Friday, May 20, 2011

An Eschatological Discussion -- Part 3

There is a Hermeneutic Principle that is very helpful when we are trying to iron our our Eschatology. Easily stated the principle is this: Allow the clear, simple, and explicit to
interpret the unclear, complex, and implicit. There are passages in the bible that are more clear than others. We need to understand the complex in light of the simple, not the other way around. If we have to stretch the interpretation of an otherwise clear, straight-forward passage to accommodate our interpretation of a less clear passage, we are mistaken.

I have heard this referred to as theologically analyzing the text. We have all seen places in scripture that seem to contradict another portion of scripture. Well what do we do in that case? We interpret scripture with scripture. Where else is this doctrine taught? Are there four passages that seem to say one thing and only one that seems to teach a different idea? Well in that case we interpret the isolated scripture through the lens of what the rest of scripture teaches.

I agree with this method. Think for a moment about the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. If we were to read this parable plainly, then Jesus is teaching that salvation comes by our involvement in social justice (feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless etc.) If we were to read that text in isolation, we could make an argument for justification by works. However, we know that scripture teaches justification by grace through faith alone. Despite the imbalance in the specific references, we must also weigh the clarity of the verses. Matthew 25 tells that story in the form of a parable, a story form in which Jesus teaches kingdom principles through narrative. That is a less-clear text about justification than Ephesians 2:8 where Paul is simply in the middle of a theological discourse and says that it is by grace we are saved through faith.

Kik relies on this principle a lot throughout his book.

If you have a moment, read through Matthew 24.

Verse 34 is an interesting verse: "Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place."

That seems straight forward enough, but do we really think that everything Jesus said in Matthew 24 prior to verse 34 was fulfilled in the lives of the generation living when Jesus spoke these words?

Kik says: "Many commentators see that the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Jewish economy adequately fulfills the words of Matthew 24:4-28, but the great majority cannot grant it of verses 29-31. These words, they say, can only find fulfillment at the second coming of the Lord and have nothing whatsoever to do with the destruction of the Jewish dispensation and the city of Jerusalem... The honest conclusion then is: Our Lord was mistaken [or] he meant something else by 'generation'"

He goes on to say that some commentators will say that the word generation could also be translated "race" referring to Israel as a nation. The Greek word 'genea' is used 8 other times in the book of Matthew however, and always refers to a specific generation. In fact, in all of scripture this word is never used to mean anything other than a literal generation. Therefore if we must take the word literally, we must take the sentence in which Jesus uses it literally and infer that all he had spoken in Matthew 24 up until that point was fulfilled within the generation living while he spoke the words.

SO what is so hard about Matthew 24:29-31?

29"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. 30Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."

Oh, right. That. Yeah, that sure sounds like the second coming to me.

Kik disagrees.

"The word immediately binds this verse to the events which are described in verses 4-28. You cannot excise this verse from the events mentioned previously... Of course you could say immediately does not mean immediately, just as generation does not mean generation. That seems like a rather dishonest way to get out of a seemingly difficult passage..."

Kik interprets this passage as referring to the passing away of Judaism. It describes the eclipse of the Old testament dispensation and with it Jewish glories and privileges.

He goes on to reference Isaiah 13:10 (describing God's judgment against Babylon), Isaiah 34:4-5 (God's judgment against Idumea) and Ezekiel 32:7-8 (in a Lament against Egypt) saying that they all use similar language (stars light being withheld, stars falling from heaven and the earth and/or heavens shaking). His argument is that if God would use such strong language in his judgment against these nations, how much more would he use it in describing the downfall of his own chosen nation of Israel?

Lastly, Kik brings up Peter and Pentecost. "Peter states that the events of the day of Pentecost fulfilled the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32, which [Peter] quotes in these words: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, and I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my hand-maidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: and I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

In Joel two things were prophesied: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and judgment upon Israel... Quoting both elements of the prophecy, Peter indicates that both elements had now been fulfilled. "

What I find attractive about Kik's exegy of Matthew 24 is that he interprets the poetic language and metaphors about what things will be like using the clear and straightforward instructions of Jesus.

He takes clearly what seems plain, and applies interpretation to the figurative language which needs to be dug in to.

Where is he going with this? Well at this point in the book Kik is deconstructing the ways pre and amillennials have traditionally applied meaning to passages that reference the second coming of Christ. Because Postmillennialism is off in left field so to speak (in terms of popularity in modern evangelicalism) before he gets in to the meat, he has to loosen the grip these other traditions have on the way we are reading and interpreting scripture.


  1. " Of course you could say immediately does not mean immediately, just as generation does not mean generation. That seems like a rather dishonest way to get out of a seemingly difficult passage..." ... Or you could say 1000 years does not mean 1000 years. That seems like a rather dishonest way to get out of a seemingly difficult passage ... :)

  2. Yeah it seems like somewhere along the way someone has to say "that text doesn't mean what it clearly says..."

    I think Kik's point is that the words he's taking from Jesus seem more plain than John's in Revelation 20, and thus deserve more weight in our interpretation of our eschatology based on hermeneutic principles.

    Wait, I need a blog post for my response :)