Responding to Elton Hollon’s Critique of Full Preterism- Second Response – Fourth Installment

Response to Elton Hollon’s Critique of Full Preterism– Second Response-
Fourth Installment (#2 – #4)

WERE THE APOSTLES’ QUESTIONS CONFUSED

Be sure to read Elton Hollon’s Critique of the full preterist view.

As I noted in my second responsive installment, Hollon believes that the apostles mistakenly conflated the predicted destruction of Jerusalem and the literal end of time. Speaking of what he calls proleptic futurism he says that Mark uses this literary / rhetorical device to “de-eschatologize the false association of the parousia with Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C. E.. Thus, he does not retain the theme of imminence because he corrects it” (p. 5).

In his response to my response Hollon offers additional argumentation to buttress the claim that the apostles wrongly conflated Jerusalem’s fate and the cosmic consummation. I find those arguments unconvincing.

We have every reason to believe that the apostles well understood that the coming of the Lord in judgment would be in the judgment of Jerusalem. Jesus had in the immediate past, offered some parables that made that very connection.

Matthew 21 – Wicked Husbandmen– the Lord of the vineyard would come (elthe) and destroy the wicked.

Matthew 22 – The Master of the Wedding would send his armies and destroy the wicked invitees. Donald Hagner says:  “It is virtually impossible for post-70 readers of the Gospel not to see the destruction of Jerusalem alluded to in these words” (Donald Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary, Matthew, Vol. 33b (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1993), 630). I suggest that the apostles understood this far more than modern exegetes allow.

Matthew 23 – The apostles were surely cognizant of the fact that in the OT, the coming of the Lord in judgment of Jerusalem (in BC 586) was called the Day of the Lord (Zephaniah 1-2; Jeremiah 4). They would have been equally aware of the fact that God never literally came out of heaven on a cloud, nor did literal creation come to a catastrophic end, although that is the language that was used.

In these parables Jesus set forth the idea that the coming judgment on Jerusalem was to be the “coming of the Lord,” just as the Great Day of God’s Wrath was in the OT. To suggest that the apostles did not grasp the meaning of these parables and instead associated the “end of time” with the judgment on Israel asks a good bit of the reader. The leaders of Jerusalem certainly understood that the parable of the wicked vineyard workers and their destruction at the coming of the Lord (v. 40- elthe, from erchomai) was a prediction of their destruction (Matthew 21:40-45) not an end of time event. Were those wicked rulers more astute than the apostles?

It seems to me that a failure to properly assess the foundational importance of the temple in the ancient Hebraic mind lends itself to a delineation between the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of the Lord. As Westerners we were not raised in a Temple Centric world, and thus, it is difficult to grasp how important the Temple was to the ancients, and particularly the Jews – and how they expressed themselves in regard to the temple and its destruction.

Andrea Robinson, citing Pseudo Philo– (Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, or “LAB”)- notes that, “Israel’s identity as a nation depends upon their exclusive fidelity to Yahweh. Murphy opined: “The function of this story is to recall Israel to its true identity at a time when that identity is under attack in numerous and subtle ways.’ If Jerusalem is destroyed, then the very existence of Israel is in peril. Even more striking, the existence of the universe is connected to the welfare of Israel (LAB 9:3; 12:8). Specifically in Pseudo-Philo 12:4, the author linked the welfare of all humanity with the existence of the temple.” (My emphasis). ( Andrea Robinson, Temple of Presence (Eugene, Ore; Wipf and Stock, 2019), 91).

Robinson also cites the Sibylline Oracles which described the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by Nero: “He seized the divinely built temple and burned the citizens and peoples who went into it, men whom I rightly praised. For on his appearance the whole of creation was shaken and kings perished, and those in whom sovereignty remained destroyed a great city and righteous people” (Sibylline Oracles, 5: lines 150, 154, Cited in Robinson, 2019, 102).

