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.