Eschatological ProblemsEschatological Problems John F Walvoord Sat, 05/24/2008 - 04:03
These articles were published in Bibliotheca Sacra from 1943-1946.
Eschatological Problems I: Is Satan Bound?Part 1Eschatological Problems I: Is Satan Bound?Part 1 John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
[Author’s Note: This article begins a series on problems in eschatology. Without attempting to include all the important subjects which are embraced in Biblical prophecy, aspects, of prophecy which are pivotal will be considered, giving particular attention to those which naturally arise in any attempt to form a system of interpretation. It is hoped that the series will be helpful to those who have serious problems in the interpretation of prophecy and that material will be supplied to confirm the faith of those who look for the coming of the Lord for His Church.]
There are many approaches to the field of eschatology, which includes the consideration of all that was prophetic in the Scriptures when written. Prophecy can be studied from the viewpoint of the purposes of God, with all history in its detail being a fulfillment. Prophecy can be examined as portraying Christ in His Person and work, a most fruitful field of study as every important aspect of prophecy has some relation to Christ. Prophecy can be viewed as an unfolding picture of human sin and a divine remedy of grace or judgment. Prophecy can be traced as it deals with Israel and the Gentile nations, constituting a most illuminating study of God’s program. Prophecy can be viewed, also, from God’s program for the angels, as revealed in the Scriptures, including the course and destiny of Satan. Each approach has its own contribution to the total of prophecy. The present subject involves the consideration of the last named, the place of Satan in the prophetic program. While any of the other approaches would be as suitable, the present subject has been selected because it establishes so simply and directly the point in God’s program in which we find ourselves. If the question in regard to the binding of Satan can be answered, as it can, a forward step of tremendous importance has been taken in establishing the whole point of view.
Most systems of interpretation of prophecy can be classified by their interpretation of the millennial doctrine. The Old Testament has frequent allusions to the glory and righteousness of a future kingdom. The New Testament reveals that this kingdom will continue for one thousand years. The nature of this millennium, or thousand year period, and its relation to other prophesied events constitute a determining factor in any system of prophetic interpretation.
There have been at least four important millennial views, all involving the relation of the Christ to the millennium. Three of these are mutually exclusive concepts. Postmillennialism had its rise in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Berkhof lists as its originators, “Coecejus, Alting, the two Vitringas, d’Outrein, Witsius, Hoornbeek, Koelman, and Brakel.”1 In its original form postmillennialism held that Christ would return to the earth after a millennium or period of time of great blessing during which the Gospel triumphed and righteousness and peace characterized the world. Postmillennialism constituted a rejection of premillennialism, admittedly an early doctrine of the church, and the amillennialism which characterized the eschatology of many Roman Catholics. Postmillennialism was particularly popular during the nineteenth century. The hope for a millennium on earth to be ushered in by the progress of the church was rudely shattered, however, by the first world war and succeeding events. The prospect of converting the world to an era of righteousness and peace by human effort is no longer a prominent factor in theology or preaching. A modern type of postmillennialism has persisted, however, though quite divorced from an attempt to expound the Scriptures. It may be identified with the evolutionary hypothesis that man is gradually evolving to a higher state. Adherents of this modern type of postmillennialism deny that there is much connection with world-betterment and the Gospel of salvation by grace. They advance the theory that it is the duty of man to better his conditions by a constructive policy of world-improvement. Just as human disease is being conquered by improvement in medical methods, so, they say, social problems can be solved by improved sociology and political science.
With the passing of the old type of postmillennialism, those who continued to preach a Scriptural message have turned back to the eschatology which characterized the period of stagnation prior to the Protestant Reformation, giving it the more or less new designation of amillennialism, by which is meant that there will be no millennium on earth. While the term is relatively new, the idea that there would be no earthly millennium was quite suited to the moral and spiritual temper of the centuries after Constantine the Great, when the church itself became corrupt and became more of an institution than an evangelizing agency. Amillennialism has not produced any considerable literature in the field of eschatology, contenting itself with the reaffirmation of the belief in the final triumph of righteousness, the judgment of all men, the destruction of the present earth and heavens, and the creation of a new heaven and earth. While their system stands in considerable contrast to the premillennial system, it hinges on the fact that amillennialism believes the “millennium” began when Christ died, and that it applies only to the heavenly estate, not the earth, and that there will be no earthly millennium in a literal sense. While it offers a pleasing simplification of the whole scheme of unfulfilled prophecy, and does not intend to cast any doubt on the inspiration of the Scriptures, it leaves unsolved many important passages of Scripture. Any amillennial work in eschatology is notable for the Scriptures it does not use. An interesting example is the recent work of Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith, an attempt to present fairly the amillennial objections to premillennial interpretation. In this work there is no mention at all of the many prophecies of Jeremiah, no mention of 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 72, or Isaiah 11, passages which are among the most important in the Old Testament in relation to the prophesied kingdom. While the work is the result of careful study and is not intentionally unfair to premillennialism, it takes for premillennial truth positions which no intelligent premillennialist holds. It totally neglects the issue that by no principle of hermeneutics can the word earth be made to represent heaven in the millennial passages, as it is necessary to interpret the word in the amillennial position.
