How do we make sense of the end of the world?


I was due to be at Lee Abbey in Devon this week, teaching on eschatology (thinking about ‘the last things’) and the end of the world. Sadly, Covid prevented me going, so I recorded five videos and did two Zoom question and answer sessions.

The five videos are embedded below; the Zoom sessions were not recorded. I introduce them in the context of the audience at Lee Abbey, but the content is useable in other contexts.

For more details on each of the sections, see my Grove booklet Kingdom, Hope, and the End of the World.

Introduction: I make four opening claims:

  • The end of the world is less important than you think—people obsessed with end-times timetables are wasting our time.
  • The end of the world is more important than you think—it actually underpins much of what the NT says.
  • This is about reading texts in the NT well.
  • But this is also an important pastoral issue.

Session 1: the language of the two ages

  • The important of the theme of the kingship or reign of God in scripture.
  • How God intervenes in the world, from mere intervention to recreating the world.
  • The language of the ‘two ages’ in the NT, ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’.
  • Jewish expectation of the age to come, transformed by Jesus.
  • Christian belief in ‘partially realised eschatology’, or the ‘now and not yet’ of the kingdom.
  • Discipleship as moving from one realm (of ‘this world’) to another (the kingdom of God).

Session 2: Making sense of Matthew 24 and Mark 13

  • Comparing the two passages, noting Matthew 24–25 continues with a focus on the parousia of Jesus which Mark 13 lacks.
  • The double question in Matthew 24.3, the occurrence of the term parousia, and the key verse Matt 24.34 ‘All these things will happen…’
  • The parallel passages in Dan 7, Acts 2, and Zech 12.
  • What Matt 24 is actually about.

Session 3: rapture, tribulation, and the number of the beast.

Session 4: Israel, and the pastoral implications of all this.

I hope you find them useful!

Many thank to David Watkis for creating the image of the apocalypse (in some form!) taking place over Lee Bay!


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77 thoughts on “How do we make sense of the end of the world?”

  1. No expectation in the New Testament that ethnic Jews will return to the land? Who then is going to cry out from Jerusalem “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” and trigger Jesus’ Second Coming, as He clearly states in Matthew 23?

    Reply
    • That’s a good question. What does the text say?

      Could you point me even to a single verse in the NT which simply says ‘Jews will return from exile to the land of Israel before Jesus returns’?

      Reply
      • You’ve changed the question you are addressing, from “Is there any expectation in the New Testament that ethnic Jews will return to the land?” to “Is there any verse in the New Testament saying that ethnic Jews will return to the land?” We both know that the answer to the latter question is No, but the ending of Matthew 23 gives rise to such an expectation. The idea that Jesus meant that someday a bunch of gentile believers in Him would cry out “Blessed is He whom comes in the name of the Lord” and trigger his return is implausible: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” consistently means a Jewish polity as well as a geographic location in the NT.

        Reply
        • But the return would be a much more massive thing than one thing that was said after it.

          So why is a single saying mentioned but not the entire context which it presupposes?

          Reply
        • If you don’t mind me saying so, that is an extraordinary argument! ἕως ἂν clearly has a temporal sense, but we use temporal phrases all the time with a conditional sense. ‘You are not getting your dinner until you say sorry.’

          And of course Luke includes this saying much earlier in his narrative (Luke 13.35), so that Jesus is really looking to see what response he will get when he arrives at the city.

          On this ever so slender supposition, are you really proposing to build a massive edifice of expectation of ethnic Jews returning to the land, against all the other evidence?

          Reply
          • I think (Ian) that you are replying to me here, so I’ll respond. You ask, “On this ever so slender supposition, are you really proposing to build a massive edifice of expectation of ethnic Jews returning to the land, against all the other evidence?”

            I don’t build it on that. Above, you asked the specific question, “Is there any expectation in the New Testament that ethnic Jews will return to the land?” You are now asking: “Is there any expectation in scripture that ethnic Jews will return to the land?” That is a different question! My answer is Yes there is, because scripture includes the Old Testament as well as the New. Before I go on to the Old Testament, though, Jesus never denies in Acts 1 that he will restore the kingdom to Israel; he simply says he won’t give his audience any timetable. And Israel is not the church, for the two appear side by side and distinct in Romans 11.

            I’ve given in good faith my answers to three distinct questions of yours now; please answer one or two of mine. First, where is Jesus coming back to and what triggers his return? Second, do you consider it a mere accident of history that the people about whom 2/3 of the Bible is about have (uniquely) retained their identity without occupation of any land for 1800 years, and have returned to the land where it all happened?

            The Abrahamic covenant gives the land of Canaan, essentially as specified in Numbers 34, to the Israelites for as long as the earth endures. The Mosaic covenant warns of exile for bad behaviour but, as God does not contradict himself, it affirms the gift of the land. So we should think of occupation as the norm and exile as the exception. That the exile which ended in 1948 lasted 1800 years is irrelevant to this pattern (although Christians know what this exile was for, unlike Jews). The Mosaic covenant is fulfilled in Christ but the Abrahamic covenant carries on; it is incorrect to lump them together as the ‘Old Covenant’. (What about the covenant with Noah? If you think that that ended at the Crucifixion then you had better start worrying when it rains heavily.) The Old Testament is packed with prophecies of a golden age for Jerusalem which patently haven’t happened yet (e.g., Isaiah 2:1-3, Micah 4:1-2). We know that this is when Jesus, having returned in glory, rules the world as benevolent dictator from Jerusalem as Israel’s king and the world’s emperor. Who is going to be living in Israel at that time?

            Finally, and much more specifically, look at Isaiah’s prophecy (11:11-12) that God’s hand will a second time recover a remnant of his people… he will… gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. That describes precisely what has happened in the last 150 years: Jews have come back to the Holy Land from all parts of the world, whereas the first return of a remnant was from Babylon. Many Christians suppose that every one of the prophecies of exile and return in the Old Testament refer to the Babylonian exile, but Isaiah’s prophecy cannot, and many others are ambiguous. This prophecy came true after 2500 years.

          • Anton

            Roms 11 is a distinction between Jew and gentile not Israel and the church. It is those with faith and those without faith not discrete families.

            I agree with you about the covenants. All covenants save the Mosaic covenant (and Adamic if it exists) have abiding significance. The Noahic is really to do with the earth and its governing. The others are salvation covenants.

            My question is Anton how does the NT understand the fulfilment of these OT Scriptures of people, land, city and blessing? My answer is, not always as we may expect.

            For example, Paul interprets the eschatological Jerusalem of Isa 54 as the heavenly Jerusalem in Gals 4: 27. Paul is clear the city’s citizens are Jew and gentile (Cf Ps 87). God was going to build a new Zion. It’s foundation stone was Christ and only those built on him would be part of that city (Isa 28; 1 Pet 2). Rev 21 envisages that city as built on twelve apostles with gates of the twelve tribes. It is one city.

            Paul sees Jesus as the true Israel and true son of Abraham (Gals 3,4); all who are ‘in Christ’ are with him heirs of the promise and constitute the Israel of God. This last I recognise is controversial but is merely the logic of Jew and gentile alike being heirs with Christ who is the true Israel. Eph 2 reveals that Jew and gentile are heirs together – heirs of what? Of the covenants of promise (Cf Isa 19 last verse). Indeed titles exclusive to Israel are given to the church (holy nation etc).

            When national Israel rejected their Messiah they are told the kingdom would be taken from them and given to a nation producing its fruits. This was those who accepted the stone the builders rejected, the cornerstone (Matt 21). This nation is the followers of Christ. It is those found when the servants are sent out to find people and bring them into the banquet (Matt 22). These are the flock of the good shepherd brought from fold of Judaism and from the gentiles. It is not true to say (as some do) that the church replaces Israel, rather the church is composed of Jew and gentile. At the end of history immediately prior to or perhaps upon the return of Christ Israel will say ‘blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord’… and so all Israel will be saved. (Roms 11). God’s people are a remnant from Israel and from the gentile nations.

