Framework For The Future

Studies in the Prophecies of Daniel
(with comments on prophecy in general)

Introduction

General introduction.

In the study of the Bible, I think that sometimes there is a dichotomy perceived between the Old and New Testaments.  On the one hand, there is the Reformed view that all the Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled.  For example, in its study notes of Matthew, the Reformed Study Bible says this about Matthew’s use of several OT prophecies:  “His citations are not presented as isolated predictions and fulfillments, but as proof of the fulfillment of all the expectations of the Old Testament,” emphasis added, p. 1360.  If this is true, and we don’t agree that it is, then it seems to me that there is really very little, if anything, to be gained by studying Daniel or other prophets.

On the other hand, there is the Dispensationalist view that the Old Testament belongs to an earlier time, and so has little to say to us today.  This is especially true of the differences between law and grace.  A study of these differences is outside the scope of these studies; let me simply say that while the Bible is crystal clear that we are saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, it is also crystal clear that “grace” in no way lessens the authority of God’s Word or our responsibility to obey what it says to us.

Dispensationalism at it’s very simplest teaches that there is a difference in God’s redemptive purpose between the nation of Israel and the church.  The Reformed view is that the NT church is the continuation, spiritually speaking, of Israel.  They speak of “spiritual Israel,” and treat the the prophetic portions of the OT as if they speak to us.  According to this view, God is done with Israel and she as a nation has no further part in God’s purpose.

At least the dispensationalist studies the prophecies of the OT.  There is, however, at the same time an unfortunate tendency to set dates for the return of our Lord.  According to one such earlier writer, we should now be about 50 years into the Millennium.  At the same time, I suppose that’s balanced out by the Reformed teaching that we’ve been in the Millennium since the Book of Acts,  though I do wonder where it finds a single national government that acts like it’s being obedient to “King Jesus”.  That can’t even be said of a lot of churches.

After a lifetime of reading and studying the Scriptures, I simply cannot accept the idea that every prophecy in Daniel, or the rest of the Old Testament, has been fulfilled.  To say that they have been is a very broad statement, to say the least, and makes it very difficult to read the Old Testament prophecies with any clarity.  And it seems to me that it also makes understanding the prophetic portions of the NT, if not a good deal of the rest of it, almost impossible.

Background of the Book.

There are really only two areas of concern about the Book of Daniel:  who wrote it and when?  Whether or not it is truly prophetic is wrapped up in the answer to these questions.  We’re not going to deal at length with these answers, but simply state what we believe to be the truth about them.

1. Author.

The Lord Himself referred to “Daniel the prophet,” Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14.  The phrase He quoted, “the abomination of desolation,” is found in Daniel 11:31 and 12:11.

2. Date.

The incredible detail given in chapter 11 has caused unbelieving scholars to assert that it must have been written after the events described and not before, during the times of the Maccabees around 165 B.C.  These sinners against their own souls, to say nothing of those who follow them, simply cannot accept that there is anything supernatural in the writing of the book, a view they hold about all Scripture, not just Daniel.  Conservative scholars believe Daniel to have been written before the events, some time in the sixth century B.C.

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Hebrews 2:5-9, “Not Yet”

In these verses, the writer gives the final “proof” of the superiority of the Lord Jesus over angels:  they have not been given authority over “the world to come.”  We’ll look at all these verses in a minute or so.  For now, the words “not yet” are some of the most precious in the Word, at least to my thinking.  As I look at the moral and spiritual deterioration of our world and the chaos that seems to be enveloping it on every level, these words give me hope that there is something better coming.

As I look in the mirror, the one on the wall or the one in the Word (James 1:23), and see the faults and failures it shows, these words give me hope that something better is coming.  The Word itself gives me that assurance:  Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2 (emphasis added).

Outside, the weather is starting to cool down a little, a taste of what is to come in a few weeks and putting an end to the promise of Spring, when the earth struggles to shake off the deadness of winter and bring forth that life and abundance the Scripture speaks of in Amos 9:13, “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” 

And Paul wrote that the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now, Romans 8:19-22.

“The days are coming,” when that “earnest expectation” and “groaning” will be satisfied, but “not yet.”

Even for our Lord, there is a “not yet,” Hebrews 2:8.  While it might perhaps be said that this verse refers to man himself and God’s original intent that man be His vice-regent over creation, Genesis 1:26-28, still Hebrews 2:8 refers to our Lord’s kingdom.

There is a lot of discussion about that kingdom.  There are many ways in which that kingdom is viewed, but Scripture prophesies a time when God will make new heavens and a new earth, a time in which human life will be greatly extended.  At the same time, there will still be sin and death, Isaiah 65:17-25. Though some folks pair verse 17 with Revelation 21:1, Isaiah and John do not speak of the same event.

Revelation has something to say about this.  Describing the return of our Lord, Revelation 19 says, Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse.  And He who sat on it was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.  His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns.  He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.  He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.  And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed him on white horses.  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, Revelation 19:11-15.

