Tag Archives: parousia

Then the End Will Come

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.  Matthew 24:14 (NIV)

As far as I can tell, this is as close as Jesus comes to pinpointing the time of his return. The entire chapter of Matt 24 is Jesus responding to the question, “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age” (v.3)? Jesus will list a number of different signs, but makes it clear that it’s ultimately the Father’s business as to when the Son of Man will return (v.36).

I think there is a great deal of confusion among evangelicals as to what the church should expect to happen before and leading up to Christ’s return. Much of this bewilderment concerning eschatology is due to sloppy hermeneutics and the propagation of bad theology.

While I’m not proposing that there isn’t any mystery surrounding the last things, I am saying that rapture theology has grossly distorted Jesus’ gospel message, and NT expectations of a hopeful future for the earth.

Let me break it down.

The “gospel of the kingdom” is not simply a message that Jesus will forgive your sins so that you don’t have to go to hell when you die. This is only part of the good news message, and even this bit is often distorted in the process of marketing the gospel to a consumer culture through fear mongering.

The gospel is frequently reduced down to personal salvation, with no understanding of what it means to be a disciple and a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I highly recommend Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel.

The good news of the Kingdom goes beyond the message of Christ’s death on the cross for atonement of our sins (justification). It’s about new life in the here and now (sanctification), and it’s about the future resurrection of the dead along with the restoration of God’s good earth (glorification).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…” Rev 21:1

We are not bound for an eternity in heaven. Can we please stop saying this? Pop-culture Christianity is obsessed with heaven in neo-Gnostic fashion. What is going on? The apostolic hope was not life after death in heaven, but what N.T. Wright calls, “life after life-after-death.”

The NT is clear that we (believers) will be resurrected on the last day to inherit a renewed creation. This is never called heaven. It’s called the new heaven and earth, the New Jerusalem come to earth (Rev 21).

This is the Christian hope: resurrection of the dead and renewal of the earth.

The good news is about the Kingdom, the reign and rule of God on the earth. Jesus calls it the “gospel of the kingdom” because he envisions that his Father will bring heaven and earth together in a new reality of his perfect reign. And why wouldn’t he? Jesus prayed “your kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).

This has always been the biblical expectation of the future (Isa 65:17). Israel expected God’s reign on the earth through Messiah (Dan 7:13-14). And the apostles believed that future had broke through into the present with Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom and will soon bring about its consummation in his parousia (coming).

Then he will sit on David’s throne forever (Isa 9:6-7).

We can see this coming together of heaven and earth in the resurrected body of Jesus. He was the firstborn of this new creation. His resurrection is the marriage of God’s space (heaven) and our space (earth). His glorified body resembles something of our present world, but it’s also something very different, i.e. the resurrected Jesus walked through walls!

The disciples couldn’t even find adequate words to describe the great mystery that had been revealed in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Rethinking the “Gospel of the Kingdom”

So, what is the gospel? It’s not about an escape from the world for a spiritual existence in white clouds with naked babies playing harps. It’s about God having his way in this world through his church, born out of his Son.

We will not be secretly whisked away to another planet on the other side of the cosmos. Some folks have flattened out the biblical metaphors and abused this apocalyptic vision. God will not literally destroy the earth; he will purify it with his holy fire and winnowing fork.

All those who reject the Kingdom now will not receive resurrection in their bodies for God’s resurrected world that is coming. They will be left outside the city that God will build (Rev 21:27).

Pay careful attention to this truth. It’s those who are righteous that are “left behind” (Matt 24:38-41). The wicked will not inherit the earth. They will be swept away in a flood of judgment.

The “gospel of the kingdom” is about all things being conformed to Christ (Rom 8:29). He is the second Adam, the true Israelite, the new human, and the image of God on the earth. The Lord desires that the image of his Son be reflected in all the earth. This means not only proclaiming a message about Christ, but living out the Kingdom and calling others to do the same.

This gospel of the Kingdom always looks like Jesus—loving, serving, suffering, dying, and rising for his neighbor and his enemies.

