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Category Archives: Eschatology (The Study of Last Things)

Dr. Bruce Ware: Comparing Covenant and Dispensational Theology

MUSINGS ON BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN THESE TWO THEOLOGICAL SYSTEMS

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These are both movements that really affect a large swath of the evangelical Church with Covenant Theology affecting so much of the Church in the Reformed tradition and Dispensationalism largely through the first study Bible that came out, The Scofield Reference Bible (that was the only one when I was growing up; my folks had the Scofield Reference Bible). It made a big impact on Dallas Seminary and all of its graduates when Dallas was putting out so many pastors for Bible churches and independent Baptist churches. The Bible school movement was largely Dispensational. Moody Bible Institute and most of the Bible schools around the country were Dispensational. Some other seminaries that were Dallas-influenced are Talbot Seminary, Biola University (it used to be Bible Institute of Los Angeles and that is where Biola comes from; J. Vernon McGee and a number of people connected with Biola were Dispensational), Western Seminary (where I went) used to be a Dallas clone and it was Dispensational. So many areas in evangelical life in North America were affected by it.

We need to take a brief look at these two views. One heartening thing I will tell you at the beginning is it is one of those wonderful areas where, though there was such disagreement forty years ago, to the point where there were strong accusations being made by both sides about the other, today there has been a coming together of these movements by sort of progressives of both sides. With Modified Covenantalists and Modified Dispensationalists, the differences between them now, among those Modified groups, is minor in significance. It is not that much to worry about, to be honest with you. It is one area where godly, humble biblical scholarship and theological reflection has resulted in both sides being willing to acknowledge the excesses of their traditions and make changes. The result of that has been to come together in a marvelous way. If you want to read something that talks about this well, Dr. Russ Moore wrote his dissertation on the changing theological positions of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology as that affects socio-political action. But in order to get that “as it affects” part, he had to do quite a bit of theological ground work in describing what was going on in these two movements. A large portion of his dissertation relates to mega-changes, and the mega-shifts that have taken place in both of these movements. It is very well done.

A. Covenant Theology

1. General Description – Two Broad Covenants

Covenant theology holds, in terms of its basic understanding of Scripture, that we should understand the Bible as portraying fundamentally two covenants: a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace.

In the Covenant of Works, God made a covenant with Adam in the Garden, according to Covenant Theology. Namely, if you obey me and follow me and resist eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; if you stay away from that, if you don’t eat of that tree and follow me in obedience, then you will ultimately receive life. Covenant theologians have seen this as something more than the life of Adam then. It is not just a continuation of his life in the garden temporally, but what we would speak of as eternal life. They propose that there must have been a probationary period in which this testing was undertaken. Had Adam passed the test (who knows how much longer it might have been; maybe two more days and the test would have been over; we just don’t know), then he would have received eternal life because of his works. But if Adam failed the test, if he were to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, then we know from the text, in the day that you eat from it you will surely die (Gen 2:17). So death for disobedience; life, presumably a better life, a greater that the life he had now for obedience.

Covenant theologians acknowledge that the first part of this, the promise of life for obedience, is not stated explicitly in Scripture. But they think that it is implied by the negative statement, “If you eat of it you will die”. If you don’t eat of the tree, then you would receive the gift of eternal life. If that is the case, then it must be something different than what you have now, and if that is the case, there must be a probationary period. There must be a time period after which this would be given. All of that follows from what they know to be the case; namely, there is command given that if you eat of the tree you will die. The other part of it is spin off from that.

We all know that Adam failed the test and brought death upon himself and all of his progeny. Romans chapter 5 tells us that in Adam all sin and deserve his death. So we learn from Paul in Romans 5:12 and following that all die in Adam’s one sin.

In order to save sinners, God brings about another covenant. This is not a Covenant of Works because sinners could never work to make the payment necessary to satisfy a holy God on account of the offense that has been committed. The guilt is too great, and the offense is too serious. Another Covenant of Works (work it off now, pay your dues, pay off your debt) won’t work for human beings, for sinners. God inaugurates, instead, a Covenant of Grace, whereby his Son will pay the penalty for sinners, and those sinners in exchange will receive the righteousness of Christ. It is quite a deal for sinners. We give Christ our sins and he gives us his righteousness.

Double imputation is part of this understanding as well. Our sin is imputed to Christ, so he pays the penalty for our guilt and it is charged against him even though he doesn’t deserve to pay it. That’s what imputation means at that point; our sin is charged against Christ, and his righteousness is imputed to us; it is credited to our account by faith – justification.

How much of the Bible does the Covenant of Works cover, what does it span? The Covenant of Works covers Genesis 1, 2 and part of Genesis 3 where the sin takes place. What about the Covenant of Grace where sinners now cannot be saved by works? If they are going to be saved it has to be by grace? Genesis 3 to Revelation 22. The point of this is that it leads Covenant theologians, in the traditional understanding, to think in terms of the broad sense of the holistic nature of virtually all of the Bible, from Gen 3 on, which is most of the Bible. Basically, the whole Bible fits under this Covenant of Grace notion. This leads to, in Covenant Theology, a strong sense of uniformity throughout the Bible, that is a strong sense of continuity. There is one thing God is doing from the sin in the garden and on, that is he is providing for human sin and saving the people. The Covenant of Grace spans both Testaments; it spans Israel and Church. In that sense, it leads to a unified sense in all of Scripture: Old and New Testaments together.

2. Covenant Hermeneutic

Because of this sense of unity that takes place, the hermeneutic of Covenant Theology tends to see in Scripture a unified teaching in both Testaments. So there is less of a notion in Covenant Theology that new things come about in divine revelation at new periods of revelation, rather there is more of a notion of simply amplifying or explaining with grater clarity or precession what has been there from the beginning. So for example, in Covenant Theology there is much more a tendency to look back in the Old Testament and see the same kinds of things as you do in the New Treatment. I’ll give you an example of that; some of you know that I teach an elective on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The older Covenant theologians (some of the more recent ones, Richard Gap and Sinclair Ferguson have not have gone this route) would tend to see everything that is true of the of the Holy Spirit’s work in the New Testament, his indwelling, his sealing, his empowering that is true for New Testament believers, is also true for Old Testament believers because of this uniformity idea. So if you ask the question what is new at Pentecost or new in the New Covenant? It is more a sense of extension of coverage than it is qualitative experience in the lives of true believers. God will extend this to the ends of the earth: Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. To the ends of the earth means extending this beyond the boundaries of the restricted members of the people of God. It is going to go public, nationwide, worldwide. My view is that this is a mistake to think this way. Instead there is a radical new happening when the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost that the Old Testament actually prophesied and predicted was going to happen that would make a tremendously different change to the people of God. So you really have to have, it was once this way but now is this way. There really is a change, a marked qualitative kind of change that takes place in the coming of the Spirit in the New Covenant than in the Old. This is a more Dispensational way of thinking. Take a text like Romans 8:3-4

“For what the Law could not do [under the law this didn’t happen, the Law couldn’t do this], weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [we are talking history now, at this point in history, when Christ comes], and as an offering for sin, Him condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might now be fulfilled in those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3-4) So that looks to me like we ought to read it as under the Law things were one way, but now that the Spirit has come, Christ has come, things are different. But if you read the Old Covenant writers on the Holy Spirit, you will find a very strong urge to assume that New Testament teachings about the Holy Spirit must be true of Old Testament saints as well.

A similar thing might be said of Christology. There is a very strong sense of trying to see as much as possible of Christ in the Old Testament. Luke 24 makes it very clear that Christ taught concerning himself from the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (Luke 24:27).

It is a matter of which texts, what they are saying, and to what extent. There is a tendency in Covenant Theology to see more than what others might see from other traditions. The main point I am trying to stress here is that with this Covenant hermeneutic there is a tendency to see uniformity of content between the Testaments.

3. Israel and the Church

One of the places where this becomes both the clearest and most decisive in terms of separating covenant and Dispensational views is how Covenant Theology understands Israel and the Church. Here again, with the basic hermeneutic of uniformity, Covenant Theology would view true Israel as the people of God, that is, true Israel, saved Israel as the people of God and the Church as the people of God. There is really one people of God in both Testaments, both saved by faith, both serving the same God, both the special objects of God’s saving love. Israel really could be thought of and spoken of as the Old Testament Church. The Church in the New Testament can rightly be thought of as New Testament Israel. So we have Old Testament Church, that’s Israel, and we have New Testament Israel, that’s Church. So there really should not be seen significant differences as they are the people of God. Granted Israel is also ethnic and the Church is multiethnic. But apart from that difference, as it relates to nation and ethnicity, we ought to understand the people of God, as believers, constituting the same group of people.

What about promises made to Israel that seem to relate to a time in the future; for example, Israel coming back to her land, or her ultimate salvation by God. What about promises that look like they are eschatological in the Old Testament, and are not fulfilled at any particular point in history in the Old Testament or New Testament period? What do we say about those promises that relate to Israel? God makes the promise, I’ll take from your lands where you have been and I’ll bring you back to your land and you shall have one God, and I will reign over you, and I will destroy your enemies. All of these promises given to Israel, what should we do with those? In Covenant Theology, there is a very strong tendency to go in the direction of saying those promises made to Israel are fulfilled in the New Testament Israel – the Church. So the Church becomes the object of those promises.

In Covenant Theology there is a very strong tendency to see Old Testament promises as coming straight forward and being fulfilled in the Church. So the land promises (you will be back in your land) shouldn’t be understand as literal land; there is not going to be a day when the ethnic people of Israel occupy literal geography; that is not the point of those promises. It is rather that they will have their kingdom, and it is a spiritual kingdom.

So the promises to Israel are to be fulfilled in a spiritual manner in the Church. When it talks about the Jews being saved, we are all Jews. Remember Paul in Romans 2 says, we are circumcised in Abraham. We are, by faith, part of the seed of Abraham in Galatians (Galatians 3:16). We should understand that all of us are Jews spiritually because we are tied in through Christ, through the seed of Abraham. After all, the promise in Genesis 12 was that through Abraham all the nations in the world will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3). So we are tied in.

What about the reign of Christ over nations? This is not a political military reign; it is a spiritual reign as people from every tribe and nation are brought into subjection to Christ. So in Covenant Theology there is a very strong tendency to see, basically, Israel and the Church as equated spiritually.

One place that you see that Reformed Baptists differ is with pedobaptism. In Presbyterian, Anglican, and the majority of reformed theology, they hold to pedobaptism. Here the same thing is happening; Israel circumcised their people as a sign of the Covenant and we are the new Israel. The difference is that our sign of the Covenant is a sign that is Christological in nature because we have been brought together in Christ; everything in the Old Testament pointed to him. Christ has now come, so the sign of the Covenant changes to baptism as a mark of Christ’s death and resurrection. Just as Israel’s sign of the covenant was given to infants, so the Church’s sign of the Covenant should be given to infants. Honestly, the strongest argument for pedobaptism (in my judgment) is a theological argument; if you try to argue texts, you run out quickly. In a used bookstore in Springfield, Illinois (we were visiting there as a family to look at all of the Lincoln memorabilia that was there), I spotted a rather sizable book on the shelve; the spine was pretty fat. It said on it, All That The Bible Teaches About Infant Baptism. That was the title of it. Wow, I thought, this is a thick book; it is impressive. So I took it off of the shelf and opened it up and it was an empty book. It was just all blank pages. They were charging something like $18 for it, so I didn’t buy it, but I wish I had. I would like to have a copy of that book. The argument is really a theological one: Israel, Church, sense of unity, and hence a very strong case is made on theological grounds for pedobaptism.

One question is: How do they understand a more unified sense of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament when it looks as though in the Old Testament there are these special works with selective people? What they argue, in particular, are primarily theological arguments. These people had to be regenerated. How does regeneration take place? We know from John 3, it must come from the Holy Spirit. So you see how this works; these people exercised faith didn’t they? Where did faith come from? It must have come from the Holy Spirit. So it is a theological argument that utilizes what the New Testament says the Holy Spirit does. It sees those same actions or similar actions in the Old Testament and concluded that Holy Spirit must do these things as well. It is a very important question of how to account for Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. How do you account for a Daniel and a Joseph who exercised tremendous trust in God through very difficult experiences? It is a very good question, and I think that we just have to work very hard in the Old Testament to try to understand what is said there and what is happening there and take seriously the notion that something new takes place. Roman 8:3-4, says, “In order that the requirement of the Law might now be fulfilled in those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those are remarkable words. Or in Galatians 3 (Galatians 3:24, to be precise) the Law is a tutor to lead us to Christ. It is a tough question; I’ll admit it. I think that are some things that can be said, but it’s why this theological reasoning is persuasive to a number of Reformed people. The problem is so many Old Testament texts indicate the selectivity of the Spirit at work in the Old Testament and then there are specific texts that promise a future day that matches New Testament reality. Ezekiel 36:27 says, “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, you will be careful to observe my ordinances.” You read that and realize the holiness that He requires of his people will come about when the Holy Spirit comes and works in them. Think of 2 Corinthians 3:3, the letter written on their hearts by the Spirit. This is New Covenant.

B. Dispensationalism

1. General Description – Progressive Revelation

Dispensationalism is an understanding of the Bible, of biblical history, that notices and points to distinguishable Dispensations or administrations of God’s purposes, will, and relationships with people in general and particularly his people.

The key idea in Dispensationalism is progressive revelation. This is the bottom rock notion in this understanding of reading the Bible. Progressive revelation means, essentially, that God provides revelation at a particular time and that revelation provides certain commandments, requirements, warnings and promises. Some of those commands, warnings, and promises may continue beyond when that revelation is given, beyond the next period when great revelation is given. Or some revelations may stop at that particular point. When new revelation comes with Noah, or then with Abraham, or with Moses (think of these periods where new great revelation is given), some things continue on, and some things continue all the way through. Obey the Lord your God; that is from the beginning right to the end. In the revelation given to Adam in the garden, the command, “You shall not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil for in the day you eat of it you will die,” (Gen 2:17) doesn’t apply to you and me anymore, specifically as a commandment. Where is that tree? How could you eat of it? You can’t. So it applies to Adam very much so. When revelation comes, there may be new things that start up that were not here before.

Noah is told that he can eat animals; that is part of the statement made to Noah after the flood. He can eat these animals (Genesis 9), but he cannot kill human beings (I take it that continues). I don’t find vegetarianism theological defensible. Both because of what God says to Noah about eating animals (which I assume continues), and certainly the prohibition of killing humans continues. Nor do you find it defensible in light of Israel, in what they are permitted to eat. And Jesus who pronounced all foods clean is obviously talking about unclean foods, which would include pork. So I guess you can have a bacon or a ham sandwich.

The point is that with progressive revelation, you see some things that are new which continue only for a time, and there are other things that might start, ones that weren’t here before, which continue all the way through, and some things which are just for that time period itself. This, then, amounts to different dispensations, different ways in which God administers his relationship with people. The most obvious example is the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. We now have in this time period these laws that relate to the sacrificial system; and it is clear that they last until Christ comes who fulfills what they are pointing to: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When God’s Lamb comes, then you don’t have to keep taking your lamb to the priest to be slaughtered. When the High Priest reigns, you don’t need a priest any longer. So here we have in this time period laws that are very relevant, extremely relevant, in exact literal detail. Fulfilling those Laws is extremely important in this time period, then when Christ comes they end. You don’t take a lamb; you don’t go to the priest; the priest doesn’t have to prepare himself for the Day of Atonement. All of these things that were there before are done. This is the main idea of Dispensationalism. It is progressive revelation. When revelation comes you need to notice what things have quit what was revealed before, what things start that weren’t revealed before and what things endure. Whatever you come up with in that time period marks that particular dispensation as the revelation of God in that time period.

2. Dispensational Hermeneutic

This notion of progressive revelation has lead Dispensationalist to interpret the Bible, to look at biblical history and interpret where you are in the Bible, very differently than the way Covenant theologians look at the Bible. The tendency in Covenant Theology is to look for uniformity; there is one Covenant of Grace that spans virtually the entire Bible. So there is a tendency to see this uniformity; there is one people of God. In Dispensationalism the mindset is very different. It is instead to notice discontinuity, differences in how God relates to people depending on the revelation that is given at that particular time. It is much more attuned to the discontinuities between various dispensations and to respect those, to be careful not to interpret something in this dispensation as you are reading it from a different time period. So you are not being respectful of what it means here. Charles Ryrie no doubt overstated it in his book, Dispensationalism Today, but he gave this threefold sine qua non (a Latin phrase meaning without which there is none) of Dispensationalism or the essential markings of Dispensationalism. One of them is a literal hermeneutic. He didn’t mean you interpret poetry literally. John kicked the bucket means that John died; that is the way you are supposed to interpret it. He didn’t mean literal in the sense of ignoring metaphorical poetic meanings or terms. What he meant by that is, when reading the Bible, understand what an author intends to say within the historical context of when he is writing it, so that you don’t read back into it things from the future or read forward of things in the past. You take care to read it within its own dispensation. That is what he meant by literal hermeneutic; to understand what the author meant then and there as he spoke at that time.

3. Israel and the Church

A literal hermeneutic has led to, in particular, the way Israel and the Church are evaluated. It is clear in Dispensationalism that Dispensationalists insist upon seeing Israel as Israel and the Church as the Church. There is a strong discontinuity between the two. The Church starts as Christ built it. Remember Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my Church.” Therefore, we shouldn’t talk about it in the Old Testament, even though the term ekklesia is used in the Septuagint (it is not being used in the technical sense, it just means a gathering of people together). We shouldn’t talk about Old Testament Israel as the Church. Jesus said, “I will build my Church, the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes” (Acts 1:4), “And when he comes he will anoint you with power” (Acts 1:8). So Pentecost is the beginning of the Church. We shouldn’t talk about Israel as the Old Testament Church nor should we talk about the Church as the New Testament Israel because Israel is an ethnic national group and we are multiethnic; we are multinational. It is confusing to talk of the Church as Israel.

So as it pertains to these promises we talked about under Covenant Theology, what do you do with the Old Testament promises that particularly relate to Israel? How do understand these when God says through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:24, I will take you from the lands where you have been and bring you back to your land. And he goes on to say at the end of Ezekiel 37 that the Messiah will reign as your king; David will reign as your king. What do you do with these promises that relate to a future for Israel where the Messiah is reigning over his people in the land, the nations are subjected to the Messiah, and there is peace on earth; what do you do with these?

If these promises have to do with Israel, instead of seeing them fulfilled in the Church (because the Church is not Israel), you see them fulfilled at a future time when God will finish his promised work with Israel. There is a sense in which the premillennial view for Dispensationalism is supported because of Old Testament promises to Israel whether or not you have Revelation 20. Revelation 20 is a really nice extra to have because it gives you the exact time period, a thousand years. It makes it crystal clear that this comes after Christ has returned to earth and he reigns upon the earth for this thousand year period. That is nice to know all that, but we didn’t need Revelation 20 to know there had to be a time period in the future after Christ returned for God to finish his work with Israel. Why? Because these promises back here talk about land, Messiah, Jerusalem. According to a literal hermeneutic, what did Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Zachariah mean when they said “Jerusalem”? What did they mean when they said “in your land”? What were the authors intended meanings of these terms: land, Israel, Messiah, and other nations? They understood those things to be referring to physical realities. Have they happened yet? Has Messiah come? No. Is Israel in her land? Hence all the hoopla over 1948; this is when Dispensationalism just went nuts because here we have what appears to be (of course people said it much stronger than that back then) God’s movement to begin the fulfillment of bringing Israel back to her land to fulfill all of these promises. Then there were all kinds of speculation that came in terms of date setting and that kind of stuff.

In my judgment, Dispensationalism has far more merit as a Biblical Theology than its popularizers have allowed it to have in public perception. The popularizers went too far; they extended it into the unknowable. It was speculation but stated as fact. This has hurt the Dispensational movement, in my view.

So for dispensationalists, God is going to come back and wipe out the nations and save Israel, that will happen during the tribulation and he (The Messiah) is going to reign in Jerusalem over his people in the Millennial period fulfilling Old Testament promises.

C. Modifications of both Dispensational and Covenantal Understandings

What has happened, essentially, is that the notions that Israel equals the Church or Israel is totally separate from the Church have been challenged by both representatives in the Covenantal tradition and representatives in the Dispensation tradition. Both have come to see that a better model is one in which there is continuity and discontinuity together. Something like a screen between the two rather than a complete equation or a complete separation of the two. Some things can pass through (hence the screen), yet there are differences between them.

One the Covenant side there has been a recognition, for example, that we really should think of a future for Israel. There was a time when very few Covenant theologians would deal with Romans 11 (Roman 11:17, 23, 24, 26) where Paul talks about the olive tree and the natural branches were cut off and the unnatural branches were grafted on. But a time will come when he will graft the natural branches back on to the tree; that is Israel. That analogy is so helpful. How many trees are there in that analogy? One. How many kinds of branches? Two. Do you have one people of God or two? If you mean one people in Christ, then there is one. If you mean specifically designated Jewish people, for whom God has specifically promised salvation, verses the rest of God’s saved people, then it is two. How else do you understand the natural branches and the unnatural branches? Doesn’t Paul continue to think of the people of God as comprised of Jews and Gentiles? At the moment, most of those Jews are not saved; there is a hardening that has taken place. That is how he describes it in Romans 11. This hardening has taken place, so the Gospel has gone to Gentiles, but the day will come when he will graft the natural branches back on. Who are those people? They are Jews; they are going to be saved. So Paul says, all Israel will be saved. It was difficult for Covenant theologians and Covenant interpreters (a few did but not many) to see that as ethnic Israel. But increasingly in this more modified understanding, you are finding more and more Covenant theologians, people from the Covenant tradition acknowledging that, yes, this is what Paul means; he means that there will be some kind of future salvation of Jews – literal ethnic Jews. Whether this has to happen in the way Dispensationalist conceive it in a tribulation period where vast persecution takes place, tremendous destruction of people and material well-being in everything across the world, and at the same time massive conversions of Jews to Christ, or whether it happens in this age through some kind of evangelistic effort is really beside the point. That is a secondary question. Where there is much more agreement among Dispensationalists and Covenant theologians (in the Modified groups) is that it does look like there is future salvation of Israel.

Dispensationalists have changed. I think it might be fair to say that they have done more changing than the Covenant side. I think that is correct. In other words, Dispensationalists have recognized a bit more that has needed to be changed in their views and tradition than has necessarily been the case in with Covenant theologians.

I will give an example of this. In fact, I have written an article on this in the book that Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising edited entitled, Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition. I have a chapter in there on the New Covenant. Here is basically what I talk about in there. In the old view for Dispensationalism, Israel is one thing and the Church is another and you can’t mix the two. Here you are, reading your New Testament and you hear Jesus say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor 11:25). And Paul says, I am a minister of the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:6). And Hebrews speaks of the Old Covenant is taken away, and the New Covenant has come (Heb 8:13). The New Covenant is the Covenant for the Church, the Old Covenant is the Mosaic Covenant, the Covenant for Israel.

What do you do with how Jeremiah 31-34 relates to the New Covenant for the Church, the New Covenant that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 3, where he says he is a minister of the New Covenant? How do you relate Jeremiah 31 to that? There is a real problem with that because Jeremiah 31 (Jeremiah 32:31) says, “Behold, days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” In traditional Dispensationalism, Israel is one thing, the Church is another and here you have this statement about a new covenant with the house of Israel, so what relation does this Jeremiah 31 New Covenant have to do with the 2 Corinthians 3 New Covenant, of which Paul is a minister? Jesus says, “This cup is the New Covenant of my blood”(Luke 22:20), and Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:25 repeats that, so what is the relation between the two? The dispensational answer is that they are two separate Covenants. Traditional Dispensationalism had a two New Covenant view. Because Jeremiah 31 had to be for Israel, whatever Paul is talking about, whatever Jesus is talking about, and (here is where it get really messy) whatever Hebrews is talking about has got to be a different covenant.

Now why did I say that, here is where it gets really messy in reference to Hebrews? Because Hebrews 8 and 10 quote Jeremiah 31 twice (Hebrews 8:8,9; 10:16) in making the point that the Old Covenant, the Mosiac Covenant is done away and New Covenant, to quote Jeremiah 31, “has taken its place”. Even despite that, they maintain this difference. This is how strong the theological commitment was to two peoples, Israel and the Church; keep them separate and don’t confuse them. It was so strong that even with Hebrews starring at them quoting Jeremiah 31, they insisted on two different Covenants. The text won with Progressive Dispensationalists (That is what they are called). Craig Blaising, who taught here for years, is one of the main leaders of this movement. He and Darrell Bock at Dallas are the champions of Progressive Dispensationalism. They argue that we have got to say that the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 is the Church’ New Covenant. What else would Jesus be referring to? The phrase, New Covenant, is only used one time in the Old Testament; it is in Jeremiah 31. Hebrews quotes it and says the old has passed and this has come in its place. So we have got to understand this is to be the Church’s New Covenant. In my article here is what I proposed: Are we to say then that everything that Jeremiah 31 talks about is fulfilled now in the Church? In other words, should we do this sort of an interpretation of Jeremiah 31; in which we have an Old Testament promise and we draw the arrow straight forward and say Jeremiah 31 is fulfilled in the Church period? I say no. Rather, I think that we draw an arrow forward and we draw an arrow to the future; we draw both. What allows for a “both and” answer? It is both in some sense fulfilled in the Church and in some sense fulfilled in the future. This is the theology of one of the strongest opponents of Dispensationalism: George Eldon Ladd.

Ladd is the one who really faced the evangelical church with this “already not yet” theology. We understand biblical eschatology as being fulfilled in a preliminary partial way, but are still awaiting the complete consummation, complete fulfillment.

This is a different topic; I’ll come back to New Covenant. How do answer the question has the Kingdom of Christ come, or is the Kingdom of Christ here? “Yes but,” or “Yes and no.” Don’t you have to say both? Is the Kingdom of Christ here? Yes, Colossians 1:13 says, We have been transferred from the dominion of Satan into the Kingdom of his beloved Son. In Matthew 12, Jesus casts out a demon, and the Pharisees said he casts out demons by Beelzebul (Matthew 12:24 ). But he says in response, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). So has the kingdom come? Yes. But what does the New Testament call Satan at various points? The god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), the ruler of this world (John 12:13), and the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2). When you read Isaiah 9:6, 7, have you ever asked yourself the question, has this happened? “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on his shoulders; And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And of increase of his government there will be not end to establish it and to uphold it from this day forth and for ever more for the zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” Has this happened? Did you read the paper this morning? Something tells me we are not there yet. This was exactly John the Baptist’s problem. This is huge to get this. John the Baptist in Matthew 11 sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the appointed one or shall we look for another?” (Matt 11:3). This is an incredible question, an unbelievable question. John the Baptist witnessed the dove descend on Jesus (John 1:32), and was told, “The One upon whom you see the dove descend, this is my son; follow him (John 1:33). John the Baptist baptized Jesus (Matthew 3:13-16). John the Baptist was the one who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) and, “I am not worthy to untie the thong on his sandal” (John 1:27). He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This is John the Baptist who now in prison says, I’m not sure if this is the anointed one. What has happened?

John knows his Old Testament. This is the problem; he knows the promises that relate to the Messiah. When the Messiah comes, guess what the Messiah is going to do? Isaiah 9:6, 7 says he is going to reign over nations. Read the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. Incredible devastation to unrighteousness; he is going to destroy those who stand against him; he is going to exalt Israel. Here is the forerunner of the Messiah in prison. What is wrong with this picture? That is what John is thinking. So he thinks, maybe this isn’t the Messiah after all. Consider the angst that he must have been going through in prison, the huge spiritual struggle he must have been facing for that question to come out of him, of all people.

Jesus’ response is brilliant. “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:4, 5). Jesus is quoting Old Testament prophesies about the Messiah. So the point is, John, don’t miss it; the Messiah is fulfilling prophecy; I am the Messiah. But not all prophecy, not all now, it is “already and not yet.” Is the kingdom here? Already and not yet. Yes and no, you have to say. Yes, in some things; no, in others.

Back to the New Covenant, how do we see the New Covenant fulfilled? Already in the Church; in some aspects, in a preliminary partial way, we enter into this new covenant, but even a reading of Jeremiah 31 will show that not all of it is fulfilled yet. Because it says, “I will put my Law within you and you won’t have to teach each one his neighbor, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them (Jer 31:33, 34). That hasn’t happened yet. We have teachers in the Church appointed by God to tell people about God, teach them about the Lord. We have the gift of teaching in the Church for that very purpose. So it hasn’t happened yet.

Everyone acknowledges that there has to be an “already not yet.” It includes, in my view, an already in this age predominately gentiles (who were not even given the New Covenant, it was given to Israel) who get in through the seed of Abraham: Jesus. That is our avenue. They get in as Jews, well granted through faith in Christ, they will be brought to faith in Christ, but no other ethnic national group is promised, “I am going to save you.” God promises that to Israel though; they will be saved as a whole ethnic group. Not Babylonians, not Assyrians not anybody else, but Jews will be because God chose them. It is clear in Deuteronomy 7; God chose them, and he is going to save them. When that happens, the New Covenant God made with Israel and Judah is going to be fulfilled. You watch; God will keep his word

Blessings on You.

- See more at: http://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/covenant-theology-dispensationalism/systematic-theology-i/bruce-ware#sthash.NKg0GYoD.dpuf

 

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Romans 9-11 and The Millennial Controversy

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By Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. 

Upon initial consideration one might reasonably conclude that Romans 9-11 has little direct reference to the millennial controversy. After all, the word kingdom is not even found in Paul’s great theodicy, and there is no reference, of course, to the duration of it.

The chapters, however, are a studied attempt by the apostle to vindicate God’s dealings with men from the standpoint of justice they related directly to what Dodd called,”the divine purpose in history” (C.H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1932). And if that is so, then they bear rather closely upon the doctrine of the messianic kingdom, for the messianic kingdom is a leading theme of the divine purpose as unfolded in the Scriptures.

To take this line of thought one step further, the Scriptures of the Old Testament have as their central theme the coming Redeemer and His purpose through the Abrahamic, David and New Covenants to confer in grace eternal salvation on His chosen people Israel and the Gentiles. This sovereign and covenantal dealing with His people is the overarching theme of Romans 9-11 and, although the length of the kingdom is not a subject of the chapters, the kingdom itself is intimately related to the apostle’s exposition.

The indirect reference of the chapters to the millennial controversy is clear and significant.

First, as we shall see, the meaning of the term Israel, a key eschatological point, finds clarification here.

Second, the hermeneutics of eschatology as it relates to the millennial question also finds clarification in Paul’s use of Hosea in Romans 9.25-26, thought to be a troublesome passage for premillennialists.

