Filed Under (book reviews) by Chris on 17-02-2010
In “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” I reviewed chapter 6 of Breaking the Apocalypse Code in which Hitchcock and Ice argue against Hank Hanegraaff’s view of the 144,000 of Revelation as equivalent to the universal Church. We discovered that Hanegraaff does, indeed, lack exegetical justification for equating the two groups, and Hitchcock and Ice correctly identify the 144,000 as Jews. However, they are not Jews sealed during a future tribulation, “supernaturally converted at some point after the rapture of the church.” They were first century Jews, faithful and devoted to God, sealed and delivered from the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
I had intended to continue my review with a couple of other chapters in which I am more in agreement with Hitchcock and Ice than I am with Hanegraaff, but which nevertheless exhibit poor exegesis concerning the timing of prophetic events and entities. I had thought I was finished refuting the challenge levelled against the preterist eschatological model, which is my primary concern in reviewing the book. As it turns out, I was wrong, and I’m going to detour briefly to address two more arguments made by the authors of Breaking in its first chapter.
THE SECOND ERROR IN AC
In the first chapter of Breaking the Apocalypse Code, Hitchcock and Ice present what they consider to be “Seven Errors in AC [The Apocalypse Code].” I am not particularly interested in addressing most of these, but the second so-called error is, to a certain extent, an attack against preterism and thus deserves some attention:
“Hanegraaff states that Jesus cannot be referring to His second coming [in Matthew 26:63-65], but instead is referring to His ‘cloud coming’ in judgment upon Jerusalem in AD 70…Hanegraaff emphasizes that ‘Caiaphas and the Jewish ruling council would see Christ coming with the clouds as Judge of earth and sky’. The problem with these statements by Hanegraaff is that the high priest Caiaphas was not alive in AD 70 to see the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem, nor were most of the other members of the ruling council that heard Jesus’ words in AD 33. They did not see the events of AD 70…If Jesus meant that Caiaphas would see the events of AD 70, as Hanegraaff maintains, then Jesus was mistaken. Since this is not possible, Hanegraaff must be the one who is mistaken.” (p. 32-33)
The authors of Breaking demonstrate sufficiently (I think) that Caiaphas was not alive in AD 70. The problem is, this addresses only a minor facet of Hank’s major point, which is this:
“Proper application of the biblical principle of scriptural synergy might well have deterred Bart Ehrman’s evolution from fundamentalist Christian to fundamentalist atheist. When Ehrman read that Jesus told Caiaphas and the court that condemned him to death, ‘In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’ (Matthew 26:64), he should not for a moment have supposed that Jesus was predicting that his generation would experience the end of the world…As the principle of scriptural synergy should have prevented Ehrman from disparaging Jesus as a false prophet, so too it should have prohibited LaHaye from supposing that Christ’s ‘coming on the clouds’ metaphor was directed toward a twenty-first-century audience…The generation that crucified Christ would see the day that he was exalted and enthroned at ‘the right hand of the Mighty One.’” (The Apocalypse Code, p. 229-230)
You see, it is true that Hanegraaff claims Jesus was telling Caiaphas and the council that they would see the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (not quoted above), and he emphasizes the “you” in Jesus’ recorded words. On that point, Hank is probably wrong. However, that’s not really his point. His point is that what Jesus was prophesying was not His return. Rather, He was prophesying that they would be faced with His exaltation and enthronement; that the ”coming on the clouds” is a metaphor that has nothing to do with His bodily return at the end of time.
As we’ll see, Hanegraaff is right, and the properly understood meaning of “coming on the clouds” deals a real blow to the case against preterism. But first, let’s read Hitchcock’s and Ice’s understanding of Jesus’ words into the text as originally recorded. What we’ll discover is that there is a real problem with their interpretation, and indeed that of dispensationalists in general.
