Doctrine of the Last Things (Part 6)
Transcript of William Lane Craig’s Defenders 2 class.
Some definitions to keep in mind:
Eschatology = Study of Last Things
Eschaton = the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world.
Parousia = the coming or the presence of the Lord
Apokalupsis = the revelation of the Lord
Epiphaneia = the appearing of the Lord
Gnosticism = a Greek doctrine which depreciated the value of the material and exalted the value of the spiritual.
Preterism = the return of Christ predicted by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse has already occurred.
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My commentary under the cut and pasted sections from Dr. Craig’s full transcript is in YELLOW , as always
KEY ISSUE: What is the purpose of the Second coming of Christ and the timing of the Second coming of Christ?
Sections from the Transcript:
Purpose, Time, and Delay of the Second Coming
Purpose of the Second Coming
We have been talking about the Second Coming of Christ. Last time we talked about the nature of the Second Coming. Now we want to turn to the subject of the purpose of the Second Coming. Why is there such a thing as the Second Coming of Christ? Let me suggest four purposes that are fulfilled by Christ’s coming again.
- It completes the work of redemption. It completes the work which was begun on the cross and with the resurrection of Christ and now finally his return again.
Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:22-28, 50-57. Here Paul writes,
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection under him,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.
- As I have already indicated from Paul, it is the time of the resurrection of the dead. Those who die go into an intermediate state between the death of the body and the final resurrection. We will talk about that later in this class. But the resurrection of the dead will not occur until the return of Christ. That is when the dead will be raised. John 5:25-29 is Jesus’ prediction of this event. Jesus says,
Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.
Here Jesus speaks of the dead – both righteous and unrighteous – which will be called forth from the grave at the time of the return of the Son of Man for judgment.
That segues to the third point.
- This Second Coming of Christ will be for the purpose of judging all people. As Jesus said, they will be raised from the dead, and he refers to this as a resurrection of judgment.
Look at Matthew 16:27 for a reference to this function of the Second Coming: “For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.” This indicates the coming judgment of the Son of Man.
Finally, see Jude 14-15 – the little epistle of Jude just before the book of Revelation. Speaking of the unrighteous, he says,
It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Here he speaks of the Lord coming to bring judgment upon the unrighteous.
So there will be a judgment that is coming that will occur at the time of the return of Christ.
Do you think much about this? Have you considered of this as critical component in Last Things theology? This may have been taught to me but for some reason I don’t recollect much teaching about the judgment that is associated with the return of Christ.
- The purpose of the Second Coming is to gather the church. This is referred to, for example, in Matthew 24:29-31. Jesus said,
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
So there will be this great in-gathering of the elect, of the Christians who are alive at the time of the return of Christ. The dead will be raised and the elect Christians will be gathered and together ushered into the Kingdom of God.
So the work of the Second Coming is multifaceted. It is to complete the work of redemption, to resurrect the dead, to judge all people, and to gather the church.
Time of the Second Coming
Now we come then to one of the most interesting and controversial issues – the question of the time of the Second Coming. When is Christ going to return again to raise the dead, judge all people, and gather the church?
On the one hand, as you read Jesus’ Olivet Discourse about the signs of his coming, it would seem that this is a long way off. This is not something that is imminent. Look at Mark 13 again – the Olivet Discourse that we have been talking about over the last few lessons. Notice the elements of Jesus’ predictions in answer to the disciples, “When will this be and what will be the sign when these are to be accomplished?” He predicts there will be a period of religious apostasy. In Mark13:5-5,
And Jesus began to say to them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.
So there will arise false Christs who will lead people away from the truth. He also predicts persecution and a worldwide witness of the church in Mark 13:9-11, 13-19. Jesus says,
But take heed to yourselves; for they will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.
Here Jesus predicts one war after another, unrest, turbulence. Notice he also predicts these natural disturbances – famines and earthquakes. Then in Mark 13:34-35 he says,
But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
So this doesn’t look like anything imminent to me. It looks like Jesus is saying, “This is a long way off. A lot has to go down first before I come again.”
I agree that based on these scriptures, it does seem that his return is not going to be soon.
So, as I say, when you put all of this together it seems to me that the impression is that this is a long way off. There is going to be wars, rumors of wars, worldwide preaching of the Gospel, this tremendous harvest among the Gentiles, persecution and apostasy, and then finally Christ will come again.
Therefore it is so surprising after this to find Jesus saying in Mark 13 and in certain other passages sayings that suggest that in fact he thought this was going to happen in the lifetime of his hearers. In Mark 13:30 Jesus says,
“Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place.”
So this verse quite out of left field seems to suggest that Jesus thought this was going to happen within the lifetime of his hearers. This is not the only verse like this. Look also at Mark 8:38-9:1. Jesus said,
“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
Here again it seems in this verse that Jesus is saying that there are people listening to him who will experience the coming of the Son of Man in glory and power.
I’m following and perceiving what Dr. Craig is saying here. It is a troubling contrast which makes things puzzling.
