“King of kings and Lord of lords”

King of kings, and Lord of lords,
|:King of kings, and Lord of lords,:|
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
Kings of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!

This is an excerpt from Handel’s “Messiah”, arguably one of the most well-known works in the world, at least the western world.  Handel was familiar with the Scripture and put to music what it says in verses like the ones below.

1. 1 Timothy 6:15, where this title is connected with His appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He Who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords (emphasis added).  Cf. His own time with His statement in Luke 17:22 about the days of the Son of Man.  We believe the appearing of our Lord will end the attempt by the antiChrist to subvert this world and will usher in a time of peace and righteousness this world has never known.

2. Revelation 17:12, 14, where the title is connected with the appearance of ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast….  These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings….
In the words of Daniel 2, the stone will smite the image on its ten toes and destroy them and it.

3. Revelation 19:11-16, where the title is connected with heaven opened, followed by a description of Him and His activities, Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations.  And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron….  And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

So, you see, this title is associated with His return to this earth to rule them (“the nations”) with a rod of iron (emphasis added).  As it too often happens now, “the nations” strike Him, through His people,”with a rod of iron.”  When He returns, this will not happen!

The word translated “rule” is very interesting.  It isn’t the usual word associated with the reigning, the “rule”, of a king.  The word John used means “to shepherd,” and is a form of the word translated “shepherd” in John 10, the “Good Shepherd” chapter.  What John actually wrote is, He will shepherd the nations with a rod of iron (emphasis added).  How this fits in with the Reformed idea that Jesus will return to this earth, there will be the final judgment, and then the eternal state begins, and all this on the very same day He returns, is unclear.  Perhaps that’s because the idea is unScriptural.  Why would “a rod of iron” be necessary is all that’s left for Christ to “rule” is saved people – in eternity?  And what does Scripture mean which says that Christ will rule in the midst of His enemies, Psalm 110:2?  What kind of a king would he be who “rules” in the midst of his enemies, and they don’t know it or ignore or reject him?   How is that to rule?  Especially if those enemies have been made his footstool?  And how does a “rod of iron” fit into the idea that Christ’s kingdom is only His spiritual rule in the hearts of His people?  Revelation 20:11 isn’t the only verse which talks about Christ’s reign on this earth.  Both Revelation 19 and 20 talk about it, to say nothing of the many Old Testament verses which foretell a worldwide time of peace and righteousness, something which can’t honestly be said to be fulfilled in “the church,” though many try, or to be simply pushed ahead into “the eternal state.”  There is a great deal more to Christ’s kingdom than many are willing to admit.

Where is there, right now, on this earth, a single kingdom or government which bows to the Lord Jesus as “King of kings and Lord of lords” and seeks to govern by His Word?

 

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Daniel 7:27, “The Greatness of the Kingdom”

Then the kingdom and dominion,
And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,
Shall be given to the people, to the saints of the Most High.

His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.’   (NKJV)

In chapter 2, Daniel foretold that the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, v. 44.  In 7:11, this kingdom is given to One like the Son of Man.  Now, in the interpretation of Daniel’s vision in chapter 7, we discover that the saints will also participate in the kingdom.  In verse 27, several things are said of this kingdom.

1. The splendor of the kingdom, then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven….

In other words, this kingdom is not going to be some little insignificant thing, some mystical something that nobody can really see or touch, and which has very little, if any, influence on the world around it.  There have been times when “the church” has been influential in its surroundings, though not now.  By “the church,” I don’t mean organizations like Romanism or the various state churches of Europe.  “The church” is not some denominational hierarchy, not some monolithic religious structure, not some political entity enforcing submission to a creed or catechism.  Indeed, it has often been these manmade structures, with their political posturing or social agendas, which have been at the forefront of opposition to the people of God.  “The church” is saved people, living out their lives in seeking to please God, and coming together from time to time to praise and worship the God who has saved them, often in the face of great persecution or ridicule.  When God sets up the kingdom the Bible talks about, such persecution or ridicule will not be possible.

We don’t really have any great kingdoms today, egalitarianism has taken care of that, but there have been such in history.  The splendor of ancient Egypt, the riches of the Ming dynasty in China, the far-flung reaches of the British Empire, all these and many others bear eloquent witness to the greatness that earthly kingdoms can achieve.  All this will be wrapped up in and overshadowed by the greatness of the fifth and final kingdom, which will encompass the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven….(emphasis added).  It seems to me that this cannot refer to anything other than an “earthly” kingdom, in agreement with what Daniel said in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:  the “stone” will grow into a great mountain which will fill the whole earth.

Furthermore, God tells us through Daniel that the rest of the beasts had their dominion taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.  The nations which made up the first four kingdoms still exist in one form or another, but they themselves will one day fall under the sway of the Son of Man and His saints.  As much as some decry the idea of “an earthly, carnal kingdom,” there is coming a kingdom of God which will fill the whole earth.  Peter describes this time as one in which righteousness dwells, or, literally, “is at home,” 2 Peter 3:13.  It certainly isn’t at home in this present evil world.

By the way, the word translated “fill” has the basic meaning, “to be abundant and overflowing”. This kingdom isn’t going to be some “hole in the wall” affair with people hiding in caves and forests, scared to death they’re going to be discovered worshiping God.  No, no.  It will be the answer to that petition in the Lord’s Prayer:  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” Matthew 6:10, emphasis added.

How is God’s will done “in heaven”?

Joyfully, willingly, completely, openly, only.

There are some today who desire to serve God like that, but they are few and far between in comparison with the earth’s population.  Nevertheless, there is coming a time when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea, Habakkuk 2:14.  We don’t really think about this, “the waters cover the sea,” but it’s quite a picture.  If we could take the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest, and drop it into the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific, there would still be well over a mile of water covering Everest!

