03 July 2013

The Already and the Not Yet (1/2)

A Discussion on the Kingdom of God, Eschatology, Millennialism, Hermeneutics and a brief Historiographical note.

The Already-Not Yet framework allows us to rightly understand the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. By understanding the relationship between This Age and the Age to Come we are able to grasp the nature of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is in Heaven where Christ sits on the right hand of the throne of God. But because we are in Christ and He is in us, that same Kingdom manifests itself on Earth...through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The vehicle for the Spirit is within the hearts of believers. We live in both realms at the same time. Our hearts are in heaven. That's our home, that's where we lay up our treasures. Our desires, our ethics and values all flow from an understanding that Heaven is our home.

Many prophecies speaking of the Day of Judgment were typified in the Old Testament through such events as the Egyptian plagues, the Angel of Death, the conquest of Canaan, the destruction of Jerusalem, the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes and ultimately the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70AD. These prophesied events were literally fulfilled but because the prophets often employ apocalyptic language the exact verbiage is often obscured by symbolic and often poetic language. Don't misunderstand the event happens but sometimes not in keeping with the exact minutiae because the literal fulfillment of the event ultimately points to a spiritual truth that will only be fully realized at the 2nd Coming.

For example Peter cites Joel's prophecy at Pentecost and says it has been fulfilled. Did the moon turn to blood that day in Jerusalem? No, but the events Peter was speaking of certainly point to the events spanning from the crucifixion up to Pentecost. Could some of that language be applied to the crucifixion? Yes. Were cosmic events taking place with the Resurrection, Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit? Absolutely. The changes in the sky whether actual or not reveal the spiritual reality of a great Divine labour, a time of change, upheaval and transition.

Does that mean the verses are being 'spiritualized' away? I don't think so. Those who insist on a literalistic hermeneutic (notice I said literalistic not just literal) have a problem. They see the Joel passage as not being fulfilled and yet Peter clearly said it was.

Can it find additional fulfillment? Yes. Christ's two comings are sometimes mixed in the prophetic language. The prophet's perspective from the distant past seems to often blend the two events. And in one sense they are one. Christ did finish all and yet we are in a time between the times, a period of longsuffering delay where the Church will grow, and grace will be extended though the world will rage against it and seek to destroy all that is holy. The beast will hunt down the true Church and seek to destroy it. Though the Church is all but slain, she survives and rescues many souls from the Judgment fire.

What we must not do is try to pick apart the passage and say these verses specifically apply to these events and these verses come much later. That would be a mistake and destroy the integrity of the prophetic vision.

It's not a chronological code that we try to dissect. It's a comprehensive unified vision that is equally true for the Church in 29AD as it is in 2013.

Both the Dispensational and Postmillennial camps fall into this error. Essentially they possess the same hermeneutic and make the same fatal mistake. They give the Old Testament priority and read the New in light of the Old. They take the Old passages as the standard and try and determine where and to what degree the New Testament fulfills them.

Consequently they divide up passages in an artificial way. Preterists who go too far in seeing all as fulfilled[i] will try and drawn a line in places like Matthew 24 and say these verses apply to AD70 and the destruction under Titus and the rest of the chapter concerns the 2nd Coming.

This is a mistake. In one sense it was very much about the year 70 and the Roman destruction, but that was a picture of the Final Judgment. The nature of prophetic language is that the one event typifying the other means the language can be blended and used interchangeably. This becomes impossible if you're trying to read it in a literalistic fashion or force a chronology on it.

What basis do I have to say this? Think of Malachi's prophecy in the final verses of the book. He says Elijah will be sent before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

Matthew 11 teaches us that prophecy was fulfilled by the coming of John the Baptist. Matthew 17 makes it even clearer. Was the Malachi passage fulfilled? Yes. Literally? Yes. Literalistically? No.

Look again at Malachi 4. Was it fulfilled? At this point some will want to divide the passage. Dispensationalists (ironically like the Jews) are still looking for Elijah to appear before the end.

