Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What About Psalm 104:14-15?

Do you believe that consuming alcoholic beverages is sinful or unwise? Have you ever read Psalm 104:14-15? Take a gander:

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, 
And vegetation for the service of man, 
That he may bring forth food from the earth, 
And wine that makes glad the heart of man
Oil to make his face shine, 
And bread which strengthens man's heart. 

The Psalmist states that God causes vegetation to grow so that we may bring forth wine, which makes our hearts glad.

Let’s summarize this:
  • God causes grapes to grow.
  • God wants us to turn these grapes into wine.
  • God wants us to consume this wine.
  • God wants this wine to make our hearts glad.
Do you believe each of these statements?

Not only is it okay to drink wine, but it is okay to feel the effects of wine, so that your heart rejoices.  

Not only is it okay to feel the effects of wine, but it is godly to do so. 

(By the way, “grape juice” has never made a heart glad. Ever. This is alcohol. If you think otherwise, read this.)

God brings forth grapes, so that we will make wine, so that we will drink wine, so that our hearts will be glad, so that we will give thanks to God.

When we drink wine until our hearts are merry, we glorify God because we use his good gifts according to the purpose for which he created them. 

(Of course, there is a difference between drunkenness and glad hearts. Drunkenness is sin, but glad hearts are not. But, this Psalm is not about drunkenness.)

Some are horrified at the thought of feeling the effects of wine in any way. 

But, God is not horrified by this.

God is horrified when we reject his good gifts. 

God is horrified when we when call good evil. 

God is horrified when we try to be “holier” than he is. 

God is horrified when we try to be “wiser” than he is.

Legalism is just as dangerous as licentiousness. 

So, repent by opening up a bottle of good wine. Enjoy the aroma – hopefully a flutter of nutty Edam cheese. 

Take a sip and enjoy! As long as it’s not Merlot!

If you think drinking wine is sinful or even unwise, I ask you, what about Psalm 104:14-15?

Monday, June 18, 2012

What About Mark 13?

If you are a Dispensationalist, I have a challenge for you. Read Mark 13 and explain the entire chapter verse-by-verse using only the context supplied by Mark.

Stay on target.

No bailing out to Matthew 24 or Revelation 20 or Daniel 9. Those are important texts that deserve their own treatment, but for this challenge, stick with Mark 13.

Stay on target.

Be disciplined to understand Mark 13 within the context of Mark 13, and you will reach the unavoidable conclusion that Mark’s version of the Olivet Discourse is all about the destruction of Jerusalem.

Stay on target.

Those who read Mark 13 and find the Second Coming or the Rapture or a Jewish Millennium are importing these into Mark 13. That’s called eisegesis. The context simply does not allow it.

Stay on target. Almost there.

What about Mark 13?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Harmonizing Genesis 15 and Genesis 17

The two most important chapters in the Bible on covenant are Genesis 15 and Genesis 17. If you misunderstand these chapters, then you will fail to comprehend the covenantal language that pervades the rest of Scripture.

The most common error is to pit Genesis 15 against Genesis 17. Such an approach leads to the conclusion that Genesis 15 and 17 are speaking of different covenants.

Such a conclusion is unnecessary. There are differences between Genesis 15 and 17, but these differences should not be exaggerated. Often, passages that seem to be contradictory at first glance are, upon closer examination, found to complement one another. This is called harmonization.

Genesis 15 and 17 ought to be harmonized, not pitted against one another. These two chapters are speaking about the same covenant. The differences between these two chapters can be attributed to the fact that they are describing different aspects of the same covenant.

Genesis 15 highlights the promises of the covenant. God binds himself to fulfill the promises of the covenant. The dramatic ceremony illustrates God’s intense commitment to Abraham and his descendants.

If we only had Genesis 15, then we might conclude that God’s promises would be given to every single one of Abraham’s future offspring, without discrimination. However, this covenant is not perpetually unconditional. We see this in Genesis 17.

Genesis 17 highlights the succession of the covenant. How is the covenant passed down to future generations? Who inherits the promises of the covenant?

Genesis 17 reveals that the covenant is not unconditionally passed on to every single one of Abraham’s offspring without discrimination. God ordains circumcision to govern the succession of his covenant.
The introduction of circumcision reveals two foundational principles.

1) Abraham’s descendants must be circumcised to remain in the covenant. If they are not circumcised, then they are cut off from the covenant. They are no longer heirs of the promises. Not only is the uncircumcised individual cut off, but all of the subsequent offspring of the uncircumcised are cut off, as well. This is the pruning principle. The uncircumcised are pruned out of the covenant tree, regardless of their race.

2) Those unrelated to Abraham by blood must also be circumcised. Abraham’s household and other “strangers” who dwell among Abraham’s family must be circumcised. They are now heirs of the promises. Not only is each circumcised individual added to the covenant, but all of their subsequent offspring are added, as well. This is the grafting principle. The circumcised are grafted into the covenant tree, regardless of race.

The rest of the Bible reveals much more about the nature of this covenant, but Genesis 15 and 17 are the foundation. If you get these wrong, then you will misinterpret other covenantal texts.

Those who pit Genesis 15 against Genesis 17 misunderstand how the promises of God (Genesis 15) were mediated through circumcision (Genesis 17). Circumcision was the vehicle that caused God’s people to wax and wane through grafting and pruning.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Stubborn Weed

Recently, reader dk recently asked this good question:

Lately, your posts have all been focused on the issue of what actually makes someone a Jew. In particular, you have been attacking what you consider to be a fundamental dispensensationalist tenet that Jewishness is only attained by being a blood descendant of Abraham. Not being an expert in dispensensationalist literature, I'm wondering if you could cite some specific references from dispensensationalists that establish that as a tenet of dispensensationalism. You have made a parenthetical reference to the book, "Christ's Prophetic Plan", but have established no other basis for your claim.

Why I am writing so many posts about the same topic? Why am I repeatedly attacking the Dispensational idea that the Israel of Promise is defined strictly by race? Is this an important part of Dispensationalism?

Yes! It is important. In fact, I believe that this is THE central issue that plagues Dispensationalism. While Dispensationalists are best known for their eschatology, their ecclesiology drives everything.

In Dispensationalism Today, Charles Ryrie identified a distinction between Israel and the church as one of his three sin qua non of Dispensationalism. This tenet is still emphasized in classic or traditional Dispensational circles.

