More on the dual fulfilment of prophecy

June 17th, 2013 by Tony 2 comments »

 

We have noted the “Now and the Not Yet” of biblical prophecy. This speaks of lesser and greater fulfilments of prophecy.

We have also noted that early in Holy Week Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple (which was brought about by the Romans 40 years later in AD70). But he also prophesied the End Times and urged his disciples to look out for both early (recurring) and later signs of his Return (see Matthew 24). We then quoted various scholars who agree with this interpretation. 

 

Jesus’ prophecies here are typical of biblical prophecy:

·         Prophecy can have an early and a later fulfillment.

·         Prophecy can “concertina” future events widely separated in time to appear close together.

 

There are other examples of the dual reference of biblical prophecy:

 

1.      Joel 2:28-3:2 is seen as a prediction of the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2: “And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”  But the prophecy goes on beyond the Day of Pentecost to the future day of the Lord: “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls ‘In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel, because they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land.”

 

2.      Sometimes people, events or statements in the Old Testament are seen as symbolizing and prefiguring Jesus, and events in the New Testament. Traditionally the Old Testament symbol or prefiguring has been called a “type” and the New Testament equivalent the “antitype”. So Jesus sees Jonah as a “type” of himself and his death and resurrection: “He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here” (Matt 12:39-42).

 

3.      A similar approach is described in the IVP NT Commentary series, referring to Jesus on the Mount of Olives speaking of both AD70 and the still future End of the Age in Luke 21. It refers to how divine history was read by the Jews, as well as by the prophets in the 1st century AD.

“The belief was that God’s judgment followed certain patterns. How he judged in one era resembled how he would judge in another. Because God’s character was unchanging and because he controlled history, such patterns could be noted. Thus deliverance in any era was compared to the exodus. One event mirrored another. Exilic judgments, whether Assyrian or Babylonian, were described in similar terms. This ‘mirror’ or ‘pattern’ interpretation of history has been called a typological-prophetic reading of the text, with the ‘type’ reflecting a basic pattern in God’s activity. This way of reading history sees events as linked and mirroring one another. Sometimes the events are described in such a way that we modern readers would not readily notice that distinct events are being discussed. Sometimes a text offers clarifying reflection after more events detailing God’s program have been revealed.

Jesus’ eschatological discourse links together two such events, the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the events of the end signaling his return to earth. Because the events are patterned after one another and mirror one another, some of Jesus’ language applies to both.”[i]

 

However, some scholars are critical of the idea of the dual reference of biblical prophecy. Some of this has been focused on Isa 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  This was an immediate historical reference. King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel had attacked Jerusalem and the Lord spoke to King Ahaz of Judah through Isaiah, urging him to seek a sign that he (the Lord) would protect him. But Ahaz refused ‘to put the Lord to the test.’ Isaiah said this refusal was trying the patience of God and the Lord would give him a sign. Such a sign would be fulfilled within a year or two. The word “virgin” could be translated “young woman” and the name Immanuel could be another name for Isaiah’s son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, whose birth is recorded in Isaiah 8:3, see 8:8.

 

Matthew understands Isa 7:14 as predicting the virgin birth of Jesus: “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matt 1:22-23).

Some scholars say this is not a second fulfilment but it is Matthew using Isa 7:14 as a parallel, an association of ideas. This would have been quite an acceptable thing to do in Matthew’s day. The same could be said of 1 Cor 14:21 “In the Law it is written: ‘With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’”  Paul is, of course, referring to speaking in tongues and he is quoting Isa 28:11-12. But Isaiah is saying God will “speak” to rebellious Israel through the Assyrians, i.e. through an invasion by Assyria. It does not seem likely that Isaiah had in mind what the New Testament calls ‘speaking in tongues.’

Andrew Perriman writes about Jesus reference in Matthew 24 back to the prophet Daniel (for example Matthew 24:30 and Daniel 7:13) and says this is not a case of two fulfilments but “that Jesus would have understood perfectly well the original historical frame of reference [in Daniel’s day] but intentionally re-uses the symbolism to interpret an analogous state of affairs [in the 1st century AD] …. Jesus, therefore, does what prophets often do: they retell biblical stories and arguments in a new context in order to give faithful but troubled Israel understanding and hope …. He saw the historical relevance of the analogy and creatively retold Israel’s story, centred on himself, in light of it. That cannot be understood to mean that Daniel 7-12 intrinsically has two fulfilments. Nor does it mean that we can take any prophecy willy-nilly and claim that whatever relevance it may have had under the particular historical conditions of the first three centuries, it still has relevance for the church today. That cannot be ruled out, but it must be done with prophetic and scriptural discrimination.[ii]

Perriman believes that Matthew 24 refers only to the AD30-70 period which, as I have already said, I believe to be a mistaken view. However he does allow for biblical prophecies to have “relevance to the church today” so long as the relevance is worked out “with prophetic and scriptural discrimination.”

 

Professor John Walton[iii] makes some interesting comments. He is quite clear that, strictly from the point of view of language, there is no strong argument for understanding the Hebrew word in Isa 7:14 as “virgin.” He goes on to point out that in ancient Israel prophecy, as a word from God, was regarded as not just predicting a future event but as having an important effect on the future. This effect would not necessarily be foreseen by the prophet. It would develop as time progressed. So Isaiah wouldn’t necessarily have foreseen the virgin birth and the child who really was “God with us” but he would have been quite happy with Matthew’s use of his prophecy. Isaiah would have expected that the fulfilment of his prophecy might have developed

Peter speaks of this – Old Testament prophets expecting a major future fulfilment but not knowing what it would be. He was referring primarily to prophecies like Isaiah 53. Peter writes: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

However, it must be borne in mind that the New Testament writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit to interpret the Old Testament prophecies as they did. We must be very careful if we do the same because we don’t have that special inspiration.

A good number of scholars do accept the dual fulfilment of prophecy. Professor R V G Tasker, speaking of the Virgin Birth, says Matthew “is led to see in it a fulfilment of the words spoken by God through His prophet and recorded in Isaiah vii. 14. …. this prophecy was in fact more far-reaching than the prophet himself was aware.” It was not limited to the historical fulfilment in the 8th century BC.[iv] Professor Herman Ridderbos says Isaiah was not speaking of a miraculous birth but that nevertheless the prophecy obtained its essential fulfilment in Christ.

 

Commenting on Ridderbos, Professor G C Berkouwer wrote: “Thus the event in Mathew 1 (this birth) is not simply a “coming true” of an earlier prediction but a fulfillment which, on the one hand, is related to the faith in Ahaz’ day and with the name “Immanuel.”[v]

Speaking of the Book of Revelation, Professor Robert Mounce writes: “The predictions of John, while expressed in terms reflecting his own culture, will find their final and complete fulfillment in the last days of history. Although John saw the Roman Empire as the great beast that threatened the extinction of the church, there will be in the last days an eschatological beast who will sustain the same relationship with the church of the great tribulation. It is this eschatological beast, portrayed in type by Rome, that the Apocalypse describes. Otto Piper notes that many modern interpreters overlook the distinction between the historical fulfillment of prophecy and its eschatological fulfillment. The pattern of imperceptible transition from type to antitype was already established by the Olivet Discourse, in which the fall of Jerusalem becomes in its complete fulfillment the end of the age.”[vi]

 

It seems quite acceptable to believe in the dual fulfilment of biblical prophecy whilst accepting that the Old Testament prophets did not necessarily have the second (main) fulfilment in mind, even though they may have been “trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing.” However the New Testament writers, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recognised the second fulfilment. The same thing applies to New Testament prophecies. The writers made predictions which sometimes referred to 1st century events and did not necessarily have a second major fulfilment in mind. Similarly Jesus made predictions which his hearers may have applied only to 1st century events. But it is clear that some of these predictions do have a second major fulfilment which is still future. We have to be careful, though, in seeking a correct understanding of these predictions.



[ii] Andrew Perriman, How many times is a prophecy fulfilled? http://www.postost.net/2010/10/how-many-times-prophecy-fulfilled

[iii] John H Walton, Isa 7:14: What’s in a name? Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, (September 1987) 289-306,  http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/30/30-3/30-3-pp289-306_JETS.pdf

[iv] R V G Tasker, The Gospel according to Matthew, Tyndale, London, 1961, p. 34.

[v] G C Berkouwer, The Work of Christ, Studies in Dogmatics Eerdmans Grand Rapids 1965, p. 115

[vi] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the NT, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 1977, p. 44f

My attitude towards Islam and Muslims

June 15th, 2013 by Tony No comments »

 

Our attitude towards Muslims in Britain is a sensitive issue and so I want my position on the matter to be very clear.

I believe we must treat Muslims with respect and kindness. In other words, we must love our Muslim neighbour. It is wrong to be anti-Muslim. Islamophobia is to be deplored and racism is contemptible. I have had a lot to do with Muslims:

·         I have been involved in dialogue with Muslims on several occasions at a British university. I observed their worship and found it quite moving at times.

·         I spoke by invitation at the Muslim College in Ealing, London.

·         Whilst Rector of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem I reached out in reconciliation to local Muslims, inviting them to a reception and on another occasion sending many of them a card marking the Muslim New Year.

·         I have had dialogue with an imam who is a Professor of Islamic Studies.

·         I also run an international mailing list which encourages prayer for justice for the Palestinians (most of whom are Muslims) alongside prayer for Israel.

 

I mention all this to back up my statement that I am not anti-Muslim. In fact, I respect Muslims and enjoy conversation and dialogue with them. It is true that there are Islamist extremists but most Muslims are peaceful people.

 

However, respecting Muslims does not rule out making reasonable criticism of Islam. To try to forbid such criticism as Islamophobic is wrong. I am well aware that right wing and right of centre sources criticise Muslims and Islam from political, Islamophobic and sometimes racist motives.  I do not approve of that and would feel profoundly unhappy about being associated with it.

 

Obviously, Muslims and Christians disagree. We disagree over fundamental issues such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the fact that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. The Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) is fundamentally contradictory to the Christian view. It is true that Muslims believe Jesus will return one day, but this is the Muslim Jesus not the Christian Jesus. Therefore, from a Christian point of view, this is a false Christ. That is a theological disagreement not an anti-Muslim (let alone Islamophobic) comment.

 

Similarly it is not anti-Muslim (or Islamophobic) to express concern that Christianity and its influence on society is waning seriously and Islam and its influence on society is growing quite strongly. Clearly, as a Christian I want society to be influenced by a Christian view of Jesus (and eternal salvation through him) not a Muslim view. That is a theological disagreement with Islam, not a statement against Muslims. As a Christian evangelist I would also love Muslims to come to know the true Jesus and salvation through him.

 

This position does not, of course, rule out friendship and co-operation on community issues. Nor does it rule out respectful and honest dialogue.

