Friday, November 28, 2003

Lesson 6: Millennial Blessings for the Church (Part 3)

More Support for Two Resurrections

In addition to the passage in Revelation 20, historic premillennialists find additional support for two bodily resurrections in other scripture131. A literal translation of Phi. 3:11 (and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead) speaks of "Out-resurrection from the dead ones". This is taken to indicate that Paul viewed the resurrection of the righteous to be separate from that of the wicked.

those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, (Luke 10:35)

can be understood as implying a separate resurrection for the righteous. (Keep this passage in mind: the fact that the resurrected will neither marry nor be given in marriage will prove problematic for premillennialism when we, in the next section, critique the viewpoint.)

Other passages a partial resurrection or a resurrection of just the righteous:
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Th. 4:16)

and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14:14)

while others permit one to infer (or not, depending on how you choose to read them) a two stage resurrection:
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Dan. 12:2)

and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:29)

A very important passage is one we have discussed:
23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:23-26)

As we wrote earlier, the "firstfruits" is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first human resurrection, of the righteous (his own) is at the end of v.23. Then there is an all important word at the beginning of v. 24: "Then". To premillennialists, this implies an "interregnum" between the resurrection of the righteous and when "the end" will come131. This period of delay is taken to be the millennium.

Another line of reasoning for two, separated resurrections involves passages like this:
1If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! (1 Cor. 1:3)

The argument is made:
  1. The righteous will act as judges of the wicked.

  2. Therefore, in order for the righteous to assume their duties as judges, there is logically an interval between the two resurrections.

Biblical Support Favoring Historic over Dispensational Premillennialism

Historic premillennialists argue for a strict literalistic interpretation of Revelation 20. However, they disagree with dispensationalists when it comes to Old Testament prophecy concerning Israel. They spiritualize much Old Testament prophecy and subsume the bulk of it into the New Testament church.

For example, they argue that the prophecies concerning the first advent were not fulfilled literally. Other, quite famous Messianic prophecy, such as:
"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (Hosea 11:1)

were, in their original context , not viewed as Messianic at all, but as a reference to the Exodus. Only through New Testament interpretation and in some sense reuse of the passage:
where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." (Matt. 2:15)

do we see the real meaning, or perhaps the new meaning.

Ladd summarizes this difference in a scathing comment:
Dispensationalism forms its eschatology by a literal interpretation of the Old Testament and then fits the New Testament to it. A nondispensational eschatology forms its theology from the explicit teaching of the New Testament. 132

Next we turn to a critique of historic premillennialism.

130 Grenz, The Millennial Maze, p. 135.
131 Ladd, Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God, pp. 178-179.
132 George E. Ladd, "Historic Premillennialism", in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, Robert Clouse, ed., (Intervarsity) 1977, p. 27

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Lesson 6: Millennial Blessings for the Church (Part 2)

Biblical Support for Historic Premillennialism

A distinctive feature of historic premillennialism is the post-tribulation rapture. The church will be present on earth during the tribulation.

Expectation of a post-tribulation rapture arises from scripture than indicates that the typical experience of the saints will be, in fact, tribulation:125
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said. (Acts 14:22)

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; (Rom 5:3)

so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. (1 Th. 3:3)

18Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
22Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist--he denies the Father and the Son.
(1 John 2:18,22)

but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:3)

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Rev. 1:9).

It must be noted that the trials that the saints will endure do not include experiencing God’s "wrath", a fate reserved for the wicked. The saints will endure sufferings and persecution during the tribulation, but will be spared from wrath:
Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour
of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
(Rev 3:10)

The belief that the rapture occurs after the tribulation is also supported, according to historic premillennialists, by New Testament descriptions of the return of Christ. One of the Greek words used, parousia, is exceptionally vivid. It is best translated as presence and denotes the coming of Christ to be present with his people. (For dispensationalists, at the Second Coming Christ will already have been present with His people for seven years. There, according to historic premillennialists, it makes little sense to use the word parousia.)

Furthermore, they point out that the Parousia, which is the object of their blessed hope: 126
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? (1 Th. 2:19)

May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (1 Th. 3:13)

7Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. 8You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. (James 5:7-8)

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. (1 John 2:28)

is consistently presented as occurring after the tribulation, as in the Olivet discourse (Matt. 24) and other scripture, e.g.,
And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the
breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.
(2. Th. 2:8)

Post-tribulationist Douglas Moo asserts: 127
A study of the vocabulary employed in describing the return of Christ paints a uniform picture: believers are exhorted to look for and live in the light of this glorious event. And while some texts [scripture] obviously place this coming after the Tribulation, there are none which equally obviously place it before the Tribulation.

To add teeth to what Moo asserts, historic premillennialists argue on two fronts. The first is that the principal rapture passages:
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3)

51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51-52)

13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Th. 4:13-17)

do not indicate that this event should be separated from Christ’s Second Coming. Rather they favor placing the rapture (a) post-tribulation; and (b) simultaneous with the Second Coming. The other front is passages such as 1 Th. 5:1-11; 2 Th. 1-2, along with the Olivet Discourse, and the book of Revelation which positively teach the post-tribulation position. 128

So, in a nutshell, this line of reasoning is:
  • Scripture tells us to live for and look for the Parousia (Second Coming)

  • Therefore we (the body of believers) are around at the Second Coming

  • At the Second Coming, Christ defeats the antichrist, ending the tribulation

  • Therefore we (the body of believers) went through the tribulation

  • Those alive are post-tribulation raptured at this time (Christ’s return)

Dispensationalists teach that after the secret rapture, the saints are taken to enjoy the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Historic premillennialists have different expectation: The raptured saints meet Christ in the air and then immediately return with him. The imagery is of a welcoming party: subjects leaving the city to meet their king as he returns from a journey or battle, and to escort him back into the city. Similar imagery is used in the parable of the ten virgins, when the (wise) virgins meet the bridegroom and escort him back into the wedding feast. Another example is found in the book of Acts:
15The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged. 16When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. (Acts 28:15-16)

Believers went from Rome to the outlying town of Three Taverns and escorted him back into Rome.

The basis of the premillennial timeline

When it comes to the basic support for a premillennial timeline, i.e. that after Christ returns there will be an earthly millennium, historic premillennialists turn to the same scripture as dispensationalists: Revelation 19-22.

