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

Reformed Theology at Odds with Dispensationalism

In his excellent book on eschatology Cornelis Venema spends some time evaluating and critiquing dispensationalism from a Reformed and biblical perspective.  Reformed theology is at odds with dispensationalism in several ways.  One of the major differences is the understanding of promise/fulfillment and type/reality between the Old and New Testaments.  There is much more to the discussion, of course, but here are a few helpful paragraphs of Venema to explain this difference.

“Perhaps the most telling evidence against the dispensationalistic hermeneutic is to be found in the book of Hebrews.  The message of the book of Hebrews is, if I may speak anachronistically, a compelling rebuttal of Dispensationalism.  Whereas the book of Hebrews is one sustained argument for the finality, richness, and completion of all the Lord’s covenant words and works in the new covenant that is in Christ, Dispensationalism wants to preserve the old arrangements intact for Israel, arrangements which will be reinstituted in the period of the millennial kingdom.

However, this would be tantamount to going back to what has been surpassed in the new covenant in Christ, reverting to arrangements that have been rendered obsolete and superfluous because their reality has been realized in the provisions of the new covenant.  The Mediator of this new covenant, Christ, is the fulfillment of all the Lord’s promises to his people.  Thus, to the writer to the Hebrews, any reversion to the old covenant types and ceremonies would be an unacceptable departure from the realities of the new covenant in preference for the shadows of the old.

Though it may seem too severe to some, no other judgment is permitted us respecting the system of biblical interpretation known as Dispensationalism: it represents a continued attachment to the shadows and ceremonies of the old covenant dispensation and also a failure to appreciate properly the finality of the new covenant.  Its doctrine of a literal hermeneutic proves not to be literal in the proper sense of the term.  Rather than reading the New Testament ‘according to the letter,’ Dispensationalism reads the New Testament through the lens of its insistence upon a radical separation between Israel and the church” (p. 294-5).

The Eschatological Background of the Genesis Flood

Eschatology of the Old Testament   -     By: Geerhardus Vos<br />
The flood in Genesis 7-8 was an historical event with many layers of meaning.  It was a time when Yahweh  judged the wicked justly – but it was more than that.  Geerhardus Vos explains (note: “deluge” is another term for “flood”).

“The cosmic extent of the deluge-event is both negative and positive.

First, negatively, the flood destroyed the world (cf. Gen. 6).  This is a catastrophic world-judgment.  This fact is confirmed by pagan mythology, where it is associated with the chaos-flood out of which the world arose.  The creation and the deluge both have cosmic significance.  It was not confined to man; but the purpose was that God repented that he had created the world.

Second, positively, it is the commencement of a new world-order.  The waters receded on the first day of the month and the first month of the year (cf. Gen. 8:13); therefore a new year.  It also possibly attaches itself to the periodicity [time periods] of history and the berit [covenant] principle.  Periodicity is generally shown by the covenants that appear at the beginnings of periods.

Now the deluge and the post-diluvian (post-flood) order of things prefigure eschatological crisis and the eschatological state.  In other words, the deluge and ‘new creation’ are typical [that is, a type] of the absolute end of the world and the final renewal of the world.

For more info, see 2 Peter 3:1-7 after reading flood account in Genesis.

The above quote was taken from Geerhardus Vos’ The Eschatology of the Old Testament, page 81.

shane lems
hammond wi

Applying Revelation

Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation Dennis Johnson’s commentary on Revelation (Triumph of the Lamb) is one of my favorites because it is scholarly yet readable, detailed yet clear, and expositional yet practical.  In chapter 15 Johnson asks and answers the application question: “What should this book [Revelation] do to us?”  Here are his answers summarized and edited:

1) Revelation helps us see our situation in its true perspective.  We are living between two worlds: the first heaven and earth, which are destined for destruction; and the new creation, to which we already belong as God’s holy city, the bride now being beautified for her Husband.  Jesus’ Revelation to the churches through John is given to help us navigate the paradoxes built into the ‘betweenness’ of our situation.  Revelation is also brutally frank in revealing the call to follow Christ as a call to suffering and even death.  More than this, Jesus shows us that his victory over the enemy has blazed the trail for our victory.