Signs of the End (Outline)

June 15th, 2013 by Tony 2 comments »

 

I have recently defended my understanding of Jesus’ teaching on the signs of the End Times in Matthew 24, including by quoting various scholars. Here is an outline of Jesus’ teaching (plus a little from Paul and Revelation):

 

We might call the preliminary signs “Reminders of the End” because they are repeated and Jesus said when we see them “The End is not yet.” However they can and should remind us that the End is coming. Obviously when they occur, our first concern should be to pray and show compassion for those adversely affected by the occurrences.

       I.            THE PRELIMINARY (REPEATED) SIGNS (OR REMINDERS OF THE END)

                Wars, uprisings (Matt 24:6-18)

                Famines (Matt 24:6-18)

                Earthquakes (Matt 24:6-18)

                Pestilences (Luke 21:11)

    II.            THE INTERMEDIATE SIGNS

Persecution (Mt 24:9ff)

Turning away from the faith (Mt 24:10)

False prophets and messiahs (Mt 24:11, 24)

Worldwide evangelism (Mt 24:14)

 

 III.            THE IMMINENT SIGNS

Cosmic disturbances (Mt 24:29)

The Jewish people regaining control of Jerusalem (Lk 21:24).

The rebellion and deceptive ‘signs and wonders’ of the man of lawlessness (Antichrist) who proclaims himself to be God (2 Thess 2:1-12)

The sudden financial collapse of the world system (‘Babylon’) (Rev 18)

 

As you may know, I have written an important article on all this, entitled “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” which is available at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf. It is a quite long article, so I plan to summarise it on Facebook for the benefit of those who might find that helpful. This will be my policy, to put articles on the blog and summaries on Facebook.

However, from time to time I will comment on current events relating them to the signs of the End, because that is what Jesus encouraged us to do. The first one is now written and I will add a description of it very soon.

Current Events June 2013

June 8th, 2013 by Tony No comments »

 

I don’t believe Christians are called to be unduly negative, or to be paranoid or to jump to critical conclusions about society whilst longing for the ‘good old days’ which actually weren’t quite so good.  But nor do I believe we are called to be naive and undiscerning.

There is much that is good in the world: creation itself, human love in all its manifestations, much of human culture and human research. Science, medicine and technology often makes our lives better than the ‘good old days.’  Good government, national and international, as well as NGOs and charities make the world a better place. The church is growing in many non-western nations and there are bright spots even in the west. There is some good Christian leadership and a lot of courageous, even sacrificial, Christian discipleship.

However, there are also some very serious trends and developments which Christians, who are amongst other things called to be prophetic, cannot ignore. [I recommend that this article be read with my article “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” which is at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf].

Post-Christian Britain

 

Britain is an increasingly post-Christian country. We are seeing massive decline in Christian belief. We need to remember that turning away from the faith is a sign of the End Times. That doesn’t mean that the End is about to happen because other things have to take place too. But we need to keep watching for the signs and reminders Jesus taught about.

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times in March 2013 found that:

·         Only 30% believe in God (although 21% who don’t believe in God believe in a higher power) [The 2012 ComRes/Theos Cathedral Study figures were 36% and 14% respectively]

·         66% of Britons think religion is not important

·         Only 29% think the UK is a religious country

·         Only 7% only say they attend a place of worship weekly [The 2008 ComRes/Theos Darwin study said 10%]

·         Only 30% believe Jesus was the Son of God

·         Only 31% believe in the resurrection of Jesus (cp some 50% in the 1990s and 2000s)

·         69% think the Church of England is out of touch (including 53% of Christians).

Other research revealed that 5.3 million fewer British-born people called themselves Christians – a decline of 15% in a decade.  The 2011 National Census 2011 found that between 2001 and 2011 the number of people calling themselves Christians fell by 4.1 million. Peter Brierley’s research has the number of people calling themselves Christians reducing by 6% i.e. a third of a million per year.

Gay marriage

 

Little wonder, then, that we have crossed a Rubicon by approving gay marriage. (Some people think the decision could still be torpedoed, but this seems unlikely). I am not getting involved in the debate over homosexual sexual behaviour (having campaigned about it for some 15 years in the 1980s and 90s). My views are recorded in http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/biblehomosexualpractice.pdf and http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/homosexualityandthechurch.pdf. But this decision is a very serious error as I have pointed out in http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=237.

It is contrary to the fundamental meaning of marriage because it is obvious that marriage is related to procreation. Children need a father and a mother. Even though there are many single parent families where the parent does an excellent job that is not the ideal situation. Children need the input of both loving male and female role models. Research shows that children benefit most from being in a family led by biological parents of both sexes who are in a loving relationship. Approval of ‘gay marriage’ will undermine the institution of marriage. It re-defines marriage as basically about emotional fulfilment of adults rather than about procreation and the care and nurture of children. And such an emotional definition of marriage will lead to even more marital breakdown – when the positive feelings decline.

These considerations are bad enough but the worst thing is the breathtaking and ill-thought-out arrogance of our politicians in rejecting the “givenness” of marriage which has been recognised by society and by all religions through the millennia. Marriage is ordained by God and David Cameron and the majority of MPs and Lords have taken it out of God’s hands and radically changed it. I wonder what they will say, especially Cameron, when they meet God, as they will one day have to answer to him for their behaviour (as we all will).

It is clear from recent history that such legislation tends to lead to new evils. Divorce law was changed because women were so oppressed but the long term effect is divorce on demand and massive breakdown of marriage. Abortion law was amended to prevent women having to go to dangerous back street abortionists. But the long term effect is abortion on demand with hundreds of thousands of unborn humans being killed. Homosexuality was merely legalised in 1967 but it has led on to the serious situation in which we are now.

Now marriage has been radically changed despite it being wrong, and unnecessary (as even some of the gay lobby have said) and it will lead not only to the damage outlined above but to calls for legitimization of multi-partner sexual relationships or “small group marriages.” There are people practising and advocating “polyamory [several/many loves], polygamy, polyandry, ….  multipartner relationships, sharing their mates with others, open marriage, and/or group marriage.” Judith Stacey, Professor of Sociology and Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies at the University of Southern California advocates polyamory and group marriages (of any number or gender). If gay marriage is approved on the basis of removing discrimination, why should these other practices not be approved, to remove discrimination from those who want them?

UPDATE

I have already said the same-sex marriage decision will have very serious consequences including being a major cause of oppression – even eventually persecution – of Christians who oppose it (a good eschatological theme). Today I read the Independent newspaper which is very supportive of same-sex marriage. They cover a new Centre for Social Justice report:

“Some of the poorest parts of the country are becoming ‘men deserts’, the report found, because there are so few visible male role models for children …. One of the problems is the dearth of male teachers in primary schools …. For children growing up in some of the poorest parts of the country, men are rarely encountered in the home or in the classroom … This is an ignored form of deprivation that can have profoundly damaging consequences on social and mental development …. There are ‘men deserts’ in many parts of our towns and cities and we urgently need to wake up to what is going wrong.”

Yet the need of both a male and a female role model being important for children is one of the main reasons for rejecting same-sex marriage. What planet are people like the editor of the Independent living on?

Serious oppression of Christians

As if all that was not enough, there are other very serious results which will flow from this decision. It has long been clear to me that approval of gay sexual relationships will become a social ‘password’ without which individuals will be rejected, excluded and oppressed. 

It may be that certain safeguards will be put in place, just as the Church of England has been legally exempted from taking same-sex weddings. But these will not last. We shall see legal action being taken against churches, clergy facing demands to celebrate same-sex weddings and restrictions on church activities. We shall see Christian teachers facing a crisis of conscience over endorsing gay marriage in the classroom (Labour is proposing an amendment calling for teachers to teach about gay marriage and same-sex relationships). Christians who cannot say they favour homosexual relationships will also be unable to foster children. Christians will be excluded from becoming registrars, etc.

I do not believe we should use the word ‘persecution’ of the current oppression of Christians in British society but this decision (and others) will ultimately lead us to where the word ‘ persecution’ will be appropriate. And persecution is a sign of the End Times. It is, of course, already happening in numerous countries.

The failure of the church

 

I hold the Church of England to be significantly to blame for this crisis. To quote Paul “if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”  And there has not been a clear call by the Church of England trumpet. Church leaders seek to have their cake and eat it. They say they disapprove of gay sex but always some say they approve. They use unclear language which confuses the uninitiated, i.e. the vast majority of the population. Take the events surrounding the decision in the House of Lords over same-sex marriage.

 

26 bishops sit in the House of Lords but only 14 turned up to vote on the issue and five of them abstained.  The Bishop of Salisbury broke ranks with the House of Bishops and spoke strongly in favour of gay marriage. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has spoken against it, said in his Lords speech: “The House of Bishops of the Church of England has also expressed a very clear majority view –  although not unanimous, as has been seen by the strong and welcome contribution by the Bishop of Salisbury.”

He added: “And I have to say that personally I regret the necessity of having to deal with the possibility of a division at this stage, on a bill passed by a free vote in the other place [the Commons]…. It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.” He then made criticism of the bill before saying the church was “extremely hesitant about the Bill.” He ended by saying he couldn’t support it.

Hang on a minute: the House of Bishops is against same-sex marriage but are only “extremely hesitant” about it. They’re against same-sex marriage but only half of them turn up to vote, and five of them abstain. They’re against same sex marriage but one bishop who breaks ranks gives a “strong and welcome” contribution. Same sex marriage is wrong but “stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.” Boy – am I confused and I was on General Synod for 15 years. Actually, I’m not confused. I’m used to this poor leadership. The bishops have failed the church and the church has failed the nation.

Little wonder the church is declining. We seem to be living in cloud cuckoo land with declining congregations, priests having to look after, say, ten parishes and 40% of the stipendiary clergy retiring in the next few years. Try as I have, I can’t find any plan as to how the Bishops are going to deal with this challenge. The C of E will see massive decline and retreat into increasing irrelevance, the way things are going. All of this relates to the Jesus’ words about the End Times “Many will turn away from the faith” and the church is contributing to this.

Then there are the bigger issues:

The Middle East situation

 

The Arab Spring has turned to winter. The Syrian civil war continues. Iraq is very corrupt and everywhere there are violent Islamists. The strife between Sunni and Shia takes many lives. Now Turkey seems to be facing a dangerous situation as is Egypt. In the midst of it all is Israel, the sixth most powerful military state in the world, and a nuclear power. Israel feels threatened at the best of times but now almost all around her it seems that Islamists are coming to power or regimes are unstable. Syria seems dangerously close to drawing Israel into conflict. Hezbollah, regarded by many as a terrorist group in Lebanon, is involved in the Syrian conflict and could obtain weapons which could seriously threaten Israel. Already Israel has attacked arms convoys in Syria to prevent the arms reaching Hezbollah and has threatened to attack future Russian attempts to provide weapons. An international attack on Israel is part of the End Times scenario and it is not difficult to imagine it, given the present and developing situation.

The rise of Islam

 

I am not anti-Muslim and I believe it is wrong to be so.  Islamophobia is to be deplored and racism is contemptible. It is true that there are Islamist extremists but most Muslims are peaceful people. I have had a lot to do with them, and reached out to them in reconciliation in Jerusalem. I have been involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue. I also encourage prayer for justice for the Palestinians (most of whom are Muslims) alongside prayer for Israel.

