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The Book of Hebrews and Futurist Eschatology

April 10, 2013 6 comments

Dr. Michael Vlach recently observed that there is “more futuristic eschatology in Hebrews than many realize.”  He mentioned particular references from his own study: Hebrews 2:8, 9:28, 12:26-27, and especially Hebrews 13:14.

Those are good verses for study, and here I also recall the Second Coming references in the verses cited in Hebrews 1.  In this previous post I noted several from S. Lewis Johnson’s Hebrews series, including Psalm 2, Psalm 89, and Deuteronomy 32, all of which in context refer to our Lord’s Second Coming.  The Greek translation of Hebrews 1:6 (and in some English versions – NKJV, NASB, HCSB, a few others) is also interesting:  “when He again brings His firstborn into the world” followed by a quotation from an OT text which is in the context of Christ’s ruling and reigning (Second Coming activities); see this previous post.

I remember when, in my daily genre readings, the Hebrews 9:28 verse suddenly jumped out at me. The local amillennial preterist church put considerable emphasis on the immediately preceding verses:  he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment – while ignoring the very next verse:

so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Since the pastor at the same church picks one verse out of context (Hebrews 1:2) to justify the presupposition that all New Testament references to the last days are really talking about the Church Age (beginning in the first century), it really isn’t that surprising that the same attitude would emphasize the past work verses in Hebrews (such as Hebrews 9:26-27) while neglecting the next verse, one of several great references to our blessed hope of Christ’s appearing (see also Titus 2:13).  I have previously blogged about a Preterist distortion of another of the futurist texts, Hebrews 12:26-27: twisted reasoning that actually thinks the “great shaking” spoken of by Haggai the prophet, and referenced in Hebrews, happened at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  The time compression forced on the scriptures (see Alva McClain’s quote in this previous post), trying to “fit” all future eschatological events into what happened in the 1st century, is indeed deceitful handling of God’s word.

Since even the book of Hebrews includes futurist eschatology, it is not surprising to find that non-premillennial, non-futurist teachers have indeed given their own Preterist interpretations of the very texts which are futurist. Yet I still find it ironic that Hebrews, a book that does have so many references to events of the Second Coming, is made of such great emphasis among the very people who take a strong supersessionist (no future for Israel), Preterist, amillennial view of God’s word (the NCT community, referenced in this TMS audio lecture series).

As others have shared as well, it does happen (for me as well) that we sometimes experience such mishandling and misinterpretation of passages from God’s word, that whenever we read those passages, the wrong view is also remembered.  Yet we must go forward, focusing on right doctrine and teaching, recalling to mind the great positives in scripture as it actually is presented, as we continue looking forward to our blessed hope of Christ’s soon return.

Revisiting Preterism: Careless Biblical Interpretation

March 7, 2012 Leave a comment

I continually observe that some people are more focused on the ideas of man rather than on God’s word.  They love to spend so much time “proving” that God’s word doesn’t really mean what it says.  So they follow human arguments and reasoning, based on a superficial and inconsistent treatment of scripture, rather than looking to the scripture itself.

Recently at the local church, it was the preterist idea that Hebrews 12:26 (“At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”) is only symbolic, figurative apocalyptic language and is actually talking about what happened in the 1st century, the change of administration at the cross followed by the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  Such a view doesn’t even make sense with the next three verses in Hebrews 12, or with the original quotation from Haggai.  But instead of letting scripture speak for itself, looking at these other verses (as a starting point, then on to other OT references in the Hebrews text), they go with their own predetermined ideas and twist scripture to support that view.

I’ve previously blogged on several of these specifics, so here it is in summary form.

The preterist preacher’s reasoning basically includes this approach to the word of God:

    1. Faulty interpretation of Haggai 2:7, based on the King James wording “the desire of all nations shall come.”

      See this blog post:  Haggai’s Prophecy: First or Second Coming
    2. Incorrect interpretation of the Olivet Discourse, by ignoring the extra verses in Luke 21 not found in the parallel texts:  when Luke 21 speaks of Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, that equals the “abomination of Desolation” in Matthew 24.

      See this blog post:  Luke 21, the Olivet Discourse, and the Literal-Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutic
    3. Assumption that all biblical language describing the world being destroyed, the heavens being shaken, the sky falling, etc., is symbolic language, which is really just a description of the new order, the new administration that began at the Cross followed by final judgment on Israel in 70 A.D.  Needless to say, this is an extra-biblical presupposition not grounded in any actual scripture.
    4. Therefore, the shaking described in Hebrews 12:26 is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem.

Hebrews 13: The Great Shepherd of the Eternal Covenant

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

From the depths of scripture passages, comes this interesting insight regarding Hebrews 13 and a reference to Isaiah 63.  Hebrews 13:20 contains this phrase in the benediction:   the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant.

