Mount of Olives

I am pretty convinced that most of us will be somewhat surprised if we hang on too tight to our convictions about the parousia of the Lord (literally meaning ‘presence’, and used in the Graeco-Roman world for the arrival / presence of the emperor upon visiting the city, so the opposite of ‘absence’). If the expectations among Jews at the time of Jesus was diverse – one Messiah, a kingly one, a priestly one, two Messiahs, no Messiah – not to mention how do we bring in the kingdom – hence the sects, the debates as to who was Israel, and the classification of ‘the sinners’ was not as a result of a quoting of Rom. 3:23 evangelistic style, but a classification that ‘birth certificate says Jewish’ but cos you don’t fit with our approach, you are not viewed as ‘a true Jew’ but a ‘sinner’. OK point of that convulting sentence was that the ideas and practices surrounding Jewish expectations regarding the kingdom of God was varied. Turned out none of them were right… hence ‘repent’ was the first requirement, a change your mind, not a repeat after me ‘I am a guilty sinner and a very bad person’.

The likelihood is none of us have it all right either. There are some views that just seem so untenable, others such as mine that I don’t think distort Scripture, but who knows? Anyway been thinking about an OT Scriture so want to put a spin on it today. OT Scritures relating to the future are so challenging, for once they are read through the NT lens the meaning they seemed to have carried gets significantly changed (yes I am in Ezekiel in my readings this morning… wow not even sure where to begin with a NT lens at times on that one!).

Jesus is coming back to the MOunt of Olives, the mountain splits… blah, blah, millennial rule from Jerusalem etc:

On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward (Zech. 14:4).

The kingdom… future, past, ongoing? Or to put it another way how many horizons are there in reality? For me some big ones: the Incarnation through to Ascension; the outpouring of the Spirit; the Jewish wars of 66-70AD; some final parousia and maybe a few smaller horizons in between and among all of those when the kingdom comes in some way, where we ‘see the Son of Man coming in the clouds’.

At Passover time Jerusalem became ever so crowded, those with money and connections and got in there early could get accommodation in the city, but a sizeable number, certainly in the thousands made camp on the Mount of Olives and slept there overnight. This is why the authorities needed Judas to guide them to Jesus as his group was one of many on the Mount, as it would have been an incredible task to find someone amidst that number.

So ‘on that day’ his feet did indeed stand on the Mount of Olives, and the thousands of Jews there were split (and split representatively of the nation as a whole) as a result of the ensuing events, some for Jesus, a crucified Messiah (getting over the offence of such an idea), and others who could only see such a figure as a blasphemer who was judged by Rome, Jewish Torah obedience and ultimately by God.

I throw this concept out there. Might not be right but I think (if we are looking for a ‘fulfilment’) fits much better than the idea of Jesus descending to the Middle East at some future time.

A coming together

Thanks for the comments on some of the previous posts. Knowing some of the people who read those posts I find it interesting that there seems to be those who are on the wilder end of the charismatic scene, those who wonderfully question the sanity of all that goes on in that scene… In other words quite a mix. So I was just wondering, also provoked by the call for the ‘rise of the Annas’ whether this is a sign of what is to come, a way ahead in the big scheme of things.

My background is sectarian (OK I own up). Sectarian is a bad word but if looked at sociologically virtually all protestant (and even more so evangelical) groups are sects (distinguisable from ‘cults’). They share the same big world view that other Christians do, simply they claim to represent it better, more faithfully. It was there in Jesus day, and Paul did well in that world – a Pharisee of the Pharisees! (Head people, anxiety-prone people as well as ‘king of the hill’ people probably find a good home within sects – just thought I would throw that encouragement in there.) Those of us who swapped the sacraments for the proper understanding of the ‘word’ excelled at it. That might be one reason that we love Paul better than we love Mary(!), and probably understand Paul better than he understood himself.

I hope I am less sectarian today than in yesteryear. I realise that the resurrected Jesus spent many a day teaching on the kingdom of God, and did not seem to cover it very systematically, no instruction seemed to be left as to how to handle an influx of unclean Gentiles, for example. The kingdom of God will come when we get our notes all stacked up just right… or maybe, when we stumble along, with a good dose of humility, defences down, and discover that outside our sectarian boxes are people on the same journey… and maybe we become a little surprised when we recognise that they too seem to have that same travelling companion, the one called Jesus of Nazareth.

Simeon. Thank God for the Simeons. Waiting, holding space. And amazingly he could see in a baby what he had been waiting for. That takes faith and maturity. Then passes in peace. A season over.

