House Divided Chapter Four The NT Time Texts Partial Preterist Keith A. Mathison Vs. Full Preterist Michael J. Sullivan The Imminent Liberation of Creation Romans 8:18-23

House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to

When Shall These Things Be?

Chapter Four
The Eschatological Madness of Mathison or How Can These Things Be? 
The Imminent Liberation of Creation Romans 8:18-23

Michael J. Sullivan
Copyright 2009 and 2013 – All rights reserved.  No part of this book (or article) may be reproduced in any form without permission
in writing from the publisher or author of this chapter/article (Vision Publishing or Michael J. Sullivan), except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. 


The Creation Groaning

On pages 196–197, Mathison makes the following argument: The epistles of the New Testament speak of the restoration of creation both as something that has already begun and as something that will be completed only in the future. Paul, for example, explains that “the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31; cf. 1 Jn. 2:17). Yet, according to Paul, the creation awaits its full deliverance from the effects of sin. . . (Rom. 8:19–25). The full restoration of creation is still future (see Heb. 2:8; 2 Pet. 3:7–13). . . . [R]edemption has to do with more than the spiritual side of creation. God will fully redeem the physical creation as well. Response:  

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Rom. 8:19–22)

John Lightfoot associated the “earnest expectation of the creature”and the “whole creation groaning” with the mind and heart of man, and interpreted this passage as having nothing to do with the planet Earth— not even poetically.

. . . [T]his vanity [or futility] is improperly applied to this vanishing, changeable, dying state of the [physical] creation. For vanity, doth not so much denote the vanishing condition of the outward state, as it doth the inward vanity and emptiness of the mind. The Romans to whom this apostle writes, knew well enough how many and how great predictions and promises it had pleased God to publish by his prophets, concerning gathering together and adopting sons to himself among the Gentiles: the manifestation and production of which sons, the whole Gentile world doth now wait for, as it were, with an out stretched neck.[1]

And again,

The Gentile world shall in time be delivered from the bondage of their sinful corruption, that is, the bondage of their lusts and vile affections, (under which it hath lain for so long a time,) into a noble liberty, such as the sons of God enjoy. If it be inquired how the Gentile world groaned and travailed in pain, let them who expound this of the fabric of the material world tell us how that groaneth and travaileth. They must needs own it to be a borrowed and allusive phrase. But in the sense which we have pitched upon, the very literal construction may be admitted.[2]

Lightfoot is on solid ground here citing 2 Peter 1:4; 2 Corinthians 11:3; and 1 Corinthians 15:33. Not only is there lexical evidence to interpret “vanity,” “corruption,” and “decay” as ethical and moral putrefaction in the heart and mind of man, but contextually the passage has nothing to do with hydrogen or oxygen or squirrels longing for a better day when they won’t get hit by cars.

John Lightfoot not only interpreted the “creation” of Romans 8 to be the creation of men and NOT the physical planet, but he understood the “redemption of the body” to not be a resurrection of physical bodies, but rather, the “mystical body” of the Church.  In his sermon on “Many Mansions” Lightfoot states,

“And of the same body, is his meaning in that obscure and much-mistaken place (Rom. viii.23; “And not only they,” i.e. ‘the whole creation,’ or πασα κτισις, ‘every creature,’ which means no other thing, thatn ‘the Gentile or heathen world;’ “not only they groan to come into the evangelical liberty of the children of God,–but we, also, of the Jewish nation, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves, waiting for the redemption,–to wit, the adoption of our body:” we wait for the redeeming and adopting of the Gentiles, to make up our mystical body.” (cf. https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/lightfoot/vol06.pdf… pp. 322-323).

Clearly Lightfoot understood the “creation” to mean the creation of men and not the planet earth and “redemption of the body” to be the mystical body of the Jew/Gentile Church and not an individual physical body.

“The sufferings of this present time.” As much as I can relate to R.C. Sproul Jr. losing his hair and gaining some weight around his midsection (WSTTB, ix), Paul’s mention of the “sufferings” and “the redemption of the body” have nothing to do with those kinds of issues. The context of the “groaning” of the first-century Christians can be found in the previous chapter. The sufferings Paul has in mind here were eschatological —the birth pains that were to precede Christ’s return in AD 70 (Matt. 24:8; Rom. 8:22). They had to do with the last days persecutions and with the saints of the universal church groaning under the tyranny of Sin and Condemnation under the Law.

