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.

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.