WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

               WHEN DOES CHRIST RETURN?  PART FIFTEEN    
 

The parousia of Christ:

     It is instructive that the Greek word rendered “coming” in the New Testament is the word “parousia.”  This words basic meaning is "presence."  It is interesting that the New Testament writers used this word to describe the coming of Christ.  In his Companion Bible, Bullinger footnotes “parousia” in Matthew 24:3 to explain that the “Papyri show that from the Ptolemaic period down to the second century A.D. the word is traced in the East as a technical expression for the arrival or visit of the King or emperor.”  This Greek word can also mean the coming of a “divinity who makes his presence felt by a revelation of his power.” (See, A Greek-English Lexicon, by Arndt, Gingrich and Bauer).

       Another word used by NT writers in reference to the second coming of Christ is the Greek epiphaneia which means “an appearing or manifestation.” In 1 Timothy 6:11-14 Paul writes Timothy about how he needs to keep himself pure until the appearance (epiphaneia) of Christ.  Is there a 2000 year old Timothy still walking the earth trying to keep himself pure while waiting for Jesus to appear?  Paul wrote this to Titus:

       Titus 2:11-13: For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing (epiphaneia) of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

       Here Paul is instructing those he is addressing to live in a certain way “in this present age” (the age they were living in) while waiting for the appearing of Jesus. This instruction would be of no significance to those first century Christians if the appearing of Jesus wasn’t going to occur for 2000 years and counting. This is a first century context that shows the appearing of Jesus was a first century event.  

       The presence of Christ was experienced by first century Christians when He came a second time in the first century to fully implement resurrection from eternal death to eternal life. This resurrection from death to life was made possible by Jesus paying the death penalty for sin on mans behalf. This allows man to virtually become a new creation. This new creation is facilitated by man becoming reconciled to God because through Christ mans' sins are no longer counted against him.

       2 Corinthians 5:17-19a: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.

       We all continue to physically/biologically die. Under the Old Covenant, our sins would have made that death eternal. Because of the Christ event, the death penalty has been removed and we have eternal life residing in us which negates the permanency of death due to sin. Eternal life residing in us allows for our transformation from having a natural body to a spiritual body upon physical death. Again let's look at what Paul wrote.

       1 Corinthians 15:44a-49: If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.   So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.  As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

       As previously covered, the Greek word rendered natural is ψυχικόν (psychikon) and means having the nature and characteristics of animal life (See Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). The natural body is seen as a physical/biological entity made of the dust of the earth. The Greek rendered “spiritual” is πνευματικν (pneumatikon) and has the general meaning of something non-physical.

       Jesus was resurrected to having a non-physical spiritual body as witnessed by His after resurrection ability to appear and disappear at will.  While He was able to interact with His disciples in a physical manner, it is apparent His composition had changed. It is this change in composition that first century Christians were looking forward to at the appearing of Jesus. 

Documentation problems:

       The NT Scriptures clearly document that the first century Christians expected Christ to return in their generation. Is there evidence this occurred? Where deceased saints raised from the dead at the expected return of Christ in the first century as indicated in the letters to the Thessalonians and Corinthians?  What is the evidence they were given spiritual bodies and transported into the Kingdom of God in the heavenly realm.

       Some believe that narrative found in the letters to the Thessalonians and Corinthians teach that these first century Christians and their leadership believed and expected that those alive at the expected near at hand return of Christ would be changed from having physical bodies to having spiritual bodies.  If this is the case, where is the evidence this occurred?  Is there documentation of this having occurred?

       Do the Scriptures teach that the living Christians at the time of the parousia would not have to wait for physical death to receive a spiritual body? Paul taught that both the living and the dead would experience a change.  The dead saints would be revivified and given spiritual bodies.  Alive saints would be changed and, with the resurrected dead, meet Christ in the clouds and air. This is sometimes referred to as the Individual Body View (IBV) [some would call it the rapture view] as opposed to the Corporate/Collective Body (CBV) discussed in Part Eleven.

CBV versus IBV:

        As you may recall, The CBV believes resurrection to be spiritual in nature. Resurrection is seen as spiritually rising out from under the Old Covenant of death into the New Covenant of life. Resurrection is seen as a dynamic of the covenantal transition that occurred during the 40 year timeframe between Pentecost and the return of Christ.

       Sin is seen as spiritual separation from God and the penalty that causes eternal death. Physical death is not seen as the penalty for sin but the natural consequence of being mortal. Upon physical death the mortal body is seen as being transformed into a spirit body. Under this view, the living Christians at the first century return of Christ were not "raptured" and given spirit bodies but were given eternal life to dwell within them and when they physically died they would receive their spirit body. 

       The IBV does not see resurrection as a spiritual rising out from under the Old Covenant of death into the New Covenant of life.  Under this view sin is seen as producing both physical and spiritual death.  Resurrection is simply seen as the restoration of individual dead physical/spiritual bodies.  Because of the expectation seen by NT writers as to a change from physical to spirit that would occur at the return of Christ, IBV believe a "rapture" of the living saints occurred at the same time the righteous dead were raised.   

        The problem with this perspective is that while dead saints could have been resurrected unseen into the heavenly realm, this would not have been true of living saints. The disappearance of living saints would not have gone unnoticed.  Yet there is no written or oral witness to such an event occurring. 

       By this point in the development of the Christian Church, all evidence points to there being tens of thousands of both Jewish and Gentile Christians spread across the Roman Empire.  Yet nothing is written about Christians suddenly disappearing from their homes, jobs, schools, the marketplace or anywhere else.

       Some argue that this is the case because there were no Christians left to write about this event. The living Christians had all been raptured. However, there are no writings from secular historians of the time showing this event to have happened. There is no historian mentioning a sudden disappearance of people from anywhere in the Roman Empire.      

       Some who believe a rapture of living Christians took place at the return of Christ believe that the rapture event was small in nature.  It is believed that a number of living Christians failed to be raptured because they didn't remain faithful enough to "qualify" for the rapture. However, if this were to be true, you would think such un-raptured Christians would have been aware of others being raptured and would have reported on the matter.  Yet we have no such reporting. 

       Some preterists point out that this was a time of war and great upheaval for extant society.  Many people were being killed. The Roman invasion of Israel resulted in hundreds of thousands of Jews being killed. With all this going on, it is believed Christians disappearing via a rapture would not have been noticed as such disappearance would have simply been attributed to the Christian persecution and the carnage associated with the war. 

       It is believed that the Neuronic persecution led to the death of many Christians. This persecution is reported to have been initiated by the Roman Emperor Nero who accused the Christians of setting the fire that destroyed much of the city of Rome around AD 64. This was an attempt to divert the blame for the fire from himself as many came to believe that Nero was responsible for setting the fire so he could rebuild Rome more to his own liking.

       While the first century Roman historian Tacitus writes of Nero casting blame on Christians for the fire and punishing them with extreme cruelty, he also writes that “vast numbers (Christians) were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for their hatred of the human race.” Christians were being looked upon as “haters of the human race” because they would not recognize and worship the Roman gods and because some of their practices were seen as very strange.

