Thoughts on Eschatology Today

Thoughts on Eschatology Today July 14, 2012

This is an interview with Karen Spears Zacharias, one of my favorite authors.

Awhile back I sat down with Dr. Scot McKnight  following a lecture he gave at George Fox University. A prolific author and blogger (Jesus Creed) and world-renowned speaker, Dr. McKnight begins a new appointment as Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary this August.

When we spoke at George Fox University, I wanted to know what this leading bible scholar had to say about the End Times and how it affects the way we live now.

Wearing a cheery orange shirt, brown slacks, and his eternal congenial nature, Scot sat at a table in the center of the campus coffee shop, drinking coffee and recalling his own newspaper route days. Here’s a recap of our discussion:

I would have been a teenager. Every fall we had a revival at church and they frequently brought in Eschatological preachers. I remember one preacher waxing eloquent on why Jesus would be returning very, very soon. He started telling stories about people dying unexpectedly.


We had this guy in our church, Gerard, who had been riding a motorcycle when he was struck and killed by an auto. I remember seeing blood on the road the next morning as I did my 4:30 a.m. paper route in Freeport, Ill. I couldn’t go by that corner in the mornings without thinking of Gerard and his death and Christ returning soon. It was a graphic set of sermons.

Later, sometime in 1971, Scot heard an End Times prediction from another preacher.

He gave a series of sermons: Fifty reasons why Christ will return before 1973. We were totally into the rapture theology.

But the notion of rapture didn’t trouble the budding bible scholar.

We were the Christians. We were on the right side. We were going to be raptured where everybody else in Freeport was not going to be.

That kind of eschatology has its comforts. It’s reassuring to the young and old alike, knowing that they are safe while everyone else faces sure peril. But a fellow has to be sure. McKnight was a junior in high school when he got right with God.

That fall of my junior year, I began seriously reading the Bible. I got up every morning before school and read two chapters from the Old Testament and two chapters from the New Testament.

His interest in Scripture carried over to the End Times. Someone gave the young McKnight a copy of Salem Kirban’s Guide to Survival, which he recalled as being written in the same sound-the-alarm style of Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth.

It was a detailed graphic telling of what the world would be like when the rapture occurred and what it would be like afterwards. I studied it with Harry A. Ironside’s notes on Revelation.

McKnight came to appreciate the highly metaphorical language of apocalyptic literature. He doesn’t recall ever being frightened by what he read in Revelation.

I knew how to read it. The distinct impression I had was that I understood it. Apocalyptic literature is highly metaphorical and a lot of the symbols do not lend themselves toward specific interpretations. Now I think of it as a series of scenes rather than a chronological set of scenes.

Years later when it seemed all of Christendom was reading the apocalyptic pulp fiction series, Left Behind, McKnight did not read it. His own thoughts about eschatology were pretty well-formed by then.

It helps to have an understanding of the history of the evolution of America’s eschatology. Dispensationalism came through the influence of John Nelson Darby, who was influenced by the Niagara Bible Conference, more commonly called Believers Meeting for Bible Study. And then along comes C.I. Scofield.

Scofield had some definite stuff in his woodshed,” McKnight said.

Indeed. Scofield was a scalawag, a rascal who deserted his fellow soldiers during a time of war, trading in his Confederate uniform for a Union one, solely to seek refuge among the Yankees, finagled his way into a position in Kansas as the youngest U.S. District Attorney in the entire nation, and then was forced to resign that position due to illegal activity including taking bribes and forging signatures. He married, deserted that family, divorced, and married again.  All before his come-to-Jesus moment. Scofield would go on to pen the premier reference Bible touting dispensational premillennialism, commonly referred to as the Scofield Bible. (I received one as a gift during my junior year of high school and carried it around for years.) It made Scofield a very rich man, monetarily speaking.

Scofield wrote these notes that were incredibly clear. His bible was the best to buy. The Scofield Bible was the single most influential bible in American History. He shaped populist dispensationalism, dramatically.

I bought Moroccan leather Scofield Reference Bible for $18 with the money I made on my paper route. It was beautiful leather.

McKnight would adhere to the theology of his youth until his university years when he came across a book by George Ladd.

I went to college as a devout fundamental dispensationalist, but in college I discovered George Ladd’s The Blessed Hope. That book convinced me of the post-tribulation rapture, and from that moment on I was opposed to dispensationalism.

Immigration and urbanization were two of the compelling factors that contributed to the rising popularity of dispensationalism in the U.S., McKnight explained.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, American culture was threatened by massive immigration, and the shifting tides and morals. As people moved to the cities, there was a growth of liberalism, and with it a desire to make sense of the world and where it was going. Dispensationalism gave a crystal clear vision of the decline of the world before the rapture and people saw it every day. They saw a decline in the world. This told them to hang on because the rapture is coming.

It was while a doctoral student at the University of Nottingham that McKnight became much more sensitive to the uses of the images and metaphors in apocalyptic literature. And it was during his tenure as a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School that McKnight became convinced that Matthew 24 been fulfilled in 70 A.D. McKnight has considered writing a book on eschatology.

