Sunday, May 27, 2012

What About The Anti-Christ?

Anyone who has had an interest in the end-times teaching of the Bible probably has some question about how the Anti-Christ figures into the scheme of things. Here are the basics.

1. There is a spirit of anti-Christ, which is one that opposes Christ and runs throughout this age.
1 John 4:2-3: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 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.

John 15:18-21: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

2. This spirit leads to many figures emerging as anti-Christ figures, that is, those who oppose Christ and his people, as well as false teachers who lead people away from the true Christ.
1 John 2:18: 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 2:22: 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.

2 John 7: 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.

3. These many anti-Christ figures, as well as previous persons who opposed God and brought great pain upon the people of God, all prefigure an ultimate Anti-Christ.
1 John 2:18: 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.

Matthew 24:15“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)….”

Dan. 9:27: “And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”

4. The “Man Of Lawlessness” is the same as the ultimate Anti-Christ figure. He will be destroyed by Christ when he returns.
2 Thessalonians 2:3: “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction….”

2 Thessalonians 2:8: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.”

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What About The Old Testament Promises To Israel?

During our sermon series out of Matthew 24-25 I continue to address in this blog questions I know that many will have after hearing my preach on the subject of the Second Coming Of Jesus Christ.

This week’s question arises because in some views of the Second Coming a literal seven year Tribulation and a literal 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ upon earth wherein a literal temple is rebuilt and Old Testament worship is restored are all focused upon God fulfilling his promises to the nation of Israel as made in the Old Testament. Yet, as we are making our way through Matthew 24, it has become apparent that I do not believe that the Tribulation is focused upon primarily upon the nation of Israel. Likewise, I have also stated I do not believe a literal temple will be rebuilt and Old Testament sacrifices restored with divine approval. I believe this is impossible in light of what Matthew 5:17-18, Colossians 2:16-17, and Hebrews 10:1 teach. What do they teach?  Namely, that the Law, along with its feasts, festivals, its sacrifices, and its dietary laws, points forward to Christ. It was all designed to lay a foundation for the coming Christ so we would grasp his life, death, resurrection, and saving benefits when he came. Yet, once he came, these Old Testament “shadows” are not needed.

If I am right, though we look forward to a time when a larger number of Jews will come to Christ as Savior (Rom. 11:25-32), we should not anticipate a time when God works with Israel as a national entity, restoring to them their land, and rebuilding a temple.

What, then, should we do with the Old Testament promises to Israel? Do we conclude that God does not keep his promises? Do we assume he forgot them?  The answer is, “No” to both. What we do is follow the lead of the New Testament authors to see how they view the promises. What we find is that God fulfills the promises in ways that run well beyond the extent to which Old Testament believers would have assumed he would. Consider:

  • God will not merely give a small parcel of land to his people wherein they can experience rest and worship him truly (Deuteronomy 12:10-14). Instead, he will give to his people the earth (Matthew 5:5), but even more than the earth, the eternal new heaven and new earth wherein they can rest, worship and find joy for all eternity (Hebrews 4:1-16; Revelation 21-22). And, what is more, this will not merely be the nation of Israel and those connected to them who are blessed with this promise. It will be those united to Christ, Jew and Gentile who enter this rest and glory (Ephesians 2:11-22; 3:6; Revelation 5:9-10; 21:12-14) as a fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:3).
  • No longer is true worship of God confined to a tabernacle in Israel or a temple in Jerusalem (John 4:21), for the Word, the Son, has tabernacled among us (John 1:14) and, as such has become the new temple (John 2:18-22). As a result, those united to Christ and thus with his Spirit, comprise the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16), that is, we are “living stones…being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The Church, then, united to Christ comprises that end-times temple promised in the Old Testament to which the nations will flock and worship the true God (Isaiah 2:1-5; 11:10-16; Ezekial 40-48).
  • Note that God’s ultimate saving promises were never meant to be fulfilled in all ethnic Israel without distinction, but only in the remnant, that is, those who truly believe, true Israel—the tree into which Gentiles have been grafted (Romans 9:6-33; 11:11-24) and made “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6), the “one new man in place of the two” (Eph. 2:15).

So, when we look at how the New Testament authors themselves deal with the Old Testament, it appears what God was doing with Israel as his Son (Hosea 11:1) pointed forward to and was fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 2:13-15) with the result now that those united to Christ (not to a nation), are recipients of the blessings, the promises of God by grace through faith. So, what God is doing is bringing all his promises to fulfillment in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).

