Category Archives: exegesis

To’aiva: A Rabbi Speaks

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From the writings of Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel (with comments following):

The Torah clearly states its views about the act of homosexuality. The act of homosexuality, i.e. two men having sexual relations, is prohibited (Leviticus 18:22). The act is twice called a To’aiva — an abomination …

If not for the fact that homosexuality is prevalent in Western Society today, there would be little controversy about this Torah sin. It is clearly forbidden and never condoned anywhere in the Torah.

Usually, the Rabbis do not explain the meaning of Torah words. And the meaning of abomination seems reasonably clear — it is abhorrent to God. But in this case, the Talmud does offer a specific explanation. Based on a play on the Hebrew words, the Talmud says that in the act of homosexuality, the person is straying.

The commentaries on the Talmud say that by abandoning heterosexual sexual relations, the person is straying from one of his prime goals in life — to procreate and populate the earth (Genesis 1:28). (See also  Romans 1:26). We will amplify this theme below, but this explanation does not seem to be the abhorrence that the word TO’AIVA implies in the simple meaning. The classic explanation of why homosexuality is prohibited in the Torah is because of straying, i.e. failure to populate the earth. The Chinuch explains that any ‘wasting of seed’ on homosexual relations is preventing procreation and inhabiting the earth, the prime directive of man. This prime directive is echoed by Isaiah 45:18 in describing the purpose of Creation — to be inhabited. This explanation does not point to the unholiness of the homosexual relationship, but, rather, the violation of man’s purpose on earth.

CHINUCH, MITZVAH 209

At the root of the precept lies the reason that the Eternal Lord blessed is He, desires the settlement of the world He created. Therefore, He commanded us that human seed should not be destroyed by carnal relations with males. For this is indeed destruction, since there can be no fruitful benefit of offspring from it, nor the fulfillment of the religious duty of conjugal rights (due one’s wife).

Messiah Gate Says:

To’aiva is not exclusive to the homosexual act. G-d took the life of Onan when he did not fulfill his conjugal obligations towards his deceased brother’s wife:

Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also (Genesis 38:8-10). 

G-d created sex between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation and bonding. The most natural form of birth control is the fear of pregnancy. The Pill radically altered — even overturned — the fundamental precepts of Biblical morality. Abortion and gay marriage have further eroded what G-d intended.

I have engaged in a lengthy debate at a gay Christian website regarding arsenokoitais (ἀρσενοκοίταις) as it is referenced in Paul’s epistles, e.g. 1 Timothy 1:10.

Arsen (men, man, male) and koitas (beds, from which we get the word coitus) is understood by gay Christians to be a condemnation of prostitution, pedophilia (pederasty) and idolatry — not homosexuality.

The moderator refutes all of the relevant Biblical text (both Torah and B’rit Chadasha) by reinterpreting Scripture contrary to the ancient Judeo-Christian tradition.

Following is a summary of my rebuttals:

… men with men (arsenes en arsesin) committing indecent acts (Romans 1:27) … 

Paul is quite clear in this passage. Subterfuge is not good hermeneutics. Otherwise I could use 1 Timothy 5:23 to justify getting drunk every night.

(Moderator called me anti-gay.)

With regards to Romans, I have read all of the contrarian viewpoints and they are not dissimilar from the faulty exegesis that asserts G-d destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their inhospitality.

(Moderator asked me to provide Scriptural support that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for homosexuality and not inhospitality.)

Look, we can’t interpret the Bible from the bias of contemporary mores thousand of years removed from the original text. You can’t defend any type of behavior by asserting that the Bible doesn’t say what it clearly meant to the ancient people to whom it was written.

This is evident in the Halacha (Oral and Written Law) which has preserved the Rabbinic interpretation of Torah that this particular act is to’aiva — an abomination.

It is not difficult to find arguments within Reformed Judaism to support your position. However, orthodox Rabbin hold to ancient tradition. 

Ben Witherington wrote:

The word [arsenokoites] literally and graphically refers to a male copulator (cf. Sib. Or. 2:73; Greek Anthology 9.686), a man who has intercourse with another man. It is true that this term can refer to a pederast (an older man who has sex with a younger man or a youth), but the term is not a technical term for a pederast; rather, it includes consenting adult males who have sexual relationships in this manner, as well as any other form of male-to-male intercourse.

Andreas Kostenberger wrote:

In light of the discussion of teaching in the Old Testament and the book of Romans above, it appears very unlikely that what is universally condemned in the Hebrew scriptures might, in New Testament times as well as ours, be acceptable. Arsenokoitas most likely refers to the general practice of homosexuality.

It appears like that the term arsenokoitas, which does not seem to appear in the extant literature prior to the present reference, was coined by Paul or someone else in Hellenistic Judaism from the Levitical prohibition against males “lying or sleeping with males” (Lev. 18:22). This suggests that the term is broad and general in nature and encompasses homosexuality as a whole rather than merely specific aberrant subsets of homosexual behavior. This is important since some want to make arsenokoitas refer specifically to pederasty.

