Response to John Noe's
Part One: Noe's Examples of Time-frame References in Prophecy
Copyright 1999 by Pastor Robert L. Garringer
As all preterists, John Noe has a common sense understanding of prophetic time-frame references. This is the strength of the preterist position, but preterists believe that all New Testament prophecy was fulfilled in the first century. 1 So they take the radical view that when the prophets spoke of the end of the world, the coming of Christ, and the Judgment, they were speaking figuratively about the Roman overthrow of Jerusalem in A. D. 70 and its results. This is the preterist's great weakness.
We futurists 2 reverse them because we have a common sense understanding of the content of prophecy. We see an even-handed mix of the literal and figurative in what the prophets wrote. This is the strength of our position, but futurists have a radical view of the emphatic, imminent time-frame references of New Testament prophecy. This is our great weakness.
We are forced to say that the predicted "short while" timing of fulfillment should not be given too literal a significance. Then we go to great lengths to find qualifications for strongly worded statements in the Bible that the end of the world was near. We must justify at least a two thousand year delay in events that were expected to happen in the lifetime of the authors of the New Testament.
Preterists have the advantage of favoring the most natural understanding of the imminent tone in New Testament prophecy, but strain words and meanings to prove from biblical and historical material that all prophecies were fulfilled by A. D. 70.
Futurists have the advantage of taking the most natural reading of the prophecies, especially direct references to the coming of the Lord, but must strain to reconcile long delayed fulfillments with obvious first century expectations.
In the end, I believe, futurists have the better argument, but that is an issue the reader must decide by comparing how preterists like Noe explain themselves and how futurists like myself reply.
Noe's case is made at http://www.prophecyrefi.org/seven.htm. My initial response to him follows.
In responding to Noe, I simplify his seven evidences for preterism, reducing them to two. Then I respond to each separately. In Part One, given here, I analyze "Noe's Examples of Time-frame References in Prophecy." In Part Two, at a later date, I will discuss what I call "Noe's Examples of Radical Symbolism in Prophecy."
turning to specific examples, we must test three generalizations Noe relies
on that, if true, establish his time-frame case outright.
2. Also on page 6, Noe refers to Peter's words in II Peter 3:8, "with the Lord a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day." Then he comments on this unique phrase in a footnote on page 14, "This is a quote from Psalm 90. It is describing the character and nature of God--His timelessness...It's not an encoding time formula, nor is it addressing how God thinks of time..."
On page 5, he states, "Even appealing to the unknown time statement, 'of
that day and hour knoweth no man' (Mt. 24:36; 25:13) doesn't preclude nor
override the nearness and time-restriction factor [in the prophesied return
of the Lord]." [Brackets added.]
1. Has God ever used words of imminency to speak of events that were far in the future? Yes, Isaiah 13:22 and 21:9 are examples.
In the first of these references, Isaiah spoke of Babylon's coming doom as if it were about to happen. Yet the fulfillment would not begin for over two hundred years after Isaiah spoke. (13:17) Then the prophecy would not be completely fulfilled for another three hundred years. (13:19-22) Still Isaiah pronounced, "...her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged."
In the second reference, Isaiah spoke as if Babylon had already been destroyed: "...Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods He hath broken unto the ground."
Obviously Babylon's utter destruction was not in the past when Isaiah prophesied nor was it literally "near to come" with no possible delay. 3
non-literal use of urgent, imminent language accomplished at least three
purposes in this case:
b. It reflected the direct relationship between contemporary Babylon's sin and its eventual fall.
By delaying the fulfillment, the Lord left His Word hanging like a swaying
sword over Babylon in the minds of those who remembered the prophecy and
anticipated its dramatic fulfillment.
implications of :
b. how time was referred to in the prophecy, and
c. the delayed fulfillment undermine Noe's insistence that imminent language in prophecy must be restricted to a common sense and literal interpretation.
b. It reflects our covenant solidarity with the early church. (We carry on under the Lord's commission, awaiting His return just as those believers did.)
c. By leaving the actual time of fulfillment undefined, the Lord puts us on alert to watch for the signs He gave us and to be prepared always.
The apostle was not discussing the "timelessness" of God. He was responding to scoffers who challenged the reality of Jesus' coming because things seemed to be going on without interruption. (3:4)
makes three points in response to these unbelievers. Abbreviated and paraphrased
these points are:
b. "The delay, whatever its length, is not evidence that God will not do what He said He would. To God, the events of one day may hold a millennium of significance, and on the other hand, the events of a thousand years may pass with little notice." (3:8)
Noe is right to point out that Peter's words do not mean that every reference to a "day" in prophecy means a literal thousand years, but he is wrong to say that Peter's words tell us nothing about how God thinks of time since that is the point of the statement. By the way, in contrast with Noe's explanation, Peter was at best alluding to Psalm 90:4 and was not quoting it. His thought is much more complete and time-specific than the statement from the Psalm.
