Developing a Biblical Worldview – Part Four: Teleology
Last week we took some time to honor, encourage, and exhort fathers in light of Father’s Day and this morning, we resume our discussion of “Developing a Biblical Worldview.”
We are using Sire’s definition: “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic construction of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”
Again, this sermon series is important because it will help us to sharpen up our worldview and define our beliefs, which will in turn have a huge impact on our decisions and actions on a moment by moment basis. How we believe affects how we behave.
A worldview seeks to answer 7 questions:
What is prime reality? (ontology)
What is the nature of external reality – the world and things around us? (cosmology)
What is a human being? (anthropology)
What happens to a person after death? (metaphysics)
Why is it possible to know anything at all? (epistemology)
What is right and wrong and how do we know? (morality)
What is the meaning of human history? (teleology)
Last question we spent some time with dealt with cosmology, the nature of external reality – the world and the things around us. Short answer is that it’s real, not an illusion, and that God created it.
While I do believe that Yahweh was the source and author of material creation, I may have surprised you by pointing out that I don’t see Genesis 1 & 2 as a scientific account of the material creation. I didn’t spend a lot of time developing what I do see in Genesis and based on feedback I received from a few people in response I was very tempted to spend this morning doing so, but I decided instead that for the few who expressed an interested in pursuing that further, I will provide some resources, but this morning, I’d like to move forward into another question in developing a Biblical worldview of teleology. What is the meaning/end/goal of human history?
Teleology comes from the Greek word meaning an end, event or issue, or principal aim or purpose.
Let me give you the quick answer to what I believe is the principle aim or purpose of human history. And then I want to take a look at the traditional Christian Theistic view on teleology and then see what the Bible has to say about that.
I believe that humanity’s purpose is to know God and make God known, to glorify Him, enjoy him, serve him, and live a life that honors and pleases him by abiding by His precepts. Of course this latter part of the answer overlaps with morality, another question we will answer and develop so I won’t spend much time on that.
Telos is used 41 times in the NT and a significant number of those times it is used eschatologically, in other words it has to do with the last days or end times. So teleology and eschatology are intertwined.
The common/popular view says that we are awaiting the end still, that it will be the end of material creation & human history, that Jesus will come back in our future and eliminate sickness, death, cancer, etc.
But remember, we are not here to develop a traditional worldview, a popular worldview, or a K-Love worldview, but a Biblical worldview.
What does the Bible say about the end of the planet, the end of human history, the end of material creation? Nothing.
It says that the earth will endure forever (Ecc 1:4, Psalm 104:5)
Luke 1:33 His kingdom will have no end (telos)
But what about all these verses that speak of the end?
The real question is: the end of what? As we hone in on what he Bible actually teaches we will find that the end spoken of in the scriptures is not the end of human history or the end of planet earth or the end of material creation, but the end of an age, the end of a covenant world.
Remember, the bible is not a science book. The Bible is the revelation of the story about God in covenant with his people Israel. And the telos in view the end spoken of is the end of that covenant. When the Biblical writers wrote the texts they were still under that covenant. It hadn’t come to a complete end. A lot of people would trace human history as a line, a tick mark where God initiates the Old Covenant and then another line where that covenant ended and the New Covenant began and a line out here where we have the end of human history and material creation.
However, I believe that the Bible paints the picture differently. The timeline the Bible presents has a tick mark where God initiates the Old Covenant, then a tick mark where the new covenant is inaugurated, then another tick mark 40 years later where the Old covenant comes to a complete end, and the new covenant is fully consummated, the new covenant corresponds to the Kingdom of God and according to Luke 1:33 it has no end. So we have an overlap of the ages.
When the biblical authors wrote, they spoke in terms of “this age” and “the age to come.” When they said “this age” they were referring to the age in which they were living, the Old Covenant age, for it had not yet passed away. When they spoke of the age to come they were speaking of the New Covenant for it had not been fully consummated.
We are reading what they said 2000 years ago. So their this age is not our this age. For us, when we say this age, meaning the age in which we live, we are talking about their age to come.
