Dispensationalism

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (2)

Part One

The Main Verses

In this installment all I want to do is to set down the main verses which are used in discussions about the rapture.  Let me make it clear that this is not to say that many other passages must be considered so as to understand the doctrine.  As I will be at pains to show, the rapture is not a teaching that can be established by simply comparing proof-texts.  The doctrine excites many passions and this can lead to wishful thinking in exegesis.  Some of the verses listed below are brought very hardly and reluctantly to bear on the doctrine we are considering.

We have already taken a quick look at 1 Thessalonians 4:17, but there are other salient passages.  1 Corinthians 15:50-58 is often brought in to help.  Then Jesus’s words in John 14:1-3 must be considered. Also joining the fray are 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 13, Matthew 24:36-44, 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9, and Revelation 3:10.  Let’s try to situate each one of these.

1 Thessalonians 4:14-18

The main purpose of this passage is to give comfort to anxious saints who were concerned about loved ones dying off before the return of Christ.  To do that Paul tells the Thessalonians about something they seem not to have known (4:13).  This appears to be in contrast with what they knew very well, that is, the doctrine of the Day of the Lord (5:1-2).

There is no doubt that the snatching away of the saints described in this passage is for the purpose of finalizing the work of salvation begun at regeneration.  The Lord is described as coming from heaven amid the calls of a trumpet and of the archangel.  The meeting of all Christians with their Lord, including those who had been deceased for a long time, takes place “in the air”.  Nothing is said about which way Christ and His saints go from there, whether returning to heaven or continuing on to earth.  However, from the viewpoint of a taking out of people this passage is a direct statement (a C1 for the proposition that Christians will at some future time be ‘caught up’ to meet Christ in the air).

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

This passage is included in Paul’s resurrection chapter and comes only after Paul has spoken about the logic of resurrection; “as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” (15:49).  This “must” language is then given a terminal point in the next section where the Apostle writes,

Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. – 15:51-52.

This passage is revealing something new (a mystery), which speaks about a transformation of all Christians in an instant.  This “change” refers to the receiving of our resurrection bodies – those which will “bear the image of the heavenly.”

The language is clearly culminative, and one naturally connects it with Paul’s rapture teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4.  But there is no actual removal mentioned, only transformation.  This is not problematical since it fits nicely with Paul’s earlier argument.  But it is at best supportive of 1 Thess. 4:17, adding some new information about what occurs at the rapture.  Hence, it is a C3 statement for the rapture: if the the text coincides with 1 Thess. 4, as it seems to do, it declares that a change happens in an instant as the saint is caught away.

John 14:1-3

This passage is proleptic in that the “you” to whom our Lord refers is not primarily the disciples; for He says,

If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also – Jn. 14:3

Jesus cannot just be referring to those to whom He spoke but would intend His words to be taken in the context of His Second Advent (rather like the Preterist ‘proof-text’ in Matthew 10:23).  But what has this passage to do with the rapture?  Well notice that Christ is coming for “you”, which I take to be His people.  He comes to take them back to heaven (where He has been preparing places), although nothing is stated in regards to a transformation.

As for the timing of this gathering, it may appear cut and dried that it speaks to the Second Coming.  But if so, there is a problem created by our being with Christ in heavenly mansions (or rooms if you prefer) and Christ’s earthly reign.  If Christ is ruling on earth and we are in heaven the latter part of Jn. 14:3 cannot be true.

This leads to an inquiry over whether there will be an earthly reign of Christ.  If not, then there’s no problem.  But I’m going to step right over that question and just assume (for present purposes) that there will be one (in line with many OT passages and with Matt. 19:28).  Some may say that’s unfair and stop reading, but I am content to call the likes of H. Bonar, Ryle, Chafer, Bultema, Scroggie, R. Thomas, T. Garland, and even A. Hoekema to witness for me and move on regardless.

The timing of this event is obviously important to settle.

Those are the major rapture passages, but there are several which demand inclusion.

1 Thessalonians 1:10

This verse says we “wait for His Son from heaven” who “delivers us from the wrath to come.”  The mention of Jesus coming from heaven matches 1 Thessalonians 4 and John 14, but the “wrath” must be identified.  If it refers to the seven year Tribulation (derived, as we shall see, from Daniel 9), then the verse favors a pre-trib rapture.  However, if “wrath” bears a more restricted and technical sense, it could refer either to the last three and a half years of the said Tribulation (in which case it would argue for a mid-trib rapture), or the last part of the Tribulation when the bowls of God’s wrath are emptied out upon the planet (Rev. 16).

In any case this verse must be retro-fitted to an already established teaching to be of any corroborative help.

1 Thessalonians 5:9

God has not appointed us to “wrath”, but the same question of identification as above needs to be addressed to utilize this verse well.  It is not unfair though to mark the fact that these two verses are written to the Church.

Matthew 24:36-44

This passage must be understood in context, especially the “coming” of verses 27, 30, 37, and 39 must inform the meaning of “coming” in verse 44.  There can be no serious doubt that Christ is talking of His Second Coming in terms strongly reminiscent of OT prophecy (e.g. Dan 7; Isa. 63), and the parables of Matthew 13, especially verses 40-43.  This is after the Tribulation.

The question is, what does the Lord mean by “one will be taken and the other left” in 24:40-41?  Because of the close association with “the days of Noah” in 24:37-39 many expositors believe that the ones “taken” are whisked off to judgment.  Is this so?  Is there enough in the passage to come down on one side?  Furthermore, if those “taken” (paralambano) in verses 40-41 are actually raptured, doesn’t that pretty much seal a post-trib rapture?

More next time..

