Thiselton, Anthony: The Last Things: A New Approach

Thiselton, Anthony: The Last Things: A New Approach (SPCK, 2012). (Read a review of this book)

All page references appear at the foot of the page being discussed except in Chapter headings where they appear at the top of the page being discussed.

1. Death, Dying and the Meaning of Life (p1)

The four last things: heaven, hell, death and judgement. Man wants to know what happens at the point of death but the central subject of eschatology is the appearance of Christ in glory and the doctrine of resurrection; so the focus is not on the individual but "... the last great cosmic act of God, ... the return of Christ, ... the last judgement, and the resurrection of the dead, as well as what follows these 'last things'." (p2).

1.1. Facing Death: The Inevitability of Dying

Centrality of death until late Victorian times (2); Medieval horror and modern hope of sudden death; narcissism and marginalising death; churchyards central, graveyards marginalised; death from public to private (p3); Bauckham: "He who goes down to Sheol does not come up"; post exile change in Isaiah 26:19; post Biblical Jewish split between righteous and Godless, cf Luke 16:23 and Luke 23:43 (paradise Persian for Garden) (p4). NT emphasis on resurrection; we still await God's full and final salvation; the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26; 15:54-56). If human life leaves something precious unfinished we must place our trust that God will enable us to do what is good (p5); but any human project will be irrelevant in post mortal resurrection when we become the person God meant us to be.

1.2 Mourning for the Deaths of Others

Moltmann: "The person who cannot mourn has never loved" (p6). Mourning in OT and NT; lexicography and etymology (p7); truncated mourning and depression. Five stages: denial and isolation; anger; bargaining; depression; acceptance and hope (p8). Mourners only see the pre-resurrection.

1.3 Death and the Meaning of Life

If death is the only end we face meaninglessness (p9). The mirror and face to face (1 Corinthians 13). If meaning only emerges in the light of the whole, it is incomplete until the resurrection (Panenberg), including the purposes of God (p10). The binding eschatological event brings about final knowledge of God. Retrospection and perspective; but, Panenberg continues, even before resurrection we can attain some perspective, in the present we already possess the provisional; serviceable and intelligent language about God. Other authors: (1) Wittgenstein: "one learns the game (of life) by watching how others play" (p12) meaning depends on horizons which will broaden immeasurably after the resurrection. Panenberg: living in anticipation of totality (p13). (3) Gadamer: Shared anticipation. (4) Habermas: human place is not abstract but particular within an interpretative framework (p15).

2. Things Not Seen (p16)

"The last things comprise, after Death, the Return of Christ, the last judgment, the resurrection of the dead, and the transformed post-reusrrection life, or the final state of the redeemed," arouse scepticism in an evidence based culture (p16). Use of models to extrapolate states (e.g. the Periodic Table - KC) (p17); metaphor can be employed to express cognitive truth. (1) Locke and entitled belief which could be based on revelation (p18). (2) William K. Clifford: it is wrong to believe on insufficient evidence; agrees with Locke that belief entails responsibility but insists on physical evidence for belief. (3) A.J. Ayer: Logical positivism except for abstract conceptualisation (p19); accords a privileged status to the principle of verification which contradicts what it asserts because it is itself not based on observable criteria.

2.1 A First Step: Promise and Trust

Hebrews 11.1 "Faith is the assurance of things unseen" or which have not happened yet (p20); the concept of promise entailing faith; credibility does not mean credulity; incarnation, Bible and sacrament are full of promise (p21); trust defines what it is to be a Christian (p22). Psalms, trust and deliverance: "The facile always picture 'deliverance' as coming in the form for which we already hope", undermining trust; David and Goliath, Shadrak, Meshak and Abednego (p23). Jeremias' reversals in parables (p24). Kasemann: "Hebrews intends to show the Christian community the greatness of the promise given it ... it calls it to a way, to the goal to which it points by way of promise." We only possess the Gospel by way of promise. Moltmann: the Christology of the way (p25).

