Why I Believe Eschatology the Way I Do
by Orval Heath
As a young man entering the ministry in answer to God's calling, I was confronted with the subject of eschatology, which I knew nothing about, and in fact didn't even know how to pronounce the word, or what it meant. I soon found out that eschatology was the study of last things including death, heaven, the return of Christ, the resurrection, the tribulation, the millennium, the last judgment, and the eternal state of man kind.
Many of the preachers that I was associated with held different views on most of the things that are included in eschatology. In particular they held different views on the millennium, which determined their belief on the return of Christ, the resurrection, the tribulation, and the last judgment. These views of eschatology held by these preachers consisted of the Pre-millennial and the Amillennial views. Later I found that there was also the Post-millennial view. I also found out in due process of time that these were only the general views of Biblical eschatology. In addition to these three broad views, there are distinct variations within each system. These variations will determine what kind of a Pre-millennialist, Post-millennialist, or Amillennialist that a person is.
In spite of all the differences in these three views, there are also some important similarities that each view holds in common. These similarities are as follows:
1. Each view accepts all scripture as the inspired word of God; therefore, each professes their view to be based upon Biblical teachings.
2. Each view teaches that there will be a future, visible, and bodily return of Christ.
3. Each view believes that Jesus Christ is the promised Son of God, that He is God, and that He died as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
4. Each view holds that every human being will at some time receive a resurrected body which will live eternally in either Heaven or Hell.
5. Each view holds that the difference in belief comes from the lack of ability to interpret the Bible properly rather than from a lack of loyalty to the Bible.
6. Each view acknowledges that the other views are held by able conservative and evangelical scholars.
As the three basic views of eschatology and their variations are considered, I will put forth effort to define them as I understand each view to believe. These views are as follows:
PREMILLENNIALISM IN GENERAL
All views of premillennialism generally hold the following concepts:
1. That the world is growing worse and will continue to do so until Christ comes and personally establishes His Kingdom on earth.
2. That Christ will establish a kingdom that was promised by the Old Testament prophets that was not fulfilled during His first coming.
3. That a personal, and visible reign of Christ will be established here on earth for a thousand years prior to the end of the world.
4. That we are fast approaching the end of the church age, and that Christ may come at any time.
5. That before and during a future tribulation period, all the living Jews will be restored to the land of Israel.
6. That both of the resurrections that are mentioned in Revelation 20: 1-10 are physical or bodily resurrections.
7. That at Christ's first coming, the righteous dead will be resurrected in what is called the first resurrection. There are various views on when this will happen, or if the rapture will include all the righteous dead.
8. That the resurrected righteous and the living transformed righteous will be raptured up to meet Christ in the air. Some place this rapture before the great tribulation, some in the middle of it and some after it.
9. That a judgment of the righteous will then take place.
10. That Christ, after the tribulation, will destroy the man of sin, the beast, or antichrist, in the Battle of Armageddon.
11. That at this time there will be a conversion of National Israel.
12. That a judgment of nations, Matt. 25: 31-46, will precede the millennium.
13. After this judgment of nations, Christ will establish His kingdom and sit on David's throne in Jerusalem.
14. That the millennium will then begin, and Satan will be bound and cast into the abyss during this 1000 years.
15. That Christ will rule the whole world from David's Throne in Jerusalem for a thousand years in righteousness, peace, and prosperity.
16. That God will remove the curse that is now upon the world because of Adam's sin, and will cause the land to become extremely productive. He will also cause the animals that are now ferocious, to be changed so as to live in peace with themselves and with mankind. Human life is to be prolonged but death and sickness will not completely be done away with.
17. That those born during this thousand year reign and are not converted, will still be held in control by Christ for He will rule with a rod of iron.
18. That somewhere near the end of the thousand year reign, Satan will be loosed for a "little season" and will deceive the nations in such way that he will be able to gather the unregenerate together to make war against the saints. This battle will be known as the Battle of Gog and Magog.
19. That during this battle of Gog and Magog, Christ will defeat Satan and his followers, and soon thereafter the Lord will cast Satan and all of his followers into the lake of fire for all eternity. The wicked will be included for they will be resurrected and be judged in the White Throne Judgment and cast in the lake of fire with Satan.
20. That the final state of the redeemed will be ushered in immediately after the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20: 11-15).
Historical or classical premillennialism, originally called chilism, is the oldest and mildest form of premillennialism. It seems that history was fairly silent on eschatology until the latter part of the fourth century. According to, A Concise History of Baptists, by G. H. Orchard a group of Christians among the churches in Italy, held a view of eschatology called chilism which later became known as historical premillennialism. This view has several distinctive characteristics in addition to the general beliefs of premillennialism. A list of those are as follows:
1. The historical premillennialist used the futuristic method of interpretation, yet, it was different from the modern dispensational belief.
2. This view does not emphasize an imminent return of Christ. It holds instead that a number of events must happen before Christ returns. These events include the worldwide proclamation of a distinct antichrist different from all other antichrists and a Great Tribulation period.
3. It holds that there is only one return of Christ, and that coming will be after the Great Tribulation and not before it. This coming is visible and will be accompanied by the resurrection and rapture after which the believers will almost immediately escort Christ back to earth.
4. This view sees Israel saved and restored, not as a separate people from the gentiles, but as one people of God which is the body of Christ. It does not place any emphasis upon God having a separate purpose for physical Israel and the church. The gospel that the Jews are to preach during the tribulation is the gospel of grace, not a separate gospel of the kingdom. That the church has replaced national Israel as God's elect.
5. This view believes that the church will be on earth during the tribulation period.
6. This view holds to a less physical approach to eschatology than modern premillennialist. They seem to be unsure of the length of the tribulation period, as well as the length of the millennium, and fulfilled Old Testament prophecy during the millennium.
It must be kept in mind that there are several variations within historical premillennialist views. Some hold that the millennial kingdom is primarily Jewish, but some allow Gentile believers to be there in a subordinate place. Others hold that it is only for martyrs, Jewish or Gentile, who will occupy the primary place. Some hold that during the millennium all those with physical bodies will be subject to death; other say only unbelievers will be subject to death.
Those that hold the historical view are either vague or silent concerning the relationship of those with spiritual bodies living in the presence of those with physical bodies. They are also vague on the subject of the restored temple, and the animal sacrifices. The historic premillennialists are more like amillennialists than they are the modern premillennialists.
Dispensational Premillennialism is considered by the non-dispensationalist to be a system of interpretation that came into existence during the early 1500's as a counter-reformation that was administered by the Roman Catholic Church. A group in the Catholic church called Jesuits were the leaders of this movement. Their proper title is the "Society of Jesus." They were first called, Compania de Jesus, which is Spanish for "Military Company of Jesus." In 1585, a Jesuit priest named Francisco Ribera started a theory that the Pope could not be the Antichrist or Man of Sin, because that was yet to happen in the future. He took the Seventy Weeks of Daniel and originated the Gap Theory, which will be discussed later. Ribera was later aided by two other Jesuits, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine and Luis de Alcazar. Later this theory was expanded through the efforts of many others, and especially through the efforts of John N. Darby of the Plymouth Brethren, and C. I. Scofield of the Presbyterians. The Dispensationalist, however, conceive of their beliefs either as a needed refinement of historical premillennialism or as rediscovered truth. They differ so much from other premillennialists that writers often list them as a separate group rather than as an alternate form of premillennialism. The following is a list of the distinctive beliefs of the dispensationalists.
1. It contends that the Bible must be interpreted physical wherever possible. This includes apocalyptic, poetic, and prophetic literature. That the historical and prophetical parts of the Bible must be interpreted alike. All prophecy either has been or will be fulfilled physically. That all of the Old Testament promises were made to physical Israel, never to the New Testament saints, and must be fulfilled in physical Israel.
2. That a clear distinction must be made between physical Israel and the church. That God has an unconditional covenant with Israel through Abraham and regardless of what they have or might do, physical Israel remains forever the chosen people of God, and that they must receive every promise that was made to them unconditionally. That God's purpose for the church will be fulfilled in heaven while His purpose for physical Israel will be fulfilled on the earth. Some believe that Jews and Gentiles will forever be separated with the Jewish believers living on the new earth and the Gentile believers in the new heavens. They reject any teaching that spiritual Israel is the continuation of physical Israel, and that Old Testament promises can find fulfillment in New Testament believers; they contend that the promises were made to physical Israel and must be fulfilled only in fleshly Israel.
3. That the establishing of the church was unforeseen in Old Testament prophecy. That the church resulted from the Jewish rejection of the kingdom offered to them and subsequent crucifixion of Christ. That God dealt with the Jews until they crucified their Messiah, and when this happened His prophetic time-clock stopped for the duration of the unpredicted church age. They believe that sixty-nine weeks of Daniel's vision (Dan. 9: 24-27) concerning the chosen people were fulfilled before they crucified their Messiah and at that time God's time-clock stopped. That when the rapture of the church comes the clock will start again and God will once again continue His dealings with physical Israel. This period following the pretribulation rapture is believed to be Daniel's 70th week on the prophetic time-clock, and that it has nothing to do with the church.