The argument that Paul’s use of arsenokoitas refers to pederasty falls short on six counts:

a) There was a clear and unambiguous word for pederasty (which Paul did not use), the term paiderastes.

b) The attempt to limit Paul’s condemnation to pederasty is contradicted by Paul’s reference to the male partners’ mutual desire for one another in Romans 1:27.

c) In the same passage in Romans 1:26, Paul also condemns lesbian sex, which did not involve children, so that an appeal to pederasty does not adequately account for the prohibition of same-sex relations in this passage.

d) Even if (for argument’s sake) Paul were to censure only pederasty in the passages under consideration, this would still not mean that, as a Scripture-abiding Jew, he would have approved of homosexuality as such. Quite the contrary. In contrast to the surrounding Greco-Roman world (which generally accepted homosexual acts), Hellenistic (Greco)-Jewish texts universally condemn homosexuality and treat it (together with idolatry) as the most egregious example of Gentile moral depravity.

e) Not only is Paul’s view of homosexuality as contrary to nature in keeping with the foundational creation narrative in Genesis 1 and 2, but it is also illumined by prevailing views of homosexuality in contemporary Greco-Roman culture.

f) Ancient sources do not support the idea that homosexuality was defined exclusively in terms of homosexual acts but not orientation. Paul refers to both. Some scholars erect a false dichotomy between the two, and then use the false dichotomy to reason that the concept of  ‘homosexuality’ has changed.

Final Word

Arsenokoitais is not a reference to prostitution, idolatry nor pederasty, but (as the Talmud concurs) male-to-male sexual intercourse. How curious that the teachings of Augustine, Luther and the Rabbin are irrelevant in this age of enlightenment — or deception?

Christians who have preserved (in their hearts) the original context of the eternal Word of G-d are a minority in this fallen world. Those in-name-only need to stop imitating an ostrich and prepare for the persecution. The UMC minister who chastised me for predicting a dystopian future because of his gay advocacy should read the headlines. The future is now.

The Master’s Seminary posted an article about the Bible and homosexuality on its website, and within hours received a cease and desist order to take down the post. A lamenting judge told his pastor that, by law, he now has to marry homosexual couples. Said the judge, “I cannot.” Maybe there’s room for him in the jail cell of the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

The world will be given over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:28), but G-d is unchanging and He will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7).

Credits:

Homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism, article by Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel.

“Arsenokoitais” (ἀρσενοκοίταις) in 1 Timothy 1:10 (et. al.), article by John Piippo.

Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 198).

Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation (with David Jones)..

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The Word of Truth

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (2Ti 2:15).

The word orthotomounta (Gr ὀρθοτομοῦντα) is used only once in the New Testament. The prefix ortho is recognized, for example, in the word orthodox. Used in the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy the word is interpreted as accurately handling (NASB), rightly dividing (KJV), and straightly cutting (INT) the word of truth.

To understand Scripture within its proper context we must keep in mind basic principles of Exegesis, or what is the Bible saying as opposed to Eisegesis which is a conclusion based on what the reader thinks it means. Hermeneutics is a method of theology that seeks to interpret our exegetical explanation. Take, for example, this passage from Paul’s letter to the assembly at Thessalonica:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1Thess 4:16-17).

We can exegete, or explain, that these verses speak of the resurrection of the saints. By our method of Hermeneutics we might determine that this event comes before or after the Great Tribulation. Your theology will determine whether you are a Preterist (the Great Tribulation has already occurred), or Futurist (the time of trouble is an event yet to be fulfilled).

The Apostle Paul admonished the assembly at Corinth that there be no divisions amongst the brethren (1Co 1:10). Denominations had lined up behind the teachings of Paul, Apollos, Peter and Christ. Those divisions have continued through 2000 years of church history. Christians, in modern times, follow the teachings of any number of men and women: Wesley (Methodists), Luther (Lutherans), Calvin (Presbyterians), Miller and White (Seventh Day Adventists), Smith and Young (Mormons); and Baptists who can trace their origin to the Separatist movement that emerged in Holland (1608) under the guidance of Anglican priest John Smyth.

Many, who are turned off by division, simply turn on the television and divide themselves among a plethora of TV evangelists from Joyce Meyer to Joseph Prince. I listen and watch, too; but with an opened Bible and discerning spirit. It is imperative that we be equipped to determine if the teacher is rightly dividing the word of truth.

A television pastor who teaches verse by verse through the scriptures believes that the Bible — from Genesis to the Gospels — was written exclusively to, and for, the Jews. His proof-text is found in Matthew 15:21-24:

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and [began] to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

The context is that a Gentile woman pleaded with the Lord that He might be merciful and heal her daughter. The disciples were in a frenzy that this woman would dare to even approach Jesus who explained that He was sent only to minister to the Jews.

