"The Coming of the Kingdom of God with Power"--in the lifetime of "some who were standing there" (Mark 8:38-9:1)
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
What is the historical context of Jesus’ statement to his disciples, “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power?” What are the theological implications of understanding this passage in its first century context?
The historical context of “the kingdom of God coming with power” in the lifetime of “some who were standing there” is indeed past to us, and was fulfilled at the destruction of the temple in AD 70. This is not to say that the destruction of the temple was the coming of the kingdom, but rather that it was the visible sign that all that had been written had been fulfilled. In other words, these events were not the substance of the coming of the kingdom, but rather the visible sign of its coming. Of course, the sign itself was a display of God's power, no doubt. In fulfillment of Christ's words, "not one stone was left upon another" (cf. Mark 13:2). But it was the destruction not of the temple building itself, but of what it represented--the OT law and commandments being abolished, and the "rulers of that age being brought to nothing" (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6)--which ushered in the reign of Christ by the Gospel, and the establishment of "his government and peace which shall have no end" (Isaiah 9:6). The temple’s demise signified that the Old Covenant Age had passed away, and the New Covenant Age had begun. Jesus had indeed “made all things new” (cf. Revelation 21:5).
How one understands the nature of the kingdom will determine whether they believe it has fully come. For example, if one views kingdom promises as physical or geo-political in nature, then they may see a yet future fulfillment. Whereas if one sees kingdom promises as spiritual in nature, and applying to a kingdom “not of this world” (cf. John 18:36), and which came “without observation” (cf. Luke 17:20), which exists within the hearts of God’s people (cf. Luke 17:21), and is experienced in their communion with God and with one another in His presence (cf. Psalm 16:11; Romans 14:17; Revelation 3:20; 21:3) then they will understand that God’s kingdom has fully come. However to say the kingdom has fully come is not to say it is not ever growing and expanding, as more and more enter (cf. Isaiah 60:11; Revelation 21:25); for “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:7).
We were asked this question on our forum by one of our members:
Q. Will it be possible for man to fake the Second Coming with false signs and deceive many people? If that would be so, then many may say that it was prophesied in the bible and the Second Coming is yet to come. What are your thoughts on this?
Here is my response:
A: Ask any futurist who believes he is living in the "end times" or in the "last days" today, how does he know? And he will say it is because he sees "signs." And where are these "signs" described? In the Bible of course! But the apostle John saw these very signs, and referred to them, when he said, "Little children, we *know* it is the last hour." He saw that what Jesus said would happen was happening, and thereby he *knew* that it was the last hour.
The futurist is in a real tough spot now, for two reasons:
1) In order to say that the "signs" he is seeing now are those spoken of by Christ, he has to say that the apostles were all mistaken (as was Jesus, since he put them in the specific context of that generation--and that is a whole other problem for him: Jesus was right about the signs but wrong about their timing?), and if the apostles were mistaken about the signs, what else were they mistaken about? Their credibility has been shot, by the futurist's own admission...and yet, he still consults their writings to tell him what signs he should be watching for?
And this was a real "light bulb" for me when I was first looking at the time statements in the New Testament:
2) In order to say that the statements of urgency and imminency apply to our time now (or that they applied at any time beyond the first century) we must also be saying that they meant *absolutely nothing* to the people they were written to. And that is a pretty absurd suggestion, is it not? And yet....that is exactly what a futurist paradigm demands.
However, Christ's promise to return in their lifetime is quite enough to render the question of whether "signs of the Second Coming " could be faked today moot. Because again, the only way for one to be deceived by such signs would be to say that Jesus was either uninformed or deliberately misleading, in which case one has discredited the very Scripture he is trying to use to identify the supposed signs. Furturism, we now see, really is impossible to defend.
In a theology class recently, we had a forum on eschatology, based upon our reading of various theologians on the topic. Here are a few of the questions I was asked by my classmates in the course of that discussion, and my responses to them. (Tami, did I hear you correctly??? uh, yeah, you did!):
Q: Tami, As I read through your summary, I was confused. Are you saying that the end of the age that Jesus spoke of and that the apostles spoke of already happened and everyone missed it?
A: Yes, I do see “the end of the age” that Jesus and the apostles all said was about to be fulfilled in their generation as the end of the old covenant age. As Hebrews says, “in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son,” and “that which is waxing old is ready to vanish away.” And no, if we are believers in the gospel, we didn’t miss anything, but rather are living under all the benefits of the glorious new covenant (“there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus”).
Q: Why do Christians believe time is linear?