            The leads into the land. Abraham clearly did not consider Palestine when he was alive the land of promise. He looked for a heavenly city and land. (Hebs 11). Indeed none of the OT believers thought what they had was God’s final blessing. They looked forward to a salvation that lay ahead that we have experienced in Christ (1 Pet 1; Hebs 11).

            In the NT, the land is not so obvious. However, to be ‘in Christ’ seems to be in the land. To be blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places is the NT counterpart to blessings in earthly Canaan. (Eph 1). Heavenly is a key term. It points fulfilment to a time beyond the Second Coming of Christ and to a new heavens and new earth.

            The trajectory from earthly to heavenly runs through OT and NT. It is not a story of two peoples (Israel and the church) but one people the OT Israel becomes in the NT the church. The earthly becomes the heavenly. Fulfilment and transformation take place in Christ. He is the Son and heir of Abraham. He is the son of David the messianic king. He is the mediator of a new covenant from which salvation blessings flow.

            God’s plan in all his covenants of promise is a new creation. Eden was spoiled by sin. New creation is a superior creation and founded on grace.

            My point is however we understand OT prophecies we must be willing to see them through the fulfilment in Christ paradigm and changes that may involve.

            Two points where I disagree with you Anton and I’m sorry to do so for I often agree.

            1. The distinction you seem to draw between the mosaic and Abrahamic covenant. Now I agree that the mosaic covenant was temporary (a covenant of works) and came to an end in Christ (replaced by the new covenant). I agree that the Abrahamic covenant is in a sense still active. I would say, however, that both have aspirations that are fulfilled in Christ and beyond. What about the land aspirations of the Mosaic Cov? The Abrahamic is fulfilled in part because Christ is the seed of Abraham through whom the promises are being and will be fulfilled. I agree it is wrong to lump all covenants together as one as some Reformed folks do. The Mosaic was always an interim covenant (Gals 3,4).

            Re Isa 11, I’m not so sure it is about Jews migrating to Israel since 1948 though no doubt this is an act of God. Isa 11 locates the action in ‘that day’ which in the chapter is the salvation side of the dat of the Lord. Return seems to be based on Christ as a signal/banner to the nations’. This seems according to v10 to be people drawn to Christ in a saving way (Cf Roms 15:12) rather than a hidden providence. Iy is only a remnant in view and they are viewed as believers normally. Israel will come out of the nations like a new exodus with nothing stopping them. But even more importantly her return results in a song of salvation Ch 12. All of this sounds like an ingathering to salvation (possibly through the gospel???). That being said, Israels attacking of her enemies seems hard to fit in to this scenario.

            All this being said I think there are chapters that seem to look at end time battles for Israel (Zech 12,14; Joel 3:2).

          • John: the way to understand the NT most deeply is through the eyes of a Jew who comes to Christ. We gentiles are ingrafted (Romans 11).

            I accept that the Abrahamic covenant is widened in Christ. I dispute that it is narrowed from the meaning that OT Jews would would have taken it to mean. It is both-and. Either/or would make God a disreputable sophist to Jews BC who would have taken it to have a material fulfilment. Can you give me any place in the NT where the church is called the New Israel?

          • Anton

            Jesus recapitulates the history of Israel in his life. He us Israel (Isa 49:3). The Abrahamic promise was made to Abraham and his seed. The seed is singular and is Christ (Gals 3). Christ is the true Seed and Son. All Abrahamic promises are fulfilled through him. We (Jew and gentile, the church) are ‘in Christ’ therefore we are ‘the Israel of God’ (Gals 6) as opposed to the Judaising teachers who thought they were the true Israel.

            The NT appropriates for the church lots of titles that were used of Israel. Eg. Flock, Jerusalem, Vine branches, church, holy nation, royal priesthood, people for a possession, saints,

            When Israel is converted at the end of history it becomes part of the church. It is always Israel that is the base of the church (Israel is the natural branches and gentiles are grafted in branches) but both become one in Christ,

            The ‘land’ promises are realised in Christ, Presently we are seated and blessed with Christ in heavenly places. The earthly land was the place of blessing and inheritance, This becomes a heavenly reality in the NT where heavenly means belonging to the age to come. Thus people, land, city, inheritance etc all become heavenly. They will be fully realised in a new heavens and new earth, In this way spiritual and maternal fulfilment will be one….at least that is how I see it.

          • Anton, John has helpfully answered your question about the inheritance of the land.

            ‘First, where is Jesus coming back to and what triggers his return? Second, do you consider it a mere accident of history that the people about whom 2/3 of the Bible is about have (uniquely) retained their identity without occupation of any land for 1800 years, and have returned to the land where it all happened?’

            Where is Jesus coming back to? In theory, Jerusalem, but the temple-city, which is actually just the holy of holies (as a cube), so a small within the temple which itself is a small space within the city—covers the whole of the Mediterranean basin! So in the new heavens-united-with-earth I think this kind of geographical question is meaningless.

            What triggers his return? The repeated, consistent, emphatic answer of Jesus, Paul and the whole NT is ‘nothing’. He comes like an unexpected thief in the night, an unexpected groom from a wedding, an unexpected king returning from campaigns. Unexpected. How can we be ready? We cannot, except by living faithfully each day. I find it odd that people miss, ignore, or bypass this repeated, consistent, emphatic emphasis.

          • Anton

            Is it possible that Isa 2 and Mic 4 began to be fulfilled in the exaltation of Christ. And in his death and exaltation he is drawing all nations to himself. The difficulty with OT prophecies is that they refer to ‘the last days’ and the ‘last days’ include events from Christ’s first Coming to beyond his Second Coming. Acts 15 quotes Amos 9 as proof for accepting the gentiles into the. Church

            And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
            16 “‘After this I will return,
            and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
            I will rebuild its ruins,
            and I will restore it,
            17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
            and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
            says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

            It is a similar picture to Isa 2… the nations seeking the Lord upon the exaltation of God in Christ in the rebuilding of David’s fallen tent..

          • Ian

            This is where we differ. I would like people who hold your view not just to give their exegesis of Revelation combined with the Olivet discourse, Daniel etc, but having digested these scriptures then set down in their own words what they believe the endtime sequence to be. (I bought and have read your 2018 Tyndale commentary on Revelation; thank you for writing it.) I simply do not agree that the Second Coming is not an event in chronos (clock) time in this material world. The New/Renewed Jerusalem is after that.

            Some scriptures say Keep Watch, and set out a sequence of events to keep watch for. Other scriptures say Jesus will come (back) unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. How can these be reconciled? Because the latter view is the view that the unbelieving world will take of His return. Believers, in contrast, know what to look out for because we have been told. As you cite only the thief-in-the-night view, why, please, have we been told to keep watch and given on the Mt of Olives) some kind of sequence to watch out for?

  2. Out of interest, was there already a concept of ‘last days’ in the era when Christianity was born and the NT texts drafted? As I understand it, apocalyptic literature was around, besides Christian versions. Did that extend to the concept of ‘last days’?

    On a different note, though I see that God intervened in history, are we to take the narratives of apocalypse and last days as literal? I mean, do we think the Earth will still be around in a billion years’ time? Are we wrong to ‘literalise’ the language and imagery/metaphors of apocalypse and last days? Are there theologians who take that view?

    I’m not trying to be contraversial, I’m just asking.

    What I think is that we should at least be mindful that each of us lives in our own ‘end times’ and ‘last days’. In cosmological terms, each one of us lives a mere eyeblink here on earth, and then we are gone from the vast continuation of space and time, unremembered within further eyeblinks, as if we never existed: in the context of a billion billion stars, and the continuation of time for 100 billion years and onwards, surely at least that should focus us on the preciousness of ‘now’, on the miracle of love, on the urgency of using our tiny time of existence on earth well. To me, that is the most tangible urgency. Opening to the love of God.

