The Collapsing Universe in the Bible, Part 6

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September 27, 2011 Tags: Christ & New Creation

Today's entry was written by Brian Godawa. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

The Collapsing Universe in the Bible, Part 6

In part five of this series, Godawa explained the nature of the terms “new heaven” and “new earth” used by Peter in the New Testament. Today, in the conclusion of the series, Godawa addresses the portrayal, seen in Matthew 24, of Jesus “riding on the clouds” in judgment. The author explains that this type of language, used also in the Old Testament, is a means of establishing the divinity of God rather than of describing a physical event.

Coming on the Clouds

Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 is the classic reference used by futurists to point to the future second coming of Christ. I have been exegeting the decreation language about the sun, moon, and stars as referring to the end of the Old Covenant. Yet, right after those verses that speak of the collapsing universe, Jesus speaks of his “coming on the clouds”:

“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 in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. Matt. 24:29-30

I want to focus on the phrase, “coming on the clouds of heaven” to prove that it is not the physical return of Christ that this passage is talking about, but rather a metaphor for God’s judgment upon Jerusalem for rejecting Messiah. I believe Jesus Christ will physically return to this earth, but I do not think that this passage teaches that doctrine. It teaches something else. And I am in good company with orthodox scholars through history who have posited this very interpretation of Matthew 24: Eusebius, John Calvin, John Lightfoot, John Gill, Phillip Schaff, Gary DeMar, Kenneth L. Gentry, R.C. Sproul and many others.1

When considering the ancient Near Eastern context of this “cloud” image, I have previously written that the notion of deity coming on clouds or riding clouds like a chariot was already a powerful metaphor used for the god Baal in Canaan when Israel arrived there.2 Baal, the storm god, was called the great “Cloud-Rider”3 who would dispense his judgments through thunder and lightning in his hand.4 To ride the clouds was a sign of deity and judgment to the Canaanites. So it makes sense that the Biblical writers who were dispossessing Baal and his worshippers from the land would use the same epithets of Yahweh in a subversive way of saying Yahweh is God, not Baal.

In light of this connection of cloud-riding with deity and judgment, Jesus’ statement becomes an implicit reference to his own deity and messiahship rejected by the first century Jews which resulted in God’s judgment upon Jerusalem (Matt 21:33-45). Jesus is coming in judgment to vindicate his claims (Matt 26:64), and he is going to do so by using the Roman armies of Titus to do his bidding.

Look at these Old Testament passages that use the concept of coming on the clouds as a metaphor for God coming in judgment upon cities or nations:5

God’s judgment on Egypt

Isa. 19:1 Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud, and is about to come to Egypt.

Ezek 30:3 For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.

God’s judgment on Ninevah

Nahum 1:3 In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.

God’s judgment on Israel

Joel 2:2 Surely it is near, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness.

Messiah as deity and kingly judge

Dan. 7:13-14 “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom.”

Did God literally or physically come riding on a cumulus nimbus in these passages? The answer is obvious: No. The notion of coming on the clouds with storm and lightning was an ancient Near Eastern motif of deity coming in judgment upon a city or nation. Egypt was plundered by the Assyrians (Isa 9:23-25). Ninevah was destroyed by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Ezek 30:10). But God is described as the one who was using these pagan forces as his own means of judging those cities. This is how God “came on the clouds.”

So, Matthew 24 is God’s description of judging Israel for rejecting Messiah, by using the Roman armies to destroy the Temple and Jerusalem. Jesus didn’t physically come riding on a cumulus nimbus, he “came on the clouds” in judgment by using the Roman armies to vindicate his claims of Messiahship. This was not a physical Second Coming, but rather a spiritual coming.

Once it is realized that creation and decreation language regarding the heavens and the earth is covenantal in its reference and not scientific, the natural question arises: does this deny the second coming of Christ altogether? Is this a heterodox view that leads us on the slippery slope into heresy? My answer is again, “no.”

