New Testament epistles are sprinkled with eschatological references which have led to confusion and the belief that the rules of hermeneutics must be re-written to accommodate particular eschatological systems. We will now survey how these Epistles make eschatological references and how we might best understand them.
A Sense of Imminence
¶ The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
First Peter 4:7
The eschatology found in the New Testament Epistles conveys an expectation of imminence. Each of the writers had a sense that something was about to happen very soon. It could be argued that they were misguided and that the Scriptures accurately recorded their misinformed views. We see evidence of this sort of thing throughout the Old Testament where misinformed human perspectives were accurately recorded in God’s inspired Word. This includes such statements like, “from the rising of the sun” (Psalm 50:1; Isaiah 45:6; Malachi 1:11). Of course, we know that the sun doesn’t rise but from the perspective of the human authors it appeared to. But this doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing happening in the Epistles. Unlike the genre of the Psalms or Prophets, these eschatological statements found in the Epistles are not poetic. They are presented as statements of fact – often linked to an injunction (1Peter 4:7; Hebrews 10:24-25). If it is the New Testament perspective is actually just the accurate recording of misguided human opinion, it then makes the linked injunctions (moral commands) redundant.
The seven feasts of Israel were prophetic pictures of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. Most of them can be proven to be fulfilled, but there are still some to be fulfilled…
The wonder of God’s amazing revelation in Scripture is that not only has He spoken directly of His plan for mankind, but that He has also given us some beautiful historical pictures of His plan of redemption embedded within the precepts of the Mosaic Law. The ceremonies, rituals, and prescribed festivals each have priceless insights into the life, work, death and resurrection of the coming Messiah- Jesus Christ. Understanding these prophetic pictures should not just amaze us, they should inform and reassure us that God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ has unfolded perfectly and will continue to do so.
Some scholars regard the language of Revelation as “apocalyptic”. By this, they mean- ultimate doom language presented in symbolic terms. If we accept this narrow definition as the working definition of “apocalyptic” then we are forced to reject the Book of Revelation as truly being apocalyptic language. The reason for this is that the Book of Revelation is not about the end of the world as much as it is about the end of something else.
Other scholars take a broader definition of the word apocalyptic and employ it to simply mean prophetic symbolism. Clearly the Book of Revelation is full of symbols. The challenge for the Bible student is to learn its language and interpret what the symbols mean. We do this by following the standard rules for sound Bible interpretation.
The issues of right and wrong are integral to the study of ethics which is a core component to morality. Right is understood as morally right, as distinct from absolutely right such as in the science of mathematics. Naturally, wrong is understood as morally wrong, as distinct from incorrect. Moral is understood to be: the best individual and social outcome. As Christians we believe that the best individual and social outcome is only achieved when the mind of God is sought and followed. In the Old Testament era, this was encapsulated within the Decalogue (The Ten Commandments). Now in the New Testament era, its understanding is enhanced by Christ’s teachings.
In the story, Gulliver’s Travels, the author continually depicts Lemuel Gulliver travelling among different peoples who each reflect an aspect of British morality and culture. After describing the British as either war-mongers, snobs, greedy, or, out-of-touch intellectuals, he finally concludes with a scene where Gulliver travels to an island of savages, called Yahoos. These savages are caucasian, filthy, and promiscuous. Also on this island are horses (referred to as Houyhnhnms). The Houyhnhnms are cultured. They know nothing of lying, greed, or stealing. Each Houyhnhnms is committed to just one other Qwinum as their spouse.
How would you define “perfect”? l’m not sure that too many people have pondered how many things in life are perfect. Perhaps most Christians would regard only two things as ‘perfect’: (i) God, and (ii) The original Creation.
I try to teach my church that Biblical literacy involves being able to discern what is indeed a Biblical statement, and what is meant by a Biblical statement. When it comes to pondering what “perfect” means, we may have a problem if we look to support our two examples with Scripture. Firstly, Matthew 5:48 asserts that God is perfect. Not only is God essentially perfect, but so are His ways (Deut. 32:4), and His will (Rom. 12:2).
But the second assertion is a little more difficult to demonstrate from Scripture. In fact, it’s so difficult we may have to concede that it’s impossible. Yet, despite this obvious difficulty the idea that God’s original creation was “perfect” is so widely assumed that to suggest otherwise meets with astonished bewilderment. Yet it is this unquestioned assumption that forms the foundation for several seriously important teachings. I want to suggest that what we regard today as being “flawed” with our world (earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, storms) were probably a part of God’s original design. Therefore the “perfection” of the original creation which is described as being “good” and “very good” may not have been the kind of perfection that might have romantic notions of.