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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.”

Zechariah’s Prophecy: Past Partial Fulfillment, but Future Complete Fulfillment

April 15, 2014 Leave a comment

David Baron’s “The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah,” (full online text available here) originally published nearly a hundred years ago, shows that indeed some ideas have been around quite a while, including the Preterist/fulfillment approach to Old Testament scripture. Preterism (and the form called “partial preterism”) has enjoyed greater popularity just in the last 15 years or so, after many decades of dominant futurism in American Christianity. But David Baron’s commentary gives answer to the same question raised today — along with proper balance of interesting details concerning the past partial fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy. We can acknowledge that, indeed, a partial fulfillment or foreshadowing has occurred, recognizing what those historical events are, while understanding that the Old Testament promises have a complete fulfillment yet to occur.

But it might be as well, before proceeding further, to pause and inquire if there is any truth in the assertion that this promise has already been fulfilled … and another, who, in an able and elaborate work, which, however, is chiefly a summary of the explanations and speculations of German commentators who, with very rare exceptions, have no place at all in their theological and exegetical schemes for any future for Israel admitting that it is of the earthly Jerusalem that the words were spoken, tells us coolly that : “There is no need to suppose that the prophecy refers to a still future period, as Von Hoffmann imagines. The prophecy was fulfilled by the restoration of the city of Jerusalem under the protection of God even in troublous days.

The 19th century preterist references the details of Jerusalem’s history during the post-exilic period:

 “Though surrounded indeed by walls, Jerusalem grew so fast that a considerable number dwelt in villages outside the walls. Its population continually increased the city was noted for its splendid appearance in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus. … In the troublous times which intervened between the days of Zechariah and those of our Lord, notwithstanding the disasters which occasionally fell upon the holy city, abundant proof was given that the Lord was not forgetful of His promises, specially to shield and to protect it. The promises,” he proceeds, ” would have been fully accomplished if the people had kept the covenant committed to them, and they were accomplished in a great measure, notwithstanding their many sins.”

Also from David Baron:

A good deal is made of a letter of Aristeas, an Egyptian Jew, to Philocrates, which is referred to by Josephus in the I2th book of his Jewish Antiquities, in which a description of Jerusalem after the restoration is given; also of a fragment of Hecataeus, who lived in the time of Alexander the Great, and who describes the Jews at the time as possessing “many fortresses and towns, moreover one fortified city, by name Jerusalem, fifty stadia in circumference and inhabited by 120,000 men”; and of Josephus’ statement (see his Jewish Wars, v. 4. 2) that at the time of Herod Agrippa, “as the city grew more populous it gradually crept beyond its old limits, and those parts of it that stood northwards of the temple and joined that hill to the city made it considerably larger, and occasioned that hill, which is in number the fourth, and is called Bezetha, to be inhabited also.” All of which, according to these interpreters, show that the glorious prophecy in Zech. 2 has been fulfilled, and has no more reference to a future period.

But to say that this wonderful prophecy was completely fulfilled in that time misses the mark and misses the depth and meaning of the great words of the actual prophecy. Here are the two major reasons why the prophecy (Zechariah 2) cannot be limited to the past event, and speak of a future fulfillment:

1.  Jerusalem is still being “trodden down of the Gentiles,” which has never ceased to be the case from the time of the Babylonian Captivity to this day. The “times of the Gentiles” began with “the withdrawal of Himself from their midst,” and the darkness of the Jewish nation since then, has not ended. That this period did not terminate with the first advent of our Lord is clear from Christ’s own prophetic forecast of future events, in which He says: “And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”

2.  These beautiful words, “For I, saith Jehovah, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and the glory in the midst of her,” are really an announcement of the return of the Glory of the Personal Presence of Jehovah to Jerusalem, and an amplification of the words in the first vision, “I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies.” David Baron further addressed this issue, of the departure of the Glory of God from Jerusalem (Ezekiel’s vision) and the present-day “Ichabod” period of Israel’s history (reference his work, The Ancient Scriptures and the Modern Jew).

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.

