Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Balfour Effect

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and as the Jewish state celebrates, the Arab world condemns Israel for its very existence.  The reaction from the Arab nations to the Balfour celebrations was denouncement, demonstrations and the news media favored the Palestinian’s claim that they must have an equivalent Balfour declaration for a Palestinian state.  But whose land is it? And why is Israel’s existence as a nation so important anyway? 
      It is obvious that the land of Israel is God’s land as He alone is able, as Creator, to give the land to whomever He chooses. And He chose to give that land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the Jews.  While God promised the land to the twelve tribes of Israel as an everlasting possession (cf. Isa 60:21) He also promised that their peace in the land depended upon their obedience. They disobeyed God and were dispersed. Not once, not twice, but three times. On the first occasion, they left the land for Egypt because of extreme drought in the land. They should have returned to their promised land, but found Egypt to be a favorable place. So they stayed. Eventually, a new Egyptian Pharaoh enslaved them for 400 year. 
      After the 400 years, the Lord released them by His own hand. Not a slave raised a hand to fight for their freedom. The Lord secured their release and provided a bounty for their return to the land. However, during their journey back they would receive the Law as a new way of life. They sinned against the Lord and were forced to stay in the wilderness wandering for 40 years. But after the 40 years, the Lord moved them into the land and they possessed the land again.
      Yet because of their sin, they were removed from their land. This time the northern kingdom was totally destroyed by the Assyrians, and the people taken as plunder. Few survived the devastating Assyrian military campaign. About 100 years later, the southern kingdom fell to the Babylonians. The Jews experienced three deportations to Babylon. After 70 years of captivity, the Lord again moved in the Jewish capturers to return them to their land. When they returned they did so with their temple treasures and resources to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the wall.
      From that point on, Israel was never again in full control of the land. While they returned to the land, they did so as vessels. They returned to the land but only had short periods of sovereign control. By the time of Jesus Christ the Jewish state was split between those the supported the Roman rule and those that wanted sovereign Jewish control.  After Israel’s rejection of her Messiah, the nation experienced more problems with her Roman overlord and in 70 AD the temple was destroyed. But the worst was yet to come. By 135 AD the Jews were expelled from the land, their land and property taken, the land renamed by Emperor Hadrian after the second Jewish revolt from Judea to Palestine in order to remove any trace of Jewishness from the land.
       For 2,000 years the Jews were dispersed throughout the nations. During these years, they experienced great persecution after persecution. They endured the Muslim persecution – convert, pay a tax, or die. They endured the Christian persecution – convert or be expelled. They endured the European persecution -  round them up and put them in ghettos. Take their property and evict them.  The brutality of the pogroms (Russian, meaning “to wreak havoc”), the violent riots aimed specifically at the Jews of existed long before the Russians or Nazis. The slaughter, expulsion, and persecution against the Jews has occurred since God created ethnic Jews when He called Abraham out of the land of Ur and promised him a seed, a land, and to be a blessing to the world. Yet the world that is against God and His people has worked to destroy that promise. And as the Jews were dispersed throughout the world, that hatred has exhibited  itself in the most horrific history of a people group. But God’s promise to the Jew is eternal, and the world will never exterminate them.  
      In the late 1700s, God moved in the world again to move the Jews back to the land. This time God moved not in a single nation, but the whole world. The Jew found favor from the British whose power was such that a new Jewish state was possible because of British power and control. The Jews were gaining favor elsewhere. In France, Napoleon Bonaparte intended to issue a proclamation on April 20, 1799 offering “Palestine” to the Jews as a national homeland! (Randall Price, Jerusalem in Prophecy, p. 104)
      One hundred years later, in 1897 evangelical Christians joined with Jewish leaders in gaining support for a Jewish homeland. Among them were Lord Shaftesbury and Lord Alfred James Balfour. In the United States, American Jewish lawyer M.M Noah became burdened for the Jewish cause and shared his views with James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams. He wrote in 1825, “I really wish the Jews again in Judea, an independent nation.” (Randall Price)
       In 1897, the First Zionist Congress was held in Basel Switzerland. It was attended by 208 delegates for the purpose of establishing a plan for purchasing land in Palestine for Jews. One of the most important outcomes of the congress was to establish a bank, the Jewish Colonial Trust, that funded the purchase of land. Steve Herzig writes, “At that time Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary, ‘At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, certainly in 50, everyone will know it.” (Israel My Glory, Nov/Dec 2017, p. 10)
      As it happened, the Ottoman empire was fading ,World War I was progressing toward its conclusion and Europe was planning for and distributing the land of the Middle East. It was during this period that the British foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour penned a letter to Lord Rothschild proclaiming the determination of the British to establish a Jewish state. What resulted was the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917.  The statement was simple and short:

