Second Coming, Part VI: Luke’s Gospel

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII

First, a little story.

The setting is apparently a place where tax collectors and sinners were gathering to hear Jesus teach – but some Pharisees observed and listened too. He tells stories – of a lost sheep; a lost coin; a lost son. He relates the peculiar parable of the dishonest manager, and when the Pharisees sneer at him, He tells about a sick beggar and a rich man.

Luke 16:19-31 – “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell (hades), where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

” ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “

Perhaps it’s just a story, told to emphasize the prophetic condemnation that “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke doesn’t recount His restoring life to His friend Lazarus; John does, but it seems to happen just days before His own arrest and trials there – so it’s hard to tell whether Jesus is making a joke referring to it.

Perhaps it’s a story to convict the Pharisees, whom Luke says “loved money” a few verses before. Jesus seems to equate “poor” with “good” and “rich” with “bad.” Which seems consistent with many of His other teachings, and frankly gives me the willies.

But if it’s not just a story – if it is a story which accurately describes the reality of eternity – there are some interesting things about the place where the dead are apparently living (the word is “hades” – Greek for “place of the dead”; not precisely the same as what we call “hell”):

  • The poor man is separated from the rich man; the rich man is in torment. Have they already been judged? Have they been judged based on what they did? Or what they had/didn’t have? If they have been judged, is it permanent – or do they face another, “final” judgment? Why would two be needed? The rich man feels compelled to warn his brothers; does he believe it’s permanent?
  • They are separated by a gulf that cannot be crossed, yet they are aware of each other.
  • Abraham – “Father Abraham” – is portrayed as alive as well, and comforting Lazarus. This is also consistent with Jesus’ assertion that God is “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ ” He is quoting Exodus 3:6, adding: “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” in Luke 20:37-38.
  • The living dead are aware of the peril that the living living still face; the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers and warn them – and Abraham refuses again: “They have Moses and the prophets.”
  • So time seems to pass in this afterlife – and Abraham is aware of biblical heroes who lived long after he died.
  • If Abraham represent’s God’s fatherly nature in this story, is there something in the fact that he addresses the tormented rich man as “Son”? Does God still love those whom he reproves – even in eternity? Yet without extending hope to them at all?

As always, I don’t have answers to this. Just questions.

Let’s skip on a few verses. It’s getting hot in here.

Luke 17:20-37 – Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within (among) you.”

Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.”

“It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

“Where, Lord?” they asked.

He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”

Where to start? Once again, Jesus seems to be connecting the coming of God’s kingdom with a judgment yet to come. It doesn’t come by strict observation – presumably of the law, which the Pharisees might have seen as the way to force God’s hand in bringing judgment in their favor. Its coming isn’t a readily-apparently, easily-visible thing. It is – and here again we have a Greek word with more than one meaning – “within you” / “among you.” Could it be that this is the perfect word to use because it has a double meaning? That the kingdom is a personal thing that is within us – AND it is a communal thing that is among us?

Then the tantalizing phrase is used – and only here, as far as I can find it – “one of the days of the Son of man.”

I would have asked right there and then, “Lord – do you really mean there’s more than one?”

But that wasn’t his point. They would long for the comfort of His return, but they would not immediately see it. Liars would try to make them think He was back, but it wouldn’t be time. When He truly returned – “in His day,” singular – it would happen everywhere, not just in one place.

First they would have to see Him suffer. Then they would suffer themselves. And the survivors would have to see Jerusalem suffer – completely unaware of the years-long, disastrous siege about to befall her. Like the sinners of Noah’s day. Like the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah “on the day the Son of man is revealed.” Revealed to have told the truth in His prophecy? Revealed, therefore as the Son of God? Is this the correct intepretation of His warning?

One would be taken; one left behind. (Sounds like a title for a best-seller.) This time, His friends ask Him what I would have asked: “Where, Lord?”

I wonder if they understood His answer, because I sure don’t.

Let’s see how Luke records the Olivet Discourse:

Luke 21:5-38 – Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.

Luke and Mark agree on the phrasing of the disciples’ question. They both agree with Matthew that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.”

Some loudly-spoken folks have made a lot out of the phrase “until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled.” I don’t see a lot of significance in it. What I see significant is the phrase “your redemption is drawing near.” Out of the calamity, out of the terror of judgment, Jesus sounds a note of hope. Does this redemption mean His coming, His revelation, the coming of His kingdom?

