Exegetical AudacitySeries: An Eschatological Mix
Sermon By Terry Siverd / August 29, 2021 / Cortland Church of Christ
Welcome to one and all and thank you for tuning in to today's livestream sermon. We welcome you and pray that this morning's sermon may prove to be a blessing to you.
Today brings a continuation of our current series on eschatology, with a sermon that I have titled, Exegetical Audacity. The word “exegesis” is often used in the context of the interpretation of Scripture. It means to draw out. And of course, as most of you know, the word “audacity” connotes the idea of being presumptuous. My original intent was to preach this morning on, Clouds Of Glory (Lord willing, we'll do that next Sunday).
When we turn our attention to eschatology, we invariably encounter “clouds”.
With this opening remark, I'm being a bit funny (corny), but this is a serious message. Indeed in studying some of the sub-topics that rest under the canopy of the broad subject of eschatology, one often encounters “cloudy” exposition. It can be quite embarrassing to read from others or to hear sermons that stretch the limits of credulity: defying sound exegesis, logical analysis and candid interpretation - - OBFUSCATION. Peter warned about this kind exegetical audacity in his second epistle (2Pet.3:13-16) - - (This text was written by the apostle Peter to first-century saints regarding the eschatology events of their day). According to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
This beclouded thinking is witnessed on many levels and runs the gamut of extremism. On one hand, we are sometimes confronted with an outright denial of the plain and explicit language of Scripture. e.g., Words employed by Jesus and inspired Biblical writers like Peter & Paul and James & John are turned on their head. In Mk.8:38 & 9:1, Jesus forewarns: Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. Jesus anchors His words in the first century by adding: Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.
The tension between these two verses becomes apparent in watching some attempt to drive a wedge between the two. I'm assuming that we realize that chapter and verses divisions were late additions (c. 1,500 AD) to the text of Scripture. In an obvious effort to put space between these two verses, some editors have tried their best to blur their connection. Many cannot fathom the thought that Mk.8:38 is actually yoked together with Mk.9:1. They cannot harmonize the idea that the coming of the Lord was to happen in the first century). Yet, as Matthew's account shows (Mt.16:27-28), they are “joined at the hip” - - they belong together! Some have acquiesced to this union, but then they proceed to “fuzzify” the matter all the more by making the ridiculous argument that some 1st-century people who heard Jesus say these words are still living, although 2,000 years have past. In 1Pet.4:7, Peter states, the end of all things is at hand. As noted in a prior sermon, Peter's words are not complicated. Peter is not just talking about an end, but rather he addresses THE END of ALL THINGS. Furthermore, Peter modifies his declaration, affirming that the end of all things is AT HAND. Some attempt to “harness” this verse, by suggesting that the expression, AT HAND, can have a large measure of elasticity - - even able to stretch over 2,000 years. Yet no one in their right mind understands AT HAND to mean anything but NEAR or SOON TO TAKE PLACE. Rather than readjusting their preconceived notions about “the end”, some persist in twisting the Scriptures. 1Pet.4:7 makes perfect sense when we realize that Peter was not talking about the end of planet earth, but rather the end of the Old Covenant era - - the consummation of that which was growing old and ready to disappear (Heb.8:13).
Another passage where we detect this exegetical audacity is Rev.1:7, where John announces - - Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so, Amen. This announcement appears in the preface of the book of Revelation and it is reprised in an abbreviated version three times in the epilogue (Rev.22:7, 12 & 20) - - Behold, I am coming QUICKLY. Some make the silly argument that the word “quickly” refers to the sped that will be employed where Jesus comes. In other words, “quickly” in this text has nothing to do with the proximity or nearness of His coming. Here again we encounter muddled and audacious exegesis: reading into the text rather than drawing out of the text. The fact that this is a “twisted stretch” is borne out clearly by the other verses that surround this announcement. Have you noticed the opening verses of the book of Revelation (Rev.1:1)? - - the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to show to His bond-servants, THE THINGS WHICH MUST SHORTLY TAKE PLACE. Lest there be a misunderstanding of John's preliminary pronouncement, he adds in Rev.1:3 - - THE TIME IS AT HAND. What we read is Rev.1:1 & 3 is reiterated verbatim in the last chapter of Revelation (Rev.22:6 & 10) - - THE THINGS WHICH MUST SHORTLY TAKE PLACE...FOR THE TIME IS NEAR. Whatever we do with words and terms like at hand, quickly and shortly, we must not be found guilty of distorting/wresting their original meaning. To do so would be to bring destruction upon ourselves. Remember: the book of revelation is a revealing not a concealing! It was never intended to “fuzzify” matters.
In closing I want to share one more illustration of exegetical audacity. This might be considered exhibit A for such. In sharing this I find it to be somewhat painful. C. S. Lewis (now deceased) was a wonderful writer. Having read a number of his many books and essays, I'm grateful for the scholastic contributions he's made to the faith. This is not to say that Lewis never disappointed his readers. The following is a case in point. (See my essay in today's FamilyMatters, “A Most Embarrassing Quote”). C.S. Lewis' wrote a somewhat obscure essay, The World's Last Night, in which he discussed the second coming of Jesus. Early on he addressed Mt.26:64, where Jesus told the Jewish leaders, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. Next, he turned his attention to Mt.24:34 - -this generation shall not pass away until all these things take place. Lewis then quotes another who states: “Say what you like, the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have proven to be FALSE. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the second coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find embarrassing. THEIR MASTER HAD TOLD THEM SO. HE shared, and indeed (HE) created, their delusion. He (Jesus) said in so many words, 'this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.' And HE WAS WRONG. HE clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.
Lewis then offers his own summary of Mt.24:34 saying, “It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.”
If and when we are confronted with a hard-to-grasp passage of Scripture, rather than accusing Jesus or one of the apostles of being mistaken, would it not be far better to humbly reconsider OUR understanding of the text? Among the many qualities that we need to bring to the text of Scripture, exegetical audacity is not on the list!