For Paul, Sin had produced “death,” but not physical death. Contrary to Mathison’s assertions, “the body,” “death,” and “the flesh” in Romans 5–8 have nothing to do with the idea of men biologically dying as a result of Adam’s sin. Paul’s concern is with corporate-covenantal Death, as even some Reformed theologians teach.[3]   “Bondage,” according to the immediate context, had to do with groaning under the condemnation of the Law (cf. Rom. 7:2, 7, 15).

The “redemption” associated with the coming of the Son of Man in AD 70 entailed much more than a physical flight to the wilderness of Pella, as some commentators have proposed. Appealing to the principle of the analogy of Scripture, John Murray and other Reformed theologians understand Paul in Romans 8 to be speaking of the same “redemption” that Jesus discussed in the Olivet Discourse:
Now in Luke 21:28 . . . [t]his word ‘redemption’ (apolutrosin), when used with reference to the future, has a distinctly eschatological connotation, the final redemption, the consummation of the redemptive process (cf. Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:14; 4:30). Hence analogy would again point to the eschatological complex of events.[4]

The following chart confirms that the “redemption” of Christ’s disciples in the first century in Luke 21:28 was the redemption of “the body” in Romans 8:18–23:

Romans 8 Olivet Discourse & Luke 17
Present sufferings (Rom. 8:17–18) Suffering to come (Matt. 24:9)
Receive and share in Christ’s glory (Rom. 8:17–18) Christ comes in glory (Matt. 24:30)
Glory will be “in” them (Rom. 8:18) Kingdom will be realized “within”at Christ’s return (Lk.17:21–37; 21:27–32)
Redemption and salvation – resurrection (Rom. 8:23–24; cf. 11:15–27; 13:11–12) Redemption and salvation – resurrection(Lk. 21:27–28; Matt. 24:13, 30–31/Matt. 13:39-43)
Birth pains together (Rom. 8:22) Birth pains of the tribulation (Matt. 24:8)
This was “about to” take place (Rom. 8:18) This would all happen in “this generation”(Matt. 24:34)

On page 200 of WSTTB, Mathison expresses willingness to concede that the imminence in Romans 13:11–12 was fulfilled in AD 70. The passage reads:

. . . it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. . . .

But The Reformation Study Bible, of which Mathison is an editor, harmonizes Romans 13:11 with Romans 8:23, correctly teaching that “salvation” in that verse is not merely deliverance from persecution (as Mathison theorizes in WSTTB): “salvation. Here in the sense of future, final redemption (8:23).”[1] The connection between these two passages is made even stronger when we allow the Greek word mello in

Romans 8 to be translated the way it is predominately used in the New Testament: For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory about to be revealed in us. (Rom. 8:18, YLT)

It is more than arbitrary for partial preterists such as Gentry to honor Young’s literal translation of mello in Revelation 1:19 when debating Dispensationalists and Amimmennialists, but then not honor it in Romans 8:18 when debating full preterists. Mello is used in the aorist infinitive in both verses. Gentry writes of mello in Revelation 1:19:

…this term means “be on the point of, be about to.” …According to Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible, Revelation 1:19 reads: “Write the things that thou hast seen, and the things that are, and the things that are about to come [mello] after these things.” The leading interlinear versions of the New Testament concur. This is surely the proper translation of the verse.[2]   …when used with the aorist infinitive — as in Revelation 1:19 — the word’s preponderate usage and preferred meaning is:
“be on the point of, be about to. The same is true when the word is used with the present infinitive, as in the Rev. 3:10.[3] Unfortunately, none of the major translators cited above translates Revelation 1:19 in a literal fashion.[4]

Where is Gentry’s disappointment when it comes to translators not translating Romans 8:18 by the same grammatical standard? It is nowhere to be found, even though there are two other Greek words of imminence (apokaradokia and apekdekomai — “eagerly waiting”) within the immediate context.

At least partial preterist Gary DeMar has tried to be more consistent with a proper translation of mello in Romans 8:18. Citing Robert Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible he writes:
“Whatever the glory is it was ‘about to be revealed’…”[5]

We appreciate the honesty on properly translating mello here as “about to be revealed,” but contextually there is no ambiguity as to what the imminent manifestation of this “glory” was — the liberation of creation from its groaning and bondage, the full adoption of the sons of God, and the “redemption of the body” (vss. 18-23).