FROM NOW ON, ACCORDING TO MATTHEW
The NASB depicts Jesus saying to the council, “hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN” (Matthew 26:64, emphasis mine). The implication is that the council would see His coming “after now,” at some point in the indefinite future. Several other translations render the verse similarly (NIV, Amplified, NLT). A few translations hint, however, that something more is hidden beneath the surface:
“Soon you’ll see it for yourself” (The Message)
“Soon you will see” (CEV)
This is interesting. Why do these translations use the word “soon?” Are they inserting a concept into the text that isn’t there? Consider how two other translations render the verse:
The implication of these translations is that the “sitting” and “coming” is something the council would see “from now on.” In other words, it is not a one-time event in the indefinite future, but something ongoing from that moment onward. Why do these translations veer so sharply from the approach taken by the translators of other versions? When one looks at the original Greek, one discovers something fascinating. The phrase rendered “hereafter” or “from now on” is ἀπ᾽ ἄρτι and literally means “from now.” Here is how it is used elsewhere:
“For I say to you, from now on [ἀπ᾽ ἄρτι] you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’” (Matthew 23:39)
“But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on [ἀπ᾽ ἄρτι] until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29)
“From now on [ἀπ᾽ ἄρτι] I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.” (John 13:19)
“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on [ἀπ᾽ ἄρτι] you know Him, and have seen Him.” (John 14:7)
“And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Write, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on [ἀπ᾽ ἄρτι]!”‘” (Revelation 14:13)
Why does the NASB render ἀπ᾽ ἄρτι “from now on” everywhere but in Matthew 26:64? Perhaps its translators had an eschatological bias. The phrase does not mean “in the future,” and “hereafter” does injustice to its meaning. It denotes a time period during which something does or does not take place on an ongoing or repeated basis. And it is not just Matthew who records Jesus’ use of this phrase.
FROM NOW ON, ACCORDING TO LUKE
Mark leaves out the “from now on” language, but Luke doesn’t. He uses a slightly different Greek construction. He uses the phrase “ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν,” which also literally means “from now on.” In fact, the NASB renders it this way (Luke 22:69). We see that it carries the same meaning as ἀπ᾽ ἄρτι when we look at how it’s used elsewhere:
“And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not fear, from now on [ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν] you will be catching men.’” (Luke 5:10)
“Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on [ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν] five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.” (Luke 12:51-52)
“But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on [ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν] I will go to the Gentiles.” (Acts 18:6)
“Therefore from now on [ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν] we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)
We even see this Greek phrase in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament completed over a hundred years before Christ:
“For the eyes of the Lord look upon all the earth, to strengthen every heart that is perfect toward him. In this thou hast done foolishly; henceforth [ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν] there shall be war with thee.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)
“Let the name of the Lord be blessed, from this present time [ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν] and for ever.” (Psalm 113:2)
“And I will make her that was bruised a remnant, and her that was rejected a mighty nation: and the Lord shall reign over them in mount Sion from henceforth [ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν], even for ever.” (Micah 4:7).
I apologize if I’m unnecessarily belaboring the point. I want it to be absolutely clear what the authors recorded Jesus as saying. Both Matthew and Luke record Jesus as saying that, whatever He meant by His “sitting” and His “coming,” Caiaphas and the council would see it from then on, in an ongoing fashion.
FROM NOW ON YOU WILL SEE THE RETURN OF CHRIST?!?!
The authors of Breaking conclude their analysis of Hanegraaff’s “error” saying, “Jesus is telling Caiaphas and the ruling council…that they will not see Him again until His return as the undisputed King of the earth and sovereign Judge at the end of the age” (p. 34). This paraphrase sounds an awful lot like Matthew 23:39 and Matthew 26:29, cited above, but in those passages Jesus says something won’t take place ”from now on” until some event in the future. In the passage we’re looking at, Jesus says quite the opposite: His “coming on the clouds” WILL take place “from now on,” and no concluding future event is given.
If by saying He was “coming on the clouds” Jesus was referring to His second coming at the end of time, over 1,900 years later, in what way were Caiaphas and the council able to see it “from [then] on?” It just doesn’t make sense. Therefore, Hitchcock and Ice are wildly incorrect when they read the Second Advent into Jesus’ words. They say of Hank, “in his zeal to find a first century fulfillment for this prophecy, which clearly refers to the judgment at the end of the age, Hanegraaff has imposed his own meaning upon the text rather than letting it speak for itself, and were his interpretation to stand, he would make Jesus the author of a false prophecy” (p. 34). Clearly the authors of Breaking are guilty of the same crime.
