17. Applied theology II (c): The life

(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=17 )

On the nature of tribulation and suffering

Currie (pages 311-313) compares the book of Revelation to a mass, complete with prayers, hymns, and the holy feast. He adds that the prayers, hymns and ongoing sacrifice are supposed to be the Christian’s entire and only battle strategy. Against true worship offered to God and the Lamb, Satan has no defense.

Rossing (pages 133-2) compares Revelation to a trial in which victims receive redress in the divine court.

This vindication happens in Rev. 19:2, at the close of the lawsuit on behalf of Rome’s victims. In the class-action lawsuit the plaintiffs bring their plea for justice before God who judges on their behalf. The plaintiffs are the saints, representing all of Rome’s victims who have been killed on earth. The defendant is Babylon/Rome and all other oppressive regimes throughout history. The charge is murder: “In you was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slaughtered on earth” (Rev. 18:24). (pages 131-2)

Currie also sees the divine-court references Rossing sees. He argues (page 292) that the community of saints Revelation specifically were/are forbidden “to take up arms to protect itself in a futile and suicidal revolt.” They are commanded to use spiritual weapons only, such as endurance and faith (Rev. 13:10). “The role of the Christian is to plead his case before God’s throne. It is a lesson that applies to many ages beyond the first century.”

Rapturists sometimes speak of the “God who meets my needs.” Although this may be fitting on an individual level, it may not be appropriate as a public slogan. It implies a deliberate divine decision for the needs of others to go unmet. Currie notes,

When anything bad happens, the rapturist can say, “Well, we all know that things will get worse and worse just before Christ raptures us away. It is obvious the end is near, but at least we won’t be here to suffer through it.” The belief system of rapturists allows them to take a certain comfort in the face of evil. For when things really deteriorate into chaos, they expect to be safely tucked away in heaven.

There is a problem with this approach to life, however. It may comfort the person witnessing suffering, but it does absolutely nothing positive for the person experiencing the suffering. This theology is appealing only as long as the pain is someone else’s. (page 376)

Olson notes, “Dispensationalism can make little sense of life’s suffering … Many dispensationalists (and Fundamentalists) believe that since physical suffering is the result of the Fall, it can come to no good—one must simply bear it … Compare that attitude to the perspective of Paul, who always sees suffering as an opportunity to experience a deeper and more joyous fellowship with Christ by ‘becoming like him in his death’ (Phil. 3:10). Suffering leads to glory (Rom. 8:17-18), to comfort (2 Cor. 1:5), to favor with God (1 Peter 2:20), rejoicing (Acts 5:41, 1 Peter 4:13) and to union with the church (Col. 1:24)” (page 322). Olson adds that “a verse such as Colossians 1:24, containing Paul’s challenging claim that his sufferings fill up what is ‘lacking in Christ’s afflictions’ cannot be adequately considered by a dispensationalist theologian” (page 323).

(Personal aside: In a September 2005 broadcast the rapturist televangelist Jack Van Impe cited Eccl. 11:1-2 and urged his audience to give generously to charities for Hurricane Katrina relief. Of course he added that the gift would return to the giver as a blessing on the day of the Secret Rapture, but how many a-Mill pastors have urged people to give in exchange for a blessing on Judgment Day? It falls under the category of “Give to God and let God decide what kind of receipt to write,” that sort of thing. The point is, it is unfair to paint all rapturists as indifferent to human suffering. Some may be. Some nonrapturists may be. Some non-Christians may be. Some Christians may be. Nobody should be.)

It has been said that The Signs Of The Times is when human suffering happens to someone else, and Tribulation is when it happens to you. Well, how should we respond when it does happen to us? Rossing cites John 17:15 to argue, “Christians are not dealt a get-out-of-tribulation-free card to play in the face of the world’s sufferings and trials. Such escapism underscores one of the biggest problems with dispensationalist theology. Jesus never asked of God to ‘Beam me up’ from the earth, nor can we. It is a temptation we must resist—as Jesus did” (page 35). She adds,

Jesus is coming. We can agree on this. Christians are to live every moment as if the world may end tomorrow. But the crucial question on which we differ is this: How do Christians live if you know you are living in the end-times? That is a question writings such as the Left Behind novels address in a way very different from the classic Christian response. They answer in terms of bunkers, Range Rovers, high-security satellite phones, [money] and computers to out-smart the Antichrist. [snip]

Fortunately the New Testament itself deals with that very question of how to live if you know the world is going to end—indeed, that is the central question in the book of Revelation and in other New Testament writings. Early Christians definitely thought they were living at the brink of the end-times … So how did they live? Did they go out and buy things, to use them up? Did they clear-cut the forests? Did they suspend the rules? Did they become an underground high-tech Tribulation Force with a mission to conquer evil through violence, stealth, and better fire power?