Interestingly enough though, according to Gentry and Mathison one of the things that was “about to come after” John wrote Revelation 1:19 was the arrival of the New Jerusalem and New Creation of Revelation 21:1ff. Mathison and Gentry tell us in their other works that the time texts in Revelation point to a near fulfillment of the passing of “the first heaven and earth.” They point out that Revelation 21:1 is referring to the passing of the old covenant “creation” in AD 70 and is a fulfillment of Isaiah 65–66. Gentry even says:

The absence of the sea (Rev. 21:1) speaks of harmony and peace within. In Scripture the sea often symbolizes discord and sin (13:1–2; cf. Isa. 8:7–8; 23:10; 57:20; Jer. 6:23; 46:7; Ezek. 9:10). Christianity offers the opposite: peace with God and among humankind (Luke 2:14; Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:12–18; Phil. 4:7, 9).

But then Mathison and Gentry assign an “expanded” meaning to 2 Peter 3, which discusses the same promises in Isaiah 65–66. They suggest that Peter is addressing the geological “elements” of the planet while the Apostle John, referencing the same Old Testament passage, is not.

This is not only arbitrary, it is amazing. If Gentry and Mathison can give prophetic New Testament passages “expanded” meanings to fit their eschatology, then they have surrendered their debate with Dispensationalists, who constantly employ this strategy to force their eschatology upon New Testament passages.

In Mathison’s section on the “Restoration of Creation” (195–197), he appeals to the literal and global beginnings of Genesis 1–3 to point out that preterists have interpreted “the end” in Romans 8 and in the rest of the New Testament in an inaccurate way. But Mathison should be open to considering the interpretations of Genesis 1–3 that are presented by some within the Reformed tradition and by other futurists.

Combined, authors such as Augustine, Milton Terry, David Snoke, Meredith Kline, and dispensationalist John Sailhamer teach the following:

  • Man was created a physical dying creature like all the plant and animal life around him.
  • The physics of the creation did not change after Adam.
  • Genesis 1–2 uses the Hebrew word eretz, which should be translated as “land” or “ground” and not [planet] “earth.”
  • God’s emphases in the early chapters of Genesis are not scientific but theological, emphasizing the origins of sin in the heart and man’s need for the Seed of the woman to redeem him from Sin.

As the theological emphasis in Genesis 1–2 is on the local land of Eden, which is both theologically and geographically tied to Israel’s Promised Land, so too is the emphasis of the New Testament on a Great Commission preached to the nations of Israel and to the Roman Empire with a judgment that would affect the nations of that world.

Both the localized and covenantal judgment in Eden and the one in AD 70 affected and continue to affect all humankind. The introduction of spiritual death (condemnation and alienation from God within the heart and conscience of man through Adam) was overcome by Christ’s death, resurrection, and indwelling presence in AD 70. All men and nations of the world are either inside the new Israel and New Jerusalem or outside her gates — as the gospel continues to bring healing and judgment to the nations today and forever (cf. Rev. 21–22:17).

When we take a combined look at some of the best theologians within the Reformed and Evangelical communities, we find a preterist interpretation of every eschatological de-creation prophecy in the Bible. Combined, John Owen, John Locke, John Lightfoot, John Brown, R.C. Sproul, Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, James Jordan, Peter Leithart, Keith Mathison, Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis, Hank Hanegraaff, and N.T. Wright teach that the passing away of heaven and earth (Matt. 5:17–18; 24:3, 29, 35; 1 Cor. 7:31; II Peter 3; I Jn. 2:17–18; Rev. 21:1) refers to the destruction of the temple or to the civil and religious worlds of men—either Jews or Gentiles; and that the rulers of the old covenant system or world, along with the temple, were the “sun, moon, and stars,” which made up the “heaven and earth” of the world that perished in AD 70.63

These interpretations are, individually considered, “orthodox.” Yet when preterists consolidate the most defensible elements of Reformed eschatology, anti-preterists such as the authors of WSTTB unite in opposition to even some of their own stated views.

*** It has now been 4 years since I have responded to Keith A. Mathison’s chapter The Eschatological Time Texts in the NT” in our book House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to When Shall These Things Be?  For me Mathison’s excuse for not responding (“I have been too busy”) has expired.

