Category Archives: eschatology

Ezekiel’s (Millennial?) Temple

ezekielbook

Do we interpret the Old Testament in light of the New, or the New Testament in light of the Old? If Torah was only the shadow of things to come then the illumination would be that which followed — the B’rit Chadasha. To properly interpret the Bible, then, we must read the Old Covenant in light of the New.

Here is the problem. Dispensationalists do just the opposite. They read the Holy text as if it were written yesterday. We have to understand the Bible in the context of the time it was written, and to whom it was addressed — keeping in mind:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Ezekiel 40-48 is one of the most difficult sections of the Bible to understand. Ezekiel — יְחֶזְקֵאל (Yechezqel) meaning “Strengthened By God” — was a contemporary of Daniel and Jeremiah. All three were pre-exilic prophets sent by the LORD to warn the nation of coming judgement and restoration. Ezekiel was taken captive in 597 BC, eight years after Daniel was exiled during the first Babylonian invasion.

While living in Babylon, Ezekiel had a detailed vision of a grand temple in Jerusalem. Solomon’s temple was left destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and the post-exilic temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah was modest in comparison.

In the visions of God He brought me into the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, and on it to the south there was a structure like a city (Ezekiel 40:2).

A man like bronze, holding a measuring rod, then gave the prophet detailed measurements of a holy temple. The relevance of the vision was to bring shame to the people, and present the shadow of what John would see in the Apocalypse.

As for you, son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the plan. If they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws (Ezekiel 43: 10-11).

Dispensationalists call Ezekiel’s temple the Third Temple, or Fourth Temple if you include the Tabernacle of Moshe (Moses), Solomon’s temple, and the post-captivity temple of Ezra and Nehemiah (Zerubbabel’s temple) which was later expanded by King Herod; and destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.

Because the post-exilic temple did not measure up to the grand design of Ezekiel’s vision, Dispensationalists will conclude that it must be an unfulfilled prophesy. They foresee Ezekiel’s temple as being the earthly throne of Christ during the Millennial kingdom.

temple

Reformed theologians have a problem with these passages because Ezekiel sees not only the restoration of the temple, but all of its attendant ceremonial functions including animal sacrifices. The Rabbin have a problem with Ezekiel’s temple because of all that is missing — the Ark, the Golden Candlestick and the Table of Showbread.

Dispensationalists will say that the animal sacrifices are a ceremonial observance — like the Lord’s Supper — and not for atonement. However, Ezekiel is clearly instructed that the priests will offer bulls and goats to clean, purify and make atonement upon the altar (Ezekiel 43:22-27). Neither orthodox Jews nor reformed Christians interpret Ezekiel literally.

And to suggest a resumption of blood sacrifices in the Millennial age is an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His shed blood upon the cross.

To overcome this objection, Dispensationalists — who adhere to a literalist interpretation — have to spiritualize the text, “Oh, it’s only ceremonial like taking Communion.” 

What, then, is the meaning of Ezekiel’s vision? Orthodox Jews interpret visions symbolically, and Christians should do likely. Whereas the Rabbin have difficulty with Ezekiel, Christians possess the covenant that illuminates the substance of shadows.

Messiah is our (Ark) covenant with YHWH (Hebrews 7:22).

Christ is the (show)bread of life (John 6:51).

No candlestick in the light of God’s glory (Rev 21:23).

Dr. John C. Whitcomb presents the Dispensational argument:

Just because animal sacrifices and priests have no place in Christianity does not mean that they will have no place in Israel after the rapture of the Church; for there is a clear distinction made throughout the Scriptures between Israel and the Church … It is obvious that the Book of Hebrews was written to Christians, and we have no right to insist that Israelites during the Millennium will also be Christians, without priests, without sacrifices, and without a Temple … [1]

Dr. Whitcomb is imposing premillennial assumptions that are nowhere found in Scripture. Pre-trib rapture? Jesus said the hour is coming when all will hear His voice and be resurrected to life or judgement (John 5:28-29). Paul said there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (Romans 10:12), and not all who are descended from Israel are Israel (Romans 9:6). To say that Hebrews was written to Christians is concealing the fact that the book was written to persecuted Jews who were thinking of returning to Judaism and its sacrificial system. If that was heresy then how much more apostate in a carnal kingdom still future?

When we shine the light of the New Covenant upon the Old it becomes evident that Ezekiel’s vision was a shadow of what was revealed to John. As Ezekiel saw his vision from atop a high mountain so, too, was John carried away in like manner. That both men saw a living river flowing from the throne of the LORD is evident that they had a shared vision.

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:10).

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2).

By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing (Ezekiel 47:12).

As the scroll was sealed by Daniel (Daniel 12:4), but opened by the Lamb (Revelation 5:5) so we understand that Ezekiel and the Apocalypse (John’s vision) are bookends of typology and reality — shadow and fulfillment. Ezekiel and John saw not a carnal kingdom in a supposed Millennial age, but the New Jerusalem descending from heaven after this carnal world is burnt up. Peter wrote that this is the promise we look for — a new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells  (2 Peter 2:13).

I have recently posted comments on another blog (thank you Selah) about misinterpreting Zechariah. Dispensationalists will read the book as if it were written yesterday, and apply it to Israel in the future. No, Zechariah was a post-exilic prophet writing to the remnant who returned from Babylonian captivity. He spoke of the coming Branch of David, and judgement (once again) upon the nation Israel.

