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Bible Study of Daniel: Introduction

November 21, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve just begun a book study of Daniel, from reading through John MacArthur’s series on this book. The series is available also for download at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/Scripture/27

So far I’ve only read the two introductory messages, and here are a few of the highlights. In these two sermons, “God’s Man For A Time of Crisis,” MacArthur gives an overview of Israel’s history at this point, emphasizing God’s sovereignty over the nations. This introduction could be called “A Tale of Two Nations,” in which he contrasts the two kingdoms, Israel and Babylon, and shows the irony of how God picked the one nation that had its evil origins, from the very beginning, in Genesis 11 at the Tower of Babel and the beginning of idolatry and paganism, as His weapon to judge His own people. The original Babylonian empire came to its zenith of power in the time of Hammurabi, possibly 1500 years or more before Christ, and then declined and became a state within the Assyrian empire. Then came the neo-Babylonian empire, which interestingly enough lasted only 100 years, long enough to accomplish God’s purposes: to destroy the previous Assyrian empire, then judge His people Israel for 70 years, and then fall to the Medes and Persians in time for the next king to allow the Israelites to return to their land.

The setting includes the names of many generations of rulers of the Assyrians, then the Babylonian rulers, familiar names I’ve heard before but put together in sequence: Sargon II, his son Sennacherib; then Esarhaddon, then Ashurbanipal — then his vice-regent Nabopolassar, who within 15 years after Ashurbanipal’s death managed to destroy the Assyrian empire. Then came his son Nebuchadnezzar, the one we all know about from the story of Daniel and the Babylonian exile.

MacArthur also gives the background of the divided kingdom of Israel and the kings of the northern and southern parts of the original nation of Israel. This part of the study is familiar territory, as I’ve read the Old Testament historical books many times, as I’ve made it a habit years ago, to continually read through the Bible in a one-year reading plan. The summary here includes the fact that Israel fell first, followed by Judah 100 years later, and that Judah had several good kings (eight) whereas Israel had only bad kings. One interesting prophetic connection related to Daniel comes out, though, another treasure of God’s word that I hadn’t thought of before. In Isaiah 39:7, Isaiah’s words to Hezekiah after Hezekiah had greeted the Babylonian envoys: “And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” MacArthur’s succinct point here: “That prophecy came to pass in the life of Daniel himself who became that eunuch in the court of Babylon because the people never heard the prophets.”

That Daniel was, at least very likely, a eunuch, I learned from a Chuck Swindoll radio program several years ago. Swindoll mentioned it as something controversial but necessary to point out, and linked it to the fact that we never read of Daniel having a wife. Since then I had learned that in many ancient societies, eunuchs were the ones who could attain great political power and opportunity to rule and influence a king, so much so that in some cases parents would even deliberately make their young male children into eunuchs, in the hope of a great future career opportunity.

The new material (for me) in MacArthur’s study is that Daniel was, or at least well could have been, a descendant of Hezekiah. The introductory verses of Daniel do say, after all, that Daniel and his friends were of the royal family and the nobility. One thing I have learned from several months of reading about Medieval Europe, especially in studying the monarchs of these countries, is that they were all related to each other: a lot of cousins, some closer cousins than others but still related within six or fewer generations (consanguinity). So now it makes sense, that though Daniel was perhaps not in the direct line to the throne, royal families always include many other siblings at each generation, and Daniel clearly fell into that lineage somewhere, descended from Hezekiah, perhaps even a nephew or great-nephew of King Josiah.

MacArthur’s introductory messages also related the rise and fall of nations, as evident in ancient history and specifically the fall of Israel and Judah into moral decadence, to America’s current situation and its decline into decadence. These sermons were delivered in 1979, and thus somewhat dated with references to the Ayatollah Khomeini and Ted Bundy, but the decadence of a declining culture is still relevant as we now see America’s decline continuing far beyond its level in 1979. As MacArthur clearly pointed out here:

The cycle of corruption buries nation after nation while new ones rise from the rubble and become the rubble for the next cycle. Historians like Arnold Toynbee and Eban Caldune have given us plenty of information on the cycles of history, the rise and the fall of nation after nation after nation after nation. It’s an inevitability in human society. And I really believe in many ways we are seeing in our own nation the decay and the corruption that leads to destruction. You would have to say in looking at the history of America that we’ve reached the peak and we’re on the way down to the inevitable rubble that happens to every society that follows the decadent cycle.

