Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

95 Theses, #88-90: The Return of Christ


To see the introduction and disclaimers for my 95 Theses, first go to: 95-Theses-Introduction

 (Painting: "The Last Judgment," by Michelangelo, c.1540, fresco)

88.) The Second Coming - Scripture and tradition are uniform in declaring that Christ will come again in a monumental, climactic event. We do not know exactly what this “Second Coming” will look like, though some of the dramatic pictures given in Scripture hint that it will be clear and definitive when it happens. We also do not know when this will be, nor do we know for sure why it has taken so long. It is hinted in Scripture that the Gospel must be taken to all people-groups before the end of history; that event has only been within reach of the Christian mission in this generation. Not until the 21st century have we actually approached the fulfillment of the dual promises at the beginning and end of Scripture, that all nations will be blessed through Abraham's seed (a prophecy referring to Christ, from Gen. 12), and that people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation would one day worship God around his throne (Rev. 7:9). 

89.) Amillennialism - (Note: this thesis is a necessarily brief summation of a very complex area of biblical interpretation; my position can be explored in greater length by reading my old blog-post on missions and the millennium or by listening to my historical theology lectures on the subject--here and here.) When Christ comes back to bring to completion the fullness of the Kingdom of God, which he inaugurated in his first coming, and which his people, his “body” has carried inexorably forward in the meantime, the normal course of history will come to an end. Most of Scripture seems to link several events in simultaneous sequence: the Second Coming, the Resurrection, and the Final Judgment. As such, it seems more likely to me that an optimistic amillennial scheme is the best paradigm for our end-times interpretation. The church is not a side-note between the two comings of Christ; rather, it is the crucial period of believers reigning with Christ and subduing Satan. Since a “new heavens and new earth” will be instantiated as the fullness of the Kingdom of God, an earthly millennium after Christ’s coming (which would separate several end-times elements that Scripture usually holds as simultaneous) seems redundant. Not only so, but the reasoning behind a new release of Satan at the end of those thousand years, and the sheer idiocy it would take for humans who had seen history climax in fulfillment of Scriptures to join in a literal rebellion against the reigning Christ (Rev. 20), stretches the limits of plausibility. Thus, I hold that when Christ returns, Satan’s power will already have been almost completely bound by the action of the church and the Kingdom-of-God-in-history will have already revolutionized the nature of human existence on earth; the resurrection of all the dead will occur (including, one must suppose, a transfiguration-without-death into a resurrection body for all those humans still alive); the Final Judgment will commence; and the whole cosmos will be transformed and restored in the (re)creation of “the new heavens and the new earth.”

90.) The Final Judgment - The Final Judgment has often been pictured as a sort of individualized courtroom drama, where each person’s good and bad deeds are weighed out (rather like the ancient Egyptian myth of entering the afterlife) and one is assigned either a place in bliss or in utter torment for all eternity. The truth behind this stark reality as a future event is probably unknowable on this side of history: it's worth remembering that the biblical language of hell and judgment, especially in Revelation, is couched in deeply symbolic language. Rather than a courtroom drama (even though that's akin to the way Scripture portrays it--Matt. 25, Rev. 20), I often see the Judgment as simply the moment of our awakening, of our full awareness of the reality and nature of our lives (sin included) in the light of God. Scripture tells us that on that day, “we shall know fully” and “we shall see Him as He is.” This light of the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves will convict each of us as to our own state and the way we have used our lives; there will be no escaping from the reality of who we are. What follows from that moment is left in the hands of the justice and mercy of God.

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