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Zechariah 4:10 — The Day Of Small Things

August 29, 2011 Leave a comment

From Zechariah 4, a comforting thought concerning the day of small things.  The setting was such a time, a remnant of the mighty nation Israel, now back in the land and rebuilding the temple.  As noted in Ezra 3, when the foundation of the new temple was laid, some of the people wept, remembering how much greater Solomon’s temple had been.

Zechariah 4 includes the great words “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord,” followed by the encouragement of verse 10: For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice.  As another saying goes, “Little is much when God is in it.”  The temple in Zerubbabel’s day was a “small thing” yet it was God’s will, and great things would later come.  Zerubbabel’s day was even a type of the age to come:  a small temple then, and several hundred years later, Christ’s “small” act of the cross, the time when He was crucified in weakness.

How often life is like that, our activity is usually in the “small things” and yet when it is in God’s will it really isn’t to be judged by our standards of “great” or lesser levels of importance.  God’s providence, His working throughout history, nearly always comes in “small things.”  In my recent Bible genre readings, I read Zechariah at the same time as the book of Esther, another great example of God’s providence in the details.

S. Lewis Johnson, teaching Zechariah 4 in 1967, could give direct application to the situation with Believer’s Chapel, which at that time was a “small thing,” apparently a small group of people who did not yet even have a church building (then under construction).  Yet God was in that too, a ministry that has since helped countless people, both at that church and those of us who benefit from the online sermon collection.  Certainly the same can be said of many other great ministries and missionary efforts, that began as small things.

Millennial Positions and Revelation Interpretive Views

August 22, 2011 6 comments

From online discussion with fellow Calvinist-Dispensationalists, I have noticed a common point of confusion concerning the millennial positions and the differing interpretations of Revelation.  Often, for instance, it is assumed that amillennialism by definition includes preterist belief, or that only premillennials are futurists.  Further confusion comes when they talk to particular amillennialists and get differing answers regarding the preterist issue.

So for a basic explanation:  preterist/historicist/futu​rist is a different “column” of criteria from the millennial choices premillennial, post-millennial or amillennial.  The time-reference choice refers to one’s interpretation of Revelation:  are the events described in Revelation 4-20 past (preterist), present church age (historicist), or future (futurist)?  Or are the events of Revelation merely symbolic (spiritualized) of general truth about good and evil, with no specific reference (idealist)?  In the idealist view, Revelation becomes a book with “symbols of nothing.”

These two groupings can be combined in various ways (though some combinations are more common than others): one of the millennial choices, and one of the time-reference choices. Historicist amillennialists include the Reformers, with their idea that the prophetic events of Revelation refer to things going on during the church age. The “pope is antiChrist” and Rome is Babylon comes from that historicist view. Futurist amillennialists (less common but they are out there) see the events of Revelation as future, that those events will occur in the future before Christ returns and brings the resurrection and Eternal State.

Thus, the term “futurist” by itself does not mean only dispensational or premillennial.  A “futurist premillennial” believes that the events of Revelation will take place during the future Great Tribulation, and believes in a future literal thousand year kingdom.  An amillennial futurist, on the other hand, would not believe in the future literal kingdom, but would affirm that the events in Revelation will take place in the future, in the years just before Christ returns.  See this page from an online message board, where someone defines himself as Amillennial futurist and gives his idea of the sequence of future events.  A good way to understand premillennialism and futurism is that all premillennialists are futurists–but not all futurists are premillennial.

Here is a simple table showing the possible combinations:

Probably the majority of amillennialists today are preterist or idealist, but I wouldn’t know percentages. Yet futurist and historicist amillennialists also exist.  Postmillennialists often are preterist, but could be historicist or even idealist, but generally not futurist since they think the future is better, not worse, and the events in Revelation simply don’t agree with that future scenario.  Premillennial and futurist generally go together, though some premillennialists have a mixture of historicist and futurist.

Hermeneutical Principles: The Error of Illegitimate Totality Transfer

August 18, 2011 6 comments

Through regular Bible study and sermon listening, come several hermeneutical principles for handling scripture.  These principles can be applied not only in our own study but also in discussions with others.  A few basic principles I’ve learned are called the “checking principle” and the analogy of faith.  The checking principle comes up in cases where one person has a unique interpretation, one that no one else upholds: in humility that person must consider carefully the reasons for his different conclusion.  The “analogy of faith” is more common, and comes from one’s understanding of all scripture:  scripture does not contradict itself.  If one passage has a meaning, that meaning must not disagree with other scriptural teaching.