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (1)

I had been intending to write about the removal of the Church (the rapture) for quite a while now.  What galvanized me to do so now was a couple of entries by Ben Witherington and Roger Olson about the pretribulational rapture.  These men, (like them or not), do not usually write poorly, but their articles attacking the concept of the pretribulational rapture are pretty lame ducks, rehashing the same old populist presentations of Dispensationalism by sniping at Clarence Larkin’s charts, and bringing into the frame the names of Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, only to mock them.

Now let me be clear about this, although I am a pretribultionist, I am not about to contend for the parity of the doctrine of the rapture and its timing with the doctrine of the Trinity, or justification by grace through faith.  I will not die on a hill fighting for the timing of the rapture, be it pre, mid, prewrath, or post – tribulational.

But something needs to be said.  Olson says he read Dwight Pentecost’s Things To Come when he was 19 or 20 and was unconvinced.  No problem.  But he also claims Pentecost’s book is about the rapture.  He says,

Seeds of doubt about the rapture were planted in my mind by a book that was supposed to offer biblical and theological support for it—Things to Come by dispensationalist theologian Dwight Pentecost. I read it when I was nineteen or twenty and sensed something was wrong. Why would it take hundreds of pages of convoluted exegesis and argument to establish something so simple?

The answer, as anyone familiar with the book is well aware, is “it wouldn’t and it didn’t”.  Pentecost wrote about Biblical Eschatology, which, as Olson knows, involves a good deal more than the rapture.  The trouble is (and I understand this), there is an almost visceral reaction to the populist presentations of the rapture by many – and Witherington and Olson are examples.

In a sense, I don’t blame them.  Books about prophecy from a pretrib perspective commonly come with covers sporting an eclipse (lunar or solar, either will do); sometimes a dragon or two.  Whole ministries exist to promulgate sometimes simplistic versions of Dispensational premillennialism, occasionally tainted with American exceptionalism.  When John Hagee writes about the “Four Blood Moons” we are not really surprised.  There is always a ready market for ‘signs of the times’ books and newspaper exegesis.  I distance myself from such things.  I distance myself a little even from those good men who can scarcely write an article about anything unless pretribulationism or pre-wrath or what-have-you has some space allotted to it.

Nevertheless, I am irritated a bit when Dispensationalism or pretribulationism is given short shrift by Christians because they think that if they can plaster the names of Lindsey or LaHaye over it they have have dealt with it.  To be fair to Olson he does share some of his experiences with the more vulgar expressions of the doctrine, but he never deals with the biblical arguments. He simply says it’s not biblical.  I wonder how he would react if Arminianism was dispatched in such a manner?

Witherington informs us (in this video) that Matthew 24 is one of the main proof-texts for the rapture.  That is surprising to hear since I know of scarcely any Dispensationalist who teaches that it is (actually I am open to a possible association with Rev. 14, but deny that it has anything to do with the rapture of the Church).  In point of fact, Dispensationalists nearly all teach precisely what Witherington teaches about the text!  How could he not know this?

Regarding 1 Thessalonians 4 Witherington says that it depicts a welcoming entourage who go out (or up) to meet the returning Christ before he reigns on earth.  This is a good interpretation and is one of the challenges to the pretribulational position.  It ought to be heeded though that this interpretation relies upon extra-biblical materials.

What I want to do in the coming weeks, though probably at intervals, is to set out some arguments for pretribulationism and compare them with the other positions on the rapture of the Church.  To help me to do this I will be making use of the Rules of Affinity, whereby I designate the doctrine of the rapture a C3 doctrine: that is, a doctrine which has no direct scriptural proof but which is an inference to the best explanation of the assorted data pertaining to the rapture which is found throughout the Bible.

The Meaning of Harpazo

To start things off we’ll take a quick look at the word from which we get the term “rapture.”  That way we can have a baseline to work from.

The Greek verb harpazo means “to snatch away, to seize, or steal (in the sense of grab)”.  Other than the central rapture text in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, harpazo is used in Acts 8:39 to refer to the relocation of Philip: “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away”.  It is also used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2 and 4 to describe his (see 12:7) experience of being “caught up” to the third heaven.  We see it again in Revelation 12:5 of the male child (Christ) “who was to rule all nations” Who was “caught up to God and His throne”. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17 we read:

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up (harpagesometha) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

As the commentaries all recognize, the idea behind the verb implies force and suddenness.  The big question is, when will this snatching up occur?  That will be the question we’ll be considering in this series.

Part Two

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Review: ‘The People, The Land, and The Future of Israel’

Review of The People, The Land, and The Future of Israel, edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014, 349 pages.

The book under review is the result of a conference that was held in New York in support of the special place of Israel in the Scriptures.  Seventeen contributors put forth various articles under the headings of New Testament, Old Testament, Hermeneutics, Theology & Church History, and Practical Theology.  A Forward is provided by popular writer Joel Rosenberg. The Introduction is by Glaser, and a short Conclusion is by Bock.

The purpose of the book is to bring together studies advocating the place of “Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God’ as the subtitle has it.  The presenters come from the broadly premillennial camp; many are dispensationalists.

On the whole the articles are brief – about 12 to 15 pages on average, but for the most part each author has made good use of their allotted space.  It may be helpful to give a few general remarks about the contributions rather than choosing one or two pieces for extended comment.

In the first place I found Rosenberg’s Forward to be off-putting.  It is written in a journalistic parlance which is at odds with the tenor of most of the articles. It also focuses on biblical prophecies being fulfilled in our time, which seems a questionable assertion.  That said, I agree with the statement that the existence of the State of Israel today is testimony to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (17).  Nevertheless, I think the book could have done with a less popular opening.

