Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Thoughts on the Return of Christ, Part II

(I changed the title of yesterday's post "out" to "Thoughts on the Return of Christ, part I" since I've got a little blog series going right now. We'll see how far it goes. . . )


No one's commenting on this End Times stuff. That's all right. There is no turning back now. . . so I'll press on.

Here are a few more thoughts on View 3 (all of things in Matthew 24 have happened and are continuing to happen). So get out your Bibles and follow along.

First, from D.A. Carson, Expositor Bible Commentary, Matthew . . . .

In my understanding of the Olivet Discourse, the disciples think of Jerusalem's destruction and the eschatological end as a single complex web of events. This accounts for the form of their questions. Jesus warns that there will be a delay before the End--a delay characterized by persecution and tribulation for his followers, but with one particularly violent display of judgment in the Fall of Jerusalem. Immediately after the days of that sustained persecution characterizing the interadvent period comes the Second Advent. The warning of vv. 32-35 describes the whole tribulation period, from the Ascension to the Second Advent. The tribulation period will certainly come, and the generation to which Jesus is speaking will experience all its features that point to the Lord's return. But the exact time of that return no one but the Father knows (vv. 36-44). This structure words out in all three Synoptics (though with significant difference in emphasis), and the main themes developed have important ties with other NT books. The disciples' questions are answered, and the reader is exhorted to look forward to the Lord's return and meanwhile to live responsively, faithfully, compassionately and courageously while the master is away (24:45-25:46). . . .

Although many commentators hold that Matthew (but probably not Mark and certainly not Luke) here portrays not just the Fall of Jerusalem but also the Great Tribulation before Antichrist comes, the details of vv. 16-21 are too limited geographically and culturally to justify that view. . .

That Jesus in v. 21 promises that such "great distress" is never to be equaled implies that it cannot refer to the Tribulation at the end of the age; for if what happens next is the Millenium or the new heaven and new earth, it seems inane to say that such "great distress" will not take place again. At the same time, by these remarks, Jesus finishes his description of Jerusalem in Matthew and Mark. . .

"This generation" (in 24:34) can only with the greatest difficulty be made to mean anything other than the generation living when Jesus spoke. Even if "generation" by itself can have a slightly larger semantic range, to make "THIS generation" refer to all believers in every age, or the generation of believers alive when eschatological events start to happen, is highly artificial. Yet it does not follow that Jesus mistakenly thought the Parousia would occur within his hearer's lifetime. If our interpretation of this chapter is right, all that v. 34 demands is that the distress of vv. 4-28, including Jerusalem's fall, happen within the lifetime of the generation then living. This does NOT mean that the distress must END within that time but only that "all these things" must happen within it. Therefore v. 34 sets a terminus a quo for the Parousia: it cannot happen till the events of vv 4-28 take place, all within a generation of A.D. 30. But there is no terminus ad quem to this distress other than the Parousia itself, and "only the Father" knows when it will happen (v. 36).
Second, from Craig Blomberg, The New American Commentary, Matthew . . .
If these two verses (Mt. 24:21-22) simply depict horrors surrounding the war or A.D. 70, it is hard to see how v. 21 could be true. If they point to some end-time sacrilege, just before the Parousia, then it is hard to see how Matthew allows for a gap of at least 2000 years between vv. 20-21. It is probably best, therefore, to understand this period of great distress or "the great tribulation," as it is more commonly known, as the entire period beginning with the devastation of A.D. 70 and continuing on until Christ's return. . . .

Jesus envisages this time as short, but 2 Peter 3:8, quoting Psalm 90:4, reminds us that God's perspective on what is a short period of time is not necessarily the same as ours ("a thousand years are like a day"). As with the "abomination that causes desolation" in v. 15, seeing Jesus' reference to the great tribulation as beginning in A.D. 70 does not exclude a later application of this expresssion to the period of time described in Rev. 7-19--the final stages of the interadvent period. Revelation 7:14 seems to suggest precisely such an intensification of horrors immediately preceding the end of the age. God's intervention in history plays out in repeated patterns of activity on ever grander or more awful scales. At least in Matthew, however, it would seem that the tribulation Jesus has in mind must refer to the entire church age from A.D. 70 on. . . .

"The elect" (eklectoi) are the same group as the "chosen" of 22:14 and therefore must refer to Christians of any race, rather than to literal Israel. . . .

Walvoord correctly observes that nothing in any of these verses in Matthew describes the rapture. . . .

It is crucial to observe the fulfillment of all these preliminary events prior to A.D. 70. This fulfillment will explain how 24:34 can be true. It demonstrates that everything necessary for Christ's return was accomplished within the first generation of Christianity, so that every subsequent generation has been able to believe that Jesus could come back in their times. It should lead us to reject all views that claim to know for sure that Christ is returning in a given year, decade or century on the basis of some unique event that has never previously occurred in Christian history (as, e.g., with the reestablishment of the state of Israel or with some future, hypothetical rebuilding of the temple." . . . .