I learned a third principle recently, the error of “illegitimate totality transfer,” a case of taking the meaning — the sense or concept — from one part of scripture and lifting that idea and wrongly applying it to another scripture that may have some of the same words but totally different usage.  In a recent online discussion, for example, someone brought up the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25.  Because all ten virgins had oil, and because oil elsewhere represents the Holy Spirit, this person concluded that all ten virgins had the Holy Spirit and were saved.

In this case, the person certainly had a unique interpretation (the “checking principle”), and also that idea contradicts other doctrinal teaching  (“analogy of faith”):  the perseverance and preservation of the saints.  People don’t lose their salvation.  Since the five virgins are later turned away, when Christ says He never knew them, they represent unbelievers, those who never had saving faith to begin with.

But going beyond these problems, comes the “illegitimate totality transfer” with that person’s improper concept of “oil,” which in some parts of scripture is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, but does not fit the case of this parable in Matthew 25.  Mike Riccardi well spoke to this particular Bible discussion with some great observations:

Jesus is employing an illustration, and in this case the oil just means oil. The point is right there in the text: be ready for Christ’s coming; don’t be spiritually lazy, because He’s coming any minute.

Not to mention, pressing the details in parables is (1) insensitive to the genre, and treating it more like allegory, and (2) often ridiculous, like here. What would we conclude? That some of us can store up “more” of the Holy Spirit, so that when Christ comes, we don’t have to go get more of the Holy Spirit from somewhere, and, as a result, miss His coming?

Better to let a parable be a parable, oil be oil, and the point of the passage be stated by the passage itself (Mt 25:13).

Common Claims Against Dispensationalism: Responses

August 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The following come from various online discussions with individuals who cited reasons for rejecting dispensationalism, along with my responses.

Claim:  Dispensationalism is constantly changing from classic to modified to Progressive.

Response:  Dispensationalism is not “constantly changing from classic, to modified, to Progressive.” The way to describe what you have observed is: within the overall “umbrella” of dispensationalism some variations exist, on the lesser points such as the number of dispensations, the rapture timing, or on issues that really do not pertain to dispensationalism (such as Lordship salvation views, which is soteriology). These “changes” or differences also do not come from the same men changing their own views, but from these relatively minor differences among different theologians.

That said, it is equally true that the overall “umbrella” of Covenant Theology has just as much variation among different theologians. Some within overall CT hold to infant baptism, others do not. Some within CT see a future large-scale national salvation for Israel, while others think “all Israel” only means those Jews saved during the church age. Hoekema mixes things on his definitions of the Millennial Earth versus the Eternal State New Heavens New Earth. Some within CT formed another view of “New Covenant Theology” departing from some parts of CT while clinging to others. Some within CT are postmillennial with dominion theology ideas, while others are amillennial. Some postmills and amills are preterist, while some are historicist, and even a few amills are futurist, believing in a future great time of trouble before the end and Christ sets up the Eternal State. CT itself was only formulated in the 17th century and has had many variations since.

So we might as well say that “Covenant Theology is constantly changing, and thus unreliable and untrue.”

Another Claim:  As far as the idea that the New Testament “continually spoke with distinctions regarding Jews and Gentiles,” check out Ephesians 2:11-19. It clearly implies that gentile believers are no longer excluded from citizenship in Israel and strangers to the covenants. As far as, “The New Testament writers never said that the prophets were writing about the church or that those OT promises were transferred to the church age,” check out Peter’s use of quotes from Exodus 19:6 and 23:22 in I Peter 2:9.

Response:  So??  Ephesians 2:11-19 agrees with the point of Romans 11 and the wild and cultivated branches of the Olive Tree.  We are all included in the one people of God, which includes both Jews and Gentiles; we are now included in the same Olive Tree and receive the same promises given in the root, the Abrahamic covenant promises.

That does not nullify the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, any more than where Paul says in Gal. 3:28 that “…there is now no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Just because all are now included in the people of God does not mean that men become women or women become men, or that slaves and free cease to have their distinct identities and roles.

