It generally is recognized that the goal of redemptive history (man’s restoration to God’s perfect reign of peace and righteousness) is consummated in the "second coming" of Christ. From this standpoint there is an urgent need to refocus with intensified concentration on the volume of information in scripture bearing directly or indirectly on Christ’s second appearing. In this connection there are two basic but commonly neglected areas of study that are indispensable for a comprehensive exposition of this prodigious redemptive-historical event.
The Old Testament Background
First, any approach to Christ’s second coming that fails to take into consideration God’s promises to Old Testament Israel is misdirected from beginning to end. There is not a single doctrine in the New Testament concerning Christ and his Parousia that is not rooted in the Old Testament and its journey toward the promised future of Israel. Eschatology in New Testament scripture is nothing other than Old Testament promise taken up by Christ in the "fullness of time" and fulfilled in the New Covenant that God promised to make with "the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Jer.31:31-34; Heb.8:6-13).
Christ challenged the Jews to search their scriptures because they testified of him (John 5:39). He claimed no identity, mission, or office as Prophet, Priest, and King other than that spoken by Moses and the prophets (Lk.24:27,44; Acts 10:36-43). Paul repeatedly spoke of Christ as "the hope of Israel" (Acts 23:6; 24:15; 26:6; 28:20). Before Agrippa he affirmed his strict adherence to "the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain", affirming that in preaching Christ he was "saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come" (Acts 26:7,22). Instead of "defecting" from the Jewish faith in turning to Christ, he had become "separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord…" (Rom.1:1,2). On the other hand, Paul knew that the Jewish rulers rejected Christ because they did not know "the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath" (Acts 13:27).
It is not necessary to dwell on this point, because the doctrine of a coming Messiah to redeem God’s covenant people (Israel) pervades the Old Testament, and who could miss in the New Testament the centrality of Christ’s mission to "become a servant of the Jewish people to maintain the truth of God by making good his promises to the patriarchs" (Rom.15:8, NEB). However, what has been missed is the inseparable connection of Christ’s "second appearing" with his "making good" God’s promises to Israel, which in turn is salvation for the Gentiles – "and at the same time to give the Gentiles cause to glorify God for his mercy" (verse 9). Bear in mind the saying of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, "salvation is of the Jews" (Jn.4:22). But when and how does this salvation come?
We submit to you that there is not a single aspect of gospel salvation that does not relate to God’s fulfillment of his promises to Israel, and that total fulfillment was realized in Israel’s promised "New Covenant" within the framework of Christ’s parousia. From this biblical standpoint, the church or Christianity is not in any sense an intervening age between the Cross and Christ’s "second appearing." If it were, then it is completely void of "the salvation" that is "of the Jews", the only salvation of which Jesus is the "author (leader) and perfecter" (Acts 4:12; Heb.5:8,9; 12:2).
Conceiving the church or Christianity as a separate and complete age that stands between the consummation of the Jewish age and Christ’s parousia is the fundamental error in the unbiblical, diametrical eschatology of amillennialism and premillennialism.
Most amillennialists hold to a consummated change within the Cross/Pentecost time frame with respect to the fulfillment of Israel’s New Covenant promises. They see the kingdom, the church, or Christianity ("the age to come") as having arrived in fullness by the time the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost. This premature, "past already" eschatological mentality redefines the work of the Holy Spirit to be that of showing "things to come" that consummate one’s salvation at the end of the Christian age. Consequently, Christianity is perceived as being "the last days" when the Holy Spirit would be poured out (Joel 2; Acts 2).
