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by Samuel Frost
By the look of the tally, many have been reading the exchanges between me and Parker. From those exchanges, I felt that it was necessary to once again defend the position that the return of Christ was not something necessary to be documented by those living in the second century.By the look of the tally, many have been reading the exchanges between me and Parker. From those exchanges, I felt that it was necessary to once again defend the position that the return of Christ was not something necessary to be documented by those living in the second century.By that, I mean that no known record we have were actual witnesses of the events of the Parousia. Yet, Parker feels free to use Timothy as one who lived through the Parousia and did not know it had happened. How does he know this? He doesn’t. We only know of Timothy from Acts and Paul’s letters to him. After that, we know nothing about him, when he died, what he believed about these things, and the like.
Here, then, is the supposed scenario that threatens either A) the validity of Scriptures as an accurate witness of the truth (inerrancy) or B) Preterism is wrong and another alternative that includes the future return of the Son of God to earth must be sought. We affirm A and deny B, but the immediate problem that arises here are the writings we have of the second century Christians. None of them, it is said, hint that the Son of God returned “a second time” and, therefore, all of them looked forward to the Second Coming well after A.D. 70.
Let us, however, put the pieces together. What we do know is that many of the Apostolic Fathers (the earliest letters, fragments and books we have that date no further than the mid second century) explicitly expressed that Jesus’ parousia was “at hand” “soon” and “about to be.” Second, if that be the case, then they must have seen themselves as living “in the last days,” and this can be proven quite easily. Third, if that is the case, then they must have seen the events going on around them as “signs of the end” or “signs that the end was near,” and this can be shown quite easily. Now, if the historical events going on around them signaled for them that the last days was happening, and that Jesus was soon to return, then, quite logically, Rome was the persecuting Beast, and the several famines, wars, plagues of their time were equally signals for them that they were, indeed, in the last days.
See, you cannot think you are in the last days with Jesus and the age to come soon to appear without events that signal that, in fact, you are in the last days. What, then, were signals that would have prompted these writers to think that they, living in the second century, were, in fact, living in the last days with Jesus soon to return? There is no hint, no record, no thought that, in their minds, the last days would continue for 2,000 years. Patristic scholars are generally agreed that they viewed the world around them as coming to a fiery end very, very soon.
Another common thing to find among them is the use of II Peter 3 to give answer for a “delay of the parousia.” After all, living in the second generation of Christians, when Jesus spoke of his own generation, would cause some to review their understanding of when and where these things were supposed to happen, and for how long. II Peter 3 was used, explicitly in Hermas, to note that God did originally plan to come in that generation, but postponed the coming so as to bring more into the kingdom! Barnabas appears to be doing the same thing, since he explicitly mentions the destruction of the Temple. See, the Temple had fallen, but Christ had not appeared and the church was still undergoing persecution, and wars, famines and plagues continued. He originally was to appear, but he did not, because the time of suffering was to increase for the sake of the kingdom and the salvation of souls (“for he is not willing that any perish, but that all come to repentance”). This, then, became the raison d’etre of Christian eschatology.
Coupled with these facts, we observe strange comments from these authors, like Ignatius, writing around 107 A.D., that the Old Testament saints had already been risen from the dead! In another, the Ascension of Isaiah, we have a non-bodily view of the resurrection. In the Odes of Solomon we find a realized eschatology with the “beast with seven heads” already conquered and the author(s) seeing himself as already in the new heavens and new earth Garden of God as a tree by the living waters. What’s going on here?
The Gnostics equally claimed that the resurrection was entirely a spiritual event and that those who followed Christ were already in the spiritual world. Where in the world did they get this idea? One of their leaders claims to have gotten it from Paul himself. Who knows? Maybe he did and went too far with what Paul was actually saying.
This prompts other questions, though. What kind of coming did Paul, the Hebrew of Hebrews, teach? Would it have been the same type of coming of Yahweh “on the clouds of heaven” to Egypt, Babylon and Edom? Shall we ransack Plutarch and Herodotus to find “evidence” for those invisible comings of God? And, if we cannot find that any secular sources did not “see” him come to destroy Egypt, shall we conclude that those who believe that he did, in fact, come on the clouds are wrong because they have no “evidence”? Perish the thought.
Paul’s world was framed by “the Scriptures” (the Hebrew Bible), and the expressions he used come straight out of those pages. Read Psalm 18 and ask yourself if any of this “literally” happened so that “every enemy” of David’s “saw his descent.”
