COVID-19; no-deal Brexit a real possibility; recount the election AGAIN; Jewish group not happy with arms deal to UAE; Santa on strike and no Christmas pudding in the shops. Any combination of the above of course can be read as signs of the times that the end is here within view.
There could be an end in view of course with democracy being repeatedly challenged, or the possible economic outcome of a non-deal for the UK, or if the virus is only the first of a number to whack us this century. End of the world? No, but the end of certain states of play as we have them. That has always been the case and societal endings are often amidst crisis, something giving way for something else to rise in its place, either something better or worse.
I have completed four books – two waiting publication – and am just hanging around a little before finding the right direction for the final three. I intend them to be on our future hope, but with a flashy title of course. Not sure what to write as on many of the classic themes (Middle Eastern conflict; Armageddon; great persecution; rapture; millennium; antiChrist) I think the Bible is either silent or quite eloquent as to why we really should not go there. If I go down the silence of Scripture route not a lot of material for a series of three books – simply a page in large print with the words from the parenthesis above and then a dash and the word NOT following it.
So while hanging around, a short little explanation here. There are ‘horizons’ in view in Scripture. (Back in the day writers such as George Ladd gave a helpful way of describing the Jews with one horizon, a future that marked the two epochs of ‘this age’ and the ‘age to come’, which the NT separated the division yet further with the kingdom being ‘already but not yet’. Helpful but over-simplified. Reading the Scriptures even more consistently as historic-narrative N.T. Wright, and even more radically Andrew Perrimann, opens up a slightly more complex view – one horizon becomes further divided.)
Although it is not totally accurate to say ‘the Jews believed…’ as there were diverse beliefs among Jews, but ignoring that caveat the Jews believed in a future horizon, when Messiah would appear and there would be a total re-ordering of the world (NB: not much ‘going off to heaven’ going on here; we have the Greeks to thank for that angle.) Simplistically we could suggest they had a horizon in view; a one-horizon view.
Along comes the Incarnation and for those who believed he was the Messiah, certainly post-the-cross the one-future-horizon was inadequate. Looking back from the resurrection they understood that what took place over that period of time from the first Christmas to the first Easter was a horizon. It was a dramatic intervention of God in the world, into the Jewish context, and at a very specific time, when there was an all but one-world government that was opposed to the values of God, that oppressed all. Peace established through war, so much so that the temple to ‘Peace’ (goddess) was on Mars Hill (Mars being the god of war!). [Netflix have a great series on the Roman Empire that gives some good insights into it.]
That intervention marked something incredible for there was the revelation of who the God who created all things really was. The cross being one of the places where that glory was revealed, hence the self-emptying of Jesus (Phil. 2) can only be understood as a revelation of the eternal nature of God, not something taken on for a short season. (If not yet read I think that Thomas J. Oord, Uncontrolling Love, is so worth a read.)
That first horizon had enormous implications for the world. But first, huge implications for the Jewish world. Into that world came the proclamation of no other name under heaven by which people can be saved (Acts 4:12); not the name of Abraham, the patriarchs, David the idealised king. None of them can do it… this is picked up in Revelation 5 in what I reverently term cartoon form. When we read the New Testament in its historic context, with the majority certainly written before the calamitous era of 66-70AD, we necessarily read the pages somewhat differently. It is not about our day, nor about our future… but is deeply significant for our day and our future.
Leads us to that second horizon that now comes in view. Jesus spoke of a future that would happen within a generation, that the events would be climactic and therefore when it came to fleeing to pray the flight might not be in winter or on the Sabbath – all of which are speaking into a specific geography and a specific time of history. No reason to push it to our future, but to understand it as the foreseeable future of those hearers, and that was the horizon that the early followers of Jesus had understood him to be speaking of. The horizon that culminates a generation after that first Easter. In the final days of that time when, as predicted, ‘the armies shall surround Jerusalem’ the Romans were crucifying up to 500 Jews on a daily basis by the city walls so as those inside knew that their days were numbered. The upside was that this was the sign of the Son of Man coming (Daniel 7), but that upside was an upside in marking the end of an era in terms of the intervention of history, the actual era of history was indeed very painful for the ‘elect’ those who were part of the chosen nation, but had not aligned with the truly elect one.
Given that our writings are pre-70AD whenever we come to future references such as Paul in 2 Thessalonians (maybe 52AD) concerning the ‘man of sin’ there is again no reason to push something beyond the lifetime of the readers, to something that had no reference to their time and setting. I still see such events as past for us, future for them and sitting in that same period of time before the second horizon came fully into view.
A third horizon though does seem to persist through all the writings, and I think it is the horizon that inspires the hope that comes through in Revelation. The book might well have had an initial write in the mid-60s but I stick with a late date (maybe 96AD) for the book as we have it. After the Jewish wars. The focus has switched, the Temple has gone, not one stone upon another left… but the beast has continued, indeed survived against all odds on numerous occasions but particularly in that ‘year of the four emperors’ that took place in the midst of the tumultuous era of the Jewish Wars. Mortal wounds to the head, but continues – that was the story and continues to be the story.
So time to bring this post to its appointed end. ‘Do I believe in a future antiChrist?’ Perhaps and probably as history witnesses to many antiChrists (past) in both limited and all-but universal situations. There is always a tendency to ‘make a name for ourselves’ towers to be raised, along with the witness of Scripture that they will never reach heaven and be permanent. ‘Do I think the Bible predicts a future antiChrist?’ No. No more than it predicted Judas Iscariot, but when the time came it easily said that he fulfilled the Scripture.
Well that would be some of the content to appear somewhere in books 5-7, along with references to the books of Scripture that show how there were clear predictions and also a recording of the history related to the predictions, yet the predictions were not fulfilled. A shocker? Or a nice indicator that prediction like that is not the area that Scripture deals with – rather the category of ‘promise’. Now there’s a thought – fulfilments of Scripture that look nothing like they were predicted. Might just get on with writing those books.