Eugene Merrill’s survey of the Torah is not as good as I expected from such an author.  His advocacy of a ‘Creation covenant’ is unpersuasive, omitting mention of the crucial covenant-oath.  He surprisingly holds that the land grant, nationhood, and blessing “were fulfilled in biblical times” (35).  Although saying this does not mean that there is no future for national Israel, the references he uses (e.g. Gen. 15:18 & 22:17) do not really find fulfillment until the kingdom age.

Walter Kaiser’s chapter on “Israel according to the Writings” is well done and includes helpful treatments of the Davidic covenant, prophecies in Daniel, and providence in Esther.  Robert Chisholm’s chapter on the Prophets spends a lot of time arguing for “essential fulfillment which allows for human freedom” (54).  Chisholm refers to the prophecy to Ahab about the dogs licking his blood “in the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth” (1 Kings 21:19).  He observes that the dogs licked Ahab’s blood at Samaria, not Jezreel where Naboth was killed (59).  He believes the discrepancy shows that “God makes room for human freedom in the outworking of even irrevocable prophecy.” (60). In other words, he holds that prophecy can be fulfilled somewhat differently than written.  I found this article perhaps the least satisfactory of all the chapters in the book.  It sows doubt where there ought to be confidence.

In response to the Ahab prophecy it should be noted that Ahab’s repentance did seem to impact the pronouncement; the doom being transferred over to his son (1 Kings 21:29 with 2 Kings 9:25-26).  Further, 1 Kings 22:38 says the dogs licked Ahab’s blood “according to the word of the LORD”, which was true.  It does not mention the place where Naboth’s blood was licked up, most likely because of the change in Ahab’s outlook.  But this incident should not be used, as Chisholm uses it, as paradigmatic of long-term prophecy.  Chisholm states, “When fulfillment transcends the prophet’s time and context, the language takes on archetypal status and one should expect essential or generic, not exact or literal, fulfillment of prophecy.” (61).  There then follows examples of such “contextualized” “partial fulfillment.” Unsurprisingly, Ezekiel’s Temple sacrifices are one such example (65).  In my opinion this chapter hardly helps the aims of the book.

The next chapter, by Michael Brown, discusses Jewish traditional interpretations.  Since these are often speculative and sometimes wacky (a 150 foot tall ‘shrunken’ Adam on p. 81!), Dr. Brown’s talents might have been utilized better on another subject.

If the OT contributions are uneven, the NT contributions are much better.  The pieces by M. Wilkins (Matthew), and D. Bock (Luke-Acts), are both valuable.  Not far behind is M. Vanlaningham’s coverage of Romans, although strangely he doesn’t attend to the Olive Tree figure in Romans 11.  Craig Evans on the General Epistles spends too much time discussing authorship.  He even inserts the idea that Paul begrudged calling James one of the pillars of the early church (135).  His chapter is too generic to offer much solid help.

Craig Blaising on “Israel and Hermeneutics” is one of the best chapters in the book.  One gets the impression that he would have liked more space to really bring out his points.  But he does succeed in showing why supercessionism fails in regard to being comprehensive, congruent, and (too briefly) consistent and coherent.  His use of the argument from performative language hits home (160-162). Next follow two strong chapters from M. Saucy and J. Feinberg.  This part of the book is the best in my opinion.

The last part of The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel includes M. Vlach on “Israel in Church History” – a solid treatment.  There is also a fine chapter about Israel as an evidence for the truth of Scripture from M. Rydelnik.  Another interesting chapter, the last of the book, is a study of the positions on Israel taken by theological schools.  The survey is by Gregory Hagg.  As no school or denomination is mentioned the chapter lacks decisiveness, but is still worth reading.

The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel is a mixed bag.  The highlights are the chapters by Kaiser, Wilkins, Bock, Vanlaningham, Blaising, Saucy, Feinberg, Vlach, and Rydelnik.  The impression left by most of these authors is that they would have benefited from more space.  Chisholm’s chapter was most disappointing.  I could have done without the piece by Brown, and Evans didn’t do much for me.  The other chapters are quite good, but not great.  The decision to use endnotes instead of footnotes was unfortunate.

Despite some bright moments, all in all the work falls behind similar works such as David Larsen’s Jews, Gentiles, and the Church; Barry Horner’s Future Israel, and Israel, the Land and the People, ed. by H. Wayne House.

This book was provided free of charge by the publisher.

The Forgotten Covenant (Pt.4)

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

In this last part of our study of the “Priestly Covenant” I will try to answer some of the main objections which might be thrown at  what I have already stated.

1. If Christ is the Final Sacrifice for sins, how can there be a temple and sacrifices in the future?

This objection is based on a misunderstanding of the Book of Hebrews.  Mixed in with this is a subtle prejudice (usually of the non-pejorative sort) against the very idea of a temple and sacrifices.  I shall address the former issue more than the latter.

In Hebrews 7:12 the priesthood is said to be changed.  That being so, how can Levites officiate in any future temple?  The answer, of course, is that it is the High Priesthood which is under consideration in Hebrews (Cf. Heb. 4:14-5:5; 7:1-3, 11-13,23-27; 9:6-10, etc).  Interestingly, there is no High Priest mentioned in Ezekiel 4o-48; nor is there any Day of Atonement (of which the writer of Hebrews makes so much).  This is because Jesus combines both roles in himself (see Zech. 6:12-13).  As Jesus now officiates in the heavenly tabernacle (according to Heb. 8:2 & 9:24), when He returns it ought not surprise anyone that, having left a (surely) stupendous temple in glory He should enter a magnificent one on earth!