    As to a Second Coming: what do we think that means? Does it happen in the next few years? Next century? In a thousand years? In a million years? Will it happen at all while humans still exist? And what form does that take? Or is it a spiritual experience, or state of mind, or opening of eyes to spiritual truth?

    I feel like with some of this literature we walk the margins between literality and metaphor. And I don’t pretend to understand it all. All I know is, within 10 or 20 or 50 years I will be gone from this Earth. I’m living the ‘End Times’ God gives me. I better live them well.

    Reply
      • Thanks Ian. Was the concept also about, developed from the canon – by the Essenes… or outside the canon in other Middle Eastern cultures? Were apocalypse and last days and end times part of a contemporary cultural milieu beyond those particular prophets? Were there ‘end time cults’, so to speak, as well as the Christian version? Clearly NT scripture is deeply founded in OT texts, but does it reference an actual event coming in historical time in literal terms… which I imagine other cults and versions would predict (a bit like JWs do)… or is the Spirit pointing us to a deeper (eternal) existence outside this physical planet?

        (Sorry, I have only had time to listen to your first video so far, which I found very sharp and helpful.)

        Reply
      • Ian, The term *Be Aharit Ha Yamim* which translates as “the last days” or “the latter days” and found in Jeremiah 30:24; Hosea 3:5 and Daniel 2:28 (allowing for the transliteration from Aramaic) is also to be found in the Torah! – Genesis 49:1;
        Numbers 24:14: Deuteronomy 4:30 and Deuteronomy 31:29 to be precise.
        Allowing for the specific contexts, it seems to be when dealing with the future in general and the eschaton in particular, more focus should be placed on the wider OT input; not least on the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, which all too often receive limited attention.

        Reply
        • Very happy to do that. But we also need to read carefully; I think in some contexts this is just a semitism for ‘recently’ or ‘later’, in contrast with ‘previously’ or ‘earlier’.

          Reply
  3. I have a few questions. They are genuine and not simply controversial.

    1. When I pray ‘your kingdom come’ I have to fight hesitation for I know this coming is preceded by the rule of the beast from the sea, a final antichrist who will all but annihilate the church. My timid heart dies not relish such a prospect. Have you any suggestions that may help?

    2. I hold to premillenialism largely because Rev 2O seems to demand it. Yet I find it difficult to reconcile other NT texts with the kingdom followed by the eternal state. So often it seems as if the climactic event is the Second Coming yet in Revelation it seems some events await the end of the millennium. Ian, I know you believe the millennium is an idea rather than a historical reality. I can’t get my head around a metaphor without a corresponding reality. Any help would be appreciated.

    3. I agree there is little about Israel but there is not nothing. I don’t think it’s likely that references to the twelve in Revelation 7 refer to Israel but they may. Similarly references to the holy city in ch 12. In Romans 7 we seem to have a reference to a wide scale conversion of Israel at or just before the return of Christ… presumably this is when they say blessed is he who comes in te name of the Lord. What troubles me are chapters from the OT that envisage and endtime battle around Jerusalem. It is very hard to see these chapters as other than literal although I accept that often NT fulfilment of OT texts are surprising.

    Any suggestions from anyone will be appreciated.

    Reply
    • 1. Yes, rethink your eschatology. There is no ‘end times’ schedule; the beast from the sea was Rome in the first century coming across the Adriatic; ‘antichrist’ is not even mentioned in Revelation, and 1 John says he is already at work in the first century.

      2. A premillennialist reading of Rev 20 is indeed impossible to reconcile with the rest of the NT, which is one of the many reasons why it is mistaken. The sevenfold vision of Rev 19.11–21 is not a chronology, just as the four horsemen in Rev 6 are not chronological. See my commentary on this, or https://www.psephizo.com/reviews/the-meaning-of-the-millennium/

      3. No, the 144,000 in Rev 7 are the same group as the uncountable crowd from every tribe, language, people and nation, which is you and me, the gentile-Jewish unity of those in Christ. The holy city in Rev *11* is again a symbol of the temple people of God. I don’t understand your reference to Romans 7; do you mean Romans 11?

      What are your references to the ‘end times battle around Jerusalem’?

      Reply
      • Ian

        Thank you for taking time to respond. Over the last few years I worked through Revelation using your commentary among others ( Ladd, Koester, Smalley, Fee, Osborne, Beale and others). Most take the 42 months as a reference to the whole gospel age which I struggle to do since it is derived from Daniel where it is literal. Also the reign of the beast of the sea is 42 months.

        John writes about the things soon to take place (4:1). This takes him up to the Second Coming and beyond. I’m inclined to think John gives a more detailed description and shaping of events already revealed in the OT and by Jesus in Matt 24. These events seem to concentrate on the End and say little about the intervening years.

        You see Rome in the beast from the sea and the city and I do as a kind of initial fulfilment but it seems to me that like the OT initial fulfilments and ultimate fulfilments fade into each other. Certainly I see Rome as a template but the Roman Empire has come and gone and Christ has not returned. It seems to be Christ’s return that brings about the end of the Beast from the sea etc s it can’t be exhausted in C1 Rome.

        Daniel sees four empires the last of which I take to be Rome. (Dan 7) From the final empire a ruler arises who destroys the people of God (a little horn). On a few occasions in Daniel an End time ruler who destroys God’s people arises (prefigured in Antiochus Ephiphanes). He is responsible for ‘an abomination that causes desolation’. Jesus refers to this in Matt 24 . Paul in 2 Thess 2 envisages a figure very similar to the one in Daniel. Rev 13 describes a very similar figure. It has become conventional to term him ‘antiChrist’ a figure John says was known to be coming. The similarities between descriptions all are striking. They all refer to an individual who persecutes the saints in a climactic way. The individual is destroyed by Christ at his return. AntiChrist has been at work in lots of ways through the centuries all of which prove he is yet to come in some
        ultimate sense.

        I’ll reread you on Rev 20.. I thought like Bauckham and Smalley and a few others you see it as a metaphor for the triumph of the martyrs, It is the lack of an historical referent I find perplexing. I don’t insist on chronology in ch 19-22 cameos but they do seem to all describe the second coming and beyond.

        I agree about the 144000. My point was there was at least a potential reference to Israel though like you I think it is a metaphor for the people of God (as an army).

        Yes I meant Roms 11. Where Jerusalem is not mentioned but the conversion of Israel is – an event I see no sign of in Revelation unless it is at the end of ch 12

        End time battles around Jerusalem Zechariah 12, 14. Joel 3:2 Word Armageddon. I recognise there is metaphor involved here yet there is so much detail given that it seems to describe a historical reality.

        Reply
        • Does the abomination that causes desolation that Jesus refers to not refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the 1st century by the Romans?

          The Beast of 666 fame is Nero, so although it looks like John is referring to a future scenario, he cant be – depending on one’s view of the dating of Revelation, it seems he is referring to a past, not a future time. Hence confusion! Why would any of the other ‘beasts’ be in the future from John’s pov?

          Paul also, in 2 Thess, seems to be referring to Nero when he talks of the coming ‘man of lawlessness’. Nero appears on the scene about 2 years after Paul’s letter, so I think he was given revelation about the coming Roman emperor who was going to cause so much suffering for followers of Jesus. Christopher Shell made a very informative comment on that some time ago but Im not sure where! As for the antiChrist, John makes it clear that antiChrists were already around at that time and explains what it means. Im not convinced he refers at all to some future individual.