The rider of the white horse, in Rev. 19:11-16, signifies Christ’s return to destroy his enemies. Moving on to Rev. 20 we have the 1000 year passage, which indicates that Satan is (a) bound at the start of the 1000 years; and (b) released at the end of 1000 years for some final mischief.

Central to any premillennial view are the two resurrections in Revelation 20:

4I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. (Rev 20:4-5)

According to Ladd, any interpretation which tries to make the first resurrection spiritual while the only the second is physical does violence to the text:

At the beginning of the millennial period, part of the dead come to life. At its conclusion, the rest of the dead come to life. 129

To premillennialists, it's as simple as that.

125 Grenz, The Millennial Maze, pp. 131-132
126 Ibid., p. 132.
127 Douglas J. Moo, "The Posttribulation Rapture Position", in , The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-tribulational?(Zondervan), 1984. pp. 177-178.
128 Grenz, The Millennial Maze, p. 133.
129 George E. Ladd, Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God, (Eerdmans), 1952, p. 146.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Lesson 6: Millennial Blessings for the Church

We now turn our attention to what may be the oldest view of the end-times: historic premillennialism.

Historic premillennialism claims many early church fathers among its adherents, including Irenaeus118 [140-203], Justin Martyr119 [100-165], and Papias [80-155].

In modern times, the most noted proponents of Historic Premillennialism include George Eldon Ladd of the Fuller Theological Seminary, who has written such books as A Theology of the New Testament, "Historic Premillennialism" and The Blessed Hope (in which he critiques dispensationalism), and James Boice of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Review of the features of Historic Premillennialism

Historic premillennialism teaches that the first coming of Christ is the beginning of a new age and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. In his book on Amillennialism120, Kim Riddleberger gives this summary of historic premillennialism:
When Jesus begins his public ministry [during the first coming, i.e., two millennia ago], the kingdom of God is manifest through his preaching, teaching, and miracles, though the kingdom is not yet consummated. Upon Jesus’ ascension into heaven and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, the kingdom remains present through the Spirit and advances until the end of the age, which is marked by the return of Christ to the earth in judgment. Great apostasy and tribulation occur immediately preceding the return of Christ. After his return, a period of a thousand years121 (the millennium) will separate the first resurrection from the second resurrection. Satan will be bound and the kingdom will be consummated. At the end of the millennium period, Satan will be loosed, and a massive rebellion led by the mysterious Gog and Magog will immediately precede the second resurrection or final judgment. After this 1000 year earthly millennium, God will create a new heaven and a new earth.

The basic features of historic premillennialism are: 122

  • The New Testament church is the initial phase of Christ’s Kingdom, as prophesied by the Old Testament prophets. 123

  • The church may win occasional victories in history (including evangelization of the nations), but ultimately she will fail in her mission, lose influence, and become corrupted as worldwide evil increases toward the end of the church age. There will be an appearance of a personal antichrist.

  • The church will pass through a future, worldwide, unprecedented time of travail (the Great Tribulation), which will punctuate the end of contemporary history.

  • Rather than as a result of gradual progress, the onset of the millennium is cataclysmic. It will be visible to the entire earth.

  • Christ will return at the end of the tribulation to rapture the church, resurrect dead saints, and conduct the judgment of the righteous. This is the most significant difference in outward features between historic premillennialism and dispensationalism: for historic premillennialists, the rapture is post-tribulation.

  • Christ will then descend to earth with His glorified saints, fight the battle of Armageddon, defeat the antichrist, bind Satan, and establish a worldwide political kingdom which will be personally administered by him in Jerusalem for 1000 years. Many Jews will repent and accept Christ as the Messiah. The millennium will be a time of peace, justice, and extreme blessings: the desert will boom as a rose. There will be a cessation of hostilities among the animals (Is. 11:8-9, 65:25). However, it is not the eternal state; in particular there is still sin and death. Evil will be greatly retrained, and unbelieving nations are kept in check and ruled by Christ with an iron rod.

  • At the end of 1000 years, Satan will be loosed and a fierce rebellion will ensue (sometimes identified as the Gog-Magog war). God will intervene with fiery judgments to rescue Christ and the saints. The resurrection and judgment of the wicked will occur and the eternal state will begin.

While it is tempting to conclude that historic premillennialism differs from dispensationalism only in the timing of the rapture, such a conclusion is quite wrong. For underneath the hood, the differences are vast. Historic premillennialism completely rejects the dispensational view of redemptive history. The only aspect of similarity is that both views are premillennial.

A table listing some of the differences between Historic Premillennialism and dispensationalism may be helpful:

Historic PremillennialismDispensationalism
AdventEarly church19th Century
TribulationUnspecified duration (maybe 7 years)—includes church7 years, no church
MillenniumSpiritually oriented kingdom—the purpose is a higher outworking of Christ’s prerogatives as Lord. Jewish theocracy—the purpose is to complete God's redemptive plan for the Jews.
ChurchSpiritual Israel, covenantal relationships with God have passed over, some promises to Abraham are fulfilled therein.A separate body of believers, does not inherit covenantal relationship or Abraham's promises.
Blessed HopeVisible second comingSecret rapture
Kingdom OfferSpiritual kingdom instituted in the hearts of believers.Rejected by Jews necessitating the church age intercalation.
Hermeneutic (for prophecy)Mostly spiritualMostly literal

Two Resurrections

The linchpin of premillennialism is two resurrections124. The first resurrection occurs when Christ returns. The righteous of all ages will rise to partake in the millennial kingdom. After the millennium the rest of the dead are raised and the wicked will be judged and consigned to their eternal misery.

The higher outworking of Christ’s Prerogatives

For historic premillennialists, the millennium represents the next step in Christ’s role as Lord. After His resurrection he sat at the right hand of the Father. His triumph, however, is not complete:

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (1 Cor. 15:25)

Also, in the present age, his reign is visible only to the faithful. In the millennium, Christ’s Lordship will be public and evident to all. All knees will bow, all tongues will confess:

10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10-11)

Next we will examine the biblical support for historic premillennialism.