“I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet. His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

      Three years after the Balfour declaration, the League of Nations approved the boundaries of the new Jewish nation.   Simultaneously, independent Arab statehood was also being granted in Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. “The land originally given [to Israel] was considerably bigger than today’s Jewish state, even including the territories captured in June 1967” (Hal Lindsey, The Everlasting Hatred: The roots of Jihad, p. 194). As it happened, God in His sovereignty moved to make the British government in charge of dividing up the Middle East from the Mediterranean to the borders of India.  It would take 30 years and another world war before the UN officially adopted a partition plan for the state of Israel on November 29, 1947. Israel was declared an independent state in May 11, 1948. By this time, the British had divided up the original land allocation for Israel and given it to the Arabs that helped in the war effort. Israel would receive only 25% of the original land allocation.
        Again, God established a national homeland for His people in Israel and the Jews did not have to fight for its establishment. However, the result of the UN resolution was an all-out rejection by the Arab nations and subsequent attack on the infant nation. Israel’s continued survival however, has continued through the great wars of 1948-49, 1956, 1967, and 1973. Israel has fought to exist and is constantly under attack on all sides through a new kind of war, a terrorist war.
        The final boundaries of the nation of Israel will be established by God when He returns to judge the nations for their sin and treatment of Israel. Scripture says, He will return a gather His people:

Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, And gather you from the west;  6 I will say to the north, `Give them up!' And to the south, `Do not keep them back!' Bring My sons from afar, And My daughters from the ends of the earth  - 7 Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him."  (Isaiah 43:5-7)

     We are seeing Israel regathered back to the land today, but they are being regathered in unbelief. Yet prophecy is being fulfilled before our very eyes. Notice what Daniel 9 says:

Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy.  25 Know therefore and understand, That from the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem Until Messiah the Prince, There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, Even in troublesome times.  26 And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, And till the end of the war desolations are determined.  27 Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, Even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate."  (Dan 9:24-27)    

        According to Daniel 9, Israel must be established as a political state first in order to make a covenant with the prince that shall come. This prophecy of statehood was fulfilled in 1948 as Israel once again, after some 2,000 years, was again established as an independent nation. In the future, however, the covenant of Daniel 9 will result in three and a half years of peace and prosperity for Israel. Then suddenly the covenant will be broken, the people persecuted in a time called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7). Then the Lord will return in His glory and fury to restore the kingdom of Israel in the Messianic Kingdom. Israel will at that time finally possess the land of promise – all of it.  
       The basis for Israel’s possession of the land is God’s promise of Genesis 12, and formalized in a legal covenant. What is called the Land Covenant is found in Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20. The promise includes an eternal people, a land, and a blessing will come to pass not because of anything Israel will do, but because God does not lie. His promise to Israel will come true someday as He promises them:

Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God drives you,  2 and you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul,  3 that the LORD your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the LORD your God has scattered you.  4 If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you.  5 Then the LORD your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.  6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deut. 30:1-6)

     We are seeing prophecy being fulfilled today in the regathering of Israel back to the land in unbelief. In the final regathering, God will regather Israel in belief. The final regathering will be by the angels of Matthew 24:

Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.  (Matt. 24:30-31)

     What is the Balfour effect? It is God working in the world. If is the author of history moving in history to accomplish His will. When He makes a promise, He will keep it. The promise to the Jews of a seed, a land, and a blessing, should further confirm our confidence that the Gentiles that believe in the Messiah of Israel will partake in the blessing of eternal life because His people, the Jews, exist, are flourishing, are a blessing to the world, and are back in the land.   

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Reformation’s Return to Premillennialism III

     Many who held Martin Luther's convictions preceded him. He was after all an Augustinian Monk, an official order of the Roman Church since AD 1244.  The Czech priest John Huss (Jan Hus. c. 1369-1415) was a well-known literal interpreter whose popularity after his martyrdom only increased as the Hussites defeated the papal crusades five times between 1420 and 1431. Huss was greatly influenced at the middle-age university  in Prague by the writings of the great John Wycliffe (1320-1384). John Wycliffe was an English seminary professor at Oxford. Wycliffe translated the Latin Vulgate (New Testament) into Middle English in 1382. The result was the famous Wycliffe Bible. While the doctrines of predestination and other Augustinian doctrines were part of their literalism, it was the corruption of the church, the doctrine of the Eucharist, the veneration of the saints, the sale of indulgences, and apostolic papal authority that became the main issue and the main charge against these martyrs.