       It is somewhat strange that writers such as Clement of Rome, Melito of Sardis, Tertullian, Lactantius, Eusebius and Jerome all write about the Neuronic persecution but do not mention the fire in association with that persecution. This in conjunction with what Tacitus writes, indicates that the Neuronic persecution was more directed toward Christians for reasons other than being blamed for the fire.           

        While there is reference to the Neuronic persecution in various writings, there is little evidence that the Neuronic persecution of Christians was Empire wide and therefore a threat to Christians beyond Rome and its immediate confines. While Tacitus speaks of an “immense number” and Clement speaks of a “vast multitude” of Christians being persecuted under Nero, such persecution appears to be primarily in Rome. Tacitus writes of Christians used as human torches to light up Nero’s gardens and being torn apart by dogs in the Roman Circus which was a huge stadium in Rome. Tacitus wrote that the cruelty of the persecution elicited pity from the Roman populace. This indicates Rome was the primary location of this persecution.  

       This being said, it is to be noted that in Revelation 7 we read about the 144,000 being sealed and of a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).  This multitude is identified as “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). If the Neuronic persecution is to be identified as the “great tribulation” the multitudes from every nation, tribe, people and language came out of, this would suggest the Neuronic persecution extended beyond Rome and could have had an impact throughout the Roman Empire. 

       It is to noted that in the Olivet Discourse, in the context of the coming judgement upon the Jews, Jesus says "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.  And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved" (Matthew 24:21-22 KJV).  In verse 29, Jesus is quoted as saying that "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken." Here Jesus engages in apocalyptic language to describe events that are seen as relating to the time of the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem.

       We know that this destruction followed on the heels of the Neuronic persecution because we know the persecution and Nero sending his armies to invade Jerusalem occurred shortly before his death. Since Jesus speaks of the destruction occurring immediately after the tribulation, it would appear the Neuronic persecution was the great tribulation spoken of in the Olivet Discourse.  Because Jesus says unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, the indication is that the tribulation was widespread.      

       On the other hand, the war against the Jews appears to be pretty much confined to the land of Israel.  It should be apparent that there were Christians living throughout the Roman Empire that would not have been directly impacted by the war.  One would think that the disappearance of Christians via a rapture who were living in areas not directly affected by the war would have been noticed as missing.  You would think there would have been some recorded narrative as to people suddenly disappearing from planet earth.  Yet there is nothing.   

       There is evidence that during the lifetime of the apostles and the early church leadership, the gospel message was taken to and spread throughout the known world. The gospel message was taken to places such as Gaul and Britain, Greece, Egypt, Persia and India. It can be safely assumed that a reasonable number of those that heard this message in these lands accepted this teaching and became Christian.  Yet there is no record in the histories of these countries that there was a sudden disappearance of Christians around AD 70.

       It must also be recognized that the so-called known world of the first century included much more territory than that controlled by the Roman Empire. The population of the Roman Empire in the first century was around 40 million. In the East there was the Chinese Empire covering a wider area and having a population of around 59 million. This was the Han dynasty and existed from 206 BC to AD 220. Other than trade, there was little inaction between the Roman and Chinese empires of the first century.

        There also was the Parthian Empire (247 BC to AD 224) with a population of around 7 million that existed in the East in the general area known today as Iran. There was war between Rome and the Parthian Empire but Rome was unable to conquer the Parthians.

       In view of the above, it must be noted that when Jesus and Paul speak of the Gospel being preached in all the world or to all nations (Matthew 24:14, 28:19, Mark 13:10, Romans 1:8, Colossians 1:6, 23), it must be the Roman world that is being alluded to. There is no evidence of the Gospel being taken to the Chinese or Parthian Empires or to remote parts of the world.

       Some have conjectured that a large number of Christians were killed during the Neuronic persecution resulting in only a small number of Christians experiencing the rapture. Therefore, the rapture went largely unnoticed.

       However, unless the passages in the Olivet Discourse are telling us something different,  there is little evidence that the Neuronic persecution extended much beyond the city of Rome.  It is instructive that only the Roman historian Tacitus provides significant information on the Neuronic persecution of Christians and only within the context of the city of Rome. Roman historian Suetonius briefly alludes to it and Jewish historian Josephus doesn’t even mention it.  Church leader Tertullian, writing in the 200’s AD, speaks of Nero being the first Roman Emperor to use Caesar’s sword against the Christians who at that time greatly increased in Rome. Tertullian says nothing about this persecution taking place beyond Rome.       

       The French Christian writer Sulpicius Severus (363 – 425 AD), as well as several other writers who wrote centuries removed from the first century AD, have alluded to the Neuronic persecution extending beyond Rome. However, these writers offer no documentation from that period to substantiate such claims.

       Some have conjectured that many Christians had “fallen away” by the time of the parousia and therefore only a relatively small number were raptured. Matthew 24:10 is referenced where Jesus said that “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other.” 1st Tim. 4:1 is quoted where Paul writes that “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.”

       Some see this as a “great apostasy” occurring before the parousia. However, this is speculative as we don’t know how many actually turned away from the faith.  When Christ used the word “many” there is no way we can know how many He had in mind. The Greek word rendered “many” appears 361 times in the NT narrative in a great variety of contexts. Sometimes “many” is seen as identifying a few and sometimes as identifying a large number.     

       What is of concern as to the validity of the Roman/Jewish war being the fulfilment of the Olivet Discourse, the Revelation and the many NT Scriptures that appear to be associated with the war is that when Christian writing does again appear early in the second century, there is no mention of the return of Christ, a resurrection/rapture having occurred or even a judgement having been exacted against the Jews. Instead, we see church leadership writing about a yet future return of Christ and all associated events. 

Preterist view seen as problematic:

      Futurists ask how could this possibly be? How could the Christian community that lived subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem seemly not know of a return of Christ and resurrection occurring in conjunction with the war with Rome?  Futurists point to Paul teaching that at the last trump the dead will be raised imperishable and the living will be changed from mortal to immortal (1st Corinthians 15: 51-54).  They point to Paul telling the Thessalonians that at the coming of Christ, the dead in Christ will rise first and those in Christ still alive will be caught up together with the resurrected dead to meet Jesus in the air (1st Thessalonians 4:15-17).  Futurists ask where the evidence is that this happened.

       Futurists ask why such early 2nd century Christian notables such as Papias (AD 60–130), Polycarp (AD 69–155), Ignatius (AD 108-140), Hegesippus (AD 110-180) Justin (AD 100165) and Irenaeus (AD 130202) write nothing about the parousia having occurred let alone a rapture taking place. Neither do they write anything about a “spiritual” transformation occurring of living Christians at a past to them parousia as taught by those who teach the collective body view of resurrection.

       Futurists take note of the fact that it is evident from the writings of these second century Christians leaders that they saw the parousia as an event future to them. It is asked how this could be if the NT narrative is indeed referencing a parousia that had already occurred?  It is asked how could these second century Christians so quickly depart from an understanding of the NT writers that the parousia was imminent to them (first century Christians) if indeed this was the case?

