Monday, January 01, 2007

Jesus vs Apostles on the Future

One helpful illustration in trying to understand OT prophecy is the idea of two mountains, one behind the other. When pointed to these mountains, and standing in front of the first mountain, the second is completely concealed, not clear to us. But when we come to the peak of the first, we realise there is another mountain before us, which was previously hidden from view behind the first. Sometimes a prophecy may have an immediate or superficial fulfillment (the first mountain), but at the same time it may point to a further or ultimate fulfillment in the times of Jesus' first or second coming (the second mountain). Because of this kind of 'layered' or 'multiple' fulfillments, it can be difficult to properly appreciate OT prophecy and its relation to the NT. I think the same can be said of some of Jesus' prophetic teaching. In many ways, Jesus speaks like an OT prophet, to the Jews, before his death and resurrection, and before the real beginning of the apostolic church. Hence there may be a difficulty with understanding his teaching, if we try to distinguish whether he is speaking of his death and resurrection or his return at the end, all of which were still future at the time of his teaching. In this sense he taught like an OT prophet looking towards future events (not that it may not have been clear in his own mind, but that such clarity may not have been so intelligible to his listeners). On the other hand, the apostles taught in between Jesus' first and second comings. They clearly looked back to his death and resurrection, and forward to his return, and so it is not surpising that these can more easily be distinguished in their teaching. The lived and taught as ones between two great mountains, the two comings of Jesus, a vantage point with a clearer perspective on the complete landscape. Perhaps this helps us to understand why sometimes it is less clear whether Jesus is talking about his first or second coming, but the apostles speak more clearly about the return of Christ. For Jesus, as with the OT prophets, he could speak of the two events as one, while the apostles of course distinguished them.