Ask Steve: The Importance of Eschatology

July 28, 2014 3:22 am

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I have been to churches that don’t study the end times, and heard of some that do. Why is eschatology important? Is it important to teach in churches? 

Answer: Eschatology is one of the most controversial studies in Christian theology. Though it should not define churches in the same manner as soteriology, Christology, and ecclesiology, it should not be ignored, which can be the case in some denominations because of its desire to avoid tackling the controversial issue. A study of last days has tremendous benefits for the life of the church and the individual Christian, since eschatology is based on the word of God which is given to edify the saints. Though there are many interpretations of the end times in the evangelical world, this should not cause us to be discouraged and to lose hope in finding truth in this area. God has spoken clearly in his prophetic passages, and if we approach these texts with the same open heart and sense of hermeneutical approach that we use with other parts of the Scripture, then we not only understand the theology of the end times, but are blessed and edified by it. This is what the Apostle John meant when he writes, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it…” (Rev 1:3). It is the aim of this section to show how an understanding of eschatology blesses us as Christians and why it is relevant to the life of the individual Christian and the church. 

The first reason why eschatology is important is that it rightly informs us how we read Scripture and conduct church. Do we take a consistently grammatical-historical hermeneutical system when reading the Bible, or do we at times read certain passages figuratively and allegorically based on the prophetic book’s similarities to contemporaneous apocalyptic literature? How we treat Scripture interpretation shows how much we value God’s word. If we tend to ignore the book of Revelation because of its difficult and controversial nature, then we treat Scripture lightly, and lose a tremendous portion of its sanctifying work on our lives. The congregations cannot get blessed (Rev 1:3) by something that they are not taught in church. This shows the practical implications that eschatology can have in the curriculum and mission of the church. This is why it is important to first have a settled, if not right, hermeneutics of Scripture, then to teach prophetic/apocalyptic texts in church so that such lessons can be applied to the congregation.

Another reason why eschatology is important is that it can help us get a clearer focus on what the mission of the church is. For example, if one adopts a preterist, postmillennial understanding of the book of Revelation, then he will most likely see his mission in life as trying to bring the kingdom influences to all parts of society, in a sense “Christianizing” the entire world. Then the focus of the Christian, and the corporate church, would be social justice, active political work, and helping the poor. There may not be as much emphasis on traditional evangelization of the lost, since the program of God is not to merely rescue people out of hell and this world, but to transform this world slowly through the spreading of the kingdom, which men usher in through their works until the Second Coming of Christ.

In contrast, if one adopts a futuristic, premillennial view of eschatology, then he sees that the millennium is not now, and that the kingdom of God is still future. He is not over optimistic about the conditions of this world and will not work so much to “renew” it as much as to simply fulfill the Great Commission, which is to evangelize the lost and disciple believers. He understands the great horrors that are coming upon the word (the 7-Year Tribulation) as well as the judgment and justice of God that will be exercised on unrepentant nations during that time. The Christian realizes that God is not just a God of love and patience, but one who will physically judge the nations of the earth in a way consistent with judgments pronounced in the Old Testament on Israel and the enemies of Israel (Sennacherib’s army, Egyptian plague, etc.). He understands that this can happen at any time because of the imminent rapture of the church (1 Thess 4:17; 1 Cor 5:52). Therefore, he has an urgent mission in life to rescue as many souls as he can through evangelism. This is not to say that he does not care about the poor or about the plight conditions of the world, but rather that he has a consistent focus on the true mission of the church so as not to misuse the church’s time and resources. As you can see, eschatology is pretty relevant because it influences how one approaches Scripture, how one lives his Christian life, and how a church relates to the unbelieving world.

Eschatology is ultimately important because it gives us a clear and grand picture of who God is. We learn from eschatological passages that God is sovereign over history and over the lives of believers and unbelievers. There is nothing that is out of His grasp, and whatever He has decreed in His mind will come to pass, with no human being able to stop it. Not even Satan himself can thwart the progressive and final plans of God for His chosen people and for reprobates. This reminds us that His promises will come to pass, therefore we are given great comfort despite the trials and uncertainties of life.

Eschatology also should motivate us to holy living. With the right view of eschatology in mind, we have a constant awareness that Christ could come back anytime for His church (rapture) and that He could begin His plan to judge the nations of the earth (Tribulation) and to usher in His kingdom (millennium). Being on the alert should make us want to be prepared in holiness so that we will not have to be ashamed at His coming for us. That is why an understanding of the imminency of Christ’s return gives us motivation to live a righteous and holy life in honor of the Lord. Believers who do not anticipate the Lord’s return will have a greater tendency to allow sin to flourish in their lives, since they don’t see any urgency in life.

Eschatology also helps us to establish proper priorities in life. One of those priorities, as I discussed, is the desire to exercise self-control in holiness. Understanding the events of the end times, which includes the reality of the Bema Seat judgment and the everlasting value of heaven, will cause us to have an eternal perspective in the things that we do. With this mindset, we give more focus to things like prayer, evangelism, missions, giving to the cause of the church, and not fooling around with the fleeting pleasures of this world. In essence, we make better choices in this life knowing how our choices are going to factor into the picture of a knowable future.

Finally, eschatology gives hope to the church and to the Christian. Despite the pains and sufferings that on goes through, as well as the injustices of this world and the sin pattern that seems to be going unpunished, eschatology informs us that there is a God of righteousness and justice who will return and set things right, and to render to every man according to his deeds (Romans 2:6). The afflicted and persecuted Christians will be comforted and see the fruits of his labor, realizing by the end that God truly does work out all things for good.

Recommended Resource: Understanding End Times Prophecy by Paul N. Benware

Ask Steve: Dispensationalism

July 23, 2014 5:11 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what are you thoughts on dispensationalism? What do you perceive are its strength and weaknesses? Do you agree with it? 

Answer: Dispensationalism is the alternative system to Covenant Theology that views all of biblical history as divided into dispensations, or economies (programs), based on a literal, grammatical-historical understanding of the Old and New Testament. Scholars disagree on how many dispensations there are, but the general consensus is that there are seven, in which we are currently living in the sixth (the church dispensation), and the seventh is the millennial kingdom (1,000 reign of Christ) which is still to come. This is in contrast to the Covenant theologian’s more simplistic understanding of “dispensation,” – they believe that there are only two eras in God’s timeline – pre-Christ and post-christ. Contrary to popular misconception, dispensationalism does not teach different methods of salvation (e.g. salvation by law forIsrael, grace for the church). Dispensationalism is primarily concerned with the doctrines of ecclesiology and eschatology, emphasizing a historical-grammatical meaning of Old Testament prophetic passages and covenants, a distinction between Israel and the church, and a future salvation and restoration of the nation of Israel in a future millennial kingdom.