So we see that it is dangerous to read one’s presuppositions into Jesus’ words. Both Hanegraaff’s presupposed understanding of the “coming on the clouds” and that of Hitchcock and Ice are incorrect, and make no sense, whatsoever, of the “from now on” language. If Jesus was neither prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem nor His Second Advent at the end of time, what WAS He referring to? And in what sense would Caiaphas and the council see it “from [then] on?”
SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND
We need to begin by recognizing that what we think of when we read the words spoken by first century Jews may not be how they understood them. As Dee Dee Warren writes,
“If I say it is raining cats and dogs outside, I don’t literally mean that cats and dogs are falling down on top of our heads, but I do literally mean that it is raining very, very hard out. How do we know that? It is a common idiom of our culture and background. We must delve into the common idioms and background of the first century audience if we are going to understand the NT.” (It’s Not the End of the World!)
Where do we find the “common idioms and background of the first century audience?” In their Tanakh (the Old Testament), of course! Each of the authors of the synoptic gospels record Jesus as quoting the following Psalm:
“The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.’ The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, ’Rule in the midst of Your enemies.’” (Psalm 110:1-2)
This figure, then, would at some point begin sitting at God’s right hand. From there, He would “rule in the midst of [His] enemies.” He would do so “until [God makes His] enemies a footstool for [His] feet.” Jesus said to Caiaphas and the council that from that point onward they would see Him “SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER.” Did He, in fact, take His seat shortly thereafter?
“So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19)
“He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.” (Hebrews 10:12-13, also 1:3, and 12:2)
Shortly after His meeting with Caiaphas and the council, Jesus died, rose and ascended to heaven. There He took “His seat at the right hand of the throne,” at which point ”angels and authorities and powers [were] subjected to Him.” From this position of power, He will rule “UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.” It makes sense, then, that Jesus told Caiaphas they would see Him seated at the right hand from then on.
If all Jesus had promised was that Caiaphas and the council would from then see Him sitting at the right hand of God, there would be no controversy. It was easy for the translators of the NASB to render the Luke account properly as “from now on” because all he mentions is this “sitting.” However, both Matthew and Mark include the additional statement that they would, from that point onward, see the Son of Man coming on the clouds. How would they have understood that?
A SON OF MAN WAS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN
Now that we understand what Jesus meant when He said they would from then on see Him sitting at the right hand of God, we are better prepared to understand what He meant when He said they would from then on see ”the Son of Man,” ”coming on the clouds of heaven.” He is making a clear allusion to the prophecy of Daniel:
“I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14, emphasis mine)
My fellow preterists are quick to correctly point out that the “coming” here is not in the direction of earth. Dee Dee Warren writes, “Notice the direction of this ‘coming’ is not down but UP!! This is not speaking of the Final Advent, but of Christ’s coming up to the Father to receive His Kingdom and rule from heaven. This is a painfully obvious fact that many futurists miss” (It’s Not the End of the World!). Similarly, Hanegraaff writes, “It is crucial to note that in Daniel’s prophecy the Son of Man is not descending to earth at the end of history but rather ascending to heaven” (The Apocalypse Code, p. 26).
I’m not quite so quick to call this “painfully obvious.” If I were a dispensationalist looking at this passage in isolation, I might say this IS a reference to the end of time, or at least the onset of the millennial kingdom on earth. The NASB says the Son of Man “came up to the Ancient of Days,” but “coming up to” something is common parlance today. It means to “approach” or “come near,” as in “He came up and said hello,” or “The dog came right up to Nora” (YourDictionary.com).