And it isn’t just some academic knowledge of God Habakkuk is talking about, reserved for scholars in some dusty hall, it’s the knowledge of the glory of God.  God will be known in His fullness.  He won’t just be shunted off to one side to await our “decision”.  Zechariah 14 gives something of an account of this time.  Though you should read the whole chapter, v. 16 says, And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of the nations who came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.  The earth will be filled with worship and praise of Him, as well as obedience to Him, vs. 17-19.

There’s that word again:  “filled” – to be abundant and overflowing.  That certainly isn’t true today, all the varied means of communication we have today notwithstanding.

2. The saints and the fifth kingdom, this kingdom shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.

Who are these people, these saints of the Most High?  This subject is hotly debated.  We’ll postpone our own comments until the next post, where we’ll deal with objections to the idea of an “earthly” kingdom, which the Scriptures clearly teach.

3. The certainty of the fifth kingdom, His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom….

Earlier in this chapter, Daniel said, “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed, v. 14.  There will never be any “ruins” for future archaeologists to sift through and try to figure out.  There will never be a “sixth” kingdom.  This King is eternal.  His kingdom will be eternal.

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

 

Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He Is Coming With Clouds”

Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, even they who pierced Him.  And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.  Even so, Amen. (NKJV)

The Second Coming of Christ is a major topic in Scripture.  Indeed, it was promised to the disciples at the very moment when the Lord Jesus was disappearing from their sight and they hadn’t even really had time to begin to digest all that He had said to them in the 40 days He had been with them after His resurrection.

In Acts 1:9-11, we read,  Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

There is one difference.  When Jesus left this world, it was a private affair.  Only the eleven saw Him leave.   When He comes back, it will be very public.

Every eye shall see him.

Before fairly recent technology, it wasn’t seen how this could happen.  Now, with all the electronic devices, the internet, and the ubiquitous IPhone, it becomes more clear.  Still, there are places where these things aren’t available.  Though I won’t be dogmatic about it and mean no disrespect to Him, my own view is that He’ll orbit the earth once or twice on His way in to this world.  There have been some who have taken exception to this idea.

However it happens, I believe that what’s left of the world will come to a standstill as its King comes to take His rightful place among those whose last remark about Him was, “We have no king but Caesar,”  John 19:15.

Even they who have pierced Him (emphasis added).

A common view, perhaps the majority view, is that God is done with Israel as a nation.  The church has taken her place and all those OT promises to Israel are somehow “spiritually fulfilled” in and to the church.  Certainly, there’s nothing in our verse in Revelation that indicates anything about Israel’s spiritual condition at or as a result of our Lord’s return.  If it weren’t for other Scriptures, it might easily be said that Israel will only be judged and condemned for her rejection of her Messiah.

One of those OT Scriptures which casts light on this subject is Zechariah 12:10,11.  There God says, “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplications; then they will look of Me whom they pierced.  Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for him as one grieves for a firstborn.  In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem….”

To strengthen and clarify His statement, God continues in 13:1, “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.”

This is when, and how, all Israel will be saved, Romans 11:26.  This doesn’t mean every Jew that’s ever lived, as some say that we believe, but only those Jews alive at that time who have gone through the judgment of their King.

“the judgment of their King”!?

We read of this in Ezekiel 20:33-38, “As I live,” says the LORD God, ” surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you.  I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out.  And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and I will plead My case with you face to face.  Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the LORD God.
“I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel.”

Then God goes on to say that every Jew in the land will then serve Him, vs. 39-44.

This event sheds some light on Matthew 25:31-46, the judgment of nations, when the Lord Jesus, on the throne of His glory, v. 31, judges those nations on the basis of how they have treated “His brethren.”  Those who believe that the Gospel is about nothing more than doing something about social ills take the references to clothing and feeding simply to mean that we’re supposed to take care of the poor and homeless.

While it’s true that Scripture does indeed tell us to take care of the poor and needy, that’s not what Matthew 25 is about.

Joel 3:1, 2 tells us what it is about.  There God says, “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem” [at which time Ezekiel tells us He will judge them and “purge out the rebels.” Having done that] “I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat;  And I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel” (emphasis added).  These are the “brethren” to which our Lord refers in Matthew 25.

And all the tribes of the earth shall mourn because of Him.  

Revelation indicates that when our Lord returns to this world, there won’t be many people left.  We’ll get into this as we get further into the study.  And those who are left will not be happy to see Him.

Remember, while Matthew tells us that some nations will care for and protect Jewish people, Zechariah 14 tells us that the armies of the other nations have gathered against Jerusalem and have apparently conquered it. It seems that most of, if not all, Jerusalem lies in ruins and her people have been subjected to terrible atrocities.  When it seems that anti-Semitism has won, and Israel has finally been destroyed, suddenly her Lord will appear.  Along with some other things, what we mentioned above will happen.  Things will finally be set right – things over which politics and mere religion have no power.  Indeed, politics and mere religion are and will be the cause of most of these troubles.

Even so, Amen.

While what happens in this world affects the true believer, even at its very best this world has no hope for him or her.  This world can never be “home” for the true believer.  If we understand this, then we must also understand that the only hope we have is in the return of the Lord Jesus.  This is regardless of what we believe will happen when He returns.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation: The Future/Director’s Cut

The Director’s cut of a movie is a feature that shows us how some of the scenes were shot, how special effects were produced or perhaps what the director had in mind for a particular scene.  I love it.  I love to see behind-the-scenes, as it were, in these things.

I’ve come to believe that the Book of Revelation is a Director’s cut of the future.  It goes behind-the-scenes and shows us that human history isn’t just a jumbled chaos, but that there is purpose and direction behind it, even the worst of it, cf. 17:17.  To me, this is a great comfort, especially as I look around and see the things going on in our society, things just a few years ago that would have been thought unimaginable.