So in short, when the Bible speaks of the time of the end or the Last Days it is referring to the last days of the Old Covenant Age, the Old Covenant order, the last days of God’s people being defined by
ethnicity (tracing lineage to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)
circumcision of the flesh
the Torah (Law of Moses with Sabbath, priesthood, dietary & sacrificial laws)
the Temple (made of wood and stone)
It was the last days of the Old Covenant system and the end in Scripture refers to the end of that, not the end of material creation, planet earth, or human history.
Now, enough propositions. I think that propositions are important to set the framework, but I think stories are much easier to follow, so for the next large portion of this examination of the end, I’d like to try to do it in story form, as a timeline.
The year was about 1500 BC. God solidified the Mosaic Covenant with Israel in Deut 28-30 Upon the sealing of the covenant, Moses issues a prophetic word about their end. So here in 1500 BC we have their beginning and at their beginning, Moses prophesies their end. Deut 32 is a passage that I could spend weeks on because it is so rich and it is quoted and applied constantly in the NT.
Deut 32:19-20 19 The Lord saw this and rejected them
because he was angered by his sons and daughters.
20 “I will hide my face from them,” he said,
“and see what their end will be;
for they are a perverse generation,
children who are unfaithful.
28 They are a nation without sense,
there is no discernment in them.
29 If only they were wise and would understand this
and discern what their end will be!
The they and them throughout this passage refers to his sons and daughters, Israel, his covenant people. It is Israel’s end that is predicted, not that of humanity.
Again, this is spoken at their beginning.
In the 8th century BC the prophet Isaiah, in Is 65 looks forward to a time when Israel will leave their name to God’s chosen ones, aka his servants, to whom he will give another name, a time when He will create a new Jerusalem, new heavens and a new earth.
Then in the 6th century BC the prophet Daniel picks up on the prophecies about the time of the end:
Dan 12:1-9 1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise[a] will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.”
5 Then I, Daniel, looked, and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. 6 One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?”
7 The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, “It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.”
8 I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?”
9 He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end.
Then in the 4th century BC, God issues another prophecy concerning the end of Israel through his prophet Malachi. In Malachi 4:5-6 5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
Then we have about 400 years pass by and the first century is upon us. We are 1500 years into Israel’s history, the Israel that Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel said would end. Who shows up on the scene in 6 BC?
John the Baptizer. When his birth was foretold it was said of him in Luke 1:17 that “he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” – same words as Malachi 4:5-6. Clear fulfillment of the Elijah who was to come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And then in AD 28 Jesus confirms it by saying in Matt 11:14 he (JTB) is the Elijah who was to come.
This is what Israel expected in their Last Days just before God would come and strike the land with total destruction.
Now, right around that time in AD 28-29, Jesus sent his disciples on a mission and told them following:
Matt 10:23 When you are persecuted in one place flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes
The return of Christ is the central event connected to the end.
Matt 16:27-28 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. 28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
So we have two very clear time statements about the return of Christ limiting that event to the lifetime of his contemporaries.
We have here the timing of Jesus’ coming, but if we overlook the nature of his return then we are forced to find some way to explain this away. Note the nature: in the glory of his father. Who is his father? Yahweh. What did a coming of Yahweh look like? We have several references in the OT. Just to give two examples, Micah 1 and Isaiah 19. Both of which refer to events in our past. Micah refers to the destruction of the ten northern tribes by Assyria in 722/721 BC and Isaiah refers to the civil wars of Egypt in 714 BC. A coming of Yahweh is not him literally coming down as a body on a cumulous cloud, but a time of judgment when he brings wrath on a nation by bringing war upon them usually at the hands of a foreign army per the covenant stipulations in Deut 28. So when we consider the coming of Jesus in the glory of his father, that he will be coming in like manner, (ie on the clouds as Yahweh had done), we don’t look for Jesus returning in a physical body sometime in our future, we look for the end of the OC age in which God brings destruction upon his covenant people at the hands of a foreign army and that certainly happened before some of those standing in his presence died.
Then in AD 30, just before His death, Jesus gave one of his most famous and lengthy discourses about the end, known as the Olivet Discourse.
