The book of Revelation sometimes is referred to as the capstone of Bible prophecy. It is apparent in chapters 21-22 that the goal of God’s redemptive purpose in Christ is reached in the restoration of man to the fellowship and presence of God (22:1-5). But the question is when? The purpose of this series of articles is to identify the biblical framework for the coming of the new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem, and the tabernacle of God in Revelation 21:1-3. In the light of Old Testament promise and New Testament fulfillment there is indisputable evidence that John, in writing of things "at hand", and which "must shortly come to pass" (1:1-3; 22:6-10), was describing the coming of the New Covenant creation and its full manifestation against the background of the passing of the Old Covenant order (Matthew 24, Heb.8:12; 12:18-29).
Currently we are examining the biblical framework for the departure, the absence, and the second presence (parousia) of Christ in John 14:1-3. These three stages of Christ’s world-changing (age-changing) mission are the framework for the consummation and restoration shown to John in Revelation 21-22. On the eve of his betrayal Jesus tells his disciples, "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."
The fulfillment of this promise is shown to John by one of the seven angels in the context of the coming of the New Jerusalem Rev.21:9-11). In effect Christ was saying to his disciples in John 14 that they would not be gathered unto himself in the old, earthly Jerusalem but in the new Jerusalem where "the throne of God and of the Lamb" would be established "forever and ever", and where the servants of God "shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads" (22:1-5). In view of Christ’s promise to John, as recorded in John 21:20-23 – "If I will that he" (John) "remain till I come, what is that to you" (Peter) – it is not surprising that the angel of God was showing to John "the things which must shortly take place" (Rev.22:6), instructing him, "Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand" (v.10). Notice the Angel said "book" – not just a few select verses in the book. The time was at hand for the fulfillment of everything written in the book concerning "the revelation of Jesus Christ."
John, therefore, was instructed to write of the imminent coming of Christ and the gathering of his disciples unto himself. "And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work…Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city" (22:6,12,14). It is clear that the presence of God and Christ is realized in the New Jerusalem, and that John was shown its consummated arrival within the framework of the "fall of Babylon" – the earthly Jerusalem where "our Lord was crucified (ll:8).
With respect to the departure of Christ in John 14 it was shown in Part 3 that the world from which he departed (by virtue of the cross) answers to the Mount Sinai creation. Christ entered this temporal, typical, covenant-determined world through his birth of "the seed of David" (Rom.1:3). This means (as indicated in the phrase, "according to the flesh") that he was "born under the Law" (Gal.4:4), thereby "in all things…made like his brethren" (Heb.2:17).
The mistake commonly made in the exegesis of John 14:1-3 is that of making this earth (the Genesis 1 creation) the focus of Christ’s departure, and therefore the world that passes away at the coming of the new heavens and earth that God had promised to Israel (Isa.65:17-19; 66:22). This is manifestly a departure from the contrasting worlds of biblical, redemptive history for which the cross of Christ is the turning point. Christ did not die to bring planet earth to an end, and thereby "put away sin" (Heb.9:26). His departure was not for the purpose of preparing a world that would come into the place of this earth.
Without a single exception, every passage in the New Testament that addresses "the end" appears in a text that is dealing with the passing of the Old Covenant order or the coming in of the New. This is the only "world-changing" application that is made of the cross of Christ, and the references are replete in the apostolic writings. Check it out for yourself. The results will be enlightening. There is not a single thread of evidence for a dualistic "end-of-the-world" program in the teachings of Christ and his apostles. Rather Christ’s entry into the world of Old Testament Israel, his personal ministry, his death, departure, absence, and second appearing constitute a single, indivisible age-changing eschaton whereby all things were summed up and made full and complete in him (Rom.10:4; Mt.5:17,18; Eph.l:l0).
