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The Temporary Spiritual Gifts: S. Lewis Johnson in 1 Corinthians 12

June 26, 2013 3 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 Corinthians series (this message), and this related message from his earlier Systematic Theology series, a look at the different spiritual gifts as set forth in the scriptures, and why some of the gifts are temporary (not permanent) spiritual gifts.

Four passages address the spiritual gifts – the two 12s and two 4s:  Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4.  The temporary gifts are largely sign gifts, the miraculous gifts:  apostles, prophets, miracles,  healings, tongues, utterances of knowledge and wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8), and discerning of spirits.

Four reasons, biblical support, for why these spiritual gifts were temporary:

1) Scriptural hints:  Hebrews 2:3-4 indicates a progression: the word of God was spoken by our Lord, then moved in transition from our Lord to the apostles; and then, as the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us, it came to you and to us. There is a progression here and a progression in time, and it’s in the past, according to his understanding.

2)  Biblical principle: the analogy of Biblical history suggests it.  Dr. Johnson noted this very good point in his Systematic Theology series.  We can look at Old Testament history and the special times of miracles, in the ministry of Moses and later in Elijah’s day. Later came the arrival of the Messiah, the time of miracles in Jesus’ earthly ministry, followed by the time of the apostles (the book of Acts).

 When Israel entered into the land, the miraculous died out.  The signed gifts that Moses did, no longer were done. And for a long time, you’ll remember, no mighty signed gifts were performed in Israel.  Of course, God worked for Israel, He worked for David and He did remarkable things through those who believed in Him.  But the outburst of the miraculous performed by a man died out.  Now, if you had been an Israelite, you might have said, like many of my Pentecostal friends say today, “What Moses did, we ought to do.”  And you might throw snakes down or throw rods down, trying to make them turn into snakes and all of the other things that Moses did.  You might have struck the waters of the Red Sea and you might have struck the waters of the river — and none of those things would have happened because God did them through Moses.

3)  The nature of certain gifts demands that they be temporary.  For instance, the Gift of apostles.  By the very nature of his gift, it is to be understood that that gift is temporary.  For one of the requirements of an apostle, for example, was that he should see the Lord.  The canon of scripture was not yet complete, and from the temporary gift of apostles we have most of the New Testament books.

We have in the beginning of the history of the Christian church in the New Testament, the apostles of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  They were individuals who are ones who have seen the Lord and his resurrection.  That’s one of the qualifications.  And so apostleship is something we don’t have today, because we don’t have the privilege of seeing the Lord and his resurrection.

I am not an apostle.  I have not seen the Lord.  The Twelve and then one to take the place of Judas who fell, and the Apostle Paul; these are the apostles.  I know the term “apostle” is used elsewhere in the New Testament of others because it has a twofold usage.  It’s used of people who are sent as messengers of churches, because that’s essentially what the word apostle means, one who has been sent.  Apostles of the churches: but they are different from apostles of Jesus Christ.

4)  The voice of history confirms the fact that certain of the gifts are temporary.

 Beyond the time of the apostles there is no clear indication of the persistence of the assigned gifts in both number and character.  There are some incidental things that are stated here and there, and we do not deny that miracles may exist, remember, because Christians pray.  James 5 may have been used, so you may expect here and there miracles to take place.  But in the sense that they took place in the times of the apostles, we have no indication of that in later history.

Why the Partial Preterist Approach Fails to Understand Futurist Premillennialism

December 4, 2012 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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