Positive Strategies for Sharing Your Apocalyptic
Convictions With Other Christians
by Mark Mountjoy
Jesus spoke of the fulfillment of events inside of his generation, "this generation"—a framework that is noticeably absent from the mother of all creeds, confessions and statements of faith. The Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, the Calcedonian Creed and the Athenasian Creed and the Augsburg Confession, Standard Manuel for Baptist Churches, to name a few.
Could the absence of a framework lead to a variety of charicatures of what Jesus taught and the early Christians expected? If they do not agree or resemble what Jesus framed with his words, brothers and sisters, do we lose something important or nothing at all?
A Christological framework (one emanating from the mouth of Jesus himself) creates five things I believe we need to seriously think about; let's look at them:
(1) Limitations. What Jesus says about "this generation" severely limits our options about where in history his Second Coming could possibly happen. This is a harsh fact that Christians, over the past twenty centuries, have not learned. The New Testament itself teaches at least two things about "generation": "This generation" is a specific generation and is limited to only one roughly the lifetime of the parents and the children of those who witnessed the earthly ministry of Jesus; it has something to do with a forty year period, but it is not exhausted by the passage of four decades when the individuals lived as long as the outbreak and failure of the Simon Bar Kokhba revolt of A.D.132-136. The other use of generation is used by the Theotokos and the Apostle Paul (see Luke 1:48 and Ephesians 3:21).
From what we have in these two verses, we can boldly say that "all generations" includes every subsequent generation to the ages of the ages and actually may be conceived of as having NO terminus point at all. The problem with the way conventional wisdom reasons is that it wants all generations to come first and then "this generation" of Jesus' Second Coming to cap it off at some presumptive end. But, no! It does not work like that, brothers and sisters. We need to rethink this issue and do so with reverence, circumspection and care.
(2) Possibilities. What Jesus said about "this generation" is pregnant and ripe with possibilities; let's name some of them. The first one we could name is the erosion of doubt that hangs over the entire New Testament if it is alleged and if it could be successfully sustained that Jesus, the Apostles and their amanuenses were clearly wrong about all things apocalyptic. If it could be maintained that they were clearly in error and had no idea what they were talking about and knew not the first things about how soon or far away the Second Coming would be, what, in heaven's name, would be the outcome? One thing is for sure: Incalculable damage flows from that and important truths fall like dominos—the inspiration of the Scriptures, the authenticity of Jesus' own prophethood, the certainty that he was really God's own Son, the reliability of the hope advocated for us in the New Testament about our life after this life, the certainty that the resurrection of Christ is an attestation in truth and verity and not a contrived fairy-tale. We have to be able to believe it all, or none of it, pure and simple!
Owning up to and taking responsibility for the teaching of an early Second Coming of Christ gives everyone a chance to understand the entire New Testament is absolutely true, but in a different way than conventional wisdom and its Four Views would recommend, endorse or even suggest.
(3) Solutions. When the Christian people recognize the Christological framework set for the Second Coming we also open up new vistas in interpretive solutions that were previously denied us. For example, when we approach such a subject with the assumption that no holds should be barred and the events could take place as far away as a billion years from now, we deprive ourselves of an understanding of the identities of the four antagonists of the Book of Revelation. By making the fulfillment far off we can only possibly know that the devil is Satan, but we cannot be too sure who Babylon the Great may be. And we cannot be too sure who the Sea Beast will be, and we cannot fathom who the Lamb beast will be. Finally, projecting the events to the end of time, as we now know it, throws us completely off in terms of coming to grips with the identity of Gog and Magog and what is the logic of such an invasion on the eve of entropy?
The best that could be said about such an eschatology is that it would remain an open question and would virently defy resolution (especially one coming on the scene claiming the answers are actually in the past!).
(4) Insights. Addicting onself to the Christological and Semitic framework invites the mind to think about the implications of the existence of the ancient Jewish State that do not normally occupy the mind of a modern reader. This is because all too often we easily think about the glory and might and ubiquity of the Roman empire and little Judaea is crowded out as a dull and pointless fact of the past--but that is very, very wrong. Judæa itself is central to the timetable, the drama, the point of the story, the sense of the odyssey and the direction of the narrative. Skrew that up (which we often unknowingly do) and, suddenly, precious and valuable insights vanish in a wink!