I am most familiar with the Dispensationalism of John MacArthur. He insists on a hard distinction between Israel and the church. God made promises to the ethnic Jews, and these promises must be fulfilled for ethnic Jews.  Israel/Jew is defined exclusively by blood/ethnicity/race.

When I was at Master’s Seminary (1999-2004), they began to ramp up the rhetoric, charging non-Dispensationalists with “Replacement Theology” and “Supercessionism.” Promises made to Israel cannot be taken away and given to the church. Such language assumes that the Israel of Promise is defined by race, not religion.

TMS grad and professor Mike Vlach has written extensively on Supercessionism. All of his writings in this area revolve around the premise that God made specific promises to the ethnic descendants of Abraham that have not yet been fulfilled. Some of his writings can be found here.

Lately, my posts have focused on chipping away at this premise. It has been a bit laborious, but I am attempting to pull a stubborn weed that is entrenched deep in the soil of Dispensationalism.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Are the Jews Still "The People of God"?

One of the oddest features of Dispensationalists is their insistence that the Jews are still “the People of God.”

It is understandable to speak of a mass salvation of ethnic Jews in some future generation, calling that future generation of ethnic Jews part of the People of God.

And, it is understandable to speak of contemporary ethnic Jews who are Christians as part of the People of God.

But, Dispensationalists go further than this. They insist that the Jews are still “the People of God” right now. That is, all ethnic Jews living today are “the People of God,” regardless of their faith. Whether they are atheists or animists, it makes no difference. Race is all that matters.

What are the implications of this? Are unbelieving ethnic Jews in a different category than other unbelievers? In what sense can unbelievers be called the “the People of God”?

Such designations give a false impression about the current status of unbelieving ethnic Jews. But, let us be clear about this: an unbelieving ethnic Jew is just as lost as an unbelieving Gentile.

Unbelieving ethnic Jews will not be resurrected to life. They will not reign with Christ in a Jewish Millennium. They will not dwell in the Promised Land forever. They will not enter the Kingdom.

Millions and millions and millions of ethnic Jews have died as unbelievers. Are these millions of unbelieving ethnic Jews who have died still “the People of God”? Are there millions of God’s People in hell? Or, is this title revoked from unbelieving ethnic Jews at their death?

Furthermore, untold millions of ethnic Jews will be born before Christ returns. For those who are not elect, they will die as unbelievers and suffer the same judgment as all other unbelievers. Their race will not rescue them from God’s wrath. Their blood will not save them.

What’s the point of calling unbelieving ethnic Jews “the People of God”? This only promotes confusion.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What About Esther 8:17?

All Christians agree that God made promises to Abraham and to his descendants. Christians disagree on who exactly are Abraham’s descendants.

Dispensationalists insist that the only true heirs of these promises are the blood descendants of Abraham. While the blessings of these promises extend to the entire world, God must fulfill these promises for ethnic Jews.

Because Dispensationalists define Israel/Jew strictly according to blood, the categories of Israel/Jew are fixed from conception. You either have Jewish blood or you do not.

No one can ever change their genes. Once a Jew, always a Jew.

For Dispensationalists, religion plays no role in determining who is Jewish. An atheist Jew is still a Jew and therefore, an heir of the promises. A Gentile convert to Judaism is not a Jew and therefore, is not an heir of the promises.

The problem with this paradigm is that it does not fit the Scriptures. Even in the Old Testament, Israel was not a fixed entity based strictly upon blood. Israel was ALWAYS subject to grafting and pruning.

From the beginning, unbelievers were pruned out of Israel and lost their inheritance. Ishmael, Esau, Saul, Absalom, and countless others were cut off from the promises because of unbelief.

From the beginning, believing Gentiles were grafted into Israel and became heirs of the promises to Abraham. Rahab and Ruth are the preeminent examples, but entire groups of people were grafted into Israel: Abraham’s household servants and the Egyptians who fled during the Exodus.

Also, as a result of the events of the book of Esther, a large number of Persians became believers and were grafted into Israel. Look at how the Bible describes this in Esther 8:17:

“And in every province and city, wherever the king's command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them.”

These Persians “became Jews.” These Persians were grafted into Israel and became heirs of the promises to Abraham.

When it comes to Esther 8:17, Dispensationalists abandon their “literal” hermeneutic. They cannot accept this text at face value.

If you want a classic example of eisegesis, ask a Dispensationalist to explain Esther 8:17. They will go through tortuous gyrations to avoid the obvious implications of this text, namely, that converted Gentiles were grafted into Israel, even in the Old Covenant.

When Paul penned Galatians 3:29, he was not inventing a new truth. Grafting and pruning are not exclusively New Covenant principles. Paul was explaining a concept that operated in Old Covenant, as illustrated by many Old Testament texts, including Esther 8:17.

So, whenever you find yourself listening to a Dispensationalist wax eloquent about how Gentiles cannot inherit the promises to Abraham, simply ask, "What about Esther 8:17?"

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Was Sammy Davis, Jr. a Jew?

Dispensationalists insist that the promises made to Israel must be fulfilled for the ethnic descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Israel of promise is strictly a matter of blood. Religion plays no role whatsoever in determining whether someone is a Jew who will inherit the promises.

I have been cataloguing the numerous problems with defining Israel/Jew strictly by blood. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here!

Interestingly, Dispensationalists stand alone in restricting the definition of Israel to ethnicity. Even Modern Judaism defines a Jew as any person who meets one of two criteria: 1) born of a Jewish mother; 2) a convert to Judaism. Thus, Modern Judaism allows for the in-grafting of Gentiles. Dispensationalism does not.

For example, Sammy Davis, Jr. famously converted to Judaism in the 1960’s. Davis was not a Jew ethnically, but he became a Jew religiously. Modern Judaism recognized Sammy Davis, Jr. as a Jew, but Dispensationalists did not. According to Dispensationalists, Sammy Davis, Jr. was not an heir to the promises because he was not an ethnic Jew. Thus, Sammy Davis, Jr. had no right to the land.

This disjunction puts Dispensationalists in an awkward political position, of which they show little awareness. While Dispensationalists support the modern nation of Israel, they fail to recognize that this nation contains a mixture of ethnic Jews and converted Gentiles. According to Dispensationalists, these Gentile converts are not Jews, and they have no right to the land.