Context is everything. Just because some passages are shown to be fulfilled in the past, does not mean that all passages are fulfilled in the past. For example, many preterists maintain that 1 Corinthians 15 affirms that there will be a future physical return of Christ followed by a physical resurrection of humanity.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, 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. 1Cor. 15:20-26

Other preterists make the argument that the “new creation” and “new heavens and earth” of the New Covenant may have been inaugurated in the first century, but it will not be consummated until this physical return of Christ. At that time, what was a spiritual truth of new creation will become a physical reality. Christ reigns now over every authority and power (Eph 1:20-22). But his overcoming of every authority and power is a process that is not yet completed (Heb 2:8). This notion of a seed form of beginning with a future completion is referred to as the “Now/Not Yet” of the Kingdom of God. As scholar Ken Gentry writes,

“Despite initial appearances, Revelation 21-22 does not speak of the consummate new creation order. Rather, it provides an ideal conception of new covenant Christianity, presenting it as the spiritual new creation and the new Jerusalem. Though the ultimate, consummate, eternal new creation is implied in these verses, (via the now/not yet schema of New Testament revelation), John’s actual focus is on the current, unfolding, redemptive new creation principle in Christ.”6

This now/not yet, inauguration/consummation paints a picture of a New Covenant that is already here with a new creation of a new heavens and earth that will one day be fully consummated at the physical return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. At that time, Death will be swallowed up in victory, even though we can now speak of it having already lost its sting. This is present reality based on future promise.

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Cor 15:54-57

Notes

1. DeMar, Gary. End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration of the Left Behind Theology. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001, 111-115. For more, see “Preterist Scholarship” on the Preterist Archive: http://www.preteristarchive.com/Preterism/index.html.
2. Godawa, Brian. “Old Testament Storytelling Apologetics,” Christian Research Journal, Vol. 34, #3, 2011, p. 24-31. Online: http://www.godawa.com/Writing/Articles/OTStoryApologetics-CRJournal.pdf
3. KTU 1.2:4.8–9; 1.3:3.38–41. All these Ugaritic texts can be found in N. Wyatt, Religious Texts from Ugarit, 2nd ed., The Biblical Seminar, vol. 53 (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002).
4. Baal sits…/in the midst of his divine mountain, Saphon,/in the midst of the mountain of victory./Seven lightning-flashes,/eight bundles of thunder,/a tree-of-lightning in his right hand./His head is magnificent,/His brow is dew-drenched./his feet are eloquent in wrath. (KTU 1.101:1–6)
The season of his rains may Baal indeed appoint,/the season of his storm-chariot./And the sound of his voice from the clouds,/his hurling to the earth of lightning-flashes(KTU 1.4:5.5–9)
5. See also Psa 18:9-10; 68:32-33; 104:3; 2Sam 22:10; Zeph 1:15; Isa 30:30-31 cf 31:15; Deut 33:26.
6. Gentry, Kenneth L. Jr. Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues. Fountain Inn: SC, Goodbirth Ministries, 2009, p. 167.


Brian Godawa is the screenwriter of To End All Wars and other feature films. He has written and directed documentaries on church-state relations, stem cell research and higher education politics. He is the author of Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (InterVarsity Press) and Chronicles of the Nephilim, a series of fantasy novels about Biblical heroes within their ancient Near Eastern mythological context. He speaks around the country to churches, high schools and colleges on movies, worldviews and faith. His movie blog can be found at godawa.com/movieblog/.

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Enosh - #65121

September 27th 2011

Good exposition of the ‘coming on the clouds’ imagery in Matthew 24, and well related to the physical return of Jesus and our bodily resurrection, which are still future.


Christian - #65125

September 28th 2011

Thanks for this excellent series!


micahmartin5 - #65140

September 28th 2011

Brian,


I really enjoyed this installment. I wish more Christians would look to the Scriptures for their definitions. 

Permit me to make a few observations or questions:

1) Is there any correlation between the “cloud coming” and Acts 1:11? Maybe “in like manner” is referring to the same “coming on the cloud” imagery.

2) I find Gentry’s quote absolutely amazing. It seems to me that he is saying that Revelation 21 & 22 are fulfilled totally in the “new covenant creation” yet they also point to a fuller fulfillment in a way that Gentry wants, i.e. physical / material. Yet Revelation directly makes the correlation between the FIRST H/E and the one that Gentry says is Covenantal. If Revelation 21 & 22 are not talking material, then the logical hermeneutical correlation would be that Gen. 1 is not talking material. 