I would like to begin by exploring the weaknesses proposed by the opponents to this system, one of which is the apparent division of thought within the dispensational camp concerning various issues. Whether you are a classical, modified, or progressive dispensationalist, you will have different views as it regards Lordship salvation, Israel and the church, the timing of the rapture, the exact number of dispensations, Calvinism and Arminianism, the kingdom of God and the place of Jesus’ kingdom ethics such as the Sermon on the Mount teachings, the definition of the kingdom of God, the definition of the church, and the timing of the New Covenant and Davidic Covenant’s fulfillment (future or now?). In contrast, Covenant Theology is much simpler because there are less factions and thoughts within its camp. Because of that, there is more unity of thought, though that does not necessarily make it true. This division within dispensationalism is a weakness because it demonstrates lack of unity and a plethora of thoughts/theories that are not helpful when the whole system is supposed to be built on the commitment to discovering the intended meaning of Scripture through grammatical-historical hermeneutics.

Another weakness of dispensationalism is its lack of defined number of dispensations (since there is disagreement as to the exact number in history), as well as the appropriateness of certain names that describe the dispensation period. For example, the 1,000 year reign of Christ following the period of the church age is generally described as the official “kingdom dispensation.” However, Jesus seems to reference a spiritual kingdom that reigns in the hearts of the redeemed before that time period (Luke 17:21; Matthew 3:2). Even before Jesus birth, God’s kingdom has manifested and had its influence in other forms, such as in the form of theocracies in the time of David and Solomon. This casts some doubt as to the rigidity of the dispensational system as proposed by scholars. It is not an issue of whether or not there are four, six, or seven dispensations, but whether or not the idea of dispensational structures governing or interpreting the Bible is a man-made theory, as much as Covenant Theology is in its own right, or based on solid Scriptural evidence?

Of course, the traditional definition of dispensation is the rigid dividing of the Bible into seven dispensations, which has been the source of some criticism. If this were really the definition, then skeptics would have reasonable doubt to question this system. Yet, I would contend with this definition because it upholds believing in dispensations as the sole distinguishing characteristic of dispensationalism. Whether one is a dispensationalist or not, all Christians believe in dispensations. Is it just a matter of how many and of what kind? Pre-fall and post-fall? Old covenant era and New Covenant era? Before Christ and after Christ?

Now I would like to present the strengths for dispensationalism, which I believe rightly describes what dispensationalists believe, and acts as the foundation behind the dispensational 7-fold model that is proposed by the dispensationists. The first commendable and defining aspect of dispensationalism is that they faithfully abide by a consistent grammatical-historical hermeneutics, especially when it comes to prophetic passages. This has led to a particular interpretation of ecclesiological and eschatological issues that has divided themselves from covenant theologians, who view prophetic/apocalyptic books as overly allegorical and figurative in nature. It is because of this hermeneutical practice that dispensationalists come to an understanding of the dispensations that are evident throughout biblical history, that God had delegated economies or stewardship to His people (whether the Adam, Israel, or the church) at different times of history to carry out the stated responsibilities, and the people are held accountable for what they do before God, whether its salvific or sanctifying. If the person faithfully discharges his duties, there is reward, but if he fails to do so, there are negative consequences.

Because dispensationalism is based on a consistent and literal interpretation of Scripture, its clarity is obvious, as are God’s plans. This means that the New Testament does not reinterpret the Old Testament passages in a way that cancels the original authorial intent of the Old Testament writers as determined by historical-grammatical hermeneutics. We don’t read New Testament meaning into the Old Testament, but rather use the New Testament to inform our understanding of the Old Testament. Whatever God meant to say to the OT writers and the audience is what He meant to say and what He will set out to do before history is complete. Because of the grammatical-historical hermeneutics, we understand that the nation of Israel exists as a separate unity from the church.Israel has experienced the curses of the Mosaic covenant and exile from the land, yet the OT prophets also prophesied spiritual salvation to the Israelites and a literal regathering to the Promised Land in the last days. This promise is not negated by the New Testament, since the promises ofIsraelis not transferred to the church in anyway. Therefore, God is entirely faithful in His eternal, unilateral covenants to Israel.

Another strength, and benefit, of dispensationalism is that the grammatical-historical interpretation allows for the idea of a future millennial kingdom and a restored Zion, which entails the reality of a vibrant political, social, and cultural life that will exist on earth. In other words, dispensational theology strongly emphasizes the physical aspects of the kingdom and does not spiritualize or allegorize everything into soteriological or spiritual issues. In contrast, dispensational theology can faithfully accommodate soteriological and spiritual themes along with social, economic, and political realities that characterize the New Creation Model, portraying the future kingdom of God as not just a mystical concept, but a physical reality where the good created things of this world can exist there, without sin.

Recommended Resource: The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism by Robert Saucy

Prayer List of the Week

July 19, 2014 9:15 pm

 

Currently Reading:

Preaching & Preachers

by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Category: Christian Ministry / Preaching

Zondervan, 2011

 

 

 

 

It’s been a while since I had put up a list of people we can pray for, specifically celebrities in Hollywood. This week I want to throw out three names. Let us pray for the salvation of these three celebrities:

1. Dwayne Johnson

2. Cameron Diaz

3. Nina Dobrev

The Case for Premillennialism

July 17, 2014 11:07 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CASE FOR PREMILLENNIALISM

by Steve Cha

 

INTRODUCTION

The book of Revelation outlines the consummation of world history, a vision given to the Apostle John from the Lord Jesus Himself. A most interesting, and often controversial, section of this book is Chapter 20:1-10, which discusses the binding of Satan and the reign of Jesus Christ on earth for 1,000 years. What exactly does this passage mean? The plain reading seems to suggest that, after returning to earth, Christ will have an angel confine Satan to an inescapable pit so that Satan will no longer influence the nations of the earth, and Christ will rule over this world for a 1,000 year period along with the redeemed, resurrected saints. Is this chapter to be taken literally or figuratively? This question has been the debate of the ages. Though there have been and still are scholars who interpret Chapter 20:1-10 in a symbolic and figurative fashion, the intent of this particular essay is to present a sound case for the literal approach to interpreting Revelation 20:1-10. In other words, this essay will present the case for premillennialism. This paper will briefly survey the challenges to premillennialism, but will seek to provide healthy evidence that shows premillennialism to be the most probable interpretation of the millennial issue, and end by briefly explaining what implication this understanding has on the Christian faith.

 

A HISTORY OF PREMILLENNIALISM

Defining the Millennium

Since this essay revolves around a study of premillennialism, it is appropriate to begin by first explaining what the term means. The Beacon Dictionary of Theology defines premillennialism as “before the thousand years,” coming from the Latin words praek mille annus.[1] The term premillennialism has been used interchangeably in early church history with the terms chialism and millenniarism. Christians who identify with premillennialism believe in the personal return of Christ to earth before the millennium, in which the Messiah will literally and visibly rule fromJerusalem for a 1,000 year period. There is nothing symbolic, mythical, or figurative about the portrayed events in Revelation 20:1-10. The interpretation is as literal and faithful to the normal sense of the textual language as can be. Premillennialism has two categorizations: historic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism.