    The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally accepted the literalism of Saint Augustine. While not all orders of priests accepted Augustine’s doctrines of salvation, they all embraced his doctrines of the Church as they found support for a strong authoritative church and Pope.  Augustine interpreted the doctrine of salvation literally, yet in his next breath interpreted things he related to the church as allegory.  A positive comment of Israel was turned into a spiritualized statement of the church. In the City of God (c. AD 426), “Augustine saw the Book of Revelation as a description of the history of the church, not prophecy of the end time. The millennium in his view was the present church age.” (Richard Kyle, “The Last Days are Here Again”).  Indeed Augustine, like his predecessor Origen (Mr. Allorigism, 185-254) spiritualized the millennium claiming the church on earth to be both the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of heaven. It is Augustine’s nonmillenarian theology that dominated the middle-ages. Indeed the church's condemnation of premillennialism can be seen when in 431 the Council of Ephesus condemned as “superstition” the belief of a literal millennium!

       The allegorical approach to interpretation of the Scriptures moves in the middle-ages to mystical as the “Scriptures were read mainly for instruction in morals and ethics." As Dr. Tan says, “Victor of St. Hugo affirmed: ‘First learn what you are to believe, and then go to the Scriptures to find it there.” (Paul Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy, p. 52).  As you can imagine, the abuses of this technique are numerous. The clergy used the technique to justify all manner of sins. It is this type of sloppy handling of the Scriptures that brought many within the Church to seek reformation and a return to a normal reading of the Scripture.    So important was John Wycliffe that he is known as the morning star of the English Reformation. Wycliffe’s followers were known as Lollards and continued long after his death. It is then, through the university system of the west during the middle-ages that the return to the literal method finds traction within Christendom.  Condemnation by a church council or not, truth is truth, and the only way to find pure truth is in the literal method. There is only one way to read - that is, the normal, historical, grammatical method, not the three-fold or four-fold method (literal, tropological, allegorical, and analogical) the church had hung its coat on.  Dr. Paul Tan gives the following illustration of the middle-age fourfold interpretation using Genesis 1:3. Let there be light.”(1) historically or literally – An act of creation; (2) Morally – May we be mentally illuminated by Christ; (3) Allegorically – Let Christ be love; and (4) Anagogically – May we be led by Christ to glory” (Paul Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy).

      In 1356 Wycliffe produced the work “the Last Age of the Church.” In it Wycliffe proposed the idea that the 14th century marked the end of the world. He saw the church as corrupt and apostate. He saw the Pope as the Antichrist. John Hus also saw the pope as the antichrist, but it was Hus’s “radical wing” followers , called the “Taborites” (taking their name from Mount Tabor, the mountain where they believed Christ foretold His second coming), that believed only in the literal method and rejected anything that could not be found in the Bible.  That included all theological speculation, including priestly ordination. However, they did speculate on the return of the Lord, predicting the return to be in 1420. When that did not occur, they turned to violence as warriors of God fighting God’s battle.

    The middle-ages found the church confused, fighting each other, and also with the Muslim Turks that had conquering the middle east and moving their fight into Europe. With all this brought speculation concerning the end times and a desire to find what was happening from the Scriptures. What that meant was getting back to the Bible and specifically to the literal interpretation of the Bible – back to the normal reading of the Bible. However, what resulted was a highly speculative historist view of prophecy where the Pope was generally seen as the antichrist, the invading Muslims as the invading army of Ezekiel. But the interpretative door was open. How can one read a legal document one way then turn around and read the Bible using different rules? John Calvin provided guidance with interpretation when he wrote, “It is the first business of an interpreter to let his author say what he does say, instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say” (Paul Tan). 

     This interest together with the persecution of the Jews brought the literal interpretation of the Jewish literal school together within the university with the Augustinian school back to a firm belief in premillennialism. But it was a different form of premillennialism for this premillennialism did not hold to the day-age belief of the ancient church. The early church was exclusively premillennial following the belief of the Jews. Believing there were 6000 years of human history, then 1000 years of millennial rest, then the end. Instead, the premillennialism of the middle-ages is dominated by premillennial historists who set dates for Christ’s return for His church. It is the period of the great Dutch language scholar Erasmus (c. 1466-1536), Tyndale (c. 1494-1536) in England, and Reuchlin (c. 1455-1522) in Germany, that one finds the natural convergence of the literal, historical grammatical method. All three were language experts and actively promoting the need for the clergy to know the original languages in order to interpret the Bible as it was meant to be interpreted and with an interpretation that anyone who reads could understand. No secret messages, no mystical interpretations, just the plain truth of the Word that was given for all to read. Erasmus compiled the most important Greek manuscript of the day, while Reuchlin produced the most important Hebrew grammar of the day. It is out of the original language study that the literal school naturally takes off. All those coming out of the universities of the late middle-ages were becoming influenced, not by philosophy which dominated the past, but by grammar – what does the original language say? How did the original audience understand what was written?

