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.

Monday, December 12, 2016

COUNTING THE YEARS A Study of Daniel 9:24-27 (Part 2)

Counting and naming all the multiplied trillions of stars is something that God has done (Psa. 147:4). Known to God are the total number of hairs on all of our heads (Matt. 10:30). The detailed structure of the universe reflects mathematics everywhere which in turn points to intelligent design; that of our all-knowing Creator God. God is certainly the greatest mathematician of all. So, we should not be surprised that when He speaks of numbers related to the future, that these numbers are precise and not vague abstractions which are left to our imaginations to decipher. God sent Gabriel to Daniel to let him know that God was going to have 490 years of special dealing with the nation of Israel. We continue our study of the “70 Weeks Prophecy.”

A Review of the Last Study. There were three important interpretive truths found in Daniel 9:24. First, the prophecy is about Daniel’s people (Israel) and Daniel’s land (Israel), and not about the gentiles or the church. Second, the “70 weeks” are actually “70 units of seven”, or 490. The context points to this being 490 years. Third, these 490 years have been carved out of the times of the gentiles, but when they are completed, God six specific goals will be accomplished.

God’s Six Goals for the 490 Years. When the 490 years have come to a completion, six specific things will be accomplished. The first three goals were accomplished by Christ’s work on the cross. However, these three goals (which relate to the New Covenant) have not yet been applied to the nation of Israel. The stated six goals are the subject of this article.

(1) THE TRANSGRESSION WILL BE FINISHED. The first divine goal of the 490 years will be to bring to completion the transgression (Heb. pesha) of Israel. This word “transgression” focuses on the deliberate rebellion and apostasy of Israel and it is declared that this will be brought to an end. The definite article is used so that it is not just Israel’s rebellion generally in view, but the rebellion of the nation. What must be in view here is Israel’s rebellion as it was manifested in their greatest rejection in the nation’s history; that of rejecting the Lord Jesus as their Messiah. This is the rebellious act of Israel that will be brought to an end within the Seventy Weeks.

In order for the Messiah to return and for His kingdom to be established, Israel must turn in faith to Him. Jesus declared that the one thing that must be true before He would return is the change in Israel related to their view of Him.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. (Matt. 23:37-39)
Israel’s rejection of their Messiah will be over and Israel will be restored. This is integral to God’s overall plans for this earth.

(2) TO MAKE AN END OF SIN. In this goal of God, the idea appears to be that sin generally will be brought into judgment and forgiveness granted. Israel, whose national life had been so characterized by its waywardness, will now live apart from sin. Their sins have been judged and they have been forgiven. So the vain, purposeless life lived by Israel when they walked far from God will be over. There will be a new spirit in Israel, a new attitude towards sin and righteousness. This reality will be in place as the Seventy Weeks concludes.

(3) TO MAKE ATONEMENT FOR INIQUITY. The third purpose of the Seventy Weeks is to deal with the sin issue by making atonement for it. This is looking at the cross of Jesus Christ, since it is the only thing that takes care of sin. It is the cross alone that makes it possible for anyone to be reconciled to God whether gentile or Israelite (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17-21). The great purpose of Daniel’s Seventieth week is to bring Israel to the point where they repent and embrace the salvation that is provided by their Messiah, Jesus. The complete payment for sin was in the past at the cross, but it will be in the future that the payment will be applied to Israel (cf. Zech. 12:10; 13:1; Isa. 59:20-21; Ezek. 36:25-27; Jer. 31:31-34).

(4) TO BRING IN EVERLASTING RIGHTEOUSNESS. The first three goals deal with the negative issue of sin and how sin, particularly Israel’s sin, will be dealt with and removed. The next three goals relate to the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom, which was spoken of earlier by Daniel, in Daniel 2 and 7.

According to the Old Testament prophets, one of the marvelous characteristics of the Messiah’s kingdom is that of righteousness (cf. Isa. 11:2-5; Jer. 23:3-6). Righteousness, not sin, will prevail in the realm of mankind and therefore, in the nations of the earth. This will be a time unlike any other. There has never been in Israel, or anywhere else on earth since the fall, the domination of righteousness. While the believer is certainly to be considered “righteous” today because of justification, this goal of God finds it ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah’s kingdom when Daniel’s people will live righteously and Daniel’s land will be characterized by righteousness (cf. Isa.1:26; Jer. 33:14-16). A time of righteousness is clearly in view in this passage.