Partial Preterist Mr. Gary North, has said that if one side of the debate ceases to respond to the others arguments then the one who has responded last (thus silencing the other) in essence has won the debate (my paraphrase).   He has also written of dispensational scholars and their inability to keep up with postmillennial works and critiques, “Like a former athlete who dies of a heart attack at age 52 from obesity and lack of exercise, so did dispensational theology depart from this earthly veil of tears.  Dispensational theologians got out of shape, and were totally unprepared for the killer marathon of 1988.” (Greg L. Bahnsen, Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., HOUSE DIVIDED THE BREAK-UPOF DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY (Tyler, TX:  Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), Publishers Foreword, xx.).  In the same book DeMar claims that “Any theological position divided against itself is laid waste” and “shall not stand” and is guilty of “Theological Schizophrenia” (Ibid. 349-350).  Apparently Mr. Mathison was not prepared for the killer marathon of 2009 and since that time has been too busy engorging himself from the profits P&R provided him and is simply too scared and out of shape to open our book let alone read and respond to my critique and response to him?  And we document the “House Divided” “Theological Schizophrenia” and contradictory approach Reformed eschatology has sought to use against us let alone the contradictions (and yet at the same time progressive views moving towards Full Preterism) that are within Mathison’s writings alone.

Therefore, I have decided to post my chapter response to his online (in small parts) in hopes that both the Futurist and the Full Preterist communities will contact him for an official response.  If no response continues to come, then I will allow him to be judged by the same standard that his own postmillennial partial preterist colleagues have set up, and accept that he is unable to respond and has lost our debate.

 


[1] John Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Volume 4 (Hendrickson publications), 157. Lightfoot, Hammond, and Gill understand the “creation” to be referring to Gentiles. “ . . . Crellius (Comm., Para.) explains it as a reference to regenerate Christians and Le Clerc (Supp., NT) refers it particularly to Gentile Christians.” John Locke, The Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke: A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St Paul, Volume 2 (Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1987), 789.
[2] Ibid., 158–159 (emphases added).
[3] Tom Holland, Contours In Pauline Theology (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2004), 85–110. Holland is a Reformed theologian who sees Paul’s “body” of flesh, sin, and death not referring to our physical flesh but to the corporate body of Sin in contrast to the corporate Body of Christ—the church. He counters Gundry’s individualistic views of soma in Paul’s writings.  He also argues for “consistency” in Paul’s use of corporate terms. I recommendthis book to any serious student of Reformed theology.
[4] John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray 2: Systematic Theology (Banner of Truth Publications, 1977), 389
[5] The Reformation Study Bible, R.C. Sproul General Editor, Keith Mathison Associate Editor (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2005), 1, 636.
[6] Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Beast of Revelation, (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 23–24.
[7] Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell, (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 141–142.
[8] Ibid., 141.
[9] Gary DeMar, LastDays MADNESS OBSESSION OF THE MODERN CHURCH, (Powder Springs, GA:  American Vision, 1999), 225.
[10] 61. John Owen, The Works of John Owen, 16 vols. (London: The Bannerof Truth Trust, 1965–68), 9:134–135. John Lightfoot, Commentary on the NewTestament from the Talmud and Hebraica: Matthew – 1 Corinthians, 4 vols. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, [1859], 1989), 3:452, 454. John Brown, Discourses and Sayings of our Lord, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1852] 1990), 1:170. John Locke, The Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke: A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St Paul Volume 2, (NY: Oxford University Press, 1987), 617–618. R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998). Kenneth Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion (Tyler TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992), 363–365. Kenneth Gentry (contributing author), Four Views on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998), 89. Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Powder Springs: GA, 1999), 68–74, 141–154, 191–192. James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes Developing a Biblical View of the World (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, 1998), 269–279. Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis (contributing author) Eschatology in Bible & Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1997), 145–169. Peter J. Leithart, The Promise of His Appearing: An Exposition of Second Peter (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2004). Keith A. Mathison, Postmillennialism:  An Eschatology of Hope (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1999), 114, 157–158. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 345–346. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 645, n.42. Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2007), 84–86. C. Jonathin Seraiah, The End of All Things: A Defense of the Future (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002).

House Divided: Imminent Redemption in Luke 21:27-28 / Romans 8:18-23 and The Analogy of Scripture

The Abandonment of the Analogy of Scripture

The Westminster Confession of Faith states that “the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”[1] J. I. Packer understands this to mean “that we must give ourselves in Bible study to following out the unities, cross-references and topical links which Scripture provides.”[2] There is nothing controversial within the Reformed community about the above principles. Reformed believers all strive to be faithful to the principle of “the analogy of Scripture.”  This being the case, why then are there so many differing opinions within the Reformed community when it comes to the question of how to form a sound eschatology? There are perhaps as many differing interpretations of eschatological texts as there are denominations. Clearly, there is a need to bridge the gap and bring healing to this eschatological division within Reformed and Protestant churches.

