by Cecil Hook
In the last two issues we have given you a long list of references from the Scriptures relating to the coming of the Lord. All of the events predicted at least seem to indicate an imminent fulfillment, that is, within the lifetime of some of the very ones to whom they were addressed. This will now be an effort to highlight some of the explanations to claims of fulfilled prophecy, or realized eschatology, culminating about AD 70.
These explanations will not be all of my own discovery even though I will offer some commentary. They are introduced to provoke restudy of this subject rather than to offer conclusive statements. Specific views held on these matters are not basic to our salvation. For example, we may have varying perceptions of the resurrection without denying the resurrection, which is one of the basic elements of the gospel. Different views should not be pressed into divisive issues.
We have set forth passages indicating that the end of the age, the end, and the last times, days, etc. all relate to the same time and events. Also relating to the same period are the day, that day, the day of the Lord, the day of God, the great day, the last day, the day of wrath, the day of judgment, and the day of redemption.
When these are all related to the coming of Jesus in power with his angels, his raising the dead, his rendering judg-ment, and his enduring presence with us, it seems to contradict many of our previous concepts. Our traditional varied unders-tandings ignore or explain away the impact of the many passages we have listed which speak of their imminent fulfillment at the time they were given. Cannot you agree that more study on the subject would be helpful?
The first reaction to the claims of fulfilled prophecies seem natural. Every eye has not seen him return as he promised. The graves and tombs of the dead are still intact. We have not been called to a great scene of universal judgment. Evidently, the saints have not been caught up to meet the Lord for they are still here. The sun has not darkened, the stars have not all fallen from heaven, the heavens have not passed away, the elements have not been dissolved by fire, the earth and its works have not been burned up, and the new heaven and earth have not appeared. It is as simple as that! Or, is it?
Because we are earthly and have to interpret through physical senses, God has accommodated his messages to our ability to comprehend. We cannot comprehend an immortal-ized being, or a spirit, either ours or God who is Spirit, so we develop our own imagery, giving physical characteristics or forms. Much, though not all, communication from God is through imagery. Many literary enhancements are employed. Hebrew writers sometimes described God’s dealings with man in exaggerated cataclysmic physical descriptions. We may miss the meaning when we interpret all these things literally in physical imagery.
“Every Eye Shall See Him”
Questioning the literal concept about every eye seeing him when he returns, have you ever considered what that would require? Allowing that he would come within one-half mile of each person, traveling 1000 miles per hour, it would take a full day (half of which would be in the dark of night) to circle the earth near the equator, and he would have to circle the earth about 7000 times, taking maybe 10 years. Allow for my incorrect geography and math. We would hardly be able to see the nail-scars in his hands literally!
Consider, too, the literary style. “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Rev. 1:7). By apposition, those who pierced him, the tribes, would be those who would see him. Those who would see him are those who crucified him, and his coming would be to avenge the tribes of Israel. Matthew 24:30-34 identifies this as the time of Jesus’ coming on the clouds which that genera-tion would live to see. Zechariah 12:10-14 adds verification. So that has already happened! There is actual, literal verifica-tion of some of it in the destruction of Jerusalem.
Have the stars all fallen, has heaven been destroyed, have the sun and moon been darkened, and has the Lord come on the clouds? Yes! But not literally. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, those things occurred.
Isaiah warned Babylon in dramatic imagery of God’s dealing with them. “Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. … therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place…etc.” (Isa. 13). In God’s fury against the nations, “Their slain shall be cast out, and the stench of their corpses shall rise; the mountains shall flow with their blood. All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. … And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into brimstone. Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up for ever” (Isa. 34; Read other declarations in Ezek. 32:1-7; Isa. 7, 18, 19 against Egypt, Damascus, and Ethiopia). Isaiah further warns, “An oracle concerning Egypt, Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt” (Isa. 19:1).
These things were fulfilled thousands of years ago when God overthrew orders, systems, and nations and those rulers and dignitaries associated with them. Were they literal? Do we even need to argue that point? Was Jesus to come in a literal body riding on a literal cloud? Or must we allow for some imagery?
On the Mount of Olives, Jesus told his disciples of his coming and the close of the age. In dramatic imagery like that used by Isaiah and other Hebrew writers, he told them, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24: 1-3; 29-31; Compare Luke 21:22-27; 2 Peter 3:7-12; and the visionary, exaggerated depictions throughout Revelation).