Same with 1 Peter 2:9, just as the Jews have that identity as a chosen race and holy nation, so Gentiles who are brought to believe are brought into the one people of God, into that olive tree that includes BOTH Jews and Gentiles, yet distinctions of persons and roles still exist.  We’re all believers, but have our different roles and functions within God’s Divine Plan and Purpose:  slaves, free, great or small, male or female, Israelites (descended from Jacob), or Gentiles (descended from Japheth or Ham, etc.).

Follow-up Claim:
It’s amazing that every time that passage (Gal 3:28) is cited, dispensationalists are quick to explain what it ~doesn’t~ mean, but never really get around to explaining what it does mean. Given the context of (Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ…) it seems clear that Paul'”

Response:  Read Barry Horner’s “Future Israel” which explains it very well.  One aspect of the Abrahamic covenant referred to a singular seed of Abraham (Christ), but another part of that covenant very clearly talked about plural descendants (see Gen. 17:7-8).  In Galatians Paul dealt with one aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, but that covenant included other provisions as well, and those other provisions in the covenant are still there.  Just because someone gives particular commentary about one part of a covenant or contract, does not mean that the other parts of that covenant are null and void.

What the Reformers Did Not Reform

August 11, 2011 3 comments

It is so well-established, beyond excuse, that Luther and Calvin did not reform eschatology, or ecclesiology, but just imported those ideas from Catholicism. How ironic that now the “truly reformed” act just as arrogant, appealing to church history and tradition, as “the Establishment” of Roman Catholicism did to the reformers years ago.

This statement, from a recent online discussion and then posted on one person’s Facebook status, brought about some rather interesting, though predictable, responses from some of those “truly reformed” individuals who reject dispensationalism.  Their responses show only continued unbelief, which is beyond excuse, and ignorance of both history and theology.

One response:  the Reformers did reform eschatology.  They got rid of purgatory, and Wikipedia says that purgatory is part of eschatology.  Leaving aside the lack of credibility for their source (Wikipedia and similar sites), consider just what purgatory really involved:  not “the afterlife” or “last things” but a works-based salvation system, which is part of soteriology and not eschatology.  The whole purpose of purgatory is to provide a works-based way for the works-based sinner to gain (by works) salvation and go to heaven.

Another response:  the Reformers did reform ecclesiology.  They departed from the Catholic church system.  Again how ridiculous a claim.  Leaving one church-state system, and then setting up a new (Protestant) church with the same ecclesiastical model of a church-state (even continuing infant baptism and keeping the government and church firmly together), is not reforming ecclesiology.

The next response:  why can’t you just accept that the Reformers did study eschatology, and through their own study and exegesis they came to the amillennialist conclusions?
Answer:  because they didn’t.  Luther and Zwingli both considered the book of Revelation as non-canonical.  Zwingli preached at his local church through every New Testament book–except the book of Revelation.  John Calvin did not reject Revelation from the canon, yet he wrote commentaries on every New Testament book except Revelation.  Calvin further thought premillennialism meant that eternity only lasts for 1000 years and dismissed that as an absurdity.

For an overview look at actual church history, and the beginnings of replacement theology, amillennialism and Covenant Theology, refer to this previous blog.

Reasons for Anti-Semitism: From S. Lewis Johnson

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

S. Lewis Johnson, in his Zechariah series (1967) discussed anti-Semitism, listing seven reasons why it exists:

1.  Hatred of Israel’s God
2.  Penal judgment of God:  for their rejection of Him in the 1st century.
3.  National discipline of God:  discipline that will ultimately bring them to Him
4.  Jews’ pride and self-righteousness:  a characteristic trait.
Leviticus 26:19 contains a specific prediction about the Jews’ pride:  I will break the pride of your power
5.  Gentile jealousy of Jewish excellency:   The Jews’ excellency in economics, science, art, music, finance.  Jews are better educated: three times as many Jews go to college as non-Jews.
6.  Jewish Separation:  Produces Xenophobia.  We don’t like people that are different.
Here reference Baalam’s prophecy, that they shall dwell alone.  (Numbers 23:9)
7.  Jewish political liberalism, philosophical radicalism
Yet we must consider here, that this has often been the product of anti-semitic, reactionary conservative control, especially in Russia, where they were forced into the political underground as their only hope (in the natural realm).