4. They believe that a distinction must be made between the "Kingdom of Heaven" and the "Kingdom of God." That the Kingdom of Heaven is the kingdom that was offered to the Jews at Christ's first coming. This kingdom was Jewish or Messianic in nature; therefore, it had to be postponed after it was rejected. That the Kingdom of God includes saved Jews and Gentiles of all ages, and that it is a present reality. That this is the "mystery" or the church form of the kingdom, but it is not to be identified with the kingdom that was predicted in the Old Testament.
5. That much of the New Testament scriptures do not apply to the church age or the gentiles; that much of it applies to the future kingdom age. Though not all dispensationalist believe that part of the New Testament is for the kingdom age, a great number do. They believe that all or part of the gospels and almost all of Revelation are for the kingdom age that is future. They point out that the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord's Prayer apply only to the kingdom age which had to be postponed.
6. They believe that dispensationalists, in contrast with other premillennialists, advocate the imminent or any-moment return of Christ.
7. They believe that during the millennium, worship will once again be at the rebuilt temple in the city of Jerusalem, and that animal sacrifices will be reinstituted, not as propitiatory offerings, but as memorial offerings (Ezek. 40-48).
8. That there are from four to seven dispensations as follows: (1.) Innocence; (2.) Conscience; (3.) Human government; (4.) Promise; (5.) Law; (6.) Grace or church; (7.) Millennium. There are eight covenants (1.) the Edenic covenant before the fall; (2.) A covenant after the fall with Adam; (3.) Noah; (4.) Abraham; (5.) Moses; (6.) David; (7.) The Palestinian covenant; (8.) The new covenant with Christ. They believe in a two or possibly three-stage Second Coming of Christ; one before the tribulation period, one at the end of the tribulation, and one following the millennium to burn the present world. There are either three or four resurrections; that of the righteous before the tribulation; the righteous who die during the millennium, and the wicked dead after the millennium. And from four to eight judgments; the judgment of saints following a pretribulation rapture; the judgment of Israel; the judgment of living Gentile nations before the millennium; the judgment for the saints who die during the tribulation period and/ or the millennium; the judgment of the believer's sins by Christ on the cross, and the believer's judgment of self.
9. That the second coming of Christ will not be one single event. That it includes two and possibly three stages separated by over a thousand years. The first being the pretribulation rapture of the church, which does not include Old Testament saints; the second follows the tribulation which is believed to be seven years, this will concern physical Israel and the world when Christ comes with His church. This is between the tribulation and the millennium. The third will come after Satan has been loosed for a little season, and this will be the consummation of the age and the beginning of the new heaven and earth.
10. They believe that when Christ makes His first appearance to secretly rapture the church, He will not descend to the earth but will be joined by the church in the air and will remain there during a seven-year earthly tribulation period. Those that are caught up in the air will be judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5: 10,11). The Marriage Feast of the Lamb follows this judgment, and it is also in the air.
11. That during this seven-year absence of Christ and the church a number of events will occur on the earth: (1) Daniel's tribulation period begins (Dan. 9: 24-27); (2) Antichrist will come to power, and during the last half of his reign, he will severely punish all those who fail to worship him as God; (3) That a terrible judgment will fall upon the earth (Rev. 4-19); (4) a remnant of physical Israel numbering 144,000 will accept Christ as their Messiah (Rev. 7: 3-8); (5) this remnant will begin preaching the same "gospel of the kingdom" that John the Baptist and Jesus preached before it was postponed; (6) that the Jewish evangelists will see the conversion of a great number of Gentiles (Rev. 7: 9); and (7) the antichrist or beast along with the false prophet, will attack the people of God in what will be known as the Battle of Armageddon.
12. That Christ will come with His saints and defeat the forces of evil in this Battle of Armageddon. At this time Christ will see the conversion of physical Israel.
13. That during this time there will be a judgment of physical Israel that is alive at the time. Those that rebel will be put to death and denied the millennial experience, while the living Jews who accept Christ will enter the millennial kingdom..
14. That during this time there will also be a judgment of living Gentile nations where the sheep nations are separated from the goat nations (Matt. 25: 31-46). The resurrected people will have no part in this judgment; living Gentiles will be judged according to how they have treated God's people during the tribulation. The sheep will remain on the earth and enter the millennium; the goats will be cast into the lake of fire.
15. That a resurrection for the tribulation saints will occur between Christ's Second Coming and the millennium, and since the Old Testament saints were not included in the earlier resurrection of church saints, they will also rise (Rev. 20: 4). These resurrected people, however, will not enter the millennial kingdom but will depart for the new Jerusalem in the sky.
16. That during this thousand year reign of Christ here on earth, Satan will be bound such that he will not be able to deceive the nations.
17. That this millennial kingdom, with Satan bound, will be the fulfillment of Old Testament promises that God made to physical Israel. The Jews will be exalted above Gentiles; however, no spirit of jealousy is anticipated.
18. There is a great division between Dispensationalists on who will be in the millennial. Some think it will be only earthly saved people while others think it will be both mortals and immortals. Both, however, agree that it will be a golden age far greater than anything the world has ever experienced.
19. Some Dispensationalists believe that during the millennium, resurrected saints will live above the earth in the new Jerusalem, which will later descend to a newly created earth (Rev. 21: 20-22: 5). These resurrected saints will, however, participate with Christ in certain judgments (Matt. 19: 28; I Cor. 6: 2; and Rev. 20: 6).
20. That sometime around the end of the millennium there will be another resurrection which will consist of those believers who die during the millennium.
21. That the people that are born during the millennium, who are not true converts, will be led by Satan, after he is loosed, to attack the "camp of the saints."
22. That after the millennium there will be another resurrection of the unbelieving dead who will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20: 11-15).
23. That after the Great White Throne Judgment the final state of the righteous will be established on the new earth. Some believe that after the new Jerusalem descends to the new earth, Jews and Gentiles will dwell together forever without losing their identity. Others believe that the final state for the Gentile believers will be in Heaven above; the final state for the Jewish believers will be on an earth promised specifically to them.
Most all dispensationalists believe in a pretribulation rapture. Some think that only the Lord's church will be raptured, and the rest of the believers will go through the Great Tribulation period. Others think that all believers will be raptured before the Great Tribulation.
There are those that believe in a pretribulation rapture that are not dispensationalists. They believe that all believers will be raptured before the Great Tribulation, or that the believers that are watching and ready will be raptured before the tribulation, and the rest of the believers will be raptured after they are refined and made ready by experiencing the tribulation.
Mid-tribulation is a term that describes those who believe that the church will be raptured in the middle of a seven year tribulation period rather than at the beginning or the end of it. It is believed that this seven year period is the seventieth week of Daniel prophecy. Some in this group do not believe that the first half of this seven year period will be tribulation, only the last half after the church has been raptured will tribulation come. Others believe that a little tribulation will go on during the first half and great tribulation will take place during the last half. This means that the church will suffer from the wrath of man during the first half but will escape the wrath of God during the second half.
Other differences among the mid-tribulationist is the issue of Israel and the church, and also the church it's self. Some say that Old Testament prophecies directed to Israel as the people of God can be fulfilled in the New Testament people of God. However, Old Testament prophecies directed to Israel as a nation must be fulfilled in physical Israel. Some believe that the "elect" spoken of in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24: 22) is not interpreted as Jews but as believers or church saints. Whether or not any part of the church goes through tribulation is determined what is believed about the church. Do all believers make up the church, or is it only those that are members of local scriptural churches? What they believe about the Lord's church will determine what they believe about the rapture.
Most of the Post-tribulationist are historical premillennialists whose views have already been presented. However, Post-tribulationist differ some in their views. Some believe that all living believers will go through the seven year period, which is the seventieth week of Daniel's prophecy. At the end of this seventieth week, God will rapture his people, deal with the lost, destroy this earth, and establish his kingdom on the new earth. Others believe that the Great Tribulation will take place during the first half of Daniel's seventieth week. The church will suffer greatly under the hand of a future antichrist, then the last half of the week, after the church has been raptured out, is a period of God's wrath and is not believed to be part of the Great Tribulation.
Post-millennialism is a view of eschatology which holds that the Kingdom of God is slowly being extended over the earth through the preaching of the gospel under the power of the Holy Spirit. That eventually the world will be Christianized to such an extent that the nations will accept the Christian principles as a way of life. Through this means the world will have peace and this will usher in the golden age, and at the end of this age Christ will return as He promised.
Most postmillennialist are not overly enthused about the word "millennium" since their concept of the millennium does not basically come from Revelation chapter 20. Specific expectations and concepts of post-millennialism include the following:
1. Postmillennialist expects the prophecy that is given in figurative or symbolic language may be fulfilled in the same way. They accept a figurative or spiritual interpretation if the evidence indicates that it is preferable, otherwise they accept a physical interpretation.
2. They expect a large majority of the world to be saved and converted before Christ returns. This is to be accomplished by the successful proclamation of the gospel under the convicting power of the Holy Ghost. They do not believe that every individual will be saved, but Christian principles will be the rule of society rather than the exception.
3. They believe that the Kingdom of God is a present reality on earth. It is not a domain over which Christ visibly rules, but Christ is ruling in the hearts of His people. The Kingdom is believed to have been in existence since the beginning of the world, but was more clearly revealed at the first coming of Christ.