3.When Jesus stated that no one but the Father knows the time, did He allow for an extensive delay in the coming of the End?
This is certainly a legitimate way to understand the Lord's words.
When the Incarnate Christ said that He did not know "the day or the hour," he may have been saying, as Noe understands Him, "I, the Son of Man, am coming in this generation but I do not know exactly when."
On the other hand, He could have been expressing uncertainty about His own emphatic conviction that He would soon return. This is certainly the case if scholars are right in saying that "day or hour" is an idiomatic reference to the timing of events in a general sense. 4
English readers might take Jesus to be saying,"I can tell you the decade and perhaps the year and month when these things will happen, but I cannot tell you the day or hour." If the phrase is a reference to timing in general, however, this would not be what Jesus meant. Instead, He would be stating clearly that the time-factor is unknown except in the mind and purpose of God. (This is a natural understanding of the Lord's words in Acts 1:7.)
Logically and contextually then, Noe must allow for a wider significance in Jesus' words than he has considered acceptable to now.
Lord's line of thought in Matthew 24 would be something like:
b. "You can be absolutely sure that it will happen!" (24:35)
"In fact, however, I do not know when; God the Father alone knows that."
In I Corinthians 1:14, Paul says that he had baptized only Crispus and Gaius among the Corinthian believers. Two verses later, however, Paul added that he had also baptized "the household of Stephanas" and remembered baptizing no one else. So the Holy Spirit allowed the apostle's stream of consciousness to go on, and in the flow of thoughts, the Spirit brought out the whole truth.
Paul's point is that he did not come to Corinth to compete with other leaders in how many each could baptize. As evidence of this, he indicates how few people he remembered baptizing. His discussion makes this point very well and, under the oversight of the Spirit, sufficiently expresses the truth.
Likewise, the whole truth of what Jesus said about the timing of His coming may well include a lack of finality in His statements that He would return in the first century. So the early church expected the Lord to come back very soon but knew that there might be an indefinite delay.
There is not sufficient space in this article to defend the concept, but I believe that the standard form of New Testament prophecy is a bold statement of immediate expectation, accompanied by actual delay. For example, it can be argued that The Book of Revelation makes no sense unless we see this significance in its imminent tone.
In my opinion, the Gospel of Matthew which Noe quotes frequently has a similar "now" and "shall be" quality in its prophetic announcements of the Kingdom's presence and the Lord's return.
We turn now to four Scriptures that Noe cites and misuses because he apparently misunderstands them:
1. Matthew 24:48
Twice Noe states from this verse that it is the wicked servant in Jesus' parable who stated that the Lord delayed His coming. That is to say, "futurists are wicked servants! Jesus said so!"
In this case, Noe is abusing the clear meaning of Jesus' words. In the parable, the servant is not wicked because he accurately noted that his master had taken his time in returning. He is wicked because of his greed, pleasure-seeking, and mistreatment of his fellow servants. The point is that Jesus' disciples are not to take any apparent delay in His return as an opportunity for unfaithfulness.
2. Matthew 10:23
Noe's attempt to put a preteristic spin on this verse brings in a passage that proves far too much. Here Jesus states that the Son of Man is coming so quickly that the apostles will not have time to carry out their mission to the cities of Israel.
In this case, Noe behaves as a kind of futurist and tries to soften the urgency of Jesus' words. He explains that what Jesus meant was, "they [the apostles] would not run out of places to flee for safety before He returned." [Brackets added.] This is Noe's attempt to make the meaning of Jesus' words stretch over enough time that the Son of Man's "return" spoken of in Matthew 10:23 can be equated with Jerusalem's fall in A. D. 70.
There are two things wrong with Noe's explanation. The first has to do with the obvious meaning of words. "Places to flee for safety" is not the equivalent of "going through the cities of Israel." The apostles would not be merely running for cover. They were going to the cities of Israel to preach as Christ had told them to (10:5-7) with rejection and persecution driving them on (10:14-23). Jesus' words in Matthew 10:23 must apply to a period much earlier than A. D. 70 because by then the apostles would be seeking both fields of service and places of safety far beyond the cities of Israel.
