Friday, August 5, 2016

Preterist Time References, Part VI

The biggest part of the Preterist argument are time statements concerning the destruction of Jerusalem in the Synoptics. The Olivet Discourse is often a fall back passage when one seems to be getting hammered with another passage that indicates that resurrection is of this physical body or Christ’s return is physical, etc. However, as apocalyptic discourse, these passages cannot be read as though they are some literal layout of the coming of Christ.

The following six statements made in the Synoptic Gospels make up the sum total of what I would consider time statement evidence that the Synoptics are talking about the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (I think a couple other verses often cited are actually referring to something else).

1."The axe is already laid at the root of the trees." (Matt. 3:10; Luke 3:9).
2. "His winnowing fork is in His hand." (Matt. 3:12; Luke 3:17).
3. "'When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?' '....He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.' '....Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.' ....When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them." (Matt. 21:40-41, 43, 45; Luke 20:15-16, 19).
4. "This generation will not pass away until all these things take place." (Mark 13:30; Matt. 24:34; with some variation in Luke 21:32).
5. “These are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” (Lk. 21:22).
6. "Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us.'” (Lk. 23:28-30).
      At this point, I have no pushback on these verses. I think they clearly refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. So these are not verses that prove Preterism, as many partial Preterists, and even someone like me who does not consider myself a Preterist at all, at least in terms of what that view often assumes about books outside of the Synoptics, would agree that these are talking about the destruction of Jerusalem.
      The problem, as I see it, is that Preterists tend to carry with these verses certain unwarranted assumptions that stem from a lack of familiarity with apocalyptic literature and speech. These assumptions can be summed up as follows.
            1. An assumption that any macro language used means that the macro-event is occurring here.

            2.  That there is only one “coming” and parousia of Christ, rather than multiple comings and    instances of Christ’s future parousia breaking into the here and now.

Let’s take the first one to start. Part of the thrust of many apocalyptic texts is to take an event that is occurring in the author’s day and place it within the context of the future restoration of God’s people and judgment of the world.

This is done for a variety of reasons, but the main one seems to be that it provides perspective to those who are witnessing the microcosmic event in their own lifetime. For instance, in Daniel, under the persecution of Antiochus IV, the people of God were hopelessly being oppressed and killed for worshiping YHWH. What Daniel did was to take that persecution and place it in the context of the ultimate end, the macrocosmic event in an effort to give the faithful perspective. They may die for their faith, but there will be a resurrection of the dead. They may lose their possessions and property now, but they will take possession of the whole world in the time to come.

Hence, Daniel took the two events and mixed them together as one, precisely, to argue that the microcosmic event is really a spark of a larger fire to come. The persecution of God’s people would end in victory.

In Daniel, then, the kingdoms are all wiped away. As the Aramaic states, “ In the days of those kings [i.e., the Seleucid kings in the second century B.C.] the God of heaven will raise up an everlasting kingdom that will not be destroyed, and there will be no kingdom that is left for another people. It will break in pieces and bring about the demise of all these kingdoms. But it will stand forever.

Here we see that all of the kingdoms of the earth will be utterly destroyed, and there will be no other kingdom left for another people. Only the people of God will rule in the kingdom of God. Yet, we know that this did not happen in the second century B.C. In fact, it has not happened yet at all. One might argue that the kingdom of God is spiritual and exists in the world today, but that is not what this passage says. It does not say that the kingdom of God will exist side by side with kingdoms of other people. According to this, there are no other kingdoms left. Instead, what the author of Daniel has done is to combine the event of Antiochus’ persecution, which becomes more clear as the reader progresses through the work, with the macrocosmic event in the end.

Again, in Chapter 12, we are told of the great victory and resurrection of the saints.

At that time Michael,
the great prince who watches over your people, 
will arise. 
There will be a time of distress
unlike any other from the nation’s beginning
up to that time.
But at that time your own people,
all those whose names are found written in the book,
will escape.
Many of those who sleep
in the dusty ground will awake 
some to everlasting life,
and others to shame and everlasting abhorrence.
But the wise will shine
like the brightness of the heavenly expanse.
And those bringing many to righteousness
will be like the stars forever and ever.” (12:1-3)

This text clearly has macrocosmic language all over it. We are told that all of these things happen “at that time.” This, of course, begs the question, “At what time?” The answer is found in the preceding chapter that indicates the time that this all occurs is the time of Antiochus IV and his demise. Despite the forced idea that Chapter 11 somehow splits at the end and refers to Rome, the entire book, chapter, and flow of narrative indicate that there is no change in person or time. Daniel has joined the microcosmic and macrocosmic events together in order to argue that, despite the severity of oppressive powers and even death among God’s people, if they trust in God, they will have victory in the end.

