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The Book of Hebrews and Futurist Eschatology

April 10, 2013 6 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The True Historical Premillennial View: Not George Ladd’s Version

September 14, 2012 19 comments

From the material available online today, many would conclude that “historic premillennialism” refers to the teaching of 20th century theologian George Elton Ladd—and no other view.  See, for example, Michael Vlach’s article “How Does Historic Premillennialism Differ from Dispensational Premillennialism?”,  this “Eschatology Comparison” chart, and this article “An Historical Premillennialist Takes Issue With Pretribulational Dispensationalism.”

Similar to how many people associate the specific teachings of classic dispensationalism with any reference to dispensationalism, here too is a real point of confusion: the failure to recognize the different beliefs within the label of “historic premillennialism”–or any form of premillennialism other than “dispensational premillennialism.” Occasionally people mention “covenant premillennialism” to highlight the view of some, such as Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, who believed premillennialism yet who held to the theological covenants of Covenant Theology (as contrasted with the Calvinist disp-premill emphasis on the biblical covenants).   “Historic premillennialism” is the more common term, though, and yet George Ladd’s version of premillennialism could more accurately be called “contemporary (non-dispensational) premillennialism.”  As a commenter at the last link above pointed out, “Ladd’s overall position appears to be of more recent vintage than Classic Dispensationalism. Thus I find it ironic that he’s now considered to be the standard bearer for Historic Premillenialism. He departed significantly from the historic premillenialism of men like Horatius Bonar, J.C. Ryle and C.H. Spurgeon, just to name a few. None of the above men were pretrib, but they all believed in a physical restoration of the Jews to the land, which today is generally regarded as a dispensational distinctive.”

In recent years Barry Horner has done much in researching and publishing the history of millennial views, as in his “Future Israel” book and related website, as well as this work available online: “Judeo-Centric Eschatology: An Ethical Challenge to Reformed Theology.”  In this publication, Horner suggests another term to describe the truly historical premillennial view:  Judeo-Centric Premillennialism.  Chapter Five especially looks at the views of many premillennialists from centuries past, sketching out the details concerning “Israel and Judeo-centric Premillennialism beyond the Reformation” followed by “Israel and the Contemporary Historic Premillennialism of George Eldon Ladd.”

As Barry Horner explains regarding true historic premillennialism as opposed to the current day George Ladd version:

“… (then) explanation is made that one believes in a glorious future time when the redeemed people of God, distinctively comprising national Israel and the Gentile nations, will enjoy the consummation of their salvation on an earth of renovated spiritual materiality where the glorious, spiritually tangible and substantial Jesus Christ will reign from Jerusalem in the midst of Israel. At this juncture, the common response is that such a belief identifies one as a dispensationalist, especially since Ladd is said to have not incorporated such particularity concerning Israel within his premillennialism. In other words, if a person was an historic premillennialist, he would not retain any clear-cut distinction between Israel and the church, but especially within the one redeemed people of God in their future manifestation. When one then points out and specifically names a number of notable Christians who were not dispensationalists, such as Horatius Bonar, J. C. Ryle, and C. H. Spurgeon, even postmillennialist Jonathan Edwards, who nevertheless believed in the aforementioned scenario, that is, Israel and the Gentile nations retaining their distinctive identity under the earthly reign of Christ, the frequent response is that of a blank stare.”

…we will most definitely maintain that, in general, both historic premillennialism and progressive dispensationalism have upheld a diversity involving Israel and the Gentile nations within the redeemed people of God. Reluctance on Ladd’s part to bring Judeo-centric clarity and definition into his eschatology at this point places him outside the overwhelming emphasis of historic premillennialism. Hence, in this most important aspect of premillennialism, his perspective is decidedly not historic or normative.

The outline of this chapter further explains:

1. The two peoples of dispensational premillennialism:

… earlier belief in two new covenants was eventually abandoned by Walvoord, Ryrie, and presumably Fruchtenbaum, in favor of the one new covenant revealed in Jeremiah 31. … further development … has more willingly accepted the implications of this one new covenant for the redeemed, whatever distinctions they might incorporate…. Israel and the church are in fact one people of God, who together share in the forgiveness of sins through Christ and partake of his indwelling Spirit with its power for covenant faithfulness, while they are nonetheless distinguishable covenant participants comprising what is one unified people.

