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(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Scot McKnight has been running a good series of posts working through Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. In the fourth post he considers what Bell has to say about the question put to Jesus by the rich young man (Matt. 19:16; Mk. 10:17) or ruler (Lk. 18:18). Scot thinks that Bell’s eschatology has collapsed here. His view is that the rich man was asking not only about the present world—about how to enter the kingdom life now—but also about a future world. I’m not sure that he is being entirely fair to Bell on this point. It looks to me as though Bell thinks of this kingdom life now as having an ultimate fulfilment in the future—he just puts the emphasis on the present dimension. But I don’t have Bell’s book, and in any case, this is a post simply about the referent of the phrase zōēn aiōnion. What is this “life of the age” or “life everlasting” or “eternal life”? What is the “future world”—not a phrase that is actually found in the Gospel accounts—that the young man hopes to inherit?

Scot makes the important general point, in agreement with Bell and N.T. Wright, that New Testament eschatology “eventually lands not on just ascending into heaven (into the skies) but on a meeting of heaven and earth in the New Heavens and the New Earth”. He then argues that it is this final state of new creation that both the young man and Jesus would have had in mind. So he concludes:

When the rich man asked Jesus about eternal life and Jesus used “life” in his response, they were both talking and thinking about what it takes to participate in The Age to Come, that future endless glorious rule of God when heaven and earth meet in the New Heavens and New Earth.

I think that is mistaken. The urgent choice between life and death that Jesus consistently puts before Israel is oriented towards a coming national catastrophe. This can be illustrated very simply from the logion about a broad and easy path leading to destruction and a narrow and difficult path leading to life (see my commentary on Matt. 7:13-14). Most translations have the man ask about “eternal life” and we have been conditioned to think that the phrase must signify a blessed post-mortem existence in heaven. But this odd theological aberration does not justify tearing this little story from its Jewish narrative and conceptual context. So we have to begin by asking what a good first-century Jew is likely to have meant by this question.

There are numerous Jewish texts that indicate that the thought of inheriting life forever is not to be taken in an other-worldly sense. As far as I can see, nothing in Judaism or in Jesus’ preaching justifies the inference that either the question or the answer aimed beyond the impending crisis of Jerusalem’s destruction, interpreted as a final judgment of YHWH on a rebellious people.

1. When Moses finally instructs the people of Israel to obey the commandments, he adds, “Because this is not an empty word for you, since it is your very life (hē zōē humōn), and through this word you shall live long in the land into which you are crossing over the Jordan there to inherit (klēronomēsai)” (Deut. 32:47 LXX). The inheritance of life has reference to the earthly existence of the people of God.

2. There are frequent statements in the Psalms to the effect that the people have an inheritance in the land “forever”, using some variation of the phrase eis aiōna (eg. Ps. 27:9; 36:18; 36:29 LXX). Nowhere is it suggested that this “eternal inheritance” refers to anything other than the continuing, unbroken life of the people of God on the earth as we know it.

3. Isaiah says that the people will “inherit the land forever (di’ aiōnos)” (Is. 60:21).

4. According to Ben Sirach 37:26 the “wise person among his people will inherit faithfulness, and his name will live forever (eis ton aiōna). Again, the idea of inheriting forever has to do with an enduring possession in this world.

5. In 1 Macc. 2:57 it is said that “David… inherited the throne of his kingdom forever (eis aiōna). This is not a reference to a new heavens and new earth; it simply means that the Davidic kingdom will endure throughout time.

6. Psalms of Solomon 14 is especially significant. On the one hand, those who “walk in the Law which he commanded us that we might live” will “live by it forever (eis ton aiōna); they are rooted forever; they “shall not be pulled up all the days of heaven”; the “inheritance of God is Israel”; they shall “inherit life with joy” (14:1-5, 10). This is not, note, an assurance of individual immortality. It is the righteous community of Israel that will live forever. On the other hand, the inheritance of those who transgress the Law is “Hades and darkness and destruction, and they shall not be found in the day when the righteous obtain pity” (6-9).

This last passage, which dates to the 1st century BC, seems to me to provide exactly the right conceptual background for the story of the rich young ruler. It is a conversation about the commandments (Lk. 18:20-21), which already implicitly raises the question of what needs to be done to inherit a life that will last forever (cf. points 1 and 2 above). Presumably in the light of Jesus’ warnings about a coming crisis—the coming act of divine sovereignty that will transform the status of his oppressed people—the man wants to know what he must do in order gain an inheritance in the life of Israel’s future existence. He wants to be part of a community that will not be rooted up, that will “obtain pity” when YHWH judges Israel. He is not asking for immortality; he is asking to be part of a people that will know God’s everlasting faithfulness and mercy.

