Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Resurrection of Israel

When the Lion Roars
I'm reading a book right now called When The Lion Roars: understanding the implications of ancient prophecies for our time. The book describes itself on the back cover like this:

We are living in unprecedented times. Prophetic events are unfolding at lightning speed right before our eyes and, unbeknownst to most of the world, are being reported in the daily news cycle. From the supernatural resurrection of the nation of Israel to the extraordinary advancement of end-time technologies, ours is the first generation to witness the revelation of such amazing prophetic events. But do not fear, there is a balanced, biblical understanding to everything that is occurring in our day (Gallups 2016).

The author, Carl Gallups, deals with events taking place in the Middle East, Islam and ISIS, and the Shemitah[1], among other things.

I must confess, I love reading books like this. I am a sucker for anything "end of the world." That goes all the way back to Hal Lindsey's, "The Late Great Planet Earth." I couldn't agree less with the dispensational theology[2], but I love to read them. I have accused large part of American Evangelicalism of reading the Bible through the headlines of the newspaper, to interpret Biblical prophecy. This book not only proves that, but the author also admits it on the back cover of the book.

Here we are again, trying to make our way down the narrow road between two ditches. This time, the ditches are liberal Higher Criticism on the one side and American Evangelical literalism on the other.

I have sometimes been criticized by evangelical friends for not reading the Bible literally. This is a baseless criticism as I do understand the Bible literally. I know that it means what it says. When the Bible says that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, I believe that he was literally swallowed by a big fish. When the Bible says that the world was created in six days, I believe that the world was created in six days. Because, however, I am an amillennialist[3], because I don't believe in the Rapture[4], or think that the founding of the nation-state of Israel in 1948 is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, my evangelical friends believe that I am some kind of theological liberal. This, as my regular readers will know, could not to be farther from the truth. I don’t believe in the teachings mentioned above because I don't believe they are taught in Scripture. On the other hand, I have accused American Evangelicalism in general of not reading the Bible literally, but rather literalistically. In other words, evangelicals literally interpret every word and phrase of Scripture, rather than interpreting words and phrases in the context in which they are presented. Here's an example:

In support of the doctrine of the Millennial Kingdom we are invariably pointed to Revelation 20:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1000 years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while (Revelation 20:1-3).

In this passage, evangelicals see the Millennial Kingdom. Satan is bound for 1000 years. During this 1000 years, Jesus will establish his Millennial Kingdom on earth. The explanation given is usually something like, "The words are right there! It says 1000 years, it means 1000 years!" When we take a second to think about it, however, I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense to take those words literally.

The phrase, "1000 years," occurs only in two other places in the Bible. It occurs in Psalm 90:4, and 2 Peter 3:8. In both of these locations, the phrase is used to illustrate a long, undetermined period of time and the timelessness of God. Psalm 90 compares the time period of 1000 years to “a watch in the night.” St. Peter makes the same point:

But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for the fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord on day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:7-9).

Peter is saying that, even though the scoffers will scoff, Christ will return in his own good time and according to his own plan. The point is that God does not experience time in the same way we humans do. He does not work on our schedule. With him, "one day is as 1000 years, and 1000 years as one day." 1000 years is a long time to a human being. To God, that same 1000 years is like a watch in the night (about four hours) to us. In other words, we might think he is taking a long time to complete his work but, to him, it is only an instant.

It should be reasonable then not to understand the phrase "1000 years" in these contexts to mean a literal 1000 year period. Every time the phrase is used it means a great, undetermined period of time. So, if it is used that way in the Psalms (a book of poetry), and 2 Peter (a letter of correspondence), would it not make even more sense to take it figuratively when it is used in the book of Revelation (a book of apocalyptic visions and symbols)? This is not denying the truth, divine inspiration, or inerrancy of Scripture; this is simply applying the rules of language to written language. We must do this if we are to understand what is being said to us. God did, after all, choose to communicate to us through this written word, recorded in human language by human beings.