So, will God fulfill all his Old Testament promises to Israel?  Yes, but how much more glorious and extensive those promises will be based upon the further revelation of the New Testament!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What About Daniel 9 And The Seventy Weeks?

One of the areas of controversy when it comes to what the Bible teaches about the return of Jesus Christ revolves around Daniel 9:24-27. While Daniel had been reading Jeremiah, he realized the “seventy years” of captivity (v. 2) are almost up. As a result, the prophet turns to God in prayer, seeking mercy for Jerusalem. God sends his answer to Daniel through the angel Gabriel (v. 21), who appeared to him and explained that another period of 70 sevens or seventy weeks is at hand for God’s people to fulfill the punishment for the iniquity of Israel (24). Yet, how do we interpret this passage?

Over the past century a very popular way of understanding the seventy weeks of Daniel 9:24-27 is to calculate it from the end of the captivity of Judah, about the time Daniel prays here in Daniel 9. The thought is that 69 nine of the “weeks” (7 x 69 years or 483 years) would take us to about the time of Christ. Then, with the large scale rejection of Jesus Christ by Jews, history entered into a long parenthesis (the Church age, unforeseen by Old Testament saints). Once the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21:24), then Jewish history is resumed. The New Testament Church is secretly raptured and the 70th week of Daniel commences (that is one week of seven years). This understanding, then, would need to devise a way for the Church to be removed from the earth prior to the Tribulation, a literal seven year period just after the rapture (the first stage of the coming of Jesus Christ) and just before the second stage of his coming. Such a scenario not only appears to run counter to the simple reading of Matthew 24 and Mark 13, it demands a two-stage coming of Jesus Christ that is stated nowhere in Scripture, it mistakenly makes the era of the New Covenant Church an unforeseen parenthesis (which contradicts the clear statements of Jeremiah 31:31-34; 1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 8:1-13), and most importantly it dangerously holds to a two-program view of God’s saving history, which contradicts Scripture (cf. Mt. 2:13; 5:17-18; Luke 24:27; Acts 10:43; Rom. 9-11; Eph. 2:11-22; Col. 2:16-17).

How, then, should we understand Daniel 9:24-27?  I believe the simplest understanding is as follows. Daniel 9:24 reads, “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city…to atone for sin.” Though the captivity was to last only 70 years (Jeremiah 25:12), the angel Gabriel is announcing that there will be a much longer time of hardship for Israel until they see “an everlasting righteousness” and are able “to anoint a most holy place” (Dan. 9:24). If we see the 69 weeks running from the beginning of the captivity (the beginning of the punishment of Israel), this would take Judah very close to the time that Antiochus Epiphanes, the persecuting Greek king, built a pagan altar in the temple and sacrificed pigs on it. Antiochus laid claim to the area around Judea in 173. He reigned until 164. Though longer than the seven years, it is a close enough time span to suggest that the seventieth week refers to this time, especially since during the last half of his reign Antiochus put an end to Jewish worship, persecuted and killed the Jews mercilessly, and sacrificed a pig on a pagan altar (168/67 BC). This time of horrible persecution was roughly 3.5 years. Such a time not only fits with Daniel 12:11-12, it also became synonymous with great tribulation in Israel.

Even though after their captivity Judah rebuilt Jerusalem, the temple, and the wall around Jerusalem in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. (see Ezra and Nehemiah), they experienced great turmoil until after the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, that is, through the era of the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks (164-142 B.C.). “Everlasting righteousness” and a true “most holy place” (Dan. 9:24) would not come until Jesus Christ came a little over a century later. Yet, it appears that this Greek ruler marked the end of Israel’s time of finishing transgression and atoning for their iniquity and signaled the time moving toward the first coming of Jesus Christ.

This prophecy of Daniel is also significant because it foreshadowed the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (see Matthew 24:15), which foreshadowed the escalation of persecution and the coming Anti-Christ at the end of this age and just before Jesus Christ returns (2 Thes. 2:3ff.; 1 John 2:18).

If I am correct that this is the best way to understand Daniel 9:24-27, it in no way contradicts Matthew 24 that seems to suggest Jesus Christ will return after the tribulation. It also supports my contention that we are not to understand New Testament references to 3.5 years of tribulation or two 3.5 year periods as being literal. Two 3.5 year periods of tribulation suggest a really long period of tribulation that spans the entire age of the New Testament Church (see Revelation 12).

Monday, May 7, 2012

What About The Book Of Revelation?

