‘Were some of the dead raised in 70 CE? A Brief Critique of Phillip G. Kayser’s View on Revelation 20’

By Samuel M. Frost, Th. M. (Whitefield Theological Seminary/Reformed Theological Seminary/Pentecostal Theological Seminary)

                It is not easy to offer a critique of Dr. Kayser since I respect his body of work for Christian ministries.  Kayser is the Professor of Ethics with Whitefield Theological Seminary, and works tirelessly to promote biblical and theological books (see his website, BiblicalBlueprints.com for a treasure trove of material).  Kayser also pastors Dominion Covenant Church in Omaha, Nebraska (Covenant Presbyterian Church Denomination).  It is not the intent, nor should it be implied that my feeble critiques of Kayser’s work as it regards our topic at hand is to be taken in any way, shape, or form as besmirching his good standing among the Reformed community.  My intent, mainly, is in highlighting his methodology that allows him ‘room’ within the Reformed Standards (which are many) to argue for points that are in contradiction with specific items of reference in the same.  More specifically, that he does argue for certain items that some, within the Reformed community, would find highly troubling.

                Our area of focus is Eschatology, and more specifically, the ‘resurrection of the dead.’  Since I am not arguing to convince anyone of my viewpoint, I ask the reader to simply let it be taken for granted.  I believe that the resurrection of the dead will be of all humankind ‘in the last day’ (John 6.39, 40, 44, 54; 11.24; 12.48).  This ‘day’ will be an instant (a flash – 1 Corinthians 15.52); and Death will be swallowed up in victory universally (Isaiah 25.7), for all, at once.  This is known as the teaching of ‘General Resurrection (GR).’[1]  Within Reformed theology, this is the representative idea by and large.  The Augsburg Confession offers us a clear affirmation of GR.  The ‘three forms of unity’ (Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort, Heidelberg Confession) affirm it as well.  The Westminster Confession (1647) states, ‘Diem Deus designavit quo mundum’ (33.1); ‘God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world.’  That is, qui mortui fuerint resuscitabuntur omnes, which will be, novissimo illo die (32.2).  All mankind will be raised from the dead in the last day.  Not some.  Not most.  All.  The Latin Vulgate, for John 6.39, has resuscitem illum novissimo die.’  The language is explicit.

                It matters not whether one agrees with this view, or is, say a Premillennialist. The Augsburg Confession explicitly condemns this view on the basis of its splitting the resurrection of the dead between a resurrection at the beginning of the 1000 years, and a later more general one at the end of time (the last day).  That is, to have a resurrection of some of the dead, only to be followed  by another resurrection at the last day appears to do damage to the statement of Jesus in John 6.  There is no question that the word ‘all’ would have to be suspended in terms of logic.  GR has a strong attestation throughout history, to the rejection of any such ideas of multiple resurrections occurring at different times.  Be that as it may, my contention is that if one subscribes to the Reformed systems of thought, then it would appear to be quite out of line if he or she suggested that an actual resurrection of the dead (of some) would occur at one point in time before the end of time, wherein another, final resurrection would take place.

                There is a two-pronged concern here as well, with the first being noted already.  The second is that while it is objected to having the resurrection of the dead ‘split’ into two frames, no one from either the Reformed camp, or the Premillennial one has suggested that a resurrection has already taken place for ‘some’ believers.  Both camps affirm that resurrection is future.  To suggest, then that the resurrection, in some part of the body of Christ, has taken place already, and that there is yet to come a future one, would be unheard of. 

Yet, this is exactly what Kayser’s interpretation of Revelation 20 does.  In his massive work on Revelation[2] entitled, ‘The Two Resurrections’, Kayser notes, ‘My view in a nutshell: the first resurrection is a literal resurrection of bodies at the beginning of the 1000 years (vv. 4b-5,6c) and the second resurrection is a literal resurrection at the end of the 1000 years. The two resurrections happen at the timing of the binding and loosing of Satan.’ He is to be commended for his clarity.  Again, he states, ‘My view is that a literal resurrection of bodies from the ground happened in AD 70 and the second resurrection will be at the end of history. Boom! It’s easy.’  Dr. Kayser is not denying bodily resurrection for a spiritual one (like the Hyper Preterists).  He is saying something far more radical: the saints who were martyred prior to the fall of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE were literally, physically, bodily raised from the dead, and made bodily glorified at that time.  They will not, then, be raised ‘in the last day’ with the ‘all.’  They already are.

