Heidi and I were listening to a sermon by Paul Viggiano of Branch of Hope OPC out in California when he led us to one of those ah-ha moments in Scripture. He has been preaching through The Revelation and we have been having quite a few of those moments. Me, more so, than Heidi, since Heidi sat under his ministry for 10 years before she and I met.
It has, in fact, taken a while for me to come to the optimistic eschatology that Pastor Viggiano and Heidi share. It really happened during the first Covid lockdown when I read through Kenneth Gentry’s book, He Shall Have Dominion.
The optimistic view of eschatology is based on Psalm 110:1, and other passages, (see Genesis 12:3, Psalms 22:27, 27:8, 67:7, Isaiah 11:9, John 3:17, John 12:32, Romans 4:13, and Galatians 3:8 for a few more).
The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
This is the most quoted verse in the New Testament, and rightly so. It is speaking of Christ’s rule and reign over all things. Verse 1, when quoted in the New Testament, is actually a synecdoche (a part for the whole) that the writers in the New Testament would do in order to reference the entirety of a text. In other words, the writers expect their readers to know the context of the verse being quoted. This is why knowing the Old Testament is so important. It was the Bible for the writers of the New Testament.
The point of quoting Psalm 110 is showing Christ’s present reign on earth, and in heaven (why He tells us to pray the LORD’s prayer...)
Christ will continue to reign until the Father has made Christ’s enemies His footstool. The footstool is a metaphor for being defeated. In other words, His enemies will be defeated before He returns.
Examples of Psalm 110:1
When Peter used Psalm 110:1 in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, it led the Jews who heard, to repent. They knew, and didn’t have to have it explained to them, that Psalm 110:1 was about the Messiah and His reign over all things. They experienced a mass ah-ha moment as they realized that they were directly responsible for the death of their Messiah (as we all are spiritually speaking.) I can’t help but think there were some there on the Day of Pentecost who were shouting “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!, some 53 days prior.
Paul refers to it in describing the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, showing that Jesus is reigning now, and will not return until the Father has put all His enemies under His feet. Paul tells us this.
Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.
Verse 24 tells us the end must come, and verst 25 stresses that Christ is reigning now, and indicates that He won’t come until He has put all enemies under His feet. Then Paul follows that with: The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.
It’s with this understanding that optimists build their eschatology, and it is based on the natural reading of Scripture. Of the four main views of eschatology, this view does the least amount of damage to the text, and seeks to take the natural reading in context.
In this view, Jesus doesn’t come back to put His enemies under His feet, finally get to rule for 1,000 years, and then have to put His enemies under His feet all over again. He is ruling now with all authority in heaven and on earth, just as He said He was (Matthew 28:18-20). When He returns, His enemies will already be placed under His feet.
And His Kingdom is growing, just as He said it was, like a mustard tree, growing slowly until it covers the earth. Just like the leaven in the bread, slowly working, undetected, thoroughly and completely, until the job is done.
Before I go any further, two things have to be understood: first that there are many “comings of Christ” and second, when we hear Jesus say that He is coming on the clouds He means that He is coming to judge one nation using another nation. His hearers were familiar with this type of language, known as de-creation language, and understood His meaning from the Old Testament texts that used the same imagery.
Whenever you hear of the mountains melting, stars falling, moon turning blood red, the sun being darkened, this is de-creation language. It does not mean the end of the space/time continuum, but judgment upon a specific nation by the YHWH/Christ. (See Isaiah 13:10, Isaiah 34, Joel 2:28-32, Amos 8:9, and Ezekiel 32:7-8 for a sampling.)
The Comings of Christ
It is important to understand that Christ comes in many different ways, not just in the Second Coming. Once you can see this, you will not make the mistake of labeling every coming of Christ seen in Scripture as the Second Coming.
First, He comes spiritually to every believer in the Holy Spirit.
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another [a]Helper, that He may abide with you forever—17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you (John 14:16-18).
He comes to us when we believe. We are now united with Him through the Spirit’s work in salvation. For those who believe, Christ has come to us.
Secondly, Christ comes spiritually to the believer in fellowship.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:20).
This is in the context of Christ rebuking the church, the people of God. It is not an evangelistic passage, but meant for believers who are off track and in need of repentance. Notice what He says is conditional. If any hears His voice—to hear His voice we need to be obedient to His word, and by doing so, He comes in to us, and dines with us. I take this meal to be that of communion and in corporate worship (which is one of the many reasons why corporate worship is essential). We are with Him spiritually, and He is feeding us by faith through the preaching of God’s word, prayer, and the sacraments of Baptism and the LORD’s Supper.
Third, His metaphorical comings. This is His coming providentially in history bringing judgment at different periods of time. We see this in Isaiah 19:1.
The burden against Egypt.
Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud,
And will come into Egypt;
The idols of Egypt will totter at His presence,
And the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst (Isaiah 19:1).
We also see this in Psalm 18:10-12, where He is surrounded in clouds, which passed with hailstones and coals of fire, indicating judgment. Also Psalm 104:3…He makes the clouds His chariot, also indicating judgment. And the more well-known passage Matthew 26:64
Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Most will agree, that when this language is used, it is used in judgment. The passages with Christ (YHWH) in the clouds always indicate God’s judgment on one nation, by using another nation to bring it about.
This is no less true for Christ’s words in Matthew 26:64.
Now we are getting into hotly debated territory, which is over the timing of this prophecy.
In the verse above, Jesus is being questioned by the high priest Caiaphas, who asks Him if He is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus answers in the affirmative, and declares to Caiaphas that he will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power (Psalm 110:1), and coming on the clouds of heaven.