       By the 1600s, the reformation had split the Roman church, and the literal method had caused those in the academic community to examine anew the literal, grammatical, historical method.  The great premillennial scholars of the day began to look at prophecy anew. Joseph Mede (1586-1639) was a huge influence in England as he taught at Christ’s College, Cambridge. While as a noted mathematician, he taught Greek and Hebrew. Indeed it is not a mistake that Isaac Newton (1642-1726) was also a premillennialist for he too ended up at Cambridge. But it was the great Baptist scholar John Gill (1697-1771) whose massive commentary on the whole Bible using Jewish resources that brought the Jewish perspective and the historical method of the Scripture back to light. For too many years, the Greek philosophers had dominated Christian education, now the historical method was unleashed and the question was not what made logical philosophical sense, but what did the Scriptures mean to the original audience, and how did the original audience understand what was written? 

     Joseph Mede for example wrote in his work on the Book of Revelation (Clavis Apocalypticae, “Keys to the Revelation”) that the Jews would be miraculously converted to Christianity before the second coming.  His book, “took England by storm and became the most popular book of its time. Christianson states:’ Upon Mede’s shoulders must rest the primary responsibility for the revival of millennial thought in England.” (Ed Hindson, in Mal Couch, Dictionary of Premillennial Theology).

        The premillennialism that was widespread in England moved throughout Europe and across the ocean to America. In France, the literalism and premillennialism, of the Huguenots moved the Roman Church to move against these Protestants in the most brutal of attacks. In 1681, a new law even gave the Roman church the authority to convert all Huguenot children and remove them from their parents. In 1685 Huguenot ministers were ordered to leave the country within fifteen days. Many fled, many made their way to America bringing with them their literal interpretation and Huguenot premillennialism. 

     It is no mistake that by the time of  the early 1800’s that John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) developed his important and popular  dispensational premillennialism. Darby was born in London, trained in Ireland at Trinity College, ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 1826, but by 1831 left to join others in Plymouth, England who were opposed to denominationalism. Darby wrote his important work called “Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.” The work reflects what might be called a biblical theology (Mal Couch, Dictionary of Premillennial Theology). As a trained lawyer, he was naturally driven to the literal, grammatical, historical method of interpretation. The popularity of Darby and his incredible energy saw a dramatic growth in dispensational premillennialism as it spread to America and eventually into the most unconventional work, the Scofield Study Bible in 1909 by C.I. Scofield. 

     In closing, we return to the prophetic heritage of the Jews. The period of 900 – 1500 has been called the golden age of Jewish prophetic interpretation. Among the greatest Jewish sages of this period was the great Maimonides (1135-1204). Moses Maimonides was born in Spain and when the Islamic invaders came to Spain all Jews and Christians were given a choice, conversion to Islam, death, or exile. Maimonide’s family chose exile. He  ended up in Morocco, then Egypt. His commentary on the Mishnah is still highly acclaimed. But his Messianic hope served to solidify the plain literal prophetic method within Judaism. It is the Jewish writings that contribute significantly among the Christian community towards the literal method and the premillennial Messianic hope that one finds in dispensational premillennialism today. Though some Jewish writers of this period were addicted to allegory, others held strong the literal method. And the most important works were those that described the four kingdoms in the Book of Daniel. Though Jewish prophecy was the premillennialism of the ancient church, they saw the Pope as the antichrist and Rome as the last kingdom on earth. They looked to their great Messianic hope to save them and return them to the land of promise (Deut. 30:3-5). It is the separation of Israel and the Church that Joseph Mead saw when he claimed all Jews would turn Christian at the Second coming. It is this separation of Israel and the Church that moved the dispensationalist Darby to declare we have a heavenly destiny and all Israel will be saved in the last day to enter the promised Messianic Kingdom on earth in Jerusalem.  All one has to do is interpret Scripture normally to pull out of the text these great promises. This is not the literal, historical, grammatical, theological method that stresses “we know what we believe, so find it in Scripture.” Rather they pushed the idea to come to Scripture and pull out what it said to the original audience. This is the literal, historical grammatical method, the only valid method. God gave communication with all its fundamental rules to mankind in order to communicate His greatness, His holiness, His grace and mercy, so that all are able to read for themselves the way of salvation through His Son.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Reformation’s Return to Premillennialism II