Third, the most significant contribution of the section to the controversy is the lengthy eleventh chapter with its climactic, “and thus all Israel will be saved” (v. 26). The ethnic future of Israel, which seems to be taught plainly here, bears with weighty force upon the question of an earthly kingdom of God. The contrary viewpoints of Anthony A.Hoekema (The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979, pp. 139-47) , G.C. Berkouwer (The Return of Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972, pp. 335-49), and Herman Ridderbos (Paul: An Outline of His Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975, pp.  354-61) and other Amillenarians will be considered at this point in the study.

Underlying all of this, fourth, is Paul’s conviction of the relevance of the Abrahamic Covenant’s provisions to the present age of Gentile salvation and to the future time of Israel’s restoration (cf. 4:1-25; 9:5-13; 11:1, 11-32; Gal. 3: 1-29). At this point it will be useful to consider the question. If an earthly kingdom including the land promised to Abraham is the teaching of the Old Testament covenantal promises, why is there not specific repetition of the land promises of the Abrahamic Covenant in the New Testament? I hope to give a sufficient answer to that good question.

I. The Meaning of the Term Israel

A. Exposition of the Occurrences of the Term

Romans 9:6, 27, 31

The term Israel occurs five times in chapter nine. Two of its occurrences occur in verse six, where Paul writes, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” It is sometimes thought that Paul in this statement says that believing Gentiles are to be found in the expression, “all Israel.” Thus, their salvation would justify his statement that the Word of God has not failed, “Israel” being big enough to include both believing Jews and Gentiles.

That cannot be true. The idea is foreign to the context (cf. vv. 1-5). Rather the apostle is making the same point he has made previously in the letter (cf. 2:28-29; 4.12). The division he speaks of is within the nation, they “who are descended from Israel” refers to the physical seed, the natural descendants of the patriarchs (from Jacob, or Israel). In the second occurrence of the word in the verse Paul refers to the elect within the nation, the Isaacs and the Jacobs. To the total body of ethnic Israel the apostle denies the term Israel in its most meaningful sense of the believing ethnic seed. Gentiles are not in view at all (Gutbrod comments, “On the other hand, we are not told here that Gentile Christians are the true Israel. The distinction at Romans 9:6 does not go beyond what is presupposed at John 1:47, and it corresponds to the distinction between ‘a Jew who is one inwardly’ and ‘a Jew who is one outwardly’ at Romans 2:28 ff., which does not imply that Paul is calling Gentiles true Jews.” Cf. Walter Gutbrod. Israel, TDNT, III, 387. Or, as Dunn puts it, “Not all who can properly claim blood ties to Israel actually belong to the Israel of God [cf. Gal. 6:16]” See James D.G. Dunn. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 38, Romans 9-16. Dallas: Word Books, 1988, p. 547).

As a matter of fact, the sense of the term Israel is clearly established by the meaning of the term “Israelites” in verse 4, and it can only refer there to the ethnic nation’s members.

The two occurrences of the term Israel in verse 27 fall plainly within this sense, for the apostle there cites in merged form Isaiah and Hosea as support for the certainty of the fulfillment of the promises, though they may be enjoyed by the remnant only. Israel still refers to the ethnic nation. Finally, in verse 31 the term has there the same sense, referring to the nation’s failure to find justification by faith.

Romans 10: 19- 21 

The two occurrences of Israel in chapter ten are also plainly references to ethnic Israel. In verse 19, asking if Israel has not known the truth, the apostle cites in proof of an affirmative answer Deuteronomy 32:21, the Song of Moses, delivered “in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel” just before entrance into the land (Deut. 31 :30). Ethnic Israel is meant.

The second occurrence in verse 21 is also part of the apostolic exegesis of the Old Testament (cf. Isa. 65: 1-2). The rebellious people to whom Yahweh has spread out His hands in appeal for repentance, as Isaiah wrote, Paul identifies as ethnic Israel. In fact, in this context the rebellious people are specifically distinguished from those who have responded in faith, presumably the Gentiles (Dunn, pp. 626, 31-32).

Romans 11:2,7,25,26

The four occurrences of Israel in the eleventh chapter fall into the same category, referring to ethnic Israel the nation. In verse 2, referring to Elijah’s complaint to Yahweh regarding Israel, Paul reminds the Romans that God responded to the prophet that He had kept for Himself (what a magnificent statement of divine sovereignty in salvation!) a remnant who had not bowed the knee to Baal. The context of I Kings 19:1-21, with its clear statement that Elijah was speaking of the nation ( cf. v. 10), defines the term Israel in its ethnic sense.

The second occurrence in verse 7 refers to the same entity, and the apostle makes the same distinction between the two elements within the nation, the believing remnant and the unbelieving nation as a whole. The fact that the mass of the nation was hardened is supported by texts from the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets.

The reference to Israel in verse 25, clearly defined by the statements made in vv. 7-10 and in vv. 11-15, where the nation’s hardening and blinding is stated, can only refer to the ethnic nation of Israel ( cf. the use of the verb “to harden” in vv. 7 and the noun “hardening” in v. 25, both from the same root).

That brings us to the eleventh and final use of Israel in Romans 9-11. On the face of it, one would need clear and full justification for finding a different sense of the word here, particularly since the use in verse 26 is closely related to the sense of the term in verse 25. The apostle adds the adjective “all” in verse 26 to make the point that he is speaking not simply of a remnant, but of the nation as a whole, “His people” as he puts it in verse 1. When we come to the interpretation of this section, the divergent interpretations of the term will be handled. One thing may be said: It is exegetically and theologically highly unlikely that the term Israel, having been used in the three chapters of the theodicy ten times for the nation, should now suddenly without any special explanation refer to “spiritual Israel,” composed of elect Jews and Gentiles.

This spiritualizing interpretation cannot be supported by Galatians 6:16, as even Berkouwer admits. He writes, “But it is indeed open to question whether Paul, in writing to the Galatians, had in mind the church as the new Israel. the meaning may well be: peace and mercy to those who orient themselves to the rule of the new creation in Christ, and also peace and mercy be upon the Israel of God, that is, upon those Jews (italics mine) who have turned to Christ” (Berkouwer, p. 344. For a fuller treatment of Galatians 6:16 see my “Paul and The Israel of God: An Exegetical and Eschatological Case Study,” in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, ed. by Stanley D. Toussaint & Charles H. Dyer. Chicago: Moody press, 1986, pp. 181-96. It is unfortunate that the NIV rendering of the text still follows what Berkouwer calls “the spiritualizing interpretation.” It should be abandoned for, like the emperor, it has no clothes).The people Paul is talking about are defined in verse 28 as those who “are beloved for the sake of the fathers.”

B. Conclusion

In summary, Romans 9-11 contains eleven occurrences of the term Israel, and in every case it refers to ethnic, or national, Israel. Never does the term include within its meaning Gentiles. The New Testament use of the term is identical with the Pauline sense of this section.

II. The Hermeneutics of Eschatology and Paul’s Use of Hosea in Romans 9:25-26

A. The New Testament Context of the Citation

The apostle, having in chapters 1-8 unfolded his magnificent account of God’s glorious plan of salvation, finds it necessary to explain the almost complete absence of Israel in the account (cf. 2:17-29; 3: 1-8). In fact, Israel has been the most rebellious entity in the story. That, however, presents a problem: Either Paul’s message is true and the Jewish promises are nullified, or the promises still hold and Paul’s gospel is false, and Jesus Christ is a messianic imposter (F. Godet. Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Edinburgh: T&T Clark Limited, 1979, vol II, 27).  Paul’s answer, of course will not be an either/or, but both/and. His gospel is true, and the promises to Israel still hold. The chapters, then, are not parenthetical, or an excursus. The argument is not yet complete. The indictment of Israel in 2:1-29 and particularly the apostle’s question in 3:1, “Then what advantage has the Jew?,” cry out for explanation in the light of the unconditional Abrahamic promises. Further, in the light of Paul’s description of the gospel of God as “concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David,” and that the Son was “Jesus Christ (=Messiah) our Lord” (cf. 1:1-4), then it is clear that in the apostle’s mind the gospel is unintelligible without a full exposition of its relation to Israel, God’s people. Thus, Romans 9-11, where that exposition is found, is “an integral part of the working out of the theme of the epistle” (C.E.B. Cranfield. A Critical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1979, II, 445. Beker is right in saying that the chapters are “a climactic point in the letter” [J. Christiaan Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in the Life and Thought. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980, 87]).

One might ask the question, “But why should the theodicy be put here, after chapters 1-8, rather than after 12:1- 15:13?” Perhaps the apostle realized that the great stress upon God’s sovereign elective purpose and the believer’s certainty of hope in Romans 8:28-39 might be rendered questionable by Israel’s rejection. After all, if God might be frustrated in His purpose, as it might appear from Israel’s history, then is His purpose a reliable ground for our faith? One can see that it should be eminently necessary that Paul respond to that problem. Romans 9-11 is his answer. As Beker says, “Israel’s betrayal does not thwart Israel’s destiny in the plan of God” (Beker, p. 88) Further, not only does Israel’s failure not cancel the promises made to her ( cf. 3:1-8), the facts are that, if the Gentiles are to share the promises of God, then they must get them through Abraham or theory will not get them at all! (Cf. Paul I. Achtemeir. Romans. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Know Press, 1985, p. 79). That is how far wrong are those who take the position that the church has supplanted Israel forever (Dunn suggests that the church is a “subset of Israel” in the light of Paul’s grafting illustration in chapter 11, II, 520).

After expressing his sorrow over Israel’s failure (9:1-5), Paul proceeds to explain that their falling away has its analogy in biblical history itself (9:6-13). The divine dealings with Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau indicate that there is an elective purpose of God being accomplished within the history of salvation. The natural seed of Abraham inherit only if also the products of the divine elective purpose. The apostle finds the matter illustrated in two passages in the Old Testament, Genesis 25:23 and Malachi 1:2-3.

Of course, Paul’s line of reasoning raises the common question, “Is God righteous in His sovereign choice?” That question, incidentally, should be the response of the natural man to all preaching true to the Pauline standard.

The apostle’s answer takes the form of replies to two rhetorical, or diatribe-like, questions (vv. 14, 19), one looking at the matter from the Godward side, and the other from the manward side. He affirms God’s right to show mercy and to harden (vv. 14-18), and he denies that God is responsible for man’s lost and rebellious condition (vv. 19-24. For an interesting and helpful study of Romans 9:1-23 one should consult John Piper’s The Justification of God. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983. One of the delights of this book is its recourse to exegesis in the solution of the great problem of divine election and human responsibility. I must confess that to my mind Arminians usually answer the question, “Is God righteous in His sovereign choice?,” by an appeal to human reason, while Calvinists more often appeal to exegesis of the texts. It brings to mind Carl Bangs’ reference to a statement of an English Calvinist friend of his,” Arminianism is the religion of common sense; Calvinism is the religion of St. Paul” [Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation. Nashville, TN.: Abingdon, 1971, p. 18]).

After the illustration of God’s sovereign autonomy in the potter and the clay, he points out that, in actual fact, God has been long-suffering in order to demonstrate His wrath and His mercy on both Jews and Gentiles (vv. 22-24). What, then, remains of their complaints? (This sentence is supplied as the apodosis of the condition begun with the ei of v. 22, a common enough phenomena in Greek; cf. Cranfield, II, 492-93). To be God is to exercise mercy against the background of wrath to whomever He pleases apart from any constraints that arise outside His sovereign will. That is His glory and His Name. At this point Paul calls forth the witness of prophecy to show that the Scriptures have predicted that vessels of mercy were to come from both Gentiles and Jews, and that the majority of the nation Israel was to become vessels of wrath (vv. 25-29; see Piper, 203-5).). The expression, “not from the Jews only,” would have been troublesome to many Jewish readers, for it might have implied that the mass of God’s ancient people were left in unbelief “Did Jewish prophecy,” Liddon asks,”anticipate this state of things, which placed Gentiles and Jews, religiously speaking, each in a new position?” (H.P. Liddon. Explanatory Analysis of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids. Zondervan, 1961, p. 171).

B. The Old Testament Context of the Citation

Hosea, the Prophet of Unconditional Love, ministered to the Northern Kingdom in the turbulent era of the eighth century before Christ. By divinely designed marital sufferings he played out in his own experience the unfaithful straying of Israel from Yahweh and Yahweh’s conquering love, of which Calvary is the ultimate exposition. Israel’s sin is represented by its ugliest figure, harlotry, and, God’s love by its counterpart, selfless, forgiving, faithful love.

The passages cited freely by Paul come from Hosea 2:23 and 1:10. They both appear to affirm the restoration of ethnic Israel after an indefinite time of discipline to their ancient “favored nation” status. The disastrous opening oracles of chapter one are astoundingly reversed, and the pained appeal of a forgotten God in chapter two, followed by unsparing discipline, issues in eternal covenantal union. “The mood,” Kidner says, “is that of the great parable, as though to say, ‘These my sons were dead, and are alive again; they were lost, and are found” (Derek Kidner. Love to the Loveless: The Message of Hosea. Downers Grove. IVP, 1981, 25).

The apostle’s citation is a merged one that contains some interesting variations from the Old Testament Hebrew and Greek texts, but basically follows the Greek Septuagint text (I do not have the space to list and discuss all the modifications of the Old Testament Hebrew and Greek texts in Paul’s merged citation. One variation is significant. The apostle in verse 25, citing Hosea 2:23 modifies the verb, “I will say” to “I will call,” this making a clear connection with the “called” of Rom. 9:25 and 9:26. The three fold use of the verb kaleo, to call, underlines the sovereign effectual grace in the nation’s future restoration (cf. Rom. 8:30).

The critical point for millennialism is the Pauline hermeneutical handling of the Old Testament passages. It is at this point that premillennialism’s claim that one should follow a grammatico-historico-theological method in the interpretation of prophetic passages has come under spirited attack. Premillennialists have claimed that this method of interpretation leads inevitably to a literal kingdom of God upon this present, although renewed, earth. Amillennialists have disputed this “literal,” or “normal,” use of the Old Testament by the New Testament authors. It is their contention that the New Testament writers, while generally following a literal approach, nevertheless in certain crucial New Testament eschatological passages have followed the principle of “spiritualizing,” or reinterpretation of the Old Testament passages.

Premillennialists, therefore, often accuse amillennialists of following “a dual hermeneutic,” that is, of following a grammatico-historical sense generally, but a spiritualizing hermeneutic in eschatology. I am not sure the accusation is a fair one. What amillennialists are saying is simply this: We follow a grammatico-historical method always, but in handling eschatological passages in a grammatico-historical sense it becomes plain that often the New Testament authors give a “spiritualized” sense to Old Testament texts. They “reinterpret” them, and we are obligated by grammar and history to follow them in what they do.

Premillennialists deny that the new Testament authors spiritualize, or reinterpret, Old Testament texts. That is really the Brennpunkt, the focus, or issue, it seems to me. Does the New Testament, for example, apply Old Testament promises made to ethnic believing Israel to the New Testament church (cf. Acts 15:13-18; Gal. 6: 16)?

We cannot settle this question, as many hermeneutical manuals attempt to do, by theological logic alone. Greg Bahnsen’s counsel is correct, “The charge of subjective spiritualization or hyperliteralism against any of the three eschatological positions cannot be settled in general; rather the opponents must get down to hand-to-hand exegetical combat on particular passages and phrases” (Greg Bahnsen, “The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction, 3, Winter, 1976, p. 57). That is to the point, and that is what must be done by premillennialists, if they wish to prevail. The meaning of the sacred text is to be found by the perusal of the sacred pages themselves. It is from them that our hermeneutics must originate. Scriptura ex Scriptura explicanda est, or interpretatio ex Scriptura docenda est.

C. Leading Interpretations of Paul’s Use of Hosea 2.23; 1:10.

The late George Ladd, for many years Professor of new Testament Exegesis and Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, was a premillennialist who contended that the New Testament authors spiritualized, or reinterpreted, the Old Testament texts. He said, “The fact is that the New Testament frequently interprets Old Testament prophecies in a way not suggested by the Old Testament context” (George Eldon Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. be Robert G. Clouse. Downers Grove, IVP, 1977, p. 20). He also claimed that there were “unavoidable indications” that promises made to Israel are fulfilled in the Christian church (Ibid, 27).

One would naturally like to know the passages upon which Ladd has built his thesis, and he has given us his principal ones. It would be unfair to spend time on the first two examples, for they are so easily refuted, namely, the use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15 and Isaiah 53:4 in Matthew 8:17. His third example is the citation we are studying, that of Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 in Romans 9.25-26. He obviously thought this was a clinching text, for he calls it “a most vivid illustration” (Ibid, 23) of the principle. To its interpretation we now turn.

The questions at issue are these: (1) First, to whom do the passages in Hosea refer? (2) Second, to whom are they referred in the New Testament?

As far as the first question is concerned, the context of Hosea seems to make it plain that the Northern Kingdom of Israel is indicated by the phrase, “not my people” (Gr., ou laos mou, vv. 25,26). Commentators overwhelmingly favor this.

A few students have suggested that, in the light of Israel’s apostasy in Hosea’s day, God now has taken the position that they are as the Gentiles, having no claim any longer upon Him at all (cf. Rom. 9:6; 3:1-8). Such an abandonment of the nation as a whole does not seem contemplated by Hosea (cf. Hos. 3:1-6) or Paul (cf. Rom. 11:2,31-36 [Andersen and Freedman may be right in claiming, "In Deut. 32:21 unidentified foreigners are gathered under the head of lo'-'am, 'a non-people,' What we have in Hosea 1-2 is not a negation of 'ammi 'my people,' but a suffixation of the noun compound lo'-am, my 'non-people.' In the latter case ownership is still claimed, but Israel is no better than the heathen" in Francis I Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Hosea: A New translation with Introduction and Commentatry, The Anchor Bible. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1980, p. 198]).

As far as the second question is concerned, there are several ways of taking Paul’s usage. ( 1) First, as Ladd does, we may refer the Hosea verses about Israel to the church. If this is so, then those who espouse a consistent grammatico- historico-theological interpretation of the Bible would have to modify their position.

Aside from Ladd, there are others who take the view that Paul changes Hosea’s sense of the texts. C. H. Dodd comments, “When Paul, normally a clear thinker, becomes obscure, it usually means that he is embarrassed by the position he has taken up. It is surely so here… It is rather strange that Paul has not observed that this prophecy referred to Israel, rejected for its sins, but destined to be restored: strange because it would have fitted so admirably the doctrine of the restoration of Israel which he is to expound in chap. XI. But, if the particular prophecy is ill-chosen, it is certainly true that the prophet did declare the calling of the Gentiles” (C.H. Dodd. The Epistle to the Romans. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1932, pp. 159-160).

Ernst Kasemann’s comment, “With great audacity he takes the promises to Israel and relates them to the Gentile-is unclear , for he does not really tell us how the passages are related to the Gentiles, that is, Christians,” (Ernst Kasemann. Commentary on Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980, p. 274). is unclear, for he does not really tell us how the passages are related to the Gentiles, that is, typically?, analogically?, or by direct application?”

There are things to be said for this position. First, the following sentence’s opening de (NASB, “and”) can be translated by but. Taken with the phrase, “concerning Israel,” it might appear to contrast Israel to the preceding clauses about Gentiles. Second, the pattern of preference for the “non-nation” in 10:19-20 followed by judgment upon Israel in verse 20 is similar. The “non-nation” there is a reference to the Gentiles (cf. 10:19; 11.11, 14). Third, Peter, it is thought, has the same view of Hosea 2:25 (cf. I Pet. 2:10).

(2) Second, others, wishing to maintain Hosea’s reference to Israel as still harmonious with Paul’s reference to the Gentiles in some way, have seen the Pauline usage as an application by way of analogy of Hosea’s words concerning Israel, to the Gentiles. No claim of fulfillment in Gentile salvation is made. This is the view of scholars with no premillennial bias, such as Sanday and Headlam, (William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1895, p. 264. They write, “St. Paul applies the principle which underlies these words, that God can take into His covenant those who were previously cut off from it, to the calling of the Gentiles. A similar interpretation of the verse was held by the Rabbis.”) and John Murray (John Murray. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids. Eerdmans, 1950, II, 38. Murray states that “Paul finds in the restoration of Israel to love and favor the type in terms of which the Gentiles become partakers of the same grace.”). Charles Hodge, also with no premillennial bias, has pointed out that verses of the ten tribes are “applicable to others in like circumstances, or of like character… This method of interpreting and applying Scripture is both common and correct. A general truth, stated in reference to a particular class of persons, is to be considered as intended to apply to all those whose character and circumstances are the same, though the form or words of the original enunciation may not be applicable to all embraced within the scope of the general sentiment” (Charles Hodge. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950, pp. 326-27. It would only unnecessarily enlarge the apparatus to cite others who hold the same view).

In support of this view one notices, first, that the introductory formula, “as He says also in Hosea,” comparative in force, agrees. There is an analogy between the calling of the Gentiles at the present time and Israel’s future calling as sons of the living God. Second, the threefold occurrence of the concept of the efficacious call (vv. 24, 25, 26), obviously connected, underlines the heart of the analogy. In fact, as the apostle points out in the chapter, the present calling of the remnant (vv. 7, 11-12; 8:28-30; 11:5) is, indeed, an earnest of the calling of the mass.

So, to sum up this analogical view, the elective calling of the unbelieving Gentiles finds its counterpart in the future calling of the mass of unbelieving ethnic Israel. Both are works of grace from God. This view, in my opinion, is a legitimate view.

(3) But, third, I suggest a more appropriate view, also analogical, but centered in a different correspondence and grounded more soundly in the chapter’s context. The stress of the apostle in chapter 9 does not lie in God’s call of both Jews and Gentiles, although, of course, that is true. The real point is Paul’s desire to show from a salvation history that God has had a sovereign elective purpose of grace in His dealings with Israel (cf. vv. 6-13). Why is the mass of Israel missing from the elect people of God whose spiritual status has been so marvelously set forth in chapters 1-8? God’s elective purpose is the primary cause. The mention of the Gentiles in verse 24 is only incidental at this point. It is the sovereign purpose of grace in the salvation of both Israel and the Gentiles that is the point. In other words, the analogy is not a national, or ethnic one, it is a soteriological one. It is not so much the fact of the calling of the Gentiles now and the future calling of Israel that forms the analogy. Paul, thus, lays stress from Hosea on the electing grace of the calling of both the Gentiles in the present time and the mass of ethnic Israel in the future. This is the point that he finds in Hosea, and it is most appropriate.

The use of the verb to call supports the point, emphasizing the fact that God’s effectual calling in elective grace is true both in the salvation of the Gentiles today and in the salvation of ethnic Israel in the future. Therein lies the resemblance, the analogy, the apostle sees in the present situation and in Hosea’s texts.

The mention of the salvation of the Gentiles in verse 24 is very appropriate, but their admission into the people of God is itself an act of divine sovereign grace, his theme in this respect their call is analogical to the call of both Israel’s remnant (cf. 11:5) and the future ethnic mass of believers at the time of the Messiah’s corning (11:25-27).

A careful study of Hosea’s references will lead the reader to the conviction that no passage could better and more tenderly extol God’s sovereign electing mercy in His compassionate courting and winning of the adulterous wife. He takes the initiative, “allures” her, “speaks comfortably” to her, and triumphantly brings her to songs of salvation grace as in the days of the Exodus. His advances, His efforts to win her back, and His final success are the results of His purpose. The fragment from Hosea 2:23, “I will call those who were not my people, ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved,'” if one is conscious of its context, underlines the great principle of sovereign mercy.

It should also be noted that, while Paul mentions the Gentiles’ salvation in verse 24, and it is in harmony with his theme of sovereign electing mercy, nevertheless his chief interest is in Israel, as the final verses of the chapter indicate (vv. 27-33; the de of verse 27 is not adversative, as if the preceding verses are about Gentiles, but is continuative, properly rendered by “and” [NASB]).

The two passages from Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 illustrate the royal sovereignty in the rejection and reception of men, Paul’s immediate theme. The sovereignty itself is set forth more clearly in the merged citation, while the second states the glorious result of it in Israel’s history more clearly than in the first (CF. Franklin Johnson. The Quotations of the New Testament from the Old Considered in the Light of General Literature. London: Baptist Tract and Book Society, 1896, pp. 354-55).

Professor Ladd and others have made their mistake in their initial analysis of the context, thinking that Paul is arguing primarily the relationship of Jews and Gentiles in the divine purpose. That will be more upon the apostle’s mind in chapter eleven. For now it is God’s sovereign dealing with Israel. His usage of Scripture aptly illustrates his purpose.

We conclude, then, that there is no legitimate reason to deny to Paul an analogical use of Hosea to support the manner of the calling of the remnant of Israel and the Gentiles in his day. The truth of the divine gracious calling unites the continuing work of God through the ages.

Professor Ladd’s best example fails of demonstration, and with it that contention that the Old Testament Scriptures are on occasion “reinterpreted” in the New. More recently the well-known evangelical, Clark Pinnock, at the present engaged in a fevered one-sided vendetta against all the purveyors of sovereign grace from Augustine, Luther and Calvin to modem upholders of the doctrine, has written, “Let us by all means begin with the original sense and meaning of the text,” adding in a new paragraph, “But when we do that, the first thing we discover is the dynamism of the text itself. Not only is its basic meaning forward looking, the text itself records a very dynamic process of revelation, in which the saving message once given gets continually and constantly updated, refocused. and occasionally revised” (italics mine; Clark H. Pinnock, “The Inspiration and Interpretation of the Bible,” TSF Bulletin, 4, October, 1080, p. 6).

There are “no crucial reinterpretations” (ibid) of the Old Testament in the New, only inspired interpretations, the Holy Spirit being the final arbiter in biblical interpretation. As John Ball put it in the 17th century, “We are not tyed to the expositions of the Fathers or councils for the finding out the sense of the Scripture, the Holy Ghost speaking in the Scripture is the only faithful interpreter of the Scripture” (Charles Augustus Briggs. General Introduction to the Study of Holy Scripture. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, p. 460. Briggs notes that John Wycliff, the morning star of the Reformation, echoed the though, “The Holy Spirit teaches us the sense of Scripture as Christ opened the Scriptures to His apostles” , p. 455). This is the watchword of historic orthodoxy.

III. The Ethnic Future of Israel and Romans Eleven

A. A Survey of Paul’s Argument

Two relatively recent books, one authored by the late Anthony A. Hoekema and the other one to which he has made a significant contribution, have enabled Professor Hoekema, for many years Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, to emerge as the leading defender of amillennialism in our day. His position is well-earned, for his works are soundly argued and written and represent a significant advance over the older works from that position (Cf. Hoekema. The Bible and the Future; Robert G. Clouse, ed. The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views. Downers Grove, IL: 1977).

It must, however, be pointed out that he has primarily simplified an approach popularized in the Netherlands among such Dutch scholars as Herman Ridderbos of Kampen and G. C. Berkouwer of Amsterdam, who have been followed in the United States by their spiritual compatriots, such as William Hendriksen, Palmer Robertson, and Charles Horne.

Crucial to the views of these men is the question of the ethnic future of Israel, and it is to this significant eschatological issue that we now turn. Professor G. C. Berkouwer, formerly Professor of Systematic Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam and generally regarded as the Coryphaeus of conservative Dutch Reformed Theology, excused a separate chapter on Israel in his The Return of Christ for two reasons: (1) First, the renewed attention given to Israel due to “the tragic outbursts of anti-Semitism in our age,” (Berkouwer, p. 323) and, (2) second, the rise of the Jewish state in Palestine.

We might add a third reason, namely, the importance of the question of the ethnic future of Israel for amillennial eschatology. If Israel has an ethnic future in biblical teaching, then how is it possible to deny to her a certain preeminence in the kingdom of God? The same passages in the Old Testament that point to her future point also quite plainly to her preeminence in that day.

So we come to Romans eleven to consider the question. It is the one chapter in which Paul discusses “thematically” the future of Israel (Nils Alstrup Dahl. Studies in Paul: Theology for the Early Christian Mission. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1977, p. 137).

As we have suggested, in Romans 1-8 the apostle has described an elect company’s emergence from sin by divine grace, but Israel (but for a remnant 11:5) is missing from among them! Why? In the heart of the book Paul makes three points in reply.

First, Israel’s failure is due to spiritual pride and self-sufficiency, which a careful reading of the Scriptures with their doctrine of divine elective grace might have prevented (cf. 9:6-13, 31, 33; 10:3, 21). Chapter 9 stresses the divine election, while chapter 10 emphasizes Israel’s human responsibility.

Second, in chapter 11 a consideration of the existence of the remnant of believers in Israel leads to the conclusion that Israel’s failure is not total (cf. vv. 1-10).

Third, and finally, since Israel still has “the oracles of God” (cf. 3:2, their “advantage”), her failure is not final (cf.11:11-32). Her future is glorious and, through her, the Gentiles’ future is glorious, too. The temper of Paul is that suggested by Luthi, “The joy in the House of the Father at the return of the prodigal son will always be tempered as long as the elder brother refuses to come in.”

Israel’s failure is not total (1-10)

The Pauline question (1a), introduced by “then,” is followed by the Pauline answer ( 1b-6) and the logical conclusion (7-10). General apostasy is not contrary to the existence of a remnant, to whom God has been faithful. The failure of the mass is traceable to Israel’s perverse attempt to gain acceptance by works and to the divine election (6-7).

Israel’s failure is not final (11-32)

In this section Paul makes three points: (1) First, a final fall for God’s people is unthinkable and blasphemous (cf. 3: 1-8). (2) Second, the falling away of the mass of Israel has led to the divinely intended Gentile salvation (cf. vv. 11- 12). (3) Third, arguing from the logic of the situation, Paul says that, if the fall of the mass of Israel has meant “the reconciliation of the world,” their recovery must result in tremendous world blessing, something like life from the dead (cf. vv. 13-15, 12).

To illustrate the situation, the apostle unfolds his great parable of the olive tree (cf. w. 16-24). Its intent is to warn the Gentiles against pride and arrogance and to remind them that, while they have inherited with Israel’s believing remnant the covenantal blessings, they will suffer the same fate as the mass of Israel, if they do not continue in faith. The parable closes with a massive a fortiori argument for the restoration of national Israel (23-24 ).

That leads into the prophecy of restoration of the mass of the nation to salvation (25-27). Paul has at this point shown that Israel’s restoration in the purpose of God is both possible (faith is the lone condition) and probable (it is more likely than Gentile salvation, which has occurred). He now shows that it has been prophesied. The free citation of verses 26b-27, taken from Isaiah 59.20-21,27:9, Psalm 13:7 (14:7, MT), and probably from Jeremiah 31:33-34 also attests it.