2.2 Promise and Language

Promise is not hypothetical. Searle: in promises words can shape the world; Anscombe's store detective; promises make the world match the word (p26). Tyndale on Scripture's capacity to perform actions through speech-acts (p27); Wittgenstein on belief; Austin/Searle: a promise commits the speaker to action (p28); God's Covenant and the arbitrariness of pagan deities; list of OT/Nt references to promise (p29); Moltmann: God drawing into 'himself' to make room for the other (p30). God's self-limitation in Jesus Christ; and the Cross; Jungel: God has defined himself in the cross; God in human language (p31); extended refs to promise and speech-acts (p32); speech-act theory adds force to: "... the relevance of performative language to the commissive, active, binding and world-changing nature of promise.

3. The Sacraments, the Covenant and the Bible: Completing the Argument for Doubters (p34)

3.1 Promise, the Sacraments, and the Word

Sacraments as assurance; BCP (1662): "... thou dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son." Reformation insistence on Dominical Sacrament promise (p34); Calvin: "There never is a sacrament without an antecedent promise" (p35); Aquinas implicit, Calvin explicit (p36). Barth: The speech of God as the act of God (p37).

3.2 Promise and Covenant

Covenant, Baptism and Eucharist; Noah; Abraham and the land promise (p38); Abraham and the offspring promise; the Moses Covenant (p39); Nt and the OT covenants (p40); Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah look forward to new covenant; Covenant and Eucharist (Mark 14:24; Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:19-22) (p41); Passover and Eucharist texts (p42-43); Calvin: "Free promise we make the foundation of faith ... because in it faith properly consists. Faith ... a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favour towards us, founded in the truth of a free promise in Christ ... sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. ... WE have good ground for comprehending all the promises in Christ. The promises of God are in him ...". Hope beyond the grave rests on God's promise (p44).

3.3 Completing the Argument: Does God Speak through the Bible?

The vulnerability of the Biblical claim (45); contemporary Biblical scholarship and the Word of God (p46); Westcott, Lightfoot and Hort, the unity of criticism and reverence; Moberley, Watson and Wright on history and divine authority; Wright on prayerful listening (p47); the error of separating the human instrument from the divine voice (p48); Watson: primary purpose of Scripture is to be read in communal worship, not source material for academic secularity; to say faith incompatible with academic standards is prejudice (p49). Summary: appropriating the promise is a venture of faith. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Origen (p50) after Nicaea (p51); "To hear the Bible is what it is to be a Christian. ... the promises of God mediated through the Bible provide a valid starting point for writing about life after death, the future resurrection, and the last judgment." To face death with a mistaken view of the Bible is to abandon hope in God's promises (p52).

4. Waiting and Expecting (p53)

4.1 Waiting and expecting in the Biblical Writings

Paul's Christians as people in waiting in Hebrew and Greek (p53-57).

4.2 What Is It to "expect"?: Wittgenstein's Answer

Wittgenstein: to expect is to be ready (p58); The mental process of expectation is to see what is being expected; H.H. Price: belief a condition to respond (p59); "I am expecting" means "be prepared", important in NT Parousia (p60).

4.3 Attitudes to "Expectation" in Christian Thought

Augustine and Luther's calm expectation (p62); Jerome’s millenarian caution and Augustine's application to contemporary church (p63); The City of God exception (p64); eschatological tension between the present and the new (p65); apocalyptic (p66); apocalyptic and prophetic streams of hope important for Christology (p67).

5. Two Apparent Problems: The Intermediate state or immediately with Christ? (p68)

5.1 An Immediate Departure to Be with Christ or an Intermediate State before the Resurrection?

Both ways thoroughly Biblical: Philippians 1:23 Paul "hard pressed between the two"; 1 Corinthians 15:52 (p68). Luther: sleep removed from space and time; a "state of waiting still in Christ" but not in the new world of the future (p69). Safe in Christ but not conscious of it; Pope Benedict XII, Aquinas and Rowell on purgatory (p270); Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:23 against 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:22-23; both are true.

