How has ‘end times’ expectation shaped Christian history and theology?


Martyn Whittock is a historian and a Licensed Lay Minister in the Church of England. He has just published a fascinating history of the interpretation of ‘end times’ ideas, The End Times, Again? 2000 Years of the Use and Misuse of Biblical Prophecyand I was able to ask him about his book.

IP: You are by training a historian. So what made you want to explore the more theological idea of ‘the end times’?

MW: As a Christian and a preacher (I am a Licensed Lay Minister in Salisbury diocese) the promise of the return of Jesus (the second coming) and the creation of a new heaven and earth is, personally, a very significant belief. So, I start from the point of having personal faith in history having a purpose and an end-point and that God has revealed enough of this through scripture to give us confidence in this fact. However, I am also very aware – again from personal experience – that this is a belief that can, in some forms, seriously impact on (even distort) outlooks and can become something of an obsession. 

In the 1970s I read The Late Great Planet Earth and the like, and my outlook was greatly influenced by the idea that we were living in the ‘last days.’ I even contributed an article to a rather obscure periodical called Prophetic Witness, in which I sought to identify Eastern European nations with tribes mentioned in the Old Testament (Gog, Magog, Meshech, Tubal, etc). So, end-times beliefs are both part of the faith tradition of which I am part; but also, is an area where I have a very particular personal (and at times rather alarming) back-story of involvement. I say ‘alarming’ because I realise now that I was part of a whole outlook (much of it originating in the USA) which was, in effect, a spiritual counterpart to Cold War politics. In short, it said more about geo-politics than theology, although that is certainly not how I viewed it in the 1970s.

Furthermore, it is undeniable that this belief has a track record of being wrongly (though sincerely) used in church history to justify the most extraordinary things. I became aware of this at Bristol University, where I read politics and my dissertation was on radical Christian millenarians of the 17th century. Sitting in the British Library and studying pamphlets written by so-called ‘Fifth Monarchy Men’ (they took the name from an interpretation of Daniel chapter 7) made me realise that they passionately held versions of beliefs which were like ones I had held in the mid-1970s. This study gave me an historical perspective and an academic interest in the application of end-times beliefs over the centuries. 

As a result, I wrote When God Was King: Rebels and Radicals of the Civil War and Mayflower Generation. I came across the same confident 17th-century end-times beliefs when I wrote Mayflower Lives, and when I explored the deep roots of the current US evangelical-right and the Trump phenomenon in Trump and the Puritans. I should, at this point, say that I describe myself as an ‘evangelical.’

It was also clear that applied eschatology has been hugely influential throughout Christian history. I came across the Magyars and Vikings being identified as end-times actors by 10th-century commentators when co-writing The Vikings: From Odin to Christ. 

Then I came across a heightened (and highly dubious) presentation of the subject during the turbulence of the 2016 EU Referendum; and it has had an impact on US foreign policy under Trump. Forms of it continue to influence a sizeable number of believers in their assessment of Middle Eastern politics, climate change, and Covid-19.

It was this combination of personal experience, historical fascination, and current concern, that led to me writing an overview of end-times beliefs and their application in: The End Times, Again? As well as being a dramatic and extraordinary history, I feel that modern Christians would handle their interpretation of prophecy more cautiously if they knew more about the history of mistakes.

IP: You offer an interesting list of biblical passages, from both Testaments, which give the background to ‘end times’ thinking. But it is noticeable that this isn’t really a dominant theme in the Bible—at least not in the way that many people think about it today.

Why do you think ‘end times’ thinking is so appealing? Does it have a particular appeal in the time we live in—or has this always been the case?

MW: It has always influenced Christian outlook over the centuries, even when it has not been the dominant topic of conversation. However, it is particularly prevalent at times of stress and turbulence. 

It can be argued that the church in the 4th and 5th centuries sought to defuse it by increasingly viewing prophetic texts as allegorical. They had had their fingers burnt by the activities of Montanist heretics and other radical millenarian sects of the late Roman Empire. This helps explain some of the reservations in the eastern church regarding the Book of Revelation. Other factors led to the shift in outlook too, but this became the official stance until the Reformation. 

However, it didn’t prevent outbursts of very specific identifications and speculation. I have already mentioned the Magyars and the Vikings. Other explosions occurred during the Crusades. Political stress could trigger it too and we see the accusation of being the Antichrist being thrown back and forth between popes and emperors in the Middle Ages. Then the Reformation fracturing of Christendom created a tsunami of end-times activism at all levels of the Protestant movement, that lasted for two centuries. [See above an illustration by Lucas Cranach of the whore of Babylon in Rev 17 wearing a papal tiara in Martin Luther’s 1534 translation of the Bible.] Some of it got very bloody indeed, as radicals sought to create ‘New Jerusalems’ or extirpate those they regarded as being allies of Antichrist. 

This association of the popularity of end-times beliefs and societal stress, turbulence and uncertainty continues today. We see it in the response of some to Covid-19. The same thing occurred during the 14th-century Black Death. In the USA tens of millions of Christians view domestic and foreign events through an end-times lens. A Russian orthodox tradition is re-emerging in Putin’s Russia which frames the West as representing the forces of Antichrist. This is all consistent with much past behaviour regarding end-times thought. 

It can also give validation to those who feel threatened or who are creating an identity at a time of upheaval. In North America the self-confident Puritan outlook fed into the cultural DNA of what became the USA. Later, it became a spiritual dimension to Cold War politics among many Western evangelicals (not just in the USA). As the modern US evangelical community shrinks in size it is increasingly using eschatological outlooks to buttress its identity and frame its view of the world. One has only to read Franklin Graham’s eschatological dismissal of the threat of climate change on twitter, last November during COP26, to see this in action. 

It can also be used in an attempt to put things outside the realm of critical debate. In 2016, I debated with UK Christians who were convinced that the EU is the fulfilment of prophecies in Daniel and Revelation. This is an adaption of a belief with which I was very familiar in the 1970s. Some of the ‘prophetic maths’ has changed; the accusation of it being a ten-nation-confederacy in fulfilment of Daniel 7:24 and Revelation 13:1 has gone rather quiet. But, overall, the old arguments have been adapted, rebranded and reissued. It feels like an endless game of ‘eschatological whack a mole.’ In this particular area of debate, I think that it has become a way by which Christian nationalism in the UK can be presented in spiritual terms.

IP: You very helpfully list some features of ‘end times’ reading of biblical texts—and it isn’t a very flattering list! Texts are pulled out of their textual context, put together in odd ways, and removed from their historical context. Is there a case for simply saying ‘We need to learn to read the Bible better’—or is the issue deeper than that?

MW: Actually, I think that just about sums it up. We need to learn to read the Bible better. The misuse of prophecy (as I would term it) rests largely on very poor biblical exegesis. Verses taken out of context and bolted onto other passages, also taken out of context; and then treating the composite result as a coherent piece. Jumping from literal to figurative interpretations (particularly shaping interpretations of any passage with a number in it). Little or no allowance made for the genre of the type of scripture or the context of original composition. Reading passages with a highly imaginative lens, that is coloured by pre-existing political and cultural ideas. There is a lot of that. 

