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Ezekiel’s Temple: The Animal Sacrifices

October 31, 2011 4 comments

I recently learned of another approach to understanding Ezekiel 40-48.  Well known is the idea of amillennialists and postmillennialists, that those chapters do not have any specific meaning other than great spiritual ideas of what the Jewish worship might have been.  By contrast, dispensational premillennialists view the temple and the sacrifices as literal, a package deal.

However, a few within this group actually take an inconsistent approach:  the temple itself is a literal structure that will exist during the Millennial Kingdom.  But what is described about the sacrifices and priestly system is symbolic of the worship that the Israelites in that age will experience.  The Jews of Ezekiel’s day could not have understood our church age, and so Ezekiel described it in a way they would understand.  Dan Duncan at Believers Chapel (where the late S. Lewis Johnson taught), for instance, expresses this view in his Ezekiel series, again because of the supposed conflict with New Testament revelation, that Christ finished the OT priestly system.  This view is listed as the second (not primary) explanation in the Scofield Bible, and dispensationalist H.A. Ironside also took this view.

I found this explanation rather unsatisfying, for obvious hermeneutical reasons.  Why would Ezekiel 43 contain such very detailed, precise descriptions for something that is only symbolic of something else?  How can we say that the physical description of the temple itself is the Millennial temple, but that the description of the services held there (animal sacrifices) is not literal and really means something else?  At this point I also refer back to Matt Weymeyer’s list of rules for determining if a passage is literal or not.

1.  Does it possess a degree of absurdity when taken literally?  Example: Isaiah 55:12 “the trees of the fields will clap their hands.”

2.  Does it possess a degree of clarity when taken symbolically?  Symbolic language effectively communicates what it symbolizes.
Isaiah 55:12 does possess a degree of clarity when taken symbolically.

3.  Does it fall into an established category of symbolic language?  — figures of speech, etc.  You have to be able to identify what kind of symbol you’re dealing with.  Isaiah 55:12 is a  Personification type of symbol.

Matt Weymeyer applied this test to Revelation 20, but the same can be done for the Ezekiel passage about animal sacrifices.  We can easily understand that Ezekiel 43 does not appear “absurd” when taken literally.  Yes, it may be a difficult question to answer, but the passage itself is not absurd such as the idea of trees clapping their hands.  If Ezekiel 43 is symbolic, is that symbolic view clear?  Just as theologians have come up with many different “interpretations” of Revelation 20, same here, many different “interpretations” have been suggested:  that it’s symbolic for the future worship during the Mill. Kingdom, or that it’s describing the actual sacrifices of the post-exilic period; or that the whole temple structure itself isn’t real since there is no future Millennial Kingdom.  So again, Ezekiel 43 fails the second test; we do not see a clear meaning if Ezekiel 43 is symbolic.  Then the third test:  what category of symbolic language is Ezekiel 43?  Is it a figure of speech, a metaphor, a personification? Of course the Ezekiel passages about animal sacrifices are not a type of symbolic language.

Once we establish, on hermeneutical grounds, that there will be sacrifices during the Kingdom, we move on and address the issue more honestly, looking at the meaning of those sacrifices.

Here are a few links for further information concerning Ezekiel’s Temple sacrifices:

WHY LITERAL SACRIFICES IN THE MILLENNIUM  (Thomas Ice)

Animal Sacrifices in Israel — Past & Future  (John Whitcomb)

Ezekiel’s Temple: Premillennial Achilles’ Heel?  (Paul Henebury)

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The Four Types of People: Teachings from Paul and the Author of Hebrews

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment

From a study through Hebrews with S. Lewis Johnson

The Bible identifies four types of individuals:

  • The Natural Man (1 Corinthians 2:14) — “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
  • The Carnal — Babe, or Carnal-Weak (1 Corinthians 2 and 3) — the way every Christian begins, when converted.  These may partake of milk, but cannot take meat.
  • The Carnal-Willful, as contrasted with the Carnal-Babe.  These are characterized by the carnality of persisting in failure to respond to the word of God.  Their spiritual growth has stalled.  Paul mentions these in 1 Corinthians 3:2-3 — “And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.”  The writer of Hebrews also addresses these, in Hebrews 5:12-13:   For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.
  • Mature Christian:  the spiritually-growing believer, who can eat meat instead of milk, as described in Hebrews 5:14 — “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

A few more observations from Hebrews 5:11-6:12

The elementary principles listed in Hebrews 6:1-2 are from Judaism (not basics of Christianity).  The descriptions, especially in the KJV term “baptisms”, sound like they could refer to basic Christianity, but all were part of Judaism, which the readers of Hebrews were familiar with.