The consideration of the present subject of the binding of Satan is an important preliminary consideration to premillennial truth in that it determines at once many of the issues. The amillennial position requires the hypothesis that Satan is now bound. If it can be demonstrated that Satan is not bound, it will at least leave an important if not insuperable obstacle to the amillennial system of interpretation.
The premillennial position, which is here assumed, in its simplest form asserts that Christ will return before the millennium and will by His own power and presence institute a period of righteousness and peace on the earth to continue for a thousand years. It offers a satisfactory solution to all the prophetic Word, allows for the literal fulfillment of all of God’s promises, and honors the Bible as meaning what it appears to mean. It is significant that specialists in prophecy are usually premillennial, that those who hold the premillennial faith are usually conservative in their theological positions, that they uphold the doctrine of verbal inspiration, that they preach the old-fashioned Gospel, and as a class are comparatively free from liberal theology. Other millennial views have been signally sterile in their prophetic studies. The writer has never heard of those holding either the postmillennial view or the amillennial view conducting a prophetic Bible conference. Many amillennialists and postmillennialists will frankly admit that they have never seriously studied prophecy. It is the writer’s opinion that anyone coming to the Scripture without preconceived ideas will naturally assume that the Word of God teaches the premillennial return of Christ.
A fourth millennial view may be merely mentioned. There are some who spiritualize the return of Christ, advancing the theories that Christ returned in the Person of the Spirit at Pentecost, or at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., or at the death of saints. While as a class they deny the millennium, and are therefore amillennial, they do not attempt to interpret the Scriptures or develop any system, and are always more or less liberal in their theology. Their position is easily refuted by the Scriptures themselves. None of the prophesied events to follow the second coming of Christ occurred either at Pentecost or 70 A.D., nor do they occur at the death of saints. John, writing the book of Revelation long after 70 A.D., was still looking for the coming of Christ (Rev 22:20).
I. The Power of Satan Is Limited.
In coming, now, directly to the question to be considered, whether Satan is bound, it is necessary, first, to establish some of the elements of Satanology. It is, after all, a matter of tremendous significance whether Satan is bound as indicated in Revelation 20:1-3. The idea that it matters little what view is taken of the millennium is contrary to fact. A full understanding of the “wiles of the devil” is essential to spiritual victory and it is unfortunately characteristic of amillennial and postmillennial systems of theology to ignore or minimize the power and activity of Satan, as a survey of their systematic theologies will illustrate. Satan is revealed in the Scriptures as a created being of great power, wickedness, and cleverness. The Scriptures never minimize the Adversary. It is essential, then, to know the extent of this power and its nature.
A brief summary of the power of Satan is afforded in the following quotation:
“According to his own declaration, which Christ did not deny, he [Satan] has power over the kingdoms of this world, which kingdoms he said were delivered unto him, and which power he bestows on whom he will (Luke 4:6). It is said of him that he hath the power of death (Heb 2:14), but that power has been surrendered to Christ (Rev 1:18). Satan had the power over sickness in the case of Job (Job 2:7), and was able to sift Peter as wheat in a sieve (Luke 22:31; 1 Cor 5:5). Likewise, Satan is said to have weakened the nations, to have made the earth to tremble, to have shaken kingdoms, to have made the earth a wilderness, destroying the cities thereof, and not to have opened the house of his prisoners (Isa 14:12-17). Against the power of Satan even Michael the archangel durst not contend (Jude 9); but there is victory for the child of God through the power of the Spirit and the blood of Christ (Eph 6:10-12; 1 John 4:4; Rev 12:11). Satan’s power and authority are exercised always and only within the permissive will of God.”2
The Scriptures present, then, on the one hand the great power of Satan and on the other hand that this power is limited and under the sovereign control of God. It is important to note that the premillennialist, seeking as he does to honor the Word of God, does not for one moment deny that the power of Satan is limited in the present age, in fact, in any age. Strangely, some amillennial writers have attempted to demonstrate that the premillennial view is erroneous by pointing to Scriptures which speak of Satan’s limitation. Both the Old and New Testaments bear a clear revelation on this point, and all millennial views must accept what the Scriptures teach. Whether this limitation should be identified with the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3 is quite another issue. While all agree that Satan is limited, all do not agree that Satan is bound.
II. The Amillennial View of the Binding of Satan.
The central passage on the subject of the binding of Satan is, of course, Revelation 20:1-3, which in the revised edition is as follows:
“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished: after this he must be loosed for a little time.”
Whatever view may be taken of the nature of the millennium, it is obvious from the passage whether taken literally or symbolically that Satan is bound before the millennium. If, then, the millennium is still future, it follows that Satan is not bound, but if the millennium has already begun and is now in progress, as the amillennialist believes, then Satan must be bound now. The usual amillennial approach to this passage points out the fact, which all recognize, that the book of Revelation uses symbols, that its chronological scheme is that of recapitulation, and that it is therefore difficult to determine dogmatically what the exact meaning of any symbol may be and the exact place in the chronological plan of the book in which to fit each new revelation. It is the opinion of the writer, however, that the events of the nineteenth and twentieth chapters are progressive and successive and that this is plain in the nature of the narrative, but it is not necessary to assume this in order to determine the meaning of the binding of Satan.