5.2 Gilbert Ryle's "Paradox" of the Participant and the Logician

Ryle and Concept of Mind (p71); rising hopes not the same as a rising tide; Achilles and the Tortoise (p72); Zeno of Elea with Parmenides against Heraclitus (p73); measurement and calculation; experience existentially through the participant and ontologically through the spectator (p74). Propose: to be with Christ is the participant/existential perspective and to wait until the coming of Christ is the participant/ontological perspective. Other examples of the same paradox: history and eschatology; justification present and future; the advanced verdict of God. Titus 1:12-13; (p75-78).

5.3 Will There Be a Millennium? A Further Controversial Issue

Revelation 20:1-10 and 1 Corinthians 15:22-28, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17: (p79); Dispensationalism sequences, Millerism, premillenialism; Christ will first return to initiate a thousand year reign and then return again for the final battle against evil forces followed by the last judgment (p80); Patristic support for premillenialism (p81); patristic opposition, notably Augustine (p82); Luther rejects (p83); Judaism equivocal (p84); John's view of martyrdom and vindication; new Jerusalem symbolism (p85); not their future dwelling place but their future selves; the observer participant question again (p86); Revelation addresses martyrs as participants. "... prophecy is a practical, participatory address of the gospel as most of the 'church fathers, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Wesley defined prophecy." Prophecy is not prediction but speaks of practical application (p87). The balance against literalism (p88).

6. The Return of Christ (p89)

6.1 The Central Teaching of Paul

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: "The Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever". Christ's Resurrection and ours are bound together; cf Daniel 7:13-14 (p89); 4:16-17 relates to 1 Corinthians 15:23-27; 15:51-54; Philippians 1:20-21. Parousia, the state of being present (p90); can refer to the victorious coming of a person of high rank; Epiphaneia, appearance; apokalypsis, full disclosure (p91); R.H. Charles, C.H. Dodd and the riposte of John Lowe (p92); Kasemann and primitive Christian apocalyptic (p93-94).

6.2 Further Questions on Paul's Teaching

Paul thought the Parousia would happen in his lifetime, subsequently challenged (p95); A.L. Moore (p96), "we" might live to see or die before the Parousia (p96-97); Paul's pastoral concern, grounds of hope: all will be gathered together as they are at the Eucharist (Didache) (p98); Paul's forecast is consistently unpredictable.

6.3. The Teaching of Jesus and the Book of Acts

Parables and end time (p99); Mark 13, Matthew 24 and Luke 21: the end of the Jewish world entwined with the prediction of Christ's coming (p100-01); the man going on the journey (p102); the imminent and delayed, even in Luke (p103); Acts no reference to Parousia after Chapter 3, concerned with Church expansion.

6.4. Hebrews, John, and Revelation, and the Postbiblical Church

Hebrews, the Hapax and "second coming" (p104) as completion (p105). John combines realised and future eschatology. Revelation (p106); praeterism and futurology; 20.1-22.5 the victory of God in Christ; the coming of Christ (22.12) (p107); "the Parousia vindicates the sovereignty of God publicly and absolutely" (p108). The Didache's Eucharist Prayer; patristic and Creedal parousia (p109-10).

7. The Resurrection of the Dead (p111)

7.1. Do Our Conclusions Represent a New or Distinctive Approach?

"It is crucial to Paul's argument not only in 1 Corinthians 15 but also in Romans 4:16-25; 2 Corinthians 1:9; 5:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 that resurrection from the dead constitutes a sheer gift of God's sovereign, creative grace and not the fruition of latent capacities in the human soul" which has more in common with Plato and other religions than with the Nt cf Romans 8:11. "In a sovereign, creative act, God raised Christ and will in the future raise those who share in Christ's death and resurrection" (p111). (1) Resurrection is not static perfection; (2) The question of whether the "body" is "immaterial" or "physical" is marginal to Paul's concerns; Kasemann: we are resurrected in our own identity as we were created, not assimilated into a divine "all". (3) The "last things" are not individual matters but concern the corporate and the cosmic: resurrection, Parousia and last judgment; relationality and the resurrected state; a relationship primarily with God but also with each other: "We shall all be saved" (1 Corinthians 15:51). (4) We will be "spiritual" (1 Corinthians 15:44) but in the sense of "animated" (Hebrew) rather than immaterial (Platonic) (p112) (1 Corinthians 3:1-4), animated by the Spirit causal in resurrection (Romans 8:11) Paul means "spiritual body" in 1 Corinthians 15.44. (5) Three features: contrast with the old; continuity of accountability in the new; and transformation. The basis of belief in the resurrection: belief in testimony to the resurrection of Christ as the "first fruits" of our resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-34); and belief in the creator God of diversity.