          As for the millenium, I find that confusing. John seems to be contrasting a time when the devil was free and went around deceiving the nations, then was imprisoned implying he was no longer free to deceive the nations, and then he is released for a short time. The short time seems to be in contrast to the 1000 years which seems to be viewed as a long time. Both John and Peter clearly believed the devil was alive and well in the 1st century, prowling around like a lion which he could not do if he was imprisoned. So at the time of the 1st century, this was either pre the time of imprisonment or after it. I know some commentators believe the 1000 years were the literal 1000 years from the time Solomon built the Temple until Jesus arrived, but was that a time when the nations were not being deceived? I doubt it. But although I find it hard to believe in a literal 1000 years, John does seem to be using it as a period of time, probably just meaning ‘a long time’.

          If the 1000 years of Jesus’ reign corresponds to the 1000 years of satan’s temporary imprisonment (does it?) I suppose one could argue that reflects the church age, which so far has lasted 2000 years, as Paul refers to the saints already ‘reigning’. Yet satan seems to be roaming free for the last 2000 years!

          All very confusing.

          Peter

          Reply
          • Hi Peter

            Thanks for taking the time to respond. Let me address your main points.

            Firstly, Ian, who holds a form of preterism, will probably agree with you. The problem with preterism is it makes verses that seem to refer to the Second Coming refer to something else.

            1. Abomination that causes desolation. Matt 24. It certainly does in the first instance refer to some event of AD 70 though it seems hard to find an event then that could be rightly termed ‘an abomination.’. The main problem is in Matt 24 and in prior references to the abomination that causes desolation in Daniel it seems to be the Coming of Christ that deals with it. Similarly with the man of lawlessness in 2 Thess 2 and the beast in Rev 13. In every case it is the return of Christ that brings the villain to an end.

            2. It’s possible that Nero is the template for the beast in Rev 13. However, Nero is more likely to be a template for the beast than the beast himself. I’m not qualified to date Revelation. As far as I can gather most prefer a later date (AD 90) and it is mainly preterists who go for an earlier date. I can’t help but think their dating is driven by their theology. But once again the question is how does the beast from the sea come to his end and the answer in Revelation is by the return of Christ. Nero doesn’t fit the time frame.

            3. In 2 Thess 2 the man of lawlessness meets his end when he is destroyed by Christ at his second coming. Nero has died long since.

            4. John does not refute that antichrist is coming and his reference to many antichrists at that time fuels the expectation.

            5. I too find aspects of the 1000 years hard to understand. Most will agree the number need not be literal although contrary to popular opinion more numbers seem real in revelation than we give credit for. I agree the contrast is with a long period versus the 42 months which is a short period. In Rev 12 Satan is thrown out of heaven to earth to wreak havoc. Only in Revelation 20 is he removed from earth to the bottomless pit to prevent him deceiving the nations. As you say it is hard to look at a point before or after the first coming of Christ when Satan has not been deceiving. The Solomon to Christ is a no go since the whole of Revelation is covers from Christ’s ascension onwards. Christ is in heaven in Ch 4/5 and is about to bring history to its conclusion.

            As you say, all very confusing. Our Bible knowledge is so weak.

          • ‘Firstly, Ian, who holds a form of preterism, will probably agree with you. The problem with preterism is it makes verses that seem to refer to the Second Coming refer to something else.’

            No, I don’t. In the videos I point out the complete absence of the word parousia from Mark 13, and the bulk of Matt 24 up to v 35. The problem here is that others have made verses which are about the first century refer to something else (the return of Jesus).

            In the third video, I note that way the Revelation applies to our own day, as an interpretive application. The text is referring to events in the first century—but history repeats itself, humans form empires, and rules accrue absolute power. Therefore John’s application of theology to his situation offers a model of what we can do in our age. Which is actually how we read everything else in Scripture.

          • I don’t think the 1000 years makes any sense as a chronological period, nor as part of a chronological sequence. Reading the text, we just have to admit that.

            So we need to read it—as we do all the other numbers in Revelation—as symbolic. Just as the measurement of the Holy City is about its spiritual significance, and not its physical extent, so the temporal numbers in Revelation are not about a duration of time but the meaning of that time.

            We seem to manage this without any difficult when singing a Beatles hit (‘Eight days a week I loooooove you…’) so it is odd that we find this so difficult in the Bible…!

          • Firstly Ian

            My apologies if I misrepresent you. I shall have to stop putting words in your mouth though I thought your position in the gospels was similar to R T France which is a kind of modified preterism (don’t shout at me 🙂 )

            Thanks for taking time to respond to other comments I have made.

            I note the word parousia is used in Matt 24:27.

            I’m off to church but would like to comment on some points later.

          • Hi Ian

            1. Mark 13 does not use parousia but another word is used (v26). I don’t know what to call your interpretation if not a modified preterism. Your view I think remains a minority view.

            2. My problem is that Revelation reads as if it is a final chapter of history. At points that chapter reads as if it describes a specific period (42 months) which are designated the reign of the Beast from the sea. The beast from the sea is not just the Roman Empire but is a specific Roman emperor – an eighth king with ten horns indicating a confederacy of kings loyal to the beast. I find the detail demands a specific individual.

            When I read the 42 months I was open to the number being symbolic for the age of the church. However, I read that the beast reigns for 42 months and I go to Daniel who anticipates a Roman ruler who will reign for effectively 42 months and who will severely persecute God’s people. It seems compelling that John is simply moving forward Daniel’s
            prophecy.

            An issue I have with your approach is that Revelation specifically says that the end of this empire/emperor /culture is not the ravages of time but the Second Coming of Christ. This leads me to believe John is not specifically speaking of the Roman Empire but one at the end of history of which the Roman was only a template. Or perhaps an empire which is a kind of revived Roman Empire (don’t tear your hair out 🙂 ).

            1000 years. It has made sense to premillennialists throughout history. But I agree it is hard to reconcile with the decisive salvation of the second coming. However, our job is to go with the text, not our opinion of what should be. Ive no problem seeing the number as symbolic but it is symbolic of a limited time period.

            I could go with your view that the millennium is a snapshot of one aspect of life post second-coming were it not for the awkwardness of a time limit and the even greater problem of a rebellion after the millennium. I am trying to think of why the rebellion is after the millennium and not during or at the tail end.

            All other numbers in Revelation are symbolic. I don’t think they are. Some are and some are not. The seven churches were seven literal churches. The horns and heads on the beast are explained as referring to specific kings etc. The seven hilled city is a reference to the seven hilled Rome and to seven literal kings.

            Romans 11. All Israel. I think ethnic Israel is in view because 1) the question driving the argument is why is Israel not saved? Has God reneged on his promise 2) from Ch 9 Paul has kept a careful distinction between gentiles and Israel 3) he builds to a salvation of Israel that will bring great blessing to the world (vv11-16). 4) The statement ‘all Israel will be saved is followed by various comments that show he means by Israel ethnic Israel a) ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion,
            he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; Jacob is a title for stubborn ethnic Israel b) As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. Again, clearly a reference to ethnic Israel. 5) It is unusual for Paul to refer to the church as Israel. Here it would really muddy waters, He has consistently meant ethnic Israel and for him in v 26 to suddenly shift from ethnic Israel to Church Israel without a clear signal is most unlikely.

            Ian, thank you for being patient and engaging. This has been helpful.

        • ‘Most take the 42 months as a reference to the whole gospel age which I struggle to do since it is derived from Daniel where it is literal. Also the reign of the beast of the sea is 42 months.’

          Why is it a problem for something literal to become non-literal? The literal temple is taken up by Jesus as a non-literal image for himself. As I explain in the commentary on numerology, the point about 42 is that it is triangular—it is the overlap of the ages, both kingdom and tribulation.

          ‘John writes about the things soon to take place (4:1).’ Yes, but ‘soon’ has a complex meaning! See my article ‘Does Jesus come soon like a taxi?’

          ‘Certainly I see Rome as a template but the Roman Empire has come and gone and Christ has not returned. It seems to be Christ’s return that brings about the end of the Beast from the sea etc s it can’t be exhausted in C1 Rome.’ Indeed. But history repeats itself, and other empires both come and go. What John offers us is a way of responding theologically to the empire of his own day, giving us a way to respond to the empires of our day. There is no need for him to ‘predict’ them. Isn’t this the way we read all scripture?

