Who is the Beast?

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Do you understand the Book of Revelation, or let someone tell you what it says? Be like the Bereans who studied the Scriptures to see what is true. A midweek Bible study of Romans might attract a few people, but if the pastor is teaching Revelation, why, the pews are packed full. I mean, it is curiously frightening to ponder a future age of tribulation during which the Antichrist reigns from the temple of God. (Reformers teach that the papacy is the beast of Revelation, and he was overthrown in the 16th century approximately 1260 [days] years after Rome had usurped the authority of Christ on earth.)

Well, the Pope is still in office, but the Romish system no longer wields power over, nor controls, the true remnant of God. Keep in mind that the force behind the beast is Satan who has, from the beginning, tried to deceive God’s people with counterfeit signs and wonders. The notion that the Pope is the successor to Peter amuses me. Kephas was a married Jew from Galilee. The current Pope is a celibate gentile from Argentina. That just strikes me funny.

Insofar as the Romish church can no longer carry out murderous inquisitions against Jews and Christians it is evident that, in this sense, Satan has been restrained.

But this is just one of many mysteries in the Book of Revelation. There is mention of great tribulation which I believe is the same affliction spoken of by Christ in the Gospel records (Matthew 24:21). Tribulation (thlipseōs, θλίψεως) is also translated distress, persecution, affliction, or anguish. I never hear pastors sound the alarm of the great anguish. It just doesn’t roll off the lips as well.

Christ said that it would be unequaled distress. Nothing from Creation to the end of the world could be compared. Not the Flood? Nor the Inquisition? The Holocaust? These events were calamitous and horrific, but I believe Jesus was speaking prophetically of the end of the Jewish system. His disciples did not ask about the end of the world, but the end of the age (aiōnos, αἰῶνος) which was fulfilled in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the holy temple.

Some might ask, “Was that the most terrible event ever?” May I refer you to the historical record of Josephus who was an eyewitness to the catastrophic events. The volume of his work is massive. A complete hardcover compilation of 13 volumes sells for $4000.00. I can only read paragraphs at a time because his graphic descriptions are so upsetting. I cannot look at pictures of the Nazi death camps nor can I stomach the atrocities committed by Rome during the Jewish War (66-70 AD). Yes, Jesus spoke prophetically, and it was fulfilled in that generation just as He said (Matthew 24:34).

Those who wish to discredit the authority of Christ, and the revelation of prophecy, will argue that Jesus was speaking of the end of the world; and because the world is still here they will claim that Christ was a false prophet. No, Jesus was speaking to His generation of things that would soon occur even as He revealed to John those events that must shortly come to pass (Revelation 1:1).

When you read Josephus it is evident that the judgements of Revelation were poured out upon Israel in a three and one-half year period from mid-66 AD to the fall of the city. For example, in Revelation 8:7 the first angel sounds his trumpet and a third of the trees are burned up. When the Jewish War began, Roman legions entered from the north through Galilee. During their southern advance towards Jerusalem they denuded the countryside. Israel was, in ancient times, heavily forested; but the Roman army cut down the trees for fuel, and to build siege works against defensive ramparts.

In Revelation 8:11, the third angel sounds a trumpet and the waters became bitter. Rome poisoned the wells and salted the fields so there would be no drinking water, and no crops.

When the third seal was broken in Revelation 6:6 one of the four living creatures said that it would cost a day’s wage to buy two pounds of wheat, or six pounds of barley.

Interestingly, Josephus wrote:

Many there were indeed who sold what they had for one measure; it was of wheat, if they were of the richer sort; but of barley, if they were poorer. [1]

With regards to buying and selling, Nero required that the Jews be marked in their forehand in order to buy or sell in the marketplace. Every year a Jew had to profess that Caesar was God in order to receive the mark. Was that the fulfillment of Revelation 13:16-18? Not according to charismatic preachers who sound the alarm with regards to implanted chips, or an electronic mark of the beast.

What is the meaning of 666? In Bible prophecy, the number “6” represents man. The number written three times represents a man of supreme authority like a Caesar, or a Pope.

The Talmud reveals Jewish thought that Nero was, in fact, the beast. To criticize the emperor meant certain death so he was simply referred to in code. In his book, The Jewish Unveiling of Revelation and the End, Al Garza wrote:

Every Jewish reader, of course, saw that the Beast was a symbol of Nero. And both Jews and Christians regarded Nero as having close affinities with the serpent or dragon. [2]

Garza noted that John, in making this reference, was writing and thinking as a Hebrew because his first century audience were Jews. Friends, we cannot let this simple fact escape us that the Bible was written to an ancient people. If we are so egocentric to study the Word of God as if it were revealed in this morning’s newspaper then we are essentially portraying Scripture as having absolutely no relevance to whom it was written as early as 2000 years ago.

The Talmud teaches that Messiah (ben Joseph) would come as a suffering servant. He would be killed followed by a long period of great tribulation. Then Messiah (ben David) would come to resurrect the nation. So, yes, Jews believe in two comings of Mashiach, but their hearts have been hardened until a number of Gentiles have been saved (Romans 11:25).

