- The Coming of Jesus: Introduction
- The Coming of Jesus: Daniel's 70 Weeks
- The Coming of Jesus: Coming on the clouds
- The Coming of Jesus: The Olivet Discourse – Part 1
- The Coming of Jesus: The Olivet Discourse – Part 2
- The Coming of Jesus: Revelation Fulfilled?
- The Coming of Jesus: Our Future Hope - What Now?
So here we are at the final part of this Coming of Jesus series. If you’re new here, you can start from the beginning by clicking here, or carry on reading as I will give a brief overview of what’s been covered so far.
This series has covered many topics and themes of eschatology, starting with Daniel’s prophecy of the Messiah’s first coming to this world, all the way through to the prophecies of another coming. It’s been a very interesting and eye-opening journey of discovery, at least for myself, if no one else. I didn’t start this study with a particular doctrine or conclusion in mind, but rather went in with the mindset to examine the Futurist belief system and see if it holds up to scrutiny, because I’d become despondent with it over the years when I read certain passages in the Bible and only find Futurist exegesis which, to be honest, was more of a stretch to accept than I was comfortable with. So many times I’d read of the New Testament authors proclaiming the soon-ness of Christ’s coming, and the great sense of urgency that comes from the pages of the different epistles, especially in the ones written later on (such as 1 John).
So when I discovered there was an alternative way to look at these passages (called Preterism as I later found out), I decided it was time to find out for sure if what I’d been told most of my Christian life was correct in terms of a total future coming of Jesus and fiery destruction of the known world, or whether it was something else altogether. What I discovered has led me through a life-changing event in terms of my theology, to the point where all of those “soon” and “at hand” verses of Scripture actually make sense without theological gymnastics to make it all fit into a 2000+ year timeframe!
Over 400 years before Jesus was born, the angel Gabriel came to Daniel and gave him a vision of the future coming messiah and of God’s Kingdom. Right on time, Jesus was born and announced the advent of the Kingdom of God. Jesus went around proclaiming that the “time was fulfilled” and the Kingdom was “at hand” (Mark 1:15) and that it was “in [their] midst” and “within you” (or among you; Luke 17:21).
During Jesus’ ministry, he foretells and prophesies the destruction of the temple along with the coming of the Son of Man “in the clouds” (Matt 24:30) and that this would be fulfilled within the generation of his listeners “when all these [prophecies] have taken place” (Matt 24:34). A recap through various Old Testament prophecies showed that this type of apocalyptic language of coming with clouds, darkening the skies and falling stars, was often used by God through His prophets when pronouncing judgement on the nations. This judgement came by the hand of other nations with their armies, used by God for His purposes – and what Jesus spoke of was no different. God used the Roman armies to sack Jerusalem and burn the temple to the ground, as prophesied, and did this as punishment upon His own people for the rejection and death of the Messiah (Mark 12:1-9) and for all the blood of the prophets the nation of Israel killed over the centuries (Luke 11:49-51).
Examining the Olivet Discourse in some detail alongside contemporary historical accounts by Josephus revealed that the Great Tribulation foretold by Jesus certainly was great and terrible. Miraculous events happened, the temple glowed with unnatural light at night as voices were heard saying “let us depart” from there; great portents were seen in the skies as angelic armies ran through the clouds over Jerusalem, the streets ran with blood and fiery destruction rained down across the city! But those who were in Christ were saved, as promised. They who held to the faith until the end were warned by angels before this destruction came so that they could escape the city and survive.
This was the culmination of all things! The old world with its sacrificial system and priestly laws and rules for pleasing God and removing sin was done away with; now Christ has come, a new law and rule had also come: the Law of Christ/Love (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21). Grace abounds and love rules. Sin and death are defeated (2 Tim 1:10) and those who believe on Christ are given new life and right to be heirs to eternal life (Titus 3:6-7)! The old has passed and the new has surely come (2 Cor 5:17)!
Through baptism we are born again into our new bodies, spiritually speaking (Col 2:12), whilst we wait to put on and clothe ourselves with immortality fully upon physical death by our resurrected bodies (1 Cor 15:54).
In terms of the new creation in contrast to the old, the early Christians had a belief and view of the resurrection of Jesus as being the beginning of the new creation – the eighth day they called it. The epistle of Barnabas conveys it well:
The sabbaths, that now are, are not acceptable unto me, but that which I have made is, even that in which, after that I have brought all things to an end, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, which thing is the beginning of another world.
