Monday, July 10, 2017

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS FROM THE BOOK OF REVELATION - #3

It seems that one cannot turn a page when reading the Book of Revelation without multiple questions jumping off the page and slamming into the mind of the reader. This current series of articles is an attempt to answer a few of the many questions that come to us when studying the Revelation.

#1 – When in the Tribulation do the Seal, Trumpet and Bowl judgments take place?
These three series of judgments have been located in a variety of spots by Bible students and biblical commentaries. However, it seems best to place the Seal judgments in the first half, the Trumpet judgments in the second half and the Bowl judgments in the second half right before the 2nd Coming of Christ to the earth. There are some reasons to support this positioning of the judgments.



The concept of “birth pangs.   Foundational to the placing of the three series of judgments as described above is the Old Testament concept of birth pains. It was used by the prophets to speak of God’s judgments and then was used by the Lord Jesus in His discussion of the end time judgments (Matt. 24:8). Birth pains are a unique kind of pain because: (1) they get worse as time goes by and the time of the birth gets closer; and (2) the time between the pains becomes less and less as the time of the birth draws near. When Jesus generally described the end time judgments of God, He said the initial ones (wars, earthquakes, famines etc.) were just the beginning of God’s judgments, indicating that the birth pains would continue throughout the entire period.

The statements within the Book of Revelation. When the 7th Seal is broken and the next series of the Trumpet judgments come, there is an emphasis on 1/3 of the earth being harmed by these judgments (7:7-12). But in the last series of judgments (the Bowls of God’s wrath), not 1/3, but the entire earth suffers under the judgments, showing that things are getting worse and worse (16:1-21). So, for example, in the trumpet judgments 1/3 of the oceans turn to blood, but in the Bowl judgments all the oceans are turned to blood.
br> Furthermore, the testimony of an angel (8:13) is that the final judgments are the worst of all. He says “woe, woe, woe” to the earth dwellers because the final three trumpets are the worst judgments yet. It is essential to keep in mind that the 7th trumpet (also identified as the “3rd woe”) is in fact the last series of 7 judgments (the Bowl judgments). The 7th trumpet is the final, terrible series of God’s judgments and it appears to come quickly, one right after the other. This angelic statement verifies the point that the concept of “birth pains” is what the world will experience; it will be far more painful at the end of the tribulation right before the kingdom of Messiah is “birthed” into the world.

Jesus’ statement that the 2nd half of the tribulation is the “great” time of judgment. As Jesus, in Matthew 24, talked about the future judgments, He was clear that things will get worse once the “abomination of desolation” is set up in the Jerusalem temple. It is the 2nd half of the tribulation that is “the great one” (24:21); and that if God had chosen to have this uniquely terrible time be more than 3 ½ years, then no human being would survive (24:22).

These statements and terms, when combined together, point to the second half of the tribulation being far more severe in the judgments of God than the 1st half. The judgments are worse and they come closer together as the time for the “birth” of the messianic age gets closer.

#2 – Who is the “great harlot” that is discussed in Revelation 17?
The identification of “Babylon” in Revelation 17 and 18 has produced a variety of interpretations among good Bible students. Babylon is both a political and a religious center where the true God is excluded or badly marginalized. It seems that chapter 17 emphasizes the religious aspect while chapter 18 focuses on the political and economic aspect of Babylon.

I have concluded that Babylon the harlot in chapter 17 is looking at Roman Catholicism which includes numerous other polluted religious systems. There are a number of points which have led me to this conclusion.

The concept of a “harlot” comes from the Old Testament and speaks of a religious system that claims a loyalty to the true God. It is important to understand that when John uses the idea of “harlot”, he is not using it as we often do; that of a prostitute who plies her trade on the streets of a city, and that for a price. The concept is used by Moses, the prophets and other OT writers of Israel, who is “married” to the Lord Jehovah. Like marriage, Israel has a sacred covenant relationship with the Lord, but she constantly “played the harlot” going after other gods. (The OT concept of the “harlot” can be seen clearly, and sometimes graphically, in passages such as Judges 8:33; Jeremiah 3:6-10; Ezekiel 16 and 23; and the entire book of Hosea). These passages and many others reveal that Israel was the unfaithful wife of Jehovah who shared her affections and devotion between the Lord and also the Baal deities. She generally claimed to retain her relationship with her Husband while all the time she was broad and inclusive, adopting many of their pagan practices (reminds us of much that is going on in the church today).

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke of that generation of Israelites as being “an evil and adulterous generation” (cf. Matt. 12:38-39; 16:1-2; Mk. 8:38). And the NT uses the imagery of the church as the bride of Christ and the pure bride of Christ is contrasted in Revelation 19 with the “great harlot”; that religious entity which claims a relationship with the true God but is totally unfaithful to Him.

So when John speaks of the “great harlot”, he is directing our attention to the great and powerful “church” that will exist during the first half of the coming tribulation period.

This end times system is said to be the “mother of harlots” indicating that there are a number of religions involved, ones that claim a loyalty to the Lord. In Revelation 17:5, the plural “harlots” is used. This shows that this wealthy, politically powerful system includes other religious systems. I speculate that this includes Roman Catholicism, apostate Protestantism and perhaps many other groups put under the “Christian umbrella” such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cult and marginal groups. But the emphasis seems to be on a large, ecumenical religious system headed by one strong entity.

It is a system centered in the west. One of the more intriguing statements is that this woman (the harlot) rides the “beast” (17:3). The “beast” has already been identified as the Antichrist (Rev. 13), who, in the first half of the tribulation, is the dictator of an eleven nation confederation, generally based geographically in the old Roman Empire. While the text also says that she commits spiritual fornication with the kings of the earth (indicating a worldwide influence), 17:3 suggests that she has a special political domination in the west. The woman “riding the beast” might mean that she has temporary control over the Antichrist (much like the Roman Catholic Church maintained domination over the medieval kings in Europe), or it might mean she helps bring him to power; or maybe both. The time of the tribulation will make this abundantly clear. But there is some close connection between the woman and the beast, who at this point in time is a western dictator.