In the first three weeks of our sermon series on Matthew 24-25 (“This Age And The Second Coming Of Jesus Christ”), a question has emerged in response to my assertion that the rapture of the Church takes place after the Tribulation. The question is this: “What about the book of Revelation and the events contained in chapters 6-19, which many have interpreted to deal with a future seven year tribulation period, how will these events fit into the Tribulation and the rapture of the church?”

It is common to hear people teach that since the word “church” is not found again in Revelation after chapter 3 (until 22:16) this means the church is gone during the events of chapters 6-19. Based upon a theology that suggests the church needs to be gone during the Tribulation, the conclusion is made by some that these chapters cover that seven year period. If one adopts this view of Revelation, it would contradict what I have taught about Matthew 24-25. However, there are some reasons that lead us to believe the book of Revelation supports a view of the coming of Jesus Christ that aligns with what I have presented from Matthew 24-25.

First, the type of literature the book of Revelation is leads us away from seeing Revelation 6-19 as dealing only with a time in the future at the very end of this age. The book is, in part, a letter written to seven churches in Asia, as seen in the formula in 1:4:  “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace….” Additionally, at the end of the book, in 22:16, we read: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.” This is significant because this book is first and foremost written to specific people in specific situations. However we understand the book, its message must in some way apply to these churches in the first century. This would lead us to think that the book is not merely addressing seven churches in the first three chapters and then jumping to the end of this age when the church is gone to outline what happens then. Also supporting this necessity for application to the first century is the fact that the book is self-described as “prophecy” (1:3), a kind of writing that primarily tells forth the word of God for the intended recipients (Exodus 4:16; 7:1; 1 Ki. 22:14; Zech. 1). Finally, the book contains elements of apocalyptic literature, a kind of writing that pulls back the curtain on history to show through symbolism what is taking place in the heavenly places. Bringing together these three types of writing, what we should expect, then, is a book that uses symbolism to proclaim God’s Word and to show forth to first century churches what God is doing in history that would impact them.[1] This strongly suggests the bulk of the book is not dealing merely with a future 7 year long period of tribulation.

Second, the structure of the book leads us away from seeing chapters 6-19 as dealing only with a seven year period toward the end of this age that has nothing to do with the church. After addressing the seven churches as its original recipients, they are told of a heavenly throne room vision in chapters 4-5 that makes it clear the rest of the book sets forth what will happen throughout the history of this age as effected by the redeemer, Jesus Christ. What is more, the seven seals that he opens up (6:1-8:1) give way to seven trumpets (8:2-11:19), which give way to seven signs or symbolic histories (12:1-14:20), which give way to seven bowls (15-16). Each of these sets of sevens appears to cycle us all the way through the age of the church from the first to second coming of Christ (four cycles in all). In chapters 15-20 we see three more such cycles before the book climaxes in the New Heaven and New Earth (21-22). Notice all the sevens?  There are seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven signs/histories, seven bowls, and seven different cycles throughout the age of the church. This very intentional structure strongly suggests (especially in light of the apocalyptic elements) what we are dealing with in these chapters is largely symbolic.  

Third, there are indications in the book that the churches are being addressed throughout, rather than only in the first three chapters. The summary statement that these things are for the churches (22:16) suggests the message has been for them throughout. Another indication has to do with the tribulation and persecution emphasis to the seven churches (2:3, 10, 22; 3:8-10) that is seen also through chapters 6-19. Additionally, those who are truly saved and who thus persevere are those who conquer, a theme that is found in the first three chapters and also throughout the book (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 12:11; 21:7). Such believers conquer because the Son has conquered (5:5; 6:2; 17:14). Finally, the promises given to the seven churches in chapters 2-3 are fulfilled in chapters 20-22.

When we put all this together, the book appears to be written first and foremost to comfort and exhort the Christians in 1st century Asia Minor with what God is doing throughout the age between Christ’s first and second coming and with where history is ultimately heading. This means it most likely contains symbolism as opposed to giving some type of literal depiction of events in the future. Additionally, the book by implication is for the purpose of comforting and exhorting the people of God throughout history as implied in its beginning and closing texts (1:3; 22:19). Though it is more extensive than what we find in Matthew 24-25, this brief survey shows Revelation is written for a very similar purpose and with a similar message. 

[1] The Greek name for Revelation is Apokalypsis and gave rise to the name for this third type of literature,  which is also found in such places as Isaiah 24-27, Daniel, Zechariah, and Ezekiel 37-39.