Living in Light of Two Ages
Were The Jews Expecting a Divine Messiah?
This week on the White Horse Inn Michael Horton talks with New Testament scholar, Craig Evans. Craig is the Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College of Acadia University in Nova Scotia. He is the author of numerous books including Jesus & His World and the Holman Quicksource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
On this episode we explore the messianic expectations of first century Judaism. What were the Jews expecting the Messiah would come to do? Was he merely to be human? Or was he to be angelic or divine? How have the Dead Sea Scrolls altered our conception of the first century context or even the New Testament? What parallels exist that would seem to point to the fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth? Join us as we look at the messianic parallels between the Melchizedek Scroll and the Book of Hebrews on the White Horse Inn.
One of the conundrums raised by the dispensational understanding of end-times is explaining why the United States of America is not mentioned in biblical prophecy.
Greg Laurie is one of the latest to offer an explanation as to why America is not mentioned in connection with end-times (America's Inevitable Collapse),
In a November 30 sermon entitled "Israel, Iran, ISIS and Bible Prophecy," Laurie preached that Christians are now living in the "last days" before the fulfillment of various End Times prophecies laid out in the Bible book of Revelations. Current events such as Israel establishing itself as a nation, Russia alignment with Iran and the rise of Islamic extremism, he said, are setting the stage for a predicted conflict in which the world's forces turns against Israel.
One force that will be missing during that conflict, Laurie says, is the United States of America. "[As] the forces of antichrist emerge, I believe that America will fade from the scene." Putting the United States in the context of Scripture, he explained, "We are not found in the End Times scenario."
Laurie believes that America's absence in the global map described in the Revelations can be explained by one of two scenarios. "No one can say with certainty, but it would appear that we're going to fade as a world power [because] maybe we fall in line as one of the confederated nations under the antichrist but the version I prefer the most is we would have the rapture and so many Americans would be taken to heaven that that would be the explanation for our demise as a nation."
The article goes on to explain,
The California pastor quoted Bible passages and former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to show that the Great Tribulation is at hand.
"Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was quoted recently stating that the world is experiencing 'historic defining times that will result in a new world order' while questioning America's role in the emerging world. Elaborating further Hagel said 'This is a time of global transformation. We are essentially seeing a new world order evolving and being built. I don't think we've seen such a time since right after World War II.'"
He summed, "I don't know what Defense Secretary Hagel meant by that but I believe a new world order is coming."
Since the United States is supposedly missing from the new world order, an explanation must be offered. According to Laurie, America will be weakened and enter into an alliance with the Antichrist, or else greatly weakened by so many Christians being taken away in the Rapture. The usual explanation given for America's massive decline, is our nation's current moral, economic, and political situation. Laurie doesn't go there.
Although Laurie believes that America is missing, Russia, Iran, Sudan, and Israel are specifically mentioned. This is based upon the usual dispensational misreading of Ezekiel 38-39 (A Russian-Iranian End-Times Alliance?).
Israel's future is discussed by Paul in the New Testament (in Romans 9-11), but in that passage, Paul speaks of the future of Israel in terms of the Jews as a race living after the first coming of Christ. Furthermore, Paul's discussion takes place in light of God's larger redemptive purposes until the Lord returns a second time. If dispensationalism is correct, you would think that in the one passage where Paul speaks of Israel's future, the Apostle would make mention of Israel's return to the land in Palestine. He doesn't. In fact, Paul makes no mention of a "golden-age" millennium occurring either before or after Christ comes back. He makes no reference to Jesus returning to occupy David's throne in Jerusalem (a key feature of the dispensational understanding of the millennium).
The reason why America is not specifically mentioned in Bible prophecy is because there are no specific nations mentioned in biblical prophecy! Israel is spoken of only in terms of the Jewish race, (i.e., true Israel, the believing remnant, and "all Israel") but not as the modern nation we know in the Middle East.
The great irony in all of this is that although dispensationalists are patriotic citizens and fellow believers, their eschatology pushes them to anticipate (if not root for) the decline of America so that Christ can return. The irony is greater still when we consider that many dispensationalists (certainly not all) are "Christian America" folk who mistakenly believe that America has a national covenant with God, much like Israel possessed in the Sinai Covenant. So, God must "cut-off" America, in order to bring about a new world order, and then allow Russia, Iran, and Sudan to invade Israel, at or about the time of the Rapture and the tribulation.