Granted, there is a lot of difficulty and speculation involved in the study of this book.  And many don’t think that prophecy is a worthy study, not a “fundamental of the faith.”  And it’s true that it’s not a matter of “salvation.”  At the same time, prophecy takes up a large portion of the Bible.  If we believe in the authority and inspiration of Scripture, then we have an obligation to study that part of the Bible as well as the other parts.

Generally speaking, Revelation isn’t taught or studied in churches, except perhaps for a few verses or a topic or two, but one of the last things the Lord told John as He was finishing giving him the book was, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches,” Revelation 22:16.  I think He meant for us to know what “these things” are.

1. Importance of the Book.

Beside the fact that the Book comes to us from God, which, in itself, makes the Book important, there are some other things as well.

a. It’s the only book in the New Testament devoted to prophecy.  Almost every other book in the New Testament has elements of prophecy, but Revelation is the only book called “a prophecy,” 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18, 19.

b. It’s necessary to complete Paul’s eschatology.  Paul revealed many prophetic truths – the Revelation puts them all into perspective. Indeed, Revelation is the capstone of all Biblical prophecy.

c. It fully reveals Christ’s present relationship to His churches and His prospective relationship to the world.

d. It’s the only NT book in which is given a blessing for the fulfilling of our responsibilities toward it, 1:3; 22:7.  This responsibility is three-fold:  to read, to hear and to keep.  The Greek word translated “keep” doesn’t mean simply to pay attention to, but “to watch over,” “to guard.”  It’s the word used of the soldiers who “kept guard” over the tomb of Jesus.  It says to me that there is supposed to be more than the casual attitude many professing Christians have, not only to this book, but to all Scripture.

e. It ends with a curse against those who tamper with its contents.  For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book, 22:18, 19.

Regardless of what one thinks about what these verses mean, or even what the book itself means, it’s a serious thing to approach the book with anything but the utmost reverence and respect.  God will not have His Word to be meddled with, mocked, or misused!  It’s not to be sensationalized, trivialized or minimized.

2. Interpretation of the book.

There are four basic approaches to interpreting Revelation.

a. Preterist.

According to this view, all the Revelation, except possibly the last two chapters, were fulfilled during the early history of the church, although there are some who believe that even they have been fulfilled.  Preterists call the book “A Tract for Troubled Times,” teaching the early believers to hold fast during the troubles they were facing, and would face, and encouraging them that these trials were not to be permanent.

b. Historicist.

This view teaches that Revelation is continuously fulfilled through the Church age.  The various things and events in the books, such as seals, trumpets, bowls, etc., don’t refer to specific happenings, but to “principles” or “processes” at work throughout history.

c. Allegorical or Spiritualizing.

This view says that, using symbols, Revelation portrays the ongoing conflict between good and evil.  John is said not to have expected a “literal” fulfillment of his words.  We’re not supposed to, either.

We want to deal with this view a little more than the others because it has had such an impact on Church history and on current views of The Revelation.

One author wrote,

“In the figurative or symbolic language of the Apocalypse hardly anything is called by its ordinary and direct name, but things are indirectly alluded to under some other name, and words have to be understood as implying something other than their ordinary connotations….”
(William M. Ramsey, The Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 111.)

Then he goes on to assert that “the most dangerous kind of error that can be made about the Apocalypse is to regard it as a literal statement and prediction of events,” (p. 112).

The allegorical method had its roots in the ancient Greek culture of Alexandria.  It arose as the result of the dilemma the Alexandrian Greeks faced in seeing the differences between their philosophical heritage and the often grotesque and immoral stories about their gods.  They resolved this dilemma by treating the religious stories allegorically, that is, as not literally true, but as merely illustrating various virtues or as describing the struggle between good and evil.

The Alexandrian Jew had the same difficulty.  Raised with the Mosaic viewpoint, he was surrounded by the great Greek philosophical tradition.  Instead of holding faithfully to Moses, he did as the Alexandrian Greek had done before him, allegorizing Moses and interpreting Plato literally, thus making Moses teach the philosophy of Plato.

The best known advocates of the allegorical method in the early church were Clement of Alexandria and Origen:

They applied it generally in the interpretation of Scripture.  They applied it even more readily in this instance [that is, in the interpretation of Revelation] as it furnished them with the possibility of denying the millennial reign of Christ, to which they were opposed.  By this method all the prophecies of the book were deprived of any prophetic meaning, thus becoming spiritual principles for the aid and comfort of the Christian in his unceasing fight against evil.  This method was adopted by the rationalistic schools as being in agreement with their aversion to the prophetic and, consequently, the supernatural character of the content of Scripture(George A. Hadjiantoniou, New Testament Introduction, p. 340, emphasis added.)

With regard to Ramsey’s statement above, I can’t think of a more “dangerous” way to interpret any Scripture than to say that it has to be “understood as implying something else than [its] ordinary connotations”!  To be sure, interpreting prophecy can be difficult, but in Scripture, prophecy is about predicting events, things which must…come to pass, not just laying down “principles.” After all, if God didn’t mean what He said, why didn’t He say what He meant?

And perhaps it’s still true that the main bone of contention for the allegorist today, as it was with Clement and Origen centuries ago, is how to deal with the “1000 years” of Revelation 20.

d. The Futurist View.

As the name implies, this view holds that most of Revelation is future, even to our own time.  Futurists accept Revelation to employ language generally to be understood literally.  They don’t deny the use of symbols; they do deny that everything is symbolic, or that these symbols don’t teach actual, literal truth or portray actual events.

