Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Where is Jesus coming?

This post piggybacks on my prior post:

i) Amils, premils, and classic postmils believe the return of Christ is future. Indeed, the future Parousia is a benchmark of orthodoxy. However, certain well-known passages in the Gospels and Revelation are preterist prooftexts. Not only does Revelation refer to Jesus coming but to his coming "soon" (Rev 1:1; 2:16; 3:11; 22:6-7,12,20; cf. 1:3). On one reading, that would suggest that Jesus was expected to return in the lifetime of the 1C readers. But since that seems to be manifestly false, either the predictions are mistaken or else our interpretation is mistaken. If the predictions are mistaken, this wouldn't be some marginal error. We're waiting for something that will never happen, and that raises questions about the promises of Scripture generally regarding the world to come and our participation in the world to come. 

ii) One face-saving explanation is that Jesus came symbolically in God's judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD. But that raises the question of whether promises about the world to come in general should be given the same treatment. If they can be symbolically construed to stand for earthly events, then is there an intermediate state? Is there a future resurrection of the just? Do we go to heaven (or hell) when we die? Or is that a symbolic depiction of this life, this world? Is that in the past or present–with no future hope that things will ever get better? 

iii) Another problem is that whatever the merits of that interpretation in reference to the Olivet Discourse, there are no clues to indicate that Revelation is alluding to the fall of Jerusalem. 

iv) Suppose we take a different approach. Revelation consists of an introduction (1:1-8), followed by a continuous series of visions. Almost all the action takes place in John's vision, from 1:9-22:21. So that raises a logical question: when Revelation says Jesus is coming soon, is he coming soon inside or outside the visionary world? Within the world of John's vision, Jesus may be coming soon. It's like John is watching a movie in his head. He sees the plot unfold. 

At one level, John sees this happen in the vision. At another level, John sees this happen on Patmos. Where does it happen? Depends. There's the real world. The penal colony on Patmos, surrounded by the Aegean sea. That's outside the vision. Then there's "where" he is within the vision, as an immersive observer. There are places outside the vision, in the 1C Roman empire, as well as places inside the vision. In a sense, that shifts the question from when Jesus is coming to where Jesus is coming. 

v) A possible objection to this interpretation is Rev 1:1,3. That's from an introductory section before we get into the vision. However, that's a summary or lead-in to what the reader is about to witness in John's extended vision. 

In what respect did Jesus "show" or "reveal" to John "what must take place soon"? That must have reference to what follows in the visionary narrative. It's not something Jesus told John directly, apart from the vision, but is mediated through the vision. John, and various characters within the vision, experience the impending return of Christ in that surreal history as it unfolds right before his eyes. 

Once the reader is transported into the vision, he never leaves. It has an entry point but no exit. Like parachuting out of a plane onto an island. After that, everything happens on the island. 

vi) Another objection to this interpretation might be, if Jesus was only coming soon in vision but not in reality, how does that give beleagured 1C Christians any hope of deliverance? One answer is the fate of martyrs (Rev 6:9-11; 20:4). Jesus comes to them by bringing them to himself. At the moment of death they are inducted into God's presence. And that has the advantage of making that hope available to every Christian generation. A very tangible hope, and not some far-off hope that only one generation at the Parousia will enjoy. 

vii) There will, of course, be a Second Coming in the real world, but we can't use Revelation to fix the timing. Events in Revelation are meant to have some counterparts outside the vision, but how they correspond is often intentionally open-textured, to leave room for multiple applications. 

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