2. The one people of classic historic premillennialism: classic historic premillennialism, with exceptions acknowledged, nevertheless has specifically upheld the place of national Israel within the people of God of the church of Jesus Christ.

3. The one people of Jesus Christ’s assembly/church according to Scripture.

In a world where Gentile Christianity predominates, there is a necessity to offer some considerations here concerning the “Church” which name has, over the centuries, been “Gentilized” so that its mention is commonly identified with Gentile congregations, indeed a Gentile kingdom of God…. Hence the New Jerusalem shall not only acknowledge the twelve gates named after the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, but also the twelve foundation stones named after the twelve apostle, all twenty-four names being Jewish.

Michael Vlach Conference Series: Our Fantastic Future

June 4, 2012 4 comments

Here’s a good recent lecture series, from Michael Vlach at the Parker Bible Church (Parker, CO) 2012 Men’s ConferenceOur Fantastic Future.  This conference series was held in April, and the four parts are available for listening to online or downloading in MP3 format.

From the first message, an introduction to eschatology:

The Old Testament predicted several things

  1. The seed of the woman who will conquer the serpent, and the future reversal of the curse: Genesis 3
  2. Abraham and the nation Israel to bring blessing to all the earth: Genesis 12
  3. Scattering and restoration of Israel: Deuteronomy 30:1-10
  4. The Suffering Servant AND the Reigning Messiah.  Isaiah 52-53; Zech. 14; 2 Samuel 7; Isaiah 9, 11, other passages regarding the reigning Messiah.
  5. Day of the Lord judgment upon the world: Isaiah 13, Zeph 1, Isaiah 24, Joel 2-3
  6. Tribulation and Rescue of Israel:  Jeremiah 30-33, Zech 12-14, Daniel 7, Daniel 9
  7. Coming Earthly Kingdom: Isaiah 11, 9, Zech 14 and others
  8. Inclusion of Gentiles alongside Israel as God’s people:   Gen. 12:3, Isaiah 19:24-25, Isaiah 61
  9. Coming Career and Defeat of AntiChrist:  Daniel 7 and 9.

Since Messiah’s coming has two phases to it, a First Coming and a Second Coming, we should expect that certain expectations of the Old Testament would be fulfilled with Jesus’ First Coming while others await His Second Coming.

Why We Should Study Eschatology

  1. So much of scripture deals with the topic. Christ thought it important
  2. Fulfilled prophecy is strong evidence for the truthfulness and supernatural nature of the Bible.  Great testimony to the inspiration of scripture
  3. Major sections of the NT discuss events still to come after the First Coming of Jesus:  Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21, 1 Thess. 4-5, 2 Thess. 1-2, 2 Peter 3, Revelation 4-22.
  4. Christianity offers a comprehensive view of reality, a world-view, including what will take place in the future.  The Christian world view has four major aspects:
    • Creation
    • The Fall, Sin — the human problem
    • The Answer:  the God-man, His solution for mankind
    • Restoration of all things:  we know where things are headed.  Acts 3:21, Colossians 1:15-20.
  5. Studying Prophecy can wake us up and make us alert to what God is doing in the world. God IS working in our history including our own time.

Tips For Approaching Bible Prophecy

  1. Be consistent by interpreting prophetic passages as you would other parts of scripture; the hermeneutical approach.
  2. Avoid an approach that interprets most of the Bible literally and contextually, and then spiritualizes or allegorizes the prophetic sections.
  3. When scripture does use symbols in the context of prophecy, remember that there is a literal meaning behind the symbols.  Literal interpretation takes into account symbols and figures of speech.
  4. Understand that God’s purposes for the future include both spiritual AND physical elements.  Romans 8 — this creation being restored.
  5. God has plans for both individuals AND nations.
  6. Understand that the Two Comings of Christ means that certain OT prophecies were fulfilled at His first coming while other things await the Second Coming.
  7. Be familiar with the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.  The New Testament includes at least 250 quotations from the Old Testament, references which supply more of the background.  Beyond the direct quotations, the New Testament also includes many more allusions to the Old Testament.

Nations in the Eternal State: The New Creation Model

May 2, 2012 3 comments

From Vlach’s “Has the Church Replaced Israel?” (see my review here), chapter 15 brings out some further thoughts concerning the biblical understanding of the Eternal State and God’s purpose for nations.

