, the first and the last.

I think understanding the nature of the Person has to greatly shape us with regard to how we see the end. I say that because the misunderstanding of what God would come to do seemed to be why the many Jews of Jesus’ time missed the opportunity of seeing him as their Messiah.


There are some commentators in the early Centuries who interpreted the millennium in what could be termed ‘historic pre-millennialism’, that Christ will return and there will be an interim 1000 year reign before the final wrapping of things up. This though has to be distinguished from the material put out by Darby, Scofield, Lindsey and most of the popular literature today. (On historic pre-millennialism someone like George Ladd was a proponent of it, having previously been brought up under the common Dispensationalist teaching.) So in saying I do not look for a millennium there is some measure of early historic push-back that could come my way. (And of course as always my defence is ‘I could be wrong, and there seems to be aspects more important than making sure we are correct at every point’.)

I likewise push back against an expectation of a future millennial rule with it appears in one book, a very non-literal book (in the same chapter are the ‘chains’ and the ‘pit’ for the devil also literal?); a book that is full of ‘chiasmi’ structures. Coming from the Greek letter Chi (X) the structure is to start and end in the same place with the middle being the place where it comes to a conclusion. A structure that runs like this (and the letters below could be extended, and there can be a chiasmus inside a chiasmus – don’t underestimate John, there is creativity in there beyond creativity!):


Those structures mean we are not reading something that is simply historically progressive, and so I do not think that we should not be looking for some sort of historical future outworking. The wider setting is from 19:1-21:8 and we have repetitions, summaries, conclusions all tumbled in together. To read it as a historical progression is beyond challenging! After all it is all over by 19:20,21, before we get to a millennium:

These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were killed by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

To make it all some sort of proceeding fulfilment along a time line one really has to make some incredible contortions. I simply do not wish to do that, and do not see prophecy as ‘history written in advance’ but as adaptive and expanding promise to enable us to cooperate with heaven in advancing heaven’s agenda.

[If interested an article by Ed Christian on the chiastic structure might be helpful. He does not make any conclusions on what does John ‘believe’, simply he addresses the structure:
https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/auss/vol37/iss2/47/ ]

In all this I am not seeking to argue for a point, if you wish to believe in a future millennium that’s OK by me. I am more interested in how you and I are living now: which seems always to be the purpose of any future comment in Scripture, a kind-of ‘how then should we live’ line seems to be very prominent when the future is spoken of.

Given that 1) I do not see a future millennium, 2) that the future is open and not fixed, not by divine decree nor by biblical prophecy, 3) that the Bible is silent on future prediction beyond AD70 (but far from silent about 2022 or whatever year I am alive in) it will not be surprising that I do not see Jesus returning to set up government in Jerusalem.

Jesus’ actions in that final week are so in tune with the apocalyptic chapter of Zechariah 14. Apocalyptic literature uses extreme language and imagery to communicate the reality that is happening, not to describe what is happening in ‘real, observable’ ways. (Maybe like ‘you frightened the life out of me’ is not a request to ‘please organise my funeral’, but a non-literal way of describing the inner, unseen effect. Exaggerated language at one level, but only exaggerated language can come close to describe the reality.)

In making those comments about Zechariah 14, and other passages that could be quoted (even NT ones) I am essentially saying that I do not approach prophecy, and in particular apocalyptic prophecy in a way that is trying to find a literal fulfilment. I do not see such imagery as a photograph of the future that we will one day view, but rather as (political) cartoons that expose the inner reality.

This post along with the ones that have gone before have been very brief as I do not consider a belief in the millennium nor a future antiChrist (or as in my case a non-belief) is that important. It seems I am free to hold my non-belief and anyone else is free to hold to their belief. There are, as always, matters that are more critical in the here and now that should take our focus regardless of our beliefs concerning the elements of the future that could be considered as falling within ‘events that will take place’.

The next post will look at the ‘end that has already taken place’.

No, not future, and yet of course maybe

There could be one, but!

