Archive for the ‘Prophecy’ Tag

Proposal: An eschatology where God is more present than absent

When Jesus talks about “the Son of Man coming on the clouds” (Matt 16, 24, 26; Mark 13; Luke 17, 21), I believe he is using well-known metaphors to warn of a socio-political catastrophe that some of his first-century hearers would live to see.  I also believe in the future event usually called “the Second Coming,” but I believe these texts (and others like them) are not talking about that.

This is not the most important doctrinal distinction in the world. The creeds, for example, don’t address it.  But I am coming to believe it is a distinction that matters and is worth talking about.  More on that in a bit.  But first I want to give some background…

First, T.F. Torrance points out a problem in how we talk about the Coming of Christ:

It is important to recall that the apostolic witness to Christ did not speak of his advent (parousia)…in the plural, for strictly speaking there is only one saving parousia of the Son… The term parousia was used in the New Testament to speak of all three: the coming, arrival, and presence of Christ… His presence is an advent and his advent is a presence. “The hour comes and now is,” as Jesus once said [John 4:23]. The plural word, “advents” or parousiai, was not found in Christian literature for more than a century after the ascension of Christ… In one revealing statement, however, Justin Martyr spoke of what takes place in the midst of Christ’s parousia. In other words, here and now in the on-going life of the Church we live in the midst of the advent-presence of Christ, already partake of the great regeneration of the future, and share in its blessings with one another (Thomas F. Torrance, The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church. Edinburgh: 1988. pp. 299,300).

Our deistic culture believes in few things so profoundly as it believes in the absence of God.  We Christians seem to believe that he was present once and will someday be present again, but for now we mostly go along with the broader culture in saying that God is certainly not here now.  Except for being “present in the Spirit,” which we mostly use as a euphemism for “not really present.”

N.T. Wright explains:

When God renews the whole creation, as he has promised, bringing together heaven and earth, Jesus himself will be at the centre of it all, personally present to and with his people and ruling his world fully and finally at last… And since the ascension is often thought of in terms of Jesus ‘going away,’ this future final moment is often thought of in terms of his ‘coming back again,’ hence the shorthand ‘second coming.’  However, since the ascension in fact means that Jesus, though now invisible, is not far away but rather closely present with us, it isn’t surprising that some of the key New Testament passages speak not of his ‘return’ as though from a great distance, but of his ‘appearing’ (e.g. Colossians 3.4; 1 John 3.2)… For the early Christians, the really important event—the resurrection of Jesus—had already taken place, and his final ‘appearing’ would simply complete what had then been decisively begun (N.T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone. John Knox: 2011. pp. 224-25).

The Trinity and Humanity blog is part of a larger theological community that emphasizes the twin mysteries of Trinity & Incarnation, and the universal character of the Atonement which flows from them. This magnificent vision lives and breathes the good news of the Real Presence of the Triune God.  As such, our theological project includes re-formulating doctrines which teach or imply God’s Absence.  The popular eschatology of our day is one such doctrine that requires our attention.

Jesus and the New Testament writers have quite a lot to say about the impending destruction of Jerusalem “in this generation,” and the dark and difficult times leading up to it.  And when we take those texts and impose them upon our doctrines about the future Glorious Appearing of Christ, it has consequences.

It produces a worldview of fatalism and pessimism, because it makes us think we know what the world will look like immediately before Christ appears, and it looks awful.  When the beasts and tribulations of the first century get pasted onto our own future, it produces a vision of the world forever getting worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse and worse until Jesus comes back and fixes it, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it in the meantime, so don’t even try making the world a better place, because we already know it won’t work.

Is this our vision of the world where the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit is earthing itself in human life in the world?  Where Christ is already present and becoming more present all the time?  Do we really want to be telling people to forget the prophetic visions of a world where swords get pounded into plowshares, where everyone has their own fig tree, where it will be considered unusual for someone’s lifespan to be less than 100 years, where water will flow in the wild places and flowers will bloom in the desert?  Do we really want to be telling people to forget all that because those are visions of a world where God is present, and we don’t live in that world, at least not yet?

The Gospel is better than that.

What do you think?  Have I gone off the deep end?

In this Generation

A Trinitarian Christ-centered paraphrase of Matthew 24.15-16, 29-51

(15) Watch for the sign of Daniel: The abomination standing inside the Temple. (16) When you see that, get out of town.  Head for the hills.  Literally. Run for your life…(29b) Kings will fall.  Society will break down. Thrones will fail. The powers will be shaken to their foundations. (30) When this prophecy comes to pass, everyone will see me vindicated over my enemies.  They will see that I am what Daniel prophesied — the true Son of Man, now come to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Ancient of Days.  They will weep.  My enemies in Israel will see what Egypt saw (Isa 19.1) — The Son of Man riding his cloud-chariot of war, coming to bring their dark schemes to utter annihilation.  (31) His messengers will spread out to all corners of the earth, and their proclamation will gather Papa’s children to his arms.

(32) When you see buds on the fig trees. you know summer’s almost here. (33) Likewise, when you guys see these signs, you know my coming is about to arrive. (34) Of the people alive right now, some of them will live to see this happen. This will be the proof for the whole world that I am a true prophet. (35) My word is reliable in ways unlike anything you have ever seen.  The fulfillment of this word will be my vindication.