Hebrews 9:9 and 10:2 make it clear that all the gifts and offerings of the temple could not (and so cannot in any future scenario) cleanse the conscience.  It is Christ’s own sacrifice which does cleanse the conscience (Heb. 9:12-14), and clears the way for the blessings of the New Covenant (9:15).  It is also plain from 10:2 that in order for the sacrifices of the OT to continue, there had to be a “consciousness of sins”.  It is this consciousness which “the blood of bulls and goats” could not deal with.  Neither could they finally expiate sins (10:4).  Hence, Christ once-for-all offering is the only satisfaction for that task – it is the only propitiation (10:10-14).

Please notice that according to the writer of Hebrews the sacrifices and offerings of the Old Testament did not avail to “take away sins” (10:11).  So then, what was the point of them?  Well, they were “sacrifices for sins” (Heb. 5:1, 3; 7:27).  But they were not potent enough to cleanse the conscience and to provide “redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant” (9:15).

My question in regards to future sacrifices becomes, “how can future sacrifices and temple ministrations be disallowed if they won’t do the work which Christ alone could and did do?”  My answer is they cannot; not on that particular basis.

Added to this is the fact that, as I have said, Hebrews really concerns the High Priest, and there is no High Priest (of the Levitical sort) in Ezekiel’s [Millennial] Temple.

The question of the actual role of Millennial sacrifices is not my concern here; only whether temple sacrifices are obviated by anything said in the Book of Hebrews.  But certain passages which I take as referring to the future kingdom age speak of children and sinners and foreigners journeying to Jerusalem (see e.g. Isa. 65:18-23; Zech. 8:3-8; 14:16-20).  Will these people need to sacrifice as a mark of their inner acceptance of Christ’s work on the Cross?  I think it not improbable.  But again, my task here is not to explain future sacrifices, only to show that they are nowhere negated.  (For more see here).

2. If there is a temple and sacrifices in the Millennium, how can there be any such things in the New Heavens and Earth?

To put the question another way, if the Priestly Covenant is eternal, as it appears to be, how can there be a temple with sacrifices in the New Creation?

If we allow that a case for millennial sacrifices is not defeated by anything in the New Testament, particularly the Book of Hebrews, what about in the New Heavens and New Earth?  Here two issues present themselves:

First and foremost is Revelation 21:22, which in the midst of describing New Jerusalem reads:

But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

One of the main uses of a temple was to create a “sacred-space” within which God and man could meet.  In this context there is “no more curse” (Rev. 22:3), so everywhere is a sacred space.  The Divine Presence pervades it, so there is no need of a temple as such.  However, it needs to be noted that the glorious city itself is shaped like one enormous Holy of Holies (Rev. 21:15-16).  It is a Great Cube.

Still, there is no mention of sacrifices in it.  True, and it would be wrong to force an implication upon the text to help me along.  Still, the New Jerusalem is not the entirety of the New Heavens and Earth.  Revelation 21:24-26 state,

And the nations of those that are saved shall walk in its [New Jerusalem’s] light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it.  Its gates shall not be shut at all (there shall be no night there).  And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.

There will be nations dwelling on earth who, though they will have access to the New Jerusalem, are not occupants of its streets of gold.  Twice we are told that they make “pilgrimages” there to bring their glory and honor into the city.  But nothing is really said about what is happening on earth.  This leaves upon the possibility (which in view of the Priestly Covenant is more than a possibility), that a temple and sacrifices will be still on earth in eternity.  I see nothing to contradict this, although I confess that it may not sit easily with many people.

This, of course, is the substance of the second issue.  And all I can do is to point out that God made an everlasting covenant with Phinehas.  I am not attempting to explain all difficulties in this post.  I am simply trying to show that nothing prevents the Priestly Covenant being sustained eternally.

3. Isn’t the covenant with the Levites connected to the Mosaic covenant which is temporary?

My final question can be answered easily enough.  First by pointing out that if the covenant with Phinehas is bounded by the temporary Mosaic Covenant then it is a rather pointless covenant;  for it would come about anyhow, without any requirement for God to enter into a covenant oath.  God could simply prophesy it like He did in other specific cases.

More than this, we have already noted that there are some important differences between the Solomonic Temple and ministrations and Ezekiel’s Temple and ministrations.  They are not exactly the same, and this caused the Jews to try to harmonize the conflicting details.  But if Ezekiel’s Temple is a New Covenant Temple with Christ as its Melchizedekian High Priest, Who reconciles the throne and the priesthood in Himself (Zech. 6:12-13), then the differences present no problem and the Priestly Covenant transcends the Mosaic Covenant, exactly as the Davidic Covenant, which was made under the Mosaic constitution, is not circumscribed by it.

This then is the Forgotten Covenant.  I hope these posts have helped shed some light upon it.

Some Mud That Sticks: An Insider’s Criticism of Dispensationalism

This is a repost of an article first posted in 2009.

 

It is well to note that the following charges against dispensationalism are not theological and exegetical in nature, but are more psychological and sociological.  Here is my opinion:

a. Pragmatism

 

It is our opinion that dispensationalism can be (and ought to be) wedded to a full-orbed systematic world and life view, but only if it begins to take itself more seriously and starts the painful process of self-examination.[1] In order to do this it must divest itself of the pragmatic outlook that it often clings to, and which spoils its thinking and stunts its theological development.  For present purposes we have in mind the following helpful definition of Pragmatism: “Pragmatism as a theory of knowledge says that a person is warranted in believing any proposition or theory that produces good results.”[2]

The lure of pragmatism is its emphasis upon short-term goal setting and tangible “success.”  This vision is what drives American society[3], and Christian institutions and publishing houses have, by and large, fallen for it “hook, line and sinker.”  It is our conviction that most if not all of the observations that follow stem from the influence of a pragmatic mindset.  Comments like “will it sell?” betray this wrong-headed attitude.  The real question is “is this important?,” “is it right?”  It ought to be borne in mind that many of the books cited in important theological works are not big sellers.  But it is superficial thinking to equate large sales numbers with influence. (more…)

The Forgotten Covenant (PT.3)

Part Two

After the vision of the enormous temple which ends Ezekiel one is left with some questions.  How could such an immense structure fit in Jerusalem as we know it?  Why would any cultic priesthood be necessary once Jesus had come and died for our sins?  And, doesn’t the Book of Hebrews negate the whole idea of priests and sacrifices?