The insights we need to have and which have been afforded us by the New Testament revelation gives us discernment to know truth from deceit. When certain someones come to us declaring Jesus will come back on such-and-such date we can lucidly see that they are either deceivers or deceived (and we do not have to run with their message and later find out the hard way that they were in blatant error, as many, unfortunately do). Conversely, when and if a certain group professes to have never changed the doctrines of Christianity since the beginning, yet they clearly despise and renounce the canonicity of the Book of Revelation and would even censure any mention of it (if they could) well then, you may silently observe in your mind's eye that, all bragging aside, they are not entirely who they fancy themselves to be!
Now, when it is your determination to believe in God and in his Son, Jesus, being a Christian and have an all-favorable attitude about every part of the New Testament—every claim that it makes, understanding the principle of embarrassment and refusing to be ashamed of the Deity and incarnation of our Lord, the passion of his Cross, his shameful death, his stunning resurrection and his absolutely unlikely appearance in the clouds of heaven AT the destruction of Jerusalem puts you side by side with any Christian who sat at the feet of the Apostles (and there is nothing strange about that!).
(5) Rhema word—personal life application about human spiritual ills and other factors affecting social conditions of the late Second Temple period and parallel conditions in personal and contemporary lives today. For example, in ancient Judæa many Bible enthusiasts wanted God's promise [of a glorious Messianic kingdom], but not his will for their thoughts, their lives, their actions. Many doubters and enthusiasts fought side-by-side for "freedom" all the while living a lie; out of step with their God and creator; denying Jesus their Savior his place in their lives; commiting atrocities, injury, murder and sacrilege in the name of vain ideas of revenge and governance and glory (2 Peter 2:19).
Now, the Church and its opinions are many and varied. But they are not the measure of all things (and never can be!) Human opinions change and people make mistakes, but God's Word is pure and it and it alone is able to guide our feet and light our pathway (Psalms 119:105). Amen?
The New Testament is the Christians' Magna Carta or Now It is Not?
The Creeds were penned and signed to foster unity and to limit the damage of rampant heresy. But although they are not the exhaustive embodiment of the New Testament, now they are sacrosanct and forbidden to be objects of disbelief, doubt or well-intentioned scrutiny. Now Christians are unable to ask, Why Jesus did predict major events and the creeds address something completely different and insinuate that he failed do those things.
We are forbidden to ask, Could it have happened already (early) and we simply do not understand it as it was?
We are forbidden to say, How could the New Testament be true and inspired if the apocalypse is not even nearly or even entirely true? These are two very good questions and Christians, in no matter what organizations they were born in or serve in or wherever they are, must be allowed to ask and entertain them. But not only must we be allowed to ask these questions, we must also have the privilege and dignity to answer them with "thus saith the Lord" without cohersion and threats of loss of reputation, tenure and fellowship. In the final analysis it is the exact truth we are after and truth has nothing to fear from scrutiny or exploration and the people of God must be allowed to do both.
As it turns out, the New Testament is the Magna Carta of Christians, up and until we get to the subject of the end of the world, the judgment, the coming of the kingdom of God and all that, but from there on the creeds take on authority and force and now the New Testament is NOT the Magna Carta, but the creeds are. Therefore, under this arrangement, we will be judged, censured, condemned, repudiated—and this, on all things that the Bible would allow, but the opinions and formulations of men will not. The question we leave with you is this: Is that right or is it wrong?
The inherent danger of the disregard of the Christologically sanctioned Second Coming in competition with the democratically agreed upon Second Coming coined for us in the traditional creeds carries the possibility bound up in dissimulation and hypocrisy and a tyrannical censorship that cannot abide scrutiny and accountability to see whether or not it is qualified to be upheld as the truth or used as a fellowship litmus test. As it is, hints of dissimulation exist everywhere in the admission that Jesus, the Apostles and the first Christians openly believed these matters would transpire in their own lifetimes, but this is a concession that usually takes place under guarded conditions, not publically.
But the hypocritical aspect of this rears its head when it is argued that this field of studies is "not salvific" or, in other words, it's not a matter of anyone's salvation what they particularly believe about the Second Coming and then in very small print we have this caveat: It is not a matter of salvation so long as a Christian does not believe it happened in the generation Jesus and the Apostles said it would (because if they do they are heretics and will have to either renounce it or suffer the consequences).
One of several things we are hoping to accomplish in this ministry is to persuade Christians to think about this issue on different terms and in creative ways.2 There should be no hesitation or fear in entertaining the idea that Jesus was 100% right in everything he said; we should expect this and not something else, right? Another thing we are hoping to instill is the idea that the present mindset of Christians across the world is, basically, completely off the 'hot trail' when it comes to this field of studies.