Anna. A season opening. It is hard to know (the English translations make a go of what is not too clear) what her timeline was, but we know that (culturally) she has been separated from her support, her protection. She has been sidelined, but had found a place in God in it all. She does not look to depart, in spite of her age. She looks for the outlet. Simeon spoke to God and within the family. Anna pushes it all out, out to whoever was looking for God’s intervention.

The rise of the Anna’s (never know if that should be Annas or Anna’s??). She speaks of the child. In our day what a disaster is on our hands, once we look beyond the four walls – whether they be the four walls of our week-by-week, or the four walls of our personal security. We look and need not some ‘redemption of Jerusalem’ but of the planet. Every day I take hope in the Incarnation and the resurrection. Easter took place in Jerusalem for the world. The Jews celebrate Passover with ‘we were in Egypt… next year Jerusalem’; we celebrate with ‘we were in Jerusalem… next year the world’. Yes we were there – when he died we died. Past tense. Visit Jerusalem should you wish… I prefer to follow Paul into Abraham’s inheritance, the promised world.

Worst scenario seems to me that God plunges into this great mess and the parousia takes place. After all it was at the ‘fullness of times’ the Incarnation took place; not the best of times, but when there was no hope for the world. That worst of scenarios is pretty good, but to be honest I would be disappointed. Can we not do better, after all the first ‘fullness of times’ was pre-cross. We are post-cross, and I don’t think we understand Paul (and the NT) better than he did when I suggest that because ‘he stripped all powers and made an open show of them’ and rose with ‘all authority in heaven and earth’ something globally, universally and forever actually changed in every sphere, heavenly and earthly on that day when he rose. So I would love for there to be something more. That there is hope in this ‘fullness’. Hope for the climate, the planet, justice in economies, maybe something that we might liken to ‘God is in their midst’, at least at some tangible level.

And the more I think is happening. No need to lose faith as a charismatic. More words of knowledge, healings, crazy miracles, angelic visitations, demonic confrontations, trips off to heaven (but keep them pretty quiet). I am so convinced of that. No need to make everyone else in our image, of insisting that we have the one and only inside track on what it is to be faithful to the revelation of God in Jesus. Just a question to myself. Do I think the God revealed in Jesus loved this planet? Could s/he be revealed in a tree-hugger. (Just questions to myself. No I am not replacing the Incarnation with a tree-hugger; but I think I also should not replace the Incarnation with a ‘bury my head in the sands and shout louder in tongues’ either. And I am much more in one camp than the other, though quite like trees!)

God is big. BIG. BIG. Present in all kinds of places and with all kinds of people

No need to change my beliefs. Wow… no reason to!! That would be crazy. Not simply because the world view I find in that book makes SENSE, but my experiences line up also. The convictions have been worked in me for good reason. But maybe I need to also walk with many new companions. I have a lot to learn from… and I have a witness to bring, a witness of the resurrection; as someone said to me recently to evangelise all I need is the right knowledge, to witness I need to both reflect on what I have seen and be a reflection of what I have seen. Anna saw something in that child and spoke… Simeon a sign of what was ending, Anna a sign of what was coming, and has been coming ever since. That trajectory continues.

I have my convictions of the parousia but could well be wrong (I won’t be the first person who combed the Scriptures and got that part wrong!! They managed that quite well also in Jesus’s own day!). The trajectory though seems to be OK and sure. God coming… and certainly resurrection in there, Simeon, Anna, Judas (pretty sure on that), my parents, Sue. Yes all those who have gone before. Are they all coming when we need the biggest bail out ever, or could it be different? Annas – we call. Whatever happens that day will herald a party beyond a party. A ‘fullness of times’.

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.

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!

Let’s continue to speculate

Create the road as we travel

This is a bit of a follow up to the post on ‘pure speculation’. Not a post full of answers – go elsewhere for that – to people who are smarter than I am… and maybe to some who are not as smart as I am, though they know much more than I do. A few headlines first why I do not consider the Bible lays out ‘the future’.