To be a serious Bible student — one who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) — may require that we, like the Bereans, dig deeper into the Scriptures (Acts 17:11).

Notes:

1. The Millennial Temple of Ezekiel 40-48 (An Exercise in Literal Interpretation), Dr. John C. Whitcomb.

Copyright © 2015 Messiah Gate

70 Weeks of Daniel

daniel

(Revised 07-09-16, 2:40 pm)

This is part of a series examining the flawed exegesis of Dispensational theology. (See also: Who is Israel?, Dispense the Truth, Is Satan Bound? and Our High Priest).

The Seventy Weeks of Daniel (chapter 9) is one of the most difficult passages of Scripture. We will proceed with an assumption that many Bible students still aren’t sure of its meaning.

Dispensationalists believe that sixty-nine of the prophetic weeks have been fulfilled with the final week to be completed at some point in the future when all of these things will come to pass — rebuilt temple, man of sin, rapture, Great Tribulation and Millennium. Upon a more careful reading of Scripture we will see that the LORD decreed seventy weeks to fulfill, or complete the prophecy. The church fathers believed that Messiah appeared at the beginning of the 70th week, while Dispensationalists assert that Christ died in the 69th week with the final week having been put on hold 2000 years.

The implications of these divergent views are, metaphorically speaking, earth-shaking. Essentially, 19th century liberals overturned centuries of ecclesiastical teaching with the introduction of dispensational theology that adopted a futuristic interpretation of prophecy.

The church fathers believed that Daniel 9 was a Messianic prophecy that was fulfilled with the first coming of Christ. Rabbis also adhered to this interpretation, that is, until the temple was destroyed — and Messiah did not save them from the Roman army which, ironically, was sent in judgement by the LORD.

Though Dispensationalists cite the subsequent order of Artaxerxes, the commencement of the Seventy Weeks was historically understood by the church fathers to be the issuance of the royal decree by Cyrus which ended seventy years of Babylonian captivity. The terminus was the first advent of Christ which some proposed to be His birth, ministry or crucifixion. Though it extends the prophesy another 36 years, Clement saw the fulfillment of the seventy weeks in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. This is so determined because Christ had already put an end to the oblations by His sacrifice upon the cross. The offerings of the people after the cross had no spiritual efficacy, and the desolation of the sanctuary was simply an exclamation mark of Messiah’s prophetic judgement that not one stone would be left upon another (Matthew 23:38, 24:2).

What are the Seventy Weeks?

v24 Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most Holy.

Church fathers clearly understood this to be a Messianic reference. We will discuss the seventy weeks later, but this was a mistranslation by the King James translators. The text is properly interpreted seventy “sevens”. As the Jews were coming to the end of their seventy years of exile (Jeremiah 25:11), the LORD spoke unto Daniel that another judgement of sevens had been decreed — see also Leviticus 26:18.

v25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (69 weeks); it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.

Messiah would come at the end of 69 weeks (7 + 62), and begin His ministry at the beginning of the 70th week — in contrast, as we have seen, with Dispensationalists who believe that Messiah was crucified in the 69th week with a parenthetic suspension of the final week.

v26 Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.

Remember, the prophetic timeline is segmented into seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks for a total of sixty-nine weeks. If Messiah is cut off after the sixty-two weeks, and we know that the first seven weeks have been fulfilled with the completion of the post-captivity temple, the prophecy foretells the crucifixion and desolation sometime after the 69th week.

v27 And he (Messiah) will make a firm covenant with the many for one week (70th week), but in the middle of the week (His ministry lasted 3 1/2 years) he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering (by His sacrifice upon the Cross); and on the wing of abominations (the Roman army) will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction (within that generation), one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate (the holy city).

He is not the future Antichrist nor the prince of verse 26. The prince is the object of the preposition. Neither are the people to be construed as the subject of the verse since the pronoun, in context of these passages, is unequivocally the Messiah.

We will revisit these verses later, but it might be helpful at this point to answer a couple of questions: When was the decree issued to restore the temple, and how do we interpret the seventy weeks?

There were, actually, several orders to restore the temple: Cyrus (539 BC), Darius (520 BC), Artaxerxes I (457 BC) and Artaxerxes (444 BC). It would take the length of this paper to examine the details of these royal decrees — as documented in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah — but one of the decrees fits the timeline better than the others. For example, the most obvious choice would be the first order issued by Cyrus though it preceded Messiah by 570 years thus exceeding Daniel’s timetable by 80 years — but only if we utilized the secular, historical records of Ptolemy which were incomplete, and viewed with uncertainty by ancient scholars.

Not only is (Ptolemy’s) method of procedure fundamentally wrong in that it tries to make events of Bible-history fit in with a man-made chronological scheme, but the fact is that every chronological System covering the period we have to do with (i. e., from the beginning of the Persian monarchy down to Christ) is largely a matter of guesswork. All those systems, without any exception, are based upon the “canon” of Ptolemy, that is to say, a list of supposed Persian kings, with the supposed length of the reign of each, which list was compiled by Ptolemy, a heathen astronomer and writer of the second century AD. But Ptolemy does not even pretend to have had any facts as to the length of the Persian period (that is to say, from Darius and Cyrus down to Alexander the Great). Ptolemy estimates or guesses this period to have been 205 years long. And this is what has caused all the trouble and uncertainty; for every one who has attempted to construct a Bible chronology has based himself on Ptolemy’s estimate. In a word then, there is no chronology in existence of the period from Cyrus to Christ except in the Bible. 