Gospel accounts of the resurrected Jesus describe recognisable identity and continuity but also contrast and difference (Luke 24; John 20) (p113); Matthew 24; Mark 16:1-8). Descriptions of the resurrected state in this world (p114); the capacity of the creator to transform.

7.2 An Exegesis and Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15

(1) 1 Corinthians 15:1-11: Pre Pauline Apostolic tradition (p115), cf Romans 8:11; 4:16-25; controversy with 1 Corinthians 15:5 (p116).

(2) 15:12-34: consequences of denial (p117); pivotal v20; Adam cf Romans 5:12-21 (p118); 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 apocalyptic, the intermediate Messianic to Christ's victory; death as a resurrection necessary precondition (p119).

(3) : not continuation of the earthly body; the resurrection body without analogy (1 Corinthians 15:42-49) (p120), a) spoiled and flourishing: "imperishable" a weak translation of dynamic (42); b) misery and glory (43a); c) weakening and strengthening (43b); physical and spiritual (44) cf (p121); Moltmann: the conquest of God-forsakenness.

7.3 The Nature of the Spiritual Body as the On-going Work of the Spirit

15.44 translation problems (p122); cf 1 Corinthians 2:14, the contrast between animated and not animated by the Spirit (p123), translations deeply affected by the Platonic physical/non-physical dichotomy (p124); the spiritual as Christological in Paul: the Spirit is transcendent, Christological and eschatological (p125); Wittgenstein: identity impossible without the corporate (p126); Moltmann's Spiritual dynamism (p127); resurrection as dynamic, as free gift in parallel with righteousness (p128).

8. Is Holiness given at Once in the Resurrection, or Gradually in Purgatory? What Does "Eternal" mean? (p129)

8.1. Gradual Purification in Purgatory?

Moltmann, Dante and Purgatory, incompatible with God's unconditional love (p129); from prayer, to penance to indulgences; Martin Luther, penitence as personal "turning back, the erroneous sacrament of Penance; Calvin's opposition (p130); cannot be defended on 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (p132); Newman: acceptable punishment in the presence of Christ.

8.2. The Nature of Holiness in the Immediate Power of the Spirit and Presence of God

"It is a profound mistake to equate holiness (Hebrew: kadosh; Greek: hagios) with good moral character, even if it includes this" (p132). O.R. Jones: holiness transcends the physical and moral, belonging to God alone (p133); the holy, which derives from God, comes into its own where temptation ceases (p134); "Divine self-consistency is no more a denial of freedom than the holiness of the raised community in Christ". The perfect vision, non-Platonic dynamism (p135); nothing prima facie implausible about being transformed at the resurrection of the dead, so that the Spirit makes us always choose freely to be holy.

8.3. Eternity as Timelessness, Everlasting Duration, simultaneity, or Transformed Reality?

Complex time (p136); Hawking; once upon a time there was no time; Augustine: God created the universe with time not in time (p137); irreversible entropy; ricoeur: eternal life is not timeless it is fulfilment; Panenberg: the entry of eternity into time (p138); eternity: (1) timelessness (2) everlasting duration (3) simultaneity (p139); (1) Helm and timelessness; (2) OT view of eternal duration (p140); but Augustine and Aquinas correct to give God special timeless status cf Helm. (3) Plotinus and Boethius: "eternity, then, is the complete possession all at once of the illimitable life" (p141). (4) Boethius: "God experiences all time at once" (p142); God is temporal and eternal; Wilkinson: our experience is of a small fragment of an ontologically real time that we might call eternity" (p143); there is more than we know; Keith Ward: God and the eternal present; God's kenosis into time (p144).