Why the Partial Preterist Approach Fails to Understand Futurist Premillennialism

December 4, 2012 4 comments

A recent online discussion with a partial preterist (and a polite, respectful individual) brought out something rather interesting (though really not surprising):  the preterist’s tendency to zoom in on one particular passage as being the “key” to what proves a doctrine, rather than a systematic, holistic approach that examines the many passages and puts all the pieces together.  In this case, the passage was a popular one for preterists: Matthew 24, with emphasis on verses 5-7 and their time reference meaning as signs and what “this generation” means.  Basically, this person was focused on the “signs” described there – nations rising up against each other, wars and rumors of war, and earthquakes — and whether or not these “signs” are included in the group of “this generation” referred to in Matt. 24:34. Coming from this rather narrow textual perspective, he classified three variations of pre-trib belief, reasoning that none of those views made sense:

i) The pre- tribs such as Hagee (who say we are the last generation), although brave enough to stand on their convictions – are in danger of time running out on them – as I intimate in my original statement. ii) Pre tribs such as Walvoord (think these are general characteristics leading up to the end) seem to be stuck with signs carrying on over 2000 years that v34 says this generation will by no means pass. And, iii) Pretribs such as Ice (and yourself?) if, as he says, they are part of the tribulation 7 year period, are stuck with a verse that if that is the case, would be self-evident. In that, of course this generation will by no means pass away – the events are only over 7 years.

The way I am viewing it right now therefore, unless you show me I am misunderstanding the issues somewhere, that camp i) are in danger of running out of time. Camp ii) seem to have a problem of a generation running over 2000 years. And camp iii) not only have the problem of, a generation being spoken of as by no mean passing away over a period of 7 years, but also bringing in the idea that the signs we are now seeing are in fact not those signs at all – but that when those signs come we will know – this seems to bring in an ambiguity of some proportions. I hear something being said like, ‘they are not the signs, but they are like the signs, but we will know when the signs come that THEY are THE signs. And the young convert says, ‘how will we know? what will be the difference’ if it is just the intensity, then why aren’t these signs, THE signs?’

At this point in the dialogue, having answered his original questions, the real underlying issue became apparent: unlike partial preterism, the pre-trib view takes a holistic approach to scripture and does not hinge on or emphasize only one passage, Matthew 24, and “this generation” as the one (and only) thing to understand.  The Old Testament — especially passages in Deuteronomy plus the major and minor prophets – is replete with passages that speak of the time of Jacob’s trouble / the Day of the Lord / Daniel’s 70th week, that time which shortly precedes Christ’s Return, when the Jews will believe in Him and He will bring in the Kingdom. The Matthew 24 passage is simply one part out of many scriptures addressing the Day of the Lord, the Great Tribulation, Daniel’s 70th week. Thus, the young convert studying premillennialism and the pre-trib rapture is not going to get too focused on only one passage, Matthew 24, but will take a holistic approach, what all of God’s word has to say regarding the Day of the Lord.

Given that, a better way to explain premillennial eschatology is that Matthew 24:5-7 is one of several passages that describe the characteristics of the future Day of the Lord aka the Great Tribulation, the time of Jacob’s trouble.  As with other prophetic passages, we also see a “both … and” aspect: future fulfillment plus a general application now.  In the case of Matthew 24:5-7, we have both the present day application in the general sense of wars, rumors of wars, false teachers in this age, earthquakes – and actual future fulfillment during the Great Tribulation.  We also understand that these are simply signs, and, as S. Lewis Johnson pointed out (in this exposition in his Matthew series):

 the reason that there are disturbances in the natural world is because this is God’s way of showing us that there is disturbance in the spiritual and moral world, so that these signs reflect heaven’s view of the rebellion of men against God.  So we shall expect to see greater and greater natural disturbances as the age continues, to reach their climax in that future day just preceding the Lord’s Second Advent.

Premillennial teachers, likewise, teach from the systematic approach, beginning with the basic concepts such as the meaning of the “Day of the Lord” and the biblical covenants. I note that S. Lewis Johnson’s 37 part eschatology series never once taught a full message specifically on Matthew 24. (Other teachers likewise approach eschatology in a systematic manner.)  A few times he mentioned verses from it, along with parallel passages elsewhere which also speak of the future Great Tribulation.  The following, from message 28 “Tribulation, General View,” is especially helpful as it relates to the Great Tribulation and Matthew 24:

The four outstanding things that characterize this last week of Daniel’s prophecy or the time of the tribulation period.