       It is questioned how these second century Christian leaders, who had the eschatological teachings of Jesus available to them, could see their fulfillment as future to them if indeed Jesus was teaching such fulfillment in the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. It is asked how could they so soon embrace a different understanding of NT eschatology from that of what Jesus  taught if indeed He taught a first century fulfillment.    

       Futurists often see the Kingdom of God as a world ruling government that is established at the return of Christ.  They point to such scriptures as Isaiah 9:6-7 where there is an apparent prophecy of the birth of Christ and it is said the “government will be on his shoulders” and “of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever."

       Futurists point to a sinful world ruled by sinful leaders and ask where is there any evidence of the Kingdom being established and Christ ruling in peace, justice and righteousness? Since such rule is not in evidence, it is seen as being established at a future to us coming of Christ and not as a first century event. (See my series entitled “What is the Kingdom of God?”)

       These are the primary arguments used by futurists against the preterist position.  It appears that a first century rapture is especially problematic for futurists. It is problematic for many preterists as well.  

       Jesus, in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24), advised His disciples to flee Jerusalem when they saw its destruction was about to occur. As discussed earlier, there is some historical evidence that the Jerusalem based Christians fled to the city of Pella in the Decapolis on the other side of the Jordan River. It is instructive that in Luke's account of the Olivet Discourse, just before telling His followers to flee, He tells them  "But not a hair of your head will perish" (Luke 21:18).  This shows they would be protected from the coming catastrophic events.

       A careful reading of the chain of events that occurred indicate they fled before the war really got going.  They fled before the Roman armies entered Judea and before Christ directly intervened. Proponents of a first century rapture believe that these Christians were raptured out of Pella.  

       However, there simply is no eyewitness documentation of Christians being raptured out of Jerusalem, Pella or any other location. Christians were living throughout the Empire by this time. There are no documents showing a sudden disappearance of Christians.

       Much about the "rapture" is spoken of in Paul's letters to the Thessalonian Christians. Yet these Christians were living nearly 1000 miles from Jerusalem, the approximate distance between Jerusalem and Thessalonica. They were 714 miles from Rome.  There is no evidence they were in any way directly affected by the war. There would have been no reason for these Thessalonian Christians too escape to anywhere.  They should have experienced the rapture from Thessalonica. Yet there is no record of Christians suddenly disappearing from that city. 

       Proponents of CBV see this as indicative of Christians continuing to remain on planet earth subsequent to the AD 70 events but now having undergone spiritual transformation resulting in eternal life abiding in them which would result in their receiving a spiritual body at the time of their physical death.     

       However, if this should be the case, and spiritually transformed Christians lived beyond the AD 70 events and understood that Christ had indeed returned and provided them with a spiritual transformation, you would think that there would be some written record of this being the case. Yet there is no evidence of such reporting on the part of Christians who lived beyond AD 70, written or oral. There is no evidence of Christians passing on to future generations of the Church the knowledge of their having experienced the parousia. In fact, there are no writings to speak of from the Christian community after AD 70 until the early 2nd century.

       The Book of Acts and Paul’s fourteen epistles mention 83 different individuals involved in various aspects of the developing Christian community.  Such names as Timothy, Titus, Gaius, Aristarchus, Tychicus, Apollos, Zenas, Hermas, Clement, Barnabas and a number of others are mentioned.  You would think that if these folks had experienced a spiritual transformation as taught by advocates of CBV, some of these folks would have lived beyond AD 70 to tell about it.  Yet there is no record of this happening.

       When we do see Christian writing in the early 2nd century, they speak of a future to them return of Christ and the related events of resurrection and judgement.  There is no indication in such writings that the parousia along with resurrection and judgement had previously occurred.  It is questioned how such a momentous event as the return of Christ, resurrection and judgment could be so quickly forgotten or ignored within thirty to forty years of it occurring.       

       Proponents of IBV teach that the only answer to the above dilemma of “transformed” Christians living beyond AD 70 and not reporting on the events of the parousia is that such Christians did not live beyond AD 70 because they were raptured.  There were no Christians with knowledge of the parousia that lived into the 2nd century who could write about the parousia and related events. The silence of Christian voices after AD 70 until the early part of the 2nd century is seen by IBV proponents as evidence they had been raptured. 

       It is believed that because of the lack of carryover knowledge of the parousia due to Christians with that knowledge being raptured, Christian writers at the start of the 2nd century began to futurize the events described in the Olivet Discourse, the Revelation and other eschatological passages.   

       In his Antiquities, published in AD 93, Josephus mentions that Christians were not extinct at the time he wrote this document.  In the writings of rabbis who lived and wrote just before and just after the war, there is narrative about Christians living at the time of such writings. Were these Christian folks who became Christians during/after the war or where they Christians who became Christians before the war and who had survived the war? If they lived through the war, it means they weren't raptured.  As mentioned above, some will conclude they weren't raptured because they didn't qualify for the "rapture." This conclusion is speculative and assumes the thing to be proved. Furthermore, you would think that among those who supposedly didn't "qualify" for the rapture, there would have been some who would have testified to the rapture having occurred. Yet there is no record of this. 

       Proponents of the IBV believe that the lack of Christian writing between AD 70 and the early part of the 2nd century is evidence that the rapture occurred. There simply were no Christians around to provide such writing. However, it appears that writings that began to appear at the start of the 2nd century were based on documents written before AD 70 (the NT Scriptures) which means these documents survived the war and if they survived the war you would thing there were Christians around who facilitated their survival.  Such documents would not have survived without they being preserved by caring Christians who knew their value to the Christian doctrinal system. Why were these Christians not raptured?

       As already pointed out, when Christian writing resumes at the beginning of the 2nd century, the parousia and all related events are seen as being future to the post AD 70 church. Yet, if indeed the NT Scriptures were all written before AD 70 (and the evidence certainly indicates this), you would think church leadership would have been able to connect the imminency statements found in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles with the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, an event that occurred only 30 years before.  It is as though they didn’t have access to the Olivet Discourse, the Revelation and other NT documents that show eschatological events were about to be fulfilled in the generation living at the time of the AD 70 event.  

       Yet, by the very fact that they had knowledge of the parousia and related events which they futurized, indicates that they did have access to the Olivet Discourse and related teaching of Jesus. Yet they did not associate the eschatology of these NT teachings with the AD 70 event.  Why would they be so inept in understanding NT eschatology and its association with the AD 70 event?  Futurists will simply conclude that the church leadership of the early 2nd century knew the parousia hadn’t yet occurred and wrote accordingly.  If this should be the case, the NT teaching that eschatological events were about to be fulfilled in the generation being addressed at the time is bogus teaching and we have series problems with the creditability of Jesus, Paul, Peter and all other NT writers.                

       It is to be noted that there is some evidence that Apostle John lived into the 90s AD.  If a rapture of Christians occurred in association with the judgement coming of Christ in AD 70, you would think that if anyone would have been raptured it would have been John. If indeed John did live past AD 70, this would appear to be a blow to the IBV perspective.

       Irenæus (AD 130-202), bishop of Lyons, in his “Against Heresies,” writes that John wrote his Gospel at Ephesus after being released from the island of Patmos and that he lived in Ephesus until the reign of Trajan who was emperor of Rome from 98 to 117 AD.

