New Testament eschatological texts categorised by horizon

The horizons of New Testament eschatology and the narrow road leading to the life of the age to come

Jon Hallewell asks whether I have a list of scriptures that point to the first, second, and final horizons of New Testament eschatology. I do now.

The diagram illustrates the three horizons model. I think that the narrative-historical method obliges us to read the New Testament on the assumption that two historically realistic horizons and one transcendent horizon are in view.

The first horizon is the war against Rome, interpreted as God’s judgment on his rebellious people. The second is the end of the age of classical paganism and the conversion of the nations of the Greek-Roman world to worship of the one creator God and the declaration of allegiance to the Son at his right hand as “King of kings and Lord of lords.”

From the perspective of the early communities the historical relation between the first two horizons was not always clear, and some of the texts may be misplaced. But the sequence of wrath against the Jew followed by wrath against the Greek is unambiguous. Please feel free to comment on errors and significant omissions.

The modern church naturally thinks that the third horizon of final judgment and new creation is the controlling one, and there is a pronounced tendency to allow it to subsume the historical outcomes, leaving us with a horribly congested end times. In fact, this final vindication of the creator is peripheral to the New Testament vision, subordinated to the dominant kingdom narrative.

I suggest that the modern church should develop a robust prophetic focus on its own historical horizon—the dawn of the Anthropocene and an increasingly likely global environmental catastrophe. In the words of António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, yesterday:

We are facing a devastating pandemic, new heights of global heating, new lows of ecological degradation and new setbacks in our work towards global goals for more equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. To put it simply, the state of the planet is broken. … Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back—and it is already doing so with growing force and fury.

This was not foreseen anywhere in scripture. We have to work it out for ourselves. We have to make this as much part of the story of the troubled witness of the people of God as the exile to Babylon, the war against Rome, and the religious conquest of the classical pagan world.

The first horizon of the war against Rome

Synoptic Gospels

John the Baptist’s preaching about a wrath to come (Matt. 3:7-10, 12; Lk. 3:7-9, 17).

Jesus’ proclamation of the coming kingdom of God (Matt. 4:17, 23; Mk. 1:15; Lk. 4:43).

Righteous and repentant Jews will inherit the kingdom of God (Matt. 5:3-12; 19:16-17; 21:31-32; Mk. 10:17; Lk. 6:20-23; 18:18-21).

Prayer for God’s name to be hallowed among the nations and for the kingdom to come (Matt. 6:9-10; Lk. 11:2).

Parables of judgment: destruction at the end of the easy path, trees cut down and burned, house destroyed by storm, weeds, net, plants rooted up, fig tree cut down (Matt. 7:13-14, 19, 27; 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-49; 15:13; Lk. 6:46-49; 13:6-9, 24).

The judgment of Gehenna (Matt. 5:22, 29-30; 18:8-9; 23:32; Mk. 9:43-48).

The eschatological banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from which unrighteous Jews will be excluded (Matt. 8:11-12; 22:1-14; Lk. 13:28-30; 14:12-24).

The transition from the age of second temple Judaism to the age to come (Matt. 12:32 ; 28:20).

A day of judgment against the cities of Israel and against the current “evil and adulterous generation” of Jews (Matt. 10:15; 11:20-24; 12:39; 23:29-39; Lk. 10:12-15; Lk. 11:29-32, 49-51), when the inhabitants of Jerusalem will perish (Lk. 13:1-5.

A kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste (Matt. 12:25; Mk. 3:24-25; Lk. 11:17).

The exorcised unclean spirit will return in the coming years with seven others, bringing chaos to Israel (Matt. 12:43-45).

Roman invasion and the destruction of the temple (Matt. 21:13; 24:1-28; Mk. 11:17; 13-1-23; Lk. 19:41-46; 21:7-24; 23:28-31).

Parables of violent punishment: the wicked tenants, the disobliging guests (Matt. 21:41; 22:7; Mk. 12:9; Lk. 19:27; 20:16).

