Review of Charles Holman’s “Till Jesus Comes: Origins of Christian Apocalyptic Expectation”

Posted: April 21, 2009 by Rick Hogaboam in Acts, Book Reviews, Intertextual - Old Tetsament in New Testament, Joel, Pentecost


Holman, Charles L.: Till Jesus Comes : Origins of Christian Apocalyptic Expectation. Peabody, Mass. : Hendrickson Publishers, 1996

For more information on Dr. Charles Holman, visit:

Holman comments on Joel 2-3 as follows:

Following material blessing, a deluge of the Spirit “on all flesh” is foreseen, answering to the downpour in verse 23 which replenished the earth and brought prosperity. This apparently introduces the truly eschatological era in which the day of Yahweh finally is to arrive. The fortunes of Judah are to be restored, the nations of earth judged, with Yahweh dwelling in Zion (2:28-3:21). Significant for our subject of expectation is the fact that at first the day of Yahweh is “near”, with signs in the cosmos (2:1-2, 10-11). Then, after Judah’s repentence, the day is seen both as no longer at hand (though anticipated), 2:26-32; 3:2, 18, but also as “near”, 3:14. There seems to be an ambivalence in imminent expectation after the great day is postponed following Judah’s repentance. Otherwise the hope remains the same as in other prophetic writings, though with distinctive profusion of the Spirit on “all flesh,” seen initially fulfilled in Acts on the day of Pentecost (Holman 1996:35).

That Pentecost fulfills Joel 2:28-32 is fairly clear, but what do we make of the antecedent in Joel of the agricultural blessing preceding the promise of the Spirit? Some would suggest that it isn’t an antecedent, but is actually fulfilled by means of the outpouring of the Spirit in verses 28-32 (Van Gemeren suggests such). Perhaps one shouldn’t look for dogmatic parallels to everything in Joel…or else one would wonder what the locusts symbolize within an eschatological framework. It does seem clear that Joel 3 explains events which will proceed following the outpouring of the Spirit in 2:28-32. It is also clear that Judah’s repentance postponed the impending “day of Yahweh”, which has been placed subsequent to a time of blessing. The fortunes change for Israel as they find eschatological salvation in the “name of the LORD” and it is now certain that Israel’s enemies will be judged in the future “day of Yahweh”, which is yet future.

The time of blessing has come through Christ and in His anointing His people on Pentecost. The “day of Yahweh” is indeed imminent, but it seems clear that some objectives need to be fulfilled before that day arrives, namely the mission of the church to all nations. Rather than sitting around and waiting for the day to come, we are instead to seek the expansion of God’s blessing in this era marked by eschatological salvation for all who call upon His name.

Homan comments on Luke’s eschatological paradigm:

We wish to attempt an explanation of why events before the end in the synoptic apocalypse are de-eschatologized by Luke, while encouragement is nevertheless given to anticipate the Parousia. In the way he presents the Jesus tradition we have observed Luke’s particular interest in warning against eschatological deception, including the nearness of the final time, his warning against a “this-worldly” lifestyle, and his warning of persecution and suffering. Also, in the way he presents the Jesus tradition, he urges watchfulness and prayerfulness (Homan 1996:130).

Eschatological piety is definitely distinct by reason of an imminent return. I think that this is the enduring message of Joel; that one should live their life ever mindful that the “day of Yahweh” is near. The people are called to wholehearted worship…and so also are we called to whole-hearted worship in the modern era.

Luke’s frequent detailing of Jewish rejection of the gospel in Luke-Acts, along with success of the Gentile mission, provides a divine reason for Jerusalem’s destruction. But at the same time it would raise eschatological problems in light of familiar apocalyptic tradition of the end as associated with the Jerusalem crisis (Holman 1996:130-131).

The end times are confirmed by the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The problems this creates is the postponement of the parousia some 2000 years beyond that event when it seemed intricately connected with it. Various forms of preterism seek greater fulfillment of apocalyptic fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, while certain dispensationalists solve the problem by speaking of a future destruction of a temple in Jerusalem. I think the problem is solved by viewing the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD as being an escalating sign of a “last days” paradigm that began with Jesus and escalated with Pentecost. There are ongoing calamities within redemptive history that should point to the impending “day of Yahweh”. Scripture attests to many signs of the “last days”, all of which have accompanied history up to the modern era. They should serve as perpetual reminders of God’s judgment upon sin and encourage all people to call upon the name of the Lord.

Luke’s message provides the community with an interpretation of the Jesus tradition which allows for eschatological delay, while not abandoning a meaningful hope of the Parousia. In fact, with the wedding in Luke of watchfulness with delay, it is probably better to speak of “vigilance-delay” tension even more than of “imminence-delay.” In the meantime believers are to be involved in the gospel mission (Holman 1996:131).

I like the “vigilance-delay” paradigm suggested by Holman, but don’t think it is necessarily counter to the idea of “imminence-delay”, but rather supplemental. While we live in a period of imminence, it ought to be occupied by vigilance. That is indeed the major point of Jesus’ parables dealing with how to live before the final Parousia.

Luke’s highlighting of an interim period before the Parousia, and consequently a lessened emphasis on an imminent parousia, is consonant with his stress on a present salvation throughout his Gospel and Acts. The time of fulfillment has arrived (Holman 1996:131).

The prophetic hope of a culminating act of God in history has continued to be reinterpreted. First, through traditional Jewish apocalyptic themes, especially those found in Daniel. Now, in light of the Jesus tradition and the anticipating of his parousia, we witness a further interpretation of the hope of the arrival of the day of the Lord (Holman 1996:133).

Holman suggests that Luke emphasizes the current time of fulfillment more so than the future parousia. I agree with his assessment. This age is marked by tension in both: expecting the imminent parousia and enjoying the messianic age of kingdom expansion through the eschatological gospel of salvation. We live in much the same tension of OT Israel, called upon to enjoy their current blessings yet awaiting something better. We have come a huge step further in Christ, but still await the consummation of all things. I don’t think that Holman means by “reinterpreted” a constant change in meaning, but rather a progressively revealed truth, constantly shedding light upon a previously understood consensus. This is indeed a great mystery, God’s actions in redemptive history for the salvation of His people.


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