     The year was 405 and the brilliant language scholar Jerome had just completed his Latin translation of the entire Bible. It took him twenty-three years to complete, but by the end, the old Latin Bible was replaced with an unsurpassed original language translation from the Greek and Hebrew.  Jerome had been commissioned by Pope Damasus of Rome to make an improved Latin translation. Jerome learned Greek from the famous grammarian Aelius Domatus in Rome, and later Hebrew from an unknown Jewish convert and perfected his Hebrew as he traveled to Syria and the Holy land.

    Romanism was a dying religious and political identity, Constantine had made Christianity his empire’s state religion, and theological debate had grown to the point of councils who had to settle the differences and heresies that were moving throughout Christendom. In August of 410, the Germanic invasion of the city of Rome brought the mighty city down. For 800 years Rome ruled, but on the night of August 24, 410, Rome lost its dominance, and Jerome wrote from his monastery at Bethlehem, “The city which has taken the whole world is itself taken!”

    The completion of the Latin Vulgate (“Common”) introduced Western Christendom to the new standard Bible, the only authorized authoritative Bible by decree in 1546 at the council of Trent. Though the original Jerome edition had been edited by later generations, the basis of the original work is the natural understanding of the reformation – one must start a translation from the source, the original Greek and Hebrew .

    Jerome believed in the literal interpretation method of his day, that is, the method that was passed down to him was based on the threefold method of Origen: historical, symbolic, spiritual.  Indeed, Rome moved to a more allegorical than literal method, but Jerome moved away from Rome to Syria and the Antiochian school which emphasized the historical and literal. By the middle ages, Rome again became the center of Western Christianity and an emphasis upon the allegorical method dominated that Church. Though the threefold method was standard, an expansion of the spiritual was subdivided into three divisions: (i) the allegorical “or what passes as a combination of typology and allegorism,” (ii) tropological or moral interpretation, and (iii) anagogical or how the church now anticipates the church glorified, the eschatological sense (Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, p. 38).

     As you can tell by item (iii) above, the prophetic had moved to allegory, and the simple meaning of Scripture moved to what the official church wanted it to say, not simply what it said! One now must have an official church interpreter in order to understand the Scriptures. Dr. Ramm writes:

 “A passage may have an allegorical meaning. This refers to its future or prophetic meaning and includes allegorical and typological interpretation…. A passage may have an anagogical (eschatological) meaning. It may ‘lead up’ to the Church Triumphant. Thus the Church militant has features about it which anticipates the Church in glory. (iii) a passage may have a tropological meaning, i.e., teach a tropos, a way of life. This is the moral significance of the passage.”  

     What is the problem with this method? The problem has led to gross abuses as they tended to read back into the OT sacramental and clerical system eisegesis (reading into) things that were never intended. On top of this allegorical (mystical) method was place the authority of the church and especially the inerrancy of the Pope, that led to the inquisitions of the later middle ages. The Catholic theologians believe the doctrines of the New Testament are seeds which grow and develop so that the modern Catholic cathedral was contained in seed form in the apostolic Church and justifies the continuance of the apostolic succession from Peter to the Popes of all ages. And tradition becomes equal with Scripture as the authority. Indeed, in Luther’s case, tradition had become more authoritative than Scripture.  

    It is important in this story to move back to the Jewish literal school for it is because of Jewish literalism that Christian literalism endured through the Syrian school of Antioch. As Ramm notes,

“The Christian community was influenced by the Jewish community and the result was a hermeneutical theory which avoided the letterism of the Jews and the allegorism of the Alexandrians.”  

     Just as the Jews influenced the ancient church towards the literal (normal) method of interpretation, it was the Jews that influenced the European church. It was within the Abbey of St. Victor in Paris during the medieval period that the men like Hugo of St. Victor, Richard of St. Victor, and Andrew of St. Victor interacted with Jewish scholars to move to what was called the Victorines – a group of Augustinian theologians that insisted that the mystical or spiritual sense could not be truly known until the Bible had been literally interpreted – true interpretation of the Bible involved syntax, grammar, and exegesis (reading out of), not eisegesis (reading into).