A translation point concerning Hebrews 6:6:  the correct understanding of this passage, which starts in verse 4, is not “if they fall away” but “and then have fallen away.”  Most modern translations, such as the ESV, NASB and HCSB, translate this correctly.  This does give a different understanding than the KJV and NIV rendering “if they fall away.”  We are to best understand the passage as describing the characteristics of these people:  they have once been enlightened, they have tasted the heavenly gift, they have shared in the Holy Spirit, they have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come — AND they have already fallen away.

Hebrews 6:3 includes the interesting words “if God permits.”  We will go on, past the “elementary principles,” to maturity:  if God permits.  We learn here of the condition that God will not permit:  that condition described in Hebrews 6:4-6, that of apostasy from a profession of faith.

The Identities of Jesus and the Arch-Angel Michael

October 24, 2011 4 comments

Lately an unusual idea has been circulating among some Christians online: the idea that the archangel Michael is really another name for Jesus.  This is not the standard Jehovah Witness claim about Christ being a created angelic being.  No, this view maintains Christ’s Deity, but says that all references to “Michael” are actually referring to Christ.

For support, the group claims support from a few well-known preachers, including Charles Spurgeon.  From my own googling through Spurgeon sermons (on the Spurgeon Gems site), sure enough, I found a few interesting statements from Spurgeon, which might seem to give support to the idea.  For in these excerpts, Spurgeon does say that our Lord “is the true Michael” and from these texts I could not easily tell if Spurgeon thought that Michael was literally Jesus, or if he were speaking figuratively from an understanding of types.

From “The Blood of the Lamb, The Conquering Weapon” (Sept. 9, 1888):

“By faith we rise into the conquering place this day. In the heavenlies we triumph, as also in every place. We rejoice in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Michael of the angels, the Redeemer of men. For by Him we see Satan cast out and all the powers of evil hurled from their places of power and eminence.”

From “Our Lord’s Transcendent Greatness” (Dec. 2, 1866):

You remember how our Lord, who is the true Michael, the only great Archangel, said at the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel, “I beheld Satan as lightning falling from Heaven.”

From “The Angelic Life” (Nov. 22, 1868):

“We read that Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels, and the dragon was cast down. The fight is going on every day. Michael is the Lord Jesus, the only Archangel.”

If that were all, perhaps the group might be justified in their claim that at least Spurgeon believed this.  But then I found the following, Spurgeon’s commentary on Jude 9, a passage which specifically mentions Michael:  But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”  Here it is clear that Spurgeon did see a distinction in the identities of Christ and Michael, for he puts forth a lesson regarding the created angel Michael as well as the “great Doctrine of angels watching over the bones of the saints.”

From “The Resurrection of the Dead” (Feb. 17, 1856):

“There is a remarkable passage in Jude, where it speaks of Michael the Archangel contending with the devil about the body of Moses and using no “railing accusation.” Now, this refers to the great Doctrine of angels watching over the bones of the saints. Certainly it tells us that the body of Moses was watched over by a great archangel. The devil thought to disturb that body but Michael contended with him about it. Now would there be a contention about that body if it had been of no value? Would Michael contend for that which was only to be the food of worms? Would he wrestle with the enemy for that which was to be scattered to the four winds of Heaven, never to be united again into a new and goodlier fabric? No. Assuredly not! From this we learn that an angel watches over every tomb. It is no fiction, when on the marble we carve the cherubs with their wings. There are cherubs with outstretched wings over the head of the gravestones of all the righteous. Yes, and where “the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep,” in some nook overgrown by nettles, there an angel stands night and day to watch each bone and guard each atom, that at the resurrection, those bodies, with more glory than they had on earth, may start up to dwell forever with the Lord! The guardianship of the bodies of the saints by angels proves that they shall rise again from the dead!”

Continuity and Discontinuity Between the Old and New Testament

October 20, 2011 10 comments

Often in discussions about “Covenant Theology” versus “Dispensational Theology,” the topic of continuity and discontinuity comes up.  I’ve often heard an amillennialist pastor say, for instance (without setting forth any specifics), that CT holds to complete continuity between the Old and New Testaments, and dispensationalists believe in complete discontinuity, and he thinks it’s somewhere in the middle (the continuity level of NCT, Reformed Baptists).

Then this weekend, in an online discussion between Calvinist Dispensationalists, we discussed the ideas of ultra- or hyper-dispensationalism; one person apparently holds to a mixture of moderate and ultra-dispensationalism.  That view does make much of discontinuity, saying that the church started not in Acts 2 but at some later point in Acts:  chapters 9, 13, a few other places, or even the extreme of after Acts.  Ultra-dispensationalism also puts discontinuity between the NT epistles from Peter (to the Jews of the kingdom dispensation) versus the epistles from Paul, saying that Gentiles only follow Christ as Paul follows Christ.