Concerning the dates given in Ptolemy’s table of Persian Kings, Martin Anstey (Bible Chronology, 1913) says: “They rest upon calculations or guesses made by Eratosthenes, and on certain vague floating traditions, in accordance with which the period of the Persian Empire was mapped out as a period of 205 years.” And he shows, by a great variety of proofs taken entirely from the Scriptures, that the period which Ptolemy assigns to the Persian Empire is about eighty years too long. It follows that all who adopt Ptolemy’s chronology, or any system based upon it (as all modern chronologists prior to Anstey do) would inevitably be led far astray. It is impossible to make the real Bible-events agree, within 80 years, with the mistaken chronology of Ptolemy. This single fact makes many modern books on Daniel utterly worthless, so far as their chronology is concerned; and the chronology is the main thing. [1]

Confirming that Cyrus is, indeed, the subject of the royal decree — the Bible has to be the authority:

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying:  “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah’ (Ezra 1:1-2). 

It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’ ” (Isaiah 44:28)

“I have aroused him (Cyrus) in righteousness and I will make all his ways smooth; He will build My city and will let My exiles go free, Without any payment or reward,” says the LORD of hosts (Isaiah 45:13).

Clearly, Jesus did not come within a literal seventy weeks of the royal decree. The Bible is using prophetic language — it is to be understood as seventy weeks of years. That is to say, one day equals one year  — one week equals seven years — and seventy weeks equals four hundred ninety years.

One might ask by what interpretive method do we understand a day for a year? To be sure, it is gleaned from ancient rabbinical text; but also from the Holy Scriptures:

For I have assigned you a number of days corresponding to the years of their iniquity … a day for each year (Ezekiel 4:5-6).  

You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years (Leviticus 25:8).

Daniel breaks down his vision into a period of seven weeks (49 years), sixty-two weeks (434 years) and one week (7 years). From the time the decree is issued to the completion of the (second) temple, 49 years … the coming of Messiah, 434 years … the fulfillment of Christ’s ministry and crucifixion, 7 years.

Christian commentators and Rabbinic teachers posited that Daniel’s prophecy began at the end of Jeremiah’s prophetic seventy years of desolation, or Babylonian captivity which ended with the decree of Cyrus.

Let us examine more closely the two verses that pose the greatest interpretive challenge:

v24 Seventy weeks have been decreed to finish the transgression, make atonement for iniquity, bring in everlasting righteousness, seal the vision and anoint the most Holy.

Seventy weeks: Skeptics will dispute 490 years between the decree of Cyrus and the coming of Messiah. However, when you factor in the 360-day lunar calendar, and sketchy records of Ptolemy, it is reasonable to agree with first century Christians and Jews that the prophecy of Daniel 9 (all 70 weeks) has been fulfilled.

Finish the transgression (atonement): Of course, it is not difficult to understand that Messiah finished the transgression (John 19:30) though modern Bible critics — liberal in their theology — will cast doubt upon the Messianic interpretation of this passage even as they question the Virgin Birth and bodily resurrection. How they can doubt that Christ made atonement for sin is, well, perplexing.

Everlasting righteousness: Obviously, Jesus Christ. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets (Romans 3:21).

Seal the vision: Daniel’s sealed vision would be opened by the One who fulfilled the prophecy as revealed to John.

I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:1-5)

Anoint the most Holy: This passage of Scripture was uniformly interpreted — by Jews and Christians — as one of the most revelatory Messianic prophecies in all of the Old Testament. There are interpretive variations regarding the most Holy. Some translations render the passage most Holy One, or place. If Holy One, it is a clear reference to the Mashiach; and if Holy place it suggests the anointing of the Most Holy Place with the sacrificial blood of the Messiah (Hebrews 9:12) — a selfless offering that permitted the Son of Man to open Daniel’s sealed prophecy. In either case, the Messianic connotations were clearly understood in the first century.

Verse 27 is challenging in that it lays down the Dispensational foundation regarding the Antichrist and end time scenario. (Be aware that they will link this verse with 2 Thessalonians 2:4.)

v27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.

Who is he? The key that unlocks our interpretation of this verse is the word covenant ( bə·rîṯ) which does not convey a civil compact, but a holy one — ex. Genesis 9:13, 15-18. The Hebrew text suggests that he will make strong or establish a holy covenant with the many, or the faithful elect. There are no other subjects in chapter 9 that would have the authority to confirm such a covenant, but Messiah.

In Isaiah, chapter 42, the LORD presents His righteous servant. Careful study of these verses will open your understanding as to the identity of he who was sent to establish the holy covenant:

Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations … I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, and I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:1, 42:6).