The system is given a geographical location. Revelation 17:18 ends the chapter with the statement that the woman “is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.” The chapter began with the statement of her connection with the gentile nations generally (“many waters”, 17:1 and15) indicating she does not come from Israel. Her location is stated in the present tense (“is the great city”). Dr. John Walvoord believes it is the city is Rome. Dr. Charles Ryrie states that this identifier makes it impossible to disassociate apostate Christendom in the tribulation period from Rome. Robert Thomas, and others, conclude that this is referring to the city of Babylon on the Euphrates River. We should note that if the Babylon of chapter 18 is different from the Babylon of chapter 17, though both are organized systems which leave out the true God (as I believe to be the case) then this influences one’s choice. If that is so, then it seems more likely that the city of Rome which was indeed the ruling city/nation in John’s day, is what is in view. And Babylon of chapter 18 is the political/economic entity which is likely located in a different place.

Monday, June 12, 2017

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS FROM THE BOOK OF REVELATION - #2

The Book of Revelation is a book that generates myriads of questions from those who delve into its’ pages. In this series of articles we are attempting to answer some of those questions which regularly arise.

#1 – What is the “first resurrection” that is mentioned in Revelation 20, and does the text imply that there is more than one time of resurrection? The “first resurrection” is not a one-time event but a category of resurrection; namely, the resurrection of believers. Believers only are part of the “first resurrection” and will be raised in several resurrection events. The text of Revelation 20 does teach that there is resurrection at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom as well as another one at the completion of the Millennial Kingdom. This answer is arrived at by looking at four points.
  1. There are two resurrections in Revelation 20. In the context of Revelation 20, the ones who are part of the “first resurrection” are specifically those who are martyred during the Tribulation because of their loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. After telling us that these martyrs will reign with Christ during His 1,000 year rule, it is said another resurrection will occur after the completion of the 1,000 year messianic (millennial) kingdom.
  2. Physical resurrection, not spiritual coming to life, is in view. The martyrs “come to life” (ezesan; zao). Some amillennial theologians teach that this “coming to life” is spiritual; that is, it is the new birth. But this does not line up with the context of Revelation 20 where these faithful to Christ (believers) die physically being beheaded because of their loyalty to Christ. They are already believers and don’t need to be “born again” (spiritually born). Furthermore, the idea of it being a spiritual coming to life (the new birth) doesn’t line up with the words used by John. The word zao normally refers to physical, bodily resurrection. In fact, it is used of all those who come to life at the end of reign of Christ (and all theologians agree on its use in 20:5). It is unsound exegesis to have the same word mean two entirely different things within a sentence or two without a clear explanation that the meaning is being changed. Furthermore, whenever zao (“coming to life”) is used in connection with physical, bodily death in the New Testament, it always focuses on physical, bodily resurrection.

    That bodily resurrection is in view in reinforced by the fact that in 20:5, the common word for bodily resurrection (anastasis) is used. So the Apostle John is speaking of the bodily resurrection of these faithful martyrs at the time of Christ’s 2nd coming, and not of their being spiritual born.

  3. Those in the category of the “first resurrection.” We need to understand that the “first resurrection” is not a one-time event. It is a category of resurrection; that is, it is the term for the resurrection of believers. God first raises and judges believers before He moves on to unbelievers. Jesus was the very first one to be raised from the dead, by which we mean that He came back to life with a changed physical body which will live eternally. The clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 15:20 is that Jesus is the “firstfruits” of the resurrection. He is the first cutting of the great harvest of believers. When Jesus rose from the dead, Matthew 27:52-53 tells us that a number of saints came out of the tombs and appeared to many in Jerusalem. This was an actual bodily resurrection of some believers, apparently to keep with the symbolism of “firstfruits”. (In the offering of the “firstfruits” not just one stalk of grain was brought to the priest, but a bunch of stalks were brought). So Jesus plus a small number of saints were raised.

    The “first resurrection” will next include the believers who are given resurrection bodies at the rapture, described in 1 Corinthians 15:52-54. The resurrection of all saints from the Tribulation plus the resurrection of Old Testament believers will take place at the 2nd Coming. All of these believing men and women are included in the “first resurrection.”

  4. There is a parenthetical statement in Revelation 20:5. The rest of the dead, mentioned in 20:5, will be raised at the end of the tribulation period. After the millennial reign is completed, the unbelievers of all ages are raised in order to appear at Christ’s “Great White Throne” judgment. These involved in this second resurrection will be judged and sentenced to the “lake of fire.” In 20:5, the parenthetical statement starts with “the rest of the dead” and concludes with “were completed.” Two resurrections of two different categories of people are in view in Revelation. 20


#2 – What is the “sign in heaven” that Revelation 12 speaks about? Is it connected with the date of September 23, 2017?

The internet is alive these days with person after person declaring that September 23, 2017 is the date when the “great sign” of Revelation 12 will occur. These individuals do not agree on exactly what will take place on that day (could be the rapture, could be some significant milestone for Israel), but they do agree that something significant will happen.

In Revelation 12:1-2, a woman (Israel) clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet and with a crown of 12 stars on her, gives birth to a male child. Then Satan appears (as a great red dragon) who wants to devour her male child. He is not successful as the male child, who will eventually rule with a rod of iron, ascends into heaven. The woman then flees from the dragon into the wilderness (the gentile nations) where she is taken care of for 1,260 days (or half of the tribulation period). This vision of John is about the long term antagonism that Satan has had for Israel which will climax during the second half of the tribulation period.

On the internet, the point is being made that a most unusual alignment of stars and planets will occur on September 23, 2017. On that day Jupiter will be seen to be in Virgo (the virgin) and the nine stars of the constellation Leo will be at the head of Virgo. Then, unusually, Mars, Venus and Mercury will be lined up at the head of Virgo, giving the appearance of 12 stars (of the crown), as Jupiter is “birthed.” This they say is the great sign in the heavens of the virgin giving birth. Many seem to lean towards the idea that this is telling of the time of the rapture when the church is “born”, being “conceived” at Pentecost.

Several points need to be succinctly made.

