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This post wraps up our series for this week.
Let me now try to draw together some threads. The temporal indicators
of Mark 13 and parallels suggest that Jesus envisioned everything
therein described as occurring within one generation. Roughly speaking,
he sees things occurring in about 40 years. History shows that the
Romans sacked Jerusalem brutally and banished them from the City, and
this event largely confirms what Jesus predicted. Josephus tells the
story in his Jewish War, and Christians read Josephus until the last
century, when dispensationalism took over and discouraged the use of
Josephus. You can look this up, too. Furthermore, we have seen
plausible reasons, some more compelling than others, for seeing the
language of Mark 13:24-27/Matt 24:29-31 as metaphorical descriptions of
Jesus’ vindication and reception of power in the event of Jerusalem’s
destruction. When Jerusalem went down, Jesus went up – down in ignominy
and up in vindication
Jerusalem’s destruction was proof that Jesus was right. In addition, this event marks and shapes the focus of Jesus’ ministry and message: his mission was to call Israel to repentance (and that meant to live a life of love and justice and peace) before the final bell rang. If Israel responds, the destruction can be averted; if it does not, the destruction will establish him as Messiah. What Jesus saw beyond this is, in my mind, a mystery. I think he saw connected to this event the resurrection, the final judgment, and the establishment of the Age to Come. He tied them together, the destruction and these “eternal things” because, as a prophet who relied upon God’s revelation for knowledge of the future, this is how prophets worked all along. The next event on God’s calendar was the End Event – and when it did not occur literally on earth, no one was bothered because prophetic knowledge about the future is like that. It trades in metaphor and metaphor is capable of various interpretations. What Jesus was referring to was Israel’s destruction; it had ultimate significance to him. And he got it right.
There’s another angle: Jesus used linguistic metaphors, images, sketches, pictures … however you want to say it. He wasn’t speaking of the destruction of 70 AD and, because predicting that would be too literal he chose images. Instead, he saw images and metaphors and spoke of God’s imminent future acts in those terms and the fulfillment occurs in 70 AD. It is important not to get the fulfillment before the image. Jesus used images. The images are the point of entry into this subject.
Some scholars, most notably R.C. Sproul, think that we must make a distinction between Jesus’ prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction and the “eternal things”, such as the resurrection, the rapture, and the final judgment. Thus, what happened for Jesus was that we see “a” coming, a day of the Lord, a judgment, and an end of the Jewish age. Sproul, however, cannot anchor such distinctions – between Jesus’ predictions of A.D. 70 and his prediction of “end-time” events – in the texts of Jesus. He posits such a distinction. He may be right, but I am less convinced that this distinction can be drawn in Jesus’ words, though I would be happy to be proven wrong. An examination of the lines that follow the texts we examined in Matthew 24-25 will show that there are no temporal disconnections between Jerusalem’s disaster and the so-called “eternal things.” If we distinguish them, we do so with good warrant: ancient Jews did the same thing with their prophets. But they did not do so because they thought in terms of “partial” fulfillment. They did so because the images used by the prophets were alive and could evoke the hope that God had given to Israel. The same applies, I think, to the early Christian use of Jesus’ language. There’s more to come. Why? Because the events cannot contain the images.
I can no longer embrace the dispensational program for I think that train hopped its rails and I think even the post-tribulation theory needs to use the skin of the fox. What I am convinced of is this: Jesus sees a future during which time God will be exalted, he will be enthroned as Son of Man, and justice will be established according to God’s will. I believe this will happen on earth and it will constitute the new heavens and the new earth. Frankly — and I have modified my own views of this recently — I am not sure Jesus will return to earth as many describe that return; I’d like him to, and I’d stand in line for hours to meet him and see it all take place. I don’t want to sound either irreverent or even disrespectful here, but I think a ‘physical return’ to earth would create chaos – every Christian alive would want to meet Jesus and, if the millennium is to last 1000 years … well this gets a little out of hand even to imagine. I believe it behooves us to think more realistically about God’s future.
I believe in Jesus’ ‘return’ but I think it will be much better and bigger and more grandiose than we can imagine. In other words, I believe in the “Second Coming” but I think it is how we speak of the inaugurating event in the establishment of Christ’s reign (and I believe in an earthly manifestation of that reign and of Christ’s Second Coming — and I’m just not sure what that will look like).
And now I feel like a lion in a den of Daniels, but I want to appeal to one major point: no Bible-saturated contemporary of Jesus thought when the Messiah came he would be as Jesus was. So I suspect anything we “think” will happen only glimpses what really will happen. Most who speak of the Second Coming “know more than they should” and it is that kind of knowledge I’d like to push back behind the veil of mystery by saying what I have above. He will return, but what will that return look like? I suspect everyone will be surprised. We should anticipate both what traditionalists have anticipated and a lot more.
The implication of what I have said about Jesus’ eschatology is this: before Jesus’ message is brought into our world, and he needs to be, Jesus has to be understood in his world. And that means as a Jew, as a Jewish prophet, a prophet who spoke to his people, Israel, who spoke to his people about Israel about the need to repent and live in light of the Kingdom before it is too late, and that ‘too late’ is to be understood temporally for Jesus as before A.D. 70 when God would wreak vengeance on the nation for its waywardness (as God had done with both teh Northern and Southern Kingdoms at the hands of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans). In other words, Jesus’ eschatology was fully immersed in his day and was about his day — he spoke to the political disaster about to fall upon the Land.
This Jewish prophet Jesus, however, is also the Messiah of the Endtime who was destined to come to lead Israel into the ‘fortunes of Israel’. Those fortunes have not yet been completely fulfilled.