The most obvious fact in Revelation 20 is that the binding of Satan makes the millennium possible, i.e., there is a causal relation-the millennium would be impossible without Satan bound. If that is the case, then it is well to ask at the outset, where will the millennium take place, on earth or in heaven? If the millennium has its only fulfillment in heaven, then the binding of Satan applies only to heaven; if the millennium takes place on earth, then Satan is bound in respect to the earth.
A survey of amillennial literature reveals a most significant fact: they all agree that the millennium will take place only in heaven, but they have at least four contradictory explanations of the binding of Satan. First, and least important, is the group which spiritualizes the return of Christ-suggests He returned at Pentecost, at 70 A.D., or at the death of saints. While this group is amillennial in its main characteristics in that they believe Satan is now bound, they are in a certain sense an off-brand of premillennialism, as they believe Christ has already come and that the millennium is following His return. They hold, then, that Christ has returned to earth, and the millennium has begun in heaven. They identify the binding of Satan as an act subsequent to the triumph of Christ in His life, death, and resurrection. A second group, in which may be classed the work of William Masselink, Why a Thousand Years?, takes the position that Satan is fully bound in relation to heaven, and partially bound in relation to the earth. This group identifies the binding of Satan with the victory of Christ in His life, death, and resurrection. A third view is advanced by Floyd E. Hamilton, in his recent work, The Basis of the Millennial Faith, which sets forth the evidence to prove that Satan is now bound in relation to the earth. A fourth view to be mentioned-and it is the only one which is logically consistent with the conclusion-was expounded by B. B. Warfield. His view is that the binding of Satan refers only to the freedom of saints in the intermediate state, i.e., those in heaven now, from attacks of Satan. He states clearly that the binding of Satan does not refer to the earth.
The amillennialists often refer to difference of opinion among premillennialists in respect to details of prophecy. They may well look to their own system. All premillennialists worthy of the name believe that Satan is bound just before the millennium. Amillennialists offer instead a strange series of interpretations. One group believes Christ has come to earth and produced a millennium in heaven. Another believes Satan is bound in respect to heaven and partially in respect to earth and that this results in a heavenly millennium. Another believes that Satan is bound in respect to the earth, but that this produces a millennium in heaven. Still another believes that Satan is not bound in respect to earth, but only in heaven. From a standpoint of logic itself, apart from specific revelation of Scripture, it would follow that if Satan is bound only in respect to heaven, the millennium can be only in heaven; if partially bound in respect to earth, a partial millennium on earth would follow; if fully bound in respect to earth, then the millennium must be on earth rather than in heaven. An argument to demonstrate that Satan is now bound in respect to the earth has no logical connection with demonstrating a millennium in heaven, though if proved, would indicate that the millennium has already come to the earth.
In the nature of the case, the issue relative to the binding of Satan breaks into two pointed questions: Is Satan bound in respect to heaven? Is Satan bound in respect to earth? In reality it is necessary only to demonstrate the answer to the first question to undo the amillennial position, but inasmuch as many amillennialists also have dealt with the second question, it may well be handled too.
III. Is Satan Bound in Respect to Heaven?
B. B. Warfield, acknowledged by all to be a great theologian, can well be taken as offering the most incisive analysis of the amillennial position. To present this, he is quoted somewhat at length:
“The ‘binding of Satan’ is, therefore, in reality, not for a season, but with reference to a sphere; and his ‘loosing’ again is not after a period but in another sphere: it is not subsequence but exteriority that is suggested. There is, indeed, no literal ‘binding of Satan’ to be thought of at all: what happens, happens not to Satan but to the saints, and is only represented as happening to Satan for the purpose of the symbolical picture. What actually happens is that the saints described are removed from the sphere of Satan’s assaults. The saints described are free from all access to Satan-he is bound with respect to them: outside of their charmed circle his horrid work goes on. This is indicated, indeed, in the very employment of the two symbols ‘a thousand years’ and ‘a little time.’ A ‘thousand years’ is the symbol of heavenly completeness and blessedness; the ‘little time’ of earthly turmoil and evil. Those in the ‘thousand years’ are safe from Satan’s assaults: those outside the thousand years are still enduring his attacks.”3
The amillennial position as stated by Warfield may be summed, then, as follows: (1) There is no chronological system to the twentieth chapter of Revelation at all-the millennium is not a millennium and events which are stated to occur after the millennium, i.e., the loosing of Satan, actually occur during the millennium. (2) In reality, Satan is not bound at all, but saints are merely removed from his power by being taken to heaven. (3) The nations mentioned in Revelation 20:3 are really glorified saints, not nations upon earth. (4) Revelation 20:1-3 is not an historic or prophetic event but just a symbolic picture of peace after trial. It will appear to the most casual student that Warfield’s interpretation has no basis in the text itself, but that it is superimposed upon the text. No one reading Revelation would possibly arrive at such a conclusion unless determined to make it harmonize with a preconceived idea. Warfield’s view is pure opinion-he offers no proof for his definition of terms worthy of consideration; he makes no attempt at a real exegesis. In reality he holds that the passage teaches nothing. If the same principles of hermeneutics used by Warfield in Revelation were applied to the whole Bible, theology would be impossible and there would be no sure foundation for any doctrine.