I think most of the 20th Century has seen evangelicals asking the wrong questions and they’ve got the wrong answers to the wrong questions. Evangelicals are preoccupied with a century of missing the point. It’s been an adventure in missing the point.

But to be clear, McKnight believes in a Second Coming.

I think we should affirm the Second Coming and be humble and very cautious about what we think that will look like.

So what does McKnight think heaven will look like?

I believe heaven will be here, on earth. I believe in transformed physical existence. It will be what we have now only transformed into ideal conditions.

Jesus was raised from the dead and people recognized him, but his body was transformed to a new kind of body. I think that’s what it will be like. You will have a perfect nose. (McKnight is making an inside joke about the awful incident in which Poe the Demon Dog almost took off my entire nose)

It’s important, McKnight said, that evangelicals avoid the controversial details that no one knows for sure and instead, emphasize the big picture. Wrong-headed eschatology can be dangerous.

Dispensationalist Christians have this belief that Israel must be favored because of God’s plan for the nation of Israel. They see it as a fulfillment of prophecy. So American politics have favored Israel knowing that there are huge pockets of Americans who believe that favoring Israel is the plan of God. So we have written into our international policies favoritism toward Israel. Our eschatology has led to a political situation where we favor Israel because Israel believes in free enterprise and is non-Muslim.

Our conservative Christian eschatology leans toward a final judgment for Muslims. Armageddon. In the bloody valley. If people are now seeing the final enemy as Muslims it makes me suspicious that we are projecting our biggest fears into our eschatological hopes.

But there is also a danger in a belief void of eschatology. Noting a young woman in the coffee shop, McKnight said today’s college graduates are committed to a world of “ought.”

They believe the world can be better because it ought to be better. They have an eschatology of peace and justice and ending poverty. This is what Obama tapped into — twentysomethings who believe if we change, we can make an impact. But they have lost the vision of biblical holiness. Their understanding of God is as a Big Mr. Rogers. They’ve been taught unconditional love. The wrath of God is incomprehensible to them.

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  • Scott Gay

    I can’t help being committed to an eschatology of intuituve primacy. There are foundations of individualizing and those that are binding. To me, our universities( and culture through media) have been wrapped in the individualizing of care and equality. And our youth are the predominant purveyors of the mantra. There is much good here. Without this perspective you get untold harm to people. The hurt has lingered from past racial inequality, and is noticible in untold ways in gender inequality. However, we have paid a huge price in the neglect of the binding foundations. Individuals and cultures are degraded without them. We have no vision of sanctity, and betrayal and subversion exist even in people and groups that they shouldn’t. We need a more holistic approach. There is a sense of paradox in holding these morals together. From my perspective we need both science and religion. We need belief and doubt. We need equality and authority. We need law and gospel. This is about final, or ending things, because you have to get to these paradoxes before you can get to a more universal reality.

  • Don Dodge

    I’m in. Please write that book on eschatology. The view of heaven you describe has resonated with me for a long time. I’d like help fleshing that out.

  • Tom K

    I remember picking up a copy of “The Blessed Hope” at the Covenant Bookstore just after reading “666” by Kirban because it looked interesting. It changed my life. It made me look at everything I had learned differently. Great book and great author. I was still in high school!

  • Richard

    Ladd is the one who started my journey away from dispensationalism too.

  • Mark Edward

    #2 Don,
    Have you read Surprised By Hope by NT Wright? That is the kind of thing Scot is describing.

  • Mark

    I had to chuckle when you mentioned Kirban’s book. It was a must read for me after studying Lindsey’s, just in case. . .Wemust have come from the same eschatological mold. Thank goodness for Ladd, and now folks like N.T. Wright and you Scot. You are helping us move to a much more hopeful “end”.

  • This eschatological idea that Scot is positing … “I believe heaven will be here, on earth. I believe in transformed physical existence. It will be what we have now only transformed into ideal conditions.” is similar to N. T. Wrights view appears to be the new wave of eschatology at the moment. What ever happened to the idea that eternal life was our reward in Heaven where the resurrected Christ resides at this time?

    Joh 14:2-3 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

    Wright raised a stir in religious circles when he broached his Heaven on earth or postmillennial type of view a few years back. The stir was because he was changing the long held view that John 14 above presents that many Christians had accepted historically. Wrights view requires a period of what I would call a subconscious intermediate station for the faithful post mortem while another view puts the faithful with Christ immediately post mortem with a resurrected body similar to His.

    Now with Wright and Scot we are presented with the idea that planet earth will effectively be changed back into what YEC have projected earth once was like before the fall. It’s interesting to me that those who disavow the YEC view of Genesis turn around and embraces its hermeneutical ideas in Revelation. What is more baffling is that in Hebrew 12:26-28 we see that planet earth has already been physically and dynamically shaken (changed) at the time of Moses and Mt. Sinai receiving of the Ten Commandments.