Premillennialism, which is what the debate is really all about, is accused of being of recent origin in the 18th or 19th centuries.  This isn’t true.  Under the name “chiliasm” (from chilias – “thousand,” Revelation 20), it was the belief of the early church, though their view did differ in some details from the modern view.  In his book, The Millennium, Loraine Boettner claims that this means nothing:

“As far as its presence in the early church is concerned, surely it can be argued with as much reason that it was one of those immature and unscriptural beliefs that flourished before the Church had time to work out the true system of Theology as that its presence at that time is an indication of purity of faith.  In any event, so thoroughly did Augustine do his work in refuting it that it practically disappeared for a thousand years as an organized system of thought, and was not seriously put forth again until the time of the Protestant Reformation,” (p.366).

There are some interesting things here.  The “thousand years” to which he refers from Augustine to the Reformation are known as “The Dark Ages,” a time in which the Scriptures themselves almost disappeared, let alone a difficult subject like prophecy.  I believe the adoption of the allegorical method led directly to this dismal time in church and human history.  I further believe that the Reformation itself would not have happened, humanly speaking, if Luther and Calvin and others hadn’t restored a measure of literalism to their expositions of Scripture.

In his Bondage of the Will, written in 1525 to answer a volume written by the humanist scholar Erasmus on the subject of free will, Luther had this to say:

“…let this be our conviction:  that no “implication” or “figure” may be allowed to exist in any passage of Scripture unless such be required by some obvious feature of the words and the absurdity of their plain sense, as offending against an article of faith.  Everywhere we should stick to just the simple, natural meaning of the words, as yielded by the rule of grammar and the habits of speech that God has created among men; for if anyone may devise “implications” and “figures” at his own pleasure, what will all Scripture be but a reed shaken with the wind, and as a sort of chameleon?” (p. 192, emphasis added).

In his commentary on Galatians, written about 1548, explaining Galatians 4:22-31 (the “allegory” of Sarah and Hagar), Calvin had this to say:

“Again, as the history which he [Paul] quotes appeared to have no bearing on the question, he gives it an allegorical interpretation.  But as the apostle declared that these things are ‘allegorized’ (‘allegoroumena’), Origen, and many others with him, have seized the occasion of torturing the Scriptures, in every possible manner, away from the true sense.  They concluded that the literal sense is too mean [common, ordinary] and poor, and that under the outer bark of the letter, there lurk deeper mysteries, which cannot be extracted but by beating out allegories.  And this they had no difficulty in accomplishing; for speculations which appear to be ingenious have always been preferred, and always will be preferred by the world to solid doctrine” (p. 135, emphasis added).

This doesn’t mean that the Reformers themselves had any use for or agreement with chiliasm.  They thought as little of it as had Augustine before them.  Calvin classed chiliasts with Origen, no compliment to them.  He never did a commentary on Revelation.  And Luther said, “My spirit cannot adjust itself to this book.”

Reformed scholars today, though willing to expound Revelation, have about the same attitude toward premillennialists as their ancestors had toward chiliasm.  I remember reading one author who sneered at such for having only a “Bible college” education, as opposed to those who had spent years studying in seminary.  No wonder.  If God doesn’t mean what He says, especially about the future, then, no doubt, it would take a considerable amount of “learning” to decipher what He does mean.

I admit that many of those with whom I might otherwise agree have given them plenty of reason to dislike this viewpoint.  In spite of the fact that, even after centuries of trying and failing, and no one has ever successfully given the date on which the Lord will return, people still insist on “setting dates”.  And there are ministries devoted, it seems like, every time someone sneezes in the Middle East, to rushing to Daniel and Revelation to see what prophecies were fulfilled.  History is littered with the wreckage of such attempts.

Nevertheless, we believe the futurist interpretation is the only one which makes sense of the intent God had when He gave us this book.

Now, no doubt, for those who received it originally, it was indeed “a tract for troubled times.”  It comforted and encouraged them.  It gave them hope and assurance.  But we believe that The Revelation is also “a testimony for terminal times”.  That is, when the end times do come, whether in our lifetimes or centuries from now, the Revelation will testify by the unmistakable fulfillment of its predictions as to the truthfulness and authority of the Word of God, both the written word, and that personified in the Son of God:  “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” Revelation 19:10.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.  Amen,  Revelation 22:20.

Understanding The Revelation.

As I began this post, I intended to make it a two-post series.  With all the discussion of the Revelation, I knew that two posts wouldn’t be enough really to understand the book, if that’s even possible before it’s all over and done with.  I just wanted to lay a basic foundation. The first post was to be about the importance of the book and its interpretation.  The second post was to be an overview of the contents of the book.  The more I thought about it, though, and even wrote, the more I realized that I had two choices for the outline of the book.  I could just give a bare outline of the book, sort of like its skeleton, but I don’t know that that would really say much about the book.  In order to do any kind of justice to the subject, I needed more than that.  For me, that would probably wind up being several thousands of words.  For the time being, I’ve decided just to do the first post on how to interpret the book.  I have done a couple other posts on the first chapters of the book.  I am thinking tentatively of a series on the seven churches.  There’s a lot there.  For the rest, there’s really a lot there.  I may or may not jump in.

I.  The Importance of the Book.

A.  It’s the only prophetic book in the New Testament.  Nearly every other book in the New Testament has elements of prophecy, but Revelation is the only book called “a prophecy,” 1:3; 10:11; 22:7, 10, 18, 19, the climax of which will be the second coming of Christ, 1:7; 3:11; 16:15; 19:11; 22:7, 12, 20.

B.  It’s necessary to complete the revelation of Pauline eschatology.  Paul revealed many prophetic truths – the Revelation puts them all into perspective.  Indeed, Revelation is the capstone of all Biblical prophecy.