Wherefore we keep the eighth day as a day of gladness, on which also Jesus rose from the dead, and after he had appeared ascended unto heaven.
An unexpected twist
After an exploration through Revelation, comparing and contrasting with the Olivet Discourse and historical accounts, I found myself discovering things I didn't expect. Up to this point I was becoming fairly convinced that everything was fulfilled in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem, but the more I studied Revelation, even with this new perspective, I couldn't shake the feeling that there was still more.
As much as I read various commentaries and other Preterist studies and comments on Revelation, it was giving me the same feeling I had about Futurism: certain parts of Scripture were being forced to fit into a theological model where they didn't necessarily belong. It just didn't all fit into 70 AD – if anything, much of Revelation stretches forward another 400 or so years to the fall of the Roman Empire and then breaks to speak on other spiritual mysteries like the millennium and New Jerusalem: things which are spoken of in a physical sense, but are conveying heavenly events.
After reading many various writings from the earliest Christians and their views and interpretations on all these events, I can affirm that many of the early writers believed Daniel's 70 weeks ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and that they saw the fulfilment in that. But that they also still looked forward to an actual millennium reign with a total culmination of world events. Later in Christian history, the millennium came to be viewed as metaphorical of spiritual realities, and the earlier views pertaining to 70 AD were forgotten it seems. Futurism crept in in later centuries or so, but was roundly condemned by some prominent early Christian leaders of the time. It came up again shortly after the Reformation in the 1500s as Rome tried to defer Protestant claims of the Pope being the antichrist, but It only really made a comeback in the Church in recent history in the 1800s through the teaching of Darby and Scofield.
From all this though, I can no longer accept full futurism as a valid doctrine of “end times”. I'm open to the historical position that there will possibly be an actual millennium reign. But whether that happens at the six thousandth year (as was expected) according to the Jewish calendar – roughly another 224 or so years away, or at some indeterminate time, I don't know and I won't presume to predict so.
Urgency and imminence
With that said, let's quickly look over all the places where these events were expected “soon” or were said to be “at hand”. Seeing it all as a list makes you realise just how often it was said in the New Testament and just how soon the early church really expected things to happen! I find it hard to believe that with all this urgency, the early Christians were actually speaking of a “soon-but-not-soon-really-we-mean-two-thousand-years-or-so” and expected nothing to come of it.
Let's dive in!
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
1 Thessalonians 4:15
For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.
But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.
For yet “in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay
You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!
1 Peter 4:7
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.
1 John 2:18
Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour.
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place … and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.
The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
If you’re interested to read more, you can see a list of 101 “time texts” here from the New Testament which demonstrate the “at hand-ness” of everything!
Despite this coming from an atheist blog on the topic(!), the author does make a valid point here in the way he describes the unconscious effect of the Futurist doctrine, especially that of the Rapture:
“Worse, it encourages people to take no action in the face of humanity’s problems in the belief that such assistance would be pointless since God will soon return to claim his own anyway. Such belief encourages a view of the world as a “sinking ship” – not something to be protected or cherished, but only something to be escaped as soon as possible.”
Escapism is not the Christian way. The New Testament is full of exhortations to hold fast to the faith (Heb 10:23) and persevere through trials with endurance (Rom 2:7; James 1:12). To lean on God for strength and safety, not to sit and hope to be scooped up and out of troubles!
Even when Jesus was praying for his disciples, knowing full well persecution and death awaited them, did he pray that the Father would rescue them from the world?
I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.
So where does this leave us now, today? With more hope, I would say. If indeed the tribulation, and signs, wars and bloodshed are behind us and was about the coming judgement on the nation of Israel, then we ought to have no fear of the future or things in the news and headlines on the papers. Definitely not any worry from those preachers who pop up every few years predicting the End.
Our hope should be in Christ and his finished work. Even if there is still a “coming” in the future, and we’re taken up to heaven in new bodies, when (or if) it happens, it’ll happen and will be unlike anything else. But in the meantime we should have our focus on our faith and lives in the now. Living righteously for Christ, loving God and loving our neighbours: fulfilling the Law of Love in our daily lives, making this world a better place, being the salt and light.
Don’t spend so much time and energy watching for signs of doom and gloom that you miss the hurting and needy people around you who need the light of Jesus in their lives.
Bring life, preach love and let God worry about whether he will end the universe or not.
The world is only a sinking ship if we let it be one, so let us partner with Jesus in the work of reconciliation, helping to bring all things back to God (2 Cor 5:18-19), living in the reality of the eighth day!