But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21).
It is essential to one’s understanding of the Bible that you read, study and inquire of the Holy Spirit concerning the meaning of God’s Word. Study Bibles can be an effective tool if you are diligently aware that the author has inserted his theological bias into the margin notes and commentary.
We must allow for scripture to interpret scripture. A good example would be the Fifth Commandment which declares that we honor our mother and father (Exodus 20:12). But how do we interpret this command in light of the teaching of our Lord that we must hate our father and mother in order to follow Him? [Luke 14:26]
Beware of those who build a theology upon a false interpretation, or take a verse out of context in order to establish a dogmatic creed that may not be sound doctrine.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
The formerly imprisoned, disgraced pastor of a world-wide evangelical ministry appears daily on Christian television preaching a gospel of the Revelation. He predicts apocalyptic doom and gloom based on his 4-year prison study of the Book of Revelation. According to this pastor the Great Tribulation is about to befall both Christian and heathen. Yes, he believes that Christians will have to endure the pre-millennial judgement of God; and will not be raptured from the time of trouble that is near. But let not your hearts be troubled nor be afraid because this same pastor will sell you a host of survival equipment and food stores that should at least comfort you when the seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out upon the world (Revelation 16:1-21).
In the mid-19th century some within the church became impatient waiting for the Lord’s imminent return. There was an explosion of End Times prophetic teachers who introduced variant gospel interpretations which suggested that Messiah would return by a certain date, or had already come in a spiritual sense. These doctrinal revisions which denied scripture (Matthew 24:36) became the creed of what are considered today to be fringe denominational, or cult assemblies disaffiliated from the mainstream body of Christ.
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9).
Commonly taught within the general assembly is the Dispensational slant introduced by John Nelson Darby in 1830. Proponents of this interpretation insist that it was taught by the Apostle Paul:
That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him (Ephesians 1:10 KJV).
However, both the Greek (oikonomian) and Hebrew (pekudat) meaning of the word dispensation literally suggests stewardship or administration and not — as Dispensational preachers teach — an age or epoch. This popular eschatology was codified by the Scofield Reference Bible which became the authoritative source at evangelical seminaries and pastoral colleges in the 20th century.
Many contemporary pastors feed their flocks a pre-millennial brand of dispensation that is heavily weighted on the Book of Revelation. Rather than compare scripture with scripture they teach the Bible from the headlines of the daily newspaper. The Gospel of Jesus Christ becomes almost secondary, and the Revelation is non-relevant to the seven churches in Asia to whom it was written — we believe prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. (See our post, Has God Forsaken Us?)
Revelation was not even accepted until 100 years after the other Biblical books had been canonized. Four hundred years after the crucifixion of Jesus the church still had doubts as to the authorship and authenticity of the last book of the Bible. Dionysius of Alexandria [Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt; died ca. 264 AD] claimed that the Apocalypse was not written by John the Apostle — author of the Gospel of John — but by one of a number of other men called John who wrote a slew of apocryphal books:
Some before us have set aside and rejected the book altogether, criticizing it chapter by chapter, and pronouncing it without sense or argument, and maintaining that the title is fraudulent. For they say that it is not the work of John, nor is it a revelation, because it is covered thickly and densely by a veil of obscurity. And they affirm that none of the apostles, rend none of the saints, nor any one in the Church is its author, but that Cerinthus, who founded the sect which was called after him the Cerinthian, desiring reputable authority for his fiction, prefixed the name.
For the doctrine which he taught was this: that the kingdom of Christ will be an earthly one. And as he was himself devoted to the pleasures of the body and altogether sensual in his nature, he dreamed that that kingdom would consist in those things which he desired, namely, in the delights of the belly and of sexual passion; that is to say, in eating and drinking and marrying, and in festivals and sacrifices and the slaying of victims, under the guise of which he thought he could indulge his appetites with a better grace.
But I could not venture to reject the book, as many brethren hold it in high esteem. But I suppose that it is beyond my comprehension, and that there is a certain concealed and more wonderful meaning in every part. For if I do not understand I suspect that a deeper sense lies beneath the words. I do not measure and judge them by my own reason, but leaving the more to faith regard them as too high for me to grasp. And I do not reject what I cannot comprehend, but rather wonder because I do not understand it.
Having finished all the prophecy, so to speak, the prophet pronounces those blessed who shall observe it, and also himself. For he says, ‘Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book, and I, John, who saw and heard these things’ (Rev 22:7-8). Therefore that he was called John, and that this book is the work of one John, I do not deny. And I agree also that it is the work of a holy and inspired man. But I cannot readily admit that he was the apostle, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, by whom the Gospel of John and the Catholic Epistle were written. For I judge from the character of both, and the forms of expression, and the entire execution of the book, that it is not his. For the evangelist nowhere gives his name, or proclaims himself, either in the Gospel or Epistle.
[Editor’s Note: Quotations from ancient text were sourced from the writings of early church historian, Eusebius; ca. 260/265 – 339/340 AD, in his volume titled Ecclesiastical History.]