  1. Understanding ‘predictions’ are not easy. We generally say that the Jews of Jesus time did not expect a Messiah who looked like Jesus. If they ‘missed it’ we are probably likely to also have expectations that will prove to have been wrongly shaped when we read and project forward.
  2. Predictions in the Old Testament did not always come to pass, and that ‘not come to pass’ is not limited to ‘they repented’ (Nineveh) and so God relented.
  3. Predictions and promise are not in the same category. Promise allows for ‘predictions’ to fall away, be expanded, to be incorporated in a new way.
  4. The reading of the predictions that we have (‘not one stone will remain upon another’; ‘man of lawlessness’ etc.) can be seen to be fulfilled in the AD66-70 era of the Jewish Wars / the year of the four emperors (AD69). For this reason I see no need (indeed, I am compelled not to) project into our future scenarios that we pick up from such predictions in Scripture.
  5. There has always been a ‘love God… live in line with the narrative (Scripture)…’ and work it out as you go aspect that was planted in our faith from the beginning. Witness the instructions concerning the kingdom of God that Jesus gave post-resurrection to the disciples. Clearly there were whole aspects that he did not cover, the big one being the inclusion of the Gentiles. They had to work it out when they faced that scenario, and did not have a notebook filled with a set of Jesus’instructed points as to what to do.
  6. The history of interpretation that sees the world (as perceived) and then reads Scripture and sees that world being described there does not have a good history! I suggest that the same method is employed by those who read Nostradamus as a foretelling prophet. Even in the short period of time since ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ (1970) to ‘Countdown to Armageddon’ (1980) to… How it all changes. Here is a summary of Countdown to Armageddon:
    The premise of this book is based upon Hal Lindsey’s prophecies that the anti-Christ is already here on earth and will come forth during the 1980s. In a nutshell, the author predicts that Russia will attack Iran in order to gain control of the world’s oil resources. Then China is going to jump into the fray and spread the war around the world, during which every major city is levelled and more than 1/2 of the world’s population dies. This scenario concludes with the re-emergence of the Roman Empire, consisting of a 10-nation confederacy. At that juncture, a world political leader (an uber-persuasive brain-child who resolves of all of the world’s problems, such as hunger and oil for everyone), will rise to power within this new world government. No one can resist this guy, who ultimately reveals that he is the Anti-Christ and, along with Satan, leads humanity to utter destruction.
    Makes for good reading (though not sure about that) but does not make for a good guide to the future!
    Anyway my point is that this method of interpretation does not have a good history – not in recent decades, nor in the previous centuries.
  7. The imagery of Revelation is imagery. Apocalyptic imagery that made sense in the first Century. I might try some:
    I saw a huge crowd that no-one could number waving white flags with crosses on it; they came as an irrepressible army, never diverting to the left nor the right; they came singing but in the day of battle the heavens closed in, the earth shook and in disarray they left the battlefield weeping.
    (OK pretty weak there but Italy won the Euros – well done Italy, just a better team all round!)
    Someone coming to my little weak attempt in the far distant future seeking to interpret the ‘vision’ in their context would be likely to be so far off the mark that we would be shocked by what they might come up with.
  8. The hope of Revelation is alive today (after all it is the hope of Scripture) that the day will come, even as a thief in the night, and that which has raised its tower to the heavens will be exposed as both empty and oppressive, will collapse. The kingdoms of this world, the kingdoms that are gathered under Babylon’s directive, will give way and another kingdom will be revealed.
  9. The hope is of the parousia, the appearance, the (literal) presence / arrival of Jesus. Given point (1) above what will that look like? He will come in the same way as he went… is that a literal descent from heaven that is being referred to, or is there something deeper being referred to?

I probably could go on. I am actually quite ‘conservative’ about my hope of the parousia (minus some elements that some might consider ‘conservative’) but my points above are simply to say that my last post might be a little speculative, but a) provided we live within the narrative of Scripture and b) that we are sowing now for the future we hope for and believe in; if we adhere to that I suggest our speculation might be healthier than being guided by some of the books we can read that have it all sown up!

Preparing to go to heaven and leaving behind a planet destined to be destroyed certainly seems to me far less biblical than living now in a way that will create a better possibility for heaven to come to earth (our prayer?) and for it to be a place where the arrival / presence of Jesus might be a good fit seems to me to be the better option. Certainly seems that this was the driving mission of Paul as he criss-crossed the oikomene that was the home to the one world government of his day, the very thing that Jesus refused to inherit. He was not interested in a ‘one world Christian-government’. Hence our ideas of your ‘kingdom’ coming cannot be shaped by that which we know of ‘kingdom’ where ‘every knee bowed’ and acknowledged that ‘Caesar was lord’.

Shaped by what we know. Or shaped by experiencing the devastating love of the Triune God. I am not sure if we should say ‘S/he has a plan for this world’ (which I believe is true), or ‘S/he has a great burning passion for this world’ and that together (humanity and God together) ‘We have plans together for this world’. Come let us work for a future…. might be an appropriate new Scripture!!?? (it might be a new text but I think is not too far from being a summary of Scripture as a whole.) The future is open (real or perceived) – now what vision do we carry? That vision will involve speculation, we might not get it right, but we will travel together, sometimes with strange travelling companions, we will make a path as we go… why create a path toward multiple ‘armageddons’ as if that is inevitable, when there are wonderful alternatives.