Jesus’ radical answer to this question is that, under eschatological conditions, keeping the Law is not enough. The man must leave behind his successful past life and join the community of disciples as they venture down the perilous road that will lead to an inheritance of the life of the age to come (cf. Matt. 19:29). It is in this respect that Jesus departs from the traditional understanding. He is not arguing for a way of existing beyond this world; he is arguing for a different way of attaining a radically different way of existing in this world.

So the man is not asking about how to get to heaven. Nor is he asking about how to participate in the final renewal of creation. He is asking what it will take to be part of Israel’s future and not find himself among those whose end will be “Hades and darkness and destruction”—those walking a broad path leading to the destruction of the Jewish War.

Comments

"When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,  since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

Eternal life begins when a soul comes to Christ, and Christ and His Father make their abode with the repentant sinner. And the far, far better part of this eternal life, as Paul says, is to go and be with the Lord.

The simplicity of this truth is such a blessing from our Lord. Some teachers bring way too much confusion, and really need to rethink what they are teaching. We should have a healthy fear when teaching God's truth to others. So many in our day don't seem to have this holy fear.

Don, I thought we’d lost you. Nice to have you back. But how do I get you to engage with the actual content of the post? I put forward what seem to me good exegetical arguments, based on scripture, for thinking that “eternal life” in this context does not mean what we have traditionally taken it to mean. But you ignore it all. I just think that if we hear with Jewish ears and see something of what the early followers of Jesus were actually looking at, the traditional language takes on a rather different complexion. I am not denying the gospel. I am saying that we need to approach from a different direction.

"But you ignore it all."

 

I'm not ignoring so much, as I'm disagreeing with you. I think Christ has a simplicty in much His truth, and for whatever reason your thinking is way to academic. The deeper truths surely we can wrestle with, but I'm not seeing anything but a beautiful and simple pure truth revealed to us here about "eternal life". 

Andrew, Scot's post, and definitely subsequent comments, seem to focus on the lexical difference between aiōn and aiōnion--and how Bells glosses the distinction.  All of your citations contain aiōn, which suggests you are making the same correlation that Bells does.  What is the basis for this?

Also, why are you separating out "Israel's future existence" and "the final renewal of creation."  I don't see the 2nd Temple Judaism understanding the Messianic age--including the coming national catastrophe that Jesus understands to be a part of it--as something other than the fulfillment of those renewal promises.  They are not, in my reading, divorced in Jesus' inaugurated eschatology either.  But, to more precise, we are asking what the rich man thought as a 2nd Temple Jew, not as one who fully understood Jesus' eschatology.  As you've said, the concern in the relevant texts is the inheritance of a "life that will last forever."  How then would this everlasting life not have the future renewal of all things in mind.  At the very least, on a logical level, it would be continuous with it even assuming a distant future fulfillment.  Or not?  

I've got no problem with your emphasis on the historically imminent aspect.  But are you rhetorically overplaying it to give it the attention it needs?  Or do you really mean to create a hard break in NT eschatology between the historical wrath of God and the theology of renewal that the New Perspective itself has gifted us in light of 2nd Temple Judaism?

Thanks.

Greg, that’s a complicated question and I probably will miss some of the nuances.

I’m not sure that the distinction between eis aiōna (“for the age”) and related constructions (some of them plural) and the adjective aiōnios is as great as seems to be suggested. At least, there is no reason to think that aiōnios means “eternal” in a supra-historical sense. We hear “eternal” as referring to the existence of God, but just to pick a quick example, the phrase eis geneas aiōnious (Gen. 9:12) means “for everlasting generations”: it refers to continuing human existence. “Everlasting” or “perpetual” would be a much better English translation than “eternal”.

But, to more precise, we are asking what the rich man thought as a 2nd Temple Jew, not as one who fully understood Jesus’ eschatology.

True, but Jesus does not correct his basic assumption, which, I think, assuming that he had been listening to Jesus’ teaching, was that there was a life to come after judgment that would endure forever. Jesus only challenges his views as to how that life was to be attained.

Or do you really mean to create a hard break in NT eschatology between the historical wrath of God and the theology of renewal that the New Perspective itself has gifted us in light of 2nd Temple Judaism?

