Keith Mathison: The Resurrection Is Past!
Don K. Preston
Keith Mathison has recently released a massive new work entitled From Age To Age, The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology, (P and R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 2009). Mathison is a prolific author and has written other works on eschatology. The readers of his latest work are undoubtedly going to be more than a little confused, to say the very least. While I could document many glaring self contradictions in Mathison’s work, I will focus here on the fact that Mathison has painted himself into a corner on the issue of the resurrection. I will document this by comparing his earlier works with his latest production. Let me state very clearly, that based on Mathison’s own writings, he must affirm that he resurrection of the dead has occurred.
Now, make no mistake: Mathison unequivocally affirms a yet future, end of history, raising of physical bodies out of the ground. So, how can I state that he must nonetheless believe that he resurrection has in fact occurred? It is because of his own oft repeated statements in regard to some of the key resurrection passages of scripture. Let me prove my assertions.
MATHISON AND THE OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS
In his Postmillennialism: Eschatology of Hope, (Phillipsburg, NJ, P and R Publishing,1999)135-his emphasis), Mathison comments on Hebrews 12:21f: “Under the New Covenant we have come to Mt. Zion. We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. We have come to the church of the firstborn. We have come to Jesus, the mediator of this glorious New Covenant…. That which the Old Testament believers looked for in faith has come, and they have now received what was promised.”
Mathison’s comments might not strike one as saying that the resurrection is past, but this is precisely what his comments logically demand. Why is that? It is because the OT worthies longed for the resurrection. Read Hebrews 11:35: “Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might receive a better resurrection.”
The better resurrection is inextricably connected to the heavenly city and country (Hebrews 11:11f), which of course Revelation posits as arriving at the time of the resurrection (Revelation 20:11-21:1-4)! So, there is no doubt that the hope of the OT worthies was the resurrection, and there is no doubt that Mathison says “That which the Old Testament believers looked for in faith has come, and they have now received what was promised.”
Mathison probably “saw the train coming” however, so, he slipped in a caveat in the very next paragraph: “the fullness of the blessing is yet future, because we await the consummation.”
So, per Mathison, the OT worthies have received what was promised, but, they have not after all received what was promised! This is double talk. Those saints either have or have not received what they longed for.
Notice that Mathison wants to say that “we await the consummation.” Well, if he affirms, as his words unequivocally do, that the OT saints have received what they longed for, then the consummation has come, and we have received those promises– i.e. the resurrection– as well. The Hebrews writer is clear: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise God having provided some better things for us, that they, without us, should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39-40).
So, according to the Hebrews writer, if the OT saints have, as Mathison claims “received what was promised” then it is irrefutably true that the resurrection has occurred, for they could not receive what was promised without the first century saints entering into those promises at the same time: “They without us should not be made perfect!” The OT saints could not “receive what was promised” unless the consummation has taken place.
It is significant that Mathison then claims that, “Under the New Covenant we have come to Mt. Zion. We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. We have come to the church of the firstborn. We have come to Jesus, the mediator of this glorious New Covenant” (his emphasis). But, Mathison moots the point of Hebrews!
You must not miss the point of Hebrews 12:18f. The author says that his first century audience had arrived at Zion! In the OT prophecies, Zion was the locus of the resurrection promises. See Isaiah 24-27. This is undeniably true. So, for the Hebrews author to affirm that his first century audience had arrived at Zion is the strongest of affirmations that the time of the promised resurrection– the better resurrection hope of the OT worthies– had arrived. You cannot relativize the words of Hebrews, and turn them into a timeless, elastic, meaningless statement. To arrive at Zion meant to arrive at the time and place of the resurrection. (Note that on the one hand Mathison emphasizes the temporal importance of Hebrews, but on the other hand he mitigates it. He affirms that the OT worthies received what was promised– because of approaching Zion. But he then affirms that the church timelessly is still awaiting the fulfillment of the promises linked to Zion. This is hardly textual or contextual).
