One of the great joys of my life as a teacher is dealing with children. one of the most important things when it comes to dealing with children is learning to answer their questions. What I mean is this: all too often, we don’t answer their questions, we answer our questions. This was pressed home to me one day many years ago as I was teaching in a one-room Adventist school, when a sixth grader looked up from his Bible workbook and asks, “Mr. Dickerson, what’s a whore?”
Two things must be kept in mind: the Bible can be quite frank and graphic in certain passages, and this was a multigrade classroom. I wasn’t eager for the the first and second graders to become too interested in this topic. Their parents would have questions for me if I didn’t handle this discreetly. So I simply said, “Why don’t you look that up in the dictionary?” he got up the dictionary, and began paging through it. Looking over his shoulder, I saw that he was in the “H” section. So I asked, “are you sure it starts with an ‘H’?”
Nodding enthusiastically, he said, pointing to his Bible, “Yes, it’s right here: hoarfrost.” This exchange impressed upon me forever the importance of providing an appropriate answer for the question — and for the questioner. The changing understanding of the End time in the Old Testament is, I believe, an example of God doing just that.
For a group of people who had just been released from centuries of slavery, and whose belief system included an unending cycle of time, the radically different understanding we have would have made no sense at all. So God gave them guidance appropriate to their situation.
It’s somewhat similar to a parent explaining complicated eschatology to a five year old. It confuses and frightens them, rather than building their faith. And so what we find in Deuteronomy is roughly equivalent to guidance given to a five year old. Deuteronomy tells the Israelites that if they obey everything God told them to do, their lives would prosper and they would be happy; if they disobey what God told him to do they would be miserable and die. We might say it this way, to our five-year-old, “Do what Daddy tells you to do, and things will work out all right.”
As passing time and new experiences broadened the understanding of the Israelites, giving them a more complicated view of evil, God revealed to them increasingly complex explanations of how evil would be dealt with, and a new world of righteousness brought in. As their need grew, God’s explanation expanded and became more detailed to meet the greater need. And that’s why we have a developing and growing explanation of the End time in the Bible.
If the message had been given to one people, at one point in time, we would not have this difficulty. But because the Bible continually interacts with God’s people for more than a thousand years, we have recorded these varying accounts.
As Martin quoted and his comments on the previous post, and as I quoted myself in an earlier post Jesus told the disciples that he had more to tell them but they could not yet bear it.. That is a principal God repeatedly follows in his interactions with human beings.