A premillennialist believes that Christ will establish His kingdom and set up His throne in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem after His second coming. It is based on not just a literal interpretation of Revelation 20:10, but also on many Old Testament passages that make eschatological references to an earthly kingdom ruled over by the Messiah. The kingdom governed by the ultimate descendant of David has been the hope of the Jews for centuries, which is why premillennialists believe that God’s promises to the descendants of Abraham will be kept and the Jews will find restoration to their homeland.[2]

 

What the Early Church Believed

An understanding of Christ’s return to earth to rule for the 1,000 reign in Jerusalem was characteristic of much of the apostolic church. Although factors like church tradition and majority vote do not necessarily prove the truth of a particular interpretation, it is helpful and noteworthy to consider because of the fact that the early apostolic churches were so close to the days when the apostles were alive. This greatly increases the chances of a closer and more accurate interpretation of doctrine, especially as it regards eschatological issues. As Nathan Busenitz writes, “if…the New Testament upholds a future, earthly millennial kingdom, then we would expect Premillennialism to be the predominant view in the writings of the early church fathers. And this is exactly what we find.”[3]

Though never officially indoctrinated as a universal church creed, the councils and teachings of premillennialism was widespread amongst early Christian communities, and was evident amongst the writings of 2nd century church leaders such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Barnabas.[4] Stanley Grenz makes an excellent observation regarding the traditions of Ephesus, which is one of the original areas where the Apostle John sent the book of Revelation. Grenz notes that in this region, “a millenarian tradition developed that shares certain features with modern premillennialism. This tradition focused on the material blessings that will accompany the future rule of Christ over the renewed physical earth following the resurrection at the end of the age.”[5]

It is also fascinating to mention that even such contemporary theologians as Keith Mathison, who is not a premillennialist, frankly acknowledges the premillennial teachings of one of the early church fathers, Irenaeus (ca. 130-202), affirming that Ireneaus had a developed eschatology that included a three-year reign of the Antichrist, a desecration of the temple in Jerusalem, the return of Christ, Christ’s millennial reign on earth, the final judgment, and the inauguration of the final state.[6] These are some of many examples of early church leaders who believed in premillennialism, showing that is neither a recent development nor an unbiblical doctrine. It is incredibly archaic, sturdy, and possibly the most biblically reliable stance to hold amongst the other viewpoints that would eventually develop in the centuries to come.

 

THE OPPOSING VIEWPOINTS

The Camps

As old and well-cherished of a doctrine that premillennialism is in church history, it has come under attack in the centuries to come and is opposed by a number of evangelicals today. There are some scholars who do not believe in Scripture’s plain teaching of Christ returning to the nation of Israel before the millennium to rule for 1,000 years before establishing the New Heavens and New Earth. It is not within the scope and intent of this paper to explore all the intricate issues relating to the opposing viewpoints. This section will simply present the two major alternative views raised today and what disagreements they have with premillennial teachings.

The first of the two opposing camps to premillennialism is amillennialism, which is the widely held viewpoint today, comprising figures from Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Greek Orthodoxy.[7] The Westminister Theological Dictionary of Terms defines amillennialism as interpreting the “thousand years” of Christ’s reign as symbolic rather than literal.[8] Contrary to its root definition, amillennialism does not mean that there is no millennial period. Rather, it holds to the theory that the millennium, although not necessarily 1,000 years, is not future, but had already begun when Christ defeated the work of Satan on the cross, rose again from the grave, and established the church. In other words, the church age is the millennial period and the events of Revelation 20:1-6 are happening right now.[9]

The second dominant viewpoint is postmillennialism. The people who hold this view believe, like amillennialists, that Revelation 20:1-10 is symbolic in nature and that the millennial period is happening right now. However, postmillennialism is unique in that its believers are convicted that the kingdom of God is currently being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel, that the world eventually will be Christianized, and that the return of Christ is to occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace, or the close of the millennium. The second coming will then be followed by the general resurrection, the general judgment, and the introduction of heaven and hell in their fullness.[10] Of all the major millennial viewpoints, postmillennialism tends to be most optimistic regarding God’s ability to use the church to accomplish His purposes in the present age.[11]

 

The Objections

Of all the major objections that amillennialists and postmillennialists pose to premillennialists, a few are common. Some of the major ones I include because they will be points of which I will interact with in defense of premillennialism shortly after this section. The points of objection include: 1). A premillennialist interpretation implies an unbending literalism in the interpretation of prophecy. The skeptics believe that the Apostle John relied on the contemporaneous apocalyptic genre when he wrote the book of Revelation. Therefore, they do not see the book of Revelation as a prophetic book pointing to purely futuristic events, but as a predominantly figurative book that describes general themes of good, evil, and Christ’s ultimate triumph 2). The NT does not connect the Second Coming of Jesus with an earthly kingdom having its center of administration from Jerusalem 3). Premillennialism is based only on Revelation 20, after having read certain Old Testament prophecies into it. This produces a view which is contradicted by the rest of Scripture.[12] 4). Premillennialism implies a distinction between Israel and the church, which amillennialists and postmillennialists, especially those who strongly identify with supercessionism, do not believe.[13] 

 

EVIDENCE FOR PREMILLENNIALISM

There is no doubt that amillennialism and postmillennialism present some thoughtful and intriguing arguments for their cases. Such divergent views can cause a Christian to lose hope in ever finding a resolute solution to an accurate interpretation of this eschatological issue, or any controversial doctrine for that matter. However, there is no reason to lose heart in Scripture’s clear teaching concerning the reality of Christ’s return and His rule on earth for a 1,000 year reign. There is solid evidence to prove the validity of premillennialism, that the normal sense of the language of Revelation 20:1-10 can be accepted for what it says will happen in the future in such chronology: an angel will have Satan bound in an abyss; tribulations saints who were martyred will be physically resurrected and reign alongside Christ for 1,000 years as part of the first resurrection; Satan will be released after the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth is complete; Satan will be cast into the lake of fire, which will then lead to the Great White Throne Judgment of  Revelation 20:11-15.

Earlier I shed positive light on premillennialism based on its place within early church history. The remainder of the essay will argue the case for premillennialism by mainly appealing to Scripture itself. This exercise will explore a few important topics: 1). The integrity of the grammatical-historical hermeneutics 2). An examination of the Revelation 20 text 3). Interaction with Old Testament kingdom passages.

