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Continuing through Revelation with James M. Boice

July 3, 2020 7 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation, The Rapture, and James Montgomery Boice

June 25, 2020 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apocalypse: Revelation Commentary from James M. Boice

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

Other interesting points:

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

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

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

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

 

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

September 10, 2014 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 8, 2014 6 comments

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

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

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

The great point of Tregelles’ study:

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

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

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 3, 2013 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermeneutics and Presuppositions: The 144,000 In Revelation

June 20, 2013 15 comments

A popular Reformed preacher has recently taught through Revelation (an amillennial view), and several of his fans have shared  excerpts from his teaching, agreeing with and saying how great his teaching is.  Looking at the specific “points” made by this preacher, though, I am reminded of S. Lewis Johnson’s observations nearly twenty years ago, that in our day so few people really know their Bibles and are thus more easily led astray.

Now for a look at one excerpt, what has been said with reference to the 144,000 in Revelation 7 (and Revelation 14):

If the 144,000 spoken of in Revelation is an actual number then, we have a problem, because the Bible says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, rather the 144,000 is a symbolic number of ALL the Elect (saved and sealed by Jesus Christ) of both Jews and Gentiles and are found spotless in the Lamb Jesus Christ His Perfect Bride….if we take the 144,000 literally then one must conclude that there are actually 144,000 who are virgins, and as the text says they are blameless, which is a serious problem because we have all sinned.

Right away several problems can be noted in these two statements.  First is the “root problem” presupposition, that the description of 144,00 in Revelation 7 must be about soteriology and specifically saying something concerning the doctrine of election.  But let the text speak for itself, and Revelation 7 reads as a (future) narrative event, describing the calling of a specific group of saved individuals, during a future event.  (Thus it belongs in the category of eschatology, the doctrine of last things — not soteriology.)  Nothing in the Revelation 7 and 14 texts says: a) that these 144,000 are the only people ever saved; b) that these 144,000 are the only Elect; or even c) that they are supposed to be representative of the elect.

The passage itself, in Revelation 7:13-14, explains the meaning of this scene (the 144,000 followed by the multitude):    Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”  I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.

Revelation 7 and 14 are describing narrative events that occur during the Great Tribulation, a particular time period (yet future to our day) often described by the prophets in the Old Testament by several terms: the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7), the Day of the Lord, Daniel’s 70th week, the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24; also reference Deuteronomy 4:30).  Here we note also that Revelation is a book that relies heavily on Old Testament understanding, with many, many allusions to Old Testament texts.  So we look at all of scripture and what it has to say concerning a certain future time period (and there are many such texts especially in the Old Testament but also references to it in the New Testament), and see that Revelation is also describing this future time period.  Revelation is a narrative text that sometimes uses symbolic language, not a book explaining soteriology through the use of symbols.

Now to the second statement:  “if we take the 144,000 literally then one must conclude that there are actually 144,000 who are virgins, and as the text says they are blameless, which is a serious problem because we have all sinned.”  In the first place, what is so difficult to understand about the idea that 144,000 individuals are virgins?  Even in Jesus’ day there were eunuchs (Matthew 19:12), some of whom had made themselves so “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

But moving on to the next phrase:  the text says they are blameless, which is a serious problem because we have all sinned. Here again familiarity with the Bible and its usage of the term “blameless” must be considered.  A brief search through an online Bible reveals that the following individuals (all humans, who sinned) were described as “blameless”:

Clearly the Bible uses the term “blameless” in a different way than supposed by the teacher who thought of “blameless” as meaning sinless perfection.  Yet the Bible consistently uses the term blameless as meaning something else: our conduct and righteous living as redeemed sinners, the elect of God.  Other passages attest that God looks for and supports “those whose heart is blameless toward Him.” (2 Chron. 16:9).  Several of the Psalms speak of the righteous one, the saved sinner, as blameless, indicating that – even though indeed all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – God does look upon His saints as blameless; see, for instance, Psalm 15:2; Psalm 19:13; Psalm 37:18,37. Psalms 101 and 119 consider the “way that is blameless” and those whose way is blameless.”  This pattern continues in the New Testament, where again we are exhorted to righteous living and conduct, to be blameless.  The apostles were blameless in their conduct toward the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:10), and one of the tests for deacons in the church is that they be blameless (1 Timothy 3:10).