The preceding verses have raised the question of the broad sweep of the plan of God for the nation and the nations, and the apostle obliges his readers by surveying the divine purpose. The final balanced sentence is a kind of “reiteration and confirmation” (W.G.T. Shed. A Critical and Doctrinal Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967, p. 351) of verses eleven through twenty-seven. The end of the road for both Jew and Gentile is God’s mercy, and for each of them the road leads to it through disobedience (28-32).

The Doxology (33-36)

Paul, caught up in the spirit of Wesley’s “Love Divine,” with its “lost in wonder, love and praises,” concludes the chapter with a doxology, a Hymnus (Otto Michel. Der Brief an die Romer. 14th ed.; Gottingen: Vendenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977, p. 359) cast in Old Testament language (cf. Isa, 40:13; Job 41:23 [Eng. v. 11]). After extolling the inscrutable wisdom and knowledge of God, he mentions His independent sovereignty as the sufficient answer to the preceding questions. As one might expect, he concludes on the note of the ineffable glory of God in verse thirty-six. He is the source, the means, and the goal of all the divine acts of creation, providence, and redemption (cf. Dan. 2:21; 4:35), As someone has said, “We have learned Paul’s meaning only when we can join in this ascription of praise. “

B. The Crucial Questions of Romans 11:25-27

The interpretation of kai houtos (v. 26, NASB, “and thus”)

Among the warmly debated words and phrases of the passage is the sense of kai houtos in v. 26. F. F. Bruce, for example, has consented to a temporal sense for houtos, claiming that the force is well attested (F.F. Bruce. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963, p. 222. garret evidently agrees, seemingly approving the rendering, “when this is done.” Cf. C. K. Barret, A Commentary On the Epistle to the Romans. New York: Harper & Row, 1957, p. 223). It is, however, a rarer use of the adverb (cf. I Cor. 11 :28?; Gal. 6:2?).

Others have suggested an inferential force. The sense is good, but again there is little support from usage (cf. Gal. 6:2? See Murray, II, 96).

A third possibility is to take the houtos as correlative with the following kathos (NASB, “just as”; Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. New Edition rev. and augmented by Sir Henry Stuart Jones and Roderick McKenzie. Oxford, 1940, p. 1277). Cf. Luke 24:24; Phil. 3: 17. The sense would be this: And so all Israel shall be saved, just as the prophetic words indicate. The sense is good

Finally, the majority of the commentators have given the phrase a comparative force, translating it by and so, or and in this manner, that is, the manner indicated in the preceding context (1-24, or 25). But there is disagreement over the force of the preceding context, so two views have been taken of the meaning of the comparative force. On the one hand, Berkouwer, together with Hendriksen, Home, Rodderbos and Robertson, refers the expression to the remnant of Jewish believers being saved in this age. It is in this way that all Israel shall be saved. The method is that of Gentile provocation to jealousy, a continuing process throughout the age between the two comings of Christ. Thus, according to these scholars there is no ethnic future for Israel in the sense of a great national conversion at the end of the present age. (Berkouwer, pp. 335-49. There are some differences of opinion among the Dutch group of scholars. Some, like Ridderbos, do expect an eschatological salvation to some extent. “Nevertheless, with however much justice Berkouwer places the emphasis on the ‘now’ of 11:30, this does not alter the fact that ‘all Israel will [only] be saved when the pleroma of the Gentiles shall have come in.’ That speaks of the final event: pleroma here has a future-eschatological sense, just as in v. 12, and pas Israel is synonymous with it [= to pleroma auton; v. 12],” he says. Cf herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975, pp. 354-61).

On the other hand, Sanday and Headlam and others refer the phrase to the entrance of the Gentiles into the community of the saved. The phrase would normally refer to the nearest antecedent, which is the salvation of the whole number of the Gentiles (25), rather than the more distant reference to Jewish salvation. It is Jewish hardening and Gentile salvation in the immediate context, not Jewish salvation. By provocation to jealousy through the salvation of all the Gentiles Israel shall come to salvation herself. One of the failures of the “Dutch” view is at this point.

An important consideration is the future tense of the verbs, “shall be grafted” (24) and “will be saved” (26). The future is ordinarily aoristic in force, that is, it refers then to an event, which would be more compatible with a future national conversion than a continuing one, although the point is not decisive. The final solution is related to other questions to be considered in a moment.

The meaning of pas Israel (26; NASB, “all Israel”)

The term, if read without consideration of biblical usage might be thought to refer to all Israelites without exception, but the usage of the term and the teaching of the Scriptures argue to the contrary. It means in usage Israel as a whole, not necessarily every individual Israelite (Cf. I Sam 7:25; 25:1; I Kings 12:1; 2 Chron. 12:1-5; Dan. 9:11). The clues to its force are not only the sense of people in verse one, but also the nature of the rejection of the Messiah by the nation, a rejection by the nation as a whole (the leaders and the great mass of the people, but not every Israelite) This usage, as is well-known, is found in rabbinic literature. The Mishnah tractate Sanhedrin (x. 1) says, “All Israel has a share in the world to come,” and then enumerates notable exceptions in a rather lengthy list, including Sadducees, heretics, magicians, the licentious and others. Thus, Paul affirms that ethnic Israel as a whole shall be saved.

The Old Testament citation

After the declaration of Israel’s restoration, Paul gives the biblical attestation. It is a free citation from Isaiah 59:20- 21, 27:9, Psalm 14’7, and perhaps Jeremiah 31:33-34 as well. The blend of passages is designed to support the statement, “and thus all Israel will be saved.” The citation makes this simple point: The Deliverer shall save Israel at His advent (cf. Acts 3:19-21; 2 Cor. 3:16).

The most remarkable thing about the blend of texts is their foundation in the unconditional (=unilateral) covenants of Israel. In 26b, Paul refers to Isaiah 59:20, a Messianic passage about the corning of the Deliverer. The Davidic Covenant is evidently before him, In 27a, Isaiah 59:21 is in Paul’s thought, and that text is, in turn, “a renewal of the words of God to Abram in Gen, XVII.4,” (Franz Delitzsch. Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1877, II, 408. For further comments on the use of the Old Testament here see Michel, pp. 355-56; Joseph Huby, Saint Paul: Epitre aux Romains. Paris: Beauchesne et sea Fils, 1957, pp. 402-3; Ulrich Wilckens, Der Brief an die Romer. Koln: Benziger Verlag, 1980, II, 256-57; Cranfield, II, 576-77; Dunn, II, 683-83; Matthew Black, Romans. Greenwood: The Attic Press, 1973, pp. 147-48, and others).  Thus, the Abrahamic Covenant finds its fruition here, too. Finally, in 27b, either Isaiah 27:9 or Jeremiah 31:33-34 are referred to, but the reference to forgiveness of sins makes it fairly plain that the New Covenant is in view (cf. 59:21). All the unconditional covenants are fulfilled at that time!

C. The Principal Interpretations of Romans 11:25-27

The interpretation of John Calvin

Almost all premillennialists and some important postmillennialists, such as Charles Hodge, John Murray and others, affirm the ethnic future of the nation Israel. And even some amillennialists affirm that their view does not exclude such a future for Israel. Anthony Hoekema writes of the possibility of a large-scale conversion of the Jews in the future (Hoekema, pp. 146-47). While Romans 11 has little to say directly concerning the millennial question, it is difficult to see how it is possible to fit an ethnic future into the amillennial view of the future. The reason for this is simple: The same passages that declare an ethnic future for Israel also speak of Israel’s preeminence among the nations in the kingdom of God. But how can an amillennialist admit a preeminence for Israel in his view of the future, that is, in the new heavens and the new earth?

John Calvin took the term Israel to mean here the church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles. He writes, “Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before: but I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning, – ‘When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the firstborn in God’s family” (John Calvin. The Epistles of Paul and the Apostles to the Romans and to the Thessalonians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960, p. 437). He claimed Galatians 6:16 supported his view.

There are compelling objections to his view. First, the usage of the term Israel in the New Testament is against it. As we have pointed out, never does the term refer to Gentiles, not even in Galatians 6:16. Historically the view is weak, since there is no evidence that the church was identified with Israel before 160 A.D. Further, in the special context of Romans 9-11 Israel is mentioned 11 times and, as we have shown, in not one of the cases are Gentiles in view. And, finally, such a sense would introduce hopeless confusion into the interpretation of verses 25 and 26. If Israel refers to spiritual Israel, composed of Jews and Gentiles, what is the meaning of hardening in part has happened to Israel?

The “Dutch” interpretation

We have referred above in the brief survey of Paul’s argument in Romans 11 to the view of the chapter offered by well-known interpreters from the Netherlands, such as G. C. Berkouwer and Ridderbos, and others influenced by them. Among the latter perhaps Anthony A. Hoekema is the most important. It is the contention of these for the most part that Paul refers to the remnant of elect Jews that are saved throughout the centuries by provocation to jealousy through Gentile salvation. Hendriksen’s principal point is that Romans 9-11 contains one important point, namely, “that God’s promises attain fulfillment not in the nation as such but in the remnant according to the election of grace” (William Hendriksen. Israel and the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968, p. 49). Is it not rather that Israel’s covenantal promises are not forgotten, because there is a remnant being saved now, while the future holds promise of the fulfillment of the promises in the salvation of the nation as a whole? Hendriksen’s other strong point is that the and so must be interpreted in the light of the immediately preceding context, a point well taken. He then contends that the point of the context is that the hardening of Israel is not complete and never will be. The mystery is that in every age elect Jews will be saved by grace until “all Israel” is saved (Ibid., p. 51). In my opinion there are weighty objections to this view, and I will seek to indicate them against the views of Hoekema and Hendriksen primarily.

(1) First, it must be kept in mind constantly that the passage has to do with Israel as a nation, as a people (cf. 10:21; 11:1). As a people they have been rejected, they have fallen away, and the mass of the people, the majority, have rebelled and have been hardened (7, 12, 15). The figures of the passage are collective in nature, not individualistic in nature,–“people” (10:21; 11:1) and “olive tree” (16-24). A reversal of the present situation in this collective sense is an important ingredient of the text (cf. 12, 15,23, “again”).

Anthony Hoekema, whose defense of the “Dutch” view is found in his excellent book on eschatology, takes all Israel to be simply the sum of all the remnants of Jewish believers in the church throughout history. But the sum of the remnants cannot equal “all Israel,” as the usage of the term indicates. The sum of the remnants through the ages is still the remnant within Israel.

(2) Second, there are two related concepts in the passage that militate against Hoekema’s view. First, there is the concept of a reversal of fortune for the nation (7, 11-12, 15, 23-24). In Hoekema’s view there is simply the continual saving experience of a minority of Jews down through the history of the church. The other concept is that of a future transformation of Israel’s status before God. The note of the future change is found in the same texts, with the addition of verses 25-27.

(3) Third, if all that Paul means in this section is that there is taking place a constant grafting in of believing Israelites into the olive tree, since this would have been a rather obvious truth, why would the question, “God has not rejected His people, has He?,” ever have arisen in the first place?

(4) Fourth, the a fortiori argument of verse 12 and the statements in verses 11, 14-15, taken together with the future sense of the passage, support the doctrine of the ethnic future of Israel. The views of Berkouwer and Hendriksen have no real “casting away” and “receiving,” no imposition of judicial hardening and no lifting of it. And, further, the auton’s (NASB, “their”) of verses 12 and 15 must refer to different entities, at one time to the mass of the fallen, and then to the remnant of the elect. And, finally, since the verse clearly suggest consequences for the whole world of the salvation of the Israel under discussion, it may be asked reasonably: Why does the conversion of a Jewish remnant, one by one in the “trickle down theory” of the Dutch, lead to such undreamed of abundance in the conversion of the Gentiles? Why does not this happen when individual Gentile elect persons are converted one by one? The Dutch view finds it difficult in the extreme to explain why Paul is so concerned with Israel, when they are no different from anyone else.

(5) Fifth, Hoekema equates the continuing “remnant” with “all Israel,” but the context of the chapter certainly seems to contrast them (cf. 10:21; 11:1,5,7,26). And, as was noted earlier, Paul contrasts the two entities in time also, one being now (5), and the other future (23-24, 26).

(6) Sixth, in verse 23 Paul says that Israel shall be grafted in “again.” If this is said of the remnant, as Hoekema says, how can this take place? The remnant of elect, being part of the tree, were never broken off (17). The grafting in again of Israel must be, then, the grafting in again of those broken off, the mass of the nation, or the nation as a whole, “His people, ” who have been cast away but shall be received again by virtue of the faithfulness of God to the covenantal promises made to them.

(7) Seventh, the interpretation of Berkouwer and the others destroys the climactic element in Paul’s statement that “all Israel shall be saved.” If all that is meant is that all the elect of national Israel shall be saved, as Hoekema appears to claim, then the conclusion is insipid and vapid. Why, of course, the elect shall be saved!” (Murray, II, 97. Robertson seeks to answer this, laying stress on the manner of Israel’s salvation, but the attempt does not succeed in my opinion. Cf. O. Palmer Robertson, “is There a Distinctive Future for Ethnic Israel in Romans 11?,” Perspectives on Evangelical Theology, ed. by Kenneth S. Kantzer and Stanley N. Gundry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979, pp. 219-21).

(8) Eighth, finally, while there is reason for honest difference of opinion over this (Hendriksen sees the reference as pointing to the first advent, but the majority of orthodox commentators who comment on the citation refer the texts to the second advent), the Scripture citation from Isaiah 59:20-21 and 27:9 does not agree, for the citation in its most prominent sources refers to the Messianic salvation at the second advent, not the first advent, as required by the Dutch view.

Conclusion

We, therefore conclude that the history of God’s dealings with ethnic Israel as set out in verses 1-11, the logic of Israel’s reversal of fortune in verses 11-15, supported by the illustration of the olive tree and the regrafting of the natural branches of ethnic Israel into it “again” in verses 16-24, and the prophecy of the salvation of “all Israel” in verses 25-27 combine to establish the future of ethnic Israel as a glorious future hope of both Israel and the church.

W. D. Davies, in his significant Presidential Address at the meeting of Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas at Duke University in August, 1976, emphasized some important points that are true to Paul’s thought here. Covenantal forgiveness will take place at the Parousia for Israel. That will be the consummation of genuine Judaism itself The “advantage” of Israel still obtains (cf. Rom. 3: 1-2), priority without superiority. There is a continuity between the olive tree and the root of Abraham, between the Patriarchs (28) and the nation. Fundamental to the fulfillment of the promises is the faithfulness of God. While the Gentiles partake of the promises, Israel still has a “favored nation” status; it is “their own olive tree” (24). And, finally, it is the Lord God who is responsible for the co nsummation the program (W.D. Davies, “Paul and the People of Israel,” New Testament Studies, 24, October, 1977, pp. 25-39,29).

IV. Romans Eleven, The Abrahamic Covenant and an Earthly Kingdom

A. The Abrahamic Covenant

“The greatest human character in the Bible is Abraham,” so said Donald Grey Barnhouse some years ago (D.G. Barnhouse. God’s Remedy. Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1954, p. 350). Barnhouse’s reasons for the patriarch’s greatness included the frequency of his name in the New Testament. Outside of such expressions as, “Moses saith,” or “Moses wrote,” Abraham’s name stands forth behind Paul, Peter, and John the Baptist in frequency of mention. Further, Abraham’s encounter with God is the pattern of justification by faith (cf. Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1-25). Rabbinic theology’s failure is related to its views of the precedence of Moses, over Abraham, as well as its failure to see divine grace in his justification. In an ancient midrashic work (Mekilta 40b) it is said that Abraham was justified by “the merit of faith. ” And, finally, Abraham’s life becomes the New Testament pattern of the life of faith (cf. Heb. 11:8-19).

The Abrahamic Covenant has a corresponding importance in biblical eschatology. Premillennialists have laid great stress upon its nature and provisions, sometimes claiming that the correct interpretation of its content really settles the argument over the question of a kingdom of God upon the earth. It is, therefore, rather revealing that Hoekema has no detailed treatment of the significance of the biblical covenants for eschatology (While Hoekema in his chapter on “The New Earth” has some things to say concerning Abraham’s promises, one of the most disappointing features of his work is the absence of a treatment on the covenants and eschatology).

The promises that God gave Abraham were threefold: (1) personal promises to the patriarch (Gen. 12:2, “make your name great”); (2) national promises to Abraham’s ethnic believing seed, the stress resting upon the grant of land (12:1; 13:14-17; 15:7; 17:8); (3) universal promises to Abraham’s Gentile seed (12:3; Gal. 3:7, 16, 29; Matt. 1:1 ). Christ is the “in thee,” finally.

The promises were unconditional promises, that is, dependent ultimately upon God’s sovereign determination as the striking ratification of the covenant indicated (Gen. 15: 7- 21) .While there are several important features of the ratification, the most striking feature is the peculiar action of God. In other covenants of this nature both parties walked between the pieces of the animals. In this instance, however , God symbolically walks between the pieces, has no detailed treatment of the significance of the biblical covenants for eschatology. and Abraham is not invited to follow! The meaning is clear: This covenant is not a conditional covenant in which certain duties rest finally upon man alone. God undertakes to fulfill the conditions Himself, thus guaranteeing by the divine fidelity to His Word and by His power the accomplishment of the covenantal promises. Herman Ridderbos vividly describes the unilateral nature of the event,” Abraham is deliberately excluded–he is the astonished spectator (cf. Gen. 15:12,17; 54 [Herman N. Ridderbos. The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953, p. 131]).” Even the faith that Abraham would exercise is the product of divine efficacious grace.

The remainder of the Bible is concerned with the ongoing fulfillment of these promises. In the Old Testament, as the promises receive expansion by the Davidic and New Covenants, many prophetic passages assure the readers of Scripture of their continuing validity ( cf. Isa. II: I-II; Jer . 16:14-16; 23:3-8; 33:19-26; Hos. 1:1–2:1 [Heb., 2:3]; Amos 9:11-15; Mic. 5:1-9; 4:1-7; 7:18-20).

Micah 7:18-20 is particularly striking. The final section of this great prophecy shifts to a more lyrical, or hymnic style (Delbert R. Hillers. Micah. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984, p. 91). It is a choral piece of devotion, a doxology for the noble character of a God who forgives and delights in constant love (v. 18, hesed). Micah means “Who is like (Yahweh)?,” and fittingly the last section of the book begins reminiscently. This type of rhetorical question is usually reserved for His mighty acts ( cf. Exod. 15:11; 34 :6- 7).

The closing verses are read in the Yom Kippur service every year, and should be sung by the congregation (cf. 19, “us”). One is reminded of lines from Samuel Davies’ expressive hymn,

“Who is a pardoning God like Thee,

Or who has grace so rich and free?”

The challenge is thrown out in verse 18. The book had begun with His advent in wrath against the peoples of the earth (1:1-5). It concludes with a magnificent choral promise of His faithfulness and unchanging love to Jacob and Abraham. The prophet was convinced of the impossibility of the frustration of God’s covenant promises.

The cause of the challenge is set out in verses 19-20. Here is the theology undergirding the preceding context. As Allen says, “They have come to repentance, but that is not enough to win back the blessing of God. He is no petulant princeling to be wooed away from a fit of capricious temper. Nothing they can do will avail of itself to secure God’s acceptance. The sole ground of their hope lies in the noble character of God as one who forgives, forgets, and offers a fresh beginning” (Leslie C. Allen. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976, p. 401) Micah finds his deepest ground of confidence in the patriarchal promises (Psa. 105:8-11). God’s ancient word of grace in His elective promises to Abraham and his seed is expressed in verse 20 as “Thou wilt give truth (‘emet) to Jacob and unchanging love (hesed) to Abraham. ” Jacob and Abraham are used representatively as corporate objects of God’s grace (the latter is unparalleled as a name for the people in the Old Testament [Cf. Hillers, p91; James Luther Mays. Micah: A Commentary. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976, p. 168]). God’s unfrustratable loyal love is expressed no more pointedly anywhere else in the prophetic literature. Thus did the prophets understand the Abrahamic Covenant.

To the New Testament authors the Abrahamic Covenant is still in force (Leon Morris has pointed out that the New Testament sees the covenant as still being in force in three of its four occurrences, and possibly in the fourth occurrence as well. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955, p. 93). Passages of significance include Luke 1:46-55, 67-80, where in verses 55 and 73 a clear indication of the continuing validity of the covenant is affirmed, and that in spite of the apostasy of the Prophetic age that has intervened. And, further, there is no indication that the promises of the land are not included. The swearing of the oath in Zacharias’ prophecy (Luke I :73) is related to Genesis 22: 16-18, and Israel’s supremacy in the age to come is indicated by the clause, “and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies” (Gen. 22:17).

B. Romans 11 and the Abrahamic Covenant

Romans 9-11 is filled with references to the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. 9:4-5,6-13,25-26; 10:19 [Deut. 32:9, 18, 29, 36, 43]), but the most important section is Romans 11:11-27. We have already sought to show that the passage clearly points to the ethnic future of Israel, and that the merged citation of verses 26-27 includes a reference to the Abrahamic Covenant as fulfilled at the time of the second advent of the Messiah.

C. The Abrahamic Covenant and an Earthly Kingdom

Two questions deserve some answer. The first is: “What about the land promises? They are not mentioned lit the New Testament. Are they, therefore, cancelled?” In my opinion the apostles and the early church would have regarded the question as singularly strange, if not perverse. To them the Scriptures were our Old Testament, and they considered the Scriptures to be living and valid as they wrote and transmitted the New Testament literature. The apostles used the Scriptures as if they were living, vital oracles of the living God, applicable to them in their time. And these same Scriptures were filled with promises regarding the land and an earthly kingdom. On what basis should the Abrahamic promises be divided into those to be fulfilled and those to be unfulfilled?

And, then, remember that Peter urged the church to ( recall both the words of the prophets and the things spoken by the apostles, obviously with a view to adherence to them (cf. 2 Pet. 3:1-2). So far as I can tell, Papias, Irenaeus, Justin and others knew no such division of the prophecies.

Finally, there is no need to repeat what is copiously spread over the pages of the Scriptures. There seems to be lurking behind the demand a false principle, namely, that we should not give heed to the Old Testament unless its content is repeated in the New. The correct principle, however, is that we should not consider invalid and worthy of discard any of the Old Testament unless we are specifically told to do so in the New, as in the case of the Law of Moses (the cultus particularly [Gordon H. Clark first called my attention to this; Cf. Biblical Predestination. Nutley: P&R, 1969, p. 12]).

The second question is this: “Were not the land promises fulfilled in Old Testament times, both regarding the multiplied seed (cf. I Kings 4:21; I Chron. 27:23; 2 Chron. l:9; Heb. 11:12 [partial fulfillment is conceded by all]) and the land (cf. I Kings 4:21)?” The answer is plain: Israel never had anything but an incomplete and temporary possession of the land. The boundaries of Genesis 15:18 were attained only in David’s reign, “and then as an empire rather than a homeland” (Derek Kidner. Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Chicago: IVP, 1967, p. 125). Further, the prophets were ignorant of this “fulfillment,” and long after the incomplete and temporary possession of the land looked on to the fulfillment of the land promises (Am. 9:13-15).

I see no compelling reason why our Lord’s counsel should not be heeded. We, too, with the apostles and prophets, send our petition heavenward, “Thy kingdom come!”

Addendum

After my paper, “Evidence from Romans 9-11,” found in A Case for Premillennialism. A New Consensus, ed. by Donald K. Campbell and Jeffrey Townsend (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 199-223, was published, a paper incidentally which is essentially the same as this paper, an article by W. Edward Glenny, containing some comments regarding my understanding of the use of Hosea 2:23 and 1.10 appeared in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra (152 [January-March, 1995], pp. 42-59, entitled, “The ‘People of God’ in Romans 9:25-26.” One can see from the title of the article that it touches very definitely upon a section of my paper. In his article, while noting there is much of value in my paper, Professor Glenny went on to criticize my understanding of the use of the citations from Hosea in Romans 9:25-26. I thank Professor Glenny for his kind words, but I would like to respond to his criticisms.

He finds three flaws in my sense of the use of Hosea by Paul. First, my understanding is not consistent with the New Testament context, adding that the context is characterized by “typological fulfillment.” Second, my interpretation weakens Paul’s argument, which is summarized in verse 30. Third, my understanding disregards the connection between the original subjects of Hosea’s prophecies and the subjects of Romans 9.25-26, and Glenny adds, “If Paul only wanted to say that God is electing Gentiles in this age, he could have used other Old Testament passages.”

In answer to Professor Glenny, let me say a few things. In the first place, I believe that, while he mentions my principal point, he does not seem to understand it. I am not arguing, as Charles Hodge suggested was appropriate, that a general truth referring to a particular class of people (in this case, Jews) may be considered as applying to others who fall into the same corresponding character or situation. Thus, what is said in Hosea of Jews may be said of Gentiles who fall into the same spiritual situation by analogy. The adverb “as” in v. 25 introduces the correspondence. While Hodge accepts this interpretation, which would justify taking Old Testament passages, that refer in context to ethnic Israel, to refer legitimately to Gentiles, I still do not think the context supports it. The context suggests another approach, for the overriding sense of the context is that of the freedom of God to act in electing grace in the salvation of men. It does not have to be argued that Romans 9:6-29 has to do with His sovereign electing grace and mercy (vv. 22-23). Then with a threefold usage of the verb to call, a verb he uses elsewhere of sovereign divine calling in effectual grace (cf. 8:30; 2 Thess. 2:13-14), he cites the passages of Hosea 2:23 and 1.10 and makes his principal point, not that Gentiles may be saved, but rather that the Gentiles and others being saved in this age are saved in the same way that the chosen ethnic Jews of the future are to be saved at the Lord’s coming.

The correspondence is not, then that Gentiles are being called and saved now as the ethnic Jews of the future shall be at the Lord’s coming. The correspondence is more narrowly made: The fact is that the Romans are being saved by sovereign grace apart from works through faith alone (v. 30), and they should not be surprised, for their own Scriptures have set out a similar divine work of grace for their benefit (and for the world) in the future. The Jews have stumbled at the rock of offense, although they had in their hands the ancient promise of Isaiah 28: 16 (cf. 8.14).

Thus, this analysis of the Pauline usage is in thorough harmony with the preceding context of Romans 9:1-24. Professor Glenny is correct in saying, “If Paul only wanted to say that God is electing Gentiles in this age” (this certainly was not my point in the paper as a careful reading will indicate), “he could have used other Old Testament passages.” That, of course, is true and, as a matter of fact, in this same book he later cites a series of passages from the Old Testament to make that point (15:9-12). His point is not that here; it is the similar manner of the salvation of the ethnic nation in the future, a salvation effected by God’s sovereign action in grace as Hosea declares, to the present divine sovereign activity in grace now, designed to indicate to the Romans and others that for Israel to rebel against His activity in sovereign grace to believing Gentiles at the present time is to run contrary to the hopes of their own people, ethnic Israel, for their hopes rest upon the same overflowing bounty of the God of all grace in their Messiah, Jesus Christ Second, if my answer to Glenny’s first criticism is correct, then his second criticism that Paul’s argument, summarized in verse 30, is weakened will not stand. The statement in verse 30 simply affirms that the righteousness of the Gentiles is theirs by faith alone, underlining the gracious principle at the heart of God’s dealings, which toward both Jews and Gentiles is the same, righteousness through faith alone and thus by grace alone, as the apostle argues in chapter four, verses 1-25,

Third, Professor Glenny’s argument is that my exegesis disregards the New Covenant connection between, the original subjects of Hosea’s prophecies and the subjects of Romans 9:25-26. I simply say that the connection is not specifically set out by Paul here as clearly part of his argument. In a few paragraphs he will argue the point that the believing Gentiles and believing ethnic Israel are branches belonging to the same olive tree (Rom. 11:13-24). Having concluded his reasoning on the note that the olive tree, to which Gentile believers belong by grafting (=adoption?), the apostle looks on to the great event of Israel’s national restoration at the Messiah’s coming (vv. 25- 27). In a remarkable citation in verses 26 and 27 he clearly identifies believing Gentiles and Jews as possessors together of the blessings of the unconditional covenantal program of the Old Testament. The citation is remarkable in that it is compounded by elements of all three of the most important covenants, the Abrahamic, the Davidic, and the New Covenant. Here Professor Glenny has his New Covenant reference, as I suggest in my paper. My words are, “Finally, in 27b, either Isaiah 27:9 or Jeremiah 31 :33-34 is referred to, but the reference to forgiveness of sins makes it fairly plain that the New Covenant is in view (cf. lsa. 59:21). All the unconditional covenants are fulfilled at that time.”

Thus, I plead not guilty to the crimes and suggest without any rancor that my explanation is harmonious with the context. There is no need to appeal to a typological-prophetic fulfillment. The simple analogy, implied in Paul’s “as also,” is sufficient to explain the connection of the Old Testament citation to the New Testament context as, I believe, the majority of commentators, who are not looking desperately for a text upon which to pin their belief that the term Israel may be used to refer to Gentiles (Professor Glenny is not one of them), agree.

SOURCE: Modified from a chapter titled, Evidence from Romans 9-11, by S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. in A Case for Premillennialism: A new Consensus. ed. by Donald K. Campbell and Jeffrey Townsend (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992, (c) by Kregel Publications) pp. 199-223.

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What Are The 3 Stages of the Resurrection?

Resurrection and the life image from John 11

The Stages of the Resurrection

Stage 1: Christ was the first to be permanently resurrected from the grave. More resurrections will follow (1 Corinthians 15).

Stage 2: Those who are saved will be raised (Rev. 20:5). First will be the church-age believers who have died and the believers who are alive on the earth when Jesus returns at the Rapture (15:51, 52). Next, the Tribulation saints and the OT saints (Dan 12:1,2) will be raised at the end of the Tribulation period and will serve with Christ in the Millennium (Rev. 20:4,5).

Stage 3: All unbelievers will be raised. At the end of Christ’s thousand-year millennial reign, every unbelieving person, will be resurrected to stand before the throne of God and give an account of their works (Rev. 20:11-15)–the Great White Throne Judgment.

*Source: The David Jeremiah Study Bible. Nashville: TN.: Worthy Publishing, 2013, p. 1594.

 

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Book Review on R.C. Sproul’s: Everyone’s A Theologian

A PRIMER ON THE MAJOR DOCTRINES OF THE BIBLE

Everyone's a Theologian Sproul

Book Review by David P. Craig 

This book is almost a word for word account of R.C. Sproul’s DVD teaching series entitled “Foundations: An Overview of Systematic Theology.” Having watched this video series in the past I immediately recognized the content. I’m glad this series has now been made available in book form.

