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Emails to a Student 3

Katherine,

You write:

2) Are other prophecy sections in the Bible ex eventu prophecy?

This is a subject of some debate. Many would point to the predictions in the Gospels of the impending destruction of the temple (see Lk 21:20ff.) as an example—assuming that this saying was fashioned by the early church and was not in fact something Jesus said. As you can imagine, there is always a danger of arguing in a circle with these kinds of assertions. If I say, “Jesus really said this and it proves something about his spiritual awareness,” then someone else can say, “Jesus could have never said this, and its inclusion in the Gospels proves they were written after AD 70.” This and Daniel 7–12 are probably the major examples some people would point to.

If you’re of a skeptical bent, then pretty much all of the prophecies of the Bible are ex eventu! If, like me, you don’t object on philosophical principles to the possibility of genuine divine intervention, then you have to decide about the date of any particular writing on the basis of other factors (how archaic is the language? what other cultural clues point to a later or an earlier date, etc.). But remember as well that most biblical prophecy had to do with anticipation of events unfolding in the short term, and came with a certain conditionality based on how the recipients of the prophecy responded. (We talked about Jer 18 in class; Jonah is also a good example.)

3) If Revelation is like the Apocalyptical literature in Daniel, how are we supposed to know how to read it? Can we really expect to have an end of times with an antichrist and tribulation like so many people interpret it? What do you think about the end of times?

If Revelation is an apocalypse then we know precisely how to read it! It is an exhortation for believers to stay true to Christ in spite of the forces of evil all around them that seemingly have the upper hand. To the contrary, God is in control of the situation and will one day put everything to rights. This is a consistent message of the New Testament, both in apocalyptic and non-apocalyptic texts, and I see no reason to dispute it. If you want to dig into the details of what this or that particular symbol in Revelation means in a first-century context, there are several decent commentaries you can turn to.

What we are not supposed to do with Revelation is try to play “pin the tail on the Antichrist” by trying to line up various Bible verses with tomorrow’s headlines. People have been doing that almost literally from the beginning, and so far they have all been wrong! Actually, John tells us we are to “keep” what is written in Revelation (Rev 1:3)—the same word Jesus used in the Great Commission when he said, “teaching them to keep (NRSV ‘obey’) everything that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20). That sounds to me like John thought his book was filled with things Christians are supposed to do, not necessarily
things they were supposed to figure out.

What do I think about the end times? I affirm what is taught in the Nicene Creed, that Christ “is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall not end.” Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Once again, I hope this is helpful to you. God bless!

Dr. P.

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