 

However, we must be discerning and honest. Muslims respect Jesus as a great prophet. But the Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) is a false view. For example, the Islamic Jesus is not divine and did not die on the cross. This is a false christ. They expect this false christ to return and to further the cause of Islam around the world.

Islam is already a powerful and growing force in the world.  It is also growing rapidly in the UK. In the same period that people calling themselves Christians declined by 15% the number of Muslims in England and Wales increased by 75% (including almost 600,000 Muslims moving here from overseas). Between 2001 and 2011 the Muslim population grew by 1.2 million.

 

Almost half of British Muslims are under the age of 25, whereas a quarter of Christians are over 65. The average age of a British Muslim is just 25, not far off half that of a British Christian. The implications of this for the future are clear.

I am well aware that right wing and right of centre sources warn of this from political, Islamophobic and sometimes racist motives.  I do not approve of that and would feel profoundly unhappy about being associated with it. But we do have to be realistic and to face up to the fact that the religious future of Britain will be increasingly Islamic.

Prof David Coleman, Professor of demography at Oxford University, said of these statistics: “This is a very substantial change – it is difficult to see whether any other change in the census could have been remotely as big.” He added: “The ethnic transformation implicit in current trends would be a major, unlooked for, and irreversible change in British society, unprecedented for at least a millennium.”

Coleman also said that Christianity was declining with each generation: “Each large age group, as time progresses, receives less inculcation into Christianity than its predecessor ten years earlier.” But he added: “We have a Muslim faith where most studies suggest adherence to Islam is not only transmitted through the generations but appears to get stronger. Indeed, there seems to be some evidence that the second generation Muslims in Britain are more Muslim than their parents.”

From the point of view of the Christian gospel that is a serious problem because Islam promotes a false christ and a false gospel and expects this false christ to return. This has to be significant in terms of the End Times.

Hints of ‘Big Brother’

 

I am well aware of the paranoia which is associated with the idea of World Government and the Antichrist, etc. Recent American statistics show that:

·         13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ!

·         4% of US voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power!

·         15% of voters say the US government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals!

·         5% believe the vapour trail seen in the sky behind planes is actually chemicals sprayed by the US government for sinister reasons!

 

This all brings talking about the dangers of world government into disrepute. Also international co-operation obviously benefits the world in many ways.

 

However, I repeat what I said above about decisions and legislation, which may be perceived as made for  good reasons, and which may lead to good results, but which also tend to lead to new evils. We cannot turn the clock back and escape from the global village. It would be a profound mistake to opt out of the United Nations and many other forms of international co-operation as we face enormous problems: world poverty, global warming, terrorism, economic recession, etc. But we would be very foolish not to be aware of the dangers inherent in such co-operation.

Another statistic is that 28% of US voters believe a “secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order.” These statistics were published at a time when the Bilderbergers were meeting in England, and they are the focus of conspiracy theories.  We may react cynically to all this but I would ask two questions:

·         Do we really think that there are no private power groups seeking to influence world affairs?

·         What do we make of the New Testament predictions of “man of lawlessnesswhowill oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped” only to be destroyed by the returning Christ?

 

I think it would be very naïve (and cynical) not to believe there are private power groups seeking to influence world affairs. I also believe that, whilst avoiding paranoia and simplistic conclusions, we should take note of moves towards world government, discerning the sinister from the beneficial.

 

I am writing this a day or two after the publication in the Guardian newspaper of a top secret document about the US National Security Agency’s Prism programme which allegedly has allowed officials to monitor the internet via Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Skype, Yahoo, Facebook etc since 1995. This includesemail content, search history, chat (video, voice), videos, photos, stored data, internet phone calls, file transfers, video conferencing, social networking, etc.   The Guardian also alleged that GCHQ (the UK security agency in Cheltenham) has used the Prism programme to spy on thousands of Britons.

 

Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, wrote to the Home Secretary (who is currently seeking to introduce her own “snooper’s charter”) “I am astonished by these revelations which could involve the data of thousands of Britons. The most chilling aspect is that ordinary American citizens and potentially British citizens too were apparently unaware that their phone and online interactions could be watched. This seems to be the snooper’s charter by the back door.” I note in passing that there is a huge amount of surveillance – CCTV and the like – in Britain anyway.

Even if the organisations claim they have not done what is alleged many will be unconvinced because they are organisations which act in secrecy. In any case, it is clear that they have the ability to do what is alleged and this has disturbing prospects for the future.

Again, we have another example of the principle of decisions and legislation, which may be perceived as for good reasons, and which may lead to good results, also tending to lead to new evils. The first motive for surveillance is to combat crime and terrorism, but it can turn into an unwelcome and dangerous invasion of the privacy of innocent individuals.

UPDATE

As good citizens Christians should be concerned about government surveillance because of the danger of it leading ultimately, in the long run, to a world dominated by “Big Brother” which relates to some of the predictions in the New Testament. Obviously, some surveillance is important to combat the threat of terrorism and other crime. Putting it rather negatively, such surveillance is the lesser of two evils and we have to accept that. However, surveillance must be controlled and must not cross the line into becoming Big Brother. That is not an easy line to draw. A former chief of GCHQ (the UK government surveillance centre) has written in the Guardian today giving six ethical principles on which surveillance should take place. He says it must be for the right motive, with sufficient cause, proportionate and with reasonable prospect of success. It must be a last resort and be governed by lawful authority. This is good.

However he writes that surveillance “involves computers searching through a mass of material, of course, and that might include your and my emails and data on our web traffic, but it is only the legally requested material that ever gets seen by a human being. These computers are not conscious beings: they will only select that which they are lawfully programmed to select. To describe this process as monitoring all our communications or ‘the surveillance state’ or a ‘snooper’s charter’ is wholly misleading and a perverse reading of the situation.” He concludes: “Let us respect the work of our intelligence agencies in keeping us safe, and be glad that in our democratic societies they are subject to the rule of law.”

The problem is that we live in a world of sinful human beings where “money, sex and power” have great influence. We live in a world of dishonest politicians, dishonest business leaders, dishonest bankers, dishonest media moguls, etc. So the reassurances of surveillance chiefs and their politician colleagues leave serious questions.

 

[For my detailed article on trends towards world government see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf pages 23-32]

Conclusion

 

The rapid decline of Christianity in Britain (and in Europe), the increasing number of laws which are inconsistent with traditional Christian morality, the increasing discrimination against Christians, the failure of the church to speak with a clear voice, the rise of Islamism in the Middle East and the increasing spread of Islam, including in Britain, and the trends towards intruding on the freedom of individuals all pose serious threats to society and also reflect biblical warnings of End Time trends.

 

Tony Higton

Jesus teaching about the future on the Mt of Olives – some scholarly opinions

June 2nd, 2013 by Tony 2 comments »

 

The purpose of this paper is to show that there is a good deal of scholarly opinion that in Matthew 24 (and Mark 13, Luke 21) Jesus is referring to the signs pointing towards his Second Coming, as well as to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.

There are three main views about these chapters:

 

1.      Jesus was only speaking about the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD70.

 

2.      Jesus was only speaking about the signs of the return of Christ.

 

3.      Jesus was speaking about both.

 

In my paper on “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” (see

http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf ) I added an appendix critiquing the views of N T Wright.  He claims that these chapters which have long been understood as referring to a still future return of Jesus in glory actually refer to the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem

and the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

 

In my paper “Which aspects of the teaching of Jesus on the Mt of Olives refer to the Second Coming?” (see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=349#_edn1) I refer to the views of Dick France. He and others interpret “the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven” as a reference to Daniel 7:13-14 in which Jesus is not referring to his return to earth but as “coming to God to receive vindication and authority.”[1] They interpret “all the peoples of the earth” mourning when they see the Son of man returning as “all the tribes of the land” (i.e. Israel) mourning at the events of AD70. They see the angels gathering the elect as the worldwide growth of the church after AD70 and the kingdom being preached to all nations as meaning only those nations known and reached between AD30 and AD70.

 

I give my reasons for rejecting interpretations 1. and 2. above and for believing that Jesus is speaking both about AD70 and about his future return in my two papers. Then I came across a paper I wrote some 20 years ago which recorded a fair amount of scholarly opinion on the matter and which I have updated. I include this material below as an appendix to the above papers. These scholars may differ on their interpretation of various aspects of the Olivet discourse but they do relate the passage to the events leading to the Return of Christ as well as to those of AD70.

Professors W D Davies and D C Allison in the International Critical Commentary on Matthew write that they are “unpersuaded” by Dick France that Matthew 24 is only about the events around AD70.[2]

They write: “

“Our own view holds that w. 4ff. are a depiction of the entire post-Easter period, interpreted in terms of the messianic woes.21 This means that the discourse, which freely mixes experience with topoi [literary conventions], concerns the past, the present, and the future. What has happened will continue to happen and only get worse: ‘the mystery of lawlessness is already at work’ (2 Thess 2.7). Whether the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 is directly referred to in vv 15ff. or is instead indirectly included in the tribulations of vv. 15ff. we are uncertain. But if the former, AD 70 does not exhaust the significance of vv. 5ff, which plainly envisage eschatological events to come. So the answer to the disciples’ two-part question in v. 3 is this: the temple will be destroyed during the tribulation of the latter days, which runs from the first advent to the second; and after that tribulation the end—whose date cannot be known—will come.”[3]

 

Professor Leon Morris says:

“There is a problem for the student in that sometimes what Jesus says refers to the coming judgment on Jerusalem, a judgment that was consummated in the destruction of the city in A.D. 70, and sometimes what he is saying refers to the judgment at the end of the age.We may well argue that there is a theological unity between the two judgments, and that some of what Jesus says could apply equally well to both.”[4]

 

He adds:

Some commentators take the whole discourse to refer to a single judgment. They hold that Jesus confidently expected his return within a comparatively few years and that there would be a judgment on Jerusalem as part of the judgment of the whole world. But the language used is against this. Far from promoting speculations that he would soon return in glory, Jesus seems to be discouraging this kind of thing (cf. vv. 6,8,14, and 23-28). And we should not overlook the important fact that he said quite plainly that he did not know the date of his coming back (v. 36). If he did not know it, how could he say confidently that it would occur within a few years?”[5]

Professor F D Bruner writes:

“The emphasis in Matthew’s version of the sermon is certainly on the end of the world, but the destruction of Jerusalem is everywhere that end’s classic precursor. Thus Jesus’ sermon about current events, especially the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, becomes a window through which to see Jesus’ view of end events, especially the coming of the Son of Man … The destruction of Jerusalem was the prototype of the end of the world … we most profitable read Matthew’s sermon when we read it in this irridescent way, seeing both Jerusalem’s end and Jesus’ coming in most texts, not always being sure which of the two events is meant …”[6]

Professor Robert Mounce says:

“It is helpful to remember that apocalyptic literature is a genre that does not share our Western concern for orderly continuity. If we allow Matthew the freedom to enlarge on a specific discourse delivered by Jesus by adding material from other settings, we are not at all surprised to find the chapter as fluid as it appears. It is not uncommon for prophetic material to move between type and antitype without calling attention to exactly what is happening. Predictions of the future were of necessity couched in language taken from the prophet’s own setting.”[7]

 

He adds: “Biblical prophecy is capable of multiple fulfillment.”[8]

Professor Douglas Hare writes of Matthew 24:

“….it speaks of a series of future events climaxing in the arrival of Jesus in glory…..”[9]

 

He adds that the prediction of the destruction of the temple

provides the basis for the apocalyptic discourse, which addresses two fundamental concerns of early Christians: When will Jesus come in glory, and what are we to do in the meantime? The structure, accordingly, is relatively simple: (a) events prior to the great tribulation (24:3-14); (b) the abomination and the great tribulation (24:15-28); (c) Jesus’ coming in glory (24:29-31); (d) the time when all this will happen (24:32-44); (e) three parables about faithful waiting (24:45—25:30); and (f) the judgment of the pagans (25: 31-46).”[10]

 

He also writes:

It is sometimes argued that for Matthew the events of verses 15-21 have already occurred: ‘the abomination of deso­lation’ refers either to the siege of Jerusalem or to the final capture of the temple by the armies of Titus and the offering of pagan sacrifice on the holy site; the flight that follows is either the migration of the Jerusalem church to Pella east of the Jor­dan prior to the siege or the escape of refugees following the fall of the city; the great tribulation of verse 21 describes the desperate situation in Palestine in the months following the Roman victory. All of this is most improbable. The flight of which verses 16-20 speak is not any historical event, and most certainly not the escape of refugees from the burning capital in the summer (not winter) of 70 C.E. It is not clear why Matthew’s version adds ‘nor on a Sabbath’ in verse 20, since it seems to acknowledge that the flight will take place whether it is winter or on a Sabbath or not, but it certainly indicates that the event has, for Matthew, not yet taken place; there would be no point in praying about a past event. No, it is best to treat these various events as representing familiar apocalyptic motifs.”[11]

 

He adds that in view of the teaching about the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thess 2:3-4 who “sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God”

It seems likely, therefore, that Matthew understands the abomination of desolation as referring to some supernatural Antichrist.”[12]

Professor R V G Tasker quotes B C Butler with approval:

Matthew xxiv. 5-14 gives a straightforward anticipation of the whole of future history (in reference to the question about the consummation of the age), warning the disciples that secular catastrophes must not be taken as signs of the imminent end of history; forecasting, briefly, the world’s persecution of the Church; and working to a poignant climax which foretells defections from the Church, false prophets and spiritual decay and treason within the Christian body itself,… and reaching its culmination in the prophecy of the universal proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom—‘and then will come the end.’”[13]

 

Professor C E B Cranfield, writing on the parallel passage, Mark 13, says that it is an eschatological prediction of the End leading to the return of Christ. He writes that although we must take careful note of Jesus’ teaching and we cannot know the time of his return we must nevertheless take note of the signs of the End:

“To disregard the signs of the End as a mere relic of Jewish apocalypticism is to be in danger of reducing eschatology to something purely academic and of losing sight of its relevance to the present. For the signs are reminders in the midst of history of the coming Lord.”[14]

He continues:

“It may well be asked whether the disparagement of this chapter by much recent scholarship has not resulted in a serious impoverishment and weakening of the Church’s life. Its insistence on the signs is perhaps a help to faith and obedience that we cannot afford to dispense with; for the recognition that the events of history are signs of the End and pointers to the coming Lord rescues eschatology from the realm of merely academic discussion and makes it relevant for faith and obedience. As our faith recognizes the signs as they occur, we are again and again put in remembrance of our Hope, and our gaze, that is so easily distracted from the Lord who is coming to us, is again and again directed back to him. The events of the present become for us reasons for lifting up our heads (Lk. xxi. 28) and so many summonses to renewed penitence, obedience and joy.”[15]

 

He goes on to point out that 2 Thess 2:3-10 supports the identification of the “abomination that causes desolation” with the Antichrist. He says that neither an exclusively historical nor an exclusively eschatological interpretation is satisfactory but rather a mingling of the two.[16]

 

Scholars also comment on the difficult verse: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30).

The interpretation of “generation” (“genea”) in Matthew 24:34

 

Professor Robert Gundry makes a very helpful comment on Jesus’ condemnation of the Jewish leadership in Matthew 23:29-36:

“Retribution for all the righteous blood of the OT martyrs will take the form of the tribulational events yet to be described as fulfilling the forecast concerning ‘this generation.’ By context ‘this generation’ means the scribes and Pharisees (‘lawyers’ in Luke). Matthew’s next verse narrows the reference further to the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem. But his involving them in the by­gone murder of an OT prophet (v 35) shows that he does not take ‘this generation’ in a sense chronologically limited to Jesus’ contemporaries, but in a qualitative sense concerning the ‘unbelieving and perverted’ in the whole of Israel’s history (see 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 17:17 and synoptic parallels for the same qualitative emphasis in pre-Matthean tra­dition; cf. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). Hence, we read, ‘in order that on you may come … you murdered [for a centuries-old incident]… will come on this generation.’ In other words, if the ‘you’ who constitute ‘this generation’ includes those who murdered Zechariah in OT times, ‘this generation’ can hardly bear the chronological limitation usually imposed on it cf. Ex 20:5 34:7; Num 14:18; Deut 5:9.”[17]

 

The inference is, of course, that if “this generation” in 23:36 is clearly not chronologically limited to the literal present generation, the same is true of “this generation” in 24:34.

 

Professor Robert Mounce writes:

“If genetai (happened) is taken as an ingressive aorist, the sentence would indicate that before the generation alive at the time had died, all things described in connection with the end will have started to take place.[18]

 

Leon Morris quotes Professor D A Carson as saying:

“All that v.34 demands is that the distress of vv.4-28, including Jerusalem’s fall, happen within the lifetime of the generation then living. This does not mean that the distress must end within that time but only that `all these things’ must happen within it.”[19]

 

Dr David Hill quotes Professor C H Dodd:

“It is probable that we have here an example of that `shortening of historical perspective’ which is so frequently in the prophets. ‘When the profound realities underlying a situation are depicted in the dramatic form of historical prediction, the certainty and inevitability of the spiritual processes involved are expressed in terms of the immediate imminence of the event’”[20]

 

Donald English comments on Mark 13:

“The best solution to hold together all the diverse considerations in [Mark 13] seems to be that which joins to the destruction of Jerusalem and the ultimate Parousia as two parts of God’s one activity, the former prefiguring the latter.  The `signs of the end’ begin when Jesus’ ministry is complete and Jerusalem’s destruction was terrible evidence of the end times. Jesus’ generation would see that, and proleptically would be recipients of the promise of the rest.”[21]

Robert Mounce writes about Matthew 24:34: “One thing we do know is that by the time Matthew wrote, the mission of the Twelve was history and the parousia had not taken place.”[22] It is not likely therefore that Matthew was referring to the AD30-70 generation.

Tony Higton

 

 


[1] R T France, Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, IVP, Leicester 1985, p. 344.

[2]W D Davis & D C Allison, Matthew 19-28, International Critical Commentary,  T & T Clark,  2004 p. 328

[3] Ibid, p. 331.

[4] The Pillar NT Commentary, The Gospel according to Matthew, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1992, p. 593

[5] Ibid., p. 594

[6] F D Bruner Matthew: A Commentary – Volume 2: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28, p. 473.

[7] Robert Mounce, Matthew, New International Biblical Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, Incorporated, 1991, p. 222.

[8] Ibid, p. 228.

[9] Douglas R Hare, Matthew, Interpretation, a commentary for teaching and preaching, Westminster John Knox Press, Lousiville, 2009, p.  273.

[10] Ibid., p. 274.

[11] Ibid., p. 277.

[12] Ibid., p. 277.

[13] B C Butler, The Originality of St Matthew, 1951, p. 80 quoted in R V G Tasker, The Gospel according to St Matthew, Tyndale Press, London 1961, p. 224.

[14] C E B Cranfield,, The Gospel according to Saint Mark, Cambridge University Press, 1959, p. 389.

[15] Ibid., p. 391.

[16] Ibid., p. 402.

[17] Robert Gundry, Matthew: a commentary on his handbook for a mixed church under persecution, Eerdmans  Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1994, p. 472

[18] Robert Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, Paternoster Press 1995, p. 228.

[19] D A Carson, Matthew: Chapters 13-28 v. 2 (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), Zondervan 1995, III, p. 97 quoted in Leon Morris, The Pillar NT Commentary, The Gospel according to Matthew, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1992, p. 612.

[20] C H Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom, p. 71 quoted in Dr David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, New Century Bible, Oliphants, London, 1972).

[21] Donald English, The Message of Mark, IVP, Leicester, 1992, p.209

[22] Robert Mounce, Matthew, New International Biblical Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, Incorporated, 1991, p. 95.

Which aspects of the teaching of Jesus on the Mt of Olives refer to the Second Coming?

May 24th, 2013 by Tony No comments »

 

(Matthew 24; compare Mark 13; Luke 21)

 

 

Jesus spoke about the destruction of the temple and his disciples asked him: “Tell us …. when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ (Matt 24:1-2). Jesus went into a long description of false messiahs, wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution, false prophets, the gospel being preached to the whole world, defiling of the temple, great suffering, signs in the heavens and “the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt 24:30-31). There is a wide range of interpretations of all this which I will divide into three.

 

1.      At one end of the spectrum some say the whole chapter was fulfilled in the 1st century AD, especially in AD70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple.

 

·         These interpreters see “the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven” as a reference to Daniel 7:13-14 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” In other words these interpreters say Jesus is referring to himself not returning to earth (the second coming as normally understood) but as “coming to God to receive vindication and authority.”[1]

 

·         They translate “all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” as “all the tribes of the land will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” and refer it to the mourning only in Israel at the events of AD70.

 

·         They interpret verse 31 “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” as referring to the worldwide growth of the church which followed the destruction of Jerusalem.

 

·         They also interpret verse 14 “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” as referring to the preaching of the gospel throughout the then known world between AD30 and AD70.

 

2.      At the other end of the spectrum others interpret the chapter as referring only to the Second Coming and the events associated with it, all still future.

 

3.      In between these two opposing views is the interpretation that the chapter refers to both the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 and to the Second Coming still in the future.

 

It seems clear to me that this third view is correct for the following reasons:

 

1.      The disciples question was in two parts: firstly, when will the Temple be destroyed and secondly what will be the signs of Jesus coming and of the end of the age. The disciples probably thought both of these events would take place at about the same time. But the end of the age in Jewish thinking was about when the Messiah would come to earth. They did not envisage this taking place in two stages as we now know it will. But it is about the Messiah physically coming to earth not some ‘spiritual’ coming to God in heaven. This would have been in the disciples’ minds.