            Now, one has to ask how this Professor of Ethics at a Reformed seminary (Whitefield Theological Seminary) can get to such a position.  Here, Kayser endorses a novel blend of Hyper Preterism, and what is classically known as Preterism.  That is, 70 CE looms large in the overall interpretation of the prophetic mentionings in the NT.  The ‘destruction of Jerusalem’ is the 94% fulfillment of the Bible, leaving about 6% unfulfilled for the ‘last day’ of history (when the rest of the dead are raised).  His exegesis on the so-called, ‘time texts’ is exactly the way such Hyper Preterist luminaries like Ed Stevens, or Don K. Preston would interpret them.  For example, Kayser writes, ‘The New King James book of Acts was translated by Futurists, and they deliberately left out the translation of μέλλω even though it is in all Greek manuscripts. The Greek word μέλλω means “about to happen” or to be imminent. There was an imminent resurrection.’  This is token approval of Preston’s work, and he uses such statements from those like Kayser to bolster his Hyper Preterist views.  Because he can.

                ‘Acts 24:25 also speaks of an imminent judgment. 2 Timothy 4:1 says that God and the Lord Jesus Christ were about to judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom.’  So, were the ‘living’ changed and transformed, as Hyper Preterist Ed Stevens asserts?  Kayser doesn’t say, but this is precisely where a fellow like Preston, or Stevens would simply cry, ‘foul’.  Kayser would have to argue for a resurrection of the dead martyrs (the dead), while leaving out ‘we who are alive and remain’!  Kayser presses for the Greek verb, mello, to have only one meaning: imminent, or ‘about to’, where he states, ‘Acts speaks of a resurrection that was “about to happen” (Acts 24:14-15) immediately after the wrath which was about to happen (Matt. 3:7; Acts 17:31; 24:25; 2 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 10:26-27). See also 1 Cor. 15:20-26; Hos. 6:2; John 5:25; Rom. 8:23; Matt. 16:27-28 [Greek]; Acts 24:14-15,25 [Greek]; 2 Tim. 4:1 [Greek].’  All of these passages have been fulfilled, according to Kayser. ‘Every imminent passage came to pass within the lifetime of those disciples.’

                It is not my intention to get into a full discussion of the Greek verb, mello, other than to say that in the last five years, I have located it in thousands of places in Greek literature, and not just in the NT.  Context determines its verbal aspect (Aktionsart and Aspekt), but the basic (base denotation) meaning of the verb is, ‘certain,’ ‘going to’ (infinitive), ‘will be’ (certainty).  It is concerned with the future, whether it be the future that is ‘about to’ happen (‘on the verge of’ ‘immediately’), or one that will happen whenever it does happen; the force of its use is that whenever the action is to happen, it most certainly will happen.  Thus, in any Lexicon, one will note several ways this verb can be used (and the several ways it can be formed, and combined with other verbs and their forms, present, aorist, imperfect, perfect, future, etc.).  To say that mello ‘means, about to’ is naïve.  Context will determine its use.  I have written extensively on this elsewhere.[3]  Mello means ‘certainty’, and may mean, ‘about to’ if the action in the context of the subject(s) is right then and there on the verge of happening.  I use the example with my wife that ‘I am about to take out the trash.’  If I took out the trash a year later, there would be marital problems.