Timothy Gray points out the inter-relationship in the Jewish mind between the temple and the world:

The temple veil and its correspondence to the heavens is the Rosetta Stone for deciphering this (The death and resurrection of Jesus as the onset of the Great Tribulation, DKP),…the Temple was, in its architecture and biblical as well as in later Jewish tradition, seen as a microcosm of the cosmos. To destroy the temple is to destroy the world symbolically. Timothy Gray, The Temple in the Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008], 193).

Crispin-Fletcher Lewis makes some suggestive comments about the significance of the temple that have a direct bearing on whether we should dichotomize between Jesus prediction of the destruction of the temple and the language of his coming to destroy heaven and earth:

Within the broader sweep of the temple focus throughout this eschatological chapter and the specific time reference of the preceding verse (Mark 13:30; Matthew 24:34), Jesus’ promise that ‘heaven and earth’ will pass away makes best sense, not as a collapse of the space-time universe, as has been so often understood, but as a collapse of a mythical space-time universe which is embodied in the Jerusalem temple. (Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, “The Destruction of the Temple and the Relativization of the Old Covenant,” Eschatology in the Bible and Theology, Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium, (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1997), 157 . See also page 162).

Thus, as suggested by Gray, Fletcher-Lewis and a host of others who could be cited, Jesus’ prediction of the impending destruction of the temple was in fact a prediction of his coming in judgment of the “cosmos”! Mark, therefore, was not recording a two fold prophecy from Jesus, but rather relating Jesus’ apocalyptic description of his coming to destroy the temple.

When one couples this with the reality that in the Tanakh, when Jerusalem was destroyed the first time, it was called the Day of the Lord, the Great Day of the Lord, the destruction of creation, etc. (again cf. Zephaniah 1:4f; Jeremiah 4:25f as just two examples), it is easy to see that in Mark and the other Gospels, Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple would have been seen and understood by the apostles as the coming of the Lord and the end of the Old Covenant age which the temple represented. In fact, Gray posits that Jesus’ passion and the destruction of the temple heralded this very idea:

The temple veil and its correspondence to the heavens is the Rosetta Stone for deciphering this (The death and resurrection of Jesus as the onset of the Great Tribulation, DKP),…the Temple was, in its architecture and biblical as well as in later Jewish tradition, seen as a microcosm of the cosmos. To destroy the temple is to destroy the world symbolically. Therefore, the death of Jesus signals the end of the temple (Mark 15:38), which in turn signals the end of the age. Although this last point may seem overstated from our modern perspective, is this not what Mark is hinting at with the image of the eschatological darkness (15:33)? The point is even clearer in 1:10. The heavens are rent apart and the old creation is moving toward the end (2008, 193).

The linkage between, and the language describing, the coming of the Lord, the end of the age and the destruction of Jerusalem should not be ignored. We should not, then, go to Mark and create a disjunction between those ideas. Given the OT background and source of Jesus’ language in Mark it raises serious doubts as to whether he was in fact predicting his coming at the end of human history. And it likewise raises serious doubt that the apostles would have had such an event in mind when they asked their questions. After all, they were well aware of the fact that the Jerusalem temple had been desolated in BC 586, and yet time and material creation marched on. So why would they assume that Jesus’ prediction of the coming destruction of the temple demand that he was predicting the end of the time / space continuum?

Unless Jesus and the apostles were abandoning and departing from their understanding of the language of the Tanakh, that described that previous destruction in “de-creation language” there is literally no reason to suggest that in Mark or the other Gospels, Jesus or the apostles were contemplating a literal, visible, physical coming of Jesus at the destruction of material creation.

We return now to the issue of the parables in light of what we have just seen. Did the apostles completely miss the point of these parables? As Hollon and some of his sources point out, correctly, the apostles were indeed often confused. But what those sources fail to honor is that we have no record whatsoever that chronicles their confusion in regard to the coming judgment of Jerusalem, or even the end of the age.