4. That the Kingdom of God has a gradual rather than a sudden and dramatic growth. They believe that the Kingdom will spread throughout the world before Christ returns.
5. They expect a long period of earthly peace and righteousness before Christ returns. This period is not limited to an exact thousand years, it may be longer or shorter. Some think that it covers the entire church age while others believe that the church age will merge into the millennium in such a way that a beginning point is hardly discernible.
6. Postmillennialist do not expect an imminent or any-moment return of Christ. When they are confronted with the present world conditions, they point out that there is yet plenty of time before Christ returns.
7. They do expect that there will be a time of evil near or at the end of the millennium.
8. They interpret Daniel's 70 prophetic weeks as being fulfilled. They don't believe that there is a connection between the end-time tribulation and the 70th week of Daniel. Therefore the end-time tribulation is not necessarily seven years in length.
9. They expect a future conversion of Israel along with all other nations. They do not consider this a fulfillment of prophecy concerning national Israel as a separate people, but simply as a part of the church which is made up of both Jews and Gentiles.
10. They expect the earthly millennium to end with the personal, visible, and bodily return of Christ.
11. That a future single General Resurrection and General Judgment with the eternal state to start immediately thereafter.
12. They generally interpret Revelation 20: 1-6 exclusively as a martyr scene. These martyrs are in Heaven, and they reign with Christ from Heaven while the millennium is taking place on earth. That the first resurrection is spiritual and takes place when the soul is regenerated. That the second resurrection is a bodily resurrection that includes both the righteous and unrighteous dead. This second resurrection takes place just before the Great White Throne Judgment.
Amillennialism is a view of eschatology that generally holds that the millennium of the Bible, found in Revelation 20, started when Christ instituted His kingdom, and ascended David's Throne as the apostle Peter proclaimed in Acts 2: 30-31. Some Amillennialist think it is a reality only for righteous souls or disembodied spirits in the intermediate state, while others believe it to be Christ's reign over both those in Heaven as well as those here on earth. The second group prefer to use the term Gospel-millennialist.
Some specific expectations or concepts of Amillennialism include the following:
1. Like the postmillennialist, they expect that prophecy given in figurative or symbolic language may be fulfilled in a non-physical way. They accept a figurative or spiritual interpretation if the evidence indicates that it is preferable.
2. They believe that good and evil will continue to exist side by side until Christ returns. Instead of the Bible predicting that the world will grow better, it will continue to grow worse in the spiritual realm. Though things may get better physically, they will continue to grow worse spiritually.
3. They believe that the millennium will last throughout the church age. That it is to last an indefinite period of time rather than a definite thousand years.
4. That the millennium will end when Christ returns. The final state of the just and unjust will follow shortly after His return.
5. Amillennialist generally believe in the imminent or any-moment return of Christ.
6. Most Amillennialist expect an end-time persecution of the Christians under a world antichrist system. They believe that this persecution will end with the coming of Christ. Some believe this to be the battle of Armageddon or Battle of Gog and Magog.
7. Amillennialist have divided expectations concerning a future conversion of Israel. It seems that all believe that Jews are going to be saved throughout the church age, but they differ about whether there will be an end-time national conversion. Regardless of which time the Jews are saved, it is believed that they will be a part of the family of God along with the Gentiles because there is no separate plan for national Israel.
8. They interpret Daniel's 70th week of prophecy as being fulfilled with Christ's first coming. The tribulation at the end of the age is not connected with Daniel's prophecy.
9. Amillennialist, like postmillennialist, expect a General Resurrection, a General Judgment, and a separation of the saved from the lost to follow closely thereafter.
10. They believe that the first resurrection is spiritual, and takes place at regeneration, or being born again. The second resurrection as the bodily resurrection of all people, the just and the unjust. That a separation will take place and each group will enter their eternal state.
11. Most Amillennialist hold that many of the prophecies which both premillennialists and postmillennialist claim are to be fulfilled during an earthly millennium are actually fulfilled in a spiritual sense.
It is hoped that a look at the general views of the three main systems will help us come to a better understanding of our need to study God's word and determine what He is teaching us about the things that will happen at the end-time. It is obvious that all views cannot be correct, therefore, what we believe about eschatology will affect what we believe about many things in God's word.
Hermeneutics is the science of Bible interpretation. Anyone that studies the Bible for the purpose of learning the truth of God's word, must have a method of interpretation that is consistent through the entire Bible. I fear that a large majority of people use the method of interpretation that will make scriptures fit what they already believe, or what they have read or heard from someone else. This type of interpretation will not usually lead to the truth.
Many times people that have not based their eschatology on sound Bible interpretation will often make false accusations against others. They do this hoping that once they have labeled their opponents that no one will desire to give any consideration to their opponents eschatology. For example, some premillennialists will accuse their opponents of going along with Augustine, and the Roman Catholic Church, while Amillennialist and other non-premillennialists will accuse the premillennialists of being like the Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses. This is not the real issue and should not be done; for truth is not determined by who believes something.
Another false accusation concerns the time a particular millennial view originated or developed. Each one believes that their view originated in Biblical teachings. Premillennialists say that Amillennialism originated with Augustine and the early Roman Catholic Church, while the Amillennialist claim dispensational premillennialism did not exist until after the reformation. Again, truth is not determined by when history records its origin, but what the Bible teaches.
The third false accusation is basing a belief upon the number of people that believe the same way. It is very evident by the scriptures that great numbers do not make truths. Christ certainly taught views during His earthly ministry that only a very small minority accepted. Even today the precious doctrine of salvation by grace alone is only adhered to by a very small minority of professed Christians.
The fourth false accusation is centered around one group accusing all others of being liberals and they alone are conservative. This accusation is made to sound as if they are the only real Bible
believers. This is just another way to encourage the public not to give any consideration to other views other than theirs. Again, this is not the issue because each one of the views are believed by conservatives.
There are many other false accusation made by all groups, but the real issue of how a person believes eschatology is based on hermeneutics, or Bible interpretation. The Bible cannot be understood without first being interpreted. Just as there are many different Christian denominations that exist because of the way they interpret the Bible, so there are many views of eschatology for the same reason. Since the Bible must first be interpreted the question is, how must it be interpreted? Physically, spiritually, or both ways? and how do we determine which method or methods should be used? These are questions that must be answered in a way that will be compatible to God's word.
In the above statement you will notice that I used the terms physical and spiritual rather than literal and spiritual. To say literal and spiritual is to insinuate that those things that are spiritual are not literal. To do this would be saying that God is not literal because He is spirit. Therefore, I prefer to use the terms physical and spiritual. With these terms in mind we shall consider the following rules of interpretation:
1. God's word (the Bible) should be interpreted physically wherever and whenever possible, as long as it doesn't violate other rules of interpretation. Prophetic and poetic writings will often have to be interpreted figuratively. Historical writings will sometimes have to be interpreted figuratively, but not as often as the other two. Premillennialists often claim that they interpret the Bible literally (physically) while others spiritualize its true meaning away. In spite of different peoples claims, there are no pure physicalist or spiritualists. The difference is when, where, and how often one interprets physically or spiritually. It can also be stated that how frequent and in what passages a person interprets physically or spiritually is determined by their view of eschatology.
Most people that claim they interpret the Bible physically, only do it when it does not conflict with their presuppositions. For example, they do not believe that God's promise to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3: 15 means that some descendant will bruise a serpent's head, and the serpent will bruise that person's heel, but they accept it as the promise of the Messiah to redeem His people by defeating Satan on the cross. They do not believe that the word "hour" in John 5: 28 really means a sixty minute period of time, but that it covers a number of years. Neither do they believe that the "all" in the same passage means all, or that "a resurrection" in Acts 24: 15 does not mean "a resurrection" (which is singular), but that there are many resurrections. Nor do they believe that "souls" in Revelation 20: 4 means souls, but physical beings. They also are quick to say that the Seven Churches of Revelation chapters 1-3 are each symbolic of some church age. All of these interpretations are necessary to fit their belief of eschatology, while at the same time they accuse others of spiritualizing if they take any other scripture as being symbolic or having a spiritual meaning. It is evident that all views of eschatology use both physical and spiritual means of interpretation. Dwight Pentecost, a dispensationalist, in his book entitled, Things to Come, made the following statement on page 10: "That the literalistic approach does not blindly rule out figures of speech, symbols, allegories, and types; but if the nature of the sentence so demands, it readily yields to the second sense." Another writer states, "In fact a good working rule to follow is that the literal interpretation of the prophecy is to be accepted unless (a) the passages contains obviously figurative language, or (b) unless the New Testament gives authority for interpreting them in other than a literal sense, or (c) unless a literal interpretation would produce a contradiction with truths, principles, or factual statements contained in non-symbolic books of the New Testament."
2. The second rule of interpretation is, passages of scriptures in non-symbolic and apocalyptic writings should take pre-eminence in forming doctrine rather than those passages found in symbolic and apocalyptic writings. All scriptures are inspired, but those that are clear and plain should influence those that are symbolic rather than vise versa. For example, a passage of scripture in a highly symbolic book such as Revelation should not cause us to go back and reinterpret passages in other parts of the Bible. Although one passage of scripture is sufficient to establish a doctrine if it is clear and plain, but no passage should be interpreted in a way that is contradictory to other passages.
