Study:  Eschatology


by Dr. J. W. Bernard

The first instrument I used to accompany my singing was the accordion.  I could take it with me and start the music at the drop of a hat.  I learned the 120 buttons on the left side of the instrument to where I could run the scales in any key.  This provided me with a full sound behind my voice.  So many of the people I sang for wanted a tape or record of the accordion music.  So, I started recording record albums.  I ended up producing five long play vinyl recordings.  My knowledge of music advanced quickly because of the accordion.  It forced me to understand chord progression, key signature and rhythm or time signature.  

For anyone to understand a piece of sheet music and correctly reproduce it into sound, one must first recognize the key signature and time signature of the piece.  A concert would be disastrous if these two signatures of the music composition  were not considered throughout the performance.  In understanding the contingent nature of the letters which form the Pauline corpus, we must also recognize the time signature of the apocalyptic theme as the "coherent center" for correct interpretation.  Paul writes about the human condition from within the eschatological (final things) time signature.  Therefore, when it comes to the study of eschatology, the TIME SIGNATURE  is of most importance.  It will be seen from the following texts of Scripture that the time was at hand.  Recognition of the importance of the eschatological milieu of the New Testament materials is one of the most important results of the 20th century investigations by Biblical scholars.  

 Date Setters Do Not Consider Time Signatures 

From as early as the second century, pseudo-prophets (Montanus, Prisca & Maximilla and others) rejected the time signature of the New Testament Scriptures and have suggested future dates to the world for the bodily return of the Son of God.  About 80 years later, Novatian rejected the scriptural time signature and set a future date for the return of Christ.  The Church branded Novatian and Donatus as heretics.  There were more date setters that appeared upon the eschatological scene, rejecting the time signature.  Here is an incomplete list:

Hal Lindsey wrote in his book, "The 1980's Countdown to Armageddon" (1980), "We are the generation that will see the end times... and the return of Christ."  This list of pseudo-predictors of the second coming of Christ goes on and on.  The list is too large for this study.  They all have been proven wrong in their time signatures of the event.  What is so sad is that their predictions were not done in private.  They have published their books to spread this misunderstanding of the literal words of the inspired writers of the New Testament.  

 The Time Signature is important 

"When shall these things be?"... is still being asked.  Both of Paul's Thessalonian letters appear to have been written in response to serious questions raised by the congregation about the death of believers prior to the soon expected parousia of the Lord.  The same issue was debated in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:30 & 15:18).  Paul's answer in his first letter to the Thessalonians (4:13 - 5:11) attempts to deal with this concern and basically asserts that the dead suffer no disadvantage and will be joined with Christ at His coming.  The difficulty here is that it is not entirely clear what eschatological time signature was held by the church at Thessalonica, nor why they were thrown into such theological turmoil by the premature death of some of the members of the congregation.  Did they simply misunderstand what Paul had taught them about the time signature of the parousia when he helped found the congregation?  Or did they understand the time signature but, misunderstood that some would die and others would be alive at the Coming?  The premature deaths seemed to indicate that the time signature indicated that the Judge was at the door.

Again, the time signature can be seen in 1 Corinthians 7 as Paul discusses the institution of marriage and human sexuality in the face of the parousia.  Paul responds to some questions raised by the Corinthians about sex and marriage in the lives of Christian Believers.  It appears that the Corinthians had adopted an ascetic attitude toward sexuality in light of their belief that full salvation in Christ had already arrived.  Paul writes to correct this attitude, emphasizing in verses 2-6 the mutual obligations and responsibilities of sexual relationships between husbands and wives.  This section presents little difficulty as far as an eschatological time signature is concerned.  However, in 1 Cor. 7:7-40 Paul continues with advice that seems much more conditioned by his views of the imminent parousia of Christ; this is particularly true in 1 Cor. 7:25-35.  There he advises those who are single to remain so in light of the "present distress" (1 Cor. 7:26) and the "shortening of the time" (1 Cor. 7:29).  The chapter is an exegetical minefield, but most scholars agree that to some degree Paul's eschatological time signature perspective is coloring his ethical advice to those contemplating marriage during this shortness of time.  Whatever interpretation is eventually adopted, one must give due consideration to the eschatological time signature factor here.

