A Troublesome Thorn — But For Whom ?
By Jack C. Scott, Jr.
There is a tendency among those opposed to the Preterist view of eschatology (i.e., the doctrine of last things) to attempt to avoid the more cogent arguments employed by those who hold to the postition. For instance, the Preterist will emphasize heavily the clear impact of the imminent time statements relative to the Second Coming of the Lord and His judgment. These time statements that are legion in the New Testament are devastating to the traditional concept of a yet future return of Christ, two-thousand years removed from the giving of those statements. Most do not even try to deny the meaning and demands of the language. They simply search vainly for one remote exception to the norm upon which they can hang their hats. Another example is the force of “comparative biblical terminology.” Simply put, this means that if we are going to understand the usage of prophetic language in the New Testament, if that very same language is employed (whether it be the same word(s) phrase(s) or style, i.e., figurative as opposed to literal) by the Old Testament prophets, we first must see how they used the language and what the words meant to them so that we then may know how to correctly apply it in its New Testament context. Especially is this the case when the New Testament writer is quoting from a particular Old Testament text.
These are the very realms of reason that persuaded this writer to change from the traditional Amillennial view of eschatology that he had been raised with and trained in, to the Preterist approach, which this writer believes to be the only consistent view of God’s scheme of redemption as developed in scripture. It is to these cogent and persuasive arguments that the traditionalist (i.e., those who hold to a yet future, literal return of Jesus, at which time the resurrection of all out of the graves will take place and all will be ushered to the great judgment) has developed a few arguments that he perceives to be “death strokes” to the Preterist view of eschatology.
When the Preterist begins presenting the reasons for his change of view away from the traditional construction, the traditionalists will inevitably take refuge in one or all of a few passages that they feel alleviate them from having to deal with the really difficult issues and questions that the Preterist is raising. This essay is concerned with what we believe to be the most persuasive and useful of these passages that are employed in this fashion.
This writer would also like to say that he in no way is trying to impugn the motives of everyone that might appeal to these passages, because some honestly do perceive them to be genuinely opposed to the Preterist construction. But to others, this is nothing more than the mentality that I like to call the old, “I may not know how to answer your argument on this passage but I know it’s wrong because of what this other passage says” mentality.
Such a process of denying an argument is at best only a “stop-gap” measure that has the purpose of getting one out of the immediate danger of having to answer some other point that he cannot answer. Of course, this approach can be shown as valid only if a reasonable and consistent explanation cannot be offered that would remove the seeming contradiction between the two passages under consideration.
I would like to make two observations about this tactic. First of all, this is the same old ploy that atheists and agnostics have employed for centuries in their desperate attempts to find some way to discredit the Bible. They read the Bible cover to cover to find little seeming contradictions that they perceive to be “death strokes” to the inspiration of scripture, and therefore “proof” that God does not exist. Such a ridiculous approach has been rejected by all right-thinking people because all of those apparent incongruities are answered by careful examination of the context, and generally rather than being a problem within the inspired text they are fictional distortions within desperate minds! If such a ploy is rejected when used by the atheist, how can we then adopt the same approach when confronted with reasoning that conflicts with our own beliefs? Of course, we shouldn’t!
The second observation that I would like to make is to encourage the victim of such an approach not to be intimidated. First of all, just because an apparent inconsistency is put forward does not mean that it is so. The person employing this tactic is just as responsible to prove his foundational premises as you are. In other words, his objection may very well be built only upon his presuppositions and traditional acceptance of his view as being “the right view.” That is, he starts off by “thinking” that what he and others of his persuasion are saying is the truth. Just because he and other uninspired people he knows have believed this for a “hundred years” or more doesn’t mean it’s the truth. He is just as responsible to prove his reasoning as the Preterist is!!!
No one should ever be intimidated by someone who has “assumed” a particular theological view to be correct, who then sets up some tidy little questions, that if not answered correctly (according to his view), would theoretically prove one’s own view incorrect. Starting with an “assumption” or a “this is the way we have always believed it” mentality has no place in the realm of valid exegesis and hermeneutical science.
Never is understanding all of this more critical than when dealing with the text this treatise is concerned with, namely, Luke’s record of the words concerning the return of Jesus in Acts 1:11. There, after witnessing the ascension of Jesus into heaven, the apostles were told by the angels that appeared, “… men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven will so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven.”