Many of this persuasion, however, believe that the Spirit’s revelatory work was completed in the apostolic period. This has given rise to endless debate over the work and gifts of the Spirit since that time, not to mention the problems and questions about the imminent expectations regarding "things to come" entertained by the early church for which the Spirit was the teacher and the pledge. The basic weakness of amillennialism is its most obvious failure to deal with numerous post-Pentecost passages that specifically address an impending redemption, restoration or salvation that not only is of Israel but for Israel in conjunction with the perfecting of the "firstfruits." See, for example, the salvation of "all Israel" after the coming in of the fullness of the Gentiles (Rom.11:25-32). Note also the receiving of the salvation foretold by Israel’s prophets at the "revelation of Christ" (1 Pet.1:5-13). When Peter wrote this, "the end of all things was at hand" (4:7,18).
By way of contrast, premillennialists hold to a postponement of Israel’s promised future, equating the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with the beginning of an intermediate "church age" of spiritual blessings for the Gentiles. For them the "things to come" in the "great and notable day of the Lord" refer to a literal, earthly restoration of Israel after the order of the Old Testament for a thousand years. This means, contrary to everything that is taught in Scripture about Christ’s ascension to his world above, that he must return to the world from which he departed in order to "make good God’s promises to the fathers of Israel" (Rom.15:8). However, this counters Paul’s new understanding of Christ when, from the standpoint of the Cross, he wrote, "Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer" (2 Cor.5:16). Paul simply is saying that we no longer look for the promises of God in the world of fleshly Judaism. Rather, in view of Christ’s departure from that earthly realm (which could not give life, Gal.3:18-21), Paul’s new knowledge of Christ with respect to Israel’s Messianic future was grounded in the spiritual, heavenly realm (the world above) to which Christ ascended, and wherein he was about to be revealed in glory. In this connection see Phil.3:1ff; Col.3:1-4; Heb.12:22-24.
The premillennialists rightly connect the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel with the second coming of Christ. They correctly see that Israel’s restoration comes after Pentecost (Romans 9-11). They know that the "remnant" in Rom.11:5-7 (the firstfruits of the gospel) is not the totality of the "all Israel" that would be saved at Christ’s coming out of Zion (vv.26,27) after the coming in of the fullness of the Gentiles (v.25). And by no means can the "remnant" in verses 5-7 be equated with "the enemies of the gospel" in verse 28, who "are beloved for the sake of the fathers," and thus the objects of God’s mercy through his mercy shown to the Gentiles, "for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (vv.28-32). (No amillennialist can show that Romans 11 was fulfilled in Acts 2)!
The weakness of premillennialism is its failure to see the restricted time beyond Pentecost for the coe
xistence of Old Testament Israel and the church. It is not for an indefinite time known as the "church age", after which the church allegedly is removed from Israel’s olive tree in order for Israel to be grafted in according to their former state under the Law. The time of coexistence is "the last days" of the Old Testament era.
Furthermore, it is clear in Scripture that the reverse side of the upbuilding of the church is the diminishing of historical Israel, at the end of which lay Israel’s fullness, reception, or resurrection that conforms to the perfection of the "firstfruits" who had attained unto the full image of Christ (Rom.8:18-29; 11:12,15). This is the glorious future of Israel and Jerusalem foreseen by the prophet Joel (3:16-21), and explicated by John in the full context of Christ’s "at hand" revelation or second appearing (Revelation 1:1-3 – 22:6-21).
This brings us to the second crucial area of study that provides an abundance of information on the when and how of Christ’s parousia and therefore of Israel’s ultimate salvation through which all families of the earth are blessed without distinction in Christ (Gal.3:8,26-29).
The Transforming Ministry of the Holy Spirit
Our purpose here and in articles to follow is to focus on the period of time between Christ’s departure and his second appearing from the standpoint of the eschatological, transforming work of the Holy Spirit. By "transformation" is meant the change from one state of being to another through the changing of the covenants. Few scholars have approached the study of the Holy Spirit and his work from this perspective. This accounts for an unbiblical extension of "the last days" and the miraculous gifts of the Spirit beyond the clearly stated end of the Jewish age. (See, for example, Matt.24:1-3; 1 Cor.13:8-10).