Matt 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13 In it, Jesus responds to his disciples who called his attention to the glory of the Temple.
In Matt 24:2ff 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Note the connection between the destruction of the Temple, his coming, and the end of the age. Once again, here we have the end. Note they didn’t ask about the end of human history but the end of the age and the destruction of the Temple that was the literal epicenter of that age, which would occur at his coming. And they asked WHEN. When would this all happen?
And he answers them in verse 34. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
CS Lewis called this the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. Jesus put a timeframe on his return. A biblical generation is about 40 years and if he didn’t return in that 40 year time frame (by AD 70) then he would be a false prophet calling into question his reliability as well as the reliability, inspiration, and integrity of Scripture. But again, there is nothing embarrassing about this verse because it simply states that the temple would be destroyed, and the OC age would end at Jesus’ return which would be manifest in the destruction of the wicked nation at the hands of a foreign army, which did happen in their generation (we will get to that).
But we skipped over a lot of verses when we jumped to v34 and you may be wondering about all of the verses in between. If you want an exegesis of all of those – How in the World. But I will say that you can find a record of every one of those things in either the rest of the NT writings or in the historical works of Josephus or Tacitus.
One of the things that Jesus says, that I will point out here is in v 21 For there will be great distress (or tribulation) unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again. Sound familiar? He is quoting Daniel who foretold the end. When did Daniel say that the end would come? Dan 12:7 when the power of the holy people was finally shattered. What was the power of the holy people? The temple. What did Jesus speak of in this discourse? The destruction of the temple – the shattering of the power of the Holy people.
Back to our timeline-
Just before his crucifixion in AD 30…before the Sanhedrin, the religious council, he is asked, tell us if you are the Christ, the son of God. Jesus replies in Matt 26:64 Yes, it is as you say. But I say to all of you (who is you?), in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.
Then still in AD 30, after Jesus rises from the dead he tells Peter that he would be put to death, then Peter points to John and says Lord what about him? Jesus answered, John 20:22 If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.
Here we have the implication that John was among those standing in Jesus’ presence in Matt 16 who would not die before Jesus’ return.
In the same year around AD 30 at the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the believers in Jerusalem and enabled them to speak in foreign languages that they didn’t previously know. People assumed they were drunk.
Peter says in Acts 2:14ff 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
Peter identifies the year AD 30 as belonging to the Last Days – again last days of OC Israel.
Then about 15 years later in 45 AD, James wrote his letter to the scattered Jewish believers. In it he writes the following:
James 5: 1-9 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
He first condemns the rich who are exploiting the workers. Now he turns to the afflicted and encourages them with these words, for they will receive relief at the Lord’s coming when the wicked are judged.
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
Now, how could the recipients of James letter find any encouragement and consolation, justification and vindication if the Lord’s coming was delayed for 2000 years? What a cruel letter.
AD 54 Paul wrote 1 Cor in which he says: I Cor. 10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the end or culmination (telos) of the ages has come.
AD 57 Romans Rom. 16:20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
AD 62 Colossians Col 1:6 In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.
Col. 1:23 “The gospel …was proclaimed in all creation under heaven.”
Col 2:16-17 16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of what is about to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Point of sharing this verse? To show that the shadows were still in effect and the realities were still awaiting full consummation.
AD 64 Peter writes 1 Peter
1 Pet 4:7 The end of all things is near/at hand. (must define “all things” – was the end of material creation at hand in the first century? Nope. The end of all things OC was near. End of race time for grace. End of circumcision of flesh time for heart. End of LOM time for royal law of love on heart. End of Temple in a geographically defined Land and time for a temple made up of living stones with Christ Jesus as chief cornerstone in the heavenly kingdom that knows no borders.
In the mid to late 60’s the author of Hebrews opens his letter Hebrews 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways but in these last days he has spoken to us by his son. So, the last days began during the ministry of Jesus and John the Baptizer. Again, last days of OC Israel.
Heb. 8:13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. Very clear teaching about the overlap of the ages. The OC did not disappear at the cross or at Pentecost. It was still in full effect in the mid/late 60’s when the author of Hebrews wrote this. The new had come and rendered the Old obsolete but the old hadn’t yet vanished, but it was about to.
