Doctrine of the Last Things (Part 8)
Transcript of William Lane Craig’s Defenders 2 class.
Caution about Date of the Second Coming
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 are Christians to understand about the dating of the Second Coming?
Sections from the Transcript:
Caution about Date of the Second Coming
Let me go on to the next issue which is the time of the Second Coming and how one should respond to that.
- As we’ve already alluded to, the Second Coming of Christ is going to be unexpected. It is not going to be something that is obvious and clear in terms that it is about to happen. It is going to be unexpected.
“Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
This is going to catch people by surprise. It is going to come when they don’t expect it.
Also Acts 1:7,
“He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.’”
We saw that Jesus also said the Son doesn’t know as well. So the Father has fixed the time of Christ’s return, and it is not for us to know. Therefore, the Second Coming is going to be something that will be unexpected and surprising.
At the same time, Jesus emphasizes that the fact that the Second Coming is something that is unexpected and could be delayed means that we always need to be ready for it because it is coming at a time when you are not expecting it to come. Therefore, we should not use any unfulfilled signs of the Second Coming. We don’t yet see these prophesies fulfilled – it doesn’t look near – but we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for bad living or not living as disciples of Christ.
So even if there are unfulfilled signs that the coming of Christ doesn’t appear to be near, we must not use that as an excuse for laxity in the Christian life. Rather, we should always be ready for Christ to return unexpectedly, even within our own lifetimes.
Dr. Craig is hitting on a point that has been preached much over the years. Christ’s return is imminent (meaning “about to happen”). I don’t hold to a rapture event but I do hold to an imminent return of Christ in which it is “unexpected” as the previous paragraphs from the transcript point out.
- Keep in mind that God’s timescale is obviously different than ours. Our timescales are human conventions, but God, who is eternal, isn’t bound by these same sort of conventions.
- Christians have always believed that theirs was the last generation. So we should not get overly worked up about thinking Christ is going to return in our lifetimes. We should be ready because he is going to surprise us. It is going to be unexpected.
- Finally, I want to make one last point. I think that if we are honest it is rather difficult to believe in the literal Second Coming of Christ because it is just so other-worldly.
It is so strange to think that, say, maybe next Tuesday Christ is going to come again and the universe and the Earth and everything is going to be destroyed and we will be ushered into the presence of Christ. It just is so other than what we normally experience. Everything seems to be going along very well – doesn’t it? – operating according to natural law. It is hard to believe that next Tuesday this all might be over. But if you think that then you are not really saying anything different than what early New Testament Christians confronted.
Look at 2 Peter 3:3-4, in talking about the Second Coming of Christ, says,
First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.”
You can well imagine early Christians being confronted with scoffers like this saying, Look, everything is going along just fine since the origin of the universe; where is the promise of his coming again?
I would surely imagine any non-Christian who seriously ponders Christian eschatology would be prone to the scoffers viewpoint or very easily influenced to take such a view. In the following paragraphs, Dr. Craig discusses how many people including Christians are probably ignorant that eschatology is not simply area of study within Theology but also within the field of physics. You may like to read it in the transcript. He explains this, I believe, so that students of Defenders can point out others that serious scientists within physics (and cosmology particularly) do contribute to eschatology. In their field, the meaning or definition is not very different. Dr. Craig states that it is “the study of the future and the end of the universe – the study of the last things.” This discussion by Dr. Craig is a digression away from the key points of the discussion to some extent but it lends nicely to intellectual discussion for someone outside of Christian theology. I will let you read it for yourself in the transcript but I would like to only take out his conclusion for the purposes of my notes and email. So that is what I skip to now.
The parallels between this scenario and the apocalypse that is described in 2 Peter 3:8-10 where the heavens will pass away, the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the works of the Earth and everything that is upon it will be burned up are amazing. The parallels between these are unmistakable. They bring about a complete metamorphosis of nature, sudden, without warning like a thief in the night, unavoidable, and it issues in a new heavens and a new Earth. A renovated universe!
Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not saying that what 2 Peter 3:8-10 is describing is a poetic rendition of a quantum phase transition in the history of the universe. I am not saying that. I am making a much more modest point. I am simply saying that if physical eschatology involves apocalyptic doomsday predictions that could be realized tomorrow, for all we know then we should not balk at similar forecasts on the part of theological eschatology about the impending destruction of the universe. It seems to me that they are quite on a par. The difference between the two is, of course, for Christians we look forward to this event as the Second Coming of Christ and the deliverance from this world and its shortcomings and being ushered into the new heavens and new Earth that God has prepared for us.
