Apocalypse Then


When Americans hear the word "apocalypse," they think of massive, global, cosmic, discontinuity. Maybe they think of the Francis Ford Coppola movie, "Apocalypse Now."

There are two ways of dealing with "apocalypse." There are "Futurists" and there are "Preterists."
"Futurists" believe that "apocalypse" is in our future.
"Preterists" (from the Latin word for "past") believe the "apocalypse" is in our past.
Preterists see that a major theme of the New Testament writers is the coming of Christ in their generation. There are many, many verses that speak of an "apocalyptic" event taking place in the first century:

Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him shall the Son of man be ashamed , when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works . Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom with power .

There is no ambiguity about these verses. Futurists need to come to grips with them and be able to respond effectively to atheists like Bertrand Russell, who said:

I am concerned with Christ as He appears in the Gospels . . . and there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise. For one thing, He certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at the time. There are a great many texts that prove that. He says, for instance, “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come.” Then He says, “There are some standing here which shall not taste death till the Son of Man comes into His kingdom”; and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed that His second coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of his earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of his moral teaching.
Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian (New York: A Touchtone Book by Simon & Schuster, 1957), 16.

Our concept of "the Second Coming" must come from the Bible, not Hollywood.

This essay was prompted by a question about Romans 8:19, which says:

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God .
η γαρ αποκαραδοκια της κτισεως την αποκαλυψιν των υιων του θεου απεκδεχεται

The creation waits eagerly for the " apocalypse " of the sons of God.
What does that mean?
Who are "the sons of God?"
What is the nature of the " apocalypse ?"

Let's look first at the phrase " waits eagerly ." The same Greek word is used by Paul in Galatians 5:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised , Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

It seems Paul is drawing a contrast between those who are attempting to become righteous in God's eyes by following Jewish ceremonies and traditions rather than by faith in Christ. He says (throughout the letter to Galatians, and his other letters as well) that Christians have a better hope.

Why, then, does Paul say that he "eagerly awaits" this hope? Why is this righteousness not a present reality? What is the relationship between Paul's eagerly waiting for circumcision to be replaced and the creation's eagerly waiting for the "apocalypse " of the sons of God? Could it be that both were eagerly waiting for something that happened when the Jewish temple was destroyed in AD70?

If you look at the way the word "apocalypse " is used in the New Testament, you get the feeling that we've been misled by Hollywood and the theologians of "the Rapture." You'll get the impression that "apocalypse" means "understanding" inside us, not global catastrophe outside us.

Here is every occurrence of the word "apocalypse"  in the New Testament:


 
Strong's #602 | ἀποκάλυψις


A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
 
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
 
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
 
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
 
So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
 
Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
 
How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
 
It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory *. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
 
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
 
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
 
And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.
 
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
 
How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
 
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
 
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
 
Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
 
But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
 
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:


In context, these and similar verses were properly understood by the Christians to whom they were written in the first century as being directly applicable to them. They were being persecuted by the Jews that killed Christ (not us today), and they looked forward to the relief they saw when Christ destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

These events set in motion the most extraordinary cultural revolution in human history: the growth of Christianity.

Daniel 2 31 “You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. 32 This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34 You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
36 “This is the dream. Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king. 37You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; 38 and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all—you are this head of gold. 39 But after you shall arise another kingdom [s] inferior to yours; then another [t], a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 40 And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces [u] and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others. 41 Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. 43 As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay. 44 And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. 45 Inasmuch as you saw that the Stone [a]  was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold—the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure.”
Notes - Geneva Bible, 1599

By gold, silver, brass, and iron are meant the Chaldean, Persian, Macedonian [Greek], and Roman kingdoms, which would successively rule all the world until Christ (who is here called the stone) himself comes, and destroys the last. And this was to assure the Jews that their affliction would not end with the empire of the Chaldeans, but that they should patiently await the coming of the Messiah, who would be at the end of this fourth monarchy.

Daniel leaves out the kingdom of the Assyrians, which was before the Babylonian, both because it was not a monarchy and general empire, and also because he would declare the things that were to come, until the coming of Christ, for the comfort of the elect among these wonderful alterations. And he calls the Babylonian kingdom the golden head, because in respect of the other three, it was the best, and yet it was of itself wicked and cruel.

(s) Meaning, the Persians who were not inferior in dignity, power, or riches, but were worse with regard to ambition, cruelty, and every type of vice, showing that the world would grow worse and worse, until it was restored by Christ.

(t) That is, those of the Macedonians will be of brass, not alluding to the hardness of it, but to the vileness with regard to silver.

(u) That is, the Roman empire will subdue all these others, which after Alexander were divided into the Macedonians, Grecians, Syrians, and Egyptians.

(a) Meaning Christ, who was sent by God, and not set up by man, whose kingdom at the beginning would be small and without beauty to man's judgment, but would at length grow and fill the whole earth, which he calls a great mountain, as in Dan 2:35. And this kingdom, which is not only referred to the person of Christ, but also to the whole body of his Church, and to every member of it, will be eternal: for the Spirit that is in them is eternal life; Ro 8:10.

As far as Romans 8 goes, if Paul were to travel through time to our present day, he would say that "the sons of God" have been manifested. Christians have made extraordinary progress in Christianizing the planet. He would see 3 or 4 billion human beings living in peace and prosperity, enjoying a higher standard of living than any king in the pre-parousia world. The world before Christ was a world where half of all people died violent deaths, and the rest struggled to survive. I think he would also see a tremendous lack of gratitude and sound doctrine in our day. People too infrequently thank Jesus for our abundance, too many complain about our wealth and wait to be "raptured," and too many so-called Christians enjoy their swank mega-churches while hundreds of millions of human beings are still starving. The Preterist says that there was an apocalypse in A.D. 70, but we must all agree that "apocalypse" -- the unveiling of Jesus Christ -- is presently an ongoing phenomenon, rooted in an extraordinary complex of events in the past:
             • Incarnation
             • Substitutionary atonement
             • Resurrection
             • Ascension
             • Parousia and termination of the Old Covenant