 

2.      Since the disciples clearly asked when the Temple would be destroyed, some of Jesus’ answer must refer to AD70.

 

3.      The signs of verses 4-13 (false messiahs, wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution, false prophets) continued to happen both before and after AD70. They are probably better called “Reminders” than “Signs” because they keep being repeated. They are now reminders that Jesus will return.

 

4.      However, verses 9-12 seem to use extreme language if they only refer to the period AD30-70: “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold This very much seems to describe a far worse situation than happened between AD30 and AD70.

 

5.      Verse 14: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come,” again seems to go way beyond what happened between AD30 and AD70. There were many more nations in the whole world than were evangelised in that period and “the end” is much more likely to refer to the end of the age when the Messiah comes physically to earth than to the end of the Temple era in AD70.

 

6.      There is no difficulty in applying verses 15-20 to the trauma of AD70 but verses 21-22 say: “For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again. ‘If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”  Are we to understand that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD70 is the worst thing that will ever happen, including to the Jewish people? What about the holocaust of 6 million Jewish people? What about the massive persecution of Christians, including today? Again, the language seems much more likely to refer to some future great trauma.

7.      Verses 29 says: “immediately after the distress” the cosmic signs and the Return of Christ take place. Verse 30 can really only refer to the Return of Christ because it says that the people mourn because “they see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.” This event is a visible event not some ‘spiritual’ coming to God in heaven.

 

HOW THEN DO WE UNDERSTAND VERSE 34 (cf. Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32) ?

 

In verse 34 Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” This seems to say that all that Jesus had foretold would happen in the first generation – between AD30 and AD70. Some people have translated the word “generation” as “race” meaning this “race” – the Jewish people – will not pass away until all is fulfilled. The word normally refers to the literal present generation and is often described as an evil generation. However, Luke (who quotes the same words from Jesus) probably wrote some 30 years after Jesus died when the ‘present generation’ would have been ‘passing away’ so it is unlikely he would have understood the current generation to be meant by the term ‘this generation.’ Is Jesus therefore referring to the generation that experiences the beginning of the late (non-recurring) signs of the Return of Christ and saying all the great events including the Return itself will happen within one generation?

 

One thing is clear: there are more difficulties in trying to make Matthew 24 only refer to the events leading up to AD70 than in taking the word “generation” either to mean “race” or to refer to this final (future) generation.

 

WHAT IS THE DURATION OF THE GREAT DISTRESS IN VERSES 15-22?

 

On the face of it, the ‘great distress’ seems to last from the destruction of the Temple in AD70 until the Return of Christ. Five suggestions have been made:

 

1.      Jesus passes from one period of great distress (AD70) to the other (still future).

2.      Jesus means the whole period from AD70 until his Return is a time of distress.

3.      Jesus follows the ‘telescoping’ or ‘foreshortening’ which is typical of the prophets. Think of climbing a mountain. What looks like a single slope to the top often turns out to hide valleys which have to be crossed. In fact the mountain is a series of lesser peaks separated by valleys, but from the bottom it looks like a single slope to the highest peak. The prophets often see a series of events as a ‘single slope’ but they turn out to be events separated by ‘valleys’ of time. So Jesus may have been viewing the two periods of distress in that way, apparently as one event but actually two, separated by a (very long) valley of time.

4.      Jesus means the tribulation starts in AD 66/70 but the main part of it is long postponed – to the still future End Times.

5.      Jesus is using his reference to his return in verses 29-31 to symbolise the Fall of Jerusalem (as we have seen, this is unlikely. It seems clear he is referring to his physical return to earth).

 

In my view suggestions 1 and 3 seem most likely.

 

Tony Higton



[1] R T France, Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, IVP, Leicester 1985, p. 344.

Eschatology: The Now and the Not Yet

April 29th, 2013 by Tony 2 comments »

 

The “now and the not yet” is an important factor in understanding the Bible’s teaching on the End Times. It teaches that:

·         There are two ages – this age and the age to come, but they overlap like two intersecting circles and believers now have a foretaste of the age to come.

·         Believers have received eternal life now, but this is only a foretaste of the fullness of eternal life they will experience when Jesus returns.

·         Believers live in the kingdom of God now but this is only a foretaste of what it will be like when the kingdom will be fully revealed in glory when Jesus returns.

·         We already live in the Last Days and yet there will be a Last Day when Jesus returns.

 

Understanding this “now and not yet” factor will help us come to terms with our experience of some prayers, e.g. for healing, not being answered. In the age to come and the fullness of the kingdom and eternal life all sickness will be healed. In the present age not all sickness will be healed. Not all other suffering or injustice will be removed either. So there is the ‘now and the not yet’ of healing and deliverance from suffering and injustice.

 

This age and the age to come

 

Jesus speaks of the two ages – this age and the age to come.[1] The present age is under the influence of Satan, “the god of this age.”[2]

 

However the age to come has already begun. The “culmination of the ages” was inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus.[3] He died to “rescue us from the present evil age”[4] and now he reigns high over all in this age and the age to come.[5] He has promised to be with believers “to the very end of the age” and so God will protect them until Jesus visibly returns.[6]

 

This age is characterized by a worldly ‘wisdom’ which is foolishness in the eyes of God[7] so we believers must not conform to this age but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.[8] When Jesus returns we shall be made like him, so we should seek to be like him now.[9]  In fact, if we are rich in good deeds in this age we are laying up treasure in the coming age.[10] God can enable us to live godly lives as we wait for the return of Jesus[11] and the great thing is that we can taste the powers of the coming age in this age.[12] Jesus gives rewards to committed believers in both this age and the coming age.[13]

 

Jesus will visibly return at the end of this age[14] and he will carry out judgment, separating the wicked from the righteous.[15] We believers will be raised imperishable.[16]  We “will shine like the sun” in the kingdom of the kingdom of God[17] and God will show his kindness to us.[18] We shall see God and understand fully.[19] Jesus will destroy all ungodly “dominion, authority and power” including death.[20]

 

Eternal Life – Now and Then

 

The New Testament teaches that believers receive and enter into eternal life now, in the present age.  Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.[21] It is a gift[22] which is in Jesus so when we invite Jesus into our lives he brings us eternal life.[23] In fact, Jesus is eternal life[24] and eternal life is knowing God.[25]  However, if we have the faith in Jesus which brings eternal life we will be prepared to make sacrifices for him[26] and to do good.[27]

Nevertheless the full experience of eternal life will only happen when Jesus returns.[28] It will be a reward for believers who have shown their faith in good deeds.[29]  Jesus promises to keep them safe until they enter the fullness of eternal life.[30]

Kingdom – Now and Then

The kingdom, or Rule, of God, came into the world with Jesus.[31]  He told the Pharisees: “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”[32] It is an eternal, otherworldly kingdom,[33] characterised by righteousness, peace, joy,[34] justice [35] and the power of God.[36] So it cannot be shaken, like earthly kingdoms[37]  and it grows phenomenally.[38]  It is a kingdom of believers, all of whom are priests.[39]  They enter the kingdom by being born again.[40]  Characteristics required in the kingdom include humility,[41] penitence,[42] forgiveness,[43] obedience[44] and perseverance.[45]

Jesus majored on preaching the kingdom[46] and he commanded his disciples to do the same[47] as a matter of urgency,[48] so this characterised the ministry of the early church.[49]  They urged people to strive to enter the kingdom by faith[50] as a priority.[51]

However, Jesus not only proclaimed the kingdom, he demonstrated it in healing and exorcism.[52]  He taught that the kingdom interfaced with the kingdom of Satan[53] and he sent his disciples out to heal the sick[54] and to cast out demons as a sign of the kingdom. We also are called to preach the kingdom.[55]

Jesus said in Matthew 16:28 that some listening to him would not taste death before they saw the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. He may have been referring to the Transfiguration (which happened shortly afterwards) or to Pentecost. Either way it was not the ultimate revelation of the kingdom. He also said at the Last Supper that he looked forward to eating with his disciples at the messianic “wedding supper” when the kingdom is fully revealed.[56]

After Jesus returns his kingdom will be fully revealed[57] and will replace the “kingdom of the world”[58] and the power of Satan.[59] The saints will share in his rule over the nations.[60]We should be ready and watching for the kingdom to be revealed[61] and pray regularly for it to be revealed.[62]  One of the signs of that time drawing near is the message of the kingdom being preached throughout the whole world.[63]  Ultimately Jesus will hand over the kingdom to the Father.[64]

The Last Days and the Last Day

 

We already live the in Last Days. The coming of Jesus 2000 years ago ushered in the Last Days.[65]  Peter makes it clear that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was a fulfilment of the prophecy by Joel that God would pour out his Spirit “in the last days.”[66]  The fact that the New Testament teaches that we are in the Last Days shows that we are meant to live in the light of the return of Jesus.  It warns that there will be terrible times in the Last Days in terms of sinful human behaviour. “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,  treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power.[67]

 

Another characteristic of the Last Days in which we are living will be people scoffing at the idea of the return of Christ. People will say: “Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”[68]

 

However there will be a Last Day when Jesus will raise up all believers.[69] All will be judged on this Last Day,[70] and those who reject the gospel will be cast out from God’s presence.

 



[1]Matt 12:32; 13:22

[2]2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:1-2

[3]1 Cor 10:11; Heb 9:26

[4]Gal 1:4

[5]Eph 1:20-21

[6]Matt 28:18-20; 1 Thess 5:23-24

[7]1 Cor 1:20; 2:6; 3:18-20

[8]Rom 12:2

[9]1 John 3:1-3

[10]1 Tim 6:17-19

[11]Titus 2:11-13

[12]Heb 6:4-6

[13]Luke 18:29-30

[14]Matt 24:2-3

[15] Matt 13:38-42, 49-50; John 5:24-29

[16]1 Cor 15: 50-54

[17]Matt 13:43

[18]Eph 2:6-7

[19]1 Cor 13:12

[20] 1 Cor 15:22-26

[21] John 3:36, compare John 3:14-16; 4:14; 5:24; 6:47, 54; 1 Tim 1:16; 6:12

[22] Rom 6:23

[23] 1 John 5:11-13

[24] 1 John 5:20; compare 1: 2

[25] John 17:3

[26] Matt 19:28-29; Rom 6:22

[27] Rom 2:6-7; Gal 6:8-9

[28] John 6:40; Titus 3:5-7; Jude 21

[29] Matt 25:46; Mark 10:29-30

[30] John 10:27-28

[31] Matt 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15

[32]Luke 17:20-21

[33]Luke 1:30-33; John 18:36-37

[34]Rom 14:17-18

[35]Heb 1:8

[36]1 Cor 4:19-20

[37]Heb 12:28-29

[38]Matt 13:31; 33; Mark 4:30; Luke 13:18-21

[39]Rev 1:5-6; 5:9-10

[40]John 3:3, 5; 1 Cor 15:50

[41]Matt 5:3 “poor in spirit”; 18:1-4; 19:12-14; 22:2-3; Mark 10:14-15; Luke 18:15-17

[42]Matt 21:31

[43]Matt 18:23-25

[44]Matt 5:19-20; 7:21; 8:11-12; 16:19; 21:43; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Col 1:9-13; 1 Thess 2:11; 2 Peter 1:10-11

[45]Matt 5:10; Acts 14:21-22; 2 Thess 1:4-5

[46] Matt 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1

[47] Luke 9:2

[48] Luke 9:59-62

[49] Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23-32; Col 4:11

[50] Matt 9:47-48

[51] Matt 6:33; 13:44-50; Mark 10:24-25; Luke 14:15-18

[52] Matt 12:28

[53] Matt 13:24, 38-39, 41; Mark 4:26-29

[54] Luke 10:9-11

[55] Matt 10:7

[56] Rev 19:7

[57] Luke 21:27-31

[58] Rev 11:15

[59] Rev 12:10

[60] Mt 19:28; 1 Cor 6:2-3; Rev 3:21

[61] Matt 25:1

[62] Matt 6:10; Luke 11:2

[63] Matt 24:14

[64]1 Cor 15:22-28

[65]Heb 1:1-2

[66]Acts 2:16-18

[67]2 Tim 3:1-3; James 5:3

[68]2 Peter 3:3-4

[69]John 6:39-40, 44, 54

[70]John 12:48

There is no fear of God

April 20th, 2013 by Tony 1 comment »

 

One of the greatest failings of the modern church is to soft-pedal or ignore the fear of God. This is one of the main reasons for a neglect of eschatology (the doctrine of the End Times).  If we really thought we are going to stand before God individually to answer for our behaviour we would live accordingly. But, as Paul said in Romans 3:18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” As a result, he says, people don’t seek God, and they fall into sin.