What is the cause of the division?  It is widely assumed that the cause is the enigmatic nature of the texts in question. While I agree that there are difficult eschatological texts, I submit in this article that the problem lies not in the vagueness of Scripture but rather in our unwitting betrayal of the principle of the analogy of Scripture.

Reformed eschatology has a strong Preterist tradition, which argues that the New Testament’s eschatological statements of imminence must be taken literally because there are no contextual indicators leading us to interpret them in any other way. As Gary DeMar states, “any student of the Bible who does not interpret these time texts to mean anything other than close at hand is in jeopardy of denying the integrity of the Bible.”[3] To put a finer point on it,  R. C. Sproul suggests that any eschatology which denies a literal interpretation of the New Testament’s time texts has adopted a liberal or neo-orthodox view of God and time:  “When F. F. Bruce speaks of faith making the time be ‘at hand,’ this sounds all too much like Rudolf Bultmann’s famous theology of timelessness, which removes the object of faith from the realm of real history and consigns it to a super temporal realm of the always present hic et nunc [here and now].”[4] Sadly, this same view is so commonly articulated among Reformed and Evangelical believers[5] that few seem to recognize its liberal and mystical implications or its exegetical lack of support. In the interest of preserving eschatological futurism, many have compromised the principle of scriptural analogy by sweeping away the plain and obvious meaning of the imminence texts. In so doing, conservatives are unwittingly handling the Scriptures like Bultmann.

In an effort to mitigate this liberalism, some have become partially Preterist, suggesting two returns of Christ, one in AD70 and another yet-future final coming and resurrection. The obvious problem with this view is that “Paul looked for one climactic future event, the return of Jesus Christ, the blessed hope.”[6] The Partial Preterist side of our  “house divided” understands that in the AD 70 return of Christ (accomplished in His generation) God “gathered” and “redeemed” His church. Jesus was straightforward and clear that “all these things” were going to take place in His generation. Thus, Partial Preterists swim bravely against a strong tide of “newspaper exegesis.”

On the other hand,  Evangelical and Reformed theologians who reject Partial Preterism are nevertheless faithful to the principle of the analogy of Scripture when they link the imminent “gathering” in Matthew 24:31 and Mark 13:27 to Paul’s “gathering” and “catching away” (“rapture”/resurrection) in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1. When they tie the imminent “redemption” in Luke 21:28 to the “redemption of the Body” and of “the creation” in Romans 8:18-23, they rightly reject the exegetical breaking asunder of Scriptures that are thematically one.

The remainder of this article offers a brief examination of these texts as well as a response to the “house divided” approach of Keith Mathison and his co-authors in their critique of “Hyper-Preterism” titled When Shall These Things Be? (hereafter WSTTB?).[7] Mathison and his co-authors are a microcosm of the Church. Though they enjoy unity in the belief of a yet-future “second coming” and resurrection of the dead, their eschatological house is divided. Some believe the eschatology of the Bible is mostly fulfilled. Others believe it is mostly or wholly unfulfilled. Their disagreements with each other are not rooted in the difficulty of the texts, but rather in the rejection of the sure foundation of sound scriptural analogy. In setting aside the plain sense of thematically congruent Scriptures, they have constructed their eschatological house on exegetical sand, and it therefore “cannot stand.”

Restoring the Analogy of Scripture

“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:27-28). Appealing to the principle of the analogy of Scripture, John Murray and other Reformed theologians understood Paul, in Romans 8, to be building upon the “redemption” that Jesus discussed in the Olivet discourse:  “Now in Luke 21:28 . . . [t]his word ‘redemption’ (apolutrosin), when used with reference to the future, has a distinctly eschatological connotation, the final redemption, the consummation of the redemptive process (cf. Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 1:30; Eph 1:14; 4:30). Hence analogy would again point to the eschatological complex of events.”[8] We cannot brush off Murray’s comments lightly when he connects these texts to the resurrection and redemption of Romans 8, but is it exegetically sound to say that the redemption of Romans 8:18-23 occurred in Jesus’ generation?

