Volume II, Issue 2
O Theophilus is the Quarterly Journal of The Center For Biblical Literacy .
"by the Word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water , perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men."
As the world approaches the year 2,000, many are fascinated with apocalyptic speculations as to events about to transpire upon the earth. Stephen Kings recent TV movie, The Stand, typifies a heightened sense of a pending conflict between good and evil, God and the Devil, Christianity and a pagan society. Is the "end" of the world at hand? Are these the "last days?" What terrors, what joys, await us? What is the mission of the Church and, in the words of Francis Schaeffer, "How shall we then live?"
Popular teachers of Biblical eschatology have their charts all made out, yet revise them with every issue of Time magazine. A spectrum of speculations offers the plastic believer a broad range of convenient options. You can choose to leave here "pre-, mid-, or post-trib," or you can choose to remain and contend for the faith. At one end of the spectrum, escapists conjecture the events of dispensensationalism from a safe distance. But while the premillennial message (recent to historical church theology) has enraptured evangelical Christianity for the last century, the other end of the spectrum, the postmillennial view, has been lately trumpeted under the banner of "reconstructionism." Reconstructionism offers a refreshingly optimistic view to those disillusioned by failed date-setting and to those weary of occupying pews "till He comes." In between is a hodgepodge of charismaniacs who dont know whether to flee the devil or resist him, so they do both (the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit allowing them to hold two contrary views in their belief system at the same time).
There is a certain intrigue concerning millennary thought in the Scriptures. Peter alludes to the figurative use of a thousand years in speaking of the "Day of the Lord," saying that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day" (2 Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4). Bible chronology calculates Adams origin at about 4,000 B.C., placing our day at the end of the 6th millennium and Bible numerology makes "six" the symbolic number of Man, the creature of the sixth day. Therefore, these six thousand years have been six millennial "days" of Mans corrupt works under the dominion of sin and death. But the seventh "day" is supposed to be the "Day of the Lord," His Rest, when all the kingdoms of the world become His kingdoms and every enemy is manifestly under His feet. Bringing the figurative into the actual, that would make the year A.D. 2,000 the approximate beginning of this great Day of the Lord, perhaps a literal thousand years of the Lords physical reign on earth (Revelation 20:6).1
No doubt you are attempting to align this current millennial speculation with your own engraved eschatological chart, but what concerns this article is the impression that we are in an age of transition. There is much talk today of a "paradigm shift," a rending of the "Sacred Canopy," which is a change in societal worldview.2 Some portray a culture war taking place between conservative and liberal ideas (forces?). But is this merely a philosophical readjustment within human society, or are we facing divine eschatological events? If the "Day of the Lord" is at hand, then the transfer of kingdoms implies catastrophic superventions.
Biblical Christianity holds a linear view of time and space. The world and the Church are headed somewhere; there is a beginning and an endthere is a consummation. God is the Architect of the Ages, the Author and Finisher, who directs the course of history and the destiny of mankind (Daniel 4:25,34,35; Acts 17:26-31).
Peters second epistle delineates three distinct world orders (Gk: kosmos) through the ages:
- the antediluvian world
- the present world
- a new world yet to come
Things do not continue as they are, as scoffers of the Word of God would say; there are cataclysmic, epochal events that mark the transition from one world order to the other. Time does not stretch out into eternity. Kingdoms of raging heathen do not become Christs through gradual democratic political processes.
The first cosmic transition was accomplished through a watery deluge whereby the world "that then was" was destroyed. Note that the earth itself was not destroyed, but rather cleansed from all wickedness. Note also that the righteous were not the ones "taken" (as in a snare), but the ones left to establish a "new heavens and earth." This is the present world in which we live and which is being kept by the Word of God unto "fire against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men"the next cosmic transition.
This limited space does not allow a discussion of the pyrotechnics of this prediction. The essential question Peter asks is, "What manner of persons ought we to be?" He is not concerned with environmental destruction (God hasnt filed for an EPA permit), nor does he comfort us with cunning fables of escape. Rather, he expects us to "look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" and admonishes us to be diligent to be "found in Him in peace, without spot, and blameless."
Like Noah, we are not exempted from the medium of Gods judgment upon the earth. But consider that the same instrument of judgment in Noahs day was the medium that lifted him above the destruction. The secret of his salvation was to be "found" in a particular vehicle impervious to that medium. "By faith, Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house" (Hebrews 11:7). Perhaps we, having also been warned of things not seen as yet, would do well to follow Noahs example and prepare a vehicle that will take us through this fiery transition.
But what kind of fire-proof "ark" could we build today? Certainly, the Lord has not given us specific instructions and measurements as He did Noah. We are not commanded to build bomb shelters in our back yards. No, we are asked instead to be diligent to be "found in Him," for He is the true ark of our salvation. We are supposed to be a certain "manner of persons" in "all holy conversation and godliness...without spot, and blameless" in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. We are not told to build a boat, but we are told to build a Church against which even the gates (and flames?) of Hell cannot prevail.
Malachi asked, "Who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiners fire..." (3:2). It is as easy for God to save through fire as it is through water as was verified by three Hebrew children. The fire had no power upon their bodies. They walked in the midst of flames with the Son of God and came forth loosed from their bonds to be promoted to seats of rulership (Daniel 3).
So, what are the things that abide fire? Paul tells us about a foundation that will abide and of certain works of faith likened unto gold, silver and precious stones that cannot burn (1 Corinthians 3:9-15). Jesus also told us to build upon the foundation of His Word which shall not pass away when the heavens and earth do (Luke 6:46-49). Diligent doers of the Word become living stones that cannot be removed.
The Church is a City that "hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God," and we are co-laborers with Him (Hebrews 11:10). Man has cumbered the foundation of the Church with heaps of fleshly inventions until the world can no longer recognize her as the City of the Great King. But, "the Day shall declare it...by fire!" Behind the facade of the "visible" Church, hidden to eyes that trust only in outward observation, true labor has been laid in gold, silver and precious stones. When Gods voice shakes the heavens and earth "that are now," there shall be a removing of those things that can be shakenthe scaffold shall come down unveiling a Kingdom which cannot be removed. Our God is THE consuming fire that shall burn away all temporal, surface appearances to reveal the eternal reality (Hebrews 12:25-29). Through the darkness, dust and ashes of this conflagration, the nations of the earth will see a light, a City set on a hill with gates wide open and the Spirit and the Bride beckoning, "Come! Let him that is athirst come! Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely!" So let us labor together building our lives with the Word of God "which liveth and abideth forever."
1. I am not unaware of the postmillennial view concerning the covenantal phrase "end of the age," referring to the end of the Old Covenant and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D 70. But does that negate the idea of an eventual end of the world (kosmos)? The Reconstructionist view sometimes leaves one with a sense that time goes on indefinitely while God waits patiently for the godly to become active in combating ungodliness. For an excellent presentation of the postmillennial, reconstructionist views please read: David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Ft. Worth: Dominion Press, 1987) and Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness (Atlanta: American Vision, 1994).
2. The term "paradigm shift" was popularized by Jeremy Rifkin his book, The Emerging Order. The "Sacred Canopy" was coined by Peter Berger in his book The Sacred Canopy, Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (New York: Anchor Books Doubleday, 1967).
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