Note that the LORD appointed His servant as a covenant. Messiah is the covenant spoken of in verse 27; and some Bible expositors will actually interpret that it was the covenant that caused the sacrifices to cease:

But bereeth ( bə·rîṯ) thus absolute, is used not of alliances, but of the Divine covenant … If bereeth is the Divine covenant, as by usage it is, then the prince whose people were to lay waste the temple and city cannot be he that confirms the covenant. We might take the last clause of ver. 26 as in a parenthesis, and regard the subject of the verb “confirm” as the Messiah who was cut off. It seems, however, preferable to take the construction as we have done above, and make bereeth the subject of the verb. And in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease. In accordance with our interpretation of the previous clause, we would interpret this, “The covenant shall cause offering and oblation to cease.” What covenant is this? The new Messianic covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 8:8) quotes this passage as Messianic, and as proving that sacrifice and offering had ceased with Christ’s sacrifice of himself. [2]

Messiah confirmed the (new) covenant and brought an end to sacrifices during the prophetic 70 weeks. Daniel 9 is not a prophecy to be fulfilled in a rebuilt temple amidst the political intrigue of a shaky peace agreement between Israel and the man of sin. That sells books and makes thrilling movies — but it is not Biblical.

Notes:

1. Philip Mauro. The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation; chapter 2, The Commandment to Restore and Build, 1921, Preterist Archive.

2. Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. Commentary on Daniel 9:27, The Pulpit Commentary, 1897, StudyLight.org.

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Copyright © 2014 Messiah Gate

Our High Priest

(Revised 09-05-14, 3:03 am)

Editor: This article continues our examination of the flawed exegesis of Dispensational theology. (See also: Who is Israel?, Dispense the Truth and Is Satan Bound?)

Finding an evangelical seminary that is true to the historical interpretation of Scripture has been a daunting task — as hard, even, as trying to find a church that is faithful to the Word of God, and not to a Doctrinal Statement composed by an institutional hierarchy of deacons, or elders.

A noteworthy seminary in Southern California lists the following item in their Program Goals:

Upon successful completion of the Master of Arts in Biblical Studies Program students will be able to: Articulate dispensational theology and biblically defend their doctrinal position.

In their Doctrinal Position the seminary declares:

We believe that the Scriptures interpreted in their natural, literal sense reveal divinely determined dispensations or rules of life which define man’s responsibilities in successive administrations of God. These dispensations are divinely ordered stewardships by which God directs man according to His purpose. Three of these — the dispensation of law, the dispensation of the grace of God, and the dispensation of the kingdom — are the subjects of detailed revelation in Scripture.

The outline seems reasonable, but the finer points reveal a flawed doctrine that is somewhat responsible for division and denominationalism within the body of Christ.

In the 19th century, Dispensationalism was considered liberalism by the ecclesia. There are variations of the doctrine, but it essentially posited these climatic events: end of the age, rapture of the church, Great Tribulation, Millennial reign, and a rebuilt temple featuring the resumption of animal sacrifices. In fact, preparations are being made today, in Israel, to restore the Levitical priesthood.

If you examine dispensational theology with a discerning spirit it will become evident that the doctrine is supported by a liberal dose of eisegesis in that it imposes, or reads into, a literal interpretation of Scripture that is symbolic, metaphoric or allegoric.

Case in point: Why are animal sacrifices offered in the Millennial kingdom? Dispensational theologian John Walvoord answers:

The millennial sacrifices are no more expiatory than were the Mosaic sacrifices which preceded the cross. If it has been fitting for the church in the present age to have a memorial of the death of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, it is suggested that it would be suitable also to have a memorial of possibly a different character in the millennium in keeping with the Jewish characteristic of the period. [1]

Note, in keeping with the Jewish characteristic of the period, Walvoord reveals the dispensational scenario that once the church is removed from the world, Israel will again take center stage.

With regards to a memorial sacrament, the Eucharist was instituted by our Lord at the Last Supper:

And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me (Luke 22:19).

Walvoord liberally infers that because Communion is a memorial service during the dispensation of the church then it can be suggested that animal sacrifices might be a type of suitable remembrance in the Millennial kingdom.

Except there is absolutely no Scriptural validation for his assertion. To suggest that animal sacrifices will resume in a Millennial age is an offense to the sufferings of Christ.

If you examine the jots and tittles of dispensational thought you’ll discover multiple second comings, a couple of resurrections (separated by the Millennium), and two new covenants.

The well-known pastor of a mega-church in San Antonio preaches the hyper-dispensational slant that God has two plans of salvation — one for the church and another for Israel. After the church is raptured, God will fulfill all of His promises to the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The Texas preacher makes it sound as if Israel is the center of God’s plan of salvation, and the church of Jesus Christ is nothing but a footnote.

What does it mean, then, when our Lord said that He fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17)?

Let’s review the historical teaching of the church. YHWH revealed Himself to Israel. They were disobedient, cast into exile, rejected the Messiah — and the LORD, in His judgement against the nation in AD 70, brought an end to the Jewish age (and the covenant of Moses).

Intellectuals — including some who are seminary taught — might say our summary is ignorant, or too simplistic. But we know that the covenant of Christ made obsolete the covenant of Moses  (Hebrews 8:13).

HaMashiach Yeshua fulfilled the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”  (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

A popular Bible teacher — who graduated from a dispensational seminary — stated on his radio program that the new covenant spoken of in Jeremiah is separate and distinct from the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. [2]

When I partake of Communion I always associate the covenant in Jeremiah with the proclamation of our Lord at the Last Supper:

And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood (Luke 22:20).