C. It fully reveals Christ’s present relationship to His churches and His prospective relationship to the world.  It’s the fulfillment of Philippians 2:9-11 and is the answer to the question in 1 Peter 4:17, 18.

D.  It’s the only NT book in which is given a blessing for the fulfilling of our responsibilities toward it, 1:3; 22:7.  This responsibility is three-fold:  to read, to hear, and to keep.  The Greek word translated, “keep,” doesn’t mean simply to possess, but in the words of Newell,

“Now the sense of the word ‘keep’ is its primary one of  ‘watching over,’ ‘guarding as a treasure,’ as well as its secondary one, ‘to give heed to.”  We cannot ‘keep’ a prophecy as men might ‘observe’ a law.  The prophecy will  be fulfilled whether we pay attention to it or not.  But there is divine blessing if we give heed to it and jealously guard its very words!”  (Revelation, p. 7, emphasis his.)

There are several Scriptures which build on the foundation of prophetic insight in their teachings as to is to be what our outlook on this present evil world, Galatians 1:4.  Two of the more notable ones are 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 and 2 Peter 3:11-14.

1 Thessalonians tells us that the Christian life is to be one of activity and anticipation.  This “activity” is two-fold, to turn from idols and to serve the living and true God.  Many rejoice in the fact, at least to their own minds, that they have fulfilled the first of these, that is, they “don’t drink or chew or have friends who do,” but fail to realize that the other side of the coin, as it were, is “serving the living and true God.”  As Paul put it, presenting their bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord, Romans 12:1, 2..

The coupling of activity and anticipation also shows us what is to be our attitude toward the coming of the Lord.  We’re not, as some have, to quit our jobs, sell all our possessions, put on white sheets, and go to live on a mountaintop, waiting for the Lord to come and pick us up.  No, no, while waiting for Him, we’re to be productive in the things of God, leaving the fulfilling of His purpose to Him.  We’ll have more to say about this shortly.

2 Peter also tells us what is to be our attitude in this life.  It is to be, “as then, so now.”  In other words, many Christians seem to have the attitude that, since we’ll be perfect only in heaven, there’s little need to be concerned about it before we get there.  It is true that perfect and complete holiness won’t be ours until we get to heaven, but it is also true that God begins the work before we get there.  He begins it in this life, as soon as we’re converted.  Heaven will, as it were, reveal the unveiling of His masterpiece, but He begins the work in this life.  The things that happen to us now are His brushstrokes as He makes us into the likeness of His Son.

The eternal world is described by Peter as one in which righteousness dwells, 2 Peter 3:13.  There are two thoughts in this.  First, there is “permanence.”  Righteousness is very fleeting on this earth and is often covered up or done away with.  Not so in eternity.  Second, “dwells” carries the idea of “being at home.”  Sin and evil are at home in this world, righteousness is often viewed as an unwelcome intruder.  Not so in eternity.  Therefore, wrote Peter, we’re to strive to be holy in this life, 2 Peter 3:11, 14.  “Holiness” isn’t about some “experience,” or about belonging to a particular denomination or group.  True Biblical holiness is about conformity to the will of God.  It’s the demonstration of the character of God in the life of the believer.  Imperfectly, to be sure, but something longed for by those who know the true God.

In 2 Peter 3:12, Peter tells us we’re also to be hasting unto the coming of the day of God.  This doesn’t mean that we can do something to hasten it, or that we can delay it, for that matter, but rather that we’re eagerly to wait for it and to look forward to it, as a young child might to a promised treat, or on a long journey, wanting to know, “Are we there yet?”

This doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to set dates or anything foolish like that, but to realize, and to wish, that today might be the day when the Lord returns.

D.  It’s the only NT book which includes a curse against those who tamper with its contents!  For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book, Revelation 22:18, 19.

Regardless of what one thinks about what these verses mean, or even what the book itself means, it’s a serious thing to approach the book with anything but the utmost reverence and respect.  God will not have His Word to be meddled with, mocked, or misused!  It’s neither to be sensationalized nor minimized.

II. Interpretation of the Book

 It’s said that Satan especially hates three books of the Bible:  Genesis, because it records God’s denunciation of him, Deuteronomy, because the Lord Jesus defeated him with it during Satan’s testings of Him in the wilderness, and Revelation, because it reveals his ultimate defeat and eternal doom.

This may or may not be true, but it’s certain that he has caused a great deal of controversy over how to interpret the book.  Generally speaking, there are four main schools of thought about this.

A.  Preterist.

According to this view, all the Revelation was fulfilled, except possibly the last two chapters, during the early history of the church.  There are those who hold that even they have been fulfilled.  Preterists believe the book to be, “A Tract for Troubled Times,” instructing the early believers to hold fast during the troubles they were facing, and would face, and encouraging them that these troubles would not be permanent.

B.  Historicist.

This view teaches that all Revelation has a continuous fulfillment throughout the Christian era.  In other words, the various things in the book, such as seals, trumpets, bowls, etc., don’t refer to specific events or details, but “to principles that are operating throughout the new dispensation,” (Wm. Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, p. 54.)  Thus we can understand the expression “a huge mountain all ablaze” that was “hurled into the sea,” as representing all maritime disasters happening during this age.

C.  Allegorical or Spiritualizing.

According to this view, Revelation portrays through symbol the conflict between good and evil.  John is said not to have expected a literal fulfillment of his words.  We’re not supposed to, either.  Wm. Ramsay states the following:

“In the figurative or symbolic language of the Apocalypse hardly anything is called by its ordinary and direct name, but things are indirectly alluded to under some other name, and words have to be understood as implying something else than their ordinary connotations….”  (The Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 111.)