No, they cared for one another and for their neighbors in a very public and open way. Love of neighbor and hospitality to strangers was Christians’ surest response to life on the brink of the end-times. They gathered together and worshipped God, convinced that “Jesus has set up here on earth a community that is an alternative to empire,” as Chilean scholar Pablo Richard describes early Christian ethics in his powerful commentary on Revelation. Early Christians ministered to the poor. They visited prisoners. They broke bread together, they sang hymns to God and the Lamb. As a second-century opponent of Christianity, Governor Pliny, described Christians’ conduct in a letter to the emperor Trajan, early Christians would “pledge themselves by an oath not to engage in any crime, but to abstain from all thievery, assault and adultery, not to break their word once they had given it, and not to refuse to pay their legal debts.” [snip]

Early Christians did not fight. They engaged in spiritual warfare only by using the weapons of love—loving their enemies and praying for those who persecuted them. Seeing this amazing self-giving love—not displays of Christians’ superior technology or miraculous powers—was what persuaded many pagans to convert to Christianity. Martyrdom was also a powerful testimony. (pages 16-18)

Rossing concludes, “the Left Behind novels completely reverse the early Christian understanding of how to live in the end times … Only a minimal amount of time is devoted to above-ground hospitality or love of neighbor beyond their little tribe. The message that ‘God so loves the world’ is nowhere to be found” (page 18).

On mortal and glorified bodies

Why do we die? Riddlebarger says it is because “the first Adam—the biological and federal representative of all humanity—failed to do as God commanded under the terms of the covenant of works” spelled out in Gen. 2:17 (page 47). (“You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die”Gen 2:17.) Riddlebarger adds, “This covenant of works, or as some Reformed writers speak of it, the ‘covenant of creation’ lies at the heart of redemptive history. Under its terms God demanded perfect obedience of Adam, who would either obey the terms of the covenant and receive God’s blessing—eternal life in a glorified Eden—or fail to keep the covenant and bring its sanctions down upon himself and all humanity. Adam’s willful action of rebellion did, in fact, bring the curse of death on the entire human race. This covenant of works is never subsequently abrogated in the Scriptures, a point empirically verified whenever death strikes” (page 47).

Riddlebarger admits: “Some argue that there was no such covenant between God and Adam because the phrase ‘covenant of works’ does not appear in the biblical texts.” However Riddlebarger believes this is exactly what happened. “Not only are all the elements of a covenant present, but later biblical writers referred to the Eden accounts in precisely those terms. The prophet Hosea told us that Israel would come under God’s judgment because, ‘like Adam, they have broken my covenant’ (Hosea 6:7). Also, “in Romans 5:12-21 Paul spelled out the perfect obedience required by this covenant when he wrote that sinners are declared righteous on the condition of Christ’s obedience on their behalf. The critical question is simply this: Obedient to what? Paul’s answer was that Jesus Christ was perfectly obedient to that same covenant which the first Adam disobeyed. The resurrection is proof that Christ fulfilled the terms of this covenant, because after laying down his life for our sins, God raised him up as Lord of life (Romans 4:25)” (pages 47-48).

Riddlebarger sums up that “we can now turn to those overarching covenants, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, under which all … individual covenants of law and promise fall. This is important to keep in mind because the covenant of works and the covenant of grace progressively unfold throughout the Old Testament, and the way that they do says much about the eschatology of both testaments” (page 47). After naming the many covenants between God and Adam, the Patriarchs, and the Israelites, Riddlebarger asserts, “Seeing the essential continuity between these covenants is important at a number of levels. It prevents us from mistakenly seeing the Old Testament as essentially law and the New Testament as essentially gospel. Law and gospel are in both Testaments” (page 48).

Christians believe that Christ’s perfect obedience to the terms that Adam failed to keep has redeemed human spirits and souls from sin and death. The body still dies, but now death becomes less fearsome. Jesus (John 12:24) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:35-50) urge Christians to think of the body as a seed planted in the ground that “dies” to its old life to grow into wondrous new life.

Because the mortal body dies, Christians say it will be resurrected in a “glorified” or eternal and imperishable form. The glorified body is designed to live in the eternal realm. Currie (pages 412-413) says that the glorified bodies of the righteous will have incorruptibility, clarity, agility, and subtlety.

Incorruptibility means that the glorified body is not susceptible to the elements, whether external (such as weather) or internal (such as pain or hunger).

Clarity means that the body becomes luminous with the glory of God. See any passage on the Transfiguration, such as Matt. 17:2.

Agility means that the body will have powers that at present belong only to the mind. As mortals, we may think of a distant place but our bodies do not go there. As glorified beings, we will think of a distant place and the body will go there at the speed of thought.

