Puritan Gems

Friday, December 29, 2006

Gospel and Law

Following hot on the heels of Puritan Lad, I want to add some clarity around the law, and how it relates to Christians today.

There is no difference between OT law and NT law, it is the same law, just as the Gospel is the same gospel in the OT and NT. The unique function of the law is to convict us of our sin:

Romans 7:7 (NIV)
"What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet."

Biblical law can be divided into 3 parts:
1. Civil Law - those laws that were applied to Israel to ensure the proper running of their society, and relevant to their specific place and position in history. This is where the laws regarding Israels conduct towards other nations and their traditions were, and were put in place to ensure the survival of the Israelites at that point in history. Our society today is different, therefore these laws do not specifically apply to our society today, but the principles behind them stand, as demonstrated by Jesus.
2. Ceremonial Law - related specifically to the way Israel was to worship, and pointed forward to the coming of Jesus. This is also where the Pharisees added their traditions, which were condemned by Jesus as opposed to the Commandmentss of God. While we are no longer bound by the ceremonial laws, since the prophesies regarding Jesus in this part has been fulfilled, the principles of worshipping and loving a Holy God still apply.
3. The Moral Law, such as the 10 commandments, are the direct commands of God, and should be strictly obeyed. The moral law reveals God's will and nature, and was obeyed by Jesus completely. These laws call us to righteousness, and into strict obedience, along with the acceptance of God's grace through faith in Jesus. It is not a call for legal compliance, but righteousness that comes from what God does in us, be God-centered and not self-centered, be based on worship and reverance for God, go beyond keeping the law to the principles of God's law.

We cannot know that we are in sin, and therefore in need of someone who has fulfilled the laws demands, without Biblical law. The law crushes any hope that the sinner has to reach eternal salvation, but shows the reliance we have on Jesus, the only one who could fulfill the law. The law proclaims judgment and death, the gospel justification and life through Jesus, and knowledge of the nature and charactersistics of our sin.

Jesus did not in the gospel dissolve the moral law, but strengthened it.
Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV)
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. [18] I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. [19] Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."

The fulfillment Jesus speaks about here is the ceremonial law that related to Lev 17:11, which he thus fulfilled, and we are no longer subject to. He also kept God's moral law perfectly, but did not come to abolish it. In fact, He teaches that one who teaches the commands of God will be called great in heaven. The Pharisees added their traditions to the law:
Mark 7:6-8 (NIV)
He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
" 'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
[7] They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'
[8] You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

This is what is widely condemned throughout the NT, by Jesus and by His disciples, and is interpreted as abolishing all so-called OT law. In the ceremonial and civil law, they added to God's commandments, and therefore was called hypocrites and worse by Jesus. In fact, Paul calls these traditions "old wives tales".

So how does all of this relate to life today? How is it determined what is right and what is wrong?

God is the ultimate power over all authorities. He alone has the power and right to appoint those who will oversee His creation. The Bible talks about 4 levels of authority:
1. In the home, authority is to the husband, and together with the wife, over the children.
2. At the workplace, managers, owners or employers are given the authority.
3. In church, the elders and pastors have the authority.
4. In society, the authority is with civil governments.

Each of those have the obligation to do God's will, since they were appointed by Him. This means complying with His moral law, as described in the Bible. All of these authorities are secondary to God's will, and we are implored to do God's will first.

Civil governments rule as agents of God. They answer to God and must submit to all of His laws as they carry out their duties. No government has any authority to infringe upon the authorities given to other levels of leadership assigned in scripture in the home, work place and church, except where abuses of those endanger the civil order.

Romans 13:1 (NIV)
"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God."

To disobey government, is to disobey God Himself. Even the Jews found this out the hard way, when they did not submit to Roman authority, and were expelled from Rome, and ancient Jerusalem destroyed.

The Bible doesn't prescribe a specific form of government or political system. Whether its a monarchy, an empire, a republic, a social democracy, tribal elders, or a dictatorship God uses the civil authorities for his own purposes, even if they don't recognize that what they are doing fits into God's plan. God uses even our always imperfect and sometimes corrupt governments to maintain limits on social behavior, and to ensure a common peace and safety.

The duty of civil governments is clear in the Bible:
Romans 13:3-4 (NIV)
"For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. [4] For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."

It is clear that civil governments have the God-given duty to protect citizens from evil and wrongdoing, and that those who obey the laws have nothing to fear. Civil governments must administer good in the public sphere, and keep the civil order for those who obey the laws. Those who break the laws must not only fear the justice of the civil government, but also the wrath of God.

Governments have a right to use physical force against criminals. Bearing the sword is most often connected with the execution of capital punishment. It's not murder when the state executes a convicted murderer. God's word makes murder a capital crime because of the absolute dignity of human life. This is how God ordains to carry out his wrath in this world.

So government, through its courts and under the limits of due process and the laws of evidence, are the only rightful avengers in society. No one may take the law into his own hands.

Even Paul, when under arrest, agreed with that principle as it applied to his own case:
Acts 25:11 (NIV)
"If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!"

We further see that Paul instructs us to submit for the sake of being wise:
1 Peter 2:13-15 (NIV)
Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, [14] or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
[15]For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.

Therefore government has specific areas of proper God-given authority. They are to ensure public safety and to preserve life and property.

For example, they enact laws against: robbery, theft, assault, murder, rape, incest, perjury. For safety against irresponsible citizens they regulate traffic with speed laws, they license drivers, mandate us to register our vehicles and to keep them safe for use on the public roads.

If we think some laws are unwise, we can work to change them. But like it or not, we must obey them exactly as long as they don't require us to sin.