Then he goes so far as to assert that “the most dangerous kind of error that can be made about the Apocalypse is to regard it as a literal statement and prediction of events,” p.112.

We want to deal with this view a little more than with the others because it has had such an impact on Church history and on current views of The Revelation.

The allegorical method had its roots in the ancient Greek culture of Alexandria.  It arose as the result of a dilemma the Alexandrian Greeks faced in reconciling the difference between their philosophical heritage and the often immoral and grotesque stories about their gods.  This dilemma was resolved by treating the religious stories allegorically, that is, as not literally true, but as merely illustrating the virtues or as describing the struggle between good and evil.

The Alexandrian Jew also had two traditions to reconcile.  His religion had come down from Moses and the prophets.  Yet, in Alexandria’s cosmopolitan atmosphere, he soon learned of the great Greek philosophical tradition.  How could he embrace both?  It’s true that we can say that he shouldn’t have.  He should have rejected Plato and clung to Moses, but we’re not talking about what should have happened, but about what did happen.  The Alexandrian Jew did as the Alexandrian Greek had done before him; he interpreted Plato literally and interpreted Moses allegorically, thus making Moses teach the philosophy of Plato.

Jewish allegorism arose about 160 B.C. and, though not originating with him, was popularized by a Jew named Philo, who believed in the divine origin of Greek philosophy.  He taught that every Scripture had both a literal and an allegorical meaning.  The literal meaning was for the weak-minded, while the allegorical meaning was for the advanced.

About 180, the allegorical method was advanced in Christian circles by Pantaneus, then by Clement of Alexandria and by Origen,

The allegorical method

“owes its origin to the Alexandrine Fathers Clement and Origen, who applied it generally in the interpretation of Scripture.  They applied it even more readily in this instance [the interpretation of The Revelation], as it furnished them with the possibility of denying the millennial reign of Christ, to which they were opposed.  By this method all the prophecies in the book are deprived of any prophetic meaning, thus becoming general spiritual principles for the aid and comfort of the Christian in his unceasing fight against evil.  This method was adopted by the rationalistic schools as being agreement with their aversion to the prophetic and, consequently, the supernatural character of the content of Scripture.”  (George A. Hadjiantoniou, New Testament Introduction, p. 340.)

With regard to Ramsey’s comment above, I don’t think there is any more “dangerous” way to interpret any Scriptures than to say that it has “to be understood as implying something else than [its] ordinary connotations”!  Certainly, there are difficulties in interpreting prophecy, but in the Scripture, prophecy is about predicting events, things which must…come to pass, not just laying down “principles.” And in the other Scriptures, if God didn’t mean what He said, why didn’t He say what He meant?  That can be applied to prophecy very often, as well, especially in the Old Testament.

Having said that, we understand that “prophecy” sometimes refers simply to the preaching of the Word, without any predictive element.  That’s not the case with The Revelation.

4.  The Futurist View.

This view holds that most of Revelation is yet future, even to our own time.  Futurists accept Revelation to employ language generally to be understood literally.  This doesn’t deny the use of symbols; it does deny that everything is symbolic.

Premillennialism, or the doctrine of the Millennium and an earthly kingdom of our Lord, which is what all this is really about, is accused of being of recent origin, the 18th or 19th centuries.  This isn’t true.  Under the name “chiliasm” (from chilias – “thousand,” Revelation 20), it was the belief of the early church, though there are some differences.  In his book, The Millennium, Loraine Boettner claims that this means nothing:

“As far as its presence in the early church is concerned, surely it can be argued with as much reason that it was one of those immature and unscriptural beliefs that flourished before the Church had time to work out the true system of Theology as that its presence at that time is an indication of purity of faith.  In any event, so thoroughly did Augustine do his work in refuting it that it practically disappeared for a thousand years as an organized system of thought, and was not seriously put forth again until the time of the Protestant Reformation.” (p. 366.)

There are some interesting things here.  The “thousand years” to which he refers from Augustine to the Reformation are known as “The Dark Ages,” a time in which the Scriptures themselves almost disappeared, let alone a difficult subject like prophecy.  I believe the adoption of the allegorical method led directly to this dismal time in church and human history.  I further believe that the Reformation itself would never have come, humanly speaking, if Luther and Calvin and others hadn’t restored a measure of literalism to their expositions of Scripture.

In his Bondage of the Will, written in 1525 to answer a volume written by the humanist scholar Erasmus on the subject of free-will, Luther had this to say:

 “…let this be our conviction:  that no “implication” or “figure” may be allowed to exist in any passage of Scripture unless such be required by some obvious feature of the words and the absurdity of their plain sense, as offending against an article of faith.  Everywhere we should stick to just the simple, natural meaning of the words, as yielded by the rules of grammar and the habits of speech that God has created among men; for if anyone may devise “implications” and “figures” at his own pleasure, what will all Scripture be but a reed shaken with the wind, and as a sort of chameleon?”  (p.192.)

In his commentary on Galatians, written about 1548,  explaining Galatians 4:22-31, (the “allegory” of Sarah and Hagar,)  Calvin had this to say:

“Again, as the history which he [Paul] quotes appeared to have no bearing on the question, he gives it an allegorical interpretation.  But as the apostle declares that these things are “allegorized “(‘allegoroumena’), Origen, and many others with him, have seized the occasion of torturing the Scriptures, in every possible manner, away from the true sense.  They concluded that the literal sense is too mean and poor, and that under the outer bark of the letter, there lurk deeper mysteries, which cannot be extracted but by beating out allegories.  And this they had no difficulty in accomplishing; for speculations which appear to be ingenious have always been preferred, and always will be preferred by the world to solid doctrine.” (p. 135.)

