Antichrist(s)

This is an excellent, balanced, and biblical resource on an often misunderstood teaching of Scripture: The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist. I marked the following paragraphs (among many others) that are worth sharing:

“The biblical writers do indeed foretell of Antichrist, but the images found in Scripture are markedly different from those of either ‘The Omen’ or the ‘Left Behind’ novels.  The fact that end-times speculation and sensationalism has trumped sound biblical exegesis is surely the reason this is the case.  Too often people don’t know what’s in their Bibles but can recount in great detail the plot of the most recent Christian novel.  Christians are quite familiar with the frightening images created by Hollywood but often remain ill-informed about the church’s reflection on this important doctrine.  This is most unfortunate and creates a climate in which Antichrist speculation occurs apart from serious reflection upon the teaching of the biblical text.”

“…According to New Testament writers, Antichrist is a past, present, and future foe.  As the supreme mimic of Christ, Antichrist will stage his own death, resurrection, and second coming.  The apostles faced him.  The martyrs faced him.  We must face him.  And in the one final outburst of satanic evil right before the end of time, Antichrist will make one last dramatic appearance before going to his doom.”

“Therefore, since Antichrist has already come, remains with us today, and will come again, understanding the tension between the already and the not yet is the key to understanding what the doctrine of Antichrist actually entails, and understanding this tension enables us to know how we are to combat him.”

Kim Riddlebarger, Man of Sin, p. 35-36.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

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Will the Jews Be Restored to Their Land?

Some dispensationalists teach that the Jews will one day return to their land en masse.  They believe that the OT prophecies about Israel in the future must be taken “literally” (e.g. Isaiah 11:11-12, Hosea 3:5, etc.).  It’s not quite that easy or simple, however.  I appreciate A.A. Hodge’s arguments against a future return of the Jews to Palestine:

1st: The New Testament is entirely silent on the subject of any such return, which would be an inexplicable omission in the clearer revelation, if that event is really future.

2nd: The literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies concerned in this question would be most unnatural, (1) Because, if the interpretation is to be consistent, it must be literal in all its parts. Then it would follow that David himself, in person, must be raised to reign again in Jerusalem, Ezek. 37:24, etc. Then the Levitical priesthood must be restored, and bloody sacrifices offered to God, Ezek. 40. to 46.; Jer. 17:25, 26. Then must Jerusalem be the center of government, the Jews a superior class in the Christian church, and all worshippers must come monthly and from Sabbath to Sabbath, from the ends of the earth to worship at the Holy City, Isa. 2:2, 3; 66:20–23; Zech. 14:16–21. (2) Because the literal interpretation thus leads to the revival of the entire ritual system of the Jews, and is inconsistent with the spirituality of the kingdom of Christ.  (3) Because the literal interpretation of these passages is inconsistent with what the New Testament plainly teaches as to the abolition of all distinctions between the Jew and Gentile; the Jews, when converted, are to be grafted back into the same church, Rom. 11:19–24; Eph. 2:13–19. (4) Because this interpretation is inconsistent with what the New Testament teaches as to the temporary purpose, the virtual insufficiency, and the final abolition of the Levitical priesthood and their sacrifices, and of the infinite sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ, and the eternity of his priesthood, Gal. 4:9, 10; 5:4–8 Col. 2:16–23; Heb. 7:12–18; 8:7–13; 9:1–14.

3rd: On the other hand, the spiritual interpretation of these Old Testament prophecies—which regards them as predicting the future purity and extension of the Christian church, and as indicating these spiritual subjects by means of those persons, places and ordinances of the old economy which were typical of them—is both natural and accordant to the analogy of Scripture. In the New Testament, Christians are called Abram’s seed, Gal. 3:29; Israelites, Gal. 6:16, Eph. 2:12, 19; comers to Mount Zion, Heb. 12:22; citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, Gal. 4:26; the circumcision, Phil. 3:3, Col. 2:11, and in Rev. 2:9, they are called Jews. There is also a Christian priesthood and spiritual sacrifice, 1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Heb. 13:15, 16; Rom. 12:1.

This is a longer discussion to be sure, but Hodge’s points are certainly worth thinking about when asking and answering this question about eschatology!

