s Eschaton - Volume 12, Issue 2
 

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Volume 12, Issue 2: Eschaton

The Worst is Past

Jack Van Deventer

Is it my wishful thinking, or has there been a decline in "end of the world" speculation now that we're in the Year 2000? I'm not sure exactly, but I did notice that Amazon.com is slashing prices on the end-of-world/Armageddon-type books that were published in the late 1990s. Maybe they don't want leftover inventory. Admittedly, the ability of futurists to maintain enthusiasm for a Antichrist/Armageddon/Annihilation has been impressive. That many well-meaning Christians have been sitting on the edges of their chairs for 20 or 30 years waiting for the rapture is a tribute to the marketing genius of popular writers, pastors, and booksellers.

Fading Influence: I'm inclined to think that this impressive streak of futuristic/pessimistic influence cannot continue much longer. Why? First, the theology that drives a futuristic expectation of catastrophe is fading. Fewer and fewer seminaries believe or teach dispensationalism anymore. Those that remain are fragmenting badly. The engine that keeps the machine going is about out of gas. Second, historic reformed theology seems to be driving biblical discussions more. The applicability and relevance of the whole Bible, not just parts of it, is becoming mainstream once again. By contrast, modern doctrines based on the discontinuity (dividing) of Scripture are destined for failure. One cannot maintain that the Bible is a hodgepodge (intending different things for different peoples at different times) without in some way impugning the Author. Lastly, people are waking up. It seems to me that people are growing weary of chasing the latest speculation on the mark of the beast, who the beast is, when and where Armageddon will break out, etc. These people, having been burned more than once, are putting things to the test of Scripture like never before. Those who have disproportionately weighted the destruction prophecies over and above the passages promising a glorious future are rethinking their positions in light of the biblical evidence.
A Redeemed World: The redemption of the world is a central theme in Scripture. We know that the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, that Christ will subdue His enemies, that the world through Christ will be saved, that God's will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven, and that the nations will be discipled. Christ builds His Church and Hell is powerless to stop Him. Christ's death on the cross assured the progressive sanctification of the world. Okay, then, what do we make of the timing of the passages that point to terrible judgment and destruction? How can these two expectations (redeemed world and devastating judgment) be reconciled? The answer lies in the timing of the biblical events.
How Long, O Lord?: In the Book of Revelation we read that the souls of the those slain for the Word of God "cried with a loud voice, saying, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?'" (rev. 6:10). The answer was that they should wait for a little season until the number of martyrs was fulfilled. A short season, a little while, a brief period. Not 2000 years. The judgments described in Revelation are very near to the time of its writing. Look at the timing of events in the Book of Revelation: These are things that "must shortly take place" (1:1), "the time is near" (1:3), "Behold, I come quickly!" (3:11), "things which must shortly take place" (22:6), "the time is at hand" (22:10), "I am coming quickly" (22:12 and 22:20). The entire context of Revelation is sandwiched with passages indicating a near fulfillment.
The Tribulation: If you took a poll of modern evangelicals, I wonder how many people would assert that the tribulation would be in the near future. What is the timing of this terrible tribulation? Jesus tells his hearers that "all these things," (Matt. 24:34) including the tribulation, would happen within a generation (approximately 40 years) of the time He spoke. John tells his readers that he himself was a "partaker in the tribulation" (Rev. 1:9 NASB). John cannot be a participant in some future tribulation. The tribulation was a past event.
NT Predictions of Near Tribulation: The passages referring to impending judgment are found throughout the New Testament. John the Baptist warned sinners to flee the "wrath to come" (Matt. 3:7). Peter warned of looming judgment: "blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke" (Acts 2:19). James warned the unrighteous who lived "as in a day of slaughter" that the Lord, the judge, "draws nigh" and "stands before the door" (James 5:8-9). Paul cautions against marriage in view of "the present distress" (1 Cor 7:26). The writer of Hebrews warned his readers about "judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:25-27). Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple such that one stone would not be left upon another (Matt. 24:2). All these passages point to the slaughter of the Jewish people in and around A.D. 70 at the hands of multiple armies under Roman command.
Conclusion: In the Bible, the glorious promises of a redeemed world must be reconciled with the passages of destruction. Fears that the prophecies of destruction found in Revelation and the Olivet discourse are yet to occur (i.e., futurism) are unfounded because the time references on these passages point to a past fulfillment, specifically the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It came to pass.

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