Do Dispensationalists make a distinction in their support of the modern nation of Israel? Do they support only those who are blood descendants of Abraham?

According to Dispensationalists, the Promised Land no more belongs to these Gentile converts than it does to the Palestinians. Dispensationalists call for the removal of the Palestinians – where are the calls for the removal of Gentile converts to Judaism?

Dispensationalists demand virtually unconditional support for the modern nation of Israel, but if they were consistent, Dispensationalists would demand the removal of ALL non-ethnic Jews from the Promised Land, including Gentile converts to Judaism.

For Dispensationalists, neither the Palestinians, nor Sammy Davis, Jr., have a right to the land.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

1 + 1 = 3

Dispensationalists believe that God made promises to ethnic Israel, to Jews who are blood descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God planned to bless Gentiles and the world, but he still owes promises to ethnic Jews.

This is the most fundamental tenet of Dispensationalism. However, it is a presupposition that presumed and never proved.

In recent posts, I have explored some of the problems of defining Israel strictly by blood. Dispensationalists seem blissfully unaware of these difficulties.

You will search Dispensational works in vain for any serious discussion of how to define Israel. Over and over again, you will only find bare assertions about promises made to ethnic Israel.

Yet, defining Israel was never strictly a matter of blood. It was always a matter of religion. Blood was a factor, but it was not the factor.

From the very beginning, there was always pruning and grafting. Apostates were pruned out of Israel. Believing Gentiles were grafted into Israel. It was never about the blood. From the beginning, it was always about religion.

When Dispensationalists insist that God made promises to ethnic Jews, they are making a critical, foundational error.

It is such a basic, simple error, that non-Dispensationalists have a hard time taking Dispensationalism seriously. This is not because Dispensationalists are stupid. Yet, they have made an elementary mistake.

It is like a brilliant mathematician who thinks he has solved a complex equation, only to be shown by a colleague that he has made a simple arithmetic mistake on page one.

When Dispensationalists continuously insist that God still owes promises to ethnic Jews, all I hear is 1+1=3.

Lately, Dispensationalists have ratcheted up the rhetoric, with charges like “supercessionism,” “replacement theology,” and “anti-Judaism.” I find none of these compelling in the least. They all depend upon defining Israel strictly by blood.

But 1+1≠3.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Were the Samaritans Jews?

Dispensationalists insist that God owes promises to ethnic Jews, those who are blood descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob.

However, defining an ethnic people is never an easy task, especially when dealing with intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles.

Some Dispensationalists have asserted that lineal descent defines Israel/Jew. At least one Jewish parent means that the children are Jewish.

In previous posts, I have explored some of the problems of using lineal descent to define an ethnic group. See here and here.

Let’s look at a real example, pertinent to both ancient and modern society: the Samaritans.

The Samaritans are generally regarded as the descendants of those Jews who survived the Assyrian attack on the Northern Kingdom. They inhabited Samaria, which is why they are called Samaritans.

The Samaritans were despised by the Jews because they may have intermarried with the other nations. Some considered them to be half-breeds. It is clear from the gospels that Jews hated Samaritans and did not consider them to be Jews (cf. John 4:9; 8:48).

However, if lineal descent defines Israel/Jew, then the Samaritans were still Jews. Dispensationalists insist that blood alone determines who is Israel/Jew. The Samaritans were still Jews and heirs of the promises to Abraham, regardless of what the Jews of that day thought.

The problem with this is that Jesus did not consider the Samaritans to be Jews. Jesus did not regard them as part of Israel. This is obvious from what Jesus said to his disciples:

“Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6).

Jesus was often kind to the Samaritans (cf. Luke 10, John 4) and went out of his way to help them, but he did not regard them as Jews or part of Israel. They were in a different category.

All of this points to the fact that Israel/Jew was never defined strictly by blood. The Samaritans were blood descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet Jesus declared that they were not part of Israel. They were not Jews.

How do we explain this?

This is the “pruning” principle. The Samaritans were pruned off of Israel. They were cut off and no longer consider Jews.

What caused the Samaritans to be pruned? Were the Samaritans pruned off because they intermarried with non-Jews? Did the dilution of Jewish blood result in their pruning?

No, many Jews intermarried, and they, and their children, retained their status as Jews and part of Israel. Many Jews lacked pure Jewish blood, including Boaz and Jesus.

The Samaritans were pruned off when they abandoned the worship of the true God. They worshiped at their own place and in their own way (cf. John 4). They did not worship the one true God.

The Samaritans were not considered Jews because of their religious apostasy, not because of any dilution in their Jewish blood.

Interestingly, there are still Samaritans alive today. They are descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jewish blood runs through their veins. Ethnically, they have just as strong of a claim to the promises to Abraham as Modern Israel.

But, it was never about the blood. It was always about religion. The promises were not made to the blood descendants of Abraham but to the spiritual descendants.

Galatians 3:29 is not merely a truth for the church age. It is a truth for all ages.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How Jewish Is Jewish Enough?

Every Christian believes that God made promises to the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 12, 13, 15, etc). Every Christian also holds that believing Gentiles are descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:29).

However, Dispensationalists insist that God still owes promises to ethnic Jews. Only the blood descendants of Abraham qualify as the true heirs to these promises, and so God must fulfill his promises to those who are blood descendants of Abraham, the ethnic Jews.

Who are these ethnic Jews? This seems like an easy question, but not so! It is complicated. There are a lot of moving parts.

Specifically, what happens in a mixed marriage between a Jew and a Gentile? Are the children Jewish? Are the children going to be part of the Israel who will inherit the promises made to Abraham?

In recent posts, I have showed the failure of defining Israel/Jew by matrilineal or patrilineal descent. See here and here.

In response, some Dispensationalists have emailed me and asserted that lineal descent is the answer. As long as one of the parents is Jewish, then the children are Jewish.

In my previous post, I began to explore the problems with using lineal descent to define Israel/Jew. Lineal descent works in a relatively closed community, but when the community is opened up or abandoned, then dilution renders lineal descent irrelevant.

Dilution of the blood pool is a real issue in defining an ethnic people. For instance, most Native American tribes have blood quantum laws requiring between one-half (1/2) and one-sixteenth (1/16) tribal blood for membership.

