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Preaching the End Times Better (Part 2): The Hermeneutics of Parousia

Reading Time: 9 mins

Whatever conclusions one may have regarding the earth and redemption, they must be understood as a consequence of the ongoing work and reality of the incarnate Son of God.

2 Peter 3 proves a tour-de-force toward preaching the end times better. So far from being a locus classicus for the obliteration of the world, this epistle reinforces both the Lord’s justice in an assured judgment and, until that Final Day, mercy in forbearance. In other words, Saint Peter presents the End Times in clear categories of Law and Gospel as the outcome of Christological thinking. The former demands circumspection regarding a laissez faire disposition toward Christ’s final parousia with its righteous judgment and the latter drives those with ears to hear toward repentance and redeeming grace found in Christ alone. Either way, be it Law or Gospel, the person, word, and work of Christ determines eschatology. Christology determines eschatology. Following the argument and example of Peter presents today’s preachers with a template for better End Times preaching.

In verses 1-9 of 2 Peter 3, Peter reasserts a Christological paragon for End Times thinking. The death and resurrection of Jesus provide the hermeneutic for interpreting the movement of time and the outcome of the cosmos itself. Nothing else should be taught or preached in this regard. The opening verse calls his readers to remember what he, Peter, has previously written to them and the prophetic, dominical, and apostolic witnesses confirming the same teaching (2 Peter 3:2).[1] They will find nothing but consistency and confirmation in God’s Word and witness. These four sets of witnesses operate by the same hermeneutic: Christ determines and anchors the way of truth regarding human understanding and engagement with reality. It is the second time in this letter he has made this point (see 2 Peter 2:1) because, for Peter, there is no other legitimate hermeneutic for understanding the Scriptures which culminate in Christ and, consequently, how Christ then determines history and the outcome of the cosmos itself. Christology is a totalizing hermeneutic.

Peter, having asserted this fact once again, brings it to bear upon his auditors through primary speech: They themselves know this corroborating witness. They know it. So Peter, like every good preacher, peppers the opening lines with direct appeals to “you,” “your sincere mind,” and “your apostles.” They already possess these things and so, to heighten their personal accountability to the truth, he applies the reminder to each person.

This is the second time I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles...

Peter’s employment of primary speech provides maximal rhetorical impact: You means you! Now come the facts: The hermeneutic of the parousia has been codified in the Prophetic Writings. It has been immutably established in human history through the fact of Christ’s person and work. It has been subsequently confirmed by firsthand witnesses. And Peter himself personally delivered it with validating power and authority. This is what they know, but it needs to be reasserted through this reminder because the deceivers/heretics in their midst have undermined it. They have called into question the authority and paragon of Jesus Himself. They have stepped from the rock into sinking sand. Peter’s primary speech thus cuts both ways: Admonition and proclamation; Law and Gospel.

Peter’s employment of primary speech provides maximal rhetorical impact: You means you!

Here is how it plays out in 2 Peter 3.

The prophetic teachings found their “yes and amen” in Christ Jesus. The apostolic teaching then testifies, in view of the prophetic teaching, how both creation and redemption are fulfilled in the story of Jesus, and exemplified by the resurrection of his body, and assumption into the midmost mysteries of the Holy Trinity. Consequently, whatever conclusions one may have regarding the earth and redemption, (in other words, the grand narrative of creation and recreation), they must be understood as a consequence of the ongoing work and reality of the incarnate Son of God. One does not look to ongoing human sinfulness, governmental corruption, or other milieu’s and say, “Well, nothing has changed since the beginning of creation.” No. Instead, Christ is determinative. The linchpin to Peter’s unbroken hermeneutical chain is the Lord Himself. Jesus provided the “command” relayed by the Apostles. What “command” is that? The pure preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments administered according to the Gospel, both of which terminate in the comprehensive renewal of creation. Every bit of this is the activity of Christ. Christology determines soteriology. Christology determines ecclesiology. Christology determines eschatology. Peter evidenced this reality through his Christ-commissioned, apostolic ministry in their midst. So, they know it. To deny it is to admit self-deception and go against the Word of God and conscience which, as Luther said at the Imperial Diet of Worms (1521), is “neither right nor safe.”

