Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Second Coming...?

There is a mainstream thinking in Christianity that the events of revelation, and all the prophecies of the New Testament respecting the Second Coming already happened with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. This concept is called "Preterism", and is widely held by the Roman Catholic church, but completely rejected by dispensational millienialist evangelicals and, of course, LDS.

There are very good reasons for preterism. Matthew 24 starts with a foretelling of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, then talks of the fulfilling of Daniel's abomination of desolation. Importantly, the biblical version of Matthew states explicitly:
Matthew 24:34: Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
Pretty clear stuff. Presuming this is intoned about 30 CE with a life expectancy at the time generally not to exceed 70 years old (average much younger due to infant mortality), indeed 70 AD would be about the time that most of that generation of adults would be passing away. And the events of the destruction of Jerusalem were as catastrophic to the Jewish people -- the ones who made up the first Christians -- as anything you could possibly imagine. Preterists say, "Timing is everything", because you can't get by this first century timing in context.

But then again, LDS are not constrained to keep to the bible texts. If a given verse didn't fit his dispensational millenial view, the Joseph could 'translate' it correctly, and so he did:
Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 24:34:Verily, I say unto you, this generation, in which these things shall be shown forth, shall not pass away until all I have told you shall be fulfilled.
This changes the meaning from the idea that the generation to which Jesus spoke ("this") to the generation in which "these things shall be shown forth" -- meaning that the entire elapsed time of the cataclysmic events of the second coming would happen in one generations typical lifetime -- and I guess this would be about 100 years in today's numbers.

But we also have earlier in Matthew, to my knowledge untouched by JST:
Mattthew 16:27-28: For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
"Some" is not just "one" as might be the case with John. Some equals more than one. And what was the Kingdom? The Pharisees specifically wanted to know when this kingdom would come, and in Luke we have Christ's answer:
Luke 17:20-21:And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:  Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
Oops.  Uhhh. Is that really saying that there is no physical kingdom of God coming, that it's right here...within me?   Now we can deal all day long with the idea that the bible is full of contradictions (as is the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Journal of Discourses, conference talks, Ensigns....). But when it comes right down to it, Christ taught that the "Kingdom" would come during the lifetime of those he was teaching to in the flesh, right there, that cataclysmic events would befall them, including explicitly the destruction of Jerusalem, and that to look for the Kingdom out there is futile...because at some point, you might find it within you.

This message was held by those who first preached the gospel. Paul believed he was in the end generation:
Romans 16:20: And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.
1 Cor 10:11: Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
As did James:
James 5:7-8: Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
The 'brethren' to which James spoke were those in the Jerusalem church over which he was bishop. He, the brother of the Lord, had a pretty good understanding of the meaning of Christ's mission.

Now, whether James and others interpreted that the cataclysmic events -- accurately prophesied to happen shortly after James' death -- were also going to have a vindication of the coming of the Christ in glory, they did not have a great handle on this. Had they read the Matthew and Luke gospels, they might have seen that somehow Christ really meant a 'symbolic' coming -- the coming of the holy ghost.  But of course they didn't exist yet.

Or...perhaps since the gospels were written AFTER the destruction of Jerusalem, with no attendant second coming of Christ in glory, someone decided to revise Christ's words to say that it was all symbolic.

We may never know.  Pascal's wager, anyone?

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