The instruction to “watch out,” “be careful” and be alert for each sign echoes the parable of the traveling householder that Luke records in 12:35-48 (and following). I didn’t include it here since He doesn’t directly refer to His return or kingdom or judgment. Though I didn’t point it out in the post about Matthew’s gospel, there Jesus follows the Olivet Discourse with teachings about being ready – like the five young women who had oil for their lamps; like the servants who invested their traveling householder’s talents wisely.

And He promises to separate the sheep from the goats when He comes in His glory, judging them by what they did for Him through others. There, in Matthew 25, is the only place I’ve found where the “punishment” itself, rather than just the place of punishment, is described as “eternal.” It could mean eternal torture/torment. It could mean obliteration. Either would be permanent. Either would be well worth the effort of avoiding.

Yet I feel compelled to point out that at the end of this citation, verses 47 and 48, Jesus teaches: “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Whether He teaches here – and in Matthew 25 with the story of the talents – different levels of punishment and reward in eternity, I don’t know. I just get the willies all over again when I think about how much I have been given, and how much might be expected of me.

In either this life, or the next.

Luke 23:40-43 – But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Timing is everything. Is paradise the same as heaven? Is it the same as Abraham’s bosom? Did the thief get special treatment? Or the same as anyone and everyone else? Was it appointed to him once to die, and then to face judgment? Did he believe? Did he repent? Did he confess? Was he not guilty? Was he judged guilty and forgiven anyway? Or did he just get to wait in paradise until a second, final judgment yet to come in which God might still lower the boom?

What comfort would that be to a dying man who saw his last Hope and poured out his heart to Him?

No proof here; just opinion. I think he was guilty. I think he was judged. I think he was forgiven and saved. That very day.

I am completely willing to be proved wrong.

But I believe in a Sovereign God who is God of time and eternity and causality and whose Son’s blood carried the power to wash away sin (How many times did He tell someone, “Your sins are forgiven”?) even while it flowed in and from His veins.

That’s Who I believe in. That’s my little story.

And I’m sticking to it.

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII

Second Coming, Part V: Mark’s Gospel

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII

Let’s see how Mark records the Olivet Discourse:

Mark 13:1-ff – As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now – and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect – if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

“But in those days, following that distress,

” ‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!

First of all, Mark records the question of the disciples a little differently; here, they don’t specifically ask about “your coming and the end of the age” as in Matthew. But His answer includes it.

Did I detect a pattern in His answer? I think so. I put it in boldface. It’s a theme: Be prepared. As Tom Lehrer irreverently pointed out years ago, it’s the Boy Scout motto! I counted eight different references to the idea; there may be more that I missed.

Clearly, many of the events Jesus predicts came to pass when Titus of Rome set seige to Jerusalem, and over a period of years took it and pretty much leveled it. Jesus refers to the “abomination that causes desolation” predicted by Daniel, which was partly fulfilled by the entry of general Pompey into the temple’s most holy place; later, in the sacrifice of a pig to Zeus on an altar of the first temple in Jerusalem by conquering Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes, and – probably in Mark’s own lifetime – the destruction of the second temple. (Some think that Titus erected Roman eagle images of some kind in the ruins of the temple, profaning it further and fulfilling Jesus’ cryptic remark in Matthew 24:28 and Luke 17:37.)

Mark’s record makes no clear distinction between that cataclysm and Jesus’ return – only that “in those days, following that distress” it would take place. (Mark doesn’t quote Jesus saying “immediately,” but Matthew does.) And Mark, along with Matthew and Luke, quotes Jesus as saying that “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” He doesn’t seem to be delaying the deadline past the lifetimes of those listening to Him right then; on the contrary, it sounds like it will all happen within the lifetime of most of them.

So, what are you getting at, Keith? you ask.

As a college student at Harding, I read the Olivet Discourses in all three Synoptic gospels for the first time without blinders or explanations or interpretations. I read it for what it says. I read it in every English version of the Bible I could put my hands on. I read it and I hit the wall.

Either Jesus meant what He said and was the son of God, or He lied and He wasn’t. Because, as nearly as I can tell, the end of time did not occur when Jerusalem fell. Time continued on course.

I started reading commentaries, works on eschatology, weighing interpretations and theories and belief systems built on layer upon layer of supposition, and frankly they all had flaws and none of them agreed with each other.

