Eschatology: Pathology and Treatment

I. Prologue: Is Wackiness Curable?
Quirky thinking is a persistent psychological "feature" of human nature.
Human wackiness manifests especially in matters of mystery, passion, power, religion, and the future.
Non-panaceas: logic, education, age, spirituality, wealth, community, diversity, holiness....
New Testament hopes are not free from human quirkiness, but their wackiness is centered and disciplined differently.
A tour of common Christian approaches to the future reveals a contrast with its eschatological framework, and invites us to reconsider it.
II. Common Christian Futurologies:
Postmillennialism "Spiritualism" Amillennialism Premillennialism
Projects some conventional ideological hope onto biblical history. Imports cultural notions of the soul's individual future. Associates life allegorically and symbolically biblical events. Current events may be taken to presage the final massive apostasy before the end. Weaves obscure, 'decoded' apocalyptic passages into a future timeline.Dispensational timelines chronicle 'Rapture'/Tribulation, 'Antichrist', Return, Millennium, Apostasy, Judgment, and New Jerusalem.
The Millennium precedes Jesus' parousia. The world improves as the Church spreads; Jesus makes a 'soft landing' in a world prepared for him by the gospel. We are judged individually after death and go to heaven or hell. Resurrection and cosmic judgment are sidelined. Revelation becomes (merely) "the hymnal of the Church," or something awkward. The Millennium and Tribulation are not literal spans of time or sequential. They are concurrent, comprising the whole Church age. Jesus' coming (parousia), a 'hard landing' in an increasingly rebellious world, brings the Millennium, either before a time of global tribulation ('Pre-tribulation') or afterward ('Post-tribulation').
Constantinianism; progressivism / meliorism; Rastafarianism; R.J. Rushdoony's Christian Reconstructionism. Dante's Comedy (taken literally); folk Christianity. Most established Catholic and Protestant church teachings. J.N. Darby; William Miller; Hal Lindsey; Left Behind.
Hope can yield to conventional wisdom. Hope can yield to Gnosticism. Hope can yield to abstraction. Hope can yield to calculation and superstition.
III. The New Testament's Eschatological Jesus
By contrast, the first Christians regarded the future more thoroughly ...
through Jewish messianic expectation,
shaped definitively by Jesus' life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return,
framing the Church's worldly setting and mission
(so E.P. Sanders, Richard Bauckham, N.T. Wright, Wolfhart Pannenberg).
A focal point: Jesus' ascension and session, reigning in absentia (Matt 24:45-25:30):
The Father exalts Jesus "far above all authority" (Eph 1:21, 1 Pet 3:22) and bequeaths the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49, John 14:16).
The ascended and seated Christ is
eternal prophet (John 16:12-15, Matt 28:20, 1 Cor 2:2-13),
eternal priest (Heb 7:23-8:2, 9:24, Rom 8:34), and
eternal king (Col 1:13, Eph 5:5, 2 Pet 1:11, Rev 3:21; cf. 1 Cor 15:24ff).
Jesus manifests 'presence-in-absence' during the 'end-times' (Matt 28:16-20, cf. 1 Cor 5:3-5) with
"real presence" (cf. Matt 18:16-20, John 6:54, "Sweet Presence of Jesus") and
"real absence" (cf. Matt 26:29, 1 Cor 11:26, "When We See Him").
His reign is mediated by
the Holy Spirit (who "will take what is mine and declare it", John 16:12-15) and
the Church (mission, ministries, worship, and prayer in Christ's name; Acts 1:6-9).

Self-Test

IV. Apostolic Transformations of Israel's Eschatology
Jesus' ascension radically shifts the Church's understanding of Israel's national hopes:
Israel awaits a bright national future in an evil world. Jesus Christ leads its apocalyptic restoration. E.g., Gen 28:10-15 in John 1:44-51.
Israel's righteous ones seek assurance and vindication. Christ's vindication offers a way to address his followers' old narrowness, grandiosity, arrogance, insecurity, fragility, despair, paralysis, and ruthlessness (cf. Rom 1:28-31). Ps 110:1-4 in Col 3:1-17 and Heb 7-8.
Wayward Israel needs international judgment and restoration. Jesus' Holy Spirit characterizes the Church's life, experience, and hope. Isa 66 in Rev 21; Joel 2:28-32 through Pss 16 and 110 in Acts 2:14-39.
Apocalyptic prophecy discloses reality to suffering Israel. The Church's apocalyptic perspective foresees Christ's deliverance from its present and future enemies. Joel 2:30-31 in Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44-45.
Israel expects final, sure, decisive judgment-salvation from enemies. Jesus' past and future appearings locate Christian hope, mission, and ecclesiology. Dan 7:13-14 in Mark 14:61-64 and Rev 1:7-8; Ps 68:29 in Eph 4:7-10.
V. Christian Futurology's Progression and Prognosis
So "Atlanta" has fulfilled, appropriated, and reshaped Israel's futurologies.
Cultural convictions are assimilated, but critically, in and especially around this framework.
The gospel checks, de-centers, and reshapes our futurist wackiness with authentic hope:
like an antibiotic, or better, a probiotic.
Christian eschatology is soon solidified creedally, but its themes are dis-integrated and de-apocalypticized under Greco-Roman cultural influences.
For instance, baptism for forgiveness of sins is associated with beginning of organic life and civic standing, and regulated through sacramental penance.
Resurrection of the body declines in popular consciousness;
life everlasting is identified with disembodied afterlife in heaven.
So a (Platonistic?) metanarrative reasserts itself as a Christian eschatology and endemic folk religion.
Renewal movements recover some apocalyptic framework and themes,
but often selectively and artificially; knowledge of first-century historical background allows a fuller recovery of Jewish apocalyptic sensibility.
Apocalyptic offers a sensible, sane 'interim' ethic: "Stay awake; watch"
(Mark 13:32-37; cf. Montecito Fire Department).

Self-Test