That’s an interesting question. It depends what you mean by “hard”. I think that from the New Testament perspective the renewal of Israel following judgment and the annexation of pagan Europe loom much larger, theologically and practically, than the final renewal of creation. But I would also argue—this was the thesis of Re: Mission—that the motif of creation renewal always underpins the existence and historical experience of the people of God. I think that it is now essential for the church to draw on the final eschatological vision of heaven and earth made new, but I think we also need to allow the contingency of the New Testament perspective to stand.

Thanks for the response.  As for the distinction between Jesus' meaning and and the rich man's: I just intended to convey that while I'm reading Jesus' comments in light of his whole eschatology (as the Gospels present it), which to me suggests the immanent and the ultimate are all on the same horizon, I also grant that the rich man might not have had the same thing in mind.  After all, the gospels are rife with Jesus' very closest followers, who received private explanations, mistaking his meaning and agenda (nor does he always correct their basic assumptions--not directly anyway).  In other words, in light of 2nd Temple Judaism, it's very possible for the twelve, e.g., to have a particular political vision of what the arrival of the kingdom, with its concomitant zōēn aiōnion, will look like.  And, at the same time, what we know of 2nd Temple Judaism can also shed light on Jesus' (similar yet clearly distinct) meaning as a prophet of new creation and a surprisingly more disjunctive inbreaking (immanent and future) reality than what the twelve (and maybe the rich man?) had in mind.  I was just trying not to flatten out the variety into only one option--especially given the Evangelists literary m.o. with the misunderstanding motif.  

Anyway, I appreciate the engagement.  And Re: Mission is definitely on my atrociously long reading list.  

I think I just need to say that I see things a little differently. I’m not convinced that Jesus spoke about a final eschatological horizon. I think that like the rich young ruler and his disciples he had in view an “event” in the foreseeable future, centred on the destruction and restoration of the people of God. So I wouldn’t speak of Jesus as a “prophet of new creation” other than in the sense that the renewal of Israel could be regarded as an act of divine new creation, which is not insignificant.

However, I do think that his resurrection is to be understood as an “ontological novelty”, as a direct and real anticipation of the final remaking of heaven and earth that John describes in Revelation 21:1-22:5. In that respect, he is a sign of new creation in a final sense. But as far as scripture as a whole is concerned, new creation is mostly what happens to the people of God within history, because we are called to demonstrate through our existence the re-creative power of God.

I think maybe we are not saying as much differently as it seems, because I don't mean "ahistorical" or "end-of-history" when I say "disjunctive."  Rather, my point is that precisely in the same way that the resurrection is a "direct and real anticipation of the final remaking," so also are other aspects, both ontologically novel and ontologically old-hat.  The miracles, which I read as another aspect of the proleptic-foretaste-sign-inbreaking aspect (inelegant, I know) appears more on the novel side.  But is it proclamation and in-history realization (already, rather that merely foreseeable, I emphasize) of that new heaven/earth reality, isn't it?  On the less novel side, the entire Way of Jesus is neither just for now or just for later.  It is just as much a foretaste and a present participation (our own sign-making) "through our existence" in history.  I'm in total agreement with you there; I just think that this is not, in Jesus' teaching, any less a part of the "final remaking" agenda for being in the immediate historical moment (crisis and all).  So, I guess I'm saying that if Jesus talked about one, he talked about the other--because what's the difference?  We will not cease to demonstrate through our existence the re-creative power of God after the final recreation.  This is what I mean by "same horizon."  

Perhaps I'm ultimately thinking in terms of redaction criticism whereas you are thinking in terms of historical Jesus?  Because if the resurrection is a sign of new creation, and the Evangelists portray him as talking (predicting) and living in light of it, then everything he said must have been framed with new creation--even and especially the immanent historical judgement.  

Sorry for going on.  I'm here to learn.  I'm just still struggling to understand why you are separating out what seems continuous.  I don't see substantial prolepsis in any way vitiating all that you are saying about the historical particularity of Jesus' referents.  But maybe it needs saying that I see very profound continuity between the new creation and the old.  

Andrew, I’m inclined to agree with Greg. Immediately before the rich young ruler asks Jesus about inheriting eternal life, Jesus says about the children, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

So it seems strange to assume the ruler was simply asking, “what do I have to do to survive the coming war?” doesn’t it? Knowing the short lifespans of the time, wouldn’t the young ruler be likely dead or close to death up the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD? I don’t want to misunderstand your position, so let me know if I’m off. I’m just having a difficult time like Greg separating the two (life beyond the coming war and life in the renewal of creation).