The covenant declared by YHWH in the prophesy of Jeremiah is the same covenant established by Christ our Lord, yet the radio pastor said that the former would be enacted with Israel during the Millennial age, while the latter was contracted with believers at the dispensation of the church age.

A study of the Book of Hebrews will yield a wealth of spiritual insight with regards to the priestly fulfillment of Jesus Christ. Particularly relevant to this discourse would be chapter 8 wherein the writer (we surmise the Apostle Paul) details how the Lord, having taken His seat at the right hand of God, has become our High Priest — and having obtained a more excellent ministry has become the mediator of a better covenant (Hebrews 8:1, 8:6).

More pointedly, the writer of Hebrews quotes the passage in Jeremiah to substantiate that Jesus Christ is the new covenant so prophesied in the ancient text. Yeshua, having appeared as our High Priest, entered the heavenly tabernacle — not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12).

The sacrificial system, in practice, ended when YHWH brought judgement upon Israel in AD 70 — leaving the temple desolate for 2000 years. And so it will remain until the last day when the dead are resurrected either to life, or judgement (John 5:28-29).

A question that needs to be asked (and is deserving of its own essay): Where do we read in Scripture the validation, or assertion of a Millennial temple? The dispensational interpretation is that Ezekiel’s temple (detailed in chapters 40-47) is the Third Temple. The LORD, however, instructed Ezekiel to reveal the plans of the temple to bring shame to the children of Israel for their iniquities (Ezekiel 43:10).

Like dangling a carrot — this is what you could have if it weren’t for your disobedience.

We cannot dismiss that Ezekiel’s prophesy was revealed before the construction of the second temple (which never approached the grand design of the prophet’s vision) — the dimensions of his temple being of a heavenly scale, thus suggesting it was but a spiritual type existing only in the New Jerusalem after this present world has passed away.

What the Bible does teach is that Jesus Christ is our High Priest, and chief cornerstone of God’s holy tabernacle consisting of a body of believers (both Jew and Greek) who are the temple of the Holy Spirit — a temple that exceeds the grandeur of Ezekiel’s vision.

A temple that is not millennial, but eternal — and a clear example of how our High Priest fulfilled the Law and Prophets.

Notes:

1. John Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (1983), p. 311-312

2. Walvoord was a contemporary of this popular radio preacher. They both graduated from the Dallas Theological Seminary where Walvoord served as president, and the preacher was a guest lecturer.

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Is Satan Bound?

(Revised 08-31-14, 8:30 am)

Is Satan bound? We will answer that question at the end of this post which addresses, once again, the problematic theology of Dispensationalism. (See our post, Dispense the Truth).

A formerly disgraced pastor — indicted on federal charges of conspiracy and fraud (not including his inappropriate relations with the church secretary) — can be seen daily on Christian television preaching a gospel of fear.

Based on dubious financial data he warned of a stock market crash in March-April 2014 that would mirror the economic depression of 1929. When his doomsday scenarios do not play out he simply moves the apocalyptic date forward. A regular guest on his show recently predicted that America is facing an economic collapse by February 2015. Note that these soothsayers qualify their statements so that they can simply deny, or reset their prophetic date. They peddle fear in order to sell over-priced survival gear from which their ministry profits.

The Bible teaches, however, that God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7); but that is all this pastor serves up along with a Time of Trouble food bank — buckets of dehydrated meals — which he will send you for a $3,000.00 love gift to the ministry. If you watch this pastor for any length of time you’ll be so frightened that you’ll need to own everything he hawks including fuelless generators and water filters. This ministry has turned the Word of God into a marketplace of gizmos and gadgets, and 20-year shelf life foodstuffs that will surely outlast the seven years of tribulation that is soon to come.

This pastor believes the “church” will have to endure the Time of Trouble, but he misinterprets the following gospel passage (our Lord Jesus, here, speaking):

…for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened (Matthew 24:21-22).

Understand that Jesus said we will suffer tribulation in this life (John 16:33); but in Matthew our Lord is specifying a period of trial and hardship that is distinctly unique and overwhelming — an event so horrendous that it would try men’s souls to the point of not only spiritual, but physical death. Even the death of the faithful.

Dispensationalists believe that this Great Tribulation has not yet occurred — that it could not possibly have foretold the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (for that cataclysmic event certainly was not the most horrific event to befall mankind).

While the Holocaust will always be one of the most terrible events in modern history we must understand that the prophetic words of Jesus, in this context, were specifically relevant to first century Jerusalem.

The Jewish historian, Josephus (ca. 37 AD – 100 AD), observed that no city had ever suffered the destruction that befell the holy city of Jerusalem — a devastation that he witnessed at the age of 33. The scenes described by Josephus (in his volume, War of the Jews) are ghastly and bloody, and will not be reprinted here. The Romans executed such vengeful wrath upon the city and its inhabitants that Josephus wrote:

… all the miseries of men from the beginning of time were not so considerable … no other city ever suffered such miseries; nor was there ever a generation more fruitful in wickedness from the beginning of the world … In reality it was God who condemned the whole nation and turned every course that was taken for their preservation to their destruction … The multitudes of those who perished exceeded all the destructions that man or God ever brought upon the world. [1]

What Josephus described in his written account more than fulfilled the judgement of God as foretold in the prophecy of Christ, and recorded in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24). Key to understanding this chapter is a proper interpretation of what the disciples asked Jesus in verse 3:

As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3)

At first read it seems as if the disciples are asking two — some interpret three — questions regarding what Jesus had just spoken of in verse 2:

Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down (Matthew 24:2).

