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Continuing through Revelation with James M. Boice

July 3, 2020 7 comments

Continuing in Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, One Lord, here are some highlights from Boice’s commentary.

Revelation 2 and 3 follow the standard overview regarding this generally narrative section:  the history and situation of each of the seven churches, and highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. The church at Ephesus, with the instruction to remember and repent, prompts a great summary about Paradise regained:

Ever since Adam and Eve lost Paradise because of their sin, sinners have tried to build their own paradise on earth.  Cain tried it first by constructing the city of Enoch in the land of Nod.  Some tried to do it at Babel by building a tower that they hoped would reach to heaven.  The Greeks tried to make Athens a paradise.  The Romans tried to do it in Rome.  We do it too, supposing that we can have our own paradise here on earth–even in our churches.  But the cities of men are doomed to destruction.  They will all fall away.  The only true paradise is in heaven, where it has been prepared only for those who love God.  For they alone are able to overcome, “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev. 12:11)

Smyrna is noted as one of the two (out of seven) cities that still exist:  the modern-day Turkish city Izmir, and the home of Polycarp, the twelfth martyr in Smyrna—and one of the original Revelation 2 readers.

The exhortation to Thyatira (Rev. 2:24-25) (any other burden) has a reference to Acts 15:28-29 –the early church history and instructions that went out to the Gentile churches.  Here is presented again that same general advice:  Live free in Christ, but do not compromise with the idolatry or sexual immorality of the surrounding culture.  Verse 28 has a later reference in this same book (Revelation 22:16), where Jesus identifies Himself as “the bright morning star” – a likely allusion to Numbers 24:14-20 , the ‘star’ that would arise out of Jacob to crush God’s enemies.  Here in Revelation 2, this is applied to the saints who have already been promised to rule with Jesus on the basis of Psalm 2.

One of Sardis’ early bishops, Melito, is the first known commentator on the book of Revelation.  Boice, while teaching on the church in Sardis, also makes reference to 2 Timothy 3:5 (see this previous post) with application to the current-day church (now 20 years ago, a situation worsened another 20 years):

… here is the shocking thing.  Having described this evil worldly culture by its vices, Paul further describes its members in verse 5 as ‘having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.’  This cannot be referring to pagans.  Paul would never have described the pagans of his day as having ‘an appearance of godliness.’  …. it must be describing the church.  In other words, the problem that Paul saw is not that the world will be wicked in the final days before Christ’s return but that the church will be like the world—as it is today.  The church will be indistinguishable from the world and will be equally corrupt—at least when you look beneath the surface.

In Revelation 4 and 5, Boice addresses the subject of worship, including songs in our worship.  Another interesting point is God’s throne–mentioned about 40 times in Revelation, and in 19 of the 22 chapters (all except chapters 2, 8 and 9).  Regarding the emerald rainbow description in Revelation 4:3, a quote from William Hendriksen notes a biblical reference:

the only biblical significance of the rainbow is that it was the sign of the covenant that God made with Noah following the great flood of Genesis 6-9.  It signifies a covenant of grace, and its reappearance in Revelation–coming at the very end of the Bible, as it did at the beginning–indicates that God is eternally the same.  He is and always has been a covenant-making, covenant-keeping God.

Another great quote from Hendriksen is shared in Revelation 5, in reference to John’s tears in verse 4    :

You will understand the meaning of these tears if you constantly bear in mind that in this beautiful vision the opening of the scroll by breaking the seals indicates the execution of God’s plan.  When the scroll is opened and the seals are broken, then the universe is governed in the interests of the church.  Then, God’s glorious, redemptive purpose is being realized; his plan is being carried out and the contents of the scroll come to pass in the history of the universe.  But if the scroll is not opened it means that there will be no protection for God’s children in the hours of bitter trial; no judgments upon a persecuting world, no ultimate triumph for believers, no new heaven and earth, no future inheritance.

In Revelation 6 commentary, Boice considers the identity of the rider on the white horse (the first of the seven seals).  After describing the two common views – the rider is Jesus Christ, or the rider is the antiChrist – Boice selected a third option, that the rider “merely represents the spirit of conquest or militarism that leads to the evils that are symbolized by the riders that follow him.”  His view on the seals overall is that they describe the general characteristics of this age (the last 2,000 years).  In exposition of the rest of the seals, Boice provides interesting commentary on the martyrs, including a section on Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and stories from the Huguenot martyrs of the 18th century.

Boice was able to complete all of Revelation 6, all verses – all of the seals, so exposition of everything up through the end of Revelation 6 and the question of the ‘end times’ events being symbolic or literal (he opted for the literal, the fuller meaning of these descriptions—relating what we already have experience with, the destructive power of even individual earthquakes and one volcanic eruption (such as Mount St. Helens in 1980).  Then the book abruptly ends, with brief end comments from Philip Ryken.