    The most important figure of reformation interpretation came through William of Occam who separated revelation from human reason. Human reason had as its base nature, philosophy, and science. Revelation which was received through faith had it base in salvation and theology. This was contrary to the established teaching of Thomas Aquinas who insisted reason was the mediating link between philosophy and revelation.  Luther expresses Occam’s philosophy well as he writes, “We ought not to criticize, or judge the Scriptures by our mere reason, but diligently, with prayer, meditate thereon, and seek their meaning” (Luther, On God’s Word, IV).

    It is through this new philosophy of Occam that the scientific method used on Scripture and the idea of Scripture alone comes to the front of the Reformation. The gross misunderstanding, manipulation, and misuse of Scripture that came out of the official Catholic Church was one thing, but to go so far as to deny the plain truth of Scripture explained and defended by a learned doctor of theology moved the Western Church to the point of reformation and it was only a matter of time before the corrupt system would be challenged and changed to its core. That challenge came in 1517 as the Augustinian theologian Martin Luther called for a discussion on the facts. He proposed to use the Scriptures to defend his points, but he was going against those who did not agree with his first and only line of defense, the use of the Scriptures as the basis and source of revelatory knowledge.

In the next article we will look at Luther's literalism, its impact upon the church, and Luther's  personal limitations.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Reformation’s Return to Premillennialism

This series of articles focuses on the people and movements that were present in the world leading up to the reformation with the result of the return to a literal reading of the Bible. Most notably during the end of the middle ages and the start of the Renaissance.  Within the events in Europe were the extreme persecution of the Jews and the great abuses and brutality of the papacy. It is with good reason that the Pope was viewed as the Anti-Christ during this age. It is during this transitional period that the Roman Catholic Church, and western Europe in general, attempted to purify Christianity with its program of Inquisitions that lasted well into the 17th century. From its start around A.D. 1,000 with the Crusades and forced conversion of Muslims and Jews (in A.D. 711) the Islamic invasion came to Spain (but was stopped). It is this backdrop that the Jewish Messianic hope moves back into the Church. However, not all in the Church recognized the Jewish future as being literal.   

The Road to Reformation
 One of the most influential groups to reintroduce the literal premillennial return of Christ to Scriptures was the Marranos. As the great prophetic historian, Froom, writes, “The story of the Marranos is one of the most amazing chapters in all history, perhaps unparalleled in sheer dramatic pathos and appeal” (Froom, Prophetic Faith of our Fathers, vol. 2, p. 220)

    Jews that professed Christianity chiefly to escape persecution during the medieval period were called Marranos (Spain. marrar, “to deviate,” i.e “to deviate from Christianity”). They professed Christ but practiced Judaism. The movement goes back to the early centuries of the Christian era and extends well into eighteenth century Western Europe.  For the Jews of the diaspora, life was a series of forced conversions, but it is the story of western Christianity during the middle ages where one finds the Jewish experience in Spain, Portugal, England, France, Hungary, and Germany unbearable. Jews were forced into ghettos in Spain; expulsions were decreed in England, France, and Germany. The only solution Jews found was expulsion, forced conversion to Christianity, or death. Many Jews chose forced conversions as Jews en masse were baptized but practiced Judaism in secret.  The result was the establishment of the Medieval Inquisition.

    Before A.D. 1100, the Roman Catholic Church suppressed heresy through a system of church courts where banishment and imprisonment was proscribed, but not torture, and seldom death. This changed, however, in the 1200s in an effort to weed out the wide spread heresy largely due to the forced conversions of Jews and Muslims, and other heretical movements were growing. These courts served to officially judge “intentions as well as actions.” Pope Alexander III in 1162-63 suggested that lay and clerical informers work together to “discover evidence” against reported heretics. The order of burning heretics came in 1231 under Pope Gregory IX. Secret agents were sent out to find heretics, the inquisitor and his vicar would go town by town, deliver a sermon, call for suspected heresy to be exposed, provide a grace period, then let loose the “special inquisition,” who would act as judge, prosecutor, and jury. Two witnesses were required, the suspect was not allowed a defense lawyer, however, if nothing could be concluded, the trial could continue for years, with the suspect held in prison and torture prescribed for confession and repentance.

    It is under this backdrop that one finds the road to the reformation and Jewish premillennialism’s return to the church. As the Marranos integrated their forced Christianity with Judaism, the Jewish history of the world known as the “Year-Day” became increasingly popular. The Year-Day, in essence says there are 6,000 years of history then the Messiah will come to bring in the Sabbath rest, the last 1,000 year rest on earth, then the new heavens and earth.