In the episode “Diversity Day” on The Office, Michael Scott claims he is two-fifteenths (2/15) Native American. When told that this is impossible, Michael replies, “It’s too painful to talk about.”

For those Dispensationalists who argue that lineal descent makes someone a Jew, is there ever a point at which the bloodline become too diluted to be of significance?

Consider the case of a Jew who marries a Gentile and then joins a Gentile community, so that all of their descendents marry Gentiles. According to lineal descent, all of their descendants would still be considered Jewish.

  1. The child of a full Jew (100% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/2 Jewish (50%). 
  2. The child of a 1/2Jew (50% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/4 Jewish (25%).
  3. The child of a 1/4 Jew (25% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/8 Jewish (12.5%).
  4. The child of a 1/8 Jew (12.5% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/16 Jewish (6.25%).
  5. The child of a 1/16 Jew (6.25% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/32 Jewish (3.125%).
  6. The child of a 1/32 Jew (3.125% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/64 Jewish (1.5625%).
  7. The child of a 1/64 Jew (1.5625% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/128 Jewish (0.78125%).

By the seventh generation of intermarriage, the children would have less than one percent Jewish blood, yet they would still be considered Jewish according to lineal descent.

In the one hundredth generation of intermarriage (3000-4000 years?), the children would have 0.000000000000000000000000000158 percent (1.58 x 10-30) Jewish blood. Yet, according to lineal descent, they would still be considered ethnic Jews who are going to inherit the promises.

Of course, this is ridiculous. No one would seriously consider such a person to be an ethnic Jew. No one … except those Dispensationalists who define Israel/Jew by lineal descent.

Because the Bible gives us no blood quantum law to govern mixed marriages, lineal descent fails as a mechanism to define Israel/Jew. Dilution of the blood pool renders lineal descent deficient in determining who is and is not a Jew.

All of this points to the fact that Israel/Jew was never defined strictly by blood. Being Jewish was never strictly a matter of ethnicity.

Dispensationalists are wrong on this foundational issue, and their whole system collapses under the weight of this miscalculation.

Galatians 3:29 is not simply a “New Covenant” truth. It was always true, even in Genesis 12.

Who Are the Descendants of Abraham?

Dispensationalists routinely insist that God made promises to the Jews, and these promises must be fulfilled for the Jews.

However, who are these Jews who will inherit the promises?

Dispensationalists dogmatically maintain that such a Jew is only someone who is ethnically descended from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Blood alone defines Israel.

However, what happens in a mixed marriage between a Jew and Gentile? Are the children Jewish? Who are the descendants of Abraham?

Some Dispensationalists have emailed me and asserted that, in a mixed marriage, as long as one of the parents is Jewish, then the children are Jewish. This is known as lineal descent.

Lineal descent avoids the problems of strict matrilineal descent. Boaz was a Jew because his father was a Jew.

Lineal descent also avoids the problems of strict patrilineal descent. Jesus was a Jew because his mother was Jew.

Lineal descent appears to be the answer to the Dispensational dilemma. As long as one parent is Jewish, then the children are Jewish.

However, lineal descent has an inherent problem: dilution through intermarriage. Lineal descent works in a relatively closed community, but it collapses when the community opens up or is abandoned.

Consider the case of a Jew who marries a Gentile and then joins a Gentile community, so that all of their descendants marry Gentiles. According to lineal descent, all of their descendants would still be considered Jewish, no matter how little Jewish blood ran through their veins.

By the seventh generation of intermarriage, the descendants would have less than one percent Jewish blood, yet they would still be considered Jewish according to lineal descent, and therefore, they would inherit the promises made to the descendants of Abraham.

This exposes the fatal flaw of Dispensationalism: insisting that God made unconditional promises to an ethnic group. God did no such thing.

Ethnic descent was a factor, but it was never the factor. Dispensationalism completely unravels when this fatal flaw is exposed.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Was Jesus a Jew?

Dispensationalists consistently emphasize that God made promises to the Jews, and these promises must be fulfilled for the Jews.

This raises the question: Who are these Jews who will inherit the promises?

Dispensationalists insist that a Jew is someone who is ethnically descended from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Blood alone defines Israel.

This raises the question: Is Israel defined by matrilineal descent (through the mother) or by patrilineal descent (through the father)?

In my previous post, I demonstrated that matrilineal descent alone is an invalid way to define Israel/Jew. This eliminates Boaz, Obed, and technically, even Judah, from Israel because their mothers were not Jewish.

Patrilineal Descent?
What about patrilineal descent?

This seems to make more sense. All genealogies in the Bible trace the male line. The promises were given to males and renewed with males. The male descendents were circumcised. Patrilineal descent seems more Biblical.

However, patrilineal descent alone is insufficient to define Israel/Jew because of one obvious exception: Jesus.

If being a Jew is defined by one’s father, then Jesus is not Jewish because his Father is not Jewish.

As Archie Bunker once retorted when reminded that Jesus was Jewish: “Yes, but only on his mother’s side.”

This one enormous exception means that patrilineal descent alone cannot be used to define Israel/Jew.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Was Boaz a Jew?

The most fundamental error that Dispensationalists make is in restricting their definitions of Israel and Jew to ethnicity. One who is born a Jew is always a Jew, and nothing can change this. Likewise, no one can become a Jew because blood alone determines whether one is a Jew. Blood alone defines Israel.

Dispensationalists continually pound this pulpit, yet they show little awareness of the difficulties surrounding such a definition. Specifically,
  • How much Jewish blood makes someone a Jew?
  • In a mixed marriage (Jew + Gentile), does it matter which party is Jewish?
I will deal with both of these questions in the next few posts.

Matrilineal Descent?
In a mixed marriage, does it matter which party is Jewish?

Some branches of Modern Judaism define Israel/Jew partly according to matrilineal descent. That is, one is a Jew if their mother is a Jew. Thus, a Jewish mother begets Jewish children, regardless of the ethnicity of the Father.

The problem with defining Israel/Jew according to matrilineal descent is that this excludes some famous Jews, such as Boaz.

Boaz’s mother was Rahab, who was a Canaanite. She was not Jewish, and thus, according to matrilineal descent, Boaz was not a Jew.

Also, Boaz married Ruth, who was a Moabite. Thus, their son, Obed, was not a Jew, according to matrilineal descent.