2) Revelation helps us see our enemies in their true colors.  Revelation calls the church, Jesus’ witness, to exercise wise discernment, lest we be taken in by an impressive image that masks an ugly and empty reality.  The enemies include the beast (the power of government), the false prophet (religious deception), and the harlot (the idolatrous allure of material affluence and social acceptance).

3) Revelation helps us see our Champion in his true glory.  Whenever Revelation works on us as God intends it to, we trust, love, and fear Jesus more.  The purpose of its graphic portrayals of the dragon’s heavy artillery is not to haunt us with nightmares or keep us awake with night sweats.  It is to direct our eyes and hearts away from ourselves, to focus instead on Christ, the seed of the woman who crushed the ancient serpent’s head and now sits on God’s throne.  He is the lion of Judah, the slain Lamb, the captain of heaven’s armies, the faithful witness, the husband who lives his bride, etc.

4) Revelation helps us see ourselves in our true beauty.  Jesus loves his church.  Of course he is not blind to her blemishes, nor will he leave them untreated to mar his brides complexion when our wedding day arrives.  But Revelation shows us the lengths to which the Lamb has gone and will go to make us the holy city in whom he will dwell forever.  Christ loves his church and binds himself to her with bonds that no enemy from without and no failure of ours from within can sever.”

5) Revelation helps us endure suffering, stay pure, and bear witness to Christ.  The first century churches that John was writing to faced suffering and even martyrdom.  He wrote to encourage them to press on through suffering.  He also wrote to warn us of the devil’s appealing power and alluring guise, helping us fight spiritual seduction.  Finally, Revelation keeps us from withdrawing into a religious ghetto and keeping the gospel a secret.   The church is called to be Jesus’ witnesses, fearless in engaging the culture because we are confident in his care for as long as our mission on earth lasts.

This is an excellent summary of how Revelation applies to us, affects us, and encourages us in the Christian faith.  I recommend reading this entire excellent chapter of this excellent book: Triumph of the Lamb by Dennis Johnson.

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

The Tabernacle Was A Type

Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments Here’s a great section of Vos’ Biblical Theology.  It’s a little dense/detailed, but it is helpful:

“…What is true of the Christ is likewise true of the Church.  Of that also the tabernacle was a type.  This could not be otherwise, because the Church is the body of the risen Christ.  For this reason the Church is called ‘the house of God’ [Eph 2.21, 22; 1 Tim 3:15; Heb 3:6, 10:21; 1 Pet 2:5].  An individual turn is given to the thought where the Christian is called a temple of God [1 Cor 6:19].  It ought to be noticed that ‘house of God’ is not in the New Testament a mere figure of the fellowship between God and the Church, but always refers specifically to the Old Testament dwelling of Jehovah.”

“The highest realization of the tabernacle idea is ascribed to the eschatological stage of the history of redemption.  This is depicted by the Apocalypse [Rev 21:3].  The peculiarity of the representation here is that, in dependence on Isaiah 4:5, 6, the area of the tabernacle and temple are widened so as to become equally co-extensive with the entire New Jerusalem.  The necessity of a tabernacle or a temple symbolic and typical, presupposes the imperfection of the present state of the theocracy.  When the theocracy will completely correspond to the divine ideal of it, then there will be no more need of symbol or type.  Hence the statement, ‘I saw no temple therein’ [Rev 21:22].  This does not, however, make it ‘the city without a church.’  Using Scriptural terminology, we should rather say that the place will be all church.”

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 155.

shane lems

The 2 Witnesses of Revelation 11

(This is a slightly edited repost from May, 2008)

Just who are those two witnesses in Revelation 11:1-14? Who are those two “olive trees” and “lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth”?  Well, some say literally there will be two specific men/witnesses with unsurpassed power at the end of the age.  Others say similarly that these are two prophets who prophesy during the rapture.  On the allegorical side, some have suggested that these two are the Law and the Prophets or the Old and New Testaments.

I agree with the commentators who say that the two witnesses symbolize the Christian church between Christ’s ascension and return (Beale, Mounce, Hendriksen, Poythress, etc).  Hendriksen said it like this: “These witnesses symbolize the church militant bearing testimony through its ministers and missionaries throughout the present dispensation [age].” (More Than Conquerors [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1940], 155).  Similarly, Bauckham: “Two individuals here represent the church in its faithful witness to the world” (The Theology of the Book of Revelation [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993], 84).  Finally, Poythress agrees: “We find here a symbolic representation of Christian witness…[the two witnesses] represent the witnessing church, just as the seven lampstands in 1:12, 20 represent the seven churches of 1:11” (The Returning King [Phillipsburg: P&R, 2000], 127).