  1. There is a terrible lack of good exegesis. A few words and phrases are grabbed with total disregard for the meaning of Revelation 12.
  2. In Revelation 12, this vision occurs at the mid-point of the tribulation and focuses on life for Israel during the second half of the tribulation, according to the two time indicators in the text (12:6, 14). This would require that the seal judgments have already been completed, which means that a minimum of 25% of the world’s population has died by the judgments of God (Rev. 6:8). Has this taken place? Of course not. And all the other events mentioned in Revelation 6 haven’t occurred either.
  3. Revelation 12 is part of the information given to the Apostle John on the scroll of 10:9-11. Chapters 11-14 comprise the truths that John was to give. There are four clear time markers in these chapters, all of which put the events on the scroll in the second half of the tribulation period. The only way September 23, 2017 could be at the mid-point of the tribulation is for the tribulation to have started around April, 2014.
  4. There are many more prophecies which must be fulfilled prior to this mid-point of the tribulation; such as the appearance of the Antichrist, the signing of the covenant between Israel and the Antichrist and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. We could go on but hopefully the point is made. The internet is filled with “fake” prophets and need to be avoided.

It seems that every year someone is proposing the rapture event taking place in September or October. The rapture could occur in September, but then it could also take place in June.

Monday, May 15, 2017

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS FROM THE BOOK OF REVELATION

It has been my very real privilege and challenge to teach a course in Daniel and Revelation in the college classroom over many years. From that experience came numerous questions, raised by students, about events and people found in the Book of Revelation. In this article, and ones following, we want to deal with some of those questions that seem to come up again and again; and to hopefully shed some light on the issues involved. Perhaps one or two of these might clear up some questions for our readers. Here are the first three of them.

#1 – Will it be possible for those who receive the “mark of the Beast” to end up being saved during the Tribulation?

It appears from the texts in Revelation that people who receive the “mark of the Beast” do so by choice, and by so doing, eliminate the possibility that they will turn to Jesus Christ and be saved.

The “mark” is first mentioned in Revelation 13:16-17 where it is said that it must be received if a person wants to buy and sell during the Tribulation; that is, to be able to carry on obtaining the basic essentials of life. The pressure to have this mark will be enormous and it will be constant.

The mark itself is something external and visible, something like a brand mark. It becomes an issue in the second half of the Tribulation when the matter of the worship of the Beast (the Antichrist) becomes a major matter. External “tattoos” were common in John’s day; for example, worn with pride by soldiers and devotees of a particular god. These “brands” were a way of openly identifying with a battalion or a religion or (like today) would be used to make a statement of some kind. In a similar way, the 144,000 will apparently receive a mark of God on their foreheads which will identify them as the righteous followers of the Lord (Rev. 7:3).

The “mark of the Beast” is mentioned a number of times in Revelation after its initial mentioning in 13:16-17 (see 14:9-11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). This mark gives evidence that the individual bearing it is one who has chosen to worship the Beast (the Antichrist). The mark (which will be the name of the Beast or the numerical value of that name) will be a symbol of allegiance to the Beast. In the verses given above, having the mark and worshiping go together. There is simply no indication that one with the mark will not worship the Beast. In 20:4, the martyrs, who died for their loyalty to the Lord Jesus, are specifically said to be those who neither received the mark nor worshiped the Beast.

In 14:9-11, a special angelic announcement is made warning Beast worshipers of the coming undiluted wrath of God. Also, it appears to be a warning to people on the earth who are tempted to avoid those great economic hardships and the wrath of the Beast by taking the mark. They are being told that God’s wrath is far worse. It is the clear conclusion that if they chose to align themselves with the Beast that they too will experience God’s great wrath. And God’s wrath will indeed be poured out on the Beast and his followers in the final series of the “bowl judgments” (Rev. 16:2 ff. ).

So the conclusion is that those who make the willful choice of taking the mark of the Beast (and thus worship him), will experience the wrath of God and not be eligible for the salvation of God.

#2 – I heard a sermon recently where it was said that at the 2nd Coming of Jesus to the earth, the Church will remain in heaven. Is that true?

The one making that statement seems to have overlooked the clear teaching of Revelation 19. In 19:7, the Church is in heaven and experiences the “marriage of the Lamb.” The Bride of Christ is united with Jesus Christ in a grand ceremony where the Bride is said to be wearing beautiful garments: “fine linen, white and clean.” These are said to represent the “righteous acts of the saints” (the church rewarded). Shortly thereafter the Lord Jesus mounts His white horse and comes to earth as the King of kings. It is said that an army will accompany Him as He returns to the earth. That army which comes with Him is said to be “clothed in fine linen, white and clean” ( 19:14). The only group so identified is the Church/Bride. Furthermore, let’s not forget that the purpose of marriage is to unite two; so that where one goes, the other goes. And, if it is true (and I believe it is), that the millennial/messianic kingdom is the “marriage supper” to which the blessed are invited ( 19:9), then the Bride and Bridegroom are there on earth and have never been separated. Where He goes, she goes. So the Church does not remain in heaven at the 2nd Coming but returns with the Lord Jesus.

#3 – Will just 144,000 be saved in the Tribulation, or will more than that be saved? There will be millions, not just thousands, of people who are saved during the Tribulation period. Those who limit the number of those redeemed in the Tribulation seem to forget that the great purpose of the Tribulation period is the salvation of the nation of Israel, which will then lead to Israel being a light to the gentiles. This will result in great numbers of people from the gentile nations coming to faith in Jesus.

Probably the key chapter in this discussion is Revelation 7. There the group of 144,000 is mentioned for the first time ( 7:1-8); with 12,000 coming from each of Israel’s 12 tribes. These are made secure by a divine decree (“sealed”) in order to be the evangelists of the Tribulation. Then in 7:9 a new part of John’s vision is given. “After these things” (the truth about the 144,000), John tells us of a great multitude which is so large it cannot be numbered. This group is distinct from the 144,000. Whereas the 144,000 are Israelites, this great multitude comes from all the gentile nations.

John is asked ( 7:13) to identify the great multitude, but he defers to the elder who is asking the question. John is then informed that this great multitude are people who have died in the Tribulation period and are now in heaven. These are not, as one might suspect, the believers from all of human history. Specifically they have died recently, as this heavenly scene is between the 6th and 7th “seal” judgments. Many are likely martyrs, but others who have died from other causes are included in this great multitude.