Technically, neither Judah nor any of the other sons of Jacob would be Jews, as Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah were not Jewish. Thus, according to strict matrilineal descent, none of the twelve sons of Israel were Jewish.

Of course, Modern Judaism has an answer for this dilemma, which I will explore in a future post.

Also, I know of no Dispensationalist who defines Israel/Jew according to matrilineal descent. I am not suggesting or implying this in any way.

I am simply ruling out defining Israel/Jew according to strict matrilineal descent.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Was Ruth a Jew?

In my previous post, I argued that the fatal flaw of Christ’s Prophetic Plans is that the authors assume that Israel/Jew is defined strictly by ethnicity. In the next few posts, I want to explore the ramifications of such a presupposition.

If Israel is defined strictly by ethnicity, then no one could ever become a Jew. You were either born a Jew or you were not. Nothing that you ever did would change that.

What about Ruth? Ruth was a Moabite; she was not born a Jew. If Israel/Jew is strictly an ethnic designation, then Ruth could never become a Jew because no one can become a Jew. She was a Gentile who got in on the promises.

However, this is not what the Scriptures teach. Ruth herself claimed, “Your people shall be my people” (Ruth 1:16). She saw herself becoming part of Israel. She became a Jew.

The only way this is possible is if Israel/Jew is not strictly an ethnic designation. In the Bible, Israel/Jew is a religious designation with ethnic implications.

Was Ruth a Jew? Not by birth, but by conversion, Ruth became a Jew. She was grafted into Israel, and both she and all of her progeny became Jews.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Fatal Flaw in "Christ's Prophetic Plans"

Okay, so I just finished my read/skim of Christ’s Prophetic Plans (CPP). This is not a full review but just a few thoughts on one aspect of the book.

CPP is a good primer on John MacArthur-styled Dispensationalism. MacArthur has carved out his own niche in Dispensationalism somewhere between Revised (Ryrie, Walvoord, Pentecost) and Progressive (Blaising, Bock, Saucy) Dispensationalism.

I mostly skimmed the chapters on eschatology because I quickly grow weary with detailed explorations of the pre-trib rapture, gaps in Daniel 9, a Jewish Millennium, etc. I did read the chapters on ecclesiology a little more closely.

When I was leaving Dispensationalism, it was ecclesiology, not eschatology, that kept me up at night. Distinguishing between Israel and the church had been drilled into me, and it took a lot of study to untangle the flaws in this presupposition.

CPP consistently appeals to the promises that God made to Israel. God made promises to Israel, and these promises must be fulfilled for Israel. Otherwise, God is a liar.

But, who is Israel? How do we define Israel? CPP gives little, if any, thoughtful reflection to this crucial question. Instead, CPP operates under the presupposition that Israel is defined strictly on the basis of ethnicity; God must fulfill his unconditional promises to ethnic Israel (p. 170).

However, this is the fatal flaw in Dispensationalism. God never made unconditional promises to ethnic Israel. Ever. Most of Dispensationalism is built upon this fatal flaw.

This fatal flaw causes Dispensationalists to suppress Biblical evidence, as I recently noted here, where I pointed out that in Acts 7:38, Stephen calls Israel the church (Check the Greek or the KJV or the ASV).

For this reason, most accusations of "Replacement Theology" and "Supersessionism" miss the mark. Instead, they simply reveal that the accuser is a Dispensationalist, or at least one who presupposes a fatally-flawed ecclesiology.

I have some more thoughts on this topic that I hope to unleash soon.

Friday, March 30, 2012

What about Acts 7:38?

I have been skimming Christ's Prophetic Plans, which is a primer on Dispensational Eschatology. I would like to write a review or a response at some point, but I can't let this pass:

Richard Mayhue asserts, "Furthermore, never in the whole New Testament is 'Israel' ever called 'the church'" (page 82).

This is patently false. Stephen refers to Israel as the church in his sermon:

"This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you" (Acts 7:38).

"The congregation" is the Greek word, ekklesia, which is the word for the church. Thus, Stephen calls Israel the church.

So, whenever you find yourself listening to a Dispensationalist wax eloquent about how Israel is never called the church, simply ask, "What about Acts 7:38?"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Animal Sacrifices in the Millennium?

One of the most embarrassing aspects of Dispensationalism is their insistence that there will be a return to animal sacrifices during the Millennium. Most Dispensationalists have no idea that this is part of their system. The Progressive Dispensationalists have mostly abandoned this element. However, the hard-core Dispensationalists still hold to it.

If you recall, Dispensationalists believe that after his second coming, Jesus will reign on the earth for exactly one thousand years. This thousand-year period is often called the Millennium, taken from the Latin phrase "thousand years," found in Revelation 20.

Whereas all Premillennialists believe in a future Millennium on earth, Dispensationalists are unique in that they believe that the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, according to the vision given in Ezekiel 40-48. Herein lies the problem.

The vision in Ezekiel 40-48 includes animal sacrifices. Because Dispensationalists are committed to a literal, future fulfillment of Ezekiel 40-48, Dispensationalists believe that there will be a return to animal sacrifices during the Millennium.

Some Dispensationalists have tried to skirt the issue by arguing that the animal sacrifices are of a memorial nature. Thus, the animal sacrifices are simply pointing back to the death of Christ, in a similar way that the Lord's Supper points back to Christ.

However, the text of Ezekiel 40-48 belies this claim. These are not mere memorial animal sacrifices. Fourteen times, the text calls for a "sin offering" (Ezekiel 40:39; 42:13; 43:19, 21, 22, 25; 44:27, 29; 45:17, 19, 22, 23, 25; 46:20). Leviticus describes the sin offering as "making atonement" (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35, etc.). These are animal sacrifices to atone for sin.

Thus, according to Dispensationalists, during the future Millennium, there will be a temple in Jerusalem with Levitical priests offering animal sacrifices to atone for sin.

Most Christians find such a belief unsustainable in light of the book of Hebrews. God repeatedly stresses that the Old Covenant is finished. It is obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). The sacrificial system was "imposed until the time of reformation" (Hebrews 9:10). Christ's sacrifice was the once-for-all-time sacrifice (Hebrews 9:26).

Yet, Dispensationalists persist in their belief of a future Millennium with animal sacrifices. There are some other rather novel attempts to explain future animal sacrifices, but none has gained a wide following, and most find them woefully inadequate.