    Heb 12:26-28 AT THAT TIME HIS VOICE SHOOK THE EARTH, but now he has promised, “Yet ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH BUT ALSO THE HEAVENS.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for RECEIVING A KINGDOM THAT CANNOT BE SHAKEN, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,

    Now IMO the above verses are simply saying that the order of the covenant for God’s people was dramatically changed at the time of Moses on Mt. Sinai and that through Christ this covenant order is being changed again and was about to be completed with His full Kingdom establishment. As Hebrews 8 says the old covenant was presently passing away. The Hebrew author even says that the Heavens and Earth will be rolled up like a garment which we can take literally or symbolically depending on one’s hermeneutic.

    Heb 8:13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
    Heb 1:10-12 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed.

    Eschatology in view of the Jewish literature was projected as the time of the coming of the Messiah and was determined to be a straightening out of the mess of Law Keeping and priestly abuse being ended. It was a change of the old world order to the new world order. Either we think Christ completed that purpose successfully or we think he only finished it half way is the question. If we think he has fully established His Kingdom then what is the purpose of the physical laying down of the clean and unclean animals all about in Isaiah and what is this idea of living to 100 or 1000 years all about. Why is that any better than our present lifespans of 78.6 years? No I’m afraid we may be venturing down the same pie in the sky path of the left behind and Hal Lindsey groups if we think the bible is talking about Shangri-La here on earth someday.

    Now if the Lord wants to put us back here on Planet earth someday then I guess we could be surprised by a misplaced hope. Also I expect we are going to have just as much trouble selling that eschatological future of Planet earth to the skeptic as we do trying to sell them the YEC view of the past paradisiacal planet earth. Sometimes I don’t think we have thought these issue out quite far enough down the line for consistency sake.

  • CGC

    Hi Scot,
    Well, I’m back from vacation, “Did I miss the rapture?” 🙂 I wanted to ask you what book you thought is one of the best you have read on this topic? You once mentioned R. T. France influenced you on this topic earlier, which book of his was that?

    Thanks in advance (good to be back, hopefully not left behind 🙂

  • Scot McKnight

    CGC, his commentary on Matthew.

  • JamesT

    I discovered Ladd a couple of years ago. He also wrote a much more comprehensive book on New Testament Theology which, I believe, is excellent. He was an author of clarity; very refreshing.

  • I hadn’t heard about your move to Northern, until now. Jolly good for Northern, I say, and Pray the Lord’s blessing on your new ministry there.

  • Scott Courey

    Who cares about any of this anymore? If young adults care, how do they go about learning and figuring out how it matters? Will Millennials find a cohesive way to integrate Christian doctrine into their lives? The local church is not their resource. Many don’t even see their Christian college (if they happen to attend one) as their primary resource. Some might talk to their parents if their parents knew how to talk about such things. Do they even read blogs?
    I believe that the church is in a several decade re-ordering of how it will read, understand and draw wisdom from the Scripture. This task will land primarily in the hands of the Millennial generation, resulting in a far more reliable context for passing truth to their children than the doctrinal deconstructionism in which they were raised. Whatever that looks like will be their legacy. It will be Post Millennial-ism, if you will, but with a new meaning: the ecclesiastical age in which the church re-gained it’s footing on the backs of a generation called “The Millennials”.
    We boomers should keep asking Millennials how we can help…for that will be our legacy.

  • Scott Courey

    PS: my daughter had Scot at NP and already misses him dearly. She most definitely sees you Scot as a doctrinal lighthouse in the stormy sea of religious ideology. Thank you so much. She feels both heard and led by you.

  • Robert

    People have been projecting their fears onto eschatology for donkeys’ years. That’s why the Soviets were the Final Enemy back in the 1980’s. Anyone the US government chooses to demonise is likely to turn up as the Antichrist in somebody’s scheme.

  • This is a side topic, and I realized I’ve been a bit left behind in the threads of this discussion, but does anyone know of any pastor’s teaching from the pulpit in this way about the second coming of Christ?

    Many Christians, including pastors and leaders, now neglect discussions of the second coming of Christ, perhaps as a reaction against all the nutty predictions of about 20-30 years ago.

  • Matt,

    I’m aware of an author and Bible answer guru who published a book somewhat similar to Scot’s ideas and took the Hal Lindsey and Left behind concepts to task while doing so. His popularity and revenues took an extensive hit as it stepped on too many evaangelical toes in the process.

    Going against the popular ideas may be correct but they won’t alway allow you to become the most popular guy out there if you are overly dogmatic. It’s very much like trying to envoke evolutiona and examine Genesis in a new hermunutical light. Very risky for ones job in our current climate.

    Most preachers I’ve seen don’t get into it but try to reflect a general idea or two that they don’t believe will ruffle too many feathers in the congregation. That is unless like Hagee they have built their following upon a dispensational dynamic that keeps them stirred up and sending in the money.