It should also be observed that at the end of the Tribulation ( Rev. 20:4) there is another group of martyrs that are seen which are not part of the great multitude of chapter 7. This points to even more being saved. And, finally, it should be remembered that the Apostle Paul ( Rom. 11:25) tells us that “all” Israel will be saved when the end times come to an end. This would involve millions of Israelites. So the number of Israelites and gentiles saved during the terrible days of the Tribulation will be multiplied millions, and not just 144,000.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Sign of the Times: The Two-Fold Restoring of Israel

One of the most asked questions by serious (and some not so serious) believers is; “are we in the end times?” And the answer usually given is “maybe”. But there is also the sense that we are, in fact, getting very close to the day when Jesus returns. As the subject is discussed, the evidence set forth for a soon end to this present age is the increasing level of evil in the world, the frequency of earthquakes, the rise of Islam, the presence of the European Union and numerous other matters. And while some of these could well fit into end-time scenarios, there is really one clear indicator of where the world might be in the plan of God, and that one thing is the presence of ethnic, national Israel back in their land in the Middle East Ezekiel 34-39 is an important scripture in this discussion. It is a familiar section of God’s Word, and yet, there are some real difficulties within the text. Another look at these chapters might prove quite helpful.

God’s Involvement in the Restoring of Israel. Ezekiel 34 begins with God chastising the leaders of Israel, pointing out that they have been terrible leaders as far as providing for and protecting God’s flock, Israel. So because of that reality, God Himself is taking their shepherding role away from then and He will now be the Shepherd of Israel. In Ezekiel 34:11, God declares that, “I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.” Time and again through chapter 39, God says that He will care, guide, protect, feed, lead and deliver His flock. Most of us would agree that if God said just one time that He was going to do something, then we have absolute confidence that He would do that thing. But in chapters 34-39, there are some 65 times that God says “I will.” This is an amazing statistic, and points with certainty that the matters spoken of in Ezekiel 34-39 will come to pass. No one can thwart this work of God in restoring the nation of Israel. The Two-fold Restoring of the Nation of Israel.

Ezekiel 36:24-32 summarizes nicely the sequence of the future restoration. First, God will restore the nation back to their land. God will “take them from the nations…and bring them into their own land” (36:24). There is no doubt what land God is going to bring them to: “the land that I gave to your forefathers” (36:28). The worldwide dispersion of the Jews will be over as God will use various means to bring them to the land given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Stated with equal clarity is the fact that there is a precise order of this future restoration, and that is that the physical restoration of Israel back to their land will be followed by Israel’s spiritual restoration back to the Lord. After Israel has been brought back to the land by the Lord: “then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness…and I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes” (36:25, 27).

The famous “dry bones vision” of Ezekiel (37:1-14) adds some important details. Ezekiel is taken via a vision to a valley full of dry bones. These bones represent the nation of Israel (37:11) in their scattered condition throughout the gentile nations. The bones are many and they have been in this apparently hopeless condition for a long time. Ezekiel is asked by God if the bones could live again. The answer is obviously, “no”. Dry bones don’t come back to life. However, since it is God asking the question, Ezekiel wisely claims ignorance. He is right. The seemingly impossible will take place. When Ezekiel gives forth the word from God, the scattered bones come back into proper order and a skeleton is formed. Two important points are communicated here. First, there is a process involved in the physical restoration of Israel, as the bones come back together first and then sinews, skin and flesh come on the bones. This physical restoration will take place over time. And second, it will be a noticeable process (the noisy rattling of the bones). What is then seen by Ezekiel is a corpse. Bones and flesh are there but there is no life breath. At that point, Ezekiel continues his preaching and the breath of God enters into Israel, picturing their spiritual re-birth (37:9-14).

The restoration sequence is absolutely fixed. First, Israel will be restored physically, politically back to their ancient land. After the process of physical restoration has gone on for the appropriate period of time (a period known only to the Shepherd), then Israel will be brought back into a living, spiritual relationship with their God (36:28; 37:13-14).

The sequence of restoration is quite clear, but there are several questions that emerge that need to be addressed.
  1. When will the restorations take place? No dates are given but in Ezekiel 34-39 there are indicators that they will be after Israel has been in gentile nations for a long period of time, and that this will take place in the end of times (34:22-29; 36:33-36; 38:8, 16). The physical restoring of Israel began in earnest in the late 1800s and continues to this day, with Israel becoming a nation in May, 1948. The time of the spiritual restoration of Israel is well documented. It will take place during Daniel’s “70th Week” (Daniel 9:24-27). It is in the time of great tribulation that Israel turns to the Lord (e.g. Daniel 9:24-27; Zechariah 12:10-14:4; Jeremiah 23:5-6, etc.) Jesus was clear that His 2nd Coming to the earth would not happen until Israel became a believing nation (Matt. 23:39). The salvation of Israel is the primary reason for the period of tribulation and it will take place after they are back in their land.
  2. What is it that causes Israel to seek the Lord and come back to Him spiritually? What, after some 1800 years, will cause unbelieving Israel to come back to the Lord? The prophet Ezekiel answers this question. The “trigger” for this sudden turning to the Lord will be a battle; the Gog-Magog battle (Ezekiel 38 and 39). God does a Red Sea like miraculous deliverance of Israel and utterly destroys an immense invading army. After this destruction of the invading army by the hand of God, Ezekiel says “and the house of Israel will know that I am the Lord from that day onward” (39:22). This battle (which probably takes place after the Rapture but before the Tribulation) will cause Israel’s spiritual blindfold to be removed, and for the first time in centuries, Israel will have eyes to see.
Israel’s Condition in the Land---Another Clue. There are several other points which suggest that Israel is “ready” for the last days events. First, Israel has indeed been brought out of the gentile nations back into the land of Israel. As of now, the Jews have come out of some 80 different nations and have returned back to the land. That surely qualifies as being “taken from the nations.” Second, that land that was nothing but swamps and deserts in the early 1900s is now no longer desolate but amazing lush and productive (“like the garden of Eden”—36:35). This has resulted in envying from other nations and it is the wealth of Israel that will attract those nations that will attack Israel in the end times (38:11-13). Third, Israel is living “confidently” in their land (38:8, 14). The English text says “living securely” which has caused many interpreters to see this Gog-Magog battle as not being possible today because security is not the condition in Israel. But it is better to understand the word as “confidently”; meaning that there is a self-confidence in Israel that they can handle whatever their enemies can throw at them. This is certainly an attitude present today in Israel.