(Some information from the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dispensationalism and the Law

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

“It is a harmful perversion of the truth of God to teach (as did the Puritan theologians) that while we are not to keep the law as a means of salvation, we are under it as a ‘rule of life.' Let a Christian only confess, ‘I am under the law,' and straightway Moses fastens his yoke upon him, despite all his protests that the law has lost its power. Men have to be delivered from the whole legal principle, from the entire sphere where law reigns, ere true liberty can be found.”Dispensationalist William R. Newell


Man is naturally rebellious against God’s Law (Jeremiah 17:9). When the law is preached in churches today, cries of “legalism” abound. Seeker-sensitive church goers want a religion without rules, a salvation without repentance, and a Savior without a Lord. In short, they want to have their itching ears scratched, hoping for a cheap grace that will guarantee an eternal inheritance while leaving their hearts as wicked as ever. In my course of examining Dispensationalism, I must need deal with the worst ramification of this theology, the Dispensational treatment of God’s Law. A mild difficulty exists in this matter surrounding how to define a Dispensationalist. The broad definition of a Dispensationalist is one who considers certain portions of Scripture to be relevant only to certain ages (or dispensations). Like many theologies, there are degrees to Dispensationalism. I consider myself a theonomist, but do not agree wholeheartedly with the Bahnsen/North school concerning civil law in this regard. The majority of Dispensationalists hold that the “law” was relevant only to a certain “age of law”, and since Christ’s death, we are now living in a new “age of grace”. Some, recognizing the inconsistency of this view with Jesus’ words in the Great Commission (which we’ll examine later), go so far as to take a “Paul-only” approach, suggesting that the gospels themselves are not relevant today, as well as the books written by Peter, John, and anyone besides Paul. (We’ll examine how Paul himself viewed the law in this discourse). Still others take the racial approach, considering the law to be relevant only to Jews, whereas Gentiles are allegedly recipients of grace. John MacArthur has called himself a Premillennial Dispensationalist, focusing on his view of Israel in eschatology, but certainly does not agree with Newell’s antinomianism. Arthur Pink seemed to be very dispensational in his eschatological beliefs. However, concerning the way dispensationalists divide up scripture to certain ages, Pink correctly observed that Dispensationalism “is a device of the Enemy, designed to rob the children of no small part of that bread which their heavenly Father has provided for their souls; a device wherein the wily serpent appears as an angel of light, feigning to "make the Bible a new book" by simplifying much in it which perplexes the spiritually unlearned.” (A.W. Pink – A Study In Dispensationalism).

Israel and the Law

“The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” (Psalms 119:160)

When God gave the Law to Israel, He commanded them to observe the words of this law forever (Deuteronomy 29:29). He made it very clear that it was never to be added to or taken from (Deuternomy 4:2). Nor did God ever once suggest that His law was for once particular race of people. God's law was for both Jew and Gentile (Leviticus 18:26, Leviticus 24:22). In fact, the reason God drove out other nations from the Promised Land is because they “would not obey the voice of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:20; Deuteronomy 9:4). They were disobedient to the very same laws that God gave to Israel (Leviticus 18:24). As Greg Bahnsen writes, “what was sinful in Israel was not tolerated just over the state line”. This is why God condemned Sodom and Gomorrah for their "lawless deeds" (2 Peter 2:8). God has one law for all people (Exodus 12:49; Numbers 15:16, 29) at all times (Psalm 89:34, Psalm 119:160). Jesus taught His Disciples to obey the law (Matthew 5:17-18), and that which Christ taught His disciples was to be observed by “all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The Bible knows nothing of an “age of law” and an “age of grace”. Charles Ryrie, one of the godfathers of Dispensationalism, writes, “Another important benefit of the death of Christ was the inauguration of the faith-righteousness principle to replace the law-works principle. However, Paul's statement in Romans 10:4, that Christ is the end of the Law, might be understood as either signifying termination or purpose. In other words, either Christ terminated the Law, or the purpose of Christ's coming was to fulfill the Law (Matt. 5:17). However, the termination seems clearly to be the meaning in this context because of the contrast (beginning in Rom. 9:30) between the Law and God's righteousness. Paul's argument that follows is not that the Jew was incomplete and needed the coming of Christ to perfect his position before God, but that his position under the law-works principle was absolutely wrong because it sought to establish righteousness by human effort rather than by accepting God's gift of righteousness. Though it is true that our Lord fulfilled the Law, this passage is not teaching that, but rather that He terminated the Law and provided a new and living way to God”1. How does one reconcile this nonsense with the clear scriptural teaching that God law never changes? (Psalm 89:34, Isaiah 40:6-8, 1 Peter 1:22-25). Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17-18 are very clear. Not one stroke or letter shall be removed.

Furthermore, if “the death of Christ was the inauguration of the faith-righteousness principle to replace the law-works principle”, as Ryrie states, then we have to consider whether or not the Old Testament saints were actually saved by the “law-works principle”. Paul, however, was very clear that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). As we shall see, the Old Testament saints were saved by the same grace that we are, yet they were required to obey the law.

Paul and the Law

Did Paul view the law as old, archaic, and irrelevant? Hardly. Paul quotes the Old Testament over 90 times, mostly to support his own teachings. He uses the law on several occasions to define sin (see Romans 7:7), for he writes that “…through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). As John writes, "sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4). Indeed, the law will become irrelevant on the day that sin becomes irrelevant.

Paul’s entire theology is built on the Old Testament. Speaking at his trial, he tried “to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets” (Acts 28:23). He encourages the New Testament church to study the Old Testament, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Such a view of the Old Testament would be labeled by most Christians today as “legalism”. In like manner, Paul tells Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Thus Paul himself knew nothing of a New Testament only theology.

But aren't we justified by faith, not law? Yes. But this was also true of the Old Testament saints (Habakkuk 2:4), yet they obeyed the law. True faith does not make the law void, but rather establishes it (Romans 3:31). Likewise, “Love fulfills the law (not ignores it)” (Matthew 22:37-40, 1 John 2:3-6). This was true in the Old Testament as well. (See Proverbs 25:21, Romans 13:8-10)

What about grace? Aren't we under grace and not under the law (Romans 6:14)? True. But many Christians take this out of its context, ignoring the first part of the verse as well as verse 15. Paul was teaching freedom from sin as defined by God's law. He never said that the law had been revoked or made invalid. What he said was...

"For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!"

Paul was not saying that grace made the law irrelevant. He was saying that, because of grace, sin, as defined by the law, no longer has dominion over us. This is a powerful grace, which effectively causes us to walk in His statutes (Ezekiel 36:27), not to ignore them. Grace and Law are not opposites, but compliment each other. (Proverbs 3:21-23). The Old Testament saints were not saved by the law (Romans 3:20), but by grace (Genesis 6:8, Romans 4:1-3). No verse in the Bible exemplifies God’s grace better than Psalm 130:3.

