Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Prophecy Not Intended To Be a Crystal Ball

Some of the readers here on Old Truth had asked me some time ago to write a post on eschatology and I've thought quite a bit about the best way to approach such a subject. Eschatology can be a difficult and complicated topic and to hope to cover it thoroughly in a blog post is totally unrealistic. This will not be an exhaustive dissertation on the subject but a very brief overview. I hold to my view rather strongly and though many Christians disagree about these things there is no reason why disagreement on such a matter should be a reason for lack of fellowship and charity towards one another. The scripture dogmatically teaches the visible and glorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ. It teaches that to those outside of Christ his coming will be as a thief in the night, they will be terrified. To those in Christ his coming will be as in the day time, we will be ready for him. We will be comforted by seeing our Savior and shall glorify him.

In my time in a Dispensational church, Pre-Tribulational Premillenialism was considered the only orthodox view of the last things and to disagree with such a view was tantamount with having a very defective theology. Indeed to entertain any other eschatology was considered extremely dangerous. It was thought that those who forsook the rapture of the church before the tribulation forsook a great comfort for their hope. Indeed the rapture of the Church before the tribulation was repeatedly preached as our great and blessed hope. I have to admit that I find such a thought strange, as I read the bible I see the church persevering through the tribulation.

What follows is a very brief explanation as to why I am an Amillenialist. In this format I couldn't possibly cover everything that lead me to this view but I will try to hit the highlights. Note also that I do not say that you must agree to my view of eschatology to be a mature and faithful Christian, but I would urge you, if your hope is in the rapture it may be misplaced. I have met people who would say that if it weren't for the pretribulational rapture of the church then we would have no hope. Your hope should be in Christ who will sustain you and keep you by his grace even through the worst of trials, sufferings and tribulation.

Some one said that if we have a right understanding of Israel then we will have a right understanding of eschatology, and I am inclined to agree. Our understanding of the relationship between Israel and the Church will be greatly clarified if we understand verses like Gal 3:29; And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. If we are Abraham's offspring then all of the promises made to Israel are ours as well. Since we know that those who are truly Israel are those born of Isaac, those born of the promise (Rom 9:6-9) then this rigid dichotomy that Dispensationalism has placed between the Church and Israel must be false. The bible says quite plainly, in Rom 9:6-7 For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring. So you see, it's not being Jewish nationally that make you an Israelite, but being born of the Spirit of God that makes you a true Israelite. This is not to say that God is finished with the Jews, he most certainly is not and Romans 11 makes that perfectly clear and it should be the desire of all Christians to see Jews converted to Christ. However, I must reject the notion of a renewal of an earthly Jewish theocracy, that is the Old Covenant which is done away with and cannot be brought back. The New Covenant, which is better, is now in place (Heb 8), and in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek (Gal 3:29).

We know that there are all of these prophecies in the Old Testament that have yet to be fulfilled and the common cry is that since we are to interpret the bible literally then these prophecies must be fulfilled literally as written. I have to say that such a view is overly simplistic and seems to reveal a certain amount of ignorance as to the way prophecies are often fulfilled. Prophecy is often fulfilled in a way which is not readily apparent given the way it is written.

So, let me give you an example of a prophecy that was fulfilled in way you would not quite expect. Malachi 4:5-6 "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction." It sure sounds like Elijah must literally return. The fulfillment if this prophecy is not what you might expect from reading the text on it's own. Notice in Luke 1:16-17 Gabriel the angel quotes this very passage to Zechariah in reference to John the Baptist. "And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 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." And in Matthew 17 Christ himself tells us that John the Baptist fulfills this prophecy. "And the disciples asked him, "Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" He answered, "Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist."

So for those who claim that since a prophecy written in Ezekiel or Daniel must have a literal fulfillment would do well to consider the example above. Those prophecies will be fulfilled, but I think not as you would expect. Now then, let me give you some reasons as to why I am Amillenial. When I go to the doctrinal passages, the didactic passages of the New Testament I cannot find any mention of a millennial reign of Christ over a Jewish state on the earth before the final judgment. It's never mentioned, not once, not even in the Olivet Discourse. Christ speaks of tribulation such as the world has never seen, he speaks of final judgment, but of an earthly millennial reign over a Jewish Theocracy, he doesn't say a word. In fact, Christ's words on his kingdom in other parts of the Gospels are in direct opposition to a 1,000 year earthly reign. In John 18:36 he says; "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." It's also worth noting that none of the epistles ever mention a millennial reign of Christ either. Both Paul and Peter who both deal with the coming of Christ and the end of the world rather extensively never mention an earthly reign over a Jewish state. I know what you're saying right about now, "What about Revelation 20?" Well, I'm getting to that, but I think it's important to first say a few things about the book of Revelation in general.

Now, we all know that we must interpret the bible literally, but there is a common misconception of what the word "literal" means. The Reformed doctrine is sensus literalis. It does not mean that we seek to render each word with its most literal meaning. It means simply this; we must interpret the bible according to each part of the bible's own literary style or genre. We do not interpret didactic portions of Romans the same way we interpret the book of Proverbs, or poetic passages in Isaiah. To read the Revelation literally the same way you read a history book on World War II literally would be silly. With this in mind let's look very briefly at the book of Revelation.

