First Criticism: Prophetic foreshortening must not be applied to New Testament prophecy. (Continued.)
In my last post, I promised to give my readers two conclusive arguments against Waymeyer’s idea that prophetic foreshortening is characteristic of New Testament prophecy. Here is the first one.
First, it directly contradicts the assertion of Jesus that the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11). This is a confusing statement to many and little understood. Its relevance for the present argument is immense. Allow me some space to open up its true meaning.
John the Baptist gladly embraced Jesus as the one who would usher in the glorious and irresistible coming of the kingdom (John 1:29). But when Jesus continued to preach the nearness of the kingdom and even preach the actual presence of the kingdom (Matt. 12:28f.) without the coming of the judgment of the wicked and the onset of the glorious consummation which he had prophesied (Matt 3:10-12), John the Baptist began to have doubts. When John was arrested and imprisoned, the problem became acute. How could the kingdom have come already in Jesus while John was rotting in Herod’s prison? Prison was the last place John expected to be after the coming of the kingdom! Thus, we read in Matthew 11:2-11, “Now when John in prison heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples, 3 and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” 4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. 6 And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.” …. 11 “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.””
How could Jesus say that the one who was least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than John? Verse 11 in speaking of the one “who is least in the kingdom” being greater than John the Baptist refers to John in his distinctive capacity as a prophet. That is the capacity in which John is being considered in this context as verses 12-14 make clear: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come.”
Prophets were distinguished for their knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom. It is in this respect that Jesus ranks John as least in the kingdom. It is in his capacity as a prophet—the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets—that Jesus is referring to John. It is, therefore, at the point of insight with regard to the mysteries relating to the coming of the kingdom that the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than John.
Old Testament prophets and prophecy had, as we have noted, what we may call a flattened perspective about the future. To put it in other words, the prophets were given little depth perception about the future. Sometimes, therefore, events that were widely separated in future time can be found predicted and mixed together in their writings. Consider for example the prophecy of Micah about the exile of Israel to and their deliverance from Babylon (Micah 4:9f.) and how this is intimately connected to predictions of the birth and glory of the Messiah (Micah 5:2f.). It is for this reason that the New Testament clearly teaches that prophets themselves did not at times understand clearly the things they were prophesying (1 Peter 1:10-12).
We learn from Matthew 11:2-6 that a godly and believing man like the great prophet John the Baptist struggled with the seeming inconsistency of Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom and with what the Old Testament itself had led the Jews to expect (Dan 2:44). Can we think, therefore, that Jesus’ disciples would be immune to the same doubts? No, they would have to face the same question. How could the all-conquering, glorious eschatological kingdom of God be present in this former carpenter and His Galilean followers?
The parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13 purport to explain the mystery of the kingdom. Thus, the question addressed is how the kingdom could be present in Jesus, His preaching, and His disciples. The common emphasis of these parables is Jesus’ response to this question. This response is the theme of these parables. It is that the kingdom has come and is present in a form unexpected by the Jews, but that this present form anticipates its future, glorious consummation. To put this in other words, the theme of these parables is that the coming of the kingdom has two phases. It unfolds in two stages. It comes in a form unexpected by the Jews (and even John the Baptist), before it comes in its final glorious form. It is in this two stage coming of the kingdom that the mystery of the kingdom is revealed. Matthew 13 is the intended explanation of this mystery of the kingdom. The one who is least in the kingdom now understands that the kingdom comes in two stages—something that the prophets including John the Baptist—did not understand. The one who is least in the kingdom understands that Jesus is coming twice.
But in explaining the mystery of the kingdom in this way, Jesus brings an end to prophetic foreshortening. He explains the mystery. Thus, the least in the kingdom—then and now—is greater than John the Baptists and all the other Old Testament prophets. To apply prophetic foreshortening to New Testament prophecy is to turn back the clock. It is to put New Testament Christians in the same position as Old Testament prophets. It is to say that Jesus really did not explain the mystery of the kingdom. Virtually, Waymeyer is saying that the kingdom does not come only twice. Mysteriously and in a way not explained in Matthew 13 by Jesus, it actually comes three times: in the present age, in the millennial kingdom, and then in the eternal state.
And all this brings me to a second and consequent criticism. The notion that prophetic foreshortening is to be applied to New Testament prophecy creates havoc with biblical eschatology. Waymeyer substantially and virtually argues that in spite of the way certain passages sound (105), the principle of prophetic foreshortening allows us to see two resurrections, two judgments, and two ages to come where the Bible only speaks of one.
But this application of prophetic foreshortening to New Testament prophecy by Premillennialists is self-defeating. If such gaps still exist, then why may there not be three resurrections, three judgments, and three ages to come, and for that matter three comings of Christ—something that Dispensationalists like Waymeyer already in a sense actually believe! If it justifies Dispensationalism, why may not it justify a Super-Dispensationalism? If Jesus’ explanation of the mystery is not in some sense its final explanation, then New Testament prophecy may mean or include virtually anything. There is an end to the sufficiency of Scripture for prophetic interpretation if we accept Waymeyer’s application of prophetic foreshortening to New Testament prophecy.
There is an old hymn with this prayer: “Be darkness, at Thy coming, light, Confusion, order in Thy path.” The above discussion is the first of many places in which I find the result of Waymeyer’s hermeneutic to be the exact opposite. Its result is not light, but darkness; not order, but confusion. It cannot, therefore, be divine.