In the study of prophecy it is absolutely essential to distinguish a revelation in symbolic form from its interpretation. Warfield states that the primary principles of interpretation of prophecy are (1) the principle of recapitulation; (2) the principle of successive visions; (3) the principle of symbolism; (4) the principle of ethical purpose.4 It is noteworthy that he omits from his principles that prophecy may be interpreted as factual history prewritten, that prophecy may have a chronological scheme, and that the Bible itself may give the interpretation. His concept seems to be that prophecy is merely ethical-a portrayal of moral purpose rather than a foretelling of a coming event.
In the study of Revelation 20:1-3, there is a careful distinction between the vision which John saw and its interpretation which was revealed. In fact, this is the key to the chapter. John saw an angel bind Satan with a chain, cast him into the abyss, shut him up, and set a seal upon him. This was the vision. Now consider the interpretation-i.e., facts which are revealed to John which in the nature of the case could not be seen. It was revealed to John that Satan was thus shut up for a thousand years, that the purpose of the act was that he would not deceive the nations, and that he would be loosed again for a short time after the thousand years. If John had merely recorded what he saw, there would be room for varied interpretation, but he was guided by the Spirit in also writing the interpretation of the vision. This interpretation must be taken in the same degree of authority as any doctrinal portion or historical portion of the Scriptures. When John wrote of a thousand years, or Satan not deceiving the nations, etc., he was revealing a doctrine, not a vision.
In its simpler statement, Warfield’s position concerning the binding of Satan is that saints in glory are free from his attacks. To this all must agree, even those who believe that Satan is not cast out of heaven until the time of the tribulation (Rev 12:9). It is inconceivable that saints in any period were open to attacks from Satan, and if the binding of Satan means only that, it is merely a reaffirmation of Satan’s limitations and no new revelation. The millennium becomes then identical with the glorified state, nothing more, nothing less.
The binding of Satan is not, however, in reference to attacks on glorified saints. The only definition we have of the binding of Satan and its purpose in Revelation 20:1-3 is that he is no longer permitted to deceive the nations. Now was Satan ever permitted to deceive glorified saints? While it is clear from the Scripture that Satan is the accuser of saints and is permitted access to heaven, it can hardly be held that at any time Satan could attack saints in heaven or even deceive them.
In the last analysis, we must choose between two alternatives: either Revelation 20 reveals nothing more than what has already been made clear in other Scriptures, i.e., that the saints in heaven are safe from all his evil work, or, the binding of Satan must have reference to the earth and consists in a total end to his work of deceiving the nations. Facing this obvious alternative, Masselink and Hamilton in their defense of the amillennial position present the binding of Satan as related to the earth, not simply to heaven.
A fact apparently overlooked by the amillennial interpretation is that the binding of Satan is not the total of his limitation. According to Revelation 20:3, Satan is not only bound but the angel “cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him....” This is not even a symbolic picture of partial limitation, but of total limitation. Only the premillennial interpretation can fit such a description. According to the Scriptures Satan is far from being totally inactive either in heaven or in earth. While it is true that the victory of the disciples in performing great miracles is connected by Christ to Satan falling as lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18), i.e., a sign pointing to his ultimate downfall, and it is also said that Satan is now judged through the work of Christ on the cross (John 16:11), the actual dismissal of Satan from access to heaven does not occur until the time of the great tribulation according to Revelation 12:9. That Satan does have access to heaven is the clear implication of the Scriptures (Job 1:6; 2:1, 2; Rev 12:7-13). Obviously, Satan cannot be cast out of heaven unless he once was in heaven. The terrible conditions on earth during the tribulation period are traced to the fact that Satan knows he has only a short time (Rev 12:12), and pours out his wrath upon the earth and manifests his power as never before. If the binding of Satan and his being shut up in the abyss occur at the same time, then it is inaccurate and misleading to say that Satan is now bound. While his power is limited, and always has been, and while saints have always been free from his assaults, it is not proper to refer to this limitation as the binding of Satan. One can conclude, therefore, that Satan is not “bound” now in respect to heaven in the sense of Revelation 20:1-3. If this conclusion be accepted, obviously, there is no ground for the amillennial position that there is now a millennium in heaven following the binding of Satan.
IV. Is Satan Bound in Respect to the Earth?
As has been previously stated, one of the peculiarities of the amillennial position is that they cannot agree among themselves as to the extent of the binding of Satan. Warfield denies that the binding of Satan has any reference to the earth now, as indicated in his statement, “Outside of their charmed circle [the saints in glory] his horrid work goes on.”5 Other amillennialists are more prone to attempt to meet the premillennial arguments that the Old Testament demands a kingdom of righteousness on earth, if prophecy is to be fulfilled. After the amillennialist has referred all the passages to heaven which can possibly be made to refer to a heavenly kingdom, there remains a great bulk of passages which cannot be explained away. If words mean anything, Isaiah 11 refers to the earth, not to heaven. Psalm 72 could not possibly be twisted to apply to heaven, and so with other passages. In an attempt to meet this problem, and a major one, of the amillennial interpretation, the binding of Satan has also been referred to the earth, even though logically, it would have nothing to do with a heavenly kingdom. The question is, then, Is Satan now bound in respect to the earth? If he is, we must find some explanation for this present evil world, for apostasy in the church, for the rapid growth of non-Christian religions. We must be able to explain all reference in the New Testament to the present activity of Satan. If this is impossible, as it is not hard to demonstrate, then Satan is not bound in respect to the earth, and the amillennialist must find some other explanation for passages referring to a period of righteousness on earth and universal peace and knowledge of the Lord.
