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Biblical Prophecies and Fulfillment: Michael Barrett Series

May 15, 2017 4 comments

The later messages in Michael Barrett’s “Refuting Dispensationalism” series  (see this previous post) consider another of Charles Ryrie’s distinctives of dispensationalism –  literal interpretation of prophecy – with a detailed look at some actual prophetic texts that have been fulfilled, to note some interesting features.  A key point here is that, contrary to the claim made by some, prophecy is NOT “as clear as yesterday’s newspaper.”

  • Prophecies Are Not Clear in the Details

The prophecy in 2 Kings 7:1-2 – Elisha, to the king’s captain who doubted Elisha’s prophecy about food in Samaria, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it,” had its fulfillment the next day, described in verses 17 through 20.  Yet the prophecy lacked details.  Surely, if the man had known the details, he would have taken steps to prevent its fulfillment!

  • Prophecies Fulfilled, but not Exact Date-Specific

Jeremiah’s prophecy of the 70 years captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:10) also had its fulfillment. About 70 years later, the people did return to the land of Israel.  But what was the starting point?  The deportation occurred in three stages:  605 B.C., 597 B.C. and finally, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  Yet if we try to date the 70 years from any of these three points, to the later decree of Cyrus, none of these starting points matches exactly to 70 years.

  • Prophecies Fulfilled, But In Different Ways

Jacob’s last words to his twelve sons, in Genesis 49, includes a prophecy about Simeon and Levi in verses 5-7:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers;
weapons of violence are their swords.
Let my soul come not into their council;
O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men,
and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
and scatter them in Israel.

The later history of Israel proved the truth of this prophecy.  Yet though we might expect the same outcome for both tribes, the details proved otherwise.  Levi was scattered and not given a portion of land, but in a positive way – the Lord was their portion, they did not inherit a specific piece of land.  Simeon, though, was given land – land that was within the territory of Judah, such that they later lost their specific identity and are infrequently mentioned as a distinct tribe.  One prophecy about both sons and their descendants, meant fulfillment in very different ways.

Along with these interesting observations, in this series Dr. Barrett also provides guidelines for the proper interpretation of prophecies, including explanation of “progressive prediction” or “prophetic telescoping.”  Of particular note, Barrett disagrees with the “double fulfillment” or “multiple fulfillment” view of prophecy; a particular prophecy only has one meaning and thus one corresponding fulfillment; a particular scripture cannot mean one thing and also mean something else.  Yet we can see a progression in the fulfillment of a prophecy.  Isaiah 61:1-2 is a classic example; Jesus quoted verse 1 through the first phrase of verse 2, as being fulfilled at that time (His First Coming); He did not read the rest of verse 2, though – because that part refers to His Second Coming.

Overall I found this series helpful: a good overview of a few key issues identified by Ryrie as distinctives of dispensationalism, and considering specific points of scripture, and examples from scripture as a contrast to these points.

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The Prophet Zechariah and Modern Criticism: David Baron

June 26, 2014 1 comment

The book of Zechariah, especially the last few chapters, often is mentioned as being a challenge for non-futurists and non-premillennialists.  A recent online conversation among a group of preterist amillennialists, for example, involved people citing various commentaries in support of various “spiritual” or allegorical ideas not related to the specific text itself.

David Baron’s Zechariah commentary, written nearly 100 years ago, shows that nothing is new in biblical commentary and criticism. Here is a look at this rather interesting issue, the various “interpretations” of higher criticism and the idea that Zechariah chapters 9 through 14 were not authored by Zechariah.

Before the modern liberal thought, 17th century Joseph Mede argued for pre-exilic authorship and attributed chapters 9 through 14: to justify inerrancy of the reference in Matthew 27:9-10, which ascribes a prophecy in Zechariah 11 to Jeremiah. And proceeding from this point of view, he discovered, as he thought, internal proof that these chapters belonged not to Zechariah’s, but to Jeremiah s time. He was followed by Hammond, Kidder, Newcome, etc. Here Baron considers the possibility that the mistake occurred with the transcribers of Matthew’s Gospel – rather than the Jewish Church making a mistake in their canon of scripture.