My study suggests that much end-times speculation rests on these shaky foundations. But the approach is enormously influential. One only has to think of the belief in ‘the Rapture.’ I don’t think that there is any persuasive scriptural foundation for it and, as my research shows, just about nobody believed in it before the middle of the 19th century. Now it is a mainstream belief for tens of millions of Christians. And, in my opinion, it is based on an extremely questionable use of scripture.

IP: You offer us a long list of apocalyptic/eschatological movements in the history of the Christian faith. Which of these surprised or interested you most? Which ought to be better known?

MW: Well, there are certainly a lot! If I had to pick one, it would be the ‘Fifth Monarchy Men.’ Extremely influential in the 1650s, their membership spread across many kinds of Puritan congregation (just as eschatological beliefs cross denominational boundaries today). They included high-ranking members of the Parliamentary army and were a significant minority within the so-called ‘Barebone’s Parliament’ (also called the ‘Nominated Parliament’) of 1653. This was a unique attempt to create a theocratic parliament in Britain. 

I get the feeling that this is something like what the more extreme among US eschatologically-motivated white evangelicals would like to see imposed on their nation (regardless of democratic norms). The FMM show how, in a time of turbulence and conflict, extremely radical ideas can become highly influential. That is a warning to all of us. 

Incidentally, members of my own family were implicated in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, in which the last outpouring of FMM ideology was bubbling beneath the surface. The rebellion failed.

IP: There are some obviously negative effects that some of these movements have had—but in fact it is not all bad news. What do you see as having been the more positive outcomes of ‘end times’ hope from different periods of history?

MW: Despite the worrying manifestations – due to human error – the persistence of this Christian belief reminds us that end-times belief has, at its core, a positive trust in God. The end-times hope is, in essence, a positive belief. It insists that God is sovereign; history has a purpose; a broken and fallen creation (however we understand that) will be restored; injustice and suffering will end; God will be experienced at the heart of a transformed human community. The second coming of Jesus, which will enable all this to occur, is a wonderful hope. This is found in all the movements – even though it is often terribly distorted in practice.

IP: Some important movements for change and reform have had a strongly apocalyptic feel to them—not least the Reformation itself. To what extent has eschatology been integral to these moments of change—or do you think misreading of the apocalyptic hope can be separated out?

MW: I think it has often been a very significant feature. Although the ultimate expectation of imminent cosmic change proved to be incorrect in all these movements (so far), I still think it made a vital contribution to many movements which desired to see the Kingdom of God implemented on earth and kingdom business furthered. While they were wrong in the short term, many had their hearts in the right place in terms of long-term goals.

IP: From reading this history, what do you think are the main lessons as we engage in ‘end times’ language in the present moment?

MW: We need to engage with scripture carefully; and explore end-times texts within the wider context of scripture and taking into account their genre, complexity, and the context and intention of their composition.

Essentially, trust in God, get on with day-to-day ‘kingdom business’ and loving transformation; and don’t speculate about the imminence of the second coming. Live in the light of that hope – but leave the timing to God.

An event (like climate change) might be part of end-times processes (I don’t know) but we are still responsible for how we behave regarding it. Indifference to it can never be justified eschatologically. 

 Also, just because something may be a prophetic fulfilment does not mean it stands outside of being assessed by gospel standards and principles. Nor does it mean that Christians are bound to offer it unquestioning support. I am thinking here about the Middle East.

IP: Thank you, Martyn. You do offer a fascinating insight into the way the eschatological movements have had a surprising and significant influence at key moments in Christian history—very helpful indeed!


Martyn Whittock is a Licensed Lay Minister in the Church of England. As an historian and author, or co-author, of fifty-four books, his work covers a wide range of historical and theological themes. In addition, as a commentator and columnist, he has written for several print and online news platforms; has been interviewed on radio shows exploring the interaction of faith and politics; and appeared on Sky News discussing political events in the USA. 

His books, that include exploration of end-times beliefs in action, are: When God Was King: Rebels and Radicals of the Civil War and Mayflower Generation (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2018); Mayflower Lives: Pilgrims in a New World and the Early American Experience (New York: Pegasus Books, 2019); and Trump and the Puritans: How the Evangelical Religious Right Put Donald Trump in the White House (London: Biteback, 2020).

The recently-published exploration of 2000 years of end-times thinking and activity is: The End Times, Again? 2000 Years of the Use and Misuse of Biblical Prophecy (Eugene, Oregon, USA: Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock, 2021).


How do we make sense of ‘end times’ language in the New Testament? Should we be looking for ‘signs’ and predicting dates—or is there a better way to think about these things?

Join me for a Zoom teaching afternoon on Thursday February 3rd, or come for a relaxing break and think about these issues at Lee Abbey in Devon on May 2nd to 6th.

You might also be interested in my Grove booklet Kingdom, Hope, and the End of the World.


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73 thoughts on “How has ‘end times’ expectation shaped Christian history and theology?”

  1. I have done a word search on this article. I can’t find any reference to judgement or words similar. Have I missed something?
    Phil Almond

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  2. That is a fair point. It is because the subject of the conversation was primarily on the history of (what one might call) ‘applied eschatological study – and speculation,’ rather than on the nature of the belief itself. However, you are right to point out that a key feature of this belief is judgement, as well as restoration and re-creation.

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  3. OK – on the Middle East, it is completely clear that the 1947-48 campaign was an act of ethnic cleansing pure and simple. It is completely clear that this became a possibility through the Balfour declaration of 1917, which basically looks like a shabby trick to influence the right people so that the Americans would join in with WW1. The current State of Israel is an apartheid state.

    The statement (on the `Does `Israel’ have a divine right to exist’) post – `Because of all this, I do not believe that, remarkable though it is, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1947 is a ‘fulfilment’ of ‘end times’ ‘prophecies.’ Neither do I believe that Israel has a divine right to the land which trumps all other rights. I do want to defend the right of Israel to exist, and to be a particular homeland for Jews around the world, and to use reasonable force to defend itself—like any other nations. But I do this on grounds other than ‘divine right’ or ‘prophecy.’ ‘

    looks to me like defending the indefensible, since I don’t believe that the State of Israel would have ever existed if it hadn’t been for so-called `Christians’ using Holy Scripture for purposes of prognostication (the book of Deuteronomy tells us that prognostication is a very grave sin – using Scripture for this purpose makes it much worse), developing an `end times’ narrative and deciding that the Good Lord needed some help from the USA/UK military to fulfil his promises.

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    • There were many reasons for the Balfour Declaration and it is rash to assume you know their relative weightings in the decision-making. It became clear during the course of the First World War that the Ottoman Empire would crumble. Zionists recognised an opportunity if Britain won, for Britain would wish to occupy Palestine as a buffer zone in order to protect its interests in the Suez Canal. The British were also aware that a pipeline from the oilfields of Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean would be an important strategic asset; this was indeed built after the war, and it terminated at Haifa. Britain also wanted diplomatic pretexts to keep the French, who had their own forces in the Middle East, out of Palestine. A motivation for occupying Palestine that did not appear purely selfish would suit the British, who invited Jewish leaders to make a proposal. Britain was further aware of the influential Jewish community (including financiers) inside its enemy, Germany, and inside its allies, the USA and Russia, the latter convulsed by revolution. Then there was the religious factor. It is inconceivable that Asquith’s War Cabinet would have made the declaration whereas there was a strong nonconformist streak in Lloyd George’s.