Christ and his parousia, not the Holy Spirit himself, are the focus and goal of the Spirit’s work. Jesus said of the Spirit, "He will testify of Me" (John 15:26). This point is important. The coming of the Spirit in Christ’s absence (after his departure from the world below) did not represent the beginning of a work parallel to or distinct from Christ’s work relative to his preparing a place for his disciples (John 14:1-3). Every facet of the Spirit’s work was what Christ did through him in the second stage of his ministry. The fundamental difference between Christ’s ministry begun in the earthly realm but completed in or through the Spirit was his new position in the world above, the spiritual realm of the "better covenant" suited to the messianic promise rooted in Christ. This accounts for the necessity of Christ’s departure from below in order for the Spirit to come (John 16:7). Not until Christ was positioned where he was to be revealed was it possible for the Spirit to begin his ministry of glorifying Christ by disclosing "things to come" that Jesus said "are Mine" (John 16:13-15).
The Holy Spirit, therefore, was Christ-centered in all that he was sent to do in "the last days." This is drawn out clearly in the promise of the Spirit in Acts 1, and in the activity of the Spirit in Acts 2, a pattern that holds true throughout the New Testament.
First, the Christocentricity of the promise of the Spirit, as recorded in Acts 1:4-8, is impressively clear. In verse 8 Jesus said to his apostles, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Christ, not the Spirit, is the subject of the "witness" of the apostles. The central function of the "power" received of the Spirit, as seen, for example, in 1 Cor.2:9-16, was to enable the apostles to know, and therefore to teach "the things that have been freely given to us by God" (v.12). If you recall Jesus said, "All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He (the Spirit) will take of Mine and declare it to you" (John 16:15). The Spirit would teach them all things, and guide them into all truth (John 14:26; 16:12,13). Concerning the "mystery of Christ" Paul wrote, "which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets" (Eph.3:5).
Hence, the promise and power of the Spirit is first and foremost Christ-centered from the standpoint of serving to reveal his things of his world wherein his revelation (second appearing) would occur when the revelatory work of the Spirit (the witnessing mission of the apostles) was completed. Inherent in the power to reveal truth or to bear witness of Christ was the power to confirm the word "with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit" (Heb.2:4; Mk.16:17-20). Mark’s statement, "the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs" (v.20), shows that the Spirit’s work was the work of Christ. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Rom.8:9).
It needs to be pointed out, however, that Mark’s statement about Christ’s working "with them" (his apostles) through the Spirit was not the fulfillment of his "coming again" (i.e., parousia – presence or arrival), but the means to this goal of redemptive history. Christ’s parousia was the object of his statement, "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:18), which parallels his promise, "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" (14:3).
Second, the Christocentricity of the Spirit’s activity or ministry is equally clear in Acts 2. The chapter opens with the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost day, but as the events unfold it is apparent that the meaning of Pentecost centers, not in the coming of the Spirit or the interior life of the disciples who received him, but in the crucified, resurrected, ascended Jesus, whom God has made "both Lord and Christ" (2:36). What took place in connection with the outpouring of the Spirit, as recorded in verses 1-21, was the ground work for what followed in verses 22-47; i.e., the preaching of Christ. The apostles preached Christ, not the Holy Spirit. Attention was drawn to Christ and his saving work, not to some alleged "second work" or "blessing" of the Spirit additional to or independent of Christ. In every case the "more to come" was centered in Christ.
Throughout Acts and the Epistles it was to Christ and his work of restoration that the preaching of the apostles bore witness until all was consummated at "the coming of the great and notable day of the Lord" (Acts 2:20,21; 3:10-21). To this end the Spirit was poured out "in the last days", and this eschatological characterization of his Christ-centered work sheds light on the meaning of the gift, the promise, and the pledge of the Spirit (Acts 2:38,39; Gal.3:14; Eph.1:14), as well as the total framework of his "transforming" ministry (2 Cor. 3:7-18).