I am going to leave aside the last two questions until I examine some objections in Part Four.  But this post will answer the first problem.  But before I do that I want to fill in the picture a little more by looking at some more prophetic references.

In Daniel’s prayer of confession in Daniel 9 we see him specifically make supplications for “Your city Jerusalem” (9:16) and “Your sanctuary” (9:17).  Gabriel’s answer addresses Jerusalem (9:24, 25) and the temple, which is doomed to destruction (9:26).  I am not concerned with the identity of the sanctuary in verse 26 (other than to say that, in my opinion, it is not Herod’s temple).  My interest is in whether Gabriel has any positive answer regarding God’s temple.  I believe he does.

In the list of six eschatological details which must be fulfilled after the seventy weeks (490 years) prophecy in verse 24, the sixth concerns the anointing of “the Most Holy” (this particular Hebrew term always designates a devoted thing or place in its other OT uses, never a person, as even some amillennial scholars are forced to admit).  Unless one spiritualizes the other five items and makes the sixth mean something different than its previous uses in the OT, this passage refers to a future temple which will stand when transgression is finished; when everlasting righteousness has been brought in, and all vision and prophecy has been sealed up.  Since none of these things happened at the first coming of Christ anyway (even prophets were functioning many years after Calvary), and since the anointing of the “Most Holy [Place]” is the last on the list, it makes more sense to put the fulfillment of this verse after the second coming.  This fits hand in glove with the provisions of the Priestly Covenant, with Jeremiah 33, and with the predictions in the last part of Ezekiel.

In Joel 3:17-21 we find ingredients which remind us of the kinds of eschatological blessings God promised to Israel.  Jerusalem will be “holy” (3:17), there will be blessings in production and general fecundity (3:18).  And, lo and behold, “A fountain shall flow from the house of the LORD (which means  a temple, just as we saw happening in Ezek. 47:6ff.).

This picture is further enhanced by the prophet Zechariah after the Exile.  For instance, in chapter 1:16-17 the message of the comforting of Zion and of the Lord’s own return to his house were hardly fulfilled from 500 B.C. through A.D. 70.  The Lord did not return to the Zerubabbel/Herod temple at all!  Yet in 2:10 we read,

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion!  For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst…

In the sixth chapter we have a prophecy of the Branch who, as is stated with great emphasis, will build the temple. (6:12-13a).  This man will also “bear the glory” and, as a priest-king (combining both offices in Himself), “will sit on His throne.” (6:13b).

This Messianic prophecy has Christ sitting as King.  He is a temple-builder!  Is this heaven and a spiritual throne and temple?  Only if you are an amillennialist bent on ignoring the Priestly Covenant and its promises.  Chapter 8:3 again has God returning to Jerusalem, which shall be called “the City of Truth”.  This is hardly an accurate description of Jerusalem in the first century A.D.

In Zechariah 13:2-3, after a New Covenant prediction of cleansing for Israel, there is an intriguing passage about a young man who attempts to act the prophet and who gets thrust through by his own parents for doing so.  I take this to apply to the time after Christ has come back in power, when certainly there will be no need of prophets.  I relate it to Gabriel’s fifth prediction in Daniel 9:4 about the sealing up of “the vision and prophecy.”  Then in chapter 14 we find the LORD coming with His saints (14:5c), ruling as “King over all the earth” (14:9), and then a passage which has the nations coming up to Jerusalem to “worship the King” who is explicitly called “the LORD of hosts” (14:16-17).  The “LORD’s house” and “sacrifices” are mentioned clearly in 14:20-21.  The eschatological context includes radical topographical changes which will completely alter Jerusalem – thereby very possibly making room for Ezekiel’s massive temple to be built (14:4-5).

Finally the last prophet in the OT, Malachi, has God directly speaking of “My covenant with Levi” which He wants to “continue” (Mal. 2:4).  In the next chapter, in a context reminding one of the second coming (cf. Rev. 21:11f.), we read about God purifying “the sons of Levi” (3:3) that they “may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness,” (and you need to have a temple to offer such sacrifices).  So the very last Old Testament prophet still appears to think that there is a future function for priests in a temple.  Did this occur in Jesus’ day?  When have Levites been purified?  The only question then is whether one is going to remember the covenant terms in Num. 25, Jer. 33, etc, and stick with them, or whether one is going to turn it magically into “Jesus and the Church” using typological and symbolic alchemy.

As for me, more than enough evidence has been presented to put forward a solid case for an incontrovertible and everlasting Priestly Covenant.  Next time I will consider some objections to what I have written.

 

The Forgotten Covenant (Pt.2)

Part One

Biblical Covenantalism tracks the covenants through Scripture for the sake of putting together a composite picture of God’s plan.  The covenants are the backbone of Scripture.  If we pay careful attention to these covenants as they arise, we will not be able to bypass the everlasting “covenant of peace” which God made with Phinehas and his descendents in Numbers 25.  The fact that a covenant of this kind is casually passed over with barely a mention and not traced out in Scripture is telling.  I think what it tells is that we tend to want to read our endings to the story into passages like this.  Coming to the covenants like this tends to muffle their testimony with a pious overlay of ‘the finished work of Christ.’