Parker thinks that it is “irrelevant” that varying eschatological movements are found in the early fathers. Since “they all” viewed the second coming as future, then we have “100% corroboration.” But, in a court of law, as “evidence” is weighed, and as “witnesses” are found to be claiming the same apostolic authority and yet coming out with different schemes, one must put up a red flag. “Well, we all agree that Mr. Jones killed Mrs. Jones.” “Great. Now, Witness A, how did Mr. Jones kill Mrs. Jones.” “With a knife!.” “But, Witness B said a cleaver, and Witness C said an ax!” One can hear a lawyer say, “It is irrelevant as to how he killed her. The fact is, he did kill her, and that’s what we are after.” But, the defense would say, “Well, yes, however, each of the witnesses claim to be direct witnesses to the truth. If they cannot corroborate the details of their claim, then I can easily question their veracity on other points!” And logically, our imaginary defense lawyer is entirely correct. If Papias contradicts Barnabas, and Clement contradicts Justin, and Justin contradicts Origen, and Irenaeus contradicts Odes of Solomon and Ascension of Isaiah, and the Gnostics contradict all of them, then we, as investigators of history, can validly question their veracity on other points like, did they even understand what the Second Coming was attached to, and the nature of it and the Hebrew concepts used to describe it? I mean, if they missed all these other things, then why is their agreement meant to logically infer that they necessarily got that one thing correct?
Let us say that they did represent the apostles’ teaching. That would mean that they saw themselves as living in the last days, with the soon coming of Christ right around the corner. That would mean that the wars, famines and earthquakes were signs of the end, and that the persecution from Rome was Revelation 13 being played out in front of their eyes. But, if they understood all of these things, how could they screw up the millennium in Revelation 20? Did John forget to pass that little nugget of understanding along to Papias, who claims that he learned from the disciples of John himself? So, they got the Beast right, the soon coming of the Lord wrong (obviously), the fiery soon end of the world wrong (obviously). They got the fact that they were in the last days wrong, too. Some said that the body would not be raised, others insisted on it. Some early Christians wrote that they were already living in the Garden of God described in Revelation 21,22! Hey, but in spite of these, and several, several other “little facts” they got wrong, they all got one thing right: Jesus ain’t come yet. And, yet, I am asked to believe them here because they were all almost directly taught by the apostles!
See, folks, here’s the story. If these second century authors were all direct heirs of the Apostles’ teaching, that is, direct heirs from their lips, and if they were all equally inspired by God as were the Apostles, then THERE WOULD BE NO ERROR IN THE EARLY CHURCH WHATSOEVER. They should not have gotten anything wrong. But, the sad fact is, they got many things wrong. Even sadder, when they conflict on these things, they each claim apostolic authority! Well, who is right? Who is the judge to decide? How does Parker know that Premillennialism is wrong? How does the Dispensationalist know that Barnabas was wrong for saying that he was living in the last days? If our generation is the “terminal generation” then, clearly, Barnabas was off by two thousand years! But, Barnabas CLAIMS THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE SCRIPTURES! Is Ignatius correct to assert that the Old Testament saints have been risen from the dead? (he does so in Magnesians 9.2). Now, what is interesting here is that Max King argues that this was the resurrection of the OT saints in question in I Corinthians 15! Second, how could OT saints be risen “from the dead when he came” (Ignatius’ words) without a bodily resurrection? What does Ignatius mean here? I could go on, for in 10.2 of the same letter, Ignatius wrote that “every tongue” has believed (past tense) and that they have been gathered together to God. It appears that he is quoting from Isaiah 66.18 here, but this passage takes place in the new heavens and the new earth! What is going on here? Does Parker believe that the Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have been raised from the dead, too? I do!
See, we can find little quotes like this all over the place, but one may even here object, “yes, but they all looked forward to the Second Coming.” What “coming” did Ignatius have in mind when he raised Abraham from the dead? I can find Athanansius and many others saying that the “whole world” had witnessed the Gospel light! That “death” has already been swallowed up, that Satan has been destroyed. Spiritually these things were interpreted as already having happened during the ministry of Christ and the apostles. I can speculate, very easily, that the spiritual things were seen as having counterparts to natural things, and since, spiritually, death was already conquered, then physically, one day, it will be removed, too. I can see how they viewed Jerusalem’s demise as a coming of the Lord, only to infer from that that he will come again to the world in like manner. The dead have been raised spiritually, but one day, bodies will come out of their graves. The New Jerusalem Temple of God has replaced the Old Covenant Temple of God, and one day, this will be physically realized on earth. Preterists simply say, yes, death has been conquered, the Light of the Gospel has come to the world, the dead have been raised and satan destroyed, and already we are planted as trees by the living streams of water in the New Jerusalem of God and Christ, but there is no PHYSICAL ADDITION or COUNTERPART to these SPIRITUAL REALITIES. Maybe these men “saw” more than what Parker allows….maybe in their correct spiritualizing and “seeing” they merely erred in adding to that a physical correspondence. Speculation, yes. Plausible, yes. If the Scriptures teach that Jesus came again in A.D. 70 to usher in the spiritual age to come, then there is “no end,” and this explanation compliments the many rich and theologically deep things these men had to say, but also acknowledges them as mere men, uninspired, capable of error, and capable of bad interpretation….and who does not fit into that camp?