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      • Anton – thanks for the clarification – yes – my own lightning summary of the Balfour declaration was extremely superficial – your own summary, which outlines the main political concerns of the time illustrates much more clearly than I did that the Palestinians really were the unfortunate innocent victims of some very nasty politics being played out between the imperial powers – particularly the evil Anglo-Saxon empire.

        There were several features motivating the Balfour declaration – absolutely none of them positive for the Palestinians.

        The creation of the state of Israel in the Palestine could, in some grotesque way, be a `huge step forward on God’s clock.’ As I indicated in the previous comment, Scripture (Deuteronomy in particular) is very negative about prognostication – this is a sin – and the sin is compounded when Holy Scripture is being used for purposes of prognostication.

        I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s play `Macbeth’ where the actions taken to bring about the prophecies of the three witches ensure a macabre end.

        So if the creation of the state of Israel really does represent a `huge step forward on God’s clock’, which has had an awful lot of support from the religious nutters using texts from Scripture to help them read the tea leaves – and then using the military might of the Anglo-Saxon empire to give God a helping hand – you can be pretty sure that the whole thing is heading towards a grotesque and cataclysmic end (which I think is basically what you were saying in your comment further down – especially when you mention WMD).

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        • … there was a name I was trying to remember when I wrote that comment – Mike Pompeo. He is clearly satanic, he also professes to be a religious nutter. I think of myself as a Christian – in the crucifixion I see Christ dealing with my sin and by his resurrection I have faith that my sin has been dealt with – but if Mike Pompeo turns out to be in the number then I’ll respectfully return my ticket. If WMD are in the hands of the likes of him, then we should expect a cataclysmic end sooner rather than later.

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        • I don’t know if you are trying to frighten me with the paragraph about prognostication, but Jesus told us on the Mt of Olives the signs to look out for, and some day some believers are going to see them. Woe to him who in that day says one should not use the scriptures to prognosticate!

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          • I think Ian Paul has argued that most or all of those ‘signs’ are not about Jesus’ return but rather the next few decades leading up to AD 70.

          • I know he has. I bought and read his book. But if we discuss this, ca we do it following my further comment below, please?

  4. 1 How does the Kingdom of God fit into the end times theology?
    2 What is the development of the understanding of “the Kingdom Now but not yet?
    3 In the light of eternity our personal end time is soon? Is that the end? For Saviour humanity? It is deeply personal, both spiritually and bodily.
    4 And New Creation? Where does that fit into end times theology?

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  5. This looks like a very interesting book. I am very interested myself in the whole question of God’s purpose in history, something of which OT prophets seemed very conscious, but is hard to fathom now. I’ve not been able to find many people writing on this except one Herbert Butterfield some time ago. Any other references, apart from Martyn’s book (and St Augustine)?

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    • Roger Forster and Paul Marston, God’s Strategy in Human History. Treatments of Romans and esp chs 9-11 e.g. by Derek Prince.

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  6. There is an opposite risk, that conservative evangelicals will be naysaying those who read the signs of the times correctly in the years immediately prior to Christ’s return. It’s going to happen someday on a definite but unknown date in our calendar, and I like to ask other believers what they think the signs will be, in the usual sense of words used in modern English.

    I see the return of the Jews to the Holy Land as a huge step forward on God’s clock. When I became a Christian – an adult convert from a total atheist background – it struck me as weird that the people 2/3 of the Bible is about were back in the land where it all happened yet nobody at the local parish church (which I attended for a decade) saw any significance to it. The first step on my road to understanding was in the early days of the internet, where I read the sentence “There are prophecies in the Old Testament that have not yet been fulfilled.” I had always assumed that those were all fulfilled in Christ, spiritually, vaguely, sort-of…

    We all know what I will call ‘endtime nuts’ (and also Israel nuts) inside some churches. It has been well said that most Christians either never get into the Book of Revelation or never get out of it. The point is to integrate it with the rest of holy scripture.

    There has to be a one-world government first. That is going to take more than a few years. On the other hand we can clearly see a move toward larger and larger political entities and the emergence of a world culture. That has been made possible by technology, as (pre-covid) students routinely flew round the world in their gap year and rang home from almost anywhere. The Industrial Revolution is about 250 years old, and Daniel warned that “the end would come like a flood”. We feel an acceleration in the pace of history underfoot today. So I suggest the timescale, while more than years, is less than centuries. What timescale is intermediate between years and centuries? Decades! That is my estimate for how long it is to Jesus’ return. Any attempt to give a year is made only by false prophets, at least until less than 7 years before the event, which I don’t believe we are. But I’ll add this: although we don’t know the year, we do know the time of year: autumn in Jerusalem, at Tabernacles. That is the only one of three great festivals, at which all able-bodied males were to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem, yet to find fulfilment in Christ. (Passover and Firstfruits were fulfilled at the Crucifixion and Pentecost respectively.) It is, non-coincidentally, the harvest festival.

    One might also expect the world not go on for too long now that WMDs are in the hands of sinful man.

    WMDS

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    • “When I became a Christian – an adult convert from a total atheist background – it struck me as weird that the people 2/3 of the Bible is about were back in the land where it all happened yet nobody at the local parish church (which I attended for a decade) saw any significance to it. “

      I have asked a similar question in the comments of this blog before, in the context of Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple. I am convinced that the temple, river and associated imagery of the latter chapters is symbolically fulfilled in Jesus and the Spirit, and that the vision is not for a literal reconstruction of a physical temple (and I know there are others who would disagree), but this does leave the tricky problem of Ezekiel 48, a decidedly non-symbolic and as-yet unfulfilled prophecy about the re-inhabiting of the land. I am not convinced that this question has been answered adequately by many who view the land itself as of little consequence, and I do not see how one can read Ezekiel’s vision in cpter 48 as symbolic of the whole world/creation, which would otherwise make sense in the symbolic understanding.

      My point is that even though I disagree with you in the main, it is not as obvious as it seems, and no matter which path we take in our eschatological interpretations there are still plenty of lose ends.

      Mat

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      • Hi Mat,
        Totally with you on the Temple being symbolic of Jesus.
        See my artwork depicting the books of the Bible:
        https://www.dropbox.com/s/rldtucopd2i0ga6/N%C2%B01.JPG?dl=0
        The cubes symbolise; top left Ezekiel’s Temple; top right solomon’s temple; bottom left Jesus and bottom right either the creation or the New Jerusalem.
        Note how Solomon’s temple sits between 1 Chron. & 2Chronicles.
        Exekiel’s temple sits between Ezekiel and Daniel.
        The flowers represent Mathew’s geneology. The whole thing is one flower with Revelation in the middle. Behold, something greater than solomon is here.
        Interesting thought about Ezek 48, I will go and read it . Before I do I think even the idea of the ‘land’ is symbolic of Jesus.

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        • “Interesting thought about Ezek 48, I will go and read it . Before I do I think even the idea of the ‘land’ is symbolic of Jesus.”