          ‘Yes I meant Roms 11. Where Jerusalem is not mentioned but the conversion of Israel is’ I don’t think it is at all. ‘All Israel’ in Rom 11.26 surely means ‘both Jew and gentile in the Israel of Jesus.’

          Reply
    • I might add regarding Israel Isaiah frequently speaks of an ingathering of Israel. Its not always easy to discern if this is though the gospel or at the second coming.

      Reply
        • Gentiles are sometimes separate from Jews in the ingathering. A problem is that at times Israel seems to embrace the eschatological Israel of Jew and gentile and at other times it seems to be Israel in contrast to gentiles.

          Reply
          • Indeed. But lots of words have more than one meaning in different places. This is quite natural if Paul wants to say *both* Jews are not obliterated by the arrival of gentiles (Jew ≠ gentile) *and* Jews are not privileged in relation to gentiles (Jew = gentile).

  4. I do see some dangers if we disassociate ourselves too much from the world we live in, and descend into an apocalyptic state of mind. I think you have given a great background intro, Ian, thank you.

    Very clearly various Jewish communities of the time were already using language and expectation about an ‘age to come’, and the belief that God would intervene, to put in place a physical new world order of some kind.

    However. it seems to me that the work and methodology of the Holy Spirit is to witness to the eternal, and to a deeper reality, beyond the ‘world’ we exist in.

    It’s the eternal life in God which is our true destination, not this present world at all. In this present world, yes God has intervened in Jesus, and in the way God’s Spirit breaks into people’s hearts and lives, in a pointer to the deeper reality of eternal life in a deeper reality we will live with God after resurrection. In this present world, we can rightly pray ‘Thy Kingdom come’ because the Spirit has come to work in our hearts – indeed opening our hearts to the power of God’s love – so we have access to grace even now, before death, as we live our lives and try to reach out to other people in need.

    I think that’s wonderful. It’s a presage of the fullness of experience and reality which is ‘to come’… that ‘age to come’ when we are resurrected in the deep reality of eternal life.

    But there is, of course, a danger that some may want to be escapist and try to short-circuit the route there. To bypass the very challenging call to us here on Earth ‘to die to self and be buried in God through givenness to God, and in givenness to others. In other words, there is a danger that we see the world as so dark, so evil, that we want to write it off, to be destroyed, to be swept away. That is the mindset of cults and unreality and escapism.

    Whereas, the actual call is to take up your cross (that dying to self, that givenness in love to God and other people)… and the challenge of actually treasuring people in this world, and beauty and good things in this world, devoting ourselves to the operation of love… to make something of this world, in this world, like a presaging of the eternal kingdom and deeper reality.

    I am absolutely convinced about the resurrection, and by that I mean a physical resurrection, only not in this historic timeline of this world, but in eternity and the far deeper and more tangible reality.

    In a sense, while the Jews seem to maybe have been expecting a political and physical working out of it all, I do wonder if some Christians also adopt an expectation of historical resolution on this planet and in this world in terms of end times and apocalypse. I wonder if that is falling into too literal an expectation (somewhat like the Jews maybe did) – rather than a spiritual expectation of the ‘world to come’ in eternity.

    Eternity is far more real, more tangible, more substantial than anything we shall encounter on earth. It’s out of time altogether, it is eternal, it’s already eternal and kicking off now… and we are called to be drawn out of the temporal into the eternal, rather like Moses was drawn out of water, or Noah was brought to a new beginning through water and baptismal ordeal.

    I don’t think we should *hate* this world too much. We should give thanks for good things in it. But we should also understand that in our short lives, we are still ‘strangers in a strange land’… always seeking the homecoming that is still to come.

    Reply
    • Actually, ignore that. 😉

      These videos are all excellent, doubly so in that they are brief. Minor quibbles and questions about some of the specifics don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and I hope more people get to see them.

      I do sympathise that you weren’t able to be there in person. Zoom/teams are useful tools, but they a poor shadow of being together.

      Mat

      Reply
        • Ian Paul – no – definitely not too slow.

          I had time to listen to the introduction (and part of the first one) this morning. I liked it – so I’ll listen to the rest later.

          I like your Zoom technique – you clearly put some thought into the lighting so that people can actually see you (and you aren’t either completely white against a dark background – or a silhouette). What sort of camera do you use? I don’t imagine it’s simply the built-in camera of a standard laptop. Fortunately, for us the Zoom time seems to be over – but if I had to do it again I’d probably get some decent equipment and put more thought into how the lecturer appeared.

          As far as speed goes – I remember right back at the beginning of lock-down when we all had to go over to Zoom – one of my colleagues indicated that he was *very glad* that he had recently retired – he couldn’t imagine presenting a decent lecture without students being present. How do you motivate yourself to give a decent presentation without a live audience? I told him that my own technique was to get in a microphone with BBC written on it – just like the ones they used in the 1930’s and to imagine I was Winston Churchill broadcasting one of his famous war speeches.

          Yes – explaining to students how to put together a neural net in the style of `We’ll fight on the landing grounds’ does sound like a silly game from `I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue’, but it did have the good effect of bringing the speed of presentation down to something slow enough and sufficiently articulate.

          I think your style is very good, but it *is* quite fast and at a speed where one has to paying close attention the whole time.

          I listened to the introduction this morning – and then went out to mow my lawn. When I had almost finished, the lawnmower packed in. I did try praying over it and fasting (by delaying my coffee by about half an hour) and no luck – the blade wouldn’t go round and smoke started coming out when I switched it on again. I guess your introductory talk answered the immediate question I had of whether or not I should buy a new one – or whether the end would come before I needed to give it the next cut.

          More seriously – I think the answer to your question of whether or not the disciples would have bothered if they had believed the end was coming soon – I’d say of course they would – and this would have given them greater impetus. The whole point of the moral teaching is to prepare the faithful ready for the next life; there would be even more impetus to do this quickly if they thought the end was coming soon.

          I seem to remember a very good sermon on this blog not so long ago, by somebody called Ian Paul, who explained something of what to expect of the heavenly kingdom – and the apostles, as well as bringing people into the number of the Saviour’s family, really had an imperative to prepare them for the heavenly life.

          Reply
    • Given John 7.38, in which Jesus appear to be the Ezekiel 47–48 temple from which/whom the river of life flows, and Rev 21 which says pointedly ‘there is no temple’, I am very happy to talk about that chapter, fulfilled as it is in Jesus!

      Reply
      • Ah, well, there’s the rub. 😉

        I am absolutely convinced that the latter chapters of Ezekiel (the imagery of the temple and the river that flows from it) are images of Jesus, realized and fulfilled in Himself. I am not pushing back against this idea, and agree with you that John 7:38 is a clear reference to it.

        But chapter 48 specifically (following the latter bit of 47), wherein Ezekiel sees the borders and division of the land surrounding the temple, does not have so easy a referent to the life and ministry of Jesus. How do the divisions of the land map theologically onto it? Or to ask it another way, what is the prophetic function of these verses, and how were they fulfilled?

        Plainly the images of the temple and river are metaphors (of a sort), but the images of the borders are rooted in, and inseparable from, the literal land. Did Ezekiel see the nation of Israel return to its restored borders? Clearly not. So what did he mean?

        Either Ezekiel 48 is a promised return to the borders for ethnic Israel (which we have not yet seen), or we must reconcile it into fulfillment in the person of Jesus, which I do not think I have ever read a coherent argument explaining. For a lot of commentary it seems that Ezekiel might as well have finished a chapter earlier than it actually does.

        I am not advocating for the former, but I do still find it an unanswered question.