As shown in the afterword, this book is Ryken’s tribute to his predecessor, James Montgomery Boice. This commentary on the first six chapters of Revelation is readable and instructive, and the tribute ends on the positive note, of Boice’s last days with his congregation as God was preparing him for the worship of heaven.  This work, including Ryken’s ending tribute, is an enjoyable read, very informative with many anecdotes and treatments of several doctrinal truths.

Revelation, The Rapture, and James Montgomery Boice

June 25, 2020 3 comments

Continuing from the last post, which introduced Boice’s posthumous Revelation book (covering the first 6 chapters of Revelation) with a look at his comments on Revelation 1, I’m continuing through the later chapters (Revelation 2 through Revelation 6).  For this time, I’ll address a question/issue raised in the comments of my last post:  Boice’s pre-trib(?) eschatology.

I’m not aware of Boice’s teachings from earlier years, as to anything he said then regarding dispensationalism and the rapture.  As Donald Grey Barnhouse’s successor at Tenth Presbyterian Church, it’s likely that he at first continued with similar teachings.  As an interesting sidenote here, two great Calvinist Premillennial teachers of the mid-to-late 20th century were both directly influenced by Dr. Barnhouse:  S. Lewis Johnson and James M. Boice.

From the ‘next generation’ ministry, I’ve observed that SLJ retained more of Barnhouse’s dispensationalism, teaching at DTS in earlier years, and preaching at a Calvinist Dispensational Baptist church for many years (though in later years he moved away from some aspects of dispensationalism)—while studying Genesis on his own and changing his view to young earth, recent creation.  He appreciated his mentorship from Barnhouse, from whom he learned the Gap Theory Old Earth view–but respectfully disagreed and from scripture taught why the young earth view was true, rather than the Gap Theory.

James Boice, on the other hand, moved further away from dispensationalism, to the point of his very different teaching on the book of Revelation (more details below) – while retaining Barnhouse’s Gap Theory Old Earth teaching.  That is one area that I personally wish Boice would have reformed his view on, instead of continuing with the view he inherited from Barnhouse.  Yet even in this Revelation teaching from the last months of his life, Boice has over two pages (in Revelation 4) of commentary about astronomy with old-earth assumptions.  (As we all like to say about someone who has departed and now in heaven – Boice knows the truth now, as does S. Lewis Johnson in doctrinal ideas he was wrong about.)

Now to the chapter details regarding Boice on this topic, which reveal that Boice was not at all interested in teaching or promoting dispensational views, or even a pre-trib rapture.  For Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Boice’s commentary selections for quotes include G.K. Beale and John Stott.  In chapters 4 and 5 he quotes from William Hendricksen and G.E. Ladd.

Boice gives very little time to Rev. 3:10, not even mentioning the dispensational interpretation of this verse regarding the rapture.  By contrast, the late S. Lewis Johnson – in his later ministry years when he had moved away from dispensationalism, though still teaching at a dispensational church — taught two full messages,  providing both the “post-trib” and the “pre-trib” rapture arguments when he reached this text in his Revelation series (see this previous post).

The case is clearer in Boice’s commentary on Revelation 4:1, where he mentions and repudiates the dispensational view:

… the view of the dispensationalists, who see John’s being taken up into heaven as a picture of the supposed rapture of the church before the tribulation.  J.A. Seiss is quite dogmatic at this point, though not all dispensationalists are as certain as he is.  John Walvoord admits that the rapture is not explicitly taught in this passage, though he finds it represented as a type.  Why should dispensationalists see John’s being taken up into heaven in this light?

The obvious reason is that dispensationalists are committed to the idea of a rapture for other reasons, even before they get to Revelation, and this is the best place for them to insert it.  They interpreted the letters of chapters 2 and 3 as a preview of the history of the church and the judgements of chapters 6 through 16 as that final period of intense tribulation from which most of them believe the church will be delivered.  They argue that ‘after this’ means ‘after the church age.’

But there is no reason to interpret any of these words in that way.  John’s experience of being caught up to heaven is not the rapture of the saints—even assuming that there is such a thing as the rapture.

In Revelation 5, Boice presents five common views regarding the seven-sealed scroll in Rev. 5:1, himself preferring the fifth one – Ladd’s view that the scroll contains God’s total plan of judgment and redemption.  Here he shares Ladd’s description of this view.  The first view he mentions, that the scroll represents the “last will and testament of Christ,” may be the view favored by dispensationalism.  At any rate, both S. Lewis Johnson and John MacArthur, in their Revelation series, took this first view of the Roman last will and testament, expanding on the idea to include a contract.