This doesn’t mean that the Reformers themselves had any use for or agreement with chiliasm.  They thought as little of it as had Augustine before them.  Calvin classed chiliasts with Origen, no compliment to them.  He never did a commentary on The Revelation.  And Luther said, “My spirit cannot adjust itself to this book.”

Reformed scholars today, though willing to expound The Revelation, have about the same attitude toward premillennialism as their ancestors had toward chiliasts.  I remember reading one author who sneered at such for having only a “Bible college” education, as opposed to those who had spent years studying in seminary.  No wonder.  If God doesn’t mean what He says, especially about the future, then, no doubt, it would take a considerable amount of “learning” to decipher what He does mean.

And I admit that many of those with whom I might otherwise agree have given them plenty of reason to dislike this viewpoint.  In spite of the fact that, even after centuries of trying and failing, no one ever successfully giving the date on which the Lord will return, people will still insist on “setting dates.”  History is littered with the wreckage of such attempts.

Nevertheless, we believe that the futurist interpretation is the only one which makes sense of the intent of God in giving us this book.  No doubt, for those who received it originally, it was “a tract for troubled times.”  But we believe that it is also a “testimony for terminal times.”  That is, when the end times do come, the Revelation will testify by the unmistakable fulfillment of its predictions as to the truthfulness and authority of the Word of God, both the written word, and that personified in the Son of God:  For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, Revelation 19:10.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus, Revelation 22:20.

“…that the Scriptures might be fulfilled…”

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a brother about a course he was taking at a local Christian college.  He mentioned that the professor teaching it believes that all the Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled.

This is a common viewpoint.

In its introduction to Matthew, The Reformation Study Bible  says, “[Matthew’s] citations are not presented as isolated predictions and fulfillments, but as proof of the fulfillment of ALL the expectations of the Old Testament,” p.1360, (emphasis added).

Elsewhere, we’ve referred to the church bulletin insert which said that Ezekiel 40-48 were “fulfilled in Jesus.”

I’m sorry, but I cannot agree.

Jesus did indeed fulfill many prophecies during His first coming.  Matthew himself lists 19 such prophecies by text and two others with a general reference to “the prophets.”  It seems to me, therefore, that these prophecies clearly demonstrate that prophecy must be fulfilled “literally” [and, yes, I know how some folks view that word!] and not just “spiritually”.

For example, looking at Ezekiel, in our Bibles there are 9 chapters with some 270 verses of extensive and exact detail, even down to a priest’s haircut and whom he may or may not marry.

Keep in mind that Ezekiel was a priest and would not have dared to come up with something like this on his own.  Besides, God instructed him to “look with your eyes and hear with your ears, and fix your mind on everything I show you; for you were brought here that I might show them to you.  Declare to the house of Israel everything you see,” Ezekiel 40:4.

To say that his writings can be lightly dismissed because of the the fact that one or two words which Ezekiel used were also used by the Lord Jesus of Himself seems to me to be going too far.

We grant that there are some difficult things to understand in these chapters.  For example, some are troubled, even offended, by the references to various sacrifices, believing they deny the final sacrifice of our Lord Jesus.  I freely admit that I don’t understand them myself.  However, without meaning in the least to be irreverent or flippant, I expect that, since God told Ezekiel to write them down, He will take care of it.

I have no doubt that, when all is said and done and this world is over and regardless of our views of prophecy, we will all discover that we didn’t have everything “figured out”.

There were many prophets in Israel.  It wasn’t to be taken for granted, though, that they all spoke for God, even if they said or thought that they did.  If Israel were to ask how they could tell which were true prophets and which were false prophets, God gave them two simple tests.  These tests still work.

The first test is found in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, where God gave this instruction to Israel,

If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods,’…you shall not listen to the words of that prophet….for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul.  But that prophet or dreamer of dreams shall be put to death….  So shall you put away the evil from among you.” 

Even though New Testament believers do not have the right or the authority to kill false prophets, still the lesson is clear, all messages must be faithful to and judged by the Word of God.

The second test is in Deuteronomy 18:21, 22,

“And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ – when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

In other words, the thing prophesied has to happen!

I don’t believe that Israel would have accepted the idea that a prophecy could be fulfilled “spiritually.”  They were told certain things would happen and they expected those very things to happen.  Now, it’s true that they didn’t always understand everything that would be involved, any more than we do today.  And there might even be a “spiritual” element involved.  Still, there was a definite thing or things expected.

For example –

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah:  ‘In those days and at that time, I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgement and righteousness in the earth.  IN THOSE DAYS JUDAH WILL BE SAVED, AND JERUSALEM WILL DWELL SAFELY.  AND THIS IS THE NAME BY WHICH SHE WILL BE CALLED:  THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’  For thus says the LORD:  “David shall never lack of man to sit on the throne of Israel; nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually,” Jeremiah 33:14-18 (emphasis added)..

God said He would keep His promise to Israel and Judah.  To say that this was fulfilled during the return from Babylon or that it’s fulfilled in “the church” and the Lord Jesus is sitting on David’s throne in heaven is to miss the point of the prophecy.  Jerusalem hasn’t dwelt “safely” since its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar and certainly not after the return from Babylon.  Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi testify to that!  She still doesn’t!  Judah isn’t “saved.”  Jerusalem is still called Jerusalem, there being nothing “righteous” about her, since she is in part inhabited by those who call the Cross “a monstrous falsehood.”.

There are many other OT portions we could look at.

Zechariah 14 is one of them.  Read it.  When has the Lord returned, there have been catastrophic geological changes to the planet and a moral and spiritual revolution taken place so that everyone who is left of all the nations…shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles”?  To say that some of this refers to the “eternal state” as the Reformation Study Bible does is to ignore the plagues and punishment Zechariah describes.  How would they even be necessary?