R.C. is a master teacher and in this book he covers the subject of Theology in its broadest sense. Theology not only refers to the study of God, but to everything that God has revealed to us in the Bible. In sixty short, but jam-packed chapters R.C. unveils with depth and clarity a summary of what the Bible has to say about its most important themes: Theology Proper – The study of God; Anthropology and Creation – The study of man; Christology – The study of Jesus; Pneumatology – The study of the Holy Spirit; Soteriology- The study of salvation; Ecclesiology – The study of the Church; and lastly (no pun intended) – Eschatology – The study of last things.

This book is an excellent introduction to all of these subjects and the sub topics they address. As R.C. Sproul says, “Everyone, is a theologian, but either a good or bad one.” You will come away from reading this book having learned a ton of important truths that will help you become a better theologian. With profound depth, clarity, historical, and practical wisdom Sproul will delight and intrigue you in helping you grow in your journey and intimacy with God – using your head, heart, and hands for His glory and your good.

 

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10 Distinctions Between the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ

Rapture 1 

THE RAPTURE

THE SECOND COMING

A “stealth” event; Christ witnessed by believers only (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

A public event, Christ witnessed by everyone (Revelation 1:7)

Christ comes for His bride to take her to heaven (John 14:1-3)

Christ returns with His bride to set up His 1,000 year Kingdom (Revelation 19:11-16)

Occurs prior to the beginning of the Tribulation (Rev. 3:10; 1 Thess. 5:9)

Occurs at the end of the Tribulation (Matthew 24:29-35)

Ushers in a time of great distress on earth (Matthew 24:15-28)

Ushers in a time of great peace on earth (Isaiah 2:6; 19:21, 23-25)

Believers are rescued from the wrath of God (Revelation 3:10)

Believers rule with Christ (Revelation 20:4)

Church age believers receive their glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:50-54)

OT saints receive their glorified bodies (Isaiah 26:19-21)

Christ comes in the air (1 Thess. 4:14-17)

Christ comes to the earth

(Revelation 19:11-16)

Imminent, could happen at any time

At least seven years away (Daniel 9:26-29)

No signs precede it

(Titus 2:13)

Many signs precede it, including the Tribulation (Matthew 24:3-35)

A time for great joy for believers

(1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)

A time of great mourning for unbelievers

(Revelation 1:7)

Source: David Jeremiah Study Bible. Nashville, TN.: Worthy Publishing, 2013, p. 1841.

 

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What Is Dispensationalism and What Does It Have to Do with Lordship Salvation?

The Gospel According to the Apostles MacArthur

By John MacArthur

One of the most confusing elements of the entire lordship controversy involves dispensationalism. Some have supposed that my attack on no-lordship theology is an all-out assault against dispensationalism. That is not the case. It may surprise some readers to know that the issue of dispensationalism is one area where Charles Ryrie, Zane Hodges, and I share some common ground. We are all dispensationalists.

Many people are understandably confused by the term dispensationalism. I’ve met seminary graduates and many in Christian leadership who haven’t the slightest idea how to define dispensationalism. How does it differ from covenant theology? What does it have to do with lordship salvation? Perhaps we can answer those questions simply and without a lot of theological jargon.

Dispensationalism is a system of biblical interpretation that sees a distinction between God’s program for Israel and His dealings with the church. It’s really as simple as that.

A dispensation is the plan of God by which He administers His rule within a given era in His eternal program. Dispensations are not periods of time, but different administrations in the eternal outworking of God’s purpose. It is especially crucial to note that the way of salvation—by grace through faith—is the same in every dispensation. God’s redemptive plan remains unchanged, but the way He administers it will vary from one dispensation to another. Dispensationalists note that Israel was the focus of God’s redemptive plan in one dispensation. The church, consisting of redeemed people including Jews and Gentiles, is the focus in another. All dispensationalists believe at least one dispensation is still future—during the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, known as the millennium, in which Israel will once again play a pivotal role.

Dispensationalism teaches that all God’s remaining covenant promises to Israel will be literally fulfilled—including the promises of earthly blessings and an earthly messianic kingdom. God promised Israel, for example, that they would possess the promised land forever ( Gen. 13:14–17 ; Exod. 32:13 ). Scripture declares that Messiah will rule over the kingdoms of the earth from Jerusalem ( Zech. 14:9–11 ). Old Testament prophecy says that all Israel will one day be restored to the promised land ( Amos 9:14–15); the temple will be rebuilt ( Ezek. 37:26–28 ); and the people of Israel will be redeemed ( Jer. 23:6 ; Rom. 11:26–27). Dispensationalists believe all those promised blessings will come to pass as literally as did the promised curses.

Covenant theology, on the other hand, usually views such prophecies as already fulfilled allegorically or symbolically. Covenant theologians believe that the church, not literal Israel, is the recipient of the covenant promises. They believe the church has superseded Israel in God’s eternal program. God’s promises to Israel are therefore fulfilled in spiritual blessings realized by Christians. Since their system does not allow for literal fulfillment of promised blessings to the Jewish nation, covenant theologians allegorize or spiritualize those prophetic passages of God’s Word.

I am a dispensationalist because dispensationalism generally understands and applies Scripture—particularly prophetic Scripture—in a way that is more consistent with the normal, literal approach I believe is God’s design for interpreting Scripture. For example, dispensationalists can take at face value Zechariah 12–14 , Romans 11:25–29 , and Revelation 20:1–6. The covenant theologian, on the other hand, cannot.

So I am convinced that the dispensationalist distinction between the church and Israel is an accurate understanding of God’s eternal plan as revealed in Scripture. I have not abandoned dispensationalism, nor do I intend to.

Note, by the way, that Dr. Ryrie’s description of dispensationalism and his reasons for embracing the system are very similar to what I have written here. Some years ago he wrote, “The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the church. This grows out of the dispensationalist’s consistent employment of normal or plain interpretation” (Charles Ryrie. Dispensationalism Today. Chicago: Moody Press, 1965, 47). On these matters, it seems, Dr. Ryrie and I are in fundamental agreement. It is in the practical outworking of our dispensationalism that we differ. Dr. Ryrie’s system turns out to be somewhat more complex than his own definition might suggest.

The lordship debate has had a devastating effect on dispensationalism. Because no-lordship theology is so closely associated with dispensationalism, many have imagined a cause-and-effect relationship between the two. In The Gospel According to Jesus, I made the point that some early dispensationalists had laid the foundation for no-lordship teaching. I disagreed with dispensational extremists who relegate whole sections of Scripture—including the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer—to a yet-future kingdom era. I was critical of the way some dispensationalists have handled the preaching and teaching of Jesus in a way that erases the evangelistic intent from some of His most important invitations. I decried the methodology of dispensationalists who want to isolate salvation from repentance, justification from sanctification, faith from works, and Christ’s lordship from His role as Savior, in a way that breaks asunder what God has joined together.

Several outspoken anti-dispensationalists hailed the book as a major blow to dispensationalism. They wanted to declare the system dead and hold a celebratory funeral.

Frankly, some mongrel species of dispensationalism ought to die, and I will be happy to join the cortege. But it is wrong to write off dispensationalism as altogether invalid. My purpose is not to attack the roots of dispensationalism, but rather to plead for a purer, more biblical application of the literal, historical, grammatical principle of interpretation. The hermeneutic method that underlies dispensationalism is fundamentally sound and must not be abandoned. That is not the point of the lordship debate.

Who are dispensationalists? Virtually all dispensationalists are theologically conservative evangelicals. Our view of Scripture is typically very high; our method of interpretation is consistently literal; and our zeal for spiritual things is inflamed by our conviction that we are living in the last days.

How does dispensationalism influence our overall theological perspective? Obviously, the central issue in any dispensationalist system is eschatology, or the study of prophecy. All dispensationalists are premillennialists. That is, they believe in a future earthly thousand-year reign of Christ. That’s what a literal approach to prophecy mandates (cf. Rev. 20:1–10 ). Dispensationalists may disagree on the timing of the rapture, the number of dispensations, or other details, but their position on the earthly millennial kingdom is settled by their mode of biblical interpretation.

Dispensationalism also carries implications for ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the church, because of the differentiation between the church and Israel. Many dispensationalists, myself included, agree that there is some continuity between the Old and New Testament people of God in that we share a common salvation purchased by Jesus Christ and appropriated by grace through faith. But dispensationalists do not accept covenant theology’s teaching that the church is spiritual Israel. Covenant theology sees continuity between Jewish ritual and the New Testament sacraments, for example. In their system, baptism and circumcision have similar significance. In fact, many covenant theologians use the analogy of circumcision to argue for infant baptism. Dispensationalists, on the other hand, tend to view baptism as a sacrament for believers only, distinct from the Jewish rite.

So dispensationalism shapes one’s eschatology and ecclesiology. That is the extent of it. Pure dispensationalism has no ramifications for the doctrines of God, man, sin, or sanctification. More significantly, true dispensationalism makes no relevant contribution to soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation. In other words, nothing in a legitimate dispensational approach to Scripture mandates that we define the gospel in any unique or different way. In fact, if the same zealous concern for literal hermeneutics that yields a distinction between Israel and the church were followed consistently in the salvation issue, there would be no such thing as no-lordship soteriology.

What Is the Connection Between Dispensationalism and No-lordship Doctrine?

Yet the fact remains that virtually all the champions of no-lordship doctrine are dispensationalists. No covenant theologian defends the no-lordship gospel. Why?

Understand, first of all, that dispensationalism has not always been well represented by its most enthusiastic advocates. As I have noted, the uniqueness of dispensationalism is that we see a distinction in Scripture between Israel and the church. That singular perspective, common to all dispensationalists, sets us apart from nondispensationalists. It is, by the way, the only element of traditional dispensationalist teaching that is yielded as a result of literal interpretation of biblical texts. It also is the only tenet virtually all dispensationalists hold in common. That is why I have singled it out as the characteristic that defines dispensationalism. When I speak of “pure” dispensationalism, I’m referring to this one common denominator—the Israel-church distinction.

Admittedly, however, most dispensationalists carry far more baggage in their systems than that one feature. Early dispensationalists often packaged their doctrine in complex and esoteric systems illustrated by intricate diagrams. They loaded their repertoire with extraneous ideas and novel teachings, some of which endure today in various strains of dispensationalism. Dispensationalism’s earliest influential spokesmen included J. N. Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren and considered by many the father of modern dispensationalism; Cyrus I. Scofield, author of the Scofield Reference Bible; Clarence Larkin, whose book of dispensational charts has been in print and selling briskly since 1918; and Ethelbert W. Bullinger, an Anglican clergyman who took dispensationalism to an unprecedented extreme usually called ultradispensationalism. Many of these men were self-taught in theology and were professionals in secular occupations. Darby and Scofield, for example, were attorneys, and Larkin was a mechanical draftsman. They were laymen whose teachings gained enormous popularity largely through grass-roots enthusiasm.

Unfortunately some of these early framers of dispensationalism were not as precise or discriminating as they might have been had they had the benefit of a more complete theological education. C. I. Scofield, for example, included a note in his reference Bible that contrasted “legal obedience as the condition of [Old Testament] salvation” with “acceptance … of Christ” as the condition of salvation in the current dispensation (The Scofield Reference Bible. New York, : Oxford, 1917, 11115). Nondispensationalist critics have often attacked dispensationalism for teaching that the conditions for salvation differ from dispensation to dispensation. Here, at least, Scofield left himself open to that criticism, though he seemed to acknowledge in other contexts that the law was never a means of salvation for Old Testament saints (In a note at Exodus 19:3, where Moses was being given the law, Scofield wrote, “The law is not proposed as a means of life, but as a means by which Israel might become ‘a peculiar treasure’ and a ‘kingdom of priests” (Ibid, 93).

The maturing of dispensationalism, then, has mainly been a process of refining, distilling, clarifying, paring down, and cutting away what is extraneous or erroneous. Later dispensationalists, including Donald Grey Barnhouse, Wilbur Smith, and H. A. Ironside, were increasingly wary of the fallacies that peppered much early dispensationalist teaching. Ironside’s written works show his determination to confront error within the movement. He attacked Bullinger’s ultradispensationalism (Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth. New York: Loizeaux, n.d.). He criticized teaching that relegated repentance to some other era (Except Ye Repent. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1937). He condemned the “carnal Christian” theology that helped pave the way for today’s radical no-lordship teaching (Eternal Security of Believers. New York: Loizeaux, 1934). Ironside’s writings are replete with warnings against antinomianism (See, for example, Full Assurance. Chicago: Moody, 1937, 64, 77-87; also Holiness: The False and the True. Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux, 1912, 121-26).

Nondispensationalists have tended to caricature dispensationalism by emphasizing its excesses, and frankly the movement has produced more than its share of abominable teaching. Dispensationalists have often been forced to acknowledge that some of their critics’ points have been valid (Ryrie, for example, conceded in Dispensationalism Today that Scofield had made “unguarded statements” about dispensationalist soteriology and that dispensationalists often give a wrong impression about the role of grace during the Old Testament era (112,117). The biblical distinction between Israel and the church remains unassailed, however, as the essence of pure dispensationalism.

In recent years, dispensationalism has been hit with a blistering onslaught of criticism, mostly focusing on dispensationalism’s love affair with the no-lordship gospel. Evidence of this may be seen in John Gerstner’s Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, Tenn.: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991. Cf. Richard L. Mayhue, “Who Is Wrong? A Review of John Gerstner’s Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth,” Master’s Seminary Journal 3:1, Spring 1992: 73-94).

Gerstner rightly attacks elements of antinomianism and no-lordship soteriology in some dispensationalists’ teaching. He wrongly assumes, however, that those things are inherent in all dispensationalism. He dismisses the movement altogether because of the shoddy theology he finds in the teaching of several prominent dispensationalists.

It is a gross misunderstanding to assume that antinomianism is at the heart of dispensationalist doctrine. Moreover, it is unfair to portray all dispensationalists as unsophisticated or careless theologians. Many skilled and discerning students of Scripture have embraced dispensationalism and managed to avoid antinomianism, extremism, and other errors. The men who taught me in seminary were all dispensationalists. Yet none of them would have defended no-lordship teaching (Moreover, everyone on The Master’s Seminary faculty is a dispensationalist. None of us holds any of the antinomian views Dr. Gerstner claims are common to all dispensationalists).

Nevertheless, no one can deny that dispensationalism and antinomianism have often been advocated by the same people. All the recent arguments that have been put forth in defense of no-lordship theology are rooted in ideas made popular by dispensationalists. The leading proponents of contemporary no-lordship theology are all dispensationalists. The lordship controversy is merely a bubbling to the surface of tensions that have always existed in and around the dispensationalist community. That point is essential to a clear understanding of the whole controversy.

Thus to appreciate some of the key tenets of the no-lordship gospel, we must comprehend their relationship to the dispensationalist tradition.

Tritely Dividing the Word?

For some dispensationalists, the Israel-church distinction is only a starting point. Their theology is laden with similar contrasts: church and kingdom, believers and disciples, old and new natures, faith and repentance. Obviously, there are many important and legitimate distinctions found in Scripture and sound theology: Old and New Covenants, law and grace, faith and works, justification and sanctification. But dispensationalists often tend to take even the legitimate contrasts too far. Most dispensationalists who have bought into no-lordship doctrine imagine, for example, that law and grace are mutually exclusive opposites, or that faith and works are somehow incompatible.

Some dispensationalists apply 2 Timothy 2:15 (“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth ”— kjv , emphasis added) as if the key word were dividing rather than rightly. The dispensationalist tendency to divide and contrast has led to some rather inventive exegesis. Some dispensationalists teach, for example, that “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” speak of different domains (Scofield, The Scofield Reference Bible, 1003). The terms are clearly synonymous in Scripture, however, as a comparison of Matthew and Luke shows ( Matt. 5:3 // Luke 6:20 ; Matt. 10:7 // Luke 10:9 ; Matt. 11:11 // Luke 7:28 ; Matt. 11:12 // Luke 16:16 ; Matt. 13:11 // Luke 8:10 ; Matt. 13:31–33 // Luke 13:18–21 ; Matt. 18:4 // Luke 18:17 ; Matt. 19:23 // Luke 18:24 ). Matthew is the only book in the entire Bible that ever uses the expression “kingdom of heaven.” Matthew, writing to a mostly Jewish audience, understood their sensitivity to the use of God’s name. He simply employed the common euphemism heaven. Thus the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of God.

This tendency to set parallel truths against each other is at the heart of no-lordship theology. Jesus’ lordship and His role as Savior are isolated from one another, making it possible to claim Him as Savior while refusing Him as Lord. Justification is severed from sanctification, legitimizing the notion of salvation without transformation. Mere believers are segregated from disciples, making two classes of Christians, carnal and spiritual. Faith is pitted against obedience, nullifying the moral aspect of believing. Grace becomes the antithesis of law, providing the basis for a system that is inherently antinomian.

The grace-law dichotomy is worth a closer look. Many early dispensationalist systems were unclear on the role of grace in the Mosaic economy and the place of law in the current dispensation. As I noted, Scofield left the unfortunate impression that Old Testament saints were saved by keeping the law. Scofield’s best-known student was Lewis Sperry Chafer, co-founder of Dallas Theological Seminary. Chafer, a prolific author, wrote dispensationalism’s first unabridged systematic theology. Chafer’s system became the standard for several generations of dispensationalists trained at Dallas. Yet Chafer repeated Scofield’s error. In his summary on justification, he wrote,

According to the Old Testament men were just because they were true and faithful in keeping the Mosaic Law. Micah defines such a life after this manner: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” ( 6:8 ). Men were therefore just because of their own works for God, whereas New Testament justification is God’s work for man in answer to faith ( Rom. 5:1 – See Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols., Dallas: Seminary Press, 1948, 7:219 [emphasis added] ).

Though Chafer elsewhere denied that he taught multiple ways of salvation, it is clear that he fixed a great gulf between grace and law. He believed the Old Testament law imposed “an obligation to gain merit” with God (Ibid, 7:179). On the other hand, Chafer believed grace delivers the child of God “from every aspect of the law—as a rule of life, as an obligation to make himself acceptable to God, and as a dependence on impotent flesh” (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace, Wheaton, Ill.: Van Kampen, 1922, 344). “Grace teachings are not laws; they are suggestions. They are not demands; they are beseechings, ” he wrote (Ibid).

In Chafer’s system, God seems to fluctuate between dispensations of law and dispensations of grace. Grace was the rule of life from Adam to Moses. “Pure law” took over when a new dispensation began at Sinai. In the current dispensation, “pure grace” is the rule. The millennial kingdom will be another dispensation of “pure law.” Chafer evidently believed grace and law could not coexist side by side, and so he seemed to eliminate one or the other from every dispensation. He wrote,

Both the age before the cross and the age following the return of Christ represent the exercise of pure law; while the period between the two ages represents the exercise of pure grace. It is imperative, therefore, that there shall be no careless co-mingling of these great age-characterizing elements, else the preservation of the most important distinctions in the various relationships between God and man are lost, and the recognition of the true force of the death of Christ and His coming again is obscured (Ibid, 124, emphasis added).

No one denies that Scripture clearly contrasts law and grace. John 1:17 says, “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” Romans 6:4 says, “You are not under law, but under grace.” So the distinction between law and grace is obvious in Scripture.

But grace and law operate in every dispensation. Grace is and always has been the only means of eternal salvation. The whole point of Romans 4 is that Abraham, David, and all other Old Testament saints were justified by grace through faith, not because they kept the law (Galatians 3 also makes clear that it was never God’s intent that rightoeusness should come through the law or that slavation could be earned through obedience [see especially vv. 7, 11]. The law acted as a tutor, to bring people to Christ (v. 24). Thus even in the Old Testament, people were saved because of faith, not because of obedience to the law [cf. Romans 3:19-20). Did the apostle Paul believe we can nullify the law in this age of pure grace? Paul’s reply to that question was unequivocal: “May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” ( Rom. 3:31 ).

In fairness, it is important to note that when pressed on the issue, Chafer acknowledged that God’s grace and Christ’s blood were the only ground on which sinners in any age could be saved (Lewis Sperry Chafer, “Dispensational Distinctions Denounced,” Bibliotheca Sacra, July 1944: 259). It must be stressed, however, that Chafer, Scofield, and others who have followed their lead have made too much of the differences between Old and New Testament dispensations. Wanting to avoid what he thought was “careless co-mingling” of law and grace, Chafer ended up with an “age of law” that is legalistic and an “age of grace” that smacks of antinomianism.

Chafer himself was a godly man, committed to holiness and high standards of Christian living. In practice, he would never have condoned carnality. But his dispensationalist system—with the hard dichotomies it introduced; its “grace teachings” that were “suggestions,” not demands; and its concept of “pure” grace that stood in opposition to law of any kind—paved the way for a brand of Christianity that has legitimized careless and carnal behavior.

Chafer could rightly be called the father of twentieth-century no-lordship theology. He listed repentance and surrender as two of “the more common features of human responsibility which are too often erroneously added to the one requirement of faith or belief” (Chafer, Systematic Theology, 3:372). He wrote, “to impose a need to surrender the life to God as an added condition of salvation is most unreasonable. God’s call to the unsaved is never said to be unto the Lordship of Christ; it is unto His saving grace” (Ibid, 3:385). “Next to sound doctrine itself, no more important obligation rests on the preacher than that of preaching the Lordship of Christ to Christians exclusively, and the Saviorhood of Christ to those who are unsaved” (Ibid, 3:387).

It is important to note that when Chafer wrote those things, he was arguing against the Oxford Movement, a popular but dangerous heresy that was steering Protestants back into the legalism and works-righteousness of Roman Catholicism. Chafer wrote,

The error of imposing Christ’s Lordship upon the unsaved is disastrous.… A destructive heresy is abroad under the name The Oxford Movement, which specializes in this blasting error, except that the promoters of the Movement omit altogether the idea of believing on Christ for salvation and promote exclusively the obligation to surrender to God. They substitute consecration for conversion, faithfulness for faith, and beauty of daily life for believing unto eternal life. As is easily seen, the plan of this movement is to ignore the need of Christ’s death as the ground of regeneration and forgiveness, and to promote the wretched heresy that it matters nothing what one believes respecting the Saviorhood of Christ if only the daily life is dedicated to God’s service.… The tragedy is that out of such a delusion those who embrace it are likely never to be delivered by a true faith in Christ as Savior. No more complete example could be found today of “the blind leading the blind” than what this Movement presents (Ibid, 3:385-386).

But Chafer prescribed the wrong remedy for the false teachings of the Oxford Movement. To answer a movement that “omit[s] altogether the idea of believing on Christ for salvation and promote[s] exclusively the obligation to surrender to God,” he devised a notion of faith that strips believing of any suggestion of surrender. Although the movement he opposed was indeed an insidious error, Chafer unfortunately laid the foundation for the opposite error, with equally devastating results.

The notion of faith with no repentance and no surrender fit well with Chafer’s concept of an age of “pure grace,” so it was absorbed and expanded by those who developed their theology after his model. It endures today as the basis of all no-lordship teaching.

One other particularly unfortunate outgrowth of Chafer’s rigid partitioning of “the age of law” and “the age of grace” is its effect on Chafer’s view of Scripture. Chafer believed that “The teachings of the law, the teachings of grace, and the teachings of the kingdom are separate and complete systems of divine rule” (Ibid, 4:225). Accordingly, he consigned the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer to the yet-future kingdom age, and concluded that the only Scriptures directly applicable to this age of grace are “portions of the Gospels, portions of the Book of Acts, and the Epistles of the New Testament” (Ibid, 4:206) —the “grace teachings.” How does one know which portions of the Gospels and Acts are “grace teachings” meant for this age? Chafer was vague:

The grace teachings are not, for convenience, isolated in the Sacred Text. The three economies appear in the four Gospels. The grace teachings are rather to be identified by their intrinsic character wherever they are found. Large portions of the New Testament are wholly revelatory of the doctrine of grace. The student, like Timothy, is enjoined to study to be one approved of God in the matter of rightly dividing the Scriptures (Ibid, 4:185).

In other words, there is a lot of law and kingdom teaching mixed into the New Testament. It is not explicitly identified for us, but we can fall into error if we wrongly try to apply it to the present age. Scripture is therefore like a puzzle. We must discern and categorize which portions apply to this age and categorize them accordingly. We can do this only by “their intrinsic character.”

Chafer was certain about one thing: much if not most of Christ’s earthly teaching is not applicable to the Christian in this age:

There is a dangerous and entirely baseless sentiment abroad which assumes that every teaching of Christ must be binding during this age simply because Christ said it. The fact is forgotten that Christ, while living under, keeping, and applying the Law of Moses, also taught the principles of His future kingdom, and, at the end of His ministry and in relation to His cross, He also anticipated the teachings of grace. If this threefold division of the teachings of Christ is not recognized, there can be nothing but confusion of mind and consequent contradiction of truth (Ibid, 4:224).

Dispensationalists who follow Chafer at this point wrongly divide the Word of truth, assigning whole sections of the New Testament to some other dispensation, nullifying the force of major segments of the Gospels and our Lord’s teaching for today (Ultradispensationalists take Chafer’s methodology even a step further. Noting that the apostle Paul called the church a mystery “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” [Eph. 3:5], they concluded that the church age did not begin until this point in Paul’s ministry. Thus they abrogate all the New Testament except for Paul’s prison epistles).

Which Gospel Should We Preach Today?

Not long ago I received a paper that has been circulated widely by a well-known dispensationalist. He wrote, “Dr. MacArthur was quite correct in titling his book The Gospel According to Jesus. The Gospel that Jesus taught in His pre-Cross humiliation, as Israel’s Messiah and to covenant people under the law was, for all intents and purposes, Lordship salvation.” But, he added, “Lordship salvation is based upon the Gospel according to Jesus, John the Baptist, and the early disciples. This Gospel is directed to the covenant nation of Israel.… The Lord Jesus’ Kingdom Gospel had nothing whatsoever to do with Christians, or the Church.”

The paper quotes heavily from Dr. Chafer’s writings, attempting to demonstrate that Jesus’ gospel “was on the level of the law and the earthly kingdom” and has nothing to do with grace or the current dispensation. The paper’s author notes that I wrote, “On a disturbing number of fronts, the message being proclaimed today is not the gospel according to Jesus.” To that he replies, “How blessedly true! Today we are to minister Paul’s ‘by grace are ye saved through faith’ Gospel … not the Lord Jesus’ Gospel relating to the law-oriented theocratic kingdom.”

He continues, “The convert via the Gospel according to Jesus became a child of the kingdom [not a Christian]. And divine authority will ever be the driving force in his heart—the indwelling Spirit writing the law upon his heart to enable him to surrender to the theocratic kingdom law, under his King.… [But the Christian] is not under authority, he is not seeking to obey—unless he is under law as described in Romans Seven. For him to live is Christ, and that life is not under authority.… Paul was offering an altogether different salvation.”

There, as clearly as can be stated, are all the follies that have ever defiled dispensationalism, synthesized into a single system. Blatant antinomianism: “the Christian … is not under authority, he is not seeking to obey”; multiple ways of salvation: “Paul was offering an altogether different salvation”; a fragmented approach to Scripture: “the Lord Jesus’ Kingdom Gospel had nothing whatsoever to do with Christians, or the Church”; and the tendency to divide and disconnect related ideas: “Today we are to minister Paul’s [Gospel] … not the Lord Jesus’ Gospel.”

Note carefully: This man acknowledges that Jesus’ gospel demanded surrender to His lordship. His point is that Jesus’ message has no relevance to this present age. He believes Christians today ought to proclaim a different gospel than the one Jesus preached. He imagines that Jesus’ invitation to sinners was of a different nature than the message the church is called to proclaim. He believes we should be preaching a different gospel.

None of those ideas is new or unusual within the dispensationalist community. All of them can be traced to one or more of dispensationalism’s early spokesmen. But it is about time all of them were abandoned.

In fairness, we should note that the paper I have quoted expresses some rather extreme views. Most of the principal defenders of no-lordship evangelism would probably not agree with that man’s brand of dispensationalism. But the no-lordship doctrine they defend is the product of precisely that kind of teaching. It is not enough to abandon the rigid forms of extreme dispensationalism; we must abandon the antinomian tendencies as well.

The careful discipline that has marked so much of our post-Reformation theological tradition must be carefully guarded. Defenders of no-lordship salvation lean too heavily on the assumptions of a predetermined theological system. They often draw their support from presupposed dispensationalist distinctions (salvation/discipleship, carnal/spiritual believers, gospel of the kingdom/gospel of grace, faith/repentance). They become entangled in “what-ifs” and illustrations. They tend to fall back on rational, rather than biblical, analysis. When they deal with Scripture, they are too willing to allow their theological system to dictate their understanding of the text. As a result, they regularly adopt novel interpretations of Scripture in order to make it conform to their theology.

A reminder is in order: Our theology must be biblical before it can be systematic. We must start with a proper interpretation of Scripture and build our theology from there, not read into God’s Word unwarranted presuppositions. Scripture is the only appropriate gauge by which we may ultimately measure the correctness of our doctrine.

Dispensationalism is at a crossroads. The lordship controversy represents a signpost where the road forks. One arrow marks the road of biblical orthodoxy. The other arrow, labeled “no-lordship,” points the way to a sub-Christian antinomianism. Dispensationalists who are considering that path would do well to pause and check the map again.

The only reliable map is Scripture, not someone’s dispensational diagrams. Dispensationalism as a movement must arrive at a consensus based solely on God’s Word. We cannot go on preaching different gospels to an already-confused world.

SOURCE: John MacArthur. “Appenidix 2″ in The Gospel According to the Apostles. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

 

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THE RAPTURE: THE SIGNS OF THE COMING OF CHRIST

DR. BILL MCRAE

SERIES: THE RAPTURE – PART 3

This article is a lightly edited transcript of Dr. McRae’s audio message on the Rapture. Appreciation for the transcription work goes to Marilyn Fine.

Introduction

This morning we continue our study on the Rapture of the Church. This is lesson number three in our four-lesson series and we are beginning to study this morning the signs of His coming. We shall continue that next week, as well, and that will conclude our study on the Rapture of the Church.

From the earliest days, earnest Christians have diligently sought to know when their Lord was going to return. It seems our Lord has directly answered that question in many respects when He spoke and said, “No man knoweth the day nor the hour.” He further elucidated upon the subject when He said that “in such an hour as you think not, then I shall come.” His coming shall be as a thief in the night. Now, we do not have any difficulty understanding why our Lord has kept the date of His return for the Church a secret. All we need to do is examine our own hearts and we see ample evidence for His wisdom in keeping that date a secret. He, obviously, has wanted, during the duration of the history of the Church, for believers (generation after generation) to be waiting patiently, watching expectantly, and just standing firmly anticipating His return.