One of the most challenging problems with Revelation is the style in which it was written — a composition of Greek that was poorly structured and in some ways illiterate. Conversely, the Gospel of John — and the epistles bearing his name — were written with a masterful command of Greek language and syntax. It is possible that a ghost writer fluent in Hebrew wrote down the vision as was seen by John.
Papias [Bishop of Hierapolisca; ca. 60 –130 AD] noted that there were two persons named John known to the churches in Asia — John the Apostle and John the presbyter. Indeed, at Ephesus there were two monuments found bearing the names of these two men. It was surmised by a few that the presbyter was the author of Revelation.
The most convincing evidence to authenticate Revelation is that the Apostle wrote that he saw the vision while on the isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:9). Church tradition says that John was exiled to the island (which lies near the port city of Ephesus) by Domitian — if you believe the book was written in 95 AD, or Nero Domitius — if you believe that John saw his vision prior to the apocalyptic destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
End is Near preachers quite often assume a late-date authorship of the Revelation, and have distressed the body of Christ for 2000 years with false teaching, false prophecy and a false gospel message. Throughout the Bible faithful stewards are warned to beware the false prophets (Matthew 7:15).
Consider this: Israel rejected the Messiah because they were expecting Jesus to restore the earthly, Davidic kingdom; but our Lord said that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). After His resurrection the disciples were still asking Jesus if He would restore the kingdom at that time (Acts 1:6).
WHY, THEN, DO PRE-MILLENNIAL DISPENSATIONALISTS BELIEVE IN A SEVEN YEAR GREAT TRIBULATION FOLLOWED BY A THOUSAND YEAR REIGN OF CHRIST UPON THE EARTH?
When questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God would come Jesus replied that the kingdom was not coming with observable signs (Luke 17:20). Yet, those who teach the preemie gospel wake up every morning checking the newspaper headlines for rumors of war, earthquakes, famine, political and financial uncertainty — all harbingers of the End Times scenario.
What did Christ say?
You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end (Matthew 24:6).
But that is not yet the end. How embarrassing for the author who wrote 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.
Recall that there were some in the church who thought Cerinthus to be the author of Revelation. The Cerinthians were a sect who believed in the literal restoration of the Davidic kingdom ruled over by the Mashiach, or Messiah. What did John the Apostle think of Cerinthus?
Irenaeus [Bishop of Lyon in Southern France; ca. 130 – 200 AD] recorded the following incident:
And there are those that heard from Polycarp that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe in Ephesus and seeing Cerinthus within, ran out of the bath-house without bathing, crying, ‘Let us flee, lest even the bath fall, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.’
Integral to the dispensational interpretation of Revelation is the restoration of an earthly kingdom. But we also have problems with its doctrine of two resurrections, and multiple second comings. The preemie gospel teaches that Christ will return to rapture the church, return again to establish an earthly kingdom and return yet a third time to execute His final judgement upon the world. The first resurrection occurs before the thousand year reign when Jesus returns to raise the martyred saints (Revelation 20:4-6). Messiah will return the second time to establish an earthly kingdom that He reigns over with the resurrected saints. Question: If the resurrected saints are reigning with Christ then whom are they reigning over? Certainly not the church if you believe in the Rapture. All that will be left are sinners and unbelieving Jews who will go into the Millennium having survived the time of Jacob’s distress (Jeremiah 30:7) which we believe was fulfilled during the Babylonian exile. Presumably, Israel will have one last chance to accept Jesus as Messiah during the Millennial age. Not inconsequential is the fact that the second resurrection occurs at the end of Messiah’s thousand year reign at which time the wicked will be raised to face final judgement (Revelation 20:11-15) .
What did our Lord say about these things?
This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day (John 6:39).
For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day (John 6:40).
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44).
He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:54).
He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day (John 12:48).
Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29).
John the Apostle (to whom our Lord revealed the vision of the apocalypse) is quite clear in his gospel that there is a last day when all who are in the grave (both sinners and saints) will be resurrected either to life or judgement. There is no thousand year separation between these two events. Of the resurrection Daniel wrote: And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2). The Book of Revelation is an apocalyptic vision that is revealed in symbolism and troubling imagery much like the Book of Daniel. It needs to be interpreted with that in mind, and in harmony with the rest of scripture. [Cross reference: Paul’s confirmation of the resurrection in Acts 24:15, and Martha’s appeal to Jesus regarding her dead brother Lazarus in John 11:24.]
Those who adhere to the preemie gospel throw stones at our eschatology. Well known preachers say that we are heretics, ignorant, lazy and worse — anti-semitic. Our best defense, of course, is the Bible and the fact that Augustine (ca. 354 – 430 AD) subscribed to our interpretation as did other church fathers including Polycarp (ca. 69 – 155 AD), an associate of John the Apostle, and Origen (ca. 182 – 254 AD).
Roman Catholics, the autonomous churches of Christ, Lutherans, Methodists and reformed denominations still adhere to Augustinian thought which was widely held by the Medieval church and ratified by Protestant reformers in the 16th and 17th centuries as outlined by the Augsburg Confession and Second Helvetic Confession. Chialism, or pre-millennialism with its focus on an earthly kingdom was considered unscriptural and carnal.
Sadly, the stone that was a stumbling block for Jews 2000 years ago continues to be a roadblock for many Christians today.
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