 

The Integrity of the Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutics

Grammatical-historical hermeneutics has been characteristic of Christianity since the 16th century Reformation. It is what distinguishes Protestantism from Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy. It is because of the Protestants’ literal interpretation of Scripture and their understanding of its clarity that they see its plain teachings as comprehensible by all who read it and capable of being followed.[14] However, it is very ironic that the same Christians who practice such hermeneutics with many sections of the Bible (ex. Gospel, history, law) do not do so with the book of Revelation, or even with the OT prophetic sections of books such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. These would be Christians within the amillennialist and postmillennialist camp. John MacArthur expresses this concern fittingly by stating that in spite of the prestigious hermeneutical tradition of the Protestant Reformation, “there are still a few areas in which Reformed theology is in need of further reform. One of the most glaring deficiencies in the history of the Reformed movements is in the realm of eschatology – where, generally speaking, a literal interpretation of the millennial promises to Israel has been rejected. Instead, an allegorical (or spiritual) hermeneutic has been applied to many prophetic passages…”[15]

Premillennialism is distinctive because it is the only viewpoint of the major three that is entirely consistent with the grammatical-historical hermeneutics, no matter what biblical book, genre, or Testament is being considered. It is indisputably committed to the normal sense of the language in the Bible. Those who identify as premillennialsts, especially futurists, believe in a literal, unprejudiced grammatical-historical hermeneutical approach that applies to the entire word of God. It is a consistent hermeneutical system that: 1). Takes the biblical text at face value 2). Interprets the biblical text in context 3). Recognizes symbolic language/speech figures and the reality they express 4). Uses clear texts to interpret more difficult texts 5). Allows for the progress of revelation without dramatically altering the meaning of previous revelation 6). Does not involve allegorical interpretation 7). Uses a minimization of the typical or analogical use of the Old Testament by the New Testament.[16]

Establishing the integrity of the grammatical-historical hermeneutical system is significant because it lends credibility to how we approach the handling of Scripture. If we truly believe in the perspicuity of God’s word, then we can have confidence when tackling even prophetic books like Revelation. We can believe that its language, vocabulary, context, and word ordering speaks to us in a sensible manner. In essence, we can take the passage for what it says and not read into it with any far-fetched allegorical meaning. This will be important to keep in mind for the following section which is a sample analysis of Revelation 20:1-6, examining “symbolic” figures and interpretative issues regarding “Satan’s binding.”

 

An Examination of the Text

Because the book of Revelation is filled with vivid imagery and heavy use of symbolism, some scholars read it through the lens of the secular apocalyptic genre popular in the Apostle John’s age, coming to the conclusion that the “1,000” figure that characterizes Christ’s reign should not be taken literally. As I stated before, amillennialists believe that the 1,000 period is being fulfilled now until Christ’s second coming. This interpretation poses a serious problem other than the fact that it has already been over 2,000 years since Christ’s first coming and ascension into heaven. It is a theory without scriptural warrant and clearly betrays the grammatical-historical method of interpreting God’s word. If one uses the same historical, grammatical principles of interpretation as with the rest of the books in the New Testament, then he sees that Christ will return and reign in a real kingdom on earth for 1,000 years. Nothing in the text gives any real clues to the “thousand years” being symbolic, since never in Scripture when “year” is used with a number is its meaning not literal.[17] Whenever the Apostle John expresses an indefinite quantity, he does so not by repeating a definite number like a 1,000 years, but using a general expression like “a short time” in 20:3 or “the number of them like the sand of the seashore” (20:8). There is no compelling reason in Revelation 20:1-10 or anywhere else in the book to believe that the 1,000 is symbolic or figurative.

The topic of Satan’s binding is an even more baffling yet important issue to deconstruct if we want to get at the heart of the symbolic versus literal interpretation debate of Revelation 20:1-10. According to the observable language of the text, verses 1-3 states that an angel holding a great chain in his hand grabs a hold of Satan and binds him in an abyss, sealing him tight so that he will not escape and influence the nations any longer to do evil. Amillennialists and postmillennialists deny the plain sense of what this text is saying. They believe that this is an allegorical picture of a past event, most specifically depicting how Satan was bound at the cross and is no longer able to deceive the nations and to keep them from learning the truth of God’s word.[18] Once again, there are a few inescapable problems with this theory.

The first is that it is just a speculation with no verifiable biblical reference. It quite frankly contradicts the meaning of the text. Jeff Lasseigne perfectly captures this concern in his analysis of this passage when he states, “…you’ll notice here that it isn’t even Christ on the cross who binds Satan in this text; it is an angel from heaven with a great chain. So how does that symbolically represent Christ on the cross?”[19] The second problem is that even before Christ’s crucifixion on the cross – the moment of “the binding of Satan” – this powerful angel was not able to keep nations and people from learning the truth of God’s word. One most evident example is Jonah preaching God’s message of repentance to the people of Nineveh. The Queen of Sheba also heard about Yahweh from the mouth of Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-9) and the Babylonians from Daniel and his three Jewish companions.[20]

A third problem to consider is that the phrase “not deceive the nations any longer” (v. 2) implies total cessation of Satan’s influence, activities, and presence, which contradicts what amillennialists and postmillennialists imply with their proposal. The opposing views say that the millennium is happening now in the church age, therefore Satan must be currently bound. However, Satan is still influencing the nations and individuals, as fully attested by Scripture and commonplace experiences. Amillennialists and postmillennialists would retort and say that Satan’s activities are not totally eliminated, just limited.[21] However, that redefines the nature of incarceration and binding that is described in 20:1-3. As Michael Vlach states, “the passage functions to show that Satan is absolutely confined to a place that results in a complete cessation of all that he does…Imprisonment of a person means a cessation of that person’s works.”[22] Many passages in the Bible teach the devil is still influencing the nations and ruling over the hearts of men. Satan is described as “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30); “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8), tempts believers to sin (1 Cor 7:5), snatches the gospel from unbelieving hearts (Matt 13:19), takes advantage of believers (2 Cor 2:11); seeks to destroy the faith of believers (Luke 22:31); holds unbelievers under his power (Acts 26:18; Eph 2:2), among other things that contradicts the amillennialist and postmillennialist theory.

 

Interaction with Old Testament Passages

One of the objections that I noted earlier from the anti-premillenialist party is the assumption that premillennialists read certain Old Testament prophecies into Revelation 20:1-10, which results in a view that is in conflict with much of Scripture. Although it is undeniable that premillennialists interact extensively with the Old Testament when working with Revelation 20, it is a misrepresentation to say that they read false meaning into Revelation 20 or manipulate its message. Revelation 20:1-10 does not really give us much detail to begin with. However, that does not mean that the premillennial kingdom does not exist, or that information of it is not found in other places in the Bible. If we see the truth and value of the grammatical-historical hermeneutics applied consistently throughout the Bible, we realize that the OT passages actually inform and complement our understanding of Revelation 20:1-10, essentially giving us a fuller picture of the millennial reign of Jesus Christ following His Second Coming. We see that OT prophetic passages do not falsely read into or contradict Revelation 20:1-10 any more than the “works” theology of James 2:26 does with the grace theology found in Ephesians 2:8-9. The former text gives a more comprehensive understanding of the latter text, and this is entirely appropriate if one believes in the inspiration and consistency of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16).

A thing to keep in mind concerning these OT prophecies is that many of them have not been fulfilled yet, specifically the millennial promises concerning the nation of Israel and Jesus’ earthly rule. There are two possible reasons why this is so: 1). The prophecies never came to pass because they were mystically or spiritually fulfilled in Christ’s first coming or during the church age, or 2). They are still to find fulfillment in an unspecified future era. If one takes the literal and clear view of Scripture interpretation, then the only possible time that these OT prophecies could be fulfilled is during the period that is described in Revelation 20:1-10. Why? It is because the OT prophecies describe a unique condition on earth that is far better than the current age we live in but not as perfect as the final eternal state.[23] The era illustrated in Revelation 20:1-10 is the only one that sensibly accommodates this messianic period spoken of in OT prophecy.