“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalms 130:3)

King David certainly knew something of the grace of God, which was in full force in Old Testament times.

The Necessity of the Law

How then shall we live? Is the life that a Christian walks different then that of a non-Christian? Does not the New Testament command us to live righteous and holy lives (Romans 12:1; 1 John 2:29)? By what standard will we measure such righteousness? Jesus said that we are to live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). If we ignore the standard that God Himself has given us in His law, the results are confusion and nothing else. For example…

Paul tells the Gentile, New Testament church to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). He does so no less than a dozen times. The problem for the New-Testament-only Christian is that the New Testament never defines sexual immorality. What exactly did Paul expect the Corinthian believers to flee from? Paul himself never defines it for them. He didn’t have to. Leviticus 18 does a more them adequate job of defining sexual immorality. This is why the New Testament, as shown above, clearly defines sin by using the law. Otherwise, we are left to guide our lives, as many charismatics do, by some vague "leading of the Spirit", which usually means that the person doesn't like what the Bible says about an issue, so will pray until he feels better about disobeying it.

There are verses, particularly in Hebrews, which seem to contradict the above verses. But these were dealing with Judaists in the church who were commanding obedience to ceremonial laws such as circumcision, animal sacrifice, etc. These were fulfilled in Christ. In reality, the sacrificial laws are still valid, but Christ, the eternal sacrifice, has “…entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). These ceremonial laws have been fulfilled, but have hardly been made irrelevant.

The fact is that man will always be under some sort of law. The question, then, is whose law will we be under? While God’s commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3), man’s laws are truly oppressive (Matthew 23:2-4).

One of the most popular myths abounding in today’s antinomian churches is that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for obeying the law. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus chided the Pharisees for their “hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28), because they “neglected the weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23), and for twisting the law to suit their own needs, such as using the civil ordinance requiring judges to exercise fair judgments (Deuteronomy 19:18-21) to justify personal vengeance (Matthew 5:38-42).

The Right Use of the Law

Most Reformers believe that the law has three proper uses.

1.) To restrain evil in a wicked world.
2.) To illuminate and make a sinner aware of his slavery and bring us to Christ.
3.) To give believers a rule of life.

We must be careful to put the law in it's proper place. God's law cannot save (in fact, it does just the opposite - Romans 3:20). We are saved by God's grace, not by law. However, this was also true in the Old Testament (Genesis 6:8). Keeping God's commandments is the result, not the cause of salvation (1 John 2:3-4). This is important, seeing as those who claim to know God yet disobey His commandments are emphatically called “liars”.

As we saw above, it is the law that defines sin, makes us guilty, and requires us to have a Savior. Indeed, without the law, the gospel itself becomes expendable. Without the law, Christ would have, in affect, died for nothing.

The Results of Lawless Theology

“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:41-42)

The Bible knows nothing of lawless Christianity. It is the law that defines unrighteousness, the likes of which those who practice it “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9). Anyone who claims to know Christ, but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in Him (1 John 2:3-4). One who “practices”2 lawlessness is not a child of God, but of the Devil (1 John 3:4-10). One cannot separate the commandments of God from faith in Jesus Christ (Revelation 14:12, Revelation 22:14). Thus Jesus gave a solemn warning to Christians who think they are OK in ignoring God’s law.

“"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

True Christian Liberty includes obedience to the Law. (Galatians 5:13). In this, I’ll hold with J. Gresham Machen who wrote, "A low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace. Pray God that the high view may again prevail”3. New Testament Christians are to live by every scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), every command (James 2:10), even the least command (Matthew 5:19), every word (Matthew 4:4) and every letter (Matthew 5:18) of God's Law. Oh Christian, do not think that you will ever see the light of the heavenly Jerusalem if you practice a lawless faith, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). Instead, like David, hold to a high view of the law, that you may constantly behold your need for grace, an effectual grace that changes the heart, and causes us to walk in His statutes and be careful to obey His rules (Ezekiel 36:27).


1 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology - A Popular Systematic Guide To Understanding Biblical Truth, 1986, SP Publications Inc., Victor Books, Wheaton IL, pp. 302-303.

2 The key word here is “practice” (Greek ποιέω). It specifically means “to agree with” or “to abide in”. This does not undermine the seriousness of sin in the life of a Christian, but also does not mean that Christians lead purely sinless lives.

3 J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith? (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1925), p. 142.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Who are God’s Chosen People?

"Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also." (1 John 2:22-23)

This past week, I was treated to a wonderful slide-show presentation by a man who recently visited Israel. The pictures were beautiful. It must have been thrilling to see the sights and walk the paths that Jesus himself may have seen and walked. However, the speaker, obviously a premillennial dispensationalist, was obsessed with the Eastern gate in his presentation, telling how Christ will once again pass through this gate to set up His “millennial” kingdom. For “Jerusalem”, he said, “is the city that God loves. They are his chosen people”. The last slide was an encouragement for us as Christians to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalms 122:6).

Actually, the complete verse of Psalms 122:6 says, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they be secure who love you!” This begs the question as to the identity of Jerusalem, as well as “God’s chosen people”. The New Testament gives us two Jerusalems, the earthly Jerusalem, the cursed fig tree (Matthew 21:18-21) which “is in slavery with her children” (Galatians 4:25), and the new, heavenly Jerusalem, which is the free and the mother of all the saints (Galatians 4:26, Hebrews 12:22-24, Revelation 3:12, Revelation 21:1-10). Which Jerusalem can rightly be described as those who love God? The answer to that question has huge ramifications, both theologically and politically.

I think that everyone is aware of the political ramifications of Christian Zionism, so I’ll focus here on the theological issues. Should Christians bother to send missionaries to Israel? Believe it or not, many notable Christian leaders have discouraged believers from trying to convert Judaists. John Hagee, the poster boy of Christian Zionism, says that trying to convert Jews is a "waste of time”.

“Everyone else, whether Buddhist or Baha'i, needs to believe in Jesus, he says. But not Jews. Jews already have a covenant with God that has never been replaced with Christianity…The Jewish people have a relationship to God through the law of God as given through Moses…I believe that every Gentile person can only come to God through the cross of Christ. I believe that every Jewish person who lives in the light of the Torah, which is the word of God, has a relationship with God and will come to redemption.” (Julia Duin, "San Antonio Fundamentalist Battles Anti-Semitism," The Houston Chronicle, 30 April 1988).