       There is a fragment from the writings off Papias (AD 60 – AD 135) that indicates John died at the hands of the Jews at around the same time his brother James died. James, however, appears to have died in the 40’s AD which is way before John died. Therefore, the usefulness of this writing in establishing when John died appears highly problematic. Papias, who was Bishop of Hierapolis in the early 2nd century, took a futurist view as to the return of Christ. He taught there would be a millennium following the resurrection of the dead at which time the kingdom of Christ would be physically established on earth.  He reportedly had contact with apostle John.  

       This being said, there is scriptural indication that John was martyred before the events of AD 70. For a fuller discussion of this issue, go to Commentary on the Revelation Part One.

        Since it is believed the leadership of the NT church were led by the Holy Spirit in coming to believe what they did, it is argued that the Holy Spirit could not have led the NT leadership to speak of the fulfillment of eschatological events happening in their lifetime if it wasn’t going to happen.  Therefore, it must have happened and the recorded expectation that it was going to happen is believed by some to be documentation enough. 

       To this point in this series, we have shown conclusively that the leadership of the NT church believed and taught that the coming of Jesus and the related events of judgement, resurrection and establishment of the Kingdom were about to occur and would occur in their generation.

       It appears Jesus made it very plain to His disciples shortly before His crucifixion that he was going to prepare a place for them and would return to bring them to the place He had prepared. 

       During the meal Jesus was sharing with his disciples just before his arrest, Jesus made a very encouraging promise to the disciples as recorded in John 14. Keep in mind here that Jesus is addressing His disciples who were present with Him at the time. They would have understood Jesus to be making this promise to them, not to people living hundreds and thousands of years in the future.  Here is the promise.

       John 14:1-3: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

        While it is true this passage has had a variety of interpretations, the general interpretive consensus is that Jesus is speaking literally of going to where the Father resides to prepare a place for His disciples and will return to bring them to this place so that they can reside with Jesus where Jesus is which is apparently where the Father is.  Many Scriptures show the Father resides in the heavenly realm which is where the seat of authority is for the Kingdom.

       Since Scripture shows Jesus ascended to the Father 40 days after His resurrection and we know the Father resides in the heavenly realm, it would appear it was into the heavenly realm that Jesus ascended and it was there where He was going to prepare a place where both the dead and the living saints would be taken.

        Most Christians look at this passage and completely ignore audience relevance. They conclude Jesus is addressing all Christians of all ages.  However, the context is Jesus’ imminent crucifixion and his absence from being with His disciples. He is trying to reassure them that after all is said and done, He is going to return to them and take them to be where He is.  He reiterates in verse 28 that He is coming back to them.  This would have been of little encouragement to them if His returning to them wasn’t going to take place until after they were dead for thousands of years.  

        John 14:27-28: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. "You heard me say, `I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 

       Some see Jesus' promise about going to the Father and returning as relating to His resurrection from the dead. Scripture shows He did ascend to the Father but then returned and spent 40 days with his disciples teaching them about the Kingdom before re-ascending to the Father.  Preparing a place for them is seen as preparing a spiritual place and that through His crucifixion and resurrection Jesus had facilitated a spiritual union with Jesus and the Father. 

       This view, however, does not harmonize with Jesus speaking of there being many rooms (Greek: μοναὶ, meaning "abodes") in the Father's house. Nor does it harmonize with the Scriptural passages we have discussed that speak of being clothed with a heavenly dwelling and the Kingdom having residential location in the heavenly realm. 

       Paul shows we cannot be in the Kingdom as flesh and blood, perishable Beings. We must be transformed into a Being of different composition, an imperishable Being that will live forever.  Paul clearly speaks of this transformation occurring for both the dead and the living Christians at the anticipated return of Christ in his generation.

       1 Corinthians 15:50: I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

       As shown in the Chapter in this series on the Kingdom, we as physical Beings can participate in the spiritual dynamics of the Kingdom. These dynamics pertain to our conduct before God and man.  While physical, we can also have imperishable eternal life abiding in us through the action of the Holy Spirit. In this respect, we are provisionally in the Kingdom.  While this was also true for first century converts to Christ, it is also apparent that these first century converts expected to have the eternal life abiding in them to become manifest in experiencing a transformation from having a physical body to having a spiritual body at the return of Christ. 

      1 Corinthians 15:51-57: Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

        Paul says, “we will not all sleep.”  Many interpreters view this as an editorial "we" in that Paul meant those Christians alive at a yet future to us (future to our 21st century time) return of Christ.  However, it is evident from the entire corpus of Paul's writings that he believed and taught that Christ would return in his generation and this is when resurrection would occur.  Thus the “we” he is addressing are the Corinthian Christians.  Paul is not addressing people living thousands of years into the future.  Paul is speaking of an event that he anticipated would take place shortly before some of those he was addressing would die.  Paul says the “we” will be changed.  That change for the “we” would take place at the same time the dead in Christ were receiving their change.  Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Philippian Church and also discusses this transformation in a second letter to the Corinthians.

       Philippians 3:20-21.  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

       2 Corinthians 5:1-5: Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.     

       At the return of Christ during the events associated with the destruction of the Temple, it was at that moment in history that Christ consummated the process of change from the Old Covenant ministration of death to the New Covenant ministration of life.  The power of sin to produce eternal death was broken. The victory over death was won and continues won to this day. This appears to be certain.  What remains uncertain are the dynamics of how this all played out relative to resurrection of the dead and the living when Christ returned in the first century. 

The Thessalonians and the parousia:      

       As discussed above, we have the problem of lack of documentation as to the resurrection actually occurring.  We don’t have written witness to either resurrection of the dead or transformation of the living actually taking place in the first century.  While first century historian Josephus records reports of several "supernatural" events occurring in association with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple, these reported events are not independently substantiated nor do they give evidence to a resurrection/rapture taking place. This problem is especially apparent in regard to the Thessalonians and the parousia. 

       It is evident from a reading of 2nd Thessalonians that the Thessalonians (Gentile believers) are being told they will be given relief from trouble they were experiencing when the Lord Jesus comes. Relief from this persecution would be experienced by Paul, Silas and Timothy as well. 

       2nd Thessalonians 1: 6-7: God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.

       The trouble the Thessalonian Christians were experiencing appears to be persecution from their own unbelieving countrymen.

       1st Thessalonians 2:14: For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people (Greek sumphuletés which means one who is of the same people, a fellow-countryman) the same things those churches suffered from the Jews.

       Thessalonica was a Greek city and Greeks were Gentiles. It is apparent Paul was addressing Gentile Thessalonians and telling them that they would be given relief from the trouble their own countrymen (fellow Greeks) were giving them and that God will pay back trouble to those who troubled them (their own countrymen) and this will happen at the return of Christ. This seems rather odd as the whole of the NT narrative teaches that the coming of Jesus would bring judgement upon the unbelieving Jews, not Gentiles. The coming of Jesus iterated throughout the NT was a judgement coming against the apostate Jews, not Gentiles.