To even imagine that Jesus' Second Coming and the last days is being "proven" by a pandemic that comes nowhere close to what happened in the European Bubonic Plague that actually killed 300 million human beings is beyond ridiculous. Instead of sounding false alarms and regurgitating public scares, the real subject of the Second Coming and all its attendant events would, naturally, instill in Christians and truth-seekers a calming assurance that the New Testament we hope and trust in is absolutely, completely and utterly true; Jesus is the Lord of glory3 and he can be depended on and what he offers for our destiny beyond this physical world is something to lean on and reach for; this is the good news we are aiming to spread far and near.
Limitations. In limitations certain options and ideas, after careful consideration, are completely out of the question, for example Jesus' Parable of the departure and return of the wicked spirit (Matthew 12:43-45) puts definite constraints on any interpretation of Revelation 20:1-15, as Matthew 23:29-39 also does on the identity of Babylon the Great in Revelation 17:5-6 cf. 18:20 and 24.
Even the coming of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven has real limits beyond which the Tanakh's Nevi'im Daniel and Ezekiel (specifically the stipulations for this event found in Daniel 7:7-27). Daniel 7:7-27 is an entire chapter that absolutely demands that the Second Coming and the end of the world and the coming of the promised kingdom of God came in the closing moments of the fourth principality's existence, not the end of time.
Moreover, concerning the so-called end of time and a large-scale war supposedly unfolding at that time (in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39), it would be difficult to understand a need for a search for skeletal remains and cleanup if an actual threat to the entire material and atomic existence of reality ran parallel or concomitant to the event. After consideration, therefore, it seems to us that Ezekiel 38-39 describes the catastrophic downfall of the ancient Jewish State in the third decade of the second century of the Christian era.
Possibilities. The true apocalypse will be found to be connected to what are now considered 'atypical' considerations in this day and time. The role of Judæa, the Zealots, the Aristocracy and Jerusalem, the Zealots and the Sicarii, the Idumeans and, finally, the Romans play critical roles never imagined by conventional interpreters!
Moreover, in conventional wisdom the Romans come first and foremost, but there is evidence that this may be entirely wrong! The Bible even strongly hints at the phenomenon of a deluded second century Israel, ripe for destruction, but this much cannot be seen when the limitations we spoke about, above, are not given the time of day.
Solutions. Asking, why were the early Christians expecting? Why were they encouraged to hasten the day? Why did Paul, the Hebrew Writer, James, Peter, Jude and John think it was late if it was not late, but too early? What combination of factors work together or what facets of the situation are juxtaposed in the odyssey's narrative that prevent the apocalypse from being seen as a cacophony of bizarre and unrelated ideas?
Insights. Insights into the particulars of the urgency facing the original Christians and startling nuances of theirs and our most holy faith and its fundamental historical verity also provide a surprising litany of clues. Insights help us spot a simple statement in a creed and understand how a tiny yeast can explode into aversion and denial of explicit and implicit claims of the New Testament. And while norms can foster the illusion of legitimacy, collective errors and accepted exaggerations will continuosly fail to yield predictive value going forward—for "no lie is of the truth" (1 John 2:21). Insight into the New Testament is valuable and beneficial if for no other reason than a Christian will not be deceived by the enunciations of a counterfeit Jesus who pledges to show up and then does not.
Rhema Word. In Matthew 4:4 Jesus proclaimed, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." The Hebrew Writer, too, affirmed how efficacious the Word of God really is; it speaks to many different situations and circumstances and it defies attempts at evasion, superfluity, guile and concealment. The fact of the matter is this: the Book of Revelation is not unlike the rest of the New Testament, or the Bible as a whole. It, too, has pastoral implications for then as well as now. It can be used for a study of the insidiousness of sin, sacrilege, hubris, humiliation, obliviousness, but also God's protection through the orchestration of events; even the victory of the righteous over a combination of ubiquitious religio-political evils, something very much relevant to the world we live in which is full of a Middle Eastern religion capable of vast ideological sedition, violence and harm.
But the Word of his truth is not only for others or about others, but about ourselves as well. When we are meditating upon the Word we can ask ourselves are we being as the Zealots to God? Do we give ourselves the title of "Christian' but betray it in our thoughts and actions? Do we mock and ridicule others and at the expense of their dignity revile their religion in order to score points? If we do, we are falling into a trap for which we must someday answer for. Indeed, Paul warned, "And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully"(2 Timothy 2:5).