Showing who he believes to be Sovereign, John Hagee writes, “We support Israel because all other nations were created by an act of men, but Israel was created by an act of God.” (See Supporting Israel). Hagee goes on to say that “The Royal Land Grant that was given to Abraham and his seed through Isaac and Jacob with an everlasting and unconditional covenant.” He seems to forget that the Scriptures plainly teach that “…by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight…” (Romans 3:20). He seems to forget Jesus’ own words concerning the Real Estate in the New Covenant.

“The woman said to him, "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."” (John 4:19-24).

Hagee also seems to forget that God’s covenant with fleshly Israel was not unconditional. It required their obedience (Deuteronomy 28:15, 63). Hagee ignores that fact that the Abrahamic Covenant was already fulfilled, both physically (Joshua 23:14) and Spiritually (Galatians 3:8).

More importantly, however, is the issue dealing with the identity of God and His New Covenant. David Klinghoffer writes, “Both Jews and Christians worship the same God and both have a place, for believers, in God's scheme of things. Jews are the people of the Covenant while Christians approach God through Jesus.” What is this covenant that Klinghoffer is speaking of? It certainly isn’t the New Covenant, to which Jesus is the sole mediator (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24). It is foolishness to recognize Judaism as a religion of the covenant. There is no covenant without Christ, as even the Old Testament saints “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:3-4). So how has God kept His promises to “His chosen people”?

The Identity of Israel

The common Dispensationalist cry is “the Jews are God’s Chosen people”. That begs the question, “just what exactly is a “Jew”?” Is it a nation, a race, or a religion? Are American Jews in covenant with God? What about European proselytes living is Israel? How about Hebrews who practice Buddhism? Dispensational Zionists have a difficult time answering that question consistently. Covenantalists, however, can take their definition of Israel straight from Scripture.

God promised Abraham that he would make of him a “great nation” (Genesis 12:2), and that “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). This nation was to be a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

What does it mean to be a Holy Nation? Is a nation holy simply because the DNA of its citizens matches Abraham’s (which, by the way, would eliminate most of the people living in modern day Israel)? Does the term “holy nation” fit some godless country that exists in the Middle East founded by the United Nations in 1948? Hardly. God never saved anyone based in his or her genealogy, in either the Old or New Testament. If that were the case, then Esau (whom God hated – Malachi 1:3, Romans 9:13) and Ishmael would have a claim on God’s Covenant Blessings. So would King Saul, Judas Iscariot, and the modern day Palestinians. Likewise, Ruth (a Moabite), Rahab (a Canaanite), and Urriah (the Hittite), (two of which were Christ’s ancestors) would never have experienced sanctification. Physical circumcision made one a part of God’s visible church, but in the light of eternity, profits nothing (Galatians 5:6).

A holy nation is set apart by God based on obedience to His Covenant. In the Old Testament, a Hebrew who was disobedient was to be “cut off from the congregation of Israel” (Exodus 12:19). Does this mean that God changed the person’s genetic code so that he was no longer a Hebrew? Of course not. It means that he was no longer part of the “holy nation”, God’s visible church here on earth. The same is true in the New Testament (ex. 1 Corinthians 5:1-12). Sadly, the judicial powers of the modern church are almost non-existent.

In the same Exodus passage, God tells Moses “And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you." (Exodus 12:48-49). Again, God does not make this person’s DNA match that of Abraham, but instead sets him apart “as a native of the land” in His holy nation. Thus, even in the Old Testament, God never considered anyone a “Jew” based on race alone. Both Jew and Gentiles were to have “one law”.

This is even more obvious the New Testament. The Pharisees took pride in their linage, but were not members of God’s “holy nation”. John the Baptist gave them this warning.

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-10).

The Judaists even bragged to Jesus about their heritage, proclaiming “Abraham is our father” (John 8:39). But Jesus was very clear with His response. Contrary to popular dispensational belief, Judaism is not “Old Testament religion”, but a demon-inspired, Talmudic cult. When the Pharisees rejected Christ, they rejected Moses (John 5:46). Furthermore, contrary to the above claims of David Klinghoffer, Judaists and Christians do NOT worship the same God. The god of Judaism is the Devil (John 8:44). The Christian God is the only true God, and the Christ of the Covenant is the only mediator (1 Timothy 2:5 – See August’s blog “Only One Mediator”). Those who reject Christ are neither Abraham’s children nor God’s (John 8:39-42). As Christ rejecters, they are no longer “God’s Chosen People”. Jesus told them, "… the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” (Matthew 21:43). This nation is His “holy nation”, the Church of Jesus Christ, the new “Israel of God”, and the Galatian church was so called (Galatians 6:16). Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews (Philippians 3:5), was clear “that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7)

The Church is God’s “Israel”

Preterist are often accused of hold to “Replacement Theology”. The truth of the matter is that we do no such thing. Replacement theology is a misnomer. No one has been “replaced” in regard to the blessings of the Covenant. The church is “Israel” (Galatians 6:16), and always has been, even in the Old Testament.

No one can deny Paul’s tender feelings toward his own countrymen. He is clearly dismayed over their stubbornness, and even wishes that he could sacrifice his own soul for their conversion (Romans 9:3). But then Paul clearly contrasts God’s Israel from “Israel after the flesh”. He writes “…for they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Romans 9:6), “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and whose circumcision is that of the heart…” (Romans 2:29). “And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29). In Christ, all ethnic, cultural, economic and generational walls have been removed. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). If Jesus Christ removed these barriers, who are we to try and build them back up?

While the modern dispensational church keeps it’s eyes glued to the Middle East, awaiting some sort of Theological Extravaganza, Paul clarified that the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 22:18) is being fulfilled through the church, (and the Galatian Gentile church at that). “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed.” (Galatians 3:8). God’s everlasting Covenant is not concerned about a 10-mile strip of real estate in the Middle East. As Christians, we are members of the New, Heavenly Jerusalem which is the one and only bride of Christ, and the mother of us all (Galatians 4:26, Hebrews 12:22).