This is precisely why I led us through an analysis of the “sitting” language first. Jesus “was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19). He is ”at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hebrews 8:1). Daniel’s vision, too, included the Son of Man taking His seat (Daniel 7:9), and since we’re told in the New Testament that this took place immediately after the ascension in heaven, Daniel’s vision is of a heavenly scene as well. Therefore, His “coming on the clouds of heaven” is a coming to heaven, not to earth. It is not a reference to His bodily return to earth, it is a reference to His coming to the throne of God in heaven to receive His kingdom. As Dee Dee Warren writes,
“This then makes perfect sense of Jesus’ words to the then-living High Priest that he would from that point on see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven…the ’sitting’ (in heaven) and the ‘coming’ are intimately connected…Christ’s ’sitting’ and His ‘coming’ are being outworked even now until all His enemies are made His footstool” (It’s Not the End of the World!)
YOU WILL SEE AND COMPREHEND
Hold on a second, though. While I would expect any honest dispensationalist to acknowledge the soundness of the exegesis up to this point, I would nevertheless anticipate at least one final objection: Jesus said Caiaphas would “see” His “sitting” and “coming.” If this takes place in heaven, in what way could the high priest be expected to see it?
One possibility is that Jesus was saying they would from that point onward comprehend that He was the ruling King. As Hanegraaff points out, “Seeing is commonly used as a metaphor for intellectual insight, while blindness is used for intellectual incomprehension” (The Apocalypse Code, p. 27). Dee Dee Warren writes, “’seeing’ is equated hyperbolically with ‘understanding’–something we even do today…Do you SEE what I MEAN” (It’s Not the End of the World!)?
Warren points to the following passage as an example of “seeing” being used in this fashion: “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40, emphasis mine). She sarcastically laments, “Oh boy we are sure out of luck since we have never ’seen’ Jesus and thus…we cannot be raised up at the last day.”
I would also point to Paul’s application of Isaiah 52:15 in his letter to the Romans, where he writes, “thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written, ’THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND’” (Romans 15:20-21). Here the word “see” is the same Greek word used by Jesus in Matthew’s account of His pronouncement before Caiaphas, and Paul is using the word in the sense of “understanding.”
YOU WILL SEE AND NOT BELIEVE
Another possibility, however, is that Jesus was saying Caiaphas and the council would see the evidence of His exaltation. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured forth, and Peter said,
“Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.”‘ Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:33-36)
Peter says that which was displayed at Pentecost was evidence of Christ’s having taken His seat at God’s right hand in power. The Jews before whom he spoke were moved deeply and believed. But not everybody who saw the evidence of Jesus’ exaltation believed:
“Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, ‘By what power, or in what name, have you done this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:6-12, emphasis mine)
Caiaphas and the rest were eyewitnesses to what the Holy Spirit, the sending of whom was evidence of Christ’s exaltation, was doing. But they were unmoved and refused to believe. This is a repeated theme:
“Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed. But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, ’Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.’ Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach…The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.’ But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them.” (Acts 5:16-21, 27-33, emphasis mine)
Caiaphas and the council did, in fact, “from then on” begin seeing the evidence that Jesus was seated at the right hand of God, coming on the clouds to His throne. Many did, but refused to believe. But they did not just refuse to believe, they persecuted the saints and became “drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6). It is no wonder that apostate Judaism was judged so harshly in AD 70.
THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN
The authors of Breaking the Apocalypse Code insist that preterists have it wrong, that “[Jesus] is telling them that they will not see Him again until His return as the undisputed King of the earth and sovereign Judge at the end of the age” (p. 33-34). But as we’ve seen, Jesus said they would see Him “sitting” and “coming” from that point onward. Hitchcock and Ice, by reading their own presupposed meaning into His words, make Jesus out to be a false prophet–the very crime they accuse Hanegraaff of committing.
As we’ve seen, Jesus’ “coming on the clouds of heaven” took place upon His ascension when He approached the throne of the Ancient of Days and took His seat at the right hand of God. Caiaphas and the council would from that point onward see the evidence and outworking of Christ’s exaltation as King and Judge. But they would not believe; instead they would persecute the saints and become guilty of the shedding of their blood.
Properly understood, therefore, Jesus’ “coming” cannot be used as evidence against preterism and its understanding of passages like Matthew 24. As much as the miracles performed by the witnesses of Jesus were evidence that He had taken His throne, so much more so would be the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70, in judgment of apostate Judaism and her slaughter of the saints.