118 Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John. Yes, that John.
119 From whom, of course, we get the word martyr. Here is an authenticated account of his martyrdom from The Catholic Encyclopedia: "The Prefect Rusticus says: Approach and sacrifice, all of you, to the gods. Justin says: No one in his right mind gives up piety for impiety. The Prefect Rusticus says: If you do not obey, you will be tortured without mercy. Justin replies: That is our desire, to be tortured for Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and so to be saved, for that will give us salvation and firm confidence at the more terrible universal tribunal of Our Lord and Savior. And all the martyrs said: Do as you wish; for we are Christians, and we do not sacrifice to idols. The Prefect Rusticus read the sentence: Those who do not wish to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the emperor will be scourged and beheaded according to the laws. The holy martyrs glorifying God betook themselves to the customary place, where they were beheaded and consummated their martyrdom confessing their Saviour."
120 Kim Riddleberger, A Case for Amillennialism, (Baker Books), 2003, p. 28.
121 Actually, historic premillennialists are not as adamant as dispensationalists that the duration be precisely 1000 years.
122 Based upon: Kenneth Gentry, as quoted in Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus, pp. 199-200.
123 This is in vivid conflict with dispensationalism, which holds that the present church age was unforeseen by the Old Testament prophets.
124 Millard Erickson, Contemporary Options in Eschatology: a Study of the Millennium, (Baker), 1977. p. 97.

Thursday, November 20, 2003


Weird. Somehow part (the bottom 1/3) of the following post was lost in the aether. It has been recovered.

Not sure what posting will be like over the next three weeks. My wife is off to Taiwan to visit her family. Me and the boys have been left behind. So being Mr. Mom will dig into the blogging time. I know the day before she returns, the extensive search and destroy mission for discarded pizza boxes will take priority. Woe, woe, woe to me if she finds one under the sofa.

What Wright says that "Saint Paul Really Said"

Been rereading two books for two different studies. One is, for the gazillionth time, R.C. Sproul's Chosen by God. The other is N. T. Wright's What Saint Paul Really Said.

These books couldn't be more different.

The two authors, each with impressive credentials, couldn't be more different.

Sproul approaches his subject (predestination) with humility. His style is: here is what is written in scripture and, logically, this is what it must mean.

That is not Wright's approach to his subject, which is the theology of Paul. (The punch line being that Luther misinterpreted Paul, because he did not understand 1st century Judaism, a deficiency that resulted in a serious error: an undue emphasis on, and a faulty understanding of, justification.) His approach, seemingly adopted by his followers, would never be accused of being humble or charitable. And while scripture is referred to, a great deal of Wright’s conclusion are based on historic arguments and reckless speculation, presented as fact, about what Paul was thinking, before and after his conversion.

This of course means nothing in terms of which writer is correct. In fact, their subject matters are sufficiently (but not perfectly) orthogonal that both could be essentially right, or both wrong, or one of each.

In my opinion, it is the latter. Sproul hits a homerun in his introduction to predestination. His book is, in my view, a classic. Wright’s book is, on the other hand, so flawed as to almost take my breath away.

That is the last I will mention Sproul. I just felt like contrasting them since I am currently studying both.

Criticizing Wright is not for the thin skinned. He has amassed a following that surpasses, in its zeal, Doug Wilson's acolytes, another camp of which I have, in the past, run afoul. Challenge Wright and you are likely to be called dimwitted, anachronistic, and, my personal favorite, prone to worshipping a dead white man (that would be Martin Luther).

This will not be a comprehensive review of Wright's book. I will get to that sometime, probably after my Sunday school class ends. I am taking notes as I once again go through What Saint Paul Really Said in anticipation of just such a review. This is just a broadside.

Wright's arrogance astounds me. He writes of his lonely journey toward the pinnacle of Pauline scholarship:

I still have the sense of being only half-way up the mountain, of there being yet more to explore, more vistas to glimpse. Often (not always) when I read what other scholars say about Paul, I have the feeling of looking downwards into the mist, rather than upwards to the mountain top. (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 7.)

I have not read any reviews of Wright's book, critical or favorable. I would be amazed if I am the only critic to point out what appears to be the biggest flaw: Wright elevates the importance of Paul's historic context far beyond what he should, given the fact that we are dealing with inspired scripture.

If Wright were examining uninspired writing such as 1 Clement, or even non-canonical Pauline writings, if ever discovered, then his approach would be legitimate. But when dealing with inspired scripture, historic context, while it can be illuminating, must always be a secondary consideration.

Wright treats Paul's letters as, well, Paul's letters. He does not give enough weight to the fact that they are actually God's letters.

Wright says that we cannot understand what Paul really meant unless we put it in the context of an accurate representation of 1st century Judiasm.

I say that the Holy Spirit has inspired scripture that we can understand without such knowledge, although it might be helpful. The Holy Spirit did not inspire scripture that awaited 20th century studies of 1st century Judaism before it could be correctly understood.

That's my opinion. I cannot prove it.

I’ll say again, historic knowledge is not irrelevant. But it cannot be critical. Here is an example. In Romans, Paul writes: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Rom. 7:24). Now that can be understood as it stands. Nevertheless, if we know that Paul is alluding to the gruesome practice of chaining the corpse of a murder victim to the murderer, then the verse is further illuminated. However, that knowledge is not required in order to understand the gist of what Paul is teaching.

Furthermore, while Wright is no doubt correct that our knowledge of 1st century Judiasm has grown, there is no guarantee whatsoever that we have a correct, let alone a comprehensive, understanding. There exists the very real possibility—perhaps even a probability—that our supposedly lofty understanding of 1st century Judaism will undergo radical changes over the decades to come.

Imagine 2000 years from now as archeologists try to piece together Wright's theology. Suppose all they know is that he was a Protestant. No literature from the era survived. Then, amazingly, a Scofield bible is uncovered. And a complete set of Left Behind books. Imagine what incorrect inferences about Wright's theology would likely be made from that "incredible development in the understanding of 20th century Christianity". That is the situation with Paul, but Wright argues as if he knows what Saul/Paul was thinking.

Wright often talks about Pauline theology. This is representative of his error. Whatever Paul's theology was is irrelevant. What Paul wrote in his epistles, due to its inspiration, was not Paul's theology but God's theology.