An OT kingdom passage that documents the reality of the future millennium is Isaiah 65:20, which describes the long life span of people who will live during that period. The verse states, “No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; for the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred will be thought accursed.” The prophet Isaiah seems to saying that there is coming a day when people who die at age 100 will be considered infants, which implies an unusually long life span. This cannot be referencing the New Heavens and the New Earth because people do not experience pain or death in the eternal state while in their glorified bodies. This period also cannot be the present church age, since most people do not even live to be a 100 years old! Skeptics somehow spiritualize this text and claim that it is somehow fulfilled in the church, but this, once again, is an unstable theory. The only solution is that it is pointing to a real time of earthly renewal, which points to a future kingdom on the old earth.

Another OT passage that undeniably speaks of this intermediate period between the current church age and the new earth is Zechariah 14:9-21. Verse 16-19 reads, “Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them.” Again, this OT prophetic passage speaks of a universal condition that cannot be characteristic of the New Earth since sin and disobedience would have been eradicated by then. It also cannot be the current church age since Jesus is not presently ruling in the sinful world over enemies who submit to His kingship. To apply such a prophecy to find fulfillment in the present age would be to not only read meaning into this verse, but to ignore what this text meant to the original Jewish audience as God originally intended. David Jeremiah appropriately captures the perspicuity of this passage when he describes this period as a time when “Christ will reign over the earth from the greatly enlarged and enhanced Jerusalem, and Israel, vastly expanded, will be considered the center of the earth. The people of the world will happily journey to the Holy City to worship and sacrifice to Christ the King.”[24]

Details concerning the worship site in the eschatological Jerusalem are expanded in greater detail in Ezekiel 40-48, which depicts Temple worship in the millennium. This is the greatest prophetic passage that deals with the coming of a future millennial period because of the existence of an unprecedented temple and corporate worship that has never occurred before in human history. Opponents argue that the temple represents heaven, the new heavens and new earth, the church, believers, or even Jesus Himself.[25] This lack of consensus is an argument against the strength of this position. The many intricate details concerning the Temple construction, appearance, and worship procedure in Ezekiel 40-48 does not adequately justify a spiritualized interpretation. Jewish scholar Jon Douglas Levenson notes that the description of such a Temple “bespeaks of a practical program, not a vision of pure grace. For example, when the text says that eight steps led up to the vestibule of the inner court (Ezekiel 40:31), can this be other than a demand that the new Temple be constructed just so?”[26] The prophet Ezekiel envisioned a real Temple that is coming in the future, which is not the Solomonic temple or the temple constructed during Zerubbabel’s day. He speaks of the Temple of the Millennium, which will be God’s visible sanctuary in the midst of Israel forever (Ezekiel 37:26). Moshe Greenberg comments that “the fivefold repetition of “forever” stresses the irreversibility of the new dispensation. Unlike God’s past experiment with Israel, the future restoration will have a guarantee of success; its capstone will be God’s sanctifying presence dwelling forever in the sanctuary amidst his people.”[27] All of God’s glorious prophetic plans declared in the OT, which guarantees the coming of a utopia, although not sinless world, has only one possible place of fulfillment in the New Testament. And that is Revelation 20:1-10.

 

CONCLUSION

An examination of the grammatical-historical method’s impact on Scripture, various word studies in Revelation 20, and selected passage analysis in the Old Testament give us a strong warrant for premillennialism. Scripture is clear when it teaches that there will be a time coming for this world when Christ will return and reign from Jerusalem for 1,000 years. This gives us hope that Jesus will not only end the injustices and corrupt human kingdoms of this current age, but will vindicate His name and uphold righteousness over the earth. This grand idea should give the church blessed hope to persevere in holiness, prayer, and in the work of the Great Commission. This doctrine also rightly informs us of God’s plans for Israel and how as a church we must be praying for the nation of Israel and evangelizing them, knowing that God is still faithful to the Abrahamic Covenant and has plans to ultimately redeem that nation (Romans 9-11; Jeremiah 31:31-34). He will rule from the Promised Land in the future and exercise His authority over both believers and unbelievers. This is why the millennium is important, because this is where the saints of God will minister with Christ for a significant period of world history before the creation of the New Heavens and the New Earth. It is a blessed hope to look forward to, and a blessed doctrine to proclaim.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Benware, Paul N. Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach. Chicago: Moody, 2006.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: InterVarsity, 1994.

Boettner, Loraine. “Postmillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, edited by Robert G. Clouse, 117-141. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1977.

Busenitz, Nathan. “Did the Early Church Believe in a Literal Millennial Kingdom?” In Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer, edited by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, 177-195. Chicago: Moody, 2012.

Greenberg, Moshe. “The Design and Themes of Ezekiel’s Program of Restoration.” Interpretation 38 (April 1984): 182.

Grenz, Stanley. The Millennial Maze. Downers Grove,IL: IVP, 1992.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Hoekema, Anthony A. “Amillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, edited by Robert G. Clouse, 155-187.Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1977.

_________. The Bible and the Future.Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.

Kevan, Ernest Frederick. Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, edited by Everett F. Harrison, 351-54. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973.

Jeremiah, David. The Coming Economic Armageddon: What Bible Prophecy Warns about the New Global Economy.New York: FaithWorks, 2010.

_________. Escape the Coming Night.Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997.

Langer, Richard C. “Kingdom Integration: Reflections on Premillennialism and Cultural Engagement.” Criswell Theological Review ns 10, no. 1 (Fall 2012): 21-39.

Lasseigne, Jeff. Unlocking the Last Days: A Guide to the Book of Revelation & the End Times. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011.

Levenson, Jon Douglas. Theology of the Program of Restoration of Ezekiel 40-48.Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976.

Lyons, George. Beacon Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Richard S. Taylor.Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press ofKansas City, 1983.

MacArthur, John. “Does Calvinism Lead to Futuristic Premillennialism?” In Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Furistic Premillennial Primer, edited by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, 149-159.Chicago: Moody, 2012.

__________., ed. The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible Updated Edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006.

__________. Revelation 12-22. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary.Chicago: Moody, 2000.

Marshall, I.Howard. “Church and Templein the New Testament.” Tyndale Bulletin 40 (1989):     209.

Mathison, Keith. Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope.Philipsburg,NJ: P&P, 1999.

Mayhue, Richard. “Why Futuristic Premillennialism?” In Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Furistic Premillennial Primer, edited by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, 59-84.Chicago: Moody, 2012.

McKim, Donald K. Westminister Theological of Theological Terms.Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox, 1996.

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church: Ante-Nicene Christianity.Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1884.

Vlach, Michael. “The Kingdomof Godand the Millennium.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 23 no. 2 (Fall 2012): 225-254.