What is the testimony of the Scriptures? Can Satan deceive the nations now? Is he totally inactive? We need only quote Scripture. Acts 5:3, “But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land?” 1 Corinthians 7:5, “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer, and may be together again, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency.” 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them.” 2 Corinthians 11:14, “And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light.” 2 Corinthians 12:7, “And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch.” 1 Thessalonians 2:18, “Because we would fain have come unto you, I Paul once and again; and Satan hindered us.” 2 Thessalonians 2:8, 9, “And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming; even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.” 1 Timothy 1:20, “Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I delivered unto Satan, that they might be taught not to blaspheme.” 1 John 3:8, “He thaf doeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:10, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. ...” 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
Satan is seen to tempt, to deceive, to blind, to buffet, to hinder, to work signs and lying wonders, to have children (i.e., unbelievers), to walk about seeking whom he may devour. Is this a picture of Satan bound? Is this in harmony with the amillennial interpretation of Revelation 20:1-3? The obvious answer is that Satan is not bound, that he still deceives, that he still has great power, and that in respect to the earth he can severely attack both the Christian and the unsaved-howbeit in the will of God.
Compare these Scriptures with the following statement of the amillennial view by William Masselink:
“The binding of Satan for a thousand years is the symbolical figure used to teach us that his power is completely broken for a season... From this passage in Revelation we learn that Satan is bound in a two-fold sense: in the relative sense and in the absolute sense. With respect to the nations he is not bound completely. The result of this binding is that he can deceive the nations no more. In regard to the saints he is bound in the absolute sense. The glorified souls are entirely beyond his dominion?”6
Revelation 20:1-3 teaches, in contrast to William Masselink, that Satan will be completely bound, that he will be totally inactive. At the present time, the Scriptures themselves indicate the continued activity of Satan, his attacks upon saints in the earth, his deceiving of men.
Floyd Hamilton’s argument from Matthew 12:24-29 that Satan was already bound at that time is refuted by the plain facts of the context. In the first place, Christ does not say that Satan is bound-he uses the word only in the illustration. Obviously, Satan was not bound in the sense of Revelation 20:1-3 as demon possession abounded. Even Mr. Hamilton would be loath to state that the Jews who demanded the crucifixion of Christ were not deceived by Satan. Yet his hypothesis demands that Satan can no longer deceive the nations. He states, “The way of salvation has been opened to all nations and there is nothing that Satan can do to block that way.”7 Does not the Scripture reveal that the reason for the unbelief of the world in relation to the Gospel is due to Satan’s deceptive and blinding work (2 Cor 4:3, 4)? How is it that after nineteen centuries of proclamation, the Gospel has yet to win even a majority of those who have heard it? How is it that in contrast to the Christian faith with its Spiritual power the heathen religions such as Mohammedanism are actually gaining converts faster than Christianity? How is it that apostasy has overtaken the church to-day? There can be only one answer, and that is that Satan is working, deceiving, hindering, blinding, devouring. If so, then Satan is not bound, nor is he shut up where he cannot deceive the nations. If Satan is not bound, then the millennium is yet future and our hope is for the coming of the Lord.
A,study of all the factors which enter into the interpretation of Revelation 20:1-3 leads to three conclusions: (1) Satan is not now bound and shut up in the abyss in relation to heaven, though his power has always been limited. (2) Satan is not now bound and shut up in the abyss in relation to the earth, though here too his power is limited; Satan stands judged and defeated; and Christ is victorious. (3) The binding of Satan and his period of total activity are still future and will constitute a major feature of the future millennium on earth. There is not now nor ever will be a fulfillment of the prophecies of a righteous rule upon earth until after Satan is bound-an event coincident with the return of Christ to establish His earthly kingdom.
(Series to be continued in the January-March Number, 1944)
This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.
1 Systematic Theology, Second Edition, p. 716.
2 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Major Bible Themes, p. 121.
3 Biblical Doctrines, p. 651.
4 Ibid., pp. 645, 646.
5 Ibid., p. 651.
6 Why a Thousand Years? p. 202.
7 The Basis of Millennial Faith, p. 130.
Eschatological Problems II: Is the Seventieth Week of Daniel Future?Eschatological Problems II: Is the Seventieth Week of Daniel Future? John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
The interpretation of the revelation given to Daniel concerning the seventy weeks (Daniel 9:24-27) constitutes one of the determining factors in the whole system of prophecy. The attention given to it by all schools of interpretation, and the attacks upon the authenticity of the book itself combine to focus the white light of investigation upon it. The interpretation of this passage inevitably colors all other prophetic views, and a proper understanding of it is the sine qua non of any student of prophecy.
