Friday, September 16, 2016

Preterist Time References, Part XI

One of the arguments that Preterists often give is that the apostles seem to believe that Christ was returning in their lifetime.

Paul states that the "time is short" and that the form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor 7:29, 31) and that Christ will give "us" rest when He returns with His holy angels and burns up his adversaries.

For it is right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will undergo the penalty of eternal destructionaway from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength, when he comes to be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed – and you did in fact believe our testimony. (2 Thes 1:6-10)
And I say this, brothers and sisters:  The time is shortSo then those who have wives should be as those who have none, those with tears like those not weepingthose who rejoice like those not rejoicingthose who buy like those without possessionsthose who use the world as though they were not using it to the full. For the present shape of this world is passing away. (1 Cor 7:29-31)
The apostles simply speak to believers in a way that these events (Christ's return, resurrection from the dead, transformation of their bodies, destruction of the wicked, etc.) will be happening to them. Peter does the same as he speaks of sharing in this glory that is to be revealed when Christ returns and rewards the believers to whom he is speaking (1 Pet 5:1-4).
Now, what Preterists will say is that Paul includes himself in this rescuing, and therefore, believes that the Lord will come back in his lifetime. Yet, Paul is martyred by Nero before the Lord is said to return in A.D. 70. Peter. The problem. of course, immediately emerges that if Peter and Paul are dead, then they are not going to be around for Christ's return, nor be relieved and given rest from the enemies through the event, since they are not a part of the event in A.D. 70.
If it is true that these apostles believe that the Lord will come back within their lifetimes, then everyone, including Preterists, must conclude that they are wrong. Paul is wrong. Christ does not return to deal out fire on his enemies and give to him relief from persecution. Peter is wrong, since Christ does not return in his lifetime.
But there is more than this to consider, and that is the nature of what the apostles believe is going to happen. In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, notice what Paul says of this age to come. He is arguing to the Corinthians that they might want to think twice about getting married since the time is short and those who are married will soon be as those who are not. The present world that is passing away includes the marriage institution. It also includes buying things, weeping, and rejoicing about the things of the present world. Did all of that end in A.D. 70? Did commerce end in A.D. 70? Did having joy and sorrow about situations that arise in the world end in A.D. 70? Did the form of this world pass away in A.D. 70 because God knocked down a city in the Middle East? Paul's entire point is about marriage. He is arguing that one needs to consider the brevity of time until those who are married will no longer be married. As Christ argued as well, the age to come is one in which resurrected saints do not marry (Luke 20:35), something that would cause a problem if marriage was restored once a person's body was restored, and the one flesh union made in that body was reestablished, as the Sadducees point out.
One might argue that marriage and buying ends in Jerusalem at that time, but why is Paul arguing that the Corinthians in Corinth might not want to get married because the time is short and marriage is going to come to an end? Paul's argument would make no sense. If marriage ends in Jerusalem, it certainly doesn't end in Corinth, or any other city to which believers could move if they want to get married. 
Furthermore, the enemies upon which Christ deals out a fiery destruction are in Thessalonica, not Jerusalem. And, as discussed before, Paul is relieved from their persecution by death, not Christ's return. 
This is not even to mention the fact that the apostles believe the coming of Christ will do away with death, sin, sorrow, the wicked and their kingdoms, and bring about a resurrection of the dead for both the righteous and the wicked. None of this happens in A.D. 70. 
So are the apostles wrong? This is a possibility, since we believe that the Scripture is inspired to instruct Christians, not in timelines, but in theology and ethics. 
In fact, we know that the apostles do not know when Christ is returning because Christ Himself repeats to them twice that no one knows when He is returning in terms of the macro event, nor does it belong to them to know.
In Acts 1:6-7, the apostles ask when He will restore the kingdom to Israel. He replies that such knowledge does not belong to them, but is solely the Father's prerogative to know such things. This is reminiscent of His response to the apostles' question in the Olivet Discourse concerning the macro event. He relates to them the micro event and says that it will happen within some of their lifetimes, but the timing of the macro event is said to only be known by the Father. Not even the Son knows it, so obviously, Jesus could not be revealing when it was occurring. Hence, the timing of Christ's return is not something God gives to men.
But there is another interesting possibility, and that is that what is given to men, even commanded of them, is to look forward to Christ's return. In other words, the expectation of Christ's return is something the New Testament considers important. So important, for that matter, that it provides the basis for our sanctification. In fact, it seems that the New Testament authors believe it to be a necessary element in motivating believers to purify themselves.
Jesus places it as the basis for treating one's fellow Christians well in Matthew (24:42-51). In Mark's version, one reads the common theme found in all of the Synoptics.
But as for that day or hour no one knows it – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son– except the Father. Watch out! Stay alert!  For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journeyHe left his house and put his slaves in charge, assigning to each his workand commanded the doorkeeper to stay alertStay alertthenbecause you do not know when the owner of the house will return – whether during eveningat midnightwhen the rooster crowsor at dawn  or else he might findyou asleep when he returns suddenly. What I say to you I say to everyone: Stay alert!” (Mark 13:32-37)