To understand the time signature of the New Testament for the coming of the Lord one must look more closely to the Holy Scriptures.  Let's first  look at Jesus' words to Peter about his death in the Gospel of John (21:18-23).

(18) "Verily, verily, I say unto thee (Peter), When thou was young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkest whither thou wouldest: but when thou shall be old, thou shall stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee wither thou wouldest not (the death of Peter).  (19) This spake He (Jesus) signifying by what death he (Peter) should glorify God.  And when He had spoken this, He said unto him (Peter), 'Follow Me.'  (20) Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple (John) whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on His breast at supper, and (John) said, 'Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?'  (21) Peter seeing him (John) saith to Jesus, 'Lord, and what shall this man (John) do (about following Thee to his death)?'  (22) Jesus saith unto him (Peter), 'If I will that he (John) tarry (live) till I come, what is that to thee?  (Peter) Follow thou me.'  (23) Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that (John) that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him (John), 'He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry (live) till I come, what is that to thee?'"

The verses above show that living and dying before the parousia was a problem to Peter.  Jesus said that John would die.  However, not before the coming.  These verses are a clear commentary on Matthew 16:27,28.

(27) "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.  (28) 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.'"

These verses are so clear and potent that all futurists must find another time signature and explanation for these verses.  This is a crucial timing factor that can not be denied by the astute student of eschatology.  However, if a young sixth grader should read these passages, their understanding would be very simple and clear to the child.  Why must theologians complicate the verses, by changing the time signature and pushing the parousia into another time and century?  

Some Christians understand that the Gospel must first be preached to everyone in the world before the Lord comes.  This time signature and position is taken from the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:14 "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come."  They say that there are still millions of groups of people that have never heard the Gospel yet.  This idea is convincing to those who have never considered what Paul said in his last letter.  (5) "...because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel. (6) which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth" (Colossians 1:5,6).  Also in verse 23 Paul says, "...if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I Paul was made a minister" (Colossians 1:23).  Those who wait for the gospel to be preached to the whole world have not realized that the gospel had reached the whole world in the first century.  This is the testimony of the Lord's apostle, Paul. 

Jesus gave the time signature when He said that some of the people He spoke to would be alive and some would die before the Parousia or Coming.  Paul testified that the world had heard the gospel and the Coming was near in the first century.  This is very clear and should settle the time signature for all.

 Jesus' Time Signature for the Disciples 

After Jesus had said, so many times, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand", He says to His disciples, "Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come" (Matt. 10:23).  This is a time signature for the coming of the Lord.  It is not suggested that there is a gap of 2,000 years between "this generation" and another, who would see the coming.  The following list of verses that speak of "this generation" are all speaking of the generation that lived during the years between A.D. 30 and 70.  Here is the list:

In Matthew 24:3, the disciples asked Jesus, "...Tell us, when shall these things be?  And, what shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?"  Jesus told them about what would lead up to the coming and end of all things.  Then in verses 33 and 34, Jesus tells His disciples, "So likewise ye (disciples), when ye (disciples) shall see all these things (that lead up to the coming and end), know that IT IS NEAR, EVEN AT THE DOORS.  Verily I say unto you, 'This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.'"  The New Testament list of the Greek word for "This" is an enlightening study for the time signature.  It will convince you that "This Generation" is the one living at the time Jesus spoke in the days of His flesh.

 Jesus' Time Signature for the Jewish Leaders 

Not only were the disciples expected to be alive at the coming of Christ, but, The high priest of Judaism was also expected to witness the coming of Christ.  Jesus said to the high priest, "Hereafter shall ye (the high priest and his henchmen) see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Matt. 26:64).  This time signature was very clear for the high priest and the Jewish leaders under him.  

 Paul's Time Signature for the Romans 

"And that knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for NOW is our salvation nearer than when we believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand..." (13:11,12)  The "day is at hand" is a clear time signature for the Romans.  "At hand" does not mean in a distant future time signature.  The day was arriving shortly or was very near.  