But what is a valid biblical understanding concerning continuity and discontinuity in the Bible?  Here I refer back to a lesson from S. Lewis Johnson, #16 in his “The Divine Purpose” series.

Areas of Continuity:
1.  Believers in the church and Israel, whether Jewish or Gentile, inherit the Messianic promises. The same promises that are found in the Old Testament, in the prophetic word, are the promises that are inherited by all believers within the Christian church, Jews and Gentiles.  Romans 11 sets this forth, in the description of the olive tree and the wild branches (Gentiles) grafted into the same olive tree, inheriting the same promises.

2.  Both entities, Israel and the church, form part of the one overall purpose of God that deals with the nations.
Romans chapter 11:28-32 describes this.  God has arranged things in the divine plan of ages in such a way that he might have mercy upon all.

Areas of Discontinuity
1.  A change in the national character of the people of God, as the history of the church unfolds:  from a Jewish church at the beginning (Pentecost), then historical change to predominately Gentiles. This is brought out in the book of Acts and later church history.

2.  A change in the administration of the Kingdom of God.
The administration of the kingdom, which belonged to the nation Israel, has now been taken from them because of the disobedience of the nation as a whole and handed over to the church of Jesus Christ.   As S. Lewis Johnson observes:  And so that’s why we read in the apostle’s language in 1 Timothy chapter 3, and in other places, similar types of things, that it is the responsibility of the church to guard the truth, to be the pillar and ground of the truth of God in the present time.  Israel’s privileges then are given to Gentiles until their restoration.

3.  A change in the relation of Israel to the Gentiles.

Israel was given the Law of Moses; now, the Law of Moses has been done away with.  The church, the people of God, are no longer under the Law of Moses.  In the Old Testament, if a man became a believer in Christ, he would unite with the nation Israel.  That is no longer a necessary thing.  The mental wall of partition, as Paul states in Ephesians 2, has been broken down and, therefore, and the Book of Acts records how this is spelled out in history, therefore, while a believing Gentile may enter the church of Jesus Christ on the same basis, in the same way, that a member of the nation Israel enters the church through faith in the Messiah who has come and is to come.

4.  A change has taken place in the divine ordinances.  The Old Testament had circumcision, the sign of belonging to the Abrahamic covenant.  Now, we as believers do not have circumcision, but have the ordinances of water baptism and the Lord’s supper.

5.  A change in the individual experience of salvation.  The believer today enjoys an access to God that believers in the Old Testament did not enjoy.

The Sabbath Rest: S. Lewis Johnson on Hebrews 4

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

From my study through the book of Hebrews with S. Lewis Johnson, I now look at chapter 4 and the idea of “rest.”

The Bible tells of three types of rest:

  • Salvation Rest
  • Sanctification Rest
  • The Sabbath rest  (Hebrews 4:1-13)

All Christians enter the salvation rest, that rest found in Jesus’ familiar words, “Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  We all come to that point of resting from our own works, our own effforts to earn God’s favor, and “rest” in faith in the finished work of Christ on Calvary.

Then as we continue in our walk, we experience the sanctification rest, the struggles of fighting against indwelling sin (Romans 7) and coming to rest in God’s grace and strength (Romans 8), the strength He gives us to get through our struggles.  A word from S. Lewis Johnson here:

That’s what life “in the holiest” really means, when the experiences of life come from a sovereign God who controls our circumstances, and in the midst of them we turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, you have brought this into my life.  Now, give me the strength to rely upon you in this experience?”  We call that the “present rest” of holiness, sanctification.  Holiness in the sense, not of sanctimoniousness, but holiness in the sense of separation to the Lord God.

Hebrews 4 talks about a third kind of rest:  the Sabbath rest.  It is a future rest, the hope of all that we look forward to:  the kingdom of God.  Here S. Lewis Johnson observes:

This is the rest that man is to enjoy forever.  It is the rest that we anticipate with the coming of the kingdom of God upon the earth.  That rest, that Sabbath rest, as we shall see, the kingdom of God upon the earth, when the promises of God have reached their fruition and God rules and reigns over all of this earth.  It may be called the Millennium, for the first thousand years of it form a millennium, but it is a kingdom that extends, also, into the indefinite future, the eternal future.

The Evil Heart of Unbelief

October 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Some thoughts from various sermons:  S. Lewis Johnson’s Hebrews series, also the Malachi series, and a Spurgeon sermon I read recently.