        Reply
        • I did write a comment on this a while ago, no idea where. Ezekiel’s temple is Jesus body. The “prince” who enters the east gate is the Holy Spirit. The Land is also Jesus but with the people of God in/on it. …just another way of seeing the spiritual reality.
          In Jeremiah God’s complaint is that houses are leaning against his temple for support, are too close. In the NT they lean into Him at mealtime. Things are reversed .
          Exekiel’s temple should never be built because Jesus IS the Temple.
          You and I are in the Land. The New Jerusalem is coming down as we speak. Like Abraham we ‘see’ the City, not built with hands, descending; even now. One day, the paradise we exist in, the now and not yet, will become Heaven on earth.
          To summarise, first there was the Land, then the Lion, then the Lamb. Finally there will be the Lamp. He will be the light of the New Jerusalem, the Israel of God, the holy Land.

          Reply
          • Is Christ still the temple Steve? He was the temple on earth. There is an archetypal heavenly temple I know but normally a temple is where god dwells on earth. Since Christ’s exaltation the church has become the temple. In the future, the New Jerusalem will be the temple – the place where God dwells in new creation.

            Nice contrast with Jeremiah.

          • Reply to JT below.
            St.Paul talks about making up the suffering of Christ and being a fragrant offering. We see this prophetically in Ezekiel’s temple. The worshipers come in and out through the North and South gates. The sacrifices offered are what St.Paul did ‘in Christ’ .
            We enter the New Temple, make an offering of our lives, pass on into the Land outlined in Exekiel 48.
            Jesus is the Archetypal temple. There is no other.
            He is still The Temple. Look at a plan of Ezekiel’s temple with east at the top. It is a diagram of Christ on the throne. His heart is where the altar is. The East Gate is his head. The Prince is there eating with the worshipers.
            Look at a map of the Med. with east at the top. Jesus sits enthroned with His feet on the coast. The ‘Sea’ before him and under his feet. His right hand towards Antioch, his left towards Egypt.
            Sorry, my pet subject.

        • Mat

          I agree that Christ is the source of living water and Ezekiel’s vision finds fulfilment in him however I think we must advance this provision beyond his incarnation into the New Jerusalem of Rev 22. In a sense John’s city is Ezekiel’s temple. The full flow of the Holy Spirit from the throne of God among his glorified people.

          If you see the Temple as an image despite the many exacting details given then I cannot see why you have problems with the borders of the land. The detail is telling the right of God’s people to inheritance in the land. Notice that gentiles have the rights of native born children – Jew and gentile on equal footing. They have allotment in the land (Isa 19; 2 Pet 1:1).

          Is the description of land and city a vision like the temple? If it is visionary then it is likely to be symbolic. Perhaps more important is the stylised nature of the borders, they seem to be in horizontal rows.

          When he describes the city its gates correspond to those in John’s new Jerusalem.

          As I say, if you can accept the temple is a visionary symbol then why not the land boundaries?

          Reply
          • “As I say, if you can accept the temple is a visionary symbol then why not the land boundaries?”

            I can accept it is a symbol, that’s not the problem, the problem is what is it a symbol of!? Answer me that.

            I am still thinking through Steve’s response above.

          • Is it as simple as the land in Ezekiel 47/48 being indicative of the whole created world somehow?

            This is certainly how Revelation seems to rework things, with it’s corresponding imagery, but I’m not sure I’m satisfied that this was remotely the intent of Ezekiel….

            Forgive the questioning. 😉

          • Mat

            It’s a question worth exploring just how much the OT writers understood what they were writing especially when writing prophecy. (1 Pet 1:10).

            For example did Adam and Eve know what was meant by ‘the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent and he shall bruise his heel’.

            Or what about the patriarchal blessings of Jacob (Gen 49) were they meaningful to Jacob.

            At best in both examples only in some limited way.

            Did Ezekiel recognise his vision of a temple was just that, a vision, and not a foreseeing of something literal. I don’t know.

        • Mat

          Its an image of salvation blessings in the land. The allotting of the land was always a grace provision. The OT land is the place of material blessing – of vines, milk and honey etc. In the NT these blessings are in the first instance spiritual blessings. In Christ, his people are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies (Eph 1). The heavenlies is the NT language for the land Inheritance. What is earthly in the OT becomes heavenly in the NT. OT visions of the future are so other-worldly they could only be heavenly. Christ, coming from heaven, establishes that he has brought to light heavenly things (Jn 3). Inheritance is the OT and NT word for land blessing which in the future will presumably be both physical and spiritual (1 Pet 1:4).

          Ezekiel was telling exiled Israel the land was not lost nor was their stake in it. They still had an eschatological inheritance. The NT reveals that this is presently by faith the blessings of the eschatological land in Christ. In the consummated kingdom of a new heavens and new earth I take it the whole earth is our inheritance – the meek shall inherit the earth. The land has expanded to embrace the whole earth. Paul says to the Corinthians that all things belong to them (1 Cor 3). With Christ we have been given all things. Only in the age to come will these be fully appropriated but they are already ours – our new creation inheritance in Christ.

          We are God’s inheritance and the land (the earth) is our inheritance.

          Reply
  5. There seems to be something of eternity in this whole discussion!
    At least there has been movement on from times in living memory when there were argument over the furniture in heaven.
    As for “Blessed is who comes innthe name of the Lord.” It is the only phrase I know in the original language, a phrase I quoted to a Hasidic Jewish woman from New York when we met as part of my former employment in the NHS.
    The point? It can be said by gentiles and outside Jerusalem. Is it really necessary for a return to Jerusalem by the diaspora?
    I have been persuade to the amillenial view, through Beale, Storms. Carson?. And believers live in the “now but not yet Kingdom”.
    Joh, while I dont have books to hand, such as Kingdom Come, by Sam Storms, which looks at the longtitudinal canon relating to end times,
    don’t premillennial exponentts of Revelation 20 (and other scriptures) as representing a chhronoligical sequence?
    It has been suggested that the binding of satan took place at the first coming of Christ.
    From Revelation 12 it is seen how satan is defeated
    In Revaltion 20 it is manifest in another way – satan by restricting rebellion of nations to destroy thhe church and successfully accuse Christians. (Storms, who continues in greater length and detail.)
    Given far greater time, and use of the computer rather than this phone. I may be able to abstract from a couple of sources an abstract that proposes an amillenial conclusion while at the same time considering and countering the premillenial stance on Revelation 20.
    Indeed John, you may be more than familiar with Baptist Storms biblical argumentation. His book is worth a look, at 589 pages.

    Reply
  6. Susannah

    I would say the bible conceives eternity in physical terms. It sees it as a new heavens and new earth. Materiality is a big issue for faith. The first creation was physical. Christ became a human being. The resurrection of Christ was physical. The recreated universe will be physical. Whatever the details we head presently towards the physical return of Christ when our bodies will be changed and made like his glorious body. New creation will be physical but apparently glorious in a way not yet understood.

    Geoff… thanks for making the effort to respond by phone.

    Ive listened to Storms and read a fair bit he has written on this online. I decided bnot to buy his book because I felt I knew the gist of his argument. I’ve read Beale or at least chunks of him in abbreviated Study bible notes. I like Beale but feel at times he marshall’s texts to his cause which are not always appropriate. Carson is a premillennialist. A number of writers are premillennialists like Ian who interpret Rev 20 premillennially but see no historical referent. I understand the attraction of amillennialism. My problem is principally Rev 20 which I find difficult to fit with amillennial interpretations – particularly its interpretation of resurrection in ch 20. That and a few OT passages don’t easily fit amillennialism. Rev 12 is also part of the problem. In Rev 12 Satan is defeated in heaven and thrown to the earth where he is very active. In Rev 20 he is cast from earth into the bottomless pit which seems a very different thing. In Rev. 19-22 it seems that a sequence of events unfold that move from the second coming onwards.

    Reply
    • Thank you John. I very much agree with what you read from the Bible about the physicality of eternal life.