 

Of course, some people don’t believe in God. The rather pathetic atheist bus advert campaign stated: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  Probably”?  What if there is, and he holds us accountable? It’s got to be incredibly unwise to take the risk of relying on thinking there “probably” is “no God.”

It’s the same with the popular word “yolo” which means “you only live once” and it is an excuse to live irresponsibly. As someone said, it should stand for “you oughta look out!” Jesus rebuked people whose philosophy was “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19-20) and called them foolish.

 

It doesn’t do any good to “roast people over Hell.” But if people are going to face God’s judgement and we don’t warn them about it, as helpfully as possible, we are deeply lacking in love. That is why I think the modern church is lacking in love.  We have bought into the relativism of modern society. Anyone can believe anything. Your truth is as valid as my truth even if the two truths contradict one another. Similarly I am free to choose how I shall behave within reason. Modern thinking confuses the equality of all human beings with the equality of all human behaviour. That is a serious fallacy. I believe firmly in the former but not in the latter.

 

The question is: has God revealed what we should believe and how we should behave? Surely the personal, loving God of Christianity can be expected to have done so. And does he require us to obey him? If that is the case we are very unwise not to find out what he has said and to put it into practice.

 

It profoundly concerns me that people don’t realise they are accountable to God – and, frankly, that applies to some Christians as well, judging by their behaviour. I believe God is love as much as anybody. But he is also a holy judge before whom we each must stand one day.

 

Little wonder the Bible states: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Recent Tweets/Facebook messages on Eschatology (the End Times)

April 6th, 2013 by Tony No comments »

LIVING IN THE LIGHT OF THE END, WHICH IS A NEW BEGINNING

(Updated 23.06.13: Message 18)

This Post only contains shorter messages. There are separate articles on Eschatology which are listed on the Welcome Post above.

Message 1

The New Testament really does teach we should be thinking frequently about the End Times. Jesus stressed the Kingdom which is ultimately eschatological. He taught us to pray regularly for his eschatological Kingdom to come (in the Lord’s Prayer). He also said we are to celebrate Communion and so to proclaim his death “until he comes.” Communion looks forward as well as backwards. I counted 118 passages on eschatology in the NT excluding Revelation. This includes 8 major passages plus a whole book – Revelation. For more information on eschatology see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/

Message 2 Near-miss asteroid

Could Jesus’ statement that “stars will fall from the sky” before his Return be literal? Is tonight’s near-miss asteroid relevant?

The size of an office block, doing 5 miles a second it will pass nearer than many of our satellites. Will the next one be bigger and hit us?

Astronomers are concerned and scanning the skies, having found 10,000 others which could threaten Earth. No immediate danger but it makes you think. Jesus would say it’s meant to.

Message 3

End Times teaching is a strong motive for holiness and evangelism amongst Christians and thinking seriously about eternity amongst unbelievers

Message 4

Now we’re back from holiday here’s an update on the eschatology (End Times) campaign. It is, of course, early days but things are going well. More people are showing interest and I’m meeting up with some Friends to discuss co-operation. I’m continuing my research and writing, and some interesting ideas are emerging (more on that later). I’ll be circulating material from time to time and hope to arrange conferences and speaking engagements.  Suggestions are welcome.

Message 5

Yesterday I went to the Thanksgiving Service for a Methodist Minister friend who died recently. It was a salutary experience which focused attention on the shortness and purpose of life, and gave opportunity to ask: “How am I doing in terms of living my life for God?” As I’ve said before, thinking about eschatology (which includes death) is a strong encouragement to holiness and mission. How are you doing?

Message 6

The UN has declared March 20th from this year the first International Day of Happiness and is encouraging us to make other people happy. Peter wrote to believers who “suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1: 6). Yet he speaks of them being “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” even though they don’t see Jesus “now” (verse 8). This inexpressible and glorious joy is largely based upon our sure hope of seeing him face to face “then”. The more we think about that, the more we will experience the joy which is vastly greater than mere happiness.

Message 7

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 1: Early in Holy Week Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple (which was brought about by the Romans 40 years later in AD70). But he also prophesied the End Times and urged his disciples to look out for both early (recurring) and later signs of his Return (see Matthew 24). His prophecies here are typical of biblical prophecy:

  • Prophecy can have an early and a later fulfillment.
  • Prophecy can concertina events widely separated in time to appear close together.
  • So Jesus speaks of the events of AD70 and of his still future return in the same passage.

Are you looking out for the signs of Jesus’ return? (see “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about the signs of Jesus’ return?” http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf ) .

Message 8

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 2: Jesus also told the parable of the Ten Young Women (Virgins) in Holy Week. They were waiting for the bridegroom to come but he “was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep” (Matthew 25:5). That’s a good picture of the church and of many Christians today. Because the ‘bridegroom’ (Jesus) is a long time in coming (the Second Coming) they have stopped concentrating and don’t think about his Return. However, Jesus’ message is for those who have not made any preparation for his Return, i.e. have not come to faith in him, shown in obedience. Such people, he says, when he returns, will be shut out from his presence – a solemn warning.

Message 9

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 3: Jesus’ teaching in Holy Week includes a description of the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). When Jesus returns he will judge the people of all nations. The criterion of judgment is people’s attitude towards the followers of Jesus (which, of course, shows their attitude towards him). Only those who show love and kindness towards the followers of Jesus (and so to him) will have eternal life.

Message 10

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 4: At the Last Supper, Jesus teaches that Communion not only looks back to his death but forward to when he will drink wine with his disciples in his Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29). Paul says Communion proclaims the Lord’s death “until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). Jesus was referring to a prophecy of Isaiah that God “will prepare a banquet for all the nations of the world—a banquet of the richest food and the finest wine. Here he will suddenly remove the cloud of sorrow that has been hanging over all the nations. … will destroy death forever …. will wipe away the tears from everyone’s eyes” (Isa 25:6-8). Are you looking forward to that?

Message 11

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 5: When Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin (Jewish court) the high priest said: “Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied: “‘You have said so ….. ‘But I say to all of you: from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” (Matthew 26:63-64). Jesus looked beyond the horror of the cross to the time (still future) when he returns “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30). I strongly recommend that you think of his return daily. How about it?

Message 12

AN EASTER MESSAGE (1 Corinthians 15:19-26)

 

  1. HOPE WITHOUT RESURRECTION IS PATHETIC (“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied”). Those who only seek money, sex and power (or popularity) are to be pitied. They can’t take any of it with them.

 

  1. JESUS’ RESURRECTION IS THE BEGINNING OF OURS (“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep”). First fruit – means there is more of the same crop to come. There’s much more where that came from, i.e. resurrection. Christians are united with Christ and share his resurrection.

 

  1. DEATH IS UNDER A DEATH SENTENCE (“The last enemy to be destroyed is death”).  Can you imagine a life where there is no ageing, sickness, anxiety, depression, frailty, or dying? That’s where we believers are heading, folks! Death is ‘promotion to glory.’

Message 13

Wars and rumours of wars are one of the early repeated reminders of the End Times Jesus mentioned (Matt 24:6). Hopefully the N Korean threat will remain a rumour rather than a real war (though we need to pray). But it does vividly illustrate the danger of terrorists getting a nuclear bomb. N Korea has much to lose. Terrorists don’t. Quite a reminder!

Message 14

Professor Stephen Hawking has warned this week that humans must explore space if we are to survive the coming millennium. “We must continue to go into space for humanity. We won’t survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet.” The problem is that most of us, including Christians, live as if everything will continue “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.”  Even the scientists warn that the Apocalypse is coming.

Message 15

Messianic Rabbi Binyamin Sheldrake wrote: “

“Shalom Tony! Knowing your interest in end times.. just finished reading an excellent (traditional) Jewish commentary on Daniel and have been crunching through some thoughts. I am beginning to wonder if in fact the prophecies contained therein and elsewhere were in fact fulfilled in the latter part of the run up to the first century and slightly after, into the lifetime of Yeshua. If that is the case (and certainly the Jewish commentaries seem to advocate such a view, with dates and names of kings, rulers etc who do meet the historical criteria well) then you begin to wonder whether it is worth attempting to extrapolate them into more modern times at all, in fact the conclusion could be even more serious and transformational: If the birth and death of Yeshua were the apex of Jewish history, the moment in time towards which everything had been planned leading to the salvation of Israel and through us the whole world, then the subsequent time span (last 2000 years) only exists as a time bracket brought about due to our (the Jewish people’s) failure to rise up to our historic and prophetic call to be a light to the nations and bring the harvest of the nations in to the God of Israel. He has still ensured that that harvest happened by using those of the nations who did respond in faith, but attempting to label ‘this is this’ from the Prophets suddenly becomes a meaningless exercise, not in the mind of the Prophets at all who saw only the course of prophetic history as regards Israel, and her still at that point in time unclear choice as to whether she would respond to God in the right way. Let’s be clear about what we DO know: the UK, America, Russia etc are never mentioned in the Torah or Messianic Writings (NT) by name, all labels are interpretational. At best only the ‘right at the end’ bits of prophecy, the bits after the break between the 3rd and 4th cups of Pesach (he who has insight will understand ;-) ) can be called upon for real prophetic meaning and application (if it is possible to discern such texts with certainty).

Would be interested in your thoughts on my ramblings.

