Monday, February 12, 2018

WHAT IS “COVENANT THEOLOGY” (And Should We Care)?

For many the above subject is in the category of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.” In other words, it is of no real value or concern and should be filed away in the “Who Cares” folder. But for those who want to know what the Bible teaches, the theological system that you embrace is quite foundational and therefore quite important.

One of the emphases that I have made over the years of teaching in the college classroom has been the importance of the biblical covenants. So to my students, I have early and often talked about the Abrahamic, Davidic, New and Land covenants (and even the Noahic and Mosaic); covenants that God made with Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. A student approached me one day (trying to figure me out, I guess) and said “you must be a covenant theologian”. I told him that I really was not and explained that “covenant theology” is not derived from the above named biblical covenants. Rather the covenants of “covenant theology” are theological ones that have been postulated by theologians. And since that day when that student evidenced some confusion on this subject, it has been my observation that others are a little unclear on this subject as well. Thus the purpose for this brief article. This will not be detailed but will give just a summary.

Some in Covenant Theology (CT) believe that there are three covenants while others think there are just two. These three theological covenants are known as the covenants of works, redemption and grace. The reason for the difference in the total is that some in CT see the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace as two phases of one covenant. Anyway, all of the Bible is interpreted on the basis of these three (or two) covenants. CT was formulated in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and has been refined over the years.

CT teaches that prior to the fall of man, God entered into a covenant relationship with Adam. This is the covenant of works and in it man was promised eternal life for obedience but death for disobedience. Man failed badly, bringing death into the human experience. After this failure, God graciously instituted the covenant of grace in order to bring salvation through Jesus Christ. Covenant theologian Louis Berkhof says that this covenant was not made with all of mankind, but was a covenant made between God and the elect sinner. God promises eternal life and the elect sinner accepts this salvation, promising a life of faith and obedience. This covenant of grace is actually based on the covenant of redemption made in eternity past between the Father and the Son. According to CT, each dispensation or covenant mentioned in the Bible is simply another stage of the progress of revealing the covenant of grace in history, with the result that there is one, and only one, people of God. In other words, the Church and Israel are not distinct in God’s plan or dealings.



But for those of us who are not in the CT camp, we see a number of serious problems with this theological system. A very brief list is now given.

(1) COVENANTAL LANGUAGE IS MISSING IN THE THEOLOGICAL COVENANTS. The biblical covenants are clearly covenants because the two parties are clearly defined and there is language which tells us that a covenant is being made (“the cutting of a covenant”). The theological covenants lack clear covenant language, sometime borrowing language from the biblical covenants. For example, CT “borrows” some of the “New Covenant” (Jer. 31, etc.) language and applies it to the covenant of grace. The theological covenants of CT are really logical deductions rather than the products of exegesis of the biblical texts.

(2) CT EMPLOYS SPIRITUALIZATION IN ITS APPROACH TO SCRIPTURE. Most taught believers know that when spiritualization is used, the interpreter really becomes the final authority instead of the text itself. In order to make the biblical covenants of the Old Testament squeeze into the mold of the all-encompassing “covenant of grace”, CT is forced to leave literal/normal interpretation and allegorize. For example, the promises given to Abraham are spiritualized to apply to the Church instead of national Israel. Spiritualizing tampers with the promises and provisions of the biblical covenants.

(3) CT DOES NOT ADEQUATELY DEAL WITH THE MANY DISTINCTIONS FOUND IN THE BIBLE. CT stresses the alleged unifying principle of the covenant of grace, and by so doing fails to deal with the significant differences in the Bible. The “covenant of grace” is said to cover the time from the Fall to the end of the age with no real distinctions made between the different covenants and covenant people. Not to see the many differences between the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant and the New covenant will always lead to unclear and invalid interpretations. The Apostle Paul is so very clear in Galatians 2 and 3 that the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are different kinds of covenants given for different reasons. According to Jeremiah 31, the Mosaic covenant and the New covenant are just plain different. The biblical covenants are not (as CT claims) simply progressive revelations of the “covenant of grace”. The biblical covenants include many more elements than just the matter of the redeeming of the elect.

(4) THE GOAL OF HISTORY IN CT IS NOT BROAD ENOUGH. CT has rightly stressed the concept of God’s grace in our salvation. However, though the salvation of the elect is an important part of God’s purpose for history, it is not the whole story. The story of the Scriptures is a restoring of all that was lost in Eden. In the Bible, God does have varying purposes for the church, Israel, gentiles, the saved, the unsaved, holy angels, fallen angels, and the universe itself. All these cannot be forced into the confines of the theological “covenant of grace.” Not recognizing the varying purposes of God will often lead to unbiblical eschatological positions, such as that Israel has no future as a national entity.

A much better way to understand the Scriptures is the approach of dispensational theology. Dispensational theology emerges out of the text of the Bible and relies less on the interpreter and more on the Scriptures themselves. This will be the subject of study next month.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

MTD AND THE CHURCH IN 2018

The church in North America is badly infected with MTD and it likely going to get worse in 2018. This spiritual disease is now so rampant and pervasive, that the spiritual health of the church will most likely continue to decline noticeably. Unless things change dramatically in the church, 2018 will not go well for the Body of Christ. While we do not want to be unduly pessimistic, we really need to be realistic.