Rather than engage these point-by-point and getting lost in the details, I believe it is more helpful to look at the big picture. "Future animal sacrifices" is one of those Copernican Revolution issues about which I wrote in the early days of this blog.

Do future animal sacrifices make any sense, given the book of Hebrews and the rest of Scripture? Is this not an obvious fatal flaw in Dispensationalism? Should this not cause one to question the entire system?

I am not saying that Ezekiel 40-48 is an easy text to interpret, yet future animal sacrifices ought to be the last interpretive option. The book of Hebrews alone ought to cause us to take a fresh look at Ezekiel 40-48 and see if God meant something other than future animal sacrifices.

This is not a matter of changing the original meaning of Ezekiel 40-48. I am not going get into the details of the exegesis (perhaps in a future post), but Ezekiel 40-48 can be understood without violating authorial intent and without resorting to future animal sacrifices.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Leaving the NASB Behind

I grew up using the New American Standard Bible (NASB). It was the translation of the Bible that I read in grade school, junior high, high school, college, after college, and in seminary. In 2004, I switched to a different translation, but I still tend to think in the language of the NASB.

The NASB is a fine translation in many respects. It is very literal. While some complain that it is a bit wooden and stodgy, I never felt this way. Whenever I look up a passage in the NASB, I feel that I am returning to an old friend.

One of the reasons that I left the NASB behind is that there is a noticeable Dispensational bias in certain passages. Some of the editorial decisions in the translation of the book of Revelation are particularly alarming, in that they camouflage the actual text from the reader.

Compare the following translations of Revelation 21:16-17.

"And the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements" (Revelation 21:16-17, NASB).

"The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement" (Revelation 21:16-17, ESV).

You will notice that the numbers differ between the NASB and the ESV. The NASB has "1500 miles" and "72 yards," whereas the ESV uses "12,000 stadia" and "144 cubits." Of course, the original Greek text speaks of stadia and cubits, not miles and yards.

The NASB has made an editorial decision to convert stadia into miles and cubits into yards. This was likely done to help the reader understand the dimensions, as we are more familiar with miles and yards.

However, notice what is sacrificed. In an effort to understand the dimensions, we lose contact with the actual numbers that God placed in the text. "12,000" and "144" are significant numbers in the Bible and in the book of Revelation.

The number "12,000" appears once in Numbers 31:5 and twelve times in Revelation 7:5-8. Additionally the number "12" is significant, appearing over one hundred and fifty times in the Bible. It is the number of the tribes of Israel and the number of the apostles.

The number "144" would immediately call to mind Revelation 7:4 and 14:1-3, which speaks of the 144,000 martyrs. Also, 144 is the product of twelve times twelve, which is again another allusion to the Biblically significant number "12."

Christians debate the exact significance and interpretation of these numbers, and my intention in this post is not to argue for any specific meaning to the numbers. Unfortunately, the NASB robs the reader from making any connections between the numbers of Revelation 21:16-17 and the rest of the Scriptures.

So, why does the NASB convert the numbers in Revelation 21:16-17 into modern equivalents, while consigning the original text to a margin note? The NASB translators made an editorial decision that the reader is better off with the modern equivalents than with the original text.

In doing so, they have camouflaged the original numbers from the average reader. The average reader is robbed of making any connections between the numbers of Revelation 21:16-17 and the rest of Scripture. Only a Dispensationalist would be comfortable with such a situation.

Ultimately, this corresponds with what many have observed is a Dispensational bias of the NASB translators. You can Google "NASB Dispensational Bias" for more examples. This is one of the reasons why I no longer use the NASB for reading or study.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Against Anti-Supercessionism

I found this critique of Anti-Supercessionism helpful. Here are some good points:

"But Soulen is arguing that blood descent from Abraham was the backbone of the covenantal arrangements with Israel, and this point is simply false. Right from the beginning, the covenant embraced many who were not in anyway related to Abraham by blood. All the male members of Abraham's household were circumcised (Genesis 17:12-14), and in a household that included 318 men of fighting age (Genesis 14:14), this must have been a sizable number of men - far more than the blood descendants of Abraham, which at the time included only Ishmael!"

"When Israel came from Egypt, they came out as a 'mixed multitude' (Exodus 12:38), including thousands of Egyptians who did not want to hang around Egypt after it had been nearly destroyed by plagues. It was never the case that 'the family identity of the Jewish people as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob' was the foundation of the faith of Israel."

"Within the covenant, those who are not blood descendants of Abraham have always outnumbered those who are."

I think this hits at the fundamental error in Dispensationalism, mistaking the Abrahamic Covenant as an ethnic covenant, rather than a spiritual covenant.

Someone recently asked me what I thought of Supercessionism as a label. There certainly are and have been Supercessionists within the church. That is, there are Christians who believe that the church replaces Israel.

However, "Supercessionism" or "Replacement Theology" is often applied to anyone who is not a Dispensationalist. There are other options besides Dispensationalism and Supercessionism.

Just to clarify my view, the church doesn't replace Israel. The church is Israel. They are different labels for the same group of people.

I'm sure that Mike Vlach will still label me a Supercessionist of sorts (perhaps a Practical Supercessionist?). Whatever.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Culture and Eschatology (Part Two)

The cultural perspective of the OT is one of cultural transparency. The nation of Israel as a closed society established by God to reach the nations. They did not self-consciously develop Hebrew culture, but that is what happened.

The cultural perspective of the NT is one of cultural antithesis. The apostles urged believers to avoid the world (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15) and warned that the things of the world could be a dangerous distraction (Matthew 13:22; Luke 18:22).

Unfortunately, some have taken this to mean that believers should withdraw from cultural endeavors as much as possible. We see this in ascetic traditions, such as monasticism or even American evangelicalism.

However, the danger of the “world” in the Bible is not the danger of the physical earth. The “world” refers to the whole sinful social order that is a systematic rebellion against God.

The apostles urged Christians not to be conformed to the common beliefs and values of pagan society, but rather, to have the totality of their thoughts shaped by the doctrines of Scriptures alone (Romans 12:2).

The Bible consistently teaches that the physical things of this world are good and to be enjoyed within the bounds of God’s law.

NT writers were not opposing the OT cultural model. They were not advocating withdrawal from culture. There is a change in OT to NT because OT was a closed society, whereas the NT urges us to go out into society to transform it.