Albert Einstein, however, had something to contribute that I doubt he perceived as having eschatological repercussions.

Time is not necessarily a constant.

Certainly not in God’s hands.

If He wished it to continue flowing forward after the “end of time” or “close of the age” or Jesus’ return or revelation, He could. He doesn’t have to cease history to stop Satan. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, He can change us at the very point of death itself into eternal beings with incorruptible bodies. He can connect us at that moment with the presence or coming of Christ at whatever point in history – or outside of time itself – that it happens. He could do it for Moses and Elijah, snatching them from that point in the past to a transcendant, transfiguring appearance with Jesus – even before Jesus had died and been resurrected to make it possible. What better way to strengthen Jesus for the trials and crucifixion ahead of Him than to share with Him a taste of the result? If God could present them forward in time, could He not instantaneously take us back (or forward) to the moment of Christ’s triumph and judgment? He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God of the living; not the dead.

Point is, we look to the future for an event yet to occur. Christ’s return may well have already occurred.

By God’s grace and power, we don’t have to miss it.

Sure, it’s a theory. Whether I’m right about it or not makes little difference in the grand scheme of things – and I will be delighted to discover what God has in mind when it takes place for me. It will probably involve truths I couldn’t possibly grasp in this life, anyway.

The important thing is not to establish the perfect intellectual theory about eschatology. The important thing is to live our belief in the fundamental, inescapable truth that Christ and his angels will come back for each one of us. So …” Watch!” “Be alert!”

“Be prepared!”

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII

Second Coming, Part IV: Matthew’s Gospel

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII

Wow! There were twice as many folks in my class tonight – 12! Let’s see … we started the first half last week with just three, then it doubled to six when more came in … if my math is right, we’ll need to meet in the 750-seat auditorium by the end of July!

We talked about being careful not to apply passages of Old Testament prophecy to Christ’s return just because they talk about “the day of the Lord.” Some of them refer only to a day of vengeance against Egypt, or Cush, or Put, or Libya or some combination thereof. Others refer only to God’s judgment against Israel and/or Judah, specifically Jerusalem – because of disobedience (like offering flawed sacrifices). And some are clearly Messianic, because Jesus or New Testament writers draw from their language.

That sets the stage for our discussion in two weeks (church picnic next week, remember?): how Christ speaks of His return as a time of judgment and calamity … but His followers – from the perspective after His death and resurrection – also add to it the dimension of hope and salvation.

I’ll just post the part of my handout for then with the quotes from Matthew and save the other quotes from Jesus for later posts:

Matthew 3:2 – In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Also Mark 1:15)

Matthew 4:17 – From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Matthew 10:7 – As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’

Yes, I know these don’t specifically refer to the return of Jesus, but to the coming of the kingdom. Bear with me. I hope to remember to tie this in to other citings later in this series! – It’s also interesting to me that there’s a progression here: John the Baptizer begins with this message; Jesus takes it up after John is arrested; then He commissions His followers to preach it.

Matthew 24:1-ff – Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now?and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect?if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.

“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

“Immediately after the distress of those days
” ‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I think Matthew 24 has been sliced and diced to fit any and every kind of interpretation about the order in which these events fall. The trouble is, in parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21 (plus an extra teaching in Luke 17) they’re all muddled together in no particular order.

And the clincher is, in all three accounts of this Olivet Discourse (as it’s called by them what knows) He says, “… this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32)

Now we can quibble about what the word “generation” means, but what He says on the Mount of Olives seems parallel (to me) to other passages like Matthew 16:27-28:

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

See? I told you I’d try to tie them together later! There are similar passages in Mark 9:1 (“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”) and Luke 9:27 (“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”) Was He talking about His ascension? Pentecost? The obliteration of the temple and most of Jerusalem in AD 70? Or some coming of the kingdom yet to take place?

Matthew 28:18-20 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

And we can quibble about the word there translated “age” meaning that or “world” or “era.” But it doesn’t help. To me, the key word is “end.” The guarantee is absolute: He is with us. Surely. Always.

So does that imply that the word “parousia” is more likely to mean “presence” than “coming”?

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII

Second Coming, Part III: Which Prophecies Apply?

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII

To help them prepare for what I hope to teach tomorrow night in my class on the second coming (and all other things eternal, it seems!), I handed out a list of Old Testament scriptures. It’s not a complete list, to be sure, but it does give a flavor of apocalyptic language and several different descriptions of “The Day of the Lord,” among other things – including God’s hint to Ezekiel about resurrection.