The Witness of Ezekiel

Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, was a priest (1:3), but evidently not in the line of Phinehas.  In chapters 10 and 11 we find the vision of God’s glory departing the (literal) Temple in Jerusalem.  Then after many chapters filled with denunciations and the occasional promise of blessing, we arrive at chapter 34.  Ezekiel 34 – 39 are tied together by the repetition of the refrain “mountains of Israel.”  The prophet had employed this phrase before, though sporadically (in chapters 6, 19 & 33), but now it becomes a kind of mantra, appearing eleven times in these chapters.

Examination of the uses of this refrain does not come within the scope of the present study, but I might notice the following:

1. Each usage is connected with a prophetic oracle, whereas in the first part of the book it centers on contemporary events.

2. In chapters 36, 37, and even 38 the reference is to deliverance and kingdom blessing.

3. In chapter 39 the refrain is used to locate the scene of future judgment of Israel’s enemies prior to the kingdom age.

In this prophetic climactic context we read about God raising up David (34:23-24; 37:24-25) in an Edenic environment (34:25-27; 36:35).  This recalls the promises in the Davidic Covenant which we saw in Jeremiah 33.  But the Priestly Covenant is also alluded to by Ezekiel in these contexts.

First, it ought to be clear that we are driven into the future by the New Covenant language of 36:26-28.  Add to this the picture of restoration in 36:34-35 and one is presented with a decision: either turn the whole context into some sort of overdone typological mirage, or take it as read and place it in the eschaton.  This end times scene is furthered with the famous prophecies of the dry bones and the two sticks in chapter 37.  Right at the tail end we come across this statement:

Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst foreverMy tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore. (37:26-28).

This sets the scene for what is coming in chapters 40 to 48 and the detailed blueprint for a future temple or sanctuary in Israel’s New Covenant age.

The Millennial Temple and the Priestly Covenant

I take the liberty of speaking of the great temple in Ezekiel 40 and following (which is logically equated with the new sanctuary in chapter 37), as “the millennial temple.”

I referred to the “covenant of salt” with the Levites in Numbers 18:19.  That covenant had to do with the right of the priests to eat off the daily offerings.  This covenant was within the Levitical prescriptions of the Mosaic institutions, but was everlasting and so would be expected to transcend the curtailment of the Mosaic Covenant.  Hence, it is also seen under Israel’s New Covenant conditions. (There is another covenant of salt in 2 Chronicles 13:5 which relates to David and his lineage.  As such it is within the terms of the Davidic Covenant, if not synonymous with it).  As salt does not perish the idea as related to covenant is probably of indestructibility (G. Wenham) and remaining inviolate (A. Noordtzij), although it may invoke a curse against the violator (F.C. Fensham).  Unsurprisingly then, in Ezekiel’s future temple administration the priests are given the offerings as food, just as the covenant of salt would demand (Ezek. 44:29-31).

Just consider these ten lines of evidence (extracted from a previous post) for the actuality of a future ‘Millennial’ Temple: (more…)

The Forgotten Covenant (Pt.1)

Question: Which plainly stated Covenant in the Bible is most often neglected?

The answer is the covenant which the LORD made with Phinehas in the Book of Numbers.

The circumstances surrounding this covenant centers around the doctrine of Balaam as it was realized at Baal Peor (Cf. Num.31:16; Rev. 2:14).  Amid the idolatry and fornication a Simeonite by the name of Zimri openly brought a Midianite woman into the camp of Israel and took her into his tent to have sexual relations with her.  This happened even while Israelites were “weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” (Num. 25:6).

Phinehas, who was Aaron’s grandson, witnessed this brazen act of “sexual liberation” and struck the man and the woman through with a javelin (25:8).  This act of priestly zeal stopped a plague which had broken out within the camp which had claimed the lives of twenty-four thousand people.  God’s response to this act was to initiate a “covenant of peace” with Phinehas and his descendents.  This is said to be “a covenant of an everlasting priesthood.” (25:13).

Some centuries later, the Psalmist, in recounting some of the most memorable moments of Israel’s history, referred to the incident at Baal of Peor (Psa. 106:28-31).  In verses 30 and 31 it says,

Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was stopped.  And that was accounted to him for righteousness to all generations forevermore. 

This covenant of peace between God and the descendents of Phinehas comes after the mention of a “covenant of salt” given to the Levites “as an ordinance forever” (Num. 18:19).  The ordinance has to do with eating from the heave offerings.  The exact relationship between these two covenants is not easy to pin down, although they are certainly complementary.  I shall say a little more about this further on.

The descendents of Phinehas the son of Eleazar (Exod. 6:23) include Zadok, who is identified as “of the sons of Eleazar” in 1 Chronicles 24:3.  During the attempted usurpation of the throne by Adonijah (1 Ki. 1:7-8), Abiathar deserted David.  The aged king responded with having Abiathar removed from the priesthood, thus ensuring that Zadok’s line (the descendents of Phinehas), kept the High Priesthood (1 Ki. 2:26-27).  This becomes important when we get to Ezekiel.

The Witness of Jeremiah

Jeremiah wrote during some of the most turbulent times in Israel’s history.  Chapters 30 through to 34 (and even possibly 35) form a sort of thematic scholia on the covenants.  Among the main prophetic teaching in the section is the prediction about “the time of Jacob’s trouble” in 30:7 (cf. Mk. 13:19-20), a forecast about Israel serving “divid their king, whom I will raise up to them” (30:9), God’s overtures of covenant steadfastness towards Israel in 31:1-4, with the LORD even calling the families of Israel “O Virgin of Israel!” in 31:4 and 21.  Then there is New Covenant language in 31:11-12, which goes on to include the line,

I will satiate the soul of the priests with abundance… (31:14a).