I. The Importance of the Revelation.
The importance of the revelation of Daniel nine lies first of all in the chronology which it establishes. Properly understood, we have here the major outline of the period from Daniel to Christ and from the rapture of the Church to the second coming of Christ in glory. Certainly, no other Old Testament passage does as much for ordering events future from Daniel’s point of view as does the passage under consideration.
Properly interpreted, the prophecy of Daniel furnishes an excellent example of the principle that prophecy is subject to literal interpretation. Practically all expositors, however opposed to prophecy per se, agree that at least part of the seventy weeks of Daniel is to be interpreted literally. In fact, such is the force of the literal interpretation that those who deny the possibility of accurate prophecy are compelled to move the date of the writing of Daniel until after the events which they believe fulfilled it. From the standpoint of this article, if the first sixty-nine weeks of Daniel were subject to literal fulfillment, it is a powerful argument that the final seventieth week will have a similar fulfillment.
Another important aspect of the passage is frequently overlooked by expositors. The seventy weeks of Daniel, properly interpreted, demonstrate the distinct place of the Christian church and Israel in the purposes of God. The seventy weeks of Daniel are totally in reference to Israel and her relation to Gentile powers and the rejection of Israel’s Messiah. The peculiar purpose of God in calling out a people from every nation to form the church and the program of the present age are nowhere in view in this prophecy.
II. The Historic Fulfillment of the Sixty-Nine Weeks.
The interpretation of the seventy weeks of Daniel is divided into two main problems, the fulfillment of the sixty-nine weeks, and the fulfillment of the seventieth week. Our present study is primarily concerned with the latter problem. However, in order to have a background for judgment and interpretation, it is necessary to survey briefly the various interpretations of the first sixty-nine weeks.
There are few passages of Scripture which have occasioned a greater variety of interpretation than Daniel 9:24-27. A comparison of commentaries reveals that seldom can two be found with exactly the same exegesis. As Dr. James A. Montgomery states in concluding his long discussion of the passage: “To sum up: The history of the exegesis of the 70 Weeks is the Dismal Swamp of O.T. criticism. The difficulties that beset any ‘rationalistic’ treatment of the figures are great enough, for the critics on this side of the fence do not agree among themselves; but the trackless wilderness of assumptions and theories in the efforts to obtain an exact chronology fitting into the history of Salvation, after these 2, 000 years of infinitely varied interpretations, would seem to preclude any use of the 70 Weeks for the determination of a definite prophetic chronology.”1 While we do not share Dr. Montgomery’s pessimism, we must face a bewildering lack of unanimity among expositors.
Most of the difficulty of expositors in the study of this passage may be traced to their premises. In general, there are two main divisions of interpretation: Christological and non-Christological. The former interprets the first sixty-nine weeks of Daniel as culminating in Christ while the latter finds fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy in events before or after Christ. Most writers on the subject have not been slow to notice the repeated use of the number seventy in relation to the prophetic program. It had been predicted that Israel’s servitude under the Babylonians would last seventy years. The seventy years were inflicted because of her failure to observe her Sabbatic years (Lev 26:34, 35; 2 Chron 36:21). The plan for the Sabbatic years involved the basic number seven. Sir Robert Anderson also advances the interesting conclusion that it was exactly 490 luni-solar years (360 days each) or seventy times seven years from the dedication of the temple in the eleventh year of Solomon to the dedication of the second temple in 515 B.C.2 These facts have led expositors to seek a literal fulfillment of Daniel 9:24-27.
The non-Christological interpretation of the passage attempts to find fulfillment of the seventy weeks in the events leading up to the persecution of Antiochus IV, known commonly as Antiochus Epiphanes. In 168 B.C., a pagan altar was constructed on top of the great altar of burnt sacrifices, and a pagan sacrifice was offered under the rulership of Antiochus Epiphanes.3 The act precipitated the Maccabean revolt which Antiochus attempted unsuccessfully to put down with great cruelty (167-164 B.C.). The system of chronology adopted by those who interpret Daniel to prophesy this event varies with the writer.
Generally, there is agreement among them that the seventy weeks of Daniel began with the beginning of the seventy years of Jeremiah. The beginning of the servitude of Jerusalem in 606 B.C. does not, however, give a satisfactory terminus for the first seven weeks, or forty-nine years of the prophecy. Accordingly, Dr. Montgomery quotes with approval the view that the seventy weeks began at 586 B.C., when Jerusalem was completely desolated according to his chronology and the forty-nine years accordingly bring us approximately to 538 B.C. when the Jews were permitted to return to Jerusalem. The sixty-two weeks or 434 years begin at 538 B.C. and culminate in the desecration of Antiochus in 168. As is apparent, however, there are two drastic errors in this system of computation. The beginning of the seventy weeks did not begin with the Jeremianic prophecy but with the command to restore Jerusalem, which is identified most satisfactorily as occurring in 445 B.C. The terminus of the seventy weeks does not take us to 168 B.C. as would be expected, but to 104 B.C. There is an error, here, of more than sixty years which no amount of juggling can erase.