The more serious, unbelieving criticism came later, in the era of “modern criticism.” Like the claims of a “deutero Isaiah” and other anonymous writers who added to the original prophets’ writings, this comes from the root of naturalism and an anti-supernaturalist presupposition, the idea that it is not possible for a human writer to so well predict the future.

reading the many, and for the most part conflicting opinions of modern writers on this question, one is struck with the truth of Keil’s remarks, that the objections which modern critics offer to the unity of the book (and the same may be said also of much of their criticism of other books of the Bible) do not arise from the nature of these scriptures, but “partly from the dogmatic assumption of the rationalistic and naturalistic critics that the Biblical prophecies are nothing more than the productions of natural divination; and partly from the inability of critics, in consequence of this assumption, to penetrate into the depths of the divine revelation, and to grasp either the substance or form of their historical development so as to appreciate it fully.”

All operating from the same naturalist presupposition, the various writers come up with several different ideas, with their only thing in common their rejection of the obvious, their insistence that it could not have been written by the prophet Zechariah. Some say it was written by someone during the later, post-Zechariah, post-exile time period (anywhere from 500 to 300 B.C.), while others give it a pre-exile date as in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time. S. Lewis Johnson’s observation so well applies here: “When we lack the will to see things as they really are, there is nothing so mysterious as the obvious. David Baron well points out the problem with the pre-exilic view:

it must be pointed out that the prophecy, had it preceded the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, could not have been earlier than the reign of Jehoiakim, since the mourning for the death of Josiah is spoken of as a proverbial sorrow of the past. But in that case the prophecy which ” anticipates” a miraculous interposition of God for the deliverance of Jerusalem would have been in direct contradiction to Jeremiah, “who for thirty-nine years in one unbroken dirge predicted the evil” which should come upon the city; and the inventive prophet would have been “one of the false prophets who contradicted Jeremiah, who encouraged Zedekiah in his perjury, the punishment whereof Ezekiel solemnly denounced, prophesying his captivity in Babylon as its penalty ; he would have been a political fanatic, one of those who by encouraging rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar brought on the destruction of the city, and in the name of God told lies against God.

It is such an intense paradox that the writing of one convicted by the event of uttering falsehood in the name of God, incorrigible even in the thickening tokens of God s displeasure, should have been inserted among the Hebrew prophets, in times not far removed from those whose events convicted him, that one wonders that any one should have invented it. Great indeed is the credulity of the incredulous!

The full chapter goes into great detail concerning the views of many scholars of that time, and their flawed reasoning. David Baron provides a good summary of those who stand on the shaky ground of human wisdom:

But there is truth in the remark that “Criticism which reels to and fro in a period of nearly 500 years, from the earliest of the prophets to a period a century after Malachi, and this on historical and philological grounds, certainly has come to no definite basis, either as to history or philology. Rather, it has enslaved both to preconceived opinions; and at last, as late a result as any has been, after this weary round, to go back to where it started from, and to suppose these chapters to have been written by the prophet whose name they bear.”

Millennial Views: When Is Christ Returning?

May 7, 2014 4 comments

Recently, in an example of perhaps an extreme reaction against popular dispensational-style “date setting,” R.C. Sproul Jr. opined that Christ will likely not return for tens of thousands of years, apparently basing his view on an interpretation of Exodus 20:5-6, where “showing mercy to thousands” means “thousands of generations” rather than thousands of people – and extrapolating out many thousands of generations even beyond the current 3400+ years since Moses. (I note here from the ESV translation and footnote, that this text may also mean “to the thousandth generation.”)

As to his reaction against dispensational-style date setting (“I know that every odd astronomical event, every middle eastern hot spot fires up the end times hysteria machine, but I’m not willing to get on that ride,”), a wise observation from J.C. Ryle comes to mind – and a good reminder that extremism in reference to the Second Coming is nothing new:

It proves nothing against the doctrine of Christ’s second coming and kingdom, that it has sometimes been fearfully abused. I should like to know what doctrine of the Gospel has not been abused.  Salvation by grace has been made a pretext for licentiousness, election, an excuse for all manner of unclean living, and justification by faith, a warrant for Antinomianism. But if men will draw wrong conclusions we are not therefore obliged to throw aside good principles. .. And where is the fairness of telling us that we ought to reject the second advent of Christ because there were Fifth Monarchy Men in the days of the Commonwealth, and Irvingites and Millerites in our own time. Alas, men must be hard pressed for an argument when they have no better reasons than this!