3. The third rule is, Old Testament prophecy should be interpreted in the manner that we find in the New Testament. Without the New Testament interpretation most all Old Testament prophecies would continue to be a mystery. For example, if Matthew had not interpreted Isaiah 40: 3 for us we would still be looking for someone to make a straight highway in the desert for the Lord. Matthew also states in Matthew 21: 1-11, that Zechariah 9: 9 was fulfilled when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. Since Jesus was not a physical King as the Jews expected, they rejected Him as king. Jesus himself stated in Matthew 17: 11-13 that John the Baptist was Elijah. If Malachi 4: 5 had not been interpreted for us by the Lord, we would still be looking for Elijah to come.
Peter claims that Joel's prophecy, Joel 2: 28-32, was fulfilled at Pentecost, Acts 2: 16-21. There are some that try to claim that only part of this prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost and the rest will be fulfilled later. If this were true we would have to admit that they were given more insight to the scriptures than Peter, for he did not say that this is part of Joel's prophecy and the rest will follow, but "this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel." Peter continues with the Old Testament prediction that Jesus as king would someday sit on David's throne, Psalms 16: 8-11; 2 Samuel 7: 12, and declared it fulfilled by the resurrection of Christ, Acts 2: 30-31.
Paul claims that the promise made to Abraham and his seed that through him all nations would be blessed, Genesis 18: 18, has been fulfilled in the saving of gentiles, Galatians 3: 8. The promise was not to be fulfilled through Abraham's fleshly descendants, but his spiritual seed. Also in this same chapter of Galatians Paul explained that the promises that God made to Abraham was not to his physical descendants as of many but one which was Christ. This means that the land and blessings that God promised to Abraham's fleshly descendants was to be through faith in the coming Messiah. This is why Joshua said in Joshua 23: 15 "Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things are come upon you, which the LORD your God promised you; so shall the LORD bring upon you all evil things, until he have destroyed you from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you. 16 When ye have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you." The Jews cannot anymore have the promises made to Abraham and his descendants without Christ, than we can have salvation and the blessings promised to God's people without Christ.
When the New Testament book of Hebrews teaches that the Old Testament system of sacrifices is forever replaced by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, then Ezekiel chapters 40-48 should be interpreted as being fulfilled instead of looking for a future fulfillment. These are only a few of the many scriptures where the New Testament writers interpreted the Old Testament prophecies in a non-physical way.
4. The fourth rule of interpretation is, to understand that the Bible itself shows us that prophecy is not always fulfilled in a physical since. As we have already stated that Genesis 3: 15 did not have a physical fulfillment of a descendant of Eve stomping the head of a snake or any other physical means of bruising its head, nor that a snake or serpent was to bit the heal of that descendant. It is understood that this is talking about Jesus Christ being victorious on the cross as He redeemed His people and defeated Satan.
Prophets such as Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, predicted that the Israelites would find a land which flowed with milk and honey, but no one has reported finding any physical streams of either product. Neither does it tell us that these prophecies have been only partially fulfilled. It was just symbolic language describing a fruitful land.
5. When scripture is interpreted, the simplest and most natural interpretation should be considered first. The order of interpretation should always be from the simple to the complex. The simplest interpretation will most likely be the correct one. When we are forced to interpret in the complex way, we should reevaluate our theory unless the more simple way of interpretation is disproved by other scriptures.
6. Scriptures that are parallel, such as the gospels, must be in harmony with one another and should be interpreted as such. When one parallel passage gives added information, then the other should never be interpreted to contradict that revelation. For example, when Matthew uses the terminology of, Kingdom of Heaven, and Luke in a parallel passage uses, Kingdom of God, these parallel passages should not be interpreted as two different kingdoms, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles.
7. Scripture should be interpreted in its context to determine if it is physical or symbolic. Prophetic language is different from history because it is often poetic and symbolic. In Jeremiah 4: 24 he speaks of mountains trembling and hills moving to and fro. This is symbolic language and to interpret it otherwise would be to miss the prophets meaning which was God's judgment on Judah and the Babylonian captivity. Scripture, therefore, must be interpreted according to its local context, to its book context, and in harmony with the context of the whole Bible. Scripture must be compared with scripture because the Bible is its own best interpreter.
8. Bible prophecy, in most cases, is conditional even though the conditions are not always stated. Jonah was told to prophesy the downfall of Nineveh within a specified time and without any conditions attached. When the people of Nineveh repented at Jonah's preaching, the destruction did not occur as he had predicted. The Lord spared the city but this did not make Jonah a false prophet just because there was no physical fulfillment to the prophecy. Many people continue to say that God promised Abraham's physical descendants the land of Palestine unconditionally forever. If that were true, why have they spent most of their history in other lands since that promise was made? Ishmael and Esau as well as children born to Abraham after Sarah died were all excluded from the covenant. Why would this be if there were no conditions attached?
9. Old Testament prophecy is usually addressed to Israel as a covenant people of God, therefore, it can be fulfilled in the New Testament covenant people of God because the Old Testament covenant people and the New Testament covenant people are both in Christ. When Jeremiah was inspired to say that the Lord would make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, (Jeremiah 31: 31-34), then the writer of Hebrews was inspired to say that this new covenant was established by Christ's finished work and was to replace the old covenant which he stated was ready to vanish away, certainly shows that Old Testament prophecy to Israel can be fulfilled in New Testament Israel.
10. Last but not least, all scripture should be understood and interpreted by the leadership of God's spirit, for God is spirit and his word must be interpreted through that spiritual leadership whether it is talking about a physical or symbolic truth. The natural man cannot understand the things of the spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned, (I Corinthians 2: 14).
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
The eschatological views of most people are due in great part to their chronological presuppositions of the Kingdom. Is it future, is it presently existing, or is it both? Did God intend for Jesus Christ to establish a political and economical kingdom at His first coming, and because the Jews rejected Him, He postponed the Kingdom to some future date, or did He intend to establish a spiritual kingdom for the present time, then at a future date establish a political and economical kingdom here on earth for a thousand years, then change it back to a spiritual kingdom to deliver up to the Father forever, or did He intend to establish a spiritual kingdom that would last until He returns, then deliver it up to the Father forever?
None of these questions can be answered with just a few words, but must be determined by a complete study of what the Bible says about the Kingdom of God. This we will do if God permits, but first let us examine, in general, the Three major beliefs about the kingdom.
The premillennialist in general are futuristic in their conception of the Kingdom. In fact, all those that believe in a physical kingdom here on earth are futurists, even though some do concede that there is a spiritual kingdom that exists now, but that it is a minor part of the kingdom when compared to the future physical kingdom that they believe will take place after Christ's second coming.
The premillennialist in general believe that at some future time Christ will return to earth and establish a political and economical kingdom that will have its headquarters in Jerusalem with Christ reigning from the throne of David; and there will be 1000 years of peace and prosperity in fulfillment of Old Testament promises to National Israel.
Most dispensational premillennialist believe that Christ intended to establish this kingdom at His first coming, but when the Jews rejected His offer He had to postpone the kingdom until He comes back the second time.
Most postmillennialist believe that the kingdom is spiritual in nature, that Christ presently rules in the hearts of His people, and that the outward manifestation of the kingdom is the church. They believe that the kingdom will be established in the hearts of people all over the world and as a result of this the world will get better and better spiritually until Christian principles are the rule of life for people all over the earth with Christ reigning in this manner from Heaven.
They believe that the entire world may not be converted, but the life principles will be such that a glorious peace and prosperity will exist in the political & economic world, and that Christ will come at the end of this peaceful age, whether it be an actual 1000 years or an indefinite period of time.
The Amillennial view of the kingdom is in many ways like that of the postmillennialist. They too, believe that the kingdom is spiritual in nature and that it is a present reality with the church being the executor of the kingdom. The Amillennialist do not agree with the postmillennialist that the world will get better until Christ rules the world through His church, but that in principles of righteousness the world in general will get worse and at the appointed time Christ will come and will put the last enemy, which is death, under His feet then He will deliver the kingdom up to God the Father.
Amillennialist believe that there are some Old Testament prophecies about Christ's second coming and the resurrection and future glories that have not been fulfilled, but that the prophecies concerning Christ and His kingdom have been fulfilled, Matthew 5: 17 "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." They believe that there was an Old Testament kingdom in National Israel, there is now a spiritual kingdom established by Christ at His first coming, that in the future He will deliver it to its glorious state to exist for ever. That Christ's kingdom now and when He delivers it up to the Father is the same kingdom in different stages.
The Old Testament view of the Kingdom of God
It seems to be established in the minds of all Christian people, that give any thought to the Kingdom of God, that this kingdom will be established at the coming of the Christ, the Son of God. The difference in beliefs that exist is the nature of the kingdom (spiritual or physical), and at which coming (first or second).
As we look back into the Old Testament scripture we will try to determine their view of the coming kingdom. Was their view of the Messiah's kingdom the same in each era of time? or did it change with different generations? At what point did they expect it to be established? Was it to be at the first coming of Christ, or the second coming?