Jesus draws from these passages when He speaks of His return (we’ll study that on July 6; we’re having a church picnic June 29). Peter and Paul and other New Testament writers quote them, too. That’ll be our study July 13 – “Six Authors In Search Of An Ending.”

So here’s that taste I promised:

Joel 1:15 – “Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.” (The context is invasion, famine, catastrophe and it continues through chapter 2.)

Joel 2:28-31- “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls.” (Following this is a promise of judgment on the nations.)

Amos 5:18-20 – “Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD – That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light – pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?”

Isaiah 2:2, 12 – “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. ? The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled).”

Isaiah 13:6, 9 – “Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. ? See, the day of the Lord is coming – a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger – to make the land desolate, and destroy the sinners within it.”

Jeremiah 46:10 – “But that day belongs to the LORD, the Lord Almighty – a day of vengeance, for vengeance on his foes. The sword will devour till it is satisfied, till it has quenched its thirst with blood. For the Lord, the LORD Almighty, will offer sacrifice in the land of the north by the River Euphrates.”

Ezekiel 13:5 – “You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD.”

Ezekiel 30:3 – “For the day is near, the day of the Lord is near – a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.”

Ezekiel 37:3 – “He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’ “

Daniel 9:20-27 – “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill – while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the message and understand the vision: “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

Obadiah 1:15 – “The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”

Zechariah 14:1-9 – “A day of the LORD is coming when your plunder will be divided among you. I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. On that day there will be no light, no cold or frost. It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime?a day known to the LORD. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter. The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name.”

Zephaniah 1:2-3, 7, 14-16 – “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD. “I will sweep away both men and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. ? The wicked will have only heaps of rubble when I cut off man from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD. ? Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited. ? The great day of the LORD is near ? near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers.”

Malachi 3:1-5 – “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.”

Malachi 4:1 – “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.”

Much of the prophetic or apocalyptic language of these passages paints a picture of judgment. Not surprisingly, so does Jesus. And so do the NT writers inspired by His Spirit. How literally can we interpret it?

I view these writings as a writer. They are poetry – in fact, though I’ve quoted the New International Version here, I love the poetry of these passages in the King James and Revised Standard versions even more. That’s not to say they are just poetry, because some poetry is little more than rhythmic, rhyming drivel. The best poetry is truth, expressed simply and powerfully. It uses words to try to describe what there are no words to describe. That’s what these passages do, too. They do it very well. They make you sit up and take notice; pay attention.

That’s what God wants you to do. Pay attention. Watch. Get ready. (As Flip Wilson used to flippantly say, “Here come de Judge.”) And, if He asks you a really tough question, take a cue from Ezekiel.

Answer Him: “Sovereign Lord, You alone know.”

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII

Second Coming, Part II: Coming To Terms

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII

I gave the folks in my Wednesday evening class an incomplete list of terms to help with our study of scripture’s clues about the “last things.” Since I have no real intention of addressing any of them or schemes associated with them (I’m planning to stick to scripture instead), I didn’t want to disappoint anyone who might have been there to hear about them. Still, some of these terms are scriptural, and even a quick definition can help explain why there are so many different schemes floating around:

Parousia – means the presence or coming of Christ. In the Greek language parousia usually means “presence,” and in the ancient Greco-Roman world it referred to official visits by royalty. It is used by Christians as a specialized term for Jesus’ glorious presence on earth?primarily his final return at the end of the world, but also his return upon the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Eschatology – is the study of Christian beliefs concerning final events and ultimate purposes (from Gr. eskhatos ,last ). Eschatology studies the conclusion of God ‘s purposes, and therefore the concluding destiny of created things and especially of Man and of the Church, according to the purposes of God.

Rapture – is a term most commonly used to describe an event in certain systems of Christian eschatology (study of the end of the world ) whereby all true Christians are taken from Earth by God into Heaven before other events associated with the end of the world take place. Some teach a ?secret? rapture.

Armageddon – is the site of the final battle between the kings of the earth (incited by Satan) and God. The term is also used for the battle itself.

Apocalypse – term “apocalypse” was introduced by F. L├╝cke (1832) as a description of the New Testament book of Revelation. An apocalypse, in the terminology of early Jewish and Christian literature, is a revelation of hidden things given by God to a chosen prophet; this term is more often used to describe the written account of such a revelation.