I’m still reading, in the second half of Revelation 5, and overall very impressed with this publication: a lay-person reading, yet very thorough in exploring the lessons in the text.  Throughout, Boice brings out great truths:  the historical situation of the churches and their praise and rebukes from Christ; the attributes of God; theology of redemption and the atonement; God as the God of history; as well as worship and how we worship God through songs.  Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, One Lord: Lessons from the Apocalypse has all this and more, from the first 6 chapters of the book of Revelation.

The Apocalypse: Revelation Commentary from James M. Boice

June 3, 2020 11 comments
A lot of “stage-setting” for the end times scenario has occurred within the last several decades:  Israel back in the land (regathered in unbelief), and the worldwide travel and instant communication technology indirectly prophesied in Rev. 11:9-10 (see this previous post).  Very recent news is starting to look more and more apocalyptic:  a worldwide pandemic (the above two pieces were not in place during previous pandemics), killer hornets, riots and anarchy around the country, and even articles about the world leaders looking for someone to take charge and lead the world in dealing with covid-19.  (Note:  I am not saying that any of these things ARE end-times events; yet these events are interesting, in terms of what God is working out in this world, in His providence, in preparation for Christ’s Return.)
The Second Coming and our Blessed Hope  is always an important doctrine — oft-neglected, especially when the world appears to be stable and status-quo.  In the current world situation, the year 2020 which has turned out to be far from the normal life, resources that point us to the end times are especially to be appreciated.  One such offering, from Dr. Phillip Ryken and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, is a newly published commentary from the late James Montgomery Boice on the first six chapters of Revelation.   Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, and One LORD is compiled from Boice’s last messages at Tenth Presbyterian Church, just before he learned the news of cancer; Boice went home to be with the Lord before completing the series.  I’ve been aware of Boice for several years, as a modern-times covenantal premillennialist, and have previously listened to and read some of his teaching, such as his Psalms commentary on book one, and a few other messages.  Recently I’ve also started listening to some of his lectures on the minor prophets, and it was refreshing to hear his very clear and sensible exposition of Zechariah 14, including his reference to David Baron.
As I’m reading the first chapters in this new commentary, on Revelation 1, the original plan to complete the series was in his mind, and thus comes a touch of sadness when reading page 21, where Boice mentioned the Hebrew number equivalents, noting “We will discuss this puzzle when we get to chapter 13 ….”  In this case as always, it was “if the Lord wills,” and clearly the Lord had other plans, to take Boice home before that point.
The commentary on Revelation 1 provides Boice’s two main guidelines, along with interesting connections between Revelation 1 and OT passages.  This Reformation21 post provides a good excerpt on the introductory material.  Another interesting part here is the count of OT allusions in the book of Revelation:  79 references to Isaiah, 54 to Daniel, 48 to Ezekiel, 43 to the Psalms, 27 to Exodus, 22 to Jeremiah, 15 to Zechariah, 9 to Amos, and 8 to Joel.  Of the 404 verses of the 22 chapters of Revelation, 278 contain one or more allusions to an OT passage.
Revelation 1 is interesting in many ways, including the numerous Old Testament allusions, such as these, pointed out by Boice:

Other interesting points:

  • the seven lamps in this vision are separate lamps, not attached to each other like the Jewish Menorah.  This represents the universal church.  Here, also reference Matthew 5:14-15, the city on a hill and a light set on a stand.
  • Revelation 1 portrays Jesus as a priest (standing among the lampstands and tending them) and as a prophet, who has come to impart the revelation to the apostle John

Boice was less concerned about the specific futurist/historicist/preterist interpretations, focusing instead on the pattern, repeated throughout the book of Revelation, of visions that show the scene in heaven, followed by scenes on earth.  The purpose of Revelation, something that is applicable to all believers in all eras of history, is to get Christians from all periods of history and in all circumstances to look at things from God’s perspective rather than from man’s and to draw comfort and strength from that perspective.

This quote from J.I. Packer (shared by Boice) well expresses the timelessness of God’s word, and the  immutability of our God:

Men sometimes say things that they do not really mean, simply because they do not know their own mind; also, because their views change, they frequently find that they can no longer stand to things that they said in the past.  All of us sometimes have to recall our words, because they have ceased to express what we think; sometimes we have to eat our words, because hard facts refute them.  The words of men are unstable things.  But not so the words of God.  They stand forever, as abidingly valid expressions of His mind and thought..  No circumstances prompt Him to recall them; no changes in His own thinking require Him to amend them.  Isaiah writes, ‘All flesh is grass … the grass withereth … but the word of our God shall stand for ever’ (Isaiah 40:6).