9. Claims about "Hell" and Wrath (p145)

Ritschl and Schleiermacher reject wrath; love is a permanent in God's character, wrath is not; early Church: annihilation, universal restoration, eternal torment.

9.1. The Nature of "Hell": Everlasting Punishment in Christian Thought

(1) Hell has not always denoted everlasting punishment in 'orthodox" theology (p145); but neither is it solely pre-modern nor fundamentalist; Origen condemned at Council of Constantinople in 553 for apokotastasis cf Acts 3:21. Irenaeus: separation from God (p146). Gregory of Nyssa: cf Acts 3:21 a universalist, the "restoration of the fallen", necessitates purification, the origins of purgatory. Augustine: unending physical torment (p147); the wicked will rise again to be eternally punished; the "second death" (Revelation 2:11; 20:6; 20:14), alloyed with predestination (p148). (2) Heaven, hell, death, judgment largely set aside in 20th Century; the problem of God's relation to those cut off (p14); without "hell" there is no choice; the necessity of doctrine of the consequences of evil (moral hazard - KC). 4th Lateran 1215 and perpetual punishment; Aquinas and eternal torment; Calvin's agreement on basis of scripture (p150).

9.2. An Assessment of the Biblical Evidence

Gehenna (p151), never properly defined; none of the NT texts mentions the duration; problems with Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31: again no period defined (p152); synoptic emphasis on destruction of the unrighteous; Evangelical Alliance report: NT refers to perishing, destruction and death; John's unbelievers will survive the Resurrection but then die while the righteous shall not perish (p153); Paul speaks of death but not hell (p154); conditionalism; NT never cites innate capacity of humans as cause of resurrection; the possibility or hope in universalism (p155); Moltmann and Romans 11:32; Wright's rejection of universalism and eternal torment (p156); Wright: "We cannot therefore look to Jesus' teaching for any fresh detail on whether there are really some who finally reject God"; Acts does not mention hell, warns against double dogmatism of election and universalism; subhuman behaviour and the idolatry of money, sex and power: "my suggestion is that it is possible for human beings so to continue down this road that after death they become at last, by their own affective choice, beings that once were human but now are not, beyond hope but also beyond pity ... but this is territory that no one can claim to have mapped ... I shall be glad to be proved wrong." (p157); the prospect of irresistible grace; unclear picture, Bible less dark than supposed but cannot altogether dismiss dark language (p158).

9.3. The Wrath of God

Wrath temporary and temporal of God not absolute and timeless like love; the opposite of wrath is not love but indifference; OT bewildering variety of words for anger of God (p159); NT only Orge and Thymos (p160); OT wrath caused by idolatry, followed by oppression of the poor; NT wrath of God concerns present and future (p161); most citations refer to consequences of action or idleness, not God's intervention (p162); from wrath to mercy (p163); not knowing what will happen, beyond our knowledge and time (p164); wrath remedial and saving; false dichotomy of OT wrath and NT lack of it (p165).

10. The Last Judgment and Justification by Grace through Faith (p166)

10.1 Judgment Anticipated with Joy? Vindication and Truth

Contrast pessimism of 2 Corinthians 5:10 with optimism of Psalm 96:10-13; 67:4. Joy: seen for what we are; oppressed vindicated (Psalm 98:2; 98:4; 98:9) (p166); God reveals himself to put all things right. "Hidden faith is vindicated in plain sight". The connection between justice and salvation/eschatology; putting things right, restorative justice (p167); the cycle of faithfulness and unfaithfulness in Judges (p168); cycles described (p169). Matthew (Matthew 13:24-30) entanglement; parables of reversal (p170); must not assume consummation comes before last judgment; the definitive verdict (p171); the right time (1 Corinthians 4:5); eschatology in Hebrews (p172); "live in grace but not glory" 1 Peter; John: Christians must look forward to the last judgment (p173); Tillich and disambiguation.