Literalism – a way of looking at scripture which interprets it literally, with little or no symbolism involved.

Futurism – contends that “end things” are yet to happen, in the future.

Historicism – purports that “end things” have already taken place in history, or that the symbols describe events which continue to happen throughout history.

Idealism – views scripture’s description of “end things” as apocalyptic language not to be taken literally as describing earthly events, but heavenly ones.

Tribulation – is a period of immense suffering, greater than anything before in history, which some claim will occur before the end of the world. Some Christians believe that it will last seven years in all, usually divided into two periods of 3.5 years each. This is based on the phrase found several places in the book of Daniel, “time, times, and half a time,” interpreted as “a year, two years, and half a year.”

Millenialism – Some interpret a passage in Revelation concerning the thousand-year (or millennial) rule of Christ on Earth, to be a future goal. Ideas of the kingdom of God which place the beginning of the Messianic kingdom still future, and connect its beginning with the return of Jesus Christ, are called “millennialism”.

  • Premillennialism – is a futurist historical interpretation, which anticipates that prior to the final judgment, Christ will return to the earth to establish an earthly kingdom. Many anticipate a partial resurrection, only of the faithful, who will reign with Christ for one thousand years, during which time Satan will be imprisoned.
    • Pre-Tribulationism – believes that Christ will return twice. At the beginning he will return to rescue those who are Christians at the time, and then disappear again. This will be followed by a seven-year period of suffering, in which the Antichrist will conquer the world and kill those who refuse to worship him. At the end of the seven years, Christ will return a second time to defeat the Antichrist, and rescue the Jews and those who have converted to Christianity during the tribulation.
      • Dispensationalism – is a branch of Christian theology that (1) teaches Biblical history as best understood in light of a number of successive economies or administrations under God, which it calls “dispensations,” and (2) emphasizes prophecy of the end-times and the pre-tribulation rapture view of Christ’s second coming.

    • Mid-Tribulationism – believes that Christians will not be removed from the great tribulation, until 3-1/2 years have elapsed, when the Temple sacrifices have been halted and the Antichrist has enshrined himself in the Temple, calling himself God.
    • Post-Tribulationism – holds that Christ will not return until the end of the tribulation , which Christians will suffer through along with everyone else.

  • Postmillennialism – is sometimes called “optimistic amillennialism “. As in amillennialism, the “thousand years” is an idiomatic expression equivalent to “all time”; i.e.: for the entire period following the resurrection of Christ until His return. Postmillennialists anticipate that prior to Christ’s return, the world will have gradually but entirely converted to Christianity, at least nominally, through the preaching of the gospel. It is of two antithetical varieties, millennial and non-millennial. Some postmillennialists believe that the millennium is a future golden age, when Christian saints will reign over all of the earth, before the return of Christ and the end of the world.
  • Preterism – is a past-historical interpretation of “end times” prophecies, most notably the Great Tribulation and the coming of the kingdom of God. This is an historic view that can be traced back to very early proponents. The Preterist view, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, teaches that “the prophecies of the Apocalypse [book of Revelation] have already been fulfilled.” Extreme versions of this belief hold that all of those who are to be saved (mostly martyrs) already have been; the rest can only live pure lives out of reverence for Christ and then perish.
    • Amillenialism – is a partial preteristic form of Christian Eschatology which teaches a very symbolic interpretation of the Biblical prophecy of the end times. It teaches that Christ’s kingdom will not be physically established on earth, but rather that the Christian church represents Christ’s kingdom. They teach a spiritual understanding of many of the prophecies of what is to come.
    • Transmillennialism┬« – the belief that the millennial reign of Christ brought about the change, or transformation of the ages, from the Old to the New Covenant in A.D. 70. Also known as covenant eschatology, or a preterist view of Scripture. It differs slightly in that it holds there is still evangelism and other work for Christians to perform.

I tried my best to nest terms under the beliefs with which they’re most often associated, but there’s still a lot of variation.

My next-to-bottom line: Most of these beliefs agree with scripture – to some degree and at some points. Most contradict the others, and it’s usually at those points that they diverge from scripture as well. Believing in any particular one as a theory isn’t necessarily a bad thing … it’s when we pick one and believe it as “the one-and-only-interpretation of the truth” that we get into trouble.

Bottom line: Why not just read what the Bible says and believe it, whether it fully reveals what we want to know – and whether we fully understand it?