Wright also writes:
The dislocation of biblical studies from theology, particularly in many North American institutions (where the majority of contemporary biblical studies takes place) has meant that Paul is often studied by people who are not trained either philosophically or theologically, and who indeed resent that such training should be necessary. (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 21.)

Notice how he elevates not just theology but philosophy as a required discipline in order to study Paul. Wright is qualified to study Paul. Jonathan Edwards—sorry no.

Wright goes on:
Some still use him [Paul] to legitimate an old-style 'preaching of the gospel' in which the basic problem is human sin and pride and the basic answer is the cross of Christ. Others, without wishing to deny this as part of the Pauline message, are struggling to do justice to the wider categories and the larger questions that seem to be a non-negotiable part of Paul’s whole teaching. This, indeed, is the category into which I would put myself, as the present work will make clear. (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 22.)

I think I will not bother to comment on that quote.

Wright repeatedly makes unsubstantiated claims about what Saul/Paul believed and what he thought. For example, he wrote:
But Saul of Tarsus was not interested in a timeless system of salvation, whether works-righteousness or anything else. Nor was he interested in understanding and operating a system of religion, a system of 'getting in' and/or 'staying in' (Sanders’ categories).(What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 32.)

This is pure speculation and one could argue not even very informed speculation. It is, however, convenient speculation given that it assumes what he wants to postulate: that Paul never criticized the Jews for works-based salvation. He then compounds his error by wrongly assuming that his guesses actually matter. Even if by spectacular luck he is right about what Paul thought, as I said before, it was not Paul's theology that was penned under divine inspiration. Nor was it writings that were unduly influenced by Paul's background.

No matter how much our knowledge of Paul's particular Pharisaic type increases, it is foolishness to overestimate what this implies about what Saul/Paul thought. We know a great deal more about, say, the twenty first century PCA beliefs than we do about 1st century Judaism. Yet that knowledge permits permits only educated guesses about what a particular member of a PCA congregation believes.

If Wright, as a historian, wants to theorize about Saul's/Paul's personal beliefs and personal theology, then he is correct in his assumption that a better understanding of 1st century Judaism is essential. To understand what Paul wrote in the book of Romans is another matter altogether. Whatever Paul wrote in Romans is correct, if necessary, in spite of Paul’s personal theology. And it is understandable to believers without advanced degrees. To assume otherwise is to underestimate the Holy Spirit. It puts Him at the mercy of doctrinal errors of the human writers (actually, transcribers) of scripture and denies the Creator of the Universe of the ability to formulate scripture that is understandable to His people apart from an almost Gnostic insight of an elite class, be it a Magisterium or those with Ph.D.'s in Philosophy from accredited universities.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Last Of The series

[Just a touch up that finishes the lesson on dispensational premillennialism. I'll be moving on to historic premillennialism.]

Absence of the word "church" in Revelation 4-22.

The absence of the word "church" in the chapters from Revelation, from chapters 4-19, chapters that dispensationalists say describe the tribulation, is another reason that they claim the church must be raptured. Mathison argues that by the same reasoning the church must not be in heaven, because the word "church" does not appear in Rev. 20-22 when heaven is being described. Also, Israel must be raptured during the tribulation, for the word Israel does not appear after Rev. 7:4 through the end of tribulation discussion.

Coming with his saints, coming for his saints

Dispensationalists argue that a separation between the rapture and the second coming is required because scripture talks about Christ coming for His saints (the rapture) and with His saints (the Second Coming).

In reality, however, this poses no problem. Looking at the "rapture" passage:
14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Th. 4:14-17)

The "with" and the "for", according to non-dispensationalists, do indeed happen at the same time. In v. 14, we read that Christ will come with those saints (their spirits) who have fallen asleep (died). In v. 16 these dead saints have their bodies resurrected. And in v. 17, He comes for those who are alive and remain. It is indeed the rapture, but it occurs at the visible Second Coming.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Lesson 5: A Future Kingdom for Israel (Part 10)

Will the church escape the tribulation?

As for passages that seem to indicate that the church is spared the tribulation. Let's look at the "escape the wrath" genre:
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! (Rom. 5:9)

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Th 5:9)

and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Th 1:10)

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (Rev. 3:10)

Rom. 5:9 surely says those who are justified by his blood are saved from God's wrath. But there is no reason to conclude it is his finite seven year tribulational wrath that is withheld from the justified, but rather his eternal wrath reserved for the damned.

Similarly regarding 1 Th. 5:9. The simplest interpretation is that we are saved from eternal damnation, not merely a seven year tribulation, by the finished work of Christ.

1 Th 1:10 is more problematic. But not in a way that helps dispensationalism. It has a certain "near term" aspect to it. One interpretation notes that the subject of the wrath is identified in the next chapter:
in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. (1 Th. 2:16)

That is, it is the Jews that are under wrath, a wrath that will climax very soon in the utter destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and the scattering of those Jews who survive. Like the Hebrews during the plagues of Egypt, Paul is assuring believers that they will escape this wrath. We will look at this much more in a few lessons.

Rev. 3:10 is perhaps the most important verse, according to dispensationalists, that supports a pretribulation rapture.

Mathison argues116 that there are several questions dispensationalists need to answer regarding this interpretation:

  1. Where in this verse does Christ promise to remove the entire church from the earth?

  2. Where does it say that this verse refers to the end of the world?

  3. Doesn’t it describe a period of testing that, according to other verses in Revelation, was about to come? For example:
    Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Rev 1:3)

    10Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. 11I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. (Rev 3:10-11)

  4. If it does refer to the Great Tribulation at the end of the world, why is the 1st Century Philadelphia church promised to be kept from it? They would be long dead by the time it happened.

  5. If this promise to the 1st century Philadelphia church applies to the church in general, why doesn’t the promise to the church in Smyrna (that they would be tossed in prison) apply to the church in general?

Mathison also points out117 that the Greek used in Rev. 3:10 for "keep [protect from]" is the same as in John 17:15
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (John 17:15)

Where (John 17:15) it is made explicit that God does not have to remove the church to protect it. The Greek for "take" in John 17:15 is not used in Rev. 3:10.