First, as we think about this matter, we need to remember that the Apostles of the Lord Jesus issued warning after warning about false teachers and their false teaching. And they seemed to indicate that towards the end of the age, such falsehood would gain momentum and not lessen.
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned.” (2 Peter 2:1-2)
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” (1 Timothy 3:1)
“For certain persons have crept in unnoticed…ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ….These men are those who are like hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves…” (Jude 1:5, 12)
“…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears ticked, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in according to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
Peter, Jude and Paul communicate several significant points that we ought to be alert to. (1) These distributors of falsehood come into the church subtly and deceptively; (2) they tell people what they want to hear; (3) they will be very popular, with many people buying into their false teachings; (4) the actual origin of these teachings is the Devil and his forces; (5) their teachings are not only harmful but they produce a level of contempt for the Truth, causing people to look with disdain on those who proclaim the authentic truth of God; (6) these false teachers bring their errors in alongside of God’s truth, which gives the air of credibility to what they are teaching; and (7) the only antidote to this spiritual poison is the constant, consistent proclaiming of God’s Word.

But, back to MTD. Just what is MTD? It sounds really bad. Some years ago this label was employed to describe (with accuracy, I believe) a growing theological idea spreading in the church. MTD stands for Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Quite a mouthful. But essentially it alters one’s view of God, salvation and the purpose of life.

It suggests that there is a good, nice God who created and watches over the world and He is concerned that things go well for us. He wants us to be good and nice to one another, and He says so in the Bible, and also in most other religions. The main goal He has for our lives is that we are happy and that we feel good about ourselves. Our happiness is really the main thing. However, on a daily basis, it is not really necessary that we involve Him in our lives. But He is there if and when we run into problem and difficulties. He is happy (and apparently even obligated) to bail us out. And, because He is nice, we are told that good people will all end up going to heaven. (Such things as sin, the blood of Christ and personal faith in the one and only Savior Jesus, are not points of emphasis). If you listen closely, these ideas are being heralded to tens of thousands each week in churches and over the air waves.

What has brought MTD about is that over the past 60 years there has been a growing departure from solid, biblical teaching of the Word of God. It has not happened overnight, but it has happened. Good theological instruction is not what folks want and they are quite satisfied with the sweet, frothy motivational stuff that regularly passes for biblical preaching. But this should not come as a complete shock to us, as we just noted, that the writers of the New Testament foretold this happening as this church age moved along.

The solution to MTD, of course, is a return to the careful exposition of God’s Word. It is the Word of God when understood and embraced that brings spiritual health and strength to believers. To replace the Word with MTD is to replace the nourishing wheat with the valueless chaff. With MTD, the needs of the audience, not the message, is of primary importance.

Frankly, it does not seem hopeful that 2018 will witness the return to the needed expository preaching of the Scriptures in American churches. The desire and ability seems to be lacking. Os Guiness said, in his book “Dining with the Devil”, that today’s churches are fundamentally interested in “nickels and noses”; that is, in money and attendance. Pastors and church leaders are under pressure to be successful and, above all else, “relevant.” This means that there must be continual growth in numbers and plenty of money coming in. Now it seems apparent that MTD brings in lots of people (just as the Apostles predicted). But, in spite of the declarations by most MTDers that they are seeking to reach people and see them changed, the truth is that only the Word proclaimed can transform people (Rom 12:2). The fact is that these preachers are not “teaching them to obey everything” that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:20). The result is that disciples are not being made, which means that churches are not really healthy and growing spiritually in spite of the outward trappings of success.

For the believer who so wants the Word of God taught to them, there are some real challenges in our present religious climate. It could well be that it will not be in the large church that the exposition of the Word is present, so it might be prudent to check carefully some of the smaller churches. The key is the pulpit. Such a smaller church may not be glitzy or glamorous and may not have all the latest in technology or resources. But if the Word is central and is proclaimed faithfully, such a place is probably just what we need. But we will need to look beyond “nickels and noses”. It could be that finding like-minded believers will bring about a move to gather in a “house church.” In either case, it is the Word that builds us up and changes us. And so in 2018, hungry believers need to pray and seek a place where the Word taught is central.

Monday, August 14, 2017

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS FROM THE BOOK OF REVELATION - #4

We continue with some often asked questions from the book of Revelation.

#1 – Why does Revelation speak of things happening “shortly” or “quickly” when, in fact, almost 2,000 years have gone by? That doesn’t seem very quick to most of us.

These words, as they are translated, can be confusing. These words appear to be timing words, but they are not. They are not chronological indicators telling us when something is going to take place, but rather are qualitative indicators telling us how things will take place. The family of words (tachos; tachy) are best translated “suddenly” or “swiftly”. “Tachos” in Revelation should be translated as descriptive of the manner in which things happen (that is, “suddenly”). For example, when the Lord returns it will be suddenly or swiftly. The “adverb of manner” does not describe when the events occur, but the manner in which they occur. So we would translate these events as taking place suddenly. (This is the position taken by key Greek lexicons such as Liddell and Scott, and Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich).