It is a shame that none of this is taught in Scripture. It does make for a good story, and it surely sells many books. America's absence from the end-times even explains, to the satisfaction of many, why Barack Obama is ruining America--after all, he's fulfilling biblical prophecy!
Greg Laurie, however, holds out hope that so many Americans will become Christians that when the Rapture occurs, America will be seriously weakened and will not be a player in the new world order. This is a less-politically oriented view than is usually offered, but ends up making Greg Laurie a postmillennial, dispensational, premillennarian.
Now that is ironic!
On several occasions of late, I've made reference to the Roman emperor Claudius (10 B.C.-54 A.D.) who ruled from 45-54 A.D.
Several "edicts" of Claudius lie in the background of New Testament history. One, of course, is the edict in which Claudius ordered the Jews expelled from Rome in 49 A. D. (as recounted in Acts 18:2). Another edict from Claudius (or perhaps a consequence of the first) lies behind Peter's "exile theology" of his first epistle. Those Christians receiving Peter's epistle from Rome were either re-settled to, or had been displaced throughout the five regions in Asia Minor which are mentioned in 1 Peter 1:2.
Claudius' life story is rather remarkable (The Life of Claudius). Garret Fagan describes him as follows,
[Claudius] had a cruel streak, as suggested by his addiction to gladiatorial games and his fondness for watching his defeated opponents executed. He conducted closed-door (in camera ) trials of leading citizens that frequently resulted in their ruin or deaths -- an unprecedented and tyrannical pattern of behavior. He had his wife Messalina executed, and he personally presided over a kangaroo court in the Praetorian Camp in which many of her hangers-on lost their lives. He abandoned his own son Britannicus to his fate and favored the advancement of Nero as his successor. While he cannot be blamed for the disastrous way Nero's rule turned out, he must take some responsibility for putting that most unsuitable youth on the throne. At the same time, his reign was marked by some notable successes: the invasion of Britain, stability and good government in the provinces, and successful management of client kingdoms. Claudius, then, is a more enigmatic figure than the other Julio-Claudian emperors: at once careful, intelligent, aware and respectful of tradition, but given to bouts of rage and cruelty, willing to sacrifice precedent to expediency, and utterly ruthless in his treatment of those who crossed him. Augustus's suspicion that there was more to the timid Claudius than met the eye was more than fully borne out by the events of his unexpected reign.
Shane was on Issues, Etc. earlier this week, discussing the future of the Mega-Church.
Of late, I've been reading and reflecting a fair bit upon the long-term impact of World War One, especially the religious and geo-political implications of the Great War.
In the essay linked below, former Reagan budget director, David Stockman, offers a rather bleak assessment of the legacy of President Woodrow Wilson, focusing upon the far-reaching but unintended consequences of World War One.
In steering the USA into a European war, Stockman contends, Wilson did not make the world safe for democracy, but actually ensured the rise of National Socialism in Germany, along with the rise of Bolshevism in Russia, and the pro-war nationalists in Britain and France--thereby guaranteeing a second world war. Stockman also argues that the Great Depression is the inevitable blow-back from Wilson's risky monetary policies to finance the war.
In The Epochal Consequences of Woodrow Wilson's War, Stockman contends,
[Wilson's] unforgiveable error was to put the United States into the Great War for utterly no good reason of national interest. The European war posed not an iota of threat to the safety and security of the citizens of Lincoln NE, or Worcester MA or Sacramento CA. In that respect, Wilson’s putative defense of “freedom of the seas” and the rights of neutrals was an empty shibboleth; his call to make the world safe for democracy, a preposterous pipe dream.
Actually, his thinly veiled reason for plunging the US into the cauldron of the Great War was to obtain a seat at the peace conference table——so that he could remake the world in response to god’s calling.
But this was a world about which he was blatantly ignorant; a task for which he was temperamentally unsuited; and an utter chimera based on 14 points that were so abstractly devoid of substance as to constitute mental play dough.
Or, as his alter-ego and sycophant, Colonel House, put it: Intervention positioned Wilson to play “The noblest part that has ever come to the son of man”. America thus plunged into Europe’s carnage, and forevermore shed its century-long Republican tradition of anti-militarism and non-intervention in the quarrels of the Old World.
Needless to say, there was absolutely nothing noble that came of Wilson’s intervention. It led to a peace of vengeful victors, triumphant nationalists and avaricious imperialists—-when the war would have otherwise ended in a bedraggled peace of mutually exhausted bankrupts and discredited war parties on both sides.