       On the other hand, it must be pointed out that it is apparent that Thessalonica had a significant Jewish population and there were Jewish synagogues where Jews met on the Sabbath and where God fearing Greeks and Greek proselytes to Judaism would meet as well.  We see this evidenced in Acts 17.

       Acts 17:1-4: When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.

       It is historically evident that so-called God-fearing Greeks associated with Jews in worship on the Sabbath in Jewish synagogues.  The above passage of Scripture shows both Jews and Gentiles converted to Christianity in Thessalonica as a result of the preaching of Paul and Silas. Acts 17: 5-13 reveals that these converts to Christianity (Jews and Gentiles) suffered persecution from the unbelieving Jews living in Thessalonica. There could also have been persecution from Jewish converts to Christianity who held to Mosaic regulations.      

       Was the promised relief from persecution (2nd Thessalonians 1: 6-7) obtained by being “raptured” at the time of the parousia?  That would appear to be a rather odd conclusion. The context of 2nd Thessalonians 1: 6-7 does not suggest such a thing. It seems more reasonable to conclude they would experience relief from the persecution they were experiencing at the time and because of such relief would be able to live out their Christianity without the constant challenge from unbelievers.  This would suggest they were not “raptured” but continued to live their physical lives.          

       In 1st Thessalonians 1:10 these converts to Christianity are seen as waiting for the return of Jesus who “rescues us from the coming wrath.”  The “coming wrath” is seen throughout the NT as a wrath against first century Jews and facilitated by the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple.  History shows the Romans also destroyed other areas of Israel at the time but it is historically evident that this war was pretty much limited to the land of Israel.

       Thessalonica is 918 miles from Jerusalem.  It could be questioned how the Thessalonian Christians (Jew and Gentile) would need to be rescued from a coming wrath that is being experienced nearly a thousand miles distant from them. There is no evidence the Romans extended the war to Thessalonica or anywhere else beyond Israel. This would appear to be true for churches in Ephesus (over 600 miles from Jerusalem), Galatia (580 miles from Jerusalem) and the many other churches in various parts of the Roman Empire that appear to have been established by the time of the Roman/Jewish war.

       It appears for the Thessalonians to be seen as being rescued from the coming wrath is for them to be seen as being rescued from the persecution the coming wrath (destruction of the temple and Jerusalem) would bring to an end. The destruction of the temple was a tremendous blow to the Jewish religious system. This affected Jews throughout the Roman Empire. The Jews opposition to the developing Christian community would have waned with the removal of the centerpiece of their own religious system.  How this would remove persecution from unbelieving Gentile Greeks (their own countrymen), as indicated in 1st Thessalonians 2:14, is uncertain.  

       Proponents of a rapture of living Christians at the time of the parousia point out that there are no writings identifying the churches spoken of in the writings of Paul or the seven churches listed in Revelation 2 and 3 as continuing to exist subsequent to the AD 70 events. It is believed this is the case because the Christians who made up these churches were either killed during the Neuronic persecution or were raptured at the time of the parousia. However, it is to be noted that the church leader Ignatius, while on his way to be martyred at Rome around AD 108, wrote letters to churches at Ephesus, Philadelphia Smyrna, Rome and several other churches.

       While it could be argued that these churches sprung up years after the events of AD 70, it could also be argued that these churches were those established before AD 70 and were in continuous operation from before AD 70 to the time of Ignatius. If this should be the case, it would place into question the idea that living Christians were raptured at the time of the parousia.  

Does Paul teach a rapture?

       In 1st Corinthians 15: 51-52, Paul writes that in association with the return of Christ, “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” The dead are seen as being raised imperishable and the living are seen as being changed.  Is being changed equal to being made imperishable? Is being changed equal to having one's physical body changed to a spiritual body? To the Thessalonians Paul says this:

       1st Thessalonians 4:16-17: For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 

       Is Paul teaching that at the coming of Christ the living Christians will leave planet earth and join Christ in the heavenly realm?  Is Paul teaching a rapture would take place? 

Was there a gap in time?

       In their book entitled, The Second Coming: Mission Accomplished, authors Tom and Steve Kloske take the position that when Paul says “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them (the risen dead) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” the phrase "after that" represents a gap in time. The Greek word rendered "after that" in the above NIV translation is epeita. Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines this word as "thereupon, thereafter, then, afterward."  This word appears 16 times in the NT narrative and at times indicates something following immediately after something else and at times something following something after a space of time.

       Tom and Steve Kloske believe the phrase “after that” as seen in 1st Thessalonians 4:17  implies a space of time between when the dead are resurrected at the parousia and the time those living at the time of the parousia would meet the Lord in the clouds and air. It is believed those alive at the time of the parousia would meet Christ in the clouds and air after the time of their biological death.

       It is pointed out that the writer to the Hebrews states that it is appointed unto men once to die and then the Judgement (Hebrews 9:27). Paul told the Corinthians that  "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then (Greek epeita), when he comes, those who belong to him (1st Corinthians 15:22).

       It is believed that these Scriptures show death precedes and is necessary for  resurrection to take place. It is believed that to be in harmony with these statements of Scripture, the alive Christians at the return of Christ would have had to biologically die before they could receive a spiritual body as did the resurrected dead at the time of the parousia.     

       A counter argument to this position presented by those that embrace the IBV position is that the alive Christians at the first century return of Christ experienced an instant death to the biological body and were thus instantly transformed into having a spirit body as did those raised from the dead.  After all, Paul did say “we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye" (1st Corinthians 15:51-52).

       Did Paul see both the dead and the living experiencing the exact same change at the exact same moment or did the dead experience one kind of change and the living experience a different kind of change.  For those who advocate for a gap in time between the dead rising and the living being changed, the dead are seen as being resurrected to a transformed spirit body at the parousia of Christ and the living are seen as experiencing an internal change where eternal life was now abiding in them. Then upon biological death they would be resurrected (move from death to life) and at that time join the dead who had been resurrected at the time of the parousia.  

       It should be noted, however, that the word “caught up” as in "will be caught up" is the Greek word harpazó which according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon means to seize, carry off by force, claim for oneself eagerly, to snatch out or away, to snatch or catch away.  This word appears 15 times in the NT and by context can be seen as being used in these various ways.

       It should also be noted that when Paul says "will be caught up together with them," the word "together" is the Greek word hama. Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines hama as "at the same time, at once, together." This adverb appears 10 times in the NT and by context is generally seen to show several things happening at the same time. Here are a few examples of how the word is used.

       Acts 27:40: Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time (hama) untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach.

       Roman 3:12: All have turned away, they have together (hama) become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

       Those who advocate for a rapture of the living Christians at the time of the parousia, see the above definitions and usages of the Greek words as evidence for their position.

        This being said, the gap in time argument does make sense in that it is congruent with Hebrews 9:27 and 1st Corinthians 15:22 and resolves the problem of there being no documentation of thousands of Christians suddenly disappearing from the earth.  This position is also more compatible with the Thessalonians being given relief from persecution at the coming of Christ, a relief that appears to be a temporal relief, a relief experienced on planet earth and not a relief attained by leaving planet earth for the heavenly realm.