The pastor (who exhorts his listeners to rightly divide the word) ends the discussion at verse 24, but that is an exegetical mistake for we read in the following verses that the woman persists in her pleading and Jesus is so compelled by her faith that He heals the woman’s daughter (Mt 15:28). This is in harmony with Paul’s teaching to the Romans that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, but that all who call upon the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:12-13).

Another example he cites as proof that the Gospel was intended only for the Jews is found in the Book of Acts. Stephen had been stoned to death, and the assembly was scattered because of the persecution. Luke (who authored Acts) wrote that the disciples made their way to Phonecia, Cyprus and Antioch speaking the word to no one but the Jews (Acts 11:19). Again, he ends the discussion prematurely because in the very next verse Luke records that some of the men went to Antioch and preached to the Gentiles (Acts 11:20).

As well, he contends that nowhere in the Gospels is reference even made of the “church”, or what we might call the assembly of believers. Please examine the following passage from the Gospel of Matthew:

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it (Mt 16:18).

Clearly, our Lord is referencing the Day of Pentecost when Peter stood before the assembly in Jerusalem, preached the Gospel and 3000 souls were baptized into the body of Christ. In this passage, the word for “church” is ekklēsian (Gr ἐκκλησίαν) meaning those called outassembly or congregation — and it is mentioned by no greater authority than our Lord.

This is what we mean by rightly dividing Scripture.

One of the Christian networks was having a monthly pledge drive. At the end of the segment a gathering of ministers prayed over the names of those who had made a contribution. (So, those viewers who didn’t give were excluded from the blessing?) For the specific prayer of physical healing the pastors cited this verse from Isaiah:

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed (Is 53:5).

How many times have we heard a TV pastor cite this passage, and command supernatural healing of all the viewers who are physically afflicted? By His wounds you are healed of (fill in the name of your ailment).

This, however, is flawed exegesis. Isaiah is referring to the healing of our sin condition. Sin is a disease that, for a believer, was put into remission when Jesus Christ shed His blood upon the cross. Without the shedding of blood there can be no remission, or forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). David pleaded unto the LORD, Heal my soul for I have sinned against Thee (Ps 41:4). Peter declared that Christ bore our sins in His body on the cross that we might receive spiritual healing (1Pe 2:24). By His stripes our afflicted soul is healed of its anguish and spiritual poverty. Beware the prosperity teachers who preach the salvation of your finances. [1]

How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding for her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold (Pr 3:13-14).

Wisdom counsels that we might occasionally turn off the television preachers, read the Bible and listen to the Holy Spirit. Present yourself, therefore, a workman who is diligent and not ashamed of the truth.

That, my brethren, is good exegesis and sound theology.

Notes:

1. Compare Matthew 8:17 with Isaiah 53:4 to see how the gospel writer interpreted the context of these passages. There is no contradiction, but that the ministers of healing might quote Matthew instead.

Suggested Reading:

How to Interpret the Bible

What is Good Biblical Exegesis?

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Seek Ye the Truth

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is [really] not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal 1:6-9)

This is a difficult topic to discuss because it risks sowing division within the body of Christ. There are six things the LORD hates, and a seventh that is an abomination which is spreading strife among brothers (Pr 6:16-19).

Paul wrote to the assembly at Rome:

Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting (Ro 16:17-18). 

Dissension and discord are spread when pastors and teachers corrupt or distort the word of God. Let’s examine the following passages:

Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (Jn 14:13).

Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you (Mk 11:24). 

Kenneth Copeland recently aired a week-long series titled How to Believe God for a House — that by simply exercising their faith a person could boldly claim the promises of God and receive the home of their dreams fully furnished to their heart’s every desire.

This is what is called the Word of Faith Gospel, or (in derision) Name it and Claim it.

Copeland told this story on his blog:

I remember in the early days of this ministry when Gloria and I reached the point where we needed a station wagon to get us and our children from one place to the next so I could preach. Like anything else we needed, we went to God’s promises concerning our need, then we prayed, sowed seed, believed God and started speaking the Word. That’s what we did for that car.

He recalled they were short $3000.00 for the purchase of the car until a man called a few days later:

In less than a week, a man called me, crying. “Oh, Brother Copeland, I’m so ashamed of myself. God told me to send you $3,000 a few days ago and I didn’t do it. I’ve hung on to it until I cannot stand it anymore.” The first time that man heard God tell him to send us the money was the same time we talked about getting the car.”

Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar (and many others on Christian television) exhort believers to simply exercise their faith to get from God whatever they need. The gospel they preach (gleaned from Malachi 3:10) emphasizes that sowing seed into their ministries will reap material blessings. It is not uncommon for Hinn to ask for thousand dollar (or more) donations to his program. The foundation of this false gospel is built upon a distorted interpretation of Scripture:

Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure — pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return (Lk 6:38).

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (2Co 9:6).

These passages are ancient Jewish allusions to the substance of giving, and dealing fairly with all people. We will be remembered in our time of need by those to whom we give liberally in their time of poverty. A Hebrew understood, however, that his charity might not be returned in the form of material but spiritual blessings.