The bottom line is that if the OT worthies have received what was promised, then the resurrection has occurred. If the resurrection, i.e. the consummation, has not occurred, then Mathison’s own claims are falsified. And this means that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the OT worthies are still waiting, and they have now waited for another 2000 years! Abraham waited for 1900 years to come to Zion and the better resurrection. He had approached Zion and the better city and country when Hebrews was written, but, he only got to approach the promised city, country and resurrection, only to be told that he must wait another 2000 years to receive what was promised. Makes one wonder why Jesus said that Abraham longed to see Jesus’ day, he saw it, and was glad! Per Mathison’s paradigm, the arrival of Jesus simply meant that Abraham had to keep on waiting!!
Let me put my thoughts in succinct form, utilizing Mathison’s own words.
“That which the Old Testament believers looked for in faith has come, and they have now received what was promised” (Keith Mathison).
But, what the Old Testament believers looked for in faith was the resurrection from the dead (Hebrews 11:35).
Therefore, the Old Testament believers have now received the resurrection from the dead (the resurrection is past)!
Let me frame it another way:
The Old Testament believers looked for the resurrection from the dead (Hebrews 11:35).
The resurrection from the dead has not occurred (Keith Mathison).
Therefore, the Old Testament believers have not received what they looked for.
Which of Mathison’s statements / beliefs do we believe? He cannot have it both ways. If the OT worthies have received what was promised, then the resurrection has occurred. If the resurrection has not occurred, then the imminence of approaching Zion is mitigated and falsified, and the OT saints are still waiting. They have received nothing that was promised. But, make no mistake, Mathison affirms in the clearest of terms that the resurrection has occurred!
MATHISON AND THE RESURRECTION IN REVELATION
Mathison’s self contradictions,
lack of logic and theological error is brought home in the fullest way when we examine his views of Revelation.
Commenting on Revelation 11:15f Mathison affirms: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ” (Keith Mathison, Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? (Phillipsburg, NJ, P and R Publishing, 1995)112. Do you catch the power of what Mathison has said? Let me present it in simple form.
The time when the kingdoms of this world would become the kingdoms of God and of His Christ is the time of the resurrection, the time of the judgment of the dead and rewarding of the prophets (Revelation 11:15f).
But, the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ (Mathison).
Therefore, the time of the resurrection, the time of the judgment of the dead and rewarding of the prophets, has been accomplished (i.e. Fulfilled).
This is logically inescapable and means that Keith Mathison must believe that the resurrection is passed! And make no mistake, just like true preterists do, Mathison posits the fulfillment of Revelation 11 at AD 70: “In fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 7, the events from the resurrection and ascension of Christ to the destruction of Jerusalem mark the inauguration of the kingdom of Christ (Matthew 28:18; Acts 2:36)” (From Age to Age, The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology, Phillipsburg, NJ, P and R Publishing, 2009)676.
We must ask: Do the dead of Revelation 11 include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc., of Hebrews 11? Is the resurrection, judgment and rewarding of the dead in Revelation 11 the time when Abraham received his reward? If so, then this means that the better resurrection of Hebrews 11 was fulfilled in the sounding of the seventh trump– in AD 70! But, if this is the resurrection of Hebrews 11 then the OT worthies have indeed fully entered into their reward. But remember that they could not receive their reward without and before the first century (Christian) saints! This is prima facie demonstration that to affirm– as Mathison does– that Revelation 11:15f is fulfilled is to affirm that the resurrection is past.
Mathison’s confused and confusing theology becomes more entangled.
Commenting on the sounding of the Seventh Trump in Revelation 10:6-7, Mathison says, “Israel’s judgment has come in response to the prayer of the saints in chapter 6. With the destruction of the temple, the mystery will be finished (cf. Ephesians 3:3f)” (Mathison, Hope, 151). (I will not take the time to comment on the incredible implications of Mathison’s comments here, but this is an amazing, and self defeating position for him to take). So let’s express it like this:
The sounding of the seventh trump– in fulfillment of Revelation 10:6-7– was the time of the fall of Jerusalem (Mathison).
But, the sounding of the seventh trump was the time of the resurrection, the time of the rewarding / judgment of the dead (Revelation 11:15f).
Therefore, the time of the fall of Jerusalem was the time of the resurrection, the time of the rewarding / judgment of the dead.