I do not believe the Bible prophesies that there will be a future antiChrist. Interestingly, for example, Hal Lindsey has a chapter on the antiChrist in his book ‘Late Great Planet Earth’, but nowhere does he quote the verses (all in 1 John) that actually use the term ‘antiChrist’ in that chapter! The teaching of a future antiChrist has to put together ‘man of lalwlessness’ and ‘false prophet’ alongside each other and then suggest somehow that is what John was referring to.

In John the use of the term is of a spirit that ‘denies the Father and the Son’. If there was some early expectation of ‘an antiChrist’ we also have the very real issue that anything future in the NT we would have to show is still future for us – cf. the man of lawlessness was future for Paul’s readers in Thessalonians, one of his early letters, but is fulfilled in the entry to the Temple in Jerusalem in AD70… the sacrilege that brings desolation (from Daniel referring to Antiochus Epiphanes, and to AD70 that Luke helps decipher the biblical language with ‘armies surrounding Jerusalem).

Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also (1 John 2:18-23).
And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world (1 John 4:3).

Could there be a future ‘one-world-ruler’? Yes, there could. Could we quote many Scriptures to show what kind of person that was, once he (and more likely to be a ‘he’ than a ‘she’) was visible? Yes indeed… in the same way that Judas Iscariot was a example of a friend who betrayed and the OT Scripture was quoted to show what was going, an OT Scripture that did not prophesy Judas’ existence.

A one-world-government. OH yes. That is / and was always the conflict we are caught up in. The do-not-eat of that tree set up the conflict; it set powers in place that have always been pushing for a full manifestation of such a scenario. The tower of Babel is another wonderful story that illustrates so much that gives us hope – God had to come down to see this big tower that was reaching into heaven (the irony is not to be missed) and the unimpressive project remained unfinished. Add to that the day of Pentecost and the reversal of the God-set boundary and we should really not have too much to be worried about. Pentecost was to release the imagination of a new world, one shaped from heaven and manifesting on the earth… seems we have been keen to reverse that with the fear of a big ever-getting-badder world with our only hope to escape. (Now what was that prayer of Jesus? The prayer connected to glory? I think it might be something like ‘I pray you do not take them out of the world’?)

Loads to imagine and yet! We as body of Christ have not really got hold of living counter-culture to the world. Where there is active persecution (thankfully) the church has sought to be true in their allegiance and suffered enormously. None of that goes unnoticed and is certainly ‘adding to the afflictions of Christ’; but in the more comfortable West we have so often retreated to ‘we’ve lost our privileges (Christendom) and want them back so we can rule (have our way)’. That does not add to the afflictions of Christ, but rather inflicts suffering on those we are here to bless… Christ-like or antiChrist-like? To deny the Father and the Son probably has some element of not acknowledging their true core identity: not surprising as the ‘fall’ was a desire to be like the god they imagined, not living out their true humanity, that is truly God-like.

We really should have a critical eye open to the mark of the beast, not as some implant or tattoo but as an ever-present reality. I guess if we could have transported someone from the first Century to our day and explained to them how our economic system works they would freak out with thoughts of 666 flashing in neon lights through their heads. Part of the freak might be simply the inability to come to terms with the huge change in the past 2 millennia, but part of the freak I suspect might be justifiable biblically. Just as Babylon is always present, and is always incomplete, we should not totally freak out ourselves, but we do need our eyes open. Following Jesus does not start with a set of private beliefs with no impact on our lives; indeed for a certain rich young ruler it was to begin with a change to his bank account!

Conscience, yours is not mine; convictions, yours are not mine; honest assessment, honest over where I am compromising, and then honestly asking if it is in order to move today closer to tomorrow (redemptive) or is my compromise submitting tomorrow to that one-world-government reality.