Although we do not know the exact time of our Lord’s return, I think it is significant that when the apostle Paul writes to the Thessalonians he says, “We are not in the darkness that it should overtake us as a thief.” There is no doubt that the Rapture of the Church is going to be sudden and shall take the unbeliever by surprise. But to the believer, to the Christian, certain signs have been given that indicate the arrival of the Lord and the knowledge of those signs bring that believer from out of the darkness into the light so that he will not be overtaken by surprise and the Rapture will not surprise him.

I think that a believer who knows his Bible is very much like a person who is sitting down and just enjoying Handel’s Messiah with the musical score on his lap. After a couple of hours of delightful music, his companion sitting beside, leans over (having enjoyed what has been going on) saying, “how much longer do you think this shall go on?” The person says “about five more minutes.” “Five minutes, is that all? Why it has been going on full speed now for two hours and it just seems like it is going to go on forever. How much longer? Why do you say only five minutes?” The man, of course, would say, “because I have the score in my hands. Do you remember the solo just a few moments ago? Do you remember that last chorus? Well, I know that it is only going to last just a few more minutes now because, you see, here is the music score and it tells me that the very chorus they are singing now is the last chorus and I know it is just about over.”

The believer, you see, has a music score. He has the Word of God. He has the scriptures and it is through the scriptures that the indications are given whereby I believe a Christian can know that the coming of the Lord is very, very near. They are indications, finger boards, sign posts along the way that indicate the coming of the Lord.

Now, the question, of course, is how soon? What we would like to do this morning is to look at the score and just see what the indications are concerning the coming again of our Lord. I believe, friends, that we shall be able to demonstrate from our study of the scriptures this morning, as well as next week, that you and I are standing on the very threshold of the Rapture of the Church. He is at the door. I believe with all my heart that the coming of our Lord is very, very near. Let me see if I can demonstrate to you the basis for that belief.

First Sign: Israel

Turn in your Bible, will you please, for the most significant indication in our generation that the coming of the Lord is very near. Daniel 9 will be the passage from which this first and most significant sign emerges. Daniel 9 records the very important prophetic announcement, through the prophet Daniel, of the seventy weeks or the seven-year periods. That is altogether a program of 490 years. You will notice in Daniel 9:24 that we read about “seventy weeks” The Hebrew word here suggests a bunch of seven. Because of the historical fulfillment, we do know that it is weeks or groups of seven years.

Seventy groups of seven years, 490 years, “are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city” for several things. At the end of the 69 weeks, and that will bring us down to Daniel 9:26, “after seven and three score and two weeks,” that is after 69 weeks, “shall Messiah be cut off but not for Himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city” (Jerusalem) “and the sanctuary;” (the temple) “and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.” Sixty-nine weeks, 483 years, from the beginning of this period of time to the cutting off of the Messiah have been fulfilled. This leaves one seven-year period remaining. That one seven-year period, the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy, still lies in the future. Our Lord describes it as time of great tribulation such as the world has never seen nor ever shall see.

That great Tribulation period, that 70th week is presented to us in Daniel 9:27 where we read, “And he” (that is the prince of the Roman Empire; this will be the revived Roman Empire) “shall confirm” (or the Hebrew “shall strengthen”) “the covenant with many for one week.” This indicates that the beginning of the Tribulation period, the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel, will come with the confirming of a covenant by the leader of the revived Roman Empire (the anti-Christ, the world’s dictator, the one who is at the head of the western alliance of nations). He shall confirm a covenant with the nation of Israel. It is a divided Israel that is suggested in the phrase “with many.” He shall confirm that covenant for one week.

Verse 27 presents to us the basic concept of the Tribulation period and the 70th week in Daniel’s prophecy. We are not expounding this passage, obviously, and it has been expounded here in the Chapel recently on two different occasions. So, we are not going through Daniel 9 to expound the seventy weeks. What we are trying to find out at this point is this— that the Tribulation period begins with the establishment with the confirming of a covenant which is already being established between the prince of the revived Roman Empire and the many, the divided Israel who are in their land, and upon whom the 70th week, as well as the 483 years, those seven years are determined. If that is so, then Daniel 9:27 and the Tribulation period presupposes some very important things. My basic thesis this morning is that what is presupposed, what is demanded, is essentially a reality today. That is, what is presupposed for the beginning of the 70th week, what is demanded for the Tribulation period to begin, essentially already now within our generation has become a reality. Notice some of the points.

Statehood

The first thing in this is that we have the statehood of Israel. Such a covenant could not be confirmed prior to Israel beginning a state. For 1,900 long years, Israel was never listed among the nations of the world. On May 14, 1948, by right of the UN Charter, the statehood of Israel comes into a reality. Today, we have the nation of Israel and that is presupposed. It is basic. The Tribulation period is dependent upon that.

Land

The second thing that this supposes is that they will be in the land. That is precisely where they are today. Just after the turn of our century, there were some 41,000 Jews in the land. Today, there are over 3,000,000 Jews that have returned to the land of Israel. They are in the land. The land has become the focal point of international affairs. It is the crossroad of the world. The deserts of the land have begun to blossom. The situation is being prepared as far as Israel is concerned.

Allies

Thirdly, it is very obvious from our passage here that Israel will be aligned with the western allies. It is the prince of the revived Roman Empire. It is the head of that European confederacy of nations that will confirm the covenant. So, the alliance obviously will be between Israel and the western allies. That is precisely the way the situation is structured today in our present time. It is certainly going to be obvious that that the nation of Israel will be subjected to tremendous persecutions. That will be the background for the confirming of the covenant.

I suspect, as Dr. Waltke suggested and other Bible teachers have taught, that the covenant that will be confirmed will be the covenant that was made by the United Nations on May 14, 1948, which gave to Israel their right to statehood. I suspect this because of all of the threats against Israel’s very existence—Egypt just within the last two weeks has announced that the only solution is to wipe Israel out. In the place of all the persecutions, there is going to come a time when the dictator, the leader of the revived Roman Empire, is going to confirm the covenant that was made by the United Nations guaranteeing Israel its statehood. So, to support the right to independent existence, there will be all of the military powers of the western alliances behind the existence of the Nation of Israel. The background of this is, I suspect that we should expect Israel to be under intense persecution. That is precisely the situation as all of us know right at this very moment.

Temple

A fourth thing that is going to be demanded, or needed for the fulfillment of this, as well as other prophecies in relation of Israel, will be the building of their temple. Now, note that temple is not demanded until the middle of the Tribulation period. That is, after three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation period the beast, the anti-Christ, is going to set up his image in the temple. By the mid point of Tribulation period, Israel will have their temple. One of the most significant things that is happening today in Israel is their plan for building a temple. They now have the site. They did not have that site until just three years ago. Now they have the site for the building of the temple. They have the plans for the building of that temple. One of the greatest aspirations of Israel is the erection of their temple and the very scene seems to be set.

Military

Another point in relation to the nation of Israel is that they will become a very mighty military power. We do not need to expand upon that because that is obvious to us at the very present time. Another point in relation to this situation and Israel in the scriptures during the Tribulation period is that they will become the world evangelists. Revelation pictures the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel who will be the world evangelists who carry the gospel to the corners of the earth. It is a striking to realize that within Israel today there is an unusual revival of interest in the scriptures. Every Jew in a state school takes six hours of Bible study every week in his school. That is more than most Americans have. There is a tremendous revival in the study of the scriptures and we are going to be talking on that a little more next week when we talk about the great sign, the second greatest of all signs, the apostasy of our present time. The great revival in the scriptures in Israel seems almost to be preparing the way for their moving into their strategic role of evangelism in the Tribulation period. Orthodoxy is the viable situation today in Israel. Only six reformed synagogues exist in all the land and reformed Judaism is no longer a viable option as far as Israelites in the land is concerned. There is in the dictionary of Judaism today a term called “a Messianic Jew.” A Messianic Jew is a person, by their definition, who nationally is a Jew but religiously is a Christian. There is a band of Messianic Jews who move through the land with two basic goals: to share their personal faith in Jesus Christ with their fellow Jews and to flood the land with Bibles.

Summary

What I am simply suggesting is that this could very well be the backdrop against which the movement shall come in the Tribulation period when the Jewish people shall be the world evangelists as they carry the gospel to the corners of the earth.

What I am then proposing to you this morning, my friends, is that the first, the greatest and the most significant sign that the coming of Jesus Christ is very near and that the Rapture of the Church is upon us— is the rise of the nation Israel. Because we read it every day in our newspapers, because we have become so well acquainted with it, we have lost the impact of it. That it was not 25 years ago that the nation did not exist! It is within our generation that they have come into existence, they have possessed their land, they have the site for the temple, they have a commitment to the scriptures and a study of the scriptures, they have the alignment with the western allies, and the pieces are all fit together for the beginning of the Tribulation period. Prior to the confirming of that covenant, the trumpet shall sound and the Church shall be raptured. I believe with all my heart that as we scan the world’s international horizons this morning through the telescope of the sure word of prophecy, that we can say with great assurance that the coming of the Lord draws very, very near.

* * * * *

There are many other signs though, so will you go in your Bibles, please, to Matthew 24 where we find a significant list of signs given to us by our Lord Himself. These signs are primarily given to the tribulation saints and they are primarily in relation to the revelation, the second aspect of the Second Coming when He shall come with his Church to the earth to establish His kingdom. But, I would like you to notice that these signs in the Tribulation period become universal in their intensity and unprecedented in their proportions. These signs at this very present time are moving in this direction. I suspect that every one of the signs that we are going to point out now has existed from time in memorial. We can go back in history and find that they have always existed. The point that our Lord makes is that in the Tribulation period these signs will become universal and will reach unprecedented proportions and intensity. My basic proposal to you from these signs is that we are seeing that happen at this very present time. Notice, for example, one of the signs as we come to it in Matthew 24: 6-7. He says,

“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that ye be not troubled for all these things must come to past, but the end of not yet. For nations shall rise against nations and kingdom against kingdom.”

Second Sign: Profusion of War

The second great sign I would like to present to you this morning then is the profusion of wars. Of course, from the very beginning of time from Cain’s murder of Abel, war has existed. I suspect that we are not surprised at this as a particular sign. The Geneva Tribune sometime ago reported that the society of international law in its surveys concluded that in the last 3,400 years there has been only 268 years of peace. There have been over 8,000 peace treaties signed and everyone of them signed for eternity, but the average duration of the treaties has been less than 10 years. What should we say of the twentieth century in which we live? In this century, 71 years old, there have been over 100 million lives snuffed out by war. It is our century and our generation that has seen two wars that can rightly be called world wars. During the last 30 years, we have not been able to pick up our newspaper without reading on the front page an account of a major war some place on the face of the earth. What we have seen then is the movement of something that has existed from time immemorial into an unprecedented state of universality and intensity. It is the buildup for the great world war that is presented to us in the scriptures. It is referred to in Revelation 16 as the battle of Armageddon. It is going to be the culmination of what started with Cain which today has moved into a worldwide confrontation. In the Tribulation period it shall become the third, perhaps the fourth, but certainly at least the third great world war.

The striking thing is that in the preparation for that third world war we are seeing the scene set in our very day. The place where it is going to take place has already become the focal point of international affairs. Armageddon is the hill of Megiddo, which is in the northern part of the land of Israel. Joel tells us that it is going to take place in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is a large valley to the east of Jerusalem. That is in the southern part of the land. Isaiah tells us that it is going to extend right down into Edom. It is Ezekiel the prophet who tells us that when they moved into the land they are going to cover the entire land. If you put together all of the Old Testament prophesies, the conclusion is that the place where this last great world war will take place is in Israel in the land previously known as Palestine and it shall stretch from the north through the south right down into the land of Edom. Israel is exactly in that position today. It is the focal point of international affairs. All of the nations of the earth have their guns set toward the Middle East and even during the crises in southeast Asia, we have been warned by the leaders of the United States that the real hot spot, the real problem area is the Middle East. We have never lost sight of the fact that that is the focal point of attention. We are seeing already in our generation the focal point of that great war in the Tribulation period now coming into focus.

The precedent for that war has already been set. Revelation 16 pictures it as the kings of the earth and the whole world, says the prophet. The kings of the earth and the whole world shall converge upon that spot. The precedent for a worldwide war has already been set. I think the most significant thing is that the participants in that great confrontation are already taking their place on the stage of history. We cannot take time to read it, but if you have not read, then you must read Daniel 11:36 through the end of the chapter where you have the details of that third great world war given to us. If you read it carefully, you will discover that there are five alignments or individual nations that are presented.

The first, of course, will be Israel. That is where the battle shall take place. They shall be in the glorious land. There they are in their land. Israel will be the center of attraction. In Daniel 11:36, Israel is aligned with the prince of the revived Roman Empire and that will be the first alignment of nations. It is the western alliance. We know from Daniel 2Daniel 7 and several passages in the book of Revelation that that western alliance will be composed of 10 nations— pictured in the vision that Daniel has as the 10 toes or as the 10 crowns. There will be 10 nations that will comprise that confederacy. Since men have been expounding on prophesy, they had been predicting a United States of Europe, a confederacy of 10 nations that shall find their headquarters in the leader of the revived Roman Empire. Currently, the most common way of viewing this will be the fruition of the European Common Market. I think we are seeing significant things happen there. Until just two months ago, they European Common Market was composed of six nations. Within two months, four new nations were recommended for acceptance into the European Common Market. If those four nations accept, Britain among them, we shall soon have a United States of Europe comprised of 10 nations. Now in the future, those 10 nations may change. But what we are certainly seeing at this very present time is the emergence of a European confederacy of 10 nations that has their headquarters in the very place where the revived Roman Empire found its rooting. That is going to be one of the great alignment of nations.

If you move down through Daniel 11, you will come into verse 40 and find that there is going to be a northern alliance and a southern alliance. The striking thing about these two alliances as they are related to Israel in the center is that they shall be aligned with each other and both against Israel and the western alliance. One does not need to know much about contemporary scenes in our international alignments to realize that that is exactly what we have today. We have the Russian alliance to the north. We have the United Arab Republic alignment to the south. They are, to some degree, aligned with each other against Israel and against the western alliance. When you come further down through Daniel 11 to verse 44, you read of the kings of the east. That takes in all the oriental powers over to the east of Israel. The striking thing that Daniel 11 presents is that in the Tribulation period Israel, a mighty military power, will be the focal point around which there will be an alignment of nations. There will be a western alliance, a northern alliance, a southern alliance and an eastern alliance. My friends, we have it today. That very situation is in existence. The participants in that great world war that shall take place toward the end of the Tribulation, the participants are already taking their place on the stage of history. I proposed to you again then that as we scan the world’s political horizons through the telescope of the sure word of prophesy, we can say with certainty that the coming of the Lord draws very, very near.

Third Sign: Famine

If you come to the end of Matthew 24:7, you will come to a third sign that needs to be noted. The third sign of this. “And there shall be famines.” The third sign that I would like to present to you then is the threat of famine. It is obvious, I think, from the passage that the famines will be closely connected with the wars that are presented in Matthew 24:6-7. That does not surprise us because famines have always followed in the wake of war. In 1921, the famine in Russia took 30,000 lives every day. It came in the wake of war. The official estimate for the great famine in Greece in 1942 was between 150,000 and 200,000 deaths and it came in the wake of war. We read our newspapers and listen to the situation in Pakistan, in Nigeria, in Biafra, and we realize that it is war that precipitates famines. What the scriptures teach is this that as the wars shall expand and become more intense and more universal that famine shall follow in its wake. We are seeing in this very present time through the profusion of war the threat for famine in an unprecedented level in our world.

There are two other factors which are very much involved in the coming of a famine. The first factor– population. We do not pick up many magazines today without reading something of the danger of the population explosion. The question of anthropologist and sociologists is how shall we ever feed them in 1980 or by 2000 AD. Population explosion. The second and great issue involved in famines is the ecology crisis and that is something that confronts us. It is a global problem as well as a national problem. It was President Nixon in his State of the Union address in 1970 who said “in the coming decade we must make peace with nature.” Albert Schweitzer some years ago wrote, “Man has lost his capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.” Arnold Toynbee, the great eminent British historian, writes, “The human race’s prospects of survival were considerably better when we were defenseless against tigers than they are today when we have become defenseless against ourselves.” He says it in relation to the pollution problem in the world.

Revelation 8:10-11 predict a worldwide pollution during the Tribulation period.

“The third trumpet will bring down bitterness into the waters of the earth so that one-third of the waters of the earth shall be so polluted that many, many, many shall die.”

Now, what I am suggesting then is that the three great factors that are involved in famine today are the primary issues in our contemporary world: The profusion of war, the population explosion and the ecology crisis. We have seen these things come to the headlines and move to the surface in our present day. So, when I read about famines, I do not quickly pass it over. I do not say, well, we have always had famines. I recognize that in the Tribulation period famine shall follow in the wake of war and they shall become so universal and so intense that they will reach unprecedented proportions. We have at our disposal and at our fingertips today the mechanism to make that happen. With a population explosion, with the ecology crisis, and with the profusion of war, we have the wherewithal that this can become a reality today on a universal scale in the Tribulation period.

So, once again, I believe as we scan the world’s “economic and physical horizons” through the telescope of the sure word of prophesy we are constrained to say that the coming of the Lord is very, very near.

Fourth Sign: Earthquakes

Do you notice the next phrase in Daniel 24:7? Pestilence probably ought not to be in our text at this point, although it is certainly in the text in Luke’s account, but the next phrase in the most ancient manuscripts is, “and earthquakes in various places.” We look at that and I suspect that we are inclined to quickly bypass that and say, “have there not always been earthquakes?” I am not sure whether we can really say that or not because it is within recent technological era that seismology has become a science and that we have been able to register and to date our earthquakes. Perhaps they always have existed, but it is within our generation and in our century that they are reaching proportions that are astounding to us. The frightful earthquake that shook the city of Quetta in India just not too long ago took 60,000 lives plus many millions of dollars worth of property. That reminds us that within our century, within the twentieth century, there have been 250,000 lives snuffed out through earthquakes upon the face of the earth.

Scientists who study the earth’s crust and record the seismic disturbances tell us that earthquakes felt simultaneously in many places, particularly around the Mediterranean and Great Britain, are forerunners of a great, far greater, earthquake which might be also universal. Now, the Bible predicts such a universal earthquake. Revelation 16:18 says, “And there was a great earthquake such as was not since upon the earth so mighty an earthquake and so great.” Again, in Zachariah 14, the prophet Zachariah predicts that at the coming of our Lord there will be an earthquake that is going to shatter the Mount of Olives so that it will splinter in half and provide a valley for the escape of Jews who are besieged in the city of Jerusalem. We know today that there is a massive fault line that goes right through the midst of the Mount of Olives and that is the preparation for a universal earthquake that is going to rock the face of the earth during the Tribulatin period. I am rather inclined to feel, although I am sure we have had earthquakes all along, that the suggestions of the scientists that what we are seeing now with simultaneous earthquakes in parts of the world may be a forerunner of a universal earthquake of unprecedented proportions. I am rather inclined to believe that this could be tied in with our Lord’s prediction.

One of the most striking things that I read in preparing for our message this morning is that that recently earthquakes in the area of Jerusalem and in the area of the Mount of Olives have caused severe damage to the buildings upon the Mount of Olives. I think that is very significant. That is, as one moves into this area and sees the buildings on the Mount of Olives bearing the marks of earthquakes, I believe that God is giving us again an indication that we are having the scene set for what is going to take place in the Tribulation period. Make no mistake about it, prior to that moment the Lord is going to return and He is going to rapture the Church. So, once again, I propose to you that as we scan the world’s scientific horizons through the telescope of the sure word of prophecy we are constrained to say that the coming of the Lord draws very, very near.

Fifth Sign: Iniquity

Come with me further down through our passage and notice what it says, please, in verse 12. And it says,

“And because iniquities shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold, but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”

The word for “iniquity” here is the word for “lawlessness.” It is the opposite to righteousness. The Lord predicts that iniquity or lawlessness will abound. It will increase. It will grow. It will increase in grow to such proportions that He says the love of many shall grow cold. He is here dealing with the professing Church. The love of the professing Church shall be literally blowing cold by the spreading of lawlessness and the spreading of iniquity. The growth of coldness, the drawing away from the faith and from the things of God by the professing Church will be the demonstration that they are only a professing Church. The great test of genuine faith is given to us in verse 13. It is continuance. It is perseverance, “but he that shall endure unto the end the same shall be saved.” Those who do not endure, those who do not continue, those who do not persevere given testimony to the fact that all it was, was profession.

What our Lord is saying here is that iniquity shall sweep the professing Church off their feet into a state of coldness and apostasy and a state of turning away from God. We know, Paul says to the Thessalonians, that this principle of iniquity does already work, but he tells us in II Thessalonians 2 that there is someone who is hindering it. There are many different interpretations, perhaps the most common is that it is the Church indwelled by the Holy Spirit that has its hands up and it is hindering the full impact of this principle of lawlessness and iniquity. There is coming a day, says our Lord through Paul, that the hinderer is going to be removed. That is the Rapture. At the removal of the hinderer, the Holy Spirit in the Church, then iniquity shall sweep across the face of the earth in a universal, intensified, unprecedented proportion. I believe, friends, that we are seeing that very movement today. I think we are seeing iniquity, lawlessness move in that unprecedented proportion before us at the very present time.

What shall we say about moral iniquity or lawlessness? From this Greek word we get our word “antinomian,” which means “against laws.” The greatest philosophy that exists on college campuses and in our secular society is the philosophy of antinomianism. That is that there are no absolutes. It is the Playboy philosophy in relation to sex. It is a policy that rejects all absolutes and makes everything liberal, everything relative. That is lawlessness and we are seeing it move and sweep across the face of the earth. It is sweeping professing churches off their feet so that there is a growing coldness and a blowing away of any profession of their faith and their commitment to the scriptures.

In a magazine entitled, “The Church and Society,” published by two of our major United States denominations, a prominent woman employee of the church wrote this article just recently, “Female and Single, What Then?” In this magazine, she advocates that the Church encourage lonely, retired persons to live together unmarried to provide loving companionship and sexual enjoyment. She also suggests that single women should be permitted to establish sustained relationships with married men and that the Church should be open to such arrangements. Finally, the author derides fidelity to the marriage vows and urges the Church to consider establishment of communes patterned after those in Scandinavia and these communes men and women form families without marriage. Now, that is a Church magazine published by two of our major denominations in the United States. What we are seeing is the professing Church being swept off its feet by the tide of iniquity that is moving across the face of the earth.

Not only is their moral iniquity, but what shall we say of civil iniquity, civil lawlessness? In the last month, US News and World Report has featured two articles: “Crime in the Colleges” and “Crime on the Streets of the World’s Cities.” We are seeing as we read in our magazines that this is a tide that is sweeping across the face of the earth. I think that as we look at the whole civil, social, and religious contexts through the telescope of the sure word of prophesy that we are constrained to say, friends, that the coming of the Lord is very, very near.

Sixth Sign: Gospel Spread

There is still a further sign and let me mention it rather quickly, please, in verse 14. In verse 14 we read, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to all the world for a witness unto all nations.” This sixth sign which I have given is the spread of the gospel. It is obvious from our passages that in the Tribulation period the gospel shall be spread universally around the face of this earth. What I am suggesting and bringing to your attention this morning is this. For the first time in all of history, that now is possible. Now this very situation is possible. We have 53 Christian radio stations scattered around the earth. Theodore Epps’ Back to the Bible broadcast is available to 90% of the world’s population. Dr. Peters, our missions professor, at the seminary estimates that more people have heard the gospel in the last 30 years than they have in the previous 900 years. In the days of Luther, the Bible was translated in four languages. Today we have it in 1,200 languages. The great motivation behind Campus Crusade’s “Explo ‘72” is evangelize the world in our generation. That is the vision of Bill Bright. It is possible today. That is what we are saying. Now, it is possible, but in the Tribulation period, it shall be a reality. I do not believe for a moment that the gospel must be preached to all the world before the Rapture will take place. It is before Christ returns to the earth, that that must take place. However, what a thing to see a man with a vision to evangelize the world. We have the means today for the first time in history for that type of thing to take place. His vision is by 1980 that become a reality. By 1980, the Tribulation could be over and it will be a reality. But, the vision is absolutely spectacular as I look at the world’s evangelism horizons through the telescope of the sure word of prophesy. My friend, I am constrained to say that the coming of the Lord must be very, very near.

Seventh Sign: Economy

One last one comes from the book of Revelation where we read in Chapter 13, in relation to the economy of the world, that there will be a very strictly controlled economy. Revelation 13:16-17 tell us that during the Tribulation period men will be able to neither buy nor sell without the mark of the beast. That suggests the most stringent controls on world economy that the world has ever seen. In our prophetic conference down at Pine Cove, Dr. Johnson stated and commented that we are now entering into a stage of international controlled economics. We have a world bank. We look for a worldwide currency. We have the computers now that soon will eliminate the need for money and for currency.

One of the men in the audience who is involved with the telephone company tells me that the telephone company has come out with devices whereby soon we will be able to go into a store and buy something with our little ticket. It will be inserted into a telephone that will go directly to our bank. Then it will confirm whether the money is in our bank account. Finally, it will be deducted from the bank account at that moment. So, there will be no currency. What he is simply saying is that if you do not have that card you could not buy or sell. What the scripture says is that you will not be given such a card unless you will bow down and worship the image of the beast. There is a stringent control on economics that will certainly become a worldwide reality in the Tribulation period and we have the mechanism today in our generation for that to become a reality.

Conclusion

As I look at the fingerposts and I see the signs, as we look at what is happening about us today, one is constrained to say that the coming of the Lord must be very, very near. Men have always expected His coming and other men have believed that they are living in the last days. But, will you come with me just for a moment and take a good look at the rise of the nation of Israel. Take a look at the profusion of wars. Take a look at the threat of famines. Take a look at the spread of the gospel. Take a look at the presence of earthquakes. Take a look at the growth in iniquity. Take a look at the control in economy. I believe, friend, that you will join with me and you will say that every indication is that the Rapture of the church must be very, very near. If so, then what manner of persons ought we to be? What manner of persons ought we to be? If it is so, if the coming of the Lord is very near, then, my friend, how does that affect your life this week? More than anything else, God wants us to live expecting His return so that this week in the decisions that we make, the priorities that we establish, the values that we esteem, we shall do it in the light of the fact that the coming of the Lord is very, very near.

Horatius Bonar used to arise in the morning and raise his blind and look and say, “Perhaps today, Lord?” The last thing he did before he went to bed as he pulled his blind down was look heavenward and say, “Perhaps tonight, Lord?” That is living expectantly. May God help us to live that kind of life this week.

But, my friend, perhaps the greatest thing that you need to realize this morning is this. That the coming of Jesus Christ for His Church, the Rapture of the Church will seal off forever your eternal destiny if you have not received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. I believe with all of my heart that the Rapture of the Church is very, very near and I believe just as strongly that if you do not receive Jesus Christ prior to that moment that you shall never have such an opportunity during the Tribulation period. You will, in the world of II Thessalonians 2 be compelled to believe a lie, the lie, the lie of the anti-Christ. If the coming of the Lord draws very near, my friend, I ask you are you ready for it? If it should be today, would you go to be with Him? Only if you have recognized before Him that you are a guilty sinner and that you have realized that when He died upon the cross He died for you. Only if you have simply received Him personally as your Savior and you are depending upon His work upon the cross alone for the salvation of your soul. Is that where you stand this morning? If so, you are ready for the coming of the Lord. If not, we invite you this very morning to receive Him personally as your Savior so that when the trumpet sounds, when the shout is heard you, too, will be caught up together to be with Him and to be like Him forever and ever.

Let’s bow, shall we in closing prayer. Father, we do pray that You will illuminate our hearts, that You will take from us the dross that so often moves into our lives as we are involved in living busy lives and help us to look upon this world in which we live and to realize that the coming of the Lord draws very near. God, grant that we may have the grace and the wisdom this week to live in the light of the fact that He shall soon return and our lives shall be evaluated by Him. For we ask it in His name, amen.

SOURCE: April 5, 2010 @ https://bible.org/node/18388

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Bill McRae graduated from D.T.S. in 1970 (ThM) and 1983 (D.Min). After 5 years of ministry in Dallas at Believer’s Chapel, he returned to his home in Canada where he continued in a pastoral ministry. In 1983 he was appointed President of Tyndale University College and Seminary located in Toronto, Canada. While president, he taught in the Pastoral Theology department and the Bible department. He continues to be their President Emeritus engaging in an itinerant Bible teaching ministry. From 1990 – 2000 he was the chairman of the Vision 2000 evangelism committee of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. For several years he taught annually at the Billy Graham Schools of Evangelism. His wife is Marilyn and together they have 4 married children and 13 grandchildren. His books include: Preparing for your Marriage (Zondervan) Dynamics Of Spiritual Gifts (Zondervan) A Book To Die For (Clements) It’s a study of How we Got our Bible with a Prologue containing the story of William Tyndale.

 

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THE RAPTURE: WILL THE CHURCH GO THROUGH THE TRIBULATION?

DR. BILL MCRAE

SERIES: THE RAPTURE – PART 2

This article is a lightly edited transcript of Dr. McRae’s audio message on the Rapture. Appreciation for the transcription work goes to Marilyn Fine.

We have been studying in a four-part series on the Rapture of the Church. This morning we come to our second message. We want to consider the Rapture this morning as a subject of controversy or, particularly, to ask ourselves the question, “will the Church go through the Tribulation period?” It will go through the Rapture. Will it go through the Tribulation period?

On thing is absolutely certain. History is rapidly moving toward the greatest of all space flights and that is what we studied together in our first lesson last week. That greatest of all space flights was scheduled by God in a past eternity before time ever began. It was promised by our Lord as He walked upon this earth and just prior to His departure from this earth. It was described by the apostle Paul who received his information concerning it by direct revelation from the ascended Christ. It shall include every believer in Jesus Christ during this age. It is going to be triggered by the shout of our Lord Jesus, the voice of the archangel and the trump of God. At that moment in God’s scheduled time table, Jesus Christ Himself shall descend from heaven into the air. Then, there shall be a miraculous division of persons and bodies in the grave and those who have died believing in Jesus Christ, their bodies will be raised from the dead in one of the most miraculous demonstrations of divine power ever to be demonstrated in all of God’s dealings with mankind. The dead in Christ, their bodies shall be raised. Then, those of us who are alive and are believers in Jesus Christ at that moment shall be spectacularly snatched away. Together joining with the dead who have been raised we shall go into the air for a meeting with the Lord— as we noticed in our exposition of 1 Thessalonians 4 last week. This event will be as an honorary welcoming committee going out for a meeting with the Lord to welcome Him in His return to the earth. He shall ultimately return to the earth to establish His kingdom.

Now, that tremendous moment in the affairs of mankind is described in scripture as the “Rapture of the Church.” It is the seizing off and carrying away of the believers in Jesus Christ, the Rapture of the Church.