According to most Reformed eschatological paradigms, Romans 8 is teaching a biological resurrection and molecular transformation of our corpses and of the entire universe during the return of Christ at “the end of time.”  However, when we consider the Preterist side of Reformed and Evangelical eschatology with regard to the restoration of creation in the various related texts (Matt 5:17-18; 24:29, 35; Eph 1:10; 2 Pet 3; 1 John 2:17-18 and Rev 21:1), we soon discover that, in context, these passages are referring to the temple’s destruction or to the civil and religious worlds of men—either Jews or Gentiles.[9] The civil and religious rulers of the Old Covenant system or world, along with the temple, were the “sun, moon, and stars,” which made up the “heaven and earth” of the world that perished in AD 70.[10]

In context, the time was “at hand” for the “elements” to be burned and for the world of righteousness to take its place (1 Pet 1:4-12; 4:5, 7, 17; 2 Pet 3). Peter was describing a change of covenantal worlds. As John Owen and John Lightfoot taught, Peter was not referring to a future return of Christ for the purpose of destroying the planet.[11] He was describing a transformation that was to be accomplished at Christ’s Parousia in AD 70. Kenneth Gentry and James Jordan also understand the passing of the “world” and the first heavens and earth (1 John 2:17-18; Rev 21:1) as referring to Christ’s return to end the Old Covenant system in AD 70. It is also understood within Reformed and Evangelical theology that the “times of fulfillment” to reconcile things in “heaven and on the earth” (Eph 1:10) is referring not to the planet earth and angels, but to the union of Jews and Gentiles in Christ. This was the “mystery” of the gospel in which the “whole family” of God, in heaven and on earth, would participate. When we combine the exegesis from some of the best Reformed and Evangelical theologians, we quickly see that none of the New Testament de-creation passages are dealing with planet earth, but are references to the Old Covenant or its people.[12]

Lightfoot associated the “earnest expectation of the creature” and the “whole creation groaning” with the mind and heart of man, and not with planet Earth—not even poetically.[13] He referenced the “vanity” and “decay” of the creation (Rom 8:20) to the groaning from the “corruption” of sin found in the hearts and minds of mankind (2 Pet 1:4; 2 Cor 11:3; 15:33).[14] Lightfoot is on solid ground here; not only is there lexical evidence to interpret “vanity,” “corruption,” and “decay” as  ethical and moral putrefaction in the heart and mind of man, but contextually the passage has nothing to do with hydrogen or oxygen molecules, or with squirrels longing for a better day when they won’t get hit by cars.

John Lightfoot not only interpreted the “creation” of Romans 8 to be the creation of men and NOT the physical planet, but he understood the “redemption of the body” to not be a resurrection of physical bodies, but rather, the “mystical body” of the Church. In his sermon on “Many Mansions” he wrote:

Lightfoot in his sermon on “Many Mansions” interpreted the “redemption of the body” not as the physical body, but the “mystical body” – the Jew/Gentile Church:

“And of the same body, is his meaning in that obscure and much-mistaken place (Rom. viii.23; “And not only they,” i.e. ‘the whole creation,’ or πασα κτισις, ‘every creature,’ which means no other thing, thatn ‘the Gentile or heathen world;’ “not only they groan to come into the evangelical liberty of the children of God,–but we, also, of the Jewish nation, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves, waiting for the redemption,–to wit, the adoption of our body:” we wait for the redeeming and adopting of the Gentiles, to make up our mystical body.” (cf. https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/lightfoot/vol06.pdf… pp. 322-323).

Still, one might object that the “redemption” associated with the coming of Christ in Luke 21:27-28 has a clear time text (“this generation”) associated with it (v. 32), but the “redemption of the body” in Romans 8 does not; therefore, one might conclude the two passages are not necessarily parallel. Those who argue this way suggest that the redemption in Luke 21 might simply refer to relief from persecution and nothing more. The premise of their objection, however, is false. There is an imminence text associated with the redemption of the body in Romans 8.  Verse 18 reads, “For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory about to be revealed in us” (YLT; cf. NSRV, AV, & WEY: “soon to be manifested”). It is important to note that the Greek word corresponding to the phrase “about to be” is mello. Reformed Partial Preterists such as R. C. Sproul and Kenneth Gentry understand the word mello in the book of Revelation to refer to Christ’s return in AD 70. Sproul also writes that it is not unreasonable to apply the imminence indicators found in Romans 13:11-12 (“. . . for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness. . . .”) to earlier chapters in Romans that do not have explicit time texts.[15]

If mello is a time indicator that needs to be honored, and if we can apply the time texts in Romans 13:11-12 to earlier chapters, then we cannot ignore this approach in Romans 8. Moreover, claims that the teaching of “the” judgment and resurrection of the living and the dead were not given with imminence indicators tied to them directly are simply not true. Acts 24:15, 25 reads, “Having hope toward God, which they themselves also wait for, that there is about to be a rising again of the dead, both of righteous and unrighteous. . . . But when he dealt with the subjects of justice, self-control, and the judgment which is soon to come, Felix became alarmed . . .” (cf. Acts 17:31, YLT/WEY; WUESTNT; emphases added).[16]

Of course the plot thickens when Partial Preterists such as Gary DeMar admit that Romans 8:18YLT should be translated as “about to be” fulfilled by AD 70!  Gary also understands “all Israel” being saved in Romans 11 as referring to AD 70.  Thus, the “salvation” and “redemption” of Israel or the Jew/Gentile Church was accomplished imminently in AD 70 and has nothing to do with an end of time event with physical bodies coming out of the ground or the physical planet being changed!

