I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Judgment

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Preterism is interesting to me not only in how it makes sense of prophecy and history, but also in how it shapes our applying that prophecy to ourselves.

There is no question that there will be a future worldwide judgment (1 Corinthians 15). But a flat view of future worldwide judgment as the focus of prophecy (bypassing the extended comings of Jesus in the 1st century AD) leads us to a flattened application. It leads us to stress the world’s and even the Christian’s deserving of judgment (“none is righteous, no, not one;” “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”), and stress the magnitude of God’s undeserved mercy to escape this judgment. This is a right and true perspective. But if we recognize that very much prophecy also focuses on the faithlessness and failure and judgment of Israel, then there are deeper qualities to this story that spring to life.

Preterism helps us to reckon with the fact that the Christian is truly righteous, that judgment for God’s people is only in the past. At the same time, it also helps us to reckon with the fact that the church will be judged more strictly and severely (1 Peter 4:17), not only at the end of time but also throughout history.

Neither David (Psalm 14:1-3) nor Paul (Romans 3:10-11) is making a universal statement about the absence of righteousness. David is speaking of the enemies of God’s people (the righteous actually show up immediately afterwards in Psalm 14:4ff!). Paul is speaking of God’s people rusted through: turned unrighteous with only a fake veneer of pretended righteousness, yet with a righteous remnant actually remaining in the newly established church. Isaiah (64:6) is speaking in a similar context; he does not assume the impossibility of righteousness, but rather recognizes that Israel’s former and now pretended righteousness really had become degenerate and polluted; they had presumed upon God’s grace and mercy.

So we see first of all that it is really possible to be righteous (Psalm 14:5), by the obedience of faith that brings justification. There is no future judgment for the Christian, only an evaluation as sons and daughters. Yet we also see that God holds his people to strict account; it is really possible to presume upon God’s mercy (Romans 2:4), and our justification requires our faith to be living and obedient (James 1-2). And this serves as a particular warning to the church to remain faithful, for while there is now a greater outpouring of the Spirit to ensure the life of the church (Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8, 10; etc.), we have concrete historical reminders of the apostasy and presumption and judgment of God’s people throughout the Bible and culminating in AD 70. Churches and movements and denominations can fall even while Jesus strengthens and grows the greater church worldwide. Consider the greatness of the falls of the church in Rome in spite of Paul’s own personal warning to them:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Romans 11:17-22 ESV)

And recall that Babylon in Revelation is not a symbol of the world, but a symbol of Jerusalem’s good worship gone bad.

Preterism does not at all prevent us from applying prophecy and the reality of God’s judgment to the end of time and history. It simply helps us not to fast forward to that day without pausing to reflect on God’s judgments within time and history (especially the great twin reckonings of AD 30 and AD 70), and how God’s people experience these judgments. Jesus is both the one who truly and perfectly justifies (Romans 3:26), and also the one who walks among the lampstands (Revelation 1:13).

Written by Scott Moonen

January 7, 2018 at 4:01 pm

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