116 Mathison, Dispensationalism, Rightly Dividing the People of God?, pp. 118-119.
117 Ibid., p. 119.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Lesson 5: A Future Kingdom for Israel (Part 9)

More Problems for the Pretribulation Rapture

We begin with the Olivet discourse (Matt. 24). We note that most dispensationalists view the bulk of this prophecy as directed toward believing Jews during the tribulation—for it is filled with signs of what is about to happen. The rapture, given the "imminence of the blessed hope", is expected to catch people by surprise. Signs, in this view, must apply to the Glorious Appearance, not the rapture.

The first problems for dispensationalists are structual. All agree that Jesus begins His discourse with an amazing prophecy regarding the destruction of the temple at the hands of Roman legions, to occur about 40 years later in 70 A.D:
1Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2"Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (Matt. 24:1-2)

Scofield argues that the tribulation begins at verse 4. The New Scofield Reference Bible has the heading: Daniel's Seventieth Week of Years: the end time. So Scofield puts it this way:
3As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

Daniel’s Seventieth Week of Years: the end time

4Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. (Matt. 24:3-4)

Scofield puts the middle of the seventieth week, i.e., the middle of the tribulation, after verse 14:
14And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

The middle of Daniel’s seventieth week: the abomination of desolation

15"So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel--let the reader understand— (Matt. 24:14:15)

Non-dispensationalists see two structural problems for dispensationalism. One is that the Lord, in this penultimate end times passage, seems to have neglected to mention the rapture. The other, not unrelated criticism, is that the entire passage is easier understood as addressed to the entire church, and describing a tribulation followed by a single Second Coming.

Note also a further difficulty for the dispensationalist interpretation. Verse 14 is not an optimistic promise that evangelism will reach all the nations. For in dispensationalism, it refers to a different gospel altogether (the gospel of the kingdom) and describes evangelism that takes place after the church is gone.

More to come...

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Lesson 5: A Future Kingdom for Israel (Part 8)

Pretribulation Rapture

We start with our critique of the pretribulational rapture by reminding ourselves once again of its relation to the dispensational view of the church:
If the term church includes saints of all ages, then it is self-evident that the church will go through the Tribulation, as all agree that there will be saints in this time of trouble. If, however, the term church applies only to a certain body of saints, namely, the saints of this present dispensation, then the possibility of the translation of the church before the Tribulation is possible and even probable. 110

This is an amazing concession by a leading apologist of classic dispensationalism. Walvoord is saying, in effect:
  • If the body of Jesus (the church) includes saints of all ages, then it is self evident that the church will go through the tribulation. (Recall the discussion of tribulation saints).

  • If the term church refers only to saints of this age, then the pretribulation rapture is possible and even probable (but not certain).

So before will look at explicit arguments against the pretribulation rapture, we look for scriptural evidence that the body of Christ refers to the saints of all ages. If that can be established, according to non-dispensationalists, then by Walvoord's own words the pretribulation rapture is refuted.

Unity of Believers

The counter doctrine of the dispensational distinction between Old and New Testament saints is called the Unity of Believers, which teaches that saints of all ages comprise a single, unified body of Christ.

We first turn to Paul's epistle to the Romans:
17If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. (Rom. 11:17-18)

Here we have the famous olive tree metaphor. Mathison points out111:
  1. From the context it is clear that the natural olive tree is Israel.
  2. The natural branches broken off are unbelieving Israelites.
  3. The good branches that remain are believing Israelites.
  4. The wild branches grafted in are believing Gentiles.

Mathison goes on to tell us to note that there is only one good tree. It consists of Old and New Testament saints. (In fact, the root, or the Jewish patriarchs, support the tree.) Jews who convert are grafted back onto this single tree. The metaphor appropriate for dispensationalism would be for an entirely new tree to have been planted.

From the letter to the Ephesians we read:

11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)-- 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Eph. 2:11-12)

Mathison lists the five things that verse 12 teaches were true about Gentiles before they came to Christ:
  1. Separated from Christ
  2. Excluded from Citizenship with Israel
  3. Foreigners to the covenant of promise
  4. Without hope
  5. Without God

Mathison points out 112 that if Paul teaches that Gentiles are without these prior to accepting Christ, then the only reasonable conclusion is that after accepting Christ, all five deficiencies are remedied. That would include that now Gentiles are citizens of Israel, and are partakers of the covenantal promises, two positions rejected by dispensationalism.

Now consider the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11. For about the first 38 verses, the writer is commending Old Testament saints including Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab. After this hall-of-fame recount, we read:
39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Heb. 11:39-40)

The Old Testament saints are to be made perfect together with us, not apart from us.

Finally we look in the book of Revelation:
9One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." 10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Rev 21:9-14)

Mathison analyzes this passage as follows. 113 The city is the bride of Christ, at metaphor repeatedly used for the church. If the New Jerusalem is the bride of Christ, and the bride of Christ is the church, then it follows that the New Jerusalem is the church. 114

On the gates of the city (the church) are written the twelve tribes of Israel. On the wall, the names of the twelve apostles are on the foundations. The symbolism of a unified body, according to critics of dispensationalism, is obvious.

Post-Parousia Conversions

To finish this discussion of the unity of believers, we look at the question of saints who are converted after the Parousia (the real Second Coming). In a criticism of premillennialism in general, opponents say that there is no such thing. They bible, according to these critics, teaches that there is no basis for an expectation that there will be conversions after Jesus returns.
20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (1 Cor. 15:20-23)

Note that in verse 20, Christ's resurrection is identified as the firstfruits. Then in verse 23, a timeline is provided:
  1. Christ
  2. The firstfruits (Christ's resurrection)
  3. Those who belong to him when He comes

There is no mention of another resurrection of those who come to Him after He comes, i.e., during a millennium. Dispensationalism holds that there will be one or maybe two additional resurrections: one (possibly) involving the dead tribulation saints and Old Testament saints at the time of the real Second Coming and another (uncontested) at the end of the millennium.

Then there is Peter's discussion of the Second Coming:
4They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:4-9)

According to non-dispensationalists, the Lord delays His coming so that more will repent. The implication being that once He comes there is no further opportunity.