10.2 The Last Judgment, "Berdictives" and Justification by Grace

Justification through sacraments (p174-75); Everything will be put right (Romans 8:1); Justification is a pre-dating of salvation (p176); illocutionary acts and changing the world cf p26 (p177). Verdictive statements (p178) and accomplishment.

10.3 Universal Judgment: Will It Involve Retribution? Will All Be Judged?

All will be judged (Romans 2:5-11) (p179); Sanders (p180); God will be faithful in completing what he has begun (p181); C.D. Marshall: God's justice is justice for the oppressed; a broad definition of oppression (p182); Marshall: Paul's commentators have brought to his view of justice a Western idea of retributive justice (cf D.J. Campbell - KC), based on metaphysics rather than Hebraic covenant relationship; Aquinas' influence on the retributive; Panenberg on sin as self-obsession (p183); many loose ends.

11. The Beatific Vision of God: from Glory to Gory - The Final State of the Redeemer (p185)

11.1 Two Meanings of Glory: God's Presence and His Glory as God's Self

Glory as God's presence; we don't find God in heaven but heaven in God (p185); a visible presence (p186); visible glory in Isaiah and Ezekiel, Pentateuch (p187). The gravitas and humility of God's glory; Kabodh and Doxa; giving glory to God in heaven (p188); Barth: "God's glory is God himself in the truth and capacity and act in which He makes Himself known as God. ... It is a matter of God's love"; the beauty of God in Jesus; glory in death (1 Corinthians 1:18-25); Luther: the glory of humility in the cross (p189).

11.2. Two further Meanings of Goory: Loving God for His Sake and Seeing Him Face-to-Face

Moltmann: to glorify God is to love him for his own sake and to enjoy Him as He is in Himself (p190). Glory meaning being face-to-face (p191). The motif of shining light (Isaiah 60:1 &c) (p192).

11.3 The Symbolism and Purpose of the Book of Revelation

Revelation: primarily Ezekiel but also Isaiah, Daniel, Psalms and 1/2 Enoch. Eco and open texts (p193). The use of seven and the four horses in Revelation (p194). The key theme, as in the synoptics, is the sovereignty of God (p195). Apocalyptic and Revelation (p196); symbolism and God's otherness.

11.4 The Symbolic Language concerning the Last State of the Redeemer in Revelation

Revelation 22:1-5: the New Jerusalem is the saints, if any dwelling place then God's (p197); the bride is also the saints; the sheer happiness of the city (p198); Revelation 21 and water (p199); symbols of the city; precious stones (p200); Hendriksen and Revelation (p201); the tree of life (p202).

12. The Beatific Vision and Trinitarian Work of God: More on the Final State of the Redeemer (p204)

Joy in the NT (p204); Luke's Gospel of joy. The glorification of God after the resurrection of the dead: (1) Christ's suffering, death and resurrection will permeate everything (p205); (2) our post resurrection beings will experience God in a new way; (3) the Trinitarian process of to God through Christ by the Spirit will move from faith to sight.

12.1 Joy, Wonder and Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection

(1) Focus on the cross; the closeness of sufferers (p206); new understandings of Christ (p207).

12.2 The Continuing and Ever-Fresh Work of the Holy Spirit after the Resurrection: the Transformation and Enhancement of Sense Experience

(2) The power of the Spirit in the Resurrection of Christ and the dead. The chasm between earthly and post resurrection experience of holiness and glory (p208) (1 Corinthians 2:11). The dynamic, ever new Spirit, counter to the Greek notion (Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas) of static perfection (p209). Matter is transformed not annihilated (p210); the five senses enhanced (p211-12).

12.3 The Purposes of God the Father: Divine Dialogue; God of All in All

(3) The final purposes of God: prayer, worship and adoration after the resurrection; the divine conversation (p213). Revelation 7:14-17; 19:6-7) (p215).

Marshall, C.D,: Beyond Retribution.

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