So what should be the mindset of Christians toward Israel? Politically speaking Israel is a strong ally of the United States and of western society in general, therefore, they have my support, as long as they aren’t the aggressors of conflict. However, we must make it clear that, theologically speaking, Judaism and Christianity have nothing in common. We need not attempt any ecumenical alliances with Judaists, “…For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). We are commanded by our Lord to make disciples of ALL nations (Matthew 28:18-20), and that includes Judaizers, who cannot be saved apart from Christ, no matter what John Hagee says. Therefore, while my dispensationalists friends are praying for the peace of Jerusalem, my prayer is different. I’m praying for the conversion of Jerusalem.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Defense of Postmillennialism

“A Psalm of David. The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” (Psalms 110:1)

“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26)

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.”
(Joy To The World – 3rd Stanza)

As a preterist, I have been accused of undermining the importance of Christ’s Second Advent. I would respond to my futurist opponents that they undermine the importance of His First Advent, as the Christmas Carol above shows. O how different the future looks according to the Bible, when compared to that of our modern day “prophecy experts”. The Biblical outlook, as previously put forth, is one of Christian victory. The Dispensationalist outlook is one of defeat, at least as far as planet earth is concerned. After all, “Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth”, they say. They look forward to being snatched off of this planet before “the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit is removed with the Church to allow the onset of the 7 year period of unrestrained evil” (See The 'Great Escape' Misunderstanding). BTW: I have yet to hear a suitable explanation of how 144,000 Jews will be saved during the tribulation without the Holy Spirit. Oddly enough, these people continue to sing “Victory in Jesus”, but limit that victory to some abstract, end-of-all-things type of victory. David Chilton explains the negative impact of such a worldview on the church itself.

“For too long, Christians have been characterized by despair, defeat, and retreat. For too long, Christians have heeded the false doctrine which teaches that we are doomed to failure, that Christians cannot win –the notion that, until Jesus returns, Christians will steadily lose ground to the enemy. The future of the Church, we were told, is to be a steady slide into apostasy… Any new outbreak of war, any rise in crime statistics, any new evidence of the breakdown of the family, was often oddly viewed as progress, a step forward toward the expected goal of the total collapse of civilization, a sign that Jesus might come to rescue us at any moment. Social action projects were looked on with skepticism: it was often assumed that anyone who actually tried to improve the world must not really believe the Bible, because the Bible taught that such efforts were bound to be futile; as one famous preacher put it, “You don’t polish brass on a sinking ship… Evangelism was an invitation to join the losing side.

This was rooted in two problems. One was a false view of Spirituality. The unbiblical idea of “spirituality” is that the truly “spiritual” man is the person who is sort of “non-physical”, who doesn’t get involved in “earthly” things, who doesn’t work very much or think very hard, and who spends most of his time meditating about how he’d rather be in heaven. As long as he’s on earth, though, he has one main duty in life: Get stepped on for Jesus. The “spiritual” man, in this view, is a wimp; a loser. But at least he’s a Good Loser….The second obstacle to Christian action has been an eschatology of defeat …As a young Christian, I remember my Bible teachers informing me that they had “peeked at the last chapter (of the Bible), and the Christians win!” But that is just my point: according to certain popular brands of eschatology, victory takes place only in “the last chapter.” In time, in history, on earth, the Christians lose. The world is getting worse and worse. Antichrist is coming. The devil is running the world, and getting more and more powerful all the time. Your work for God in this world will have no lasting effect, except to save a few individuals from hell. But you’d better do it quickly, before the Tribulation hits, so that you can escape in time. Ironically, the unintentional message of this gospel is: Antichrist is coming! There is something terribly lopsided about that.
” (David Chilton – Paradise Restored, pp. 3-4).

The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that the world will be redeemed for Christ. The Great Commission will be a success, not a failure. For most of history, this was the expectation of the church. It was this expectation of victory that sparked the Revivals in England and Scotland, drove missionaries like William Carey on 15,000 mile voyages to India and other remote regions of the planet, and was the foundation of the London and Scottish Missionary Societies. (See link to Iain Murray's book below for details.)

“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,” (Daniel 2:44)

What is the nature of the kingdom of God? While all Christians expect the ultimate consummation of His kingdom at His Second Advent (2 Timothy 4:1), what about now? Dispensationalists wait for Christ to set up his kingdom on earth and reign from earthly Jerusalem for 1,000 years. (See “Millennium” under the Rapture Ready Glossary). They give Revelation 20:3-4 as their proof text. If you are a premillennialist, I challenge you. Click on the Scripture link to Revelation 20:3-4, or look at it in your own Bible. Does this passage say anything about Christ reigning ON EARTH for 1,000 years?

I have already shown what the Premillennial interpretation of the 1,000 years does to the doctrine of the resurrection, particularly to Jesus’ words in John 5:28-29 and John 6:39-44. You can also throw in 1 Corinthians 15:24, which has the resurrection taking place at “the end”. There are several other issues to look at as well. First, the premillennial view demands that Christ must once again abdicate his heavenly throne at the Father’s right hand in order to reign on earth for 1,000 years, and then finally destroy all of His enemies at the end of that reign (Revelation 20:7-10). However, Psalm 110:1 is clear that He will remain at the father’s “right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Second, one of the results of the First Resurrection is that those who participate in it are priests and kings with Christ, a blessing John has already affirmed to be a present reality (Revelation 1:6). Jesus has already ascended to the throne of David (Acts 2:25-36), and we have been “resurrected” out of our “trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) as Christ “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6). There is no reason to believe that He will ever again sit in a temple made by human hands (assuming that the temple will ever be rebuilt, and that is a big assumption). As we can see from the prophecy in Daniel, Christ’s everlasting kingdom was to be set up during the Roman Empire. (Kenneth Gentry has a good article on "The Meaning of the Millennium"). We have the words of the New Testament to confirm this.

"…the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:7; Matthew 10:7).

“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28)

“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,” (Colossians 1:13)

As we can see, Christ kingdom, His Church, is on earth now. Jesus said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." (John 18:36). The text does not say, as some foolishly teach, that Christ's Kingdom is irrelevant to the world; rather, it affirms that the Kingdom is not derived from earth: He was speaking of the source of His authority, not the place of His legitimate reign. For He also tells Pilate, the earthly governor, that “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). His kingdom is not of this world but it is in this world and over it.