I am not familiar with the specifics of Sproul Jr’s beliefs, though suspect his could well be similar to Sproul Sr.: non-futurist and likely preterist, and amillennial. The main point I would address here is the general worldview of scripture: is the Bible really just a book about spiritual truths, in which the message of the gospel itself is the primary and only clear teaching? Or is God’s word all-encompassing, to include God’s purposes to be accomplished in history and in the real world around us?  Can we really “watch” for signs of Christ’s return and recognize the general season; or is Christ’s Return a truly sign-less, imminent event that could come at any time, just as likely in 28,000 years as in 50?

Discussions among premillennialists often consider the question of “imminence” versus whether certain events must first come to pass (before the resurrection and rapture), but generally all premillennialists recognize at least “stage setting” of events that must come to pass in order to literally fulfill Christ’s Second Coming (in similar manner as the literal fulfillment of prophecies regarding Christ’s First Coming). For instance, in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 Paul describes a future “man of lawlessness” entering the temple and declaring himself to be god – which presupposes a future temple to exist in order for such to happen. The Old and New Testament prophecies concerning Babylon have not literally been fulfilled, which led even 19th century expositors (Benjamin Wills Newton, for example) to expect a future rebuilding of Babylon – which has actually begun within the last several years. Stage setting to make possible the communication logistics described in Revelation 11:8-11 has already occurred (reference this post with quote from Horatius Bonar). The regathering of Jews into the land of Israel, predicted by historic premillennialists (from their reading of God’s word) such as Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle – has come to pass, though they did not live to see it.

Thus, the premillennial worldview recognizes in God’s word 1) events that truly have not happened yet (and logical precursors that only recently developed), and 2) the real world impact, the relationship between God’s word and real world history and actual world events; the full counsel of God is not merely that which gives spiritual guidance and “the plan of salvation” but a “both / and” reality affecting both our spiritual lives and the physical creation itself. As such, we can see the development of world events to know at least the general season and anticipate Christ’s return as likely within the next 50 to 100 years, perhaps sooner.

It turns out that actually, it is the non-futurist non-millennialist, who thinks all prophecy (except Christ’s return) has already been fulfilled, who really has a “sign-less” and “any moment” Second Coming – a Second Coming that might as well be tens of thousands of years from now and will be completely unexpected without any warnings and nothing to “watch for.”

The Real Story Behind the Pre-Conflagration, Supposed ‘Pre-Trib’ Rapture

December 16, 2013 10 comments

Recently an online posting has been circulating around, listing a number of well-known Christians throughout history who supposedly believed in a pre-tribulational rapture.  This posting does not include any actual source quotes from the people claimed to have believed in a pre-trib rapture, but asserts a “pre-trib” view for many of the early church fathers including Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Victorinus, as well as post-Reformation pre-19th century teachers including John Gill and Morgan Edwards.

I had already seen several quotes from the specific early church fathers, statements that show they understood that the saints (same group as the church), would experience the future time of antichrist.  Here are a few such statements, showing also their futurist (and premillennial) understanding of the events in Revelation:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, XXV, 4

And then he points out the time that his tyranny shall last, during which the saints shall be put to flight, they who offer a pure sacrifice unto God: ‘And in the midst of the week,’ he says, ‘the sacrifice and the libation shall be taken away, and the abomination of desolation [shall be brought] into the temple: even unto the consummation of the time shall the desolation be complete.’ Now three years and six months constitute the half-week.

Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 47

For this is meant by the little horn that grows up. He, being now elated in heart, begins to exalt himself, and to glorify himself as God, persecuting the saints and blaspheming Christ, even as Daniel says, ‘I considered the horn, and, behold, in the horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things; and he opened his mouth to blaspheme God. And that horn made war against the saints, and prevailed against them until the beast was slain, and perished, and his body was given to be burned.’

Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 61

That refers to the one thousand two hundred and threescore days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church, which flees from city to city, and seeks concealment in the wilderness among the mountains,…

Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, 20:1

The little season signifies three years and six months, in which with all his power the devil will avenge himself trader Antichrist against the Church.

As to the many current-day claims of pre-trib belief before the mid-19th century, it is interesting to note here that previous generations of dispensationalists —  Darby himself, also Scofield and later John Walvoord – all recognized and admitted that the pre-trib teaching was in fact a recent development.  This agrees with S. Lewis Johnson’s observation in 1989 during his series through Revelation, that those who held to pre-trib acknowledged that it was a recent teaching. The claims of pre-trib belief prior to the mid-19th century, are themselves a revision introduced by more recent pre-trib and prophecy teachers.

The idea that historicist Christians, including Morgan Edwards and John Gill, believed in a type of “pre-tribulational rapture,” comes from a twisting of their “pre-conflagration” statements, such as the following from John Gill:  He’ll stay in the air, and His saints shall meet Him there, and whom He’ll take up with Him into the third heaven, till the general conflagration and burning of the world is over, and to preserve them from it….   I note here, first, that these statements still show an idea of one First Resurrection and not a two-stage coming with one group before the Great Tribulation followed by another resurrection/rapture after that event – really a type of “pre-wrath” rapture of believers taken out before God’s wrath.

A further point of distinction must also be noted here:  the difference between historicist and futurist ideas of the book of Revelation.  The historicists were generally premillennial (John Gill, and at least a few others), but they understood the Great Tribulation in a non-literal way, as occurring throughout church history, with the events in Revelation describing longer periods of time, symbolic descriptions of various wars with the Turks or other enemies throughout the church age.  According to the historicist view, the Great Tribulation is already occurring, we are already experiencing it:  an idea obviously incompatible with the very notion of a pre-Tribulational rapture of one group of believers.  If the whole church age is the Tribulation, a “pre-trib rapture” could only occur before the church age began, which becomes speculative nonsense.

Thus, the present-day claims of a pre-1830 belief in a pretribulational rapture of the church, “found” in the statements of 18th century historicist pre-conflagrationists, is really deceptive handling of true Christian doctrine (what these men actually believed) and church history.   Here I also can appreciate the honesty of the earlier dispensationalists, such as Walvoord, who at least recognized the correct time period for the origin of the pre-trib rapture idea.

Recent Future Of Israel Conference

October 23, 2013 6 comments

After the recent excitement over the “Strange Fire” conference, some may have overlooked another conference held earlier this month in New York.  “The people, the Land and the Future of Israel” conference featured several speakers including Dr. Michael Vlach, and the videos are now available.  I’ve listened to a few of the messages so far, including Dr. Vlach’s and a panel concerning questions about current events in Israel.

Dr. Vlach’s message gives a brief summary of church history in reference to Israel’s future, considering the four main periods of church history:  Patristic (A.D. 100 to about 450), Medieval, Reformation (16th century), and Post-Reformation (17th century to now).  Using the same terminology as Barry Horner, he distinguishes between ‘replacement’ and ‘restoration’ views; the latter, restoration, refers to the belief of Israel now under divine judgment but having a future restoration as a nation (and restoration to their land).  As noted in his lecture (and also in Dr. Vlach’s book ‘Has the Church Replaced Israel?’), the early church was premillennial but supersessionist — though with belief in a future salvation for ethnic Israel.  Before the post-Reformation era, though, few Christians understood a restorationist view of Israel.  Since the Reformation, though, and starting in the 17th century, we find many prominent theologians who have affirmed a future restoration of ethnic Israel.

What I’ve listened to from other messages is also interesting, including discussion about the middle East and current events related to Israel, and the future of Israel in light of the holocaust (Barry Leventhal).

The Future Restoration of Israel: 12 Points In the Biblical Argument

September 9, 2013 8 comments

From Robert D. Culver’s “Daniel and the Latter Days”, the following list of 12 related points: what the scriptures say regarding “the restoration of Israel to the land and the conversion of the nation, to be followed in the Millennium by the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant promises distinctive to that nation.”

