Thursday, January 31, 2019
The Until Passages
Adapted from a larger work: They Shall Reign
By William L. Vincent
© 2018 All Rights Reserved
One does not need to be around Preterists very long in order to hear of time-texts. These are important texts that Preterists depend on in order to demonstrate that many things prophesied in the New Testament would find their fulfillment “soon”, “at hand” and “before this generation passes.” It could be said that Preterism is built on time-texts. If this is the case, then I would contend its weakness (and error in the case of Full Preterism) are missing the until-passages. Just as time-texts demand a limiting chronological context for their fulfillment, the until-passages also set chronological parameters. But unlike the time-texts, the until-passages expect that a prophecy is unfulfilled until a condition is met.
When we think about how the Kingdom is described by Christ, it is always progressive. A seed is planted, grows and reaches maturity. Leaven is added to meal until it is all leavened. Crops grow, first blade, then stalk and finally mature plants. A mustard seed, He says, begins as the smallest of seeds, but becomes a great tree. Thus we have a beginning, maturation process and a culminating event.
It should not be missed that the Kingdom and the “coming” are intertwined. Those described in the time-text who “would not taste of death” would see the “Son of Man coming in His Kingdom.” But we must remember the nature of that Kingdom. It begins small, grows and finally reaches a point of maturity. One of the mistakes of the Preterism, and Full Preterism in particular, is reducing the “coming” to a singular and instantaneous event. I would contend that what “came” in the first century was something that grew, and grows, until.
The first of the until-passages that we will deal with is found in Acts Chapter 3. Here Peter and John have gone to the temple at the hour of prayer, and healed a lame man. In his sermon St Peter makes the following statement speaking of Christ who had ascended into heaven:
Whom the heavens must retain until the restitution of all things.
This is an important passage for several reasons. First of all, it makes the Full Preterist proposition impossible. It demands that the present state of Christ being absent from the earth is not a permanent and eternal one. No, Christ must remain in heaven, but also must return. This, in fact, is just what we are told that the angels tell the Apostles at the beginning of Acts “this same Jesus who you see ascend will in like manner come again.” The one who ascended must descend.
Typically, the FP camp will contend that Christ reigns in the heavens, which is correct. They would also contend that Christ is present with the Church, which is also correct. Yet all of this is true in Acts 3, yet Peter still says that the heavens will retain Christ until a point in time, and then Christ will no longer be “retained in the heavens.”
A second and important point is the contingency. Christ must be retained in heaven until “… the restitution of all things.” What this means is that as long as Christ is in the heavens, then all things have not been restored. It also seems to indicate that the restitution of all things is an objective of Christ’s being, presently, in the heavens.
Here it is important to point out that the statement about Christ being in the heavens is not arbitrary. This is a phrase that has significant messianic connotations. Christ is not just in heaven, or outer space. Rather, Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Father. He is in the heavens on business. When this business is accomplished, and all things have been restored, then He will return to earth. Further, if all things are accomplished, then there is nothing left to do. No more enemies to conquer and no one to save. This can be no other than the Last Day and this must be the last act of God in regard to the present state of things. Yet Christ remains in the heavens until then.
Another until passage that must be examined is presented by St Paul in the 15th chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians. Here Paul deals with a contention that has arisen in Corinth. It seems that some of them were contending that there was no resurrection. This is an interesting contention, and one can only guess at its formulation and nature. We do not, however, need to guess at the Apostles response. His answer is concise – if Christ was raised from the dead, then how can anyone claim that there is no resurrection? While, again, the details of this debate among the Corinthians are not given, we could imagine a position very similar to that taken by Full Preterists. Surely they could not have denied the doctrine of eternal life, or that those who died in Christ were “with the Lord.” In fact, Paul seems to summarize a major contention of their argument in verse 35 when he charges “some will say how are the dead raised, and with what body do they come?” I would contend here that the Corinthian dissenters were not denying eternal life, but rather the resurrection of the body. At any length, whether that was the Corinthian claim or not, Paul’s reproof certainly sets aside the modern Full Preterist confusion over the resurrection. Christ rose from the dead bodily, and we should expect the same. It is because of this dispute among the Corinthians that Paul outlines the “proper order” of resurrection.