When we examine the first promise of Christ to come in Genesis 3: 15, the only thing that it tells us is that God promised a Savior to come, to defeat Satan, and to redeem His people from sin. This was to be done through the seed of the woman. They knew that this was to be accomplished through the physical descendent of Eve, and to be the promised child of God. What ever else the people knew and believed concerning this statement from God to Adam and Eve is not revealed to us in detail. We do see that they started offering sacrifices as the evidence of their faith in this promise, for God had through the sacrifice of animals clothed them and covered their guilt. Nothing else is revealed in scripture as concerning a promise of a coming savior until God speaks to Abraham about it in Genesis 12: 3. However, we do see an idea about the promise of the seed of the woman among the first group of people who strayed into a false religion after the flood. Nimrod, who became a great leader and hero of the people after the flood, died while his wife was with child. She proclaimed Nimrod to be god, and the child the son of god and the seed of the woman that was promised. This act shows the belief of people that there would be royalty and kingship attributed to the coming Christ, because of Nimrod's position.
When God separated Abraham from his people to start a nation of people that was to bring forth the Christ, He told Abraham in Genesis 12: 3 that through him all nations would be blessed. There was no detail given here about the Christ, but in Genesis 49: 10 it was promised that the Christ would come through the tribe of Judah, and this tribe would have the ruling power. In Deuteronomy 18: 15 He is called a prophet. In Psalms 2: 2 He is called the anointed, which signifies royalty. In Psalms 110: 1 He is called Lord, which means to rule. In Psalms 132: 11 He was promised the throne of David which would make Him a ruler over God's people. In Isaiah 7: 14 He was called Emmanuel, or God with us. In Isaiah 9: 6-7 it talks about the increase of His government and peace that will have no end, and of His kingdom from henceforth even for ever. In Isaiah 11: 10 He is called the root of Jesse, which was the father of David. In Isaiah 61: 1, speaking of the coming Christ, it said that the Lord anointed Him: which means gave Him a position of power and authority. In Jeremiah 23: 5 He is referred to as a righteous Branch out of David and a King that will reign and prosper. Daniel 2: 44 says "in the days of these kings shall the God of Heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed." In Daniel 7: 13-14 He is called the son of man and is given a kingdom which shall not pass away. Micah 5: 2 says He is to be ruler in Israel. In Zechariah 9: 9 He is to come as a king riding on a donkey.
From these scriptures we can see that in the beginning they looked for a savior to come and save them. This is seen from their sacrifices of animals to relieve them from their guilt of sin. By the time of the Babylonian exile it had been established that the Christ would be a king, and that He would establish a kingdom. All of these prophecies show that this kingdom would be established at His first coming, that He would be king over it and that it would have no end. Therefore, none of the prophecies that refers to Christ being king and having a kingdom, are referring to the second coming of Christ or to a 1000 year kingdom. We, then, can feel assured that the people in the Old Testament expected the kingdom to be established at His first coming, and knew nothing about a 1000 year kingdom at His first or second coming, because their idea of the kingdom was that it would last for ever.
During the Babylonian captivity it was realized that the House of Judah had fallen never to rise again, and with it the hope that it could ever be the kingdom ruled over and protected by God. Israel was now in transition from a nation with a national cult to the law community of Judaism. The Hope of eventual restoration was never given up. Jeremiah and Ezekiel envisioned the resurrection of the nation, not as it was in the old days but the birth of a new nation with the spirit of God in its heart. With these prophecies in mind, those that returned from exile rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple and devoted themselves to the righteousness of the law with the idea that through this God would establish His kingdom. It was in this state of Judaism that John came preaching the kingdom of God is at hand, while Jesus himself proclaimed that the kingdom of God comes not by observation, but the kingdom of God is among you.
Some of the prophecies that are used by premillennialists to show that a future political kingdom will be established by Christ when He comes the second time are as follows: (1) Isaiah 11: 6-10. Premillennialists say that this scripture has not been fulfilled yet, that Isaiah is talking about the Lord's second coming. If you will notice in Isaiah 11: 10 "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious." The root of Jesse was the physical birth and first coming of Christ not His second coming. When He comes the second time in His glorified body there is no reference to His physical ancestry. Isaiah was illustrating the wonderful peace that comes to those in the kingdom of God. What greater peace can there be than what Isaiah illustrates, and what greater peace can there be than that which Christ gives to His people. (2) Another scripture that is often used is Daniel chapter 2. In this passage we read the story of King Nebuchadnezzar having a dream about a large image. Each part of the image, according to Daniel's interpretation, represented successive kingdoms. The Babylonian, Medo-persian, Grecian, and finally the Roman Empire. During the time of this Roman kingdom, God Himself was to establish a kingdom. It would be different from these other kingdoms, for it would not be left to other people and it shall stand forever. The time of this kingdom was to be when Christ came the first time and the Roman kingdom was in great power, and this kingdom that the Lord established was to stand for ever. Therefore, it couldn't be a future 1000 year kingdom, for it was to last forever.
There are some premillennialists that say that Daniel chapter 2 along with Daniel chapter 7: 13-14, and Daniel chapter 9: 24-27 all have to do with the second coming of Christ; that God intended to establish His political kingdom at His first coming, but since the Jews rejected Him He postponed the political kingdom until He comes the second time. This would put man in control of God, and make God change His plan. This cannot be according to James 1: 17 "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
What is the Kingdom of God?
The word kingdom is translated from the Greek word Basileia and means royal power, Kingship, dominion, or rule. It is the domain of the king or that which the king rules over.
The Triune God has always ruled over His creation. There has never been a time, nor ever shall be, when the all sovereign God does not rule over his creation, Daniel 4: 35 "And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?" But the world in general is not the kingdom that was promised to the Messiah or Christ. The Lord Himself did not give us a plain and simple definition of His Kingdom. The prophets described it in physical terms for our minds to comprehend. The Lord clarified it to some extent in Luke 17: 21 "Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you."; also when He told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world. The apostle Paul added to this in Romans 14: 17 "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." The apostle John declared himself to be in this kingdom in Revelation 1: 9 "I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ."
From these scriptures we can conclude that the Messiah's kingdom is the rule and authority over those people that were given to Him by the Father, and who He came and died for. It is not, nor ever was intended to be, a political or territorial reign, because the Triune God already rules the political and economic system, as we have already mentioned. The kingdom of God is a spiritual reign over those that are born of the Spirit. When we look at the prerequisites to entering the kingdom of God as shown in John 3: 3 and other places in the scripture, we must realize that it is a spiritual kingdom.
Is there more than one kingdom of the Messiah?
Some premillennialist say that the New Testament speaks of two different kingdoms; the kingdom of Heaven, and the kingdom of God. They contend that the kingdom of Heaven is the Lord's 1000 year earthly kingdom, and the Kingdom of God is the spiritual kingdom that exists now.
These two phrases, kingdom of Heaven and kingdom of God, are one and the same kingdom. Anyone can read the gospels and see that Matthew uses the expression 'kingdom of Heaven' while the other writers use the 'kingdom of God' but they are speaking about the same thing. Compare the following scriptures: Matthew 4: 17 with Mark 1: 15; Matthew 10: 7 with Luke 9: 2; Matthew 5: 3 with Luke 6: 20; Matthew 13: 11 with Mark 4: 11; Matthew 13: 31 with Mark 4: 30. It is easy for us to see from these scriptures that the kingdom of Heaven and kingdom of God are the same kingdom expressed in different terminology.
It is also said that the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of grace are two different gospels. This is not true for Paul said in Galatians 1: 6 "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ." Whether it is called the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of grace, or the gospel of Christ, it is still the same gospel. Christ's kingdom was proclaimed and established at His first coming. When He had completed the plan of redemption, He was raised up to sit on David's throne Acts 2: 30 "Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; 31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption." Therefore, to the Jews it was the gospel of the promised kingdom; to the Gentiles it was the gospel of grace that included them, but to both Jew and Gentile it was the gospel of Christ.
Is the Kingdom to be Political or Spiritual in Nature?
Even though God inspired the prophets of the Old Testament to use physical illustrations to prophecy the coming kingdom, it is very evident in the New Testament teachings that the kingdom was to be spiritual in nature. It is a normal thing for God to use physical things to show us spiritual truths.
When John the Baptist and Jesus began to preach, their message was, "Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Repentance was a spiritual preparation for a spiritual kingdom. Jesus also stated to Nicodemus in John 3: 3, as we have already mentioned, "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." In 1 Corinthians 2: 14 "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Jesus told Nicodemus that he must have the spiritual birth to see the spiritual kingdom. This spiritual birth would not be necessary if He was talking about a political kingdom. Also, Jesus Christ told Pilate that His kingdom was spiritual and not of this world. If Pilate had believed that Christ's kingdom was political, he would have thought that Christ's kingdom was a rival of Rome and would not have concluded, "I find in him no fault at all."
During Christ's earthly ministry we find this account in John 6: 14-15 "Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." It is obvious in this scripture that they wanted Him to be a physical king over a physical kingdom, but He rejected it because He had no intention of establishing a physical or political kingdom. If He had intended to establish a political kingdom at some later date, He would have told them on these occasions.
I conclude that neither the Old Testament or New Testament teaches more than one kingdom that Christ the Messiah was to rule over. The Old Testament prophets knew of only one kingdom, and that was to be established at Christ's first coming. Jesus, John the Baptist, nor any of the New Testament writers even hinted of another kingdom that would be political in nature, not even in Revelation chapter 20. To find a 1000 year political kingdom a person must take scriptures out of their context and make them fit a theory.