It is apparent that the failure of interpreters to see the extension of the Jewish age and its consummation approximately forty years beyond the cross has fostered an unbiblical dichotomizing of the gospel’s singular end time. Not only does this counter the numerous "nearness of the end" statements in New Testament scripture, it breaks up the harmonious and systematic progression of God’s redemptive order from its beginning to its consummation. The confusion and disorder that exist today in the interpretation of end-time passages is along the order of what one would experience in trying to piece together two pictures from one jigsaw puzzle. No matter how much one may shuffle the pieces it is an impossible task. The same is true of those who, for example, try to determine which coming-of-Christ passages belong to the end of the Jewish age and which ones apply to the end of the material earth — or to the beginning of the millennium — whichever extra coming of Christ one is trying to piece together to suit his own end-time fancy.
It is the conviction of this writer that when the total picture of the ONE cross-determined end of the age is pieced together there will be no remaining pieces for constructing another eschaton. In God’s wisdom it is enough for creaturely man on this side of eternity to see within the volume of scripture the fullness and glory of that which has been revealed and consummated in Christ. If more than this were needed to bring man back to God "forever and ever," more would have been revealed or disclosed by the Holy Spirit. But his ministry of showing "things to come" ceased with verse 21 of Revelation, chapter 22. We must be content to remain within the framework of Christ’s world-changing ministry. The combined events of his departure, his absence, and his second appearing take in the full range of his mission to "put away sin" in the end of the world/age, (Heb.9:26-28). When sin is put away and "everlasting righteousness" is brought in (Dan.9:24-27), God’s people are restored to his presence (Rev.21:3) both now and forever (22:4,5). The need of man today is to identify the world that fulfilled Christ’s mission to "put away sin" in contrast to the world that could not "make an end of sins" and "bring in everlasting righteousness" (Dan.9:24-27; Gal.3:21; Heb.9:26). That should not be difficult if one is willing to be led by scripture with respect to the departure, the absence, and the second appearing of Christ.
Stage Two: The Absence of Christ
The purpose of Christ’s absence is succinctly stated in John 14:2, "I go to prepare a place for you." Traditionally it is believed that the absence of Christ spans th
e Christian age, based on the erroneous concept that his second appearing unto salvation apart from sin (Heb.9:28) is tied to the destruction of planet earth. This view, in effect, has Christ engaged in a lengthy preparation for which there is not the slightest indication in scripture as to the nature and meaning of his activity the past two thousand years.
One would be hard pressed to find in scripture any connection between Christ’s departure from planet earth and its future destruction. Such is not the case however when the Old and New Covenants are recognized as the biblical framework for the identity and the changing of two contrasting worlds or ages, and when this redemptive framework is strictly and consistently adhered to in the exegesis of the end time in New Testament scripture.
In this light, the world-changing role of the cross makes sense (Rom.7:4; 2 Cor.5:12-17). The departure of Christ from the Old Covenant creation in order to bring forth the New makes sense (Rev.21:5). The sending of the Holy Spirit to disclose "things to come" relative to the New Covenant creation makes sense (John 16:12-15). The putting away of sin and the bringing in of everlasting righteousness through the changing of the two covenants make sense (Heb.9:26; Dan.7:24-27). The correlating of Christ’s second appearing apart from sin (Heb.9:28) with the passing of the Old Covenant economy makes sense (Matt.24; Heb.8:13; l0:25,37). Joining the pre-end-of-the-age reign of Christ to his annulling of the powers of the Old Covenant aeon in order to defeat death makes sense (1 Cor.15:24-28; 2 Cor.3:7). The understanding that "hope" in 2 Cor.3:12 points to the consummated change from "the ministry of death written and engraved on stones" (v.7) to "the ministry of life and righteousness" (v.9) makes sense (Gal.3:21). It makes sense that "waiting for the hope of righteousness by faith" (Gal.5:5) is focused on the consummated coming of the New Covenant creation – the promised heaven and earth "wherein dwelleth righteousness", (Isa.65:17-19; 3 Pet.3:13; Rev.21:1-4). Giving the New (heavenly) Jerusalem its rightful place in the New Covenant creation just as the Old (earthly) Jerusalem belonged to the Old Covenant economy makes sense (Gal.4:21-31). Furthermore, it makes sense that the consummated coming of New Jerusalem (Isa.65:18,19; Rev.21:3) was tied to the full end (the destruction) of Old Jerusalem, (Matt.24). And in this connection the repeated, Holy Spirit inspired, emphasis in apostolic writings on the nearness of the end makes sense when the focus is on the predicted desolation of historical Jerusalem (Dan.9:27; Mt.23:38; 24:15; Rom.13:11,12; 1 Cor.7:31; l0:11; Phil.4:5; 1 Pet.4:7; James 5:8,9; Heb.10:25,37; 1 John 2:18; Rev.1:1-3; 22:6-10.