The ignorance of when He is coming plays into the command to stay alert. If one knew the timing of the event, one would merely be tempted to doze off until that time. So looking forward to His coming, and not knowing when He is coming, plays a vital role in staying alert, something God considered necessary for Christians to have in terms of motivating them toward sanctification.
Likewise, John places it as the basis for sanctification in both his epistles and apocalypse. He states of Christ's return,
And nowlittle childrenremain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back. If you know that he is righteousyou also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been fathered by him(See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children– and indeed we are! For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know him. Dear friendswe are God’s children now, but what we will be has not yet become visibleWe know that whenever He is made visible we will be like himbecause we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies/sanctifies himselfjust as Jesus is pure). (1 John 2:28-3:3)
Indeed, Paul seems very aware that he is going to die. The prophet Agabus tells him news that leads Paul to declare that he might die in the Book of Acts (21:10-14) , and he indicates this in 2 Timothy 4:6-8. Peter also indicates this (2 Pet 1:12-15) referencing the Johannine scene about which we have discussed before.
So the apostles know that they are going to die. Yet, they include themselves in the "we," "us," etc. when speaking of something that will happen to other Christians. This is a type of speech that is quite common. The "we" does not necessarily refer to the literal group (i.e., I and you together), but to the representative group. In other words, the "we" and "us" can refer to Christians in general, apostles in general, those who preach the gospel in general, Christians who are alive rather than dead in general, etc. 
This is true for any small part of a group that represents the whole in a synecdoche. The part represents the whole, and sometimes the part even represents others in the group. This means that the apostles, both in terms of relating he necessity of looking forward to Christ's return for sanctification, and in terms of speaking to all Christians for all time, can use language that describes a participation in events, or here, an event, in which they will not literally partake.
Hence, Paul can say of Christ's return and the resurrection, 
We will not all sleep, 30  but we will all be changed  15:52 in a momentin the blinking 31  of an eyeat the last trumpetFor the trumpet will soundand the dead will be raised imperishableand we will be changed. 15:53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishableand this mortal body must put on immortality. 15:54 Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortalitythen the saying that is written will happen,
Death has been swallowed up in victory. 32 
15:55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting? 33 
15:56 The sting of death is sinand the power of sin is the law. 15:57 But thanks be to God,who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 15:58 So thendear brothers and sisters, 34  be firmDo not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lordknowingthat your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Notice that this passage relates both the necessity in looking forward to Christ's return and the resurrection of this mortal body for purposes of sanctification, and it relates Paul as being one of those people who is alive at the time it occurs, using representational language. If the "we" and "this mortal body" putting on immortality while alive were literal then Paul was simply mistaken, as he died before this event took place in everyone's eschatological scheme, Preterist or otherwise.
Instead, these verses make up what is likely God's desire to communicate imminence to all Christians in the First Century, but knowing that looking forward to Christ's return is a necessary motivation for Christians in general, has the apostles use language that can apply to every generation of believers. After all, God did not simply wish to sanctify the first generation of believers by continually reminding them of imminent Christ's return, but somehow did not see the necessity of giving that same motivation to the following generations.
So one is given two options with these passages. Either the apostles are wrong about Christ's return because they did not know when He would, as the Bible indicates, or they are using language that includes believers (themselves and other Christians who would not see the return of Christ) as representative of all believers who are looking forward to the event. 
I personally think that the real answer exists in combining these two. In other words, it is since the apostles did not know when Christ would return, they were free to use language that included every believer of their day, even if they did not believe everyone would live until His coming (e.g., Paul and Peter). And God, who is the One who inspires the text, gears it this way so that the text will cause all Christians everywhere throughout time to look forward to Christ's return as a central motivation for their sanctification. 
But Preterist proof texts they are not. The nature of the event negates that idea, the fact that the apostles saying it do not live to see A.D. 70 negate that idea, and neither the language nor the nature of inspiration, frankly, demands such an interpretation.  
All of these remaining verses fall under this category:

“…we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord… …We who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds… …You, brethren, are not in darkness, that the Day should overtake you like a thief.” (1 Thes 4:15, 17; 5:4).

“May your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:23).

“I charge you …that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Tim 6:14

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” (2 Pet 3:10-12)

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