1.  Numerous Old Testament predictions which treat of a repentance and restoration of Israel in eschatological times which is distinct and separate from that which followed the Babylonian captivity.  Reference:  Hosea 3:4-5; Ezekiel 37:11-28

2.  The perpetuity of the nation of Israel, in spite of repeated apostasies and restorations after divine chastening.  Reference:  Lev. 26:44-45; Numbers 23:9; Jeremiah 30:10-11; Jeremiah 46:27-28; Amos 9:8-11

3.  Isaiah 11:1-12:6an Old Testament prophecy which in unmistakable and utterly unambiguous language predicts a national restoration of Israel in yet future Messianic times.

Verses six to nine following describe conditions in that final kingdom of earth’s history, the Millennial kingdom. It is a time of universal peace and prosperity among all of God’s creatures. Verse 10 adds that the peoples of the earth shall seek Christ, in that day–something, by the way, which can never, and will never, take place during this present age.

4. The Scriptures speak of a restoration of Israel which will be absolute and permanent.  Amos 9:14-15

5.  Jesus predicted events in the future which presuppose the restoration of Israel to Canaan and the re-establishment of the ancient tribal organization of the nation.  Reference Matt. 19:28 and Luke 22:28-29Unless the nation of Israel is to be revived and restored, this prophecy has no meaning at all.

6.  In his most important eschatological address, Jesus suggested that a period of Jewish rulership of their ancient city, Jerusalem, would follow on the conclusion of this age, which He called “the times of the Gentiles.”  Luke 21:24

7.  It was the plain belief of the apostles, even after the death and resurrection of Jesus, that the kingdom would be restored, as of old, to Israel.  Acts 1:6

8. The Apostle Paul declared that a time is coming in which “all Israel shall be saved” and that in such a context that the national repentance and conversion of the nation, if not national restoration, is a necessary inference.  Romans 11:25-26

9.  The Scriptures describe a future time when a temple of God in the Jewish city of Jerusalem shall be appropriated by God as His own and be misappropriated by Antichrist.  Revelation 11:1-2; 2 Thess. 2:3-4

10. The Revelation predicts a resumption of God’s dealing with Israel in the sealing of 144,000 Israelites, organized according to their tribal divisions.  Revelation 7:1-8

11.  The prophets speak as if the honor of Jehovah God is at stake in the restoration of Israel in a final and permanent way.  Ezekiel 36:21-22

12. The Bible reveals that the very worthiness of God as the object of the faith of the patriarchs, requires that He yet restore Israel and fulfill the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Romans 11:28; Lev. 26:40, 42-45; Jer. 33:25-26

Classic Premillennialism Resources: The Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony

September 5, 2013 3 comments

As a follow-up to my recent post listing many online books from classic premillennialists, here is another interesting resource with current-day reference to these teachers: the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony (Reformed, Protestant, Puritan, Prophetical, Expository, Doctrinal). Based in England since its founding in 1918 (with representatives in Australia, Canada and New Zealand – but apparently nothing in the U.S.), the group meets monthly; each meeting brings new topics and hour long messages from the various members.  As stated on their website: “We hold regular meetings and publish material on the subject of eschatology. The works of men such as Benjamin Wills Newton, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, JC Ryle, Dr S.P. Tregelles, Dr C.Y. Bliss, George Müller and David Baron are promoted.”

Among their past meetings is an interesting series from 2012, “Bible Lands in Bible Light”: ten messages about “God’s Purpose for …” with separate messages on Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and Israel.  The British accent takes some getting used to, and at least some of the speakers are older age (indeed this is the one troubling thing, an indication that this group may not continue long-term, since the current speakers are quite advanced in age — perhaps reflective of the current secular climate in Great Britain), such that the lectures move at a slower pace going through lots of background material; but still very interesting topics.  Some of the messages in the “Bible Lands in Bible Light” are featured in text, summary form in their recent quarterly magazines.

SGAT main website:   Basic information about the group, as well as a collection of audio MP3s from their meetings over the last few years.

SGAT quarterly magazine and a few premillennial articles in PDF format (including their PDF of Dennis Swanson’s article, Charles H. Spurgeon and Eschatology, which is also posted at Phil Johnson’s Spurgeon site)

SGAT Facebook page also includes updates of their upcoming meetings, their video messages and PDF magazines