Does this passage really present an insurmountable difficulty for the Preterist construction of the first-century spiritual return of Christ for the purpose of rendering final judgment and fulfillment upon the Old Covenant system? Certainly the traditionalist thinks so! But as we shall see, when his objections are examined closely along with this passage, rather than hindering the Preterist view this passage will be seen as marvelous vindication for the Preterist construction. Also, the fair-minded will be able to readily discern that the traditional approach, rather than being in agreement with Acts 1:11, will just on the surface of things be shown as absolutely silly and untenable.
I would like to examine this passage as it is used by the futurist and deal with it as logically and thoroughly as possible. Therefore, I would like our research together to follow three basic steps. First, we will look at the “Problem Stated” from the futurist’s perspective. Second, we will look at the “Problem Examined.” Then third, we will see the “Problem Solved.” Through this logical process we will come to see power of the Preterist construction, and will see the futurist theory as absolutely unsound!
The Problem Stated
The problem centers around whether this is an empirical or spiritual process. The traditionalist demands that such is an empirical process witnessed by the senses. Basically stated, what he is saying is this: “When Jesus ascended into heaven He did so literally, physically, bodily, audibly, and visually. Therefore, if He is going to come back `in like manner as you saw Him go…’ His return must be literal, physical, bodily, audible, and visual!” This is the basic premise and demand of the traditional futurist construction. (That this is a fair representation of what the traditionalist teaches is irrefutable. This writer can present volumes of documentation that validates this, not to mention that this is exactly what this writer himself taught for many years without ever having been corrected.)
The Problem And Objections Examined
To examine this carefully we must view it from the perspective of the futurist. By so doing we will be able to see whether or not the going away and coming again of Christ are really the same according to what the traditional view itself teaches and what the scriptures say.
The major key to understanding this passage is the meaning of the phrase, “in like manner” (hon tropon). Just exactly what does this phrase demand? Thayer gives the standard recognized definition of the terms: “…a manner, way, fashion:…as, even as, like as…” (Thayer’s Lexicon, page 5157). This phrase is the key and both by Thayer’s definition and biblical usage we see that it is used in two essential ways.
First of all, we see that it is used to express something identical in form, action, or results. An example of this type of usage is to be found in Acts 15:11 where Peter said to the apostles and elders gathered at Jerusalem for the purpose of discussing the relationship of the Gentiles to the Law of Moses: “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Of course Peter was saying that the process by which the Jews would obtain salvation through the grace of Christ was “identical” to the process by which the Gentiles would be saved. There is no denying this. But it is also used both by definition and biblical application in another way that is similar but different.
Secondly, it is used to express relational comparison (i.e., similar type) of action or consequence. For instance, in 2 Tim. 3:8 Paul says: “Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds disapproved concerning the faith.” It is widely believed that these two men are the magicians of Pharaoh that withstood Moses in Pharaoh’s court. The point that is easily discernable, however, is that it is impossible to demand an identical application to this comparison. Those withstanding Timothy and the preaching of Christianity were not doing the exact things that the Egyptian magicians did. But there is a qualitative or relational comparison here. The Egyptians’ rejection of God’s man, Moses, was a type of those rejecting the preaching of Timothy.
Therefore, the question we must answer is: “Does our text under consideration (Acts:1:11) demand a “relational” comparison or an “identical” form or action?” As we carefully examine the demands of the futurist construction of identical form or action, we will have a very clear answer to our question that will demonstrate the futurist theory as untenable. Let us therefore examine the major elements of the futurist construction and see if our text really says what they want it to say.
1. Is it a literal return? The futurist demands that it must be a literal return since His departure was a literal departure. Of course, the underlying thought of the futurist is that some form of “spiritual” return would not fit the requirements of the “literal” departure and the demands of “in like manner.” They simply have not remained consistent with their reasoning in the past, however.
The detractors of the Preterist view have in the past been quick to point out that “spiritual” and “literal” are not necessarily exclusive of one another. For instance, Terry Varner, in a little book “supposedly” reviewing the Preterist view, said concerning this very thing: “…`literal’ has absolutely nothing to do with whether the thing is considered material or non-literal.” (Studies In Biblical Eschatology Vol. 1, page 19). In other words, something can be “spiritually literal.” These comments were made concerning the comparison of figurative vs. literal things, where the terms figurative and spiritual were being employed in a somewhat synonymous fashion, in which the spiritual purpose of the figure was being stressed.