 

Revelation 5, the Christology of Heaven (S. Lewis Johnson)

September 10, 2014 3 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Revelation series, a few observations concerning the great throne room scene of Revelation 5 – the Christology of Heaven.

The three-fold praise in heaven gives a natural three-point sermon:

  • The Song of the creatures and the elders (Rev. 5:8-10)
  • The Shout of the angelic host (Rev. 5:11-12)
  • The Saying of “the whole creation” (Rev. 5:13-14)

Revelation 5 references the atonement and that satisfaction that Christ has rendered in His death on the cross.

this expression that, “the lamb of God was slain and has purchased”, is a reference to his penal death, that is he died under the penalty of the sins of men, further that it is a substitutionary death that we should have died, but he died instead of us. He died as our representative. He died as our covenantal head. Incidentally, Bach makes that point over and over in the St. John Passion, of how He was bound that we might not be bound and so on. And then also it is a satisfaction that is the Lord Jesus Christ in His sacrifice in His blood has satisfied the claims of a holy and righteous God against us. And as Anselm pointed out, it was something we must do — but we did not have the power to do and someone else, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the one who has done it for us. … It is good news that men who cannot save themselves do have a Savior to whom they may appeal and expect to find full, free forgiveness and justification of life. So it is a penal substitutionary satisfaction, and I would like a minor emphasis this morning, we don’t have time to deal in detail with this, to say that also it was a particular redemption.

The ninth verse: “For Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed to God by Thy blood.” (ESV: for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God):

Most of the translators supply the words either “men” or “some”. Luther supplied the German word Menchen, which means something like mankind, but it’s a supply because of the partitive construction in the original text. Take my word for it. It’s true. After forty years of teaching New Testament Greek exegesis. Jesus, I assure you there is no doubt about it whatsoever, it is a partitive construction. That is, a reference is to some out of the whole, a part out of the whole. So he does not say he has redeemed to God by Thy blood, every kindred tongue and people and nation, but “out of every people tongue and nation.” In other words, there is a selection, a part of the whole that is the object of the redeeming work.

That verse 9 means more than simply talking about the fact that some should be lost, is seen in the very next verse: “And hast made them unto our God kings and priests.”

In other words, everyone who is the object of the purchase is also effectually made a king and a priest, and surely you’re not going to be universalists are you? No, you know that that is not true. So everyone who has been purchased has also been made a priest and a king, and I won’t say anything more about it. I don’t want your blood to rise, become hot and angry because there are other things that are very important in this great passage, but I want you to think about it. It’s evident then, I think that what John says is harmonious with a particular redemption.

Another observation: the angelic hosts know where to put the crown: they don’t put it on man, but on the Son of Man, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Ask those angelic hosts how men are saved, and from their own language that they would say, “The glories that men who are saved have are not due to the individuals. They are due to the lamb who was slain,” or if you were to say to the elders and the living creatures, “Where did the faith come from by which this vast multitude was saved? Did it come from them?” they would say, “No a faith did not come from them. It was the gift of God.” For after all the apostle wrote, “No man can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Spirit.”

The Unbelieving Spouse: A Spurgeon Illustration, and Application

August 28, 2014 8 comments

From my recent Spurgeon reading comes this interesting story: a possibly greater motive, for wives with unbelieving husbands, than the words of 1 Peter 3:1-4:

We have heard of a wife, a godly woman, who for 20 years had been persecuted by a brutal husband—a husband so excessively bad that her faith at last failed her, and she ceased to be able to believe that he would ever be converted. But all this while she was more kind to him than ever. One night, at midnight, in a drunken state, he told his friends he had such a wife as no other man had; and if they would go home with him, he would get her up, to try her temper, and she would get a supper for them all! They came and the supper was very soon ready, consisting of such things as she had prepared as well and as rapidly as the occasion would allow; and she waited at the table with as much cheerfulness as if the feast had been held at the proper time! She did not utter a word of complaint. At last, one of the company, more sober than the rest, asked how it was she could always be so kind to such a husband. Seeing that her conduct had made some little impression, she ventured to say to him, “I have done all I can to bring my husband to God, and I fear he will never be saved. Since, therefore, his portion must be in Hell forever, I will make him as happy as I can while he is here, for he has nothing to expect hereafter.”

In a later telling of this account (this sermon) Spurgeon added that the husband was saved as a result of this event.

This week I’ve also been listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Revelation series, including Revelation 3, the church at Laodicea. The above situation involved someone who was “cold” to the things of God, one who was apart from professing Christianity, knew he was not a believer and wasn’t interested. As Dr. Johnson observed regarding Revelation 3 and the desire that the Laodiceans would be cold rather than lukewarm: Perhaps because if a person is really cold in the spiritual sense it might be possible for them to be awakened, but if a person has a kind of protecting covering of religiosity, it is most difficult to reach such people.

