Friday, July 11, 2014

The One-Egg Dozen

From the April 2011 E-Block.
In recent weeks I had a preview of what it would be like to deal with those who adhere to the “hyperpreterist” heresy – the idea that the resurrection of all men occurred in 70 AD along with the parousia. In due time I expect to compose a Building Blocks book on eschatology, and a fuller treatment of this heresy will be part of the package. But for now, here is a look at some of the ideas espoused by hyperpreterists. (I will not be naming the sources of these arguments, as they are persons who are desirous of just that sort of attention.) I will begin by noting the orthodox view in each section. 

Orthodox: We are currently in the millennium, in which the “thousand” years represent a very long time of unspecified length (hence the round number).

Heresy: The millennium took place between 30-70 AD.

Yes, you might want to read that again. The heretical view is that we should compress that “1000” into a bare 40. The matter here is not that the 1000 is not a literal number – all agree that numbers, especially round numbers, in the Bible can be interpreted to mean something more vague – but in such cases, as with the orthodox view, it has to do with the ability to precisely recount large numbers.

Thus for example, Rev. 9:16 literally refers to “two hundred thousand thousand” – we render this in terms of 200 million, but there was no word for “million” available. In the same way, large and precise numbers posed a certain difficulty in terms of expression.

In contrast, compression of that 1000 down to 40 (!) has no linguistic basis whatsoever. “Forty” is perfectly able to be expressed in Biblical Greek (eg, Acts 1:3, 7:23, etc). There is simply no reason from that perspective to crush 1000 down to 40.

So why would a hyperpreterist do this? The argument goes that conditions described as occurring in the millennium are seen in the NT as happening between 30-70 AD. To argue this, however, requires some exceptionally creative exegetical tap-dancing. Let’s look at the arguments, which will hereafter be in italics.

The living were resurrected, awaiting the consummation of the resurrection at the last hour (John 5:24-28; 6:44). Notice Jesus’ “the hour is coming and now is” and “the hour is coming.” John later wrote: “It is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). The resurrection scenario of Revelation is not different from John 5. The fact that 1 John says the consummative last hour was upon them proves that the end of the millennium was near.

The error here is the same made by Mormons who try to force John 5:24-5 to refer to the evangelizing of the dead. There are two “hour is coming” references. One in 5:25 refers to the enlivening of those spiritually dead. The other, in 5:29, refers to an entirely different hour, that of the final resurrection; there is no justification for compressing the two “hours” into one.

In the same way, there is no justification for identifying the “hour” on 1 John 2:18 with either of these “hours”. The word used, hora, can connote a specified length of time like our hour, but it also refers to a known, definite time period (cf. Matt. 10:19, 24:36). Collapsing down all “hours” as being the same is linguistic simple-mindedness. In 1 John 2:18, the proper question to ask is, “the last hour of what”? Then the question is whether that “hour” is the same as either of those in John 5.

Of course, the question can then become whether what is described in John 5:28-9 happened in the first century, and that point – which has to do with what “resurrection” constitutes – we reserve for another article in this series.

The next several items apparently ought to go together, but we will intersperse as needed:

The martyrs sat on thrones and were given authority to judge (Revelation 20:4). The martyrs were told that they would only have to wait a little while before their full victory was achieved, but first, their living brethren had to suffer to fill the measure of suffering (Revelation 6:9-11).

The living and the dead had been enthroned with Christ “in the heavenlies” (Ephesians 2:1-6).

This last point requires a correction. It is being taken to refer to a literal enthroning of the living and the dead, but that is not what is being described here. Rather, this is a statement of our collective identity in the body of Christ, and is an expression of the collectivist (group-thinking) of the social world of the NT, in which Christ represents us. It is an obvious mistake that comes of reading the text in modern, individualist terms, and this text no more means there are literally people judging with Christ at this time than “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20) means that Paul literally hung on a cross with Jesus in 30 AD.

It is in this way also that believers could in a sense be said to “reign” with Christ – by the mode of collective identification. Thus it could be said that believers reigned by proxy, as it were, but not that they literally and effectively ruled and administered.