  • CGC

    Hi Norman and all,
    I’m not sure how much I will be able to respond (I have a very full week) but I did have a few questions I hope Norman and others will unpack some more. I have read pretty extensively on N. T. Wright although I am not sure I fully understand all that he is saying in his interpretation of the second coming of Jesus and his ascension. My understanding of Wright on this (and maybe others can fill in the blanks) is Wright says Jesus never taught about his return but the Holy Spirit did reveal this through the early church fathers. So is Wright saying that Jesus taught eschatology in general but not specifically his return? Or was there a “seed” idea there that the later church expounded further on? On the ascension, I heard Wright teach on this and my understanding was he believed there was an ascension “event” but people should not take the language literally like Jesus floated away into the sky? It was simply the picturist language and style of writing of that day.

    So coming back to preterist and futurist understandings of eschatology (is there not both?). And some unpacking for Norman (1) what is meant by second coming or “man of lalwlessness” (anti-christ) etc.? Was the anti-Christ fullfilled at the destruction of the temple or is there only an “anti-Christ spirit?”; and (2) It almost seems one would have to reject all the earliest Christians understanding of eschatology until some modern preterists came along to set the record right? Do we really want to suggest that the church for almost 2000 years got many important Christian doctrines wrong and where is the Holy Spirit in the church in all this? and (3) how can anyone argue against any “spiritual” fullfillment? (Jw’s – Jesus came back in 1914 spiritually? Someone could argue that Jesus incarnation, death on the cross, and resurrection are all spiritual in nature with no concrete or historical realness to them except what believers existentially experience in their faith. Some argue today that the Bible is all “spiritual?” Do we really want to drive such a consistent and complete wedge between the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history as some actually do today? (you don’t do this Norman but could not some claim that your preterist hermeneutics are not consistent or go far enough?).

    Lastly, whatever people’s eschatology, I hope it drives them towards faithfully living out the gospel in today’s world and their future hope drives their present circumstances. If our eschatology becomes a way of escaping one’s duty to others or a kind of escapism from this world, this kind of eschatology is what really needs to be debunked and resisted more than anything else from my perspective. And whatever our eschatologies, I suspect there will still be many surprises in the eschaton (despite the many books being written by people that seem to have all the answers and everything neatly wrapped up already).

  • CGC,

    First I want to mention that I will likely agree with 95% of what Wright presents from a general position regarding eschatology. It is the 5% that regards the defining language concerning the timing of what we historically have called the second coming or biblically the “Parousia” of Christ.

    Now concerning the idea that the early church fathers were Holy Spirit led is where I may not be in agreement with many. I do not see any church leader past John having prophetic abilities. IMO prophecy and the gifts of the Holy Spirit ended once the church and the new Kingdom was firmly established in the first century. We can look at Daniel 9 and 1 Cor 13 as a starter for some of that evaluation. However this brings us to the idea that the historical church has made inspirational decisions that should be binding upon everyone. I don’t see how we can say that any era of church history after the first century would be in any better position than we are today to render good judgments upon a comprehensive understanding of the purpose of the church. We have much more information to inform us today than the historical church had beginning in the second and third century onward IMO, allowing us tools for analysis without as much prejudice to evaluate more accurately.

    Historically the church is splintered beyond comprehension and so we can’t pick and choose and say such and such an idea is binding upon the complete church body (there is no consensus upon what comprises the canon as an example). The reality is that the church has struggled and muddled its way through understanding and applying scripture coherently through the last 1900 years and continues to muddle through it. A clear example is the multitude of various millennial appropriations that the current church devises for different segments such as premillennialism, postmillennialism, amillennialsim, partial Preterism and full Preterism. Surely we recognize that the church has historically been divided on these issues due to the difficulty of understanding the Hebrew language concepts. So we can’t claim that new ideas that writers such as Pete Enns and John Walton cannot be entertained when done so from a historical investigation perspective concerning Genesis as an example. The position I have come to feel most comfortable with is a messianic fulfilled position that I believe the first century church originally adhered to when we study it from the second Temple and first century perspective instead of the chaos of the historical divided church perspective.

    Your example of Wrights understanding of the ascension event is a good example of how even Wright would be challenged by the literalist reading church historically. Are we going to ignore his observations because the historical church wasn’t equipped well enough to comprehend what Wrights scholarship has revealed? However I typically go further than Wright by trying to be consistent across the board in recognizing the language. Since I’m independent and can take more risk than say a Wright can I can proffer explanations that would be overly problematic for well-established scholars no matter how cutting edge they may appear to the layman. Scholars today can move into the realm of partial Preterism that Wright and Scot adhere to but they are not in a friendly position to carry issues much further into the realm of a full Preterist exploration. That job lies at present in the realm of the fully independent investigator who can risk raising the ire of the church at large without being in jeopardy of their day job and ability to sell books and thus make a living (for a good example of the negative side of getting too far ahead look closely at Pete Enns circumstance since going beyond what is historically acceptable at present). The downside of this though is that it leaves this work to amateur theologians who are never going to have the credibility that credentialed scholars rightfully receive.

