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.

What’s an Exile to Do? Know that Your God Will Have the Last Word

Posted by R. Fowler White

Dear Exile, when it comes to your suffering for Christ, who will have the final say: your persecutors or your God? Notice that we’re not talking here about hurt from hard providence. We’re talking specifically about being marginalized or worse for Christ in a world that’s against Christ, suffering for what is right in a world that’s gone wrong. So again: when we Christians suffer for Christ, will our persecutors or our God have the last word? In 1 Pet 3:13–4:2, Peter provides an answer to that question, and it requires our close attention.

First, says Peter, know for sure that we who are devoted to what God calls good are blessed even if we suffer (3:13-14; cf. 4:1-2). While God’s grace prevails, we with a zeal for good and right in the sight of all have no extraordinary fear of hindrance or harm. Yet even when we do suffer unjustly, we who pursue a righteous life in Christ will enjoy God’s blessing. So, Peter says, recalling God’s words to Isaiah (Isa 8:12-13), be truly fearless despite unjust suffering (3:14). Defend your hope in Christ (3:15). Even when you’re defamed, respond confidently, respectfully, and conscientiously to your accusers and thus expose their shamelessness (3:15-16). Moreover, if suffering for Christ is in God’s providential will for you, rest in His providential control of that suffering. After all, it is He who has made suffering for good better than committing evil. So, continue to do what is right (3:17) because neither your persecutors nor the suffering they inflict will have the last word.

But what assurances do we have that our enemies won’t have the final say, or that suffering for good is, in fact, better than doing evil? In 3:18–4:2, Peter points us to Christ, the supreme example of how God has the last word over suffering by giving victory and glory to all who suffer for what is right. First, the Apostle reminds us of Christ’s victory over sins: God gave us victory by making even Christ’s death the way to bring us to Himself (3:18a). The words that follow (3:18b-22), however, are harder to understand, but in my view Peter most likely refers to Christ’s resurrection and ascension (as he refers to His suffering and death in 2:21-25). He tells us that Christ, made alive in the Spirit, proclaimed His resurrection-and-ascension victory to evil spirits from Noah’s day (3:18b-20; cf. Col 2:15; 1 Tim 3:16). But why bring up His victory over those enemies? Because that victory discloses Christ’s identity as the One who will have the final say not only against persecutors of God’s church in this world, but also against those in the world before the flood. In that old world, righteous Noah and his household suffered but overcame their enemies. Among those enemies were (evidently) disobedient angels (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6; cf. 1 Pet 3:22) who breached the boundaries of their proper realm and seduced the ungodly in Noah’s generation to defy the patience God was showing them, all while Noah built the ark and proclaimed God’s promise of deliverance with His warning of judgment. Those evil angelic spirits, kept in prison since the judgment in Noah’s day, have now heard Christ’s victory proclamation. They have heard how, in this world, Christ the righteous suffered but overcame His enemies in His glorious exaltation. And His victory proclamation to those enemies from Noah’s day tells them and us just how comprehensive His victory is. It is Christ’s victory that makes suffering the way to glory. It is Christ’s victory that defeats both angelic and human foes. It is Christ’s victory that reaches from earth to heaven and even to hell. It is Christ’s victory that settles accounts both in this world and in the old world as it identifies Him as the Judge who will dispense final judgment and final salvation. It is Christ’s victory, then, that is so all-encompassing that it leaves all persecutors, even evil angels from the old world, with nothing more to say. His word is the last word.

Considering the ramifications of Christ’s victory, Peter reminds us that, like those passengers in Noah’s ark, we too will overcome our spiritual enemies (3:20b-21). As the visible church in the old world, Noah and his household endured opposition. Their baptism, however, made a visible distinction between them and the world, representing the benefits of God’s covenant with them and their solemn vow to live in good conscience before Him. Likewise, Christ and the households of faith are the visible church in this world, and we too endure opposition. Our baptism, however, also makes a visible distinction between us and this world, representing the benefits of God’s covenant with us and our solemn vow to live in good conscience before Him (4:1-2; 3:16). So, just as the baptism of Noah and his household signified their victory over the old world in the LORD of the flood (Ps 29:10), our baptism signifies our victory over this world in Christ.

Finally, the Apostle has us look again to Christ, this time as the One through whom our baptism becomes an effectual means of our salvation (3:21-22; WLC Q. 161). No, Peter does not teach here that baptism becomes effectual by any power in it or in whoever administers it. Rather, he teaches that baptism becomes effectual as it represents and confirms to believers all the benefits that God promises to them in Christ, and as the Holy Spirit, with Christ’s blessing, works through it to increase and strengthen the saving grace of faith in them. In this context, then, the Apostle would have us who believe to see our baptism as a sign and seal of the victories that are ours in Christ: in His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His session at the Father’s right hand. With those victories in view, how can we not share Peter’s confidence that, even while we suffer, we’ll keep dying to sin and living for God (4:1-2; 2:21)?! How can we not be fully assured that, because victory and glory are ours in Christ, the last word belongs to our God, not to our persecutors?!

Jude 5

Yet another passage abused in favor of FV theology is Jude 5:

“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

Steve Wilkins (ab)uses this passage on page 15 of his exam, where he says, “Thus Jude 5 can speak of the Israelites as having been ‘saved,’ and then destroyed, because they did not persevere.”

Two points need to be addressed: the first is that this was a physical salvation from Egypt. To make an automatic parallel to our spiritual salvation from this needs to be argued, not simply asserted.

Secondly, the context indicates that Jude is talking about the false teachers, not about people in the congregation. This is clear from verse 4: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” That they “crept in” indicates that they certainly do not belong to the flock. In fact, they were predestined (“long ago were designated”) for this condemnation. They never were part of the flock. That is the point of the illustration. That this is the correct interpretation is proved decisively by the continuation in verse 8, which speaks again of those false teachers (“these people also”). He speaks of them not as members of “us,” but as “them.” Therefore, Wilkins’s interpretation does not follow from the text at all.