          I agree, inasmuch as I would very much like to believe it is, and it would make a good deal of sense if it were. The problem is that I fail to see how that imagery works in a way that does justice to the text. If you can come up with a better answer than I can of how the borders of the nation are fulfilled in Jesus, I’d love to hear it.

          Mat

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          • For starters perhaps the fact the land has borders denotes its status as a distinct individual. Who could be said to be a land flowing with milk and honey? All the poetry relating to the land points to Jesus. Especially Song of songs.
            Who is the beautiful land but Jesus where we belong. If we are in Him, in the N J , then He is not only the metaphorical Rock and fountain, river and mountain but the very ground supporting us.

          • Exactly right Mat – many commentators ignore or evacuate the very hope that prophetic promise offered when they fail to ground it in the land itself

    • One should be cautious about predictions of intermediate-length waits till Christ’s return. These can have their origin in prudence and/or psychology. Short waits are easily and swiftly proven wrong. Predicting long waits is seen as a sign of lukewarmness.That leaves only the intermediate.

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  7. The return of the people of Israel to the Holy Land is often seen as miraculous.

    First, if they stand out like a sore thumb within the category of people without a land, then they are the people most likely to be assigned a land. Secondly, this is all the more so at times of history when they deserve compensation. Third, if their Scriptures lead them to expect such an end, they will desire it and press for it; and what one presses for is more likely to happen.

    Some American organisations pay large sums for Jews to return to the Holy Land. They are returning there because of the large sums, so that is not a miracle, even though those most likely to call it such are those who know it is not such but is, on the contrary, actively brought about.

    Further, given 2000 years of history, is it surprising that such a thing should happen once in such a stretch of time?

    But it gets worse. The State of Israel is regularly seen as the *best* evidence for our own generation being ‘the one’. Let us for the sake of argument say it is indeed the best evidence for that – that does not make it good evidence.

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    • Christopher – thanks for this – agree with you one hundred percent.

      I don’t really follow the Americans, but I remember when I was in Sweden, a very weird and wacky group called `Livets Ord’ were financing people to move from Russia to Israel.

      I remember, when I was newly in Stockholm (and trying to find out what was what) I found myself one Sunday in a Livets Ord place in Sodermalm (the one that isn’t too far from the Skanstull underground station). The person giving the sermon there seemed to think that shouting helped to make his presentation more logical and convincing – and he didn’t understand that this style of presentation made him look like a complete loony. During his sermon, he informed us that Adam was created in approximately 4000 BC, there had been 6 millenia since the time of Adam (4 millenia before Christ and 2 millenia after Christ), we were now entering the 7th millenium – and 7 is a magic number as far as the Holy Scripture is concerned – so we really should be prepared for marvellous weird and wacky things to happen in this extra special millenium.

      It is lunatics like this spouting this sort of rubbish – and their brain damaged followers who are funding the return of Jews to the Holy Land.

      A footnote – since I had entered the church, I sat through as much of it as I could, but then started getting worried and looking over my shoulder, just in case Jehu had been sent to deal with the prophets of Baal. When this thought entered my head, I got out quickly, because there were practical reasons why I didn’t want to be counted among the prophets of Baal.

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      • ho ho . What a great anecdote.
        BTW. Just out of curiosity, where do you stand on millenniums in general. Spoiler, I think the number 1000 is always , without exception, used figuratively.

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        • Steve – I liked William Hendriksen’s `More than Conquerors’. He takes the view that Revelation presents 7 pictures of the time between the resurrection and the second coming. The periods time, times and half a time, three and a half years, 1000 years, etc …. all symbolically represent this time and are taken from the three years (which became three and a half years in James) of drought that Elijah pronounced to Ahab. (If you count off three and a half years it is approximately 1000 days).

          So the 1000 years represents the time of trial, which is derived from 1 Kings 17:1.

          For understanding Revelation, the key thing to remember is that its author had seriously studied the OT and understood what all the imagery meant – and the angel used this language to communicate to him.

          If one tries putting it into boxes – I dunno – probably `amillenial’ would be the correct box for me.

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          • That’s a very interesting point about Elisha. I agree.
            I think Revelation uses allusions to the OT throughout.
            I think the main theme is a wedding, the wedding of the Lamb. Each scene looks at the wedding from different perspectives. A) the invitation. B) the bride C) the father of the bride …etc for instance Wisdom’s seven pillars is the invitation. Esther’s progress in her year of training is the seven ecclesia in Revelation 2-3. Rev.4 the throne room, shows The Father of the bride holding her achievements and virtues represented as a scroll. Etc. etc until at the end the rider on the white horse takes his bride home to the NJ. Allusion to Ps. 45 & Solomon’s palanquin on Son of Songs.
            Could go on but I’ve found no takers for this poetic approach. Theologians are not lovers of the poetic it seems to me.

          • One more thing. I’ve read enough commentary on Revelation that projects it as a timeline of history to reject this approach as simply rehashing Schofield all the time. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is quite self contained. It draws in the rest of scripture and repurposes it . Jesus said “ you have heard it said, but I say to you…” In the Revelation he does the same . By drawing in OT themes He changes them and then uses them . In effect the message is “don’t worry about the times and dates , just look to me , keep your focus on me at the centre. My image I posted earlier to Chris Bishop is not just a whimsical piece of art it portrays what I believe is the main point; Revelation is at the centre of all scripture, Jesus is the source and destination.

          • Steve – well, I quite like what you wrote (even though it is poetic). It is more likely to be `on the mark’ than considering Revelation as some sort of factual account of some future events and using it to `read the tea leaves’. It does chime in much more with the author intent – where his brain is clearly chock-full of Old Testament events and imagery – which he has fully understood.

    • The survival of a Jewish identity for 1800 years out of the land is nothing short of miraculous. No other people has managed that.

      I take the view that, while the Mosaic covenant is fulfilled in Christ, the Abrahamic covenant has been widened to take in gentile believers in Christ but Jewish nonbelievers in Him have not been expelled from that covenant. It is too easy to unthinkingly lump all the OT covenants together and say they have been fulfilled in Christ, but the NT nowhere says that. If you take that view, moreover, you had better be consistent and apply it to the covenant with Noah promising no second flood, and start worrying when it rains heavily.

      Reply
      • ‘but Jewish nonbelievers in Him have not been expelled from that covenant’

        Actually I think they have, though perhaps expelled is not the word to use. Jesus made it very clear that being a child of Abraham was irrelevant. It seems obvious to me that it is a contradiction to claim to be a believer in the Jewish God, Yahweh and yet when He comes literally in person, you reject Him.

        Non-believing Jewish people will be subject to judgment like everyone else Im afraid. Indeed many have argued they already suffered some of that judgment in AD 70. It didnt look like God was much concerned about His covenant then. It didnt seem to apply any longer.

        But Im happy to be corrected if others think otherwise.

        Peter

        Reply
        • Faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation for Jew and gentile. Please do not assume what I believe about that merely because others who hold some of my expressed views wrongly reckon Jews have a different path to salvation. Please respond to what I say, not what I don’t say!

          Romans 11 affirms the Abrahamic covenant with the Jews.