After quoting a then-current article in Time magazine (which includes several of the dated references mentioned above), MacArthur points out the very curious (and yet, not really so curious to those of us who know the Bible) fact of history:

We are decadent and our decadence has built into it a death wish. It’s a terminal disease. Nations normally don’t recover from this. In fact, the cycles of history are starkly repetitive. And I was fascinated in reading Morrow’s article to note that while he was discussing the cycles of corrupting nations he only had one nation as an illustration of breaking the cycle, only one nation that really rose from its own ashes and strangely enough he said it was the nation of Israel…Israel. God’s people, Israel, came to decadence, to destruction and to death. And yet because of the covenant of their God, they rose from their own ashes to live again even in this very day.

How amazing it really is, a timeless message from the Bible, even in this look at the historical story of ancient Israel, that continues to have relevance in our day. May we all continue to grow in the knowledge and truth of God’s word, and all the more as we see the day approaching.

Next time, I’ll continue with the Daniel study and the next messages, from the actual beginning story of Daniel.

Daniel’s Seventy Weeks

November 19, 2008 Leave a comment

As I’ve been studying the specifics of Daniel 9:24-27, I’ve learned that though all conservative scholars agree about the 70th week being future, and that the events in verse 26 occur after the 69th week but before the 70th week, several different views exist regarding the beginning and end points of the 69 weeks. The first view I heard, from pastors Jim McClarty and John MacArthur, starts the 69 weeks with the decree of Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem, in either 445 or 444 B.C., and using the lunar calendar of 360 days (instead of our solar calendar of 365 days) gets an end date of around 33 A.D.

Fred Zaspel proposes a more unusual dating, using a solar calendar with three separate segments with gaps in between each part: 7 weeks, 62 weeks, and the 70th week. The starting “decree” was God’s prophecy to Jeremiah that Jerusalem would be restored after 70 years, and that first “seven” ended with the “anointing” of Cyrus as the one who decreed release for the Israelites in 538 B.C. Then comes a gap until 440 B.C., Nehemiah’s time of rebuilding, and 434 years (62 “sevens”) until the birth of Christ in 6 B.C.

Charles Ray’s four part series “A Study of Daniel 9:24-27” is more technical, with lengthy discussion of the technical meanings of the original Hebrew, but discusses the shortcomings of various ideas including a variation on (but not exactly the same as) Fred Zaspel’s. From this study I learn that the lunar calendar use was not all that unknown, and even though, as Zaspel points out, Daniel and the Jews knew that the lunar calendar was lacking, yet apparently the lunar calendar was used by ancients in some cases. I’m still not sure what to make of the distinction between the seven and the 62 years, when many commentators put them together as one block of 69 years, but I have to agree with Charles Ray’s point that a starting point in prophecy would never begin before the point that the prophecy was given; also, the word “decree” refers to an official decree of a king, not merely God’s word in a general prophecy; and true, the prophecy in Jeremiah said nothing specific about rebuilding the walls and city of Jerusalem; it is simply saying that the Jews would spend 70 years in exile, and Daniel already knew that part of the time sequence.

The only really uncertain part, as I see it, is the specific starting and ending points of the 69 weeks, within a general timeframe from 500 B.C. to the time of Christ. Yet the remaining verses are so clear, and verse 26 has been proved out so well in history. Jerusalem has been destroyed, and war and desolation has continued there ever since for the last 2000 years, as Jesus said in Luke 21:24, “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” All of the authors mentioned above (McClarty, MacArthur, Zaspel and Ray) agree on these last verses.

What is easy to miss, as liberals and preterists do, is the clear purpose of these 70 weeks as stated in verse 24, the introduction to the prophecy. A simple reading of these six purposes makes it clear that my partial-preterist pastor is wrong when he says that Daniel’s 70 weeks have been fulfilled. The verse reads in the NIV: “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.” The fifth one alone, “to seal up vision and prophecy,” could not have been fulfilled by the time of 70 A.D., simply because several books of further New Testament revelation came AFTER 70 A.D. John’s gospel, all his epistles, and especially the book of Revelation came as much as 25 years after the destruction of Jerusalem. Since no significant event concerning Jerusalem occurred after 96 A.D., clearly that week hasn’t yet happened. Furthermore, though Christ’s first coming clearly established the basis for completing these six purposes, they have not been completely fulfilled. “Everlasting righteousness” has been introduced in principle, through the work of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives, but that is far from completion. Everlasting righteousness was not brought in by 70 A.D., any more than we are living in the Millennium now or Satan is bound now; everlasting righteousness awaits that glorious, future fulfillment at the end time.