As we conclude our series on eschatology, we can see at least three major goals that we hope have been accomplished.

1) Unlock the Bible

2) Love God and marvel at his intricate yet cohesive plan

3) Embrace every task that God has for you to do

We need to understand that this is precisely how we live now. Everything that we do matters. Everything that we do in the present has an effect on the future. We do not know how, but we do know that everything we do matters.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Culture and Eschatology (Part One)

Adam and Culture in the Garden
Immediately after his creation, Adam began to build culture. He named the animals, which involved careful observation and analysis – the basis of all science. Adam composed a brief poem extolling the virtues of his perfect companion. Here we see the beginning of the arts.

Man was also assigned the task of growing crops, which involves plowing, planting, watering, and harvesting. These actions alter the “virgin landscape” forever. Yet, these acts are good.

Animals establish a culture of their own. Birds build nests. Beavers build damns. Spiders build webs. Yet, each of these are not experimental or new.

Part of the image of God in us is that we are creative. We build new structures and create new designs. Animals are reactive while humans are proactive.

The goal is a garden-city, where the beauty of man-made works and the glory of creation are wedded in a mutually-enhancing whole.

Culture is the product of human acts of concretization undertaken in the developmental transformation of the earth according to the commandment of God.

Culture is not an activity to keep mankind occupied until something else happens. It has a particular God-ordained end in view: the development of the earth into a global network of gardens and cities in harmony with creation – a glorious garden-city.

Culture is religion externalized or made public. Culture reveals the religion of those who make it.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Isn't Jesus Building a Place for Us?

Isn’t Jesus building a place for us?

“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

Jesus is preparing a place for us. Does this mean that Jesus the Carpenter is physically building something for us? No, this means that Jesus is preparing a renewed world for us. Jesus is ruling over the world, using the church to renew the world so that it will be fit for him to live on forever.

“For he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

God is the builder and maker. He is the designer. We are the workers.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Progress from Genesis to Revelation

History moves from a garden to a city. History is supposed to be progressive. Technological advancement is good, when submitted to God’s law.

We see many striking similarities between the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2) and the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21-22).

In both we find a river which is located near the tree of life. God is present in the midst of the garden and the city. Mankind enjoys unrestricted fellowship with the Creator.

Yet, we also see differences. The two lamps (sun and moon) are gone with God taking their place. There are walls, gates, and streets.

How do the artifacts of the New Jerusalem get there? Who builds the walls, the gates, the streets? Did God miraculously create them?

No, these artifacts are the product of civilization, of culture, of man. God designed them, but man built them. They are not created; they are manufactured from creation by man.

Who designed the tabernacle? God. Who built the tabernacle? Man.

Who designed the temple? God. Who built the temple? Man.

Who designed the New Jerusalem (the new heavens and the new earth)? God. Who builds the New Jerusalem? Man.

The garden of Eden was devoid of architecture and other cultural artifacts. It was simply the creation of God.

“Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there” (Genesis 2:10-12).

Why does Scripture mention gold, Bdellium, and onyx that are outside the garden? Is this just a superfluous detail to add character to the narrative?

No! These metals and stones are mentioned because man is supposed to go and collect these materials and build with them. He is to take them to the garden.

The New Jerusalem still has the creation of God, but it is teeming with cultural achievement.

God said that the creation was good. However, God never intended the creation to stay “natural.” God told man to tend the garden and to keep it. He was to work in the garden. He was to make changes in the garden, to transform the garden, to cultivate it into a culture.

Mankind was given the privilege of improving upon the original creation. Creation was good, but man was created to make it better. The development of creation was made possible by God. Indeed, it is mandated by God. We do not destroy the creation, but we are using it for the purpose for which God created it.

Now, the garden is not left behind. In fact, the New Jerusalem is a garden-city. It still bears the marks of the creator, but it has been transformed by man.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Dominion Mandate

1) Optimism – we are optimistic about what God is doing in the present age. Jesus is building his church.

2) Long-term – we are also realistic about what God is doing in the present age. We are far from finished.

From a Garden to a City
The Bible begins in a garden (Genesis 1-2) and ends in a city (Revelation 21-22). This is no accident; it is God’s plan. God never intended his creation to remain in a “natural” state.

God intended to transform the garden into a city. The goal of creation is civilization. We see hints of this from the beginning.

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26).

This is often called “the Dominion Mandate.” God ordained that mankind play the key role in transforming the earth from a garden to a city. He created man to take dominion, or to rule over all the earth. This could not be accomplished by Adam and Eve alone.

“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28).

God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. He wanted them to fill the earth. God wanted the earth covered with his representatives. He commanded them to subdue the earth and gave them dominion, or rule, over all of it.

The Fall
Obviously, Adam and Eve failed to rule perfectly, but God did not change his plan. God had planned for this all along. He set out to redeem creation by transforming mankind and the earth.

We see the “Dominion Mandate” repeated after the flood.

“So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’” (Genesis 9:1).

God still wants the earth to be filled with his representatives, with godly people. He wants them to rule over the earth, to subdue and transform it.

The Re-Creation
This mandate does not change in the New Testament era. Jesus gave this charge just prior to his ascension.

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

Jesus commanded the apostles to “make disciples of all the nations,” which is often interpreted as “make at least one individual Christian from every nation.”

Actually, the apostles are to “disciple all the nations.” They are to bring entire nations under the rule of Jesus Christ.

Again, we see that God wants the earth covered with godly people. What we call “the Great Commission” is simply an update of “the Dominion Mandate.”

Monday, June 29, 2009

Eschatological Optimism (Part Two)

Throughout this series on eschatology, we have slowly been building a case for eschatological optimism. That is, Christ will triumph over the world through his church.

Jesus is presently reigning in heaven, subduing his enemies. He is renewing the earth, causing the rule of heaven to gradually descend upon the earth. The church is fulfilling the great commission, discipling the nations. All of this will produce a period of peace and joy and harmony that the world has not known since the garden.

As we look at the present state of the world, it appears that Jesus is committed to a long-term plan. For many, such long-term thinking may be disorienting. As one pastor quipped, we may still be in the early church.

That is, we generally think of the early church as the first few centuries after Christ’s first advent. However, if the present age lasts for say, ten thousand years, then our distant descendants will regard us as “early.”