I responded:

 

Thank you for this stimulating post, Binyamin. I’ll try to do justice in the confines of Facebook. I think I’ll use numbered points for clarity (and, as always, I’ll seek to write in a way which will be meaningful to the non-theologically trained reader):

1.      I’m sure you’re aware of the view called Dispensational Premillennialism  (Reader, don’t worry about that mouthful: I’ll explain it in a later post) which sees the Jewish people and the church as completely separate. They see the “church age” (the last 2000 years) as an interval in God’s purpose for the Jewish people. In this interval the Gentiles are prominent but eventually God will resume his main purpose which is realised in the Jewish people.

2.      As you know, I am not one of those Christians who believe God has finished with the Jewish people and is only interested in the (largely Gentile) church. I believe Romans 11 is clear that God has a purpose for the Jewish people – a massive turning to Christ which will have a profound effect on the world. However, I also believe firmly what Paul says in Gal 3:28-29 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

3.      Paul speaks in Eph 2:11-22 of God’s eternal purpose to bring the Gentiles into the covenant through the blood of Christ, making Jew and Gentile one, destroying the barrier between them. So Jew and Gentile become “fellow citizens” and the whole Jewish-Gentile ‘building’ becomes “a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”  In Eph 3:4-11 Paul makes clear that this was the great “mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations” so you’re right: it wasn’t revealed to the Prophets but it was “revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”

4.      However, this does not mean that the church is a sort of after-thought or interlude. It was the mainstream purpose of God. So Paul continues: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus …. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:4-11). This is why I disagree with Dispensational Premillennialism – I cannot see the last 2000 years as “a time bracket brought about due to … the Jewish people’s failure to rise up to our historic and prophetic call …” as you put it. The last 2000 years was God’s intention, although ideally it should have been with full Jewish participation, but God was not caught out by their disobedience, as many of Jesus’ parables underline

5.      As you may have seen, I have been explaining why I don’t believe the prophecies of Jesus in Matthew 24 etc., were all fulfilled in the 1st century AD. See “Which aspects of the teaching of Jesus on the Mt of Olives refer to the Second Coming?”  http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=349 and “Jesus teaching about the future on the Mt of Olives – some scholarly opinions” http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=364

These are my thoughts, Binyamin. By all means continue the discussion. Shalom.

Message 16

In a debate about “What makes a good bank?” this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “banks, to be good, need the fear of hell and the hope of heaven, not merely the fear of penury and the hope of a larger bank account.” My response is “and so do the rest of us.” Sadly, the church has failed to convey this message to society.

Message 17

PlayStation has just released a game which depicts a Britain abandoned for 20 years after a poisonous fungus has wiped-out almost all the world’s population, leaving nature to gradually reclaim towns and cities.

The blurb says: “Eerie computer-generated images reveal how UK landmarks could crumble and decay if humanity was wiped out.”

They include a crumbling Buckingham Palace, Brighton Pier falling down, a broken-down Battersea Power Station billowing black smoke, Liverpool’s Albert Docks as an overgrown mess, a ruined Clifton Suspension Bridge near Bristol, King’s College, Cambridge as a crumbling ruin and a ruined Clyde Arc with a smouldering Glasgow in the background.

Many in the general population have a fascination with apocalyptic events. Why do Christians fail to take the prophetic and apocalyptic predictions of Scripture seriously? Why doesn’t the church include reference to them in its message to society? Maybe they are more ready to hear than we are to speak.

Message 18

 

CURRENT AFFAIRS: SURVEILLANCE & UNNECESSARY SECRECY

Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, has criticized the government for requesting unnecessary secret court proceedings against an Iranian bank, claiming it was too sensitive to be heard publicly.  He said: “Having held a closed hearing, it turned out that there had been no point in the Supreme Court seeing the closed judgment.” They said the bank was treated in an arbitrary, irrational and disproportionate manner and given no opportunity to defend itself in procedures that were “demonstrably unfair.”

 

On Monday the Guardian reported that British intelligence had spied on delegates at two G20 summits, chaired by Gordon Brown in 2009. Laptops and mobile phones had been hacked, and internet cafes bugged. The government banned the rest of the media from reporting it.

These two incidents add weight to the criticism that we have a government that wishes to be unduly secretive. This Big Brother tendency should concern us all as citizens and as Christians.

PS. There are reasons for covert operations and it may not be easy to draw the line between what is acceptable and what isn’t. But “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing” so the worst thing we can do is to be complacent. The current lively debate is a good thing: it will keep the authorities on their toes. The Big Brother tendency is always present.

Recent Tweets/Facebook messages on Israel (and the Palestinians) updated 19.06.13

April 6th, 2013 by Tony No comments »

LATEST MESSAGE No 10 posted 23rd June 2013

 

This Post only contains shorter messages. There are separate articles on Eschatology which are listed on the Welcome Post above.

Message 1

As many of you know, one of my main interests (after living and working in Israel) is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I shall soon be producing one of my occasional newsletters encouraging prayer for both sides and seeking to take the need, pain and fears of both sides seriously.

 

However, I am also interested in what the NT says about Israel in an eschatological (End Times) context.

 

It is good to have Friends from the Israeli Jewish, Israeli Arab and Palestinian people groups. I think it is very important for me to explain my attitude to Israel (and to the Palestinians). It is easy to be misunderstood – by both sides. In a nutshell I believe God loves both people groups equally, but more needs to be said. So, this week I plan to outline my attitude towards Israel. By all means respond but bear in mind, I will probably take the whole week to summarise all I want to say on the subject and I shall come onto the Palestinian people later in the week. I shall then put an article on the blog.

 

My first message on the subject follows.

Message 2

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 1:

There are many wrong attitudes throughout the world towards Israel:

Anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish prejudice) – the only explanation for this huge phenomena is that it is demonic.

  • Lack of compassion for the Jewish people (not understanding the effect of centuries of persecution, much of it from the church).
  • Uncritical support (the idea that Israel is always wonderful and can do nothing wrong).
  • False eschatological views (the idea that God will deal with Jewish people totally separately from Gentiles, and on the basis of the Law, not faith in Jesus).

 

I have given the subject much thought and prayer over many years

  • I was General Director of the Churches Ministry among Jewish People for 7 years and on its Council for 20 years.).
  • Over the years I have met and discussed with many Jewish people, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have also met and discussed with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have met and discussed with many Christian Zionists, some of whom had extreme views.

Message 3

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 2:

God has not simply replaced the Jewish people with the church, his calling of them is irrevocable.

See Romans 11:1-2, 28-29

 

God still has a purpose for the Jewish people in Jesus. “All Israel will be saved” (through Jesus) when “the full number of Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25-27).

 

The return of the Jewish people to Israel is prophetically significant.

However controversial it is and however much Israel fails the Lord, the Old Testament foretells a worldwide return in the Last Days (see Isa 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer. 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17-20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14).

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK

 

Ian Paul: But there is a huge debate to be had about who ‘Israel’ is in Rom 11.25…I am convinced by NT Wright’s reading of this to mean ‘All who will come to know God in Jesus.’

 

My reply: I am aware of this, Paul, but the whole context makes a clear distinction between Israel and the Gentiles and I find it very difficult to believe ‘Israel’ has a different meaning from the previous verse where it obviously means literal (Jewish) Israel.

 

Ian Paul: Well, that is the main criticism of eg Tom Wright’s position (I guess you have read him on this…?). But then Paul uses ‘Israel’ to mean ‘God’s true people’ rather than ‘the ethnic nation’ earlier in this section in 9.6, arguably he uses it in the same way in Gal 6.16, and also in Eph 2.12. In fact, Eph 2.14 would support this idea that both Jews and Gentiles are now one ‘Israel of God.’

 

Again, fascinating you list Joel 3 above…when Peter is quite explicit that ‘those last days’ when the people will return, there will be signs in heaven, and the Spirit is poured out on all flesh…are the days of Pentecost in which he is speaking! In the words of F F Bruce ‘This is that…’

 

My reply: I have always understood Rom 9:6 as Paul speaking only of the Jews but distinguishing between Jewish believers and purely ethnic Jews. I don’t think Eph 2 proves anything because there is no reference to the word ‘Israel’. But clearly Gal 6:16 is speaking of the new Jewish-Gentile Israel. On your second point there is also ‘the now and the not yet’, the multiple fulfilment of prophecy. I don’t think you can say that the Day of Pentecost totally and finally fulfilled Joel when it goes on immediately to speak of “wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” (By the way, thanks for the discussion, I’m finding it both enjoyable and helpful – keep challenging me).

Message 4

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 3:

The regaining of Jerusalem is an End Times sign

 

The NT assumes knowledge of the OT which does speak of a worldwide return of the Jewish people to the land so there are not many references to it in the NT, but here are two.

Jesus says the end of Gentile rule over Jerusalem is a sign in Luke 21:24 “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

 

Jesus does not disagree with the disciples when they speak of the kingdom being restored to Israel (Acts 1:6-7) “Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

 

We must oppose anti-Semitism and be compassionate towards the need, pain and fears of Jewish people.

Memories of persecution and especially of the Holocaust are very strong. Israelis fear the loss of the land because of all that, whatever their military strength.

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK

 

David Sax: Excellent Tony. I wish that more believers would read this and consider it carefully.

Ian Paul: Not sure if you want an FB debate about this…I have always found it striking that NT appears to see the OT promises to Israel as completely fulfilled in Jesus. That followers of Jesus come from ‘every tribe language people and nation’ is the fulfilment of the promise of gathering.

 

My reply: By all means debate, Ian. Obviously, the NT is the blossoming of the ‘bud’ of the OT but I’m convinced that, however ‘untidy’ it is, the NT does follow the OT is seeing a future purpose for the Jewish people – but only in Christ. Hence my first composite point above. Replacement Theology (which I’ll define for the benefit of others), namely the idea that church has totally replaced the Jewish people in God’s purposes, does not seem to fit all the biblical material. See my article ‘Christian Zionism: An Attempt at a Biblical Basis’ at http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/christianzionismbiblebias.html

Ian Paul: I agree with you about ‘replacement theology’ not being in the NT. But I am struggling to relate your first line ‘the regaining of Jerusalem is an end-times sign’ to the NT in the light eg of Jesus’ seeing himself as the new temple in John’s gospel. But I will look at your article…

(It does seem odd to me that the *only* text you cite in support of the Jerusalem comment is Luke 21.24…which doesn’t actually say much.)

My reply: I’m convinced that Luke 21:24 is literal. The Jewish people did literally ‘fall by the sword’ and were literally ‘taken as prisoners to all the nations’ and Jerusalem has been for 2000 years literally ‘trampled on by the Gentiles’ and so I can’t be other than literal in regard to the direct implication of ‘until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled’, namely the Jewish people regaining control. Also what happened in the 20th century is a most remarkable coincidence if it doesn’t relate to that prophecy. As I said, I think it is backed up by the direct implication of Jesus’ reply Acts 1:6 (and a great deal of OT prophecy). That is not to deny that the Kingdom is bigger than believing (Jewish) Israel (and, of course, I am not at this moment commenting on the political (Israeli-Palestinian) aspect. More on that later).