      You mention new heavens and a new earth. I have generally found that quite hard to grasp. Is the Bible definitive about them, or are the authors likewise trying to grasp at something quite mysterious and hard to define and comprehend?

      I just assume that when I die I will be resurrected in heaven. I’m not really fussed, because God will sort that out anyway. I believe it will very much be a physical existence, and wherever you go, God will be there. And there will be this amazing lifting of burden, and amazing relaxation and peace. And light! The shining glory!

      Reply
      • Part of the reason for assuming that ‘heaven’ is actually on a renewed earth is ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’.

        Reply
      • Sorry Ian. I must be misunderstanding you, I was meaning in the sense that you believe Rev 20 to be describing a ‘time’ after the Second Coming. I know you see it as atemporal (or am I wrong here too) but with a post second coming atemporality. Perhaps you can clarify if I’m wrong (very possible).

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  7. Ian

    Am I to understand that you understand all the other cameos of 19-22 as metaphors without some form of corresponding temporal expression. I acknowledge they are metaphors but the metaphor is meaningless unless it describes an aspect of reality related to the coming. Thus the Second Coming of Christ to destroy his enemies is an actual event even if the description of it is a metaphor. Similarly too the marriage supper of the lamb. Clearly a metaphor but saying something of the joyful intimacy between Christ and his people.

    The problem for me is that the millennial kingdom describes events that are in conflict with other cameos and contain surprises we don’t expect; the freeing of Satan; the post 1000 years abortive attack on the church; the confining of the time period (even if 1000 is symbolic events in the cameo have beginnings and endings… time gap between two resurrections). It is less the 1000 years that is a problem than the rebellion that follows. If this is a metaphor what is its message – no attack against God’s people will succeed??? If so it seems an odd way of indicating everlasting felicity. And what of continuity elements between cameos; beast and false prophet moves on to Satan who eventually joins them; the first resurrection gives way to cameo of second death.

    In summary, I think he big stumbling block is the rebellion that follows the millennium, I find that hard to see as only metaphor (though I also find it hard to see as a reality).

    Perhaps a name for this position would be atemporal premillennialism.

    Reply
  8. Ian, l do find this discussion intensely fascinating and like John T, l am slowly reading through your works on this trying to make sense of it all.
    For the record, is it true to say that you would take an amillenial position?

    Reply
    • Chris

      Ian will answer for himself no doubt. He doesn’t take an amillennial view nor a post-mill view. He takes, as I understand it an atemporal premillennial view. By this I mean he sees the various cameos of 19-22 as revealing metaphorically different aspects of the Second Coming and beyond.

      From here in this is my own interpretation of this view.

      Thus in the marriage supper we have a metaphor for the eternal love relationship between Christ and his people but not a real wedding. In the rider on the white horse we have a description of Christ crushing his enemies at his return though clearly he won’t actually come on a white horse and feeding his enemies to carrion birds. The great white throne judgement is a metaphor judgement following the second coming. The new heavens and new earth emphasises renewal and communion. The city represents the excellence of the community of Christ. Etc.

      We come to the millennium. On the face of it this is a cameo about the reign of God’s people. So far so good but elements intrude beyond the millennium that are difficult to compute with a new heavens and new earth of undiluted bliss following the Second Coming. EG. Satan released; the people of God attacked, a confined time span; a divided physical resurrection. I’m not sure how these fit into an ‘angle’ of the Second Coming and beyond.

      Reply
      • Hi John,
        ‘thousand’ is always used in the bible as a superlative, never as an exact amount. The χίλια years, the Cross years, must mean a superlative amount of time. A perfect cohort. A band of armed men. We, the ekklesia are the very same. The priest/kings. Warriors all.
        1000 describes both an amount of time and the people who inhabit it.
        When the time is up for the time of grace satan will be brought up into the dock for sentence to be passed and for him to make one last appeal to the public gallery.

        Reply
  9. Ian, could I suggest you write a book covering and combining Jesus’ predictions at the end of Matthew (and the other synoptics), Paul’s ‘man of lawlessness’ and how it all fits in with Revelation/Ezekiel/Daniel. Perhaps call it “End Times for Dummies”. I for one would buy it.

    Perhaps the director of ‘Knowing’ was right, it’s all about aliens and a new start!

    Reply
  10. Two kind of exhaustive books on Revelation that refer back to other passages are those by Koester and Stephen Smalley. I found Koester very helpful even if I didn’t always agree,

    Reply
  11. Scrolling down through all these comments, I find myself mostly aligned to Ian’s recognition that Revelation is written on a platform of critiquing the Roman Empire. I also agree that the critique then invites similar reflections on other empires right up to our own times.

    I grow quite weary when people try to ‘interpret’ every single little detail, as if it has some hidden meaning, that we should parse into actual events and places we think are being predicted. Especially if people suggest those little details should be taken literally (as JWs have for example): thankfully people here seem more refined than that.

    My own reaction is: (a) wait and see; and (b) stay awake. Wait and see, because I think that’s God’s intention: we’re not meant to know. Stay awake, because frankly, each day when we wake we should open to God’s Spirit, and God’s Love, and God’s main call to us each morning is: “Will you walk with Me today?”

    I’m grateful to my daughter Hannah for insights she gave me about the Book of Revelation. Revelation is a form of resistance literature (Anathea Portier-Young) and it involves political, economic and social critique of Empire, as well as spiritual exhortation. In other words the content is not all ‘distant’ and ‘in the future’. It was written to very present circumstances, and incites response to present oppression and injustice in our own present lives.

    A big part of the intent of Revelation is the unveiling and stripping off of the pre-suppositions of power. That would have been acutely felt at the time, but is no less relevant today. We too, risk being complacent and complicit in systems that are abusive and unjust. The challenge is “How can liberation come about?” or “When will it?” The challenge, surely is through opening to the power of the Holy Spirit, right where we are, individually and communally.

    I’m a strong believer that the end days are now for each one of us. How do we resist, and open up, and call down God’s sovereign rule in our lives right now? Because when the Bible says “Today is the day to be saved”, sure that can refer to one specific moment of salvation, but the “Today” is also a challenge to activate that salvation right now in our present lives…

    …rather than endless gazing into speculative futures. Hope… yes, fine… but trying to predict literal events risks a kind of ‘Da Vinci Code’ mentality. It takes our eyes off the ball of what we need to do NOW. Which includes challenging Empire (both external and internal).

    As Dagberto Fernandez states: “In every age… the community of the faithful is called to separate itself from any political-economic system that does not have the well-being of all humanity as its ultimate goal.” It’s a fabulous quote, and a real challenge to middle-class ‘churchianity’ which has arguably created a whole culture that collaborates with empire, and acquiesces to protect its own social and materialistic lifestyles and stake in the empire.

    Apocalypse is a lens for seeing more clearly the injustices that crash down on people’s lives, and stripping of facades and fineries of the powerful, and our own collaborations. The confrontation of good and evil comes right home to us in our own lives and living rooms. We cannot avoid apocalypse. It’s not just for the future. It comes home to challenge each one of us today.

    The Roman Empire was violent and coercive, though it claimed to bring peace. Does our own social privilege (in global terms) rest on the violence of a status quo, where the poor must labour for the profit and benefit of the rich. Is that empire as well? Are we complicit? It all seems peace to us, but do we just live on the back of other people’s labour? Roman power was seductive. John’s concern included affluence, self-satisfaction, and compromise (Richard Bauckham).

    We live in our own end times. We will soon be gone from the face of the Earth. We are called by God to be part of a counter-discourse that calls out Empire and its claims.

    That’s the best way I can “make sense of the end of the world”.

    Reply
  12. Ian: “Could you point me even to a single verse in the NT which simply says ‘Jews will return from exile to the land of Israel before Jesus returns’?”

