Eschatology, Prophecy, and Foreshortening (Vos)

 When it comes to the OT prophets and eschatology, one area of discussion is the “literalness” of prophetic language.  Though not everyone agrees, in Reformed theology we see the prophets as speaking the truth in poetic and sometimes apocalyptic ways (similar to the Psalms, Revelation, and other parts of Scripture).  Therefore we don’t read the prophets with strict literalism, though we do read them with a view that they are part of the infallible Word of God.

There’s another thing about prophetism worth mentioning: it isn’t always chronological.  Sometimes prophecy is unchronological or non-chronological.  This matters in eschatology!  Here’s how Vos described it:

“Whenever the prophets speak in terms of judgment, immediately the vision of the state of glory obtrudes [imposes] itself upon their view, and they concatenate [join] the two in a way altogether regardless of chronological interludes.  Isaiah couples with the defeat of the Assyrians under Sennacherib the unequalled pictures of the glory of the end, and the impression might be created that the latter was just waiting for the former, to  make its immediate appearance.  The vision ‘hastens’ under their eye.  The philosophy of this foreshortening of the beyond-prospect is one of the most difficult things in the interpretation of prophecy in the Old Testament and New Testament alike.”

In other words, although it is a difficult aspect of interpretation, the words of judgment and glory in the prophets aren’t necessarily chronological.  For more helpful insight into OT prophetism, see Vos’ Biblical Theology, chapter six, part D (The Judgement and the Restoration: Prophetic Eschatology).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Eight Points: A Critique of Dispensational Premillenialism

Bible and the Future (This is a re-post from September, 2014)

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.  There are reasons why Reformed Christians are not dispensationalists! See below…

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
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Man of Sin Sitting in the Temple of God

2 Thessalonians 2:4 – a statement about the Man of Sin – is no easy verse to interpret: “He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship.  He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God” (NLT).  There are various explanations of what it means that the Man of Sin will sit in God’s temple.  Below is a brief summary along with an interpretation I favor.

The preterist view is that 2 Thessalonians 2:4 has already happened in the first century A.D. Jerusalem temple.  The dispensational view is that Paul is referring to a future rebuilt temple in Jerusalem where the Man of Sin takes a seat.  Another interpretation is that “temple of God” could also be “temple of a god” since pagan temples in Greco-Roman cities were common in the first century.  I don’t believe these views are in line with what Paul is saying.  First, in the context of verse 4 Paul is talking about Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead, so it doesn’t make sense to say with the preterist that this happened in the first century.  Second, since Jesus is the final temple of God and God’s people are his temple, we shouldn’t expect a future rebuilt temple in Jerusalem (as the dispensationalists say).  Finally, “temple of a god” makes some sense, but I’m not convinced the Greek text is best translated that way.

One view I’m sympathetic with is that “temple” is Paul’s reference to the church.  He does, in a redemptive-historical way, call the church the temple quite often in his epistles.  Therefore, it’s not a stretch to say the Man of Sin will claim or take some kind  of authority in the church.

A view that I favor even a more is that “temple” is symbolic since Paul is here speaking in apocalyptic terms.  For example, in this text (2 Thes. 2:1-12) Paul is talking about “the day of the Lord” and uses terms like revelation, mystery, breath of Jesus’ mouth, and signs and wonders.  In other words “taking his seat in the temple of God” means the Man of Sin will assume some position of great authority as if he’s god (although he certainly is not!).  Anthony Hoekema put it this way:

“The expression [‘take his seat in the temple of God’] is probably best understood as an apocalyptic description of the usurpation of the honor and worship which is properly rendered only to God.”

Herman Ridderbos spoke in a similar way:

“One must not…fail to appreciate the apocalyptic character of the delineation.  That which is still hidden, which as future event is still incapable of description, is denoted with the help of available notions borrowed from the present.  To sit in the temple is a divine attribute, the arrogating to oneself of divine honor.  No conclusions are to be drawn from that for the time and place in which the man of sin will make his appearance.”

Again, 2 Thessalonians 2:4 is a hard text.  But I don’t think the preterist or dispensational views do it justice, nor do they align well with other texts.  The temple of God could in this verse be a reference to the church.  That makes some sense.  But for me (and I could be wrong!), it makes the most biblical sense to say that the temple of God is a symbolic way to describe the future Man of Sin taking upon himself divine honor and authority in satanic opposition to God.

One thing that we can all joyfully and confidently agree on is that Jesus will easily, absolutely, and definitively defeat the Man of Sin.  It’ll be no contest!  “The Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thes. 2:8 NLT).

The above quotes are found in Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (p.160) and Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 520).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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

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 Rapture and 1 Thessalonians 4

Some Christians believe in a two-fold coming of Christ.  They say the first coming is a rapture where Jesus will quietly and secretly take his people and they will simply disappear from the face of the earth.  The Scripture used to back up this theory is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  For example, verse 17 says, …then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air… (NASB).   Much more could be said on this, but I like William Hendriksen’s brief critique:

“Dispensationalists like to stress the statement, ‘and the dead in Christ will rise first.’  They interpret as if the entire passage were somewhat on this order: ‘And the dead in Christ shall rise first; then, a thousand years later, the dead not in Christ shall rise.’

“However, nowhere in the entire paragraph does Paul say, ‘then the dead not in Christ shall rise.’  Paul is thinking only of believers, of no one else.  He is drawing a contrast between the dead in Christ and the still living in Christ.”

“On the one hand there will be those believers who at Christ’s coming will already have died.  On the other hand, there will be the survivors, children of God who will still be living on earth.  What the apostle is saying, then, amounts to this: ‘Don’t worry about your dear ones in the Lord, who have already died.  In no sense at all will they suffer any disadvantage when Jesus returns.  On the contrary, those who are still alive on earth will have to wait a moment until the souls of those who died have re-inhabited their bodies.  In that moment of waiting the survivors will be changed in the twinkling of an eye.  Then together, as one large multitude, those who formerly constituted the two groups will go forth to meet the Lord.”

Also, as far as a “secret” rapture goes, Hendriksen points out verse 16 in 1 Thessalonians 4:

“Note the words: ‘For with a shouted command, with a voice of an archangel and with a trumpet of the God the Lord himself will descend from heaven.’  This has been called ‘the noisiest verse in the Bible.’  It surely indicates that the coming of the Lord will be public and audible.”

William Hendriksen, The Bible on The Life Hereafter (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959), 183-184 (emphasis in original).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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