I would say we should ask the question why does Gentry have to do what he does instead of leaving it at pure exegesis? The NT authors certainly have a already/not yet schema but there is a perfectly good reason. If you look at the Exodus story there was a 40 year period of transition. The same is played out in the NT. After the passover God’s people left Egypt. However they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and finally entered the promise land under Joshua, when the walls of the city fell.

The types and shadows with fulfillments are incredible. (3000 died at the giving of the law, golden calf / 3000 made alive at the giving of the law, pentacost. Just to name one). There was certainly no thousands of years “already not yet” in the OT types and shadows. 

Add to this fact that Gentry and others who clearly see most of the heaven and earth imagery as referring to the covenant world of old covenant Israel have a tremendous problem. 

Paul preached nothing but the hope of Israel, Old Covenant Israel. However, Gentry, DeMar and others have that world ending before OC Israel received all of her promises! You simply can’t say that God “transferred” OC Israel’s promises to the Church, even though this is what many PP scholars argue. That would make God un-faithful to His promises. 

So, why does Gentry just have to insert that Revelation 21 & 22 still foreshadow some renewed physical earth (or isn’t referring to it at all but only the new Covenant)? 

The answer is simple. Go find out how Gentry defines Gen. 1-3 and the nature of the curse. Gentry, De Mar and Sproul are all hard core YEC. (With only DeMar being the exception by at least allowing some debate on the issue.) 

It seems clear to me that they are bringing their assumptions from Genesis. These deeply rooted assumptions cause them to override the otherwise phenomenal exegesis of certain passages. 

If physical death is a component of the fall, and the physical universe has been altered by sin then we can’t say that Christ has finished his work because the New Covenant is not enough. We need a new physical creation to replace the tainted, evil, corrupted physical world. 

The end matches the beginning. It is either physical or covenantal…

Blessings,
Micah





micahmartin5 - #65142

September 28th 2011

Brian,


Permit me to continue with my thought. 

I think it is high time that we examine what the nature of the Curse was. We need to clearly define the elements of “the death” that Adam experienced. 

I don’t have to tell you what the YEC framework is. This framework should be noted when examining how Gentry, De Mar and Sproul exegete eschatological passages. (I can’t say anything about the other writers that you mentioned because I am not familiar with their views on Gen.)

Is biological death a component of the Fall? Well…

Was Adam the first to die “the death” of Adam? Was Adam the first to die biologically?

Was Christ the first to rise from “the death” of Adam? Was Christ the first to rise from biological death? (Acts 26:23)

I think the simple answers to those questions clearly show that “the death” that Adam suffered was fellowship death and had nothing to do with biology. 

The physical world that we live in is exactly the same as the one Adam lived in. Sin did not intrinsically alter the physical universe. God has a very good reason for making a universe with beauty, danger, biological death, decay, birth and the other components of the circle of life. 

This idea is not only Biblical, it is also being confirmed through science. 

There are so many connections that need to be unraveled. 

For example, dispensationalism and YEC have their roots in the same place. Is it any wonder? Morris and Whitcomb wrote a lot about eschatology. It is in stark contrast to Gentry and De Mar! It is funny that they all agree on the beginning yet they disagree about the end. 

Now what about those on biologos? Why is anybody looking for a new physical creation when it is apparent that we live in the same physical creation as the pre fall world? Why is anyone trying attach biology to “the death” that Adam experienced when we know that physical death is the way God created the material universe?

And where is Paul getting his theology in 1 Corinthians 15? Hosea is a good bet. Unfortunately, there is nothing about biological death in Hosea 6 & 13. Could Paul be talking “corporately” about Israel being “sown”. Maybe the body of Adam was sown, died (notice the order) and then resurrected as the “incorruptible” body of Christ? 

I’m glad you are working through this. I hope you move on to other implications and study further, especially the Biblical definition of the nature of “the death” that Adam experienced and Paul’s discourse in 1 Corinthians 15. Alan Bondar has an absolutely fabulous series on it at his website new covenant eyes .com. Just to give you a teaser… have you ever noticed Paul’s creation language in vs 35ff. He is going right back through the Creation account in reverse order!!!! 