    No – why would it need to, they weren’t exiled, they were residing in the land. Though there was economic Diaspora, and though Israel was occupied by Romans, all of the NT was written when the Jews were still resident in the land. Despite Diaspora pre/during NT era, and some exile post AD70, not until AD135 were all Jews banished.

    Matt23:39 has already been cited as presupposing Jesus returns to a people in the land. Many, like me, read Revelation quite differently than Ian et al above, to show Jesus returns to Jerusalem at the end; preceding Jesus’ return is the conflict depicted as Armageddon when the nations turn on Israel in war; for Jews to be in the land and for war to be made upon them, it presupposes that the Jews, finally exiled in 135, have returned home.

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  13. Susannah

    Firstly let me say your comment is beautifully and forcefully written. The language is mesmeric,

    In my view from one perspective Revelation is political. How could it not be since it excoriates abused emperor power, the abuses of emperor cult worship and the moral decadence and decay of culture epitomised in Rome.

    But i then ask myself if the NT writers habitually engage in empire bashing and despite N T Wright I don’t think they do. We are given no sense that believers should be out agitating for cultural reform. Some owned slaves and were not commanded to sell them. NT writers encourage godly living and if that collides with the authorities then so be it but otherwise they are to pray for the emperor and honour him. Not least that they may live quiet and peace able lives.

    When we read Revelation we are seeing the conflict between the authorities and God”s people. It is in the first instance a conflict between the world (politically, religiously and culturally) and God. The issue is spiritual. Moreover, God’s people are not called to attack these institutions as such. The concern is how they are to react when the world attacks them. And the answer is that ultimately they have to be like Jesus and submit. He that is to be killed let him be killed. Non-retaliation is the way of the cross, of the Lamb, in Revelation.

    I See our calling to largely ‘call out’ our culture by living a godly life and helping others. Our major way of ‘calling out’ is to preach the need to repent from sins and believe in Christ. Different individuals may feel the need to engage in social reform but that is a niche ministry, not commanded and not for all.

    Supposing someone felt they wanted to overthrow conservatism as a political force in society. Whatever the criticisms that may be made about conservatives I would not see their overthrow as advancing the kingdom of God. Or to put this another way Christians obey governments (where possible) they do not overthrow them even when that government is as nasty as Rome was… more could be said but you get the idea.

    Reply
    • Thank you John.

      I would certainly agree with you that a powerful way in which we may resist worldly authorities is by living, day by day, with openness to grace, to love, and to the Holy Spirit.

      I get the impression that Jesus was not courting military overthrow of government (some contemporaries hoped he was) but at the same time I think it fair to say that He was willing to critique, some people verbally, and in a wider sense by the challenge his life presented, in the way it pointed to the sovereign authority of God, and God’s grace and the power of God’s love.

      I guess there remains the Bonhoeffer question: are there times of brutal oppression when it is ever right for a Christian to resist evil in more tangible acts of defiance. The ‘just war’? The assassination of Hitler? and so on.

      Seems to me, in our own little lives, we face challenges of defiance every single day, if we truly find courage to die to self and to take up the Cross.

      There’s a lot to be speculated about the future, but here we are now: we don’t have much time on the face of this Earth, but each day in a sense we are incited to choose: do we choose to give ourselves to God? do we choose to give ourselves to our neighbour in need? and do we still recall that God gave us Jesus – God with us – who gave his life and went all the way for each one of us, to the point of no turning back?

      The little stretch of time we have left, whether 1 year or 30 years, is in a sense our own end times, and what we can give to God. How exactly history will pan out… well people have been debating that on this page… but right now, today, God is asking us: will you open your heart to my love, to my grace? will you find that courage? will you find that compassion? will you follow Me?

      Lord help us.

      Reply
  14. Anyone interested in this topic – and that should be every Christian – should read my book, When the Towers Fall: A Prophecy of What Must Happen Soon. The first part of the title comes from Isaiah, referring to the day when God pulls down everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. The second part refers to Rev 22:6. It is an exposition of the prophecy given to John, which is about the future (Rev 1:3, 19), and confessedly a prophetic exposition, because the Apocalypse refers to the age now coming to an end. The blurb states:

    ‘The Book of Revelation describes natural disasters that we have only recently come to know about: coronal mass ejections, global wildfires, asteroid impacts. Could it be that they lie not far in the future? The vision of the four horsemen came to pass in 1870–1945. Nineteen centuries after the Romans drove the Jews from their land, Israel in 1948 was restored to statehood, and Jesus foretold that there would be people alive then who would still be alive when he returned. Revelation refers to the Arab-Israeli wars that in 1967 and 1973 threatened to destroy the new state; also to a time, still in the future, when the country will be conquered. Like the picture on a jigsaw box, John’s prophecy enables us, the last generation, to fit the scattered pieces of Old Testament prophecy together (much of it unfulfilled) and look back on what God has been doing through all history, from Creation to the present day. The present age climaxes with the resurrection of Israel’s dead and a global earthquake that destroys civilization—our civilization. Unprecedented suffering lies ahead, and we need to be prepared for it.’

    We need to be prepared, so that we do not fall away, and so that we will have something to say when unbelievers stream into the churches and ask “Why are these events coming upon the world?” In only a very little while the Sun will throw out fire and scorch the earth. Those who are wise will stay indoors on the appointed day and have food in their larders, for a third of the trees and all the earth’s vegetation will be burned up. Revelation is still a closed book. Let those who read the book diligently see and understand.

    Reply
    • Steven, I think it is somewhat ambitious to claim with any certainty at all that we are “the last generation”. It’s possible that some followers of Jesus believed that in the 1st and 2nd centuries too. Yet here we are.

      But by all means stay alert each day, and mind to seek God in your morning prayer.

      We may still be waiting for the ‘second coming of Jesus’ in another 2000 years… well, not us, but our distant descendants. Or in 10000 years…

      That possibility is fine if that’s what God ordains, because the far more urgent question for us is what we do today, and whether we open our hearts to grace today, and whether we help our neighbour, and whether we seek God and trust God’s love.

      Trying to work out and prophesy literal events in a literal timescale (‘our generation’) risks rendering issues like climate change redundant, if the world is about to be written off. I don’t think we can do that. We should also plan long-term for responsible sustainability, for programmes to make life better for future generations, and generally operate our stewardship of the planet on the assumption it may be a long-term human responsibility.

      As we can see on this page, people have many different views on the subject and nature and detail of the ‘last days’. Anyone might be right, or we may all be wrong.

      What I do commend, though, is to be vigilant in our daily walk with God, and our service to others… so we do not get swayed by rumours… in our vigil with God, when asked:

      “Watchman, what of the night?”

      The first thing to ask ourselves is: are we keeping watch, in prayer, and in our daily walk, and welcoming God in whom we live and move and have our being?

      As to when the events of Revelation will occur… and what exactly is meant by many of the images in that narrative… I suggest in the end, God comes like a thief in the night. I suggest there are mysteries we cannot fully understand. I suggest we focus on just getting on with living our lives with trust and faith. In the pitiful deprivation of so many people in our world, there is so much to do, so many people needing help, and needing the love and compassion of God.

      Fixating on some alleged future details about the end of the world… there is a risk that becomes a substitute activity and distraction, that may distract us from what the Spirit actually invites us to do today. Revelation is worth reading and studying indeed, as is the whole Bible, but I am not persuaded by the conclusion you have come to, and pinned down, if by ‘last generation’ you refer to people living now.

      God bless you for your faith and care.

      Reply
  15. Please, everyone, there is a blessing for everyone who reads and takes to heart what is written in the Revelation of Jesus. Revelation says so in chapter one. It does not say there is a blessing for reading commentaries on it. Please read your bibles and have faith that He is able to open the book for you personally. Believe in Jesus! He is the Word and the Testimony. When you don’t understand something it only means you don’t need to know. When the Spirit of Jesus opens the word so that your heart warms you will have the joy and pleasure in communion with Him.

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