Book Plunge: Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught Part 10

Is Jesus a false prophet? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

With my interest in eschatology, I was quite pleased to see this last of the ten things Christians supposedly wish Jesus hadn’t taught. Naturally, there will be no interaction with orthodox Preterism at all. Madison has the fundamentalist viewpoint throughout the chapter. Let’s go ahead and see what he has.

Madison begins with 1 Thess. 4:13-17 where Paul says that Christ returns, “we which are alive and remain” and jumps to his preferred conclusion.

This is a window into the earliest Christian thinking—at least Paul’s version of it. How can these verses not be an embarrassment? Paul was confident that he would be alive for this momentous event: “…we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them…” The imminent arrival of Jesus was a constant theme in Paul’s letters.

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (pp. 73-74). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

I am reminded again of the joke where the pastor is filling out his sermon outline and writes in the side at one of the points, “Weak point. Pound pulpit harder.”

Of course, Madison could have consulted some scholars on this to see what was said, but what would be the fun in that?

V. 15 has been a flashpoint in the discussion of Pauline eschatology at least since the time of A. Schweitzer. Here, it is said, we have proof positive that Paul believed that he would live to see the parousia of Jesus. But this overlooks at least a couple key factors: Paul did not know in advance when he would die, and he argues that the second coming will happen at an unexpected time, like a thief in the night. It could be soon, it could be later, and in either case the indeterminacy of the timing is what fuels exhortations that one must always be prepared and alert. Since Paul does not claim to know the specific timing of either his own death or the return of Christ, he could not have said “we who are dead and not left around to see the parousia of the Lord.…” In short, he does not know that he will not be alive when Jesus returns, and so the only category in which he can logically place himself and the Christians he writes to here is the “living.”
What these verses surely do imply is that Paul thought it possible that he might be alive when Jesus returned. As Best rightly suggests, Paul, until he was much older and near death, always had both possibilities before him. We do not hear the language of possible survival until the parousia in the later Pauline letters because one of the two unknowns, the timing of Paul’s death, was becoming more likely to precede the other, the parousia. He did not change his view of the second coming or consider it delayed in the later Paulines because without knowledge of when it was supposed to happen one cannot could speak of it as “delayed.” Paul’s imagery of the thief implies a denial of knowing with that sort of precision

Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 133–134.

Thus, according to Witherington, Paul took the safest route. Had he said they, it would have meant Paul knew it would happen after his lifetime, but he knew no such thing. It could happen during his, he doesn’t know. Thus, the safest thing to say is we.

The objection is nothing new. Calvin even brings it up in his time:

As to the circumstance, however, that by speaking in the first person he makes himself, as it were, one of the number of those who will live until the last day, he means by this to arouse the Thessalonians to wait for it, nay more, to hold all believers in suspense, that they may not promise themselves some particular time: for, granting that it was by a special revelation that he knew that Christ would come at a somewhat later time, it was nevertheless necessary that this doctrine should be delivered to the Church in common, that believers might be prepared at all times. In the mean time, it was necessary thus to cut off all pretext for the curiosity of many—as we shall find him doing afterwards at greater length. When, however, he says, we that are alive, he makes use of the present tense instead of the future, in accordance with the Hebrew idiom.

John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 282.

Moving on from there, we see more of the fundamentalism of Madison.

Apocalypticism is a relic of ancient superstition. Jesus, at his trial, tells the high priest: “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62, NRSV) Obviously, this text has been falsified by history. It didn’t happen.

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (p. 76). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

Yes. Obviously, Caiaphas was to wake up one morning, open the window, and see Jesus sitting on a cloud riding into Jerusalem like Goku on a nimbus. Perhaps he should have looked at the ways clouds are used at times in the Old Testament.

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. Deut. 33:26

“In my distress I called to the Lord;
I called out to my God.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came to his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
the foundations of the heavens[c] shook;
they trembled because he was angry.
Smoke rose from his nostrils;
consuming fire came from his mouth,
burning coals blazed out of it.
10 He parted the heavens and came down;
dark clouds were under his feet.
11 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
he soared[d] on the wings of the wind.
12 He made darkness his canopy around him—
the dark[e] rain clouds of the sky.
13 Out of the brightness of his presence
bolts of lightning blazed forth.
14 The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.
15 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
16 The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at the rebuke of the Lord,
at the blast of breath from his nostrils. 2 Samuel 22 (Repeated also in Psalms 18)

Thick clouds veil him, so he does not see us as he goes about in the vaulted heavens.’ Job 22:14

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him—his name is the Lord. Psalms 68:4

Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Psalms 97:2

and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. Psalms 104:3

See, the Name of the Lord comes from afar, with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke; his lips are full of wrath, and his tongue is a consuming fire. Isaiah 30:27

Look! He advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind, his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us! We are ruined! Jeremiah 4:13

For the day is near, the day of the Lord is near— a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. Ezekiel 30:3

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. Daniel 7:13

The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. Nahum 1:3

The point is clouds are a symbol of judgment and the coming of the Lord, which are really the same thing. When the Lord comes, it is to judge. The claim is Caiaphas will someday see the Son of Man acting in judgment. This did indeed happen when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D.

To get back to Madison:

Hence theologians have retreated to a metaphoric interpretation of these texts: It must mean something spiritual. When I was a teen fascinated by astronomy, I asked my mother where heaven was, and she gave an answer that worked for a while: It is a state of being, a relationship with God. So, even though very pious, she also was savvy enough to know that heaven was not out there/up there to be surveyed by telescopes and rockets. So Stephen’s vision of Jesus standing next to God needs to be taken symbolically. But it’s harder to get away with a metaphorical interpretation of Jesus’ prediction that those attending his trial would see the Son of Man “coming with the clouds of heaven.” There was a passionate belief that the Messiah would show up, in person, real-time in the real world, to—among other things—toss out the Romans. Surely this must qualify as a major thing Christians wish Jesus hadn’t taught—even those who still hope that Jesus is coming back. They have to keep coming up with excuses as to why all of the predictions about the timing of the big day—made through the centuries—have been wrong.

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (pp. 77-78). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

It’s not an embarrassment at all. If anything, it’s a confirmation. That Jerusalem was destroyed within a generation of crucifying the Messiah just as Jesus prophesied is all the more reason to trust Him.

What about Matthew 24? You can see my series on that starting here. What about Jesus saying that some of those present will not taste death until He “returns”? Right here.

Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28, NRSV) This sounds like a line from a fantasy novel—or science fiction. The gospel writers apparently didn’t check their own storylines for consistency. Surely this is a blunder: You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones? Twelve? This would suggest that Jesus hadn’t yet figured out that Judas wasn’t really on the team.

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (p. 84). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

Which means it’s all the more likely that Jesus said this. Nevertheless, it’s not a problem. One can include Matthias in that since he was added to the twelve. Some might even want to say Paul is the proper choice. Either way, the twelve came to be a reference to Jesus’s disciples as shown even in 1 Cor. 15.

And here are two Jesus sayings in the same chapter of Mark that can’t both be true. “And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations…” This is something which would not happen for a long time. And “…Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (pp. 84-85). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

With regard to the first, Paul thought it had. See what he said in Colossians 1:23.

if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

And as for the second, again, covered in my look at the Olivet Discourse and you can find that here. (link is to part 1)

So this is the end. Right? Nope. Madison closes this part with saying the Gospels don’t count as biographies and aren’t historically reliable and he is going to give some “hope” to struggling Christians now.

The games are only just beginning.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)




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