House Divided: Imminent Redemption in Luke 21:27-28 and Romans 8:18-23 (Updated)

The Abandonment of the Analogy of Scripture

The Westminster Confession of Faith states that “the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” 1 J. I. Packer understands this to mean “that we must give ourselves in Bible study to following out the unities, cross-references and topical links which Scripture provides.” 2 There is nothing controversial within the Reformed community about the above principles. Reformed believers all strive to be faithful to the principle of “the analogy of Scripture.”  This being the case, why then are there so many differing opinions within the Reformed community when it comes to the question of how to form a sound eschatology? There are perhaps as many differing interpretations of eschatological texts as there are denominations. Clearly, there is a need to bridge the gap and bring healing to this eschatological division within Reformed and Protestant churches.

What is the cause of the division?  It is widely assumed that the cause is the enigmatic nature of the texts in question. While I agree that there are difficult eschatological texts, I submit in this article that the problem lies not in the vagueness of Scripture but rather in our unwitting betrayal of the principle of the analogy of Scripture.

Reformed eschatology has a strong Preterist tradition, which argues that the New Testament’s eschatological statements of imminence must be taken literally because there are no contextual indicators leading us to interpret them in any other way. As Gary DeMar states, “any student of the Bible who does not interpret these time texts to mean anything other than close at hand is in jeopardy of denying the integrity of the Bible.” 3  To put a finer point on it,  R. C. Sproul suggests that any eschatology which denies a literal interpretation of the New Testament’s time texts has adopted a liberal or neo-orthodox view of God and time:  “When F. F. Bruce speaks of faith making the time be ‘at hand,’ this sounds all too much like Rudolf Bultmann’s famous theology of timelessness, which removes the object of faith from the realm of real history and consigns it to a super temporal realm of the always present hic et nunc [here and now].” 4 Sadly, this same view is so commonly articulated among Reformed and Evangelical believers 5 that few seem to recognize its liberal and mystical implications or its exegetical lack of support. In the interest of preserving eschatological futurism, many have compromised the principle of scriptural analogy by sweeping away the plain and obvious meaning of the imminence texts. In so doing, conservatives are unwittingly handling the Scriptures like Bultmann.

In an effort to mitigate this liberalism, some have become partially Preterist, suggesting two returns of Christ, one in AD70 and another yet-future final coming and resurrection. The obvious problem with this view is that “Paul looked for one climactic future event, the return of Jesus Christ, the blessed hope.” 6  The Partial Preterist side of our “house divided” understands that in the AD 70 return of Christ (accomplished in His generation) God “gathered” and “redeemed” His church. Jesus was straightforward and clear that “all these things” were going to take place in His generation. Thus, Partial Preterists swim bravely against a strong tide of “newspaper exegesis.”

  On the other hand,  Evangelical and Reformed theologians who reject Partial Preterism are nevertheless faithful to the principle of the analogy of Scripture when they link the imminent “gathering” in Matthew 24:31 and Mark 13:27 to Paul’s “gathering” and “catching away” (“rapture”/resurrection) in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1. When they tie the imminent “redemption” in Luke 21:28 to the “redemption of the Body” and of “the creation” in Romans 8:18-23, they rightly reject the exegetical breaking asunder of Scriptures that are thematically one.

The remainder of this article offers a brief examination of these texts as well as a response to the “house divided” approach of Keith Mathison and his co-authors in their critique of “Hyper-Preterism” titled When Shall These Things Be? (hereafter WSTTB?). 7 Mathison and his co-authors are a microcosm of the Church. Though they enjoy unity in the belief of a yet-future “second coming” and resurrection of the dead, their eschatological house is divided. Some believe the eschatology of the Bible is mostly fulfilled. Others believe it is mostly or wholly unfulfilled. Their disagreements with each other are not rooted in the difficulty of the texts, but rather in the rejection of the sure foundation of sound scriptural analogy. In setting aside the plain sense of thematically congruent Scriptures, they have constructed their eschatological house on exegetical sand, and it therefore “cannot stand.”

Restoring the Analogy of Scripture

“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:27-28). Appealing to the principle of the analogy of Scripture, John Murray and other Reformed theologians understood Paul, in Romans 8, to be building upon the “redemption” that Jesus discussed in the Olivet discourse:  “Now in Luke 21:28 . . . [t]his word ‘redemption’ (apolutrosin), when used with reference to the future, has a distinctly eschatological connotation, the final redemption, the consummation of the redemptive process (cf. Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 1:30; Eph 1:14; 4:30). Hence analogy would again point to the eschatological complex of events.” 8  We cannot brush off Murray’s comments lightly when he connects these texts to the resurrection and redemption of Romans 8, but is it exegetically sound to say that the redemption of Romans 8:18-23 occurred in Jesus’ generation?