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII

Second Coming, Part I: What Does It Mean?

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII

Last night I began teaching my summer/Wednesday Adult Elective class at church about Jesus’ second coming, and I’ll try to share some of what we talked about.

At first, there were just two besides myself in the class – then about halfway through, three more people walked in and doubled the number! (There are so many great choices at my church this summer.)

We talked about faith and knowledge, and their relative importance. I brought a brick out of my briefcase; a brick imprinted “Abilene” from the factory that went out of business there years ago, and described how much it meant to my son as his souvenir of where we used to live. I talked (briefly) about gravity; Newton’s universal law of gravitation, Einstein’s theories that fill in the holes in Newton’s law, the acceleration of a falling object and the power of gravity to bend light itself as it passes a star or black hole. Then I asked, “Do you need to know any of that if I hold that brick above your foot and tell you I’m going to drop it? How much do you need to know?”

I think it’s that way with the Bible’s revelation of Christ’s second coming and the judgment which follows it. God reveals it on a need-to-know basis. We want to know when and where the brick will fall; God just says it’s going to. Jesus said that, while He was in the flesh, even He didn’t know exactly when. But He did leave clues so that His followers would be ready; would see it coming.

In dealing with the uncertainty, we have tended to approach it intellectually. We’ve formed dozens – perhaps hundreds – of theories, explanations, rationalizations, and interpretations of the clues that scripture shares. We’ve debated, disagreed, and divided over our ponderings as if each was the gospel itself. We’ve written books, filmed “B” movies, made money, even formed political alliances based on the repercussions of our beliefs on the matter.

The plain truth is, we’ve pretty much failed to grasp it in any way other than intellectually. We’ve failed to simply accept scripture’s descriptions as truth itself, as a warning, as a call to “watch” and “be prepared.” It hasn’t reached our hearts … just our heads.

If its truth grabbed us by the throat with its apocalyptic descriptions of the intersection of time and eternity split wide open as a battlefield between cosmic good and evil; if we recognized that battlefield was our hearts, we would truly live what we believe.

In a sense, our faces would always be glancing upward – expectantly, prayerfully, longingly – and at the same time, fearfully, on behalf of so many people whom God loves but have not yet been reached by His love and its revelation in Jesus.

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII

Parousia Ponderings

I’ve agreed to teach a spring or summer course at church on “The Second Coming of Christ,” part of a series of extracurricular (not “extra credit”!) offerings that our adult education ministry has introduced.

It may not be a terribly important item for many Christians, but it was a crisis issue for me thirty years ago. I kept coming up against too many references to it in the New Testament that sounded imminent then; as if His return would happen within years, if not at just any moment. But that was nearly two thousand years ago.

I just couldn’t imagine that the writers were mistaken. Or that Jesus was lying.

Since I have problems, as well as points of agreement, with virtually every interpretation of parousia (second-coming) in scripture, I’ve had to work it out to my own satisfaction.

It’s a bewildering wilderness of theories: Dispensationalism, Millennialism, Pre-Milleniallism, Post-Millennialism, Amillennialism, Transmillennialism(R), Preterism and within them all kinds of subcultures like Pre-, Mid-, Post-Tribulationism, and Full or Partial Preterism.

And if the whole thing isn’t very important to you, consider the fact that certain views have forged powerful political liasons in support of committing our nation to very sensitive issues in the Middle East.

To me, it has ramifications in this life as well as the next.

So many positions have been defended so staunchly on this issue (as with so many others), that I’ve wondered if there’s room in the market for a book that just investigates what the scriptures say and asks questions about what it might all mean. It might even draw tentative conclusions that make the cut of Occam’s Razor (“Prefer the simplest solution.”).

I’m hoping that my study to present the course will spur me on to write the book.

So far, all I’ve written is part of an introduction: a prayer for inspiration and guidance in the study. Since some of my friends have been encouraging me in my paltry attempts at verse, I’ll share it along with the question: Is it worth a book?

There is so much that I don’t know
about the Day to come …
I treasure what Your word does show;
I’m glad You’ve told me some.

I know that You will come again
from far beyond the sky,
and though I don’t know where or when
I do know how and why:

As lightning flashes east to west
so suddenly You’ll shine,
and take me where the angels rest
and tell Death, “This one’s mine.”

For long ago You conquered Death
while pinioned to a tree
You gave up with Your dying breath
a Spirit meant for me.