Posts tagged ‘hermeneutics’

February 10, 2019

The Last from the Past

The last days are not a future period of time leading up to the rapture of the church and the end of the world. Nor are the last days describing the full contemporary Christian era. It hardly seems consistent to associate the term “days” with two millennia of years! A closer look at the New Testament usage of the term will reveal that the last days represented a now historical period of time. It was a fitting description of the final days of the Old Covenant, a period lasting a little over forty years. The first century earthly ministry of Jesus ushered in these last days. In this way, the “last days” of the New Testament were actually the “first days” of the New Testament church.1

The prophet Joel described some miraculous activities that would characterize the last days (Joel 2:28-31). The apostle Peter used the prophetic words of Joel to explain the miraculous events that were ocurring at that time (Acts 2:16-17). The fact that those events were ascribed as being a fulfillment of the words of Joel indicated that the last days had arrived. If the inspired prophet was referencing the entire Christian era from Pentecost until the present, would we not expect these same miraculous activities to still be genuinely ocurring — “in the last days”?2

It is sometimes said that the whole period between the incarnation and the end of the world is regarded in the New Testament as ‘the end of the age.’ But this bears a manifest incongruity in its very front. How could the end of a period be a long protracted duration? Especially how could it be longer than the period of which it is the end? More time has already elapsed since the incarnation than from the giving of the law to the first coming of Christ: so that, on this hypothesis, the end of the age is a great deal longer than the age itself.3

Those Last Days Now Past

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…” (Hebrews 1:1)

A video presentation by a prominent creationist ministry, which promotes a biblical view of the earth’s age over and against the uniformitarian “millions of years” view, takes in to account the catastrophic effects of the global flood as recorded in the book of Genesis. However, the impact of the otherwise excellent production is weakened as the presenter states that today’s secular scientists whom disregard Scripture’s record of the Genesis flood are examples of the “scoffers” which the apostle Peter wrote would come in “the last days” (cf. 2 Peter 3:3-6). The devastating problem with this statement is that the inspired apostle wrote those words in the 1st century when the last days of the old covenant were at hand; so that the last days referred to were then, not now.

This is a major interpretive error made by modern-day Christians, which has become well ensconsed in many hearts and minds, especially with the high volume of book sales along with seminary teachings by authors and professors based on the misapplication of the past to our present and near future. It is as if someone were to write in broad, non-specific terms about the last days of the Obama federal administration when they were (thankfully) nearing, and someone were to read it two thousand years or so from then, and assume the dynamics of the situation described to be directly applicable to the reader there and then, instead of relevant to the U.S.A. in the year of our Lord 2016.

When it comes to the Holy Bible which is the word of God, surely there is far-reaching application as well as eternal truth to be gleaned, but the correct interpretation must be gathered based upon the historical context and the understanding of the original audience. The last days from two thousand years ago cannot be the same last days today, or they would not have been the last days then. The realization that the “last days” were in the past, and that much of Bible prophecy (not all!) was fulfilled in the 1st century is key to sound discernment of the Scriptures.

Holy writ indeed informs us that the Lord Jesus Christ is reigning now. Peter also quoted Psalm 110:1 and said Jesus is exalted at God’s right hand (position of authority), to rule from the Majesty on High (cf Acts 2:34-36Hebrews 1:3). Jesus Himself said, just prior to His ascension, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Hence, He is now King at God’s right hand, just as the Psalm prophesied. The apostle Paul further expounded that He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). This has not happened yet, and of course we cling to the blessed hope of the resurrection of the body when the end comes and Jesus returns in final judgment and to usher in the eternal state. Until then, the almighty, Triune God we serve is certainly to be victorious in time and history.

So the Messianic kingdom has already been established, i.e. we are in the “millennium” now. The last days of the old covenant, including the great tribulation prophesied in Matthew chapter 24, were the days leading up to and including the destruction of the temple, the city of Jerusalem and apostate Israel when the Son of Man “came” with judgment in A.D. 70. “The last days” are now in the past, and followed from the work that He “finished” in A.D. 30 (cf John 19:30). The once for all sacrifice of the Lamb of God has superceded the old system of animal sacrifices, and now its up to the church, with steadfast faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, to look forward to and work towards the building of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven… for, also as it is written, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).

The effectiveness of biblical apologetics as well as the fruitfulness of Christian cultural engagement efforts will be greatly increased by our faithful witness to the truth that the last days are in the past. The long haul to triumph will likely extend beyond the relatively short lifetimes of those of us alive today; there’s no time to waste. Let’s get busy using our talents in good and faithful service to our King (cf Matthew 25:23), leaving an example for future generations to follow. Keep the faith. Stand strong in the Truth. The worst is past and the best is yet to come.