According to most Reformed eschatological paradigms, Romans 8 is teaching a biological resurrection and molecular transformation of our corpses and of the entire universe during the return of Christ at “the end of time.”  However, when we consider the Preterist side of Reformed and Evangelical eschatology with regard to the restoration of creation in the various related texts (Matt 5:17-18; 24:29, 35; Eph 1:10; 2 Pet 3; 1 John 2:17-18 and Rev 21:1), we soon discover that, in context, these passages are referring to the temple’s destruction or to the civil and religious worlds of men—either Jews or Gentiles. 9 The civil and religious rulers of the Old Covenant system or world, along with the temple, were the “sun, moon, and stars,” which made up the “heaven and earth” of the world that perished in AD 70. 10

In context, the time was “at hand” for the “elements” to be burned and for the world of righteousness to take its place (1 Pet 1:4-12; 4:5, 7, 17; 2 Pet 3). Peter was describing a change of covenantal worlds. As John Owen and John Lightfoot taught, Peter was not referring to a future return of Christ for the purpose of destroying the planet. 11 He was describing a transformation that was to be accomplished at Christ’s Parousia in AD 70. Kenneth Gentry and James Jordan also understand the passing of the “world” and the first heavens and earth (1 John 2:17-18; Rev 21:1) as referring to Christ’s return to end the Old Covenant system in AD 70. It is also understood within Reformed and Evangelical theology that the “times of fulfillment” to reconcile things in “heaven and on the earth” (Eph 1:10) is referring not to the planet earth and angels, but to the union of Jews and Gentiles in Christ. This was the “mystery” of the gospel in which the “whole family” of God, in heaven and on earth, would participate. When we combine the exegesis from some of the best Reformed and Evangelical theologians, we quickly see that none of the New Testament de-creation passages are dealing with planet earth, but are references to the Old Covenant or its people. 12

Lightfoot associated the “earnest expectation of the creature” and the “whole creation groaning” with the mind and heart of man, and not with planet Earth—not even poetically. 13 He referenced the “vanity” and “decay” of the creation (Rom 8:20) to the groaning from the “corruption” of sin found in the hearts and minds of mankind (2 Pet 1:4; 2 Cor 11:3; 15:33). 14 Lightfoot is on solid ground here; not only is there lexical evidence to interpret “vanity,” “corruption,” and “decay” as  ethical and moral putrefaction in the heart and mind of man, but contextually the passage has nothing to do with hydrogen or oxygen molecules, or with squirrels longing for a better day when they won’t get hit by cars.

Still, one might object that the “redemption” associated with the coming of Christ in Luke 21:27-28 has a clear time text (“this generation”) associated with it (v. 32), but the “redemption of the body” in Romans 8 does not; therefore, one might conclude the two passages are not necessarily parallel. Those who argue this way suggest that the redemption in Luke 21 might simply refer to relief from persecution and nothing more. The premise of their objection, however, is false. There is an imminence text associated with the redemption of the body in Romans 8.  Verse 18 reads, “For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory about to be revealed in us” (YLT; cf. NSRV, AV, & WEY: “soon to be manifested”). It is important to note that the Greek word corresponding to the phrase “about to be” is mello. Reformed Partial Preterists such as R. C. Sproul and Kenneth Gentry understand the word mello in the book of Revelation to refer to Christ’s return in AD 70. Sproul also writes that it is not unreasonable to apply the imminence indicators found in Romans 13:11-12 (“. . . for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness. . . .”) to earlier chapters in Romans that do not have explicit time texts. 15

If mello is a time indicator that needs to be honored especially when used with the aorist or present infinitive, and if it is not unreasonable to apply the time texts in Romans 13:11-12 to earlier chapters (even texts that don’t have time texts), then we cannot ignore that the glorification and redemption of the body in (Romans 8:18-23) was no less imminent in the first century than Romans 13:11-12!  Moreover, claims that the teaching of “the” judgment and resurrection of the living and the dead were not given with imminence indicators tied to them directly are simply not true. Acts 24:15, 25 reads, “Having hope toward God, which they themselves also wait for, that there is about to be a rising again of the dead, both of righteous and unrighteous. . . . But when he dealt with the subjects of justice, self-control, and the judgment which is soon to come, Felix became alarmed . . .” (cf. Acts 17:31, YLT/WEY; WUESTNT; emphases added). 16

In WSTTB? (p. 200), Mathison expresses willingness to concede that the imminence in Romans 13:11-12 was fulfilled in AD 70.