Consider too, the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. Hoekema provides this analysis:
The story describes a Jewish wedding feast in which ten virgins are waiting for the bridegroom so that they may go in with him to the marriage feast. While the bridegroom delays, all the virgins fall asleep. But when the bridegroom finally comes, the wise virgins, who had taken oil for their lamps with them, go in with him to the marriage feast. The foolish virgins, however, who had taken no oil with them, are not permitted to go into the marriage feast for, after the others had entered, the door is shut. When the foolish virgins try later to enter the marriage feast, the bridegroom says to them “Truly I say to you that I do not know you”.

…we may say that the obvious lesson of the parable is that all who are not ready for Christ when He returns will not enjoy [salvation], and will have no later opportunity to be saved since the door is shut. The parable therefore clearly leaves no room for people to come to salvation after Christ returns.115

This is but a summary of the arguments against the dispensational doctrine that the church, consisting only of those believers fromt Pentecost to the rapture, is distinct from the saints of other ages.

110 John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, rev. ed., (Zondervan), 1979, p. 21.
111 Mathison, Dispensationalism, Rightly Dividing the People of God?, p. 33.
112 Ibid., p. 34.
113 Ibid. pp. 35-36.
114 This is the so-called Transitive Property, an axiom of algebra: if a=b and b=c, then a=c.
115 Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p. 219.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Lesson 5: A Future Kingdom for Israel (Part 7)

Territorial Promises

As we have seen, non-dispensationalists argue that the inspired commentary on the Old Testament, viz., the New Testament, teaches that many of the promises made to Israel are in fact realized in the church.

It is also true, according to the critics, that the Old Testament often testifies to the complete fulfillment of some land promises that dispensationalists teach will not be discharged by God until the millennium.

Consider the territorial promises made to the Jews in light of the following passages:

So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war. (Josh. 11:23)

So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. (Josh. 21:43)

"Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. (Josh. 23:14)

20 The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. 21 And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon's subjects all his life. (1 Kings 4:20-21)

According to non-dispensationalists, these and other passages teach that territorial promises have already been satisfied. There is nothing further that demands a millennial Jewish theocracy.

Fueled by these and other Old Testament passages and the previously discussed New Testament passages, critics go on to attack the dispensational literal hermeneutic. The argument is along these lines:

  • Dispensational literalism is faulty because it leads to claims of unfulfilled prophecy that are refuted by historic (non-prophetic) scripture, the very scripture for which it is more reasonable to take a literalistic approach. In other words, dispensationalism digs in its literalistic heels in all the wrong places.

  • Consequently (according to critics), all conclusions resulting from the simplistic literal approach are suspect. In particular, the radical distinction between Israel and the church looses its footing.

  • Once the radical distinction between the church and Israel is removed, the pretribulation rapture comes tumbling down with it.

Next we will examine critiques of the pretribulation rapture that are more direct.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Day Off

Taking the day off (the kids are out of school). See you tomorrow.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Lesson 5: A Future Kingdom for Israel (Part 6)

Critique of Dispensational Premillennialism

Non-dispensationalists accuse dispensationalists of being over simplistic and unrealistic with their literal approach to prophecy. Most importantly, they reject the argument that Old Testament promises to Israel demand a literal fulfillment.

Non-dispensationalists have a powerful argument: In interpreting Old Testament prophecy concerning Israel, we should use the only inspired commentary on the Old Testament: The New Testament.

Consider this passage from the prophet Joel:

28 "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD . (Joel 2:28-31)

This is a prophecy directed to Israel. Therefore dispensationalists look to a literal fulfillment with Israel (The Holy Spirit at work during the tribulation). However, non-dispensationalists see a non-literal fulfillment at Pentecost:

15These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 16No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17" 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. (Acts 2:15-20)

Here, according to non-dispensationalists, Peter sees fulfillment of Joel's prophecy not in national Israel, but in the church.

Similarly, we have a prophecy concerning the restoration of the Davidic throne:

11 "In that day I will restore David's fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, 12 so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name, “declares the LORD , who will do these things. (Amos 9:11-12)

Dispensationalists insist that this prophecy will be literally fulfilled in the millennium. Non-dispensationalists say it has already been fulfilled in the church (read Luke recording the teaching of James):

14Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. 15The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16" 'After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things'18that have been known for ages. (Acts 15:14-18)

Yet another example is found in Jeremiah, in that prophets famous promise of a New Covenant with Israel:

"The time is coming," declares the LORD , "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. (Jer. 31:31)

This is very clearly directed to Israel, and so dispensationalists insist it will not be fulfilled until God returns His attention to the Jews after the rapture. Non-dispensationalists, once again, point to a non-literal fulfillment with the church:

6But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is foun6ded on better promises. 7For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8But God found fault with the people and said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 9It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. 10This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Heb. 8:6-12)

The book of Hebrews teaches that the day of the New Covenant has already arrived, and was fulfilled in the first coming. It has not been, as dispensationalism teaches, placed in abeyance awaiting the Second Coming.

There are of course other verses that speak of the New Covenant as being in effect now, such as Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb 9:15, 12:24.

Next we will look at the promises of land made to Abraham and his descendants. In particular, we will examine passages that indicate that those promises have already been met.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Lesson 5: A Future Kingdom for Israel (Part 5)

I have decided to add a little more scriptural support for dispensational premillennialism before launching into a critique.

Millennial Kingdom

Dispensationalism points to many passages in the Old Testament that are said to foresee the millennial kingdom:

17 "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. 20 "Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. 21 They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. 23 They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD , they and their descendants with them. 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain," says the LORD . (Isa. 65:17-25)

In the New Scofield Reference Bible, the heading for verses 18-25 is: Millennial conditions in the renewed earth with the curse removed. Scofield apparently concedes that verse 17 speaks not of the millennium but of the final state, i.e., eternity, but that a transition to the millennium is made in verse 18.

We have already noted that dispensationalism teaches of a rebellion at the end of the millennium. After Satan is loosed, he will gather followers in a final short-lived battle that is summarily terminated with fire from heaven. Those participating in the rebellion, given that they were living in a millennial paradise with the curse removed, constitute something like a second fall of man.

Another passage from Isaiah is said to point to the Davidic Kingdom (realized during the millennium). The heading from the New Scofield Reference Bible is: Davidic Kingdom to be restored by Christ: its character and extent.

6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. 9They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. (Isa. 11:6-10)

One last passage from Isaiah said to be a prophecy of the millennium:

1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: 2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3 Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD , to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isa. 2:1-4)

The heading from the New Scofield Reference Bible is A vision of the coming kingdom.