The above quote is found in Archibald Alexander Hodge, Outlines of Theology (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1863), 454–455.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24, Mk. 13, Lk. 21)

Bible and the Future The Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24, Mk. 13, & Lk 21) is the teaching of Jesus on the destruction of the temple and the coming of the Son of Man.  This is a complex passage to be sure.  The preterist view says that the discourse had everything to do with the fall of the temple in 70 AD.  Some dispensationalists say it has nothing to do with the fall of the temple in 70 AD but has everything to do with the end times.  I believe both of these positions are incorrect.  Anthony Hoekema gives a good amillenial explanation of the Olivet Discourse, one that I very much appreciate:

“As we read the discourse… we find that aspects of these two topics [when will this be and what are the signs] are intermingled; matters concerning the destruction of the temple (epitomized by the destruction of the temple) are mingled together with matters which concern the end of the world – so much so that it is sometimes hard to determine whether Jesus is referring to the one or the other or perhaps to both.  Obviously the method of teaching used here by Jesus is that of prophetic foreshortening, in which events far removed in time and events in the near future are spoken of as if they were very close together.  The phenomenon has been compared to what happens when one looks at distant mountains; peaks which are many miles apart may be seen as if they are close together.”

Hoekema then notes how Joel’s prediction of the Spirit’s outpouring and the sun turned to darkness are lumped together, and he notes how Isaiah mentions the fall of Babylon and the day of the Lord in the same prophecy.  Hoekema then writes,

“In the Olivet discourse, therefore, Jesus is proclaiming events in the distant future in close connection with the events in the near future.  The destruction of Jerusalem which lies in the near future is a type of the end of the world; hence the intermingling.  The passage, therefore, deals neither exclusively with the destruction of the temple nor exclusively with the end of the world; it deals with both  – sometimes with the latter in terms of the former.”

When we read the Olivet Discourse, it does have to do with the destruction of the temple, but it also has to do with Christ’s second – and final – return.  Thankfully the comfort in this text is clear: God is in total control of history, so the Christian need not be afraid when horrible things happen.  Instead, we should keep on making the good confessing and endure in the faith, looking forward to Christ’s return.

The above quotes are found on pages 148-149 of Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future.

Shane Lems

8 Points: A Critique of Dispensational Premillennialism

Bible and the Future Anthony Hoekema (d. 1988) wrote a helpful critique of dispensational premillennialism in his excellent book, The Bible and the FutureBecause I think they are helpful, I’m going to summarize and edit them below.  I strongly recommend reading the entire 20 page chapter for the full discussion – along with exegesis and detailed explanation.

1) Dispensationalism fails to do full justice to the basic unity of biblical revelation.  …One great difficulty with the dispensational system…is that in it the differences between the various periods of redemptive history seem to outweigh the basic unity of that history.  …When one does not do full justice to the unity of God’s redemptive dealings with mankind, and when one makes hard and fast distinctions between the various dispensations, the danger exists that one will fail to recognize the cumulative and permanent advances which mark God’s dealings with his people in New Testament times.  …The principle of discontinuity between one dispensation and another overrules and virtually nullifies the principle of progressive revelation.

2) The teaching that God has a separate purpose for Israel and the church is in error.  …As a matter of fact, the New Testament itself often interprets expressions relating to Israel in such a way as to apply them to the New Testament church, which includes both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Gal. 3:28-29; 6:15-16, Eph. 2:11-22, Heb. 12:22, 1 Peter 2:9, etc.).  …To suggest that God has in mind a separate future for Israel in distinction to the Gentiles is like putting the scaffolding back up after the building has been finished; it is like turning the clock of history back to Old Testament times.

3) The Old Testament does not teach that there will be a future millennial kingdom.  When one looks at the chapter and section headings of the New Schofield Bible, one finds that many sections of the Old Testament are interpreted as describing the millennium.  However, the Old Testament says nothing about such a millennial reign.  Passages commonly interpreted as describing the millennium actually describe the new earth which is the culmination of God’s redemptive work.

4) The Bible does not teach a millennial restoration of the Jews to their land.  …To understand these prophecies (about returning to the land) only in terms of a literal fulfillment for Israel in Palestine during the thousand years is to revert back to Jewish nationalism and to fail to see God’s purpose for all his redeemed people.  To understand these prophecies, however, as pointing to the new earth and its glorified inhabitants drawn from all tribes, peoples, and tongues ties in these prophecies with the ongoing sweep of New Testament revelation, and makes them richly meaningful to all believers today.

5) Dispensational teaching about the postponement of the kingdom is not supported by Scripture.  This teaching must be challenged on at least three points: 1) it is not correct to give the impression that all the Jews of Jesus’ day rejected the kingdom he offered them, 2) the kingdom which Christ offered to the Jews of his day did not involve his ascending an earthly throne, as dispensationalists contend, and 3) if the majority of the Jews had accepted Jesus and his kingdom, how would Christ have gotten to the cross?

6) Dispensational teaching about the parenthesis church is not supported by Scripture.  It is not true that the Old Testament never predicts the church.  The Old Testament clearly states that the Gentiles will share the blessings of the Jews (Gen. 12:3, 22:28, Ps. 22:27, etc.).  The idea of a ‘parenthesis church’ implies a kind of dichotomy in God’s redemptive work, as if he has a separate purpose with Jews and Gentiles.  The church was not an afterthought on God’s part, but is the fruit of his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ (Eph. 3:8-11).