This comes before the famous New Covenant promise of 31:31-37.  The next chapter is about Jeremiah purchasing “poor” real estate amid promises of future peace and prosperity (32:14-15, 36-42).  Next comes the great (and much neglected) thirty-third chapter.  First we get a description of the tearing down of the houses to serve as fortifications against the Babylonians (33:4-5), but it quickly turns in outlook to more prosperous times to come, including cleansing from sin (see 33:8).  Then comes the passage in 33:14-26 which cites or alludes to four covenants within a New Covenant setting (This highlights my contention that the New Covenant is needed for the [literal] fulfillment of these other covenants).  Coupled with the promise to fulfill the Davidic Covenant in 33:17-18 and 21-22 are promises that God will also preserve the Levites to minister to Him.  The latter passage reads,

Thus say the Yahweh: If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night [which I take as a reference to the Noahic Covenant in Genesis 8:22], so that there will not be day and night in their season, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, or with the Levites, the priests, My ministers.  As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured [a clear allusion to the Abrahamic Covenant], so will I multiply the descendents of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.

The type of ministry which the Levites are promised is described as offering “burnt offerings…to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually” (33:18).

While nobody disbelieves the Davidic Covenant in Jeremiah 33, the same cannot be said for the covenant with the Levites mentioned in the same breath.

More to come…

 

Has the Davidic Covenant Been Initially Realized in the Church?

This is a slightly revised version of what I wrote as a response to a question from progressive dispensationalist Darrell Bock about the inauguration of the Davidic Covenant at the first coming of Christ.  

Darrell Bock: How can a dispensationalist see the current application of the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant (see the Last Supper in procuring forgiveness we now experience) and not see the Davidic covenant being initially realized by what Jesus has done, as Luke 3:16 predicts and Acts 2:14-36 proclaims?

My Answer

With regard to the Abrahamic and the New Covenants, I think the NT is very clear about their application to the Church.  Galatians 3 and Romans 4 deal with the application of the Abrahamic Covenant to the Church; at least the parts of it which are appropriate.  1 Corinthinans 11:23-26, 2 Corinthians 3:6 (cf. also 2 Cor. 6:14-18) pin the New Covenant securely on the Church.  These explicit statements settle the question for the Abrahamic and New Covenants.  But the Davidic Covenant is quite another issue.  Here one is dealing with implications and inferences which can bend in different directions.

Firstly, in Luke 3 Jesus has not yet been baptized and presented as Christ. The two phases of Christ’s work are bundled together in the passage in typical OT fashion. The baptism with the Holy Spirit I take to be the New Covenant promise of the Spirit’s vitalizing coming to Israel with the kingdom. There is no Church yet in view as far as the context of the revelation goes. Jesus is rejected by Israel, but He has come, and that fact cannot be reversed. At His coming Jesus introduced the New Covenant (Lk. 22:14-20), yet in a context in which the kingdom is now driven into the future (Lk. 22:29-30).

Thus I see the first phase of John’s prediction; the baptism with the Spirit (Lk. 3:16) initialized in the New Covenant made with those who would be foundational to the Church (Cf. Eph. 2:20). This explains the use of Spirit language in Acts 2 where these ‘foundations’ (minus Paul) were present.

Yet the full realization of that blessing as it pertains to Israel (per John’s audience and context in Lk.3), awaits the Second Advent. At that time Jesus comes in judgment (the “fire” and “winnowing” language in Lk. 3:16 & 17), after which He inaugurates the New Covenant with Israel along the OT pattern.

That there is some sort of “already” aspect here is true, yet I would want to lay stress upon the object of that “already” – viz. the “new man”, the Church, not Israel. Here is where there is some chronological transition between “the Church age” and the “times of restoration” which Peter was holding out to Israel in Acts 3 (and in Acts 2 for that matter). I take Acts 3:19-21 as referring to the Davidic New Covenant Kingdom.

In the Acts passage (Acts 2:14-36) we face several issues, none of which I will pretend to give the final answer to. I will try to move through the passage briefly to bring out the logic of my position.

In Acts 2:14-21 there is the debated use of the Joel prophecy preceded by the “this is that” formula (v.15). The first thing to say is that whichever interpretation is brought to the use of Joel 2, nobody believes these extraordinary happenings (of vv.19-20) actually occurred at Pentecost (e.g. R. N. Longenecker). Further, the Holy Spirit was not poured out on “all flesh” (v.17). So we have to ask, what was Peter doing?

My answer is that Peter was still thinking within the basic framework of OT eschatology and Jewish expectation which we find in the Gospels and in Acts 1:6. His immediate concern in this setting was to point to the Cross and (especially) the Resurrection as the eschatological breaking- in of God into Israel’s history. The “this” of v.15 is answered by the references to the resurrection throughout Peter’s speech (vv. 24, 30, 31, 32). This is what proved that Jesus was “both Lord and Christ” (v.36).

The reference to the outpouring of the Spirit (vv.17-18, 33) is intended to show the Jews that the New Covenant has been inaugurated, and that there is still opportunity for them to repent and believe (in this sense the baptism of v.38 may be seen as a partial fulfillment of John’s baptism).

Of course, the nation did not believe this message. They rejected it again in chapter 3:12-26, where the expectation of the arrival of the Davidic Kingdom was still patently in the air (see esp. 3:19-21). In other words, these were good faith offers of the kingdom, referred to by Peter as “the times of refreshing” (3:19) and “times of restoration” (3:21), which were rejected by all but a relative few.

Viewed this way the one work of Christ in its two phases of Cross and Crown are still held together in Acts 2 and 3. If so, the “signs and wonders” of Acts 2:19 are in a real sense, still at the doorstep pending national acceptance of Jesus as Messiah; not only crucified Messiah, but Risen Messiah – bringing the two phases into close proximity.