I am so glad that (as I see it) AD70 sets such a wonderful ceiling to the vast majority of the NT, saving me from speculation, fearfully trying to avoid the world to stay clean, but anchoring me in the questions of ‘OK Martin so how are you going to live then’ – much more relevant that a future antiChrist, are the questions of whether I am more Christ-like or antiChrist-like. I am not called to avoid antiChrst as a person; I think I am instructed to avoid imbibing of antiChrist at all levels.

Maybe I should add I do see one book that goes beyond the AD70 scene; the ‘cartoon’ book of Revelation, probably the best critique of power that has ever been, after all it is an unveiling, taking away the facade, the mask. Written to minority groups within the huge matrix system of the day, the only time a Babylon has been manifest to that level, truly one that was the machine that enabled that era to be labelled as ‘the fullness of times’ giving all the oikoumene (inhabited, civilised world) into the hands of the ‘devil’. Thank God that in Jesus the offer of taking that over was refused. His kingdom is not of this world(-system / -order). Never was, never is, and never will be – the will be bit is a challenge to a lot of eschatology. Years ago I read the Reconstructionist writings. Turn the other cheek was explained as simply a response that was necessary now, but then… there will be another response. That teaching (by non-charismatics) influenced so much of charismatic theology in the decades post-80s. Jesus, ‘the Coming King’, but not king as you know it.

We are in 2022

A couple of visions

I do realise we are into 2022, but I thought I will quickly put up here two ‘somethings’ I have had that seem to bear meaning for this year. I call them somethings cos it is sometimes hard to describe experiences. These are ongoing, in the sense I see them almost on a continual basis. There were times in the Scriptures when the prophets were asked – ‘what do you see?’, seems the reason being that they were not about to receive a vision, but they had to slow down to connect with what they were seeing. So here are the somethings!

1) I continually in December saw that we would enter space where before us would be 4 doors, all of which could open to us. But we could only go through one door. I am sure one of those four would be the best, but that did not seem to be the central and most important element. It did not matter which one we went through as the Lord was already the other side of each door. He would maximise what was there, provided we went through one of those doors. (If one is the best one then maybe it might be that there is something along the lines of 100fold, 60fold, 30fold… and maybe one final door is 10fold (to add a fourth level to the parable)???? Somehow I just knew that there was blessing the other side of each door.) We have to choose at those times, choose with no regrets, choose with conviction and heart commitment, for once through we cannot go back… but we will also by default not be able to go through all the doors. There will be possibilities that are open that we cannot pick up. Four – I am sure is not literal – but in some way connected to the world / creation (4)… Maybe there will be a door that is more fruitful doors than the others, but all will bear fruit, but we cannot try to go through all, or try all, nor even one of them, half-heartedly.

2) The second began as noise. I heard a cacophony of sounds that bombarded the ears so that it was not possible to hear anything distinct. I even had the instinct to cover my physical ears as the noise was not pleasing. This I sense is to do with this year… voices, slogans, phrases, words – in numerous spheres, all competing with each other. Who knows if any of them are right for they all cancelled out the distinction of each other. The competition meant that any rightness in what was being said / shouted had no relevance. It was not possible to hear anything  as a result, because we were hearing everything. Then the sound turned to vision. I saw that the sound was forming the shape of a tunnel, but not a solid tunnel. (If I were to draw it the sides of the tunnel would be sound waves all clashing against each other.) We were in the tunnel, our ears were in the area where the cacophony was. BUT, if we stopped, went a little lower, the sound stopped, it was not able to penetrate inside the tunnel, the core. The cacophony formed the shape that surrounded us. In that place there was silence and one could hear a pin drop. The place of hearing, and hearing ever so clearly. All we had to do (all, sounds easy!!) was to slow, stoop, stand and listen, for there is a way through the tunnel. It had a start some way back, and I think confusion has entered many prophetic movements because some time back they simply got involved in the slogan slinging. It has an end, but not this year… but there is a clear way through this year. Not so much speaking, a lot of great listening. Take note of what is heard. The words will carry weight for years to come.

A year for a door of opportunity, because there are multiple doors connected to the world; a year for listening, not so much speaking, and for resultant activity that is under the radar (inside the ‘tunnel’).