Mathison compounds his confusion. Commenting on Revelation 10:5-7 he says: “Then the angel raises his right hand to heaven and swears that there will be no more delay, but that the mystery of God will be fulfilled just as God announced to his prophets (v. 5-7). This passage clearly echoes Daniel 12:7. The implication is that the final period of history predicted by Daniel has now arrived” (2009, 673). So, on the one hand, the sounding of the seventh trump– the time of the judgment and rewarding of the dead of Revelation 11:15f– has been fulfilled. On the other hand, the sounding of the seventh trump will not sound until the end of human history! This is a glaring, irreconcilable, inescapable logical contradiction. You cannot affirm on the one hand that the sounding of the seventh trump was fulfilled in AD 70, and then turn around and say that the seventh trump will not sound until the end of human history!
This approach is a major violation of Mathison’s comments in regard to the trumpets. In his comments on the trumpets (Age, 671f), Mathison links the blowing of the previous six trumpets to the events surrounding and leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. He is clear and unambiguous on this. So, we are to believe that the six trumpets were all fulfilled in the first century, in the Jewish War of 66-70. But, we are to believe that the seventh trumpet has not yet sounded, and will not sound until the end of human history. This in spite of the fact that Mathison tell us that in fact, the seventh did sound in the fall of Jerusalem (Revelation 11:15f), when the kingdoms of this world became the kingdoms of our God!
So, Mathison inserts a gap of so far 2000 years between the sixth trumpet and the seventh (shades of millennialism!), in Revelation 10. However, he then affirms that the seventh trumpet was blown in AD 70 (Revelation 11:15f– thus affirming that the resurrection is past). This is the nature of Mathison’s confused theology. You simply cannot logically affirm the fulfillment of the seventh trump and then turn around and say it has not yet blown. Let me note now Mathison’s glaring self contradictions in regard to Daniel 12 and the resurrection.
Mathison claims that the resurrection of Daniel 12:2 will occur at the end of human history. As just seen, he says that Daniel will be fulfilled at the sounding of the seventh trumpet in Revelation 10:6f, So, per Mathison, Daniel 12 foretold the “end of time” resurrection of the dead. Oh, but wait, Mathison believes, as just seen, that Revelation 10:6f was fulfilled in AD 70! And that is not all.
Mathison comments on the New Creation and Revelation 22:10: “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (v. 10. The words here are in direct contrast to the words spoken by the angel to Daniel: ‘But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4). At the time John writes, the time of the end has drawn near” (2009, 695).
On the one hand, Mathison tells us that Daniel 12 foretold “the time of the end,” the “end of time” resurrection.
On the other hand, Mathison tells us that “the time of the end” (which is the time of the resurrection), foretold by Daniel was near when John wrote Revelation.
No amount of verbiage can mitigate these self-contradictory positions. Mathison affirms that the fulfillment of Daniel had drawn near when John wrote, and then he affirms that Daniel will not be fulfilled until the end of time! Which is it? It most assuredly cannot be both.
To affirm that the fulfillment of Daniel was near is to affirm that the resurrection of Revelation 20– at the end of the millennium– was near. This is irrefutably true.
Incidentally, there is now a (growing) contrast between Mathison and Gentry. Gentry once agreed with Mathison’s view that Daniel foretold the end of history resurrection. Now, however, Gentry has adopted the true preterist view that Daniel 12 was fulfilled in AD 70. Oh, but wait, Mathison has now taken that same position in Revelation 22, although he says Daniel 12 is the end of history when commenting on Revelation 10! See my audio critique of Gentry’s latest tome. The critique is a devastating exposure of Gentry’s
self contradictions. The audio is available from me on my websites.
There is now a very dramatic difference between Mathison and Gentry in regard to Babylon in Revelation. Gentry says Babylon is Old Covenant Jerusalem. Mathison once held this position (Hope, 153), but now claims that Babylon in Revelation was Rome (Age, 686)!
Another interesting, and not insignificant, difference between these two major players is that Gentry is emphatic that “The distinctive” of the postmillennial view is that the end is not imminent (Dominion, 2009, 343). On the other hand, Mathison, although he insists that we honor the NT statements of temporal imminence, applying them to the AD 70 parousia, nonetheless also affirms that the final coming of the Lord must be considered as “always imminent” (Age, 2009, 638). It is fascinating to witness this ever changing face of “postmillennialism.” The developing differences between the major players is significant, and yet they all claim to represent creedal orthodoxy and true postmillennialism! But, let’s continue, shall we?