I don’t know what that number is — only God. Then Christ will return, the dead resurrected and the body of believers (Jew and Greek) will be raptured. Thus, all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26). This interpretation doesn’t tickle one’s ears like fanciful stories of being Left Behind, but it is orthodox Christian theology.

Pray for Joey.

Notes:

1. The Wars Of The Jews, Josephus, Book 5, chapter 10, paragraph 2, 75 AD.

2. The Jewish Unveiling of Revelation and the End, Al Garza Th.D, p. 54, Lulu Publishing, 2012.

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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.

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The Return of Christ

The Word of God:

Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. [2Ti 2:15]

Every time we open the Holy Word of God our ignorance is shamefully revealed. How many times have you read a passage of scripture and not understood? Or maybe you’ve read a passage one hundred times and it’s like you’re reading it for the first time. You may often recite a favorite verse, and the more you contemplate the scripture the more you glean understanding. The Word of God is living. It is food for the soul. You need to immerse yourself in Bible study. You are responsible for studying the Word of God and seeking the counsel of the Holy Spirit, but you must dedicate time every day to feed your soul.

Make it a habit to turn off the television and insulate yourself from the distractions of the world. Cell phones have become an appendage. Everywhere, people are tethered to gadgets. All of the world’s devices are designed to complicate your life, distance you from God and disconnect you from people. How did people survive, not that long ago, when they had to use a phone booth to make a call, or wait until they got home to return a phone message? Now, we see people at the grocery store making a cell call about what cereal they should buy. (In our day we went grocery shopping with a handwritten list!) People are devolving as they become more dependent on technology. We hear so much about social media. Friends, a tweet does not take the place of human contact. Liking someone on Facebook is not the same as making a personal connection face to face.

Study to show yourself approved to God. Do you really have to watch that favorite movie for the umpteenth time, or might you open your Bible instead? People always ask us questions about doctrine and theology. Here’s a news flash. We don’t have all the answers. Read your Bible! For example, you can ask whatever number of people their interpretation of the Book of Revelation, and you will get almost as many different answers.

Revelation was the last book of the Bible to be canonized. From the 2nd century forward there were doubts as to the book’s authenticity and authorship. Even today there are disagreements as to when the book was written. Some say prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, or as late as 95 AD. Dating of the book will determine your interpretation. With careful consideration and deliberation the book was authorized for inclusion at the Council of Carthage in 397 AD, although some believe that it wasn’t accepted until a fifth century council in 419 AD. Much later (in the 16th century) Martin Luther questioned both the apostolic and prophetic legitimacy of Revelation.

For centuries the “church” taught the doctrine of imminent return. This has provided fodder for the skeptics who say it is proof that our Christian faith is vain and hopeless (2 Pet 3:3–4). The angel of the LORD communicated to John that the events of Revelation must soon take place (Rev 1:1). This is the best evidence that the book was written before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. Otherwise, we are still waiting 2000 years later for events that are soon to take place.

Scripture must be read in its context. If we understand that the Bible was not written to us, but for us, then we can better grasp its meaning and relevance. For example, the Book of Revelation was written to the seven churches in Asia (Rev 1:4) who were living in the midst of a Caesar cult that worshiped the emperor as a god. Christians were lit as human torches to light the avenue leading to the Roman coliseum. Followers of Christ had to burn a pinch of incense in the palm of their hand, deny their faith and declare Caesar as Lord in order to receive a license to buy, or sell in the marketplace. These were distressing times of great tribulation, persecution and death.

Dispensationalists believe that the events described in Revelation (including the Great Tribulation) have yet to occur. However, this was not accepted doctrine until the early 19th century when John Nelson Darby, an Anglo-Irish evangelist, began teaching that the “church” was wrong in its exegesis. Dispensationalism, though, has created a whole host of interpretive challenges related to the doctrines of the Rapture, and the Millennial reign of Christ.

Does anyone remember Jim Bakker? He was the disgraced pastor of PTL ministry who was sentenced to 45 years in prison for defrauding his followers of millions of dollars in contributions that were diverted to fund a lavish lifestyle for he and his wife. Well, he’s back on Christian television hawking generators and food stocks to prepare Christians for the coming tribulation. Evidently, Bakker believes that Christians will have to go through the time of trial, although some Dispensationalists believe that the “church” will be raptured before the time of distress begins. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that in Jesus we are rescued from the wrath to come (1Thess 1:10); and God has not destined us for wrath, but salvation through Jesus Christ (1Thess 5:9-10). This can mean both the wrath of tribulation, and of judgement.

The Millennium is another challenging doctrine in that some evangelicals believe that the reign of Christ began upon His resurrection 2000 years ago which means that a thousand years cannot be interpreted literally. But when God said to Abram that his descendants would be enslaved (in Egypt) 400 years the LORD meant four hundred years (Ge 15:13).