If the godly woman (in the above account) had given up hope of her very ungodly husband ever being saved, how much more the seeming (and perhaps actual) hopelessness for the “lukewarm” professing, nominal Christians who may well be just as lost – only they don’t realize it and are quite content with regular attendance at church but completely secular interests the rest of the week (and even while at church, only interested in secular topics of conversation), lives conformed to a non-Christian worldview. What James said (James 2:19) also comes to mind, to explain the seeming paradox of people who say they believe all the basic truths of the word of God, yet show no application of it in their lives: You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

Regardless of the type of husband (cold or lukewarm) the godly woman’s actions serve as a very strong motivator for those among us unequally yoked; if anything the case is all the more true and urgent with the “luke-warm” professing husband. “I fear he will never be saved. Since, therefore, his portion must be in Hell forever, I will make him as happy as I can while he is here, for he has nothing to expect hereafter.”  Others are not guaranteed the same outcome this godly woman had (1 Cor. 7:16, “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”), and realizing that sobering fact that this life may be the best that the unbelieving partner has, the only proper response is to “make him as happy as I can while he is here.”

S. Lewis Johnson on S.P. Tregelles: Revelation 1, “To Him Who Loves Us” (Present Tense)

August 8, 2014 6 comments

The Premillennial History series will continue next week, but a brief thought for today. I have just started S. Lewis Johnson’s “Revelation” series; here is an interesting story to share from the second message. Commenting on Revelation 1:5, the phrase where the apostle John says “To him who loves us” (“loveth” in the KJV), Dr. Johnson noted that this is the one New Testament text that describes God’s love for us in the present tense. We have plenty of verses that tell how God “loved” us (past tense), and good theology, but Revelation 1:5 has a present tense thought.

Not “loved us”, though that’s true. Paul says that in Galatians chapter 2 for example, “He loved us and gave Himself for us,” that’s perfectly all right. It’s good theology. He loved us in the cross of Christ, but “Unto him that loveth us,” that is, the love of Christ does not reach its culmination in the cross, but standing upon the cross, continues eternally for His own.

As S. Lewis Johnson related here, Samuel P. Tregelles (a 19th century classic premillennialist included in this list) was raised by Quakers (“the friends”) and thus never went to university, but later went on to become a strong Christian, self-taught, and learned the Greek language and worked for years on the Greek text of the New Testament. He actually edited a Greek New Testament in the 19th Century, which was highly regarded and still is recognized as a step along the way to the understanding of the textual history of our New Testament.

The great point of Tregelles’ study:

He said in all of his textual studies — and he devoted many, many hours to it — he said when he came to Revelation chapter 1 and verse 5 and read in what he considered the better of the Greek manuscripts, “Unto him that loveth us,” rather than, “Unto him that loved us,” as the Authorized Version had it, and realized that John probably wrote, “Unto him that loveth us.” And recognizing that this was the only place in the New Testament where this verb is used in the present tense of God’s love to us, “Unto him that loveth us,” continually, constantly, duratively, for that’s the sense of the tense. He said, “All of my studies on the text were worth it if I had only discovered this one thing, ‘Unto him that loveth us,’ not simply loved us, loveth us, continues to love us.”

The Difference Between Historicism and Historic Premillennialism

December 20, 2013 2 comments

Two similar words, historicism and historic, are often confused, such that it is common to find people describing “historic premillennialism” as a historicist view of prophecy: that the prophetic events in the Bible are symbolic of various events throughout history.  Historicism is really one of four approaches to the prophetic chapters of Revelation, and the historicist approach is not limited to any particular millennial view, premillennialism or other.  After all, the 16th century Reformers were amillennial and historicist, seeing the pope and Catholic system in their day as the antichrist.

The term “historic premillennialism” refers simply to the historic (not historicist) view of premillennialism, a term broad enough to include the variations among many believers throughout church history, with no association to whatever other doctrines they may have believed.  This grouping includes the early church fathers, who showed understanding of future events and their sequence, as briefly quoted previously here  — a futurist understanding (that the prophetic events are future to our age, not occurring throughout history).

Within the Protestant era, historic premillennialists generally came from the post-Reformation background including Covenant Theology, and 18th century premillennialists such as John Gill also had a historicist view of prophecy.  The mid-19th century premillennialists came from the background of this historicist approach, but through their emphasis on the literal hermeneutic  understood the problem with historicism: simply, that the events described in Revelation have not yet happened.  It is interesting as well to read Benjamin Wills Newton put forth the same futurist arguments as modern-day writers, for a rebuilding of Babylon to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and in Revelation (prophecies which tell of a destruction of Babylon that has not yet happened), in a detailed look at the actual history of Babylon and its surrounding region up to the mid-19th century.