By nature man thinks “horizontally” about relationships to others, giving far less attention to the vertical relationship with God.  We see this in many ways throughout the Bible as well as actual experience.  From the Malachi series (and really all the minor prophets), we see a people much like the modern church, focused on outward worship and hypocrisy, going through the motions but without true heart worship of the God with whom we have to do.  The book of Hebrews is addressed to Christians who have become cold and indifferent, and the writer challenges them to beware the “evil heart of unbelief.”  Yet in several places in the OT prophets, God rebukes His people for their lack of love toward Him, for their empty, meaningless sacrifices that He actually hates.

Spurgeon made a great observation concerning the fact that we focus more on the sins against other men, not on sins against God:
From “Limiting God,” #272  (Aug. 28, 1859)

When God gave forth the Law it was engraved upon two stones. The first table contained the commandments concerning man and God, the second dealt with man and man. Sins against God are sins against the first table—sins against man are offenses against the second table. Man, to constantly prove his perversity, will put the second table before the first, no, upon the first, so as to cover and conceal it! There are few men who will not allow the enormity of adultery, fewer still who will dispute the wickedness of murder. Men are willing enough to acknowledge that there is sin in an offense against man. That which endangers the human commonwealth, that which would disturb the order of earthly governments—all this is wrong enough even in man’s esteem, but when you come to deal with the first table it is hard, indeed, to extort a confession from mankind! They will scarcely acknowledge that there is any such thing as an offense against God, or if they do acknowledge it, yet they think it but a light matter.

What man is there among you who has not in his heart often lamented sins against man, rather than sins against God? And which of you has not felt a greater compunction for sins against your neighbor, or against the nation, than for sins committed against God and done in His sight? I say that such is the perversity of man, that he will think more of the less than the greater! An offense against the Majesty of Heaven is thought to be far more venial than an offense against his fellow creature. There are many transgressions of the first table of which we think so little that we scarcely ever confess them at all—or if we acknowledge them, it is only because the Grace of God has taught us to estimate them aright. One offense against the first table which seldom agitates the mind of an unconvicted sinner is that of unbelief and with it, I may put the lack of love to God. The sinner does not believe in God, does not trust in Him, does not love Him. He gives his heart to the things of earth and denies it to his Creator! Of this high treason and rebellion he thinks nothing. If you could take him in the act of theft, a blush would mantle his cheek. But you detect him in the daily omission of love to God and faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, and you cannot make him feel that he is guilty of any evil in this! Oh, strange contortion of human judgment!

Oh, blindness of mortal conscience, that this greatest of iniquities—a lack of love to the All-Lovely and a lack of faith in Him who is deserving of the highest trust—should be thought to be as nothing and reckoned among the things that need not to be repented of!

A Study In Malachi: God’s Name Will Be Great Among The Nations

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Malachi series, a few thoughts from study of Malachi chapter 1.

Looking specifically at verses 11 and 14:

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.

and

For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.

The King James Version puts it in the present tense.  Modern translations render it more accurately, as pointing to a future time.  Certainly the text itself does not describe the time of Malachi: at that time there were no offerings being offered among the Gentiles that were pure.  Only offerings made in Jerusalem, at the temple, were pure.

Some commentators apply it to the church age, by broadening the scope of the words (spiritualizing), as for example from John Gill concerning “a pure offering”:

meaning either the Gentiles themselves, their souls and bodies,  Isa 66:20 or their sacrifices of praise, good works, and alms deeds  Heb 13:15 which, though imperfect, and not free from sin, may be said to be “pure”, proceeding from a pure heart, sprinkled by the blood of Christ, and offered in a pure and spiritual manner, and through the pure incense of Christ’s mediation.

However, the overall text describes a time when God’s “name will be great among the nations.”  Similar to the idea of Satan now being bound, to suggest that God’s name is now regarded as great among the nations is very wrongheaded, a view that rejects both the NT writers description of this age as well as observed reality.

Malachi was addressing the remnant returned from the Babylonian exile, a group that had already gone astray, thinking more about themselves than of God, as evidenced by their polluted offerings.  God addressed the people in Malachi, this last word from God before the NT age, with rebukes to the priests (Malachi 1:1-2:9) as well as to the people (Malachi 2:10-16).

Malachi 1:11-14 is telling the people of that time:  I am a great God.  The time is coming when the whole of the earth will be worshipping me.  They will bring pure offerings.  Your attitude now is entirely contrary to the future.

In the words of Dr. Ironside, commentary on Malachi 1:

But it is blessed to know that, whatever the present failure, God shall yet be fully glorified; so we read, “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, My name shall be great among the nations; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering: for My name shall be great among the nations, saith the Lord of hosts” (ver. 11). It is hardly the present work of grace among the Gentiles that is here contemplated, but rather that wonderful era of blessing which is still in the future-the times of restitution of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the ages began. Then shall Jehovah’s name be honored and His word obeyed throughout the whole earth, when all nations shall bask in the sunshine of His favor.