Last year I blogged (this post) about the New Creation model of eternity, as contrasted with the Spiritual Vision model which has dominated the Christian church, after reading Vlach’s blog series (see the last one, part 7 here). The Christoplatonism that Randy Alcorn describes has come about from the Greek philosophical influences upon Christianity during the Augustinian era (4th and 5th centuries A.D.), along with other negative effects of allegory on the Christian church.  Yet a closer look at the Bible’s descriptions of the Eternal state, especially in Revelation 21-22, show a very different concept of eternity:  a world with nations and kings, people traveling in and out of gates, and engaging in activities similar to our present experience.

When I first studied premillennialism, I recognized the idea of nations during the 1000 year millennial kingdom.  Now I see more clearly, from what is said in God’s word, that the role of nations (as well as the concept of time) extends beyond that period, into the New Heavens and New Earth.  For one thing, the Abrahamic covenant promises dealing with the land do not stipulate a time limitation (i.e., 1000 years), but “forever.”  Reference Genesis 13:15, Genesis 17:8, and 48:4.

If the land promise is “forever,” that suggests that the people the promise (a group of people, a nation) is made to will also exist forever, which goes beyond phase 1 of the Millennial Kingdom.

Revelation 21 and 22, along with parallel statements in Isaiah 60, specifically mention the nations and their rulers.

  •  Revelation 21:24-26:   By its lightwill the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, andits gates will never be shut by day-andthere will be no night there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
  • Revelation 22:2:  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Isaiah 60 verses 5 and 11 speak of the nations coming and bringing their wealth, and the gates being open, and “their kings led in procession.”  Isaiah 60 may refer to the Millennial Kingdom, but not exclusively, and the parallel to Revelation 21 certainly suggests that the Eternal State, New Heavens and New Earth, is also in mind.

Many other texts throughout the Bible speak of nations:  the Psalms often speak of the nations giving praise (which has never been the case in this world).  God has used nations to deal out his vengeance upon erring Israel, and also punished nations by supernatural action.  Isaiah 19 describes “in that day” the existence of three nations that will be blessed: Israel, Egypt and Assyria.

Chapter 15 of Vlach’s book addresses in more detail the issues mentioned above – the New Creation model and what the scriptures have to say about the nations — and then takes the matter to its next logical step.  If nations exist in eternity, and people in the New Earth have identity with nations, then why not have Israel as a nation as well?  The biblical case for nations, both in the Millennial Kingdom as well as in the New Creation Eternal State, is abundantly clear, so why would God’s purposes for the nations exclude the nation Israel?

Michael Vlach: Has the Church Replaced Israel?

April 5, 2012 11 comments

A friend sent me a copy of Vlach’s recently published book, “Has the Church Replaced Israel?”  I don’t often have opportunity to read current books, and so I’ve enjoyed reading this one.  Vlach’s book is one of only a few that give serious treatment to the scriptural and theological issues of biblical dispensationalism. I’ve read some of his online articles at his website (Theological Studies.org), so it was nice to read this book also.  I’ve not completed the book yet, just the first ten chapters, and so the following is from my observations thus far.

Vlach notes the standard objection from those who don’t like to use the term “replace,”  and establishes the definition from the fact that, regardless of what term people want to give for their belief, that belief does involve replacing one promise to one people group with another promise to a different group.  The well-known amillennialist story of a dad promising his son a set of wheels, so that he expects a car, and instead gets a super-duper sports car, is told here, with the clear point that the illustration is not accurate.  In supersessionism, the dad gives the fancy sports car to someone else instead of to his son.

After establishing the definition, several chapters cover church history, from the 1st century to the present, and provide great detail concerning the church-replacement views of various theologians.  The basic content here is similar to Barry Horner’s coverage in his “Future Israel” book (which Vlach also mentions among his sources), though with different coverage in some of the details.  I had forgotten some of the details from Horner’s book, and Vlach’s material is likewise refreshing.  Among the important points, Vlach brings out the fact that church replacement was already well entrenched by the time of Justin Martyr, who was only saying in his own words an idea not original with him.  Vlach also emphasizes the difference between “strong supersessionism” (no future for national Israel) with “moderate supersessionism” (future large-scale salvation for Israel, associated with the Second Coming), and he presents good evidence that throughout history the majority of the church have held to moderate supersessionism.  Only Martin Luther, in some of his later writings, is especially noted as taking a strong supersessionist view.  From the historical case Vlach further suggests that strong supersessionism is a minority view.

