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.

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