But you believe that the believers will have bodies in the resurrection, even as the Lord has a visible, glorified body, right?
I believe we will have a body in the image of Christ’s according to Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49. During the forty days between Christ’s resurrection and ascension, His body was not always visible.
And do you believe Acts 1:9-11 that indicates that the disciples beheld the Lord’s visible bodily ascension into heaven from the Mount of Olives, and that He will return in the same way?
I think you are misreading this passage. Luke does not say that the disciples saw Jesus ascend in heaven. Rather, he described them as seeing Jesus disappear into a cloud. They had to believe Psalm 110:1 – that Jesus sat down at the right hand of God – by faith. The angels then admonished them for staring at the sky, for they would no more be able to see Him “come” than they had seen Him “go.”
So why is it fleshly to say that the Lord’s second coming will be visible in the same way, even as the Scriptures taken in their plain meaning predict?
For two reasons: 1) because the timing requires it, and 2) because their descriptions require it. Please see the biblical case for the Second Coming: Whatever Became of Jesus Christ? It has one section on the timing that the apostles taught and another section on what they taught about the nature of the Second Coming (or, what they usually called, “the coming of the Lord”).
There’s plenty of evidence within Scripture and in history that the regenerate believers in the first and early centuries believed that the Lord’s second coming in full would be public and invisible, i.e., that when it happens even the spiritually blind and unbelieving nations will realize it, that all the tribes of the land (not just the “spiritually-minded”) will “see Him coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30), that when “He comes with the clouds, every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the land will mourn over Him,” (Rev. 1:7), etc. You’re saying that only the “spiritually-minded” will be aware of His coming, but the Scripture emphasizes “every eye” and “all the tribes of the land.”
You’re reading this scriptures in an unnecessarily literalistic way. Please see the link I provided above.
As for second-century opinions, I’m only concerned with what the apostolic generation believed – and, specifically, what Jesus and His apostles taught. As for everyone supposedly being aware of its occurrence, remember that the Lord said His coming would be like “a thief in the night.” Remember also that Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:1ff takes pains to explain to the church there how they could know whether or not the day of the Lord had come. If it was to be a physical cataclysm, such an explanation would be unnecessary. The very reason that their faith had been upset was that they knew that the day of the Lord was to come like a thief in the night and they were afraid they had missed it. In 2 Timothy 2:18, we see Paul naming some false teachers who were spreading the word that the resurrection had already taken place. Again, if the disciples were expecting the kind of event you are describing above, no such false teaching would have impacted them.
Am I not accurate in saying that your doctrine sweepingly “spiritualizes” and allegorizes away much of the signs and events surrounding the Lord’s coming in His kingdom, and yet insists on a literal, physical interpretation of the word “generation,” which was used poetically and symbolically in the Old and New Testaments?
For you to say “sweepingly ‘spiritualizes’ and allegorizes away” sounds pejorative. I think I’ve only taken spiritually what the Scripture intends us to take spiritually. When John the Baptist says to his fellow citizens, “Behold the lamb of God!” I don’t think that means he thought Jesus was woolly and crawling on all fours. Likewise, I think I’m interpreting scriptural statements about the day of the Lord in just the way Jesus and the apostles taught us to interpret them. I think your position literalizes way too much and thereby deprives both believers and unbelievers of the glorious knowledge that the Lord has kept His promises!
As for the word “generation” in Matthew 24:34 (Greek “genea”), I don’t see how I’m imposing some unnatural meaning on it. This word occurs 43 times in the NT and is translated 42 of those times as “generation” by the NASB (the 43rd time was translated as “kind,” not “race”). Moreover, to translate the word as “race” in that context would be entirely inappropriate. The disciples began that discourse by asking Jesus about the timing of His coming. The whole point of the discourse was to arm them with knowledge that would sustain them through very difficult times (the most difficult the world had ever seen or would ever see, according to Jesus). To say that the Jewish race would not be extinct before He came would be a useless statement as no one was expecting the Jewish race to expire. Moreover, it would have been at odds with the statement He had just made to them about recognizing the signs of the season in which He would return.
Simply because something can be said to be more “spiritual” than physical doesn’t mean it is biblically spiritual or that it is the better interpretation of Scripture. Some have thought it more “spiritual” to believe that Jesus having a physical body was an illusion, or that the events in the gospels did not actually happen in space-time, or that the Lord’s resurrection was only spiritual and not also bodily, or that the material world is an illusion not worth redeeming because only “spiritual” things are real. Do you disagree with them? If not, what would you say to them? To say that they’re over-spiritualizing or over-allegorizing isn’t to denigrate genuine, biblical spiritual-mindedness but to point out where absolutizing the “spiritual” over the visible or material is not appropriate.
Of course, I don’t support spiritualizing texts that are meant to be taken literally, just as I don’t support literalizing texts which are meant to be taken spiritually. It is very important that we understand all the prophecies about Messiah’s suffering were fulfilled in the flesh. It is critical that Jesus was a descendant of David according to the flesh (Rom 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8; and elsewhere). It is necessary to correct those who say that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh (1 John 4:2; 2 John 1:7).
Thus, neither excessive spiritualizing nor literalizing is appropriate. However, I will say that the spiritual realm is absolutely more important than the physical realm. Here’s why: 1) “God is spirit” 2) “All flesh is like grass” 3) “That which is seen is temporal; that which is unseen is eternal…and so on.