                Kayser’s blaming the ‘translations’ because they are ‘Futurists’ (i.e., not considerate, Greek scholars, but rabid Futurists with a radical bias) is also telling (we Hyper Preterists used that line quite a bit).  Now, it is not to say that Kayser is not aware of his novel view here.  And having a novel view does not make any view wrong automatically.  That’s the stuff of theological innovations; seeing things in the texts from an angle not previously explored.  Thank you, Martin Luther.  Nonetheless, Kayser pens, ‘Their first rebuttal is the claim that the Bible only speaks of one general resurrection in the future, and therefore, even if logic and exegesis might seem to dictate two physical resurrections in this passage, systematic theology would dictate otherwise. It’s kind of like saying, “My system demands it, and your system would too if you took the other passages on a general resurrection seriously.”’  This could be read as arguing against the whole idea that exegesis must be done in light of Systematic Theology.

                Along these lines, Kayser again writes, ‘It is the system that demands that this be a regeneration, not the text. I have seen the same with Full Preterist interpretations of this text. Their system always seems to dictate their exegesis. If you always need to read the text through the lens of a theory, it is suspect.’  Amen.  I agree wholeheartedly.  But, with Reformed exegesis, there is a system: Covenantalism.  Systems are inescapable (which I am sure Kayser would agree).  The issue is not whether we have a system, but what system do we have.  Secondly, the system is to be deduced from exegesis of the Scripture (the Whole Counsel of the Bible), so that there is no contradiction (which is basically what a ‘system’ is; a taking in of all the available data and arranging it into a comprehensible presentation).  Kayser realizes that his view is ‘not as common of a view today,’ and realizes that because of this, ‘people are skeptical and think that it is novel and therefore to be rejected.’  At this point in his paper, he goes on to show how some of the Early Church Fathers more or less held to it (that’s another issue altogether).  We always want to go to the early church views, it seems.  If, for example, one were to find the idea of ‘spiritual death’ as a death Adam received ‘in the day’ he ate, one would be hard pressed to find it before the time of Augustine, who seems to have been the first to champion it (5th century); but Philo (1st century), a Hellenist philosopher also had an idea of spiritual death – and he was no Christian.

                On that topic, another feature of Kayser’s ‘novel’ view is this pervasive idea of ‘spiritual death.’  Kayser again, ‘Nor does the word ἀνάστασις ever refer to life after death. It is always a raising of the dead to life. Let me explain the difference. The regeneration view would say that if someone is spiritually dead and made alive, he could be said to be resurrected spiritually, but someone who is spiritually alive (in other words, his soul is already regenerate) cannot be said to be resurrected when he dies. The soul itself is not being resurrected from spiritual death. And I agree. Or if someone is physically dead and made alive, he could be said to be resurrected. But when someone who is spiritually alive continues to live even after physical death, no coming to life has happened. He already had eternal life. So even in terms of systematic theology, this interpretation doesn’t work.’  In other words, if a person is ‘spiritually dead,’ then their regeneration (born again) is a resurrection.  And, since this is a resurrection, then the ‘souls’ that John saw in Revelation 20 cannot be in reference to those who are regenerated, but to those who have been physically raised as well.  By effectively dividing a spiritual resurrection from a physical resurrection, Kayser is able to secure his point.  Such division, however, is not found at all in the Scriptures.  It is an invention that is rooted in this idea that Adam ‘died’ (in some sense) when he ate the forbidden fruit (since it is obvious to all that he did not die ‘physically’).  Once this is accepted (and the Reformed do largely accept it without any question), then Kayser (and the Hyper Preterists) can make these novel points, and though one may object to them on other grounds, the door has been at least opened on this ground.  Suddenly, Ed Stevens’ view of a literal rapture and resurrection of the saints in 70 CE doesn’t look so strange after all.  Score one for the Hyper Preterists.