The upshot of Peter’s reminder is all the divinely appointed witnesses correspond, corroborate, and consolidate in Christ. The hermeneutical chain goes unbroken. In other words, the congregation reading 2 Peter already possesses the Word of Christ, beyond whom there is no greater authority. They also possess the exemplar of Christ, who is Himself the apex of the creation, the exemplar of new creation. What is more, Peter has reinforced a Christological hermeneutic for both Scripture and history itself, in keeping with Jesus’ own interpretative maxim in Luke 24:25-27, 44-47 and John 5:39-40, 45-47. Would that today’s Apocalyptic “preachers” were obedient to Jesus’ hermeneutic instead of searching newspaper headlines regarding the Middle East to substantiate prophetic fulfillment or shoehorning geopolitical happenings into their interpretation of Gog and Magog or, indeed, promoting an understanding that national Israel provides the key to unlocking the mysteries of the End Times. Jesus is the hermeneutic and He always has been so. That will never change. So, End Times preaching should never shift focus. Christ is determinative of Scripture and history.

Jesus would go on to appeal to “the Law and the prophets” thirty-eight times to show us the way of interpretation.[2] The Apostles strictly obeyed this Christological determinative principle in their interpretation of all the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, the Epistles themselves are but the Apostles interpreting the Old Covenant in and to Christ Jesus and the New Covenant established in His blood. Christ Jesus and the New Testament authors frequently used the statement “according to the Scriptures” to unpack the ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The Epistles were written as an authoritative rule or canon for both doctrine and practice by interpreting not only all the Scriptures in light of Christ (some examples are 2 Peter 3:2, 16; 1 Timothy 5:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:6), but also interpreting what will happen to the physical earth within the paradigm of Jesus’ own bodily resurrection. Hence, Paul in Romans 8:22-24 comports with Peter:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope, we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?

No, Peter was not looking down the corridors of time and through biased empirical observation inferring that “all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). He was also not looking to the geopolitical entity of national Israel established in 1948 to figure out what happens next. And he certainly was not looking at the undeniable mess of the world through human pollution and bloodshed and concluding the physical universe was beyond redemption. No. Instead, one must look to Jesus, who underwent death and burial in order to yield resurrection. Jesus taking on physicality determines what will happen to our own physicality and that of the cosmos itself. The answer is that it, like Jesus Himself, will undergo judgment, condemnation, death, burial, and, ultimately, resurrection.

Jesus taking on physicality determines what will happen to our own physicality and that of the cosmos itself.

It was important for the earliest Christians to understand that the witness of the Spirit was tied directly to the Law and Gospel, revealed and fulfilled in Jesus the Son, which is the message of “Christ and Him crucified [and resurrected]” (1 Corinthians 1:18), as foretold in the prophets, announced by Jesus, and heralded by the eyewitnesses themselves, the Apostles, including Peter. This powerful Christic hermeneutic provides the foundation for Peter’s reminder, argument, and rebuke. No less so than Peter, Paul makes an identical appeal to the bodily crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as determinative for all creation in 1 Corinthians 15:20-34, as he corrects both the doctrine and behavior of the baptized in another city.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He delivers the Kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under His feet.” But when it says, all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that He is excepted who put all things in subjection under Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to Him who put all things in subjection under Him, that God may be all in all.