Jeremiah 33 and Zechariah 14 certainly tie in with Ezekiel 40-48.

The Church is unknown in the Old Testament.  It didn’t come about because Israel rejected her Messiah and so God instituted “Plan B.”  The Cross was part of God’s eternal purpose, Ephesians 3:11.  Israel’s rejection of the Lord Jesus was part of it.  It doesn’t say much for our view of God if we believe He had to go to Plan B.  I don’t know about you, but if God had to do that with me, He’d be way beyond “B.”  No, no.  The Church is “Part B,” if you will.  But that probably is another whole post.

To deny even the possibility of a “literal” fulfillment seems to me to cast doubt on the truthfulness of God’s Word.  If He didn’t mean what He said, then why did He say it?Why didn’t He say what He did mean?  And what else in His Word can we not trust?  So, it seems to me that there’s a lot more involved than just fussing over some marginal issue.

The few words of this post won’t lay the discussion to rest, by any means.  I just hope it might give some food for thought.

The Scripture must be fulfilled!

“…on earth…”

This is a follow-up to my last post, in which I asked the question, “In praying ‘thy kingdom come,’ what are we praying for?”  In that post, I connected the request for the coming of the kingdom to the request that God’s will be done on earth in the same way that it is done in heaven.  In other words, isn’t praying for the kingdom praying for something that happens or will happen on the earth?

I understand that there is a lot of discussion about “the kingdom.”  Some simply cannot accept the idea of what they consider to be “an earthly, carnal, political” kingdom.  According to these folks, it’s a “spiritual kingdom,” that is, the rule of Christ in the hearts of His people.  It’s already happening, because He’s ruling in Heaven.  But that in itself is nothing new.  “Relationship with God,” as it’s called today, has always been about God’s rule in the lives of people.  Even under the Law, obedience was the prime requisite, and disobedience was severely punished.

As far as the “earthly, carnal, political” part is concerned:  I’ve never been able to understand why it’s alright for the Lord Jesus to sit on a throne in Heaven, but not for Him to sit on a throne in Jerusalem.  What difference does it make WHERE the throne is?  It’s about the Occupant, not what He’s sitting on, or where!  For my own part, I’d much rather have Him, say, in the White House than its current occupant – or any of its previous occupants.

It seems to me to be a great insult to our Lord to say that an “earthly” kingdom of His would be “carnal” and/or “political.”  Scripture says that His scepter, His royal insignia, is a scepter of righteousness, Psalm 45:6; Hebrews 1:8.

We just recently completed elections here in the US.  But when the Lord sets up His kingdom, there won’t be any campaigning.  There won’t be any signs out in the front yard or any TV commercials.  There won’t be any of the back room deals or the wheeling and dealing associated with current politics.  There won’t be a Democrat or Republican or Libertarian or Green or Prohibition party.  [Yes, there used to be a Prohibition Party candidate on the ballot in Colorado, long after Prohibition itself was gone.]   There won’t be any voting about it.  Daniel 2:44 says, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom….  And there won’t be any focus groups or polls about how He should do it!

Yes, but didn’t our Lord say that His kingdom was not of this world, John 18:36?  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that from the pulpit or read it as a “proof” that there will be no “earthly” kingdom.  But clearly, the Lord was talking about the source of the kingdom, not where it will be located or operate.  He said this Himself in a part of v. 36 that’s never quoted, “My kingdom is not from here.”  Otherwise, He said, His disciples would fight.  But the kingdom God will set up will not be set up in any manner remotely similar to other earthly kingdoms.

Furthermore, the Lord Jesus said that He Himself was not of this world, John 8:23.  He said that of His disciples, John 15:19.  Yet, clearly, He and they were located and functioned, physically and actually, in this world.

In the New Testament, there are a couple of clear references to the reign of our Lord as over more than just some ephemeral something that has no relationship to this world.  In Revelation 19:15, after a brief description of our Lord’s return to this earth in vs. 11-14, we read, Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations.  And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  If the kingdom is only related to believers, why then is “a rod of iron” necessary?  And who are the nations whom He will “strike” as well as “rule”?  Certainly not believers.  The word translated “rule” means “to shepherd,” i.e., John is saying that Jesus will shepherd the nations.  This seems to me to be a far cry from the idea that He will return, officiate at the final judgment and then usher in eternity.  For an idea of what His return and rule entails, read Zechariah 14.  We’ve done a couple of posts on that chapter.

Revelation 20, which continues ch. 19, indicates this “shepherding” will last for 1000 years.  And, yes, I’m aware of the uproar over that figure.  As one Reformed writer put it, the thousand years simply refer to the present Gospel age of 2000 years (!)  However, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit had a reason for inspiring John to write 1000 years six times in six verses.  Perhaps it was  to impress on us that He meant 1000 years, not just some indeterminate period of time.

He shall rule them with a rod of iron.

Psalm 110:2 says that Messiah will rule in the midst of His enemies.  Where is this happening today?  What kind of a king is it who rules “in the midst of His enemies,” and they don’t know it, but continue to reject, ridicule and rebel against Him? When our Lord sits on the throne of His glory, Matthew 19:28, that will not be possible.

There is so much more that we could say on this subject, but have decided to save it for other posts.  Also, we recognize that there are many good, earnest Christians who differ with us on these subjects.  Further, we recognize that the subject of “prophecy” is not considered “a fundamental of the faith” by many, not worth “fighting over” or causing controversy.  While we do believe that one’s view of prophecy doesn’t determine or deny their salvation, we also believe that it is important and not to be neglected or ignored.  After all, assuming we believe in divine inspiration and not that the Bible is just a miscellaneous collection of ancient writings, written long after the events they describe, the Holy Spirit saw fit to give it to us.  We should try to know as much about it as possible.