    So yes I will attempt to make the case that for 1900 years the church has drifted all over the map regarding eschatology but I don’t believe the events and literature of the OT, NT, second Temple literature and the reality of the first century church support that conglomeration of ideas. We now can examine these issues with much better tools at our disposal and more importantly without the church holding our feet literally to the fire of heretical damnation as we attempt to bring some correction to many misplaced ideas that took traction through history. The dissemination of knowledge has been unleashed at a level not seen since the inventing of the printing press which fostered an era of change 500 years ago in the church. Gatekeepers are finding it more and more difficult to control the debate and I realize that is a double edged sword because it has allowed the church to run amok also but I think we are going to have to live with bad theology hoping that the best will rise to the top over time.

    I have confidence that over time the truth of the better ideas percolate to the top otherwise they will not gain enough traction to sustain themselves. The best scholars are like scientist in that even though they have to toe the line to an extent they like to follow their instincts as much as they safely can. Cultural changes often allow one generation to go where the previous generation could not.

    That’s enough philosophy at the moment. I’ll come back this evening and attempt to address some more specifics that you bring up.


  • CGC

    Ps – I did want to list three significant ways N. T. Wright challenges our eschatology or things worth considering that we may not have been introduced to before:

    1. Jesus return is coming down whereas Daniel’s messianic return is going up. Wright wants us to make better distinctions or nuance all this more . . .

    2. Jesus return may have more to do with transformation of this world than to take us to another world (heaven, etc.). [read his “Surprised by Hope”]

    3. The texts talking about being eschatologically left behind also refers to as in the days of Noah’s flood etc. In Noah’s days, the people left behind went to destruction, not vindation or safety. Something worth considering or thinking more about . . .

    There may be some reversals or nuances we have not noticed before within Scripture because we have been so conditioned by others in reading or hearing these texts a certain way. One of the things I love about Wright is his keen eye for detail focused on the biblical narratives as well as putting some old things in new and fresh ways which may not be so much a kind of reinvention but more of a genuine recovery and retrieval of the biblical story and historical context.

  • Wyatt

    Let me make this really clear, I firmly believe in the Second Advent.

    Scofield? Really? Left Behind? Come on!

    Our testimony really are the creeds. Jesus will return, plain and simple. When? How? Who the heck cares? Get on about the business of the kingdom until He returns and cease with some of the most time-wasting speculation that has ever hit the Church in the last century.

    Besides, eschatology is the study of “end things” and there are many “end things” that could stand some attention; such as, the end of life, death. How about that?

    My goodness!

  • CGC,

    I want to add something I stated about the ending of the “gifts” of the Holy Spirit. I should have been clearer. I would in no way have meant that the “Holy Spirit” no longer exist because that was the focal point of Christ coming in the first place was to impart the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I meant that the passing on of “miraculous gifts” of the Holy Spirit ended with the death of the last Apostle John. The miraculous gifts were intended IMO to allow for the 40 year new exodus establishment and transformation of the church through signs and miracles as an extenstion of Jesus power demonstrating the new Kingdom order. Once the Kingdom has been established then Christ hands the Kingdom back to God as 1 Cor 15:24-29 says. That was an ongoing process for 40 years as I believe Heb 3 & 4 illustrated and Heb 8:13 says was coming to a close soon.

    More to come

  • Norman,

    Thanks for responding to my comments with your own thoughtful warning (16).

    A follow-up question, I’d like to throw out there is how we can fruitfully teach the church about the importance of the second coming without necessarily devolving into arguments about particular eschatology. I’m trying to figure out if there is some teaching I could bring during Advent that might tie together the first and second coming with implications for our actions, character and hope.

    Any thoughts?

  • Matt,

    Coming from the full Preterist (fulfilled eschatological view) I’m going to emphasize a completely different viewpoint than you might expect. My emphasis would be upon living the fullness of the calling of the Gospel message of Christ since I believe that the fullness of the Kingdom has been firmly established for us. I want to live the abundant life to the full measure that Christ provides and concentrate upon what Christ provides for us now instead of looking toward or concentrating upon future ideas. My eternal hope beyond the grave has been fulfilled through Christ resurrection and our redemption in which I receive that reward when I leave this physical earth. Meanwhile following the example of Christ and the Great commandment in which we Love God and our neighbor as ourselves is our calling that will bless us and the world. We are called to be priest to the world and that is demonstrated through our devotion to honoring all people and seeking their best.

    Right now I’m in a group that is studying Revelation in our church and I have to enter into those times of study and fellowship praying that what I say will bring benefit and exhortation to those around me. Our group is diverse and could cause division if I’m more interested in presenting my personal understanding than looking to uplift those I’m with. We have to judge our group dynamics and measure it accordingly through wisdom and experience realizing that some can only handle milk and aren’t ready for theological meat. I’m really not comfortable getting into a picture of a future coming of Christ because I think it almost invariably degenerates into a focus that is not based upon a Christ called reality that we are charged with living.