It is still so interesting, in a way, to see the many strange and varied interpretations some people can come up with, when the text concerning the time after the 70th week, and then the final 70th week itself, is so clear — if the person holds up the proper literal-grammatical hermeneutic, considering what the text actually says rather than twisting it to mean something else “allegorically” or “spiritually.” By such flawed reasoning a text can indeed mean many different things, but that does not uphold or honor God’s word. Charles Ray mentions some of the strange variations, such as people who say that “he” who confirms the covenant at the beginning of 9:27 is the Messiah, when clearly the passage is told in a negative way to refer to the anti-Christ. Yet I’ve even heard a more bizarre interpretation (from the preterist pastor): the first 3 1/2 years of the 70th week was the time of Christ’s ministry with his disciples, and the last 3 1/2 years refers to Titus and the Roman army that beseiged and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (a period of military activity that apparently lasted about 3 1/2 years). Huh? The person referred to makes a covenant with the people of Israel, then breaks it halfway through. In what way is Christ’s covenant so short-term, rather than an eternal one? How can the first part of the verse be one person (Christ), and the second part of the verse be Titus?

God be praised, for His word revealed to us, that we can study and learn and grow in it. As John MacArthur lists in his reasons to rejoice, one of those reasons to rejoice is as an act of appreciation for the Scripture.

Lying Prophets and Delusions

November 13, 2008 Leave a comment

Oh, the many things still to find in God’s word — how can anyone get to the point that they think they know everything that is in the Bible and cannot find new treasures in it?

Jim McClarty in his eschatology series, “The False Prophet (MP3 file)” brings out this interesting point regarding the issue of lying prophets and those who believe the delusion.

2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 says: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”

In this brief passage we can find an Old Testament precedent, an example of this same principle, in the story of King Ahab and the prophet Micaiah told in 1 Kings 22. In this familiar story, Ahab is considering going to Ramoth Gilead to fight against the Arameans. Jehoshaphat king of Judah has joined him, and 400 prophets are gathered, and all are prophesying victory and success. Only when King Jehoshaphat asks to hear from any other prophets of the Lord, does Ahab mention one prophet, Micaiah, whom he dislikes because he never prophesies good, but only bad, about Ahab. The 400 prophets are continuing their good words, even using some visual aides to demonstrate God’s success. Then Micaiah is summoned, and explains to all those gathered:

1Ki 22:19-23: Micaiah continued, ‘Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ “One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ ” ‘By what means?’ the Lord asked. ” ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said. ” ‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’ “So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.”

Here too the Lord used the power of an evil spirit — one who puts a “lying spirit” into men — to accomplish His divine purposes. God had purposed to destroy Ahab, in a particular way, and we are let in on a small part of that plan which includes the details even down to the matter of how to entice King Ahab to go to a certain place to meet his doom. The 400 lying prophets clearly convinced Ahab, even after Micaiah told the truth. Or perhaps Ahab thought himself greater than the Lord, thought that he could alter God’s plans, for the text relates afterwards how Ahab convinced Jehoshaphat to dress up as the king and Ahab wore the plain clothes of a soldier. Then, as the story goes on to tell (verse 34), “But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor.”

The lying prophets is an interesting point, a topic referenced in the 2 Thessalonians passage. As in the case of Ahab in 1 Kings 22, God sends a powerful delusion, to the purpose that those who hear it will believe the lie and be condemned. God is the same throughout the Bible, throughout history, and shows plenty of examples of His power, and how He did things in the past, so that we can trust Him and have confidence that He will act consistently in the future, true to His nature. What can be seen in a story affecting one particular individual (King Ahab) also shows us how God will deal with many people in the future, all to accomplish His purposes, including the destruction of unbelievers.

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Ruth and the Kinsman-Redeemer

November 12, 2008 Leave a comment

Like no doubt everyone, I’ve heard many times the familiar story of Ruth, the events concerning Naomi and her family in Moab, and Ruth the daughter-in-law who ends up married to Boaz and a great-grandmother of King David. It is indeed a great story, and often I’ve heard it preached with emphasis on the love story between Boaz and Ruth, and Boaz’s act of kinsman-redeemer as a picture of Christ’s redeeming us.