One of the very real problems for those who see Christ’s kingdom being established at His first coming (amillennialism and postmillennialism) is the obvious absence of righteousness in the world today. If this “everlasting righteousness” came into the world at Christ’s first coming, where is it? It is evident that the nations of the world are not affected by it. Unrighteousness is what characterizes this world as it remains under the domination of the “god of this world”, Satan. The lack of righteousness in the world today speaks loudly against the notion that Christ established His kingdom at His first coming.

(5) TO SEAL UP VISION AND PROPHECY. The term “seal up” “indicates a complete fulfillment of all prophecy” coupled with the idea that there will be no additional prophetic information given. With the Lord Jesus present in all His glory, the forever kingdom of God established and the earth reclaimed from the usurper, Satan, prophecy is seen as completely fulfilled. Those who live at that time will recognize that all has been fulfilled. There will be no need for people to have prophetic visions or for God, who will then dwell among believers, to give revelation.

(6) TO ANOINT THE MOST HOLY. While some have suggested that this refers to the anointing of the Lord Jesus, others have observed that the expression is never used of a person but rather it is the anointing of the Holy of Holies in the new millennial temple. The term being used is qodes qodasim which is frequently used in reference to the Holy of Holies. It seems best to understand this anointing as the setting apart of the millennial temple for the ministry to which it was ordained.

These six goals simply have not, in some cases, been fully fulfilled; and in other cases, have not been fulfilled at all. But these six specific goals that God Himself has made will be fulfilled and must be fulfilled. The coming period of tribulation will bring all of these goals to a final and full completion. The coming time of tribulation will indeed be the worst of times, but the best of times as well. It is a comfort to believers today to realize that this world remains under the control of the sovereign God. Men, nations and demons cannot derail God’s planned purposes. And when the birth pains of the tribulation are over, then the kingdom of Messiah Jesus will be born; an incredible era characterized by righteousness, joy, peace and the very presence of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ. Our best days, and earth’s best days, lie ahead of us.

Monday, November 14, 2016

COUNTING THE YEARS - A Study of Daniel 9:24-27 (Part 1)

Critical. Essential. Uniquely important. Highly significant. All these words, and more, describe the place that Daniel 9:24-27 has in one’s understanding of end time events. These four verses contain an amazing wealth of information. The chronological structure provided by this prophecy becomes the basis of our seeing accurately numerous other prophecies, as well as giving a chronological framework for the last days of man on this earth. The Book of Revelation rests squarely on this prophecy of the “seventy weeks” . Since the details of this prophetic portion are so very important, we are going to take several studies in it. For some this may be a new area of investigation which ought to prove helpful in developing a solid biblical understanding of end time events. For others it is familiar ground, but as the Apostle Peter stated, it is good to stir up our minds by way of remembrance.

The Setting of the Prophecy

Daniel’s Scripture Reading. The prophet Jeremiah twice declared that the Babylonian captivity would last for 70 years (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10). While personally experiencing that Babylonian captivity, Daniel was motivated to pray as a result of reading from the Prophet. At that point in time, it was about year #68 of the 70 years, and it seemed to Daniel that nothing was happening as far as Israel’s return to the land was concerned. And there were only two more years to go!

Daniel’s Passionate Prayer. Daniel’s prayer (9:3-19) began with confession of sin. Using a variety of words for sin, he acknowledged that Israel stood guilty and condemned for their unrighteousness. He further acknowledged that God was perfectly righteous in disciplining them by sending them into captivity. But he also noted that because God was righteous, He had to fulfill His promise to restore them back to the land (9:17-19). And so, Daniel passionately prayed that God would now move to do what He promised because His holy name was at stake. God’s reputation would be sullied if He did not fulfill His promises. And then, to be very specific, Daniel again and again (9:16-19) focused on two things in his prayer: Israel, the people and Israel, the land (holy city/temple). These two were the objects of Daniel’s prayer. It is important to note that Daniel was not praying for the church nor was he praying for the gentile nations. The people of Israel and the land of Israel were the subjects of his praying. And when the messenger angel Gabriel was sent in response to Daniel’s prayer, he gave Daniel information concerning those same two subjects. The subjects of Daniel’s prayer is a pretty obvious matter when the text is read carefully, but it is nevertheless critical in one’s interpretation of the “seventy weeks” prophecy. The “seventy weeks” have to do with Daniel’s people and Daniel’s land (holy city).