    With the intense persecution and absolute authority of the Popes, the Book of Daniel offered plenty of opportunity to identify the Anti-Christ, the “Little Horn” to the Pope. Many examples abound as Jewish Biblical scholars like the great Abravanel (Don Isaac Ben Judah Abrabanel c. 1437-1508) put off the Jewish mystical allegory of cabbalism and the allegory of Roman Catholicism in favor of the return to Jewish literalism.

Don Isaac Ben Judah Abrabanel (1437-1508)
The story of Abrabanel is remarkable. Abravanel was born into one of the most distinguished Jewish families in Lisbon Portugal.  He studied under rabbi Joseph Chaim and Joseph ibn Shem-Tov, devoting much of his time studying rabbinic literature and philosophy.  By age twenty he had written extensively on religious questions and prophecy. Religion was not his only passion though, he was a master at financial matters. So much so, that king Alfonso V of Portugal employed him as his treasurer.

    After the death of King Alfonso, his son and heir, King John II accused Abravanel of conspiring with the Duke of Braganza. As a result, Abravanel fled to Castile in 1483. At Toledo, his new home, he occupied himself at first with Biblical studies, and in the course of six months produced an extensive commentary on the books of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel. But shortly afterward he advanced to the post of minister of finance to Ferdinand and Isabella, which position he filled for eight years (1484-1492) – the critical years of Columbus’ life.  

    However, life for the Jew in Western Europe was both exciting and dangerous. It was a transitional period from the darkness of the middle ages to the exciting activity and opportunity of Columbus, Leonardo da Vinci, Copernicus, Erasmus, Luther, and Machiavelli. The Inquisition against the Marranos was intense and in 1491 the massacre against the Jews had climaxed with the expulsion in 1492.  Many Jews had been financiers, judges, and legislators, living outwardly as Christians but inwardly as Jews. Through his official position, and offering his own wealth, Abravanel tried without success to persuade Ferdinand to revoke the expulsion edict of March 30, 1492. His property was confiscated and he had to flee along with an estimated 300,000 Jews.
    Abravanel went to Naples where he secured a position as treasurer to the king, but the French invasion sent him to Sicily. After traveling to Corfu, Monopoli, and finally to Venice, he was employed in negotiating a commercial treaty between Portugal and the Venetian republic.  He died in Venice in 1508 and was buried in Padua next to Rabbi Judah Minz, Rabbi of Padua. Owing to the destruction of the Jewish cemetery there during the Siege of Padua in 1509, his grave is now unknown (Wikipedia).

Prophecy and Literalism's Roots
 Though this man’s grave is unknown, his writings survived. Most importantly his works include “The wellspring of Salvation,” a commentary on the Book of Daniel; “The Salvation of His Anointed,” an interpretation of rabbinic literature about the Messiah; and “Announcing Salvation,” a commentary on the messianic prophecies in the prophetical book.

    It is through these works that one finds the rejection of the mystical Jewish Cabbalism and the return to Jewish literalism that looked forward to the return of the Messiah to reign on Zion and the return of Israel to the land of promise. This literalism moves through the western world of that day primarily through the influence of these Jewish forced conversions and subsequent intense rabbinic studies. The abuses of the Roman Catholic Church that sought to justify their deeds, their power, and their desire to build and control the world through universal Papal authority moved the priesthood and monks to challenge Papal decrees based on a normal literal reading of the Scriptures.

    The prosperity of the times afforded Europe the opportunity to gain knowledge in many areas of science and language. The natural move to original language study led universities to hire Hebrew and Greek language experts, and it is within this arena that the Marranos’ literal interpretation spread within the University system of Roman Catholicism and eventually led to Luther’s challenge in 1517 with his Ninety-five Theses (Disputation of the Power of Indulgences”). Church historians define the start of the Reformation to that very day that Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses on the church door, October 31, 1517. We will explore the movement within Christianity that led to the return to the non-mystical, normal reading of Scripture - to the return to premillennialism. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Millennial Aspect of the Shepherd of Israel

While the Shepherd has an important spiritual aspect for the Church, it finds its richest biblical meaning for Israel and finds ultimate fulfillment in the Messianic Kingdom.

If the question is put forth within the church: "WHO IS THE SHEPHERD?" Most likely the following answer will be given:  "The Good Shepherd of John  10:11-14", and it is with reference to salvation in Christ in the church without reference to the millennial kingdom.

