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Biblical Prophecies and Fulfillment: Michael Barrett Series

May 15, 2017 4 comments

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

  • Prophecies Are Not Clear in the Details

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

  • Prophecies Fulfilled, but not Exact Date-Specific

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

  • Prophecies Fulfilled, But In Different Ways

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Future Of Israel Conference

October 23, 2013 6 comments

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

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

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

Zechariah’s Prophetic Burdens

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m nearing the end of S. Lewis Johnson’s Zechariah series, and the following is an overview concerning the book’s outline and prophecies.

A basic outline of Zechariah includes:

  •     Chapters 1-6:  prophetic visions given to Zechariah during one night
  •     Chapters 7-8: answer to a question about fasting and related matters
  •     Chapters 9-14: two prophetic burdens, one in chapters 9-11, the other in chapters 12-14

Each of the burdens begins with the words “The burden of the word of the Lord.”  The first burden is “against the land of Hadrach” (Zechariah 9:1),  and the second burden “concerning Israel” (Zechariah 12:1).

The first burden’s theme includes the First Advent and the Jewish rejection of the Messiah.  It also stresses the judgment that would come on the Gentiles in Israel’s deliverance.  The second burden’s theme is the blessing that God will give them when they return to their Messiah.  It also stresses the deliverance amidst the judgments of the last days.

The First Burden:  Zechariah 9-11
Zechariah 9 begins with a prophecy about Alexander the Great (verses 1-8) followed by a contrast: Alexander the Great, versus God’s King, Christ the Lowly, in the familiar words of verse 9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The scene changes in verse 10, shifting from the First Coming to the Second.  The next passage, verses 10-17, includes a prophecy of peace (v. 10), a prophecy of liberation beginning in verse 11, and praise for the Messiah of Israel.  We see here God’s sovereignty: for all the attempts of man to bring peace, man’s attempts at disarmament contracts and treaties, that sought after peace will never happen until God brings it to pass.  The prophecy does have some reference to the more immediate Old Testament situation (Greece), but the language goes beyond it, describing worldwide dominion (verse 10:  from sea to sea … to the ends of the earth) and “in that day,” a prophetic term used frequently throughout the Old Testament, always in connection with events at the last judgment and Second Coming.

Chapter 10 showcases the Shepherd-King amidst the climax of occultism, in the Great Tribulation period of great satanic opposition. God is mighty to save the people who have wandered because of idolatry (Zech. 10:2), without a shepherd.  Verses 8 through 10 describe the regathering of the people of Israel, who had been scattered among the nations.

Chapter 11 begins with their rule by the Romans, until verse 4, which foretells their rejection of their Messiah.  The “three shepherds also I cut off in one month” in verse 8 possibly refers to the three offices, or three groups, of leaders in Israel:  kings, priests, and prophets.  Certainly that is what happened, at the rejection of Christ, and the destruction in A.D. 70:  no more prophets in Israel (or in the church), no more priests, and the king is in heaven, not on the Earth.

Zechariah, probably in ecstatic vision, acts out the scene of Christ coming to His people and being rejected and sold for 30 pieces of silver: the price of a slave that had been gored by an ox!

The national calamity is described in several verses of chapter 11, events fully described by Josephus in the historical records.  Such a horrific judgment:  the nations disavowed them (and sold them as slaves), their leaders disavow them; the Jews turned against each other. (Zechariah 11:5) The Lord Himself turned against them and did not pity them.

Zechariah 11:15 jumps ahead to the last days, describing the false shepherd: the antiChrist, also known as the man of sin, the son of perdition, the beast, the one who makes a covenant with the people but then turns against them in the middle of that seven-year period:

a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.

Insights From The Prophet Micah

July 4, 2011 Leave a comment

From my recent study through Micah with S. Lewis Johnson, here are some highlights from Micah chapters 4 and 5.

Three Prophecies of Judgment Followed By Great Blessing
In Micah 4:9-10, then Micah 4:11-13 and Micah 5:1-6 we see a set of three prophecies, all of which begin with judgment, but end with a promise of future blessing.  Each of these sets begins with the word “now”:

  • 1st prophecy:  ​​​​​​​Now why do you cry aloud? ….   There you shall be rescued;  there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies.
  • 2nd prophecy:  ​​​​​​​​Now many nations are assembled against you …  you shall beat in pieces many peoples; and shall devote their gain to the Lord, their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth.
  •  3rd prophecy:  Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; … and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our border.