More detail and history lies back of these seven reasons.  For instance, number 2 — Penal judgment of God: the Christian Church (the visible one, the Roman Catholic Medieval Church) went far beyond the truth, including forced baptisms and other crimes against the Jews.  Just as the nations in Zechariah’s day punished the Jews yet went far beyond God’s intention in how they treated them, so the visible Christian church went beyond God’s intention for His discipline of them.

How should we look at Genesis 12:3, the statement to Abraham that “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.”?  This does not mean that people cannot criticize an individual Jew, for that individual Jew’s own faults, or that to do so brings judgment from God.  After all, the Bible says if you persecute anybody, if you curse anybody, you can expect divine judgment.   Genesis 12:3 is something different, that has special reference to the religious side of the promises: their future and their land.

From S. Lewis Johnson:

Now, the man who curses Israel is the man who says Israel has no future; the man who curses Israel is the man who says Israel has no covenant; the man who curses Israel is the man who says that Israel has no divine relationship to God which shall ultimately issue in a Messiah who shall die for Israel, and in the land promises ultimately fulfilled to them with the kingdom of God upon the Earth.  That is the man who is guilty of cursing the Jew.  It is the religious side of things that is referred to there. … if we ever should say that Israel has no future; that Israel has not promise; that Israel has not land; that Israel has nothing, we will drive them into the sea as the Assyrians and Egyptians are saying today, and they will not exist as a nation:  then we are guilty of transgressing the promise of Genesis 12.  And down through the years the nations that have done that have discovered the judgment of God.  The Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Greeks, the ancient Romans, the Germans, the Spanish and right down to the present day and they shall.

Was Zechariah the Prophet Martyred?

August 4, 2011 2 comments

I’ve started S. Lewis Johnson’s Zechariah series, and for additional study recently read MacArthur’s notes (MacArthur Bible Commentary) introduction.  One rather surprising item was MacArthur’s note that this Zechariah was martyred, since Jesus mentions Zechariah the son of Berechiah in Matthew 23.  I also remember from S. Lewis Johnson’s Matthew series, a brief mention of that passage and reference to the Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24.  In considering the overall history pre- and post-exile, MacArthur’s note just seemed odd, in that it basically says that there were two men with the same name Zechariah, and both were martyred in the very same manner.

I also consider the overall time periods: the idolatrous pre-exile period of King Joash, as contrasted with the attitude of the remnant in the days of the chapters in Ezra’s book along with parallel material in Haggai.  Haggai’s prophecies in 520 B.C., a few months before the prophecy of Zechariah, were received favorably and achieved the desired result: the people resumed and completed building the second temple.  Zechariah’s prophecy followed up a few months later, in 519 B.C., a favorable prophecy to encourage the remnant concerning the future, that God is still concerned about Israel and still has a great future for them.  Nothing in Zechariah’s prophecy, or in any of the other post-exilic writings, indicates that the post-exile people were still idolatrous and murderous in the manner of the earlier time.  Instead, only a relatively small number of them had returned (about 50,000 at the time of Haggai and Zechariah), and they were very conscious of their past sins, and more prone to discouragement, to build their own homes first.  All of the people faced persecution and opposition during this time, from the surrounding non-Jewish people: not exactly the time when Jews would be turning on their own prophets who were giving them a favorable message — and besides, the temple was only then being rebuilt, so how could Zechariah the prophet be killed in such a structure?  Yes, Stephen in Acts 7 declares to his generation “which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” and yet the post-exile period seems to be one of the rare exceptions, of prophets who gave messages that the people did respond to.  Before and after this period, the people were more secure in their location, not a small remnant oppressed by outsiders, and thus more inclined and able to persecute and kill the prophets.

But what of Jesus’ remark in Matthew 23:35, concerning “the blood of Abel.. to Zechariah the son of Berechiah”?  Some debate exists as to the actual names in the original manuscripts, and it is common enough to find Old Testament characters given more than one name, or even for generations to be skipped, such that the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles could easily have been a grandson of Jehoida.  Nothing in Jesus’ statement itself proves that this had to be Zechariah the prophet.