In WSTTB? (p. 200), Mathison expresses willingness to concede that the imminence in Romans 13:11-12 was fulfilled in AD 70.

. . . it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand . . . .

Yet The Reformation Study Bible, of which Mathison is an editor, harmonizes Romans 13:11 with Romans 8:23, correctly teaching that “salvation” in that verse is not merely deliverance from persecution (as Mathison theorizes in WSTTB):  “salvation. Here in the sense of future, final redemption (8:23).”[17] The connection between these two passages is made even stronger when we allow the Greek word mello in Romans 8 to be translated the way it is predominately used in the New Testament.

In regard to the phrase “the sufferings of this present time,”—and as much as I can relate to R. C. Sproul, Jr., losing his hair and gaining some weight around his midsection (WSTTB? p. ix)—his appeal to the “sufferings” and “the redemption of the body” in our text have nothing to do with those kinds of issues. The context of the “groaning” of these first-century Christians can be found in the previous chapter. The sufferings Paul had in mind here were eschatological—the birth pains that were to precede Christ’s return in AD 70 (Matt 24:8; Rom 8:22). They had to do with man groaning under the inescapable tyranny of sin brought about by being condemned in Adam under the Law of God. For Paul, this produced a “death” but it was not a physical death—for how is it that a dead man writes a complex legal treatise such as Romans? Death in these chapters (Rom 5-6) had nothing to do with the idea of the fleshly corpse of man dying biologically as a result of Adam’s sin.[18] “Bondage,” according to the immediate context, had to do with spiritual death and groaning under the condemnation of the Law (cf. Rom 7:2, 7, 15). The sufferings in Romans 8, then, referred to the eschatological persecutions that preceded Christ’s return (Dan 7:21-22; Matt 24:9, 27-31; 10:17-23) and not to present day Christians suffering the traumas of birth defects, aging, cancer, etc.

Conclusion

The “salvation” and “redemption” associated with Christ’s Second Coming in AD 70 entailed much more than a physical flight to the wilderness of Pella, as some commentators have proposed. Christ’s Parousia in AD 70 was a redemptive and soteriological event that occurred “in” and “within” the minds, consciences and hearts of the Church, when God consumed by fire the Adamic world of Satan, Sin, Death and Condemnation, consummately purging His church of sin through the Cross of Christ (Rom. 8:18-23; 11:26-27; 13:11-12; Heb. 8-10). The “redemption” of Luke 21:28 is the “redemption of the body” in Romans 8:18-23. Both the imminence of the time texts and the spiritual nature of their fulfillment require this interpretation.

Olivet Discourse & Luke 17 Romans 8
Suffering to come (Matt 24:9) Present sufferings (vv. 17-18)
Christ comes in glory (Matt 24:30) Were “about to” receive & share in Christ’s glory (vv. 17-18)
Kingdom will be realized “within” at Christ’s return (Luke 17:21-37; 21:27-32) Glory will be “in” them (v. 18)
Redemption & salvation—resurrection (Luke 21:27-28; Matt 24:13, 30-31) Redemption & salvation—resurrection (vv. 23-24; cf. 11:15-27; 13:11-12)
Birth pains of the tribulation (Matt 24:8) Pains of childbirth (v. 22)
This would all happen in their “this generation” (Matt 24:34) This was “about to” take place (v. 18)