THE ISRAEL OF GOD
Who are the Israel of God, is Israel the physical seed of Abraham, is it Jacob and his descendants, is Israel the Jews, or is Israel all of the chosen people of God? The answer to these questions will certainly have a great bearing on a persons eschatological position, and must be determined by our understanding of the scriptures.
The first place that the word Israel is mentioned is in Genesis 32: 28 where Jacob was wrestling with a man, which was a manifestation of God or one of His messengers with authority from God to pass blessings on to Jacob. The word Israel in the Hebrew means God prevails. The way it is used here in verse 28 it means one who is a prince prevails with God. The Greek word means he shall be a prince of God. From these definitions we can conclude that it means the chosen of God. This is evident from the fact that Jacob was chosen over Esau, and because the descendants of Jacob became the chosen nation of God and was called Israel.
This name continued with the Hebrew nation until it split into two nations after the death of Solomon. At this time the ten northern tribes kept the name Israel while the two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, became known as Judah. The ten northern tribes, known as Israel, were conquered by the Assyrians in 721 B. C. and were completely destroyed as a nation. Only Judah and Benjamin remained as tribes of Israel. Though these two tribes were not called Israel it was understood that they were what was left of God's chosen nation and descendants of Jacob.
After their Babylonian captivity they became known as the people of Judea or Jews. Because of this the name Jew seemed to replace the name Israel as the chosen of God. It should be noted that both words are used in the New Testament and has reference to the same people, Romans 9: 3 "For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:" In this verse Paul makes reference to his brothers and kinsmen according to the flesh. Then in Romans 9: 4 "Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; ". Notice here Paul refers to them as Israelites. Then in Romans 9: 24 "Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?" He calls them Jews.
It seems to be a well established fact that the chosen people of God from the time of Jacob to the New Testament era were referred to as the Israel of God or chosen people of God, but does the Israel of God only consist of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Did God's Israel cease to exist in 70 A. D. when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman armies? Let us answer these questions by the New Testament scriptures. Were the New Testament writers inspired by God to believe that Israel was to stop with the Hebrew nation? Let us consider what Paul had to say, Romans 11: 1 "I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, 3 Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. 4 But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. 5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace." Here Paul makes it clear that God has not cast away His people which is Israel because he himself was an Israelite. He goes on to explain that just as Israel was preserved in the days of Elias, even so or in like manner Israel is still preserved in the New Testament times.
We have already observed that the Israel of God is not always called Israel, but were also called Jews. Also, we understand from Romans 9: 6 "Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:" That is, all of the descendants of Jacob are not considered to be a part of Israel, but the remnant is God's chosen, Romans 9: 27. In Romans 9: 7 Paul goes on to say, "neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but in Isaac shall thy seed be called." Notice in these two verses of scripture that the true Israel is not descendants of Jacob or Abraham, but as Isaac was, the promised seed. Isaac was not born of the natural order because Sarah was to old. God intervened in the natural order that Isaac could be born. The true Israel are not of the natural descendants, "But the children of the promise are counted for the seed."
Paul used the term Israel to include both Jews and Gentiles who had become new creatures in Christ Jesus, Galatians 6: 15 "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. 16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God." It is obvious that the phrase "as many as walk according to this rule" includes both the circumcised and uncircumcised (Jews and Gentiles). These Jews and Gentiles who had become new creatures in Christ were then called "The Israel of God."
The "Israel of God" is a further description of "as many as walk according to this rule." The Israel of God which was national Israel in Old Testament times is in New Testament times Christians which are both Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, promises made to God's chosen people in Old Testament times can be fulfilled in God's chosen people in New Testament times. An example of this is the prophecy made by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31: 31 "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:" Notice God said He would make a new covenant with the house of Israel & Judah which includes all twelve tribes for they were separate at this time but all made up Israel. This new covenant was fulfilled in Christ as we can see in Hebrews 8: 7 "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. 8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: 11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. 13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." In these scriptures it explains that the old covenant was to vanish away and the new covenant was to replace it. This new covenant is with the chosen of God, which are believers, Just as the old covenant was with physical Israel, yet both covenants are referred to as covenants with Israel.
Another example that shows us that Christians have become the Israel of God is found in 1 Peter 2: 9 "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:" Peter was speaking here to Christians, both Jew and Gentiles, and referred to them as a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people which he obviously took from Old Testament expressions that were often used to describe National Israel and applied them to New Testament Christians. To claim that Israel always means fleshly Israel is not in harmony with New Testament teaching. Just as fleshly Israel was the natural seed of Abraham, so Spiritual Israel is the spiritual seed of Abraham, Galatians 3: 28-29.
It is clear that the New Testament believers, both Jews and Gentiles, are Abraham's seed and heirs of the Old Testament promises to the seed of Abraham for we understand from Galatians 3: 16 that the promises were made to those in Christ and not to just physical descendants. God does not deal with humanity except in a covenant relationship. his promises to Abraham and his fleshly descendants were promises that were made through Christ just as He does with Spiritual Israel. Fleshly Israel received no blessings or promises outside of Christ, and we as Christians receive no blessings or promises outside of Christ.
God did not intend for His people in the Old Testament to be one group and those of the New Testament to be another group. He said in Ephesians 2: 13 "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:" Notice that He has broken down that which separates National Israel from the Gentiles and has made one new man that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross.
Will there be a future restoration of National Israel?
Many people believe that God will in some future time restore National Israel to their former state, or they believe that the nation that is now called Israel will continue until all the Jews return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple then Christ will come and sit on David's Throne.
This belief is based mainly upon the following assumptions: (1) That the physical descendants of Abraham are still God's chosen people, and that God deals with them separate from any other of His chosen people. (2) That there is no Spiritual Israel, or that spiritual Israel cannot inherit promises made to National Israel, and (3) That Old Testament promises were unconditional and must always be fulfilled literally in National Israel.
As I have already stated and I say again, God does not deal with any human except through a covenant. As for the promise to Abraham that his physical descendants were to inherit the land was conditioned on whether or not He was their God, Genesis 17: 7-8. When He ceased to be their God he would destroy them off the land, Joshua 23: 15-16. God fulfilled His promises, concerning the land, to Abraham's physical descendants Joshua 21: 43-45 and He continued to do this until Christ came. Even though He had to destroy them off the land when they would go after other Gods, He would restore the remnant. When they fulfilled their purpose of bringing forth the Messiah and they rejected Him, He said your house or nation is left unto you desolate, or I have deserted you. After this there is no promise that He will turn to them again.
Some believe that there is a prophecy to restore the physical descendants of Abraham as God's nation. In the Old Testament the last time they were destroyed of the land was the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah prophesied to them about this captivity. Ezekiel prophesied about their restoration while they were still in Babylon. Daniel and Zechariah also prophesied concerning this restoration. It was during the time of Nehemiah and Ezra that this restoration took place and that was after the above mentioned prophecies. Since this restoration took place there has not been another prophecy about restoring them as a nation.
My conclusion is that God's Israel is His chosen people. That He chose Jacob over Esau and changed his name to Israel because through his blood line God's chosen nation would be established, and through this lineage the Messiah would be born. This land that this nation was to occupy as Abraham's descendants was conditioned on their faithfulness to Him as their God. That God did fulfill every promise to them that His covenant with them would permit. That the Israel of God in the New Testament era are the believers called Christians. That God has made no prophecy or promise of restoring a physical nation as His chosen people.
THE COVENANT GOD MADE WITH ABRAHAM
Did God make an unconditional covenant with Abraham and his physical descendants that He will yet fulfill? Let us consider Genesis chapters 13, 15, & 17 that God told Abraham that He would establish a covenant between Himself and Abraham and also his seed after him. Most people that believe in a future millennial reign think that God has not yet fulfilled the covenant that he made with Abraham's physical seed, and the reason they believe this is because they believe that the covenant was unconditional, and that God will in the future fulfill this covenant with the Jews.
I would like to call your attention to the promise that God made in covenant with Abraham. In Genesis 17: 8 it tells us that the covenant was conditional. A covenant is an agreement or contract between two or more parties. The agreement was that God would give the land to Abraham and his seed after him, and He would be their God. This makes it conditional. Also in verse 9 God told Abraham and his seed to keep this covenant. If it was unconditional God would not have asked them to keep it. Another place that we read about this covenant is in Joshua 21: 43-45 and Joshua 23: 14-16. As Joshua was coming to the end of his life he told the people that God had fulfilled all the good things that he had promised concerning them, that all had come to pass. Then he said therefore it would come to pass that the Lord would bring upon them all evil things until He had destroyed them off that good land in the day that they transgressed the covenant of the Lord their God and went after other gods. Here we see that God kept His part of the covenant, and that it was not unconditional for they were to transgress (or break) the covenant.
As we continue to follow the nation of Israel, we find that it divided into two nations after Solomon's reign. The ten northern tribes kept the name Israel while the two southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah took the name Judah and later became known as Jews.
Jeroboam was the first king of the ten tribes called Israel. He led the people into the Egyptian religion which was Calf worship. This sin of idolatry was continued by every king of the ten tribes, and God said each king sinned the sin of Jeroboam. They broke the covenant that God had made with Abraham until 721 B. C. At this time God sent armies from Assyria and destroyed them off that good land as He had promised that He would.