Newton, in Thoughts on the Apocalypse, also shared this then-new development of a more literal understanding and futurist approach.  As he noted, we do see some of the same characteristics, in our age, of the great evil events yet to come: a kind of foreshadowing as history moves toward its conclusion, as the events of world history move closer and closer toward the final manifestation, the antiChrist’s rule.  But we must go beyond the historic similarities, the application, to the direct meaning of the text and what God intends as His primary communication to us in His word:

(Concerning Revelation 17-18):

We cannot, therefore, be surprised that this chapter has frequently been applied by the servants of God, in different ages, to those ruling systems which they have severally recognized in their own day as hostile to the people and to the truth of Christ, whilst perhaps blasphemously assuming His authority and name. Nor were they altogether wrong in this; for what ecclesiastical body, I might add, what secular body, has yet arisen in the earth, that has set itself to order the ways of men either in their relations toward Christ or in their natural relations toward God, that has not run counter to His will, dishonored His Scripture, opposed His saints, and arrogated to itself a place which God never gave it?

And how can any be the sustainers of such things, without names of blasphemy being written on them, the more in proportion to the energy and devotedness of their labor? Many a defender of Romanism and such like systems, must be regarded as marked with names of blasphemy — for falsehood cannot be thrust into the place of Truth, without Truth being rejected and reviled; and false assumption, and the consequent reviling of God’s Truth and people, is blasphemy in His sight. ” I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and are not ; but are the synagogue of Satan.”

But the exactness of prophetic statement must not be destroyed by applications, which, however valuable as applications, must never be substituted for direct and exact interpretation. Our first duty always is to inquire what the event which God is pleased to reveal, definitely and specifically is. It may be with godly and upright intention that many have sought to turn the edge of the testimony of (Revelation 17) sometimes on Rome, sometimes on national assumptions of Christianity; but the cause of Truth will not ultimately be served hereby, if in doing this they have unconsciously narrowed the testimony of God, and refused to see in this chapter the definite picture of that closing system to which Romanism and everything else that successfully sways the unregenerate heart will finally lead …  It cannot be doubted by any who seriously examine this chapter, that its fulfilment is altogether future.

The Four Living Creatures in Ezekiel and Revelation (B.W. Newton observations)

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Benjamin Wills Newton, in “Thoughts on the Apocalypse,” (Works of Benjamin Wills Newton, volume 14) provides some interesting thoughts concerning the Cherubim mentioned in Ezekiel and again in Revelation.

The cherubim, or “living creatures,” in Revelation 4 symbolize one aspect of the redeemed:  the power “which the Church is to exercise in the hour of its glory.”  Newton notes that the cherubim join in with the elders (Revelation 5:8-10) in saying “Thou hast redeemed US unto God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” (Note: some translations use the third person ‘people’ instead. Yet their golden bowls are also said to be the prayers of the saints.)  The cherubim, as with the 24 elders, also act as priests in intercessory prayers.  We may find some difficulty, perhaps, in attaching symbols so different as those of the elders and of the cherubim to the same body — the Church: but it is a difficulty necessarily consequent on the blessed truth, that the Church is “the fulness of him who filleth all in all.”

Why the Four Living Creatures in Ezekiel are with the wheels (But no wheels in the Revelation vision)

What can be more significant of the resistless course of almighty power? These terrible wheels, combining the movements of four, without losing the unity of one — each one advancing swift as the lightning, in its straightforward course, not to be resisted by any strength or checked by any impediment — each going upon its sides and yet none revolving — moving at once northward and south ward and eastward and westward, and yet being but as one wheel — nowhere absent but everywhere present in the perfectness of undivided action, afford the mysterious, but fitting, symbol of the omnipotent agency of the power of Him before whom “all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say unto him, ‘What doest thou?'”

In the Revelation, however, the cherubim are not, as in Ezekiel, acting in the earth. In Ezekiel, they were seen below the firmament of crystal; but in the Revelation they are withdrawn from the earth into the presence of the throne, within the sea of crystal; and this, because of Israel’s sin. “I will go and retire into my place, till they acknowledge their offence.”

But the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, the fall of Jericho, the deliverance of Elisha when multitudes of unseen hosts surrounded him, the destruction of Sennacherib, and many other like interventions of the omnipotence of God, are proofs of what this power was able to effect, and what it once did effect, on behalf of Israel and Jerusalem. But the vision of this power was shown to Ezekiel, only that he might bear witness to its withdrawal. He saw it gradually depart, until at last it was hidden in heaven; and accordingly, in the Revelation, we find it there; but no wheels were seen, only cherubim, and they in rest, save only toward God; for their agency in the earth has for the present ceased; nor will it be restored until the order of the millennium begins.