The prosperity gospel emphasizes, as well, this passage from Paul’s second letter to the assembly at Corinth:

Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness (2Co 9:10).

Word of Faith preachers interpret this to mean if you donate $1000.00 to their ministry, God will increase your abundance so you can give even more. But, here, Paul is alluding to a passage found in the Tanakh:

Sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD until He comes to rain righteousness on you (Hosea 10:12). 

We sow, then, to reap spiritual blessings which YHWH may choose to confer in this life, or after. Warning: If you give $3000.00 to Benny Hinn don’t expect that God will give you the house of your dreams. That is a perverse understanding of the Jewish custom of giving. To give money with the expectation that the LORD will pay you back with interest reflects not a generous heart, but one that is wicked.

One final note on this subject — it is interesting that the New Testament does make reference to the word of faith. In Paul’s letter to Rome he mentions the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Ro 10:8-9).

My question to our readers is this: Which word of faith gospel do you believe? The gospel of prosperity, or the gospel of Jesus Christ?

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False teaching abounds within the Charismatic movement that is seen worldwide on Christian television. That was the featured discussion of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference. MacArthur is pastor of Grace Community Church, host of the media program Grace to You and president of The Master’s College and Seminary. He is a Reformed Theologian and Five Point Calvinist whose teaching is framed by a Dispensational eschatology. His credentials, at least, afford MacArthur a respected seat in the assembly of Christians who are diligently seeking the truth of God.

Strange Fire, as a reminder, is a reference from the Torah relating to the sons of Aaron, brother of Moses:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD (Lv 10:1-2).

Briefly, the priests were to approach the altar in a manner of holiness acceptable to YHWH. Aaron’s sons violated the commandment of the LORD, and died.

MacArthur’s point was that many within the charismatic movement are approaching God in a manner that is unholy in attitude and practice. Their style of worship might even be considered blasphemous. The crux of the issue is a debate between continualists and cessationists — those who believe that the assigned gifts of the Holy Spirit (miracles, signs and wonders) which were given to the apostles as confirmation of their authority) ended when the last Apostle died, and those who believe that these gifts continue today. [It is important to note that MacArthur believes the Holy Spirit is still active in the world drawing people to Christ, and restraining Satan.]

Those who disagree with MacArthur were quick to respond:

So, it’s about time someone started a broader public discussion and issued an open challenge to some of this (charismatic) theology. But what we got instead was a reckless condemnation of half a billion Christians with little distinction maintained throughout. MacArthur did put in a little qualifier in his opening discussion, but did not maintain it at all later. Indeed, he did the opposite. When the moderator would bring up extreme cases as examples for discussion, MacArthur seemed to use them as a launching point to speak in broad generalities, and with sweeping condemnation of “these people” to hell. With his careless rhetoric, MacArthur locked charismatics and anyone who could be associated with them all in the same building, and then burned the place down, standing proudly in righteous self-justification as he tossed the match. (Reckless Fire, Dr. Joel McDurmon, The American Vision Biblical Worldview Ministry)

Countered by those who agreed:

If you believe in truth and error, facts and falsehood, right and wrong, then you recognize the need to seek truth as opposed to false teaching. This is the position of John MacArthur, and it should be the position of every evangelical Christian, including those who disagree with MacArthur’s cessationist views. Here’s the fact of the matter – the continualist who believes MacArthur is wrong and the cessationist who believes MacArthur is right are closer to each other than the person who says this debate doesn’t matter or cannot be decided. Why? Because both the committed continualist and the committed cessationist believe God has revealed Himself on this issue and that we are accountable to live according to God’s revealed truth. If MacArthur is wrong, he is in the frightening position of attributing the work of the Spirit to satanic deception. If MacArthur is right, charismatics should repent of false belief and practice. As you can see, the stakes are high. (The Right and Wrong Way to Engage John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” Conference, Trevin Wax, The Gospel Coalition) 

John MacArthur’s summation:

There is one other group we’d like to address in the wake of Strange Fire—the folks on either side of the debate who are simply sad, tired, and wish the whole matter would just go away. That group is made up of cessationists, continualists, and charismatics who had set aside their differences in the name of unity and love, and now feel as though a bomb has gone off in the midst of their beloved middle ground. If you’re one of those people, please understand that the decision to hold the Strange Fire conference was not made capriciously. Strange Fire was a response to a tidal wave of dangerous, damning lies that are leading hundreds of millions of people to hell. Unity through silence has not held back that tidal wave—it’s sweeping across the global church. Truth does matter, and it’s worth fighting for.

When does our search for truth violate the faith of fellow believers? Will God judge me as I have judged the Word of Faith teachers? Or as John MacArthur has judged the charismatics? John the Apostle said that we must test the spirits for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1Jn 4:1); Paul warns against the deceitful workmen who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ (2Co 11:13); and Luke wrote, Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:30).