Neither the unrelenting pessimism of traditional dispensationalism nor the unbridled optimism of certain forms of postmillenialism is justified. Instead the time prior to Christ's return will be characterized by a growing polarization between good and evil . . .

The upshot of this chapter is to let the disciples know some more details about the temple's destruction, without specifying when it will occur, and to make it plain that from that moment on, the end of the age, signaled by the return of Christ's return, can come at any moment.
All of this resonates with me and makes more sense than other views I've read.

(If you've thoughtfully read this far, I'll let you in on a little secret. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is giving me fits. (I'll let you look it up!) I'm not sure how this fits. V. 8 makes is pretty hard to say that the man of lawlessness showed himself by 70 AD. (though there were Roman Emperors claiming to be God.) This could be a sign which has not taken place, but could it take place very quickly? Does this compromise my perspective that Christ could return at any moment? I don't think it compromises the interpretation of Matthew 24:34 that I've proposed, because all the things that Jesus mentions in Matthew 24:34 took place before the generation of the disciples passed away. It just so happens that Jesus doesn't mention the man of lawlessness---Paul does at a later date. Conclustion: I'm not sure how to reconcile 2 Thessalonians 2:12 with what I believe the rest of the NT teaches about at soon, at any moment return of Christ (imminent!).)

Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology offers this solution by saying "it's unlikely, but possible that the signs have already been fulfilled." Christ could return at any time, since we cannot be certain that the signs have not been fulfilled, and so we must be ready, even though it is unlikely that Christ will return at once, because it seems that there are several signs yet to be fulfilled. This position agrees that we cannot know when Christ will return, and that he is coming at an hour we do not expect.

The botom line: Everyone picks their poison. There is no air tight eschatology. All have their weakness, all have their chinks, all have their problems. You pick the one that you believe eliminates the most problems and creates the least.

Therefore, we must be charitable and humble with one another with regards to end times matters.

5 comments:

Travis Thompson said...

P.T.

I just wanted you to know I'm loving this stuff... its making me think a lot. I'm hangin in there (listening to the podcast, since i'm no longer in SLO, still not heard the most recent one) but I think this is a heavy topic that people are hesitant to comment on... just wanted to let you know we're still out here reading along!

Thanks again for keepin it real and preachin' the hard stuff.

-Travis

Andy Gibson said...

Yeah Tim, I'll give you a shoutout. I'm reading...although I'm sure you know I, in particular, am reading this blog.

I am just so buried in my thoughts on this one, and so buried at work, I haven't forumlated yet.

Kevin Heldt said...

I think you've stressed a really key point that is difficult to dismiss: Why does so much of the Bible stress that we should be prepared for Christ's return because He will come back like a thief in the night if, in fact, He can't come back until all these other things happen first? I appreciate that you're teaching us to allow contextual questions like that to matter and to make us think.

On a partial sidenote, your question in the sermon two weeks ago was compelling to me, "If you knew Jesus was coming back in two months, are there things in your life you would change?" My initial answer was "of course" because if nothing else a lot of what I do in the now is to prepare for the future. And while I think there is a sense in which that has to be okay (I probably wouldn't be properly fulfilling my role as husband and father if I looked only to keeping my family fed and clothed today), I don't think I have a good understanding on how that meshes with Luke 12's rich fool. It would be easy to say that the conclusion of that parable excuses the "storing up things" so long as you are ALSO "rich toward God" but I know experientially how naturally at odds trusting God for your daily bread and "wisely" planning for the future can be.

I understand that the primary thrust of that question goes in a different direction but this is the dilemma that most grabbed me. Any airtight models to live by are welcome...

GDL Wong said...

I think as Christians we should simply be living everyday as if Christ could come at any moment. If we had to change, then maybe we need to rexamine our choices??

I liken the example to if you know you had 90 days to live what would be different? I think alot of people, in general, live like they have 70 years left.

If we prayed like David, "Teach us to number our days" maybe the petty issues wouldn't steal our time, energy and effort from what is truly important. Who knows what incredible things could be accomplished because you know your time is short. Who knows the reconciliation that could be made? Or the courage to love? The boldness to realize you needed to preach that gospel to your neighbor because there is a sense of urgency.

GDL Wong said...

I think as Christians we should simply be living everyday as if Christ could come at any moment. If we had to change, then maybe we need to rexamine our choices??

I liken the example to if you know you had 90 days to live what would be different? I think alot of people, in general, live like they have 70 years left.

If we prayed like David, "Teach us to number our days" maybe the petty issues wouldn't steal our time, energy and effort from what is truly important. Who knows what incredible things could be accomplished because you know your time is short. Who knows the reconciliation that could be made? Or the courage to love? The boldness to realize you needed to preach that gospel to your neighbor because there is a sense of urgency.