As with all Bible study, looking at different translations shows some of the variations in the possible meaning.  Micah 5:1 could refer to gathering troops (the translation in KJV and ESV), but could mean “gash yourselves” (HCSB: you slash yourself in grief) or “now you are gashing yourselves, O daughter of troops,” in which gashing is a reference to mourning practices for the dead, in the manner of the heathens (reference 1 Kings 18: the Baal worshippers were slashing themselves while Elijah mocked).

The Preciseness of Bible Prophecies
The background setting for Micah 5:1 is the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians in Hezekiah’s day.  Then verse 2 shows a great contrast, with the well-known prophecy concerning Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

The Bible is so precise in its prophecies, so very unlike human prophets.  Even the mention of Bethlehem leaves no room for doubt.  Micah could have simply said “Bethlehem” and left open the possible interpretation to include the other Bethlehem in Israel: one in the north, in Zebulun’s inheritance (reference Joshua 19:15).  Instead, we know that it can only mean Bethlehem Ephrathah, the Bethlehem in the south near Jerusalem.

The Only Person Who Was Born A King
Also from this text and its citation in Matthew 2:  where is He who was born king of the Jews?  Human kings are never born as such.  They may be born a prince, such as the Prince of Wales, but never a king.  In some interesting trivia from actual history, I recall that a few have been declared kings from a very early age.  In Judah’s history, Joash and Josiah became kings as children of only seven and eight years of age.  From secular history, Henry VI of England was a king at only 8 months of age when his father Henry V died.  One human king in history was declared a king at birth, Alfonso XIII of Spain, whose father died before he was born.  But such is clearly not the norm for human rulers — our Lord Jesus Christ alone is the only one who was truly born a king.

Where Does AntiChrist Come From: East or West?

April 4, 2011 2 comments

Over the last few months I have become aware of the “controversy” regarding the location of the AntiChrist:  East (Grecian / Syrian) or West (Rome).  I first heard the common (and popular) view, as from John MacArthur and many others, that the antiChrist comes from the Roman Empire and therefore European (a king from the west).  After all, Daniel 9 mentions the “people of the prince who will come” who destroy Jerusalem — the Romans.  S. Lewis Johnson’s Daniel series, however, brings out some interesting features of the texts and evidence that the antiChrist is the Syrian aka the “King of the North,” as I blogged here.

One of the key points for the Western AntiChrist view is the identities of the two “little horn” figures in Daniel 7 and Daniel 8.  The standard view is that these are different characters:  the “little horn” in Daniel 7 is said to come out of the Roman Empire (west), whereas the “little horn” in Daniel 8 comes out of the third kingdom (Greece); also much of Daniel 8 appears to describe the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd century BC.  Since one account has a “little horn” coming out of the fourth kingdom, and the second account out of Greece, it is said that these cannot possibly be referring to the same person.

However, as we all know, the Roman Empire covered vast territory, both in what is now Europe as well as the Middle East.  Rome (the fourth kingdom) conquered Greece, and so such statements as found in Daniel 7 and 8 present no conflict when we realize that the third kingdom was included (as a subset) within the fourth kingdom.

Furthermore, the reference in Daniel 9:26 does not necessarily mean that the people who destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. were Roman (Italians).  As noted in this article (“From where the Antichrist will come“), Josephus tells us that the people involved were predominately Syrian.  It was customary for Rome to conscript soldiers from their conquered territories, which in this case meant Syria.

Time and again throughout the Old Testament, God speaks of a certain person who will come against His people Israel, who will be defeated by God at the end, and without exception he is described as from the north (Greece/Syria) not the west.  This individual is described as “the Assyrian” or “the Assyrian king” in Isaiah (see Isaiah 14:24-27), as the “King of the North” in Daniel 11-12, and as “Gog, of the land of Magog” in Ezekiel 38-39.  Ezekiel 38:17 asks:   Are you he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them? The only text which might indicate a western antiChrist is that statement in Daniel 9:26 about the people of the ruler, related to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  Yet Daniel’s prophecies continue to further discuss the “King of the North.”

As I first mentioned in this blog, the only reason that modern prophecy buffs think that Ezekiel’s war is a separate event that happens sometime before the main Armageddon is because of the idea of the western-Roman AntiChrist, from that description in Daniel 9:26.  Yet the verses immediately following Ezekiel 38:17 clearly describe the same event as Armageddon, and the whole idea of Ezekiel’s war being a different event is a relatively new idea (since sometime in the 20th century).

In a sermon series through Joel, S. Lewis Johnson noted Joel 2:20, which speaks of “the northerner,” and that this could well be a reference to the anti-Christ and his armies in the final day.  Of special note is the fact that locust plagues in Judah almost always come from the south or southeast, not from the north.  I followed up with a word study (from Johnson’s suggestion here) on all the references to the term “northerner” and “north,” to find that indeed many verses in the OT prophecies speak of the last days enemy as one from the north — not west as is popular thinking today.