 Paul's Time Signature for the Corinthians 

Paul encourages the Corinthians in his first letter to wait "for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:7,8).  Paul does not teach that the Jews will build a third Temple in Jerusalem.  For he tells them, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (3:16).  Paul also recognizes "the present distress" (7:26) of the Corinthians and says to them, "But this I say, brethren, the time is short..." (7:29).  Paul tells the Corinthians that "the ends of the world are come" (10:11) upon them.  Again, the time signature was very clear.

In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians he says that "though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth, know we him no more (in that way)" (5:16)  Paul says that Jesus will not manifest Himself in the flesh any more.  We will never know Him in that way ever again.  The old ways are gone forever.  Paul continues, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new" (5:17).  Anyone who looks for Jesus to come down from heaven in His flesh body does not understand the time signature for the days of His flesh. 

 Paul's Time Signature for the Galatians 

"But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law." (4:4)  "The fullness of the time" is another way to express "the end of time."  Jesus was born in the fullness of time and prophecy was coming to a close.  Christ was also the end of the law.  After the close of those days, we now have only Christ.  The time signature gives us a great change taking place during the first century.  

 Paul's Time Signature for the Philippians 

Paul explains the great change for the Philippians. "For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself." (3:20,21).  Then Paul gives them the time signature for the change: "The Lord is at hand" (4:5) 

 Paul's Time Signature for the Thessalonians 

Paul is encouraged that the Thessalonians "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come" (1:10). The Thessalonians knew the time signature of the coming.  Therefore, they were waiting for the Coming in their generation.

In Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians, he informs them that "the mystery of iniquity doth already work" (2:7) and would be destroyed "with the brightness of His coming" (2:8).  These Thessalonians had a hope during their life time that the mystery of iniquity would be destroyed soon.  This is a clear time signature for His Coming.  

 Paul's Time Signature for Timothy 

Paul instructs Timothy in his first letter to "keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" (6:14).  This is a clear time signature for Timothy to use in his life and ministry.  He will be alive at "the appearing."

In Paul's second letter to Timothy, he says, "that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear" (4:17).  This confirms that the gospel was preached to the whole world (Colossians 1:5,6,23).  Then in verse 18, Paul told Timothy that "the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom."  This is a very clear time signature for Timothy.  Paul would be preserved and would not die before the heavenly kingdom was realized.

 Paul's Time Signature for Titus 

Paul instructs Titus to teach the churches and their leaders to live in a certain manner and also to be "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" (2:13).  If the coming of Christ was after their ministry and lives were over, this encouragement to look for that blessed hope would have been an empty hope.  The time signature is clear.  It was very near and their "blessed hope." 

 Paul's Time Signature for the Hebrews 

Paul tells the Hebrews that the New is so much better than the Old.  Christ replaces everything and that makes it old, old, old.  The Hebrews are encouraged to leave the old ABC's and move into the mature XYZ's that will be accomplished soon, " ye see the day approaching" (10:25).  Then Paul tells them they "have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.  For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry" (10:36,37).  How can anyone miss it?  "A little while" means a little while.  It is their time signature.  

 James' Time Signature 

James is ministering to the Hebrews and encourages them to "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord" (5:7).  He again emphasizes the nearness of the coming of the Lord, "Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." (5:8).  Next he amplifies the statement again when he says, "...behold, the judge standeth before the door." (5:9)  The time signature is established for the Hebrews.

 Peter's Time Signature 

Peter tells the Hebrew Christians, "Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:13).  This was a time signature hope that would be realized before they died.  Then Peter says that their redemption "...was manifest in these last times for you" (1:20).  To awaken them to the time signature of the coming of the Lord, he says, "But the end of all things is at hand..." (4:7).  The beautiful Temple in Jerusalem would come to an end and them that obey not the gospel of God.  "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (4:17). 

In Peter's second letter to the Hebrews he explains that since Jesus has told Peter that he would die (John 21) just before the coming of Christ, Peter tells the Hebrews, "Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me" (1:14).  Peter knew the time signature of the coming.

 John's Time Signature 

John rejoices that they "have overcome the wicked one" (1 John 1:13) and that "it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrist; whereby we know that it is the last time." (1:18).  John says that the time signature says that the Coming is near and "when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming" (2:28).  What would keep them from being ashamed before Him?  John answers it by "we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is" (3:2).  They were playing by the time signature.

