1 Peter 4:7: “The end of all things is near; therefore be …”. In technical studies, we call this “eschatological ethics.” That is, an ethic (“therefore be…”) that is rooted in and derives from a sense that history is about to close its door, that it is about to be wrapped up in a grand finale, that time will gave way to eternity. Peter is not alone in this in the early Church. James 5:8: “the coming of the Lord is near.” Jesus: “the kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15) and the “some of you who are standing here will not taste death until you see … kingdom” (Mark 9:1) or “you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of man comes” (Matt 10:23), and even Mark 13:30: “this generation will not pass away before all these things have taken place.” Some see it between the lines in 1 Thess 4–5.
Critical scholars tend to see one of two things: an early Christian expectation of the imminent return but a view of the end that was relaxed over time but which has value as a critique of the world or, what amounts only to a kind of radicalizing of the previous view, the early Christians were just plain wrong.
Evangelical scholars have a variety of views. I take three examples from readily-available commentaries. First, Peter Davids. Davids sees a linear concept of history at work but Peter has a view of the “impending eschaton” (156). Davids pulls back from explaining how a sense of imminency on the part of Peter fit with a history that did not see an imminent end.
Howard Marshall. Marshall senses the imminent expectation by the early Christians, but he sees that tied to their view that their sufferings were part of that final onslaught leading to the End. And it took Christians some time before they realized God’s plan was not as imminent as they thought (140-141). The vital fact is that Jesus’ first coming inaugurated the eschatological time-table of God. So, Marshall argues that we are all to expect the kingdom of God “at any time.”
Finally, Karen Jobes. She sees “end” in “the end of all things” to be the “last stage of a process as well as to its outcome or goal” (275). Because of the resurrection, believers are living in the last stage of God’s redemptive plan. Support can be found in Peter’s understanding of the future in 1:20: Christ “was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.” Thus, “end of ages” is the era of the Church, the era between the resurrection and the Parousia/Second Coming.
How do you see this?
I’m guessing now about how Brian McLaren might see this. I’m guessing based on his book The Last Word and the Word After That. Namely, if hell is rhetorical warrant used to motivate good people to change their lives, then I’m guessing also that language like 1 Peter 4:7, if taken as imminent expectation of the End, is also rhetorical warrant. The grounded reality under and behind such a statement is that there really is an End, there really is an Eschaton (though we may not know what it is), there is really is an Eternity with and in God, and eschatological language takes such an ontological grounding and emerges into a warning to get life ready because the End, the Ultimate Facing of God, is near — is sensed as near. Forgive me, Brian, if this is not what you believe, but I sense that you might think this way and I sense that many emergent types would approach eschatological language as a form of apocalyptic warrant and rhetoric.