          Reply
          • On Romans 11, I presume you’re referring to v25 and 26, ` … that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved’

            As Karl Barth points out in his commentary on Romans 11v25, the fulness of the Gentiles is Jesus Christ – and we see, largely as a result of the missionary work of the apostle Paul that Jesus Christ was brought to the Gentiles within a few decades of the crucifixion and resurrection.

            All Israel in this context simply means that all of God’s people, whether from a Hebrew background or a Gentile background, will ultimately be saved.

            Of course, the `blindness’ he is talking about refers to serious religious people who ought to know better; he is pointedly looking to an end of the hostility to the gospel from the people whom he was part of when he was Saul of Tarsus and who persecuted him for his faith after the road to Damascus.

          • ….. hence, it seems to me that the `fulness of the Gentiles’, namely Jesus Christ was proclaimed to the Gentiles by AD 70, so any especial hardening of Israel `after the flesh’ (i.e. descendants of Jacob) was completed by then.

            We simply do not know what happened with his companions, who had been helping him persecute the Christians while he was Saul of Tarsus. Did the belief of the Gentiles who had come to Christ through the teaching of Paul help to soften them so that they could receive the gospel?

            In any case, by the end of the first century, the fulness of the Gentiles had come in – namely, Jesus Christ (the fulness) had been brought to the Gentiles. Those companions of Saul of Tarsus who could be softened had been softened and the `all Israel’ (namely all of God’s people, both from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds) applied.

          • I actually had in mind the image of ingrafting in Romans 11. You need both stock and scion to be alive for plant grafting, so I don’t take the analogy to be a temporal sequence.

            Also, God knew that Abraham would take His promise to mean physical descendants and God is not a sophist, so although He is free to add in spiritual descendants He is not free to subtract physical ones.

          • Anton – with apologies – this is going over my head. It isn’t clear to me what point you are trying to make and how you are backing it up with some part of Romans 11.

            I’d point out Galatians 3:16 which says, `The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.’

            Anyone (Jew or Gentile) can be grafted in by faith in Him, the One referred to in the promises.

          • Anton

            You say Jewish non-believers have not been expelled from the covenant. With PC1 i believe they have; they have been cut out of the olive tree. I thought you would agree with this view, One day of course Israel will be grafted back in as they say ‘blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.

  8. Anton,
    I’ve moved in the other direction having been raised as a middle-aged convert, with lists of unfulfilled OT prophesies and Messianic Jewish links of Festivals with NT dates and future time prophecy for a season for Christ’s return, but I’m not now convinced that they are certain predictors, even while the Festivals, or their purposes and understandings are filled out, fulfilled in the person of Yeshua.
    I can even recall a meeting when a prophecy was given and exxitedly and expectantly received Christ’s return was imminent, just around the corner.
    Perhaps, bearing in mind the article, there is something of an eternal nature in the debate itself. Rather than a multiple parallelism, or rolling cycles of repeating events we see history as a chronological sequence, rather than as history of creation and redemption.
    Further, is not Christianity geographically de-centered, unlike, say, Islam?
    Where is the Kingdom of God located, its center?
    Is the city of God still Jerusalem? Does it await the building of a still unbuilt temple?

    Reply
          • So Anton, you are operating as a Rabbi, here?
            The question underpinning the article is, when?, not where?, why? or how?.
            Do answer the questiond posed to you.
            As for getting people to think, the article itself does that, as has Ian Paul’s other articles which cut across your thinking (and many others) and much handed+down prominent, entrenched eschatology.
            Jesus is the ultimate, Rabbi, Israel(Son), sacrifice to end all sacrifices, Priest, temple. We are living stones.. Makes you think, but goes beyond that to doxology, praise and worship. Oh how we we see Jesus who is the Father’s Glory, in whom the fulness of the Glory of God is revealed.

          • Ian Paul asks hard questions of my position, to be sure. I reckon I could do the same for his. Let nobody suppose that he has all the answers.

          • PS By “Let nobody suppose that he has all the answers” I intended “nobody” to refer to “he”, not Ian Paul!

      • Anton – your question(s) is of crucial importance
        It was exploring this very question of the ‘where’ of Jesus’ return, that led me personally to a radical rethink of eschatology. I think Scripture is unequivocal on the where. And that answer leads to a why and what must precede that.

        Reply
        • Simon, please do expand. From teaching years ago I suspect where you think the geographical place of Christ’s return will be.
          The why question of Christ’s, is indeed crucial but I’d suggest has a whole Bible theological answer.
          But these are bigger points than can be addressed in a comments section, I’d suggest. Perhaps Ian would host an article setting out your position (held by many? others).
          Maranatha.

          Reply
          • Geoff – it’s completely clear – when He returns, He’ll come in glory to East Kilbride. That is what Simon meant.

            It might be Norwich. Norwich had an unexpected – and even miraculous victory over Everton yesterday, so Norwich could also be on the cards.

  9. Thanks – this is very interesting. Like some other commenters above I have noticed a different problem whereby preachers ignore eschatological themes in passages and focus simply on Christians just needing to try a bit harder to usher in the peace / fuure state associated with the second advent of Christ in prophetic passages in Isaiah, Micah etc.

    Reply
    • Hi Chris
      Read the post, my reaction is ….
      Yeah but no but yeah, um, no no no no yes.
      Mebbee

      The trouble with thinking it ALL depends on us is this:
      People start to ‘engineer’ the outcome. They think that forcing theocracy into politics will force God’s hand. Or building the temple on the mount might persuade him down. Judas Iscariot was the first to think this way. And he’s not going to be the last.

      Reply
      • Steve,
        Yes- I had a similar reaction to you when I first read it. I think the important point that Hays and Strine are making in their series of articles is how the *sense* of prophecy should be properly understood and more importantly, how the Jews’ of Jesus time would have understood the conditional sense.

        It seems to me they are making the case that in our modern day, we don’t have the same sense of conditionality in our understanding of prophecy that they had which has all sorts of interesting implications..

        Reply
        • It doesn’t however do justice to imminency. It makes imminency contingent in a way that I don’t see the NT do. Nevertheless worth reflecting on.

          Reply
      • Will God permit the building of a Temple on Temple Mount after He permitted the destruction of the previous one as superfluous in AD70? I’m not sure – but I do know that Christians should not support it – even those who support the State of Israel, and even those who are ethnic Jews.

        Reply
  10. I believe that present history will come to an end with the salvation of Israel, or at least a significant proportion of Israel. This will happen either just before or at the return of Christ and result in blessing for the world in the establishment of Christ’s kingdom (Roms 11).

    My problem is I see little or nothing about Israel in Revelation. Any references (144000 etc) seem to me to be images of the church. Admittedly this is a matter of interpretation. In Rev 20 there is nothing to suggest a rebuilt temple and sacrifices etc. There is reference to ‘the beloved city’ which I tend to identify with the New Jerusalem of Ch 21.

    Yet passages such as Zechariah 14 are very difficult to transpose into anything other than what seems their plain sense. Further, as Anton hints Zech 14 predicts a return to the MT of Olives as does Acts 1 – a distinctly Jewish setting,

    While signs of the times can get out of hand yet Jesus does say we should read the signs. We should certainly we alert and watching as children of day and not of the night… in such an hour as you think not the son of man will come.