This example, I believe, illustrates the difference between the literal interpreter and the “literalistic” interpreter. The literalistic interpreter does not take context into account. When you look at Scripture that way, strange things begin to happen. For instance, you start to believe that the word Israel means "Israel."

American Evangelicalism is notoriously dispensational. As a result, much of it is preoccupied with the nation-state of Israel. Dispensationalists believe that, before Christ’s return, God has to gather his chosen people, the Jews, back to the Promised Land. When they are gathered there, Israel will then take control of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. According to dispensationalists, the reconstitution of the nation-state of Israel in 1948 is the fulfillment of God's prophecy to bring his chosen people back to the Promised Land. It is proof that we are living in the End Times. Dispensational Christians also seem to focus on prophecy, rather than the preaching of Law and Gospel, as a means to convert people. Non-Christians, it seems to me, are expected to become Christians because of the convincing fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, like the resurrection of Israel in 1948.

Non-dispensationalists, naturally, object to this interpretation. Paul spends a lot of time explaining that, in Christ, there is no Jew or Greek. He explains that "for they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, 'in Isaac your seed shall be called[5].'" He spends a lot of time explaining that what makes you a child of Abraham is not being able to trace your physical bloodline back to Abraham, but believing the promise God gave to Abraham.

Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise (Galatians 3:15-18).

John the Baptist, preaching to the Pharisees who came out to see him in the desert, says that bloodlines aren't important and that God can raise up children for Abraham out of the stones if he chose[6]. To raise such an objection, however, one would likely be met with a chorus of "Israel means Israel!" from dispensationalists. Ignoring the context in which "Israel" is used throughout the New Testament, Dispensationalism maintains that every time the word Israel appears, it is referring to the physical nation of Israel, i.e. the Jewish people. To dispensationalists, Israel and the Church are two separate things[7].

Paul expressly teaches that there are not two peoples, Jew and Gentile, with whom God deals separately, one from another. On the contrary, Israel is the Body of Christ; that is, all those, Jew or Gentile, who have been brought to penitent faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female are all one through faith in Christ. To be in Christ is to be part of Israel because Christ is Israel reduced to one.

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:24-29).

Israel has indeed been resurrected, but not in the way evangelicals believe. This resurrection did not happen in 1948 with the birth of the nation-state of Israel in Palestine. It happened on Easter morning when Christ rose from the dead and exited the tomb. Christ was Israel reduced to one. Israel was to be a light to the nations by living in a unique relationship to God. God would be their Savior, and they would be faithful and obedient. They were, however, not faithful and obedient to God, and needed a substitute. Christ was that substitute and succeeded where Israel failed (Klotz, Replacement Theology 2015). In fact, Jesus reenacted the existence of Israel, as described by Rev. Alexander Lange:

John [the Baptist] was calling Israel to repentance. Then God sent Jesus to John with a very special mission. Jesus would become Israel's a substitute. He would become Israel Reduced to One. He would be the Israel that Israel never could be. Jesus with six seed where Israel had failed. Just look at our text and see how Jesus reenacted Israel's life (Matthew 3:13-17). Like Israel, Jesus passed through water. Having been baptized, he was anointed by the Holy Spirit, just like Israel. God announced that this man is his beloved, firstborn Son, just as he once did with Israel. After his baptism, Jesus wandered in the wilderness, just like Israel. He was tested, just like Israel. Unlike Israel, and Jesus withstood all temptations. He did not whine when he grew hungry or worship false gods. He did not grieve God's Spirit. Unlike Israel, Jesus was a faithful, obedient Son. Jesus carried out God's mission perfectly. He was the light of the world. He drew people to himself and told people about God's wonderful works and steadfast love. Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of Israel (Lange 2014).