We might note that when Paul and Silas were sent to Berea the resident Jews diligently searched the Scriptures to examine the truth of the Apostle’s teaching (Acts 17:10-11). A charismatic, or Word of Faith teacher is not validated just because they are seen daily on Christian television.

Test the spirits — because truth matters.

Suggested Reading: The Gift of Discerning Spirits

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View Part 1 of this Q&A here.

Has God Forsaken Us?

The Word of our Lord:

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near (Rev 1:3).

Our post, Was Jesus a False Prophet?, compels some to ask:

If the prophecy of Matthew 24 was fulfilled in that generation where, then, is our hope for salvation; and how do we interpret the Book of Revelation in light of Old Testament prophecy?

When Christ prophesied the impending destruction of the Temple (Mt 24:2) the disciples imagined  the end of the age was near as Jesus made a matter-of-fact statement that this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Mt 24:34).

Generation, or genea, has been interpreted by dispensationalists to mean race, or family, thus suggesting that the Jewish people will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled.

Recall that the disciples asked Jesus essentially three questions (Mt 24:3).

When will these things be? That is, the destruction of the Temple; and note that Christ says something very interesting:

for these things must take place, but that is not yet the end (Mt 24:6).

What will be the sign of Your coming? And Jesus answered that there will be wars, famine, earthquakes and tribulation:

But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs (Mt 24:8).

In Luke’s parallel account Christ emphasizes that the end does not follow immediately (Lk 21:9).

And of the end of the age? Here, Jesus uses the illustration of the days of Noah:

But of that day and hour no one knows…(Mt 24:36).

Jesus warns that many false Christs and false prophets will come performing signs and wonders saying that the end is near, but do not believe them.

We can see, then, that all of these things (tribulation and distress) will take place in that generation, but the end is not yet. Clearly, the Olivet Discourse can be very difficult to understand because the Lord jumps back and forth on the timeline of events, but one thing is very clear:

the one who endures to the end, he will be saved (Mt 24:13).

The Lord isn’t specifying here the end of the age necessarily, but to the end of one’s sojourn.

The writer of Hebrews exhorts that we: 

…run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross (Heb 12:1-2). 

It is a common theme throughout the Bible that we who endure shall be blessed. This is where Matthew 24 ties in with the Book of Revelation. To the seven churches of Asia our Lord promised blessings to those who overcome. Understand that Revelation is to the New Covenant what Daniel is to the Old Covenant. They are bookends, if you will, of the Bible’s prophetic message; and the Olivet Discourse (found in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21) is often referred to as the Little Apocalypse.

Now examine the following verse from the Book of Daniel:

But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase (Da 12:4).

Daniel is one of the richest prophetic books in all of scripture. The prophet speaks of everlasting life (Da 12:2) which makes one curious as to why the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. Daniel uses prophetic symbolism to describe the end of times which will be marked by an increase in knowledge as occurring events offer clues of fulfillment. Indeed, how many books of the genre Late Great Planet Earth have predicted (falsely in all cases) the end of the age?

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible shares some insight:

And knowledge shall be increased – This would be one of the characteristics of these times, and this would be the means by which it would be accomplished. Our own age has furnished a good illustration of the meaning of this language, and it will be still more fully and strikingly illustrated as the time approaches when the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the whole world.

For those who take an historicist view of Bible prophecy these things were seemingly fulfilled during the Maccabean revolt (167-160 B.C.) against Antiochus Epiphanes who desecrated the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar. (Hanukkah celebrates the cleansing and re-dedication of the Temple after the successful Maccabean uprising. Jesus celebrated the Feast of Dedication as recorded in Jn 10:22.) This abomination of desolation (Da 9:27) is referenced by Christ as a sign of great tribulation:

Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains (Mt 24:15-16).

Antiochus was a blasphemer and persecutor who murdered over 100,000 Jews, but Christ was speaking of a yet future abomination which some historians believe was fulfilled in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem, burned the Temple (not one stone was left standing as prophesied by Jesus), murdered one million Jews and took captive tens of thousands to build the Coliseum in Rome.

Interestingly, we learn from these events that prophecy can have a double fulfillment, or history does repeat. That is something to keep in  mind as we go deeper in the study of God’s word. Some believe that the Dome of the Rock is an abomination of desolation in the present age.

Contrast the seal upon Daniel’s prophecy with the following passage from the Book of Revelation:

(The angel of the Lord) said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Rev 22:10).

Daniel’s prophecy was sealed because the time of fulfillment was not at hand, but John is told that the time is near:

The Revelation of Jesus Christ to show the things which must soon take place (Rev 1:1).

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it, for the time is near (Rev 1:3).

…the Lord sent His angel to show the things which must soon take place (Rev 22:6). 

For reference the Lord repeats the message of imminent return in the following verses: Rev 2:16Rev 3:11Rev 22:7Rev 22:12:

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen, come Lord Jesus (Rev 22:20).