Have those predictions been fulfilled? Unquestionably! — unless you doubt Jesus or the accuracy of the Scriptures. After presenting that cataclysmic picture, he declared, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (v. 34-35). Luke identifies Jesus’ predictions with the surrounding of Jerusalem by armies and the destruction of the city, declaring that it would be the time of the redemption of the disciples happening in the lifetime of that generation (Luke 21:20-33).
The Jewish listeners understood the highly dramatic language of Hebrew people, and they looked for the imminent fulfillment, as the many references in our previous articles verify without question. They looked for the end of the earthly order of the chosen people in an earthly kingdom. Their system would fall along with all the dignitaries who supported it by their authoritative positions. The spiritual kingdom would succeed it. It would be the last days of Judaism with no promise of reinstatement. It would be the parousia, the coming of Christ in his enduring presence with his disciples. It would confirm the new heaven and new earth which is God’s new and spiritual rule through Christ, the kingdom which cannot be shaken. Disciples are now in the holy city, the new Jerusalem, the temple in which God dwells described in Revelation 21-22. They have eternal life with the Father and only await the discarding of the earthly body.
True literalism is a fantasy. (An oxymoron?) Can a literal body ride a literal cloud, a cold, tumultuous vapor which can toss an airplane about? Where and in what direction would the billions of immense stars fall? If the heavens pass away, what is left? A vacuum? Outer space is already a vacuum strewn with elements forming celestial bodies. Can the elements be consumed by fire so as to obliterate them (2 Peter 3:7-12)? And where would we be during the annihilation of the universe?
Is there to be no end to this physical earth and the universe? Despite the propensity in all generations to think that the destruction of the material universe has been imminent in their times, there is only questionable support in the Scriptures for it. All the expectancy expressed these days surrounding the end of this millennium is baseless babble.
If these things have transpired, how do we explain the “rapture,” the judgment, and the resurrection? Here I will mingle my comments with highlighted suggestions of Evangelist John L. Bray (see note below for source). He is not dogmatic but is exploring in depth the preterist view of prophecy very honestly and candidly.
Here is a statement of his premise: “When Christ came in A.D. 70, He raised all the Old Testament saints. This included all who had died during the Old Covenant age, right on up to the time of His parousia in A.D. 70. This included the martyrs of Revelation 20:4 who died under the tribulations of the Beast Nero and who were seen in John’s prophecy later living and reigning with Jesus Christ. All of these were resur-rected when Christ came, as it says in 1 Corinthians 15:23 when Paul showed the order of the resurrection – ‘afterward those that are Christ’s at his coming’ (or ‘in his presence’).”
Christ was the firstfruits who had destroyed the power of death.. Afterwards (40 years later) the sleeping Christians with those mentioned above were raised in the “first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5). They preceded those still living: “the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thes. 4:16). But the resurrection is not over. As individuals who were still living would die later, they would be raised, caught up, or “raptured.” Raising the dead is a continuous process since the parousia. So, contrary to the general understanding of a one-time event, the raising of individuals as they leave this physical body continues. “And the dead in Christ will rise first; then (which means afterwards) we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (2 Thes. 4:16-27). Generally, we have understood then to mean at that time and the remaining living being caught up collectively in living bodies. Consider an alternate interpretation. Afterward, as each individual hears his trumpet call to leave his earthly tent behind, he will be caught up (raptured) in immortality to be with the Lord. And who will contend that the risen dead and those caught up in literal bodies will live unendingly suspended in literal clouds?
This would be an immediate transition. Previously, all who died were “asleep,” awaiting the conquest of death by Jesus. Paul wrote that “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51f). Thus, the person-by-person resurrection will be the raising up, lifting up, catching up – the rapture of the saints as each one dies.
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). The lifting up (rapture) is not physical levitation. This earthly temporary house, tabernacle, tent is the outward man. The inward man is the kernel planted to receive the new body or immortal covering so it will not be “naked” (1 Cor. 15:37). “Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked” (2 Cor. 5:2-3). As the outward man of the disciple is perishing, the inward man is being renewed (2 Cor. 4:16). The faithful never die (sleep) (John 11:26). Mortality is swallowed up of life; death is swallowed up in victory (2 Cor. 5:4; 1 Cor. 15:54).
Contrary to common belief, man is not born immortal, having unending existence. That nature belongs to God. “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” … “..the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16). We must seek it: “Who will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuing in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:6-7).