The beasts of prophecy are to be contrasted from the living creatures, as we consider the difference between the government by the Gentile powers and the future government of God:

When the beasts of Daniel were permitted to establish themselves in the earth, and to tread down Jerusalem, that holy and blessed agency represented by the living creatures of Ezekiel and the Revelation was withdrawn from the earth; and as soon as those beasts have fulfilled their course, the “living creatures” will return. One of the great objects of the Revelation is to contrast the condition of the earth whilst under the last great “beast,” with its condition when it shall be again brought under the heavenly agency of the cherubim.

Thoughts on the Apocalypse: B.W. Newton Commentary on Revelation

October 3, 2013 2 comments

From the list of free online books by classic premillennialists, I’m now reading an interesting Revelation commentary: Thoughts on the Apocalypse (Google Play 3rd edition here), by Benjamin Wills Newton.

A contemporary and friend of Charles Spurgeon, Newton (1807-1899) was closely associated with Darby and the Plymouth Brethren movement for a while, then broke away over differences in church practice and doctrine, from which came the 1848 split of the brethren movement into the Open Brethren (including B.W. Newton and George Muller) and the Exclusive Brethren (Darby).  The Spurgeon archive includes references from Spurgeon’s Sword & Trowel to the Plymouth Brethren, as here  and here.

Newton was a voluminous writer (see H.A. Ironside’s description of Newton), the author of many works related to prophecy, including this in-depth commentary on the book of Revelation.  What I’ve read so far (through Revelation 6) includes good observations regarding the Church –and its original intended greatness as symbolized in Revelation 1 followed by the sad reality especially in reference to Constantine – as well as great appreciation for Israel and the apostle John as one from a Jewish background who recognized the judicial darkness that unbelieving Israel was by this time experiencing:

John had the feelings and sympathies of one who had learned to contemplate what was passing among men in the light of God and of His Truth. … There is also a philanthropy which is according to God and guided by His word ; and this John possessed. He had not ceased to feel as a man, and as an Israelite, because he had become a Christian. He was not insensible either to the travail of creation “groaning in the bondage of corruption,” or to the fallen condition of Israel over which Daniel, and a greater than Daniel, had wept. He knew that darkness had been judicially sent upon their hearts, and that until that was removed, the long-promised morning of joy — ” the morning without clouds ” — could not arise either on them or on the nations. He understood how the destinies of the earth were bound up with those of Israel, and that evil would continue to mark the course of human things, until Israel should “convert and be healed.”

Newton’s approach to the book of Revelation is clearly futurist (and premillennial) — noting times past, when Christians sought to find “fulfillment” in the prophecies occurring throughout church history, as incorrect.  Newton further explains the visions in Revelation 6 through 18 as not chronological from one chapter to the next but as separate visions all describing the same time period, each revealing a part of what will happen during that time period but never reaching the end until Revelation 19.  Following the precedent of Old Testament prophecies (and Newton shows good knowledge of the Old Testament prophets), Newton often sees a vision as first telling the good news of the end before going into the events previous to that.  Thus, his interpretation of the first seal in Revelation 6 is quite different from what I’ve read from more recent authors:  that the person going forth to conquer and conquering must be the Lord Jesus Christ, since no other can truly conquer; thus, he reasons, the first seal is showing the great and glorious end when Christ triumphs, AFTER the events of judgment given in the following seals.  I’m not ready yet to agree with him on the specific definition of the 1st seal, though in the overall prophetic picture that particular item is not an essential to futurist premillennialism — it does not change our understanding of what antichrist will do during the time following the 1st seal.  I also wonder here if Newton’s interpretation reflects the “standard” understanding of that time; perhaps our 21st century prevailing idea (that the 1st seal is AntiChrist) was suggested in the 150 years since Newton’s time.

In agreement with the text and other commentary I’ve read as from today’s pre-wrath authors, the sixth seal is immediately before Christ returns, as Newton observes here:

We behold the signs which immediately precede the manifestation of the Lord in glory. The Lord Jesus had before said, “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and upon the earth,   distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” Such are the signs which are seen in the vision here. Men recognize them and tremble. They say to the mountains and rocks, ” Fall on us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb ; for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” Thus far this vision leads us: but no more is revealed. It is not the intention of this part of the Revelation to describe the manifestation of the Lord in glory, or to speak of the events which follow that manifestation.

Newton’s Revelation commentary is beneficial, well written and in-depth in consideration of Revelation and all of God’s word.  I look forward to further reading in this book as well as many more of Benjamin Wills Newton’s books.