The caveat to this last verse is that Jesus said He will not come until the Jewish people say with conviction, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord (Mt 23:39).
 
We interpret that Daniel’s sealed prophecies are the very ones opened in the Book of Revelation; and it is revealing that the signs Jesus noted in Matthew 24 (false Christs, wars, famine, pestilence, tribulation, abomination) are all unsealed in John’s vision.

The interpretive challenge here is one of hermeneutics, or methodology. Is the Bible to be understood literally or figuratively? Well, both. Take, for example, the Gospel of John where Jesus teaches:

I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst (Jn 6:35).

I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…(Jn 6:51).

John records that the Jews argued with one another:

How can this man give us His flesh to eat (Jn 6:52)?

The Bible is written with liberal doses of metaphor, allegory, and symbolism that we must understand contextually when a literal interpretation is not plausible.

When Revelation declares repeatedly that these things are soon to happen we have to understand that the book was written to the seven churches of Asia who were suffering terrible persecution in the midst of a Caesar cult that demanded they worship Caesar as Lord, or face death. The avenues of Rome were lit with the burning bodies of Christians who would not forsake their faith. The Jewish-Roman War (66-70 AD) certainly fulfilled portions of the Olivet Discourse and several chapters of Revelation; but the dating of the book is critical to a proper interpretation.

Dispensationalists believe that Revelation was written during the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD) — twenty-five years after the fall of Jerusalem. The external evidence to validate this claim is based on suggestive interpretation of a passage in Against Heresies (180 AD) wherein Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, wrote that John (or the vision?) was seen towards the end of Domitian’s reign (95-96 AD). Irenaeus recalled that he was told this as a boy by one of John’s disciples, Polycarp; and for 200 years the church quoted Irenaeus as the authority for the timing of Revelation. (In his discourse, the Bishop refers to the ancient copies of Revelation while the reign of Domitian was almost in our day.)

It is very probable that Irenaeus, as a child, misheard what Polycarp said. Nero, who served as Emperor of Rome from 54-68 AD (during the Jewish war), was known officially as Nero Lucius Domitius, or Nero Domitius. Nero thought himself to be a god, and he demanded worship. People could not buy or sell in the marketplace unless they pinched incense in the palm of their hand (mark of the Beast?), and bowed to him. In fact, Nero was thought of as the Beast, or man of sin. It would be easy to mistake Domitian for Domitius especially since Domitian (who had an equally brutal reputation) was known as the bloody limb of Nero.

Incidentally, Nero beheaded the Apostle Paul, and crucified Peter upside down which causes some to question why John was exiled and not murdered. That answer might be found in John’s gospel where we read, after Simon Peter is told by Christ his manner of death, that Peter inquires of John’s fate: Lord, what about this man (Jn 21:21). And Jesus answered:

If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me (Jn 21:22)!

This started a rumor that John would not die.

We believe that Revelation was written before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple (or no later than 68-69 AD) for the purpose of comforting and girding the faithful who were enduring apocalyptic persecution and tribulation.

How much of Revelation was fulfilled in the first century depends, again, on your methodology. There essentially are four systems for interpreting the book:

Historicist is a classic viewpoint taught by John Calvin, Sir Isaac Newton, John Wesley, William Tyndale, C.H. Spurgeon and Martin Luther. It presents Revelation as a timeline of prophetic history. The interpretive challenge is that every generation can see the fulfillment of Revelation in their age. For example, World War 1 was thought to be the end of the age, that is, until the outbreak of World War 2; and every epoch before and after has been viewed by that generation as the end of time. One controversial aspect of this view is its identification of the papacy as the Antichrist. Its breakaway movements: the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists.

Preterist is a method that contends Revelation was written before 70 AD. This would make the prophecy relevant to the people it was written, that is, the seven churches of Asia. A later date for the writing of the book would invalidate this methodology. Protestant reformers were suspect of this viewpoint in that it was promoted by a Jesuit priest, Luis de Alcazar (1554-1613), although it was not a new idea having been taught  by the church since the fourth century AD.

Futurist is the mainstream viewpoint preached by media evangelists, and promoted by Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth). Dispensationalism, a method of Futurist eschatology, was introduced by John Nelson Darby (1833), and promoted by C.I. Scofield (see Scofield Reference Bible). Dallas Theological Seminary (founded 1924) has turned out many dispensational preachers including J. Vernon McGeeDavid JeremiahChuck SwindollCharles Ryrie and Hal Lindsey. Futurists believe in a Great Tribulation, rapture, Armageddon and one thousand year reign. By this method Revelation has no specific relevance to the churches in Asia as its fulfillment is not expected until the end of the world. Futurists lean toward a literal interpretation of Revelation while recognizing that the symbolic literary style makes it extremely difficult to be dogmatic. Thus, dispensationalists can be in strict accord with fundamental Christian doctrine, but differ on non-essentials such as the timing of the rapture.