       As to the reference to meeting Christ in the clouds, as shown earlier in this series, this is symbolic language.  Such language was commonly used by Scriptural writers to describe the power and glory of God as He intervenes in the affairs of men either directly Himself or through agents. Paul saying to the Thessalonians that those who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with the resurrected dead in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air could be Paul simply saying the living, upon biological death, will be caught up in the same manner (resurrected) as were the dead at the parousia.

       Some may see the gap in time position as being the same as the CBV position that believes the living Christians at the time of the parousia experienced a spiritual resurrection from spiritual death which became fully realized at their biological death when they received a transformed spiritual body.  However, proponents of the gap in time position don’t appear to see death exclusively as spiritual death as CBV advocates do but simply as the cessation of life which is restored through resurrection. 

Was the war God's judgement upon the Jews?

       Most preterists see the coming of Christ in the first century AD as a judgement coming against the Jewish nation. Luke 21:22 is referred to where Jesus in the Olivet Discourse said, "For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written."  In speaking of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus said this would occur "because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:44).  As Jesus was being led to his crucifixion, there were women weeping for him.  He told them not to weep for Him but to weep for themselves and their children because of what was to come upon them (Luke 23:3). The Scriptures show that the coming destruction upon Israel was punishment for their failure to acknowledge who Jesus was. 

       Some have questioned the logic of the Jews being punished for something that God predetermined to occur. The Scriptures teach that the death of Jesus was purposed by God to facilitate payment of the eternal death penalty for sin and thus enable man to be reconciled to God. 

      Acts 2:23: This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

       Romans 3:25: God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood

       2nd Corinthians 5:21: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

       These statements and others like them show that the death of Jesus was a foreordained event. It is asked why the Jews who carried out this event should be punished for something God intended to occur. Weren't the Jews simply carrying out the will of God?  Why are they being castigated for doing so.

        With this in mind some have purposed that the war between Rome and the Jews had nothing to do with Divine judgement but simple was the end result of a multitude of cause-and-effect events that had been occurring and developing for years. The Roman invasion is simply seen as a ruling Empire putting down an insurrection of one of its provinces, a phenomenon that has played out over and over again throughout human history. 

       Could the war be seen as having nothing to do with covenantal transition, Divine judgement against the Jews, resurrection of the dead or the establishment of a Divinely inaugurated kingdom. After all, the land of Israel was a Roman province. It was governed by Roman officials and Jewish officials appointed by the Romans. While the Romans allowed the Jews to largely govern themselves and do so through their religious leaders, there were always those in the Jewish community who agitated for complete separation from Roman governance and for the establishment of complete self-rule.  

      As far back as 6 BC, Judas the Galilean proclaimed that the Jewish state was a republic and proclaimed that God alone is king and His laws override the laws of man. He asserted that Roman taxation was nothing less than the beginning of slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty.  Judas, together with a Pharisee named Zadok, gained a large following that led to a revolt against Rome. This revolt was quickly ended by the Romans and Judas was killed. This Judas is mentioned in Acts 5:37. “After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.”    

       After the death of Herod the Great (4BC or 1BC), a revolt took place over the matter of a golden eagle being erected by the Romans over one of the gates of the temple.  The eagle was the Roman insignia that represented their power and authority. The Roman King Archelaus, who had succeeded his father Herod, quickly brought the revolt to an end with around 3000 Jews being killed. 

       The leadership at Rome removed Archelaus from power in 6 AD.  After his removal and until the time of the war (66-73 AD), Judea was administered by a succession of fourteen Roman governors who held the title of Procurator.  All these governors had to deal with a variety of Jewish challenges to Roman authority.  Many Jews were killed in various upraising’s and disturbances that occurred during this period of time. It is evident that the seeds of the eventual all-out war with Rome were planted over a period of years.     

       It is to be noted that the Jews believed that the time had come for a Messiah to appear to deliver the Jews from Roman rule and allow them (the Jews) to virtually become rulers of the habitable world. Josephus speaks of this belief in his writings  [War 6.312-315 (6.5.4)]. This belief appears to be instrumental in leading the Jews to rebellion against Rome.  Josephus tells of many false prophets arising during this period of time claiming to be the one to deliver the Jews from Roman rule. These false prophets claimed that God would intervene to give the Jews victory over the Roman armies. 

        In AD 66, Roman Procurator Gessius Florus accompanied by armed men came to Jerusalem and removed seventeen talents of gold from the temple treasure and proceeded to plunder the upper marketplace in Jerusalem. This incursion resulted in over 3000 Jews being killed including women and children.  This episode appears to have been instrumental in bringing about the war. Josephus reports that robbers were allowed by Roman governors to plunder gold from Jews living throughout Judea provided they shared their plunder with the Roman authorities. Josephus indicates that many Jews left Judea for other areas of the Roman Empire to avoid further plundering of their wealth (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.252-257 (2.11.1)).

       In June of AD 66, the Jewish leadership announced that they would no longer pay tribute to Rome. In August of AD 66, pro-war zealots led by Menahem, a descendant of Judas the Galilean, overpowered the Roman garrison at Masada (located at the south end of the Dead Sea). They took their military hardware and brought it back to Jerusalem. About this same time, Eleazar, son of the High Priest Ananias, ordered the sacrifices that had been made on a daily basis on behalf of the Romans, be discontinued. Josephus wrote that this discontinuance of sacrifices on behalf of the Romans was “the true beginning of our war with the Romans” [Wars 2.409-410 (2.17.2)].

       Following this event, fighting began to occur between Jewish rebels and Roman military stationed in Jerusalem. Roman Procurator Herod Agrippa sent 3000 troops to Jerusalem to fight against the Jewish rebellion but did not prevail.  It must again be noted, as covered in Part Three of this series, that Josephus writes that "the Jews did not suffer from the Romans anything worse than they made each other to suffer. He writes that there were three factions fighting each other within Jerusalem and describes the fighting as being like a “wild beast gone mad and eating its own flesh” [Wars 5.4-6 (5.1.1-2)].

      It would appear that the Jews were involved in civil war while also rebelling against Roman rule. Rome simply intervened to protect their interest in the region as any governing power would do. It is asked why this should be seen as God punishing the Jews.       

       While fighting was beginning to occur in Jerusalem, a conflict between Jews and Greco Syrians living in Caesarea resulted in over 20,000 Jews being killed in that city by the Syrians [Wars 2:457 (2.18.1)].  This resulted in retaliation from the zealots and conflict between Syrians and Jews broke out in many cities leading to much bloodshed on both sides. This ethnic conflict spread to Alexandria Egypt where the Roman military killed over 50,000 Jews.

       The Roman leadership came to see that the Jewish rebellion had reached a tipping point and moved to invade Israel and squelch the rebellion. Attempts at making peace were made by both sides. The High Priest Ananias and others of the Jewish leadership and many of the citizens of Jerusalem, challenged the decision of Eleazar to stop the daily sacrifice on behalf of the Romans and actually fought against the rebel forces (Wars 2:411-421 (2.17.2-4). However, Ananias was killed and the rebel Jewish forces continued to fight against Rome which led to the destruction of many cities in Israel including Jerusalem and its temple. Cities to the north of Israel, such as Galilee, were also destroyed by the Romans. Many Jews living in Galilee, Jerusalem and surrounding cities were taken captive.                