Ultimately, it does not matter what we think we know or if we think we are right, but how we teach and what we say will be taken into account by God (James 3:1). We don't, for example, want to be guilty of maliciously or mockingly teaching Muslims about Islam's faults, but we do want follow the commandments of the Apostles on how teaching, correction and instruction must be done (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Apologetics. We must be prepared to show all and sundry how Jesus is the Lord of glory; how he is the life, the truth and the Way. We must also be able to demonstrate how his predictions make sense in the context of the world he lived in. However, the faith of God extends out and has wide implications for everyday living and relationships, not just about sacred history. These include Theism, intelligent design, moral government, ecology, social justice, immigration, evangelism, ecumenical concerns of the world-wide brotherhood of Christians (1 Peter 2:17) and the safety, survival and expansion of the entire Church, (1 Corinthians 10:32), etc.
Additional considerations not discussed above . . .
Polemics. The appropriatness of vociferously defending the faith when opposition makes it necessary means that you are willing to defend Jesus of Nazareth because you believe he is right. In a polemical mode we are on the offensive against whatever is coming against the knowledge of God; whatever is misrepresenting him to the world and whatever would lead people astray. We must be ready, willing and able to take up this cause and live it out in such a way that the world may see the light of God shining brightly out of our lives (Matthew 5:14). In 2 Timonthy 4:16-18 and Jude 3 Paul and Jude saw that it is accaptable to defend what we believe against those who question what we say, as if it was our own contrivance. People are not stupid, nor are they forgetful: They do remember all the times Jesus was "supposed" to have returned within that past 70 years, but did not!
So, in our efforts to fight for what we believe, what should be our goal? Is it to prove we know everything? Is it to claim historic Christianity is entirely illegitimate? No to both of these! The motive behind our defense is nothing more and nothing less than what Paul expressed in 2 Corinthians 4:2 and what Jude said in Jude 3—commend ourselves to every man's conscience as people who are dedicated and committed to and determined to speak the truth and to contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints. God is not going to send another faith to one up or up end the New Testament (that is not going to happen!) But know this: God becoming a man and shedding his most Precious Blood is the very highest possible act of sacrifice, largesse and generosity he could ever extend to mankind; therefore, all other ground completely fails and we just cannot cavalierly say, "Oh, that part of the story was wrong and we now know better."
Hope. Legitimate questions (either spoken or unspoken) could be: Why does any of this matter? What difference does it make whether Jesus comes back tonight, tomorrow or 5 billion years from now? It matters to truth-seekers (and should matter to all Christians) that the Lord is on record as stating that he would come back in the generation of his contemporaries; that's how the New Testament represents it and that is the only valid authority we, ultimately, have. Number two, if Jesus failed to fulfill what he definitely said he would do, then hope is degraded and the erosion of doubt cannot arbitrarily be stopped just at this one field of studies (in other words, why can't doubt about the Lord's ability to keep his own sayings sweep our whole faith away entirely?).
So it can be stated this way: We believe it is more virtuous to believe Jesus completely than to believe him with mental reservations. And when we believe him entirely that, to us, bears the fruit of unfeigned and unfettered confidence in him that nothing can dissuade, alter or take away from us, not sickness, not ostracism, no condemnation, and not even death. And this is the victory, even our faith, a faith firmly grounded in the message and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, not the ambivalence of disregard, equivocation and abdication (1 Thessalonians 2:13 cf. 2 Timothy 2:12).
1 Redaction: the process of editing text for publication or censuring or obscuring of part of a text for legal or security reasons.
2 If investigators would see the Old and New Testament apocalyptic issue as a Semitic issue related to the fulfillment of the Aaronic ministries and services, and animal sacrifices and institutions of the physical Temple of God, narrow theocratic nationalism and the end of the political continuity of the Second Jewish Commonwealth, that would be great headway in the right direction.
3 See also John 8:58 where Jesus tells the Jews, "Before Abraham was, I Am." No false teaching that discredits Jesus by attesting his coming, and it does not materialize, will ultimately bring glory to the Savior, but infamy. So we do not have a right to pick and choose what we believe and teach what we prefer, because the result will be embarrassment, disappointment and the strengthening of doubt and unbelief.