The coming of the Son of Man within a generation to be publicly vindicated, to deliver and judge his disciples, and to judge the nations according to how they responded to the presence of his disciples (Matt. 10:23, 32-33; 16:28; 24:29-25:30; 26:64; Mk. 8:38-9:1; 13:24-37; 14:62; Lk. 9:26-27; 12:35-48; 24:25-36; 22:69).

God will give justice to his elect (Lk. 18:7-8).

The persecuted disciples will reign with Jesus in his kingdom (Matt. 20:23; Lk. 22:28-30).

The rest of the New Testament

Jesus will come with the clouds of heaven to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6, 11; 3:20-21).

Jesus has been raised the right hand of God, according to the terms of Psalm 110, to reign until the enemies of YHWH and his people have been defeated (Acts 2:32-36; 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 10:13; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22).

Peter warns the people of Jerusalem of a coming day of the Lord from which they can save themselves only by repenting and being baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:19-21, 38, 40; 3:23).

The disciples in Jerusalem predict the destruction of the temple (Acts 6:13-14).

Jesus will judge Israel (Acts 10:42); God will judge unrighteous Israel (James 5:1-9).

Paul advises the Jews in Antioch in Pisidia to accept the forgiveness offered to them in order to avoid the sort of judgment described in Habakkuk 1:5 (Acts 13:38-40; 28:23-28).

God will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen in a way that will lead to the inclusion of Gentiles (Acts 15:16-17).

Paul shares the Pharisaic hope in a resurrection that will accompany the judgment and restoration of Israel (Acts 23:6; 24:15, 21; 26:6-8; 28:20; Phil. 3:11, 14; cf. Heb. 6:2).

There will be wrath against the Jew, against the “sons of disobedience”… (Rom. 2:1-10; 5:9; 9:22; Eph. 2:3; 5:6); the Lord will judge his people (Heb. 10:30).

There will be a rebellion, and the man of lawlessness will take “his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:3-4).

The Father has given the Son of Man authority to judge Israel and preside over the resurrection (Jn. 5:25-29; 6:44; 11:24-25).

The persecuted Jewish witnesses to Jesus will be brought to glory if they persevere, they will enter their rest (Heb. 2:10; 3:7-4:13).

God will shake the heavens and the earth again to establish a new covenant with his people (Heb. 12:26-27; cf. 2 Pet. 3:7, 10-13).

The seven trumpets of God’s wrath against Jerusalem are blown (Rev. 8:6-11:19).

The second horizon of the conversion of the Greek-Roman world

The living God is no longer willing to tolerate the idolatrous practices of the Greeks but has fixed a day when this whole system will be judged by the man whom he has appointed (Acts 14:15-16; 17:30-31; 24:25; 2 Tim. 4:1).

There will be wrath against the Greek… (Rom. 1:18-32; 2:1-10; 3:6, 19; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:2-10; 1 Pet. 4:17; 2 Pet. 2:4-10; Jude 14-16).

A “day of the Lord” will come upon the ancient world, when heaven and earth will be remade, and the ungodly will be judged (2 Pet. 3:1-13).

The churches face an imminent “day” of severe persecution as part of the birth pains of the new age of God’s rule over the nations (Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 7:26; Eph. 6:10-20; 2 Tim. 3:1; 1 Pet. 1:5-6; 4:12).

Satan will be crushed under the feet of the churches (Rom. 16:20).

The churches are waiting for the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ, on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, when they will share in his vindication and glory (1 Cor. 1:7-8; 7:29-31; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; Phil. 1:6, 10; 3:20; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:14; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 1:12, 18; 4:8; Heb. 9:28; 10:25; 1 Pet. 1:5, 13; 2:12; 5:1, 10; 2 Pet. 1:3; Jude 24; Rev. 1:7).

At his parousia or revelation to the Greek-Roman world, Jesus will bring the churches’ suffering to an end, punish their enemies, and defeat the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 1:5-2:12).

The current age of Greek wisdom and Jewish obduracy is passing away (1 Cor. 1:18-25, 2:6; 1 Tim. 6:17). Jesus gave himself to deliver God’s people from this evil age (Gal. 1:4).

Some Gentiles already hope in a future rule of Jesus, as Davidic messiah, over the nations of the empire (Rom. 15:12).

Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:11).