Jesus and His disciples had just left the temple, and while the disciples were admiring the grandeur of the buildings our Lord squelched their pride by telling them that the whole structure would be brought down — that not one stone would be left standing.

In the mindset of a first century Jew it was understood that Christ was prophesying the end of the Jewish polity, or age. The KJV interprets verse 3 as the end of the world, but the Greek phrase synteleias tou aiōnos is more precisely rendered completion of the age.

If we examine the parallel discourse in the Gospels of Luke and Mark we will see more clearly what the disciples inquired of regarding the destruction of the temple:

They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7

Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled? (Mark 13:4)

In these parallel accounts we see that the disciples are clearly asking two questions: When will the temple be destroyed — and what are the preceding signs of its destruction? There are no inquiries as to the return of the Lord, or the end of the world.

Matthew was writing to an audience, most likely, of Jewish converts who would understand the Messianic and apocalyptic significance of the temple’s destruction — and so his wording of the disciples questions reflected a Jewish sensibility of this Biblical passage.

There is no contradiction here. Sincere people stumble over the context while false teachers write books and build ministries upon suspect doctrines pertaining to the Rapture, Second Coming and 7-year tribulation — all constructed by an ear-tickling misinterpretation of Scripture (2 Timothy 4:3).

Jesus prophetically warned of famines and wars, nation rising against nation and earthquakes in diverse places (Matthew 24:6-8). All of these birth pangs are recorded in the historical archives of Josephus. The world was in an upheaval at this time. A greater interpretive challenge, though, are the following verses:

But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other (Matthew 24:29-31).

Note that this is apocalyptic imagery that is used throughout the Bible:

For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light (Isaiah 13:10).

And when I extinguish you, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon will not give its light (Ezekiel 32:7).

Jesus is using the prophetic language of the Old Testament to describe the impending destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the Jewish age — language that was used in the days of the prophets to announce God’s ancient judgements upon the nations.

The sign of the Son of Man (appearing in the sky) can be understood as a pronouncement of coming judgement even as the Star of Bethlehem was a sign, or announcement of our Savior’s birth. Josephus recorded that there was a similar star (or comet) that brightly hung like a sword over the Holy City during the days of its siege and desolation.

They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds parallels a vision seen by Daniel — a vision which symbolized the majesty and authority of Messiah:

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).

The language in Matthew suggests the authority of Christ to execute the vengeance of God upon the city of Jerusalem — the city which killed the prophets and the Mashiach (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15) — a judgement that was delivered by His mighty hand in AD 70.

The gathering of the elect with the sound of a great trumpet is similar to this passage in Isaiah:.

It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD in the holy mountain at Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:13).

Our Lord is describing the gathering of the surviving Jewish remnant, and elect Gentiles, in a call to worship — not at the holy mountain, which has been left desolate, but in the temple of the Holy Spirit which is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19). Relevant here are the words of Jesus to the woman at the well:

Jesus said to her, Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father (John 4:21).

In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus proclaimed that His prophetic message would be fulfilled in that generation (Matthew 24:34thus precluding a dispensational gap of twenty-plus centuries, or more.

Examine the scriptures (Acts 17:11). If the exegesis of this writer seems agreeable then may it be so confirmed by your own diligent study (2 Timothy 2:15). There are always three sides of interpretation: your side, my side and God’s side. I’m sure the LORD will straighten us out when we get to heaven. If you believe in a pre-tribulation rapture — I don’t — we can still be brothers in Christ. And if the Lord does come early I’ll be ready with my bags packed. I hope you won’t mind the aisle seat ’cause I’ll be sittin’ by the window — shining in the light of His glory.

Is Satan Bound?

Dispensationalists teach that Satan will be bound during a future Millennium — which I believe is the fullness of time between the two advents of Christ:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.  And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time (Revelation 20:1-3).

When Jesus sent out the seventy to preach the kingdom of God, cast out demons and heal the sick — upon their return He said to them, I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning (Luke 10:18).

When the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the ruler of demons (Matthew 9:34Matthew12:24), Jesus responded by saying:

Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house (Matthew 12:25-29). [2]

Jesus Christ has bound the strong man. Let him who has ears understand.

Peter said that the devil is like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), but he is restrained from deceiving the nations. He cannot stop the advance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Word of God — through the power of the Holy Spirit — is pushing back the boundaries of darkness by illuminating the souls of men with light and truth. Yes, the devil is still an accuser and tempter, but his power over the nations has been muted. He cannot, at this time, summon the nations in a final war against God’s holy people — not until he is released for a little season.

These interpretations are not well-received by those who like to have their ears tickled with sensational doctrines, but they are historical teachings faithful to the understanding of the early church fathers who humbly permitted scripture to interpret scripture. May we be as wise — and humble.