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

Contrary to the Premillennial view, the kingdom will not be consummated by some cataclysmic eschatological event, but will gradually overtake the world, like leaven (Matthew 13:33). It will not be by military might, but by the everlasting gospel.

“As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” (Daniel 2:34-35)

Christ has built His church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18), neither in this age, nor the next.

“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.” (Psalms 22:27-28).

"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)

Postmillennialists believe that there will be a time when Judaists reject their false religion in favor of Christ (not in any “tribulation period”, but in the church age). This, in turn, will result in even great blessings for the gentiles. Whether or not the “millennium” speaks of this current age or of that “golden age” is open for debate. The puritans of the past, however, were almost exclusively postmillennial. The future conversion of the Jewish people to Christ is the main event that separates Amillennialist Preterist and the Poastmillennial Preterist. The main passage in support of this is Romans 11:24-32.

“For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob"; "and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins." As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” (Romans 11:24-32)

The unity of Jews and Gentiles during a future golden age is found not only in Romans, but in several other passages as well. On this point, Romans 11 agrees with many Old Testament Prophecies.

“Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” (Isaiah 26:19).

Richard Sibbes writes, “The Jews are not yet come in under Christ’s banner; but God, that hath persuaded Japhet to come into the tents of Shem, will persuade Shem to come into the tents of Japhet, (Genesis 9:27). The “fullness of the Gentiles is not yet come in (Romans 11:25), but Christ, that hath the ‘utmost parts of the earth given him for his possession’, (Psalm 2:8), will gather all the sheep his Father hath given him into one fold, that there may be one sheepfold and one shepherd, (John 10:16).”

There is debate on whether or not these Old Testament prophecies refer to the Hebrew nation or the church. Most postmillennialists would hold to the former, whereas Amillennialists would hold to the latter. I am inclined to agree with the Amillennialist on this point (we’ll examine the Church and Israel in the next post). However, there is little doubt in my mind that Romans 11 clearly refers to Israel after the flesh, and it will take a good exegetical argument from this passage to convince me otherwise.

For More information, See:

The Puritan Hope by Iain Murray
Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope by Keith Mathison
As the Waters Cover the Sea by J. A. De Jong

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ar-mageddon: The Destruction of the Great Prostitute

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk." And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: "Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations." And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly.” (Revelation 17:1-6)

As we discussed in an earlier blog, the symbols that John uses in revelation have concrete meanings. Their interpretation is not open for guesswork. When John wrote about the beast, he had a specific entity in mind, meaning that all other interpretations are false. The best way to interpret the symbols in Revelation is with the Bible itself. Scripture interprets Scripture. When we step outside what the Bible itself says about a certain passage, we become guilty of adding to the Word of God, interpreting passages in light of whatever happens to be the latest CNN headline. We don’t have to guess at the meaning of the symbols John uses, because their meaning can be found right in the Bible itself.

As with the beast, there are some very creative interpretations regarding the great prostitute. The Rapture Ready Website tells is that “According to Revelation Chapter 17, the Catholic Church is considered the Whore who rides the scarlet Beast (vs. 3), and the whole false Catholic system will be destroyed at that time, along with the False Prophet (the Pope).” (See False Prophets, Teachers and Leaders In the Laodicean Age). Now, as you can tell by my screen name, I am no fan of the Roman Catholic Church, but this interpretation, ever popular today, is incorrect. Once again, it ignores Revelation’s original audience and time frame references. (If Premillennial Dispensationalists are really concerned about false prophets, they need to look no further than their own closet.)

The Beast, as we saw in a previous post, is past history. So, too, is the Great Prostitute, which I will identify right up front as Jerusalem of the First Century. She is the “great city” (Revelation 17:18), not a church. She is the same “great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.” (Revelation 11:8). She was a city that was contemporary to John’s audience, for she “has [present tense] dominion over the kings of the earth [covenantally speaking]." (Revelation 17:18). She was the unfaithful wife of God, behaving as a prostitute (Jeremiah 3:1-2).

“The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem…How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers.” (Isaiah 1:1, 21)

Ezekiel Chapters 16 and 21 go into more detail about Israel’s harlotry. However, I would not read these chapters to you r children unless you are prepared to explain some things. Ezekiel’s description was quite vivid and crude, but he certainly got his point across.

The description of the woman’s clothing is quite apropos as well. Dressed in purple, scarlet, gold, precious stones and pearls (Revelation 17:3-5) - an almost exact description of the high priest’s ephod (Exodus 28:5-6, 36) This combination of fabrics and gems also describes the temple tapestry, which, according to Josephus, was "Babylonian tapestry in which blue, purple, scarlet and linen were mingled." (Wars 5.5.4) The gold cup she holds (Revelation 17:4) is symbolic of the temple’s implements: "The greatest part of the vessels ... were of silver and gold" (Wars 5.4.4). Josephus’ description of the temple reflects the same opulence: "The outward face of the temple in its front ... was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun's own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white." (Wars 5.5.6) The inscription on the prostitute’s forehead is a perverse image of that on the high priest’s: "Holy to the Lord.”

The woman was “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” (Revelation 17:6). We already saw the many examples of the Jewish persecution in last Monday’s post. It was Jerusalem alone that was responsible for “…all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah…” (Matthew 23:35). Thus Jesus’ warning of their impending doom.

“Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate.” (Matthew 23:36-38)

Luke adds in Acts 7:52 , “Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered.” Most truly, these things happened shortly after John’s writing (Revelation 1:1). “And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth." (Revelation 18:24).

The Destruction of the great city by the hands of the Roman beast (Revelation 17:16-17) is further evidence of this identification. Josephus, as recorded earlier, describes the Roman Jewish war in gory detail, highlighted by the destruction of the temple in 70 AD (at Ar-mageddon, i.e. mountain of Megiddo) and ending with the fall of Masada, the final Jewish stronghold, in 73 AD.

“"Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.' And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons." Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: "'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him." When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.” (Matthew 21:33-45).

The Old Covenant is history. Christ has become the mediator of a new and better covenant, where all nations may flow to and drink. We need not fear any tribulation period, because our Christ has already overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Blessing and Judgment

Excellent Message on the Lord's Supper By R.C. Sproul. Deals with some of the main issues of transubstantiation and the two natures of Christ.