Creation awaits the vindication and glorification of the sons of God because the event will portend its own liberation from its bondage to decay (Rom. 8:19-22).

The “civilisation to come” (tēn oikoumenēn tēn mellousin) has been subjected to Jesus, though it will be a while before the reality of it appears; Jewish believers in Jesus seeks “the city that is to come,” which will be the hub of a new empire (Heb. 2:5-9; 12:14).

The unrighteous will not have a part in the coming rule over Israel’s God over the nations (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:21).

Those who believe in the future reign of Jesus over Israel and the nations will inherit the age or world to come (Acts 20:32; Rom. 4:13; 8:17; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 3:29; Eph. 1:14, 18; 5:5; Col. 3:24; Tit. 3:7; 1 Pet. 1:4; James 2:5; 2 Pet. 1:11).

When Jesus is revealed to the world, the dead in Christ will be raised and will judge and rule with him (1 Cor. 6:2-3; 15:23; 1 Thess. 4:16; 2 Tim. 2:12). The apostles eagerly wait for the hope of vindication (Gal. 5:5). Both the living and the dead will share in the new order (1 Thess. 4:16-17; Rev. 21:7).

The church prayed that the Lord Jesus would come soon to be acknowledged by the nations (1 Cor. 15:22; Rev. 22:20).

The seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out on the hostile pagan world (Rev. 15-16).

The judgment of the great prostitute and the fall of Babylon the great (Rev. 17-18).

The Lamb of God is united with the martyr church at a marriage feast; his authority and rule as “King of kings and Lord of lords” is established (Rev. 19).

The leading opponents of YHWH and his Christ are destroyed, Satan is confined to the abyss “that he might not deceive the nations any longer” (Rev. 19:20-20:3).

The martyrs are raised to reign with Christ for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6).

During the thousand year period the heavenly Jerusalem is a symbol for the presence of God for the healing of the nations (Rev. 21:9-22:5).

The third horizon of final judgment and remaking of heaven and earth

At the very end, when the last enemy, death, has been destroyed, Christ will hand the kingdom back to the Father and will become subordinate again, so that in the new creation God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:24-28).

At the end of the thousand years of human history there is a final judgment, Satan and death are finally defeated, and a new creation emerges (Rev. 20:7-21:8).

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Jon Hallewell | Fri, 12/04/2020 - 01:56 | Permalink

Spectacular — thanks so much. It saved me trawling through all your old posts. I met you at the future of the people of God conference, what seems like another age ago. I read your (I think they were yours) preparatory texts for the conference — it was so different from anything I’d ever heard, but now I find it difficult to comprehend any other way of understanding scripture. Thank you

Edwin Janzen | Sat, 12/05/2020 - 04:35 | Permalink

References from the gospel of John are scant. Is this because John is less clear about eschatology than other writings? 

I wondered if anyone would notice that. First time round there were no references at all, but I went back and added “The Father has given the Son of Man authority to judge Israel and preside over the resurrection (Jn. 5:25-29; 6:44; 11:24-25)” under the first horizon, which, of course, is already an interpretation. There’s not much to work with, and I find John difficult to pin down historically. By all means make further suggestions.

Andrew, have you seen the new David Attenborough documentary on Netflix (called David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet)? Not that it’s anything majorly profound, but it may be a way to get the average person aware of some major geological issues we are facing. It’s interesting that one of his recommendations is that we have less children (many will not be able to swallow this, perhaps, in light of Gen 1:26-28). Nonetheless, I’m pondering having my students watch the documentary in my missional life course this coming term as a way to see the problems our planet faces. This is a missional issue.

I also recently read in a work by a Notre Dame professor, Daniel Groody, that the world spends $5.5 billion PER DAY on military spending (the US leads the way). That’s $1.74 trillion per year. A day’s military spending could fully scale-up malaria intervention for one year around the world. Less than a week’s military spending could provide access to drinking water & improved sanitation to everyone who does not yet have it.

The military spending is atrocious. But here is one final stat from Groody: 20% of the population in developed nations consume 86% of the earth’s goods. He says, ‘If all the people consumed natural resources at the same rate as the average US and UK citizen we would require at least two extra planets like Earth…by 2050.’