The second major problem with Noe's understanding of Matthew 10:23 has to do with context. Jesus had told the apostles to go only to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" and not to go into any cities of the Gentiles or even the cities of Israel's near neighbors, the Samaritans. (10:5, 6) Later he states that the apostle's testimony would reach Gentiles as well as Israel but only because they would be dragged before the authorities who were Gentiles. (10:18) To face Roman officials, the apostles did not have to depart Israel.
It is in this strictly Jewish context that Jesus stated that their task in proclaiming the Kingdom to Israel, town by town and city by city, will not be completed before He returns. (10:23)
It seems clear that the words, "the Son of Man comes" in Matthew 10:23 is either a reference to some event other than Jesus' coming in the clouds--in either a preterist or futurist sense--or the thought expressed is later qualified so that the imminent expectation of His return prior to the evangelizing of Israel is not to be given too literal a meaning.
3. I Thessalonians 5:23
Amazingly, Noe takes the idea of the believer's body being "kept blameless" in this verse to be a promise that the body will not decay in the grave! So that the return of Christ must happen prior to the death of first century Christians.
Here he commits a basic logical error, however, because he argues, "If they all died without receiving Paul's promise, and their bodies weren't kept but decayed in graves, then doesn't his inspiration fail, too?" (p. 6) The problem with this reasoning is that if a blameless body means an undecayed body, all of the Christians in Thessalonica would not have to die for the promise to fail. If even one of them died, the promise was no good! A promise made to a whole group of people is unfulfilled if only one member of the group misses out.
Obviously many believers died before A. D. 70 in Thessalonica and elsewhere. So God's promise failed many times over if Noe has understood it properly. Of course, there is no reason in this context or anywhere else to take "blameless" to mean "deathless" or "without decay."
The body being "kept blameless" has nothing to do with natural death. For the believer, the whole person--spirit, soul, and body--is destined to a higher glory and will be kept for it by God's grace. That is all that Paul means in this verse.
This very Jewish and very Christian
understanding of the fate of the body is especially difficult for staunch
preterists like Noe because, in strict preterist theology, the believer's
resurrection is a figurative expression with no future historical application.
4. Matthew 26:64
This verse begins with a time-frame reference that doesn't fit the preterist insistence on literalness. "From now on," Jesus said to Caiaphas and His other accusers, "you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of glory." Noe prefers the NIV's "In the future, you will see..." This translation is unfortunate because the English phrase, "in the future," may imply some distant time, but the Greek phrase does not. Apo arti literally means "from now." The King James has it right in this case, "Hereafter, you will see..."
The Greek expression makes Caiaphas' and his companions viewing of Christ in His exalted position and His glorious coming a single experience that would happen immediately, not be put off into the future.5 No two thousand year futurist gap is hinted at, but neither is a forty year preterist gap. The imminent language used by Jesus here is obviously non-literal.
Jesus was in a state of humiliation when He spoke these words and would soon be crucified and resurrected. These events would seal the future and be the sole basis of His eventual reign. Because of the close connection between them, Jesus makes the tremendous effect virtually contemporaneous with the wondrous cause of His glory. Any intervening time or event will be insignificant compared to the direct and dynamic connection between the Day of His Revelation and the sacred Three Days of Redemption that had already begun.
As with Babylon's fall in Isaiah, the fulfillment is as good as accomplished once the prophetic word has been announced.
It is unnecessary to take up further examples from the New Testament that Noe cites in order to prove his point. Most of his additional examples simply illustrate the Church's expectation that Christ would soon return and the present age would end.
A short response to all such citations is, "of course, the early Christians spoke as if Christ would return in their life-time, but it is equally true that they recognized a growing delay and offered explanations for it." Ultimately, their explanations went back to the words of Christ Himself.
Noe follows the preterist principle that biblical prophecies of earthly events are often couched in cosmic language. So futurists are thought to be hopelessly naive when they take literally such things as the prophesied destruction of the world by fire and the clouds on which Christ returns.
This preterist conception can be called "radical symbolism in prophecy." Its validity will be challenged in my next article.
 Even the liberal who believes that the Book of Isaiah was written at a much later date by someone other than the prophet must acknowledge that the imminent language used is attributed to one who lived long before Babylon was destroyed. So by any analysis, the lack of literalness in Isaiah's time-frame references is preserved.
 There is nothing in Jesus' words in Matthew 26:64 that require that those he addressed be standing on the earth in their natural bodies when they see him coming; every eye shall see him--in heaven, on the earth and under the earth.