We noticed in our message last week that that Rapture contains for the believer a message of hope. That was the entire application of our exposition from 1 Thessalonians 4. That message, that fact—that this revelation is a message of hope to the believer— is also a subject of great controversy today and we are going to enter into the controversy connected with the Rapture of the Church. The controversy essentially revolves around when the Rapture shall take place. Now, in our next two messages, next week and the week after, we shall be studying some more of the signs of the times to try to indicate that we believe that the Rapture is going to take place very, very soon. But, that is not the aspect of when that is before us this morning. It is when in relation to the Tribulation Period. The Tribulation Period is that seven-year period that shall come upon this earth when judgments shall fall upon the earth and the situation shall prevail universally which will surpass anything in troubles, wrath, and trials that this world has ever seen.

Now, our question this morning is “when will the Rapture take place in relation to that Tribulation period— or will the Church go through that Tribulation period?” This is very controversial and I, obviously, am stepping out on the proverbial limb this morning.

What we would like to do though this morning is to consider from the scriptures what we believe to be the answer to the question, “When will the Church be raptured in relation to the Tribulation period”? The popular view, the one that is most widely accepted today is generally called, “The Post-Tribulation View.” The Post-Tribulation View is a view that simply teaches that the church will go through the Tribulation period, that seven-year period. Toward the end of that seven-year period, the Rapture will take place, the Church will be raptured from the earth, go to the air to meet the Lord and immediately return with the Lord to the earth. Now, you can see that the chart we have suggested here pictures that type of situation. It essentially sees the rapture of the church taking place and very shortly afterward, the Lord Jesus returning to the earth to establish His millennial kingdom. With Him at that time will be the Church that has been raptured from the earth. Thus the Church, dead and living, go out as the official welcoming committee to meet the Lord in the air and immediately accompany Him upon His return to the earth. Now, this is certainly the majority view. Amillennialists, postmillennialists, and even some premillennialists view this as a post-Tribulation Rapture.

Historical Argument for the post-Tribulation view

This position, I think, is based upon two or three points which we would like to make briefly. I think the most influential argument in support of the post-Tribulation view is the historical argument. The historical argument simply teaches that the early Church of the second and third century believed this. They believed that they were in the Tribulation period. They believed that the Lord Jesus was coming very soon and upon His return He would establish the millennial kingdom and reign on earth. It is certainly apparent that the early Church— the Church fathers in the second and third centuries— did believe in what is pictured on our chart here as basically a post-Tribulation or an after Tribulation Rapture.

What ought to be said in view of this is that that is an argument that is based on experience, not upon the Word of God. It is true, I think, that generally speaking the early Church did believe in this type of post-Tribulation Rapture, but that argument used today is an argument which is based upon the experience of that Church and not upon the Biblical position of their view at that particular time. All of us will recognize immediately that an argument that is based upon experience is immediately somewhat suspect. So, we would certainly want to base our argument upon something that is more than the experience of the Church of the second and third century.

Actually, we are not surprised from our point of view that the early Church did hold some such view as this. It is obvious, as James Orr makes clear in his consideration of the Progress of Dogma, that during the program of the church period there has been a progression of crystallization of Bible doctrine. In the early centuries of the Christian church, the Bible doctrine that was crystallized and formalized was Bible doctrine in relation to the person of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity and even theology proper or the doctrine of God Himself. Those were the areas of theology that were uppermost in the thinking of the Church at that time. Many areas of other theology were very far from being formulated in acrystallized form. It was not until much later, even perhaps during the Reformation period, that the doctrine of soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, was really formalized and it was with the great teachings of Calvin and Luther that justification by faith and the election of the saints that entire doctrine of soteriology was really crystallized. It was not until later then that in some respects the doctrine of ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Church, was again formulated. It is not then, therefore, surprising in the progress of dogma to think of eschatology, which is the doctrine of future things or the doctrine of prophecy, to think of that doctrine as being crystallized at a later stage down the line. As James Orr illustrates in his book, the way every systemic theology is written, moving from theology proper right down to eschatology, is exactly the way those doctrines have developed in their formalization and crystallization during the history of the Church. Now, if that thesis is correct, then we would not be surprised to find in the early days of the Christian church certain aspects of eschatology, or of future things, that have not really been crystallized and formalized into a system. That apparently is true, as I hope I shall be able to show you before our class is over, in relation to when the Rapture takes place in relation to the Tribulation period. The historical argument is certainly the most influential argument. George Ladd in his book on this particular subject devotes one-third of his entire book on this point and our basic response to it would simply be that arguments based upon experience certainly are suspect and are not conclusive. We certainly would not expect to see eschatology and the doctrine of the Rapture of the Church to be crystallized, systematized, and formalized in the early days of Church history wherein there were progressively developed in the progress of dogma through the church era.

Terminology Argument for the post-Tribulation view

The second argument that is frequently used in defense of the post-Tribulation view could be called the “terminology argument.” If you were with us in our lesson last week, you will recall that I pointed out that one of the words used in the New Testament to describe the Second Coming of the Lord is the Greek word, perosea, or the transliteration, the parousia. That word is used in the scriptures to picture both aspects of the Second Coming of our Lord, the Rapture and the Revelation (the coming to the air for His people and the coming to the earth with His people). Perosea is used of both aspects. 1 Thessalonians 4 uses it in relation to the Rapture. 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8 use it in relation to the Revelation.

The position, then, of the post-Tribulationist is simply this: because that terminology is used for both aspects, it certainly implies that both of them take place at virtually the same time. Now, I think there is an obvious weakness in this position. The obvious weakness is that in the Old Testament, as well as in the New Testament, there is a phenomenon that brings together two things that oftentimes are separated by a lapse of time and from the perspective of the prophet, the person who foresees something. They appear to be on the same level or the same line or in the same spectrum. That, obviously, is true in the Old Testament in relation to prophesies concerning the coming of Jesus Christ. Isaiah 9:5-6 speaks of Him, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders.” Now, in those two phrases, you have combined the first coming of Christ, His incarnation, the birth and His second coming to establish His kingdom. Between those two comings, there already has been 1,900 years. Isaiah stood as a prophet and looked into the future and saw the two mountain peaks converging together and did not see the valley of 1,900 years between those two mountain peaks. Now, that is a typical phenomenon of prophesy in the Old and the New Testaments. Exactly the same thing then is true is relation to the Greek word, Parousia, orperosea. That is, as the prophets of the New Testament looked ahead, they saw the coming of our Lord. They saw the two points converging and did not see how long or in the use of the term did not see the distinction between these two. They used a term, then, that brought both aspects of the coming of the Lord together and saw it as one event. We tried to establish that in our class last week. That is, the Second Coming of Christ is one event. It takes place in two aspects: the Rapture and the Revelation. The New Testament prophets see it as one event when they use a word like “parousia” in speaking of the coming of our Lord. That is the terminology argument.

Exegetical Argument for the post-Tribulation view

The third and the last argument that I want to bring up in connection with the post-Tribulation view is the exegetical. Turn to Revelation 20 for what is their key exegetical passage. We are taking more time on this than we shall take on some of the others because, as we suggested, this is certainly the majority view and it is the most popular, widely accepted view today in circles of Christendom. The key exegetical passage, according to their writings, is the verse in Revelation 20:4 where we read,

“and I saw thrones and they sat upon them and judgment was given unto them and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God,”

This connects all these people together who had not worshipped the beast (who will be the Anti-Christ of the Tribulation period), neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands and they lived and reigned with Christ 1,000 years. This verse certainly does speak of an event that takes place immediately prior to the revelation of Jesus Christ and His establishment of the kingdom. The event certainly includes the resurrection of the saints who were martyred during this Tribulation period. That is obviously what is described. Those who shall be with Him at that moment this verse says do not take the mark of the beast, they do not bow down and worship the beast, they are martyred because of their faith in Jesus Christ and their stand for the Lord. This verse pictures the resurrection or anticipates, may I say, the resurrection of Tribulation-martyred saints who will be accompanied with Jesus Christ in His return to establish the millennial kingdom. It is on the basis of this verse as their key exegetical passage then that they conclude that the Rapture takes place at the end of the Tribulation period. I would just propose to you that that is not necessarily the conclusion to be drawn from this passage. This passage does not speak of or anticipate at all those who were the dead in Christ during this period of time nor does it certainly speak of the translation of the saints. All it speaks of is the resurrection ofTribulation saints.

So, the verse does not anticipate what 1 Thessalonians 4 speaks of when it talks about the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the translation of the living who are believers in Christ at the moment of the Rapture. Therefore, I conclude that this verse does not clearly and conclusively teach the Rapture of the Church. What it does teach unquestionably, is that at the end of the Tribulation period those who were martyred for the sake of Christ during the Tribulation will be raised from the dead. They will accompany Jesus Christ in His establishment of His kingdom. That is what it does teach, but it does not teach the translation of the living saints nor the resurrection of the saints during this Church period.

Much more could be said in connection with this, but what I have tried to do for your study and your consideration is to pinpoint the three major areas upon which the post-Tribulation Rapture is based primarily upon the history. It is also somewhat involved with the technical terms used in the Greek language and it’s exegetical basis primarily is this verse in Revelation 20:4. It is because of the weaknesses of these three things, as well as other things that could be said, that we are going to this morning categorically reject the post-Tribulation view. What I am saying, then, is I do not believe for a moment, friends, that the Church is going to go through the Tribulation period nor that the Church will be raptured at the end of the Tribulation period.

Mid-Tribulation Rapture

What are the alternatives? The next alternative we shall mention very briefly, because I think it can be handled rather quickly, the next alternative is a mid-Tribulation Rapture. This is a viewpoint which is held by a few. Normal B. Harrison is the major spokesman for this particular point of view, and the view simply teaches that in the middle of the Tribulation period the Church will be raptured. The Church will experience the beginnings of sorrows, but at the middle of the period, which, according to Daniel 9, will be brought about through the breaking of a covenant between the leader of the Western powers and the Nation of Israel, that breaking of that covenant will precipitate tremendous persecutions upon Israel and worldwide trials and troubles, as we shall note in our study next week. It is at that moment, then, that the Church will be raptured.

Revelation 11

Now, this view is based almost exclusively upon two premises: the first premise is that in Revelation 11 the last trumpet, the last of the seven trumpets that are sounded during the Tribulation period, that the last trumpet takes place in the middle of the Tribulation period. Will you notice, please, in Revelation 11:15 the prophet John speaks of the seventh angel sounding and he sounds the seventh trumpet, as the book of Revelation presents these seven trumpets. The seventh and last trumpet is sounded. Mid-Tribulationalism depends upon this seventh trumpet being sounded in the middle of the Tribulation. I do not think the context will support that. May I read the verses?

“And the seventh angel sounded and there were great voices in heaven saying, the kingdom of this kingdom is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He shall reign forever and ever. The 4 and 20 elders who sat before God on their thrones fell upon their faces and worshipped God saying, we give the thanks, oh, Lord God almighty, who aren’t and was and are to come because Thou has taken to Thee thy great power and has reigned.”

We will not read the rest of the chapter, but it substantiates, I believe, the fact that this seventh trumpet is sounded at the end of the Tribulation period. The kingdom is being established. Christ is now reigning, “Thou has reigned.” So, the entire perspective, I believe, of the seventh trumpet anticipates a moment right at the end of the Tribulation period rather than at the middle of the Tribulation period. Its basic premise, then, is that this last trumpet is sounded in the middle of the Tribulation period.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52

Then, what they do is very neatly tie in the sounding of this last trumpet with the last trump of1 Corinthians 15:51-52 which says that at the last trump, what shall happen, the resurrection will take place and we who are alive and remain will all be changed in the twinkling of an eye in a moment. It is certainly clear in 1 Corinthians 15 that the Rapture takes place at the last trump. The question is, “is that last trump the same as the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11?” The seventh trumpet of Revelation 11 does not take place in the middle of the Tribulation period. It takes place right at the end of that Tribulation period. I do not think that we are speaking of the same trumpets at all. In 1 Corinthians 15, the trump that is sounded is sounded by God. In Revelation 11 it is a trumpet that is sounded by an angel. In 1 Corinthians 15, it is the trumpet that brings about resurrection and translation or transformation of the bodies of the living saints. In Revelation 11, it is the trumpet that brings out the last great judgments, I believe the seven vials are poured out in the seventh trumpet, it is the last great judgments that precipitate the conclusion of the Tribulation and the establishment of the kingdom.

The last trump in 1 Corinthians 15, according to Dr. H.A Ironside, is based upon the typical terminology of Roman army life. When the Roman army was about to move, there were three blasts of the trumpet. The first blast whether it was in daylight or in the middle of the night was strike camp. Break up the tent. The second blast of the trumpet was fall in line. In the third blast, which the Romans called the last trump, the command was forward march. H.A. Ironside, as well as other expositors, suggest that that is the imagery that is behind the picture of 1 Corinthians 15. The last trump is the command from the Lord forward march. It is the translation of the saints as the living and the dead combine together to go to meet the Lord for a coming or for an official welcome to Him. The mid-Tribulation view, then, is no longer acceptable on the basis of our views of Revelation 11 and 1 Corinthians 15.

Pre-Tribulation Rapture

What does that leave us with? If the Rapture does not take place at the end of the Tribulation period, if it does not take place in the middle of the Tribulation period, it leaves us then with it taking place before the Tribulation period. That is the position that I take and it is what I believe the Word of God teaches. The teaching then, I believe, is essentially that the next great event in God’s schedule for affairs as far as eschatology is concerned is that the shout, the voice, and the trumpet shall all be heard. Jesus Christ shall descend to the air. The living and dead who are believers in Christ shall combine to go out as an official welcoming committee and they shall meet the Lord in the air. For seven years they shall be with Him in the air. During that seven-year period, the Tribulation shall take place upon this earth (a topic that we are going to study in a few weeks perhaps). At the end of the Tribulation period He shall come from the air with those who are His saints, the Church, to the earth to establish His kingdom. I believe that the Bible teaches that the Church will be raptured prior to the Tribulation period. Now why? What are the bases for the pre-Tribulation view? I will quickly give to you three bases for the pre-Tribulation view.

1. The nature of the Tribulation period point to a pre-Tribulation Rapture

The first is the nature of the Tribulation period I believe indicates it. The nature of the Tribulation period indicates that the Church will be raptured before the Tribulation takes place. There is no question that through the Old and the New Testaments that Tribulation is determined upon the Nation of Israel.

In Daniel 9:24 we read about 70 weeks and the Tribulation is the 70th, the last seven-year period: “70 weeks are determined upon Thy people” (that is Israel) “and upon Thy Holy City” (that is Jerusalem).”

The prophet Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 30:7, “it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble.” It is determined upon Israel, then, and the Gentiles connected with Israel and not upon the Church. Now that is the uniform teaching, I believe, of the Old Testament as well as the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24 and 25). This is the Tribulation period that is determined primarily upon the Nation of Israel. We know it shall certainly be universal, but the focal point will be upon Israel and the trouble that shall fall upon the face of the earth will be because of Israel.

The second part of the nature of the tribulation period is that it is described in the Bible as a time of wrath and judgment and tremendous sorrows. This is going to be God’s response to the Nation of Israel standing before Pilate and saying 2,000 years ago away with Him. “We will not have this man to reign over us. His blood be upon us and our children.” And the Tribulation period will be God’s response to that cry of Israel. It shall be a time of wrath and judgment poured out by God primarily upon Israel because of their rejection of Jesus Christ. It will be designed to refine Israel. To prepare in Israel a remnant for the moment that our Lord shall return and establish his kingdom. That is what Zechariah prophesied in Zechariah 13:9 when he sees all of the troubles and trials of the Tribulation period coming upon the Nation of Israel, working, as says the prophet speaking for the Lord, as a refiner refines silver. So, I shall refine Israel. God, in the Tribulation period will move with a refining fire to purify out of the ungodly apostate Israel a remnant who will become believers in Jesus Christ and who, as we shall notice next week, will be the propagators of the gospel to the corners of the earth during that Tribulation period.

Again, Malachi anticipates the same moment. He says that the day of the Lord shall be preceded by Elijah the prophet. Elijah’s ministry in the Tribulation period, we know from the gospels, is prefigured by the ministry of John the Baptist. The ministry of John the Baptist was to prepare in Israel a remnant for the coming of Jesus Christ as He was to be born and to present Himself to Israel. What John the Baptist did in preparing Israel for the coming of Jesus in His first coming is what Elijah shall do and the two witnesses and the prophets in the Tribulation period in preparing a remnant in Israel for the Second Coming of our Lord. Then He shall come to that nation and establish His kingdom.

Now, because of the nature of the Tribulation period then, I do not believe that the Church will be in it. I see that the Church will be raptured prior to it because it is determined upon Israel, not the Church. It is described as a time of wrath and judgment because of their rejection of Jesus Christ and it is designed to purify a remnant within that nation for the coming of their Messiah who, indeed, shall appear to them very shortly after these troubles. The nature of the Tribulation period is the first basis for the pre-Tribulation view.

2. Analogies and Inferences suggests a pre-Tribulation Rapture

The second is from the point of view of analogies or inferences, shall we say. The one I would like to choose among many that could be chosen is the structure of the Book of the Revelation. So, the second basis then is the structure of the Book of Revelation suggests it. Now, it does not prove it. This is an inference. It is not an explicit statement. We are inferring at this point from the structure of the revelation, the Book of the Revelation, that the Rapture takes place before the Tribulation. Come with me for a short trip through the Book of the Revelation. In Revelation 2 and 3, you have the seven churches described. They are the seven churches on earth. In Revelation 4 and 5, you have the Church in heaven, around the throne, represented in the elders. In Revelation 6, you have the Tribulation period and from chapter 6 through 19, you have a description of the trials and troubles of the Tribulation period. At the end of Chapter 19, Jesus Christ returns to the earth with His bride, with His saints to establish the kingdom and to celebrate the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Now, if that is the structure of the Book of Revelation, it suggests, friends, that the Church will be raptured before the Tribulation period. Chapters 2 and 3, the Church is on earth. Chapters 4 and 5, the Church is on heaven. I propose to you then in the structure that the Rapture of the Church takes place between the end of Chapter 3 and the picture that is presented in Chapter 4. In Chapters 6 through 19, you have the Tribulation period and the Church is never mentioned during those chapters. The Church is absent from the face of the earth and is not involved in the judgments of the seals and of the trumpets and of the vials. The Church is absent until Chapter 19 when our Lord returns to the earth with the Church. Now that is an inference. It is an analogy and that is all it is, but I think it suggests the pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church. It shall be in heaven in Chapters 4 and 5 while the Tribulation in Chapters 6-19 shall be taking place upon the face of the earth.

3. The Promises of the New Testament demand a pre-Tribulation Rapture

To give you some Biblical basis and some explicit basis I would like to share the third point. The third basis is that the promises of the New Testament demand it. The promises of the New Testament demand a pre-Tribulation Rapture. Now may I look with you at two such promises. Slip over in your Bible to Revelation 3, please, and notice what it says in Verse 10.

Revelation 3:10 contains a promise that is given to the Church of Philadelphia. Revelation 3:10 says,

“Because thou has kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation which shall come upon the world to try or to test them that dwell upon the earth.”

This is certainly a promise that relates to the hour of temptation. The modern translations oftentimes change the word “temptation” to “testing.” It is exactly the same word for “tribulation.” It is a promise to be delivered from the hour of testing, temptation, or tribulation. I want you to notice that this is the hour of temptation. The prophet John anticipates a specific period of time. It is “the hour of temptation” and may I, because it is exactly the same word, now use the word “tribulation”? It is “the hour of tribulation.” I want you to notice also that it is “The” hour of tribulation. The definite article that is used here is exceedingly significant as we are going to find in the second promise, as well. It is “The Hour of tribulation.”

I want you also to notice that it is “The Hour of tribulation” that is going to come upon all the world. This is then a universal time of tribulation. I do not know of any phrase that more aptly describes what the Bible speaks of as the “Tribulation period” than this phrase. I do not know of any other period of time ever considered through scripture or even through history that fulfills this type situation. This is “The Hour of tribulation” that is going to come upon all the world. I believe that John is speaking here of the “Tribulation period.” The promise is that these shall be, notice it, “keep thee from The Hour of Tribulation” or “The Hour of temptation.” It is not that He will keep them through the Tribulation. That is the post-Tribulation view. It is not that He will take them out of the Tribulation. That is the mid-Tribulation view. It is that He will keep you from that Tribulation period. That is pre-Tribulationism.

The only other place in the New Testament where the verb and the preposition, “keep from,” is used is in John 17:15 where our Lord is praying for His disciples. He says,

“I do not pray that you will take them out of the world but that you will keep them from that evil one,” (Satan himself)

This is in contrast to Judas’ capitulation to Satan and his kingdom. The prayer of the Lord in John 17 is that God will keep those who believe in Him absolutely and completely out of and from the domain and kingdom of Satan into which Judas has fallen.

I think that the verb and the preposition in the analogy from John 17:15, as well as here, gives to us a promise that the ascended Christ will keep us from the Tribulation. The verb could be translated “preserve you from, to keep you absolutely, preserve you absolutely” from the period of tribulation that is going to come upon all of the earth. I think this is a specific promise to preserve them from the Tribulation period. I think also that it is a universal promise. Of course, it is made to the church at Philadelphia, but the promises that are made to these churches are universal promises. We know that clearly from what it says at the end of the passage when it talked about listening to what the Spirit says unto the churches. That is what Revelation 3:13 says,

“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.”

So, this is not a promise that is made just to Philadelphia. It is a universal promise that is made to every believer. He will keep us from that hour of tribulation. I believe this promise demands a pre-Tribulation rapture.

The last promise that I can point you to is in 1 Thessalonians. So, will you turn back, please, to 1 Thessalonians 1 and notice that there is a second promise, and several other promises could be mentioned, but I think as I have done a pile of reading on this subject this week that these are the two promises that really consolidated my conviction in this particular subject.

1 Thessalonians 1:9, the apostle Paul says,

“For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you and how ye turn to God from idols. That is their salvation. To serve a living a true God.”

That is, their present occupation here is their expectation to wait for His Son from heaven. Now notice,

“Whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus” (now note most carefully) “Who delivered us from the wrath to come.”

Underline that last phrase. The past tense for that word “delivered” is unfortunate because it ought not to be that way. If you have a New American Standard Bible, you will read, “Who delivers us.” The literal translation of the participle with the article here is “our deliverer.” If we were going to translate it that way we could say, “Who raised Him from the dead, even Jesus our deliverer” or “Who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

Did you ever know, my Christian friend, that the word “wrath” in the New Testament never applies to eternal judgment, never. I believe with all my heart, as Dr. Johnson has expounded to us this morning in the doctrine of eternal judgment. But, eternal judgment is not the wrath of God. It is not in anger. It is not in wrath that God consigns a person to eternal judgment. It is a righteous act. The word wrath is used through the New Testament to speak of the out-flashing of his indignation upon sin during time and in history. You take that word “wrath” and you will discover as it is used through the New Testament that it speaks of God’s outpoured judgment upon sin during history and in time on the face of this earth. Now, because that is so I see here a promise. The promise is that our Jesus is our deliverer from the wrath to come. Again, the definite article is crucial. We could say from “the well known wrath that is coming, ” or “the well known coming wrath.”There is no better way to describe the Tribulation period which the prophets had anticipated and that Jesus had predicted. The coming wrath. The out-flashing of God’s judgment. We have a deliverer from that wrath. In 1 Thessalonians 4, the Rapture is described in chapter 5. The apostle considers what shall take place after that Rapture. He describes then the Day of the Lord or the beginning of the tribulation period and he talks about it in all of its severity. Notice, He comes down and with a word of consolation He says in 1 Thessalonians 5:8,

“But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and for an helmet the hope of salvation for God hath not appointed us to wrath.”

God has not appointed the Church to the coming wrath. There is a deliverer from that coming wrath. It is Jesus Christ and the Thessalonians, in their expectation, were waiting for the Deliverer to come who was going to deliver them the coming wrath. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 clearly says that we, the Church, have not been appointed unto wrath, “but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us that whether we wait or sleep,” (and that verb does not speak of the sleeping saints who have died in chapter 4, it speaks of those who are sleeping during life and not watching and not waiting, not looking) whether we are awake and watching or whether we are asleep and not watching. Whatever the situation is, “we should live together with him. Wherefore, comfort yourselves together.” This comfort is simply because we have a Deliverer who will deliver us from the coming wrath and the Church shall not go through that Tribulation period.

Conclusion

I believe that is the basis of the entire comfort of the believer today. That is why, my Christian friend, the Rapture of the Church is described as “the blessed hope.” The blessed hope of a believer is that the next moment in God’s scheduled prophetic timetable is the Rapture of the Church. It will take place before the Tribulation period because of the very nature of the Tribulation period. It is certainly because of the promises that we have here and many allusions that we have in the scriptures. Before the floods fell upon the earth, Enoch was translated. Before the fire and brimstone consumed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot, the righteous one and his family were delivered. There are many analogies that suggest that this is what God shall do. I believe with all my heart that this is the blessed hope of the Christian. Now, are you ready for it? Are you looking for it? If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, my friends, you and I can move through the day today waiting and looking for the Second Coming of our Lord, for the Rapture of the Church. This is what gives to the believer tremendous consolation when he hears of the signs of the times. Dr. Johnson spoke on it this morning and we will be looking at it the next two Sundays in our Sunday School class as we go through some of the other signs of the times. When the believer sees what is happening today as only the precursor of things that are going to happen in greater intensification and greater universality during the Tribulation period, there is a comfort. There is a consolation and it is the Rapture of the Church. We shall not be here. God has for those who believe in Jesus Christ a blessed hope and it is the Rapture prior to the tribulation that shall fall upon the earth.

But, that is no hope for one who has not believed in Jesus Christ. My friend, if you have never personally believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior, if you are not resting upon His work upon the cross alone for your salvation, if there has not been that moment of time in your life when you have come to Him and acknowledged to Him that you are a sinner and that Jesus Christ has died for you and thanked Him for dying for you and accepted Him as your Savior, then there is no blessed hope. This is for those who are believers in Jesus Christ. If you have never believed in Him, if you have never cast the entire future of your life and the destiny of eternity upon the work of Jesus Christ upon the cross, so you are trusting in Him and Him alone for your salvation, we invite you to do so this morning. Then, you may be among those who are watching and waiting for our Deliverer. You will participate in the Rapture of the Church and you will be part of that official welcoming committee that shall go out to meet the Lord and then return with Him to share with Him in His kingdom reign. This is the Rapture of the Church.

May God help each of us to so look for it that it will affect our daily life and to so trust in Jesus Christ that we shall participate in it.

Let’s bow, and have a word of prayer.

Our Father, we are so grateful to Thee this morning for the fact that Jesus is coming again. We believe, Lord, that the signs indicate we are in the very threshold of that climactic, tremendous event. We pray, Lord, that Thou will help us this week to walk as those who are watching for his coming. May we, oh God, so live that we shall not be ashamed before Him at His coming. May we be so grateful for the blessed hope that there will be a response of deep gratitude and loving obedience in our lives day by day. Bless Thy Word, for we ask it for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

SOURCE: April 5, 2010 @ https://bible.org/node/18388

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Bill McRae graduated from D.T.S. in 1970 (ThM) and 1983 (D.Min). After 5 years of ministry in Dallas at Believer’s Chapel, he returned to his home in Canada where he continued in a pastoral ministry. In 1983 he was appointed President of Tyndale University College and Seminary located in Toronto, Canada. While president, he taught in the Pastoral Theology department and the Bible department. He continues to be their President Emeritus engaging in an itinerant Bible teaching ministry. From 1990 – 2000 he was the chairman of the Vision 2000 evangelism committee of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. For several years he taught annually at the Billy Graham Schools of Evangelism. His wife is Marilyn and together they have 4 married children and 13 grandchildren. His books include: Preparing for your Marriage (Zondervan) Dynamics Of Spiritual Gifts (Zondervan) A Book To Die For (Clements) It’s a study of How we Got our Bible with a Prologue containing the story of William Tyndale.

 

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THE RAPTURE: “A MESSAGE OF COMFORT” – 1Thessalonians 4:14-18

DR. BILL MCRAE

SERIES: THE RAPTURE – PART 1

This article is a lightly edited transcript of Dr. Bill McRae’s audio message on the Rapture. Appreciation for the transcription work goes to Marilyn Fine.

Introduction

Once again, we would like to welcome you to our adult Bible class this morning. We are delighted to have you. If you are here for the first time, we give you a special welcome. You are here at the beginning of a new series. During this month we are going to study together in four Sundays the subject, or part of the subject at least, of the doctrine of the Rapture of the church. So, we are going to begin with this as our first study in a topical, prophetic study. Let us open our Bibles, shall we, to I Thessalonians 4. We shall lean on it as our central passage for our exposition this morning.

Our subject for our first lesson this morning is “The Rapture: a Message of Comfort.” That title, of course, is rooted in what we shall see in I Thessalonians 4. However, before we come to that passage and look at it in detail, there are some preliminaries that we should note. Certainly, one of the surest words in all of the Bible is that Jesus is coming again. Someone has said that there are at least 1,527 Old Testament references and 380 New Testament references to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Take the New Testament alone. We are not just limited to the personal testimony of our Lord who said, “I will come again,” but listen to the words of the angels who were present at the moment of His ascension when they announced to those anxious disciples, “This same Jesus which is taken up from you shall so come in light manner as ye have seen Him go.” It is the apostle Paul who refers to the Second Coming as a “blessed hope.” When the apostle Peter writes he reminds us that our faith someday shall be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of our Lord Jesus. When the apostle John writes to us he exhorts us to so live so that we will not be ashamed before Him at His coming. When the writer to the Hebrews pens his epistle, he speaks in a chronological significance and says that unto them that look for Him He shall appear the second time. So, the uniform testimony of the New Testament writers, as well as the Old Testament writers, is that Jesus is coming again.

Now, the Second Coming of our Lord, which is one single event, can be looked upon as taking place in two phases or two aspects. Just at the conclusion of the church period, the first aspect of the Second Coming shall occur and it will be at that first aspect that our Lord shall return from the heavens to the air. He shall come privately and He shall come for His Church. It is at that moment that the Church will be caught up to meet him in the air.

The second aspect of the Second Coming will be when He shall return to the earth and this shall be a public coming and He shall come with His saints or with the Church. Between the two aspects of the Second Coming, there will be a seven-year period or the Great Tribulation period. Now, there are several words— some in the scriptures and some in theological language— that will help us to understand the aspects of the Second Coming of our Lord. What I would like to do by way of introduction is outline for you five major words that are used to delineate certain aspects of the Second Coming or to describe the significance of each of these aspects.