The reference to the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles makes much more sense when we also realize that the Jewish scriptures are  arranged differently than our Old Testament (see this link for the actual sequence), and 2 Chronicles (the full book of Chronicles actually) is the last book in the Jewish collection.  Thus, a reference to “Abel … to Zechariah” covers everything from the first book to the last book of the Jewish Bible: from Genesis to Chronicles, NOT Genesis to Malachi.

S. Lewis Johnson explained it thus, in his Matthew series:

Now let me say just a word about verse 35.  You’ll notice that our Lord looks back over the whole of the Old Testament, and beginning with Abel, the first of those murdered in the Bible, then on to Zacharias son of Barachias, slain between the temple and the altar (the account of which is given us in 2nd Chronicles).  And do you remember perhaps that in the Hebrew Old Testament the last book of the Bible is 2nd Chronicles?   For them the order of books is different from the order in our English text, so that what our Lord has done is to begin in the first of the murders in the book of Genesis and has ranged through the whole of the Scriptures, as he knew them, to the last of those that were murdered unrighteously, Zacharias son of Barachias, and has in a sense characterized the whole of the divine revelation up to that point as being a situation in which the righteous men were crucified by the religious men.  It’s a remarkable statement, a remarkable summary of the attitude of religious men, hypocritical men to the reality of the truth of the word of God.  We can then understand very easily how he should say, “Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation.”

By contrast, MacArthur’s sermon explanation (also in a Matthew series) doesn’t even mention these points, and just assumes it must be Zechariah the prophet, and that Jesus’s statement affirms that the people were always killing their prophets down to the more recent time period.

From a sampling of other commentaries I checked, John Gill’s is the most thorough on this overall question, and he notes several things including the problem of the historical time period, and agrees with S. Lewis Johnson’s view above.  An excerpt from John Gill here:

Others have been of opinion, that Zechariah the prophet is designed; and indeed, he is said to be the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo, Zec 1:1 and the Jewish Targumist speaks of a Zechariah, the son of Iddo, as slain by the Jews in the temple. His words are these {a};

“as ye slew Zechariah, the son of Iddo, the high priest, and faithful prophet, in the house of the sanctuary of the Lord, on the day of atonement; because he reproved you, that ye might not do that evil which is before the Lord.”

And him the Jews make to be the same with Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah, in Isa 8:2 and read Berechiah {b}: but the Targumist seems to confound Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, with him; for the prophet Zechariah was not an high priest, Joshua was high priest in his time; nor does it appear from any writings, that he was killed by the Jews; nor is it probable that they would be guilty of such a crime, just upon their return from captivity; and besides, he could not be slain in such a place, because the temple, and altar, were not yet built: it remains, that it must be Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, who was slain in the court of the house of the Lord,  2Ch 24:20 who, as Abel was the first, he is the last of the righteous men whose death is related in the Scriptures, and for whose blood vengeance was required, as for Abel’s. He was slain in the court of the house of the Lord; and so the Ethiopic version here renders it, in the midst of the holy house.
. . .
The chief objections to its being this Zechariah are, that the names do agree; the one being the son of Jehoiada, the other the son of Barachias; and the killing of him was eight hundred years before this time; when it might have been thought our Lord would have instanced in a later action: and this he speaks of, he ascribes to the men of that generation: to which may be replied, that as to the difference of names, the father of this Zechariah might have two names, which is no unusual thing; besides, these two names signify much the same thing; Jehoiada signifies praise the Lord, and Barachias bless the Lord; just as Eliakim and Jehoiakim, are names of the same person, and signify the same thing,  2Ch 36:4. Moreover, Jerom tells us, that in the Hebrew copy of this Gospel used by the Nazarenes, he found the name Jehoiada instead of Barachias: and as to the action being done so long ago, what has been suggested already may be an answer to it, that it was the last on record in the writings of the Old Testament; and that his blood, as Abel’s, is said to require vengeance: and Christ might the rather pitch upon this action, because it was committed on a very great and worthy man, and in the holy place, and by the body of the people, at the command of their king, and with their full approbation, and consent: and therefore, though this was not done by the individual persons in being in Christ’s time, yet by the same people; and so they are said to slay him, and his blood is required of them: and their horrible destruction was a punishment for that load of national guilt, which had been for many hundreds of years contracting, and heaping upon them.