Eschatology Outlines: No. 4 The Apostolic Writings

Posted by R. Fowler White

Getting Our Bearings on the End from Hebrews

The author’s expectations appear to be shaped by parallels with the days of Noah and Lot and with the Sinai theophany. He anticipates the day of redemptive wrath (10:26) in which God will shake the present heavens and earth in the fury of theophanic fire (12:26-29), after which emerges an unshakable new heavens and new earth. In that day, the adversaries of God, among whom will be apostates and persecutors, will be consumed in the fiery conflagration (10:27, 30-39), and the people of God will receive their eternal inheritance of rest (3:7–4:11) in the lasting city (13:14) of that unshakable kingdom-homeland (11:14) in the world to come (2:5). The macrocosmic scale of the judgment with fire matches the scale of Noah’s flood, and in both cases the delivered remnant enjoys rest from their toilsome labors in a new earth. Also, the deliverance of God’s people into a new Canaan-earth is explicitly compared to the deliverance of Israel into Canaan, while the destruction of God’s enemies in Hebrews is implicitly compared to the fiery destruction of Sodom.

Getting Our Bearings on the End from Paul
(1 Corinthians 15; 2 Thessalonians 1-2; Romans 8)

I. The defeat of the last enemy, death, will mark the culmination of a complex of events (1 Cor 15:22-28), the essentials of which mirror the days of judgment in previous generations. As in the days of Noah and Lot, apostasy from the faith and lawlessness will bring cultural decline, provoking the wrath of Christ (cf. 2 Thess 2:3, 8-12; 1 Tim 4:1-5; 2 Tim 3:1-5 with Gen 4:17-24; 6:1-7, 11-12). Absent the restraint of God’s common grace (cf. 2 Thess 2:6-7 with Gen 6:3), the eschatological counterpart to Cainite Lamech (whether individual or corporate) will appear as a new abomination that brings defilement to and desolation upon the temple of God.

II. Special note on 2 Thess 2:4 and the expression temple of God

A. The phrase temple of God has multiple referents in Scripture: it is applied to the individual believer’s body, to the sanctuary structure in Jerusalem, to the church, and to the cosmos (heaven and earth). The question naturally arises, therefore: which temple, defiled as it is by the abomination of the man of lawlessness, does Paul have in mind in 2 Thess 2:3-12? We can reasonably exclude from consideration the individual temple of the believer’s body. Conceivably, the temple in view here, then, is either the temple at Jerusalem, or the church, or the cosmos. Though it is plausible that Paul, writing as he is before Jerusalem’s fall in AD 70, has that event in mind, the scale and finality of the phenomena mentioned in 2 Thess 1:5–2:12 fit most naturally with Christ’s second coming. Could the temple of God, then, be a reference to a future temple in Jerusalem? There is no basis in the Apostle’s writings for such an expectation. So, we are left to consider the church and the cosmos as the referent(s) of the phrase temple of God. Of these choices, it is reasonable to presume that the first referent in Paul’s mind is the church, that is, the visible church defiled by apostasy and by the man of lawlessness. Yet we are also able to discern a second referent when we consider that, once apostasy obliterates the boundary between the visible church and the unbelieving world, the defilement of the world fills the apostate church too. Furthermore, since it is clear in the context of 2 Thessalonians that the son of perdition fills the world with his lawlessness, we have to say that the cosmos-temple is defiled with lawlessness even as the church-temple is defiled with apostasy. It appears, therefore, best to see a twofold reference to the macrocosmic (world) and microcosmic (church) temples in the expression the temple of God in 2 Thess 2:4.

B. If the temple of God is interpreted as we suggest above, then, what Paul describes in 2 Thess 2:3-12 is a diabolical reprise of the idolatrous theocracy from the days of Noah and second temple Jerusalem, when the eschatological counterpart to Cainite Lamech will mock God as he assumes the posture of deity (cf. 2 Thess 2:3-4, 9-10 with Dan 9:26-27). To bring an end to his monstrous delusion, the Judge of Lot’s tormentors will again slay the wicked with fire and with His breath (2 Thess 1:8), sending His enemies to their everlasting destruction while rescuing His people (2 Thess 1:7) and bringing them into the glory of the new creation freed at last from the bondage of corruption and death (Rom 8:18-25).

Getting Our Bearings on the End from Peter and Jude
(2 Peter 2–3; Jude 7)

I. 2 Pet 1:19-2:9; Jude 7: Peter and Jude teach us to compare the coming of Christ in judgment with the judgment of the world of Noah (2 Pet 2:5) and the judgment of the city of Lot (2 Pet 2:6-9; Jude 7).

II. 2 Pet 3:1-7, 10-13: Peter teaches us to compare the coming of Christ to judge by fire with the coming of God to judge by flood.

III. Summary—Clearly, as Peter and Jude read the Bible, they teach us to see recurring patterns in God’s governance of history: the past is repeated in the future. It is remarkable to notice in these texts the traits of the days of Noah and of Lot: the decline of culture, the deliverance of a godly remnant, and the destruction of the ungodly.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 5A Paul on Israel’s Rejection and Salvation

1 Comment

  1. October 2, 2021 at 10:35 am

    […] Eschatology Outlines: No. 4 The Apostolic Writings […]


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