Five Major Words

The first word that we want to talk about very simply and briefly is the word, coming. That is a word that comes from a Greek verb that occurs oftentimes through the New Testament and the Old Testament to describe this very significant event. It is a very general term and has no particular technical significance. The verb “the coming” is used to refer to both aspects—the first aspect and the second aspect. The Lord Jesus said in relation to the communion service and the Lord’s Supper, “this do ‘til I come.” On again another occasion He says, “Behold I come quickly.” So, that verb “come” is used many times in relation to the first aspect. He shall come through the air and He shall come for His Church. The same verb is used on many occasions for the second aspect of His coming. Matthew 24 and 25 give us the details of that second aspect and frequently through those two chapters you have the use of that verb “come.” So, when we speak of the Second Coming we are speaking of one single event that has two aspects to it. The verb “coming” neatly ties together these two aspects and they give us the one single event.

The second word that we want to note is really a transliteration of a Greek word and the word is the Parousia. The “Parousia” is a transliteration of the Greek word “parosea” which means basically “presence.” This was a cultic expression that was used for the visit of a hidden deity who would come and visit and by his visit make his presence known. In that cult, they would either celebrate his presence in the cult or they would be aware of his presence by some supernatural divine demonstration of power. When they referred to the presence of that deity, they spoke of it in terms of the “Parousia” or the “parosea.” It also was an official term or an official expression for the visit of a person of high rank like a governor or an emperor or a king who would visit a province in an official state visit. The arrival of that official for that official state visit would be described in terms of the “parosea” or the “Parousia”— The Presence of that dignitary.

Now, when you come to the New Testament, that same word is used in relation to the Second Coming of our Lord. What it does is anticipate the arrival of a dignitary. It emphasizes the presence of this dignitary who now has been absent. Strikingly, this word is used of both aspects of the coming of our Lord. In I Thessalonians 4, as we shall read in a few moments, we find it in verse 15 when the apostle Paul speaks of those who shall be alive at the coming, and that is that word “the Parousia”— the coming of our Lord or the presence of our Lord. In II Thessalonians 2:1 and 8, it is used in relation to His coming to the earth with His Church.

So, the Parousia, I believe, is a term that draws together both aspects of the Second Coming and considers the whole advent event as one. The Parousia or the Greek word “parosea” suggests then the presence of a dignitary who has been absent and that is exactly what shall transpire when our Lord returns. He who has been absent for 2,000 years shall become present. The event that will initiate the presence again of our Lord on this earth will be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. So, when we use that word, “parosea” or “Parousia”, we are thinking particularly of His presence. I think it draws together both aspects and considers it as one event.

The third word that we should know and that will help us in our understanding of this subject is the word, Rapture. Now the word “Rapture” is the only one of the five words that we are going to speak on which does not occur in the New Testament. However, the word, Rapture, is an English word derived from a Latin translation of I Thessalonians 4:16-17 where we read that “we who are alive and remain shall be caught up, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds.” The Latin translation of that verb is “rapio.” That is the root verb from which the translation comes and we have derived an English word from that Latin word. The English word that we have derived is “Rapture.”

Now, the Greek word that is used here for “caught up” is a very picturesque word. It is a word that suggests two primary thoughts. The first thought is the idea of a robbery. It is used in Matthew 12 when the Lord talks about thieves breaking into a house and stealing something. That is the idea. There is a connotation of robbery that is involved. Also, the second thought is that of something that is violent, something that is sudden and something that is almost catastrophic. The Lord anticipates that usage when He uses this very word in John 6:15 where we read that when he perceived that they would “take Him by force” to make Him king He departed from them. He uses this same word. So, the word that is used here suggests the idea of a robbery and something that is taken away by force. That, of course, is exactly the significance of the Latin verb “rapio.” It means to come and to seize and to carry off. And, therefore, we have used, we have derived an English word from that— and the English word is “Rapture.”

Now, the Rapture fits in as a descriptive phrase for the first aspect of the Second Coming of our Lord. The first aspect is the Rapture. It is at that moment that He shall come to the earth and He shall seize and carry off those who are believers in Jesus Christ. They shall be caught up together with Him. It is going to be a robbery. It is going to be something that will be violent and sudden and that is why it is described as that which initiates the day of the Lord which, in I Thessalonians 5, is described as coming as a thief in the night. The thing that is going to initiate the day of the Lord will be the Rapture of the church. That will take place as a thief in the night. The Lord shall come in the air and He shall, in an act of sudden robbery, snatch away from the earth those who are believers in Him. So, when we use the word Rapture we are speaking of the first aspect of the Second Coming of our Lord. He shall come in the air privately for His saints in the Rapture.

The fourth word that we want to speak of is a word that is oftentimes attached with the names of churches. That word is epiphany. The word “epiphany” is again a transliteration of a Greek word— “Epiphania”— which means appearance. This is used in several occasions in relation to the second aspect of the Second Coming. It is used, for example, in that beautiful text in Titus 2:13 where Paul says, “Looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing.” That is the word. It is the appearing of our Lord. It was a technical term that was used in the days of the New Testament for the visible manifestation of a hidden deity.

So, when the apostle Paul and the Spirit of God takes this word out of its secular use and applies it to the coming again of our Lord Jesus, the connotation is that that hidden deity someday shall appear and He shall be seen. That will take place in the second aspect of the Second Coming of our Lord. This will be an “epiphany.” It will be an appearance of the Lord. That makes it in contrast with the Rapture because the Rapture shall be something that will be private. That shall be unseen by the world. In the second aspect, He shall appear and the world shall see Him. Revelation tells us that every eye shall behold Him and so the “epiphany” is the appearance of Jesus Christ on earth before the eyes of the world. This will be the next time that the world sees Him. The last time they saw Him was on a cross and the world never saw the resurrected Christ. The world shall never see Him until that moment when He appears in the second aspect of His Second Coming.

The last word that we should notice also describes the second aspect of His Second Coming and that is the word revelation. This is used on many occasions also in the scriptures to refer to the Second Coming of our Lord. One of the most beautiful is in II Thessalonians 1:7 where we read, “And He shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels.” This will be a revelation. He who has been now hidden and unknown by the world shall be revealed to the world. The word “revelation” suggests an unveiling. The unveiling shall take place when Jesus Christ returns to the earth. He who is rejected by the world, He who is unknown by the world shall someday be revealed to the world. That is what the Second Coming shall be. It is in that moment that the “revelation” takes place and the world, then, shall realize He is God. It is at that moment that the Jewish nation shall recognize He is their messiah and they shall mourn over Him whom they have crucified. So, the second aspect of the Second Coming of our Lord will be an appearance. He shall visibly appear and it will be a “revelation.” He who is unknown and hidden from the world shall be revealed to them and they shall know Him to be the Son of God to be the messiah and to be the savior of the world.

Now, if we can keep in our minds these words, then we will be able to use them intelligently when we speak of the Second Coming of our Lord. The Second Coming is one event with two aspects. The first aspect is a Rapture. The second aspect is a revelation and an appearance. Together, they form the Parousia which initiates the presence of the absent God. He shall then become present on the earth and establish his millennial kingdom and reign on earth for 1,000 years.

Now, what we would like to do for these four lessons we have together is to focus our attention upon the first aspect of the Second Coming. That is the Rapture. We would like to do it by studying this morning the Rapture as a message of comfort. Next week we would like to study the Rapture as a subject for controversy. We are going to consider the major controversy related to the Rapture next week whether it takes place at the beginning of the tribulation, at the middle of the tribulation or at the end of the tribulation and who is that will be Raptured when the Rapture takes place whether it will be all of the church or just part of the church. There are four major views in relation to the Rapture. There is the pre-tribulation, the mid-tribulation, the post-tribulation and the partial Rapture theory. What we would like to do next week, then, is to consider these four views and we shall spend our time considering it as a subject of controversy. Then, our last two lessons on this subject will be the signs of His coming. We would like to go through the scriptures and pinpoint many of the signs that indicate, I believe, that we are on the very threshold of the Rapture for the conclusions of the church age and we can well expect, I believe, the Rapture to take place very, very soon.

Message of Comfort

This morning, though, we are going to be studying it as a message of comfort. We will be reading from I Thessalonians 4:13-18. In these verses, the apostle Paul in discussing the Rapture and this is the central passage on the subject, gives us three things. In verses 13 and 14, he gives us a bold declaration. Listen to it.

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are asleep that ye saw not even as others who have no hope, for if we believe, or because we do believe, that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus, or who sleep through Jesus, as it literally is, those who sleep through Jesus will God bring with Him.”

That is his bold declaration. Now, in verses 15 through 17, you have a very explicit explanation of how this shall take place.

“For this we say unto you, by the Word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming,” (there it is, “Parousia”) “of the Lord shall not precede” (the old King James uses an old English word, prevent, which means precede) “them who are asleep for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with a voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. The dead in Christ shall rise first. Then, we who are alive and remain shall be Raptured” (That is the way the Latin translation renders it— shall be Raptured, or shall be seized and carried off) “together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

Verse 18 gives us His very direct exertion,

“Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.”

What we would like to do then in our exposition of this passage is look at the declaration, at the explanation, and the exhortation as they are given to us in these verses.

THE DECLARATION

The declaration in verses 13 and 14 is based upon a very serious question that has come to the minds of the Thessalonians. It will be obvious to us that this question concerns them who are asleep. That is exactly what we read in verse 13, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are asleep.” The question they have in their mind is concerning them who are asleep. Now, this verb “to be asleep” is only used in the New Testament of believers. It suggests the peacefulness, the tranquility of a person who has died believing in Jesus Christ. We would speak of it as phenomenal language. That is from our point of view, from the point of view of a person who is alive on earth. One who has died believing in Jesus Christ has fallen asleep. That is, I think, exactly what is implied in the phrase in verse 14 when he speaks of those who “sleep through Jesus.”

The imagery is that of a mother who is rocking her little baby off to sleep in a rocking chair after having given the baby the bottle and singing a song or two and reading a little story. Then, she leans back in her chair and she lulls her baby off to sleep. That is exactly the imagery that Paul is picturing of the death of a believer. He has lulled off to sleep by Jesus. It is these persons that the Thessalonians are very concerned about. Their concern somehow seems to be concerning the relationship of those who have been lulled off to sleep believing in Jesus who have died as believers in Him and their relationship with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. When Paul was in Thessalonica, he certainly and obviously spoke much of the Second Coming of Christ, but, apparently, he never spoke of the relationship between someone who dies as a believer and that Second Coming of Christ.

Now, in the absence of the apostle Paul many have died. Now the question has come what shall be the relationship of those who have died as believers, those who have been lulled off to sleep by Jesus and His Second Coming to establish the kingdom and to reign on earth? These people had suffered for the sake of the kingdom. Some perhaps had been persecuted and even had been martyred for the cause of Christ. Now, the question in the mind of the Thessalonians is this, “shall they miss out on the kingdom?” “Shall they miss out on all the glory of His Second Coming?” “Shall they have no part in the great honor or seeing Him establish His kingdom and reign on earth?” That was the thing that was concerning them so desperately.

One can imagine a wife or a husband or a parent who has been lulled to sleep by Jesus or has been martyred for the cause of Christ. As soon as they return home after the funeral services the question that would immediately rise in the discussion is what shall be the relationship of that person with the coming of our Lord to establish His kingdom. He preached the kingdom. He suffered for the kingdom. He prayed for the coming of the kingdom. Now, is he going to miss out on it? Shall he not see the Lord establish it and reign on earth? That was the thing that was concerning these Thessalonians. It was a very serious question because it was tending toward a grief or a sorrow that was like the sorrow of a pagan who had no hope. That is why Paul was concerned about this question. Apparently, it had not reached that type of sorrow, but it was tending toward that sorrow. The pagan world in the days of the Thessalonians and Paul had no hope. The Romans and the Greeks had no concept of the resurrection of a body after a person died. They had very little hope for the soul. There was a conditional existence after death, but even that was only temporary. So, to describe the pagan world as having no hope for life after death is very accurate.

Now, Paul recognizes that this question in the minds of the Thessalonians is a very serious question because it is causing them to be grieved and to sorrow so that their grief and their sorrow is tending toward the same type of hopelessness that characterizes the unbelievers who, in fact, have no hope. So, Paul says I do not want you to be like those unbelievers. I do not want you to be grieving and sorrowing as those people who have no hope. Let me tell you exactly what the relationship shall be of those who have been lulled to sleep in Jesus and His Second Coming and establishment of the kingdom. He makes his declaration in the concluding phrase of verse 14 when he says, “Even so them also who sleep through Jesus will God bring with Him.” So, Paul’s declaration is very simple. He has completely answered their question. The answer is that when Jesus returns God will bring with Him those who have slept in Christ. They shall return to the earth with Him and they shall share in the kingdom and they shall see all of the glories of His kingdom reign. That is the answer that Paul offers to the Thessalonians. When He returns to the earth and establishes His kingdom, they shall be with Him and they shall see the glory of the millennial kingdom and they shall share with Him in that glorious millennial reign.

He has answered their question. Only, of course, to raise a hundred other questions. How can it all take place? What will be the sequence of events? They have died, but how shall they come back with Him? So, in order to explain how this shall take place, Paul gives us his explanation in verses 15 through 17. It is in this explanation that he tells us the sequence of events, the course of events that shall take place whereby those who sleep in Jesus shall, indeed, come back with Him. The explanation, then, is covered in verses 15 through 17. I think we can divide the explanation in two. In verse 15, you have a general statement. Then, in verses 16 and 17, you have the explanation in detail. Let us look at his explanation in general in verse 15. “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord,” so he introduces His explanation with this statement that what he is about now to tell us is by the word of the Lord. “This, we say unto you, by the word of the Lord,” and anyone, of course, who is a reader of the Old Testament scriptures just revels in a phrase like that because the entire connotation of that phrase is that this is a direct revelation that is given by God to the prophet. We read it all through the prophetic books. The word of the Lord came to… and he stood up and he preached. “And the word of the Lord came upon,” and he delivered the message. Paul says what I am about to tell you, the sequence of events that I am about to explore, the revelation that I am about to give to you has come by a direct revelation from God. This we speak unto you by the word of the Lord.

The second thing he gives us in his general statement in verse 15 is that the living saints at the time of the coming of our Lord shall not precede them who are asleep. That is, he is simply telling us that the translation of the living saints shall not precede the resurrection of the dead saints. Now, that is a very important thing for these Thessalonians to realize. If the translation of the living saints preceded the resurrection of the dead saints then it suggested that the dead saints may miss out on the advent to the earth and the establishment of the kingdom. Paul says no such thing is possible and the reason why it could never happen is because the resurrection will take place before the translation. Those who sleep in Jesus shall be raised before those who are alive at that time shall be translated to meet Him. So, in the general statement in verse 15, then, he has said two things. He has told us that what he is going to give us in detail in the next two verses is by direct revelation from God. The second thing is that those who are living will not precede the resurrection of the dead. Rather, the resurrection of the dead shall, in fact, precede the translation of the living saints.

THE EXPLANATION

Now, what does it all mean? Well, let us put it together in verses 16 and 17 as the apostle Paul does for us. In verses 16 and 17, then, we have the specific events, the specific details. Really, you have a sequence of events that will take place whereby when our Lord returns to the earth in His epiphany and revelation those who have died in Christ shall come back with Him. What will be that sequence of events? If you look carefully in these verses you will find there are five events given to us in a sequence of order.

THE DESCENDING

The first event in verse 16, “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God.” That is the first event in the sequence. It is, of course, the descending of Jesus Christ. That is what is suggested on our chart here as the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven. Now, we know from the later text that He does not descend to the earth. He descends only into the air, but He shall descend from heaven to the air and the text says it will be the Lord Himself who shall descend to the air. Three things, apparently, will accompany that moment of descending. The first thing is that He shall descend with a shout. That is a very graphic word in the original language. It means a shouted command just as a command would be shouted by the captain of a ship to his oarsmen or as a command would be shouted by a hunter to his dogs or as the command would be shouted by the general to his troops. So, someday Christ is going to descend with a shouted command. What will the command relate to? It shall relate to the resurrection of those who are asleep in Jesus. He shall descend to the air with a shouted command that will command those who are asleep in Jesus, speaking of course of their physical bodies, to be raised again from the dead. This was what was predicted in John 5:28 when our Lord says, “All who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come out.” This is the moment that it shall take place. I think it was illustrated at the tomb of Lazarus. He had been dead now for some days, Our Lord comes and He stands by the tomb of that man whom he loves so dearly, wiping the tears from His eyes and strengthening His voice. It says in the scriptures that He shouted with a loud shout. That is. A shouted command, “Lazarus, come forth.” And Lazarus came forth. It was the restoration to life. That is a very faint illustration of what shall happen when our Lord descends to the air and He shall issue His shouted command. It will be directed toward those who are asleep in Jesus and it will be His command for them to come forth.

The second thing that will be associated with that descension is it will be with the voice of an archangel. The archangel perhaps is Michael, the only archangel named in scripture. The voice of the archangel I suggest to you perhaps may be the thing that will gather together from all the courts of heaven and all of the corners of the earth, the angelic forces. I argue this because in every massive movement of Jesus Christ, through His life and after His life, as well as on many of the momentous events of the Old Testament, there was angelic accompaniment. Now, there is no specific indication in the scriptures that when the Rapture takes place our Lord shall be accompanied by angels. But, as you know from the life of Christ and in relation to the epiphany and revelation, He shall be accompanied by angels. So, I suggest that that will also be true of the Rapture. The thing that will congregate the angels around Him for the wonderful moment of descension from heaven to the air will be the voice of the archangel. The archangel, Michael, shall give his command and all of the angels in heaven and earth shall all gather around Him and they shall accompany the Lord in that wonderful moment of descend.

The third is the trump of God. Have you ever noticed that whenever God appeared to Israel, especially in moments like Exodus 19 to reveal Himself to them that it was the sound of a trumpet that gathered together the nation of Israel to hear what God would say to them. It was the sound of a trumpet that gave commands to Israel to break camp and to start the procession in their march. In the days of the Roman army it would be the sound of a trumpet that issued the commands for the soldiers to stop or for the soldiers to move forward or for the soldiers to make camp. The sounds of the trumpet. The trump of God shall be sounded and I suggest to you that it will be this trumpet that will be the calling signal for all of the living saints on earth to respond to this moment of our Lord’s descension. When He descends in this first act that comprises the Rapture, when He descends to the air, it will be with a shouted command directed to those who are asleep in the graves. It will be with the voice of the archangel congregating the angels. It will be with the trump of God directed to the living saints, gathering them together and issuing the command for them to come and to meet Him in the air. That will be the first event. It is the descension of our Lord.

THE RESURRECTION

Verse 16 carries us quickly into the second event in this sequence of events. It is stated in the concluding verses of verse 16, “and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” So, after the descension comes secondly the resurrection and this will be the resurrection that will take place in accompaniment with the Rapture. Several things should be noticed about this resurrection. The first is that it is the resurrection of those who are dead in Christ. That is a very technical phrase. It is a phrase which applies only to people who have believed in Christ during the church age. One becomes in Christ by means of the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit, I Corinthians 12:13 and other verses. So, when it says that the dead in Christ shall be raised first, it is referring to persons through this church period, not in the Old Testament period. Persons in the church period who have died believing in Jesus Christ. If you have a mother or father or even a child or a husband or a wife or a loved one who was a believer in Christ and who has been lulled to sleep by Him, then that person is included in this event. It is the resurrection of those who are dead in Christ during this church age. It is a resurrection only of the bodies of these persons as, of course, we must note. When a believer in Jesus Christ today dies, it is for him in his spirit and soul to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. It is only the body that is, so to speak, asleep in the grave. The fact of being asleep does not suggest soul sleep. It does not suggest that the soul is asleep. That soul and spirit is with the Lord immediately upon departure from the body. But it will be a resurrection of the body of those who have died in Christ.

It will be a resurrection to a resurrection body. This is going to be, in my estimation, one of the most dramatic demonstrations of divine power anywhere ever to be demonstrated. He shall resurrect those who have died in Christ and give to them a resurrection body. I Corinthians 15describes that resurrection body as being identical in identity with you today, which means that we shall recognize each other in heaven. I do not think there is any question about that, although the body shall be different in essence or different in its qualities, it shall be identical with the identity of a person today. It certainly shall be different in its qualities. It shall be a perfect body. All the marks of sin shall be removed from the body. It shall be a spiritual body. It shall be a body that will take on incorruption and immortality. It will be a new, miraculous work of God. I think this is going to be one of the greatest demonstrations of God’s power ever. He is going to take the ashes that have been sprinkled over the oceans and He is going to resurrect that body. He is going to take the ashes from cremations that are put in little boxes and He is going to resurrect that body so that the identity will be identical, although the qualities will be different. It undoubtedly is going to be one of the greatest demonstrations of the power of God anywhere. I think it is more miraculous than even the work of creation itself. The resurrection of the saints. This is going to be a resurrection that will precede the translation of the church and that is, of course, why He says the dead in the Christ shall rise first. He is again plugging in to the problem of the Thessalonians. Those that you are concerned about shall be raised first before the translation of the saints. They surely shall not miss out on the blessings of the kingdom when He shall return to establish it.

THE TRANSLATION

That brings us to the third event and the third event in the sequence is in verse 17 where we read, “Then, we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds” and that is the translation of the saints. This is going to be a forceful snatching away of the believers in Jesus Christ from the earth. My friend, if it happened at this moment it would be much like lowering a magnet upon a table that had on that table a sprinkling of matches and nails. That magnet would attract the nails and the matches would be left behind. When our Lord returns, He is going to give a command and the sound of the trumpet so that in response to the command the dead in Christ shall be resurrected and leave in the graves those who have died without believing in Christ for the judgment of God. He shall give the sound of a trumpet to which all of those who are believers in Christ will respond and will be immediately snatched away and will meet the Lord in the air. It is at this moment that they shall receive their transformed body. Paul says that in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye we shall all be changed. If it should happen at this very moment, my friend, those of us who are believers in Christ would respond to the trumpet and in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we would be transformed. We would receive bodies that are identical in identity, but that are different in quality and we would have that spiritual resurrected body that would be delivered from all of its sins.

The striking thing, I think, about this whole phrase is that this translation will be accompanied by clouds. Notice, it says, “They shall be caught up together with Him in the clouds.” Have you ever noticed that clouds invariably are associated with divine manifestation? We do not have time to demonstrate it. Clouds oftentimes are associated with the Second Coming of the Lord. Zachariah 1, Daniel 7Joel 2Revelation 1, in every case say that when He shall come it will be with clouds. I believe it will be with literal clouds. I do not think there is any reason at all for suggesting anything other than literal clouds at this moment. When He returns one of the things that will characterize the day then will be a cloudy phenomenon. That may explained how the Rapture takes place without the world knowing it. That may be the means whereby the hidden departure of the saints will take place. There will be such a cloudy phenomenon at that time that the Rapture will take place unknowing to the world and every indication is that that is so.

After the Rapture takes place the believers obviously will be missed, just like Elijah was missed. They searched for him, but there is no indication that there will be a repentance on the part of the unbeliever after the Rapture. Salvation during the tribulation period will be as a result of the ministry of the 144,000 to whom the gospel message will be revealed by God. There is no indication that the Rapture will cause a great turning to God so that if it took place today every indication from the scriptures is that our children would not immediately repent or the neighbors that we have been witnessing to would not immediately put their finger on it and identify this as the Rapture and turn and believe the Word of God. There is no indication that that is what shall be the result of it.

Therefore, I am rather inclined to believe, and this is purely speculation, that the Rapture of the church could very well be accompanied by some kind of natural catastrophe that will cause a great cloudy phenomenon to encompass the earth so that the disappearance of the church will be explained away naturalistically, rather than theologically. So that when the world sees that the church is gone, they will explain their disappearance naturalistically rather than recognizing this is the Rapture and, therefore, repent. I do not think that there is going to be a great newscast all over the country saying the church has gone and the believers have all disappeared. There is no indication in my estimation that this will be the response. By the way, we have a good illustration of this.

If you were around in 1947, then you will remember the great tragedy that took place in Texas City when those ships exploded. Do you remember that great tragedy? They did not expect the ships to explode. There were men who were working around the men in the explosion of the ship. There was a great catastrophe. The repercussions of it were felt for hundreds of miles. Four hundred bodies were discovered as a result of that tragedy. Over 500 people were listed as missing. Now how do you explain the discrepancy? It was officially explained that those 100 plus people were blown to pieces and that is why the bodies were not found. But several of the news commentators in writing on this incident said in all likelihood many of that 100 plus people used this catastrophe as an opportunity to drop out of society. Men who had great bills to pay, people whose marriages were on the rocks used that catastrophe to drop out. That has happened since that time in many occasions and we know that is the way the world works. What I am suggesting is this. Just as probably the disappearance and the dropping out of some people was explained naturalistically in relation to the catastrophe of the blowing up of the ship in Texas City so I am rather inclined to believe the disappearance of the church will be explained. Man has a facility to explain naturalistically supernatural things. One of the things that perhaps may permit him for such a naturalistic explanation will be the accompaniment of clouds and I am rather thinking that there just may be some kind of a cloudy phenomenon occurring into which the church will be raptured and disappear and that will be the naturalistic explanation for the disappearance of the church.

THE RENDEZVOUS

Well, I am going to have to close real quickly by pointing out to you that the next event is a great rendezvous. It is for a meeting of the Lord in the air. It is not to meet, but it is for a meeting. That is the Greek text. It is for a meeting of the Lord in the air and the word that is used here is a very technical word that suggests the welcoming committee going out to welcome a dignitary. When Paul came to Rome in Acts 28, the brethren from Rome came out for a meeting. The same word is used. They were an official delegation coming out to welcome him. That is a beautiful picture of the church. Here it shall happen. Those who are dead in Christ and those who are alive believing in Christ shall be caught up together with Him in the air and they shall be caught up for a meeting. So, I picture then the Rapture of the church as an official delegation going out from the earth to be the welcoming committee for the Lord as He returns to the earth. There shall be a seven-year interval during which time the Judgment Seat of Christ shall be held, but the Rapture is a beautiful picture of the faithful, the remnant, on earth and in the grave going out to welcome our Lord as He returns to establish His kingdom.

THE PERMANENT ASSOCIATION

The last is a permanent association and that is what you have in verse 17. “So shall we ever be with the Lord.” The permanent association is that we shall be with Him during the seven-year period in the air. We shall be with Him when He returns to the earth to establish His kingdom. We shall be with Him during the 1,000 years of His kingdom reign on earth. We shall be with Him throughout all of eternity. That, of course, is the great message that Paul has for these Thessalonians. As a result, his exhortation in verse 18 is “wherefore, comfort one another with these words.” Those that you are so anxious about and so concerned about surely shall not miss out in the kingdom. They shall be with Him when He returns to the earth and the way that that shall be accomplished is seven years prior to it they shall be resurrected before the church is translated. The living saints are translated. Together, they will go in the air for a meeting of the Lord and they shall be with Him when He returns to establish His reign on earth. That is the message of the Rapture. It is a message of comfort.

THE EXHORTATION

Down through the years, these chapters and verses have been a message of comfort for untold thousands of believers and that is exactly what the chapter is for us this morning. It is a word of comfort. Imagine for a moment the tremendous comfort that is found here in the prospect of a great reunion with those who have gone on before us, believers in Christ. I have a brother that I am going to meet in that day. It is going to be a grand reunion. Oftentimes when I stand beside a graveside and I commit a body to the earth, those are the words that I read. What great comfort there is if that person was a believer in Jesus Christ. There is going to be a great reunion that shall take place. Imagine the comfort that there is in the prospect of the great joy of being part of the welcoming committee. You are going to be part of that, my friend, if you are a believer. You will be part of a welcoming committee that you will want to welcome Him when He comes back to the earth. Imagine the joy, the comfort that there is in the prospect of the great glory of being with Him while He reigns on earth. Just think of the great joy, the comfort in the prospect of being with Him throughout all eternity. That is the message of the Rapture.

There also is the comfort, I believe, the great comfort that comes in the assurance of a great deliverance from the Tribulation period. That is that the church shall be raptured and delivered from the earth before the great Tribulation breaks upon this earth. That is a message of comfort and we shall demonstrate next week why we believe this is so. Of course, if you are not a believer in Jesus Christ this morning there is no comfort in these words. They seal your eternal doom to be without God and without hope for ever and ever. So, we encourage you this morning, my friend, if you have never believed in Jesus Christ personally as your Savior that you trust Him and accept Him as your Savior so that if it occurred today you would be with Him and like Him forever and ever.

Let us bow and pray, shall we. Father, we do ask thy blessing now upon this message and we thank you for the comfort that there is for us today, as well as for those of old in the great promise of the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the translation of those who are living and believing in Him. We pray that Thou will help us to look for that day and to live this week in the light of the fact that it may be today. For we ask it in Christ’s name, amen.

*SOURCE: Published April 5, 2010 @ https://bible.org/node/18387

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Bill McRae graduated from D.T.S. in 1970 (ThM) and 1983 (D.Min). After 5 years of ministry in Dallas at Believer’s Chapel, he returned to his home in Canada where he continued in a pastoral ministry. In 1983 he was appointed President of Tyndale University College and Seminary located in Toronto, Canada. While president, he taught in the Pastoral Theology department and the Bible department. He continues to be their President Emeritus engaging in an itinerant Bible teaching ministry. From 1990 – 2000 he was the chairman of the Vision 2000 evangelism committee of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. For several years he taught annually at the Billy Graham Schools of Evangelism. His wife is Marilyn and together they have 4 married children and 13 grandchildren. His books include: Preparing for your Marriage (Zondervan) Dynamics Of Spiritual Gifts (Zondervan) A Book To Die For (Clements) It’s a study of How we Got our Bible with a Prologue containing the story of William Tyndale.

 

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Why Did God Become Man?

THE INCARNATION OF JESUS

nativity scene 

By Lehman Strauss

The word incarnation does not occur in the Bible. It is derived from the Latin in and carno (flesh), meaning clothed in flesh, the act of assuming flesh. Its only use in theology is in reference to that gracious, voluntary act of the Son of God in which He assumed a human body. In Christian doctrine the Incarnation, briefly stated, is that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became a man. It is one of the greatest events to occur in the history of the universe. It is without parallel.

The Apostle Paul wrote, ”And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh . . . “ (I Timothy 3:16). Confessedly, by common consent the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is outside the range of human natural comprehension and apprehension. It can be made known only by Divine revelation in the Holy Scriptures, and to those only who are illumined by the Holy Spirit. It is a truth of the greatest magnitude that God in the Person of His Son should identify Himself completely with the human race. And yet He did, for reasons He set forth clearly in His Word.