– – – –
1 John M. Buttrey II, The Book of Revelation – A Brief Commentary and study Guide
2 Ibid
3 James Stuart Russell, The Parousia – The New Testament Doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming*
*Russel’s work teaches that Christ’s Second Coming took place in 70 AD, at which time the dead saints were resurrected and caught-up to Heaven, and the living saints were bodily caught-up to Heaven :-o. Even while not concurring with that startling conclusion, one can appreciate the many astute observations he makes such as the above on what is indeed the “manifest incongruity” of the “end of the age” being longer than the age of which it is the end of; akin to the “last days” lasting for thousands of years.

January 4, 2014

New Heavens and a New Earth (and a Book Review)

Nounepiphany [ih-pif-uh-nee]
1. A divine manifestation
2. A moment of sudden understanding or revelation

We should all be on a quest to grow in grace through the renewing of our minds, seeking increased understanding of the pure, precious and perfect word of God. It is an amazing blessing when He embeds in us the zeal for such an effort, the reward of which can nearly amount to an ongoing epiphany. As we humble ourselves and faithfully ask for God the Holy Spirit of Truth to guide us in the Way, fervent study of the Scriptures transforms us wonderfully. Not to say that true Christians cannot legitimately arrive at differing interpretations of holy writ but submitting to the Bible as a whole, beyond one’s systematic presuppositions, is essential to correctly perceive its teaching and be enlightened thereby.

Matthew 24 Fulfilled by John L. Bray includes personal testimony of the author’s journey through his changing perspectives on eschatology. A verse by verse commentary on our Lord’s teaching in what is commonly called the Olivet discourse as delineated in the “little apocalypse” of Matthew chapter 24, it is not so technical as to exclude the Christian layperson from appreciating it. The volume very effectively incorporates the parallel gospel accounts as well as cross references from the Old Testament in the discussion. Perhaps the most valuable benefit of the work is the extensive bibliography. Multitudinous and sundry resources are not only cited but quoted copiously, several of which are older and out of print or otherwise obscure to today’s inquiring minds. That it is available in PDF makes it even more of a worthy addition to one’s library, since in that format the many works referenced can be bookmarked for instant retrieval. With the support of these many well-known older writers, including John Owen and Milton Terry, as well as many not so well-known older and newer ones, Bray ably presents the preterite perspective (he informs us that “preterist” is the noun whereas “preterite” is the adjective) of the “end times” teaching of the Bible. The preterite perspective takes Christ at His word when He said “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:34), indicating that everything He had foretold up to that point in​ His discourse would have a near term fulfillment, certainly within the lifetimes of some of those who were alive at that time. It does not attempt to apply any etymological alchemy to alter the time frame as stated, in order to accommodate ​a preconceived ​​futurist interpretation of the prophesy.

Having completed this comprehensive study, I am more convinced than ever not only of the complete fulfillment of the entirety of Matthew 24, but also that the references to “new heavens and a new earth” in Isaiah 65:17 and elsewhere foretell of the present gospel age and not the eternal state hereafter. Isaiah 51:16 says “And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’ “ which refers not literally to the physical creation 3,000 years earlier but symbolically to the establishment of old covenant Israel; the very same “heavens and earth” that would pass away in A.D. 70 as foretold by Jesus in the Olivet discourse (Matthew 24:35) and subsequently also by Peter in his second epistle: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10). It h​as become​ clear to me that Peter referred not to a physical destruction of the universe at the end of time but to that cataclysmic event of the Lord’s coming in judgment in those “last days”. The apostle then goes on to tell his 1st century readers “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13), which was couched in the same symbolic language to represent the establishment of the new covenant, having done away with the old. The critical thing to understand is that while this prophecy was near in the future for those old covenant Jews who recognized the Messiah’s first advent and were converted, we are now looking back on it with joy as new covenant Christians born/reborn and living under the new covenant, in the “new heavens and earth” of this gospel age. When Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple and its ordinances, which were types and shadows, were done away with. This happened within the generation of the original hearers of the prophecy. Since then the church is the new dwelling place of God, and we now worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. The new covenant church is the new bride of the Lamb, the new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth (cf Revelation 21:1).