    Reply
    • John – I don’t think this makes much sense on two levels. Firstly, those of us who are `in Him’ will see life when we pass from this life to the next – and we won’t be around here on earth to witness any return of Jesus. Thinking of the `all Israel’ in terms of human descent of Jacob simply doesn’t make sense – even those brought out of Egypt, the overwhelming majority rebelled against God and did not see the promised land (let alone eternal life).

      How do you imagine this `blessing for the world in the establishment of Christ’s kingdom’ will take place? Will Jesus be the Prime Minister with a nice office somewhere in Jerusalem?

      At the same time, you are (of course) aware of other comments on this thread pointing out that so-called `Christian’ groups have been bunging huge sums of money to try and get people who claim Jewish affiliation back into the Holy Land – and these groups, while they are supposed to take a strong interest in moral questions of good over evil, overlook the real atrocities perpetrated by the State of Israel, aided and abetted by the USA/UK military alliance – which mean that the current State of Israel is the worst apartheid state on the planet.

      They wouldn’t get away with it if it wasn’t for the `Christian’ groups who turn a blind eye to this because of the way they have interpreted God’s promises of the eschatological return of Jesus – and think they can give God a helping hand bringing this about.

      Reply
      • Hi Jock

        I don’t think we should let misguided actions influence our interpretation. However, I imagine Israel would argue that Arabs who are part of the State of Israel have equal rights with all Jewish citizens. I suspect re Israel and Palestinians there are faults on both sides. The Palestinian refusal to acknowledge Israel and their void purpose to remove them from the face of the earth seems fairly hostile. I do not say Christians should condone any Israeli injustice. At the same time Israel is surrounded by nations whose human rights are much worse than hers. It irks me that the anti-Semitic slant of the West these days is wilfully blind to Islamic nations who persecute Christians and other non Muslims and demonises Israel.

        Romans 9-11 is addressing one main question: why has Messiah and his salvation come and ethnic Israel remained unconverted? In my view Israel remains ethnic Israel throughout these chapters. When he says ‘all Israel will be saved’ he is still referring to ethnic Israel. This has further confirmation, I think, when Paul says ‘he shall turn ungodliness from Jacob’. Jacob is a distinctly national name for Israel and often for unbelieving Israel. Paul further goes on to say, ‘as far as the gospel is concerned they (ethnic Israel) are enemies for your sakes (gentiles) but concerning election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable’.

        As I see it there will be what amounts to a national salvation of Israel at histories conclusion. These will be part of the church, composed of Jew and gentile, with God having revealed his mercy to both. Quite how the ensuing kingdom works out I don’t know. I’ve as many questions as answers. I feel Rev 20 requires a pre-millennial reading while I think the NT overall lends itself to an amillennial view.

        I think we have to try to decide these questions exegetically without reference to world events or excesses in any one prophetic system. But none of it is easy. I’ve been blogging a bit on Revelation recently.

        Reply
        • Hello John,
          I consider that this discussion is largely shaped by predetermined, well established categories of Millennialism.
          One who comes ddown on the side of saving Isael as a nation, is David Pawson. Dipping a toe into his book, Unlocking the Bible, it seems to me that he read it through those categories and he wrote this:
          “Two questions remain to be answered and they are crucial to understanding why there is such controversy over this “millennium”. They are WHERE does all
          this happen? WHEN does all rhis happen?”
          He identifies a shift in the church from a pre to post millennium position with Augustine’s views being influential…
          “and so it goes on.”
          And points out a major development through the founder of the Brethern movement JN Darby, made popular by Schofield and his bible.. And from the early 19 C many were led back to a pre-millennial conviction of the early church.

          Just to take up one particular point re Jacob. The Samaritan woman at the well claimed Jacob as their father, but Jesus steered her away from that misapprehension, pointing to God as Father, and who true worshippers are.
          There has always been a remnant of true worshippers in Israel who look to the Messiah.

          Reply
          • Hi Geofff

            I was reared on dispensationalism. Brethren background. I have shifted the tectonic plates over the years. I feel I’ve tried to reach conclusions contextually but no doubt presuppositions and the need for a cohesive system (assuming Scripture is a unity) play a part.

            I think these issues remain worthy of discussion as long as we don’t get fixated.

            Good to converse.

  11. I too read ‘the late great planet earth’ and that while stoned on marijuana and a travelling hippie in Canada. I must say that read was instrumental in turning my mind towards the idea that a Great Reset that was about to take shape and Jesus Christ was the Ark that was going to save whoever entered His Life. This was 1972. I took Jesus up on His invitation to “Come unto me all you heavy laden and I will give you rest” and thus my new life as a new creation and a new Croatian :?)> began October 15th 1972. Now we all know there will be no secret and quiet rapture taking place since the Word clearly states 1Thess4:16 that the Lord Himself will descend with a shout (not a whisper) with the voice of an Archangel presumably Gabriel himself and with the trumpet of God (thrilled to learn there will be a brass section at His coming!) Furthermore we know its useless to set dates for His return as we are told in Acts 1:7.
    I’m happy to report that my thinking on this subject has been immensely clarified by a precious brother who is no longer with us but who still speaks from a precious library of his teachings. He held two PhDs in the Books of Daniel and Revelations. He has kept me focused on the main thing: the Gospel of Jesus Christ when not a few of my fellows have gone the way of Demas. I read and listen to his teachings on Vimeo and YouTube on the internet. With great joy and without reservation I commend to you Dr. Desmond Ford.

    Reply
  12. Comment for John T (et al) – John, you have spoken on the one hand of your doubts concerning the prophetic insights of Dispensationalism as well as highlighting the importance of biblical contextualisation in these matters, particularly in relation to end-time prophesy. I couldn’t agree more, particularly on the latter issue.
    However why is it that in these discussions so little energy and space is being devoted to the insights of *Federal Theology*; not only in relation to prophecy in particular, but also to Old Testament interpretation in general ?
    As with Dispensationalism, FT (or Covenant Theology) is based upon *external* theological evaluation of the text; the *covenants* not therefore being an integral part of the biblical material. Consequently, one of the major problems with this approach is that it tends to extrude OT theology and practice through an NT “grid system”, resulting in, among other things, what could be construed as, eisegetical approaches to OT texts and possibly leading to (OT) prophetic insights being modified (or even eliminated) to fit an N T “pattern” .

    At the very least, what I firmly believe is that there exists a necessity for the expansion of what is already happening in some quarters; namely holistic, contextual approaches to biblical scholarship – and based, for example, upon a thoroughgoing reappraisal of the Jewish background to NT theology – something that will enlarge and enhance our understanding of the supreme revelation of God’s saving activity through Jesus Christ!

    Reply
    • Colin – forgive me, but this needs some unpacking (at least for me) since I am a bear of very little brain and big words bother me.

      For example, what do you mean by dispensationalism (I can look it up on wikipedia, but this doesn’t give me much idea of what you mean by it). Similarly, I looked up `Federal Theology’ (a term that I had never heard of before) and wikipedia gave me `Covenant Theology’ and a picture of John Calvin.