The Restoration of Israel

There are many passages that dispensationalism points to as promising the restoration and return to prominence of the nation of Israel. One of the more striking, headlined by Israel's Restoration in the Kingdom in the New Scofield Reference Bible, is:

14 I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. 15 I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them," says the LORD your God. (Amos 9:14-15)

Dispensationalism, when using this passage to refer to the restoration that occurs in the millennium, must deal with the fact that verse 15 implies forever (never again to be uprooted) as opposed to just 1000 years. J. Dwight Pentecost writes:
That which characterizes the millennial age is not viewed as temporal but eternal … Israel's covenants that people, the land, a national existence, a kingdom, a King, and spiritual blessings in perpetuity. Therefore there must be an eternal earth in which these blessings can be fulfilled.

In other words, the blessing to Israel begins in the millennium but is continued forever in the eternal state.

Other passages that are said to teach of the restoration of Israel are: Isa 11:11-16; Ezek 34:12-13, 36:24; Jer. 23:3, 7-8; Zech. 8:7-8.

108 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 490.
109 Ibid., p. 561.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Truth from Probability

For the next two weeks, as mandated by the cruel Scottish task master who is my boss, I am going to be talking with the senior-high kids in our youth group about "Truth".

One approach to this problem addresses a particular truth, that Jesus is the Son of God, and has a mathematical flavor that is very appealing. This is to look at the Messianic prophecies and compute the probability that one person could have fulfilled them all.

There have been some high profile estimates of this number. A fairly common result is one in 10170.

You can have lots of fun with this number. For example, there are about 1079 atoms in our universe. So one in 10170 is something like successfully finding, given a single chance, a specific atom randomly placed somewhere in universe. And for good measure, doing it again. And to top it off, pick your own name out of a hat containing all the names of the roughly 100 billion (1011) people who ever lived.

Anyway, my question is this.

Suppose we accept as accurate the 10170 number. Is this meaningful at all?

This is an oversimplification, but what gives me angst in trying to come up with a way to use this "result" is:
  • As believers we get great comfort that we can look back at the Messianic prophecies and see how they were fulfilled in Christ. But we already believe in Christ and the inspiration of scripture. So in some sense we should not be "surprised" that Christ fulfilled all the prophecy. Rather we should be concerned if He hadn't.

  • For a non-believer, will this number be convincing of anything? A non-believer might accept that the prophecies were written before the time of Christ, but almost by definition they will not accept the accuracy of the historic account of Jesus. Won't an unbeliever, one who is mathematically literate enough to glimpse the significance of a number like 10170, merely conclude that it proves the historic account of Jesus was constructed by learned men who knew the prophecies?

It seems to me that the probability argument, while fascinating, is effective only for someone who (a) accepts the biblical details of Christ's life and death; (b) can appreciate the meaning of the number; but (c) does not believe Him to be the Son of God.

Does such a person exist? Or should I say, what is the probability of encountering such a person?

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

200,000 Protestant Denominations?

There is a recent post at DeoOmnisGloria on Catholic Marian doctrine, specifically that Jesus was an only child, which is but a ramification of the stronger doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

I was interested in a tangential claim made in the DeoOmnisGloria post:
Mary's virginity was a common belief until the Protestant Revolution (I refuse to call it a Reformation since it has scattered Christianity into over 200,000 denominations).

The claim of the number of denominations attributed to Protestantism seems to grow exponentially. I would like to know the source of the "over 200,000" number. A simple calculation shows that such a number implies one Protestant denomination for every 30,000 people on earth. Every modest city in the world should have, not its own church, but its own Protestant denomination.

Looking at it in more detail, Philip Jenkins provides these year 2000 data in his new book The Next Christendom:
DenominationAdherents (millions)
Roman Catholic1057
Anglicans 79
Marginal Christians 26

Based on these data, the "over 200,000" number implies one denomination for approximately every 1700 Protestants. That to me is manifestly absurd.

The 200,000 number is 10 times bigger than the marginally defensible number of around 20,000. However, even that number does not hold up to scrutiny.

In David A. Barrett’s respected World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World A.D. 1900—2000 (ed. David A. Barrett; New York: Oxford University Press, 1982) the number of Christian denominations is given as 22,190. If a Catholic stops there and concludes that there is one Roman Catholic denomination and all others are Protestant, then you might be at the source of the 20,000 number. However, Barrett breaks his data down this way:

Denominational BlockNumber of Denominations
Roman Catholic223
Non-white Indiginous10,956
Anglican 240
Marginal Protestants (JW, LDS, etc.) 1490
Catholic (Non Roman)504

So a truly defensible number is not 200,000, or 20,000, but 8196. However, even that is probably an over estimate due to Barrett's loose definition of denomination. For example, Eric Svendsen has written:
In reality, Barrett indicates that what he means by "denomination" is any ecclesial body that retains a “jurisdiction” (i.e., semi-autonomy). As an example, Baptist denominations comprise approximately 321 of the total Protestant figure. Yet the lion’s share of Baptist denominations are independent, making them (in Barrett’s calculation) separate denominations. In other words, if there are ten Independent Baptist churches in a given city, even though all of them are identical in belief and practice, each one is counted as a separate denomination due to its autonomy in jurisdiction. This same principle applies to all independent or semi-independent denominations. And even beyond this, all Independent Baptist denominations are counted separately from all other Baptist denominations, even though there might not be a dime’s worth of difference among them. The same principle is operative in Barrett’s count of Roman Catholic denominations. He cites 194 Latin-rite denominations in 1970, by which Barrett means separate jurisdictions (or diocese). Again, a distinction is made on the basis of jurisdiction, rather than differing beliefs and practices.

The Catholic claims of denominational numeric explosion are not supported by the data. (They are also irrelevant, but that is a different story.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Death of the wicked

The debate over "does God love everyone?"was quite nasty, and I have no real desire to stoke the embers. However, I will try to summarize the arguments.

Arminians argued that God loves everyone and desires all men to be saved, and that He does not delight in the death of the wicked.