In contrast, what is seen in Revelation reflects a literal administration. Conceivably, one could argue (here and for other citations below) that Revelation here also symbolizes administration by proxy. That is not likely, since it is a select group, not the body of Christ, said to judge. However, even if this were the case, all it would tell us is that rule of believers by Christ’s proxy was not exclusively a characteristic of the millennial period – and indeed, based on the collectivist mindset, it could not be anyway.

The living had been given the authority to judge (Matthew 19:28; 1 Corinthians 6; 2 Corinthians 2:15-16). In Matthew 19:28 Jesus told the apostles that they would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This judgment would take place through the message they preached (Matthew 16:19; cf. 2 Corinthians 2:15f).

Here again events have been illicitly collapsed into one. The “judgers” of Matthew 19 are the twelve. The “judgers” of the Cor. passages are the whole body of Christ. The “judgers” of Rev. 20 are martyrs for the faith. We have three different (but to some extent, slightly overlapping) groups in view. Although, there is some attempt to collapse these down:

The living saints had to experience the suffering already experienced by the martyrs.

The living would only have to suffer for a little while (Revelation 6:9-11; 1 Peter 1:4f).

Nevertheless, a full collapsing down is not possible here. Very few Christians became martyrs, and the twelve is not the whole body of Christ. Furthermore, there will certainly be ample opportunity for multiple groups to effect various types of judgments – plenty to keep all three groups occupied. There is no reason to collapse all these events into one.

Satan was bound for the millennium. Here too we find common ground with the ministry of Jesus and the forty years.

When Jesus cast a demon out of a man, the disciples marveled. Jesus’ said that this was not possible unless the strong man was being bound (Matthew 12:29). As he sent his disciples out on the “limited commission” they returned incredulous at their success. Jesus told them: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18; cf. Revelation 12).

This is a rather curious understanding of what it means to be “bound”. A single, localized instance of a demon (not even Satan) being cast out of a man is not a binding of Satan. Nor is falling from heaven being “bound”. The word used in Revelation connotes such things as John the Baptist being put in prison and the colt being tied to its place before Jesus’ disciples retrieve it. In contrast, Peter (1 Peter 5:8) later in the NT period (during the supposed millennium!) has Satan prowling around like a lion, and throughout the NT Satan is suspected of a certain amount of activity as well; nothing so trivial as ruining BBQs a la Joyce Meyer, but tempting, acting as an agent of destruction, and so on. Later on, the hyperpreterist amazingly cites 1 Peter 5:8 as evidence of the millennium ending; we will get to that shortly.

Appeal is also made thusly:

We have the binding of the enemy of God: “You know what is restraining him...” “The one who now restrains him will do so until he is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:5-7); the binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-4).

Unfortunately, there is no possibility of identifying the “man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:3) with Satan, and it is he, not Satan, who was being restrained. Who this “man of sin” is can be debated; I am inclined to identify him with the Roman Emperor Vespasian at present. However, there remains no way Satan could be in view, especially in light of all the other references to his activity in the NT.

Paul said the last enemy, death, would be put down at Christ’s parousia (1 Corinthians 15:19-25). John said death would be destroyed at the end of the millennium (Revelation 20:10f). Therefore, Christ’s parousia would be at the end of the millennium: Jesus said “Behold, I come quickly!” Thus, the end of the millennium was near when John wrote.

Here the error is one we have noted in our article on Paul (link below) and eschatology. It assumes that parousia refers exclusively to a single event. In reality it would have no such exclusive connotations.

One way of determining whether the forty year period could have been the millennium is to examine what was to happen at the end of the millennium, and to compare that with the language of imminence found in the NT. If the events that Revelation posits at the end of the millennium were coming soon in the rest of the NT, this constitutes prima facie evidence that the end of the millennium was near.

Examples, however, are rather poor for proving the point.

1.) Satan released– 1 Peter 5:8 – “The Devil walks around seeking whom he may devour.”