        Could this conflict have been nothing more than Rome responding to a rebellion/insurrection of a province under its control and have nothing to do with divine judgement against the Jews for their failure to properly keep the Mosaic Covenant and their failure to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah (Luke 19:43-44).  If this should be the case, it must be asked why the events of this war line up so well with the Olivet discourse and many other teachings of Jesus that speak of catastrophic events happening in and to the generation he was addressing at the time.  How is it that the Revelation lines up so well with the events of the war? The same could be said for the book of Daniel.

       Many Biblical scholars have concluded that the Gospels and the Revelation were written after the war and therefore are not prophetic of the war. It is held that even if it could be shown that the Gospels and the Revelation were written before the war, this doesn't mean the war was a divinely ordained judgement of the Jews. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple is simply seen as the natural result of Rome responding to the insurrection of the Jewish province. Prophesied events that are seen as correlating with events that occurred during the war are not seen as occurring because of being prophesied to occur but simply the result of the pressure that had been building for years between the Jews and their overlords. It is believed that if Jesus had not prophesied the war, it would have taken place anyway.  It is pointed out that correlation is not causation.

         The counter argument to this perspective is that prophecy is not meant to be causative. Prophecy is seeing in advance events that are to occur. Foreseeing of events is not the cause of such events. It is simply seeing history in advance. On the other hand, in reviewing the sayings of Jesus regarding coming events, His coming is seen as facilitating  judgement upon the Jews which would suggest that this war, if not actually preordained to occur, was nevertheless used by God as the vehicle through which judgement would come  along with resurrection of the dead, establishment of the kingdom and the replacement of the Old Covenant with a New Covenant.

       Some scholars believe that Jesus' prediction of the destruction of the temple and the coming trial that would be experienced by the Jews was the result of Jesus having keen insights as to the geopolitical/cultural dynamics of the times in which He lived. This gave Him the ability to accurately assess what was going on and accurately predict (in apocalyptic language) what was going to happen. This view denies that Jesus was Divinely given the information as to the coming war with Rome.  

       Some argue that seeing the Roman/Jew war as punishment from God for sin is nothing more than an attempt to provide justification for what happened.  The destruction the Jews experienced is seen by some as simply the natural result of their rebellion against Rome and not as a punishment brought upon them by God. Josephus records that there was much infighting among the Jews themselves which led to much death and destruction. This infighting and its consequences are seen as the natural result of political differences and competitions extant at the time and not the result of Divine judgement. 

       Some scholars believe this to be true of the Old Testament prophets as well when predicting the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions of the north and south kingdoms of Israel. These invasions are not seen as God's judgement on Israel because of sin but simple the normal activity of powerful nations expanding their territory, a phenomenon common throughout history. The prophets attributing these invasions to God's judgement for sin is seen as an attempt to provide a rational for what happened.   

       As to the Book of Daniel being a 6th century BC document predictive of first century AD events, most Biblical scholars believe Daniel to be a second century document that relates to the Maccabean era and not to the war with Rome. See my discussion of this issue at “When was the book of Daniel written?”

      This all being said, it is admitted by most NT scholars that Paul wrote his letters before the war.  These letters contain significant narrative that point to a coming conflict that would occur in Paul’s generation which included the return of Christ, judgement, resurrection of the dead, transformation of the living and establishment of the kingdom of God. Was Paul, as believed by some, simply expressing human insights he had as to the political and cultural dynamics at work in his day which enabled him to predict with accuracy the coming conflict?

       While Paul may have had educated insights into what was happening politically and culturally between Rome and the Jews, how does that explain he seeing the return of Christ, judgement, resurrection of the dead, transformation of the living and establishment of the kingdom of God all taking place in association with the coming conflict?  If these events did not take place in association with the war, one can only conclude that Paul, as well as other writers of the NT narrative and Jesus himself, were teaching bogus doctrine.

       We know the war is a verified first century AD historical event. Is the parousia of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the transformation of the living, the establishment of the kingdom of God and God's judgement of the Jewish nation also verified first century historical events? 

       Some would argue they are not because there is no visual documentation of an appearing of Christ. There is no visual documentation of a resurrection of the dead or transformation of the living. There is no visual documentation of a Kingdom being established. The Jews were expecting an earthly kingdom as seemingly prophesied in the OT (see Isaiah 9:6-7 and Daniel 2:31-45, 7:28). That didn't happen and hasn't happened in over 2000 years and counting (See my series entitled "What is the Kingdom of God?"). As to judgement/punishment of the Jewish nation, what happened to them can be seen as the result of the geopolitical/cultural dynamics extant at the time and not as Divine intervention. This is how historians view this event.

       It is to be noted that there are those who are referred to as "partial preterists." These folks recognize narrative in the Olivet Discourse, the Revelation and other NT passages as speaking of Christ coming in judgement against the Jews living in first century Judea.  The destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem is seen as the Old Covenant system being replaced by the New Covenant system and establishment of the Kingdom of God as being accomplished through the Church. Partial preterists do not see resurrection of the dead occurring in connection with this first century judgement. Partial preterists see a future to us coming of Christ at the end of time to facilitate judgement upon all peoples and bringing about the resurrection of the dead.

       This author, as is true of most preterists, does not see Scriptural support for such bifurcation of NT eschatology. As seen throughout this series, Christ coming in judgement against first century Israel is tied not only to establishment of the Kingdom but to resurrection of the dead and transformation of living Christians. Either this all happened as a single unified event or it didn't happen at all. If it didn't happen at all, we have a serious problem with NT eschatology and the Christian theological system in general.       

Supernatural events:

       Are there any supernatural events that give evidence to a first century parousia of Jesus?  Josephus records the following:  On the twenty-first day of the month of Artemisius (May 16, 66 AD), a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sunsetting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities [Wars 6.297-299 (6.5.3)].

       Josephus wrote: “Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year” (Wars 6:5:3).  He also wrote about how on Nisan 15th (April 10, 66) during the Passover, A heifer being led to slaughter by the High Priest Matthias gave birth to a lamb in the inner court of the temple and the massive brazen eastern gate of the inner court opened by itself [Wars 6.292-296 (6.5.3)].  Josephus also reports that during Nisan of AD 66 (April, the temple was illuminated by a bright light for a half hour one week before Passover (Josephus: Wars 6.290-291 (6.5.3).

       The first-century Roman historian Tacitus writes: “In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour” A sudden lightening flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of their departure” (Tacitus: The Histories 5.13).

       Hegesippus, a church historian who wrote between AD 150 to 180, is quoted as saying “A certain figure appeared of tremendous size, which many saw, just as the books of the Jews have disclosed, and before the setting of the sun there were suddenly seen in the clouds chariots and armed battle arrays, by which the cities of all Judea and its territories were invaded” (Pseudo-Hegesippus 44).

