Monday, May 5, 2008

My Eschatology (My Scrubs-like Title.)

My JW cousin asked me what my beliefs were on the future, so I decided this was a good opportunity to outline my eschatology.

Let me preface this by affirming the following maxim. In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things love. That is to say, in the not vital, and easily arguable things like eschatology, there is no need to divide, but we can have vigorous debate.

Ok, here it goes. This whole thing starts with the work of Christ, and begins with him in Matthew 24, however Daniel and other prophets predicted the things that would happen to him, and he spoke in the prophetic language that they did. My view hinges on the understanding that the writers of the New Testament were extremely well studied in the Old Testament. And as you speak in the “language” of your Bible, so did they. They used the same euphemisms, allegories, figures of speech. The writers of the New Testament were predominantly Jewish, and as Josephus said, the Jews prided themselves on the education of their children. They were brought up with the Torah and Prophets as pretty much the only book they ever read, or had read to them. They were taught from it, every subject, grammar, spelling, etc. The best of these children were chosen by rabbis to become rabbis. They very commonly had vast amounts of the Torah and Prophets committed to memory, and we can see that evidenced by writers like Paul and others very often quoting from the law and prophets most likely from memory because they didn’t own a copy.

Another vital tenet of my view is the early writing of all the books of the New Testament. While it is difficult to prove each and every book conclusively, there are a few clues that stand out. The easiest to understand is the mentioning of the temple in Matthew 24. Jesus unequivocally predicts the destruction of the temple in verse 2. Matthew is well known for the way he speaks in his book. He speaks to a Jewish audience and many of the parables Jesus tells that are recorded by Matthew are directed at Jews. He focuses many times (21:4, 15:77, 13:35, 13:14, 12:17, 11:10, and others) on how something Jesus says or does fulfills Jewish scripture. So if Matthew was written after the destruction of the temple in AD 70, why would he not mention that as a fulfillment of Jesus’ prophesy to further prove him to be the Son of God? Writing to a Jewish audience, how can Matthew not mention the most traumatic event in Jewish history?

More important than that are the writings of John. One key to this is found in John 2:20 The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" When Jesus said that he would rebuild the Temple, his hearers said that it had taken forty-six years to build the Temple to that point. If one begins from the beginning of the reconstruction, then Jesus' conversation took place around 26/27. But that is not all. Verses 2 and 3 of John chapter five are written in the present tense. There IS a pool that HAS five colonnades, in these LAY a multitude…. If John had been writing in the mid 90’s AD as some have said he did on Patmos, how would he have known that they were still there, and wouldn’t it have been more likely that he’d have accurately reported its destruction since there is no way as a Jew that he wouldn’t have known that the Temple had been destroyed twenty five years earlier?

Most contemporary scholars see the book of Mark as the earliest of the canonical gospels (Brown, R., et al. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, 1990,) and we can date it using Luke who also wrote Acts which ends before the death of Paul which leads most to believe that it was written before the death of Paul, Jude, and Peter, traditionally held to have occurred during the reign of Nero some time around 65 AD. This also places all of Peter’s and Paul’s books as well as Jude before that time, and using similar techniques, we can then place virtually every book of the Bible before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

Next we go back to what I mentioned earlier about the writers of the New Testament being familiar with the old Testament. If we look at Matthew 25:31, we’ll see something interesting. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” If we take this literally, we have Jesus coming, then suddenly being back in heaven on the throne. How can this work unless we reinterpret where he is coming to and what his coming means. It is obviously being told from the perspective of heaven, Jesus coming to sit at the right hand of the Ancient of Days as Daniel 7:13 says. But what of the power and glory mentioned in Matthew 16:27, 24:30, and 25:31? We can understand this by a pair of prophecies against Egypt found in the Old Testament. “Behold the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt” Isaiah 19:1. “…the day of the LORD is near, it will be a day of clouds” Ezekiel 30:3 and “Thus I will execute judgments on Egypt. Then they will know that I am the LORD.” 30:19. More of the same language is found in Psalm 97:1-6, 104:1-3, Nahum 1:1-3, and other places. So, Jesus ascends, comes into the presence of the Ancient of Days, sits on his throne in judgment, and within 40 years of his death, the same court that condemned him is condemned by him and it’s people as well, and the temple, Gods representation of his presence on earth is destroyed for all time and the old covenant abolished. So instead of the coming mentioned in Matthew and Daniel as a literal event, it is properly understood in the Biblical prophetical context of a judgment of the nation of Israel.