Likewise, 1 Enoch, one of the most important books in 2d Temple Judaism, is an apocalyptic book that takes the event of the flood and combines it with macrocosmic language to convey that the flood was a foreshadowing of a larger event to come at the end of the fallen world.

In the context of the flood, Enoch tells us that the flood will bring about a total destruction of the wicked, something it does in the biblical narrative, but this destruction soon takes on another event all together in that the wicked are removed from the earth forever. They will never again set foot on it. The righteous will live upon it forever instead and it will never again be corrupted by the wicked. This clearly does not happen in the flood, and the author of Enoch knows this. So why does he present the flood as a futuristic judgment of the world in which the wicked are wiped away in fire (fire itself seems odd for a cosmic deluge)? Because he is combining the flood event with what he sees as the future judgment of the world. They are two events spoken of together as though they are a singular event because, in the author’s mind, they are.

In the apocalyptic mind, all micro events are like streams of water that flow from the larger ocean of creation. On one side of creation, the inauguration at the beginning, there is an ocean of creational language, and on the other side of creation, there is destruction and recreation the ends in the consummation of creation, the finishing of everything God has made and the filling up of His earth full of His covenant people, which was His original purpose in creation. Hence, everything is creation. Every event that occurs is a part of that larger event. All is one in that regard. Hence, events like the Exodus have creation language attached to them, not as an act of hyperbole, but to display the unification of the two events as one. Likewise, an event like the destruction of Babylon has with it destruction and recreation language since such events are also one with the future renewal of the cosmos.

This is the view of apocalyptic speech. It combines events together. As such, the prophets can place the destruction of cities in the context of that larger event, and Second Temple and New Testament authors, especially within an apocalyptic context that is characteristic of this practice, can do the same with events like that of the persecution under Antiochus IV, the flood event, Christ’s coming to His churches in judgment in Revelation, the Mount of Transfiguration, Christ coming to render a verdict for the oppressed workers in James, and Christ coming as a judgment upon the city of Jerusalem and its leaders. All of these things can be described in terms of the macrocosmic events of Christ’s final return and consummation of His kingdom because they are all a part of that final consummation in one way or another. They are microcosmic events occurring in time that are branches from a larger tree that exists in the future.

Now, that all speaks to the idea that macro language means the macro event is occurring. Such an understanding of apocalyptic helps us see that the claim that macro language means the macro event is actually occurring at that time and place is false.

So what about the other claim? What about the idea that there is only one coming, only one parousia? In some way, I’ve already given an answer above. If smaller events in time are all a part of the larger event in the future, and can be spoken of as one, then there can be many smaller events that are in some way connected to the larger one.

But there are some statements on top of this, within the New Testament, that confirm this idea of multiple “comings” “parousias.”

For instance, in Luke 17:22, Christ states to the disciples that “the days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man and you will not see it.”

Not only does this seem to indicate that there is more than one day/time that belongs to Christ’s coming, but that the main day that they long to see will not be seen by them.

Again, in a verse cited by many Preterists, but not read closely, Christ reveals to the priestly court that “from now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (26:64).

Using the same macrocosmic language from Daniel, Christ argues that this will be a continuous thing that occurs, not forty years from His court hearing, but “from now on.” This is because the language of Daniel, where the Son of Man “comes” has to do with His coming up to the Father to receive His kingdom. This is why his reception of the Father’s blessings on the Mount of Transfiguration is considered a “coming” and a “parousia” by the Synoptic Gospels that place the prediction of His coming in parallel to His ascending to the Father on the mountain. It is also why Peter joins them together in his epistle (2 Pet 1:16-18).

It is also why Christ’s judgment over His Church, as its King, can be referred to as His coming (Rev 2-3), and why James can refer to His coming to render a fair verdict to His oppressed people as His parousia (4:7). As Luke indicated, there are many days of the Son of Man, not just the final one. There are many receptions of His kingdom, many times He will come in the clouds of heaven from the time He speaks to the priests to His final return.

The Preterist’s assumptions fail on both of these accounts. To say that macrocosmic language means that the macrocosmic event is occurring, and therefore, if it doesn’t happen literally, it all needs to be reinterpreted into something spiritual, is a non sequitur. To say that this must be true because there is only one coming and manifestation of the parousia is also false.

Without these two assumptions, there is simply no reason to read the Olivet Discourse, one of many instances of Christ’s coming and parousia as the final one. In fact, in light of the nature passages, it becomes obvious that the Preterist reading is not the correct reading of the text.

Hence, Preterists are right that all six of these statements refer to the microcosmic event of the destruction of Jerusalem. Their assumptions about how to read apocalyptic literature, however, have led them to misunderstand the nature of the larger event to which some of its language gives witness.

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