So, are we near the end times? The answer from Ezekiel is that there is really nothing that must come to pass for the events of the end times to take place. If Israel has been sufficiently recalled to their land physically (not all Jews must be back in the land) then God will bring about their spiritual restoration, which will take place in the seven year tribulation period. And that means, these events could indeed be here.

Monday, March 13, 2017

ANIMAL SACRIFICES IN THE COMING MESSIANIC KINGDOM---REALLY? (Part Two)

It is no secret that animal sacrifice in the future messianic (millennial) kingdom has been a thorny problem for many interpreters. In this second article, we will attempt to answer the main questions about the purposes for such sacrifices.

In the first article we dealt with several important matters which, hopefully, shed some light on this subject. First , we noted that future animal sacrifice is a major interpretive issue in the O.T. Ezekiel alone has some 50 verses on just the animal sacrifices; and that four other prophets speak of such sacrifices in Messiah’s kingdom. Also, O.T. prophets, N.T. apostles and Jesus Himself make reference to a future temple (temples always have sacrifices connected with them). Second, we said that these future sacrifices do not signal a return to the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic covenant came to an end with Christ’s death and in Messiah’s kingdom, it is the New Covenant that is in force, not the “old”. Although there are some similarities, there are many significant differences between the age of the Mosaic covenant and the coming kingdom age. These differences show that this is not a return to the Mosaic covenant. Third, animal sacrifices in the O.T. never did take away sin and they will not take away sin in the coming kingdom. Only the death of Jesus on the cross takes away sin. People in all ages are saved the same way; they are justified by faith alone based solely on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Animal sacrifices did not and will not remove sin. But while they do not take away sin, they did accomplish something in the Mosaic economy and will accomplish something in the future kingdom of Jesus.

Additional Clarifying Points

At this point in the study, there are two other matters that need to be mentioned. First, who will need to sacrifice animals? Logically, we would think that not everyone will need to sacrifice animals. It would seem that those of us in our resurrection bodies (ones like Jesus had at His resurrection) will not need animal sacrifices. We will have been glorified (Rom. 8:30), thus bringing to us the final aspect of our salvation. Not only do we have resurrected-glorified bodies, but the “flesh” (Gal. 5:13-21) no longer is a part of us. We no longer can sin. Therefore, we no longer are contaminated in any way by sin or a sin nature. As we will see, animal sacrifices are important to ritual purification but it would seem that glorified believers would not need such purification. But it is possible (and here we speculate) that we, nevertheless, might need to fulfill all of God’s “righteous requirements” in the millennial age, just as Jesus did when He persuaded John the Baptist to baptize Him (cf. Matt. 4:13-15). John’s baptism was one of repentance and Jesus did not need to repent. But He saw believed He had to fulfill all of God’s righteous requirements, which at that time included Law observance and John’s baptism.

Believers who have made it through the tribulation alive (the “sheep” of Matt. 25) are in non-glorified/non-resurrected bodies. Although Satan’s world system is gone, they will still have the capacity to sin and become unclean, since they still possess their “flesh”. These will need a way to approach the holy God who is present in His glory. They will need this temple in order to have fellowship with the glorified King Jesus. As an example, in Zechariah 14:16, the people specifically mentioned as needing to sacrifice at the Feast of Tabernacles were those gentiles who had previously been in nations that had attacked Jerusalem during the Tribulation. They were in need of purification in Jerusalem. Also, as people are born in the millennial period, they (as every person has had to do throughout history) must personally respond in faith to Jesus. Though born in the glorious messianic age, they still have the “flesh” and can sin, and need to be justified, and will need offerings as they come to the place where the Shekinah dwells. Amazingly, many will not believe and be saved, and yet, they will still need to make use of the animal sacrifices as they come to worship in Jerusalem.

It is worth noting that the Bible observes that there will be no temple (and thus no sacrifices) in the final, eternal kingdom of God (Rev. 21:22). No temple will be needed because there is no threat of uncleanness or need for ritual purification in the eternal kingdom of God where only redeemed ones dwell.

This brings us to the second matter which is the presence of glory of God on earth. The future kingdom age is very different from the present age. In the gospel record, Jesus had restricted the use of some of His attributes of deity and veiled His glory. In the church age, we do not actually see Christ as He will appear in His glory (though three apostles did when He was transfigured before them). But this is not so in the kingdom. Ezekiel had seen the “Shekinah” (‘divine presence’, or ‘glory of God’) depart from Solomon’s temple (Ezek. 9-11). Just as the Shekinah departed from the temple in the past, so the Shekinah will return permanently to the millennial temple (Ezek. 43:1-9). It is the presence of the glory of God which will require a temple and the animal sacrifices. (We don’t need one today because Jesus is not present in His glory). As we observed in the first article, the purpose of a temple was to provide a place for unclean man to approach a holy God. And there will be many who are in that condition living on the earth in the millennial age.

The Purposes of Animal Sacrifices in the Coming Millennial Kingdom.
Animal sacrifices never took away sin under the Mosaic covenant. They did not back then and they will not in future. To understand the purposes of animal sacrifices in the future kingdom, one must understand their purposes in the Levitical/Mosaic system.

Animal Sacrifices in the O.T. Levitical System The nation of Israel was a theocracy, and as such, was unique among all the peoples on the earth. Israel was subject to the Mosaic covenant (law code). There was blessing if an Israelite obeyed, but if he disobeyed he needed a way to handle the breaking of law. This is where the animal sacrifices came in. When an Israelite broke the law, two things happened. First, that one was no longer a member in good standing in the theocracy; and second, that one was out of fellowship with the Lord God (much like today when believers sin). Animal sacrifice made restoration in both areas possible. First, he would return to an accepted position in the theocracy by bringing the appropriate offering. It was not a matter if he felt good about it or even had faith. Reinstatement would be his, if he came with the appropriate offering. (This would be like paying a fine for a speeding ticket. You might not want to; you might hate the system; and you might not like the judge. But if you want to be back in favor with the government and avoid any further negative actions, you pay the fine. At that point you become “forgiven” by the government). So even an Israelite with a bad attitude or lack of faith benefitted from bringing the correct offering. In the theocracy they experienced “forgiveness”. Second, the sacrifice would bring a restoration of fellowship to the Lord. However, the right heart attitude/faith was required. Time and again in the OT, the prophets exhorted the people to come to the Lord with the proper heart attitude because God was not pleased with heartless offerings (e.g. Isaiah 1:10-20). For the second aspect to be effective, the heart had to be right. Now, it must be remembered that these sacrifices could not cleanse the conscience (Heb. 9:13-14) and they could not save the soul. This is why people had to believe in the God who saves in order to be justified. But these sacrifices did do something. They did effectively bring temporary, ritual cleansing (purification) for the worshipper. It was a means by which Israel could attain to their holy status as God’s chosen, covenant people.