Apart from any of that, however, we must remember that they are now objecting to a spiritual application to this text because it has to be “literal.” We agree with their former protests, however, that something can be both spiritual and literal. It is this writer’s contention that this is the literal return of Christ that He Himself foretold, but it will also become quite clear that it would be a spiritual return with the consummation of the New Covenant system and the total fulfillment of the Old.
In what will follow, we will see clearly that this cannot be a literal return in the sense of physical. In fact, the consequences and ramifications of saying that “in like manner” is an identical empirical process is ludicrously silly on the surface alone. We will only have to scratch the surface of their arguments to see that they themselves will not even come close to consistency in their reasoning, nor will they follow their reasoning to its logical end.
2. Is it a “physical – bodily” return? We will examine these two aspects together since they are inseparable and require the same answers. We must clearly understand what the traditional position is demanding. It demands that in “like manner” means exact form, fashion, or action. The consequences of this must be brought out forcefully, and their feet must be held to the fire on these consequences. For if they vacillate in any fashion because of the consequences resulting from their “literal” theory, then they have surrendered the very heart and foundation of their whole system! In other words, “if it’s literal – it’s literal”!
Those who hold this view will not allow the premillennialist to demand their “literal” theology and hermeneutic while constantly capitulating to non-literal explanations when their literal demands become ridiculous. But yet, we will see that they do the same thing with regard to this passage when their rule demands the absurd. Apparently then what is “sauce for the goose”is not “sauce for the gander.” This is why traditional amillennialists have been so successful in their debates with the premillennialists. It has been shown forcefully in one debate after another that one cannot shift interpretive schemes midstream and suddenly make something figurative and symbolic because the literal application becomes laughable.
We will see, then, if our traditional brethren will hold consistently to the same rules that they enforce upon those with whom they disagree. Will they stick with the demands of their “literal” hermeneutic? We shall see! The following are some very pertinent questions relative to the demands that the traditionalist places upon himself; and this is just a sampling of the questions that could be asked. In relationship to his return:
a. Is the return of Christ really going to be a “physical-bodily” return?
b. What body or form does Jesus now have in the heavenly abode–physical or spiritual?
c. Is His “present body” the same physical body that He had on earth–the body that He ascended with (Acts 1:9)?
d. If not, what body does He now have? And, does not “in like manner” taken literally demand that Jesus will have to reassume that same physical body at His return?
e. Will the holders of this view contend that Jesus will reassume His physical, earthly body just to satisfy their literal expectations; and if he doesn’t, can He satisfy at all the demands of the literalist construction of this text?
f. In other words, will Jesus surrender His “eternal, heavenly body,” take back upon Himself His “literal, earthly body” (to meet the demands of the literalist) and then after the return and resurrection put off His physical body for the second time and then reassume for the third time His eternal, celestial, glorious, incorruptible, spiritual, heavenly body and then so live throughout eternity?
These are just a few of the more obvious questions for which we must have answers from the literalist. In the rest of this material we will explore which hermeneutical approach deals the most consistently and honestly with these troublesome questions. If you do not already hold to the views of eschatology as defended in the pages of this journal, I would venture to say that you are having one of two reactions to what has just been pointed out with these questions.
First, you might simply just laugh it off and explain it away as a truly “unenlightened” view of what the traditionalist believes. Let me respond that I know full well what the traditionalist believes, having been steeped in it from birth and having preached it countless times personally. Besides, the questions asked are not meant necessarily to describe what traditionalists have taught, but rather are asked to point out what large, glaring inconsistencies they have avoided with their teachings.
Or, the second and most common response (which I can affirm to honestly be the case because this is the most common response I receive when asking these questions) is that you have a very disquieted, somber response to these questions because you see in them some consequences and ramifications that are startling. You have never been asked to consider seriously some of these things by the purveyors of the traditional literalist view! But yet you must be asked, and the honest student must venture to answer whether or not his personal view implies something inconsistent.
Reflect again upon the questions presented above and then read almost any treatise you can find on the traditional view and see if in fact these are “irrelevant” questions. In the next installment of this material we will delve deeply into all the facets of the demands of the literalist school of thought. We will see if they are really consistent with their hermeneutical rules, and how their demands measure up not only to our text under consideration, but also with what other related contexts say about this text relative to their demands.
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Date: 04 Apr 2005
I think Jesus returning in like manner is the “clouds” and not His bodily form