In the next few posts, we will look at how to apply this eschatological optimism to our lives and what role we should take with regard to our present culture.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Eschatological Optimism

These are just a few of the texts that should point us in the direction of eschatological optimism. That is, we believe that Christ will triumph over the world through his church. We see such optimism in Psalm 2:

“Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: Yahweh has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel’” (Psalm 2:6-9).

Jesus will rule over the entire globe, so that the ends of the earth are his possession. When necessary, he will crush the rebellion of the nations.

“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of Yahweh’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:2).

Isaiah prophesies about a period of unprecedented peace, when weapons will be used as tools. This passage is describing our present age, although we appear to be a long ways from fulfilling this.

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

This familiar Advent passage promises an increase in the peace of Christ’s rule. Peace can only increase in history.

“There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of Yahweh shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh. His delight is in the fear of Yahweh, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, And faithfulness the belt of His waist. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; Their young ones shall lie down together; And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Yahweh As the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:1-10).

This also describes a condition of unprecedented peace, when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Yahweh. Yet, notice, that this is not describing eternity, but the latter stages of our present age.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Already/Not Yet (Part 3)

Another crucial passage that applies to our present age is Isaiah 65.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, And her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, And joy in My people; The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, Nor the voice of crying” (Isaiah 65:17-19).

God says that he will create a new heavens and a new earth. Look closely at how this is described.

“No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; For the child shall die one hundred years old, But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; They shall not plant and another eat; For as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, And My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, Nor bring forth children for trouble; For they shall be the descendants of the blessed of Yahweh, And their offspring with them. ‘It shall come to pass That before they call, I will answer; And while they are still speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, The lion shall eat straw like the ox, And dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,’ Says Yahweh” (Isaiah 65:20-25).

While many see this as a description of the eternal state, at least two events described do not fit: giving birth (v 20, 23) and death (v. 20).

In eternity, there will be no birth and no death, so this passage must be describing the present age.

The best way to understand this is by applying the already/not yet principle. At Jesus’ first coming, he inaugurated the new heavens and the new earth. However, we do not yet see the consummation of the new heavens and the new earth.

Again, this passage invites us to take a long-term perspective on the present age. We do not appear to be anywhere close to seeing Isaiah 65:17-25 fulfilled, which means that the return of Christ must be a long ways off.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Already/Not Yet (Part 2)

While already/not yet is a helpful tool to understand some passages, there are many promises that will find their primary fulfillment in this present age.

The Reign of Christ

One example of this is the reign of Christ. After his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.

“So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).

“Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).

At his first coming, Jesus was inaugurated as king. Presently, he is already reigning as king, but his reign is not yet perfect.

“Yahweh said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’” (Psalm 110:1).

The Father’s intention is that Jesus reigns until all of his enemies are defeated.

“But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool” (Hebrews 10:12-13).

“But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:23-25).

Jesus will remain in heaven ruling until his enemies are defeated. After this, he will return.

Again, our eschatology affects how we view this present age. Because we do not yet see all of Jesus’ enemies defeated, we do not expect Jesus to return yet.

This is the opposite of how most contemporary American Christians think. Many view the world as getting worse and worse and assume that this means that Jesus will return soon.

Yet, the exact opposite is true. Jesus will not return until all his enemies are under his feet. If we see evil triumphing on the earth, this is not a sign that Jesus’ return is getting closer. It is a sign that Jesus is not done ruling from heaven.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Already/Not Yet (Part 1)

A large portion of our series on eschatology has been dedicated to correctly understanding the significance of the Destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

This has been an important step because many texts that are commonly thought to apply to the second coming of Christ are actually fulfilled in his first coming, which culminated in the destruction of the temple and of the city of Jerusalem.

We are still expecting the second coming of Christ, which will be a physical return to earth. We are also looking forward to the resurrection of the dead, the rapture of living, and the judgment of all men.

The Present Age
We are going to look at our present age in which we live. So far, we have looked at eschatological texts as being fulfilled in either the first coming or the second coming.

However, there are many eschatological texts that are being fulfilled in the present age. Such texts are gradually fulfilled throughout history over a long period of time.

As our present age is framed by the two advents of Christ, we best understand these texts in reference to these. The first coming of Christ inaugurates, while the second coming consummates. Our present age represents growth, development, and partial fulfillment.

First Coming = Inauguration
Present Age = Growth
Second Coming = Consummation

Theologians use the principle “already/not yet” to describe such fulfillments. The first coming of Christ inaugurates and some of the promises are already fulfilled in part. However, because the second coming represents the consummation, some promises are not yet fulfilled.

First Coming = Inauguration (Already)
Present Age = Growth (Already/Not Yet)
Second Coming = Consummation (Not Yet)

The Kingdom
One easy example is the kingdom of God. At Jesus’ first coming, he preached the good news of the kingdom.

“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15).

Jesus announced that the kingdom of God was at hand. It had been inaugurated.

However, the kingdom of God was far from being completed. At his second coming, the kingdom will be complete. When Jesus returns, he will usher in the perfected kingdom. It will be consummated.

In the meantime, we live between the already and not yet. The kingdom has already come in one sense

“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13).

In another sense, the kingdom not yet come in its fullest. However, the present age is not a static age of waiting for the kingdom to be completed. We are to pray that the kingdom would come.

“In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).

As we live between the two advents of Christ, we see how the kingdom is growing, but we do not demand perfection.

This is how we will see eschatology affect our daily lives. We are optimistic, in that we expect the kingdom of God to continue to grow, but we are realistic in that we do not expect perfection until Christ returns.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Revelation 22

“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:1-5).

With the mention of the tree of life, this takes us back to creation and the garden. God’s purposes for creation are finally fulfilled. And we shall reign forever and ever.

“Then he said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true.’ And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. ‘Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book’” (Revelation 22:6-7).

We are reminded why the book of Revelation was written. The early church was facing persecution, and it was only going to get worse. These things were going to happen “shortly.”

Yet, Christ was going to come ”quickly.” He gave the early church a picture of how he was going to deal with their enemies to encourage them to stand strong for the gospel.

All the judgments that Revelation 6-19 describes came to pass. God vindicated his people and his Son in his judgment upon Jerusalem.

God also gave the church a picture of her glorious future. The beautiful language of Revelation 21-22 describes Christ building his church. When Christ returns, the bride will not have a spot or wrinkle or any such thing , but be holy and blameless. This is our future hope.