      Basically – I’d like you to expand a little on the OT prophetic insights that you think have been modified or eliminated, especially those connected with the subject of this thread (end times). Also – as far as I can see, for the last 30 or 40 years at least, the NT has been increasingly read through a Hebrew lens rather than the Hellenistic lens that seemed to be favoured in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

      In short – your comment seemed to contain good things, but it was phrased in a way that was too condensed for me to understand.

      Reply
      • Dear Jock If you look carefully at what I wrote, you will see that beside FT, I put in brackets “or Covenant Theology”.
        Re Dispensationalism: a particular system of belief that separates the whole of Scripture into different time zones (dispensations – hence the name). It is based upon certain presuppositions re how God has dealt with his people during the various periods of biblical history. A good dictionary of the Christian Church will provide you with much more detail!
        My major point is that both systems have much to say about biblical interpretation in general and the last days in particular. However, they are external to Scripture i.e. they are based *upon* Scripture – but they are *not* Scripture.
        Sorry I cannot reply in further detail at this point. My next port of call is to reply to John at a later stage!

        Reply
  13. Hi Colin

    This is a similar point to that raised by Chris. I would contend that contextualisation includes the immediate context and the wider context. The wider context is the whole of Scripture and if progressive revelation is conceded then the NT sheds light on the OT. Jesus taught his disciples how to interpret the OT and they in turn teach us.

    I would argue that many OT texts contain truth only later revelation makes plain. For example, ‘the seed of the woman….heel’ only yields its full meaning to later revelation. Ot what of Ps 110 ‘the Lord said to my Lord’… In Ps 45 ‘Your throne o God is for ever and ever’ is not a mistranslation or poetic excess but the Spirit pointing forward to Messiah and only with his arrival would its meaning become clear. This seems to me to be the case again and again.

    Who does the appraisal of the Jewish background? Left to Jewish Rabbis Isaiah’s suffering servant is limited to Israel and Messiah is lost (especially Messiah Jesus who fits it so well). I find Goldingay unhelpful more often than not because he insists in reading the OT according to what he deems it means without reference to the NT and reaches conclusions that may not articulate with NT perspectives. To cut yourself off from the second half of a book in understanding it seems wrongheaded. That’s like saying the end of a book sheds no significant light on the more enigmatic middle. In any case, as I say, are Christians and read the OT through the eyes of the apostles. If we believe the apostles to be trustworthy interpreters of the OT we will be guided by them and we can assume their methodologies are reliable. We must assume their interpretations do not do violence to the initial text.

    I accept this is expressed here as a crude hermeneutic. I know the NT writers used OT texts in a number of ways that were valid hermeneutics of their time. Thus we need to be cautious but confident. Chris Woolridge was not convinced by my reading of Deut 30 which was influenced by a) an unusual text making covenant living seem easy. Vv11-14 b) noticing new covenant characteristic (circumcised hearts and ‘it is in your heart’) in the chapter c) Paul’s use of 30: 11-14 in Roms 10. It seems to me the interaction between OT and NT is necessary if the teleos of the OT is to be realised.

    Of course OT text should be interpreted first in its context but that context must have the freedom to widen out and become canonical; later revelation does not contradict but clarify and complete what comes earlier.

    Thus when we read a book like Revelation while it scarcely cites any OT text the whole book is saturated in OT Scripture and seems to be consciously bringing OT prophecy to its climax.

    Re covenant theology. I think the great weakness of covenant theology is it does not sufficiently notice salvation history and the relationship of promise and fulfilment. Both New Covenant Theology and Progressive Covenantalism more successfully reflect this progress. It does seem to me that the covenants act as a kind of backbone or strategic narrative points in the development of the Bible story. I think it makes sense to see their significance in the story and their shaping influence on interpretation.

    Reply
  14. John My post was intended to be an introduction to a topic which I believe receives scant attention. I was actually agreeing with much of what you said; the term *holistic* was meant to embrace your arguments concerning interpretating the OT but with due consideration for valid NT insights. I concur therefore with your stress of the Apostolic witness as being crucial. Indeed I would go a stage further by asserting the finality and completeness of witness is to be found in the whole panoply of events surrounding the teaching, ministry,and of course, the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    But there are other factors which I would maintain do not necessarily enhance this picture of theological harmony:-
    Within the Reformed tradition, there has existed (and still exists) a belief that the *church* has prevailed from the beginning of human history. I have in my possession
    Reformed biblical commentaries from a bygone era ; commentaries which draw heavily from Old Testament passages and interweave then with material from the New in order to create a systematic repository of *sound doctrine*. Historical and theological context is not necessarily a requisite for the task. The OT is essentially a conduit for the NT; synagogue must give way to church!
    I have also in my possession a commentary (from a fairly recent period) on the theme of circumcision. The author declaims that “circumcision belongs primarily to the Church”. Now note the word “belongs”. Circumcision therefore is not even primarily to do with interpretation in a NT context. No! It’s actually to do with the Church’s theological *property*!
    Perhaps all of this constitutes one of the major reasons why we continue to wallow in our “purple passages” such as :” For I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not for evil” without a thought for what it actually meant for Judah during the Babylon captivity. Or even more to the point, how we magnify and glorify our wonderful inheritance as recorded in Ezekiel 36:26-27 :” I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you”. And yet we are perplexed by the sequel :” You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers and you shall be my people and I will be your God”.
    Finally John, I’m not so sure that “the covenants act like a kind of backbone”! I have witnessed too much “curvature of the spine” to put any trust there. I prefer to look to the “head of the body” and consult his manual on the way , the truth and the life!

    Reply
    • Hi Colin

      Sorry for misunderstanding you. If dispensationalism makes too much of a disjunction between the OT and the NT then Covenant theology has traditionally not given sufficient weight to progressive revelation and in particular the promise/fulfilment trajectory between the OT and the NT. In the OT kingdom and salvation are anticipated while in the NT they arrive. I take your points of concern.

      I would still argue OT covenants steer OT narrative yet these too are to be interpreted through a NT lens. A NT lens should guard us from the excesses of both ‘systems’. I’d say progress has been made in finding a more biblical ‘system’ that is more of a middle ground between dispensationalism and covenant theology and better expresses salvation history. I think it is impossible to avoid having some kind of system. A system is really only a way of understanding the Bible story. It is a way of making sense of it and giving it unity. Without a ‘system’ we find ourselves in a morass off incoherence.

      Reply
      • John – Your reference to “progress in finding a more biblical ‘system’ —that better expresses salvation history” hits the mark regarding what I see as being crucial to contemporary reflection on this whole issue.Regarding the NT lens: for me, the “Christ event” is that lens. As to a middle ground between “the two ends of the spectrum” ? I’m not wholly convinced.
        As a lifelong Anglican who was once persuaded that federalism was an integral part of the “package”, my concern now is that those attempting to systematize should not only major on the biblical material ; they should do so recognising the primary importance of the historical/ theological /literary contexts of that material – and that applies to both testaments ! I have seen too much energy directed for example within Evangelical/Reformed circles to issues that are, in effect based upon traditions that rely upon doctrinal proof texts rather than full blown grammatical/historical exegesis of those texts. Blessings!

