Tag Archives: eschatology

The Last Days … According to Jesus

R.C. Sproul (1939-2017), on camera, recording one his many Ligonier conference sessions, back in 1985.

R.C. Sproul, who died in 2017, was one of the world’s most beloved Bible teachers. What a lot of people do not know, is that he held to a rather unconventional view of the “End Times.”

Most evangelical Christians today, at least in America, hold to some form of futurism, when it comes to prophecy regarding the “last days,” as taught in the New Testament, particularly with respect to the Book of Revelation. Futurism is the view that most of the prophecies regarding the “last days” have yet to be fulfilled. For example, events like the so-called “Rapture” of the church, the coming of “Antichrist,” and the “Great Tribulation” are events that will happen sometime in the future, along with the Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.

When I was growing up, in the 1970s and 1980s, futurism got a major boost from blockbuster books, like Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. Young people today have found out about futurism through Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind book series and movies.

R. C. Sproul, on the other hand, offered what he called a “minority report,” with respect to the “last days.” Sproul favored a view known as preterism, which simply means “past.” A preterist is simply someone who believes that most of the prophecies for the “last days” have already been fulfilled, mainly in the first century.

However, some people get confused as to what preterism really means. In his book and audio class, The Last Days According to Jesus, R. C. Sproul makes a distinction between what is called partial preterism and full preterism. Sproul adopts the particular view of partial preterism, which teaches that nearly all of the “last days” prophecies were already fulfilled in the first century on the church, EXCEPT for primarily the Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead, which are still off in the future.

This is contrast with the idea of full preterism, or what some call hyperpreterism, which bizarrely teaches that even the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead already happened, in the first century of the church. Uh…. how did we miss that? Well, this erroneous idea is why full preterism is considered to be a heresy, rejected by all orthodox-believing Christians.

So, why does R. C. Sproul believe that more Christians should reconsider partial preterism as a legitimate view of the “last days?” The main reason is concerning Christian apologetics.

Prominent skeptics and critics of Christianity, from the famous British mathematician, Bertrand Russell, to the UNC Chapel Hill evangelical-turned-skeptic religion professor, Bart Ehrman, have believed that the New Testament predicted that the “end of the world” would come within the lifetime of the apostles. But, of course, as we all know, that did not happen. Therefore, these critics of Christianity therefore claim the Christian faith to be false. Critics, like Russell and Ehrman, have shaken the faith of many, less-than-grounded Christians for well over one hundred years.

Where do they get this idea? The charge comes from examining the very words of Jesus, as found in Matthew 24. In this passage, Jesus is giving a sermon on the Mount of Olives, commonly called the “Olivett Discourse,” whereby he describes events that many say have the sense of predicting the end of the world. “You will hear wars and rumors of wars” (v. 6), “there will be famines and earthquakes in various places“(v.7), “lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (v.12), and “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 30).

With the yet-future exception of the Son of Man coming on the clouds, these sound like the conditions we experience almost on a daily basis in post-modern America, and across the globe, and countless sermons I have listened to link these signs with an expectation of Christ’s near return.

But the controversial verse is found just before the end of the sermon:

” Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.“(Matthew 24:34 ESV)

So, if Jesus is teaching that everything will be fulfilled in “this generation,” would it not make sense that everything should take place within the lifetime of Jesus’ first disciples? Is not this the most literal and straight forward reading of the text? Bertrand Russell and Bart Ehrman certainly think so.

Therefore, since the end of the world did not happen in the first century, Jesus must be dead wrong.

If Jesus was wrong about the “last days,” then why trust Jesus with anything?

Ah, this is where a study of Christian apologetics might prove to be very useful, and why R. C. Sproul offers his “minority report.”

Most futurists answer the charges of the critics by proposing some creative alternatives to the straight-forward interpretation of “this generation.” Perhaps “this generation” is another way of describing the church, as a movement, that is still continuing to this day. Others suggest that “this generation” is actually referring to the “generation” sometime in the future, whether it be our own, or a future generation, when Jesus will return. My old copy of the 1984 New International Version translation of the Bible contained an italicized note, equating “generation” with “race.” In other words, Jesus might have simply said “this [human???] race will not pass away until all these things take place.” Others say this “race” is the Jewish race, in terms of the continued ethnic identity of Jews throughout history.

Perhaps.

While many Christians find such alternative interpretations convincing, R. C. Sproul finds these arguments to be weak. They tend to play right into the hands of skeptics and critics who believe that such Christians, who believe these alternative interpretations, are simply trying to wiggle themselves out of the blatantly obvious.

But what if much of the prophecies given in Matthew 24 were actually fulfilled in the first century, just as Jesus literally said? Other particular aspects of the prophecies, that do not strictly fall under the purview of Matthew 24:34, are still yet to be fulfilled, sometime in the future. One clue comes from the beginning of the sermon:

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”“(Matthew 24:1-2 ESV)

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD — a painting by David Roberts (1796-1849). Is this what Matthew 24 is talking about? Or is it the “end times,” or perhaps, somehow, both???