1)      An ecclesiastical thing or an ecclesiastical fact, the rise of the beast.  – reference passages in Daniel and Revelation

2)      Political features:  There will be the rise of national disturbances.  Kingdom against kingdom.  World government will be the aim of the great kingdoms of the earth.  And that period of time shall be characterized as a period of national disturbance.

3)      The rise of natural disturbances.  For example, in Matthew chapter 24 in verse 7 when the Lord Jesus speaks of this period of time, He says nations shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be famines and pestilences and earthquakes in various places.  There shall rise up natural disturbances which are beyond the ordinary.

4)      A great period of spiritual salvation through the preaching of the evangelists of that period. – reference Revelation 7.

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.

The Mature Christian Worldview And Its Fruit

March 1, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve enjoyed reading Dan Phillips’ books (see this post).  From those books and other recent events, the following are just some observations about the Christian life and our worldview.

From The World-Tilting Gospel:  yes, studying God’s word can (and often does) lead to pride and looking down on others who haven’t studied it.  Dan admitted it happened to him; it happened to me as well.  However, NOT studying God’s word will also bring pride.  Pride can feed on anything, and even on absolutely nothing, such as the deliberately-empty “waiting on God” attitude.

From God’s Wisdom in Proverbs: a very good point about how we choose our friends and even (especially) marriage partners: we should choose our friends not only from those who are Christians, but from those who are growing and maturing Christians.  Indeed the difference is so important, and how I wish these books had been available in my early Christian days 20 years ago (and that I had read them then).  It is not enough to be satisfied with friends who are Christian, yet who in their daily lives are focused on this world’s cares instead of growing in their knowledge and understanding.

It really is true, that where our treasure is, there our heart will be as well (Matt. 6:21, Luke 12:34).  I think of specific individuals (preachers) and their attitude toward God’s word – and the fruit of such an attitude.  Take for instance the local preacher who continually shows only a low view of scripture and superficial understanding of God’s word, combined with man’s views of scripture (such as progressive creation, amillennialism, preterism).  Like with so many who refuse to believe, the mind is instead focused on pointing out how the words in the Bible really don’t mean what they say they mean, but instead “it really means this.”  What are the fruits of this type of mindset?  He is also very focused on preserving and hanging on to  this life, with casual comments about how our lives are so uncertain, how short our lives are, we never know when it will end; even remarks about how we all say we want to go to heaven, just not right now.

Certainly such a view has some truth — provided that it is balanced with the Christian worldview.  After making such comments about preserving this life, why not continue the application?  When good preachers who highly treasure God’s word and spend their time studying it rather than “reinterpreting it” point out the uncertainty of life, they don’t stop there —  but direct such comments specifically to the unsaved in the audience, imploring them to come to Christ before it’s too late.

Contrast the above attitude with that of individuals with a high view of scripture, who show great depth of understanding, who believe and love the doctrines in God’s word.  The focus is on God’s word and conforming the mind to what God says, rather than trying to conform scripture to man’s understanding.

Here I observe the following fruit from such preachers:  humor and illustrations that focus on our eternal existence.  S. Lewis Johnson would joke about how he didn’t really understand what a certain person said about the term “heavy” – because he hadn’t received any of George Foreman’s blows, and he didn’t want to do that until he had his resurrection body (when he wouldn’t particularly mind). He often talked about what we’ll do when we get to heaven, about meeting with and having conversations with characters from the Bible.  Then he would relate that to the importance of studying God’s word, and why we should even study the minor characters: so that when you meet up with Obadiah you’ll know who he is and know what to talk about him with.

Instead of speculating and reasoning from man’s view to come up with ideas not in the text (such as a preterist view that the “shaking” mentioned in Hebrews 12:26 actually happened at the cross followed by judgment in 70 A.D.), SLJ would speculate about heavenly things, wondering if the saints in heaven are aware of us and what we’re doing.

Millennial Positions and Revelation Interpretive Views

August 22, 2011 6 comments

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

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

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

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

Here is a simple table showing the possible combinations:

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

Was Jesus Mistaken? Did He Really Say That He Would Return In the First Century?