7) There is no biblical basis for the expectation that people will still be brought to salvation after Christ returns.  Dispensationalism teaches that a remnant of Israel and a multitude of Gentiles will come to salvation during the seven-year tribulation.  There are clear indications in Scripture, however, that the church (including both Jewish and Gentile believers) will be complete when Christ comes again (1 Cor. 15:23, 1 Thes. 3:12-13, Matt. 24:31, etc.).

8) The millennium of the dispensationalists is not the millennium described in Revelation 20:4-6.  Revelation 20:4-6 says nothing about believers who have not died but are still alive when Christ returns (as was argued above).  Dispensationalists teach that the millennial age will concern unresurrected people, people who are still living in their natural bodies.  But about such people this passage (Rev. 20:4-6) does not breathe a word!  Further, Revelation 20:4-6 does not say a word about the Jews, the nation of Israel, the land of Palestine, or Jerusalem.

Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, chapter 15.

shane lems

The Rapture and A Cosmic Dog Whistle

In A Case for Amillennialism, Kim Riddlebarger gives a great biblical refutation of the secret rapture that dispensationalists teach.  Here’s one paragraph of that section.

“One of the most telling criticisms [of a secret rapture] is the language used by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the very passage used by dispensationalists as a proof text for two comings of Jesus Christ and the secret rapture.  Three times in the passage, Paul used terminology to convey the idea that Jesus Christ’s return to earth will be accompanied by divine announcements which are clearly universal in nature.  In verse 16, Paul mentioned that ‘the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God.’  The whole thrust of the three-fold announcement is that God himself will proclaim the return of Jesus Christ so loudly that the whole world will hear.  Not only so, but the world will also witness the subsequent catching away of believers (v. 17). 

If dispensationalists are correct in saying that this coming is secret, then only believers will hear the divine declaration.  As my colleague, Rev. Ken Jones, so aptly puts it, this turns the thrice-repeated announcement of Christ’s return into something akin to a cosmic dog whistle.  It is another example of a text where the champions of literal interpretation cannot take the key passage literally.  What is worse, if dispensationalists are correct about a secret rapture, then Jesus does not have two advents but three.”

As I’ve said before, I really like this book and highly recommend it.  This quote is found on page 143 of A Case for Amillenialism.

shane lems

Eschatology, Millennialism, End Times, etc.

 A friend of mine recently made the trek out of dispensationalism into Reformed theology.  A few members in the church I serve also came out of dispensational circles.  These things made me want to study dispensationalism from a dispensationalist’s point of view, so I purchased and read Ryrie’s Dispensationalism (Revised and Expanded)While I don’t want to give a book review of it here, I’m glad I read it.  After reading it, I’m not at all convinced that it is the most biblical method of interpretation.  In other words, I’m still convinced that the Reformed (covenantal and amillennial) view of Scripture is more biblical.  But that’s a whole different post and discussion!  What I want to do here is recommend a book for those of you interested in the historic Reformed view of biblical interpretation and eschatology.

The book I have in mind is Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism.  Even though many of our readers may have heard of this one, I believe it is significant enough to keep on our reading lists and book recommendations. It’s not one of those trendy small hardcover books that will lose its appeal in 8 months; this is one you can keep going back to in your biblical studies.

Riddlebarger understands dispensationalism since he used to hold a dispensationalist view of the Bible and history.  After his own intense studies, he became convinced the Reformation got it right.  This means – and he explains these things in the book – OT prophecy and eschatology have everything to do with Christ, covenant, the church, and the already/not yet nature of Christ’s eternal kingdom.

Here are a some other things Riddlebarger discusses (and these discussions are steeped in Scripture): the rapture, the Day of the Lord, the two ages, the church as the Israel of God, Christ’s return (the Parousia), the Olivet Discourse, Daniel’s prophecies, and Revelation 20:1-10 (just to name a few).  Though it technically isn’t a systematic theology text, it is an oustanding supplement to ST topics (hermeneutics, Christology, pneumatology, eschatology, etc.).

A Case for Amillennialism is around 250 pages and well written – most Christians who are committed to studying this topic will be able to read it without much trouble.  I do wish there were footnotes instead of endnotes.  Also, there is no Scripture index, which is very disappointing (though I think the publisher is to blame for that one.  Dear publishers, please put Scripture indexes in books!!!).  In a word, this is a book on my shelves I refer to quite often because it is a clearly written biblical explanation of some important themes in hermeneutics and eschatology.  I believe it will be a great resource for years to come.  If you don’t have it, or have been thinking about getting it, don’t hesitate; you won’t be disappointed.

shane lems

sunnyside wa