The two tribes called Judah continued because God had promised that through the tribe of Judah the Messiah would be born. Judah, just like Israel, wanted to go after other gods, and God sent Babylon to take them into captivity, but He promised to restore them (which He did under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah). When the Messiah came, Judah had very few that desired to be true to their God. As a majority they rejected Him, and in Matthew 23: 37-38 Jesus said to them, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." God was through with them just like He was with the other ten tribes because they had broken the covenant as was stated in Joshua chapter 23. This promise was fulfilled when God sent the Roman armies in 70 A. D. and destroyed them off the good land. Since that time there has been no promise from God to restore the nation of Israel or any part of it to that or any other land.
WILL CHRIST AT SOME FUTURE TIME SIT ON DAVID'S THRONE
David had become King of Israel, and was a man after God's own heart. As he was blessed of God he wanted to build a house for Him. Through Nathan God spoke to David in II Samuel 7: 12-16 and told him that his seed would build the house and that He would establish his throne forever. This was to be accomplished through the Christ which was to come, for we read how God inspired Isaiah in Chapter 9: 7 to say, "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." From this time on the people of God not only expected a savior, but also a King to sit on David's throne and rule God's people. This was confirmed by the angel to Mary in Luke 1: 31-33, "... and, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end."
There is no doubt that God promised David's throne to Jesus the Christ, but when was He to receive it? Was it to be at His first coming or His second coming? There are some that believe that Jesus is not yet a King, but a Prince and will later become a King and receive His Kingdom at His second coming. It is evident from the Scriptures that He was to be King at His first coming. In Matthew 2: 2 Herod said, "Where is he that is to be born King of the Jews." Matthew 21: 4-5 tells us that Jesus' coming into Jerusalem on a donkey was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9: 9, "Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass." In verse 9 the people cried out "Hosanna to the Son of David." In the same account they said in Luke 19: 38, "Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord." Then, when the Pharisees told Jesus to "... rebuke thy disciples:", Jesus answered and said unto them, "I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out." That is, the stones would cry out the same thing the disciples were saying, "Blessed be the King ..." When Pilate asked Jesus the question in John 18: 37, "Art thou a King then?" Jesus answered, "Thou sayest that I am a King. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, ..." In Acts 2: 30-31 we read that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to say of David that he was one "knowing that God had sworn with an oath that He would raise up Christ to sit on His throne; He seeing this before spoke of the resurrection of Christ." It seems from this that He was not only a King but had also ascended to David's throne. In Acts 17: 7 when Paul and Silas were preaching in Thessalonica, they were accused of saying that there was another King (other than Caesar), one Jesus. It is declared in I Timothy 1: 17 that He is King, eternal, immortal, and truly He is reigning now on David's throne, which is over God's people, for it is said in I Corinthians 15: 24-26 that He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy being death, then comes the end when He shall have delivered up the Kingdom to God.
THE SEVENTY WEEKS OF DANIEL
In Daniel's 70 weeks the Hebrew word shabua which is here translated into English a "week" does not necessarily mean a week of days. It is an indefinite period of time; it could be week, day, month, or year. The word is actually a seven or heptad. Therefore, Daniel spoke of 70 sevens and not necessarily of 70 weeks.
In Daniel chapter 9, beginning with verse 24 we find the messenger Gabriel is informing Daniel that seventy weeks are determined upon his people, which means that it had to do with what we call the Jews, and upon the holy city, which is Jerusalem. The purpose was to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. All of this verse has to do with the coming Messiah, His relationship to His people, and what He would accomplish in His earthly ministry. Starting in verse 25 the messenger tells Daniel how it is to happen. The time was to start with the command to restore and build Jerusalem. This command was given by Artaxerxes to Ezra and is recorded in Ezra chapter 7 beginning in verse 11. According to my information this was the year 457 B. C. The seventy weeks were not to start with the command given by King Cyrus in 536 B. C. as we find in Ezra chapter 1 which was the command just to build the temple, nor was it to start with the command given by Artaxerxes to Nehemiah in 445 B. C. that we read about in Nehemiah chapter 2 which was to build the walls, but the command was to restore and build which was to establish the people in the city to live and worship as they had before the captivity.
Notice that the time is divided into two periods; seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks. Then you will notice a colon which indicates what has been said is now going to be explained. It states that the streets and the walls would be built in troublous times. This shows that from the going forth of the command by Artaxerxes to Ezra to restore and build Jerusalem would be a period of seven weeks. Then in verse 26 it starts from the end of the first seven weeks and goes sixty-two more weeks which brings us to Messiah, or the beginning of the ministry of Christ, and it says after that, Messiah will be cut off. That is, some time after the sixty-nine weeks Messiah will be cut off. If we start with the commandment of Artaxerxes to Ezra in 457 B. C. and go 483 years which is the length of the 69 weeks, (that is each week equals 7 years therefore, 7x69= 483 years.), this would bring us to 26 A. D., but since there is no 0 year between B. C. and A. D. we must add 1 year, therefore it brings us to 27 A. D. This is the year that Jesus was Baptized by John. Jesus was, at this time, 30 years of age. The reason that Jesus was thirty years old in the year of 27 A. D. is because in the sixth century the Pope determined to have a new calendar prepared which would date all events from the birth of Jesus, he commissioned a monk, named Dionysus to do the work. Modern scholars have found that some dates of Roman History near the beginning of the Christian era cannot be reconciled with the calendar of Dionysus. Hence, in modern literature, scholars refer to the birth of Christ as 4 B. C. To this agree the prophecies of Daniel. Now let us turn our attention back to verse 26 which says that after these 69 weeks Messiah is cut off. That means He was crucified. We find in Isaiah 53: 8, "He was cut off out of the land of the living ..." Then verse 26 tells us that it is not for himself, that is it was not because of old age or natural orders but cut off means an abrupt and untimely nature of death. Peter states in Acts 2: 23, "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:" Then notice once again that when Daniel said that it was not for himself, we see another colon which is going to explain how this cutting off is going to effect National Israel, for it was to be determined upon Daniel's people. It says that the people of the prince that shall come will destroy the city and the sanctuary, and the end of the war desolations are determined. Jesus spoke of this as the abominations of desolations spoken of by the prophet Daniel in Matthew 24: 15. This was the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D. by Titus the prince who's father was the emperor of Rome at that time. The reason it states that after the sixty-nine weeks Messiah would be cut off, then jumps all the way to 70 A. D., is to finish the judgment on National Israel for breaking the covenant, as God had promised in Joshua 23: 15-16, "Therefore it shall come to past, that as all good things are come upon you, which the Lord your God promised you; so shall the Lord bring upon you all evil things, until he have destroyed you from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you. When ye have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, ..."
As we look at verse 27, we find that it goes back to the seventieth week and says that he (the Messiah) will confirm the covenant with many for one week or the last seven years. When Jesus started His earthly ministry, which was the beginning of the seventieth week, He preached that He (the Messiah) and the kingdom were here just like it had been promised in the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus did this until His crucifixion which was three and one half years, then the apostles continued to preach to the Jews for another three and one half years as they were instructed. This completed the confirmation of the covenant with National Israel for one week, or seven years. After this the gospel was preached to the Gentiles. At the end of those seven years that the covenant was
confirmed with Daniel's people God sent Peter to preach to Cornelius in Acts chapter 10. According to Halley's Bible Handbook this occurred about 35 A. D. which would mean that the seventieth week was completed and the covenant with National Israel was confirmed. In the middle of the week, when Jesus was crucified, the veil was rent and He, Jesus, caused the sacrifices and oblations to cease, and through the abomination of desolation, God deserted National Israel to the consummation of the age. As Jesus said to them in Matthew 23: 38, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." There is nothing in the Scriptures about the seventy weeks of Daniel that would indicate that there is any time gap between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth week.
THE GREAT TRIBULATION
Another subject that must be considered in the theories of eschatology is that which Jesus spoke of in the gospel of Matthew chapter 24: 21. He mentioned a tribulation such as had never been before, and there would never be another like it afterwards. With this statement we know that a particular incident was going to happen sometime after His earthly ministry. The question before us is: when did, or when will this happen? Did it happen in 70 A. D.? or is it yet to happen in the future?
It is a fact that this tribulation that was spoken of by Jesus is in the prophesy of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel. In Daniel 9: 26 it states that when the prince shall come and destroy the city and the sanctuary desolations are determined. Then in verse 27 it says that for the overspreading of abominations He shall make it desolate, even until the consummation. Jesus said in Matthew 24: 15, when He was talking about the coming of the Great Tribulation event, "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel ..." Therefore we see that what Daniel was talking about in his discourse of the Seventieth Week is also what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 24 when He was discussing the Great Tribulation.
To determine the time of this Great Tribulation event will determine, to a great extent what we believe about eschatology: and only if we use divine guidance by carefully comparing Scripture with Scripture can we come to the truth of the time this Great Tribulation did, or will take place.
The Olivet discourse in the 24th chapter of Matthew immediately followed the Lord's denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees contained in the previous chapter. There He urges them to fill up the measure of their fathers. The idea is that the cup of iniquity of the Jewish nation is about to be filled and that upon the generation then living, "may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation." Matthew 23: 35-36. Immediately following this He pronounces desolation on the house of this nation.