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Amongst Christian circles, liberals like to point to Bible texts that talk of Jesus returning soon (for instance, in Revelation 1 and 22, and Matthew 24 (“this generation”), and say that Jesus must have been mistaken, since 2000+ years have now elapsed.  “Where is the sign of His coming?” they challenge, just as surely as the apostle Peter prophesied they would.

Then Preterists, including partial preterists, came along with the desire to “rescue” Jesus from liberal criticism, by coming up with a scheme to support the idea that Jesus was not mistaken and that He really did return (in secret, or in judgment) in 70 A.D.  R.C. Sproul, influenced by the theological liberalism of his education, is one such proponent, and has admitted that he had this starting point.

But in my study through the gospel accounts, and especially the parables, comes another teaching.  As S. Lewis Johnson points out in his Matthew series  — and is also evident in many other parables, such as in Luke’s gospel — Jesus repeatedly emphasized the fact that a long time period would elapse between Christ’s First and Second Coming.

In Matthew’s “Parables of Rejection,” Jesus first hints at this long period of time.  The master of the house (Matthew 21:33-41) set up a vineyard, leased it to tenants, and then went away into another country.  The parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-10) sets forth a future time when the actual wedding feast will take place — and in Jewish custom several years elapsed between the initial engagement (by the parents) and the actual time of the wedding — again to indicate an unknown time gap; the invited guests meanwhile had gone off to do other “more important” things.  By themselves these parables are certainly not conclusive, but neither do they contradict a long period of time.

The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24) tells much more information, including the fact that enough time will elapse for nations and kingdoms to rise up against each other, and for wars and rumors of war to continue.  Later in Matthew 24, Jesus indicates the importance of being prepared, again hinting that such a long time will elapse (Matthew 24:48-50) that the servants will not be expecting Him, and that wicked servants will notice that “my master is delayed.” The two parables that follow, of the ten virgins and the talents (Matthew 25:1-30), also show a lengthy delay: all of the virgins fall asleep; the master giving the talents goes away on a long journey, and in verse 19 returns “after a long time.”

Luke’s gospel has similar parables and words from Jesus, indicating a lengthy time before His return.  Consider Luke 12:35-40 and the admonition to keep your lamps burning, to be ready whether He comes in the second, third or even the fourth watch of the night.  Then, the parable of the persistent widow (which in context has eschatological reference), which concludes with Jesus’ words: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) Just as all the virgins fell asleep, here the question arises again:  after such a long time (the continued persistent prayers of the faithful), will believers still be found, ready and anticipating His return.  In Luke 19, He tells the parable of the Ten Minas because the people believed that the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately (v. 11). The following parable is similar to the talents one in Matthew 25, again with the point that the nobleman went into a far country before returning.

Luke 21, another account of the Olivet Discourse, includes additional information regarding the time gap:  verses 20-24 speak of the destruction of Jerusalem, the people being led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem being trampled underfoot by the Gentiles “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”  (See my previous blog concerning this text:  Luke’s Gospel and Eschatology.) Then verse 25 resumes the narrative related to future events as paralleled by Matthew and Mark.

The gospels contain so many of Jesus’ teaching, and make the point clear.  Jesus clearly set forth the idea of a long wait, that He did not think He was going to return soon in terms of elapsed time.  Rather, He continually pointed out the ideas of perseverance, waiting and preparedness, along with parables regarding his absence for a long period of time.  Certainly no one could have realized that this delay is now 2000+ years, but the biblical record is clear enough that liberals deserve a better response than that of Preterists, those who too readily agree with the liberals’ premise and then try to force other scripture into a mold it was never intended to fit into.

Mark Hitchcock: Preterism series

June 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Recently the name Mark Hitchcock came up again (through a question on Dan Phillips’ blog) — one of the better Bible prophecy teachers.  I had briefly looked at his church website last year, and enjoyed a general prophecy message that sounded solid enough.  From the recent inquiry, I learned a few more things: Mark Hitchcock is “4.5 point Calvinist,” and he does teach Calvinist soteriology, as in a recent Ephesians study.  This was good to hear, as sermons on prophecy don’t necessarily indicate one’s understanding of the doctrines of Grace.  Mark Hitchcock also does not hold to the “gutless grace” of the non-Lordship salvation group, and has been described as part-way between Ryrie and John MacArthur.