If the question is put forth within the Jewish synagogue : "WHO IS THE SHEPHERD?" Most likely the following answer will be given: Isaiah 63:11-13 where the Shepherd led Israel out of Egypt, or perhaps:  Isaiah 40:10-11, the future kingdom age. For the Jew, 'the Shepherd' has a more personal meaning. The Shepherd for the Jew is the all-powerful God who has been with them in their wanderings and will in the end gather them back and give them rest, peace and safety in their pasture-land - Israel.      

The concept of a shepherd has the metaphoric meaning of a human guide or ruler of Israel (cf. Num. 27:17; Isa. 44:28; Jer. 6:3; 49:19). The shepherd in the Old Testament is used to describe the leadership of Israel. Leaders such as Joshua and David (Num. 27:15-18; 2 Sam. 5:2). Other leaders, however, were referred to as “blind” and “greedy” (Isa. 56:10-11; Jer. 10:21; Ezek. 34:2-6; Zec. 10:2-3).  By the time of the New Testament, the concept of the shepherd continues the idea of a human guide with reference to shepherds (Gr.  poimen ,”pastor, herdsman, shepherd”)  in  the church (cf. Eph. 4:11).

What starts out as a seed in the form of the blessing of Jacob to his sons in Genesis 49:24 moves to its height in Ezekiel 34.

In Genesis 49 Jacob gives his final blessing to his twelve sons. He comes to Joseph and proclaims his future blessing to be greater than the others. Why? Jacob says:

But his bow remained in strength,
And the arms of his hands were made strong
By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob
(From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
 By the God of your father who will help you,
And by the Almighty who will bless you
With blessings of heaven above,
Blessings of the deep that lies beneath,
Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. (Gen. 49:24-25)

Joseph receives his strength by the power of the Mighty One (Heb. ‘abiyr, “might, strong”). The “Strong One,” is an old name for God in poetry.  The strength of Jacob’s arms is further identified as deriving it strength from the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, the God of your father (Jacob), the ‘Shadday,’ the Almighty One.     

By the time of the Egyptian exodus and subsequent wilderness wandering, the Shepherd of Israel displayed mighty works as He released Jacob from slavery in Egypt and provided all their needs through the duration of the wilderness wandering and entering the Promised Land. He fed His flock by providing food from heaven and water from a rock. He protected them from certain destruction from the armies of the lands where they dwelt. These provisions all pointed forward to Jesus Christ who would provide salvation through His great redemptive work on the cross. The Good Shepherd who gives His life for His sheep (John 10:11).   

One of the greatest sections of Scripture concerning the Shepherd of Israel is Ezekiel 34. It is here a contrast is established between false shepherds and the True Shepherd. The section starts with an ominous warning against Israel’s leadership who seeks their own royal riches. Ezekiel says,

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, `Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? (Ezek. 34:2)

And verse 8 describes that because the rulers sought selfish gain, Israel was scattered, “…My flock became food for every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did My shepherds search for My flock, but the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock”  (Ezek. 34:8).

In contrast to false shepherds, in the end the Lord will regather His flock:

Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.  12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country.  14 I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment. (Ezek. 34:11-16)

Indeed, in the great Olivet Discourse, our Lord describes a future Shepherd who will divide the sheep from the goats. In that day the Chief Shepherd will appear in His glory and His glory shall never fade away (Matthew 25:32).     

The Lord promises a future Shepherd will lead redeemed Israel in peace:

I will save My flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them - My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd.  24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.  25 I will make a covenant of peace with them, and cause wild beasts to cease from the land; and they will dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.  26 I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing; and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing.  (Ezek. 34:22-26)

The Lord closes with this eternal covenant promise:

Thus they shall know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and they, the house of Israel, are My people, says the Lord GOD.  31 You are My flock, the flock of My pasture; you are men, and I am your God, says the Lord GOD.  (Ezek. 34:30-31)

The Shepherd-King will return again someday to regather His flock, ethnic Israel, back to His pasture-land Israel.  In that day He will be their God and they will be His people. This is the promise Israel has been looking forward to for 4,000 years. Though the church proclaims the Good Shepherd as personal Savior, Israel proclaims the Good Shepherd as the One True God who will someday perform the work of the Shepherd of Israel, regathering her back to the land of promise from all the nations in belief. The covenant people of God will enjoy complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, the Land covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the New covenant as God Himself will accomplish the work by His own hand.  Although we can proclaim the Lord as Jehoveh-Rohi  “the Lord is my Shepherd” today, when the Jew proclaims it, it has the historical context that leads them to the Messianic kingdom wherein peace, safety and blessing is be found in its fullness.