Idealist method spiritually interprets the Book of Revelation as an age-old story of the battle between good and evil. It is a symbolic, allegorical, metaphorical and timeless account of spiritual warfare in heaven and on earth. There is no specific fulfillment nor historical timeline, but simply a recurring loop of trials and tribulations that repeats itself from generation to generation, or at least until the LORD returns to claim His bride and judge the world.

As to the title of this lesson, Has God Forsaken Us?, may we offer these words of encouragement from Moses to Joshua:

The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (Dt 31:8).

If the Lord tarries another thousand years what difference does it make for we can rest in His eternal promise:

I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Mt 28:20).

Whenever that might be.

Suggested Reading: Revelation Explained

Next: Was Jesus a False Prophet?

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Was Jesus a False Prophet?

The Word of Our Lord:

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Mt 24:34).

We have, in the past, mentioned a thorn in our side who continually grieves us with the most vile and hateful criticism of God and faith. This person (known, henceforth, as Lara) is a perfect example of someone possessed by the spirit of antichrist. As John writes:

This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son (1 Jn 2:22).

Lara hates God. It is perplexing that someone could be so filled with hatred for something in which they do not even believe. The animus must certainly be a screen for deeply rooted fear and separation. Lara, and we suppose many like her, vainly attempts to fill the emptiness inside with drugs and alcohol, and the distractions of the world.

Lara’s most recent contention is that Jesus Christ is not, nor did He claim to be, the Messiah. Specifically, her point of argument is the Olivet Discourse (Matthew chapter 24) which she claims is full of unfulfilled prophetic claims thus making Jesus a false prophet. Unbelievers have a very difficult time with the Gospel of Mattityahu (Matthew). It helps us to better understand this gospel by knowing to whom it was written. Matthew (gift of the Lord) was written to a population of Hellenistic Jews who lived outside of Palestine. It provides a firsthand testimony with a Jewish sensibility. For example, Matthew often refers to the kingdom of heaven where the other gospel writers might speak of the kingdom of God as it was considered irreverent by the Jews to even speak the LORD’s name. [See comments below.] Matthew quotes from the Old Testament more than 60 times for the purpose of establishing that Yeshua was the fulfillment of the Messianic line thus he typically refers to Jesus as the Son of David. Whereas Luke traces the genealogical record back to Adam, Matthew specifically charts the lineage of Jesus forward  from Abraham to establish that Christ was, indeed, the Jewish messiah.

We might add that Matthew was the recognized author of this gospel as confirmed by the early church fathers Eusebius and Origen; and that his testimony may have been written as early as A.D. 50. (Keep that date in mind for later reference.)

Lara begins her argument back in chapter 16 where Matthew records what some study Bibles note is the prophecy of Christ’s Second Coming:

Truly I say to you, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom (Mt 16:28).

When Christians speak of the Second Coming of Christ they might suggest any number of things from the Rapture of the church to the Day of Judgment. This is a perfect example of interpreting a Bible verse out of context. We need to understand that Jesus was speaking to His disciples for He earlier asked them (Mt 16:13):

Who do people say the Son of Man is?

They answered Him, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets; and Jesus said (Mt 16:15):

But who do you say I am?

And Simon Peter answered:

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mt 16:16).

This testimony of Peter is one of the most declarative statements in all of scripture. He is establishing that Yeshua is the Christos: the Christ, Messiah, or Anointed One. His statement was so revelatory that Jesus warned the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ (Mt 16:20).

What, then, can we say about the prophecy of His coming? Clearly, He was speaking to His disciples—some of whom would not taste death until this event came to pass; and it was fulfilled days later when Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ atop the Mount of Transfiguration as witnessed by Peter, James and John.

Moses represented the law, Elijah the prophets, and Christ was the fulfillment of both:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill (Mt 5:17).

We need to understand Old Testament prophecy in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ. Are there prophecies yet unfulfilled, or did the New Covenant of Jesus Christ close the book on the Old Covenant of Moses and Elijah? What does it mean that He fulfilled the Law and Prophets? Be mindful that our understanding of scripture rightly or wrongly determines our interpretation.

Because we are 2000 years removed from the actual events it is somewhat curious that the disciples (who were taught by Jesus) still held to certain misperceptions regarding His earthly ministry. They expected the Messiah to defeat their enemies, restore Israel and establish His kingdom. The Transfiguration, as seen by the disciples, was a sign that these things were quickening.

As they were about to enter Jerusalem (Mt 20:17-19), Jesus told His disciples that He would be delivered to the Jewish leaders; condemned to death; handed over to the Gentiles; scourged; crucified; and raised up on the third day. This must have overwhelmed their comprehension.

Matthew then records a series of events and encounters leading up to the Lord’s pronouncement of seven woes upon the scribes and Pharisees which He concludes (Mt 23:33):

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?

The disciples viewed all of this as Christ exercising kingdom authority prior to taking His seat upon the throne of David when they figured to be ruling with Him over all of Judea:

You also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28).