    I really would like to see some fleshing out of ideas explaining how attributes of various millennial prospects are going to enhance the Gospel message. I know growing up in the amillennialsim camp it was all about a rapture in time to avoid having to endure a fiery end of the physical planet. Frankly I find it hard to see how Christians can discuss these controversial end time scenarios in an uplifting environment. It would be interesting to see if some could comment upon ideas that would exhort us instead. I think Wright attempts to do so with his postmillennial approach but I don’t see it offers any more imaginative alternative than going to Heaven to live with God as I propose. If we really don’t know then we take it on faith and should live a life of faith as the example laid before us in Hebrew chapter 11. If the worthies of old were commended for their faith walk then that seems like a worthy approach to emulate as well.

  • CGC

    Hi Norman and all,
    You have spoken about diversity, even among full preterists. Are there charismatic full preterists? I also wonder if full preterism has also risen within its own cultural and generational context? I remember when I was young, many Evangelicals and Christians were cessationists when it came to miraculous spiritual gifts (again, one wondes how people can separate one group of gifts from others when they all are charismatic and come from the same Spirit?). I for one am happy to see a major shift to the other direction (even if there are many Christian theologians today who are charismatic in their theology even if they are not in practice or are part of ecclesial traditions that don’t embody all the gifts).

    One of the interesting things I see in these last days we live in is a kind of cross-pollination of church practices and traditions. It is not uncommon now to see many charismatic Christians in non-charismatic churches as well as many people in Pentecostal and charismatic churches that are very non-charismatic in their own spiritual gifts and practices. And when one looks at the global church exploding in the Sourthern Hemisphere, charismatic or power encounters are actually on the rise, not on the decline. Not only do I wish there was more of a global conversation going on among the church world-wide but I for one find it strange than wealthy North American Christianity that is in decline still seems to set the standards for the the rest of the world in Christian theology. Maybe one day this will change and it will be a new kind of Christianity arising from the global Sourth that sets the pace for Christian theology and spiritual practices for the future?

  • CGC,

    Yes, there are charismatic full Preterist as Preterism is applied hermeneutics bringing people from various groups and backgrounds. I won’t get off track on the purpose and intent for the “signs and miracles” that the gift of the Holy Spirit obviously brought to the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ. Except I would notate that just as Christ performed signs and miracles to establish and verify His work so do did the Apostles who were charged with laying on of hands to pass these gifts on during the 40 year New Exodus period of the church establishment. Of course it should be obvious that if the gifts accompanied Christ and the Apostles and were gifts then they weren’t in force under the Mosaic Covenant of Law prior to Christ and the church. So once Christ fully established the church and hands the Kingdom back to God after His judgment against Old Covenant Israel in AD70 then the need for the miraculous signs have served their formative purpose for the Kingdom. It does not imply that God has abandoned His people by any stretch, no more than He had abandoned them before the coming of the miraculous gifts to establish Christ church. That is my theological position but it butts up against faithful people who declare that the gifts are still in force and continue. I’ll leave that robust discussion for another time.

    Now concerning the “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thes 2 that you bring up. First thing we have to do is set the context and purpose of that letter which clearly is laid out in Chapter 1 as encouragement and relief for Paul’s fellow Christians and not for some time and people more than 2000 years into the future.

    2Th 1:7 and to GRANT RELIEF TO YOU WHO ARE AFFLICTED AS WELL AS TO US, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels

    Paul and the Christians were looking for the Sign of Christ coming in Judgment against the apostate Jews that Christ said would accompany the time of tribulation for the saints. This judgment as Wright firmly recognizes is the period surrounding the desolation of the Temple as predicted by Christ in Matt 24. As Wright acknowledges that Christ coming (Parousia) is often confused with peoples left behind modern concepts when it actually fits the times that Paul was living in. Now to be accurate Wright also thinks it speaks to a future time as well but he doesn’t draw fluid and consistent conclusions from the scriptures but just conveniently states it’s about the future without developing it theologically from the scripture.

    The “man of sin/lawlessness” harkens back to the “abomination of desolation” that Christ mentions in Matt 24 and is taken from Daniel. 2 Thes 2:7 says that this man was already at work as Paul writes to these Christians so it’s hardly projecting to a future time or person distantly in the future.

    2Th 2:7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.

    IMO the “man of sin” is likely corrupt Jewish leadership that was already attempting to have these Christians hunted down and killed but the sign of judgment would be when the Pagan Roman army surrounded Jerusalem in fulfillment of Christ prophecy of Judgment. The “man of sin” represents the human manifestation of the works of Satan arrayed against God’s faithful people and Kingdom. The apostate Jewish leadership exhibited these traits as Christ declared that they were a brood of vipers like their father the devil. That’s just a Jewish way of saying they were of the devil in their spirit. However the abomination of desolations sign would be similar to the pagan destruction of the first temple around 600BC and the abomination of desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes during the Maccabean era. Both times involved corrupt Jews along with Pagans desecrating the Temple bringing judgment upon the Jews. The Jews well understood this previous judgment model.

    Another issue is that some thought that Christ coming/Parousia had already occurred and were being reprimanded for not understanding. Obviously these Christians did not think of Christ coming in the same manner that people today picture it because some thought it had already occurred. That should give us a clue that their concepts of His coming is completely different than our modern one in which the various millennial groups come up with.