In fact, in Matthew 13 Jesus told the parable of the Wheat and Tares, which foretold the parousia, the coming of the harvest at the end of the age. In verse 43 Jesus cited Daniel 12:3f meaning that the parousia and the end of the age would be in fulfillment of Daniel. What is so significant about Jesus’ citation of Daniel is that the prophet was told that the end of the age, including the resurrection, would be fulfilled, “when the power of the holy people is completely shattered” (12:7). So, in the parable about the end of the age and Christ’s coming, which would be the fulfillment of Daniel 12, the Tanakh posited that fulfillment at the destruction of the Old Covenant world.

(In the parable, the “end of the age” (13:39-43) is συντέλεια aionos, is the very thing the apostles asked about in Matthew 24:3. In verse 43 Jesus posited that fulfillment as the fulfillment of Daniel 12:3. Daniel 12 posited fulfillment of that end of the age prophecy, “when the power of the holy people is completely shattered” (12:7). In Matthew 13:50-51 Jesus asked his apostles: “Do you understand these things?” To which they responded: “Yes.” Thus, the apostles claimed to understand Jesus’ prophecy of the end of the age parousia / resurrection. Are we to assert that in Matthew 24 they had lost that comprehension, or should we, as Kenneth Gentry claims, believe that while they said they understood, they really didn’t?)

In Matthew 13:50-51 Jesus asked his disciples, “Do you understand?” They answered “Yes.” In light of their affirmation to understand the parable – and Daniel- about the parousia and the end of the age harvest, it is unjustified to suggest that very shortly thereafter they were now confused about those doctrines. And notice that in the actual questions in Mark and the other Gospels, the only thing they are asking about is when the judgment on the temple would occur and the sign indicative of its imminence. There is nothing in the questions to suggest confusion concerning the context or nature of the subject?

Of course, clearly, the apostles were at times, confused about different things, i.e. Jesus’ coming passion, “the leaven of the Pharisees,” (John 6), etc. but we have not a word about eschatological confusion and certainly not about Jesus prediction of the coming desolation of Jerusalem and the temple. We have just the contrary, as just noted. So, it is logically flawed to suggest that because they were confused on other topics that they must have been confused about eschatology. That is especially true in light of the revelatory Spirit that we discussed earlier.

The assumption that when the apostles asked Jesus about his parousia and the end of the age, they mistakenly, or ignorantly conflated those events with the prediction of the impending fall of Jerusalem underlies most commentaries on the Gospels. But this assumption takes for granted that Jesus expected and taught the apostles that he would come at the end of human history. That is a false assumption. Why would the apostles link the destruction of the Jerusalem temple with the as yet un-established New Covenant Age? What age, after all, did that Jerusalem temple symbolize? It was not the New Covenant Age. It was the age of Moses and the Law. Thus, their question about the end of the age should be posited within the context of the destruction of the temple as the end of the age that the temple represented.

So, to conclude this installment, suggest that the apostles were so confused as to conflate the destruction of the Temple with an end of time eschatology virtually demands that they were ignoring the language of the Tanakh that described the former destruction.
It demands that while they well knew Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed in BC 586 at the Day of the Lord, and time marched, that they now believed that the destruction of the temple demanded the destruction of material creation.
This demands that they actually had a concept of the end of time.
It demands that they were asking about the end of the (endless) Christian age.
To suggest that the apostles were confused in Matthew 24 demands that they did not tell the truth when, in Matthew 13:51, they said they understood the parable about the coming of the son of man at the end of the age.
The suggestion that in Matthew 24 the apostles were confusedly conflating the impending destruction of Jerusalem at a literal, physical coming of Jesus at a proposed end of time demands that they totally misunderstood Jesus’ parabolic in which he himself said that judgment would be his coming.

For these reasons and more, I find the widely held view that the apostles were confused or ignorant in posing their questions in the Olivet Discourse to be illogical and untenable.

For more on the question of whether the apostles were confused or ignorant, or both, see my book, Watching for the Parousia: Were Jesus’ Apostles Confused?  This is a groundbreaking book!

More to come!