John MacArthur’s sermon on Ruth “The Kinsman Redeemer” is rather straightforward and matter-of-fact as he delves into the background concerning the Moabites, then summarizes the overall book of Ruth. Throughout he emphasizes the history of the Moabites as a cursed people of God, reminding us that Ruth was of that lineage of Moab. One interesting, if lesser known, verse he mentions is Jeremiah 48:11 — “Moab has been at rest from youth, like wine left on its dregs, not poured from one jar to another— she has not gone into exile. So she tastes as she did, and her aroma is unchanged.” (NIV) As MacArthur describes, in the normal process of winemaking, when the wine is poured from jar to jar, the dregs remain at the bottom each time, and so the resulting wine is sweeter, without the bitter part. The dregs were used to make vinegar. Moab never went through this sifting process, and God had earlier placed a curse on Moab — in Deuteronomy 23 — that “no Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the Lord.” Yet Ruth was one of these people.

MacArthur: “How did a cursed Moabite get into the line of Messiah? Answer: Because God provided for her a redeemer. Boaz is a picture of our kinsman redeemer.”

Even this little detail, concerning Ruth’s ancestry, brings more wonder and amazement to the story. Ruth was not only a Gentile (not of God’s people, the unprivileged) brought in to the fold, she was of a particular cursed nation. The Old Testament law did allow in some cases for a foreigner to convert and join the Israelite faith, but Moabites especially were marked out as unacceptable. Yet just as Boaz as a kinsman redeemer for Naomi’s family could redeem and purchase for himself a Moabite bride, so Christ is able to redeem the worst sinner, the very worst even among the Gentiles.

Our God showed through Old Testament examples some amazing ways of saving not merely Gentiles, but the worst of the Gentiles, as an incredible picture of what would later come at the cross of Christ. He didn’t bring in any of the great and mighty Gentiles, names we still know like Aristotle, Ptolemy, Socrates or Plato. He brought in a Ruth (a cursed Moabite), a Rahab (a prostitute), and Naaman the Syrian (a leper) to prove his point that He is able and willing to save anybody, even the worst of the Gentiles.

Some thoughts about the 2008 election and God’s Sovereignty

November 6, 2008 Leave a comment

Okay, the election results are in, confirming once again that America as a nation is doomed and is experiencing God’s wrath of abandonment. Like others, I don’t recall any previous election that attracted so much attention, with such a large turnout at the poll. The news itself is upsetting in the general sense — and knowing on the front end the near-certainty of Obama’s win, I did not want to listen to the detailed numbers being reported in; nor could I, like my spouse, casually liken the election to a sports game with a continuously updated score card. Yet I have found much more peace this year as I purposely reflect on the word of God and focus on it rather than on the circumstances around us. Certainly I did not lose any sleep Tuesday night, as apparently one Christian co-worker did. Reading several sermons on the subject, such as Phil Johnson’s “Politically Incorrect” (click here to listen to the MP3 version) from earlier this year helped bring a proper biblical perspective.

It’s easy to get caught up in the alarmist news, even the scare tactics of conservatives and Christians, and here again I must take a step back lest I get too absorbed, and consider that so often the worst does not happen. For all the talk about the fairness doctrine, for instance, and how repressed Christianity is in Canada and Canadian radio, I checked a few things regarding my favorite radio program, John MacArthur’s “Grace to You.” The radio program actually started in this country a few years before the fairness doctrine was repealed, and the program is still regularly aired on many stations in Canada. To be sure, the fairness doctrine could very well put a damper on political talk radio — the very things that did develop and grow in the last two decades — but, contrary to the alarmist claims of some, will not likely make an impact on traditional Christian radio programming.

In this election neither candidate was Christian, and for all the bad things predicted under Obama, I realize that the trends would continue even under McCain, who along with Palin favor homosexual civil unions among other liberal trends. Abortion continues only because lost sinners desire it. As Phil Johnson’s sermon (mentioned above) points out, Christian political activism has been a dismal failure throughout history, everywhere it’s been tried. Consider Cromwell in 17th century England, also the failure of the Prohibitionist movement in the early 20th century. John Calvin’s great Geneva experiment also failed, because external moral rules cannot restrain the unregenerate. All of these efforts depend on outward conformity to the law, whereas the real issue is transformation from within by the Holy Spirit. Also, during the 35 years since Roe v. Wade, Christians politically have been unable to accomplish their primary stated objective, to overturn Roe v. Wade, so that we now have an election year in which neither main candidate represented the Christian view. Yet during this same generation of increased Christian political activity, expository preaching of the Word (in general mainstream evangelical churches today) has been increasingly watered down to the point that it is rendered ineffective; the message is weakened with sound-bites and entertainment, post-modernism and the Emergent Church movement all taking the place of the one thing that does have the power to transform society: the gospel and its effect on individual lives in that society. Thus by its actions, mainstream Christianity shows that it really doesn’t believe the truth and power of the word of God, but that it really places its hopes in human institutions (government).