Waymeyer, Matthew. “What about Revelation 20?” In Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Furistic Premillennial Primer, edited by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, 123-139. Chicago: Moody, 2012.




[1] George Lyons, Beacon Dictionary of Theology, ed. Richard S. Taylor (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1983), 414.

[2] David Jeremiah, Escape the Coming Night (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 230.

[3] Nathan Busenitz, “Did the Early Church Believe in a Literal Millennial Kingdom?” in Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer, ed. John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue (Chicago: Moody, 2012), 177.

[4] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1884), 614.

[5] Stanley Grenz, The Millennial Maze (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1992), 38.

[6] Keith Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (Philipsburg, NJ: P&P, 1999), 27.

[7] Paul N. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach (Chicago: Moody, 2006), 121.

[8] Donald K. McKim, Westminister Theological of Theological Terms (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox, 1996), 9.

[9] Anthony A. Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Robert G. Clouse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1977), 181.

[10] Loraine Boettner, “Postmillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Robert G. Clouse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1977), 117.

[11] Richard C. Langer, “Kingdom Integration: Reflections on Premillennialism and Cultural Engagement,” Criswell Theological Review ns 10, no. 1 (Fall 2012): 29.

[12] Ernest Frederick Kevan, Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, ed.Everett F. Harrison (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973), 352.

[13] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity, 1994), 863.

[14] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 108.

[15] John MacArthur, “Does Calvinism Lead to Futuristic Premillennialism?” in Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Furistic Premillennial Primer (Chicago: Moody, 2012), 142.

[16] Richard Mayhue, “Why Futuristic Premillennialism?” in Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Furistic Premillennial Primer (Chicago: Moody, 2012), 62-3.

[17] John MacArthur, ed, The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible Updated Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 1991.

[18] Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 228.

[19] Jeff Lasseigne, Unlocking the Last Days: A Guide to the Book of Revelation & the End Times (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 268.

[20] John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 2000), 236.

[21] Matthew Waymeyer, “What about Revelation 20?” in Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Furistic Premillennial Primer (Chicago: Moody, 2012), 127.

[22] Michael Vlach, “The Kingdom of God and the Millennium,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 23 no. 2 (Fall 2012): 246-47.

[23] Ibid., 237.

[24] David Jeremiah, The Coming Economic Armageddon: What Bible Prophecy Warns about the New Global Economy (New York: FaithWorks, 2010), 234.

[25] I. Howard Marshall, “Church and Temple in the New Testament,” Tyndale Bulletin 40 (1989): 209.

[26] Jon Douglas Levenson, Theology of the Program of Restoration of Ezekiel 40-48 (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976), 112.

[27] Moshe Greenberg, “The Design and Themes of Ezekiel’s Program of Restoration,” Interpretation 38 (April 1984): 182. 

Ask Steve: Knowing God’s Will

July 17, 2014 10:52 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I am trying to understand God’s will for my life. Do I know it is God’s will if I have peace about it? How can I know God’s will, for example, in the choice of a career? 

Answer: It is the desire of and command to every Christian to know God’s will. But sometimes it is difficult to understand God’s will for one’s life because it is not so clear in Scripture, especially if it involves very specific circumstances that so culturally and socially distant from biblical times. Is it possible to have peace about God’s will in a given choice or circumstance? The Bible teaches that it is possible to have such peace, if done according to the proper biblical guidelines. Scripture teaches that Christians live by God’s will if they obey God’s commands in Scripture and submit to God’s sovereign will.  

First, a Christian lives by God’s will by obeying God’s commanded will in Scripture. If a Christian makes career decisions based on God’s commanded will, then he is abiding by God’s will in all cases. All decisions done by Christians should be done in accordance with the integrity of God’s word. Specific commands in Scripture that give clear directives to Christians are what are called God’s commanded will, or directive will. These are aspects of His will which are available to all men in writing (the Bible), are specific, and to which men are held accountable. An example is 1 Thessalonians 4:3: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from sexual immorality.”  

If he does not abide by the word of God, then he is not following in on God’s will. It is possible that he may not see any real troubling consequences in this life, but Scripture warns that repeated rebellion will lead to God’s discipline as a father (Heb 12:6; Prov 3:12) and the Christian’s shrinking back in shame at the coming of Christ for His church and the Bema Seat Judgment (2 Cor 5:10). So the first principle to keep in mind is God’s will must be a decision that is not only in agreement with Scripture, but that it is not something that the Lord forbids.

Second, a Christian obeys God’s will by submitting to God’s sovereign will. As it pertains to the choice of a certain career, the Bible will not have much, if any, thing to say to a Christian living in the 21st century. This is the process of trying to discover God’s sovereign will, or decretive will. God’s sovereign will involves His ultimate, complete control over everything. Nothing happens that is not in God’s plan. History is the unfolding of God’s purposes, which happens exactly as He planned. An example of God’s sovereign will, as it regards an individual’s life, is Philippians 2:13, which says, “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

The Christian will have to make his career decision not based on an explicit imperative from the Bible, but via submission to God’s sovereignty, although he still must follow general principles from Scripture. Although he won’t be able to have direct guidance through dreams, visions, and spoken revelation from God like the prophets and apostles did in biblical times, he can have indirect guidance through multiple avenues. One of these ways, of course, is through God’s word, since it is what every Christian needs to turn to. It is the lamp to our feet and the light to our path (Ps 119:105). We can also be guided through our conviction, which is also called internal impressions. This is one of the ways that the Holy Spirit moves in filling a Christian with His holy will, and also how He stimulated Paul to action in Athens (Acts 17:16).

Understanding God’s will is something that Christians still struggle with on a daily basis, many times due to ignorance of Scripture. But if we follow God’s word, then we are on the right course of pleasing the Lord, knowing that obeying God’s commanded and sovereign will leads to peace in our short-term and long-term choices in the Christian life.

Recommended Reading: Found: God’s Will by John MacArthur 

Ask Steve: Covenant Theology

July 13, 2014 12:19 am

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I want to know what are your thoughts on Covenant Theology? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Do you ultimately agree or disagree with the view?

Answer: Covenant theology is a system popular among the Reformed branch of Christianity, such as the Presbyterian denomination. It interprets all of Scripture on the basis of two or three covenants, although there is disagreement among theologians on the validity of the third covenant category. However, all covenant theologians agree on the indisputable two: covenant of works and covenant of grace. But for the sake of being comprehensive in this response, I will cover all three covenants, which are: the covenant that God made with Adam in the Garden of Eden (covenant of works, or Edenic covenant), the covenant that the Father made with Christ in eternity (covenant of redemption), and the covenant that God made with man in the New Testament era (covenant of grace). This covenantal system reflects the Triune God’s relationship to mankind throughout history and how we interpret Scripture, both Old and New Testament. In a more simplistic and practical explanation, covenant theology, and even dispensational theology, reflects how we are to understand the similarity and distinction between Israel and the church, and God’s role for each of them, throughout history and into the future. 