S. Lewis Johnson observes here a reference to Isaiah 63:11 (“​​​​​​​Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people.  Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit”):

Now, who is the shepherd?  Well, the shepherd is Moses.  And what is the flock?  Well, the flock is the people of Israel.  They have been brought out of the land of Egypt; they have been brought through the Red Sea, they have been brought out into the land.  And this, as you know, was the great deliverance to which the prophets and others pointed Israel, to remind Israel of their beginnings and how God had performed that mighty miracle of the exodus, bringing them out of from bondage to the Egyptians, bringing them through in a miraculous way through the sea, out onto dry land.

Spurgeon also noted this in reference to Isaiah 63.  SLJ read portions from this text, of which we can read the full sermon online here.

Turn to Isaiah 63:11—“Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is He that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of His flock? Where is He that put His Holy Spirit within them? That led them by the right hand of Moses with His glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make for Himself an everlasting name?”

See how this making to Himself an everlasting name tallies with the last clause—“To whom be glory forever and ever”? But let us proceed—“Who led them through the deep as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble.” Truly, those do not stumble in whom the Lord works “that which is well-pleasing in His sight.” “As a beast goes down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest”—there is the God of Peace—“so You lead Your people, to make Yourself a glorious name”—there again is the doxology, “To whom be glory forever and ever.” The historical event to which he alludes is the deliverance from Egypt and the coming up from the Red Sea!

Having saved His people by the blood of the Covenant which was smeared upon their doorposts, He led them to the Red Sea, their foes pursuing them. Into the Red Sea they descended—not to its banks, alone, did they go, but into its very depths they passed and there were they buried—the sea was as the place of death to them. Between its liquid walls and beneath the cloudy pillar which hung over the passage, they were baptized unto Moses and buried in Baptism as in a liquid tomb! But lo, they come up out of it again, led safely up from what became the grave of Pharaoh, with songs and shouts and rejoicing!

The parallel is this—“That Great Shepherd,” who is far greater than Moses and Aaron, must go down into the place of death on behalf of His people. He must, as the Representative of His flock, descend into the sepulcher. This He did, for He bowed His head and died. But lo, the Lord led Him up, again, from the deeps and He arose to life and glory—and all His people with Him! On that day the song might have been jubilant as that of Miriam when she chanted, “Sing unto the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously. Your right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power.” But now, in this greater deliverance by “the blood of the Everlasting Covenant” the Psalm is not to the Lord who is a man of war, but to “the God of Peace.” The honor is ascribed to the same Lord, but under a gentler name and to Him be glory forever and ever.

S. Lewis Johnson continues with Hebrews 13, observing that the writer of Hebrews is using the same words in the Septuagint, “Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep.” The writer of Hebrews was thinking of the same analogy noted by Spurgeon and S. Lewis Johnson:

In other words, just as Moses led the children of Israel out, then led them down through the sea that had been parted by the Lord God, and led them through so, our Lord Jesus, by going to Calvary’s cross, by giving up his life, by entering into the grave and coming up in resurrection, has delivered his people, his flock, and he’s delivered them as their representative.  So brought again from the dead.

It’s also interesting to note that the term resurrection is only mentioned once in all of the book of Hebrews: only here in the benediction.  Hebrews focuses on Christ’s exaltation, which assumes the resurrection.  But only here in Hebrews 13 is the resurrection actually mentioned.

Hebrews 11: The Characteristics of Faith

December 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s teachings, I am continually impressed by the richness and depth of good expository teaching.  Consider the first verses of Hebrews 11, a familiar chapter with familiar verses about faith.  SLJ neatly summarizes some interesting points.

The chapter includes several contrasts, showing a faith that operates in several directions:

  • faith in God, against the world

verse 7:  Noah; verse 38: Of whom the world was not worthy

  • faith in the invisible, against the visible:  the conviction of things that we do not see
  • faith in the future, against the present

verse 10, Abraham waiting for the city which has foundations
verse 13, these all died in faith, not having received the promises
verse 20, “concerning things to come”

So these are the characteristic things of faith.  It has to do with belief in the certainty of the divine future.  The verdict of history is, of course, that this is true.  That those who do trust in the Lord God, ultimately, win out.

Verse 1 includes the word “assurance” (ESV), also translated “substance” (KJV).  Interesting to note, here, is that the Greek term is one that could mean “substance” but can also mean “assurance.”  Those words convey different ideas:  substance is in reference to objective realities, that which we look toward.  Assurance is subjective, the inward sense.  So is faith “that which gives us an inward sense of assurance, for the fulfillment of the promises?  Or, is faith itself the substance of the things hoped for?”  As S. Lewis Johnson notes, some of the distinction here may be the quibbling of theologians, because both are true:  faith involves objective reality, the “substance,” as well as our own subjective assurance.