Dr. Montgomery solves the problem by conveniently determining that Daniel was in error in his calculation: “To be sure, a similar objection may be made against our identification of the final Week of the Seventy with the period of Ant.’s tyranny, for the 62 Weeks would then take us down some 65 years too far. We can meet this objection only by surmising a chronological miscalculation on the part of the writer [Daniel]. For the first 49 years he had exact Scriptural information; he was profoundly conscious of the epochal character of his own age; there was the necessity of extending Jer.’s 70 years into a much larger figure in order to bring it up to date (the natural process of all interpretation of prophecy), and the 70 years became 70 Year-Weeks, 490 years, too high a figure indeed, but he was not embarrassed, in the absence of a known chronology, in squeezing these 434 years between the Return and the Antiochian persecution.”4
It will be noticed that the interpretation of Daniel’s seventy weeks to make them fulfilled in the Antiochian persecution involves the premises: (1) Jeremiah was wrong; (2) Daniel was in error; (3) The Christological view is not worthy of serious consideration even though it provides for a literal interpretation. For anyone having a serious view of the inspiration of the Scriptures, this non-Christological interpretation must be dismissed as being only a clumsy attempt to counter the better interpretations which provide for a literal fulfillment. It is really no solution at all.
A more interesting non-Christological view is advanced by the Jews themselves. The prevailing interpretation of the Jews after 70 A.D. was that the events of Daniel’s seventieth week have their fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem. Like other forms of the non-Christological view, they are not too concerned with a literal fulfillment of Daniel’s chronology, though their interpretation is more satisfactory than the view of the destructive higher critics. Some aspects of their interpretation find their way even into the Christological view as portrayed by some writers.
The Christological view, which finds the sixty-nine weeks of Daniel culminating in Christ, has been accepted by most conservative expositors. The fathers from the second to the fourth century abound in explanations which bring the culmination of the sixty-nine weeks to the period of Christ’s public ministry and death.5 The most satisfactory solution of the Christological interpretation is that of Sir Robert Anderson, a view that fully honors the accuracy and authority of Daniel’s revelation.6 His conclusions embrace the following points: (1) the seventy weeks of Daniel represent 490 years, divided into three parts: forty-nine years, four hundred and thirty-four years (following the first forty-nine years), and the last week of seven years. (2) There was only one decree ever issued for the rebuilding of Jerusalem-that given to Nehemiah and its date is 445 B.C., specifically the first of Nisan or March 14 of that year. (3) The city was actually rebuilt during the time of Nehemiah at the end of the prophesied desolations of Jerusalem. (4) The sixty-two weeks, or 434 years, immediately follow the first forty-nine years, and on the basis of a prophetic year of 360 days total 173,880 days, which would end April 6, A.D. 32-the probable date when Christ rode into Jerusalem in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9.
The chronology of Sir Robert Anderson has a number of distinct advantages over other systems. It provides a literal fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel. It is based on sound historical and chronological data. Most of all, it presents an interpretation of Scripture which fully honors the doctrine of inspiration. If a system of interpretation based on carefully established principles can bring the fulfillment of the prophecy into such accurate detail, it is ridiculous to attempt to warp Daniel’s prophecy, into some sort of interpretation which admittedly does not fulfill the chronology of the passage. If Antiochus missed the proper date by more than sixty years, by occurring too soon, and the destruction of Jerusalem obviously occurred too late, undoubtedly all true scholars would immediately embrace the Christological interpretation if it were not for prejudice either against the Person of Christ, as in the case of the Jew, or against a literal fulfillment of prophecy, as in the case of the destructive critics. The case for the Christological interpretation, particularly the viewpoint of Sir Robert Anderson, stands on every point superior to other views.
The important point of the Christological interpretation is that the first sixty-nine weeks had a literal fulfillment, both as to details and as to chronology. In approaching the task of interpreting the prophecy concerning the seventieth week, we must in all fairness to the principles approved by the fulfillment of the sixty-nine weeks, expect a literal fulfillment of the seventieth week both in its detail and in its chronology. The beginning of the seventy weeks of Daniel was marked by a definite event. At the end of the sixty-nine weeks, or 483 years, there was a definite break in the prophecy which was fulfilled literally by the death of Christ. Likewise the final week of the prophecy, the seventieth week, apparently has a definite beginning and ends with the “full end” of the period of desolations. There are indications in the text that a considerable time period elapses between the close of the sixty-ninth week and the beginning of the seventieth week. The question naturally arises, and it is decisive, is the seventieth week of Daniel future, or has it been already fulfilled in history? To this question we now direct our thought.
III. Have the Events of Daniel’s Seventieth Week Been Fulfilled?
There are at least five theories in regard to the fulfillment of the seventieth week of Daniel, that is, most interpretations can be classified in one of five categories. Those who find the fulfillment of the first sixty-nine weeks in the events of the Maccabean persecution usually find the fulfillment of the seventieth week in the same period of persecution. As this view has been previously found to fail in fulfilling the passage, their interpretation of the fulfillment of the seventieth week likewise fails. The view of the Jews that the seventieth week is fulfilled in the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. likewise fails in fitting the chronology of Daniel.