Let’s break it down. We believe what the “church” taught from the 1st century that the return of Messiah is imminent. Peter (1Pet 4:7) and James (James 5:8) believed that to be true; and Paul wrote to the church at Philippi that the Lord is near, or at hand (Phil 4:5). We will not foolishly set a date as did Harold Camping for our Lord said no one knows the day or the hour (Mk 13:32), but we are certainly 2000 years closer to our day of redemption.

And the concept of a rapture has confused many with regards to the resurrection. We believe in two resurrections. Christ said that the hour was coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth; those who did good deeds to a resurrection of life (this is the first resurrection that John saw in Rev 20:5), and those who committed evil deeds to a resurrection of judgement [John 5:28-29].

The angel of the LORD revealed to John:

Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years [Rev 20:6].

This first resurrection, we believe, is the so-called rapture; and is referred to by Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord [1Thess 4:16-17].

The rest of the dead (according to Revelation) are not resurrected until the end of the thousand years at which time Satan is loosed, and final judgement is executed. The second resurrection is referred to as the second death (Rev 20:14).

Paul told the Thessalonians they had no need for anything else to be written regarding the times and epochs of these events for it should be understood that the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1Thess 5:1-2). Today, it seems as if many evangelicals have made a comfortable living writing sensational books about the End Times when the original call of our Lord was to spread the Gospel.

Still, there are some who have difficulty reconciling the doctrine of imminent return with the obvious fact that 2000 years have passed and we are still here. Peter expected Christ to return quickly, but the apostle left us with these comforting words:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance [2Pet 3:9].

Peter, like Paul, wrote that Christ will come like a thief (2Pet 3:10). Would you live your life accordingly if you knew that Christ might return soon? Obviously, you wouldn’t want the Lord to find you in an unholy moment. Peter wrote, What sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the day of God! [2Pet 3:11-12].

There was a forum for Christian students at a local college, and a female co-ed asked the facilitating pastor, “When should a Christian couple who are dating bring up the topic of sex.” Really?! How about after he puts a ring on your finger, and says, “I do.” May Christ not find you in bed with someone to whom you are not married. It’s called fornication, and it is a sin. Christian ladies should modestly say “no” to their potential suitors, and they should not be unevenly yoked with an unbeliever (2Co 6:14). It grieves us deeply that so many Christian women are attracted to bad boys. Sisters, there is a reward in heaven for your holiness and virtue.

We are called to be holy and righteous, but many Christians believe they can go on sinning without consequence. Did you know that only those who endure will be saved? We visited a “Christian” website recently where the author wrote: “There is no mention of enduring to the end to be saved. Enduring would be work.”

What does Christ teach?

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved [Mt 24:12-13].

You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved [Mt 10:22].

By your endurance you will gain your lives [Lk 21:19].

Has your love waxed cold? Do you pray unceasingly, and give thanks always (1Thess 5:17-18)? Do you seek the Lord when you awake, walk with Him through your day and rest in Him at night? Or, are you distracted by the world?

Paul explained endurance this way:

If you continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven [Col 1:23]. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith [2Ti 4:7].

You must take up your cross and follow Christ every day, but the aforementioned author who said we do not need to endure also wrote that “Jesus never asked anyone to follow Him”.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” [Mt 16:24]

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me [Mt 10:38].

And whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple [Lk 14:27].

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps [1Pet 2:21].

Jesus commanded Peter to follow Me (Jn 21:19Jn 21:22), and the Savior expects nothing less from each of us.

The delay in Christ’s return has given rise to unorthodox, or even false, teaching some of which has become accepted doctrine, or cultish heresy. The Book of Revelation is difficult enough to understand without having to filter interpretations that have become so dogmatic as to divide the “church” with regards to doctrines such as the Rapture and Millennial reign which, quite frankly, are not so specified in all of Scripture.

We assert that division and confusion are of Satan. This was a problem in the assembly at Corinth as we read in Paul’s letters:

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment [1Co 1:10]. 

When you come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you [1Co 11:18-19].

In a nutshell, we have no doctrinal, or faith, issue with the apostle’s teaching that Christ will return soon. As John MacArthur writes:

I suppose it is also possible that Christ could delay his coming another two thousand years or longer. In any case, the passing of two thousand years is no reproach whatsoever against the faithfulness of God or the trustworthiness of His Word. This is precisely the point Peter made when he anticipated the scoffers who would arise, mocking the promise of Christ’s return (2 Pet 3:3–4). And, therefore, the fact that two-thousand years have elapsed is utterly irrelevant to the doctrine of Christ’s imminent return. Christ’s coming is still imminent. It could occur at any moment. The command to be ready and watchful is as applicable to us as it was to the early church. In fact, the return of Christ should be an even more urgent issue for us, because it is drawing nearer with the passing of each day. We still do not know when Christ is coming, but we do know that we are two thousand years closer to that event than James was in those earliest days of the Christian era, when the Holy Spirit moved him to warn the church that the coming of the Lord was at hand and the Judge was already standing at the door.

If Christ does tarry another 2000 years those 7-year food stocks that Jim Bakker is hawking won’t be very tasty.

Suggested Reading: Is Christ’s Return Imminent?

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