. . . it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand . . .

Yet The Reformation Study Bible, of which Mathison is an editor, harmonizes Romans 13:11 with Romans 8:23, correctly teaching that “salvation” in that verse is not merely deliverance from persecution (as Mathison theorizes in WSTTB):  “salvation. Here in the sense of future, final redemption (8:23).” 17  And again, the connection between these two passages is made even stronger when we allow the Greek word mello in Romans 8:18 to be translated the way it is predominately used in the New Testament.

In regard to the phrase “the sufferings of this present time,”—and as much as I can relate to R. C. Sproul, Jr., losing his hair and gaining some weight around his midsection (WSTTB? p. ix)—his appeal to the “sufferings” and “the redemption of the body” in our text have nothing to do with those kinds of issues. The context of the “groaning” of these first-century Christians can be found in the previous chapter. The sufferings Paul had in mind here were eschatological—the birth pains that were to precede Christ’s return in AD 70 (Matt 24:8; Rom 8:22). They had to do with man groaning under the inescapable tyranny of sin brought about by being condemned in Adam under the Law of God. For Paul, this produced a “death” but it was not a physical death—for how is it that a dead man writes a complex legal treatise such as Romans? Death in these chapters (Rom 5-6) had nothing to do with the idea of the fleshly corpse of man dying biologically as a result of Adam’s sin. 18 “Bondage,” according to the immediate context, had to do with spiritual death and groaning under the condemnation of the Law (cf. Rom 7:2, 7, 15). The sufferings in Romans 8, then, referred to the eschatological persecutions that preceded Christ’s return (Dan 7:21-22; Matt 24:9, 27-31; 10:17-23) and not to present day Christians suffering the traumas of birth defects, aging, cancer, etc.

Conclusion

The “salvation” and “redemption” associated with Christ’s Second Coming in AD 70 entailed much more than a physical flight to the wilderness of Pella, as some commentators have proposed. Christ’s Parousia in AD 70 was a redemptive and soteriological event that occurred “in” and “within” the minds, consciences and hearts of the Church, when God consumed by fire the Adamic world of Satan, Sin, Death and Condemnation, consummately purging His church of sin through the Cross of Christ (Rom. 8:18-23; 11:26-27; 13:11-12; Heb. 8-10). The “redemption” of Luke 21:28 is the “redemption of the body” in Romans 8:18-23. Both the imminence of the time texts and the spiritual nature of their fulfillment require this interpretation.

Olivet Discourse &

Luke 17

Romans 8

Suffering to come (Matt 24:9) Present sufferings (vv. 17-18)
Christ comes in glory (Matt 24:30) Were “about to” receive & share in Christ’s glory (vv. 17-18)
Kingdom will be realized “within” at Christ’s return

(Luke 17:21-37; 21:27-32)

Glory will be “in” them (v. 18)
Redemption & salvation—resurrection

(Luke 21:27-28; Matt 24:13, 30-31)

Redemption & salvation—resurrection

(vv. 23-24; cf. 11:15-27; 13:11-12)

Birth pains of the tribulation (Matt 24:8) Pains of childbirth (v. 22)
This would all happen in their “this generation”

(Matt 24:34)

This was “about to” take place (v. 18)

When we consider the eschatological propositions of both the classical Amillennial view along side the Partial Preterist Postmillennialist view, we quickly see how Full Preterism is the organic development of both systems:

1)  The Classic Amillennialist View: 

a)  There is only ONE “THE parousia” or Second Coming in the NT – not two per Dispensational teaching (the rapture for the Church and then 7 years later the second coming to establish a literal millennium for the Jews) and Partial Preterism (one coming in AD 70 and another one 2000+ years and counting).  For example, Paul is following Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24-25 in 1 Thessalonians 4-5.
b)  Christ returns at the end of ONE “end of the age(s)” period (not two – one in AD 70 and another future period) to usher in and establish the “age to come.”
c)  When Christ returns the analogy of Scripture teaches that His ONE coming ushers in the judgment and resurrection of the living and dead followed with inheriting the New Creation or New Heaven and Earth.