Subtlety. The body still will be physical, but it will do what the spirit nature wants it to do. The resurrected Jesus could pass through walls (John 20:10) but Jesus also could eat fish (John 20:26). Currie calls it the Christian version of “mind over matter.”

All of this raises serious questions about the rapturist model. Rapturists try to steer discussion away from the question of what happened to the rapturist dead on the day of the Secret Rapture. The question exposes a division in their ranks (much as a-Mills find their arguments are weakened when the preterists, idealists and pure a-Mills start quarrelling amongst themselves.) Some rapturists believe that only living Christian rapturists are whooshed up to heaven. Others believe that the Christian rapturist dead are whooshed up to heaven when the rapturist living go up. This results in a second debate: will the dead stand in heaven disembodied or in glorified bodies? (After all, the bodies of the dead have turned to dust through the centuries.) So rapturists prefer to discuss only those who are living on the day of the Secret Rapture.

Let us put it in terms of the Left Behind novels. When the character Irene Steele was whooshed up to heaven, she took her body with her. Since mortal flesh cannot endure God’s presence, she either lived in a bubble or aquarium for seven years, or else she received her glorified body. This makes a difference because if different things happen to different guests in heaven, then the raptured Irene Steele still might not be able to get close to, say, her deceased parents, grandparents or friends. Isn’t one of the joys of heaven being reunited with one’s loved ones? Well, that only happens in certain rapturist models; in others, the reunion has to wait for seven years, or even 1,007 years.

There also are issues that affect the mortals left behind. Let us say that Irene Steele received her glorified body (which, in fact, she did). This would allow her to go anywhere in heaven, so that solves one problem. (If her loved ones are there, she can go to them regardless of what state they themselves experience.) Okay. At what point do Rayford and Irene Steele cease to be married? If two humans marry and one dies, the marriage is ended. But Irene did not die. Are they still married? A man and a woman enter into marriage. But Irene is not a woman anymore, not in the sense that we use the term. Irene could neither marry nor be given in marriage because she would be “like the angels in heaven” (Luke 20:34-35). She remains female (her sex), but she has an afterlife body, a resurrection body. Her glorified body has been glorified in the image of God who is above both sex (her nature) and gender (her social conduct). Irene wouldn’t even be entirely like Eve before the Fall. Eve had a glorious body, but it probably was a fertile body. (If Adam and Eve could not have children, God probably would have created multitudes of people, rather than one father and mother of us all. Remember that one of the purposes and outcomes of marriage is the production of children; we are given the privilege of helping to populate Heaven. Adam and Eve couldn’t do that if they were sterile.) Does this mean that Rayford is still married (because his spouse is not dead) but Irene is free? (For that matter, at what point do Irene, Amanda, Chloe and Hattie cease to be obligated to “submit” to male humans, whether glorified or mortal?) Rayford momentarily ponders the issue (Volume 11, page 346): will he grow old while Irene, Raymie, Amanda and the rest remain “the age they were when they went to heaven”? He has no idea, and soon returns to thoughts of the coming battle.

Now if the characters were all Mormons they would have one quick clean answer. They could have gone through a ceremony called “sealing” which Mormons believe creates marital bonds and family ties that will be honored in the afterlife. But Rayford and Irene and Amanda and Buck and Chloe are not Mormons. That means that the question of who is mortal and who is immortal—and what capabilities and obligations they retain—is a key question in rapturist theory. The Left Behind novels answer these questions according to one rapturist model—for example, Rayford marries Amanda—but how do nonrapturists answer them?

Riddlebarger begins (page 86) by insisting that Christ’s Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, and Judgment Day will be on the same day Matt. 25:31-32, Matt. 13:40-43, 1 Cor. 5:5, 1 Cor. 15:35-57, 1 Thess. 4:13-5:11, 2 Thess. 1:5-10, 2 Peter 3:3-15). Riddlebarger asks, “On the literal reading of the text, just where is the millennial gap in those texts? Premillenarians cannot have it both ways … If the apostle John introduced a gap in Revelation 20 to explain Jesus’ earlier teaching in the Olivet Discourse, then there is also a second fall of humanity to go along with it” (page 86).

This presents a serious problem for all premillennialists (whether they be dispensational, progressives, or historic), who insist on separating the resurrection and the final judgment by a future one-thousand-year earthly reign of Jesus Christ over a halfway-redeemed earth. The Scriptures do not allow for such a gap nor for such unredeemed elements in exist in the “age to come” after the eschaton.