Next, Vlach considers the theological and hermeneutical issues, including treatment of specific passages.  This book covers very well the overall distinctions, such as the difference between the supersessionist  “either-or” and the “both-and” view of non-supersessionists.  A NT passage can have application to us in the church age, but that in no way negates the original prophecy and its meaning.  Vlach also discusses the idea of partial-fulfillment, and so it appears he takes more of a “progressive dispensationalist” approach regarding some of the specific texts he addresses:  partial fulfillment of a text “in some way” by the church, with future complete fulfillment.

Another good topic covered is typology, an issue which supersessionists rely heavily on for support of their replacement view.  Again, Israel is not a type of the church, even if some aspects of Israel’s experience have application for us in the church today.  Vlach (like John MacArthur) takes the more limited definition of typology, that only those things explicitly revealed in the NT as “types” can be called types – and “types” are something different than illustrations.  I considered this matter last year (this post), and now better understand the different definitions of “types.” Vlach is among those who see two categories, “types” versus “illustrations,” whereas some like-minded teachers view all illustrations as types (the words being synonymous): regardless of whether an explicit mention is made in the NT, a type/illustration follows the rules regarding the parallel correspondences.  The main problem with supersessionist typology, as I see it, is the broadbrushing without addressing specific passages.  It’s not enough to just say “Israel is a type of the church, God’s people” and disregard most if not all of the Old Testament as not worth serious study.  Types (regardless of whether they are specifically called that in the NT) involve specifics: a specific Old Testament passage, and specific correspondences between the original event, person, or institution and the New Testament equivalent understanding.

What I learned and found especially interesting is the treatment of specific passages, and the different variations of interpretations even amongst non-supersessionist theologians.  For instance, Vlach’s handling of Acts 15, where James cites Amos during the Jerusalem council, seems rather weak as compared to other expositions of that passage (see this post and this follow-up). Here, he does point out the importance of looking at the overall context, that Acts 15 is not a passage talking about eschatology; the main topic is the acceptance of Gentiles as Gentiles rather than Jewish converts, and so no one should use that text to prove the amillennialist view.  He also notes that James only says that “this agrees with” rather than citing fulfillment.  But then Vlach takes what appears to be a middle-road approach, that James must have seen this as somehow a partial fulfillment “in some sense” of the original Amos passage.  Yet I did not see where he further explained what he meant there.

Despite a few shortcomings (such as the handling of Acts 15), though, I have enjoyed reading Michael Vlach’s book, Has the Church Replaced Israel?  Vlach gives a good read overall, concerning the basic issues and answering the overall reasons that supersessionists give for their interpretation.

The Kingdom of God: The Central Theme of Scripture

March 13, 2012 6 comments

I’ve begun listening to a recent TMS lecture series (February 2012) concerning The Kingdom of God. According to the introductory message this series included six parts, of which the web page includes five: an introduction from Richard Mayhue, followed by great lessons from Bill Barrick, Keith Essex, Nathan Busenitz and Michael Vlach. The first two messages have already covered a lot of ground on this very large topic, the one unifying theme of the Bible.

The Bible is filled with the kingdom theme. The Old Testament is saturated: just looking at the “kingdom vocabulary” and the words “king” and “kingdom” and their variations, the Hebrew OT includes 3,154 references – and that doesn’t include the Aramaic portions in Daniel. Many other words also relate to the subject of the kingdom, as for instance judge, ruling, scepter, and palace. Many passages contain just a brief reference, as for instance Exodus 15:18, the last verse in the song of Moses. Other passages do not contain direct kingdom language, yet clearly refer to it, as for instance Psalm 118. About 30% of hymns in the average hymnbook are about the kingdom, which though generally from the erroneous amillennial/postmillennial view at least recognize the immense scope of the kingdom theme.

Over the last few centuries theologians have been quite interested in dividing the Bible into all its parts, examining and dissecting it. Yet that perspective, looking at the trees, loses sight of the overall picture of the forest. When we consider the broad overview of the Bible, what is its central theme? Keith Essex mentions several ideas set forth by theologians, concluding that the kingdom and salvation are the primary two, of which the kingdom is the primary one. He cites two reasons: the canonical order and the theological order of God’s word. The canonical order: The Revelation of the Kingdom both precedes (Genesis 1-2) and culminates (Revelation 21-22) after the teaching of sin and salvation. The theological order: salvation is a means to an end, not the end. We are saved for a purpose, to serve the Savior.