If you are in Christ, as St. Paul says, you are a new creation. If you are in Christ, you are an Israelite. We have been united to Christ, through baptism, in the likeness of his death and will also be in the likeness of His resurrection. Rather than attempting to interpret Holy Scripture through the lens of the Chicago Tribune, we need to call people to repentance. We are indeed living in the End Times. Our response to that realization should not be to try to get our friends and neighbors to join our church because of the “truth” of this type of dubious prophecy fulfillment. We should know nothing among them except Christ crucified and allow God to work through his means of the Word.


Works Cited

Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. The "End Times" - A Study on Eschatology and Millennialism. St. Louis: The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, 1989.

Gallups, Carl. When the Lion Roars: Understanding the Implications of Ancient Prophecies for Our Time. Washington, D.C.: WND Books, 2016.

Klotz, Joseph D. "Replacement Theology." The Hodgkins Lutheran. August 5, 2015. (accessed December 14, 2016).

—. "The Judgment of This World." The Hodgkins Lutheran. December 15, 2011. (accessed December 14, 2016).

Lange, Rev. Alexander J. "Israel Reduced to One." St. John's Lutheran Church - East Moline, IL. January 12, 2014. (accessed July 27, 2015).

Mathison, Keith. "The Church and Israel in the New Testament." Ligonier Ministries. October 1, 2012. (accessed December 14, 2016).

Wikipedia. "Shmita." Wikipedia. November 15, 2016. (accessed December 14, 2016).

[1] The sabbath [sic] year is the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah for the Land of Israel, and still observed in contemporary Judaism…Chapter 25 of the Book of Leviticus promises bountiful harvests to those who observe the shmita [sic], and describes its observance as a test of religious faith. There is little notice of the observance of this year in Biblical history and it appears to have been much neglected (Wikipedia 2016). To hear an explanation of how contemporary televangelists use the con of the Shemitah to extort money from their followers, go to this web address:

[2] Dispensational premillennialism, or simply dispensationalism, is a theological system having its origin among the Plymouth Brethren in Ireland and England in the early 19th century. This system’s originator was John Nelson Darby (1800-82), one of the chief founders of the Plymouth Brethren movement. Dispensationalism arose as a reaction against the Church of England and the widely held view of postmillennialism (Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod 1989).

[3] While there are numerous variations in millennialist teaching today, a fourfold categorization has been widely accepted: 1) dispensational premillennialism; (2) historic premillennialism; (3) postmillennialism, and (4) amillennialism. Of the first three categories, all of which hold to a millennium or utopian age on this earth, the most commonly held view is dispensational premillennialism…The less common postmillennial view places Christ’s second advent after (post) the millennium. Only then will the rapture, the general resurrection, the general judgment , and the eternal states occur. The millennium is not understood to involve a visible reign of Christ in the form of an earthly monarchy, nor is the millennial period to be taken literally as necessarily 1000 years long. In these respects postmillennialism corresponds closely to the amillennialist position (Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod 1989).

[4] Some denominations teach that the Millennium will be a literal 1,000 year period when Jesus will set up his kingdom on earth. Along with this view, it is also taught that, at some point before the Millennium, Jesus will return secretly to resurrect or rapture all true Christians. There will then be a seven year “tribulation”, where Christians are persecuted. The battle of Armageddon will take place, culminating in Christ’s visible return to bind Satan, and the beginning of the Millennium. Following the Millennium, Satan will be released from the pit. The wicked will be resurrected for final judgment, Satan will be cast into the lake of fire, and the new heavens and the new earth will enter into eternity with Christ (Klotz, The Judgment of This World 2011).

[5] Romans 9:7

[6] But when he [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones (Matthew 3:7-9).

[7] The traditional dispensationalist view maintains that God has not replaced Israel with the church but that God has two programs in history, one for the church and one for Israel. Traditional dispensationalism also maintains that the church consists only of believers saved between Pentecost and the rapture. The church as the body of Christ does not include Old Testament believers (Mathison 2012).