                So that I am clear, or rather that Kayser is clear, he states, ‘But that assertion (that all Scripture presents only one general resurrection in our future) is patently false, as I have already proved in this series on Revelation. 1 Corinthians 15 clearly says that there is an order to the resurrections and delineates a minimum of two resurrections, no matter how you interpret the passage.’  This would make any Premillennialist happy.  Again, ‘So it is flat out false when people claim that there are only references to a general resurrection at the end of history. And they should know better because liberals have been criticizing evangelicals for years on these precise verses. Liberals said that Jesus and the apostles clearly taught that a resurrection was about to happen, but it didn’t turn out that way. My series on Revelation has shown that liberals are absolutely wrong. Every imminent passage came to pass within the lifetime of those disciples.’  This would make any Hyper Preterist happy.  And, yet, Kayser is a Professor of Ethics at Whitefield Theological Seminary.

                ‘It wasn’t the Second physical coming to earth, but it was a parousia or appearing in the sky. When God says something is about to happen, it isn’t 2000 years later; it is truly about to happen.’  That is, ‘the parousia’ of Christ happened in 70 CE as per Matthew 24.  Some of the dead were literally, bodily raised from the dust (Daniel 12.2 is fulfilled).  The line, ‘when God says something is going to happen, it’s going to happen’ is a favorite of Don K. Preston, one of the eminent teachers of Hyper Preterism.  As many of my readers know, I was once a teacher, too, with Don K. Preston and spoke around the country at conferences as a Hyper Preterist.  I believed it hook, line, and sinker.  I have since left this god-awful movement (2010), and have since looked back at how I arrived to it in the first place.  Well, one of those reasons, probably the most important reason, is that Hyper Preterism is built off of radical partial Preterism.  This is not the classic Preterism we find throughout church history, but one that goes much further so as to have the NT 96% fulfilled.  We can even find some Reformed giants, like John Lightfoot, and John Owen, signaling that 2 Peter 3 was fulfilled in 70 CE!  It is not that hard, then, to squeeze the remaining 4% into a 70 CE ‘system.’  If all one has are ‘creeds’, then…so what?  Kayser is certainly not in any position to argue for the creeds!  In fact, he pointedly argues against their consensus on this matter.  And, that’s fine, too.  I am certainly not saying, and never have, that the creeds are on par with the Bible.  That includes the Westminster Confession of Faith.  It has error in it.  One can, as Kayser does (and good for him), maneuver within the Westminster Confession’s boundaries while at the same time pointing out its deficiencies as theological progress in the jots and tittles (the hair splitting) continues.  To use the analogy of the progress of scientific technology, what was once thought of as unsplittable (the atom) is now a thing of the past.  Thank goodness that a mere few came along and challenged this notion.  We didn’t write them off as quacks (well, Einstein was initially written off, but he kept coming at them).  Although I radically disagree with Kayser’s position here, he should be able to make such a case.  He should be allowed to disagree with his Confession here and there on certain points, while not overturning the entire framework within which he works (he affirms bodily resurrection, the Second Coming, the Final Judgment and the New Heavens and the New Earth, and the last day).  It is certain points he takes issue with.  With me, this is a good sign, and yet also has its bad effects.  Bad effects in that Hyper Preterists, like I once was, fresh out of Bible College, seize upon these ideas and go another direction.  I do thank God that my peers (Dr. Kenneth Talbot, and Dr. Gary Crampton) gradually, by constant hammering, steered me to my senses.  That is, they allowed me to maneuver. That is scholarship at work.  Knee-jerk reactions, rushes to judgement before all the evidence is in – that’s the stuff of cowards.

                If one were, however, to bring up charges as to the Westminster Confession and Kayser’s position, one could, if they were so inclined.  That is, if they were hell bent on the jots and tittles of the Confession and a strict subscriptionist view were maintained.  I don’t see the need to do that.  What I see, as a scholar, is that Kayser is just being…a scholar.  A boundary pusher.  He ‘sees’ all of these problems within Revelation 20 (and they are myriad) and how folks have interpreted this passage and is attempting to straighten it out.  Bravo.  Applause.  Kudos.  Shout it from the rooftops!  Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda!  But, just remember folks, the other guy gets to do that, too.

[1] Louis Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, first published, 1933), 355.


[3] ‘What About the Time Texts, Part 4’ on vigil.blog.

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