Greg Beale gives these reasons why this interpretation fits well:

1) The witnesses are called ‘two lampstands,’ similar to Rev 1.20, where John explicitly calls the churches “lampstands.”

2) In comparing Rev 11.7 and Dan 7.21 (clearly John alludes to Daniel here), Daniel notes that persecution is aimed not at a few individuals, but corporate Israel (called “the saints”).

3) In Rev 11.9-13, the entire world will see the defeat and resurrection of the witnesses – this means that the witnesses are visible throughout the earth – around the globe.

4) The two witnesses prophesy for 3.5 years, the same length of time other followers of Christ are oppressed (11.2, 12.6, 14; 13.6). Especially relevant is chapter 12, where the woman fled persecution for the same amount of time. Beale notes that the woman and the two witnesses signify the same thing: the corporate people of God, the church.

5) Elsewhere in Revelation, the entire community of believers is identified as the source of the testimony to/of Jesus (6.9, 12.11, 17; 19.10, 20.4).

6) Finally, note that the powers of Moses and Elijah in the OT are attributed to both of the witnesses, not split between the two witnesses (see 11.6 for example).  Beale: “They are identical prophetic twins.”

The above six points are a summarized version of Beale’s commentary: Revelation (Grand Rapid: Eerdmans, 1999), 574-5.

See also Dennis Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001), 170-1; he compares 11.7 and 13.7 to make the same point as the above named authors.

rev shane lems
hammond, wi

A Gentle Critique of Dispensationalism

Though The Millenial Maze by Stanley Grenz isn’t my favorite resource on eschatology, it has some strong points.  For example, Grenz gives the strengths and weaknesses of each millennial position – and he does so in a straightforward and fair way.  Here’s part of his critique of dispensationalism which specifically has to do with the sharp distinction between the church and Israel (a central part of dispensationalism).

“In rejecting the literalism of its proponents, critics [of dispensationalism] appeal to the New Testament, which as ‘the only divinely inspired commentary on the Old Testament’ forms the pattern for Christian exegesis of the divine promises to Israel.  They offer several specific examples of the New Testament use of the Old.”

“According to Luke’s account of Pentecost (Acts 2:15-21), for example, Peter found in the events of that day the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy concerning the day of the Lord (Joel 2:28ff), including cosmic disturbances.  He applied Joel’s vision not to national Israel, but to the church.  Luke’s rendering of James’ speech at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:14-18) offers a similar nonliteral interpretation of Amos’ prophecy of a future divine re-establishment of the Davidic kingship (Amos 9:11-12).  The prophet anticipated an eschatological re-emergence of Israel as a dominant nation under the reign of David’s greater son, the Messiah.  But the leader of the Jerusalem church claimed that the fulfillment of this text was the coming of the Gentiles to faith in Jesus.”

“Likewise, Jeremiah’s vision of a day of a new covenant between God and Israel (Jer 31:31ff) appears to be a prophecy of an eschatological re-establishment of Israel.  But the book of Hebrews declares that this day has already arrived, for it was fulfilled in the first coming of Christ (Heb 8:6-12).  As these and other examples indicate, nondispensationalists claim that the inspired authors of the New Testament found fulfillment in the church for certain Old Testament promises originally given to Israel.”

“In addition, some interpreters note that other promises, such as dominance over Israel’s neighbors and even possession of the land of promise, were declared fulfilled already in the Old Testament era.  Hence, in reporting the conquest of the land, the book of Joshua claims that all God had promised to do for Israel had been accomplished (Josh 23:14; 11:23; 21:43; see also 1 Ki 4:20-21).  And later prophecies of a regathering of Israel pointed to the return from exile that began following the edict of Cyrus.”

“Considerations such as these lead critics to conclude that the hermeneutic of classical dispensationalism is faulty.  Consequently, they reject as well the theological system that arises from the literalist hermeneutic.  It is erroneous to demand the strict separation between Israel and the church asserted by classical dispensationalism, they argue; it is likewise unwarranted to understand the tribulation and the millennium in terms of a program of God for Israel apart from the church.”

Stanley Grenz, The Millenial Maze, 108-109.

rev shane lems