Category Archives: Hermeneutics

Ezekiel’s (Millennial?) Temple

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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.

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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

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 Literal Bible

Son of man, behold, the house of Israel is saying, The vision that he sees is for many years from now, and he prophesies of times far off. [Eze 12:27]

How do we interpret the Bible?

Literally? Yes, Jesus Christ was bodily resurrected. He did not vaporize, or rise a spirit creature. Figuratively? Yes, when Jesus said to pluck out your eye to keep from sinning (Mk 9:47), He was reciting a Jewish idiom much like a parent telling their child to wash their mouth out with soap. The Lord does not want you to mutilate yourself! Symbolically? Yes, the bread and juice we partake of at Communion are symbols of the body and blood of Christ (Mt 26:26-28). Allegorically? Yes, the parables of Jesus are perfect examples of allegory. To point, the sower of seed represents one who spreads the Gospel (Mt 13:23). Where we get into difficulty is when we don’t properly apply the correct interpretive method.

Hermeneutics is the method by which we study the Bible. Exegesis is the explanation, or interpretation of Biblical text. Many people interpret the Bible literally from Genesis to Revelation. In our examples above that would mean that Jesus is suggesting that you literally pluck out your eye, or cut off your hand to keep from sinning; or (as our Catholic friends believe) the sacramental bread and juice are literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ.

Interpretation of prophecy presents even greater challenges. A reader asked, “Don’t you believe in the double-fulfillment of prophecy?” We essentially believe in the literal fulfillment of prophecy. With due credit to Pastor David Jeremiah (in his essay on this topic) we quote from Milton S. Terry’s 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.

Prophecy is literally fulfilled, or not at all. Where people get confused is in the typology of the Bible. The Tanakh (Old Testament) is a type, or shadow of that which was to come. Moses was a type of Christ. Passover was a shadow of the unblemished Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world. Sabbath days, as well, pointed to our eternal rest in the Lord. What does it mean when Jesus said that He came to fulfill the Law and Prophets (Mt 5:17)?

The Old Covenant is a contract between God and man. Jesus Christ fulfilled, or completed that contract. That is why our Lord spoke from the cross, It is finished (Jn 19:30). The statutes, prophecies, Feast Days, Sabbaths and priesthood were all fulfilled in Jesus Christ. At that point, the LORD executed a new contract (Covenant) that whosoever believes on the Son will be saved.

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. [Jn 5:24]

Jesus Christ was the literal fulfillment of the Old Covenant, but what about the types and shadows? The Jewish people expected the prophet Elijah to precede the appearance of Messiah according to the prophecy of Malachi:

I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction. [Mal 4:5-6]

Recall that it was believed that Elijah did not die, but was taken up by a whirlwind into heaven (2Ki 2:11). [Editor: Elijah could not have been translated to the Third Heaven, or Throne of God.] It is a Jewish tradition to leave an empty chair at the Seder table for Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet) who is expected to return at Passover and announce the coming of Messiah. When John the Baptist appeared the people wondered if he was Elijah. Please examine the following passages of scripture regarding John the Baptist:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way—a voice of one calling in the wilderness. Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. [Mk 1: 2-3]

“…and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” [Lk 1:17]

The Pharisees and Sadducees were very interested in John the Baptist because they knew quite well the prophetic writings concerning the appearance of Elijah. They even went down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John (whose response to them reveals the Bible’s sense of humor):

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? [Mt 3:7]

The scribes had every reason to believe that Elijah had returned. John the Baptist was described as a man who wore camel’s hair, a leather belt and ate a diet of locusts and honey (Mk 1:6). [Editor: The honey probably helped the locusts go down!] We read in the Tanakh that Elijah was a hairy man with a leather girdle about his loins (2Ki 1:8). 

Here is where we want to focus on the typology of John the Baptist. Was he the literal fulfillment of Elijah’s prophetic appearance, or simply a shadow of one of the two witnesses mentioned in the Book of Revelation (Rev 11:3) who will prophesy before the Second Coming of Christ?

The disciples wondered these things after having seen Elijah and Moses standing with Christ atop the Mount of Transfiguration:

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He answered and said, Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist (Mt 17:9-13).

So Jesus was saying that Elijah is coming, and has already come in the person of John the Baptist. We are left to consider that a type can be the shadow, not the literal fulfillment, of prophecy.

One other example to study is the prophetic sign of the abomination of desolation (Dan 11:31). When Jesus made future reference to this prophecy from the Book of Daniel it was understood by the Jews of His day that this event had at once been fulfilled during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC. From the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia:

A royal decree proclaimed the abolition of the Jewish mode of worship; Sabbaths and festivals were not to be observed; circumcision was not to be performed; the sacred books were to be surrendered and the Jews were compelled to offer sacrifices to the idols that had been erected. The officers charged with carrying out these commands did so with great rigor; a veritable inquisition was established with monthly sessions for investigation. The possession of a sacred book or the performance of the rite of circumcision was punished with death. On Kislew (Nov.-Dec.) 25, 168 BC, the “abomination of desolation” was set up on the altar of burnt offering in the Temple, and the Jews required to make obeisance to it.

Jesus, who knew Jewish history, said: So when you see (future tense) the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand) (Mt 24:15).

To confuse matters even more, Dispensationalists apply this verse to the time of the Great Tribulation though this specific prophecy was certainly fulfilled in 168 BC, and 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem. Might these events have been only shadows of an event that is yet to be fulfilled literally?

It becomes clearer from this study why we believe that Christ literally finished His work save for His Second Coming. He was born of a virgin (literal); He died for our sins (literal); He was raised from the dead (literal); He ascended into Heaven (literal); He eternally sits on the throne of David at the right hand of the Father (literal); and He executed His wrath and judgement upon Israel for their rejection of Him (literal). In this age of grace, or New Covenant, He is calling men (both Jew and Greek) unto Himself before He returns on the last day to resurrect the body of believers, and pass final judgement upon the world.

A profitable study would be to examine the phrase Day of the Lord, or Last Day. Jesus mentions four times in the Gospels that He will raise up believers on the last day (Jn 6:39Jn 6:40Jn 6:44Jn 6:54). Is He talking about the Rapture, or a literal last day? If believers are not raptured until the last day then they must be destined to endure the Great Tribulation; but Paul wrote that we who have obtained salvation through Jesus Christ are not destined for the wrath that is to come (1Thess 5:9). Well, that would be a very good argument for the pre-trib rapture.

One final verse to ponder from Isaiah (Is 13:6): Wail, for the Day of the Lord is near! How do we interpret this? There are many references in the Tanakh to the Day of the Lord. They are always a reference to Israel, and a coming day of judgement which was executed in 722 BC when Assyria invaded Israel, 586 BC when Babylon invaded Judah and 70 AD when Rome destroyed the city of God; but there is yet one final judgement, according to Paul, in the day of Jesus Christ (1Co 5:5).

If we interpret Paul literally, the children of God will not have to face that day.

[Editor’s Note: According to the Book of Revelation there is a first (Rev 20:5-6) and second (Rev 20:14-15) resurrection, or what John calls a resurrection of life, and resurrection of judgement (Jn 5:29). There is (literally?) a thousand years separation between the two. A Preterist would say that the thousand years is figurative, or symbolic of a very long time, but that should not be a point of contention amongst those who seek life.]

Suggested Reading: Times of the Gentiles

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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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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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