Therefore, the preaching of the good news is also action. It’s the manifestation of God’s good will upon the earth. When this is lived out through humans, it looks like Jesus among us.

This “gospel of the kingdom” will be known throughout the whole world before the end of the age—not the end of the space-time continuum. The NT speaks of the end of the present evil age that is marked by sin and death. It’s that age that will come to an end when the “gospel of the kingdom” is realized. The new “eternal” age is the world set to rights at last.

What then does this mean for the church?

It means that the Lord actually expects a great level of the Kingdom to be manifested on the earth through Christian living. He wants to work through free human agents that have surrendered to his will. He will not force himself upon this world. That’s not the way of Christ.

The God we see in Jesus invites us to his table. He calls us to do his work. He wants us to participate in God’s saving act of creation. He waits for a church that cries out for the Kingdom on behalf of the world. The nature of this future is open (to some extent) and full of possibilities!

Christ’s return is mysteriously bound up with our participation in the gospel of the Kingdom. Since the good news of the Kingdom is that God will restore the earth for his resurrected people, we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58).

We are not tilling a garden today only for it to be paved over with concrete tomorrow. We are not working a field that will be burned up in a cosmic wildfire. What we do for Christ and his Kingdom is one more brick in the building he is erecting on this earth. It matters. It counts.

You matter. You count.

Dear brothers and sisters, let’s speed the coming of Christ (2 Pet 3:12) by proclaiming and acting out God’s beauty and justice on the earth through creative expressions of resurrected living.

Let us imagine what it would look like if God were running the show, and work out our salvation in hopeful expectation of a new world.

Until the whole earth cries out: “thy Kingdom come!”

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

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Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book One

N.T. Wright is one of the leading voices within New Testament scholarship today. Wright taught New Testament studies for twenty years at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford Universities. He presently holds the Chair in New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Andrews, Scotland.

Wright, a prolific author, has written over forty books, including both scholarly and popular works. His major academic series Christian Origins and the Question of God is making no small contribution to NT studies. There are six proposed volumes in this series. The fourth volume is anticipated as being Wright’s magnum opus on Paul.

Wright undoubtedly stands at the summit of NT scholarship. I sincerely believe he is the most important of Christian thinkers alive today. His writings offer fresh insight and a stimulating challenge to evangelical Christianity.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise as to why I have chosen one of his books as the first in a list of five books offering up a new vision for evangelicalism.

In his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (Feb. 2008), Wright challenges the notion of “going to heaven when you die” and spending an eternity in some bodiless future. For if this was the case, Wright says, “then what’s the fuss about putting things right in the present world?”

Is our evangelical language of our future existence reflective of NT orthodoxy? Do we have a consistent biblical message on “life after death?” Wright doesn’t believe so, and he claims we have instead embraced a Gnostic view of the future that fouls up our presentation of the gospel in the present. He believes we have lost sight of the biblical vision for the future.

Our future home is not “heaven”—for this is where God is presently—another dimension altogether. Our hope is in this spiritual heaven coming down to earth. The climax of all human history is the consummation of God’s spiritual realm (heaven) breaking through to our earthly existence. Therefore, in Wright’s view, it is “life after life after death” that we find our hope, and a hope for the world.

Wright’s greatest emphasis is on “resurrection” and “new creation” that has already begun in this world. It is time to realize the great significance with that which is at the heart of our faith in Christ (1 Cor. 15:12-28). He writes, “it is (resurrection), principally, the defining event of the new creation, the world that is being born with Jesus.”

It is in the resurrection of Christ that happened in this old creation that gives us hope for a new creation taking place right now in the 21st century.

“Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible…” (pg.75).

This “new creation” should not be confused with baptizing the culture into Christianity and attempting to enact a utopian dream, as some evangelicals have embraced. Wright says that his misplaced trust in the myth of progress does not work because it does not fully account for evil.