(36) Your generation will see this day, but none of us knows the timing any more precisely than that.  Not you, not even me or the angels.  Only Papa knows.  (37) On the day the Son of man is vindicated and his enemies are destroyed, it will be like the day of Noah’s flood. (38)  People were going on with their everyday lives right up until the day Noah boarded his boat. (39) It was completely unexpected when the flood came and took them to their destruction.  It will be just like that on the day when the Son of Man comes to the throne in heaven and begins to exercise his rule over the world. (40) It will be unpredictable, this flood of violence that is coming.  Two men will be working in the field, and the flood will take one but not the other.  (41) Two women will be working in the kitchen; one will be swept away and the other will be left.

(42) Here’s the point: Stay awake, because you will not see it coming if you’re not paying attention to the sign I told you about. (43) If a thief told you when he was going to break into your house, you would stay awake and protect your house. (44) In the same way, you need to stay awake and watch for the sign.  For that day will come when you’re least expecting it.

(45) Think of it like this: The master chose one servant to be in charge of the other servants, to take care of them and keep them fed.  He blessed one servant so that the other servants would be blessed through him.  (46) How wonderful for that servant if the master were to arrive on the scene to see him faithfully doing his job! (47) The master would promote him on the spot. (48) But what is the master to do when he finds the servant (49) abusing those he was meant to bless, growing fat while the other servants starve? (50) When that servant least expects it, the master will arrive on the scene to right those wrongs.  (51) He will fully expose the wicked servant as his enemy.  The bitter truth will be told, the truth by which both the oppressor and the oppressed will be set free.

~ John Stonecypher

[Much of Jesus’ preaching revolves around an event prophesied in Daniel — The coming of the Son of Man.  For anyone interested in good study material on the topic, I recommend N.T. Wright’s book SURPRISED BY HOPE.]

When the Son Comes to Rule at Papa’s Right Hand

A Christ-centered, Trinitarian paraphrase of Matthew 24.1-31

(1) The disciples were all like “Oooooo” and “Aaahhhh” about how grand the temple was. (2) Jesus said: “Don’t be so easily impressed by this big pile of rocks.  It’s going down; the whole thing—KABLOOEY!

(3) Later as they were hanging out on the hill, they asked him: “When is that going to happen?  How will we know that you’ve come to the Father?  How will we know that this present evil age has ended and that the Age of the Messiah has begun?

(4) Jesus answered: “Don’t let anybody trick you. (5) Lots of people are going to say “Look at me! I’m the Messiah!”  Lots of people will fall for it, but my coming will not be like that.

(6) Don’t freak out when wars happen; in the time before the end of this evil age, such things are par for the course. (7) Wars, famines, earthquakes (8) are just how it begins. (9) Before this age ends, you Twelve will be hated, betrayed, tortured, and killed because of me.

(10) Many will lose sight of the gospel.  They will betray and hate one another. (11) They will fall for get-religious-quick schemes. (12) They will live without healthy boundaries, and they will experience the consequences — cold and frightened hearts. (13) But not you guys.  Stick with me, and you will be safe from those perils. (14) You will spread the good news — that I am your king and defender — all over the place.  Then this age will end, and the new age will begin.

(15) Watch for the sign of Daniel: The abomination standing inside the Temple. (16) When you see that, get out of town.  Head for the hills.  Literally. Run into the mountains and hide.  Don’t waste a single second.  (17) Don’t run back into your house (18) to get your stuff. There will not even be time for that.  Just RUN. (19) It will be hard for those who are pregnant or have little kids.  (20) It will be even harder if it happens in winter, or on a Sabbath when people are crammed into the Temple courts. Pray that it will not be so. (21) Because that is where it will start — a massacre the likes of which you have never seen. (22) Without Papa’s intervention, absolutely everyone there would die. (23) But he will intervene.  He will intervene for you guys, the ones chosen to witness to what you have seen.

(23) Don’t fall for false messiahs. (24) There will be lots of them, complete with fancy tricks.  But you know me.  Don’t fall for it. (25) Don’t forget I told you this. (26) Don’t follow them to look for me hiding in a cave or basement. (27) You don’t need anyone to tell you where lightning is, because it brightens up the whole sky.  Likewise, you won’t need anyone to tell you the Son of Man has come to begin exercising his rule over all things.  When the destruction I have prophesied comes to pass, everyone will see it. (28) A hovering flock of vultures is visible to everyone.  No one needs to be told about the corpse on the ground beneath them.

(29) In the wake of all this carnage, everything will fall to pieces. Chaos galore!  Kings will fall.  Society will break down. Thrones will fail. The powers will be shaken to their foundations. (30) When this prophecy comes to pass, everyone will see me vindicated over my enemies.  They will see that I truly am what Daniel prophesied — the true Son of Man, now come to heaven to rule at the right hand of the Ancient of Days.  They will weep.  My enemies in Israel will see what Egypt saw [Isa 19.1] — The Son of Man making war on them from above, bringing their dark schemes to utter annihilation.  (31) His messengers will spread out to all corners of the earth, and their proclamation will gather Papa’s children to his arms.

~ John Stonecypher

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