When administered and received correctly, there is great blessing in the Lord's Supper. So what could be dangerous about our participation in the Lord's Supper? How should we prepare ourselves as we come to the table?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Antichrist: The Biblical View

“…this man [antichrist] is alive today–alive and waiting to come forth." - Hal Lindsey; The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon – 1980

“There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established already in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power." – St. Martin of Tours (316-397 AD)


One of the most popular (and misunderstood) items in Scripture is that of antichrist, and it seems to have been that way from among the earliest of Christians. It is often suggested that the term antichrist refers to a future Satanic World Dictator. The Rapture Ready Website defines Antichrist as “… the most evil man that will ever live. He will arrive on the world scene and appear to be the world's savior, but everyone on earth will soon learn his real mission will be one of destruction. Also called the man of lawlessness (or sin), Gog, the son of destruction (or perdition)” (Rapture Ready Glossary). The site goes on to tell us that “Ever since the Old Testament first spoke of him, Christians and Jews have been looking for the advent of the Antichrist. Daniel described him as the most evil man who ever will live”. (The Antichrist: Have You Seen This Man?)

This misunderstanding has lead to some creative speculation regarding antichrist. The Pope, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Bill Gates are a few of many names that have been suggested. Any powerful world leader seems to be a candidate, especially if there is a way to find a number 6 in his name.

There are several problems with this view. First, contrary to the statement from Rapture ready above, the Old Testament does not speak of “antichrist”. Also, to the surprise of many, the word “antichrist” does not appear in either Daniel or Revelation. Second, it makes the assumption that Daniel’s little horn, Paul’s “man of sin”, John’s “antichrist”, and John’s “Beast” are all the same entity. These terms refer to at least three different people. Third, it ignores what the Bible itself says about antichrist.

Antichrist in Scripture

“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18)

“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:22-23)

“…and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” (1 John 4:3)

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 1:7)

These are ALL of the passages in the Bible that refer to antichrist. Nothing is written here about a future, satanic world dictator. What can we glean from these passages?

1.) Antichrist had already come in the first century. It was how John’s readers knew that “it was the last hour” (1 John 2:18). At the time John was writing, antichrist was “in the world already.” (1 John 4:3). John's message was clear. The current age (the Old Mosaic Covenant) was about to end. It was "the last hour".

2.) Antichrist is defined as “he who denies that Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22), “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:3), and “deceivers …who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” (2 John 1:7). John seems, in particular, to be referring to Judaizers in the church, for he adds, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:23). Who else, at that time, would have claimed to have the Father while denying the Son? Thus Paul wrote to the Philippian Church, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh -” (Philippians 3:2-3).

Paul’s “man of lawlessness”

It is more than likely that Paul was referring to the same thing when he writes about the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), though he may have been referring to the high priest in particular. This person was someone that the Thessalonian church would see, for Paul begins with a warning not to be deceived (2 Thessalonians 2:3). The person was someone who “takes his seat in the temple of God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4), thus was someone who practiced Judaism. Paul warns that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7) in the first century, thus eliminating any 21st Century candidate from contention. It was the high priests and Pharisees that Christ had promised to destroy “by the appearance of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8 cf. Matthew 21:40-45). Thus Paul, a Hebrews of Hebrews (Philippians 3:5) who would have given his own soul for the salvation of his countrymen (Romans 9:3), did not harbor the modern dispensational delusion that Christ-rejecting Judaists were still “God’s chosen people”.

The Beast of Revelation

The Prophecies in Daniel mainly concern the end of the Old Covenant, from the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon to the Roman Empire, the four beasts being the empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Commenting on Daniel 7:7, the Rapture Ready Website tells us “In the reference to the 10 horns we again jump from history to prophecy, from the ancient Roman Empire to its revival in our times”. (The End Times According To Daniel Part One). Contrary to much of the exposition in dispensational circles, nothing is said about the Roman Empire being “revived in our time”. The Roman Empire is dead, and there is no reason to believe that it will be revived again at any time. The symbols in Daniel that are assumed to be “antichrist” actually refer to people in the ancient world, ranging from Antiochus Epiphanes to Herod the Tetrarch. I may give a detailed exposition on the prophecies of Daniel at a later time, but for now, I want to focus on the identity of the fourth beast, the one that John writes about in Revelation.

No character in the history of the world has invoked such dread and superstition as the Beast. Kenneth Gentry has written an excellent article in defense of the Beast being the Roman Empire, under the reign of Nero Caesar. (See The Beast of Revelation Identified). I’ll highlight some of the scripture proof here.

On July 19, A.D. 64, the great Roman fire, which destroyed most of Rome, broke out. Although he was out of Rome at the time, suspicion was cast upon Nero for causing the fire. We already identified Nero as the emperor who was reigning at the time that John wrote Revelation (See Revelation 17:10 and Dating the Book of Revelation). Many were convinced that since he deplored the ugliness of Rome he intended to destroy it to make room for more of his own building projects. In order to turn attention from himself, he falsely accused Christians of having started the fire and punished them for being “given to a new and mischievous superstition”. This became the first Imperial persecution of the church, and the Apostles Peter and Paul themselves became two of Nero’s victims. According to L. Von Mosheim (who was not a preterist), the Neronic persecution began in November of 64 AD, and didn’t end until Nero’s suicide in June of AD 68, a period of almost exactly 42 months. (Revelation 13:5). Due to Nero’s excesses and his constant absence from Rome, the Senate voted to put Nero to death. Thus Nero implored a servant to stab him the throat with his own sword (Revelation 13:10).

The Mark of The Beast

“I wouldn't totally rule out any other meaning to the appearance of the number 666. For example, a Halloween lottery pick-3 drawing once turned up 666 as the winning number. We may have to allow for the occasional sovereignty of God in His attempt to warn folks of the evils of this world--in this case, gambling and Halloween. If there's a wayward Christian at a convenience store buying a dirty magazine or a bottle of booze and the register rings up $6.66, I couldn't think of a better number for God to use to get that person's attention.” (The Number of the Beast – Rapture Ready Website)

We can only smile at the type of nonsense typified by the above quote. While modern prophecy buffs look to answers in credit cards, computer chips implants, theme park validations, and bar code scanners, they once again ignore John’s original audience. What did the “mark” mean to them? We can look first at similar language in God's Commandments concerning the binding of the law in Deuteronomy 6:6-8. The mark of the beast is no more a literal mark than the binding of the law required a literal rope. The mark of the beast is simply "the number of his name" (Revelation 13:17). By the time a first century reader got to the 13th chapter of Revelation, they would have known that the Beast, by John’s description, was Nero’s Rome. Indeed, they would have known this from the 7th chapter of Daniel. But John gives another clue; a Jewish numeric riddle known as a gematria. The numerical values for a gematria can be found here.