Dr. Mayhue suggests a simple three-point outline for a single sermon about the whole Bible:

  1. The Kingdom Before Sin (Genesis 1-2)
  2. The Kingdom During Sin (Genesis 3 – Revelation 20)
  3. The Kingdom After Sin (Revelation 21-22)

Bill Barrick’s message is especially good, and he further expands on the “mirror image” of scripture: The doctrine of First Things is repeated in inverse order in the doctrine of Last Things. As the earth began so it shall end. March forward from Genesis (OT history), and backward from Revelation (to begin of NT), and see the parallels.

A closer look at these parallels and reverse sequence of events:
Creation == > New Creation
Light ==> God’s Light (Rev. 22)
Man’s Rule (Gen. 1:21) ==> High King’s Rule
Curse of the Fall reversed

Antagonism from Satan:
Creation –> Satan’s freedom
Satan’s rebellion again, and confinement (before) the New Creation
Worldwide global flood judgment after the fall. In Revelation 6-19, global judgment again, before Satan’s defeat.
After global judgment: Old Testament — Babylon
Global judgment in Revelation: Babylon (Revelation 17-18) prior to the global judgment.

Of the first three messages, I’ve especially enjoyed Dr. Barrick’s, for his great delivery including many quote-worthy statements such as this section:

Vice-regents of God are literal, unfallen human beings living & residing on planet earth, possessing physical bodies, and living in a specific location, the garden of Eden. God’s initial mediatorial kingdom is earthly, it is physical, it is real, it is human. We must catch that concept. We read the Bible as though there was no literal Adam and Eve, we spiritualize everything to where we do away with everything physical and everything earthly, as though in the New Testament suddenly all this is transformed and we are to be only spiritually directed, spiritually minded, and there’s only spiritual reality, and the physical reality is just a means of getting where we’re going and that’s it.

That’s not the way scripture approaches it. God’s design was for there to be a literal, human, unfallen, earthly localized kingdom on this planet. And He will not have that program subordinated, skewed, changed, altered or denied. There will come a time when He will establish a new Eden on planet Earth, and place within it a Regent who is an unfallen human being in human form with a human body. And He will reign, and He will fulfill that intent, that God started in the garden of Eden.

To read the scriptures in any other way, is to read it as though there is no truth to God’s promise to restore that which has fallen, to glorify that which is now not glorified. It would be for God to admit defeat and say, ‘I just have to give up. I created man, I created this possibility of having a mediatorial kingdom on earth that’s real, that’s literal, that’s human, that’s localized, that’s earthly, and it failed because man disobeyed. My vice-regents disobeyed the king of kings and Lord of lords. Therefore I give up, the program is canceled. We’ll move on to plan B.’ God’s never had a plan B. It’s all plan A.

Zechariah 14 and God’s Divine Purpose

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve just finished S. Lewis Johnson’s series through Zechariah.  Zechariah 14 is of course one of the great OT chapters with so much to say about the Second Coming and the Kingdom.  Dr. Johnson noted the problems of spiritualizing, and the importance of recognizing the difference between figures of speech used within a passage, and wholesale allegorizing or spiritualizing to alter the meaning to something else; Zechariah 14 is an especially difficult passage to spiritualize.

Here is a great quote from him, regarding the believers and the missionaries in Korea in the early 20th century  (from the later transcript, second series in Zechariah:

C. G. Trumbull who was at one time associated with the Sunday-School Times took a trip to Korea where a tremendous work of evangelization had taken place in the early part of this century.  In fact, there was a great revival there and Mr. Trumbull was interested in the way in which they had responded to the word of God concerning the second coming of Christ.  And so, he asked one of the Koreans whether the Korean Christians believed in the second coming of Christ.  And he received this answer, “Oh, yes, they believe the Bible.  It’s only when some missionaries come and tell them something different that they begin to have any doubts.”

When one reads the Bible and reads in its normal plain speaking then, I think, the answer usually is, we sense there’s going to be some great disturbances in the future, we see that the Lord Jesus Christ is going to come, we see that he is going to fulfill the promises that he has made to the nation Israel, and we see he’s going to rule and reign upon the earth.  That seems to be the simple reading of the word of God.

Actually, I agree that Zechariah 14 is difficult to spiritualize, and yet of course the allegorizers persist in doing so, since the imagination can come up with so much — yet such treatment leaves the text with nothing of its original plain meaning, becoming instead the inspired version of the “exalted” human teacher who tells us what God really meant to say.