[1]Westminster Confession, I. ix.
[2] J. I. Packer, “The Interpretation of Scripture” in  ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (Inter-Varsity Press, 1958), pp. 101-114.  http://www.bible-researcher.com/packer1.html
[3] Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, 4th edition (Atlanta: American Vision, 1999), p. 393; emphasis added.
[4] R.C. Sproul, The Last Days according To Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), pp. 108-109; emphasis added.
[5] For example, see Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), p. 126.
[6] Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2003), p.130; emphasis added.
[7] Keith A. Mathison, Kenneth L. Gentry, Charles E. Hill, Richard L. Pratt Jr., Simon J. Kistemaker, Douglas Wilson, and Robert B. Strimple, When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004). David Green, Edward Hassertt, Sam Frost and I have  co-authored a response to this book, House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to When Shall These Things Be? that is available on my “store” link.
[8] John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray 2:  Systematic Theology (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Publications, 1977) , p.389. Unfortunately Murray was inconsistent when it came to Jesus’ teaching that all things in His discourse would be fulfilled in His generation. Had Murray faithfully followed the analogy of Scripture in this regard, he would have seen two things:  (1) Christ’s coming on the clouds and the de-creation language in the discourse was metamorphic language describing the fall of religious and civil powers, as John Owen and other reformed theologians have understood; and (2) the coming of Christ, the passing away of “heaven and earth,” the redemption, the resurrection of the dead and the judgment were all “about to be” fulfilled in Jesus’ generation (Rom 8:18-23; Acts 17:31, 24:15 YLT WEY).
[9] John Brown, Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 3 vols. (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Publications, [1852] 1967), Vol. 1, pp. 170-174. H. T. Fletcher-Louis in Eschatology in Bible & Theology:Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium, K. E. Brower and Mark W. Elliot, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), pp. 145-169.
[10] Fletcher, ibid., pp. 145-169; DeMar, ibid., pp. 141-154.
[11] John Owen, The Works of John Owen (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Publications, 1972), Vol. 9, pp. 134-135; John Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), Vol. 3, p. 452.
[12] John Owen, ibid., Volume 9, pp. 134-135; John Lightfoot, ibid., Vol.3, p. 452; John Brown, Discourses, Vol. 1, pp. 170-174; John Locke, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St Paul, Volume 2 (Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 617-618; R. C. Sproul, The Last Days according to Jesus; Kenneth Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion (Tyler TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992), pp. 363-365; Kenneth Gentry in Four Views on the Book Of Revelation, C. Marvin Pate, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1998), p. 89 (cf. 43 for 1 Jn. 2:17); Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness, pp. 68-74, 141-154, 191-192; James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes Developing a Biblical View of the World (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1998), pp. 269-279; H. T. Fletcher-Louis in :Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium, K. E. Brower and Mark W. Elliot, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), pp. 145-169; Peter J. Leithart, The Promise of His Appearing: An Exposition of Second Peter (Moscow, ID:  Canon Press, 2004); Keith A. Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (Phillipsburg, NJ:  P & R Publishing, 1999), pp. 114, 157-158; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), pp. 345-346; N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 645, n. 42; Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2007), pp. 84-86.
[13] “. . . this vanity is improperly applied to this vanishing, changeable, dying state of the creation. For vanity, doth not so much denote the vanishing condition of the outward state, as it doth the inward vanity and emptiness of the mind.  The Romans to whom this apostle writes, knew well enough how many and how great predictions and promises it had pleased God to publish by his prophets, concerning gathering together and adopting sons to himself among the Gentiles:  the manifestation and production of which sons, the whole Gentile world doth now wait for, as it were, with an out stretched neck.” John Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Volume 4, p. 157;  emphasis added.
[14] Lightfoot, ibid., pp. 158-159.
[15] Sproul, The Last Days according to Jesus, pp. 99, 138-140.
[16] Gentry argues that “when used with the aorist infinitive—as in Revelation 1:19—the word’s predominant usage and preferred meaning is: ‘be on the point of, be about to.’ The same is true when the word is used with the present infinitive, as in Rev.3:10. The basic meaning in both Thayer and Abbott-Smith is: ‘to be about to.”  (Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation [Tyler, TX: Institute for Biblical Economics, 1989], pp. 141-142; emphasis added.)  Gentry is correct. The problem, however, is that when the word mello refers to the resurrection and judgment of the living and dead in Acts 24:15 and 24:25, it is used with the present infinitive. So Gentry boldly ignores the word in those texts.
[17] The Reformation Study Bible, R. C. Sproul, General Editor, and Keith Mathison, Associate Editor (Lake Mary, FL:  Ligonier Ministries, 2005), pp.  1, 636.
[18] Tom Holland, Contours in Pauline Theology (Fearn, Scotland, UK:  Christian Focus Publications, 2004),  pp.85-110.  Holland is a Reformed theologian who sees Paul’s “body” of flesh, sin, and death not referring to our physical flesh but to the corporate body of Adam as contrasted to the corporate Body of Christ—the Church. He counters Gundry’s individual views of soma in Paul’s writings. He also argues for “consistency” in Paul’s use of corporate terms. I recommend this book to any serious student of Reformed theology.