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peter wilkinson | Thu, 10/09/2014 - 18:33 | Permalink

I’m going for something in-between. There is a lot more history than Left Behind/modern dispensationalism acknowledges in both Jesus and Paul, and what they each have to say. There is much more that Jesus and Paul have in common in introducing the beginning of an entirely new age, the  inauguration of the new creation in God’s people ahead of time when all creation will be the new creation, than a historicist reading (your own) allows.

In this view, the resurrection of Jesus more than  the Jewish War is the defining event of his 1st century historical appearance, as the dawning of the reality of the new creation available now to all who believed in him. The apostles were to take this forward in the expression of Jesus’s continuing ministry on earth but directed from a new location.

The supposed ‘concrete’ reality of Jesus’s victory over paganism looks very different from this perspective. Roman paganism simply changed its clothing, in the sense of taking up residence in the church, which  began to express its essentially inhuman destructive violence from the supression of the Montanists onwards. The essence of the Daniel story was humanity degraded to bestiality conflicting with and being overcome by true humanity. Daniel’s beasts are reflected in the latterday Roman beast of Revelation 13:1-10, which became the beast in lamb’s clothing of 11-18, and we have lived between the two realities under what has been called Christendom since.

(I’d suggest a new ‘beast’ is currently arising in the form of Islam in its true colours, no different from the character of Daniel’s beast or the Roman beast, and is in violent conflict with what is left of the true humanity of the church in the Middle East. The true humanity will however prevail as it stays loyal to Jesus, and lives according to his teaching and example — for which the church in Iran provides living proof).

The “new creation” now is the life of the church brought forward from your supposedly distant (from a 1st century perspective) horizon, first in Jesus’s new creation resurrection appearances, then in the church, as represented especially in the apostles — 2 Corinthians 5:17. That the coming of the new creation is associated with (but not identical to) the kingdom of God is clear, first from the modelling of what the kingdom meant in the ministry of Jesus, subsequently in the life and ministry of the church. Second, it is clear from what Jesus says about the kingdom, eg Matthew 25:34, the kingdom “prepared for you from the creation of the world”, in other words “kingdom” was not a way of describing something that was purely historically contingent.

Both Jesus and Paul have their eyes on the developing historical context of their times — hence the need to locate them both in historical time and geographical space. Yet both are conscious in an overriding way of introducing more far reaching realities within the context of the 1st century. At the heart of this is a very different reality taking residence on the earth through the church, the new creation, introduced by and expressed through what is called the kingdom of God. Sometimes this was to bring reconciliation of the old creation with the new, and sometimes conflict with the new, but never identification of the one with the other. Jews and Romans now fell into the ”old creation” category, but with the opportunity of transferring to the “new creation” by faith in Jesus, the Jewish resurrected messiah. This was to be and is the new ‘concrete reality’ on earth.

There is a rogue ‘modern evangelicalism’ which, since the Enlightenment, has framed the gospel as the way out of this world into an other-worldly or future spiritual reality before or after death. This has adopted the terms of discussion of the Enlightenment and applied them to itself. The spiritual world is distant from the material world, and operates in a separate compartment. The secular world is the reality, and can operate unhindered by religious or spiritual considerations. The landlord is now an absentee, if not probably absent altogether. This is how ‘modern evangelicalism’ has accommodated itself to secular humanism. In this world, discussion of God and ‘miracles’ is sneered at, until the miracles start appearing by the back door, along with all the alternative spiritualities that have rushed in to fill up the vacuum.

Matthew 24  and the Mark/Luke parallels have this in common with Old Testament prophecy: prophecy about local and immediate events is often combined with visions of more distant events. This is true of the Daniel passages in the Old Testament. But even in the NT parallels or fulfilments of Daniel (whichever way you interpret them), there is much that is not fulfilled in the NT, nor even immediately beyond the 1st century. There are significant parts of Matthew 24 which do not describe a 1st century fulfilment, apocalyptic hyperbole and rhetoric notwithstanding.

There is a moderate in-betweenism which makes good sense of  New Testament eschatology. somewhere between Left Behind and the The Coming of the Son of Man (that would make an interesting motion picture). It has the advantage of not throwing out the power of the evangelical gospel with the bathwater of fundamentalist dispensationalist futurism, whilst accommodating the serious need for an adequate representation of a whole-scriptural narrative.

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