Allowing this line of reasoning helps us with the Joel prophecy. How so? Because the “signs” and “wonders” which Jesus did prior to Calvary (v.22), portend the “signs” and “wonders” of v.19 which speak to the Second Coming. Here I again appeal to Acts 3:19-21 for help.

If I haven’t lost everyone, let me proceed to Acts 2:25-35 and try to fit it into my picture.

Jewish national acceptance in the fact of the Risen Christ ought to have come because the OT predicted it (vv. 25-28 cf. Psa. 16). For present purposes I shall forego verses 25-29 and pick it up in Acts 2:30. Progressive Dispensationalists like Dr. Bock appeal to this verse because it speaks about the “raising up” and the investiture of Christ upon the Davidic throne. If this was what actually happened in Acts 2 I would have to concede the point. But as I see it this “raising up” is a reference to Christ’s resurrection not installation (see esp. v.32). As I have said, the resurrection was uppermost in Peter’s mind in these verses. The next verse proves this by saying that David “spoke concerning (peri) the resurrection.” (2:31). In verse 33 the emphasis is now on the ascension “to the right hand of God”, which I do not take as a reference to the throne of David, for otherwise Acts 3:19-21 makes no sense to me (cf. also Rev. 3:21).

Acts 2:33 appeals to the coming of the Spirit, yet actual fulfillment of the Joel New Covenant prophecy awaits the condition of national repentance, which was not forthcoming. The quotation of Psalm 110:1 refers then to the present continuing session of Christ in heaven awaiting the fulfillment of the Davidic New Covenant kingdom announced, first by John the Baptist, and then by Peter.

I hope this rather convoluted explanation will be seen as viable. Whichever position is taken on Acts 2 and 3, it is easy to get ones theological wires crossed. This is my attempt to sort them out.

Renewing Dispensational Theology: A Suggested Path (2)

PART ONE

This completes the thoughts offered previously.

4. Systematic Theology

Coming now to Systematic Theology the first thing that must be said is that the pretended stand for a partial system must be summarily dropped. Dispensational Theology cannot be switched out for the term Dispensational Premillennialism. In point of fact, I make bold to say that the notion of Dispensational Premillennialism is a bit of an odd bird without a full-orbed system to back it up. Most Dispensationalists have been blithely contented to append their eschatology on to the end of another system – most often the Reformed position. But this is a dubious, and, let us admit it, halfsighted maneuver.

When DT is tagged onto an already developed system of theology it can only present itself as a correction to certain aspects of that system of theology. In so doing it tangles with the methodological presuppositions of that theology. But because it allies itself so often to say, Reformed theology, it must act deferentially towards Reformed formulations in areas other than ecclesiology and eschatology. For if it failed to acknowledge Reformed theology’s right to assert itself in these other areas – the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man and sin, the doctrine of salvation, for example – it could not think of itself as Reformed. This is because in claiming its right to question Reformed assumptions in any theological corpora save in regard to the Last Things (and perhaps the Church), Dispensational theology would be asserting its right to formulate ALL its own doctrines independently of other theologies. It would grow to dislike its assumed role as a beneficial parasite, cleaning up areas of another theological system, and would wish to be “Dispensational” in every area! Ergo, even if its formulations of all the theological corpora were closely aligned with Reformed theology here and there, they would be its own formulations! This is precisely what I am pleading for!

Every knowledgeable person knows that Systematic Theology ought to be an outgrowth of Biblical Theology. The fact that most Dispensationalists are content to tack their views on to an already existing whole system doesn’t speak well for their Biblical Theology. For if Dispensational Biblical Theology cannot produce the impetus to formulate a distinctive and whole Systematic Theology of its own perhaps the trouble goes deeper? I believe it does, and that reformulating Dispensational Theology from a Biblical Covenantalist viewpoint gives you all the main points of traditional Dispensational Eschatology and Ecclesiology, but it also gives you enough material from which to formulate clear and distinctive versions of Prolegomena, Theology Proper, Anthropology, Christology, Pneumatology as well. As I have said elsewhere, I do not think that tracking the “dispensations” produces enough usable doctrine to work up a solid systematics or worldview. If one is going to follow the standard definitions of Dispensationalism as a “system of theology” there will be slim pickings when it comes to forging a Dispensational Systematic Theology. The irony should not be lost on us.

In the last part of my series Christ at the Center I tried to sum up the strong Christological emphasis of Biblical Covenantalism with some of the solid by-product from which robust doctrines in Systematic Theology could be constructed. Although I have recorded over two hundred lectures in Systematic Theology along conventional lines, I think if I were to try to write a volume I would use the triad God, Man and the World. Beginning with the title “God Has Spoken” and introducing epistemological and ontological concerns, which in turn require ethical responses, I would ask questions about the knowability of God and (following Calvin) the knowability of ourselves in Creation. This introduces the doctrine of Revelation. Here I would want to press the joint reliance of the Sufficiency and Clarity of Scripture for the job ahead. That would open the door to hermeneutical questions.

Even so, dealing with Christ I would take up the same rubric: God, Man and the World. In this way I would attempt to discuss the pre-existence of Christ along with the incarnation and cross and resurrection. I would want to ‘lace’ the whole Systematics with Eschatological (and teleological) concerns, being careful to converge these themes in the section called “Eschatology” at the end of the work. This way one would hopefully see the inevitability of the convergence rather than now turning to “The Last Things.” The covenants of Scripture, dealing as they do with the same triad of God, Man and the World, could help accomplish this.

5. Worldview

Contrary to some views, Systematic Theology sets out the Bible’s teaching on God, Man and the World. It does not go cap-in-hand to worldly science and unbelieving philosophy because it knows that the Biblical Worldview is the only workable worldview. (more…)