Old Testament hope can be reduced to a big picture vision of a future day (of the Lord) when God will show up in our world righting all wrongs with rewards to the righteous and punishment for the unrighteous. That coming might involve a Messiah (by the time of Jesus probably a majority opinion), two Messiahs or sometimes without the intermediary of a Messiah. The vision was to a future horizon, perhaps preceded by certain events but essentially one horizon. It was this hope that underpinned, and maybe ‘created’ the belief in the resurrection of the dead. They did not entertain some Hellenist (Greek) form of life after death in some other realm, but believed the transformation was to take place here and that bodily human existence was necessary to enjoy it. That issue then raised the problem of what about those who had died but had lived righteously? If they are not present when that future day comes but were counted worthy they would never receive their reward. The solution was that God would raise them bodily. The clear signs that the day of the Lord had come then was two-fold, the abundant presence of God (the outpouring of the Spirit) and the resurrection of the dead. The proclamation of the early disciples was highly controversial: everything has changed! The Spirit is outpoured, his body is not in the tomb. That turned the Jewish world upside down, and subsequently held major implications for the inhabited world.
When we turn the pages to the NT inevitably the first followers of Jesus held to a similar vision of a one-horizon future. This fuels Peter’s rebuke of Jesus when he ‘corrects’ Jesus declaration about his own future death at the hands of the Jewish authorities. ‘This shall never happen to you’, was his response. The one horizon perspective meant that Jesus would enter Jerusalem triumphantly and clearly inaugurate the day of the Lord. The disappointment for the disciples is palpable, and we read that the married couple on the road to Emmaus respond to the unrecognised Jesus with the words,
but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21).
Jesus explains to them that their one horizon vision was not accurate. The son of Man must first suffer, Jesus explained. The Cross (and we include here the resurrection and Pentecost) becomes a horizon not previously seen.
Pentecost does not bring the hope to a completion. There is more for Jesus to ‘do and to teach’ (Acts 1:1), not now in bodily form among us, but present by the power of the Spirit through his body. A theological truth is that the work of Jesus is the finished work, but this must not obscure the unfinished work of Jesus, the work to be carried out in his name through his disciples.
The one horizon perspective of the future gives way to a two horizon perspective – classically expressed as the ‘first and second comings of Jesus’. However, Jesus added another dynamic to the scene that brought another horizon in view, and to this one he attached a time frame. He laid out events that would take place within a generation. In the run up to the end of that period (40 years after speaking) the world enters a momentous time of crisis. With 4 emperors in an 18 month period, involving civil war, significant earthquakes, famines, wars and many rumours of wars, and with the genocidal war against the Jews and the circling of Jerusalem by armies, those final years in the 60s threatened the survival of the world, the end of the then known world was imminent. Little wonder the head of the beast had been mortally wounded, but when Rome survived, it took on this immortal aura. Such is the nature of all beasts / empires.
We move then from a one-horizon (the great reversal and redemptive day of the Lord), through a two-horizon (first suffering, then glory), to a three-horizon perspective that included the sun being darkened and moon turning to blood years culminating in the sack of Jerusalem in 70AD. We now live post AD70 with – unless there are some other major surprises – one horizon set before us: the parousia of Jesus.
I consider that all NT Scriptures, except Revelation, were written pre-AD70, hence the ‘man of lawlessness’ and such Scriptures that were future for the original readers are now past for us. There then is very little in the Scriptures making predictions into the timeframe post AD70 – the time in which we live.
When will the parousia take place? The final horizon that wraps up this chapter of ‘heaven and earth’ and inaugurated the ‘new heavens and earth’. That event that is so fully eschatological but perhaps not teleological? (I am referring to the two Greek words eschaton and telos, both can be translated as ‘end’. It is the former word that is used of the events that the parousia marks. It is the ‘end’ but maybe also a beginning – it might not be the ‘telos’ which carries more of a sense of final destination. Just a thought / possibility.)
The next post will look at the when of the parousia, the horizon that we are looking to.