The Beginning of the Seventy Weeks Prophecy

Three important interpretive matters are found in 9:24 , the first verse of the prophecy. First, the angel Gabriel revealed that he had come to answer Daniel’s prayer concerning the people and land (holy city/temple) of Israel. Gabriel stated the coming seventy weeks concern “your people and your holy city” . So once again, the content of the prophecy has to do with Israel and not the gentiles or the church.

Second, Gabriel said that “seventy weeks have been decreed” . Two points need clarification. The word translated “decreed” means “to cut off” or “to determine”. Daniel was being told that seventy weeks have been “cut off/out” from the times of the gentiles. When this time has been concluded, God will finally and completely restore Israel and establish the kingdom of Messiah. This will be explained in 9:24 as God’s six goals for this period of time are set forth.

When Gabriel said that “seventy weeks have been decreed” , the main interpretive concern is what he meant by the phrase “seventy weeks.” The term “week” is somewhat unfortunate since we usually think of a week as being 7 days. However, the Hebrew word in the text (shavuim) simply has reference to a unit of seven. So seventy units of seven (or 490) have been determined for Israel. It is the context in which the word is found that points to the meaning. This is much like the English word “dozen”, which is a unit of measurement indicating twelve of something. If I were to say, “I have a dozen”, the listener would only know that I had twelve of something but would not know exactly what I possessed. But if our conversation had been about red pens, then the listener would know (in the context of our conversation) that I had twelve red pens. So the context of Daniel determines the exact meaning of “seventy sevens.” And the context brings us to the conclusion that it is seventy sevens of years (490 years) that is being spoken of. So God is informing Daniel that He will have 490 years of special dealings with Israel, at the end of which, He will accomplish His six goals. There are several reasons why we believe that years are being talked about.

(1) It agreed by nearly everyone that the prophecy could not be speaking of 490 days, since in this prophecy Jerusalem must be built, destroyed and rebuilt again. This simply could be accomplished in a little over a year much less have all the other details of the prophecy come to pass.

(2) In the context of the prophecy, Daniel had been thinking about years as he contemplated Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years. He knew that in just about two years the Babylonian captivity would be over. His thoughts, therefore, are not about days but about years.

(3) Israel’s captivity was based on their violation of the Sabbath year law (see 2 Chron. 36:21). It is likely that Israel’s violations in years would be matched in years by their ultimate restoration.

(4) Daniel used the unit of “sevens” in one other place in his book (10:2-3). There he related that he had been fasting for three units of sevens, but carefully added the fact that is was units of days. It is apparent that Daniel adds “days” to the phrase because he did not want his readers to think of the unit of seven in chapter 10 was the same as that in chapter 9.

(5) The final week (the 70th) aligns well with other scriptures if it is seen to be a period of seven years. The final “week” (the 70th) begins with the signing of a covenant. This covenant is broken half way through the week (or 3 ½ years into the time of trouble--the 70th week in this prophecy). It is at that time that the great tribulation comes on Israel. If years are involved then it means that 3 ½ years into the final week, an unprecedented time of trouble and desolation comes on Israel and the world. In the Book of Revelation, John speaks of this period of 3 ½ years as “forty-two months” and “1260 days”, and by so doing, points to the “week” of Daniel as being a period of seven years.

So the evidence is compelling that this prophecy is about 490 years of God’s special dealings with Israel which will result in their restoration back to the Lord and the long awaited arrival of Messiah’s kingdom.

The third significant interpretive matter found in 9:24 are the six goals of God. When the 490 years are concluded God will have: (1) finish the transgression; (2) make an end of sin; (3) make atonement for iniquity; (4) bring in everlasting righteousness; (5) seal up vision and prophecy; and (6) anoint the most holy place. These goals and their fulfillment will be part of the discussion in the next article.

When we see such a prophecy as this one and come to understand its meaning and significance, we come away realizing that God’s plan is very specific. But even more, it will be fulfilled because, as Daniel observed, God’s reputation is at stake in all of this. So even though events in our world appear to be spiraling out of control, and there is no one at the controls, the truth is God’s purposes are clear and His timing is impeccable for fulfilling those purposes. He will accomplish all six of His goals. He will end the dominion of Satan and evil men. He will establish the long awaited kingdom of Jesus Messiah.

We see our world on the decline morally and spiritually, and mankind seems so indifferent to the true God and Savior. But none of these attitudes or actions will thwart the purposes of God. We do indeed have a confident assurance as our foundation and lift