Immortality Is Given
That gift of immortality comes in the resurrection. “.. the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When this perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” (1 Cor. 15:52-54).
When we begin to question how literal and physical the resurrection body will be, we are treading on holy ground. This mortal will put on immortality and this perishable will put on the imperishable, but in putting on the one, the other is discarded. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. However, that does not say we will have a “spiritual physical” body! That is an oxymoron. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Jesus said a spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). There is no such thing as immortalized flesh, blood, and bones – immortalized, spiritual minerals and earthly elements which we ate on earth from garden or animal. We will have no digestive system, for need for food would indicate depletion of body cells and energy, hence a perishable nature. No flesh needing sustenance, no blood needing a heart and arterial system, no bones needing minerals, no depletion needing food and oxygen from lungs, no marriage or procreation needing sexuality. From our earthly viewpoint we cannot picture such a spiritual being.
In death the mortal and perishable body is put off. If God actually raises the physical components, he can do it without disturbing the soil of the graveyard! Our earthly components disperse in death with time. Various persons have been burned up, atomized in explosions, eaten by humans, eaten by animals, eaten and disintegrated in the ocean, died in the womb with the mother, and some were never entombed on earth. If those molecules are important in the resurrection, God can assemble them and change them without our observation. If the physical body is somehow transferred into the spiritual world, we might prefer that God reassemble the molecules composing our body at the age of twenty rather than those of the debilitated, aged body of our death. My point is that we can only conceive of a spirit by relating to the physical, and that may not be accurate imagery.
We must also look at the matter of the predicted judgment. Jesus declared, “For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:27-27). He reasserted this prophecy in Matthew 24:29-34. In the next chapter he describes the judgment scene when he was to come in glory with his angels (25:31-46). Only two days after revealing that, Jesus assured the High Priest who judged him, “You will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). Was Jesus giving a false promise, or did the High Priest live to see that event of his coming and judgment?
The Scriptures do not describe that procedure except in the parable of the sheep and goats. My imagery of a person-by-person sort of trial before God would be amiss, however. If five billion persons were raised and brought before him and each was given only one minute of hearing, it would require more than 9,000 years to judge them. We can believe, however, that those in the first resurrection were judged because of the promise and because of the physical evidence in the destroying of Jerusalem.
The preterist interpretation of these prophecies has far reaching implications which I have only pointed to. As we would expect, there are different opinions being studied. As you consider the few details that I have dealt with here, please review the numerous references to the parousia listed in the first two discourses.
Again, this is not a life-threatening subject. It does not question teachings basic to salvation. It does not even question the necessity of baptism or try to introduce instrumental music! 🙂 At this moment I have no plans to write more on the subject. For two reasons I leave this open-ended. First, I do not have the answers. Second, I want you to give some deeper study to it. For your help, I will list below some sources other than the Bible which deal with preterist eschatology giving various views.
Just for a starter, you might get John Bray’s 38-page booklet. The Rapture of Christians, to which I referred above offers startling new insights to me. Send $2.00 for it and he will send a list of other materials: John L Bray Ministry,Inc., P.O. Box 90129, Lakeland, FL 33804. Also, his 293-page Matthew 24 Fulfilled is $15.00 postpaid.
In the first two articles I scanned some of the 561-page The Parousia, by James Stuart Russell. Much convincing material, easy to read. $17.00 postpaid from Kingdom Counsel, 122 Seaward Ave., Bradford, PA 16701.
Stanley Paher’s 190-page Matthew 24 will be sent for $10.95 if you mention me! Other preterist materials also. Nevada Publications, 4135 Badger Circle, Reno, NV 89509.
The Last Days?, (127 pages) by Ron McRay, 10938 Spring Club Lake, Tyler, TX 75706.
The Cross and the Parousia of Christ, by Max King is a detailed study of 800 pages. Related to it, 8-lesson, well-produced, audio tapes with charts and guide by Tim King and Jack C. Scott, Jr., Covenant Eschatology: A Comprehensive Overview, is also available from Living Presence Ministries, 4705 Parkman Road NW, Warren, OH 44481, phone 330-898-5760, email: LPM@livingpresence.org, Website: http://www.livingpresence.org
For the greatest list of current books and tapes on preterist eschatology that I am aware of, contact Ed Stevens at Kingdom Publications, 122 Seaward Ave, Bradford, PA 16701-1515, phone 814-368-6578, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.