Moreover, it is undeniable that that throughout their ministry the apostles were pushing the disciples to a spiritual maturity. Those that stayed focused on outward things were called immature and even worse if they were obstinate in doing so. Throughout Acts and the Epistles, the church was considered to be spiritual Israel – that is, the rightful Israel. The argument you make against spiritual interpretations would have criticized the apostles regarding circumcision, inclusion of the Gentiles, and many other points.
The Jewish people also believed that the Messiah’s coming would be physical not invisible, and indeed it was–the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1:14). Should the Jews have expected an invisible Messiah and an invisible coming, simply because expecting invisible things is supposedly “spiritually-minded” and expecting visible things is fleshly? Of course not. As far as the interpretation of the Scriptures was concerned, their mistake was to insist that the Messiah would have only a single coming in which He would do everything that was prophesied. Christ will indeed establish peace in the world; He will purge and restore the entire creation (Rom. 8:21-23; Rev. 21-22), all things in the heavens and the earth will be headed up in Him (Eph. 1:10). The inward peace in Christ in this age and the visible restoration of creation, on account of all things in the heavens and on earth being headed up in Christ, complement one another. They’re not supposed to be pitted against one another such that we have to choose between the two or emphasize one over and against the other.
The Jews who rejected Israel’s Messiah (let us keep in mind that many of them accepted Him, which is why we know the gospel at all) did not do so because “their mistake was to insist that the Messiah would have only a single coming.” Rather they didn’t accept Him because they didn’t repent at the preaching of John the Baptist. Only repentant hearts recognized the Messiah. And the same is true today. Anyone who repents before God and amends his ways and deeds will come to see more scriptural truth. I have learned what I have learned from the Scriptures not merely by studying them but by simultaneously humbling my heart before God and seeking to remove all sin and unbelief. Mere academic understandings of the word of God are insufficient for true understanding – no matter how many advanced degrees or followers one may have.
Whether a “spiritual” interpretation of the words of Scripture is appropriate depends on the context. For instance, you think–along which much of evangelical Christianity–that John 14:2 refers to going to a place (the old KJV translated the abodes as “mansions”) in heaven, but I believe that in context of the chapter refers to the believers in Christ abiding in God and God in Christ abiding in the believers–a “spiritual” interpretation. Also, since the New Jerusalem is the bride, the wife of the Lamb (Rev. 21:2-9-11) and throughout the Bible God’s corporate people are presented as His spouse and dwelling place, the New Jerusalem must not be a literal, physical city but redeemed people dwelling in God and God in them–also a “spiritual” interpretation.
Yes, it is God’s desire that all His people (which is to say all people) walk with Him in the way visualized by the new Jerusalem.
So where have you actually shown that those who don’t agree with you therefore have in fact been trained to think in a “fleshly” way as opposed to a “spiritual” one or to denigrate spiritual-mindedness? You’re simply assigning moral and spiritual flaws to others based on the assumption that your doctrines are correct.
The assignment of moral and spiritual flaws is the province of God. I’m merely trying to convey to you and others truths that were conveyed to me. If the post-apostolic church disagrees with the apostolic church, who do you think we should follow?
Besides, your judgments about the church in toto being apostate and obsolete and replaced by the kingdom are according to what you see with your eyes. It doesn’t take any faith to see the historical fact that Christendom is divided, but you have yet to identify which passages in Scripture predict that all the church will become apostate and obsolete and replaced by the kingdom. You only provided more of your own reasonings based on your assessment of the outward situation, but you’ve made logical leaps there as well. Why would ecumenicism not working on account of some groups insisting upon impure doctrine as criterion for fellowship show that the entire church is apostate and obsolete? Wouldn’t that really only show that those who insist upon impure or non-essential doctrine as a criterion for fellowship are wrong?
It’s obvious from the New Testament that the entire church would not be apostate – otherwise the parable would have been about tares only without any reference to wheat for the barn. The number of Christian denominations has only grown since apostolic days. My understanding is that there are now something like 30,000 of them – and I don’t think that even counts non-denominational churches, and each one of those is separate. What do you think that means with respect to Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 for unity? What do you think it means in light of Jesus’ teaching that a house divided against itself cannot stand? What do you think it means in light of Ephesians 4 which calls for the attainment of a unity of faith by those people? How much more evidence do you need that, in terms of development according to the direction of God, the organized church is going in the wrong direction?
I also pointed out that the church–organizationally and practically–was still one church, with one church recognized in each city, well past the first century. But when do you claim that the church became apostate and obsolete and replaced by the kingdom? Around 70 AD? Does that make any sense? And, more to the point, where is this predicted in the Bible?
I answer this at length in the link I provided above. To summarize, it was some time after 70 A.D. but before the end of the first century. This is predicted throughout the New Testament (though obviously they didn’t use our calendars). Most notably, you see this predicted in Matthew 24 when you see the destruction of Jerusalem being prophesied but the Lord saying that this event itself was not the end – but that a great tribulation would ensue, brought to an end by the coming of the Lord in an act of mercy for those who had trusted Him throughout it.
If you really want to understand the prophetic language used by the apostles you don’t need to check the works of theologians from post-apostolic generations. Rather, you need to check the writings of the prophets of Israel who lived and wrote long before the apostles. Jesus taught the apostles that the Scriptures of the prophets were about Him and His work. See Luke 24:25-27, 31-32, 44-48; John 5:39-40. See also Romans 16:25-27.