Most of the Reformed argued that God loves everyone, although He offers only "saving love" for the elect. Their universal love is not the prevenient grace of Arminians, which although non-existent at least has the virtue that by all appearances it is worthy of the mantle universal love, for it (mistakenly) postulates potential salvation for all. No, the universal love for many Reformed is merely that God does not make life as miserable as possible for the non-elect:
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt. 5:45)

Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." (Acts 14:17)

Indeed, who could argue otherwise: by measures of the pleasures of this world, the wicked often do quite well.

I argued a position—unfairly characterized as Hyper-Calvinism that you can call this love if you like, but I would not use that term, preferring the more accurate common grace. This so-called love offers little to the recipient other than an infinitesimal calm before an eternal storm of agonizing punishment. If I am non-elect, I would greatly prefer the prevenient grace of the Arminians to the universal love of certain Calvinists.

This universal love was offered by some Reformed as mitigating the clear but unpleasant teaching of scripture that God hates (e.g., Rom. 9:13). Yes, God hates, but He also loves those He hates. People can hate and love a person can they not? Perhaps, for what that is worth. Although the analogy, even if superficially valid, ultimately breaks down, for which human can say to another "I love you, but because I also hate you I will subject you to eternal torture in the fires that don’t consume, and there is no possibility of reconciliation or escape." This, however, is what God is said to do with those He hates and loves.

Today, I just want to comment briefly on an Arminian pillar:
For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD . Repent and live! (Ezek 18:32)

This is often presented as a "gotcha" against Calvinism. What is omitted in such instances are some other passages such as
And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess. (Deut. 28:63)

Here we read of God rejoicing over the destruction of the wicked. And then we have, regarding Eli's sons:

If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?" Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the LORD desired to kill them. (1 Sam. 2:25)

Apparently the Lord does desire the death of some. And yet Ezek. 18.32 is as God-breathed and true as 1 Sam 2:25. What gives?

The answer, of course, is what the answer always is in these apparent contradictions, the various forms of God's will. In the simplest schema, He decrees and he commands. He can decree the death of the wicked while at the same time commanding that all repent.

There is no way around such a conclusion without destroying the harmony of scripture. God can and does will that all repent and be saved, while at the same time wills that only the elect are saved.

The Arminian stratagem is almost always the same: To isolate passages where God exercises His preceptive will (Ezek. 18:32) to argue a position, a position that upon detailed examination is repudiated by other passages where God exercises His decretive will (1 Sam 2:25).

Hyper-Calvinism is an overused criticism—generally meaning anyone's Calvinism that is viewed as "harsher" than my own. Personally, I reserve it for those who teach God is active in reprobation (as embodied in the simplistic statement "God decreed that Judas sinned" without all the qualifications regarding God's eternal decree, free will, and secondary causes, as carefully laid out in scripture and the Reformed confessions.) I would also use it against those who teach that a sign of one's election should be in evidence before they are to be given the gospel. I am sometimes a recipient of this slander because I do not believe that God's offer of salvation is universally genuine. I see no evidence of it in scripture, I see only the opposite (e.g., Luke 5:32). This by no means implies that we as evangelists are to attempt in some manner to restrict those to whom we witness. The analogy I have used many times is that a universal genuine offer, in light of unconditional election, puts God in the position of "genuinely" offering salvation to a blind man if he can describe the image on the post card he has just been handed. More accurately, it is a "genuine" offer to any dead man who can resurrect himself.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Lesson 5: A Future Kingdom for Israel (Part 4)

Pretribulation Rapture: Three More Reasons

3. The pretribulation rapture is demanded by the Book of Revelation. The church, after being prominent in the first three chapters of Revelation, is totally absent from chapters 4 through 18, which describe the tribulation.

Instead of the Church, the people mentioned explicitly in the tribulation text are the 144,000 Jewish converts chosen and sealed from among the tribes

Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. (Rev. 7:4)

1Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. 3And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. (Rev. 14:1-3)

Some dispensationalists interpret Rev. 4:1 as a reference to the rapture:

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." (Rev. 4:1)

The notes in The New Scofield Reference Bible read105:
Beginning with [Rev. 4.1] the viewpoint of John is from heaven. Since the word "church" does not appear again in Revelation until 22:16, the catching up of John from earth to heaven has been taken to be a symbolic representation of the translation [rapture] of the Church as occurring before the events of the tribulation described in chs. 6-19.

Consistent with this viewpoint, the twenty four elders represent the "church rewarded" which has been raptured and is now in heaven during the tribulation:

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. (Rev: 4:4)

Finally, in what Lewis Sperry Chafer declares to be the "determining passage"106, we have a promise to the godly Philadelphia church that they will be spared:

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (Rev 3:10)

The Philadelphia church is viewed as representing the entire Church, hence the Church will be kept from the hour of trial, i.e., it will be raptured.

4. Paul’s declaration that the restrainer must be removed, as found in the following: passage:

6And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. (2 Th. 2:6-8)

The unnamed restrainer is identified by dispensationalists as either the Church or the Holy Spirit working through the Church to curb iniquity.

Once again, the notes of The New Scofield Reference Bible , concerning the restrainer:
It seems evident that is the Holy Spirit: (a) in the O.T. the Holy Spirit acts as a restrainer of iniquity (Gen. 6:3); (b) the restrainer is referred to by the use of both neuter and masculine genders as in John 14:16-17; 16:12-13 concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit; and (c) it will be when the restrainer is “taken out of the way” that the man of sin will be revealed; this will be when the church is translated [raptured] and the Spirit’s restraining ministry through it will cease. Observe however, that it is not said that the restrainer will be "taken away", but "taken out of the way"; thus the Holy Spirit will continue a divine activity to the end time… [e.g., the tribulation saints]107

The bottom line is that the church be removed before the lawless one [the antichrist] can be revealed. For this reason a pretribulation rapture is demanded.

5. Demanded by dispensationalism itself. This is actually the most important reason and one we have mentioned repeatedly. If God has two plans for two peoples, and the plan for Israel has been placed in abeyance, then it is logical that the Church is removed when God turns his attention back to the Jews.

Stay tuned for scriptural arguments against dispensational premillennialism.

105 The New Scofield Reference Bible, C. I. Scofield ed., see reference to Rev. 4:1.
106 Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:369.
107 The New Scofield Reference Bible, C. I. Scofield ed., see reference to 2 Th. 2:3.