Notes:

1. The Works of Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, William Whiston, Translator [1737]

2. See also Hebrews 2:14 (Jesus rendered powerless him who had the power over death, that is, the devil.)

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Dispense the Truth

(Revised 08-25-14, 11:15 am)

In the comment board of Who is Israel?, I posted a supplemental thought which sort of morphed into this article detailing the problematic theology of  Dispensationalism. Those comments — with additional notes — are reprinted here:

A well-known Bible teacher made a comment on his widely listened to radio program that the Olivet Discourse — more specifically, Matthew 24 — has not been fulfilled. I listen to this man every day, and will continue to do so, but his comment raised my eyebrows. This beloved and highly regarded pastor graduated from the Dallas Theological Seminary (est. 1924) which teaches a dispensational brand of Christianity innovated by John Nelson Darby (ca. 1800 – 1882), and codified by the Scofield reference Bible (published 1909; revised 1917).

There are dispensational pastors who adhere to the essentials of Christian doctrine even while Darby’s tenets have been inculcated into the general assembly, and become common thought. Essentially, the “church age” is nothing but a parenthesis in God’s plan of salvation. When Israel rejected Christ, the church became God’s “Plan B”. To suppose that God did not foresee Israel’s rejection and, thus, had to alter His original covenant is at least suspect. It is popularly taught that when the fullness of the Gentiles is made complete, God will rapture the church and resume His dealings with Israel — a two-stage redemption (Romans 11:25-26).

No, I believe that God’s plan is unfolding according to Scripture. Certainly, the early church fathers did not subscribe to Darby’s interpretation. And to suggest that Matthew 24 is not yet fulfilled — at least in part, though I believe Christ foretold events that unfolded in that generation (Matthew 24:34) — is a glaring example of hyper-dispensationalism which adopts a futurist view of prophesy.

If the Book of Revelation, for example, is not understood within the context of the whole Bible one can interpret that the church will be removed, God will deal with Israel during a Millennial reign and there will be multiple comings of Christ. The radio pastor said he can see 3 or 4 comings of Christ. Several times in John’s gospel, however, Christ said He will return on the last day (John 6:40). He doesn’t come to rapture the church, then to establish His kingdom, then to reign for 1000 years, and so on. The Second Advent of Christ will bring judgement to both the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). Few will be raised to eternal life (in the new heaven and earth), while many are condemned to everlasting punishment.

That the humble (God’s people) will inherit the earth was understood, even by the Jews during the time of Christ, as an inheritance of the land of Canaan. The Messiah would restore God’s kingdom at His coming. The disciples, not understanding, asked Jesus after His resurrection if He was going to establish the kingdom at that time (Acts 1:6). They still didn’t perceive that His kingdom was not of this realm (John 18:36).

The church fathers understood that the land of Canaan was a type of heaven — that Christ’s blessings were spiritual, not carnal. Paul spiritualized Old Testament promises when he said that not all who are descended from Israel are Israel (Romans 9:6). Under the New Covenant, Israel is not a geographic place, but a body of believers — both Jew and Gentile (in Christ) — who will inherit not the type (Canaan), but a regenerated, incorruptible earth.

While true Israel is anticipating the Second Coming, and looking forward to setting up residence in the New Jerusalem, our dispensational brothers are gazing at blood moons and expecting the restoration of Solomon’s Temple with all of its ceremony, rituals and animal sacrifices. Ephraimites hold to this doctrine. That is why this blog is not called by its original title, Ephraim’s Gate, because Christ is the unique focus of the Bible, not Israel.

At its core, Darby’s interpretation — not maliciously, I think — denies the power of the Gospel to save men’s souls as evidenced by the example of a well-known pastor in San Antonio who unashamedly preaches the dispensational slant that God has two plans of salvation — one for the Jews and another for the Gentiles.

Christ died for all people, or His sacrifice upon the cross was in vain.

Darbyism, Millerism, Mormonism, Adventism and the Witnessess all took seed in the 19th century — an age when the “church” was going through an identity crisis having become impatient waiting on the imminent return of Messiah. These doctrines — heresies to some extent — have sown confusion and dissension into the body of Christ.

The understanding of the church fathers — to which I subscribe — is profaned as Covenant, or Replacement theology. I have not replaced anyone, but I am fulfilled (as any believing Jew or Gentile) in Christ Jesus.

The Apostle Paul, in a letter to the assembly at Corinth, wrote that he decided to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul warned Timothy about those who teach strange doctrines that give way to speculation; and he exhorted the Romans to beware contrary teaching that sows division (1 Timothy 1:3, Romans 16:17). All of the Bible must be interpreted within the context of Jesus Christ — the revelation and fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption — notwithstanding the doctrines of men.

[Editor’s Note: Dispensationalism teaches that Daniel 9:27 is a prophesy of the future Antichrist making a covenant with Israel, breaking his promise and leaving the temple desolate. However, the church fathers (Clement, Origen, Tertullian, Augustine, Julius and Eusebius) adopted a Messianic interpretation of Daniel 9 — concluding that the prophesy was fulfilled in the first century. Interestingly, the Jews also held to this view until the temple was made desolate by the Romans in AD 70. Will the temple have to be rebuilt only to be left desolate once again? Read the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:38and as you study these passages in Daniel remember that Messiah is the subject, context and antecedent of this very difficult chapter. Ask yourself, who was the (anointed) Holy One that made an end to sin, finished the transgression, ushered in everlasting righteousness, and was made reconciliation for iniquity? The toughest question may be, who caused the sacrifices to cease? May the Holy Spirit give you wisdom to understand. See our post, 70 Weeks of Daniel.]

