An Arena Of Great ExpectationsSeries: An Eschatological Mix
AN ARENA OF GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Sermon By Terry Siverd / September 26, 2021 / Cortland Church of Christ - - www.cortlandcoc.org
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In last Sunday's sermon titled, An Undeniable Dozen, we highlighted twelve “random” texts in the New Testament that address the topic of eschatology. As I mentioned, there are lots more - - but we chose to focus on twelve. One more point, by way of review: I spoke to you about my eschatological New Testament. I was only a mid-teenager when I decided to read through a new (never -marked-in NT) and highlight every passage related to eschatology. It was truly an eye-opening endeavor that laid a foundation for a number of informal discussions with my Bible professors after enrolling in as a freshman at Harding University in the fall of 1972 at the age of 18. In calling attention to this again, I do so only to illustrate that the study of eschatology is not just for old people. And neither is it just for “gifted” students. In no way did I fall into that category. I was a good student - - diligent and conscientious but not precocious in any way shape or form. One need not to be brilliant to grasp the New Testament teachings on eschatology. What's needed is a combination of aspiration & determination.
It is true that the apostle Peter, while writing about eschatological matters (2Pet.3) referred to the epistles of Paul who also spoke of these matters, about which Peter noted: SOME THINGS ARE HARD TO UNDERSTAND (2Pet.3:16). Some Scriptures are easy reading, while others are more difficult, but they are all intended to be understood. Some passages simply require more study, and in a few cases a lot of study.
When we open up our New Testaments we are immediately swept up into AN ARENA OF GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Nobody can read the New Testament manuscripts without sensing it. Is is PERVASIVE. It's in the gospels...in the book of Acts...in Paul's epistles...in the writings of Peter, James, John and Jude. What we're alluding to is an AIR OF EXPECTANCY that hovers over the entire New Testament corpus. Whether we call it an expectation of nearness or the imminency factor or give it some other appellation, there can no doubt as to its preponderance - - it leaves a big footprint. Our New Testaments are filled with references that depict a first-century church eager with anticipation regarding the arrival of end-time events. Some have suggested that the Divine silence that had characterized the intertestamental time period (those years between 400BC to 30 AD) contributed to a heightening of anticipation, especially in view of the turmoil within the political climate during that time frame. As the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi was written some 400 years before Christ. During this time of silence (no inspired revelations), many extra-Biblical apocalyptic writings flourished. These were uninspired documents written by ones fixated on God's coming intervention. The Old Testaments prophets spoke often of a time in their future when Jehovah God would fulfill His covenantal promises to the nation of Israel through the coming of their long-awaited Messiah. In one sense, while this time period (400BC – AD30) was void of inspired writings, it was not actually a time of silence. The hopes and dreams of Israel were percolating strongly with an intensified preoccupation about their future. This may have been a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder. God may have been temporarily silent, but He was not in any sense absent.
Paul's words in Gal.4:4-5 ooze with excitement, lending support to this claim that this era was not an empty vacuum - - when THE FULNESS OF TIME CAME, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order than He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Much has been written about Paul's expression, the fulness of time. Whatever this phrase might encompass, it seems to communicate that God discerned this to be the ideal time for the sending forth of His Son. By means of God's sovereignty and providence we can safely assume that all things were falling into place for the proclamation of the gospel of Christ and the announcement of kingdom of heaven. These two events are harnessed together: the preaching of the gospel and the arrival of the kingdom. The preaching of the gospel was the kickoff that would eventually usher in God's eternal kingdom. As Jesus noted: (Mt.24:14), this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to the whole world...and then the end shall come.
In the New Testament one can read multiple passages that reflect this same eschatological expectancy. We can hear it unfolding immediately in the nativity narratives. Lk.2:25f tells of a righteous and devout man named Simeon. As he lingers near the temple in Jerusalem, we read - - that he was looking for the consolation of Israel and when he embraces the newborn baby Jesus he states: Now Lord, let me depart in peace..for my eyes have (now) seen Thy salvation...a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel. Likewise for the prophetess Anna (Lk.2:36-38) - - when she saw the Christ child she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Israel.
Mt.3:1f records - - Now in those days John the Baptizer came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Lk.21:20 & 22 records words of Jesus that distinctly tie together the fall of Jerusalem with fulfillment. When you see Jerusalem encompassed by armies, know that her desolation is at hand...for these are days of vengeance in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled. When we come to the book of Acts, we quickly realize that the atoning work of Christ did not consist of just His birth, death, burial and resurrection. After His resurrection but prior to His ascension Jesus presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3). When the apostles had gathered together again after Jesus' resurrection, their first inquiry was to ask Him: Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6).
When we read the NT observantly, we cannot fail to note a plethora of passages underscoring these expectations. Honesty compels us to ask, what triggered this outlook of expectancy that we read about in the pages of the NT? It seems to me that there are two realistic considerations on this matter. The first option is to acknowledge that these prevalent expectations originated with Jesus and the apostolic writers. A second option is to argue that the first-century saints misunderstood what was being said by Jesus and the apostles. If that was the case (which I don't think it was), why didn't Jesus and the apostles correct their misunderstandings? The fact that they did nothing to curtail these abundant anticipations is certainly worth pondering deeply. The truth is that not only did Jesus and His apostles NOT attempt to dampen expectations, they actually (and intentionally) fanned the flames by speaking and writing with words that were saturated with a sense of urgency. In His absence Jesus promised the Twelve that God would send the Holy Spirit to guide them in all truth (Jn.16:13). Thus, the reason that the apostles did not quell these high hopes was because they originated with the Holy Spirit.
The church in the pre-70 generation was a congregation brimming with great expectations as a direct result of the teachings of Simeon, Anna, John the baptizer, Jesus the Christ and the Spirit of truth. The church of the first-century that we read about in our New Testaments was nurtured by a unified and consistent message: the time was fulfilled … the kingdom was at hand … the Lord was about to judge … the coming of the Lord was at hand … redemption was drawing near … the night was far spent and the day was at hand … the Lord was near … God was ready to judge … it was the last hour … the day was drawing near … the world was passing away ... In yet a little while He who is coming will come and will not delay … etc.
Well-intentioned New Testament scholars have tried to side-step the impact of this preponderance of eager expectations by calling attention to what they call an “already-but-not-yet” element that's inherent in the many exhortations we read in the epistles. Rom.13:11 is a classic example of this: this do knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed. Indeed, there is an already-but-not-yet aspect within the eschatological sayings of Jesus and the apostles but to stretch this language beyond the first-century amounts to a BIG TEASE: a carrot on a stick that is dishonest at its core. In other words, the scholars are telling us that these eager longings were embedded in the language as a means to keep the church on its toes as they continually wait for God's eventual intervention.
I reject this explanation because I keep hearing Peter tell his readers, the Lord is NOT slow about His promise (2Pet.3:9).