The Three Appearings of Christ (Hebrews 9)

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

A great summary thought from S. Lewis Johnson’s Hebrews series, the three aspects of our Lord’s work:

Has
Appeared
Does Appear Shall Appear
Has Appeared in the Past Does Appear in the Present,
at the right hand of the throne of God for us.
Shall Appear in the Future
Has Appeared at Calvary Does Appear in Heaven Shall Appear in the Air
Has Appeared for propitiation
at the Cross
Does Appear to carry out His
intercession at the right hand of the throne of God
Shall Appear in Final
Deliverance at His Second Coming
Has Appeared for redemption Does Appear for
representation
Shall Appear for Reward, at
His Second Coming
Has appeared in humiliation Does Appear in exaltation Shall Appear in Worldwide
Manifestation
Has appeared for atonement Does Appear at the right hand
of the Father in priesthood
Shall appear for Salvation
Has appeared for
justification
Does Appear for
sanctification, which He carries on now
Shall appear for our
glorification

Two appearings my friends, have taken place. He has been manifested at Calvary. At the present moment, he appears openly by the right hand of God as our great High Priest. One of the manifestations remains. And the question, of course, is, are we really looking for him? Are we eagerly looking for him? Is it really part of our Christian life to do what our author calls “eagerly wait for him”?

Hebrews 8 and the New Covenant

November 10, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Hebrews series, a look at Hebrews 8 and the New Covenant.  Here, the text has four questions we must answer.

1.  What is this “better covenant?”
It is the New Covenant, which is an expansion of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.  The Bible has many covenants, including individual covenants (such as the one between David and Jonathan), as well as the great unconditional, unilateral covenants, that God initiated:  the Abrahamic covenant, and the Davidic covenant which expands on that.  The New Covenant is given in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31, also in Ezekiel), the last of Israel’s covenants, the one that provides the redemptive basis for the previous Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.

2.  “What are the better promises?” Hebrews 8:8-12.
The text answers it, in verses 8 through 12, including the words “‘I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.’”  The New Covenant provides the forgiveness of sins and Divine Enablement.  It could also be described as, “A new inner control center in the individuals who are the inheritors of this covenant.”

3.  “With whom was the New Covenant made?”
The Old Testament says that covenant was made with Israel and with Judah.  Again in verse 10, “with the house of Israel.”  The New Covenant was made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

We do not err to the side of amillennialists who blur distinctions and say that Israel and the Church are one.  Paul does say in Romans 9 that “not all Israel” is Israel — thus narrowing the field to only those Israelites who believe.  But Paul is not talking about Gentiles at all in that text, and he is not widening the scope to include Genties among that group of “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.”

On the other hand, we do not say, as some earlier dispensationalists, that the Church is completely separate from Jeremiah’s New Covenant, so that we Gentiles have our own New Covenant.  Scripture speaks of only one New Covenant, that one in Jeremiah 31, made with Israel and Judah.  Thus comes the fourth question.

4.  How then is the Church of Jesus Christ, or believing Gentiles, related to the New Covenant?
Gentiles are related to it, through the provision in the Abrahamic covenant, that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him.  Romans 11 also describes it in the figure of the olive tree which we are grafted into.

A great summary from S. Lewis Johnson:  if you will look at the fundamental Abrahamic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant together, as a covenantal program, you will know, you will surely know that in the Abrahamic Covenant provision was made for Gentile believers.  

Psalm 110: David’s Thoughts About Melchizedek

November 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Psalm 110 is the first mention in the Bible, that the coming Messiah would be a priest.  A king, yes, that is foretold early in the OT.  But it was not until David, meditating on the significance of Melchizedek in Genesis, that the OT revealed the Messiah-priest.

We don’t know the circumstances of how or when David penned Psalm 110, but we can speculate on that, from the events in David’s life.  Very possibly, David thought of Melchizedek and his significance, when he conquered and took Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, the city of peace, was the Salem of old.  Melchizedek was part of that ancient Jerusalem.  Besides that event, though, David likely thought more about this after his sin with Bathsheba, a time when he considered his own great need for an eternal high priest — something beyond the Aaronic priesthood.

What we learn from study of the Old Testament (as well as the New), is that the writers of inspired scripture were themselves great students of the Word, of the parts they had access to in their day.  Isaiah for instance relies heavily on the Pentateuch, and especially on Deuteronomy 31-32.  Zechariah referred to Isaiah’s prophecy, a book he was clearly familiar with.  Here, too, with the case of Psalm 110 we see David as a student of the Word.

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 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!