Delay of the Parousia
How do you deal with these verses? On the one hand we have abundant evidence from Jesus as well as Paul that the Second Coming of Christ was not something that was going to happen soon. It looked like a lot had to happen. First it was a long way off, and yet here you have these very puzzling sayings of Jesus that seem to suggest that he was predicting his return within the lifetime of his hearers. How can we deal with this?
As you can imagine, there are quite a number of different suggestions that have been made.
For example, the Preterist view has no problem with these verses because the preterist says these were all fulfilled in AD 70 in the destruction of Jerusalem. When Jerusalem was destroyed all that Jesus had predicted, in fact, actually happened including the Son of Man coming into God’s throne room and receiving the Kingdom.
That is certainly a strength of the Preterist view. It just completely solves this problem by saying that these predictions were in fact fulfilled within the lifetime of the hearers. But I’ve already expressed my reservations about the Preterist view and why I just don’t find it plausible. It seems to me that it is not a plausible interpretation of the data. So, for me at least, that is not an option. I don’t think that that solves the problem.
Another alternative would be to say that the prophecy was changed or that Jesus’ prophecy was simply provisional but that it was susceptible to change. We have in the Old Testament certain examples of prophecies like this. Think of Jonah’s prophecy to Nineveh in the book of Jonah. What did God tell Jonah to proclaim to the Ninevites? “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown!” They had forty days and then God’s judgment was coming down on Nineveh. But it never happened. Why not? Because the Ninevites repented! They turned to God and so God stayed his judgment so that Jonah’s prophecies never came true, much to Jonah’s displeasure as you remember. He wanted to see these pagan Ninevites judged by God. So the prophecy was provisional. If things change, God would not do what he had said he was going to do.
So we do have examples of prophecies that involve time limits that are malleable or changeable as it were. So the suggestion here is maybe that is the way it was with Jesus’ predictions of his return. Maybe Jesus was prophesying that he would return within the lifetime of his hearers but then for some reason or another that we don’t know the return was delayed and delayed and delayed. And we still live in this period of the delay of the parousia as it is called. That is what the problem is known as – the delay of the parousia. Maybe this just fits in with prophecies of this nature.
Well, that is possible I suppose. But the problem I think with this explanation is nothing seemed to change in this case. In the case of Nineveh, the people repented so that God’s judgment of them would be inappropriate now. In the case of Hezekiah, he turned to the Lord and prayed and so God stayed his judgment on King Hezekiah. But in the case of Christ’s coming again, he gave all of these signs. It is not as though anything changed; everything seemed to be happening just as he predicted. So it seems implausible to think that what Christ was giving here were merely provisional sorts of prophecies.
And so I have to wait until the next session to get more input from Dr. Craig on this issue could be resolved?
Well, I see hands and I see tear-stained faces, reaching up, but not quite touchin’ the promise land. Well, I taste tears and a precious years wasted, saying, “Lord please send us a helping hand.” Out of the mountains stands a woman. A, I feel her shinin’ light Lord! Must be the answer. Thank you Lord and keep her alright. Got them earth blues today. Well, I’ll hear the thunder of freedom’s beating heart. Sirens clashing with black earth and rock and stone. I think you better love me now darling, it just might be too late after awhile. And tell her child to bury old daddy’s broken clothes
All of the questions (without the answers copied in) asked in the DISCUSSION portions of the transcript. You can go to website (transcript link is above) to read answers, if interested:
Question: You’ve explained that when a Christian dies the soul goes to be in the presence of Christ and the body remains here waiting for the resurrection. What about those who are not believers? I realize this isn’t a pleasant topic, but are they simply just not in the presence of Christ or are they truly in the presence of Satan in what we might call hell? Or is that later?
Question: Based on what you just said then there is an awareness on the part of both parties – those that are with the Lord that they are in fact with the Lord, and those that are separated from the Lord are aware.
Question: One interpretation of Matthew 16:28 (“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”) to which I personally subscribe is that he was referring to the transfiguration which took place six days later.
Followup: Right. Also, as I mentioned I think last time in response to the idea of “this generation,” there are two possibilities. One, he could have been referring to race or group. And second, which I think is more plausible, he is referring to the generation that is alive when these things begin to happen rather than you folks right now.
Question: This is going to seem a little off the wall, left field type stuff. But it occurred to me a long time ago – and the reason I think it is off the wall is because nobody else in church history has ever commented on it in this way – I think that there were some that did see the Second Coming. For instance, John in Revelation. Peter seems to know an awful lot about the details, as if a revelation came to him. Of course, Paul was taken up to heaven in some sort of way and saw all these things and was able to give us lots and lots of details about the Second Coming and what happened there. I don’t know. That was something that occurred to me a while back. I’ve always thought about it.
Question: I’ll be the fly in the ointment. I am a preterist or a partial-preterist. It is just exciting to compare all of this stuff and comparing Scripture with Scripture and so on. I just appreciate the opportunity.