The most serious problem to be faced by all premillenarians is the presence of evil in the millennial age. Recall that the thousand years depicted in Revelation 20 begins with the binding of Satan when he is prevented from deceiving the nations. When the thousand years have ended, Satan is released and again deceives the nations. This culminates in a worldwide revolt against God’s people and a fiery and final judgment from heaven upon Satan and his cronies, the beast and the false prophet. If the “thousand years” do not begin until after the second coming of Christ, as premillenarians insist, then we must pointedly ask, Who are these people who are deceived and then revolt against Jesus Christ?

We have already seen from several passages in the Gospels and Paul’s letters that the resurrection, judgment, and re-creation have already occurred at the coming of Christ. “This age” of things fallen and temporal has already come to an end. The “age to come” of immortality, resurrection life, and no marriage is now a glorious reality in an already/not yet scheme. The last day has already come, and our Lord has raised his own and sent those who are not his into the fires of eternal judgment. There simply cannot be people in unresurrected bodies on the earth after our Lord’s return, for the wheat has already been separated from the weeds (Matt. 13:7-43), the sheep have already been separated from the goats (Matt. 25:31-46), and the elect have already been gathered from the four corners of the earth by the angelic host (Matt. 24:30-31).

Who are these people who are still on earth at the end of the millennial age who revolt against Christ? Are they the redeemed? If so, the premillennialist has just introduced a “second fall” of humanity into sin into the course of redemptive history. This time, however, we have a fall of glorified saints after the resurrection and the judgment. This simply cannot be, though premillennial commentators ignore the force of this, choosing instead to make the hermeneutical crux an overly rigid exegesis of the first resurrection in Revelation 20:5, often overlooking the important parallel passage in John 5:24-25, which explicitly tells us when the first resurrection occurs—at the moment of conversion.

Premillennialists, who insist upon a literal one thousand years in Revelation 20:2, do so even though the consequence of this exegetical decision is the revolt of the redeemed against the Redeemer in verses 7-10. This is problematic when it is debatable if such numbers used in apocalyptic literature were intended to be taken in a literal sense in the first place. Is it not better to see Revelation 20 as a description of the age of the church militant and the present reign of Christ? (page 86-87)

Since judgment occurs at the return of Christ, there can only be two categories of people after Christ’s return—those who are righteous and participate in the blessings of the age to come and those who are not, who are burned in the fire. This makes it difficult to argue that people are left upon the earth in unresurrected bodies after Christ returns and after the judgment of all men and women … No people will be on earth in natural bodies after the event which separates the two ages—Christ’s return, which is the eschaton. (pages 91-92)

In case we miss it, Riddlebarger states it a third time: “No people will be on earth in natural bodies after the event which separates the two ages—Christ’s return, which is the eschaton” (page 92).

According to the majority rapturist model, both the “first resurrection” and the “second resurrection when the 1,000 years have ended” (Rev. 20) may be bodily resurrections. Also in this model the “first death” and “second death” would posit the existence of multiple Judgment Days. Setting aside the rapturist belief that the first wave of pre-Tribulation rapturists will never be defendants in any Judgment Day, the rapturist approach to evil in the Millennium could only work if multiple Judgment Days only prune away the wicked of one era, then the wicked of a different era, and so forth. In this model, the angels did not pull all the weeds or Christ did not separate all the goats. Christ left some goat kids for another day or the angels left some weed seeds for another day, and so evil grows again.

Riddlebarger seems to argue that if the “first resurrection” of Rev. 20 is a bodily resurrection, then that in itself may explain why evil keeps coming back. By insisting on a bodily First Resurrection, the rapturist model crowds out that First Resurrection that is called being “born again.” Those who are not “born again” are still in their sins, and sin brings back evil. Amillennialists, Riddlebarger in particular, argue that since a resurrection is defined as life from the dead—and Jesus, Paul and the apostles refer to salvation as being “born again”—then the “first resurrection” of Rev. 20 and being “born again” are one and the same. A-mills argue that if these things are not the same, then does the phrase “born again” have any meaning? Jesus (John 3), Peter (1 Peter 1:23) and John (1 John 3:9 and 5:18) all spoke of being “born again, born anew, born from God” as life coming to the dead. If that is not the “first resurrection,” then what else could “born again” mean?

Riddlebarger’s concerns are probably among the hardest questions for the rapturist to answer. Where does Scripture say that mortals and immortals will live side by side? Where does it say Christ will return to earth on a day other than Judgment Day? If all humans after Judgment Day are immortals, where will rebels come from? Isn’t that like saying that there is no place where we can go where evil cannot follow?

Fortunately, say the amillennialists, when evil is gone, it is gone. It is not coming back.

(Please continue)

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Author: The_Old_Maid_of_Potluck

Author of Potluck2point0: The resource formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net (a.k.a. My humongous [technical term] study of "What's behind 'Left Behind'").