Heb 9:1 Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary….9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered are not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. Once again, the sanctuary that was still standing when this was written was an illustration for that OC age, indicating that all of those sacrifices under the old order were insufficient and would apply as long as that sanctuary stood, until the time of the new order, the NC age which would be fully consummated at the destruction / end of the old.
Heb 10:24-25 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Heb. 10:37 For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” Catch that? He will not delay. Said he would come in their generation and here in the 60’s it has drawn so near that it would be just a little while and the force of the Greek here is very strong regarding imminence. And he will not delay. But the popular modern view has Jesus delaying now for 19 centuries.
Mid to late 60’s John writes his epistles saying:
I Jn. 2:18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
Catch that? The last hour!!! According to the author of Hebrews the last days began with Jesus’ ministry in around 30 ad. Then about 35-40 years later it was the last hour.
Think about this. If you go on a two week vacation and twelve days have gone by, you have two days left. Those are your last days. Then a day and a half goes by and you have an hour before you have to leave to catch your flight. That is your last hour. Last days of the vacation are shorter than the vacation itself. The last hour is shorter than the last days.
Now if the modern popular view is correct then the last hour has been longer than the last days by 50 times. The last hour has been 50 times longer than the last days.
This text can only make logical sense if the end was in AD 70 in that generation as Jesus said.
In the mid 60’s John writes the Revelation (discuss dating of Revelation – more scholars even futurists are now coming out and admitting that all scripture was written prior to AD 70)
Rev 1:1-3 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
Rev. 22:6-7 6 The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.” 7 “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”
In case you missed the imminence there
Rev 22:12 “Look, I am coming soon!
And in case you still don’t get it,
Rev 12:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Now, if the last hour, last days logic wasn’t enough, here is another one for you. Remember that Daniel was given a vision of the end and he was told SEAL it up for it pertains to the distant future.
Then 600 years later John is given a vision of the end and look what he is told
Rev 22:10 Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.
By logical necessity, the end would have to be less than 600 years from the time John wrote Revelation. As it is, the popular modern view of the end renders 600 years a long time and 2000 years a short time.
The biblical account is clear that the end would be in the first century, while some who stood in Jesus’ presence were still alive. It wouldn’t be the end of human history, but the end of the OC age.
Do you see how this has a profound impact on your worldview?
If you view the end as the end of human history and planet earth and expect some time in our future a great tribulation in which the world grows worse and worse and a worldwide leader the Antichrist is to emerge and put micro chips in people, which is the mark of the beast how does that impact the way you view life and the decisions you make? Countless so-called prophecy experts have predicted the end. LIST SOME.
However, we aren’t interested in a traditional worldview that disregards the Bible and ignores the clear teachings, we are here to develop a Biblical Worldview.
And a Biblical worldview regarding the end has nothing to do with material creation or human history but the end of OC Israel and the establishment of the everlasting Kingdom of which there is no end, no telos.
Didn’t the Holy Spirit inspire this bible. Was the Holy Spirit wrong? Was God wrong? Did Jesus lie?
Seal it. Don’t seal it.
Last days. Last hour…
God wasn’t wrong. Jesus was a true prophet. He didn’t delay. There is nothing embarrassing about his predictions because he did exactly what he said he would do WHEN he said he would.
In their generation before some of those died, the Day of The Lord came and the Jews were judged when God brought the Roman armies against Jerusalem to destroy them and the Temple.
The traditional paradigm lacks consistency, coherence and cohesion. It fails to grasp the timing and the nature of the end. But this view is a Biblical worldview, it is cohesive, coherent, and consistent and it brings glory to God as a promise keeper.
So our teleology is that humanity’s purpose is not to be raptured or to try to make it through the great tribulation, but to know God and make God known, to glorify Him, enjoy him, serve him, and live a life that honors and pleases him, which is hopefully expressed in our NCF mission:
Equip (the saints for effective ministry in this everlasting kingdom)
Edify (others through empowering words and actions of love)
Expand (the kingdom through evangelism)