Here is a sampling of additional references that well establish Israel’s history, that in ancient times invaders came from the north.  In many of these verses, the prophecy has a near-term sense with respect to the ancient armies of Assyria and Babylon, but in many cases the prophet also zooms out to the distant future (of which the near-term prophecy is but a type, an example):

Jeremiah 46:20 has interesting reference to the future, as does Jeremiah 50:3.  The verses immediately following in Jeremiah 50 clearly refer to other events associated with this judgment, events that did not occur in the 6th century BC.

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.

Bible Prophecy and Practical Christian Living

May 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Again and again in my Bible study I encounter exhortations to holy living, in the light of our understanding of the prophetic word: from J.C. Ryle, S. Lewis Johnson, John MacArthur, David Jeremiah, etc.  Certainly I can see some change within my own thoughts, over the last two years, as I continually conform my thoughts to the word of God (Romans 12:2) and appreciate the wonders of what God has revealed in His word.

Specifically, I can more readily accept the hardships and craziness of our world, knowing what the future holds.  During a recent spell of extremely hot weather, for instance, I remembered Romans 8:20-21, the promise from God that the creation itself will one day be restored to how it was in the original perfect creation, and what awaits during that glorious Millennial Kingdom age when the weather patterns will no longer bring extreme heat and cold, or the terrible natural disasters; the ground will yield forth food instead of the thistles and thorns brought about in the curse.  Just as we await the redemption of our bodies, so the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage.  Such understanding brings God’s grace to patiently endure the heat which I used to complain too much about.

Another area of difference:  understanding the seeming craziness of the world and the rise and fall of nations, and the true nature of the visible Church.  Certainly God’s word in general (basic evangelical gospel) tells us to trust God, that He is in control of the big things as well as our lives, and that He is the one who appoints the governments and leaders, and one day we’ll die and go to be with God in heaven.  Without the added understanding from prophecy, though, it is much harder to accept the specifics of the things we actually see going on in the world.  I first started learning about the rise and fall of nations from reading John MacArthur’s sermon series through the book of Daniel in early 2009, a new, biblical perspective contrary to the popular “Christian America” moral message I imbibed during my early Christian years.

What I now realize that the Bible has to say concerning the future of certain locations — especially Israel, Asia (its very large population), and Babylon — makes perfect sense of the rapidly increasing decline of the U.S., and of the U.S.’s now declining relationship with Israel.  It even makes sense of specific news items, such as what I found so disturbing a few years ago: that the U.S. was sending mega-bucks of our taxpayer money over to Iraq to rebuild its economy, even subsidizing its economy with cheap gasoline at the pump.  When I consider the amazing implied prophecy in Revelation 11:9-12, that the Bible predicted over 1900 years ago a world that would have instant, worldwide communication including the transmission of visual images, I am that much more awestruck by our great God.

That the Bible predicts great apostasy within the visible Church, and increasing apostasy as the end nears, gives me peace of mind concerning the reality observed in the Church today, in contrast to the optimistic kingdom (as in the Church is the Kingdom) language that so popularly expresses the misconception of many confused believers.

Understanding what God’s word has to say regarding the believer’s rewards compels me toward holy and righteous living — not as though my salvation were dependent on works, but to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” recognizing the need to redeem the time, since we must give account to God for how we used our gifts and spent our time — not in frivolous things of no value (wood, hay, straw), but in those things which build up God’s people and glorify Him (gold and silver).  John MacArthur’s emphasis on the value of studying and meditating on the things of God, and the great reward ahead for those who do so — a reward that will include greater capacity to know, enjoy and love God — is an encouragement to persevere toward that end, to run the race to win the prize.

By contrast, the anti-futurist Christian view emphasizes the equality of all believers in Christ without distinctions, a view that is actually quite uncomfortable with the idea of rewards or differences among believers (as I even heard one such preacher admit recently): we’re all equal, the Church has replaced Israel, and we will be judged along with unbelievers at the Great White Throne — to show that we’re just as guilty as them but for the blood of Jesus.  Yet such incomplete and unbiblical teaching lacks the extra motivation (the believer’s rewards) — provided by the study of biblical eschatology — toward holy living in believers, instead destroying our great blessed hope of our Lord’s imminent return for His people (1 Thess. 4:17-18, John 14:3).  Truly, God’s word including the prophetic picture is a great blessing that God has revealed to us, and those who endeavor to search and study the scriptures will gain this blessing (Revelation 1:3) and not be disappointed.