But 1 Peter was written before the end of the 40 year period – the alleged “millennium”. Revelation has Satan released after that period is over. There is no “coming soon” in Peter’s words – Satan is seeking victims NOW, in his present. There is no “language of imminence” or any qualification that fits such a thing (e.g., Peter not knowing if it would occur in or past his lifetime).

2.) War with the saints – 1 Peter 1:4f – The Saints had to suffer a little while (cf. Revelation 12:10).

Persecution, however, continues even to this day, past the alleged millennium, though mostly in other places in the world than the West. Being persecuted is not an exclusive characteristic of any period.

3.) Destruction of Satan – Romans 16:20 – “The God of peace shall crush Satan under your feet shortly.” Simply stated: The destruction of Satan would be at the end of the millennium. But, the destruction of Satan was near when Paul wrote Romans. Therefore, the end of the millennium was near when Paul wrote Romans.

This too reflects a rather idiosyncratic definition. As I say in the article linked below:

It is far from clear that Paul here necessarily refers to an eschatological condition. God could "bruise Satan" in any number of ways in the temporal life of the believer. However, the phrase used for "shortly" (en tachei) could also have two meanings: either shortly in time or speedily, with dispatch.
Witherington notes that the phrase is adverbial and should indicate manner. [31] The verse tells us how, not when, Satan will be crushed. There is, in any event, no contextual reference to the parousia or any event associated with Christ's return or advent; and even if not, preterism holds that Satan was bound around 70 AD, so that it could be argued that this prediction was fulfilled.

Either way, “destruction” is far too strong a word to use for what is described here.

4.) The resurrection– (i.e. “the rest of the dead,” who came to life after the 1000 years, 20:7-12) – Christ was “ready (hetoimos) to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5).

5.) Opening of the books / judgment – “There are some standing here that shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:27-28).

It is hard to see what point is being reached for here. That Christ is “ready” to judge people in the afterlife does not mean they are resurrected, or will be any time soon. Nor does Matthew 16 say anything about the books of judgment being opened.

6.) Heaven and earth fled, the New Creation– God dwells with man – “These things must shortly come to pass” (Revelation 22:6, 10-12).

This, however, has all of what is predicted in Revelation as a referent, which by the preterist view includes events of the first century – indeed, by the orthodox view, all but a few lines occurred in the first century, and those lines are cordoned off with a promise of a wait of a “thousand years” – which we are still waiting to be explained as merely 40 years by the hyper-preterist.

A point follows arguing for the end of the millennium as fulfilling Israel’s Feast of Tabernacles, in which it is roundaboutly added:

It is commonly argued that the “ceremonial aspects” of Torah ended at the cross, and that Israel ceased to be God’s covenant people at the cross, while OT prophecy remained (to AD 70) or remains valid (futurism). However, nothing was more “ceremonial” or prophetic, than Israel’s covenantal feast days! The fact that Revelation 20-21 depicts the fulfillment of Israel’s last three feast days at the end of the millennium proves that the “ceremonial” aspects of Torah remained valid when John wrote.

Not at all; this is a non sequitur. Even if we accept the notion that events at the end of the millennium somehow “fulfill” the Feast of Tabernacles – a rather vague claim that is akin to claims that Jesus “imitated” certain pagan deities in that he, like they, offered “salvation” – such a fulfillment would not require a present and continuing observation of that Feast by humans. This is simply a desperate stretch. God is hardly dependent on continuing human observation of holidays for fulfillments of this sort to occur. Nor would it be required for humans to recognize such a connection, since this writer has done so (however correctly – or not) 2000+ years after the fact.

That said, it is far better to see the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles in terms of the Holy Spirit residing within individual believers – which occurred c. 30 AD.

One last non sequitur is forced in, where it is said that Daniel 12 predicted the final resurrection of all men. We will deal with more detailed claims in that regard in another entry in this series. In the end, no success was had at compressing 1000 years into 40 – and it is akin to offering a single egg and claiming to offer a dozen.

Paul and the end times

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