In analyzing the pros of covenant theology, we observe that there are some strengths to this theory. First of all, it is not flat out heresy. It does not contradict the clear New Testament teaching concerning the nature of salvation or even many of the core doctrines of the Christian faith. The three, or even two, stage model presented by this system is in line with the teaching of Scripture concerning the gospel message: that men are to be perfect but failed to keep the law (Ezekiel 18:20; Matthew 5:48); the Son willingly sacrificed His own life to redeem sinners from the curse of the law (Phil 2:7; Gal 3:13); and sinful men can be saved if they respond in faith to the New Covenant (Matt 26:28; Heb 9:15). Covenant theology also accommodates the reality that both OT and NT believers are saved because of not works, but by a righteousness that was reckoned to them by faith in Yahweh (Genesis 15:6; Heb 11). This certainly gives the appearance that the covenant of grace was operative throughout even the OT period, although in different stages with the people ofIsraelas God’s “church” at the time.

As it relates to Scriptural support for covenant theology, there are some interesting references. The Covenant Theology camp point to verses like Hosea 6:7 to argue for the truth of the covenant of works with Adam, since it mentions that “like Adam they have transgressed the covenant…” Here, the theologians say that the “covenant” mentioned in Hosea 6:7 most likely references the covenant that God made with Adam in the Garden of Eden until Adam transgressed it by his act of disobedience, which mankind en masse followed thereafter. Covenant theologians also analyze passages like Romans 5:12-21 to make the case that since both Adam and Christ are representative heads, Adam must also have been in some sort of a real covenant with the Lord much like Christ was (if Christ was in one to begin with). Many of the covenants spoken of in the Old Testament, including the Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, and New, have elements of God’s favor and grace for His people Israel, which can possibly support the idea of a running thread underneath it all, which is the covenant of grace.

A powerful testimony of the Covenant theory is its strong identification with the Protestant Reformation. Many reformers, including Ulrich Zwingli, favor this theological system and consider it to be truth, which gives tremendous weight to its influence and interpretation of Scripture. Another advantage is that it is very flexible when it comes to the millennial issue and can lead to many possible avenues of interpreting the millennium, and to some degree, the book of Revelation.

As intriguing as some of the Covenant views are, there are stronger weaknesses for this theory, which is why I ultimately disagree with this system. First of all, the concept of “covenant” as the driving force, system, and lens for interpreting all of Scripture is questionable, because the theme of the kingdom appears to be a more prominent one in the Bible. Regardless of what covenant theologians says, there is really no scriptural evidence that God established such a three fold model. There is no clear cut text in Scripture that states God established a covenant of works with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Even if God had done this in history, it is something that the Lord had not revealed to us in writing, so it is purely conjecture at this point. Another problem with the covenant of works is the idea that God made such a covenant of works with Adam to begin with, even for a probation period. The idea that runs throughout Scripture is that both salvation and sanctification is granted onto the believer by God’s grace through the working of the Holy Spirit, or unmerited favor (Eph 2:10; Gal 5:22-23). Thus the covenant of works would be promoting a form of salvation by works, in which man would be given the glory for his accomplishments if he were to somehow pass the test during the probation period. This does not correlate with the general theme of the entire Bible, which exhorts us to depend on God’s grace, and all things ultimately go to His glory.

The theory of the covenant of grace also has some issues as well. Although grace is one of God’s divine attributes and is a theme that runs throughout Scripture, this does not mean that there is a covenant of grace that is already in force that must be the center of interpretation of the other covenants in the Bible. For this to be the case, there must be an explicitly stated reference of this in the Old Testament. Yet there is none! Therefore, it cannot be the grounds to interpret the Noahic, the Abrahamic, or the Davidic Covenant. Although the New Covenant that God established with the nation of Israel (Jer 31:31-34) indicated the future forgiveness of sins by God’s grace through faith, one cannot go so far as to speculate that the New Covenant theme of grace was evident even before this New Covenant was in place. The NT does not reinterpret OT history, therefore we must be careful not to ignore what the OT meant to the original readers.

Finally, the covenant of redemption is not clearly mentioned in Scripture as well. Although the NT does mention the fact that the Father arranged with the Son to save sinners before the foundation of the world, to which the Son willingly submitted Himself to (John 6:37-40; Phil 2:5-11), Scripture does not explicitly detail a covenant of redemption established between the Father and the Son, in response to the covenant of works between God and Adam, to which the Father and the Son will allow man to be saved by his response to the covenant of grace that God will establish with His elect.

Covenant theology is not a result of biblical exegesis, but more a product of Protestant tradition in line with New Testament soteriological teachings. A theological system, whether covenant or dispensational, should never be used to influence and inform one’s interpretation of Scripture. Rather, exegesis based on grammatical-historical hermeneutics must be the basis for deriving Scripture’s meaning, for this is what gives our theology integrity, and ultimately, truth.

Ask Steve: New Creation Model vs. Spiritual Vision Model

July 7, 2014 3:52 am

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I heard things about the New Creation Model and Spiritual Vision Model approach. What are these two models and why are they important? Will understanding these things help my understanding of God’s purposes in the world or is this more religious gibberish that only scholars care about?

Answer: The two models heavily influence Christian thought because they have a tremendous influence on how you view the gospel, the Christian life, where the world is going (eschatology), and how you interpret Scripture, both OT and NT. In essence, your understanding of Scripture and practical approaches to life’s issues is based off a worldview shaped by either the New Creation Model or Spiritual Vision Model. That is why it is important to acquire a basic understanding of these two models and why they are important since they ultimately shape your Christian worldview, which in turn influences how you live your life presently and formulate what your expectations are for the future.

The Spiritual Vision Model is a spiritualized approach to Christian living that is Platonic in nature, which means that it is based on the Greek philosophy that is pessimistic about matter and optimistic about spiritual things. In its fundamental view of eternal salvation, the Spiritual Vision Model sees salvation as primarily a spiritual matter and involves nothing of the current bodies, which will not be resurrected in the last days. In other words, salvation is mainly a “ticket” to the spiritual afterlife, or the other dimension. The eternal destiny of the elect is heaven, which is another spiritual, disembodied world. It is nothing resembling this current sin-ridden earth. There is no emphasis on change, time and space, temporal locations, cultures, nations, and other features that resemble the current earth. 

The next life will be radically different than the current one in several ways: 1). A basic contrast between spirit and matter, 2). An identification of spirit with mind or intellect, and 3). A belief that eternal perfection entails the absence of change, 4). The old earth will be completely done away, with no resemblance or artifacts carried over into the new world. Ethnic and national distinctions are transcended. Everyone will likely be uniform in identity, culture, and language.

In terms of celestial life, eternal activities will be remarkably different than that of this current world. The redeemed saints will probably not participate in eating, drinking, or games. There is no time in heaven. The saints will be undertaking something resembling an unending church service, such as singing songs of praise and contemplation of God’s greatness. There will no longer be work, whether toilsome or productive, but eternal rest in His presence. In heaven, there will be no trifling with political, social, or vocational matters that have been a part of the former fallen world. Every physical and national thing depicted in the Old Testament, regarding nations, political system, and religious institution of Israel, has supposedly been spiritually absorbed into Christ, who represented it all in His life, ministry, death, and resurrection.