Here, Jesus is most probably referring to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. One of the most well attested historical events, in antiquity, was the destruction of the Temple, in the year A.D. 70.  If the connection can be made, it would seem obvious that Jesus was really predicting an event that literally happened within the lifetime of many of his first disciples!

R. C. Sproul argues that this line of prophetic evidence could be one of the most powerful proofs for defending the integrity of Jesus and the validity of the Christian faith. Nevertheless, R. C. Sproul realizes that his “minority report” is a position he takes, without requiring dogmatic assent by other Christians, as most other evangelical Christians are more familiar with prophecy interpretations offered by futurist Bible teachers.

I only offer a brief overview of partial preterism in this blog post, as there are other pieces to the New Testament prophecy “puzzle” that need to be put together before the whole argument of partial preterism makes sense. I would highly recommend R. C. Sproul’s book or the audio/visual teaching class on the same topic, The Last Days According to Jesus, available at Ligonier Ministries.

After listening to the audio of the class myself, I walked away with two key ideas:

  • First, we as Christians should keep an open mind as to how we think about the “End Times,” and how everything fits with Jesus’ Second Coming, and not rush off with excitement every time we hear about so-called “Blood Moon” prophecies or the exotic “Mysteries of the Shemitah,” that supposedly signal the “last days.”
  • Secondly, we should extend some sympathy to the skeptical non-believer, who has probably heard more than their fair share of “Jesus-is-coming-back-this-year!” stories that have never, ever materialized. So, when a friend tends to roll their eyes, whenever someone talks about Jesus’ return, we might want to think about a different approach to our friend’s skepticism (You could try this out, as an example: Apologist Michael Licona offers a disarming conversational model as to how to approach this topic with a non-believer).

Whether you agree with R. C. Sproul or not, you will find him to be a very engaging and learned teacher of the Bible.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Are you looking for a fairly short, readable summary of how partial preterism might make more sense? Go to British Bible scholar, Ian Paul’s website to gain a better understanding of how Matthew 24 might be best interpreted. For a look at the parallel passage in Mark 13, Ian Paul has another fairly short, helpful essay. For a different look at what it means to be “Left Behind,” Ian Paul has a  group of blog posts that explores the topic in more detail. For a general overview of the Book of Revelation, read this previous Veracity post.

What are best arguments against preterism? James M. Rochford at the Evidence Unseen apologetics blog has a very good set of articles on the topic. Are you interested in trying to figure out the myriad of dispensationalist views of Matthew 24?  Here is a very helpful website resource page, by Leonardo Costa. For a review of the theologian N.T. Wright, and his provocative views of Matthew 24, I recommend the essay by Dr. J. Richard Middleton. For a “teaser,” here is the first lecture from R. C. Sproul’s class, as you find it on YouTube:

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September 23 End Times Nonsense

The constellation Virgo. Foreboding a fulfillment of the Book of Revelation? I think not.

The nonsense about the supposed “End Times” event happening September 23, 2017, just keeps getting worse.

Some “bible prophecy expert” had predicted the end of the world tomorrow (Sept 23), but now is backing off (sort of) from his claim, according to the Washington Post. If you have missed the whole media splash about this, read this previous Veracity post, published last month, the day of the solar eclipse, for details. 

Basically, a somewhat uncommon astronomical event, tied to a rather creative interpretation of Revelation 12, is “supposed” to be prophetically fulfilled in the skies tomorrow. The first couple of verses describe what star gazers “might” see tomorrow night, in the constellation Virgo:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth….

Frankly, this type of “bible prophecy” handling is an embarrassment. As Logos Software Bible scholar, Michael S. Heiser, whom I greatly respect, says in his very helpful, bible study blog, this is “living testimony to biblical illiteracy” in the church today.

We could chock this up as being meaningless media hype. But sadly, many Christians fall for this type of stuff, and the reputation of the Gospel suffers.

Admittedly, the Book of Revelation is difficult to interpret. But the main reason why it is so difficult to understand is because most Christians are not aware of the original literary context, of which it was written in, during the 1st century of the Christian era. Ian Paul is a British evangelical bible scholar, with another helpful bible study blog, that explains why Revelation gets so mangled up by 21st century readers. You may never think about “little red riding hood” the same way again:

“Revelation is absolutely saturated with allusions to the OT, and our lack of knowledge often means we miss these. The woman in labour is an image of the people of God awaiting deliverance from exile in Is 66 and Micah 4 and 6. The dragon (Revelation 12:3-4) is a composite of the four beasts that emerge from the sea in the visions of Daniel 7, where they signify four human empires, and it is overlaid with a range of imagery denoting the primeval opponent of God and his people (the serpent in Gen 3, the Satan from Job) as well as intertestamental ideas. The male child ‘who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron’ (Revelation 12:5) is indeed Jesus as the fulfilment of the messianic Ps(alm) 2. If we struggle a little with these allusions to the characters, we will struggle even more with the strange plot into which they have been inserted. But John and his readers will have struggled no more than we would if we heard someone describing a girl wearing a red hooded cloak taking apples to her granny in the woods, or a girl coming across three bowls of porridge in a cottage. (If you don’t know what these are, then again it makes the point: we easily spot allusions to story we know in our own culture, but the moment we look at another, unfamiliar culture we can become very disoriented.).”