Hitchcock’s church site, Faith Bible Church (Edmond, OK),  has a good selection of online sermons going back to 2004, and among the offerings are series on the prophets, dispensationalism, and preterism.  I’ve been listening to the 8-part series on Preterism (from 2006), and so far it’s quite informative.  Like Don Greene, who has a good paper concerning Matthew 24 and problems with Preterist interpretation, Hitchcock deals with partial or moderate preterism, the belief of a few prominent men including R.C. Sproul, Hank Hennegraff, Gary DeMar, and Kenneth Gentry.

Some of Mark Hitchcock’s presentation was familiar, from Don Greene’s paper, including the point about the context for Matthew 24 in the verses at the end of Matthew 23 — and Jesus’ strong words to the Jews, that “you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’.”  Obviously the Jews did not repent in A.D. 70, so that event could not have been the time of Christ’s Second Coming, even any “cloud coming” or “judgment coming.”

Where I found Hitchcock’s Preterism series especially helpful was its explanation of the preterists’ view of the book of Revelation.  Everything I had previously seen online, including from Don Greene as well as the pre-trib website, dealt with the Olivet Discourse, and so this supplied a lot of details concerning other preterist ideas.  This 8-part series includes an overview of Revelation plus a few extra sessions discussing the preterist idea of Revelation 13, the claim that the beast was Nero.

Now for a few highlights, from my notes through Hitchcock’s Preterism series:

Preterists emphasize “Reader Relevance” with the claim that the prophecies given in the Olivet Discourse and Revelation had to have meaning for the 1st century generation, and therefore fulfillment in their day.  A good response here:  what about Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the virgin birth of the Messiah, 700 years before it happened?  How was that one relevant to people in Isaiah’s day?  What about the prophecy in Genesis 3:15, written down by Moses 1400 years before the Messiah came?  By such “reader relevance,” we could not have any biblical prophecies for anything beyond a few years.

In reference to Reader Relevance, Preterists cite the High Priest Caiaphas as a case of one who was told by Jesus that he would see the Son of Man coming — and therefore Jesus must have been talking about a judgment coming in 70 A.D.  It turns out, from biblical archeology findings, that Caiaphas didn’t even live until 70 A.D., but had died some 20 years previously anyway.  Caiaphas will see the Son of Man coming, certainly — at the future Second Coming, as one of the “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.”

Did Jesus’ disciples ask Jesus two or three questions at the beginning of the Olivet Discourse?  Mark Hitchcock makes a good case that, really, the disciples were only asking one question.  When Jesus mentioned the temple being destroyed, their only point of reference was Zechariah 14, and so they associated Jesus’ words about the destruction with God’s deliverance of Israel, and His return, with one single future event.  Of course Jesus knew that these were two separate events (the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, then the future Second Coming), so He told them the signs associated with His return.

Preterism and the Book of Revelation

Whereas Mark Hitchcock sees the seven sealed scroll as a “scroll of doom,” and John MacArthur has described it as the “title deed to the earth,” preterists claim that this scroll is God’s bill of divorce to the nation Israel.  Throughout the overview of Revelation, the Preterists have an extremely obvious anti-Israel bias.

Preterists interpret numbers in a very inconsistent way, and don’t even follow their own made-up rules.  Their overall “rule” is that very large numbers are only symbolic, but small numbers are literal — but then in Revelation 11 they flip-flop and say that the two witnesses are symbolic of a small body of Christians remaining in Jerusalem to testify against it.

Inconsistent hermeneutics:  as just one example of the many inconsistencies, how Preterists treat the period of 3 1/2 years. Any normal Bible reader, just reading the book of Revelation, would notice the descriptions of a period of time that is 3 1/2 years, also called 42 months, both in Revelation 11 and Revelation 13 — and reasonably conclude that both are talking about the same 3 1/2 year time period.  But the Preterists claim that the 3 1/2 years in Revelation 11 happened from 67 to 70 A.D., but the 3 1/2 years in Revelation 13 occurred from late 64 to 68 A.D.  And the events that they say “fulfill” Revelation 11 and Revelation 13 were only “about” 3 1/2 years.  Approximations don’t cut it when we are dealing with the exactness of God, who has shown great precision in past dating such as the amazing prophecy (Daniel 9) concerning the first 69 weeks.