This same prediction is made in Matthew 24: 34 where Jesus says, "verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." In order for us to establish the time of this Tribulation by Scriptures, we must determine what the Lord meant when He said generation. C. I. Scofield states that the Greek word genea translated generation means race, kind, family, stock or breed. But I do not find this definition in the sources that I have. I do have before me at this time Thayer's Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament, which is a very able and reliable work in this field. It states that the word genea translated generation in Matthew 23: 36 and 24: 34 means "The whole multitude of men at the same time." This interpretation seems both obvious and reasonable.
Let us look at how the word generation is used in other places by the same writer. Matthew 1: 17 we read, "so all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations." Here we find the same Greek word used as in Matthew 24: 34, and no one would think that this would have any meaning except as Thayer gives. A. T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures of the Greek New Testament, says that these generations were considered to be about 40 years. In Matthew 11: 16 Jesus asked, "But whereunto shall I liken this generation?" It is obvious that He is speaking of the people then living. In Matthew 12: 39-43 Jesus speaks of an adulterous generation and says that the men of Nineveh and the Queen of the South shall rise up against it. In each case Jesus used the word generation to describe the people of His day. This should be enough to convince us that our Lord was not speaking of a race, but of the people living at the time He was.
All of this brings us to the conclusion that Jesus expected all these things that He had talked about, including the Great Tribulation, to come to pass during the time of these people that He was talking to.
Some people have difficulty believing that all this took place during the apostolic age because of some statements that Jesus made, such as, "and this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." Also some have trouble with the question the disciples asked, "... What shall be the sign of thy coming and the end of the world." First we will deal with the preaching of the gospel in all the world. There are three Greek words used in the New Testament that are translated into one English word, world. (1) Cosmos, which means the inhabited earth with all its decorations. (2) Aion, which means an age. (3) oikoumene, which means a particular section of land, such as the Roman empire. This is shown by the statement in Luke 2: 1, "... there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed." It is evident that this meant the Roman Empire. This same word was used by Jesus in Matthew 24: 14 when He said the gospel of the kingdom was to be preached in all the world. The Apostle Paul assured us that the gospel had been preached in all the world in his time. He said in Colossians 1: 5-6, "... whereof ye heard before in the word of truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; ..." Now let us consider the signs of His coming and the end of the world. The first sign the Lord mentioned was false Christ. The man called Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8: 9-10 claimed to be the Son of God and the creator of angels according to Iranaeus. Josephus, the Jewish historian speaks of many false Christ who led many astray. Other signs were wars, pestilences, earth quakes, famines and persecutions. Not long after Christ was crucified there were revolts and insurrections in all parts of the Roman Empire. Thousands of Jews were slain in Syria, Selucia, while in Rome four emperors met death by violence in eighteen months. During this time there is recorded earthquakes in Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Samos, Laodicea, Rome, and Judea. Also in Acts we find recorded both famine and persecution. The gospel was to be preached in all the world as we have already explained. There was to be the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel. Luke explains it in Luke 21: 20, "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.", Meaning Titus' armies in 70 A. D. Then after the tribulation the sun was to be darkened, the moon was not to give light, and the powers of heaven were to be shaken. God used this same terminology in Isaiah 13: 10 when He was speaking of the fall of Babylon, and in Ezekiel 32: 7-8 concerning the fall of Egypt, also in Joel 2: 28-29 when referring to the day of Pentecost.
Then it tells us in verse 30, "... and they shall see the son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." In the Old Testament, which the disciples were familiar with, a divine visitation of a providential nature was almost always referred to as a coming of the Lord. Genesis 11: 5, "The Lord came down to see the city." Exodus 3: 8, "I am come down to deliver them." Psalm 72: 6, "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass." Isaiah 31: 4, "... so shall the Lord of host come down to fight for Mount Zion, and for the hill thereof." None of these Scriptures suggest that God came in a visible or personal form. The Lord said to Moses, "Lo, I come unto the in a thick cloud." Exodus 34: 5. Psalms 104: 3, "Who maketh the clouds His chariot; who walketh upon the wings of the wind."
Surely we can see from all this that the destruction of Jerusalem was truly a coming of the Lord upon this nation who had said, "Let His blood be upon us and our children." As for the end that was to come, Jesus was talking about the end of the temple and the end of the Jewish age.
This leads me to conclude that the time of the Great Tribulation, which had not been before, and never would be again, was the destruction of Jerusalem.
REVELATION CHAPTER 20
Anyone who studies or discusses eschatology will have to deal with the first six verses of the 20th chapter of Revelation. The very foundation of a future millennial kingdom is based upon these verses of Scripture, for it is here only that reigning with Christ for a thousand years is mentioned. Those that believe in a future physical Kingdom of Christ fit into these verses all the eschatological teachings of the Old and New Testaments.
The premillennial interpretation of these passages, in brief, is that at the end of the present church age Satan is to be bound for a thousand years, during which time Christ shall reign in Jerusalem, sitting on David's throne, for a thousand years. Some believe that the Jewish nation will reign with Him over the Gentile Nations, while others believe the church will reign with Him over the rest of the world. To connect the Seventy Weeks of Daniel with the premillennial eschatology of Revelation 20, it would have to be a reign of the Jewish Nation over the Gentile Nations because Daniel is dealing with the Jewish Nation in its' relationship to the Messiah.
It seems to me that in seeking to interpret this 20th chapter we should try to remember that it was meant to have a message for the suffering people of God in that day, as well as for all the suffering people of God until the end of time. It seems that God has divided this book into seven different visions, each one of them starting at the time given until the end of the age, rather than just one chronological event. These divisions are as follows: (1) Chapters 1-3 shows the glorified Savior in the midst of His Churches. (2) Chapters 4-7 reveals the Lamb of God as the executor of the secret decrees of God. (3) Chapters 8-11 is the warning of Judgments to come. (4) Chapters 12-14 tells of Satan's battle against Christ and the Church. (5) Chapters 15-16 is the last Judgments of God. (6) Chapters 17-19 tells of Christ's victory over the world system. (7) Chapters 20-22 is Christ's victory for His people over Satan.
As this seventh vision opens up it assures those people in the days of the early church, as well as God's people of all ages, though they are sometimes called on to suffer for His names sake, "For all those that live godly shall suffer persecution.", we shall have the honor to live and reign with Him. This was indeed a great comfort for those that were being called upon to suffer in the days of the Apostle John, as well as those down through the history of the church, and is still a comfort for us today. It would be impossible for me, without going into a lengthily discussion, to cover these first few verses even if I knew all about them, but I would like to point out a few things.
As we consider these verses, I think that it would be wise to notice what this passage does not say, before proceeding to study what it does say. (1) This passage says nothing about the second coming of Christ. (2) It says nothing about bodies, physical or glorified. (3) It says nothing about a throne on the earth. (4) It says nothing about David's throne in Jerusalem. (5) It says nothing about a restored Jewish Kingdom on earth. (6) It says nothing about National Israel. (7) It says nothing about a regathering of the Jews in the land. (8) It says nothing about a Temple nor restored Jewish sacrifices. Since none of the things are mentioned in connection with the 1000 year reign, and the 1000 year reign is not mentioned along with these events, we should be very cautious about adding these or other things to this period of time.
The first thing we see in these Scriptures is that Satan is bound by the angel out of heaven. This binding does not mean that Satan is tied up where he can do nothing, and that during this time there will be no more sin, as some people proclaim, but it means that he is restricted or tied up where he cannot deceive the nations any more as he had in the past. This binding is not complete immobility any more than in I Corinthians 7: 39 where it says, "The wife is bound by the law to her husband." It is clear that this means freedom within certain well defined bounds. Jesus said in Matthew chapter 12, when He cast a devil out of the blind and dumb person, "... how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man?" He said, "if I do this by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God is come unto you."
Next, the length of time was to be a thousand years. The Greek word for thousand is chilioi which is in the plural and means an uncertain time or number. This agrees with what the Lord said in Psalms 50: 10, "For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle on the thousand hills." Certainly God is saying that the cattle on all the hills was His.
Another thing that we notice here is John saw souls. He does not say anything about seeing physical bodies or resurrected bodies but just souls. This word that is used here is the same that is used in Matthew 12: 28 where Jesus said, "... but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
I believe the key to interpreting this passage of scripture is found in verse 6. One of the basic rules of Hermeneutics is, the Bible its self is its best interpreter. Verse 6 says, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." I call your attention to the colon after the two words first resurrection. This colon means that an explanation of what has just been stated is going to follow. By way of explanation it says that those that have part in the first resurrection on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ. The word "shall" expresses the future tense, showing that the first resurrection must come before we are priests to God and Christ. In the same book, Revelation 1: 6, shows us that John included himself along with others as being washed from their sins in His own blood and had made him and others priests and kings unto God. "Hath made us" is past tense. This shows that John and all those he was referring to had already taken part in the first resurrection.
It is my conclusion that John saw the Souls and not the bodies of God's elect as described in John 5: 24-25; this is the first resurrection. The second resurrection is the bodily resurrection as described in John 5: 28-29.