Sunday, February 24, 2013

Behold, I am coming soon

Let’s begin by quoting Paul Henebury’s latest response to me:

Notice first that the vision is of the real temple in Jerusalem (11:1, 9, 11). Ezekiel’s vision is of the actual city and temple. Therefore visions can be of literal things and not pictorial emblems as per Steve’s assertion.

His assertion of vision = symbol has been shown to be false in the matter under discussion, but he asserts it as a fait accomplii nonetheless.

The “genre of visionary revelation” depends on who you read. I have shown that visions can be of literal things – from the text. Again, compare Ezek. 8:3 with 40:2. The “visions of God” in chs.8-11 are of literal structures and happenings in Jerusalem. He has not shown they are always metaphorical symbols of other things.

Moreover, just because a vision pictures something does not automatically make that thing non-literal like Steve wants. 

Unfortunately, this exemplifies, once more, Henebury’s inability to understand or accurately represent what his opponent said. Did I ever say visions can’t be literal? No.
In fact, in the post Henebury is supposedly responding to, I said:

Notice Henebury’s false dichotomy: as if a description can’t use picture language. Why is Henebury unable to comprehend basic concepts?

For instance, John Ruskin was famous for his florid, pictorial descriptions of Venice, the Alps, &c.
Well, Venice is real. The Alps are real.

To quote something I said elsewhere:

Visionary revelation also subdivides into theorematic revelation, which is representational–and allegorical revelation, which is symbolic. Allegorical visions are inherently ambiguous. That’s why, in Scripture, visionary revelation (especially allegorical dreams and visions) are frequently accompanied by propositional revelation. Inspired interpretation to explain the inspired dream or vision.

The meaning of an allegorical dream may also be clarified by its realization. Suddenly you see how it all falls into place. But, of course, that’s hindsight rather than foresight. 

Given the fact that visions can either be figurative or literal, there’s no standing presumption that visions are literal. Literality is not the default assumption when we come to Biblical dreams and visions. There is no default assumption one way or the other. You have to look for textual and contextual clues.

Furthermore, my distinction was more complex. I distinguished between literal events and literal depictions. I also distinguished between word-pictures and abstract propositions.
Although the debate between amils and dispensationalists is substantively eschatological, the proximate debate is methodologically hermeneutical. A different hermeneutic may yield a different eschatology.

Henebury’s dispensational hermeneutic prioritizes the “plain-sense” or “face-value” meaning of Scripture. He’s also enamored with the slogan that Scripture “means what it says and says what it means.”

Okay, let’s apply his dispensational hermeneutic to a test case. And let’s compare that to my own hermeneutic:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near (Rev 1:1-3).
And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.

12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:7,12,17,20).

i) Let’s measure this by Henebury’s yardstick. What’s the plain sense of “soon” or “shortly”? What’s the face-value meaning of “near” or “at hand”?

How soon is soon? Admittedly, that’s a bit vague. Still, how many centuries must elapse before “soon” is “not so soon,” or even “late”?

This promise was uttered in the 1C AD. Here we are in the 21C AD. Does 2000 years and counting still count as “soon”?

By Henebury’s yardstick, at what point does this because a failed prophecy, which is euphemistic for a false prophecy?

Put another way, given Henebury’s slogan that it “means what it says and says what it means,” shouldn’t he be a preterist rather than a futurist? Doesn’t dispensational hermeneutics yield preterist eschatology when applied to time-markers like “I am coming soon,” and “the time is near”?

ii) Let’s consider an alternate approach, exploiting my own distinctions. John says he is bearing witness to what he saw. And what he saw was the revelation Jesus gave to him. A visionary revelation. That’s why he “saw” it.

Given that explicit, introductory framework, what if we index the time-markers to the vision? John saw Jesus coming soon in the vision. The time is near in the vision.

John saw a series of pictorial scenes which occur in rapid succession. He sees world history unfold in a vision. Like watching a movie inside your head. Within that imagistic narrative, past, present, and future elapse in fast forward. The rate of time’s passage within the vision is breathtaking.
Put yourself in John’s position. He saw it all happen in less than a day. Suppose he was in a trance for a few hours. Even in ordinary dreams, time seems to pass much faster.

On this interpretation, it doesn’t refer to how soon Jesus is coming back in real time. It’s not a calendar date. The accelerated pace has reference to the vision.

iii) Perhaps, though, someone might object we should feel cheated by that interpretation. Yes, it presents an edifying motion picture concerning the imminent return of Christ, but that isn’t synchronized with our own time and place. It doesn’t correspond to our immediate situation. It doesn’t happen where I happen to be in world history. Although Jesus may be coming soon in the vision, we may have to wait for an awful long time in real time. Indeed, generations of faithful Christians have already died, longing for his belated arrival.

To that complaint I’d say several things:

iv) As a matter of fact, generations of Christians have died before the return of Christ. You can’t blame that on the interpretation. The interpretation isn’t the cause. Premillennialism is in the same boat as amillennialism on that score.

v) Who’s being cheated? You’d have far more reason to feel cheated if Jesus had come back in the lifetime of the original audience. For that would slam the door on you and me. If Jesus came back in the time of John’s original readers, that would be too soon for my benefit.

The modern reader would be in no position to read this if Parousia had come and gone before he was born. For in that event, he wouldn’t be born. Because we are here, we may be impatient. In a big hurry for the payoff. It’s taking too long. But if it came too soon, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. Soon is relative to where you are in world history.

Although our own generation would be better off if Jesus came now, former generations could say the same thing. The longer it takes, the better that will be for future generations. For heavenbound Christians, born to die in a fallen world.

vi) Moreover, even if Jesus isn’t coming back in my lifetime, it’s encouraging for me to enjoy a preview of how the story ends. To foresee the winners and the losers. Life can be a terrible grind. We need that prospect to hope for and live for. I’m a part of how the story ends. I have a vested interest in the ending–which marks a new and better beginning.

vii) Revelation combines a futuristic eschatology with a realized eschatology. “Prophecy teachers” focus on the endtime events. But Revelation also contains visions of the saints in glory. Those who’ve gone ahead of us. Not only does the book show Jesus returning to be with us, but it also shows us going to be with Jesus–whichever comes first.

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