A: I think you may be referring to [our textbook editor's statement here]: “A characteristic Christian belief, of decisive importance in this [eschatological] context is that time is linear, not cyclical.” Why is this of decisive importance? A few thoughts:
God’s plan of redemption laid out in Scripture, beginning in the garden (Genesis 3:15) is a historical plan. The historical event that was prophesied from the beginning that accomplished the redemption of God’s people was the death and resurrection of Christ. Some (probably a minority within Christianity) take an “idealist” (I am not sure whether this is the same as “cyclical” or not?) approach to redemption and remove it from its historical context, which in effect renders the cross of Christ unnecessary. It is instead then viewed as a “show” or “demonstration” of a redemption that was already performed, rather than the actual performance of that redemption. But Luke states that Jesus came to “perform the mercy promised to the fathers” (Luke 1:72). He had to do something. I think this will become more and more significant the more time we spend contemplating how God worked progressively (e.g. the law was a tutor to lead them to Christ, cf. Galatians 3:24) throughout the history of His people as recorded in the Scriptures to reveal, and eventual accomplish, their salvation. Things were prophesied, then they happened according to those prophecies, all leading up to their ultimate fulfillment in Christ. So that:
Ephesians 1: 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time,to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
Those are just some of my thoughts on why a linear concept of time is theologically significant.
Q: Do you think dispensationalism has died down?
A: I grew up being taught dispensationalism in church. (At the age of 8, I watched a movie produced by Billy Graham's group called "A Thief in the Night" about the "rapture" and it scared the sh*t out of me. I was almost scarred for life! ) In fact, it wasn't until fairly recently that I even knew there were other ways of understanding eschatological prophecies, because I was sheltered within that specific denominational culture.
You ask if dispensationalism has died down? I think it depends on where you are. For example there are some big mega churches (e.g., John Hagee's in San Antonio) where it is still preached with fervor. But I do think that it has begun (thankfully) to die down. From my view point, one factor has been the growth of the emergent church movement, another the increasing prominence of voices within evangelical churches like Greg Boyd's (see his book "The Myth of a Christian Nation"), and another has been the increasing involvement of activist groups with mainline associations (e.g., Methodist, Episcopalian, some more liberal Lutherans--and in this case I use "liberal" in a positive sense!) in speaking out against American foreign policy which has been so heavily influenced by dispensationalism (e.g., Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson). I don't mean to sound arrogant here, but dispensationalists are by and large not very educated about things beyond this country's borders (I sure wasn't!). The "left-behind" craze is primarily an American evangelical phenomenon. So there is a shift happening in the culture which I think will result in the marginalization of dispensational eschatology, even in America where it has enjoyed such mainstream prominence and influence.
The other thing that is going to cause it to inevitably die out is time passing. How many more definitions are they going to be able to come up with for a "generation?" (Their "last generation" clock started ticking in 1948--and time is running out.)
[And in response to a comment someone made about "newspaper eschatology"]:
A: The thing that has always perplexed me about those who practice the "newspaper eschatology" that you mention, is that they see "signs" today that lead them to believe "the end is near." But where do they get this idea? What I mean is, what tells them what the "signs" of the end are? They say the Bible (specifically the New Testament) tells them what the signs are, yes? And yet the Bible was written by the apostles who believed with unwavering conviction that *they* were seeing the signs *then*. So if the apostles mistakenly believed they were seeing the signs that Jesus told them to look for (the apostle John *knew* without a doubt that it was the last the "last hour," precisely because of the signs he was seeing), and if Jesus was mistaken when he told them *when* to look for those signs, then on what basis would a "newspaper eschatologist" today consider their writings to be authoritative? This is just what perplexes me when I hear people say that the Bible is what is telling them that this or that event in the news today is a "sign" with some prophetic significance, when the apostles who wrote the Bible (which describes the very signs these modern folks are pointing to!) were saying the signs were happening back then.
So we have the apostles on one hand....and we have the "newspaper eschatologists" on the other, who claim the apostles as the source of their eschatology which directly contradicts what the apostles taught. Are you confused yet? I sure am!
Question: When Jesus spoke of "the light of the world" and a "city set on a hill," he was referring to:
A) His church
B) The United States of America
According to a spokesman for John Hagee's organization "Christians United for Israel," the answer is B) the United States of America:
"America is a shining city on the hill ordained by God. We have that tradition right here in America, and we do see Israel's promise in the Scripture"
Where did he even get the phrase "shining city on the hill?"
Jesus said to His disciples,
Matthew 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Compare it also, to this description of a "shining city," which is the church:
Revelation 21:23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
So, this spokesman for John Hagee's influential organization "Christians United for Israel" is taking a description of the church, the body of Christ, from the Bible, and applying it to the United States of America! And how many thousands of Christians are following this?
I have been married to my loving husband Keith for 26 years. We have three beautiful and brilliant children, ages 24, 22 and 20. Nothing cheers my heart more than having them all at home, yet nothing is more satisfying to my mind than watching them grow from afar. My personal passion is theology: the knowledge and experience of the Truth and Mercy found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and displayed in the lives and communion of His people. My husband and I love to travel, and because our children are often out and about in the world, we get lots of opportunities to see it! And we also love to fill our home with friends who love us, and love our wine collection.