Paul contends that the resurrection will affect all, but that this will come to all in the course of time. Paul says that the “full completion” comes after Christ has “rendered every Authority and Power ineffectual.” He then goes on to give us our until passage. “For He must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet, the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
In the Revelation we are told that Christ goes forth to conquer all those who make war with Him – His enemies. Here Paul tells us that Christ must reign until all enemies are placed under His feet – the last is death. We should note that it is at the end of the Thousand Years, and at the judgment of the Great White Throne that death and the grave are cast into the Lake of Fire. Thus the sequence Paul gives us, the “order of resurrection”, fits perfectly with what we suggest as the nature of the Thousand Years. It begins in correlation to the judgment of Jerusalem, and ends when all enemies are destroyed by the conquering Christ, the last being death and the grave.
Now that we have made this connection, we introduce a concept that does major harm to the Full Preterist idea of the “destruction of death”. FPs like to contend that death is destroyed in a “spiritual resurrection”. Yet the body, in their view, remains a corpse in the grave. Yet the Revelation tells us that death AND the grave are cast into the Lake of Fire. Thus, the destruction of death that Paul speaks of to the Corinthians must include the removal of the grave as well as death; spiritual or not. Further, the contention that death had already been destroyed by Christ’s resurrection does not hold true; at least not in the sense that they describe it. That is, while it is true that the raising of Christ from the grave is the event horizon that eventually brings the “order of resurrection” to the whole cosmos, this does not preclude the removal of the grave, as FPs contend. Finally, whatever destruction of death Paul describes has yet to take place, at least in fullness, at the time Paul writes. Paul says that “then will be fulfilled the statement death has been swallowed in immortality.” Then is future to Paul’s writing, yet the resurrection of Christ was past tense. Thus, and again, death had not been destroyed as Paul predicted that it would eventually be in the final act of Christ’s judgment upon His enemies.
Another important until passage is found in Revelation 20. Here we find, as we discussed earlier, that the martyrs and faithful reign with Christ in heaven until the thousand years are finished. Further, that Satan is bound until the Thousand years are finished. Now this brings up an important point of discussion about the nature of the Thousand Years in regard to the duration of Christ’s reign. If the reign of Christ is a “Kingdom which has no end”, then how can the reign of Christ have a conclusion? Here we should note that this is a problem regardless of whether we have a literal or symbolic Thousand Years. How can the reign of Christ end? My contention here will be that it does not. The reign of Christ does not end, but the condition of Christ’s reign, particularly during the Thousand Years, changes. We have already shown that Christ reigns until all of His enemies are destroyed, thus it is only a logical step to imagine that there must be a time when Christ reigns with no enemies remaining. The Thousand Years cannot simply be the reign of Christ, but a particular way in which Christ reigns. The Thousand Years must be the time before the until passages have been realized. This is the time when Christ “reigns among His enemies”, as the Psalm declares. This is the time when Christ reigns in heaven, until the restitution of all things.
It is important to understand, at this point, that the above until passages are derived from a very important messianic psalm (Psalm 110). Here the psalmist writes “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool”. It is in this very psalm that he writes “reign thou in the midst of thine enemies.” This then ties together the previous until passages. The ascension of Christ into the heavens and sitting at the right hand of the Father is inextricably bound to an until culmination. The reign of Christ must be until all enemies are subjugated. Why? Because Christ is invited to sit at the right hand of the Father until His enemies are made His footstool. This was something that the first disciples clearly understood. When they declared that Christ was seated at the right hand of God, they were immediately indicting the enemies that were persecuting them. Further, the fall of Jerusalem, in accord with Christ’s own prophecy was the ultimate sign that “the Son of Man is in heaven.” Christ was seated at the right hand of the Father and the first enemy to fall would be those who had shed the blood of the prophets and martyrs, and Christ Himself. The first to fall, but not the last. “Many shall make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them.” He must reign in the heavens until all enemies are destroyed and all things are restored, the last enemy being death.
So we see that the until passages set the nature and duration of the present Kingdom. While the time-texts may limit prophetic events, in regards to when they can occur, the until passages do quite the opposite. Time-texts specifically define certain aspects of when a prophecy should be expected to achieve fulfillment, until passages deliver the culmination of prophecy to the hands of mystery and Divine providence. It is in this regard that Christ tells His Apostles “it is not for you to know the times and seasons that the Father has set by His own authority.” Or as Christ says on the Mount of Olives “but of that day knows no man …”. What day does He speak of? This must be the Last Day, when all things are restored to God and when Christ returns from the heavens at the restitution of all things. This must be that great and terrible day when the dead, small and great stand before the Ancient of Days and the books are opened. When the saints judge angels. When, after all enemies of God are vanquished, that death, hell and the grave are cast into the Lake of Fire and the Son delivers the Kingdom to the Father. The restitution of all things, when God is all in all. Maranatha.
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