I’m glad that Dr. Craig did clarify his points in relation to scripture. It was an interesting scientific digression (one that Dr. Craig is known for). I expect that you found the digression to be interesting, boring, or challenging. For me, it was interesting to learn that Cosmology has an area of study called eschatology. That may be all that I will remember but I can take comfort in knowing that I can return to the transcripts anytime I like.
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: As you were talking about these different phrases and sayings of Jesus and as they appeared in different contexts and different books of the Bible and so forth, it sounded like there was just some good old cutting and pasting going on, like just moving things around. I know that is not the way to look at it, but is that kind of what happened? How does that play into biblical inerrancy, when things would show up in different places and different stories?
Question: I agree with what you are saying, and also the question that this is bringing out about if they were to put it in an inappropriate place it would be an error. But it is not. It is like they know it is related to a Second Coming. It is like him coming personally. So my belief is that he was saying that Christ will come to people – they will overcome and rule with Christ in that generation with power. So that is a type of coming. That is a full redemption of Adam who is fallen for individuals. So there are some there that will rule with Christ in power. Acts 3:21, I think, says it is necessary for heaven to receive Christ until everything has been accomplished. All enemies bow beneath his feet. So he remains in the clouds. Those that overcome and rule with him must remain in the clouds, too. It is not an error to put it in that context since it deals with Christ’s coming. So there are those that have always ruled with Christ here on Earth.
Question: I think some of these verses have a near and far-term application in that there is a telescoping time – near-term fulfillment and portraying far-term fulfillment. You also have to overlay or introduce the rapture as well as the tribulation. There is no saying that one will start the other. You could have a period of time in between, even a long period of time.
Followup: So you probably disagree on the second point, but the third point would be the verse that talked about going to all the cities. This is, again, a term like saying “to all the world.” The general, near term fulfillment – he didn’t give them a list of cities to check off. We don’t know the exhaustive list of all the towns of Israel that were at the time in Judea, and they probably didn’t go to all of them.
Question: The Kingdom of heaven, when Jesus comes, or even jump back to comes and says it is at hand, and the Kingdom of heaven is a progress, it is a process. So when Jesus said that some of you will see the Kingdom of heaven come which is true because that eleven is alive and doing its work. It is just not the whole though, but it is all in sync with this whole process of king, where Jesus is the king of the Kingdom of heaven, he is bringing to everyone the God-with-us consciousness.
The discussion below follows the discussion about Christian theology and close parallels from physical cosmology:
Question: I believe in the rapture, and I think it could happen next Tuesday. Then the Second Coming of Christ, which I think is being described in the Olivet Discourse, is seven years after that. When we say it is unexpected we must say this is a relative term. Notice that he says, “Only the Father knows the day and the hour.” That doesn’t mean we might not know the year or the month or possibly even closer to that. I would direct your attention to Matthew 24:33. It says, “Even so, when you see all these things” which he is including earthquakes – by the way, we now have confirmation from the government that the major earthquakes frequency has doubled – pestilences – “you know that it is near right at the door.” Well, “near right at the door” is not totally unexpected. We don’t know the day or the hour but we might know the week, or the month, or the year. Why would Jesus have spent this much time telling his disciples about the signs?
Followup: “Day and the hour” is imprecise, but “right at the door,” I think, is saying that is pretty close. That is not 100 years, 50 years. I think that would imply a very close time.
Question: I might have just not heard you say anything about this but this whole concept about cosmology – is it based on any kind of fact or is it all theoretical?
Question: I just looked it up. That quote came out in 1999 and of course there has been a lot of things we’ve learned since then. The guys who wrote it are working on a revised edition as we speak. So you might want to wait just a little bit if you are going to check it out and read it.
Question: Coming from a little more philosophical view, what does this do to the uniformity of nature and that as a part of induction? If everything can change in a second, the principle of uniformity of nature comes into question from that point of view.
Question: What would be the force that would cause the quantum phase transition that you are talking about?
Followup: I was referring more to when we talk about science today and people especially in the atheist community who say “Science works” and “Things are going to be exactly tomorrow as they are today.”