As MacArthur says, a political moral focus makes enemies out of our mission field. The lost behave as they do because they are lost (as we once were), and we cannot expect them to behave differently until or unless they are saved, which is accomplished solely through the preaching of God’s word, not through energy spent on any political agenda.

Certainly life in this United States may not be as pleasant in the next several years — and as the downward trend continues so rapidly, it goes beyond even the Obama presidency, to the rest of my life here in this world — but such things exist to remind us that this world is not our home, to prevent us from getting too attached to what this world can offer. As the saying goes, prosperity is the worst temptation — because we fear it so little. We grow more in times of trouble than in times of plenty, as I have found so clearly during the last several months of stock market losses and generally bad economic and political news.

Rather than focusing on the evils of America, I rejoice that indeed God’s word is being preached and heard, through the national ministries of great men of God such as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, John Piper and many other Reformed Christian preachers. Also I thank God for the greater interest in Calvinist, Reformed teaching among young people as highlighted in “Young, Restless, Reformed”, and that the Master’s Seminary is teaching and preparing the next generation of pastors with a solid biblical foundation in all areas of God’s word, including a proper view of scripture and biblical interpretation. This is what we all need to pray for, the proclamation of the gospel, which alone has the power to transform lives.

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The Free John MacArthur Sermon Archive

November 5, 2008 Leave a comment

Here is some really great news, from Grace to You and the free sermon archive.  Though today was the official start date, I noticed the changes already in place by 8:00 p.m. last night.

In addition to offering the files for free, they enhanced the website “resources” section in several minor ways.  Now we can also view the sermons by date; click on a year from the list — 1969 through 2008 — to see which sermons were delivered in a certain year.  Just a trivial thing, I know, but something I always have wanted to know, the date (at least the year) that MacArthur gave a particular sermon.  Through this feature I learned that they only kept recordings of two sermons from MacArthur’s first year (or at least, two that survive and available online), but 39 the following year, and even more by 1971.  This feature is only available by browsing for each year.  If I have a particular sermon title and want to know its year, that requires downloading, then viewing in Windows Explorer and moving my mouse over the title to see the “tag” information.  Yet this also is an improvement, since before the only sermons I could download — even to view the year — were the handful I had collected from the “Free Weekly MP3” feature of one free sermon per week.  The sermon listings also appear to have been cleaned up, removing the many duplicate entries that I had previously observed.

The main new feature is of course the actual download method.  The link options available on each sermon now include a new “download” link; and then two options become available, for a high-quality (64 bit compression) or low-quality file (16 bit compression), to make downloading even easier than under the old web system of selecting the product “MP3” instead of “CD” and adding it to a checkout cart.

I have, and still will, study MacArthur sermons by reading the transcripts of full series; I read through the full Genesis 1 through 11 sermon series, then a few other sermon series (The Master’s Men 5-parts, a few sermons from Exodus related to the Mosaic Sabbath, a handful of others), and will soon start reading the full sermon series through the book of Daniel.  At my computer during the day, though, I’ve been using the Grace to You resources section as a type of commentary source, relying heavily on the text search capability for all the sermon transcripts.  If I’m reading a passage and want further details concerning its meaning, I can look up the sermons “by scripture” and find the sermon that specifically addressed that text.  (This is a great commentary capability for the New Testament as well as certain books of the Old Testament, since MacArthur has preached through every New Testament book except Mark’s gospel.)  At other times in my study, I want to find references to a particular phrase, such as “hermeneutic” or “literal interpretation” or “rapture.”  Using these methods for looking up sermons, before I would just read the relevant text, a few paragraphs here or there.  Now I’m beginning to also download the full sermon, to listen to on my computer.

So in keeping with my current study topics, I found and downloaded a three-part series called “Will the Church Go Through the Tribulation?”  and listened to part 1.  It was great, and I found myself taking a few notes along the way, or “rewinding” in Windows Media Player a few times, same as I do with other sermon MP3 files.