       The tenth century Jewish historian Sepher Yosippon writes: “Now it happened after this that there was seen over the Holy of Holies from above for the entire night the outline of a man’s face, the like of whose beauty had never been seen in all the land, and his appearance was very awesome. Moreover, in those days were seen chariots of fire and horsemen, a great force flying across the sky near to the ground coming against Jerusalem and all the land of Judah, all of them horses of fire and riders of fire (Sepher Yosippon A Mediaeval History of Ancient Israel. Chapter 87, “Burning of the Temple”).

       If the above-described events occurred as reported, these events would appear to reflect the teaching of Paul when he wrote that the Lord Jesus would be revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels (2nd Thessalonians 1:7).  We have the passage in Isaiah 66:15 that speaks of "the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire." Some believe the events purported to be seen in the sky near to the time of the destruction of the temple mirror such events as recorded to have occurred in OT times such as the time the hills are seen as full of horses and chariots of fire (2nd Kings 6:17).

       On the other hand, it must be questioned how these purported supernatural events seen in the first century correspond to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  This destruction is historically seen as facilitated by the earth-bound armies of Rome and not by supernatural armies in the sky.

       The narrative from Hegesippus speaks of chariots in the clouds and armed battle arrays invading the cities of Judea and its territories. There is no historical evidence of this. It was Roman boots on the ground that invaded the cities of Judea. Sepher Yosippon writes of chariots of fire and horsemen coming against Jerusalem and all the land of Judah. In reality it was Roman soldiers who came against Jerusalem and the land of Judah.

       It must be questioned from what sources the above quoted authors got their information and how creditable such sources were. It must be noted that Hegesippus was writing 100 to 200 years after the AD 70 event. Sepher Yosippon is writing over 900 years after the AD 70 events.  It must also be determined if these writers and their sources were using apocalyptic language (as seen in the Olivet Discourse and the Revelation) to describe the literal boots on the ground Roman destruction brought upon first century Israel.       

       The forgoing accounts are not eye-witness accounts of the supernatural events described except possibly Josephus’ account of a star resembling a sword standing over the city, a comet appearing for a whole year and the bright light illuminating the temple. Josephus appears to be providing a first-person witness to these events. However, Josephus also appears to be reporting on events seen by others and this may be true of the above mentioned events as well.

       He writes that “a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sunsetting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities” [Wars 6.297-299 (6.5.3)]. Josephus reports that this occurred just before sunset on Artemisius 21 (May 16th) in AD 66.

       It is instructive that Josephus reports that "chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.”  This is what Sepher Yosippon writing in the tenth century reported. He may have been taking his information from Josephus. 

       In addition to the above we have the following: Josephus writes, “Moreover at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us remove hence.’” [Josephus Wars 6.299-300 (6.5.3)].

       Yosippon writes that “When the holiday of Shavuoth came in those days, during the night the priests heard within the Temple something like the sound of men walking, the sound of many men's marching feet walking within the Temple, and a terrible and mighty voice was heard speaking: ‘Let's go and leave this House’” (Sepher Yosippon A Mediaeval History of Ancient Israel. Chapter 87, “Burning of the Temple”).

       Hegesippus writes, “Moreover, in the celebration itself of the Pentecost the priests entering the interior of the temple at night-time, that they might celebrate the usual sacrifices, asserted themselves at first to have felt a certain movement and a sound given forth, afterwards even to have heard shouted in a sudden voice: ‘We cross over from here.’” (Hegesippus, 5:44).      

       If the above described events did indeed take place as reported by Josephus, Yosippon and Hegesippus, it still has to be determined how these events and all other purported "supernatural" events have significance as to signaling or portending the parousia of Christ and all related events such as resurrection of the dead and transformation of the living.     

       While there is remarkable synergy between the historically verified events of the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem and the NT narrative that points to this destruction, there is not such historical synergy between NT narrative about events such as the parousia of Christ, resurrection of the dead, transformation of the living and establishment of the kingdom of God occurring in conjunction with the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. 

       While the NT narrative associates these events with the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem, the historical evidence (eye witness accounts) for these events occurring in conjunction with the Roman/Jewish war is circumstantial and conjectural at best. 

       While the Roman destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem is well documented by eye witness accounts, no such eyewitness accounts are extant as to the appearance of Christ, resurrection of the dead, transformation/rapture of the living or establishment of a kingdom. All these events are assumed to have occurred in the "unseen realm" because of the Scriptural correlation of these events with the destruction of the temple and the city. 

Summary:   

          The NT documents record great expectation and anticipation of end time events occurring in the first century AD.  What we have is a great deal of Scriptural assertion that the return of Christ and related events was imminent to first century Christians. This is a very critical issue for the Christian doctrinal system. If these events didn’t happen in the generation being addressed by Paul, the other Apostles and Christ Himself, then the early Christians were taught false doctrine by their leaders. The ramifications of this for the integrity of the Scriptures and the Christian doctrinal system are enormous.  If the teaching that a first century return of Christ accompanied by all associated events was a false teaching, the reliability of Scriptural content becomes extremely compromised and very problematical.

      The preterist view is that at the time of the first century return of Christ, deceased believers in Christ and the OT righteous dead were resurrected and given transformed spiritual bodies. This belief is shared by proponents of the CBV position, those who embrace the gap in time view and those who take the IBV perspective. Those who embrace the IBV perspective also believe a rapture of living Christians occurred at the time of the parousia of Christ. Those who take the CBV and gap in time view do not see a rapture occurring.

       While it is apparent that resurrection of the righteous dead occurred at the parousia of Christ and such righteous were to be with Christ in the heavenly realm, what is unclear is what happened to the OT unrighteous dead or for that matter all the “unsaved” who had died up to the time of the parousia. All indications are that they were to be resurrected as well. We see this in a passage in Daniel 12 that appears to be associated with the return of Christ.

       Daniel 12: 1-3:  "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people--everyone whose name is found written in the book--will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

       In view of our discussion so far as to resurrection, the multitudes that awake to everlasting life can be seen as both OT and NT saints being resurrected at the first century return of Christ. However, this passage also speaks of others being awakened to everlasting contempt. Who are these folks?  Are they all the "wicked" who have ever lived to that point in time?  What does it mean for them to be awakened to everlasting contempt? Are they consciously alive in some place of punishment to this very day?

       An even greater question is what has been going on since the first century parousia?  Paul made it clear that “as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Paul believed “there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15) and "we will all stand before God's judgment seat" (Romans 14:10).  The writer to the Hebrews said "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).  It appears Jesus taught a resurrection and judgment of all humans who have ever lived (See Matthew 10:15, 11:22,24 and 12:41).

       In reading the teachings of Jesus, Paul and other NT writers within the context of first century fulfillment, questions arise as to how what occurred in the first century has meaning going forward from that time to the present. How are we to understand these first century  events in relation to ongoing human history wherein billions of humans have lived and died and continue to live and die?  What is the fate of the so-called "unsaved dead' which appear to historically constitute the majority of the human race?

       For additional discussion of these questions and the dynamics of life and death as seen in the Biblical Scriptures, go to What Happens After Death? and the five part series, The Case For Universal Salvation. 

PART SIXTEEN