He's not coming again. The passage was fulfilled by John the Baptist and the Coming of Christ.

Let me qualify that by saying from Malachi's perspective the 1st and 2nd Coming are one event. This doesn't mean Malachi made a mistake. Theologically the Kingdom was established and in a sense (I would argue) even the Last Judgment has been completed.

It is finished.

What we're waiting for is time (in this case the age of delay) to catch up with (as it were) the eternal reality. Everything is paused. God is being merciful and longsuffering. It’s already completed, but not yet fully implemented.

It's almost like spilling a pitcher of water and it's pouring across the table. You make a dam with your hands and hold it back...but only for a second. Everything has already happened, you're just holding it back.

The time is short. And that's true even if the 'time' extends for 2000 years. That's not the Lord tarrying. That's mercy and longsuffering.

Christ's Judgment has already been proclaimed when He defeated death on the cross on rose again. This was the proclamation to the world. His testimony was ratified by signs and wonders as were the Apostles He sent. The Holy Spirit bears witness of this.

The time is short. There's no warning. We don't have to wait for the Jews to be back in the land. He comes as a thief in the night. It's already finished. Again, this age is like an event that’s been paused. It's just a matter of God saying....Now.

You can't divide the passage in Malachi. I recently heard David Jeremiah on the radio slaughtering the book of Daniel. Dispensationalism in misunderstanding the book places 2000 year gaps between verses. The final beast which everyone agrees was Rome is for them waiting to reappear. The final beast is still Rome...or to them that's been transformed into the European Union. It’s funny they get very literalistic at times, but in this case and certainly in their reading of the first three chapters of Revelation they definitely spiritualize the passage. Reading the ‘Rapture’ into Revelation 4.1 is but another example of this.

The prophetic time clock (an invention of their own) stopped in AD70 when the Jews lost the land. Once they were re-established in 1948 the clock started again and by spiritualizing the fig tree mentioned in Matthew 24 they believe everything will end within a generation.

Of course the passage says nothing about the re-birth of Israel and in fact other passages (Acts 1 for example) militate against this, let alone the teaching of the epistles. Nevertheless they suddenly allegorize this passage and derive modern Zionist Israel from it. And they've had to revise things because after 65 years (as of May 14 2013) the so-called Rapture hasn't happened. Some have looked to the land captured in 1967 as the start of the 'clock' and thus they've granted themselves a bit more time.

Daniel certainly was dealing with the entire period from the exile to the advent of Christ. We can clearly see Chaldean Babylon, Achaemenid Persia, Alexander, the Hellenistic world (Ptolemies and Seleucids) and the rise of Rome. There are hints again in prophetic terms of the future Kingdom which can be interpreted in both a spiritual sense (pre-Eschaton) and even a somewhat literal sense in light of the eschatological consummation, the 2nd coming. Indeed at that point in the New Heavens and New Earth all will be holy. At present it’s ‘not yet’.

Dispensationalists try to divide chapters and verses and end up with tremendous chronological gaps which result in the turning of the text on its head or at the very least are committed to such a complex if not esoteric reading, it would never be detected by anyone just simply reading the passage. It is a system highly dependent on its scholars, for no one sitting in the pew would ever ‘divide’ the Scriptures in such a way.

The Scriptures end up being treated like a code. Their hermeneutic is more akin to data mining then reading and grasping the message of the passage.

[i] There are also Hyper-Preterists who literally believe Jesus came back in AD70. That falls outside the bounds of orthodoxy and in fact is condemned within the New Testament itself. Hymenaeus and Philetus taught the resurrection (presumably the final resurrection which occurs at the 2nd Coming) had already passed. This error was taught before the year 70 and thus must have been in a slightly different form but Paul is pretty clear in his condemnation. He says they've overthrown the faith.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

The distinction between tarrying and mercy/longsuffering is essential. Thanks for bringing that to my attention!

By the way, potently descriptive first paragraph.