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Why I am Premillennial

November 1, 2008 Leave a comment

Short answer: it’s what the Bible teaches.

It all comes down to proper hermeneutics and Biblical interpretation. The literal hermeneutic simply means that the interpreter reads the passage for what it says, within its proper genre of writing. To counter the scoffers: of course the literal hermeneutic recognizes different types of literature, such as poetry versus narrative. The same hermeneutic applies when we are reading prophetic literature. To quote from the Contend Earnestly blog, “Why I Am Not A Preterist“:

“One of the standard authors on biblical interpretation, Bernard Ramm, says, “The interpreter should take the literal meaning of a prophetic passage as his limiting or controlling guide.” Without denying the presence of figures of speech or symbols, Ramm emphasizes that the literal meaning of words cannot be abandoned simply because the interpreter is handling prophetic literature. “

The early church fathers, for the first three centuries, understood this concept and saw no need to allegorize and add man’s ideas into a text. Allegory, and its close cousin amillennialism, crept into the church during the 4th and 5th centuries, a time which also formed the basis for the next thousand years of Roman Catholicism. Augustine, for all the great work he did in forming the Reformed Doctrine of justification by faith (the cry of the reformation) was also responsible for introducing faulty ecclesiology and eschatology that still pervades today’s church. His reasons for doing so were not all that pure and high-minded, either. The “church age” was coming into its own, acceptance into Constantine’s Roman Empire, and significant political pressure influenced Augustine’s ideas concerning church and government. Society of that time was also increasingly anti-semitic, and with a church no longer persecuted but reigning in political power, the biblical message that the hated Jews would one day be the ones in control just had to go — thus, the church became the new “Israel,” inheriting all of Israel’s blessings (but not its curses). Then there was also the problem of the Donatists, which personally repulsed Augustine — yet in so doing he threw out the baby with the bathwater. Because the Donatists — who had taken a hard, firm line against those who had previously apostasized in time of persecution yet had been restored in Constantines’ church — went to excesses with their bacchannalian love feasts, and yet were also premillennialist, Augustine rejected both their human excesses and their theology.

Thus when today’s amillennialists confidently support their position by appeal to history — claiming that premillennialism is something of recent development, and that, for over a thousand years, from the fifth century to the sixteenth century, amillennialism dominated — they do themselves no favor except that they want to agree with Catholicism. The same goes when Kim Riddlebarger appeals to the authority of the “classic protestant tradition” — that very “protestant tradition” of amillennialism came straight from the Medieval era Catholic Church.

The Reformation was not about reforming other doctrines, such as ecclesiology and eschatology. As John MacArthur has said, the reformers had enough on their plate to deal with, to rescue the Christian soteriology, the salvation plan, so they didn’t get around to reforming other teachings of scripture. The reformers were still steeped in many other areas of Catholicism, and so they didn’t bother with reforming those aspects. Christians today are quick to criticize John Calvin for his sacralism, his disastrous project of a Christian church-state society in Geneva — but it was the only thing he understood, from the Catholic system of his day. The Reformers acquired some power of their own, and then roundly persecuted the anabaptists who challenged for further reform, including in eschatology (they too were premillennial, from reading what the Bible says).

Now to some of the actual Bible text, a look at the book of Revelation. Amillennialists will make several large, sweeping claims, such as: numbers are always used symbolically and never literally; and Revelation is not meant to be in sequence but several re-tellings of the same story of church history, a “progressive parallelism.” But are these claims valid? The apostle John used many different numbers throughout Revelation, and sometimes he even used the Greek word for “myriads” to indicate an indefinite, large number, showing that he knew perfectly well how to use the numbers. The text gives no reason, of itself, to just arbitrarily say that all the numbers are symbolic. As to the division of Revelation into different re-tellings, the divisions the text itself will not allow for that. For instance, amills say that Chapter 20 begins a new re-telling of events in previous chapters — but Chapter 20 verse 1 begins with a Greek conjunctive word translated “then” or “and,” and this same word is found repeatedly throughout other chapters of Revelation, to confound any parallelism.