If I were basing this point merely on two brief verses (both of them inferences), namely Luke 21:24 and Acts 1:6, it would hardly be a strong foundation. But those two verses are the NT tip of the OT iceberg which is Isa 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer. 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17-20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14.

Message 5

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 4:

 

God loves the Palestinian people as much as anyone.

  • He wants the best for them
  • He wants them to be treated with dignity and justice, which is all too often not the way they are treated by the Israeli government.

 

The Torah (Law) commands Israel to love the Palestinians.

This teaching is about foreigners (non-Jews) in the land and applies to the territories under Israel’s control. It is particularly relevant to Zionists who believe the Palestinian areas should be and remain Israel proper.

  • The Lord loves and defends the foreigner (Deut 10:18-19; Psa 146:9).
  • The Lord forbids Israel to ill treat, oppress or deprive the foreigner (Ex 22:21; 23:9; Deut 24:14, 17; Jer 7:6-7; 22:3; Ezk 22:7, 29; Zech 7:10).
  • Anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner is strongly condemned (Deut 27:19; Mal 3:5).
  • The people of Israel must love foreigners as they love themselves (Lev 19:33-34).
  • Israel must provide for needy foreigners (Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19-21; 26:12; Ezk 47:21-23).

 

The Palestinians are responsible to act justly with respect to Israel, which is all too often not the case.

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK:

Peter Gray-Read: Tony, Israel is an economic support for the Palestinians, Israel would love closer ties but when you are bombed as they have been they need to protect themselves. WE have to recognise that the Palestinians Arabs have been a pawn used by other Islamic nations to get world opinion against the Jews. And many have swallowed the bait. Israel has absorbed Jews from so many nations. How big is Israel? Why could not the other huge Arabic nations have shown such compassion on their own people. I love your desire to promote the study of end times but please be careful about the blame Israel lobby. They who bless Israel will be blessed … Gt Britain had such an opportunity to assign the Jews land commensurate with their God given heritage after WW1 we abused that trust. Let’s not repeat the mistake.

My reply: Peter, there are faults on both sides of this dispute but your (admittedly brief) comment seems to be putting all the blame on the Palestinian/Arab side. It is not that I disagree with your criticisms of them but the situation is more complicated. Your statements that Israel is “an economic support for the Palestinians” and “would love closer ties” are not the whole picture. For example, the fact is that a significant number of Israelis do not long for closer ties. I used to take a solely pro-Israel view before I lived in Israel and listened extensively to people from both sides and did a fair amount of research.

I am well aware of the “Israel can do no wrong” lobby as I am of the “Israel can do no right” lobby and I definitely disagree with both of them. They are both mistaken and unhelpful. We must recognise the need, pain, fear – and faults – on both sides if we are to pray effectively. And prayer is the most important thing we can do. You will have read my very positive statements re Israel and its future (and my condemnation of anti-Semitism) over the last few days. But I do not believe we bless Israel by ignoring her faults (see the Prophets – to whom I referred in my piece), any more than we love an individual by ignoring his/her faults. The same can be said for the Palestinian side. The problem with the Arab nations absorbing the Palestinians is that the Palestinians believe they have a right to return to what they see as their homeland. Whatever we think about this or the likelihood of it happening we have to understand this aspiration, just as we have to understand the Jewish concerns about not losing their homeland. We must show God-given compassion to both sides and on that basis assess and pray about the faults of both sides. (I’ll deal with the “God-given heritage” later so won’t comment now).

 

Message 6

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTINIANS 5:

There are two attitudes we need to avoid:

 

  1. An excessive appreciation of Israel: I know what it is to have a deep love and a profound concern for Israel. It first happened to me in 1983 and I believe it is God-given. But the danger is that it leads to an uncritical and very biased support for Israel – ‘Israel can do no wrong.’

 

  1. A unconsciously anti-Semitic carping criticism of Israel: This can be deemed to be a proper concern for justice for the Palestinians. There is such a thing as righteous anger over injustice but this isn’t it. Katrina Lantos Swett wrote recently: “While no country is beyond reproach, when criticism includes language intended to delegitimize Israel, demonize its people, and apply to it standards to which no other state is held, we must call it antisemitism” (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/31/disturbing-persistence-antisemitism-europe).

 

There are two attitudes we need to have:

 

  1. A true friend will be a critical friend and will share constructive criticism
  • I want to be a true friend of Israel (and also of the Palestinian people).
  1. We must always listen to both sides of the story
  • Anyone with any experience knows one must listen to both sides of a story, however convincing one side is. This is true in the realm of personal relationships. It is true in the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides use propaganda. Both sides can make overwhelmingly convincing cases.

 

[This is the final part of my 5 comments on this subject. They are now in article form on http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=277]

 

Why have I stressed attitudes to Israel and the Palestinians? Because although the re-establishment of Israel is an End Times sign, I cannot talk about it without compassion for both people groups, not only for reconciliation, justice and security but also for them to come to know Jesus. It may surprise you to know that many Jewish people think Christian Zionists are only interested in them eschatologically because they will be killed in the Battle of Armageddon. We need to show that is not our position.

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK:

David Sax: Well said Tony.

Angela Harverson: Indeed .we must have the two eyed approach..

Hazel Smalley: Yes, we must never lose sight of the fact that there are two sides to every story….and especially where Israel is concerned.

Peter Gray-Read: Amen to that. Paul’s desire was that all Israel be saved – it should be ours as well. They are not just a Biblical exhibit – they and the descendants of Ishmael are our brothers and sisters. Thank you

 

Alasdair Gordon: One of the most balanced articles I have read in a long time on this difficult subject.

Ian Paul: I would agree with this–but I am unclear how it sits with your conviction that the land has been promised in perpetuity. When Israel steals land that belongs to others and builds settlements on it, is this a violations of human rights or enacting Israel’s God-given right?

My reply: Ian, I am about to write relevantly to your question but you may like to see my brand new article “Is it right to divide the Promised Land?” See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284

 

Stanley Hierons: Am in agreement Tony…

Hazel Smalley: Just read your “brand new article” Tony…and I shall read it again as it’s a lot to take in all at once! Thank you ‘tho, I enjoy a good and informed read any time!!

 Message 7

On April 3rd a hundred prominent US Jews wrote a letter to Israel’s Prime Minister: “We believe that this is a compelling moment for you and your new government to respond to President Obama’s call for peace by taking concrete confidence building steps designed to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to a ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We urge you, in particular, to work closely with Secretary of State John Kerry to devise pragmatic initiatives, consistent with Israel’s security needs, which would represent Israel’s readiness to make painful territorial sacrifices for the sake of peace.”

 

I have written earlier that the re-establishment of Israel is a sign of the End Times and a fulfilment of God’s ancient promises about the land. But I also believe that the establishment of a Palestinian State is probably the right way forward for Israel. That raises the question: Is it right to divide the Promised Land?

Message 8

IS IT RIGHT TO DIVIDE THE PROMISED LAND? 2

I will briefly summarise various points I make in my article (Is it right to divide the Promised Land? See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284)

1.      The “Promised Land” included much of what is now Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

So it is difficult to imagine Israel possessing the whole of the land. Israel has only possessed the whole land for 40 out of the last 4000 years (1% of the time), {some would say they have never possessed the whole land] yet God has worked out his purposes for the Jewish people.

2.      Israel is not obeying the law which is a condition of possessing the Promised Land

God commanded Israel to observe a “Year of Jubilee” every 50th year when all property is to be returned to its original owner. This was a condition of keeping the land. (Those who are strict about God’s promise of the whole land should be strict about this too!). Only having part of the land is preferable to losing it.

 

I shall give more reasons later but you may like to read my full article “Is it right to divide the Promised Land?” http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284

3.      Israel has a God-given responsibility towards the Palestinians

In have already addressed this on Facebook.

4.      The single-state solution is not really viable for Jewish Israelis

Israel is a democracy and the single-state solution (making Palestinians citizens) would soon mean an Arab majority and an end to the safe Jewish homeland.

5.      If Israel does not make peace with the Palestinians the world will turn against her

Scripture foretells such a turning against Israel. But Israel should not to bring unnecessary or premature trouble on herself just because of some ‘prophetic’ resignation or fatalism.

It seems clear to me that, in view of God’s faithfulness to Israel despite her not having the whole of the Promised Land throughout most of history and not having a land at all for many centuries, we need to take the way of faith in our thinking. God has shown with abundant clarity that he can fulfill his promises to Israel despite all the anti-Semitism and persecution and, one might add, her rejection of God’s Messiah. The way of faith includes obeying what Scripture teaches about justice and loving one’s neighbour, which must be applied to foreigners and those from another people group. It means trusting God to protect Israel (although this does not, of course, rule out taking proper precautions). The two-state solution seems the best for Israel as well as the Palestinians, although I don’t think it will mean an end to all danger and strife. But Israel will regain support from powerful allies against those seeking to destroy her. If it is God’s purpose for her ultimately to have more of the Promised Land, God is not limited by Israel agreeing in the near future to the Palestinians having their own state. One thing is certain, he would reward her obedience.

Message 9

TO INFORM YOUR PRAYERS FOR ISRAEL & THE PALESTINIANS
My latest Paradox Newsletter is now available. My newsletters seek to take the needs, pain and fears of both sides seriously. This edition asks what hope there is for the Peace Process and reports on

• The situation with Hamas in Gaza
• The effects of the UN agreement to treat the Palestinians as a “non-member observer state”
• The dangerous isolation of Israel
• Israel’s relationship with the US
• The results of the Israeli General Election

• Thanksgiving & Prayer Topics

See http://prayerforpeace.org.uk/blog/?p=37

Message 10

CURRENT AFFAIRS: ISRAELI GOVERNMENT “STRONGLY OPPOSED TO PALESTINIAN STATE”

Having spoken strongly about the strong anti-Israel bias in the WCC’s recent statement I now have to say something on the other side. This week Naftali Bennett, the Israeli economics and trade minister said in a meeting of West Bank settlers that it was hopeless to expect a settlement with the Palestinians. He said: “Never have so many people invested so much energy in something that is hopeless …. This land has been ours for 3,000 years. There was never a Palestinian state here and we were never occupiers. The house is ours and we are residents here, not the occupiers.” He then said Israel should “build, build, build” settlements on the West Bank.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Zeev Elkin, agreed with Bennett.  Two weeks earlier the deputy defence minister, Danny Danon, claimed a majority within the Israeli government were strongly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. He said: “If there will be a move to promote a two-state solution, you will see forces blocking it within the party and the government.”

All this is very sad and guaranteed to create a lot of trouble for Israel as well as frustrating the Palestinians in their legitimate desire for their own state. True, there was never a Palestinian state on the West Bank but there were Palestinian people living there, many of whom were displaced and their private land occupied. These politicians should realise that we are living in 2013, not 1948. There is now a recognised and defined Palestinian people who naturally wish to have their own state.  It is wrong and unjust not to recognise this.

I recently wrote at greater length about this issue in “Is it right to divide the Promised Land?” at

http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284  This new development is very disturbing and we must pray it won’t prevent a just settlement with peace and security for both sides.