The Key to Understanding the Bible: The Cross and the Crown
J.C. Ryle well expressed what the “key” is to understanding the Bible:
Christ’s sacrifice and death for sinners, and Christ’s kingdom and future glory, are the light we must bring to bear on any book of Scripture we read. Christ’s cross and Christ’s crown are the clue we must hold fast, if we would find our way through Scripture difficulties.
He then gave several examples of how we see aspects of Christ in various Old Testament texts. Many of these are in types, examples that prefigure Christ either in His cross or His crown. Of his ten references, in fact, four of these highlighted Christ’s First Coming (Hebrews 11:4; Galatians 3:24; 1 Cor. 10:4 and John 3:14; and four His Second Coming (Jude 14-15; John 8:56; Genesis 49:10; and the judges and kings of Israel); and two others, David’s life and the overall theme of the prophets, that equally reference both Advents.
S. Lewis Johnson often made a similar point, that God’s Divine Purpose, and all of Old Testament Prophecy, focuses on the two events of Christ’s First Coming and His Second Coming. In the OT types, too, he notes that David and Solomon represent different aspects of the true king: David represents Christ as the “man of war,” while David’s son Solomon represents the King of peace.
I now notice this “key” in my own Bible reading, especially as regards the many “kingdom” references. For example, a recent day’s Bible readings included the following: Luke 14:16-24 , Psalms 97 and 98 (see this article), 1 Kings 10 (Solomon as the type of Christ ruling in His kingdom), and Ezekiel 34 (especially verses 23-31).
As I’ve said before, understanding the Bible in terms of the importance of both comings — rather than emphasizing the First Coming to the exclusion of the one yet to come — greatly assists in the daily ups and downs of life, to understand why the world is the way it is. A right understanding sets the focus where it should be, for believers to eagerly await His imminent return to set things right while truly praying “Thy kingdom come.” Amillennialism and Church Replacement Theology simply do not do justice to the language of the wonderful Old Testament prophecies, and instead give the false impression that this church age is a wonderful time in which Satan is bound and so many people are coming to Christ, which makes this world so much better. Yes, technically amillennialism is not so optimistic as post-millennialism, yet I find it difficult to distinguish the two in practice–the amillennialist preacher optimistically proclaims that the prophets spoke of our age (while reading the wonderful texts such as found in Isaiah or Jeremiah, etc.) and that Satan is bound now while the gospel goes forth unhindered. Aside from the fact that such an idea denies the vivid and clear words of scripture concerning both the persecuted church and Satan’s activity in this age, it simply has no answer to what we actually observe: a world in which the believers are scattered (like salt) among a majority of unbelievers, a church never extinguished yet oppressed and persecuted, and riddled with worldly believers as well as outright unbelievers. That view also cannot make any sense of actual history and the hard questions that many people ask, such as “why the Holocaust?” and “why such hatred of the Jews?”
More to the point, the amillennialist scheme, with its excessive focus on only the First Coming, promises great things (that cannot be delivered in this age) and encourages believers to live only for this life and forget that Christ will return to setup His kingdom. That mindset is focused on the past and what Christ has done (past tense) for us, yet lulls the believer to sleep in regards to the future — I’ll live a full life now, and someday go to be with Jesus in heaven. Since the “first resurrection” is only the spiritual rebirth of believers, and emphasis is on a non-material “heaven,” the resurrection itself is downplayed. J.C. Ryle spoke truly for his age, as well as ours, that the majority of believers, like the virgins waiting for the king in Matthew 25, are asleep and not looking for Christ’s imminent return:
We have adapted and accommodated to the Church of Christ the promises that were spoken by God to Israel and Zion. I do not mean to say that this accommodation is in no sense allowable. But I do mean to say that the primary sense of every prophecy and promise in Old Testament prophecy was intended to have a literal fulfillment, and that this literal fulfillment has been far too much put aside and thrust into a corner. And by so doing I think we have exactly fulfilled our Lord’s words in the parable of the ten virgins, we have proved that we are slumbering and sleeping about the second advent of Christ.