We like to debate what this “coming on the clouds of heaven” means. But there was no debating with Caiaphas. He knew exactly what Jesus was saying, which was two things.
First, Jesus was telling Caiaphas that He was the Messiah, and equating Himself with God.
Secondly, that Jesus, as the Messiah, would bring judgment on Caiaphas and the Jewish nation, just as He did on Egypt, Assyria, and other nations during the Old Covenant period. This too points to His deity, because only God can bring judgment.
We know Jesus was clear in what He was saying by Caiaphas’ reaction:
“He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy!”
The point is that Jesus would come on the clouds before Caiaphas and the rest of the Jews died, in that generation, since this is the very generation He said would experience God’s judgment.
What I’ve just alluded to is that Jesus would come on the clouds to Caiaphas and the rest of the Jewish nation, which means He will bring judgment upon them. But we don’t have to infer this. He says so directly in the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24. In telling His disciples of the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven (bringing judgment), and warning them to look for the signs, Jesus tells them generally when those things will occur.
Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place (Matthew 24:34).
Jesus is telling the disciples it will happen in their lifetime. He is being specific, using the near demonstrative this to make the point. Had He wanted to indicate any other generation, He could have used the far demonstrative, that. A natural reading cannot lead us to any other conclusion about which generation He is speaking about.
When Jesus tells Caiaphas, the high priest, of His coming on the clouds, He is speaking directly to the representative head of that generation. He is telling Caiaphas He is going to bring judgment by one nation, the Romans, over and against the Jews for their covenantal unfaithfulness.
This coming on the clouds in judgment was accomplished in 70 A.D. and is not the Second Coming.
Christ’s Exaltation Coming
At this point, what I’m trying to make clear is that Jesus has many types of comings, the most famous is the Second Coming. But there is one more “coming” that we have not discussed. And this is where my ah-ha, eye-opening moment came. It actually revolves around His ascension as recorded by Luke in Acts 1:9
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
Now this is where we have a use of the term “cloud” that is not referring to judgment.
Here is the key exaltation passage which comes in the Old Testament through the prophet Daniel:
“I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).
Immediately, the futurist will say that this passage is pointing to the Second Coming. But it isn’t. The natural reading is that He is coming to the Ancient of Days. He is not departing the Ancient of Days. He is coming to the Ancient of Days to receive power, honor, glory, and dominion over all the earth.
Ephesians 1:20-21 shows us that He has power now.
…which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality[a] and [b]power and [c]might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age (the Old Covenant and the New Covenant) but also in that which is to come…
If the futurist were correct, Jesus would be leaving the Ancient of Days, descending to earth for the final judgment, and the destruction of death.
According to 1 Corinthians 15:24, see above, when He comes the last time, in the Second Coming, He gives it all back to the Father. So it doesn’t make sense that Daniel is speaking of the Second Coming since it shows Him going to the Father, receiving the power, and ruling from heaven.
Now for the moment that caught me by surprise. Pastor Viggiano humbly made it clear, that what we are seeing in Daniel 7:13-14 is the the opposite side of the clouds from what the disciples were seeing in Acts 1:9.
The two passages are recording the same event from two different perspectives. The view from Acts is man’s view of the ascension, the view in Daniel 7 is God’s perspective of Christ’s ascension and exaltation. It is the same event. I had never seen that before because my previous eschatological position was still imposing the Second Coming motif on Daniel 7:13-14, instead of allowing the passage to say what it was saying. With the new understanding of Scripture, taking the natural reading, I could see it. Ah-ha!
Once I saw it, I can’t unsee it.
As for my ah-ha moment, I’ve had quite a few of these since becoming an optimist in my my eschatology. For instance, while working on a recent sermon in 1 Corinthians 2:6-9, I kept seeing the phrase “this age.” Suddenly, that made sense. I realized the “this age” Paul is speaking of, is the end of the Old Covenant age that comes to a conclusion in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem, particularly the temple. This is because God is bringing the Old Covenant, the worship, the priesthood, the sacrifice, to an end and removing it from mankind. He replaces it with a better Sacrifice, Christ, a better temple, the church, a better priesthood, the royal priesthood.
Paul, even in the Ephesian passage above points to this reality when he writes not only this age, but the age which is to come. He is assuring all his readers of what they know already because of Christ’s words in the Olivet Discourse, Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed. That will be the end of “this age” and beginning of the the age which is to come.
This is why those Christians in Corinth, and throughout the First Century church, needed to know that age was coming to an end. In fact, the entire book of Hebrews was written to those who were being tempted to go back to the Old Covenant worship. The writer is making it clear that there will be nothing to go back to.
But you get the idea. The flow of Scripture is much more cohesive with an optimist view. With this new understanding, I do have hope for Christ’s Kingdom. It will grow, until every knee bows, and every tongue confesses, that Jesus is LORD. …let God be true but every man a liar (Romans 3:4).
Unlike the pessimistic eschatologies, that let the doom and gloom of current events inform their hermeneutics and their eschatology, the eschatology of hope trusts in what Christ has said: “…I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).
Indeed He will. Indeed He is. So let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, who is not only the author and finisher of our faith, but the King supreme ruling on earth now. Is the world in chaos? Yes, that is Christ’s judgment being poured out on the wickedness of the nations (see Isaiah 34, and all of Psalm 110). Please note that there is always salvation accompanying His judgment. Since this is true, we are to continue faithfully proclaiming the kingdom, being obedient to His Word, and making disciples in the spheres of influence He has given us.
Leave the rest to our sovereign King.
This post, and the photos, are copyright © Timothy J. Hammons 2021.