The covenantal setting and framework of change for all that is written in New Testament scripture regarding "the end" is impressively clear. However, that which does not make sense is the attempt to carry two, separate, distinct eschatons through the end-time teachings of Christ and his apostles. It fosters a pick and choose, cut and slice type of exegesis that ignores the text, breaking up the unity and consistency of the writer’s train of thought.
The dominant theme in Old and New Testament scripture, into which all gospel (cross-determined) eschatology flows, can be summed up in the words of Paul, "…for these are the two covenants" (Gal.4:24). Any eschatological interpretation that is not rooted in the cross, and that is unrelated to the changing of the covenants and their modes of existence is foreign to the Word of God. Pulling covenant eschatology out of scripture and turning it into some kind of secular, non-biblical eschatology has been practiced for centuries, and for the most part has been unchallenged. The time to call this practice into question is long overdue. It is a misuse of scripture and a perversion of the age-changing mission of Christ.
A clear example of this can be seen in the way scholars have ignored the covenantal setting of eschatology in the book of Hebrews. For example, many see "the end" in Heb.3:6,14 as meaning either the end of one’s life or the end of planet earth. But any grade school student could see, if he didn’t have the help of a "theologian", that the subject pertains to the house of Christ in contrast to the house of Moses. The end in view is that which consummates the change of houses. The context is covenantal from start to finish.
The same error is committed with the "second appearing" of Christ in Heb.9:28. It is lifted out of its tabernacle-changing context and used to preach and support whatever theory one has about the end of time and the world. The same is done with the heavenly country and city forseen by Abraham (ll:8-16). He saw these heavenly things in terms of the better covenant confirmed of God in Christ, but they have been lifted out of that covenantal setting by futurist eschatologists and tied to the passing of this material earth.
These examples are replete, not only in Hebrews but throughout the New Testament writings. It is simply a case of "mixed up worlds" eschatologically speaking. Until we get our worlds straightened out and biblically identified within their respective covenantal settings we will continue to have more of the same chaos that characterizes modern day theology.
Returning now to the absence of Christ, we have said all of the above to make this point. There is a definite connection between the absence of Christ and the passing away of the world from which he departed, but more importantly we are not left in the dark concerning Christ’s work during the time of his absence. If and when one sees the world of Christ’s departure in terms of its Old Testament covenantal setting, it is immediately apparent that one will have a wealth of information about the activity of Christ in his preparing the world or the age to come. It is simply a matter of reading what is written in scripture, beginning with the book of Acts and reading to the end of Revelation. Christ departs from a covenant-determined world and his second appearing (presence or parousia) takes place in a new covenant world or creation that fulfills the promises, prophecies and types contained within the old. It is just that simple, but profound.
In the next article, we will show the interrelationship between the absence of Christ and the ministry of the Spirit. The Spirit was not sent to replace Christ, or to serve as a "fill in" until Christ arrives. Neither did he come to supplement the salvation that Christ gives. Quite to the contrary, his specific mission was to glorify Christ, not himself. He does this by "disclosing" the things that belong to Christ (John 16:12-15). These are the things that comprise the world of Christ’s second appearing. It will be shown, therefore, that Christ’s preparing a place for his disciples and the ministry of the Holy Spirit are one in nature, purpose and result. The second appearing of Christ is tied to the completion of the Spirit’s mission to show "the things to come."