Finding an unbiased reader of the New Testament is about as likely as finding an unbiased jury member for OJ Simpson’s trial 20 years ago. More than highly probable, that jury is tainted with media spin and influence; someone somewhere heard something and it can’t be unheard. For many readers of the New Testament their reading of the 27 books therein has been duly influenced and shaped by their church community, pastors, and teachers. Those readers find it nigh impossible not to read the text with a certain coloured lens; in fact, they might not even be aware they are a biased reader. They might very well have the impression that what they assume to be the case about the message of the New Testament actually is. One can almost hear Morpheus mocking Neo when he asks, You think that’s air you’re breathing? Hmmph!
This undoubtedly is the case, however. No one, not even this author, can read any portion of the Bible without bias and prejudice. The trick of the trade is to recognise which of these influences is in error and minimise their sway as much as one is able. This infomercial will challenge one of these influences as erroneous and offer a remedial reading of the New Testament story. For many readers, the New Testament is the source of revelation about the future and how that future will come to an end.
Reading the New Testament this way is no doubt one of the more prevalent interpretations. It is not, however, the only one. According to this presenter the popular interpretation that the New Testament is about future events for all people everywhere until the end of time comes along, is a misreading of the Bible’s story. Futurists are those who believe the NT teaches how the present world will end with the promised second coming of Jesus.
Rather than reading the story in the New Testament as a depiction of the future for all mankind, let us consider reading it as an account of the future for its immediate audience. In other words, the expectations and anticipations the New Testament audience held were future only for them and were brought to fruition to that terminal culture. Those who believe the NT teaches how the Old Covenant will end and the New Covenant will begin and that those events were only future for the primary audience are preterists.
Rather than understanding that the New Testament depicts exactly what was anticipated, futurists assert that while the original audience “thought” one thing was going to take place, a wholly unexpected and unforeseen event came about. What the Old Testament lay’d the groundwork for and seemed to intimate; what the entire history of Israel was anticipating in her own story was only the tip of the iceberg. Instead of Israel’s “latter days” referring to her history reaching its consummation, “latter days” actually was about the consummation of all history.
Let us begin with a prime example of a particular influence. Consider this statement from renown scholar GK Beale,
This is the case with Isaiah’s prophecy of new creation, which is portrayed as a part of Israel’s return from exile (though Isaiah portrays it as an apparently single event and not an extended new-creational process). The prophecies of Israel’s restoration from exile are said explicitly to take place “in the latter days” (Deut. 4: 30; 31: 29; Hosea 3: 5; and possibly Jer. 23: 20; 30: 24, the latter especially in light of 31: 1– 40).
Let us begin by noting the reference to “new creation.” Note well the basic association of this concept with “Israel’s return from exile.” It is right to do so for this is unquestionably an Isaianic motif. It is important to be attentive here precisely because this very association with Israel, which Beale notes, fundamentally will cease to exist; it will take on a wholly other meaning which is contrary to a prima facie reading of the New Testament text. That is, what this portrayal in the prophets means changes in meaning when interpreted in light of the events of the New Testament. If the reader thought the Mosaic “latter days” had reference only to Israel, the New Testament shows this not to be the case.
Take note of Beale’s spin on Isaiah’s “apparent portrayal of a single event, not an extended new-creational process.” Already the bias of the reader is being shaped to interpret the New Testament in a particular fashion. Also, please note Beale’s admission of the prophetic hope that in the “latter days” Israel will be restored from exile. The burning question for the reader is, What happened to that hope?
Attention must be pay’d here because the focus on Israel in the Old Testament in anticipation of her “return from exile” in “new-creational” language as a single event gets jettisoned for a completely foreign interpretation. In other words, what the OT “apparently” expected to happen to Israel gets scrapped for another avenue altogether, one which the OT prophecies didn’t foresee clearly (if at all.) As a prime example, consider Deuteronomy 4:30 which refers to Israel’s “latter days.” Whatever these days are, they are Israel’s and no one else’s. This OT reference pertains to Israel and no other nation. It refers to her last days and not those of all space-time-history in the distant millennia. And yet this is exactly what GK Beale would have you believe. That which “seems” to have been about Israel’s last days under torah is now (in the NT) redirected to be about something the OT didn’t see coming: an event which was inaugurated but has “not yet” been consummated. The “latter days” of Israel were actually not about Israel, but of time itself and since we are all still here and time is marching on, then someone somewhere must have not squinted hard enough at the revelation of God to the prophets; and in order to make sense of what “didn’t” happen the way “it seems it was supposed to have,” well, we need to account for that.
1Gladd, Benjamin L.; Harmon, Matthew S.. Making All Things New: Inaugurated Eschatology for the Life of the Church (Kindle Locations 395-399). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.