2)  The Postmillennial Partial Preterist View:

a)  The imminent time texts of the NT “demand” that “a” “THE parousia” and coming of the Lord took place in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

b)  Christ returned at the end of the Old Covenant age(s) period in AD 70 ushering in the New Covenant “age to come” – fulfilling Matthew 3:7-12; Matthew 13:39-43; Matthew 24-25; Hebrews 9:26-28; 1 Corinthians 10:11.

c)  When Christ returned in AD 70, a judgment of ” all men” and a resurrection of Israel took place for the living and dead.  The New Heaven and Earth of the New Covenant came when the “first [Old Covenant] Heaven and Earth passed away in AD 70 (Matthew 16:27-28; Daniel 12:2; Romans 11; 1 Peter 4:5-7, 17; Revelation 11:18; Revelation 20; 2 Peter 3; Revelation 21-22:10-12).

Now let’s combine these two and see if they form the organic development of Full Preterism…

3)  The Full Preterist View:

a)  The imminent time texts of the NT and the analogy of Scripture teach us that the ONE “THE parousia” or Second Coming of Jesus took place in AD 70.  For example Paul follows Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24-25 and is his source material in 1 Thessalonians 4-5.

b)  When Christ’s ONE “THE parousia” or Second Coming took place in AD 70, it was the end of the Old Covenant age(s) period of the Law and Prophets and ushered in the New Covenant “age to come.”

c)  When Christ’s ONE “The parousia” or Second Coming took place in AD 70, the judgment of all men and a resurrection/change of the living and dead took place.  The New Covenant Heaven and Earth came when the “first” Old Covenant Heaven and Earth passed away in AD 70.

The only way the two contradictory Classical Amillennial and Postmillennial Partial Preterist views (Reformed Eschatology)  can be reconciled consistently and exegetically is with Full Preterism — “Semper Reformanda,” that is, “Reformed and Always Reforming” – Selah.  This requires that Reformed theologians stop treating their creeds and Church tradition with the same kind of authority that the Roman Catholics gave them when Luther introduced something new and never taught in the Church Fathers before his time – forensic justification.  If the creeds have made mistakes and are subject to change when a clearer exegesis of Scripture comes along (as was the case with the Reformation), then Reformed theologians need to accept that the creeds need to be revised in the area of eschatology with Full Preterism.  I may not see this in my lifetime, but it will eventually take place – there is simply no way around it.

01.     Westminster Confession, I. ix.

02.     J. I. Packer, “The Interpretation of Scripture” in  ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (Inter-Varsity Press, 1958), pp. 101-114.  http://www.bible-researcher.com/packer1.html

03.     Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, 4th edition (Atlanta: American Vision, 1999), p. 393; emphasis added.

04.     R.C. Sproul, The Last Days according To Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), pp. 108-109; emphasis added.

05.     For example, see Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), p. 126, “always near.”

06.     Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2003), p.130; bold emphasis added.  Riddlebarger notes that partial preterists make the same mistake Dispensational secret rapturists make, in that both are forced into teaching a version of three advents:  “What is worse, if dispensationalists are correct about a secret rapture, then Jesus does not have two advents but three.” (Ibid. 143).  “This same difficulty must be faced by so-called “moderate” preterists, who tell us that the Parousia of our Lord already occurred in A.D. 70.  “…If the Parousia actually occurred in A.D. 70 and if the second coming of Christ is still yet to come, how many coming of the Lord are there?” (Ibid., 260)

07.     Keith A. Mathison, Kenneth L. Gentry, Charles E. Hill, Richard L. Pratt Jr., Simon J. Kistemaker, Douglas Wilson, and Robert B. Strimple, When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004). David Green, Edward Hassertt, Sam Frost and I have  co-authored a response to this book, House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to When Shall These Things Be? that is available on my “store” link.

08.     John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray 2:  Systematic Theology (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Publications, 1977) , p.389. Unfortunately Murray was inconsistent when it came to Jesus’ teaching that all things in His discourse would be fulfilled in His generation. Had Murray faithfully followed the analogy of Scripture in this regard, he would have seen two things:  (1) Christ’s coming on the clouds and the de-creation language in the discourse was metamorphic language describing the fall of religious and civil powers, as John Owen and other reformed theologians have understood; and (2) the coming of Christ, the passing away of “heaven and earth,” the redemption, the resurrection of the dead and the judgment were all “about to be” fulfilled in Jesus’ generation (Rom 8:18-23; Acts 17:31, 24:15 YLT WEY).