By so altering the course of history, Wilson’s war bankrupted Europe and midwifed 20th century totalitarianism in Russia and Germany.
These developments, in turn, eventually led to the Great Depression, the Welfare State and Keynesian economics, World War II, the holocaust, the Cold War, the permanent Warfare State and its military-industrial complex.
The Seventeenth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
You knew it was bound to happen–sooner or later in our series on the Gospel of John we would come to eschatology. As we will see in our text (John 5:19-29), eschatology is a very important theme in John’s Gospel. Through his signs and wonders, Jesus has identified and proven himself to be the redeemer promised throughout the Old Testament. The redemption to be brought about by our Lord extends beyond the salvation of our souls to include the redemption of our bodies. Jesus has clearly identified himself as Israel’s Messiah who has come to do the will of his Father so as to fulfill all righteousness. This is why Jesus works on the Sabbath, because his Father works on the Sabbath. And what the Father does, Jesus does. Now we learn that the Father has given Jesus the power to give new life and raise the dead. And the resurrection of the dead, of course, is at the very heart of Christian eschatology.
As we saw in the first 18 verses of John 5 (our text last time), at some point Jesus left the Galilee region and returned to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. While in Jerusalem and passing by the pools of Bethesda, Jesus instantaneously and miraculously healed a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. Sadly, the former invalid showed no gratitude whatsoever at what Jesus had done for him. When the man stood up and carried his bedroll as Jesus commanded him to do, the man was accused of being a law-breaker by the Jewish authorities because he dared to carry his bedroll on the Sabbath. While such an act was not a violation of the biblical commandment to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest unto the Lord, it was a violation of Jewish tradition which identified thirty-nine specific types of work which were supposedly a violation of the Sabbath commandment. Apparently, moving a bedroll on the Sabbath was one of them.
When confronted about his supposed violation of the Sabbath commandment, the former invalid, in turn, directed the Jewish leaders to Jesus. According to John 5:15 and following, “the man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.” John does not give us any specifics, but based upon the fact that the Jews, apparently, had been persecuting Jesus for some time because he “worked” on the Sabbath, at the very least this implies that the incident reported in the first 18 verses of John 5 was only the latest in a string of heated encounters between Jesus and the Jews over proper Sabbath observance.
We don’t know what the Jews said to Jesus, only what Jesus said to them. We read in verse 17, “but Jesus answered them, `My Father is working until now, and I am working.’” According to the creation account God created for six days and rested on the seventh. The Jews of Jesus’ day understood full well that God worked on the Sabbath because as creator of all things, God also sustained all things. God did not take Saturday off. The work of providence continues 24/7. The Jews understood this point, and this was not even an issue. But in the minds of the Jewish leaders, Jesus was a Sabbath-breaker because he “worked” on the Sabbath in a way which was forbidden according to their tradition. Despite the fact that a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years was healed and his life restored to him, the Jews angrily declared of this healing, “it is not lawful.” We read not of a word of praise unto the Lord.
To read the rest of this sermon: Click Here
I am privileged to be the guest speaker for a conference on "Amillennialism" on this coming Friday and Saturday, January 23-24, 1015, at Grace Church (PCA) in Sierra Vista, AZ. I'll also be preaching on Sunday, January 25.
If you live in the area (or know anyone who does, and who might be interested, here's the conference info: Grace Church, Amillennialism Conference
Thanks to all the folks at Grace PCA for your hospitality!
If you live in the Sierra Vista area (or know anyone who does) and are looking for a good church, send them to Grace PCA!
Pastor Ken Roth is an old friend (from the Cure Academy days).
Sunday Morning (February 1): We return to our sermon series on 2 Peter and Jude. This coming Lord's Day we will take up Peter's warning about false teachers and false prophets in 2 Peter 2:1-10a. Our Lord's Day worship service begins at 10:30 a.m.
Sunday Afternoon: I am continuing my series on the Canons of Dort, and this Lord's Day we are working our way through the Fifth Head of Doctrine (articles 6-7). We will discuss the unpardonable sin. Our catechism service begins @ 1:15 p.m.
Wednesday Night Bible Study (January 28): As we continue our series on Romans, we come to Romans 14 and Paul's discussion of Christian liberty.
The Academy (January 30): The Academy resumes this Friday and we will return to our study of Michael Horton's The Christian Faith. We will pick up where we left up previously--chapter eight, p. 278, and Michael's discussion of the Holy Trinity.
For more information and directions, check out the Christ Reformed website: Christ Reformed Church