The book of Revelation is written in a literary style known as apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic means in the Greek "to uncover or reveal". It was a very common and widely popular literary style between the years 200 B.C. and 150 A.D. and was still in common use as late as 350 A.D. and the readers of the Revelation in John's day would have well understood this literary style. Apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic. We have a woman riding a beast, a dragon that rises out of the ocean and so on. As with all apocalyptic literature numbers are not typically interpreted according to their mathematical sums. They will typically represent something more significant. For example, the twenty four elders in Revelation 4:4 are not 24 people, they are representative of the entirety of the redeemed people of God from both the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles, i.e. Old and New Testament believers. In chapter 4 verse 5 we see seven spirits of God but this does not destroy our doctrine of the Trinity. So with this in mind there is no reason to think that in Revelation 20 the thousand years is an actual one thousand years. To think it was would be highly inconsistent.

It is also important to notice that it is addressed to the seven churches in Asia (1:4). That means that what is written there was intended for them as well as for us. It is the only book of the bible that begins and ends with a blessing to those who read it and keep it's words (1:3 and 22:7). That meant that the people in those seven churches were to understand and keep all that this book said to them. It was to be of immediate relevance to John's contemporaries. We see this in the very first verse; "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants." Unlike the book of Daniel which ends with a sealing up of the prophecies contained in it the Revelation is opened to all those who read it. Therefore, any interpretation that lies beyond the original reader's frame of reference is highly suspect. The Revelation is steeped in Old Testament symbolism and understanding that symbolism is the key to understanding the Revelation. In other words, we let the bible interpret the bible, not current events. Of the 404 verses in Revelation, 278 of them contain references to the Old Testament scriptures. If you want to know what the mark on the forehead in chapter 13 verse 16 is then compare it to Deuteronomy 6:8. The mark of the beast is not a tattoo or a micro chip in one's forehead, it represents total submission to the antichrist and submission to the world's system. In other words, if you are a person who rejects Christ, this represents you right now.

Another key thing to note concerning the Revelation is that it repeats the events revealed in it cyclically and viewed from different perspectives. For example, we see final judgment described in chapters 6, 7, 9, 11, 14, and 19. We see the persecution of the people of God described throughout most of the middle chapters. We see the eternal state and the new heavens and the new earth in chapter 5:10 and in chapters 21 and 22. We do not see described even once in the entire book what the millennial kingdom is supposed to look like. The events described in Revelation 20 verses 1-6 are simply yet another view of the events described in Rev 12:7-11. In other words, the thousand years describes Christ's present rule from Heaven and his casting down and binding of Satan. Satan is indeed bound even now for Christ has disarmed all principalities and powers having put them to open shame by triumphing over them (Col 2:15). Remember, whole point of Peter's sermon in Acts 2 was that Jesus is the Christ and rules his kingdom right now from his throne.

If you're studying the Revelation with an eye towards predicting the future then you are missing its point entirely. Revelation is Christ's revelation of himself. The book contains all of the key doctrines of the Gospel including the deity and son ship of Christ, the three persons of the Godhead, Christ's offices, the fallen state of man, justification and reconciliation by the blood of Christ, the rise and fall of Antichrist and the condition of Christ's church in the world until the end of time, and depictions of the eternal state. In reading the Revelation you should be persuaded that faithfulness to the gospel is of the utmost importance. We see that there is no room for those who compromise the gospel. There are over comers (Rev. 12:11), the true followers of Jesus Christ who are faithful to the gospel even to their death. There are also the earth dwellers (Rev 17), those who are bound to this world's system and philosophy, those who belong to the Dragon. Upon reading this book you will find out which side you belong to. You will be assured that Christ is coming back to execute judgment on those who oppose him and to gather those that are his to himself. The Revelation should encourage you that although you may suffer for Christ's name you do not suffer in vain. Christ will reward those who are faithful to the end. You are to be encouraged, you are to be motivated to further holiness looking for that appearing of our Savior, not because you are afraid of being caught unprepared because he might appear any minute, that is a sort of servile fear that even the unbelieving have. Our motivation to holiness is to come from the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Prophecy in scripture is never intended to give us a sort of crystal ball in order to predict the details of specific events in the future. A lot of ink has been spilled in trying to predict the details of the events surrounding the rapture of the church and the return of Christ. A brief survey of the last 150 years will expose numerous attempts at this that have without exception met with failure. Prophecy is redemptive revelation. Its purpose is to point men to Christ and to comfort those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb. No matter what our view of the millennium is, we do well to keep this in mind.


Irv said...

Seen "Pretrib Rapture Desperados"? I saw it on Google. Irv

Irv said...

Wow, what a fantastic, thoroughly Biblical, and interest-holding blog. You Canadians have the theological "schmarts" and put many superficial Americans to shame! You are absolutely on target, and I wish everyone on earth would read this blog. BTW, have you seen historian MacPherson's bestselling book THE RAPTURE PLOT? Armageddon Books online has it along with a super great price. It is easily the most readable and most documented (300 pgs) work on recently discovered early rapture documents found in British libraries revealing tons of new (and embarrassing to pretribbers) facts about their Britsh-invented escapist theory which many have lately been abandoning (I've been running into them everywhere) - and much of this abandonment is based on the newly found history. A great read, I must say. Keep being faithful, my friend, and great will be your reward someday! Irv