By applying the gematriac values to the Hebrew form of Nero Caesar, we come up with the following:

Interestingly enough, some ancient Latin transcripts have the number 616 instead of 666. While some believe this to be a copyist’s error, there is a better explanation. It just so happen that the gematria of the Latin form for Nero Caesar (nrw qsr) equals 616. This shows 2 things. 1.) The Latin translators were more concerned with the identity of the beast than any particular number. 2.) The Latin translators believed Nero to be the beast.


Two popular objections are easily refuted.

1.) This is an incorrect Hebrew spelling of Nero’s name.

“It is charged by some that Nerón Kesar is merely a convenient "misspelling" of Nero's name in Hebrew. This objection overlooks the fact that before the modern introduction of dictionaries the world was simply not as concerned as we are about uniformity in the spelling of names. Alternate spellings were common (e.g. "Joram" and "Jehoram" in the Old Testament), especially in the transliteration of words into a foreign tongue. But the allegation of misspelling is wholly wrong anyway. The form Nerón Kesar is the linguistically "correct" Hebrew form, is the form found in the Talmud and other rabbinical writings, and was used by Hebrews in the first century, as archaeological evidence has shown. As F. W. Farrar observed, "the Jewish Christian would have tried the name as he thought of the name —that is in Hebrew letters. And the moment he did this the secret stood revealed. No Jew ever thought of Nero except as 'Nerón Kesar' and this gives at once . . . 666" (The Early Days of Christianity, Chicago and New York: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1882, p. 540)." (Footnote #37 from David Chilton’s “Days of Vengeance p. 351)

“According to Stuart, Professor Benary of Berlin noted long ago that in the Talmud and other Rabbinical writings Nero was spelled thus. …It may now be pointed out that in an Aramaic document from Murabba'at . . . , dated to the "second year of the emperor Nero," the name is spelled nrwn qsr — as required by the theory [i.e., that 666 signifies Nero]. The last two consonants are damaged, but enough is preserved to show that no vowel-letter was written between the q and s. (Taken from Kenneth Gentry – Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, p. 199)

2.) This is an in correct Hebrew gematria.

Some have suggested that the second N in NRWN should be the 'nun sofiet' or 'final nun' version, making its value 700 and thus making the actual value of the gematria 1316. However, this is false. The 'final nun' is a very specific Hebrew character under 'mispar hechrachi' or absolute value and to place it without the proper character in place doesn't work as to the rules of gematria. Furthermore, the “final” is not assigned to non-Hebrew words and as such would not apply to the gematria translation of NRWNQSR.


Despite the rantings of our modern day prophecy gurus, there is nothing in Scripture that points to a future worldwide dictator called “antichrist”. All of the individuals being referred to by alleged “antichrist” passages are long gone. As for the term "antichrist" itself, it refers to anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ, including some of the kindest people you may know.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Revelation: The Conquering Christ and the Overcoming Church

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’" (Matthew 28:18-20)

“When, in God's estimation, the world reaches the point of global rejection of Christ, then, as with Israel before her global deportation, God will recall His ambassador-the church-before the judgment of the tribulation.” (Tim LeHaye – Prophecy Q&A)

Will the church fail in the task that Christ has given her to do? Tim LeHaye seems to think so. His view emanates through the minds of the modern church. The world is a “sinking ship”, and the Christians only hope is to get “raptured” out of the mess. This is the clear difference between Premillennialism and Biblical Postmillennialism, which teaches that the Great Commission will be a success, not a failure, in this church age.

Having established the Date of Revelation as being prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, as well as holding to consistency in respect to the time frame references and original audience, it becomes much easier to establish this consistent theme. During the New Testament time period, the Church was being persecuted by “false Jews”, i.e. those who claimed to be heirs of God’s kingdom based on their physical lineage to Abraham. This is clear through a number of Scriptures. (For just a handful of examples, see Acts 5:18-18; Acts 6:8-7:60; Acts 9:22-23; Acts 12:1-3; Acts 13:50; Acts 14:2; Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:2-3; Rev. 2:9).

However, when John wrote what was, in essence, his version of the Olivet Discourse, a newer and greater persecution of the Church was taking place. The Great Fire of 64 AD had destroyed much of Rome. Most historians believe that the Emperor Nero, who deplored the ugliness of Rome, set the fire himself to enable him to rebuild it as he saw fit. Nero, needing a scapegoat, blamed it on those who practiced a “new sect of Judaism” called Christians. It was the first, and the worst, Imperial persecution of the church, a “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” (Matthew 24:21). In fact, John himself was exiled to the island of Patmos as a partaker in the tribulation (Revelation 1:9).

Neither Jesus nor John promised their listeners anything resembling a “pre-trib” rapture. In fact, Jesus warned his disciples that “they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.” (Matthew 24:9). St. John Apocalypse gave similar warnings, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10). The message of Revelation, to the Church, was not one of escape, but one of endurance, overcoming, and conquering.

“The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11)

“To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17)

“Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations,” (Revelation 2:25-26).

“The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Revelation 3:5)

“Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Revelation 3:10-12)

“The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)

“And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:2)

“They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful." (Revelation 17:14)

It was this attitude that moved the Puritans to build the London and Scottish Missionary Societies. It was this belief that enabled believers to conquer darkness in pagan worlds, preaching the gospel and smashing idols, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Contrast this with the modern day Dispensational theology that tells is that…

1.) God’s law is no longer valid.
2.) The world belongs to antichrist and the church is helpless to do anything about it.

If Satan wanted to draw up a theology to render the church of Jesus Christ impotent, what better plan could he come up with? May the Church of Jesus Christ recapture the postmillennial theology of overcoming the evil one.

For More Information, see:

The Puritan Hope by Iain Murray
Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope by Keith Mathison