Before we examine those reasons, it would be well at the outset to distinguish between the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth of our Lord, two truths sometimes confused by students of Scripture. The Incarnation of the Son of God is the fact of God becoming Man; the Virgin Birth is the method by which God the Son became Man.

These two truths, while distinct and different, are closely related to each other and stand in support of each other. If Jesus Christ was not virgin born, then He was not God in the flesh and was therefore only a man possessing the same sinful nature that every fallen child of Adam possesses. The fact of the Incarnation lies in the ever-existing One putting aside His eternal glory to become a man. The method of the Incarnation is the manner by which He chose to come, namely, the miraculous conception in the womb of a virgin.

A noteworthy passage pertinent to the Divine purpose in the Incarnation is recorded in the Gospel according to John– ”And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory. the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth” (John 1 :14).

Cerinthus, a representative of the system which arose in the early church under the name of Docetism, claimed that our Lord had only an apparent human body. But the statement, ”the Word became flesh,” indicates that He had a real body.

John 1:14 cannot be fully appreciated apart from verse one: ”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh.” He who was one with the Father from all eternity became Man, taking upon Him a human body. He ”was with God” (vs. 1); He ”became flesh (vs. 14). He “was with God”’ (vs. 1); He ”dwelt among us” (vs. 14). From the infinite position of eternal Godhood to the finite limitations of manhood! Unthinkable but true!

Paul gives another significant passage on the Incarnation in his Galatian Epistle: ”But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4, 5). In these verses Paul establishes the fact of the Incarnation– “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.”

God sending His Son presupposes that God had a Son. Christ was the Son in His eternal relationship with the Father, not because He was born of Mary. Since a son shares the nature of his father, so our Lord shares the Godhead coequally with His Father. Yes, “God sent forth His Son,” from His throne on high, from His position of heavenly glory. God did not send one forth who, in His birth, became His Son, but He sent One who, through all eternity, was His Son. Centuries before Christ was born, the Prophet Isaiah wrote of Him, ”For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . ” (Isaiah 9:6). The Son was given in eternity past before we knew Him. His human birth was merely the method of coming to us.

Again, Paul records the following noteworthy statement in the Epistle to the Philippians: ”Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also bath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-1 1).

Before His Incarnation Jesus Christ was ”in the form of God” (vs. 6). From the beginning He had the nature of God, He existed (or subsisted) as God, and that essential Deity which He once was could never cease to be. If He seems Divine, it is only because He is Divine. He is God.

He ‘thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (vs. 6). The eternal Son did not consider it a thing to be seized unlawfully to be equal with the Father. Equality with God was not something He retained by force or by farce. He possessed it in eternity past and no power could take it from Him. But in the Incarnation He laid aside, not His possession of Deity, but His position in and expression of the heavenly glory.

One of the purposes of the Philippian epistle was to check the rising tide of dissension and strife growing out of Christians thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think. Being a general letter, it exposes no false doctrines but does enunciate our Lord Jesus Christ as the believer’s pattern in humiliation, self-denial, and loving service for others. This is evident in the seven downward steps of the Saviour’s renunciation of Himself.

(1) ”He made Himself of no reputation.” God emptied Himself! He did not lose His Deity when He became Man, for God is immutable and therefore cannot cease to be God. He always was God the Son; He continued to be God the Son in His earthly sojourn as Man; He is God the Son in heaven today as He will remain throughout eternity. He is ”Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

(2) ”He took upon Him the form of a servant.” His was a voluntary act of amazing grace, the almighty Sovereign stooping to become earth’s lowly Servant. Instead of expressing Himself as one deserving to be served, He revealed Himself as one desiring to serve others. He did not boast His eternal glory and right to be ministered to, but instead evinced His humility and desire to minister. ”The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

(3) “He was made in the likeness of men.” This phrase expresses the full reality of His humanity. He participated in the same flesh and blood as man (Hebrews 2:14). Although He entered into a new state of being, His becoming Man did not exclude His possession of Deity, for He was and is today a Person who is both God and Man, Divine and human, perfect in His Deity and perfect in His humanity.

(4) ”And being found in fashion as a man.” When He came into the world, Christ associated with His contemporaries and did not hold Himself aloof. Thus He manifested to all that He was a real Man. One obvious distinction marked our Lord’s humanity; His perfection and sinlessness. As a Man He was made under the law, yet He never violated the law. As a Man He was tempted in all three points in which we are tempted (I John 2:16), yet His temptation was apart from any thought, word, or act of sin.

(5) “He humbled Himself.” The world has never witnessed a more genuine act of self-humbling. So completely did our Lord humble Himself that He surrendered His will to the will of His Father in heaven. His desire was to do the will of the Father, therefore He could testify, “I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:29). It was humiliation for the eternal Son of God to become flesh in a stable, and then to dwell in a humble home in subjection to a human parent. God was ”sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin” (Romans 8:30). Only eternity will reveal the depth of meaning for Him and for us found in those words, “He humbled Himself.”

(6) “He became obedient unto death.” Remarkable indeed! Here the God-man dies. Did He die as God, or did He die as Man? He died as the God-Man. The first Adam’s obedience would have been unto life, but because he disobeyed unto death, the last Adam must now obey unto death in order that He might deliver the first Adam’s posterity ”out of death into life” (John 5:24R.V.). ”For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). To subject Himself to the cruel death of a criminal on the cross was a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation for men, and to such a death our Lord voluntarily submitted. Implicit obedience!

(7) ” . . . even the death of the cross.” Our Lord died as no other person died or ever will die. Other men had died on crosses, but this Man, the eternal Son of God, voluntarily and willingly died the kind of death meted out to criminals, even the death upon a cross. His own countrymen considered crucifixion the worst kind of disgrace. In their law it was written, “For he that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deuteronomy 21:23; cf. Galatians 3:13). Not only did our Lord die, but He died bearing the burden of the worst of criminals and the guiltiest of sinners. Down He came from heaven’s glory to earth’s sin and shame through His Incarnation.

The purposes underlying this phenomenal occurrence can be summed up in seven points.

(1) HE CAME TO REVEAL GOD TO MAN

The Incarnation of the Son of God unites earth to heaven. God’s greatest revelation of Himself to man is in Jesus Christ. Revelation is the disclosure of truth previously unknown. Before the coming of the Son of God to earth many varied forms of revelation existed. Belief in the existence of God is innate. Since man is a rational, moral being, his very nature provides him with intuitive knowledge. As the mind of a child begins to unfold, it instinctively and intuitively recognizes a Being above and beyond the world that he experiences.

Man is so constituted that he recognizes the fact and the power of God by the things that are made. Many of the ancient philosophers marveled at the starry heavens above them and the moral law about them. We live in a world of order and harmony conducive to our happiness and well being, and we, too, recognize a revelation of God in nature.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19, 20). Men may hinder or suppress the truth by their unrighteous living, but there is that which may be known of God which ”is manifest in them.” The existence and power of God are discernible to us all by the things we observe in the external world. Those only who have abnormal, distorted, or biased minds can possibly deny God’s existence.

Job realized that the nature of God in its different characteristics and qualities was not all revealed to man, yet he knew, as all men know, that the omnipotence and unchangeableness of God are exhibited in creation (Job 6:10; 23:12). The savage and the scientist can know two things about God; He is a Being and He is supreme. These are the two things God has been pleased to reveal about Himself.

Do not plead innocence for the man who does not possess a copy of God’s Word. All men have a Bible bound with the covers of the day and the night whose print is the stars and the planets. What is knowable about God has been displayed openly, and any man who suppresses the truth does it “without excuse.” Nature reveals the supernatural, and creation reveals the Creator. Read Psalm 19:1-6 and you will see that the heavens are personified to proclaim the glory of their Creator. Day and night pass on their testimonies giving clear evidence of the existence of the One who made them.

There are other evidences of primeval revelations of God to man, such as to Adam (Genesis 3:8) and to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 26:3-5). The writer to the Hebrews quotes the Son speaking to the Father, in which reference is made to an early primitive and temporary revelation through a book which God allowed to pass out of existence (Hebrews 10:5-7). Doubtless there were other books which likewise have passed out of existence, as the Book of Enoch of which Jude made mention (Jude 14).

We know, further, that God often revealed Himself in dreams as when He spoke to Jacob (Genesis 28), to the patriarch Joseph (Genesis 37), to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2-4), to Joseph (Matthew 1:20), and to others. Through Moses and the prophets God revealed Himself (Exodus 3:4 and chapter 20). Over thirty-five authors, writing over a period of fifteen hundred years, wrote consistently and coherently, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of one historically accurate plan of salvation. The Bible in its entirety is a progressive revelation of God.

But of all the amazing revelations of almighty God, none was set forth more clearly and fully than God’s final revelation of Himself in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since God is an infinite Being, no man could understand Him fully save the Son who is One in equality with the Father. Jesus said, ”. . . neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27). Here, then, is one reason for the Incarnation—to reveal God to man. The fact of God’s existence may be seen through test tubes and laboratory experiments, detected through microscope and telescope, and stated in the discussions of the seminar. But the glorious attributes of a loving God manifested in behalf of sinners can be found in no place or person apart from Jesus Christ.

Philip said to the Lord Jesus, ”Lord, shew us the Father . . . ” and our Lord answered, ”. . . He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father . . . “ (John 14:8, 9). When the Word became flesh He brought to man an adequate revelation of God. Whatever the ancient seers and saints knew about God before Jesus came, we have a more adequate revelation. Since God remains an abstraction until we see Him in terms of personality, so the Son became Incarnate that we might see and know God. ”No man hath seen God at anytime; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1: 1, 8, 9).

The dictionary definition of the word ”light” means nothing to a blind man, but one glimpse of a glowworm would be worth more for the understanding of light than all the definitions in the world. One glimpse of Jesus Christ will bring God closer to the human mind and heart than all the theological definitions of Him. No man could perceive the grace of God until the almighty Sovereign of the universe stooped to the level of His own creatures, suffering cruel treatment and dying the death of shame for them. No man understood fully the patience and longsuffering of the Father until Jesus Christ who, when He was reviled, reviled not again, and when He suffered, threatened not (I Peter 2:23). No man can comprehend just how perfect and holy God is until He comes face to face with the sinless Son of God. God has revealed Himself anew to the intelligence of man through the Incarnation.

(2) HE CAME TO REVEAL MAN TO HIMSELF

Through His Incarnation Jesus Christ reveals man to himself. He shows us what we are and what we may become. As we study the purposes of God in Christ, the fact impresses us that man is grossly ignorant of his real self, and that the mission of the Son’s coming included a plan that would enable man to see and know himself as God sees and knows him. We are not the least bit impressed with man’s vain philosophical views of himself, but rather with the accurate historical account of man as it is recorded in the Bible.

The primary fact that man needs to know about himself is his origin. Men are divided in their theories concerning this. We are not strangers to the evolutionary idea which attempts to explain man’s place in the earth. In 1871 Darwin published his book, The Descent of Man, but he said very little that had not been said before. The idea of evolution might be here to stay, but not because Darwin said so. Evolution was taught by Roman and Greek philosophers and even by ancient Egyptians. But the evolutionary idea that man must swallow his pride and be content with the fact that he has oozed from the slime along with the snails is contrary to the revelation in Scripture.

The Bible teaches clearly that the human race had its origin by the immediate creation of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) and that man is the grand consummation of all creation. We are forced to accept this view as against the theory of evolution because of the immeasurable gulf which separates man, even in his barest savage condition, from the nearest order of creation below him. Moreover, history corroborates Scripture in that man was destined to rule over all other animal life. God took special care in the creation of man, for “God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” (Genesis 1:27). Actually it was not the body of man that was created, for the body was merely ”formed” of those elements necessary for man’s body and which were created long before man ( Genesis 1:1). What was new in man’s creation was a form of life which only God and man possess (Genesis 2:7). Created in the image and likeness of God, man differs from every other form of animal. Man, in his lowest estate, seeks an object of worship and has been known to bow before gods that he cannot see, but animals never!

However, man did not retain God’s image and likeness. When God placed our first parents in Eden He set before them one simple restriction, namely, not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for, said God, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Genesis 3 is a record of the fall of man. He disobeyed God and

immediately the life-cord was severed. Adam died both physically and spiritually. Physical death began to do its work, and the grave for Adam was but a matter of time. Then, too, his spirit was separated from God, so that he was dead spiritually while alive physically.

Now all men, from Adam down, are born into this world spiritually dead in sin, possessing a sin-nature capable of every trespass against God (Ephesians 2:1). The sin-nature of Adam and the guilt of his sin were imputed to the whole human race, so that Adam’s corrupted nature is of necessity a part of all his posterity. The highest self in man is altogether unprofitable to God. All men are not equally corrupt in word and deed, but all are equally dead, and unless the function of death is brought to a halt, it will destroy not only the body but also the soul in hell. Because of the solidarity of the human race, sin and death have passed upon all men (Romans 5:12). When Adam defaced the Divine image and lost the Divine likeness, he begat sons ”in his own likeness, after his image” (Genesis 5:3). Yes, “by man came death” and ”in Adam all die” (I Corinthians 15:21, 22).

While all of this is clearly stated in the Bible, man still thinks of himself more highly than he ought to think. There were many who had no Scriptures at all in Christ’s day, and they needed this revelation. In order that man should see himself, not in the light of his own goodness, but beside the perfect standard of God’s holy Son, the Son of God became Incarnate. Our Lord said, ”If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin” (John 15:22).

Responsibility increases with knowledge, and so Christ’s coming showed man how far short he came of God’s standard of a righteous man. The Lord Jesus said, “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin . . . “ (John 15:24). Our Lord did not mean by this statement that man would have been without sin if He had not come. There had been sin all along, as God’s dealings with the human race through its four thousand years of earlier history prove. But the coming of Christ to the earth revealed the heart of man in cruel hatred for Divine holiness. The Son of God Incarnate was sinless in every respect, yet man, Jew and Gentile alike, crucified Him. Alongside Christ’s perfect life and works, man can see the sin and guilt of his own heart.

When man sinned against the Son of God, he sinned against the clearest possible light, “the Light of the world” (John 8:12). He came unto His own and His own received Him not (John 1:11), and then Gentiles joined hands with ”His own” to put Him to death. How sinful is the heart of man? Look at that spectacle on Calvary’s hill and you will see human hearts and hands at their worst.

Time has not improved human nature. Today men still trample under food the precious blood of Christ, and if our blessed Lord were to appear in person today as He did nineteen centuries ago, the world would crucify him again. The world, having seen the light, has turned from the light, for “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Romans 1:18 to 3:20 enunciates the most searching and conclusive arraignment of the human race found anywhere, and the birth and death of Jesus Christ attest to the truth of this awful indictment.

(3) HE CAME TO REDEEM MAN

The Apostle Paul states clearly the purpose of the Incarnation in the following words–”But when the fulness of the was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law” (Galatians 4:4, 5). The Old Testament contains the accurate record of some four thousand years of sin, human failure, and consequent Divine judgment. The one bright hope was the coming of the promised Seed, the Redeemer (Genesis 3:15). With each succeeding revelation from God, the promise grew clearer and the hope brighter. The prophets spoke of the Messiah who would come to deliver the people from their sins. Perhaps the classic prophecy is Isaiah 53. Since the people needed a deliverer from the guilt and penalty of sin, the intent of the Incarnation was to provide that Deliverer. Moreover, all of history and prophecy moved toward that goal even as all subsequent movements have proceeded from it.

Jesus Christ is man’s Redeemer, his Saviour. This truth is implied in His name. Said the angel, “Thou shalt call his name JESUS (meaning Saviour), for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). At His birth the angel testified again, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Even the Lord Jesus Himself voiced emphatically the purpose of His Incarnation when He said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

The awful state of the world of mankind necessitated the coming of the Redeemer since there could be no hope of deliverance apart from Him. The character of God, which is righteousness, absolute and uncompromising, demands that every sin be dealt with. While God is merciful, gracious, and slow to anger, forgiving iniquities and transgressions, ”that will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7). While God is love, God is also holy and righteous, so holy that He is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and [canst] not look on iniquity” (Habakkuk 1:13). His righteousness demands that every sin must be dealt with impartially. In order to be true to Himself, God had to deal with the problem of sin. In order to deal justly and, at the same time, mercifully, someone had to suffer the death penalty for the sin of the world.

In the Person of Jesus Christ God solved the problem of the eternal well-being of the sinner. He sent His Son to die as the sinner’s perfect Substitute, and thereby redeemed the sinner. Man was lost to God and heaven, and God’s purpose in redemption could be realized only through the Incarnate Son of God, for the Son of God Incarnate is the connecting link bringing together God and sinful man. The sinner’s relation to Jesus Christ is vital. Christ became a man “that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9). The Word, who is the eternal Son of God, became flesh and was obliged to be made in the likeness of man in order to redeem him.

Christ defined the purpose of His Incarnation and earthly ministry when He said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17). There is no implication in these words that there is a sinful class of men who need repentance and another righteous class who do not. Nor is there a suggestion that there are “righteous ones,” for in Romans 3:10 it is said, “There is none righteous, no, not one.”

Consider the conditions under which Christ stated this purpose. Scribes and Pharisees were upbraiding Him because He had gone into the house of Levi to eat with publicans and sinners (Mark 2:14-16). His critics exalted themselves above sinners, priding themselves in an unpossessed righteousness which thereby excluded them from any realization or acknowledgement of their own sin.

In Levi’s house, however, there were those who recognized their sinful state. It was for this reason that the Lord Jesus went to that group, namely, to bring salvation to them. Physicians go into sick rooms, not because of the pleasantness of disease and suffering, but because of a desire to relieve and cure the sick. So sinners are the special objects of the Saviour’s love and power. He came into the world to save sinners.

Although all men are unrighteous, those scribes and Pharisees called themselves ”righteous,” for they were possessed of self-righteousness that is as “filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, as they went about seeking to establish their own righteousness, they failed to see the purpose of His coming. Hence they never heeded the Saviour’s call to salvation. Their kind seldom do!

Had there been righteousness in the human heart, there would have been no need for the Incarnation of the Son of God. And only in the self-righteous heart of the religious, moral man, satisfied with himself, do we find the careless indifference to the Gospel of redemption. When a man assumes a righteousness all his own, he is outside the reach of the Great Physician. The man who excludes his own need of Christ misses the purpose of the Saviour’s coming and will not be saved. Each of us must say with the Apostle Paul, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (I Timothy 1:15).

(4) HE CAME TO RESTRAIN SATAN

The purpose of the Incarnation is further revealed in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Three verses, linked together, assert that the coming of Jesus Christ was to destroy the devil. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man . . . Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same [flesh and blood]; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:9, 14, 15).

In these three verses in Hebrews, we are reminded that the subject of death is dealt with in each of them, and the fact of the Incarnation is substantiated in the clause, “who was made a little lower than the angels.” Furthermore, the purpose of the Incarnation appears in the words, “that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” From this verse, as well as verse 14, it is evident that the eternal Son became flesh in order to die.

Christ’s crucifixion by wicked hands was “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Our Lord Jesus Christ testified, “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus Christ willed to die, not a sudden and unexpected death but a lingering, anticipated death that He would taste every day of His earthly sojourn. He became man to suffer death.

But why should it be so? We considered the purpose of the Incarnation relative to the sin question. Referring to the matter of death, the Word affirms that the Son of God became incarnate that “through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Of all the works of Satan, among the worst is that of destroying life. Our Lord testified, “He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). Satan is the spoiler of humanity, his malignant purpose being to bring both physical and spiritual death to mankind.

God placed our first parents in the Garden of Eden and surrounded them with every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. Two of these trees are mentioned; ”the tree of life . . . and the tree of knowledge of good and evil” Genesis 2 :9). Eating the fruit of the latter tree would bring sin and death, for, said God, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Satan knew this, therefore we are not surprised when we read that it was of the fruit of this very tree of death that he enticed Eve to eat. He chose the tree of death because he is a murderer. He knew that the death sentence was already pronounced upon all who would eat of it. He delighted in the fall of Adam and Eve, for he knew that physical and spiritual death had struck.

But thanks be to God for the Incarnation of His Son. By the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, through His death and resurrection, He wrested from Satan the power of death. Death no more holds its lethal grip upon the believer. Although death has held sinners in bondage ever since the severing of the life-cord between God and man, the appearing of the Lord Jesus has broken its grip. “According to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began . . . the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (II Timothy 1:9, 10).

Before sin was indulged in and death struck, the inclusive salvation plan provided death’s abolition. Since the death and resurrection of our Lord dealt comprehensively with sin, it of necessity affected death. The coming of the Saviour rendered death harmless, and the “sting” of it is gone (I Corinthians 15:55). Oh, the blessedness of an accomplished redemption! How wonderful to know Him who said, “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:18). Death once held man in the vise of hopeless doom, but now Satan is defeated.

The shadow of the cross hung over the manger in Bethlehem, assuring the world that the Seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). As Adam yielded himself to Satan, Satan held him in death; but by His dying, Christ entered into our death and wrested from Satan that power which he held over us. At Calvary Satan was brought to naught, and now “death is swallowed up in victory. . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:54, 57). “The prince of this world is judged” (John 16:1 1). The Seed of the woman traversed the realms of death but was not captured by the enemy. Instead, He conquered the enemy. Thank God the Saviour came.

(5) HE CAME TO RESCUE THE WHOLE CREATION

The Incarnation of the eternal Son is part of the divine plan. That plan comprehends a goal, and God assures the accomplishment of it. Though the salvation of man was God’s chief concern, His plan was never limited to the world of mankind. It is written of the eternal Son, who was with God and who is God, that “all things were made by Him” (John 1:3). Paul writes, ”For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth” (Colossians 1:28). Man was higher than all other created beings in the earth, and other creatures were subject to him. However, after the fall this condition changed. Now if man is to have dominion over the beasts, he must first capture them at the risk of his own life, and then imprison them until they are tamed. All of this resulted from the fall.

But the question is, Will God restore again to man the dominion which he lost through the fall? The prophet said, ”The wolf also shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cocatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9). Indeed, it appears that the prophet here is looking beyond to a time of rescue and restoration of the earth and all of its creatures.

The cruelty of beasts was not the order before sin entered. Such discord among God’s creatures has sprung from the sinfulness of man and is a necessary part of the curse. To remove this curse and rescue God’s creation is one of the purposes of the Incarnation. When Christ comes back to reign and “the government shall be upon His shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6), then the sons of God will be manifested and will share with Him in a restored creation. If it were not so, then all of animated nature would remain spoiled by Satan. But God has said, “In that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground” (Hosea 2:18). Yes, God will “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him” (Ephesians 1:10). At that day our blessed Lord will “reconcile all things unto Himself’ (Colossians 1:20).

Many Christians fail to see that this redemptive work, wrought through the Incarnation of the Son of God, is wider than the salvation of human beings and that it affects the whole creation. The Apostle Paul writes, “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:19-23). Here we are told that the deliverance of the whole creation will be revealed at the manifestation of the sons of God.

All creation lies in hope (expectancy) of a rescue from present corruption and of deliverance to that place God gave it in the beginning. Nature is now under the curse of sin, groaning and travailing in pain. It is not what it was at first. Nor is it now what it will be when the incarnate Son returns to “put all things in subjection under His feet” (see Hebrews 2:5-9). Before Adam sinned, no savage beasts, no desert wastes, no thorns and thistles existed; but when he fell, all creation fell with him. Now that the Son of God has come and purchased redemption by His death at Calvary, the whole creation must be rescued from the curse, and restored to its original state.

(6) HE CAME TO RESTORE ISRAEL

Any reader of the Old Testament cannot escape the clear teaching that the Messiah was promised to Israel. Of this the prophets spoke and wrote. The Jew had great advantages. “Unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). Theirs was “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Romans 9:4). None can deny that from the call of Abraham (Genesis 12:1) to the Babylonian captivity under Nebuchadnezzar (606 B.C.), authority in the earth and divine representation was vested in the Jew. It is common information that since the overthrow of Jerusalem and the transfer of dominion in the earth to the Gentiles, Israel, as a nation, has not held authority in the earth.

When Jesus Christ, the Word, “was made flesh,” “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11, 14). ”His citizens hated Him, and sent a message after Him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). In blind unbelief the children of Abraham, refusing to recognize or receive Him, drove Him from their midst and crucified Him. After His resurrection and ascension He revealed to the apostles this mystery. No longer did Israel have priority on the truth, but the message was to be spread abroad to every creature and, during the present dispensation of grace, God would visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name (Acts 15:14).

When Christ came the first time He traversed Palestine proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). He opened the door into the kingdom, but only the regenerated could enter. Were the people ready to receive the kingdom, the King would establish it. However, the offer of the kingdom met with an ever-increasing opposition, and our Lord withdrew the offer for that time. He said to the Jews, ”Therefore say I unto you, The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21:43). There was no mistaking what the Lord Jesus meant, for the chief priests and Pharisees “perceived that He spake of them” (vs. 45).

Israel is still set aside, but only temporarily. The Apostle Paul writes, ”I say then, Hath God cast away His people? God forbid . . . God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew . . . For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:1, 2, 25).

Anti-Semitism, raging throughout the world today, might lead one to question the future restoration of the Jew. Yet we know that both national restoration and national regeneration for the Jew are a definite part of the plan of God. Israel is not beyond recovery; she is not irretrievably lost. By her fall the whole world was blessed with the message of salvation. A national tragedy resulted in an international triumph. ”And so all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 10:26). The Jew lives in a dark present with a bright future before him. When our Lord said in Matthew 21:43, that “the kingdom shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof,” He was not referring to any Gentile nation but to regenerated Israel.

God gave Palestine to the Jews unconditionally as a possession and a dwelling place (Genesis 12: 1-3). He wants them there. That the Jews would be scattered is plainly taught in the Word of God, but coupled with such teaching are the assertions that they will also be regathered. Study Hosea 3:4,5 and see plainly the scattering and the gathering with the period between. (See also Ezekiel 36: 19,24). The Word became flesh and tabernacled among them once (John 1:14). That same holy One, the incarnate Christ, will come again to tabernacle with Israel. Study, for example, such passages as Isaiah 12:1-6Joel 2:26, 27Zephaniah 3:14-17Zechariah 8:3-8. Already modern inventions have revolutionized Palestine and its surrounding territory. This fact, coupled with the thought of the vast area granted by God to Abraham 1Genesis 15: 18), will assure any interested person that there is ample room in the Holy Land to hold all Jews.

While the Jews continue to return to the Land, all signs point to the return of the incarnate Son, the One who is both human and Divine, and the One in whom God’s purposes for Israel are to be fulfilled. According to prophecy, the incarnate One, Immanuel, the virgin’s Son, is to occupy David’s throne. ”For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6, 7). Let us rejoice to see that day approaching.

(7) HE CAME TO REIGN

When the Incarnation had been announced, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:1, 2). They were wise men indeed, for they were followers of the truth of God. When the Old Testament prophets wrote of Messiah’s offices, they included that of King. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation: lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). David wrote of Christ and His kingdom when he recorded the words of God, “Yet have I set My king upon My holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6). Our Lord is not only Prophet, and Priest, but also Potentate.

In studying the purposes of the Incarnation we are forced to the scriptural observation that the eternal Son became Man in order that He might be King of the earth. Paul wrote that “God hath highly exalted Him” (Philippians 2:9). We dare not limit the exaltation of Christ as some try to do. We acquiesce with those who teach that the steps in Christ’s exaltation were His resurrection, ascension, and His sitting at the right hand of God. But such teaching does not go far enough. Study carefully Philippians 2:5-11, and you will see that the steps in our Lord’s humiliation were temporary steps leading to a permanent exaltation, culminating with the bowing of every knee and the confessing of every tongue in heaven and in earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The incarnate Son is to appear in His resurrection body and is to sit on the throne of His glory. Jesus Himself spoke of the day “when the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him; then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory” (Matthew 25:31). John writes, ”Every eye shall see Him” (Revelation 1:7). The prophetic utterance spoken by God to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 concerning David’s seed having an everlasting throne and kingdom, has a double fulfillment. Primarily it referred to Solomon’s temple. Ultimately and finally it speaks of Christ’s earthly reign as Zechariah 6:12 shows. The day must come when all things will be subjected unto Him (I Corinthians 15:28).

The Psalmist spoke of His throne as an enduring throne (Psalm 89:4, 29, 36). God promises that this earthly throne and kingdom are to continue forever, and that the One to occupy it shall be David’s seed, his rightful Son (I Chronicles 17:11). The genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 will support the relationship of Jesus Christ to David. During our Lord’s earthly ministry, those who sought His help called Him “the son of David” (see Matthew 9:27Mark 10:47Luke 18:38).

Christ’s kingdom is literal, therefore it cannot be realized apart from the Incarnation. Such a kingdom men have been trying to establish for centuries, but nations are farther from realizing it today than ever before. A perfect kingdom demands a perfect King. At the end of the conflict of the ages, Jesus Christ, the God-Man will return to earth to establish His righteous kingdom which will never be destroyed. His kingdom of glory, and His throne in the midst, was God’s first promise through the mouth of the angel Gabriel to Mary, and it links together the Incarnation and reign of the Son of God, ”And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).

When the King comes, then will His perfect will be done in earth as it is in heaven. This is a blessed truth not without history or hope. The day will surely come when all men will see the revelation of the glory of holiness and joy in the earth. But His reign awaits His return to carry away His Bride, the Church. Everything has been deferred until He gathers her unto Himself. It may be at any moment that the last soul will be added to the Church, and then He will come.

This meditation in no wise exhausts the divine purposes of the Incarnation. Others have written at greater length and, doubtless, we could do likewise. But one thing more must be said. The supreme purpose in the eternal Son’s coming into the world was to glorify the Father. In His great intercessory prayer, Jesus said, “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gayest Me to do” (John 17:4). God had been glorified in creation, in the remarkable deliverances of His people, and in the exercise of His power over His enemies, but at no time had He been glorified like this. God could never have been glorified if the Son would have failed in His earthly mission in the smallest degree. But the Lord Jesus could say, “I have finished the work which Thou gayest Me to do.” Nothing was left undone, and in everything He did, the Son had the Father’s glory in view. He glorified the Father; His earthly mission was complete.

And now to all of us who have been redeemed by His precious blood, the Apostle Paul writes: “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:20).

SOURCE: https://bible.org/article/why-god-became-man (May 27, 2004)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lehman Strauss taught Old Testament history for eight years at Philadelphia Bible Institute, and served as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church, Bristol, Pennsylvania, from 1939 to 1957.

He was pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church (Highland Park, Michigan) until the end of 1963 when he resigned to devote full time to an itinerant Bible conference and evangelistic ministry both in the States and abroad. Dr. Strauss was residing in Florida and writing his 19th book at age 86 when the Lord called him home in June 1997.

 

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