By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.
Let us, for the record, state the three main Creeds of Christianity. That is, to be a Christian, by historical definition, one adheres to these statements. This is the Christian Faith:
The Apostles’ Creed (from 215 AD)
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, and the life everlasting. Amen.
And now, the Nicene Creed (325 AD)
We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of one substance with the Father,
through Whom all things came into existence,
Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from the heavens,
and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became man,
and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered and was buried,
and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures
and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father,
and will come again with glory to judge living and dead,
of Whose kingdom there will be no end;
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver,
Who proceeds from the Father,
Who with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and together glorified,
Who spoke through the prophets;
in one holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
We confess one baptism to the remission of sins;
we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come (tou mellontos – Greek). Amen
Finally, The Creed of Chalcedon (451 AD)
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days (ep eschaton de ton hemeron – Greek), for us and for our salvation, born of the virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
Now, with this being said, and in being in full agreement with it, there are some peculiar things that need to be pointed out. First, the resurrection of the dead was envisioned as the resurrection of the flesh itself, latter amended to “resurrection of the body.” The reason for this change was not in a denial of what was to be changed or transformed (the flesh), but “the body” sounded more “biblical” – the words changed, not the meaning the fathers had in mind. This faith declaration is rooted in our Jewish foundations of the Faith in Israel’s Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus). There is much in these words that convey the roots of Ancient Judaism that cannot be discussed here.
Secondly, in the Nicene Creed we see that “mello” is used, which is often thought to mean “about to” (and in many texts in the Bible, it does mean that, context alone decides). Here, however, it expresses no such meaning. It is simply translated with the understanding of what is most certainly going to come: The Age. By this, the fathers were unanimous in their faith that God would indeed so transform our current apprehension and substance of “all that there is” into a New Heavens and a New Earth (which is shared, again, and is a continuation of our Jewish heritage). The Church Council was not envisioning an “any time” coming of the Lord, but they were under the impression of an “it will certainly come, when it does”.
Third, we may note the phrase, “in these latter times” in the wording of Chalcedon. Quite simply, this very phrase is picked out of the Greek Scriptures. It was not taken by these fathers to mean “we are at the very last few remaining years of history.” That definition seems to have become wildly popular in Dispensationalism, a view that takes this phrase as meaning the last few remaining years of planet earth. There is no shortage of the abuse this phrase has taken by every nut job that claims to know that we are living in the last few months or years of planet earth.
It is found, for example, in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which was known to them, in Isaiah 2.1-ff, “acharith hayamim – in the latter times afterwards” where Isaiah pictures the Nations coming into the Mountain of the Lord learning the “ways of the LORD.” In short, by the time this Creed was penned, Christianity saw itself as the Light of the World in Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. The nations were being converted.
The “latter times” is used in parallel with the “former times”. In Deuteronomy 4.30 it says, “When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice.” But, in verse 4.32 we read, “For ask now of the former days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of.” In other words, the “former days” is all the way, at least, from the time of Adam to Moses! Why, then, does one insist that the “Latter Days” means only a few short years? Did Isaiah actually have in mind a few short years in which the Nations would learn the Law of the LORD, and then the world would end? Hardly. Such a conclusion is reduced to absurdity. The writer of Hebrews is in agreement: “In the past, God has spoken in many ways, but in these latter times, he has spoken by his son” (1.1). Has the Son stopped speaking? “Today if you hear his voice, hearken unto Him,” the author would go on to say.
Isaiah, indeed, stated, “Remember not the former ages…” (46.9). Perhaps most notably is in Daniel 2 where King Nebuchadnezzar sees four empires, including his own, in a dream. Daniel tells the King, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter times.” In that dream, Daniel speaks of a Rock that “becomes a great mountain” and “fills the whole earth.” Further, “…the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.” In other words, this kingdom, which starts out as a small rock, becomes a great mountain, and eventually a great kingdom that not only destroys all other powers and authorities, but is the only one left standing. It will destroy all other powers and authorities.
This language in Daniel, and in Isaiah, is kingdom language. And, it not just that the four other empires were earthly powers, and the Messianic Rock is spiritual. The Messianic Kingdom is indeed of spiritual origins, it is a rock “from heaven.” But, it’s presence is manifested in terms of the visible destruction of earthly powers. This coming kingdom, “in the latter times” will eventually topple over all earthly powers, and will be the only one left standing. In the words of the Nicene Creed, “…of Whose kingdom there shall be no end.”
If we have this in mind, we can hear the backdrop of Daniel 2 in the Apostle Paul, when he wrote, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1st Corinthians 15.24). Indeed, the very appellations of “rule”, “authority” and “power” are descriptions of the empires used by Daniel. Thus, for Messiah, the Rock, to “destroy” all “rule” and “authority” is precisely what it meant: his kingdom cannot be “destroyed” by invading armies, or political despots, or any earthly authority. However, and this is the advantage of his kingdom, since it is not earthly in origin, he will destroy all other kingdoms. This is the language of warfare. This is the language we find in Revelation, and in ample volumes in the time of Jesus from other sources.
Thus, we find that the NT writers, and the early Church Fathers were living, or saw themselves as living in the “latter times” – the times when the Nations would come in by the droves to the Mountain of the Lord (as in Daniel, the rock becomes a mountain). The Spirit would be poured out in abundance, speaking of the abundant life. Christ would be installed as King of Kings (with the latter part of this title being earthly Kings – as the title was used in the OT for Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus and other Kings). He was the Ruler who sits at God’s right hand. The Root of David’s Monarchy that would usher in an unprecedented era of teaching the Law among the Nations. What is so amazing about these prophecies concerning the “latter times” is that they were written when the kingdom of Israel and Judah were at their weakest points. Daniel was in exile when he spoke of the Israelite King that would decimate the kingdoms! Isaiah was in a nation facing execution from the LORD at the hand of the Assyrians and Babylonians. And, yet, several hundreds of years before the arrival of Christ, they spoke of a Davidic King who would become a Universal King, known worldwide. And here comes Jesus, born in a flop inn, out in a barn somewhere in Bethlehem. He calls to himself a few disciples, fishermen and ordinary Joes and Joesettes. And this in a nation held under the Power of Rome: tiny, little Israel. And they are crushed in 70 AD! Doesn’t sound like a good start for crucified King in Israel!
Why is it that, today, 2000 years later, we are speaking His Name, and the city of Jerusalem, and Israel? Why is it that the nations rage? (Psalm 2). Why is it that Christians are being told in America that their “religious beliefs” should have nothing to do with anything “political”? Why is it that wherever Jesus is proclaimed, and large groups follow, they come into immediate conflict with Rulers, Powers, and Authorities? We are living, and have been living, in the Latter Times. Now, the LORD “changes seasons and times (Daniel 2.21)” at his will, and he has “set times and seasons” (which he can change as well – he can prolong them, or shorten, or do whatsoever he likes with them). Selah.
Of whose kingdom there will be no end…(Nicene Creed)