Here are some great recent articles regarding Zechariah 14, from Michael Vlach:

As I’m finding out through a study through Hebrews (also with S. Lewis Johnson),  that book also has many references to the Second Coming, including the Kingdom age.  The OT scriptures quoted in chapter 1 are filled with references to the Davidic covenant and Israel’s future.  Hebrews 2 quotes Psalm 8, a great psalm regarding man’s intended dominion over the earth:  something begun in Genesis 1, but we do not now see it; we will see it in the kingdom.  S. Lewis Johnson specifically noted that in Hebrews 2:5 (which introduces the citation of Psalm 8 ) the words “the world to come” do not refer to this age (the church), and do not refer to the Eternal State, but to the kingdom of God upon the earth.

As Michael Vlach also noted in the third blog article link above:

These conditions of Zechariah 14 can only occur in an intermediate kingdom between the present age and the eternal state. While people from all nations are being saved in the church age, the nations themselves do not obey our Lord (see Psalm 2). In fact, they persecute those who belong to the Lord. In the coming kingdom Jesus will rule the nations while He is physically present on earth. The nations will obey and submit to His rule, but as Zechariah 14 points out, whenever a nation does not act as they should there is punishment. On the other hand, in the eternal state there will be absolutely no disobedience on the part of the nations. The picture of the nations in the eternal state is only positive. The kings of the nations bring their contributions to the New Jerusalem (see Rev 21:24) and the leaves of the tree of life are said to be for the healing of the nations (see Rev 22:2).

Time and Eternity: Time is No More, Or Never-Ending Time?

May 31, 2011 3 comments

Michael Vlach has recently done an interesting series on the topic of heaven and the eternal state, contrasting the predominant Christian “Spiritual Vision” model — and its accompanying Christoplatonism introduced by allegorizers including Augustine — with the earlier biblical “New Creation” model.  Vlach cites Randy Alcorn’s book “Heaven,” as well as Craig Blaising (the New Creation model), and also points out some interesting scripture concerning the eternal state.  See “Models of Eschatology Part 6: Answering Questions About the New Creation Model (2)”, which points out the contrasting ideas people have concerning the after-life, and why the New Creation model is important.

One intriguing idea is the notion of timeless eternity, versus everlasting, non-ending time, and here Vlach points to the New Creation model and the description of nations during the Eternal State (Rev. 21-Rev. 22).  Further, Revelation 22:2 talks about the tree of life, “with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month,” which also suggests a time-bounded existence.  Everlasting life involves time that never ends — but not the cessation of time, of existence outside of the dimension of time.

As Vlach noted, very little has been written by Bible scholars concerning the eternal state: a great deal has been said concerning the Kingdom of God, but not about Revelation chapter 21, the Eternal State.  Indeed, in my brief perusal of available commentaries online (including modules available for my Bible software The Word), I found very little said about Rev. 22:2 or the eternal state.  Yet from this I have learned that many have taught the idea of a timeless existence in eternity, as noted in John Gill’s commentary (see his notes concerning Rev. 10:6).  Often the commentators are silent concerning the mention of the trees yielding fruit each month; if mentioned, it is understood only symbolically.  One commentator took it more literally and thus concluded that Rev. 22:1-7 must be talking about the millennial kingdom rather than the eternal state.

Reasoning from this popular “time is no more” idea, John MacArthur even provided “scientific” support:

Now let me talk about that for a moment from the scientific side so that you can see the rationality of this. Peter tells us that the elements will be dissolved. Now remember, the Kingdom has ended and that is the end of time. We are now on the brink of eternity when there will be, according to chapter 21 verse 1, a new heaven and a new earth because the first heaven and the first earth passed away and there’s no longer any sea. And then we enter into the eternal state, time is no more. The thousand-year Millennial Kingdom is the end of time. And the elements will dissolve.

When God closes the book on time the universe as we know it has to come to an end. You say, “Why is that true?” Time and creation began together because scientifically you cannot have creation without time. You say, “What do you mean by that?” Let’s go back to Peter’s word “elements.” Peter uses a term in the Greek that means the basic units. The basic parts of matter. Elements refer to the basic components of creation, matter. And do you know what matter is? If you have a scientific background you know this, let me give it you simply…matter is particles in motion. Most of what you see is space. It’s hard to believe that, even harder if you try to go through it. It looks solid. But it is not. Matter is particles in controlled motion. You learned that way back in your science classes somewhere.