The end matches the beginning… Genesis is the foundation… That is why all the rest of the Biblical authors refer back to it. 

Blessings,
Micah

jrinad70 - #65150

September 28th 2011

Micah,

Also, have you even noticed that in 1 Cor. 15:42-45 Paul equates the “perishable”, “dishonor”, “weakness”, & “natural” with Adam as a “living being”?  This is important because Paul is quoting Gen. 2:7 when he states, “The first man Adam became a living being”.  Why you ask?  Because Gen. 2:7 is prior to Adam’s “fall”.   Thus, prior to Adam’s fall he was sown “perishable”, in “dishonor”, in “weakness”, and as a “natural” man.  These are all the attributes the Church assigns to Adam after/because of his fall.  Sorry folks, Paul assigns to his pre-fallen state.  What is also amazing is just a few verses later in 50-54 Paul also defines Adam, as he continues his contrasts, as mortal.  So, Adam was also mortal prior to his “fall”.  Not sure why the Church can’t see something so clear.

Something else I have always wondered.  The futurist holds up 1 Cor. 15 (even in this article) as some proof text about a physical resurrection, yet Paul ties the entire resurrection to the removal of the Law!  Paul states, at the conclusion of his resurrection discourse and when the last enemy was to be defeated (which is what Gentry stills has as future), “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”

When the law is done away with the power of sin is removed and thus the sting of death.  Death is defected when the law is removed!  The Church holds that the law was removed at the Cross yet the Resurrection is still future.  Doesn’t add up.  The Church also can’t deal with the fact that Paul uses the Present Passive all through 1 Cor. 15 showing the Resurrection was something that was in process in the 1st century.  For example, verse 35 should read, “But someone will ask, “How are the dead being raised? With what body are they coming in?”  But, this doesn’t jive with a physical resurrection, so the text is changed to future tenses.  Shame, shame, shame.  Yes, the “it” throughout 1 Cor. 15 is the corporate body of OC Israel which “some” at Corinth was denying would be resurrected because they had died outside the “body” of Christ, thus the reason they didn’t understand what “body” they were being raised in. 

Concerning the new heaven and earth, and the new Jerusalem.  Basically Gentry has the New HE beginning at AD 70 with some future physical consummation.  Problem is Hebrews 12:22 states, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem”, which shows the New Jerusalem was present prior to AD 70.  This is because the new Jerusalem was established at the Cross/Jesus’ Resurrection.  It was then consummated in AD70, which Revelation portrays in Revelation 21-22.  And that was the second coming of Christ.  And as Brian showed, it wasn’t physical.

Also, if you consider Christ coming in AD 70 as a coming (which it was), and Hebrews 9:28 states that Christ would appear a “second” time unto “salvation”, then his coming in AD 70 had to be the “second” (after all it was the first coming that took place after His first thus making it the “second”; unless my math is wrong), and unto Salvation! And if he brought “salvation” then he brought Resurrection.  They are one and the same.


Norman - #65214

September 28th 2011

The New Exodus model of the NT has been recognized by many theologians. Heb 3 & 4 are prime examples that the NT time of Pentecost to Jeruseleum’s fall, spanning around 40 years is the typological model under consideration. The looming judgment against the unfaithful Jews is spelled out explicitly in these following verses, while the Hope of Rest from their labors awaits this intended audience of Hebrews. This is especially borne out in chapter 8 where it is acknowledge that indeed the covenant time is coming to an end and along with it the Temple loss. This was a letter to the New Exodus faithful of Christ whom were being exhorted to endure until the occurence of judgment against those who fell in the wilderness as exemplified in the Judgment upon the Harlot of Bayblon: Jereseleum and its idolatrous Temple.

 

(Heb 3:5-19)

Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

(Heb 4:1-11)

continued

 


Norman - #65215

September 28th 2011

For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

(Heb 8:8-13)

the Holy Spirit this signifying, that the way into the holy place hath not yet been made manifest, while the first tabernacle is yet standing;

(Heb 9:8)

 


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