        Reply
  15. Colin – well, for those who say the *church* has prevailed, I suppose that (a) it depends what you mean by the church and (b) it depends what you mean by prevailed.

    I found myself in a situation 20 years ago (I was not in the UK at the time – it was a different country – and I’m now in yet another country which, from the point of view of churches is even worse) where I had to reluctantly accept that all the churches in the place where I was were uniformly awful and were all in some sense hostile to what I understood the Christian faith to be. I haven’t actually darkened the doors of a church for purposes of worship since then.

    It was shortly after I made this decision that I first came across NT Wright’s `New Perspective on Romans’ and I thought that it marked him out as a heretic. He seems to be suggesting that our view of justification should be corporate and not individual; he seems to take the view (in his New Perspective) that the doctrine of justification should be considered from the point of view of membership in the covenant of community.

    In other words, according to Wright, I am not in the number of the Saviour’s family. I got the impression from that book, though, that for him `church’ therefore played an absolutely crucial role and the belief that Christ had prevailed from the beginning of human history would therefore, from his point of view, be equivalent to the belief that the *church* had prevailed.

    I think that Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans 9 – 11 is brilliant – he points out that it was the church (i.e. the church established by God) that was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus; what Paul had great sorrow and unceasing anguish for was, in fact, the church (since it was the church that opposed the Christians and who had rejected Christ).

    Reply
    • Hi Jock
      I’ve been commenting on this blog for 2 years and now I’m repeating myself. I’ve clearly got to the end of what I know.This is another repeat: Somebody I know got saved in the church I went to. He first went to a Spitualist church as a seeker. Somebody at that ‘church’ came up to him after the service and when he found out that he was a seeker directed him to our church. It seems, he concluded, that a sleeper Christian was secretly directing arrivals to churches where they would come under a better influence. You could do likewise? Be the only christian in ‘church’!

      Reply
    • Hello Jock,
      while down the years, a distinction has been made between the visible and invisible church, true believers within a formal structural church, an adage which I think stems from Spurgeon which is pertinent; if you find a perfect church, don’t join it, otherwise, you’ll spoil it.
      This also begs questions: what is “church”?, is it equivalent to
      synagogue? to mosque?
      And while I understand the point of Steve’s illustration, I’m not sure it provides a reason for attending or joining any fellowship, where there’d be no worship of the same God. Discernment is needed.
      And like you, I found and still do, NT Wright wrong on this, as an adult convert.
      Who, what is a Christian? How? When? Where? Why?

      Reply
      • Geoff and Steve, thank you both.

        In my own life, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a Christian, although I do understand that everybody, in some sense, has to have a `road to Damascus’ moment, where one appropriates the Christian faith and makes it one’s own. I do understand that Christ died for my sin and in his resurrection I see that he has conquered death on my behalf and dealt with my sin; we are more than conquerors in Him. I know all that, yet I can’t put a finger on a before – after time. Nevertheless, right now, I know that I am in Him; I am saved. So – Geoff – unlike you, I am not an adult convert. My grandfather was an adult convert (came to faith at the age of 28 in 1923), but my mother isn’t an adult convert and neither am I. I’m not sure about my father – he may be an adult convert.

        As far as Steve’s idea goes – yes – I did think about this. I had always had the idea in my head (which was put there by church people) that you’re not a proper Christian if you are not associated with a church; you have to find the best church in your area, affiliate with it and do your best within it. But at one town that I moved to, church after church after church felt worse than pulling teeth – so for Steve’s idea, I suppose it depends on your tolerance level, how self-sacrificial are you, what sort of pain are you prepared to inflict on yourself on a Sunday.

        Yes – discernment is needed – but when you get a creepy feeling down the back of your neck that you’re mixing with the prophets of Baal, it’s probably time to leave the building.

        I did have a `road to Damascus’ experience, when I understood that the whole `you must go to church no matter how horrible you find it’ (also, with the Orwellian tinge that if you endure it for long enough you’ll learn to love big brother – and you will end up enjoying it) as spiritual blackmail, pure and simple.

        One Sunday, I decided that, instead of spoiling my Sunday by going to church, I would take a nice long 15 mile walk, through forests and past lakes. It was very nice, infinitely more Spiritually refreshing than any church services had been for a long time – and I haven’t looked back since.

        It was shortly after that that I first came across NT Wright’s `New Perspective’ – and I understood that his emphasis on the `covenant community’ was all part of exactly the same Spiritual blackmail that I had turned my back on. I cannot believe that he was actually a Christian when he wrote that.

        Does NT Wright think that Elijah was a Christian? During the time of Elijah, the `covenant community’ was heavily into Baal worship. There was an invisible church of 7000 at that time, but the invisible church was not what NT Wright was referring to – as I understand it, membership of the `covenant community’ in his sense means belonging to the visible church. Also – the Apostle Paul turned his back on the `covenant community’. He shook the ceremonial blood from his robe, left the synagogue and started preaching elsewhere.

        The only injunction I can see in the New Testament is from Hebrews, where it tells us not to stop meeting together. As far as I can see, it is quite easy to meet fellow Christians in a context different from attending church services.

        It really is difficult to see what NT Wright means by this. In the time of Elijah, the staunch church-goers were followers of Baal. This is what the `covenant community’ had become. Were these people Christians? I don’t understand at all what NT Wright means when he suggests that justification should be considered from the point of view of membership of some covenant community – but it doesn’t look good to me.

        Reply
        • Hi Jock,
          Decades ago I would have responded to your self disclosure by saying ‘get baptised in the Holy Spirit, seek spiritual gifts’ etc. But now I’m a beardy weirdy of 65 summers I don’t prescribe pills anymore; I’m too aware of my huge failures. Let’s say you just need some sort of refreshment. I know I do. Only, it is possible to find new joy to confirm one’s election however you describe it.
          I’ve got in a rut following this blog. I need to stop. how do I do it?

          Reply
          • Hello Steve – firstly, I hope you keep posting here. The interaction I have had with you has been quite enjoyable – and I like the way you read Revelation. You’ve basically dug it.

            Secondly – there is another factor here – I’m not in the UK. The offered language here presents a bit of a challenge – so I would like the spiritual gift of speaking in the language that they use here. Unfortunately, I seem to be reasonably lazy about this – and it isn’t progressing so quickly (my 5 year old son says, `daddy, your ***** is rubbish’ and insists that I speak to him in English).

            I do think that if I were in the UK, I would have found a reasonable fellowship.

            I’d also like to say that even without a suitable church to get involved with, I don’t think I’m in such a bad position spiritually. I do keep in touch with Christians, I’ve found sermons to listen to (and the internet has been useful here) and I’d say that I’m probably reading more, studying more, thinking about it more and praying more than I did even during my church-going days.

            But when people like NT Wright try to indicate that membership of some `covenant community’ is vital for salvation, that looks very much like Spiritual blackmail to me …….

  16. My reply yesterday failed to ‘connect with the database ‘ whatever that meant.

    I’m not sure what NT Wright means about Covenant. I don’t remember reading that. I’ve only a few books by him. But yes the word covenant gets overuse. Reminds me of The quote ‘nationalism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’. Replace nationalism with Covenant. It gets invoked every now and then as a device to silence dissent.

    Reply

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