It just seems as if Jesus speaks of the Kingdom as 1) here and now and also 2) forevermore. Even the way he describes Lazarus as “sleeping” even though he was dead seems to reveal Christ’s perspective as an eternal one.

Todd,

I’m not sure why I didn’t follow up on Greg’s comment—unless I just didn’t understand it! But looking at it again, I would say first that although Jesus’ resurrection has to be seen as an ontological novelty that presupposes a non-metaphorical new creation, it’s significance within the Gospel narrative is different: the resurrection is a vindication of the man through whom God did mighty works and wonders and signs in Israel, who is exalted to the right hand of God as Lord and Christ (cf. Acts 2:22-36). I see resurrection here as part of the kingdom narrative about how YHWH comes to rule over the nations, not as part of a final new creation dénouement, though the two stories are not entirely independent of each other.

At the end of the pericope Jesus tells Peter, who has pointed out that the disciples have done what he asked the rich ruler to do, that in the “regeneration” (palingenesia) the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne along with the disciples judging the twelve tribes of Israel, and everyone who has done what he asked the rich ruler to do will “inherit the life of the age to come” (Matt. 19:27-29).

Interestingly, Josephus uses palingenesia for the “restoration” of Israel:

…they betook themselves to drinking and eating, and for seven days they continued feasting, and kept a festival, for the rebuilding and restoration (palingenesian) of their country…. (Ant. 11:66)

The young ruler may have had something else in mind, but for Jesus “eternal life” is the life that Israel enjoys when the Son of Man is established as judge and ruler of God’s people. The apocalyptic discourse associates the parousia of the Son of Man, which is presumably when he comes in judgment (cf. Matt. 24:36-44), closely (“Immediately after the tribulation…”) with the destruction of the temple by Rome.

Conceivably Jesus thought that this would also be the new creation—less likely if he thinks that his reign (with his disciples) is from heaven. But in any case, as the story moves into the pagan world and judgment on the nations also comes into view, we have a more complex picture. Then John, in the end, it seems to me, inserts a significant time period between the judgment on Babylon the great and the final judgment of all the dead.

Hi Andrew - I am new to your blog but I want to thank you for your post. I have one question - there seems to be a connection between the question of eternal life by the man (Mk. 10:17; Matt. 19:16; Luke 18:18) and Jesus promising eternal life in the age to come to his disciples later after the man has left (Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; Matthew uses eternal life but not “in the age to come”). For Mark, this is the only time he uses ζωὴν αἰώνιον (eternal life) and he uses it in contrast to the rewards they will receive “in this age now.” While I am happy to agree with you that the age to come will be “down here” rather than “up there”, In Mark, Jesus seems to reserve the receiving of eternal life for a future time. That doesn’t necessarily mean after death - the disciples probably thought once Jesus had been made king. I have always read this as a 2nd Temple Judaism “two age” view of time - the present age and the age to come when all the promises of God will be fulfilled. How do you read it?

Good points, Ty.

My view is that from Jesus’ point of view the two ages hinge around the eschatological crisis that Israel faced. If we bring Paul into the picture, then I think we have to take account also of the lengthy process by which Israel’s God came to “judge” the pagan oikoumenē. Here I think the New Testament is basically realistic. The promise of God to Abraham, as Paul puts it (Rom. 4:13), was that his descendants would inherit the world. I think this reflects an inherently Jewish hope that this chosen people would eventually be publicly vindicated for their defiance of pagan imperialism, their resistance to the blasphemous beast of Rome in the name of the creator God. None of that, as I said in my reply to Greg, precludes belief in a final renewal of all things. But I want to do justice to the concrete, historical, mundane, and thoroughly Jewish realism of New Testament theology.

If I’ve missed the point of your question, let me know.