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Who is Israel?

(revised 08-06-14, 9:30 am)

There have been no recent posts on Messiah Gate as I’ve been immersed in the study of God’s land promise including this seven-part study linked at Fundamentally Reformed.

Was the land promise fulfilled as declared with certainty in Joshua 21:43-45? Dispensationalists say, no — that the land promise is yet to be fulfilled in modern Israel. But how can some deny what Joshua confirmed — that the LORD gave to Israel all that He promised their fathers?

That promise conveyed to Abraham was then transferred to his seed, Jesus Christ, according to Paul in Galatians 3:16  — and extended to all the nations as so stated in Galatians 3:8. (See also Romans 9:6, Romans 2:28-29.)

Those within the church who criticize spiritual eschatology have not only a problem with New Testament writers, but even Jesus Christ who spiritualized the Old Testament through parables. Indeed, there are Christians who dismiss the Pauline epistles, and who claim that the Apostle was a false prophet sent by Satan to deceive the world. They are looking for the physical restoration of the land of Israel with a re-built temple and animal sacrifices — all of which denies the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

The ultimate land promise, however, is that the meek will inherit the whole earth (Matthew 5:5, Psalm 37:11) though many Bible commentators understand that this is not an inheritance of a carnal realm, but heavenly:

The blessing instanced, in which they shall partake of, is, they shall inherit the earth; not the land of Canaan, though that may be alluded to; nor this world, at least in its present situation; for this is not the saints’ rest and inheritance: but rather, the “new earth”, which will be after this is burnt up; in which only such persons as are here described shall dwell; and who shall inherit it, by virtue of their being heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; whose is the earth, and the fullness thereof (Gills Exposition of the Bible).

The Old Testament is typology — Jesus Christ is the reality. Dispensationalism is a stumbling block to this ultimate truth. 

Double fulfillment of prophesy is a dispensational tool that is at least problematic. Jesus clearly did not believe (as is commonly taught) that the “Abomination of Desolation” was fulfilled at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (167 BC) when He interpreted Daniel’s prophecy in Matthew 24:15 — a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

As Milton S. Terry wrote in his book Biblical Hermeneutics:

…the moment we admit the principle that portions of Scripture contain a double sense, we introduce an element of uncertainty in the Sacred Volume, and unsettle all (hermeneutic) interpretation. If Scripture has more than one meaning, it has no meaning at all. I hold that the words of Scripture were intended to have one definite sense and that our first objective should be to discover that sense, and adhere to it rigidly. [see note 1]

We might also consider this passage from the Gospel of Matthew:

I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit (Mt 21:43).

Here, Christ our Lord tells Israel that the Kingdom of God will be taken from them and given to a nation — that is, Gentiles — who will produce the fruits thereof.

Our dispensational brothers call this Replacement Theology — a heresy, they claim. Would they say that Jesus was a heretic? Well, the Pharisees thought so.

As well, followers of John Nelson Darby might re-examine their interpretation of Revelation. Will Jesus literally reign 1000 years over a carnal world? He said, My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Clearly, the thousand years is Biblical symbolism for the completeness of the age between the two Advents of Christ during which time our Lord is reigning in heaven with the souls of the departed saints who died in Him (Revelation 20:4).

It would take a millennium — hyperbole intended — to cleanse the body of Christ of, essentially, the fanciful doctrines of men.

When Christ said, I am the true vine (John 15:1), He boldly declared that He is Israel for the vine is an Old Testament reference to God’s holy nation (Psalm 80:8, 14-15) which today comprises both believing Jews and Gentiles who, by grace, have been grafted into the body of Christ — similarly described as an olive tree (Jeremiah 11:16).

(NLT) But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree — some of the people of Israel — have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree (Romans 11:17-18).

That all Israel will be saved, according to Paul (Romans 11:26), has always been understood as the LORD having preserved a remnant of believing Jews that, together with elect Gentiles, comprise a holy nation that will dwell eternally in the new Jerusalem. It is granted that how the Bible has been historically understood is at odds with some evangelicals who — like the zealots that wanted to coronate Jesus — are looking for a carnal fulfillment of prophesy. And it does influence how we interpret not only the Bible, but our understanding of world events especially with regard to Israel. (See our post, The Preemie Gospel).

Hear me, my brothers. All of scripture points to Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Law and prophets. If we don’t understand this we miss the central theme of the Gospel.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). 

And the Son offered Himself back to the Father as a perfect, pleasing sacrifice wholly acceptable for the remission of sin. 

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). 

The Gospel message is an amazing covenant of grace and mercy that you can receive by putting your faith and hope in Jesus Christ. He confounded the religious leaders of His day, and continues to be a stumbling block for many Christians (two thousand years later) who don’t understand the meaning of the last day.

There will be a last trump of the last day (at the end of time) when Christ returns to claim His bride [rapture, see note 2], and incinerate the physical universe. Then, the new heaven and new earth — adorned to perfection — will welcome us home into the arms of an awesome God and glorious Savior.

Where Israel is only the type, the Kingdom of God is the fulfillment. Come to the cross and receive Jesus — for now is the day of your salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Next: My Hebrew Brother

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Notes:

[1.] Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (New York: Easton ; Mains, 1883), p. 383.

[2.] 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

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The Preemie Gospel

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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