Posted by: mattcolvin | December 14, 2011

Transition and the Birth of the Age to Come (Luke 21:20-28)

Ember Friday in the Third Week of Advent: Luke 21:20-28.

25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

This passage about the coming of the Son of Man was spoken to Jewish disciples equipped with a Jewish eschatology, not moderns looking for the end of the space-time universe. The disasters and signs that Jesus mentions are things that accompany the transition from the first aion to the aion to come — a shift that occurred definitively in AD 70 with the fall of Jerusalem, as Jesus here explains. As with a woman in childbirth, “transition” is the difficult part: hence trouble and affliction. (Indeed, Matthew 24:8 calls these things “the beginning of birth-pains” in some translations. The Greek οδινων is ambiguous.) The enthronement of Christ in heaven, per Daniel 7, inaugurates the new age, but it does not come without affliction first.

I’m not comfortable with hyper-preterism. The new age has dawned, but it is also not fully here. We wait for the resurrection of our bodies and the final judgment. But in principle, the authority structure of the universe has been permanently changed. The sun, moon, and stars (and their accompanying angels and powers) have been cast down, and the Son of Man has come to the throne of God to receive power and glory, but we do not yet see all things subject to the saints. The New Testament recognizes this both-and perspective on the new age in passages like Hebrews 1, Romans 8:18-19, and Romans 13:11.

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