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

In these verses, the Apostle to the Gentiles parallels almost point for point what Peter argues in 2 Peter 2-3. The Word incarnated both performed and interpreted the word inscripturated as God’s own self-testimony in relation to creation and humanity. Thus, Jesus stood and continues to stand as the paragon for all divine-human/Creator-creation relations. The Gospel established the interpretive horizon for understanding the divine relationship to time, physicality, and human affairs. What will happen to the heavens and the Earth on the Last Day, the day of the final parousia, is transformation, resurrection, with the old and corruptible being thoroughly purged by fire. Peter and Paul set before their readers and auditors Christ Himself as the terminal point for the Law and the Gospel, for history and creation. Authentic biblical eschatology is determined by Christology, which means cosmology is determined by Christology.[3]

Curtis P. Giese describes Peter’s identification of the linchpin error of the heretics: “They see no tangible evidence of the Lord Jesus’ [final] coming, and thus doubt its reality.” Their thinking had disconnected the prophetic, adventen, and apostolic aspects of the narrative, coming to focus only on the latter’s unfulfillment as reason to dismiss preceding links. In other words, their hermeneutic for reading redemptive history was presentism, a kind of Epicurean cosmology, which flattened the topography of historical events, including the Incarnation itself, to say nothing of the ongoing miracles of Baptism and Communion. The Creator only created. Providence had been denied.

Because of their myopic hermeneutic, they see no need for moral restraint because they deem themselves free of accountability since Christ said the judgment would take place upon His final coming.[4] From their perspective, it has been thirty long years since Jesus’ supposed ascension and, well, nothing has changed. Instead, “Everything continues in the same old way.” So they reason, “Let’s eat, drink, and frolic, since tomorrow we die and it’s clear that, given the unfulfilled claims of Christianity, we’re free from the Law and judgment.” Implicit in the heretical teaching is the denial of several essential facts, which preclude them from being disciples of Jesus:

  1. That Christ’s resurrection marks the moment new creation begins with implications upon humanity and human institutions (see Ephesians).
  2. That Baptism engenders an enlightening and regenerating participation in the resurrection (Romans 6; Galatians 2).
  3. That the high-level term, “the forgiveness of sins,” signals a new covenant and, therefore, a new and gracious way in which God is ruling on Earth through Christ Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, with grace, mercy, truth, peace, and love, and that same reality is manifest in renewed humanity (see 1 Peter and 1 John). That is, it is the Day of Grace which leads to repentance and salvation.
  4. That the Kingdom of Christ comes with expectations, a kingdom standard of behavior. What is more, the Spirit brings an efficacy of the Word and Sacraments to enable the baptized to live as resurrection people now.
  5. That the ongoing ministry of Jesus’ preaching and miracle’s continues through His duly called and ordained ministerium. They are entrusted to herald the Gospel and perform the sacrament-miracles which yield a new creation (John 20:19-22; Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21; Ephesians 5:24-31).
  6. That the middle-wall of partition has been torn down. There is now neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female when it comes to the benefits and application of Christ’s redemption. Hence, the miracle of the Church, a new humanity constituted in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2; Colossians 2:6-23).
  7. That the incarnational reality of the Son of God continues in Communion until “the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
  8. That the prophetic and apostolic witness, both oral and written, to Christological interpretation of creation and redemption provides the reading horizon for Scripture and history.

Peter says the end of these assertions is not the supposed (momentary) freedom of libertine living, but bondage to carnality that leads to destruction, which will come upon them “like a thief.” No, argues Peter, there is no freedom there because it is based on pure conjecture. The lie has been exposed: It is their own interpretation. Instead, the Christian possesses a hermeneutic established by the command of Christ. This is what we preach. It preaches Law and Gospel better than controlling esoteric knowledge or manipulative fear-mongering, because, with Christ as the paragon, it preaches the truth of God through all four strata of witnesses.

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[1] Peter addresses those who are within the household of faith, the baptized into Christ. Precluded are the heretics.

[2] See, for example, Mark 8:27-29, 31 and how Paul used this Christological determinative in Acts 26:22-23.

[3] This is in keeping with the well-defended maxim: All theology is Christology. See David Scaer, “All Theology is Christology: An Axiom in Search of Acceptance,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 80/1 (2016): 49-62.

[4] Giese, 2 Peter and Jude, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2012), 168.