09.     John Brown, Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 3 vols. (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Publications, [1852] 1967), Vol. 1, pp. 170-174. H. T. Fletcher-Louis in Eschatology in Bible & Theology:Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium, K. E. Brower and Mark W. Elliot, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), pp. 145-169.

10.     Fletcher, ibid., pp. 145-169; DeMar, ibid., pp. 141-154.

11.     John Owen, The Works of John Owen (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Publications, 1972), Vol. 9, pp. 134-135; John Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), Vol. 3, p. 452.

12.     John Owen, ibid., Volume 9, pp. 134-135; John Lightfoot, ibid., Vol.3, p. 452; John Brown, Discourses, Vol. 1, pp. 170-174; John Locke, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St Paul, Volume 2 (Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 617-618; R. C. Sproul, The Last Days according to Jesus; Kenneth Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion (Tyler TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992), pp. 363-365; Kenneth Gentry in Four Views on the Book Of Revelation, C. Marvin Pate, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1998), p. 89 (cf. 43 for 1 Jn. 2:17); Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness, pp. 68-74, 141-154, 191-192; James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes Developing a Biblical View of the World (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1998), pp. 269-279; H. T. Fletcher-Louis in :Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium, K. E. Brower and Mark W. Elliot, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), pp. 145-169; Peter J. Leithart, The Promise of His Appearing: An Exposition of Second Peter (Moscow, ID:  Canon Press, 2004); Keith A. Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (Phillipsburg, NJ:  P & R Publishing, 1999), pp. 114, 157-158; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), pp. 345-346; N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 645, n. 42; Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2007), pp. 84-86.

13.     “. . . this vanity is improperly applied to this vanishing, changeable, dying state of the creation. For vanity, doth not so much denote the vanishing condition of the outward state, as it doth the inward vanity and emptiness of the mind.  The Romans to whom this apostle writes, knew well enough how many and how great predictions and promises it had pleased God to publish by his prophets, concerning gathering together and adopting sons to himself among the Gentiles:  the manifestation and production of which sons, the whole Gentile world doth now wait for, as it were, with an out stretched neck.” John Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Volume 4, p. 157;  emphasis added.

14.     Lightfoot, ibid., pp. 158-159.

15.     Sproul, The Last Days according to Jesus, pp. 99, 138-140.

16.     Gentry argues that “when used with the aorist infinitive—as in Revelation 1:19—the word’s predominant usage and preferred meaning is: ‘be on the point of, be about to.’ The same is true when the word is used with the present infinitive, as in Rev.3:10. The basic meaning in both Thayer and Abbott-Smith is: ‘to be about to.”  (Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation [Tyler, TX: Institute for Biblical Economics, 1989], pp. 141-142; emphasis added.)  Gentry is correct. The problem, however, is that when the word mello refers to the resurrection and judgment of the living and dead in Acts 17:31; 24:15 and 24:25, it is used with the infinitive. In the case of Acts 24:15 in a recent article on his site Gentry appeals to BDAG that when mello is used with the future infinitive, it communicates certainty.  Of course there are translations and lexicons that do render mello here as “about to.”  And Ken has yet to address or reconcile his recent preterist interpretation of the resurrection of Daniel 12:2 as taking place in AD 70 with the majority of commentators (along with his previous writings) which connect Daniel 12:2 and Acts 24:15 as being “one” resurrection for both the righteous and unrighteous taking place at the same time.  After all didn’t Paul say his doctrine could be found in the “law and prophets”?!?  Gentry also fails to address in his writings that mello in Romans 8:18 is in the aorist infinitive (of which he said has the “preferred meaning” of “be on the point of, be about to”) and also has two other imminent Greek words within the immediate context – apokaradokia and apekdekomai which further solidifies this translation of mello.  And lastly, BDAG (Gentry’s source for Acts 24:15) places Romans 8:18 as having the rendering “be about to be revealed.”

17.     The Reformation Study Bible, R. C. Sproul, General Editor, and Keith Mathison, Associate Editor (Lake Mary, FL:  Ligonier Ministries, 2005), pp.  1, 636.

18.     Tom Holland, Contours in Pauline Theology (Fearn, Scotland, UK:  Christian Focus Publications, 2004),  pp.85-110.  Holland is a Reformed theologian who sees Paul’s “body” of flesh, sin, and death not referring to our physical flesh but to the corporate body of Adam as contrasted to the corporate Body of Christ—the Church. He counters Gundry’s individual views of soma in Paul’s writings. He also argues for “consistency” in Paul’s use of corporate terms. I recommend this book to any serious student of Reformed theology.