In contrast, the New Creation Model views Christian life differently, placing a stronger emphasis on the material, or continuity between this world and the next one. They view salvation as more holistic, which means that not only are our souls saved from sin and its penalty, but our bodies will also be resurrected and delivered over into the new earth in its glorified state. This means there is no separation of soul and body. The N.C. eschatology sees a renovated earth and not merely a disappearance of the physical into another spiritual dimension. As stated earlier, the Creation Model views physical things more positively, and understands factors like ethnic and cultural distinctions as existing in the new heavens and new earth. The present earth will not be destroyed and done away with, but will be remade and restored when God ushers the kingdom and the new earth in. Because they stress the continuity of the ontological order of this life to the next one, the New Creation Model sees the real possibility of eating, drinking, playing, working, and celebrating in eternity, along with singing and contemplating like the Spiritual Visionists say. There is rest in the new earth, as well as physical work, although not of the same kind as in the current sin-cursed world, which is painful and burdensome due to the fall incurred by man in Genesis 3. Arts, sports, governmental, social and cultural entities will be carried over from the old earth into the new earth, although without the residue of sin and flawed human influences. Finally, all physical and national entities, especially those that are mentioned in the Old Testament, will exist in the new earth as part of God’s original and good design.

Understanding these two models is significant because it teaches us a lesson about Scripture interpretation. Do we trust in what God’s word says about the eternal state or in what pop culture says? Are we faithful to interpret eschatological passages according to grammatical-historical hermeneutics, as with the rest of the Bible? Or are we interpreting these passages in a manner that is overly figurative, symbolic, and mystical? Whichever approach we take affects our eschatology, which can affect how we understand God’s purposes for the future. A consistent grammatical-historical hermeneutics typically leads to premillennialism, which is usually identified with the New Creation Model. A more platonic influenced approach to interpretation (or Christoplatonism) can lead to spiritualization of eschatological texts leading to amillennialism and postmillennalism. This leads to the Spiritual Vision approach (although this is not always the case).

As Christians, it is important to have a right view of Scripture and of what God is doing in the world. God’s word is more consistent with the New Creation Model, that the cultural, political, social, and physical elements of this world are good and will be part of the new earth. Genesis 10:31 supports this idea. Genesis 12:7 demonstrates the reality of a real future Promised Land to the descendants of Abraham. Deuteronomy 30:1-10 and Jeremiah 31-33 promised the inevitably prosperity of the nation and people ofIsrael. Isaiah 66:22 speaks of the new earth filled with distinct and varied nations. Isaiah 11 even speaks of the presence and reformation of the animals in the future kingdom on earth.

These verses show us that God will not abandon this world. He does not deem the created things of this world (culture, animals, social order) as evil, but only the sin that had tainted it, which will be judged and destroyed forever before the time of the New Earth. Knowing this, we must not entertain the idea of a platonic, “boring,” Eastern-mystical heaven that is incorporeal and lifeless. We must not carelessly remove ourselves from the affairs of this world and think it all as going to hell. Rather, we must be involved in the cause of the Great Commission and deem as good what God as created as good, knowing that they will be part of the New Earth. Therefore, understanding these things is not mere jibberish that has no true relevance, but can be instrumental in encouraging Christians to have an eternal perspective.

Recommended Reading: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond by Stanley Gundry and Darrell Bock

Ask Steve: Baptism and Filling of the Spirit

July 2, 2014 8:11 pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, can you explain to me what the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit mean. What is the difference between them? How is one filled with the Holy Spirit? 

Answer: There is some misconception of what Baptism and Filling of the Holy Spirit are, mostly because of Pentecostal theology that clashes with what biblical and historical theology teaches about this issue. Baptism and Filling of the Holy Spirit is not a reenactment of the Acts 2 experience where believers “receive” the Spirit by an act of faith and speak in tongues in order to gain or prove their salvation, or at least gain a second, higher level of sanctification. This essay will provide a true biblical definition of Baptism of the Holy Spirit and the Filling of the Holy Spirit, the difference between them, and how exactly one is filled by the Holy Spirit.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit is defined as that work whereby the Spirit of God places the believer into union with Christ and into union with other believers in the body of Christ at the moment of salvation. This is the impartation of new spiritual life (in regeneration), cleansing from sin, a breaking with the power and love of sin, and empowering for ministry. When a person is regenerated (born again) by the Holy Spirit and believes in Christ, he is essentially baptized into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). The Spirit of God makes the person dead to sin and alive to Christ (Rom 6:11), with new desires and a new spiritual life (2 Cor 5:17), justifying him (Rom 5:1), uniting him to Christ and making him an adopted heir to the family (Rom 8:17). That is the meaning behind physical water baptism that comes after a person is saved.

The filling of the Holy Spirit is defined as a Christian being internally led by the Spirit or putting on the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:10; 16). In other words, the person who is led by the Spirit allows the word of God to dwell richly in his heart and allows the word of God to guide his every action. So the Spirit guides primarily through the illumination and application of the Scripture to the believer’s life. A person who is filled by the Holy Spirit must first be baptized by the Holy Spirit, for no unbeliever can ever be filled by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9; Eph 1:13-14).

The difference between them is that baptism of the Holy Spirit is a salvific issue. It only happens once in a believer’s life, during the positional sanctification stage (Tit 3:5). Therefore, a Christian is not to seek after it to attain a second sanctification experience as Pentecostal theology advocates. If a professing Christian has not been baptized by the Holy Spirit, then he is not a Christian, which means that he has never truly repented and trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He is a false convert. All born again believers have the Spirit of God in Him through baptism (Matt 3:11; Rom 8:9). The filling of the Holy Spirit, however, is something that is relevant to progressive sanctification because it pertains to Christian growth. Scripture tells us that we are to walk in the newness of life (Rom 6:1-10) and to be renewed by the transforming of the mind (Rom 12:2), so we are to grow in Christlikeness. We must not yield to the flesh, because it is possible to quench the Spirit, according to 1 Thessalonians 5:19, and to even grieve Him (Eph 4:30). To be a pleasing sacrifice onto God, we must constantly submit our lives to Him (Eph 5:18) by allowing His word to dwell within us and acting on it everyday. Only then will we see the Holy Spirit move powerfully in our lives, possessing us and moving through us.

Contrary to some popular beliefs, Baptism and Filling of the Holy Spirit are not mystical or sign gifts that believers seek in order to gain seek a second level of sanctification or to work for salvation. Rather, all believers are baptized by the Holy Spirit upon repentance and faith in Christ and are filled by the Holy Spirit as they allow the word of God to dwell richly in their hearts. It is imperative that every believer know the difference between these two concepts and how (one being salvific and other being about sanctification) and how one is filled by the Holy Spirit so he can turn away from sin and grow in Christlikeness daily. 

Recommended Resource: The Holy Spirit by Charles C. Ryrie