We’re all familiar with Revelation 20 and its declaration of our Lord’s reign of 1000 years.  Many teachers and scholars, following the early Church fathers, say that this can’t possibly refer to an actual 1000 years.  However, the anti-Semitism of the early fathers is well-documented.  They simply could not accept that Israel had any further blessing coming, since she had rejected and crucified her Messiah.  They and those who follow them say that God is done with her.  However, it’s through that very rejection and crucifixion that the way was paved for Israel’s eventual restoration, to say nothing of the fact that the Gospel was given to us Gentiles.  Further, I believe there is a reason why the Holy Spirit led John to write a thousand years 6 times in 6 verses.  It’s to impress on us that He means 1000 years, and not just some vague period of time.  Isaiah 65 refers to this time.  Revelation 21 describes eternity.

Revelation 20 gives us the length of that kingdom.  Revelation 19 describes its character.  The word translated “rule” in 19:15 is interesting.  It’s isn’t the usual word used of ruling, but means “to shepherd.”  It gives the same thought as the word used by our Lord in John 10 as He describes His care of His sheep. So, Revelation 19 tells us that He’s going to “shepherd” the nations.  They’re not going to like it, based on the fact that His rule will be with “a rod of iron.”  Zechariah 14 gives some more details about this.  Hence, the sinner being a hundred years old shall be accursed, Isaiah 65:20.

But “not yet.”  Where is there a nation on this earth that truly seeks to live by the Word of God and to honor and obey the Lord Jesus?  That can’t even be said of a lot of churches anymore.

But why is it – “not yet.”

Because our Lord didn’t come the first time to reign, but to redeem.  This is what Hebrews 2:5-9 is telling us.

God’s original intent in creation was that man was to be His administrator, as it were, over this new planet and all it contained.  However, man rebelled against this idea and decided that he would be the boss.  The result is that not only doesn’t man have dominion over this world, he doesn’t even have dominion over himself.

Lord willing, We’ll have more to say about this in our next post.

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.

“…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. 

Voices of Christmas: The Place

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting, Micah 5:2.

Oh, there is so much here!  Thousands and thousands of words would be needed to even begin to touch the hem of the garment on this verse.  As it turns out, we’ll only have 716.

The place where our Lord chose to be born – yes, He did! – was not a large city, not Jerusalem, not Rome or some other notable city.  He chose to be born in a tiny, obscure village, in a relatively small nation, among a people who were, and are, hated and despised:  the Jews.   This speaks to what Paul wrote years later in Philippians 2:7, He made Himself of no reputation. 

Israel has never shaped the affairs of this world in the way other nations have.  We read of no “Jewish Empire” that spanned the globe, like the Roman Empire or the British Empire.  Israel has never been a militaristic nation, never been intent on acquiring land other than that promised to her.  Yet she has shaped the affairs of this world, and will shape them, more than all the nations put together – because of this One born in her midst.

Who was He?  What did He do?  What will He do?

Does it matter?

One way or another, all these questions are answered in Micah 5:2.

He was one whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.  In the words of John 1:1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  This was to be no mere human child, conceived out of wedlock and a nice story invented to make the best out of a bad situation.  This One was God incarnate, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, yet to come into humanity a helpless Babe. Though He was conceived in the virgin womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit, He was dependent entirely on the care and protection of Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His foster-father.  Who can understand such things?

Yet out of you shall come forth to Me….  This phrase covers all of our Lord’s earthly life, from His birth to His Ascension.  Micah doesn’t tell us in this verse what all was involved in that life, but he does in v. 1, They will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek.  This is a prophecy of the abuse our Lord was to suffer before His crucifixion.  But He didn’t just die and His body left to molder in some unmarked grave like a common criminal.  He was to come forth to God, which He did at His Ascension.

Yes, but is He going to do anything?  Or is He done?

Micah answers that as well, the One to be ruler in Israel….

I know there is a lot of discussion about what this phrase “ruler in Israel” and verses which talk about “the Kingdom” really mean.  After reading the entire Bible more than 50 times, and the New Testament an additional 25 or more times, (I’ve quit counting.  The numbers are meaningless,) I can say that I’m simple enough to believe what it says in prophets, like Micah:  that there is coming a time when there will be an actual, literal, earthly kingdom of God centered in Jerusalem.  I know these adjectives call forth a lot of scorn and derision on the part of those who believe it’s all going to be fulfilled in some kind of “spiritual” kingdom.  I can’t help that. If God didn’t mean what He said, then why didn’t He say what He means?   Our Lord will yet be Ruler in Israel.

Our Lord will yet be glorified in that very place where He was vilified and crucified.  And I tell you, a thousand years, Revelation 19 and 20, isn’t nearly long enough to make up for the murder of the incarnate God.  God, of course, cannot die Himself.  That’s why the Word had to become flesh, John 1:14.

To live.

To die.

To rise again.

To return to this earth, to take His rightful place, not as a babe for whom there was, and is, “no room,” but as its Lord and God. 

Yes, it matters!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!