MATHISON, RESURRECTION AND REVELATION 20
Mathison’s self contradiction continues when we examine his positions on Revelation 10-11 and Revelation 20. Let me demonstrate his problem.
The time of the sounding of the seventh trump is the time of the judgment / rewarding of the dead at the resurrection (Revelation 11:15-18).
The time of the judgment / rewarding of the dead at the resurrection is the resurrection of Revelation 20:11f (at the end of the millennium).
The sounding of the seventh trump was fulfilled in AD 70 (Mathison, Dispensationalism, 112; Age, 676).
Therefore, the time of the judgment / rewarding of the dead at the resurrection of Revelation 20:11f (at the end of the millennium), was fulfilled in AD 70.
The only way for Mathison (Incidentally, Kenneth Gentry holds to most, if not all, of these identical beliefs), to avoid this acute dilemma is to prove beyond doubt that the resurrection of Revelation 11 is not the resurrection of chapter 20. This would mean of course, that the dead were (or will be) judged and rewarded twice, once in AD 70 at the sounding of the seventh trump, and then, they will one day be judged again! Needless to say, this presents all sorts of problems for Mathison, Gentry, et. al. What is the proof for this? It does not exist, and Mathison offers none.
In his comments on Revelation 21-22 Mathison is quite clear that he believes that the New Jerusalem and New Creation was imminent when John wrote (2009, 691f). He insists: “Just as the opening of the prophecy indicated that it concerned things that must soon take place (1:1), so too does the conclusion. Again, the significance of these framing words must be stressed. John’s prophecy primarily concerns events that are impending at the time John is writing” (2009, 695).
All of this raises the issue of Abraham again, does it not? It is interesting to note what Gentry says about this.
Commenting on the descent of the New Jerusalem as the Bride adorned for her husband, Gentry says that in Revelation 21:1f, “John sees the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven to earth in the establishment of Christianity (Revelation 21:1-2). This was the heavenly city that Abraham ultimately sought beyond the temporal (and typical) Promised land (Hebrews 11:10, 16).” (Kenneth Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, (P and R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 2009)147. He adds: “The Heavenly Jerusalem is the bride of Christ that comes down from God to replace the earthly Jerusalem (Rev 21:2-5) in the first century (Rev 1:1, 3; 22:6, 10). With the shaking and destruction of the old Jerusalem in AD 70, the heavenly (recreated) Jerusalem replaces her” (Dominion, 2009, 367).
Here is what we have:
Mathison (and Gentry) say that the resurrection has not occurred. Abraham, Isaac and the OT worthies have not been raised to their reward. (Although fascinatingly enough, they also tells us that Abraham now sits at the table in the kingdom, per Matthew 8:11, and this is unequivocally a resurrection promise! See my critique of Gentry for more on this).
They both tell us that the heavenly city and country promised to Abraham became a reality in the first century, in AD 70.
They tell us that the seventh trump sounded at the fall of Jerusalem, the kingdoms of this world became the kingdoms of God, and the dead were judged and rewarded.
Mathison (and Gentry) believe that Revelation 21-22 are fulfilled, that the Abrahamic promise is now realized, and that Revelation 11:15f was fulfilled in AD 70. Of logical necessity then, he (they) must believe that the resurrection of Hebrews 11 and Revelation 20 is likewise fulfilled! It is logically self-contradictory to say that the Abrahamic promises of the heavenly city and country have been fulfilled, and that the OT worthies have received their reward, that the dead have been judged and rewarded, and at the same time deny that the resurrection is past. This is nothing but a desperate, confused and confusing theology.
There is a great deal more that we could observe about Mathison’s latest book. However, it is undeniably true that Mathison’s own words logically demand that he believes that the resurrection of the dead is past already. There is no way to logically, scripturally, hermeneutically defend Mathison’s self contradictory, self defeating theology.
It is little wonder that when challenged to meet me in public formal debate that Mathison has adamantly refused. When you have a theology that is this self contradictory, illogical, so clearly in violation of text and context, it is wise to avoid public exposure!