Those holding to an AD 70 fulfillment of Revelation and the Olivet Discourse (Preterism) insist that a first century fulfillment is required by these words. But, when we see the proper understanding of these words, no such fulfillment is required by these words. After some 2,000 years, the events of Revelation have not yet been fulfilled but when they are fulfilled they will be taking place suddenly. We probably should not speak of the “soon” coming of the Lord and of these events, but rather they are imminent, and once the time does come these events will come swiftly.

#2 – Revelation speaks of the “book of life.” What is the book of life? And who is in it, and can a person be removed from it?

The “book of life” is mentioned a number of times in Revelation (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; and 21:27). It has been suggested that this book contains the names of all who are born into this world (a book, therefore, of physical life) or it is a register of all believers including professing believers (who will eventually see their names blotted out of the book). The “book of life” is best understood as a divine listing of all those who will receive the blessing of eternal life. In Philippians 4:3, the Apostle Paul uses this same imagery and applies it to those that labor with him in the ministry. In Revelation 20:15, the issue is spiritual life, not physical life. Those who are not in the book of life are dispatched to the lake of fire; telling us that they are unbelievers. That believers only are found in the book of life is supported by 21:17 where no one on the new, eternal earth in the New Jerusalem can be there if not found in the book of life. Revelation 17:8 says that those in the book of life were written there from the foundation of the world; that is, it is the elect of God who are in the book. Followers of the Antichrist (these who by choice worship him) are not found in the book of life even though they are physically alive on the earth (13:5).

We should note that there are many books that are mentioned in the Bible. These books are not to remind God of something He might forget, but are there to give clear evidence to a person’s spiritual condition or to their rewarding or their punishment. In addition, we should be aware that books in the OT are different from the NT book of life. In the OT, these are referencing a book of covenant blessing; a register of the covenant people. And one could be blotted out of the book and by so doing forfeit the privileges of living in the theocracy (note Exo. 32:32-33).

It is probably Revelation 3:5 that gives Bible students the most trouble, as it speaks of a name being “blotted out” of the book of life. This is part of the letter to the church at Sardis where the “overcomer” is being addressed. If one holds that the “overcomer” is a special class of Christians (who have live well and successfully for the Lord), then it is seen as a figure of speech which denies the possibility. If one sees the overcomer as another name for the believer, who overcomes in Christ (cf 1 John 5:4-5) then this is simply a powerful promise of what will not be his fate. The promise is that they shall surely never (a double negative is used strengthening the promise) be blotted out of the book of life. It is not a threat of something that could happen but a promise of what will not happen. It is similar to the promise to the overcomer in the church at Smyrna (2:11), where the overcomer (believer) is assured that he will not “be hurt by the second death” (which is the lake of fire).

#3 – In Revelation 10, John is spoken to by the “seven peals of thunder”. What are they communicating and who are they? A strong, glorious angel, who had a scroll in his hand, appeared to the Apostle John. This angel cried out with a very loud voice (10:3). And when he did, the “seven peals of thunder” also spoke out (10:3). It is clear that what they said was understandable to John because he began to write down what they said. In 10:4, he is told not to write down what the “seven peals of thunder” had to say. So what they had to say was apparently significant. But why tells there was important information that we are not privy to? Probably, this is just a reminder to us that while the book of Revelation is filled with information, there are also events that will take place and people who will appear that are not being revealed. In other words, not everything that will take place in the end times is revealed to us. God has many unrevealed secrets.

Now, who are the “seven peals of thunder”? Angelic beings are deeply involved in Revelation in communicating God’s words and God’s judgments. So, it could be that this is a reference to yet another category of angelic beings who are carrying out the judgments of God (e.g. 8:5). Some have suggested that this powerful, lion-like voice is none other than the voice of Christ or God the Father. In any case, this is a word (likely of coming judgment) that is coming from heaven.

#4 – What is the marriage and the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7-10)?

In Revelation 19:7, the declaration is made that it is time for the marriage of the Lamb. The scene is in heaven and the bride is seen in beautiful apparel which represents the gracious rewards given by the Bridegroom to His bride. This would tell us that when the marriage is ready to take place that the judgment seat of Christ has just taken place, since the church is seen as rewarded. The purpose of marriage is to unite two people and create a wonderful new relationship which includes the two being together; where one goes the other goes. For Christ and His bride there is no more separation. When He returns to the earth, so does His bride.

But then a future event is spoken of to which “blessed” persons are invited. That future event is the marriage supper of the Lamb. The marriage supper is a picture of the messianic kingdom. This imagery was used by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 22 as He discussed His coming kingdom. Blessed people are the ones who get to enter and experience this time of great joy and marvelous blessing. The marriage is in heaven but the marriage supper is on the earth; the revitalized earth of the messianic age. Even in our own culture and time, the marriage and the wedding reception, or supper, are often in two different locations. The marriage might be in a church sanctuary while the reception/supper is a mile or two away in another setting. So it appears that this will be the case in the marriage and marriage supper of Jesus, the Lamb. Blessed are all those who will be attending these grand events.

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.