    So Bottom line is that the man of sin was a contemporary of Paul and these persecuted Christians and most likely is to be found among the corrupt Jewish hierarchy of that time. This letter in Chapter one is addressing that judgment which would come soon against these persecutors and we know that indeed it happened as Josephus details for us with Rome desolating Jerusalem, the Temple, the priesthood and sacrificial system all in fulfillment of Christ prophecy thus verifying His deity through this sign to the world.

    Part of the problem that constantly arises from reading these letters is that we take their context away from the times and attempt to extrapolate to our times as historically people have done through the ages. If we learn the Hebrew language more accurately and stay within context we typically don’t get too far off track and can see the points that are being made to Pauls’ readers.

  • CGC

    Hi Norman,
    When you spoke about some Christians thought the parousia/Christ’s return had already happened and they were repriminded for this (Paul?), what specific texts are you referring to? I happen to be studying the book of Corinthians at the moment and I know that some of these Christians had an over-realized eschatology of thinking they have already arrived spiritually, were already like the angels, were already resurreced (spiritually) but I am not sure they believed the Messianic kingdom had fully been established by Christ’s return? The crises in Thessalonians seemed to be people literally waiting for the return of Christ rather than living their Christian lives in more constructive ways so I would be interested in any biblical references or theological work that expounds this some more. Thanks in advance.

  • CGC

    Hi Norman,
    One of the good things conversations like this does is it should make people dig deeper. So as I have been digging deeper, I suspect that your comment was based on 2 Thess.2:2 (right?). This is an interesting point but it does raise another one in regards to your fullfilled eschatology in 70CE. This comes back to my question, Paul’s argument is the man of sin would be revealed and he is to sit in God’s temple to be worshipped (vv.3/4). How is this fullfilled at the time of the destruction of the temple and what Christians understood the man of sin was revealed at that time?

  • CGC,

    Yes 2 Thes 2:2 is the reference and yes the early church were living in an era in which they were experiencing many of the spiritual attributes that came through being in Christ but at the same time were expecting a consummating event that would “seal” the Kingdom as complete. That consummation was the fulfillment of Christ prophecy that was equated with His coming/Parousia in Judgment. That is why their letters constantly refer to a future event that they were expecting in their lifetime. Many detractors and atheist seize upon the idea that Christ didn’t come in fulfillment and therefore it negates his credibility as a true prophet.

    The church IMO plays along with this idea by not recognizing that indeed Christ did come as He stated but it was in the form of the OT comings and presence of God in His Judgments against various Nations and even Israel at time (this recognition validates Christ authenticity as Deity equal to God). Our inability to tie the OT and NT language of a coming together is what has fostered a lot of confusion IMO. When we stay within the idioms and application of the ancient 2T period and not superimpose our preconceived ideas of a future coming then the NT language begins to make a lot more sense and is not contradictory. I realize that it goes against the historical church idea and that appears to be very problematic however when we recognize that the church is all over the board on eschatology we really haven’t been consistent for a long long time anyway.

    The main point I would continue to remind about 2 Thes 2 is to not separate it from the overall context of the totality of the letter and not attempt to read our modern expectations of a coming into that narrative that Paul presents. It makes perfect sense within the realm of the expectation that Christ prophesied in Matt 24 about the generation that was standing in front of him that some would be alive to see His coming in Judgment. Our problem is we impose a physical coming appearance upon their paradigm when it doesn’t really fit the context of their expectations at all. That letter just doesn’t project into the great and distant future contextually except in our own left behind mentality that we attempt to force upon it. When we step back and read it through Hebrew eyes by doing our due diligence then the scene starts to clear up.

    Let’s look close at verses 3 & 4 and attempt to keep them in context. If we stay within the context of the problems plaguing these Christians that Paul was attempting to exhort it would be very difficult for them to continue in faith if they were not expecting relief soon from their oppressors. This whole section is to reinforce that the events that were shaping up and that continued to come into play would see the “man of sin” taken away and that is exactly what happened in AD70. We have an exact fulfillment of what is being projected but often Christians overlook this great fulfillment because we read ourselves or some other future generation into the script. I realize the tendency for us all to do so because we are all raised with this perspective.

    2 Thes 2:3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness[b] is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And YOU KNOW WHAT IS RESTRAINING HIM NOW so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of LAWLESSNESS IS ALREADY AT WORK. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.

    The man of sin who was already at work IMO reflects the corruptness of the Priesthood as I have stated earlier. There were various ones that filled that image but essentially the man of sin could easily reflect the apostate Jews who were intent upon stamping out the followers of Christ and their collusion eventually with the Romans (Nero) but it all backfired upon them. The alternative is to construct some future period in which someone could project this would take place in a clearer and defining identification. However it would be meaningless in the context of this letter to those it was intended for. IMO the better application is to apply it to the times especially when the details fit the bill like a glove and meets Hebrew connotations of Judgment and Godly OT comings.