No doubt this is a radical shift in perspective from the futurist mindset pervading the church today, which pushes already fulfilled prophesy into the “not yet” of our future. The Bible says nothing about a rebuilt physical temple despite the popularity of dispensational premillennialism. The modern mindset seems to have developed a natural aversion to the preterite understanding of Bible prophecy, and embracing a biblically sound, historical viewpoint requires a prayerful focus on determining what sayeth the Scriptures rather than expecting them to validate preconceptions made popular by the rise of dispensationalism only since the 19th century. While the tide of eschatological consensus may be turning, a remaining obstacle to a hermeneutically sound, historical understanding of Scripture is the fear of going too far so as to depart from orthodoxy traditionally adhered to by the church (and some do!). In that regard let me hasten to affirm that there will be one great, final, visible, glorious, personal Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15), to coincide with universal, physical resurrection and judgment. This blessed hope is cherished even as we find that Scripture teaches there are also other ways in which He comes. Read Matthew 24 Fulfilled (only $8.95 in PDF) which compellingly exonerates the preterite perspective of Bible prophecy, going no further than where it can be exegetically shown to apply. As John L. Bray did at the end of that work, I herewith quote what Dr. Milton S. Terry (1898) wrote in his book Biblical Apocalyptics:

…it is important to observe that the preterist and historical method of interpretation followed in this volume conserves the substance of every fundamental doctrine of the Gospel of Christ. It may helpfully modify some current conceptions of “the great and notable day of the Lord,” for it treats the imagery of collapsing skies, and falling stars, and sounding trumpets, and dissolving mountains, and great white throne, and scores of similar figures of thought as expressing great realities, but not spectacular physical phenomena. Our interpretation no more denies or sets aside the doctrines of eternal judgment, of heaven and hell, of resurrection of the dead, and the coming and kingdom of Christ than does the refusal to affirm the literal “fire and brimstone” of future retribution deny or invalidate the doctrine of eternal reward and punishment beyond this mortal life.

Nearly nineteen centuries of the manifested power and glory of Christianity in the world ought to have thrown some light on the nature of the coming and the kingdom of Christ. It can scarcely be a question among intelligent believers in Christ that the beginning of the era of our Lord and Saviour was the most signal and significant epoch in the history of mankind. It marked a “fullness of times,” a crisis of ages. The exact point of transition from the old to the new may be with many an open question. But whether we place it at the birth of Jesus or at the time of ​His crucifixion, when ​He cried, “It is finished,” or at ​His resurrection, or at ​His ascension, or at Pentecost, or at the fall of Jerusalem, the great commanding fact is still before us that the manifestation of the Christ, with which all these events must ever appear in vital relation, opened a new era in human civilization.

We now submit the thought that these nineteen centuries of Christian light and progress are relatively but the misty morning twilight of the great day of Christ. It may be that ​He must reign a thousand times a thousand years before he shall have put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor. xv, 25).

The coming of Christ in ​His kingdom and power and glory is not one instantaneous act or event. It is a long-continuing process comprehensive of ​His entire work both of redemption and of judgment. He comes in the power of his Spirit to convict the world respecting sin and righteousness and judgment (John xvi, 8); ​He comes in like manner to forgive the sins of the penitent and to lead the disciple into all the truth; ​He comes and is present wherever two or three are gathered together in ​His name. He has been coming through all the Christian centuries to receive unto ​Himself the faithful souls who have looked for ​His heavenly appearing and glory (John xiv, 3; xvii, 22–24). As truly as Jehovah came of old in the clouds of heaven to execute judgment on the Egyptians (lsa. xix, 1), so did the Son of man come in the clouds and with the angels of ​His power to execute judgment on the great city that was guilty of ​His blood and drunken with the blood of ​His saints and martyrs. He sitteth at the right hand of Power and sendeth forth continually ​His innumerable company of angels to minister for them that shall inherit salvation…1

Just like in the days of Noah when the entirety of the evil society of mankind was destroyed, the wicked generation of apostate Israel was obliterated along with all the elements of the old covenant “heavens and earth”.

The Messianic reign of the Lord Jesus Christ will continue with the inexorable advancement of His kingdom until all His enemies are under His feet (cf. 1 Cor. 15:25) …and then He shall come again, bodily (cf. Acts 1:11), at the end of time to judge both the living and the dead.

My constant prayer is for a clearer, more widespread understanding of Messianic prophecy and its historical fulfillment. Recognition of this revealed truth leads ​immediately​ to the question, “How then should we live?”. Fresh understanding and appreciation of our blessed position in Christ is critically significant for a more positive outlook and a more practical application of the gospel in the everyday life of Christians and the church in the new covenant here and now. We are not on a sinking ship where it is futile to polish the brass; that’s how it was for old covenant Israel in the years just prior to 70 AD. We are the church militant in the kingdom of Christ which has come in power and glory, which must grow until it fills the earth. God’s people just need to be enlightened and exhorted to greater faith and obedience; perhaps the first step in that direction is for the scales to fall from our eyes.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)

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[1] Terry, M. S. (1898). Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ in the Canonical Scriptures.