The disciples failed to understand that Jesus was talking about a future period of regeneration (paliggenesia), or re-birth of the physical creation (the new heaven and earth); and that His kingdom was not of this world (Jn 18:36).

We come, then, to the controversial chapter 24. As Jesus is exiting the Temple, His disciples point out the beauty and splendor of the buildings, and He said to them:

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 (Mt 24:2).

Luke records that the disciples supposed the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately (Lk 19:11); and, certainly, the destruction of the Temple would be an apocalyptic sign of the end times. As they sat with Jesus upon the Mount of Olives, they asked Him a probing question (Mt 24:3):

Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?

Study carefully these passages in Matthew for they have caused many people to stumble and lose faith particularly our opening verse of scripture that says this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Lara contends that all of these things did not take place within a generation so she concludes that Jesus was a false prophet.

Our friends at the neighborhood Church of Christ teach that this generation refers to the generation alive at the time these events unfold sometime in the distant future, or end of age. Well, no, Jesus Christ was referring to the generation of those alive during His earthly ministry.

The answer to the first part of the question, then, is these things (that is, the destruction of the Temple) would occur in their lifetime. Recall that Matthew wrote his gospel as early as A.D. 50. Twenty years later the Romans destroyed the temple, and leveled the city of Jerusalem. One million Jews were killed, and upwards of 100,000 were taken as slaves to build the Coliseum in Rome.

When Christ talks about the tribulation of their time, He uses metaphorical language and symbolic expression to reveal the wrath of judgement to come:

Wherever the corpse is, there the eagles will gather (Mt 24:8).

The eagle was a representation of the Roman Empire while the corpse was the remains of Jerusalem.

Secondly, the disciples asked Jesus what would be the signs of His coming; and of the end of the age. Again, there is an interpretive challenge to His answer:

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone (Mt 24:36).

It is bewildering that Christ (who is God) would not know the time of His return unless you are aware that the phrase nor the Son was not present in ancient Greek manuscripts; but appeared later in both Greek and Latin.

In addition, Jesus compares His coming with the days of Noah (Mt 24:37-41):

…and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be (Mt 24:39).

We are told that two men will be in the field, and two women will be grinding; one will be taken and one will be left (Mt 24:40-41).

Some teach that the ones taken refers to the rapture of the church; but read carefully what Christ said. The ones taken by the flood were the unsaved, while Noah and his family were left behind. Let the reader understand.

Exegesis refers to the critical interpretation of scripture, and hermeneutics is the method by which we interpret the Bible. Much of what is taught in the church today is based on the method of theology known as Dispensationalism, or the eschatology of end time prophecy. Harold Camping and Jack Van Impe are just two recent examples of false prophetic teachers.

Dispensationalism was not taught by the early church although adherents will argue that even the apostles believed in its doctrine. Our study of Matthew clearly reveals that the disciples expected an imminent return of our Lord Jesus Christ. That does not make Jesus a false prophet, but it does belie the weakness of our interpretation. For 2000 years, false prophets have predicted His coming even as Christ warned:

For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect (Mt 24:24).

Whether the first century church believed in the doctrinal theory of dispensation is debatable; but it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that John Nelson Darby introduced what is taught today as Dispensationalism; that God has a separate plan of salvation for the Jews including the rebuilding of the Temple; that the 70th week of Daniel will be fulfilled during a seven year tribulation; and that the church will be raptured before the Great Tribulation after which God will deal with Israel, and Christ will reign for a thousand years.

There are so many things wrong with this reasoning. Supposedly, Christ fulfilled the 69th week of Daniel, but not the 70th which the LORD has put on hold for 2000 years reserved for some future tribulation even though Jesus said that we would have trials and suffering and tribulation in the present age (Jn 16:33).

Surely it is sacrilegious, even blasphemous, to suggest the rebuilding of the Temple, and resumption of animal sacrifice; that, somehow, the blood of Christ is not sufficient to cleanse both Jew and Gentile, and reconcile us to God the Father.

Do we ignore the Apostle Paul?

There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus  (Gal 3:28).

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly…But he is a Jew who is one inwardly whose circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit … (Ro 2:28-29).

We believe essentially what the church taught for 1500 years; that when Christ proclaimed from the cross, It is finished (Jn 19:30), He fulfilled all of the law and prophets.

We are now living in the church age of the New Covenant as the LORD builds His spiritual temple upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. There will be a last day (which no one can predict, but many have tried) when the dead shall come forth to the resurrection of life, or to the resurrection of judgement (Jn 5:29). Those of us alive on that day will be transformed (1 Co 15:52).

Maybe there is so much agnosticism in the world because there is so much confusion in the church. Though we shall continue to pray for the unbeliever, it might serve the Lord more if we prayed for  spiritual enlightenment within the body of Christ.

Suggested Reading: 

What Matthew 24 Tells Us About “The End”

Next: I Knew You in the Womb

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