    Again the fulfillment of Matt 24 at the 70AD events was to be taken as a “sign” of the deity of Christ and would finalize the last days of the Old Mosaic Covenant of works and place God’s juridical stamp of Covenant consummation upon the church. It was in essence the consummating event of the King of Glory. Those who refused were cast out of the presence of God and is why Christ tells the Jews that this day would be a day of anguish and gnashing of teeth as they realized they have been cast back into darkness and are no longer God’s covenant people. That is exactly what Paul is saying would occur in 2 Thes 1 below.

    2 Thes 1: to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 THEY WILL SUFFER THE PUNISHMENT OF ETERNAL DESTRUCTION, AWAY FROM[B] THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD AND FROM THE GLORY OF HIS MIGHT, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

    The Hebrew author also understood that the Old covenant was still hanging around but was about to vanish away.

    Heb 8: 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And WHAT IS BECOMING OBSOLETE AND GROWING OLD IS READY TO VANISH AWAY.

    Again Heb 3 & 4 reinforce the NT concept that the Christians were being instructed that they were living in a special New Exodus period and that they would need to persevere and hold on to reap the reward that would come eventually. They were not to emulate the previous Exodus where most died in the wilderness wandering never entering into the promised land because of unfaithfulness.

  • CGC

    Hi Norman,
    I know people have different takes on Matt.24 but I would also add that many non-preterist interpretations of Matt.24 see two questions unfolding and being responded to. Even if preterists disagree with this interpretation, it does deal with the temple being destroyed by that generation seeing it while the parousia is still a future event. So I believe the atheist argument is answered whether people take a preterist interpretation or not.

    I’m sure somebody could say in regards to the immenience of the second coming, how are two thousand plus years later immenent? On the other hand, if some early church fathers were alive today, I could hear some of them saying, “Well, a thousand years is like a day to God so we just finished up with day two!” 🙂

    A couple of comments:

    (1) it can be debated whether the return of Christ is physical or not but I think we need to be careful to think so easily that it’s not physical (let’s not forget Paul’s correction to the Corinthians on the resurrection in Ch.15 to those who may have interpreted it as soley spiritual). The destruction of the temple was physical or concrete and not just spiritual. The mistaken notion in 2 Thess. is they thought the second coming had happened by some while some others quit their jobs and did nothing but wait for the end. Both of these are eschatological mistakes. Paul’s correction is not saying, “Hey guys, you’re missing that Jesus is spiritually returning in forty years (not spiritually today). Paul is speaking in the next verses about an actual falling away, the man of sin revealed (hey, its not the corrupt Jewish leaders now, its the ones later really does not flow here either). Paul could have been wrong when he spoke about these as upcoming events but I for one understand why people are looking for more of a concrete fulfillment since the ones chastised by the Apostle obviously spiritualized these events. So I see this Pauline letter just as much opposing a preterist interpretation than to say, ‘hey, if some of them got it wrong then, it just goes to show one can read these things less concretely since others during Paul’s day did’ (I do understand the argument but also realize these people were examples of what is wrong also and not what is right when it came to understanding these issues);

    (2) Essentially it sounds like your saying that the anti-christ spirit or anti-christ are Jews. When one looks at the dark history between Jews and Christians, this is not going to go over well or build bridges with either Jews or Messianic Jews. I think one of the biggest stumbling blocks on why many Christians will not buy into full preterism is they not only don’t see the complete fullfillment happening in 70CE but neither did the Christians who lived at that time as far as I know? If I am wrong about this then I think all a full-preterist needs to do is show other Christians how these early Christians did understand these events as being fullfilled at 70Ce. If one is going to argue that these early Christians somehow missed it (remember, this is the same generation that was taught to get it by Paul!).

    At the end of the day, I am glad to see someone so well versed in 2TJ and if you are with Wright 95% of the way, then maybe its this important five percent where we currently find ourselves in different places. But I will say I have a much greater appreciation for the preterist viewpoint and I may be like many other Christians, can’t really “see” the full-preterism but I have come to realize there is more to partial preterism than I ever realized and for that I will always be grateful Norman. Thanks! 🙂

  • Norman


    I too enjoyed our discussion. I’m going to leave you with the final word above becasue if one really wants to get into the meat of the issues that you raise then there are many books and articles available that present various sides of these issues. Full Preterism is heavily documented and written about so it can be examined fully and as I have said before there is every variation of full preterism as there are individuals. It’s about the same with other viewpoints as well. 🙂

    What I appreciate mostly CGC is you calm demenor that allows for a healthy give and take. That is a gift from God tha you are blessed with.



  • CGC

    Hi Scot,
    I have been trying to study some of these issues and I am wondering which direction you lean between R. T. France and N. T. Wright? France sees Matt.24:34 as a transitional verse where vv.36-46 refer to a future second coming and last judgment. N. T. Wright interprets these verses in contra to France’s view of the Second coming of Jesus receiving his kingdom and the judgment on Jerusalem would be a sign that he had received it. Wright says that Daniel 7 for example does not describe anyone coming from heaven to earth either literally or metaphorically.