These sacrifices dealt with legal obligations and external matters like blessing versus discipline. They were temporary, not eternal, in nature. But they did restore the Israelite to a positive relationship with other Israelites in the theocracy, and they did restore him back to fellowship with his God (if indeed faith was there).

Animal Sacrifices in the Millennial Kingdom

The same two functions of animal sacrifices will be true in the Millennium. First, it will be essential to experience full millennial blessings and to avoid disciplines from God for Jews and gentiles who are in their physical bodies. It is clear that physical blessings will come to those who adhere to the ceremonial laws.

And we must remember that the Shekinah glory will be present and there can be no uncleanness. Uncleanness is easily communicated, as was pointed out by the priests of Haggai’s day (Haggai 2:11-13). Purity must be protected and the animal sacrifices will have that function in the coming kingdom.

And it is also clear that there are negatives to avoid. Zechariah 14:16-21 informs us that non-conformity to kingdom laws will result in such things as drought and disease being experienced by lawbreakers. Revelation 12:5 and 19:15 (Psa. 2:9), teach that Messiah will rule with a “rod of iron”, which speaks of absolute intolerance of sin, rebellion and law breaking. To avoid these negatives, sacrifice must be employed. It is worth noting that many will conform externally but not really be believers. This is seen in the great, Satanic led rebellion at the end of the millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:7-10). These individuals apparently will keep their legal status in the kingdom by means of sacrifice, but will not be in real fellowship with God. Only at the end of the age will their true colors be seen.

The Concept of “Atonement”

What does the word “atonement” ( kipper) convey? Commonly it is thought to mean “to cover”. This is based on Genesis 6:14 where Noah was commanded to cover the ark with tar. However, that (as recent conservative scholarship has shown) is not the identical root that is used in relationship in discussing the Levitical sacrifices nor the ones mentioned by Ezekiel. The ark account and the Levitical requirements are not speaking of the same thing. Rather the word kipper has the idea of purging, cleansing or purifying. The animal sacrifices cleanse/purify/purge because there is uncleanness, defilement or contamination that exists. The blood of these animals eliminate (kipper) defilement and this brings ceremonial “atonement”.

These sacrifices will make it possible for people to move from uncleanness to holiness as they approach the Shekinah in the millennial temple. How it does this is not explained, but there is no doubt that such purification and restoration takes place. They will ritually purify and cleanse just as they did in the Levitical system.

Animal Sacrifices As Memorials

Often it is thought that the animal sacrifices in the millennial age will be just like the Lord’ Supper (communion) in the church age; that is, they will point back to the cross. But we fail to find such an idea taught by the prophets or the apostles. The sacrifices clearly have a purpose and that is for ritual purification. However, given the fact that the completed scriptures will be present in the millennial age, the great truths about Jesus work on the cross will be universally known. In light of that, it would seem that the sacrifices (along with the nail scarred hands and feet of the Savior) would indeed call the cross work of Messiah Jesus to mind. It is hard to imagine that the sacrifices would not in some way be a constant reminder of The Sacrifice. So while a memorial of Christ’s death is not the given purpose of these sacrifices, it is very likely that they will bring to mind that day in the first century when Jesus died for our sins, and provided the means of justification.

Concluding Thoughts

There are four points to review as we conclude. First, there will be actual animal sacrifices in the future millennial kingdom. These are actual and not symbols of something. Second, they will have the same function as the sacrifices in the Old Testament, which was not to bring about the justification of people. The sacrifices never did take away sin and they will not in the future. The sacrifices were for ritual purification, enabling a sinful man to approach a holy God. The presence of the Shekinah is a key element in the need for animal sacrifices. Third, the sacrifices addressed two areas of life: (1) life in the theocratic nation of Israel, and (2) life in fellowship with God. It was possible to maintain “fellowship” in the kingdom (without faith), keeping oneself in “good standing” in the nation. But faith in God was needed for a person to have fellowship with God (just like cleansing today requires a proper heart attitude for the believer). There was, is and shall be a distinction between ceremonial cleansing and spiritual cleansing (justification). And fourth, “atonement” does not mean “to cover” but rather communicates “purging” or “cleansing”.

Today, without the presence of the Shekinah, animal sacrifices are not needed. But, as believers, we rejoice in the amazing power of the blood of Christ, which justifies, sanctifies and shall glorify.

(For additional reading on the animal sacrifices, the reader could consult: (1) “The Footsteps of the Messiah” [rev. ed.] by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, pp. 449-487, and (2) “The Coming Last Days Temple” by Dr. Randall Price, pp. 533-557.)

Monday, February 13, 2017

ANIMAL SACRIFICES IN THE COMING MESSIANIC KINGDOM---REALLY?

More than one person is truly puzzled by the numerous statements in the Old Testament that there will be a temple and animal sacrifices in the coming kingdom of King Jesus. Some are surprised by the fact that such is even found in the Scriptures, while others border on being outraged by this teaching since it seems to them to devalue Jesus’ death on the cross. Those who are aware of animal sacrifices in the millennial kingdom, and who believe that this is a future kingdom on the earth (premillennialists) often find it hard to explain why there would be such sacrifices. Those who believe we are presently in Jesus’ kingdom (amillennialists and postmillennialists) dismiss the idea of future animal sacrifices as the literalism of premillennialism gone bad.