And the end comes

I had an encouraging and provocative email a few days ago with some comments in it that I took as a stimulus to push on with something I had thought about doing for some time. I’ll probably try and spin out a few posts over a number of days. Here is the outline I will try and follow in three progressions.

1) I am pretty conservative with regard to the parousia (commonly called ‘second coming’) of Jesus, but just to be clear there are aspects that I cannot buy into that sadly have been thought to be ‘conservative’!

2) Given I am conservative I will write about where I am settled and why.

3) Understanding that Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was not exactly as expected (and not to mention his death!) what if we are going to be also surprised. We might be pretty settled in our viewpoints (my point 2 above) but what if our expectations are going to be pointing us in a wrong direction. So the third aspect I will try to write on will be open to perspectives that might be surprise.

Conservative… I take Scripture as authoritative, hence I am conservative; the interpretation and understanding of the texts are where the challenge comes in. If we have always read texts a certain way then it is very difficult to read them another way. I realised this recently when I was reading about how to handle when a wealthy person showed up at a NT gathering. James instructs his readers (Jas. 2:1-4) not to give them the best seat, not to move someone from a lower social class out of the way to accommodate them. Although I know that the early church did not gather in a church building I still somehow kind of transport the text into a culture I know… with a kind of ‘come sit at the front’ response being critiqued. The context though, as was the case in the early church, was a meal. Meals, ever so important in the Jewish and the Graeco-Roman culture, and not only meals but banquets (deipnon). The gathering was around a meal, a deipnon, specifically the deipnon of / honouring the Lord. In contrast to the meals of the Imperial world where class was everything, dictating who was invited, where people were seated as it was a major key to maintain the social structures, the Lord’s deipnon, subverted social norms. (The references not only to seating but to ‘stand over here’, ‘sit at my feet’ etc. only fit the description of the meal table, with people reclining there.)

We, as I reference above, so often read back from where we are and in so doing we impose what we know / have experienced back into the text. Secondly, we can easily miss the references to culture and history, particularly in terms of the Lordship of Jesus the very specific Imperial language used; and thirdly, I suspect could well be meanings intended by the Holy Spirit that were not the author’s expected (‘intended meaning’?) interpretation.

In this first post a quick push back against an idea that I have no time for. The idea of a ‘secret rapture’. No time for it (and this is only a quick response) because it

a) is a fairly new invention (1831 with J.N. Darby / 1829-30 if one wants to see it within Margaret MacDonald’s vision that probably fuelled Darby’s belief). There are no advocates for this in the history preceding this time.

b) It gives the wrong direction to biblical movement. Movement in Scripture is from heaven to earth, even creation (Genesis 1) itself is that way directed. Heaven is not the goal, a renewed creation is the final horizon in view.

c) It results in a nonsense answer to the question Paul is being asked in 1 Thessalonians 4, that question being ‘what about those who have died’. According to the rapture theory the answer is we will be raptured, so be encouraged! Such an answer is great for us, but for those who have died. The question is the common Jewish question that brought about the answer ‘resurrection’, for the expectation was of the kingdom to come here, and for the righteous to be rewarded here; those who had died… resurrected… HERE.

d) In that passage (and the other Pauline passages) it is to miss the strong Imperial language and imagery. The very words, parousia – the arrival of the figure of honour such as the emperor, apantesis (1 Thess. 4:17) the meeting, used of meeting the emperor as one of the invited ones who went out of the city in order to come back into the city as part of the honoured group. The movement is toward the location not away from it.

e) The one taken, the other left… If we push that into some future event I think we fail to consider what Jesus was addressing, the events that would take place to the generation following his words. We have to consider AD66-70 as the time of major trauma for Jews (tribulation in the extreme, with up to 500 a day being crucified by the walls of the city) and not only trauma for the Jews but for the world system that had brought peace, for the year (68AD) proved to be the year of the four emperors, with the whole of the civilised world (the oikoumene) being threatened to fall apart, caught up in plot, counter-plot and civil war. The chaos helped raise beliefs in Jerusalem that God was about to deliver the city! Sadly for those inside that belief proved to only fuel a false hope. Meanwhile those who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah left the city, in line with his instructions (in Luke’s Gospel even one we would understand) to flee when they ‘saw the city surrounded by armies’.