How appropriate S. Lewis Johnson’s statement (from his 1 Corinthians series) regarding the state of the church today, as seen in so many examples such as this one:

In evangelicalism, it’s much easier today for evangelicals to be led astray by false doctrine.  I personally believe that the reason is that evangelicals are not reading the Bible much these days.  They are not really studying the Bible much.  Sometimes they are reading books about the Bible, but a lot of times they are just attending evangelical services.  And therefore they are not themselves involved in the study of the Scriptures and pondering the words that are found in the Scriptures.

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.

Exegeting through Revelation 20 with S. Lewis Johnson

August 18, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m now finishing the MP3 files for S. Lewis Johnson’s “The Divine Purpose” series, a 37-part series he taught in 1985 and 1986.  The last several messages (messages 31 through 36) are a subset that exegete the content of Revelation 19 through 21.  Here are some of the highlights:

It is said that the test of orthodoxy is our view concerning Christ’s First Coming.  But the test of spirituality is our view concerning the Second Coming.  From S. Lewis Johnson, in message 31 of the series:

… the test of orthodoxy is a person’s belief concerning the First Coming of the Lord Jesus.  Was the Son of God incarnate?  Did He go to the cross?  Did He offer an atoning sacrifice?  Was He buried?  Was He raised from the dead, in bodily form, on the 3rd day?  Those great events do have a great deal to do with our orthodoxy.  But the test of spirituality is our views concerning the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus.

Now, the apostles, whether they would have agreed with that precise statement or not, would have agreed with the sense of it, because in 1 John chapter 3 in verse 3, the Apostle John writes concerning the appearance of our Lord, he says, “Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.”  So the thought of the Second Coming, the belief in the Second Coming, is a purifying hope.  So we don’t apologize for speaking about the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus.

In Revelation 20:4, the words “came to life” (in reference to the saints who came to life for the thousand years) are the same Greek words and grammar as used in Revelation 2:8, where these words are spoken of Jesus “who died and came to life.”  If amillennialists want to maintain that Revelation 20:4 doesn’t really mean physical resurrection (but only spiritual rebirth), here is one problem (among many others).  If these saints are not physically resurrected, then how can it be said that Christ was physically resurrected?  These are the same words used by the same author — the apostle John — in the same book of Revelation — yet we are supposed to throw out the normal meaning and usage of words, to fit a preconceived scheme (amillennialism) first thought up several hundred years after Christ?

Revelation 20:6 is an interpretive beatitude:  Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. A common feature in apocalyptic literature — such as Daniel and Revelation — is that a vision (often symbolic) is given, followed by the interpretation.  Here is one such case of this pattern:  the vision in Revelation 20:4-5, and the interpretation in Revelation 20:6.  Yet in both the vision and its interpretation, the phrase “a thousand years” is found.  Anybody think the apostle John is trying to make a point, that it really means a thousand years?

From message 35 in the series, concerning Revelation 20:7-10, the “fifth last thing” (the final rebellion):   the words “Gog and Magog” are well-known from Ezekiel 38-39, and often a look back is helpful in understanding the many Old Testament allusions John provides in Revelation.  However, in this case we find that the term “Gog and Magog” is used in a different way.

In the Ezekiel passage, Gog is a person/ruler, and Magog is a land.  In Revelation 20, Gog and Magog are used as a reference to “the nations in the four corners of the earth.”  In Jewish literature, the expression “Gog and Magog” is used to refer to the forces of evil — just as we use certain expressions, such as “Waterloo,” to refer to something other than the actual word Waterloo itself.  This usage from the Jewish literature, which the apostle John was familiar with, certainly fits within the context of Revelation 20:7-10.

S. Lewis Johnson also speculates — on something the text itself doesn’t state — as to a possible reason for how Satan is able to deceive the nations.  We do know from other passages that during the kingdom Israel will have the preeminence and special favor, so a likely reason for the uprising at the end of the thousand years could well be their jealousy of Israel.  Psalm 66:3 and Psalm 110:2 are additional Old Testament texts that may suggest that men feign obedience during the kingdom.

We also can learn, from Revelation 20:7-10, that our God is a non-frustratable deity.  Even Satan’s rebellion, and all of our sins and man’s sins, bring glory to God and accomplish His purposes.