SOME PRELIMINARY ISSUES AND QUESTIONS

Before we discuss the reasons for animal sacrifices in the upcoming millennial kingdom, there are several matters that we should deal with.

(1) Exactly where do the Old Testament prophets speak of a future temple and future animal sacrifices? Actually, both Old and New Testaments speak about a future temple and/or a future sacrificial system. This great volume of material makes it impossible to quickly dismiss the subject or to explain away one or two difficult verses. A temple and sacrifices go together. The purpose for a temple was to provide a way for sinful people to approach a holy God, and this always included sacrifices. To have a temple is to assume sacrifices in it. This basic fact is important in our discussion about a future temple and future animal sacrifice

s. The following prophets speak about animal sacrifices, which include guilt offerings and sin offerings. Ezekiel gives us the most information, but others contribute as well. The passages that mention the sacrifices are: Ezekiel 40:38-43; 42:13; 43:18-27; 44:11-15; 44:27-29; 45:15-25; 46:2-15; 46:20-24; Isaiah 56:7; 60:7; 66:20-21; Jeremiah 33:15-18; Malachi 3:3-4; and Zechariah 14:16-19. Others refer to a future temple, including the above mentioned prophets, along with Joel, Micah, Haggai, the Lord Jesus and the apostles Paul and John. There is an immense amount of material which speaks about this matter.

We are to approach these portions literally (normally) as we would the rest of the Scriptures. However, because of theological concerns, many have argued that we cannot, and should not, take these passages literally, but rather symbolically. But if these are to be taken symbolically, just what are these scriptures talking about? There are hundreds of details in these passages. If they are symbolic, the symbols are never explained. This spiritualizing approach leaves large portions of the Scriptures and hundreds of Holy Spirit inspired details without any meaning. The resulting “exposition” of these passages becomes little more than the speculations of the interpreter. No. It is best to take these passages as teaching that there will be a real temple in the millennial kingdom where actual animals will be sacrificed.

(2) Is this future system a return to the Mosaic law? No. What lies ahead is not a return to the standards and practices of the “old” covenant. The Apostle Paul is clear in Galatians 3 and 4 that the Mosaic (old) covenant ended with the arrival of the Messiah Jesus. God had promised to Israel that the day was coming when He would make a “New” covenant with Israel (Jer. 31:31-34) which would replace the old. The New Covenant is based on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Luke 22:20). Though all the provisions of the New Covenant were provided for by Jesus’ death, the fact is that national Israel (the one with whom the covenant was made) has never experientially entered into the covenant. When the millennial kingdom comes, it is the New Covenant which is in force, not the “old”. Believers in the millennial kingdom will have the Book of Hebrews, and all of God’s revelation, and will be fully aware that it is only the blood of Jesus that permanently and eternally removes sin. Kingdom rules, not Mosaic rules, are in effect.

Another observation that should be made is that when the details of the future temple and sacrifices are looked at, there are great and profound differences to be seen. For example, the detailed plan of the temple given by Ezekiel with its porches, chambers, walls, gates, steps and various other rooms are so very different from the temples of Solomon or Herod. This is simply not a description of those temples. Furthermore, the temple described by Ezekiel is huge, covering an area of one square mile, thus not fitting on the present temple mount. Also, this future temple, unlike those in the past, will not actually be located in the millennial city of Jerusalem. (As a side note: A few years ago I was at the Temple Institute in Jerusalem where they are preparing for the rebuilding of Ezekiel’s temple. I asked one of the presenters there what they thought about the dimensions given in Ezekiel and the apparent problem that the present temple mount could not possible hold Ezekiel’s temple. The response was that we cannot take all the details literally. So interestingly, they are passionately preparing for building the literal temple of Ezekiel, but not according to the floor plan of Ezekiel. And in this, they are like many Christian theologians who spiritualize the text, seeing the details as symbolic).

It should further be noted that some elements are missing from the details of Ezekiel’s temple and sacrificial system. For example, there will be no high priest (since Jesus will be the High Priest), no ark of the covenant, no candlestick or table of showbread and no veil. Also, it is just the descendants of Zadok who will function in a priestly role (as was promised by the Lord---1 Sam. 2:35; 1 Kings 2:27, 35). And there are numerous differences in details related to numbers and amounts in the two sacrificial systems (so much so that some rabbis say that it will be up to Elijah to explain these things). All these point to the reality that the millennial kingdom will not be a return to the “old” covenant.

(3) What was God’s purposes for animal sacrifices? And did they contribute to the salvation (justification) of people in the Old Testament? The answers to these questions will frame the answer to the question related to millennial sacrifices. All biblically knowledgeable believers know that not one sin was ever taken away by animal sacrifices. Hebrews 9:11-14; 9:25-10:14 powerfully declares that all sin was paid for completely by the death of Christ on the cross. And in contrast to His death, not one sin was removed by the death of an animal. So, for those who might think that the idea of future animal sacrifices demeans Christ’s death, it doesn’t. The past sacrifices did not remove sin, and those in the future will not remove sin. In the next article we will deal in some detail with what the O.T. sacrifices really did, including the concept of “atonement”.

Furthermore, in evaluating the role of O.T. sacrifices, we must remember the clear discussions of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3 and Romans 4, where he presents Abraham as the great example of one in the O.T. who was saved (justified) by faith alone, apart from any works including animal sacrifices. His point is that people have always been saved the same way----justified by faith alone, based on the work of Christ alone.

It has been my experience that believers are often not clear on how people were saved in the Old Testament. When asked, they often mumble a little. They might believe that animal sacrifices didn’t take sin away, but frankly are not sure as to the role of animal sacrifices. But that point must be clear if there is going to be clarity in understanding the sacrifices in the millennium.

Regarding salvation (justification) in the Old Testament as well as the New, there are some things that we need to remember. First, some things are the same. (1) The need for salvation is the same, since all people are equally lost. (2) The basis for salvation is the same, and that is the death of Christ on the cross. His death alone removes sin. (3) The requirement for salvation is the same, and that is faith. (4) The object of salvation remains the same, and that is faith in the true God who alone can justify. But, second, the content of one’s faith is not the same. From N.T. times onward, one must believe in Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior (Acts 16:30-31). People in the O.T. did not know about the cross, and so, the content of what they were to believe differs from people in the N.T. or in our age. According to the Apostle Peter, not even the prophets who spoke about a suffering messiah understood what they were writing about (1 Peter 1:10-12). The point being made here is that justification by faith alone is God’s way of salvation, and that animal sacrifices never played a role in the justification of people who lived under the Mosaic covenant.