Change is constant, but change does not take place a constant rate. At a time of accelerated change (renaissance – reformation – enlightenment, for example… and the end of the 1990s through the first decades of the 21st Century, our context) input into the time of accelerated change has more effect on the future than at other times. There are very real historic before and afters. So I do not intend to make the path to ‘armageddon’ but to…

Speculation all the way

OK so this post will have a little speculation thrown in (unlike all my other posts?), and it might well be pure speculation, but what better kind than ‘pure’ can there be?

Let’s start with we are in trouble… the planet and our future. At a personal level we have lived where we are 8 summers, and even in that time it is noticeable that the temperatures are rising. Ask those who have lived here 70 years and they will say it was never like this in the old days. At current levels of increase some parts of Spain will not be habitable in the next 30 or so years. The sea level is rising, it is more acidic than ever… We read of heat waves in different parts of the world. I am not a scientist, so of course am aware that there are scientists who would argue against me… however, a few years back I met a creditable climate scientist and asked him if there were genuinely creditable scientists (i.e. not simply ones who had PhD’s in science but whose specialist was climate issues) who deny climate change. He said there was one above all others, who was a believer, and who through a theophany claimed he was commissioned to rebutt the science that believes in climate change. So my proviso is… I am no expert, but as the title is ‘speculation all the way’.

To round this part off here is a quote from an article I read a few days ago:

One of the hardest parts of writing about the history of the climate crisis was stumbling across warnings from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, musing about how things might get bad sometime after the year 2000 if no one did anything about fossil fuels. They still had hope back then. Reading that hope today hurts.
We are now living our ancestors’ nightmares, and it didn’t have to be this way. If we are looking to apportion blame, it is those who deliberately peddled doubt that should be first in line.

Jumping from climate issues to another area where I lack expertise (and when I look at the experts and how they disagree with one another in most fields it makes one wonder if there truly are experts!!). So here we jump to the world of theology and ‘end of world’ scenarios, or better put ‘parousia scenarios’ (return of Christ, in popular language).

Cards on table… no I don’t believe that a future antiChrist is prophesied… It is possible to put some Scriptures that are not addressing the same thing and end up with a future antiChrist. I think though it takes the same kind of hermeneutic that is used to have Nostradamus accurately predicting the future! (Think I am wrong… just read Hal Lindsay’s books as they progress over the decades… same hermeneutic at play but the predictions progress, fitting with real time not biblical text!!!!!!) There might, of course, be a future antiChrist, for in a biblical sense there always has been a one-world government – that which opposes the kingdom of God (i.e. the pejorative use of ‘world’ in for example John’s Gospel). If one were to arise they would certainly fulfil what we read in Scripture – but if so that does NOT make a case at all for the Bible told us there would be one. (We can compare this to the Scriptures quoted concerning Judas Iscariot – no prediction in sight but he fulfilled a whole set of texts…) The only time the world has been under a one-world government is the world of the New Testament, and in line with the tower of Babel / Babylon it was not the finished, complete, absolute example. Babel / Babylon shows us that will not exist.

I see the years of 66-70, with the year of the four emperors right in the midst of the Jewish Wars as the sign of the Son of Man coming with the clouds. Why? Because that seems to me be in line with Daniel’s reference to ‘one coming as a son of man to the Ancient of Days’ – the coming is by the Son of Man to God, not a parousia to the earth; understanding it this way it also reconciles all the times Jesus promised that those alive while he was on earth would see that event. Jesus was not mistaken!! But proved to be very accurate indeed. The sign was visible, the end of an era and the sign that new creation, and only new creation counted from the death of Jesus onwards.

In other words, I see almost nothing in the Bible beyond the horizon of the fall of Jerusalem (AD70). Revelation, book of, I date later and find it to be the most devastating and relevant critique of Imperial power.

Anyway enough of my lack of expertise… back to speculation.

We could be a generation, or two away from the end of either the human race, or the way the human race has developed, the end of a phase of human existence. If so I am so optimistic that:

either,

  • we could see a generation reached with the presence of God in ways beyond our imagination (and it will have to go beyond our imagination – what we can see);

or,

  • we could see a generation reached who turn this whole thing around and there is a major reversal to the direction of humanity that has been governed by ‘we will be like God’ (and who have consequently have ‘moved every boundary marker’ to achieve and demonstrate this).