Listen carefully, science says motion requires time because if something moves from one place to the another there has to be time. It’s here and it’s there and the fact that it was here and there demands the passage of time, even it’s only a fraction. You cannot have matter unless you have time because you can’t have motion unless something can move from one place to another, and it can’t move from one place to another unless there’s a passage of time. No time, no motion…no motion, no matter…no matter, no elements…no elements, no creation.

Again, though, what does scripture say?  It describes nations, the tree of life and a river, and fruit coming forth each month — all of which involve motion and matter.  Additional evidence (though indirect) comes from the dispensational understanding of the restoration of everything to the Edenic covenant, to bring to completion God’s purposes: a restoration of Edenic conditions, yet a continuing state such as Adam would have had, if he had passed the test in the Edenic covenant.  Certainly the descriptions given in Revelation 21-22, as well as in Ezekiel 47-48, agree with the original description of the garden of Eden in Genesis.  Adam and Eve were not then in a timeless eternity but very much existing in time and space.

Along with Randy Alcorn, Craig Blaising, and Michael Vlach, S. Lewis Johnson is another who held to the idea of “endless time” as mentioned in reference to Revelation 10:6, where in passing he observed that “As a matter of fact, there is a question about whether we can actually say that there is no time in eternity; rather endless time might be a much better way to speak of eternity.”  Certainly that would also agree with his teaching concerning the Edenic covenant and God’s Divine Purpose.

Heaven: Spiritual Vision or New Creation

May 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Michael Vlach’s recent blogs have articulated something I had sensed but was unable to define and put into words.  At the local church (and probably common at many churches), heaven is mentioned infrequently and in a somewhat-detached way:  we want to live out our lives here and go to heaven when we die, yet with no joy of the anticipation of our blessed Hope that Christ will return and bring us to Him (ref. John 14:3 and 1 Thess. 4).  The topic of heaven comes up (as recently), only when a few members of the congregation are afflicted with cancer and facing physical difficulties ahead.  We hear platitudes about how we must endure, that God be glorified in the lives of those afflicted with cancer, and talk about ultimately going to a place of peace and rest.  Yet throughout I get the distinct impression that they really would prefer living here as long as possible, that they are not really longing for heaven–only that the idea has been thrust upon them due to physical distress.  No mention is made of the resurrection and our physical bodies, but only of “heaven” — by which they mean the biblical place of paradise (our intermediate state, before the Second Coming and the resurrection).

Listening to such a seemingly disinterested perception of heaven, I am reminded of Barry Horner’s observation concerning the heavenly city Jerusalem.  Contrary to what the standard Reformed amillennialist thinks about Hebrews 11:10, nothing in that text states or implies that the “real” land of promise is only a spiritual name for heaven, or that the city Abraham was looking forward to is confined to a non-physical location up in heaven.  Rather, Abraham desired the place where God was — and such is not to be confined to a non-material place.  The real point is to be in the presence of God: and that can be here on the renovated Earth during the kingdom, or on the new Earth (Revelation 21), just as easily as in present-day heaven.

At Vlach’s site, two recent postings about “Models of Eschatology” have defined the two ideas regarding heaven:  the “Spiritual Vision” model  and the “New Creation” model.  The “Spiritual Vision” model describes the inherent philosophy and thinking behind such disinterested attitudes so commonly observed among church-goers:

The spiritual vision model was inherently linked to allegorical and spiritual methods of interpretation that were opposed to literal interpretation based on historical-grammatical contexts. Blaising also notes that the spiritual vision model “was intimately connected with practices of ‘spiritual interpretation’ that were openly acknowledged to be contrary to the literal meaning of the words being interpreted.”  “The long term practice of reading Scripture in this way so conditioned the Christian mind that by the late Middle Ages, the spiritual vision model had become an accepted fact of the Christian worldview.”

By contrast, the “New Creation” model describes the biblical view of heaven — that which Barry Horner has referred to as “spiritual materiality.”  This model “emphasizes the physical, social, political, and geographical aspects of eternal life. It emphasizes a coming new earth, the renewal of life on this new earth, bodily resurrection, and social and political interactions among the redeemed.”