In our next article, we will take a look at some key details related to the purposes of animal sacrifices, and by so doing, come to a reasonable conclusion about what will take place in the future in the days of Messiah and His spectacular Jerusalem temple.

Monday, January 9, 2017

COUNTING THE YEARS - A STUDY OF DANIEL 9:24-27 (Part 3)

When numbers are used in the prophetic books of the Bible, they are used in their normal quantitative way. Contrary to the view of too many theologians, numbers are not used in a symbolic way, which leads to “number mysticism” in interpretation. About 94% of the time in prophetic literature, numbers are used in the way we normally use numbers. They tell us of a certain quantity (9 plus 4 equals 13) and the numbers don’t represent some mystical entity. So for example, when Revelation speaks of the 144,000, it is telling us that God will select and protect 144,000 Israelites in the tribulation period and then tells us that there are 12,000 from each of 12 tribes in Israel. There is nothing in the context to suggest that the number 144,000 is symbolic of something. So it is with the passage that we are looking at in Daniel 9. The numbers are to be taken in their usual quantitative sense and there is nothing in the context to indicate that 7 times 70 does not mean 490 (in context, actual years).

The Starting Point of the 490 Years. Daniel would probably have assumed that the beginning of the 490 years would be at that moment when Gabriel was giving him the information he desired. Gabriel appeared to Daniel in 538 B.C. But that was not to be the starting point of this prophecy. Rather, it would be the issuing of a formal decree to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. That decree would actually be given almost 100 years later by the Persian king Artaxerxes (444 BC). So the prophetic clock for the 490 years would begin ticking around 444 B.C.

The Seventy Units of Seven. In our first study, we noted that Daniel was informed by Gabriel that God was going to have 490 years of special dealings with Israel, at the end of which, He would accomplish His six goals (9:24). (We dealt with those 6 goals in Part 2 of this study). The 70 units of seven, however, would be in three unequal parts; of 7 units, 62 units and 1 unit.

The Start to Messiah. From the issuing of the rebuilding decree to the time when Messiah would be present would be 483 years (7 + 62 or 69 of the weeks). This seems a strange way to phrase it. But the first unit of 7 (49 years) was the time frame for the complete rebuilding and restoring of the city of Jerusalem to a fully functioning city once again. (Nehemiah gave this a good start when he got the walls erected just enough to give the destroyed city protection). Then the next 434 years (62 weeks) would be from that point of a completed Jerusalem to the time of Messiah.

The Time Gap Between Week 69 and Week 70. Each week immediately followed the week that preceded it without any gaps. However, Gabriel clearly stated that “after” the 69th week (7 + 62), two events would take place. These events were the cutting off/killing of Messiah, and second, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. The normal reading of the text leads one to observe that these two events will take place after week #69, but before week #70. We now know historically that these events took place in AD 33 and 70.

Some have objected to this idea of a time gap as an artificial intrusion into the prophecy. However, this idea of a gap is not unusual in the prophets who did not, for example, see two comings of Messiah with a rather lengthy gap of time in between. For example, all Christians believe that “for unto us a child is born” (Isa. 9:6a) took place in Bethlehem millennia ago. But the statements given in Isa. 9:3-5, 6b-7, concerning the future kingdom, the destruction of Israel’s enemies and the ruling of this Son have yet to be fulfilled. The same holds true with Isaiah 61:1-2, Zechariah 9:9-10 and numerous other passages.

The Final Week---the 70th. With the 70th week not coming immediately after the 69th, the natural question is, when does the 70th/final week begin? The text declares that the starting point of the final seven years (the 70th week) is when the leaders of Israel (who are in unbelief) sign a covenant agreement with “he” (9:27), identified in 9:26 as “the prince who is to come”. This “prince” or leader will be a descendant of the people who would destroy Jerusalem in the same time period as the killing of Messiah. Historically, this was done by the Romans. So the statement here goes along well with Daniel’s previous prophecy (in Daniel 7) that this covenant-making leader will arise out of the old Romans Empire (or western culture). When this covenant is made between this leader (who is usually identified as the Antichrist) and unbelieving Israel, the last seven years of this prophecy starts.

Events in the Final Week. Gabriel’s revelation in 9:27 contain six key points. First, the 70th week begins when the covenant is signed. Second, the covenant that is made is for 7 years. Apparently the time period is part of the agreement. Third, this leader (Antichrist) will purposely break the agreement half way through the seven years. This prophecy does not give us information as to what the cause might be for him doing this. (Revelation does shed light on the matter). Fourth, at the time of the breaking of the covenant agreement, the nation of Israel will have a temple and will be involved in a full Levitical worship system. The text does not tell us how long this has been going on. But it would seem likely that it has been going on for a relatively short period of time; perhaps just a two or three years. It would seem that the ability to rebuild the temple on the temple mount would have been part of the covenant agreement. Fifth, when the covenant is broken there is a cessation of this Levitical worship system. The Antichrist (in looking at Revelation 13 and 2 Thessalonians 2) will take his place in the Jerusalem temple claiming to be God. At that time, the entire world is said to worship the Antichrist as well as Satan. Sixth, all of this will be brought to an end. It will not be allowed to go on and on. It is, of course, N.T. revelation that builds upon these statements and gives us some idea what this is going to look like in the last days of the tribulation period and that it is none other than King Jesus who will bring this one to his end.

Final Thoughts. As stated at the beginning of this brief study, this short prophecy of four verses, found in Daniel 9, is really quite important for us to understand. So much of the later prophecies given in the New Testament are based on the chronological indicators found in these verses. So much of our understanding of the sequence of coming events rest on Daniel 9:24-27.

There is far more to this prophecy than we have looked at here, but the point was to remind us of the importance of this particular prophecy. But it was also to remind us that the Lord God is very precise about His plans and purposes. He does not randomly do things or “go with the flow”. His prophetic word is very detailed and He will fulfill in precise detail all of it just as He declared He would.