Andrew, 
Scot McKnight got into another line of thought today on post #5 in his review of Bell's book. Today's topic was Gehenna. He said on point five of his post that, "Finally, and we’ve perhaps all made this mistake. Gehenna was NOT (capitals mine) a dump outside Jerusalem. No matter how many times people say this — and it has become street truth — there is no evidence that there was a town dump outside Jerusalem in the first century. As Dale Allison puts it, “without ancient support.” That place, the Valley of Hinnom where there was an idolatrous high place called Topheth, was the notorious place of death and idolatry and fire and judgment, but it was not the town dump of Jerusalem. To use Gehenna for Jesus was to use a metaphor for divine judgment and destruction. See the OT uses in Jer 7:31-32; 19:2-9; 32:35; Isa 30:33. It is not only flippant but inaccurate to say Gehenna is the town dump — it is a metaphor for divine judgment." and then on comment #45 (there are now well over a 100 comments) he reiterated all that by saying, "it (Gehenna) is not a dump. It’s an image of God’s destructive judgment". 

I think I know where you stand on this, having read where you said that "The image of gehenna is drawn from Jeremiah’s vivid account of the horrors of the Babylonian invasion (Jer. 7:30-33; 19:6-8). Just as the bodies of Jerusalem’s dead were thrown into the Valley of Hinnom when the Babylonians attacked, so Jesus imagines the dead piling up in the valley of gehenna during the war against Rome" and "it is an image of the massive destruction of life that would result from the Roman invasion of Judea and assault on Jerusalem". 

I am interested in your response if you think one  necessary. Judging by the magnitude of and interest in the issues at hand (and some of the comments on this post) your response was needed and more than helpful.

I think you’ve answered the question. If we say—rightly or wrongly—only that geenna was Jerusalem’s rubbish dump, we are likely to come to a rather abstract notion of “hell” as signifying the destruction or waste of human life, or something along those lines. If we bring into the focus the specific thought that Jerusalem’s dead would be thrown over the walls into the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, regardless of whether it was actually used as a rubbish dump or not, then we will see that this is not an image of a universal final destiny but an image of Jerusalem’s destruction.

I think we're meant to live eternal life and not dissect it. And the only reason we dissect it is because of the dirty little "secret" (until, finally, Rob's book, for most of "Christendom") of "eternal torment in hell." I pray God enables us to deal with it and get over it so the church can finally start Living, and be the witness to the world she's meant to be.

Andrew,

It would also seem that for the ancient Hebrews - those who received Deuteronomy, read the Psalms, or who endured those terrible centuries leading up to the birth of Jesus - that for them "forever and ever" had a generational sense to it?

They lived on through their children. God punished to the third or fourth generation, but he blessed to the thousandth generation. The rich man would have been asking - not only how to survive the impending doom of Israel - but what to do so that his children and their children and their children will not only survive, but thrive. 

I agree. That’s a good way of bringing into focus what “everlasting life” meant practically for a people. We are a people now “according to the Spirit” and not “according to the flesh”, but point remains the same. We have the assurance that the creator God will keep a viable, faithful people for his own possession throughout the ages of human history.

Are you saying that the “the life of the age to come” or “eternal life” that many Jews like the rich young ruler or even Martha were hopeful of was something other than resurrected life in the age of the regeneration of all things?

Are you saying that the parables of the kingsdom such as the wheat and tares, are only giving us a description of things as they will be up to 70 ad as the “end of the age”?

Thanks for the questions, Jeff.

My suggestion is that the “life of the age to come” is essentially the life of God’s people following judgment and restoration. At one level this is a metaphorical resurrection life for the community—similar to Ezekiel 37 or Hosea 6:1-2. But on top of this corporate story there is also the martyrdom story, which arises from the experience of the Maccabean martyrs—the belief that God will not finally abandon to death those who have lost their lives out of loyalty to the covenant. So there is also a literal category of resurrection associated with the eschatological crisis. In this respect in the New Testament Christ’s resurrection anticipates the resurrection of the martyrs of the early church. For more detail see this post on resurrection.

As for your second question, yes, I think Jesus focuses almost exclusively on the judgment that is coming on Israel and the establishment of a community of renewed Israel which will survive that catastrophe. But once we get beyond the perspective of Jesus and the early church in Jerusalem, it quickly becomes apparent that what God is doing in Israel will have massive implications for the Greek-Roman world.

But Andrew this leaves you, and all who would be loyal to Jesus, in the awkward position that Jesus left no normative instructions, no call to action, no kingdom ethic, for those who live after the 70 ad “end of the age”; not to mention no assurance of His presence with us. I like your sensitivity to the grand narrative of scripture up to the point that you all begin writing it yourselves. (I think I here NT Wright whispering what you are saying here in his otherwise very agreeable book, “How God became King”).