This approach follows the language of passages like Isaiah 25, 65, 66; Revelation 21; and Romans 8 which speak of a regenerated earth. A new creation model emphasizes the future relevance of matters such as renewal of the world and universe, nations, kings, economics, agriculture, and social-political issues. In sum, a new creation model operates on the belief that life in the future kingdom of God is largely similar to God’s purposes for the creation before the fall of Adam, which certainly involved more than just a spiritual element. Thus, the final Heaven is not an ethereal spiritual presence in the sky. As Russell D. Moore points out, “The point of the gospel is not that we would go to heaven when we die. Instead, it is that heaven will come down, transforming and renewing the earth and the entire universe.”

Little wonder that so many church-goers are more focused on this life and enjoying it, when their notions of the after-life are associated with a very non-physical “spiritual presence in the sky.”  Certainly we cannot understand very much about heaven, thinking from our limited mortal understanding, but the “new creation” model — the view expressed in so many great scripture passages about the future kingdom and eternal state — gives us a few glimpses into wonders far greater than anything we can imagine, especially imaginations limited to non-physical Platonic ideas.

Interpreting the Old Testament

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

As S. Lewis Johnson often said, Bible study really can be fun. My recent readings (daily Bible readings, plus blogs and articles), and sermon lessons have suggested many different ideas for further study. We always can learn more from God’s word and gain greater insights, no matter how much we think we already “know.”

One continuing topic of interest for me has been the proper use of the Old Testament versus the New. Along that line, I have observed different views  such as with using typology as related to Christ’s cross and crown, as well as general understanding of the literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic.

Recently I listened to an S. Lewis Johnson miscellaneous message, concerning George Ladd and the spiritualization of the OT texts. Since then, I’ve enjoyed reading some of Expository Thoughts’ recent articles on the topic, and learned that Michael Vlach has recently started a blog.

From Matt Weymeyer’s comments here, comes an excellent point concerning Luke 24 (the Emmaus road):

According to Jesus, the primary problem with the two men was foolishness and a slowness of heart which prevented them from believing what was plainly revealed about Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures (Luke 24:25). The point is this: Many people today are saying that the Old Testament cannot be properly understood apart from the light of the New Testament, but Luke 24 suggests the exact opposite. Because Jesus rebuked these two disciples for not believing all that the prophets had written about Him (Luke 24:25; cf. John 5:39-47), He must have expected them to be able to read, understand, and believe what the Old Testament taught about Himself apart from the light of New Testament revelation (since the NT had not yet been written). If the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from the New, these disciples could have legitimately responded to Jesus’ rebuke by saying: “How can you say that we are foolish and slow to believe the Old Testament since we are not even able to understand it apart from light which has not yet been provided?” This is not to deny that Christ is the pinnacle of redemptive history, but rather to say that Old Testament revelation could be understood by its original audience.

Second, the christologizer erroneously claims that because Jesus taught the two men from “all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27), then every passage in the Old Testament can be understood to refer to Him in some kind of direct (although subtle) way. A seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:13) simply would not have permitted that type of exposition. More importantly, Luke 24 states that Jesus explained Old Testament passages which contained “things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). This does not mean that every Old Testament passage contains things concerning Christ, but rather that He explained those passages which actually do. Likewise, when Jesus said that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44), this does not mean that everything in the Old Testament is about Him. Instead, it simply means that all those things which are written about Him will be fulfilled.

Michael Vlach’s blog features an overview article that lists the seven approaches to NT use of the Old Testament. Of these seven, I am most familiar with approaches 1 (Single Meaning Approach), 2 (Sensus Plenoir), and 4 (Spiritualization/Reinterpretation of the OT) — beyond this, I find it harder to note the specific differences (in actual examples).

As with the Luke 24 instance above, scripture itself informs us of the proper way to understand the Old Testament — on its own, on the same level-ground as the New Testament and not dependent on the NT to further explain it.  Jesus expected the disciples to understand the truth about His death, burial and resurrection, from the only scriptures that they had, and charged them with dullness of heart for not understanding it.

To say that we must have the New Testament in order to properly interpret the Old Testament is a serious charge against God’s immutability and God’s character.  For that would mean that all of those people living in the Old Testament age could not have really trusted that God was telling them the truth — for whatever they thought they believed, God later changed it.  By that same reasoning, how could we, living in the NT age, really be sure that God is now telling us the truth and that He will not change and give new, contradictory revelation in some future age after we have died?