Just because a text can also have a spiritual fulfillment or a spiritual application, does not negate a future literal fulfillment. Case in point: in Matthew 17:11-12, Jesus’ words to Peter, James and John after the mount of transfiguration, in answer to their question about Elijah coming first, Jesus says: “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.” then in verse 12: “But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished.” Yes, John the Baptist did spiritually fulfill the prophecy in one aspect, but Jesus also clearly says that Elijah will come (future tense). The original text in Malachi speaks of Elijah coming before the great and terrible day of the Lord, referring to the future time of the end and judgement. The book of Revelation gives us further insight, when it describes the two prophets coming down — one of whom is clearly Elijah, and thus the full literal fulfillment of the original prophecy. Much of prophecy indeed works this way, with a near-term spiritual fulfillment and a future complete, literal fulfillment. Joel 2 and Acts 2 reference another similar treatment of prophecy: the full passage in Joel 2 describes first the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh, followed by language describing the great and terrible day of the Lord. Peter quotes this full passage in Acts 2, as in fulfillment of what happened at Pentecost. Clearly the first part was fulfilled, but we cannot say that the other apocalyptic events described in Joel happened. Peter, like other Jews of his day (and earlier, including the prophet Joel) did not clearly understand the prophecies. Old Testament Jews were completely befuddled by the prophecies concerning Christ’s coming, and had even come up with a two-Messiah system: a Messiah ben-Joseph who would suffer and die, and a Messiah ben David who would reign as king. They could not foresee the now 2,000+ years gap between a first and second coming of the Messiah. Even the apostles, just before Christ ascended into the clouds, were asking about the second part: “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” The apostles are now thinking, okay, the first part has happened, now what about the rest? Notice, too, that Christ didn’t tell them — oh, you don’t understand, the kingdom is really spiritual and it’s here now; he simply said that it wasn’t any of their business to know the appointed times and dates set by the Lord. In Acts 2 when Peter witnessed the events of Pentecost and their fulfillment, very likely understood that, well, now the first part has come, so the second part must be coming soon. True, Peter was speaking by the Holy Spirit, but Joel in the Old Testament also spoke by the Holy Spirit inspiration, and yet neither man had perfect, complete knowledge of how the prophecy would unfold in human history.

When amillennialists get to their sticking point, that “a thousand years” in Revelation 20 (the number is used six times in the chapter) doesn’t really mean a thousand years but some vague, indefinite large period of time, they really are sounding exactly like the liberal theologians who reject Genesis 1-2 because “it can’t mean what it says” based on fallen man’s ideas of evolution and long, undetermined periods of evolution or “progressive creation.” Yet the exegesis of Genesis is equally solid, a narrative text with real numbers, and only someone coming to the text with pre-conceived notions from modern so-called science would come up with any idea other than what the text says. Though we have more certainty concerning the past than the future, when it comes to properly interpreting God’s word we understand our rational God and can apply the same hermeneutic principle to all scripture, including prophecy.

The late Anthony Hoekema admitted that a literal, straightforward reading of Revelation would indicate a sequence from chapter 19 to 20, and that Christ returns before the millennium — and then he rejects it for his own reasons. John Reisinger, likewise, admits that amillennialism isn’t in the Bible but that it is “a rebellion against the other two views.” His problem is that he can’t admit that God has any future purpose for national Israel. I don’t fully understand that, either, but God’s purposes and understanding are far greater than ours. One’s attitude towards God’s holy scripture truly reveals the inner heart attitude. When something in the Bible contradicts an individual’s pre-conceived ideas, which idea is rejected — God’s or man’s? If someone has to come up with great-sounding and high-minded allegorical ideas, which puff up the person with some higher knowledge (and gives great “job security” since ordinary laypeople can’t understand this allegorical scheme and must come to the person to be properly taught), to support their own beliefs, rather than seeking to understand the text for its own sake and in its proper context, that really reveals the person’s own spiritual problem and a weak view of scripture.

Now for a closing thought, consider this text from Spurgeon, posted on the TeamPyro blog. An excerpt:

“Dear friends, we may sometimes refresh our minds with a prospect of the kingdom which is soon to cover all lands, and make the sun and moon ashamed by its superior glory. We are not to indulge in prophesyings as some do, making them our spiritual food, our meat and drink; but still we may take them as choice morsels, and special delicacies set upon the table; they are condiments which may often give a sweeter taste, or, if you will, a greater pungency and savor to other doctrines; prophetic views light up the crown of Jesus with a superior splendor; they make his manhood appear illustrious as we see him still in connection with the earth: to have a kingdom here as well as there; to sit upon a throne here as well as in yonder skies; to subdue his adversaries even upon this Aceldama, as in the realm of spirits; to make even this poor earth upon which the trail of the serpent is so manifest, a place where the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”