Jesus often warned that people would be misled concerning his appearing, but the error that Jesus warns about is never that some will miss his appearing when it in fact had happened. Jesus’ warning is always in the direction of people thinking is has already occurred when in fact it has not and are therefore subject to being misled (from loyalty to Jesus and presumably from obedience to His kingdom commands).

The picture painted by the preterist position (the ultimate appearing of Jesus and the end of the age occurred in 70 ad) reminds me of the stories of Japanese soldiers from World War II who were hiding in remote locations and therefore were unaware that the war had ended for years and years afterwards. How long might it take for news of the fall of Jerusalem to travel back to the Christians in far away places, even to those in as important a city as Rome? What about those Christians in more out of the way places? And might there be Christians who upon hearing of the terrible fall were not immediately convinced that this event was the end of the age? Jesus teaching in Matthew 24 and Luke 17 runs counter to this sort of scene.

Andrew, what are your objections to the idea that Jesus was speaking in a Joel-like way in Matthew 24 and Luke 17? So that He wove a near judgment together with a distant and greater judgment. In this way all that experienced, or were exposed to, the fact of the near judgment would be assured of the coming ultimate judgment as well.

Well put. Thanks.

But Andrew this leaves you, and all who would be loyal to Jesus, in the awkward position that Jesus left no normative instructions, no call to action, no kingdom ethic, for those who live after the 70 ad “end of the age”; not to mention no assurance of His presence with us.

If instructions of Jesus for the church were so important, why didn’t Paul make more of an effort to communicate those teachings to the churches? Why does he not call believers “disciples”? Why do the writers of the Gospels not more clearly construct their stories to address the needs of the churches in the Gentile world? Why doesn’t Luke have Peter or Barnabas or Paul tell stories about Jesus or quote from the Sermon on the Mount?

Why do we assume that the only way Jesus can be relevant for the post-AD 70 churches is by his teaching? There are plenty of other ways. He is relevant because he died so that the people of God would have a viable future following judgment. He established a new covenant. He died so that he might rule at the right hand of God for the sake of his people, not until the end of the age only but until the last enemy is destroyed. He demonstrated and secured an alternative way for God’s people to deal with opposition and persecution. He gave the Spirit which would be the presence of God in the midst of his people. In other words, Jesus changed forever the way in which God’s people existed in the world.

Obviously, I’m not trying to say that we can find nothing of value for the church today in Jesus’ teaching. But I think it is a bad mistake to have allowed the Jesus of Israel’s history to sink to the bottom of a sea of well-meaning but fundamentally self-interested modern pietism.

Jesus often warned that people would be misled concerning his appearing, but the error that Jesus warns about is never that some will miss his appearing when it in fact had happened.

But this is not incompatible with the view that Jesus’ eschatological teaching was directed towards a catastrophe comparable to the Babylonian invasion. Josephus’ has plenty of stories of false prophets, false messiahs, false kings who offered false hope of redemption in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Conversely, what I think Jesus is claiming is that this event, which by no means went unnoticed, would be a clear vindication of his proclamation of the coming kingdom/judgment/rule of YHWH—and of the preaching of his followers.

Andrew, what are your objections to the idea that Jesus was speaking in a Joel-like way in Matthew 24 and Luke 17? So that He wove a near judgment together with a distant and greater judgment.

My objection is that there is no evidence in the text that this is how Jesus thought—and I don’t think there is any real basis for the view that Old Testament prophecy had a split fulfilment in the manner you suggest. This is just a later rationalization by a church that wants to have its cake and eat it. Joel has a single narrative that culminates in an eschatological moment when the Spirit of prophecy, dreams and visions will be poured out on all God’s people, the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem will be restored, and God will enter into judgment with the nations which have scattered his people and divided up the land.

That is a great answer Andrew. The problem with the dual fulfillment view, in addition to what you said, is that Joel 2-3 is not one story fulfilled twice. Like you said it’s one narrative moving constantly forward from the locust invasion of Assyria to the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost and the destruction of Jerusalem by the nations in AD70.

The problem with dual fulfillment is that it never actually happens in the biblical narrative. There are shadows of fulfillment, but something can’t be filled twice. Likewise, Jesus would need to be crucified again, return in judgement against those who crucified him again, along with another great tribulation and another razing of the temple, and another fall of the nations. There’s no clue in scripture anywhere that any of the authors saw the story happening that way. It is inserted into the story based on a false need for something in the narrative to have to happen for us personally, as if being reconciled to God through Jesus in a new covenant relationship isn’t enough.