 Jude's Time Signature 

Jude is warning his listeners that at that time, certain men have crept in unaware.  They are the ones that the apostles of the Lord told them about, "there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.  These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit" (18,19).  Then Jude says to them to play by the time signature: "keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (21).  The time signature was their life time.  "Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (24).  Jude knew the time signature.  

 The Time Signature of the Book of Revelation 

The time signature and purpose of the book was, " shew unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass" (1:1).  If that was not understandable, the Spirit of God gives the time signature again another way, "...the time is at hand" (1:3).  The statement, "Behold, I come quickly..." (1:11) is said in another way, "Behold, I stand at the door..." (1:20).  This time signature is clear.  If God wanted us to understand that something was to take place quickly, what time signature word would He use?  If "shortly," "at hand" and "quickly" mean something other than shortly, at hand and quickly, then what do they mean in a time signature?

Another clear time signature is revealed when John is told to "Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and them that worship therein" (11:1,2).  This means that the measurement would have to be before A.D. 70.  There was no Temple, altar and worshippers after that date.  If the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the testimony of the book is: "the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to shew unto His servants the things which must shortly be done" (22:6), then the dating would be in the life time of that generation.  Jesus said, "Behold, I come quickly" (22:7).  And the angel told John to "seal not the saying of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand" (22:10).  Two more times the Spirit of God records a very clear time signature, "Behold, I come quickly" (22:12 & 20).


Some futurists have seen a divided time signature between Matthew 24: 1-34 and Matthew 24: 35.  For them, the time signature looks like this:

The events that took place in A.D. 70 are #1, #2, #3.  Then a time gap of 2,000 or more years for #5 and #6.

  1. 24: 17,18 - "let him who is on the housetop not go down..."
  2. 24: 26,27 - "For just as the lightning comes from the east..."
  3. 24: 28 - "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather."
  4. Then a time gap:
  5. 24: 37-39 - "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah..."
  6. 24: 40,41 - "Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left."

If this order of events was set in concrete, the time gap might be valid.  However, Luke 17: 20-37 gives another time signature for the order of these same events.  #1 through #6 has no time gap.  Therefore they all must refer to the event in A.D. 70.

  1. 17: 23,24 - "For just as the lightning, when it flashes..."  This matches #2 above.
  2. 17: 26,27 - "And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it shall be also in the days of the Son of Man."  This matches #5 above.
  3. 17: 31 - "On that day, let not the one who is on the housetop..."  This matches #1 above.
  4. There is no time gap that can be taught here:
  5. 17: 35,36 - "There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken, and the other will be left."  This matches #6 above.
  6. 17: 37 - "...where the body is, there also will the vultures be gathered."  This matches #3 above.

So, as we compare Matthew 24 with Luke 21, we find no time gap for the time signature.  The big problem that is created by dividing Matthew into two different time periods is... Luke 21 is mistaken and therefore uninspired.  The only solution is that Matthew and Luke speak of one and the same event which happened in A.D. 70.  One prominent school of thought within New Testament scholarship has held that the non arrival of Jesus Christ in the first century created a crisis early within the life of the Christian church.  This "delay of the parousia" is sometimes portrayed as triggering the need for a de-eschatologization of the first century Christian hope, a movement away from Jewish apocalyptic ideas which see the fulfillment of God's promises as taking place in the not-too-distant return of their Messiah to earth.  Such a "delay" belief replaced the Hellenistic understanding of Christ's "presence" as taking place within the life of the first century believers.  Under the impact of "the delayed parousia," eschatology necessarily must reject the first century time signature so evident in Scripture.  The time signature of the Judgment and Coming of the Lord was very clear and said that the Coming was near for that generation living prior to the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, Priesthood, people and the Old Testament economy.  Therefore, the "gap theory" and "delayed parousia" must be rejected in order to understand the New Testament time signature.

 Who are Futurists and Preterists? 

The New Testament, first century generation was "futurist" concerning the Coming.  They looked forward to the Coming of the Lord and the Judgment and Salvation that accompanied the Parousia.  However, after the Coming in A.D. 70, Christians were now Preterists in order to perform the concert of their Christian life in the correct time signature.

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