The rest of Ian Paul’s blog entry can be found at his Psephizo website. It just goes to show you that context matters when you study the Bible.


Daniel’s Seventy Weeks #5

The primary traditional alternative to the more modern, dispensationalist reading of Daniel 9:24-27

A more traditional alternative to the more modern, dispensationalist reading of Daniel 9:24-27.  (Image credit: sdru.org)

If you have been following this series of blog posts (#1, #2, #3, and #4), you will know that the “Seventy Weeks” of Daniel 9:24-27 makes for a very demanding study. So, as we are getting very near to Christmas, I need to wrap this blog series up, even with all of the loose ends still out there.

Thankfully, neither your salvation, nor mine, hangs in the balance with getting Daniel 9:24-27 exactly right. For example, no central doctrine of the faith is at stake, as you ponder the mysterious meaning of Scripture phrases like “the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (verse 26). But the study is well worth the effort, as it will spur you on in learning more about Biblical prophecy, just as it has done for me.

At one point in my studies, over the past two years in this passage, I ran into the following statement by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of Britain’s most brilliant and popular expositors of the 20th century. Lloyd-Jones lived in an era when many Christians tended to be very dogmatic in their particular interpretation of Daniel 9. His comments on the debate over Daniel 9’s “Seventy Weeks” are worth savoring:

I am simply trying to put before you some of the various ideas and type of interpretation, while indicating, as anyone who is concerned to teach the Scriptures must do, the interpretation that most commends itself to my mind and to my understanding. I shall continue to repeat this because it seems to me to be the most important point I can make in connection with this whole subject. If I can somehow shake the glibness and the dogmatism that has characterised this matter I shall be most pleased, and I thank God that there are signs and indications that people are prepared to consider this matter anew. It may well betoken a period of blessing in the history of the Church.” (Great Doctrines of the Bible: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, The Church and the Last Things, page 119).

Martyn Lloyd-Jones has the right perspective. We are not talking about the deity of Christ, or salvation alone through Jesus, here. OKAY??? I may hold (and you may hold) to a different interpretation of a difficult passage like Daniel 9. Hopefully, believers can discuss this matter with clarity and charity towards one another, by studying the Scriptures anew. Continue reading


Daniel’s Seventy Weeks #4

Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918) is remembered by many Bible students today for his contribution to the interpretation of the book of Daniel. However, in the 19th century he was also known as a high ranking official at Scotland Yard, the second Assistant Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police.

Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918) is remembered by many Bible students today for his contribution to the interpretation of the book of Daniel. However, in the 19th century he was also known as a high ranking official at Scotland Yard, the second Assistant Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police.

Daniel’s “Seventy Weeks” prophecy, as found in Daniel 9:24-27 is often regarded as the key text for understanding the prophecy perspective held by advocates of dispensationalism, as made popular by books and movies associated with Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind. Yet as we noted in a previous post in this series, this passage from Daniel plays actually a limited and somewhat obscure role in the New Testament, especially when compared to passages such as Psalm 110, which is quoted or alluded to some thirty times in the New Testament, as we sought to exposit earlier a few years ago on Veracity.

As I have been digging into the interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27, for nearly two years, inspired by the “astronomical” work of my friend, Ken Petzinger, I have been learning that the controversies surrounding these four verses of the Bible are fascinatingly complex. In this post, I want to lay aside some of the Bible interpretation issues aside, and focus instead on some questions of history:

So, where did the “dispensationalist” approach to Daniel 9:24-27 come from? Why is it that the prophecy of the “Seventy Weeks” has become so important in the minds of so many Christians, over the past hundred or so years?
Continue reading


Daniel’s Seventy Weeks #3

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD -- a painting by David Roberts (1796-1849).

The Roman army under Titus destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, by the year 70 AD. Does this catastrophic event in the first century offer any insight into understanding the “Seventy Weeks” prophecy found in Daniel 9:24-27?  
(a painting by David Roberts, 1796-1849).

Up to this point in this series ( post #1, post #2), we have been exploring the dispensationalist approach to the “Seventy Weeks” of Daniel 9:24-27. Let us jump into the text again, first:

“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator” (Daniel 9:24-27 ESV).

So, is the dispensationalist reading of this passage the best way to understand the text?

Let us explore some of the issues in this blog post. Different Bible interpreters over the years have looked at Daniel 9 in very different ways. When you examine each approach, you learn that there are some ambiguities in the text that force the interpreter to make some assumptions as to how a particular ambiguity in the text might be resolved.

So, what are these ambiguities? Have you ever heard of Hank Hanegraaff, known in radio-land as the “Bible Answer Man?” Continue reading


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