This myth may sometimes run parallel to our Christian hope, but it “veers off toward a very different destination” that ignores the need for the cross of Christ upon the natural fallen creation. It doesn’t see the need for change within, only uniform capitulation to a set order of ideas.

Wright declares, “What matters is eschatological duality (the present age and the age to come), not ontological dualism (an evil “earth” and a good “heaven”)” (pg. 95). Evangelicals have also been guilty of preaching the apocalyptic demise of the space-time universe! Therefore, we all must get ready to be raptured for another world altogether.

This belief in a Platonic escapism has pervaded our theology and demanded that we adopt a popular dispensationalist view of the future—a future where we “fly away” and are “raptured” to spend an eternity in a glorified retirement home in the sky.

Wright believes that embracing the biblical vision of the future will lead us to a proper practice of the church. If our beliefs about heaven and the resurrection are wrong, then we are not entirely about the Lord’s business in ushering in the Kingdom of God, more specifically in ways keeping with the example of Christ who has revealed what it means to be human.

It is time we abandon this empty belief for one that appreciates the hope given to us in the NT—a hope where God restores his good creation and finishes the work he began in the universe. Wright states, “What creation needs is neither abandonment nor evolution but rather redemption and renewal; and this is both promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (pg. 107).

Wright draws our attention to Christ’s ascension as well as his resurrection. Because of the ascension of Christ, we not only have a savior who is indwelling us and present with his people, but a Lord who is at the same time “gone on ahead of us” by being the first to enter into our promised resurrected existence.

In other words, the work of Christ is finished and yet to be realized. It is reflective of the “already, but not yet” tension of the Kingdom of God.

We await a savior to complete the work he began in us. This completion shall come by way of the parousia or his “coming.”  Wright very simply writes, “he will in fact be “appearing” right where he presently is—not a long way away within our own space-time world but in his own world, God’s world, the world we call heaven” (pg. 135).

Wright challenges our traditional picture of our journey being completed upon death. He argues that there is indeed a temporary “paradise” for believers awaiting the resurrection of the dead and the completion of all things. But if evangelicals ignore the finished work of Christ through the final resurrection of the dead, then we miss the entire Christian hope.

God’s judgment is a good thing, something that believers ought to celebrate—for evil will be dealt with once and for all and heaven will make its home on earth. On the other hand, the judgment gives the unbeliever much to worry about.

While Wright calls into question our modern interpretations of hell that are reflective of a theology from the Dark Ages, he finds it impossible not to believe in some sort of “ultimate condemnation” for those who have rejected God’s purposes for the earth. He says that these folks will cease to bear the divine image, and by their own choice become “beings that once were human but now are not.”

Wright believes that whatever “hell” is in reality, beyond the bizarre biblical metaphors, it should suffice for evangelicals to agree that it is a horrible end. And that should be enough. It is time to stop arguing over evangelical views about hell. Belief in a literal hell is not the true test of orthodoxy.

Wright’s main idea is this:

Heaven and hell ought not be the focal point of the Gospel.

The resurrection and ascension is not designed to take us away from this earth but instead to make us agents of transformation, anticipating the day when, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

Wright looks at the themes of justice, beauty, and evangelism. What do these look like in light of this radical message of hope? What does this look like in retrospect to the resurrection of Christ and the promise that we will inherit the same? Furthermore, what should the mission of the church be in light of this biblical hope for the future? Wright believes it is “to live consciously between the resurrection of Jesus in the past and the making of God’s new world in the future” (pg. 213).

Finally, I have chosen Surprised by Hope as the first book in this series because it is a much-needed theological challenge to popular evangelicalism. It gives us a biblical vision of God’s good future for heaven and earth.

I pray that Wright’s message will begin a move among evangelical churches to return to the biblical hope for the future, and offer the world more than an escape from a devil’s hell for a distant realm in a bodiless heaven.

For those interested, you may also purchase the 6-session DVD study with this book. It is an excellent resource for both independent and group study.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Read the next post: Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book Two

* See the first post Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Intro for information on the free book giveaway at the end of this series.


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