Try it for yourself, knowing what I just told you, read Matthew 16:27-8. Now it pops out at you with a truth not often seen. Verse 27 is prophetically figurative and verse 28 is stone cold literal.

Now for Revelation, the prophetic coded narrative of the events of the reign of the beast, the great tribulation and political commentary on the Roman Empire. But before we begin this, there is one vital issue to clear up. Who is the whore or harlot in Revelation? This is by far the simplest question to answer. Who has she always been? Throughout Old Testament prophesy, there is very graphic and very vivid imagery regarding this subject. The whore is, was, and has always been Israel. There is no Biblical evidence to support it being anyone or anything else, especially when we remember that the writers of the New Testament were far more well versed in the prophets than we are today. Israel was called the whore in ancient times, why would Jewish writers not continue to call her that especially when making the same kinds of prophecies.

So lets start at the beginning of Revelation, and lets keep it stone cold literal for a minute or two. “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place… for the time is near.” And then back to our Old Testament prophetic understanding of figures of speech in verse 7, “Behold he is coming with the clouds and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.” Wow, this really sticks in with what we’ve been studying huh? Revelation continues on from here with a few letters to ancient churches, coincidently, none of them have survived history.

Now it is difficult to go through verse by verse and check this whole thing out, so I will pick out a few things and hash them over, but before we really get in to it, we must understand that Revelation is a book that contains direct or indirect allusions to old testament passages in 2/3 of its verses or more. This book very closely parallels Ezekiel in a number of ways, almost chapter by chapter, or two by two in Ezekiel’s case.

Lets look at some of the things that pop culture as focused on in recent years. The mark of the beast found in chapter 13 verse 16 and following. It says that persons were marked on their right hand or their forehead. This is ancient language as well. In ancient times, this figure of speech was known more simply like a reputation. Your right hand represented what you did, your forehead represented what you believed, extremely similar to the phrase “by their fruits you will know them.” So you know someone by their fruits, by the works of their hand, and by what they believe, their mark. Secondly, is the number of the beast. We often hear it as six six six. However, the number is actually 666, six hundred sixty six. The Hebrew language does not have separate characters for numbers and letters as English does, it uses the first ten letters to count for 10 numbers, and then tens, hundreds, and so on. If we attach a letter meaning to a number, a code if you will, like we may have in school as kids, we get a concept called gematria. This was also commonly used in those times in both Greek and Hebrew. If we translate 666 to gematria, and add up the letters of the name of Neron Caesar, (Nero in Hebrew) we get 666, the number of the name of the beast as Revelation says.

Revelation also translates itself if we will just read it for all it is worth. 17:9 says “this calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads [of the scarlet beast] are seven mountains on which the woman is seated, they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, on is, the other has not yet come.” What city has been known for millennia as the city on seven hills? Rome. Seven kings, Caesars, the beast, Nero, the whore, Israel, the end of days, starts in chapter 19.

Chapter 19 is not like the bits before it. The war has ended, every thing is over, and John lets us know that this is a different part of the vision by saying “After this…” This is the part yet to come. This is the end, the finish of Satan, the final judgment, the New Heaven and the New Earth. Here we have the description of the holy city, the New Jerusalem, and in chapter 22, we have Jesus words that bring us back to Matthew. Verse 12 says “behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.” For now the judgment is not only of the Jewish nation, but of the whole world.

So what do I have to wait for? What is yet to come? What do I know about the future? Exactly what Jesus said I would. Matthew 24:36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the son…Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect.” I await the same thing the disciples did, and the same thing every true believer has ever awaited, we are waiting to see the Son of Man coming back in the same way he was seen going, into the sky, as the angels told us. Because we don’t need to read the Bible with a newspaper in our other hand, like one is just as important as the other because newspapers will pass, but God’s word is forever. People have been predicting the end since the beginning, but Jesus was extremely clear on the fact that no one will know when it will happen. So I live my life as if Jesus will come tomorrow, or today, or maybe in 200 years, like he said, no one knows.


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