This series has much more interesting information, a good resource on this subject — and I plan to listen to quite a bit more from Mark Hitchcock’s teachings available online.

Luke 21, the Olivet Discourse, and the Literal-Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutic

April 29, 2010 Leave a comment

In my recent reading through Luke 21, again I’m reminded of the simplicity of scripture and how important it is to actually read what a passage says, instead of just talking about it and picking out verses here and there in support of some other idea.  Yet how often we hear someone talking about a text and explaining that it means such-and-such, or is a parallel to this other text — and go along with what they’re saying, when if we just read the account straight through it becomes much clearer.

Many times I’ve heard the local preacher speak of the Olivet Discourse, and he would read the verse in Matthew 24:15-17:
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house.”

Then he would turn to Luke 21 and remark that Luke is talking about the same event, but Luke is writing to Gentiles and making it clear what it really means, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.”  Therefore, the actual “abomination that causes desolation” spoken of by Daniel, was the event in A.D. 70 when the Romans came and destroyed the temple.

But just read each text, in full, paying attention to each verse and the sequence of events.  Luke 21:20-23 describes an event that includes Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, and people fleeing from Jerusalem, and a similar warning for “pregnant women and nursing mothers.”  But notice the additional verses inserted into Luke’s account, verses 23-24:  “There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”  Verse 25 then picks up, after the unspecified time period in verse 24, to tell about the signs given at the end, when Christ returns.  Verse 27:  “at that time” the Son of Man returns.

In Luke’s account in verses 20-24, the subject is the city of Jerusalem, and judgment there until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled — followed by a later event, the distress at the time of Christ’s return.  Matthew 24 has a longer, more descriptive section about an event that concerns desolation of the temple (“the holy place”) with no specific mention of Jerusalem by name — verses 15 through 22.  Verse 23 says “at that time” in reference to the appearance of false Christs, and verse 27 mentions the coming of the Son of Man, who shows up in verse 30 (another “at that time”) — which comes right after verse 29, “immediately after the distress of those days.”

If Luke 21:20-23 is really a parallel to Matthew 24:15-22, as preterists and confused teachers claim, then Christ returned in A.D. 70, because that is clearly what is taught regarding the event in Matthew 24.  But then what about Luke 21:24, the time when Jerusalem is trampled on by the Gentiles?  What — Christ returned in A.D. 70, and now we’re in the millennial age which is also the times of the Gentiles, and so now we’re awaiting Christ’s next return (a “third” coming) that comes in Luke 21:25-27?  Oh, but all the verses in Luke’s account,  from verses 20 through 27, are talking about one event, the same event as in Matthew 24?  What confusion that comes when people attempt to wrest a meaning out of a text, one that simply isn’t there, to support their own preconceived ideas.  If people would only read the accounts straight through — verse by verse reading — all questions would be laid to rest and the false teachers would have no followers.

Instead, too many people listen to these outside ideas, the views of preterists and partial-preterists as they reference this point or that point — rather than going back to the source itself to see if they are actually talking about what the source says.  This example concerning Luke 21 and Matthew 24 is really just another result of the overall low view of scripture evident in such teachers:  the details don’t matter, we only need to skim the surface and get the broad picture, the overall spiritual or allegorical meaning, and “find Christ” in some spiritual meaning.  The same philosophy that broad-brushes whole chapters of Isaiah with the one simple idea of the future glory of the Church, fails to look at the words in the Olivet Discourse and fails to understand that words have meaning.  If such individuals took this approach with all the Bible, including salvation passages, they would be rightly condemned as liberal theologians and heretics who fail to see the obvious, literal meaning of soteriological passages.  Their inconsistency is what saves their souls, at least as far as a profession of faith that others can observe; but when someone who may well be saved nonetheless uses the same reasoning and  tactics as liberal unbelievers, why should we give them any credence as valid Bible teachers?

Reference the following for related reading:  “Dangers of the Parallel Passage Approach.” Point 3 is very relevant here:

“(3) There is a danger of reading into a text an interpretation drawn from another text. It may even tend to foist some preconceived interpretation from one passage upon another.”