The Pre-Wrath Rapture View (Comparison/Contrast with Pre- and Post- Trib)

September 24, 2013 2 comments

I’ve recently been studying the pre-wrath rapture view, a more recently developed variation on the post-tribulation rapture. (The early proponents, Robert Van Kampen and Marv Rosenthal, published their books in the late 1980s.  Other proponents include Alan Kurschner and Pastor Ryan Habbena of Signet Ring Ministries.  As noted in this article, Steve Anderson’s pre-wrath view is considered ‘off’ and not part of the standard teaching.) This view attempts a compromise between the original post-trib rapture timing and the later developed pre-trib view.  As with post-trib, the pre-wrath view places the rapture immediately before the Day of the Lord (the wrath that we’re not appointed to).  Like the pre-trib view, pre-wrath (at least some of its proponents) understands Revelation 3:10 as complete removal — but recognizing that Revelation 3:10 does not mean removal from the full 7 year period.  Also similar to pre-trib, pre-wrath has a (shorter) interval of time during which the raptured and resurrected saints first go to heaven and have the Bema Seat judgment, while the world is experiencing the trumpet and bowl judgments.

The pre-wrath view also takes a similar approach to pre-trib, in its interpretation of the “unknown day” and the “thief in the night.”  While recognizing (as with post-trib) that the rapture is not truly an “any moment” event and that certain things must happen first, yet pre-wrath switches to pre-trib in terms of the “thief in the night” reference, reasoning that since we can know when the 70th week starts and when the 3 1/2 months starts and could count the days until the end of them, the rapture couldn’t take us by surprise in a “thief in the night” way — and therefore the rapture must be at some unknown time during the 42 months.  The standard post-tribulation view (as I understand so far) is that believers may not know the exact day/time when the 70th week starts; the 42 months (the midpoint) will probably be known to a fairly close time period.  However, the texts that speak of the “thief in the night” and other similar references are talking about unbelievers being taken by surprise.  Yet the context of these passages show that believers, those who believe and understand God’s word, will not be taken by surprise but will be prepared and eagerly anticipating Christ’s Coming while recognizing that it does mean experiencing persecution before that happens.

On the positive side, the pre-wrath view emphasizes the literal hermeneutic common to all futurist premillennialists, paying close attention to the details given us in the prophetic texts.  They especially focus on the sequence of events in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21), trying to correlate the sequence with the seals in Revelation 6, and also try to account for the 1260 days (the 42 months of the Great Tribulation, the second half of Daniel’s 70th week) plus the later time periods mentioned by Daniel: the 1290 days and the 1335 days.  According to pre-wrath, the rapture occurs in connection with the sixth seal, at some time near the end of the 42 months, and the trumpets and bowl judgments occur next, in sequence, and are the “Day of the Lord” wrath.

This view also puts forth another explanation of the two groups in Revelation 7.  Whereas a common pre-trib idea is that the 144,000 are Jewish evangelists who go forth throughout the world during the Great Tribulation, proclaiming the gospel – and the next scene of the vast multitude is the result of their evangelistic work, those who come to faith during the Great Tribulation and are subsequently martyred and seen in heaven, pre-wrath says (correctly) that the 144,000 are sealed so as to give them divine protection from the judgments about to come upon the world. According to pre-wrath, the rapture occurs here, and the scene of the vast multitude in heaven, before the throne of God, is showing the resurrected and raptured saints.  They especially connect the scene here back to the fifth seal, which showed the souls of the martyrs still waiting for God to take action, and that they are given white robes (but not yet wearing the robes); thus in Revelation 7, when they are wearing their robes, indicates that the rapture and resurrection has occurred and they have their resurrection bodies and thus now wearing the white robes.  That may indeed be the correct interpretation of the vast multitude in Revelation 7, as the follow-up from the fifth seal; it certainly seems to make more sense (per the literal, grammatical historical hermeneutic) than saying the 144,000 are evangelists and the second group their converts, when the emphasis in the text is on the 144,000 being sealed for their protection.

Where pre-wrath does not work, though, is in the details, including the placement of the rapture.  As this blog article point outs, the pre-wrath view is inconsistent in its handling of the 42 months:  Israel and the unsaved experience the full 42 months of the Great Tribulation, the time which starts with the antiChrist setting himself up in the temple (the Abomination of Desolation; what Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 2) and the time of his rule and persecution; but the church believers are raptured out at some unknown point shortly before the end of that 3 1/2 years.  Revelation 13:5-7 establishes that the beast is allowed to exercise authority for 42 months and to “make war on the saints and to conquer them” during that time.  It clearly is all or nothing: either the saints (believers) are present OR absent from the 42 months period; but trying to end it before the 42 months for one group and not for the other is inconsistent.