The success of the ‘rapture’ teaching was given a great boost when the Billy Graham of his day, Dwight Moody, embraced it, then came the publication of the Scofield Bible, the development of Dallas Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute, and the embracing of the theology by the Pentecostal Movement post-Azusa Street. Hence in many parts of the world it would seem that the only teaching about eschatology is centred in on the secret rapture – after all there are around 300 million classical Pentecostals worldwide.

I consider that a smart move is to put notes in a Bible. The effect is to read the text, realise I don’t quite get that, look at the notes, now I get it, with the result that the text becomes the Bible! If we add to that the writing of novels (they are advertised as only novels) but once read they become the guide to interpretation.

What about an antiChrist, a tribulation or a millennium… or Jesus coming to ‘reign’ from Jerusalem? This post is long enough so I will get to those soon!

Zooms for 2022

And a little north star thrown in

Admin day… sorting out dates. So first a change:

I plan that the first Tuesday of each month to have an ‘open zoom’, not directly related to the books I have written, but seeking to address some practical outworkings. I was originally hoping to begin on Feb 1st, but I have cancelled that one as I will be travelling with Gayle over that period. So:

Open Zooms:

March 1st., 7.30pm UK time will be the first one. I will present some material for discussion on the tensions of the nobodies being the key to change, and the scenario where CEO’s and those who carry authority to change things need to be reached. I do beleive this is the key issue facing us – transformation but how?

On April 5th., 7.30pm UK time Ro Lavender will follow this through with the valuing of every contribution as being key to transformation…. what do we avoid doing because it is ‘so small’, and what do we not see we are doing because it is ‘so small’.

If you wish to participate in one of those evenings or simply be put on a mailing list, send me an email or fill in the form on the home page: https://3generations.eu.

Book 1 Zooms:

I will start two groups that will be based on Humanising the Divine also in February. They will start on February 23rd. (Wednesday), one at 10.30am and the other at 8.00pm UK time. Let me know if one or other of those you would like to be involved in.

True North…

Ever since I was a young boy I have been fascinated by direction, and from an early age understood how one could follow the Big Dipper / the Great Bear / Ursa Major to find the pole star / north star. Find that and one could find the way home, or travel in a specific direction. The great bear was always high in the sky in the winter months for me, easy to find and then bang, there it is, the north star.

These last days since arriving back in Spain the night sky has been so clear, I began to look again for the north star. I was pretty sure I had it nailed, but where was the Great Bear? Pretty sure is good, but without the Great Bear… how sure is pretty sure? Then I realised I had to look to a different part of the sky to what I expected, much closer to the horizon, for I am much further south than back in the days of my youth.

We have to find the north star, but where we have to look to find what points to the north star might well have changed. (Apologies to those in the Southern Hemisphere but I think you have something with the Southern Cross?… That sounds pretty good!)

In December I was constantly having the same image – that 2022 would present us with four possible doors in every situation where we were to move forward. I can pull on Scriptures about an open door – but four? However, it was always the same, four doors that would open. Probably will be literal at times but as I have meditated on it seems that four being representative of creation / world, it is a world door that will open. The choice means that when in the past we might be looking for the definitive one, this was saying, go through the door. Which one? The one you choose. It does mean not going through the others, and the amazing thing is I realised that God was the other side of each door. It almost doesn’t matter which one we go through.

The other side of the door is the north star. How we are sure we are pointing to the north star (finding the Great Bear). Go through the world door, whichever one. It is a new way of navigating this year, and for some we will have to come to terms with we can’t do it all… but we can still be aligned to the GPS of heaven.

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