The end of the human race but the presence (parousia? for that is the core meaning of the word) of God / Jesus saturating that people. A final generation. Or a generation that marks the finality to the pursuit of godlessness, and opening the way for generations beyond them to embrace the transcendent presence of heaven – a new heavens and a new earth?

So beyond the speculation comes the optimism. If either of the two possibilities of a ‘final’ generation, in the sense of there can be no more, or a final one in the sense of ‘enough of this madness’, I am looking for something that goes beyond our imagination. Beyond what we can see, for God is able to do above and beyond what we ask or imagine… according to the power at work among us… perhaps we could translate that as in proportion to the power that is at work among us, in proportion… but way beyond.

I actually think we are at the beginning of a stage where the Spirit is touching those who are afar off, touching them where they are. If we do not connect we will never know. It does not make the church redundant, but certainly shoots a warning across the bow of those who claim that they are doing church as the Bible teaches. They might be trying to do church as they think Paul was doing it (I doubt that – unless they are as crazy as he was with his ekklesia language)… and even if we were truly doing it as he was doing it, we would not be doing it as he would be doing it today!!

The Spirit’s presence… and there has to be, as always, a recognition that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Jesus. That was an issue for the Jewish world. Laying on one side the challenging doctrine of the Trinity, the Jews accepted that the divine Spirit was indeed present (in theory) among them; the Christian gospel was that ‘from on high’ Jesus had poured out the Spirit… the Spirit was none other than the Spirit of Jesus. There lies our challenge. Converting people to come join us? No, first being converted to join them, so that what is happening in their midst they can discover is nothing less than the Spirit of Jesus, the firstborn of all creation.

Climate change, global crisis, the earth crying out… the scene is set. I speculate, but optimism rises.

OK, but when?

Evidently not May 21, nor October 21, 2011!! So many miscalculations so now it is my turn… I am soliciting a little help from 2 Peter 3 and his three-fold reason as to why the parousia was still future for him, and as it turns out for us too. (Before looking at his perspective, it is worth noting, as an aside, that although he uses language that could be pressed, if taken literally, to mean the destruction of creation this is not likely his meaning. Two reasons – he uses typical apocalyptic language (strong metaphorical and physical language to describe the significance of an event, not to describe the literal result); and the second reason for not taking it as literal is he has already stated that the flood had ‘destroyed’ the world of that time. It did not physically and literally destroy that world.)

Peter seems to list three reasons in response to those who mocked about his ‘coming’ (2 Peter 3: 3, 4; parousia, the common word related to his coming, and carries the meaning of ‘presence’). The three factors are laid out in verses 8-12.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

  • A perspective of time – what seems to be forever to us is not viewed the same way by God.
  • Any ‘delay’ means more people can be rescued. This is a very interesting perspective and challenges the pessimistic view that ‘only a few will be saved’. The longer the delay the more that will perish is the result of the pessimistic view. (A much longer discussion needed here, but I suggest we need to reverse ‘only those who receive Jesus will be saved’ to ‘only those who reject Jesus will be lost’. Maybe one day I will post on that… maybe…)
  • It is the third reason that pushes me again to underline the unfinished work of Christ. How we live, what we look forward to speeds (brings it closer in time) the parousia. There is a work for us to do. There is a future and we align our lives in the light of that, we focus on the future, that vision burns of a new just world and as a result the future will take place sooner rather than later. I take that literally, and as I have written in the past, the work we are involved in is in the preparation of the material that God requires for the New Jerusalem. We cannot build it – an unfinished Babylon is all we can achieve, but a finished New Jerusalem is what comes down from heaven, from the throne of God. Only God can do this; the perfect cannot rise up; it has to come down to transform what is here.

But the jewels, the gold, the precious stones? They originate here. Wood, straw and the like are not part of the materials God will use, and Paul acknowledges (in the context of ‘temple’ construction) that there are apostles whose works are simply that. How they work will not survive the fire, it will be considered of no eternal value. In that light he provokes us all to consider what our works consist of. God will and is building with the material that we supply that passes the fire test.

When will he come? When the work of Christ is finished… the aspect of his work that he is now doing through the body. Jesus explained to his disciples that his food was to do the will of God who sent him and to ‘finish the work’ he was given to do. And in like manner so he sent us… to finish the work.

It is time to get an eye that sees the world that is to come, the world that is the other side of the fire that destroys all unrighteousness. What world do we see? If we are to hasten that day then we need to align our lives with the values of that world, not this; we must sow seed now that is the seed for that harvest. Small acts now, but vital ones. The mockers mock, but the seers work.

Maranatha – but when?

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.

Perspectives