Three other views have commended themselves to conservative scholars. There are some who hold that the seventieth week of Daniel is an indefinite period beginning while Christ was on earth and extending to the consummation of all things. This is in harmony with Daniel 9:24, which indicates that the program of God for bringing in everlasting righteousness and cessation of Israel’s persecutions will be completed by the end of the seventieth week. This interpretation breaks down utterly, however, as a literal fulfillment. The chronology of the sixty-nine weeks established the principle of literal fulfillment, and we cannot for the sake of convenience postulate an indefinite period for the final week of the prophecy. While we cannot accept this spiritual interpretation of the passage, it is an interesting confession on the part of those who accept it that history does not record events which correspond with the prophecy of the seventieth week.
One other view, however, claims our serious attention. It is advanced by a number of able expositors and claims to be a literal interpretation. In brief, the view accepts a system of chronology which allows for the termination of the sixty-nine weeks of the prophecy at the baptism of Christ. The first half of the seventieth week is, in their judgment, fulfilled by the events of the public ministry of Christ. In the middle of the week, Christ is crucified, the sacrifice and oblation cease, and the events of the last half of the seventieth week are immediately fulfilled in the events which follow. The seventy weeks terminate, perhaps, in some event such as the conversion of Cornelius. In other words, the seventieth week has already been fulfilled literally, and we cannot look for any future fulfillment.
In opposition to this view, the interpretation is advanced that there is an indefinite period of time between the close of the sixty-ninth week and the beginning of the seventieth week. At some future date, the seventieth week will begin, and its events will come to pass literally and will follow the chronology of the seven years of the seventieth week of Daniel. This is the only view which provides a reasonable ground for believing the final week of Daniel is future. If we accept the premise that the final week of Daniel demands a literal fulfillment, we are shut up to the last two views named: that it was fulfilled literally in the first century before 40 A.D., or that it is yet future and we can look for a literal fulfillment at some future date. The two explanations oppose each other; both cannot be right; accordingly, we may well weigh the contentions of those who support each view as a basis for decision.
One of the most clever writers to support the interpretation that the seventieth week of Daniel is already fulfilled is Philip Mauro, whose views are set forth in his work, The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation. Mr. Mauro believes that God’s purpose for Israel as a nation was finished upon their rejection of Christ and that the promises given to Israel are now being fulfilled in the church. He denies the possibility of a future millennium to fulfill the promises of a kingdom given to David and Israel. His work is accordingly prejudiced by his premises, but his appeal is to the Scriptures rather than human authority and for this reason his contentions should be weighed. He states the case in support of his position with all the force of a clever thinker and skillful debater. It is characteristic of his style, however, that he never discusses facts for which he does not have a ready solution, i.e., he selects for discussion only those points which are in favor of his viewpoint. This defect is too often overlooked by the unwary. He also has great skill in magnifying a minor point until it appears to be a decisive one, at the same time running rapidly over material which might upset his argument. Accordingly, it is more important to consider what he does not say, on some points, than what he states.
Philip Mauro’s system of interpretation, in brief, involves the following points: (1) The first sixty-nine weeks of Daniel run from the decree of Cyrus (536 B.C.) to the baptism of Christ. As this amount totals 562 years rather than 483, Mauro, while insisting on literal fulfillment, claims that there can be no certainty of the exact historic length of years between the decree of Cyrus and the baptism of Christ-in fact, claims to find an error of eighty years which adjusts the difference.7 (2) The baptism of Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy, “to anoint the most holy” (Dan 9:24), the anointment being the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the “most holy” being Christ Himself. (3) The “prince that shall come” is Titus, and one who makes the covenant of Daniel 9:27 is Christ. (4) The cessation of the sacrifices in the middle of the seventieth week is the fulfillment of Old Testament sacrifices by the death of Christ. (5) All the six elements of the decree in relation to “thy people” and “thy holy city” mentioned in Daniel 9:24 are fulfilled by the life, death and resurrection of Christ. (6) There cannot be any break between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth week of Daniel: “Never has a specified number of time-units, making up a described stretch of time, been taken to mean anything but continuous or consecutive time-units.”8
The issue between the two literal interpretations of Daniel’s seventieth week is, then, clearly drawn. A glance at the six points enumerated will readily reveal that some of them are decisive in the interpretation. All six elements of the decree relating to Israel and Jerusalem must be fulfilled by the death of Christ. If so much as one of these was not fulfilled, then the interpretation is revealed to be faulty. If the one who makes the covenant is not Christ, it is admitted even by Mr. Mauro that the seventieth week must be still future: “Manifestly those two ideas stand or fall together; for if verse 27 relates to Christ, then the last week followed immediately after the 69th; but if it relates to antichrist, or a coming Roman prince, then it is yet future.”9 If the sacrifices actually ceased at the death of Christ, it would do much to substantiate Mr. Mauro’s contention. While the final point, i.e., that there cannot be a break between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks is begging the question, it is well to consider what parallels the Scripture may afford on the question.
Is Titus the Prince that Shall Come?
According to Daniel 9:26, after the sixty-ninth week (sixty-two and the first seven weeks) the “anointed one” shall be “cut off,” and “the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.” It is clear that the “anointed one” is Christ-the authorized translation is correct, “Messiah.” But who are “the people” and “the prince”? It is a well-established fact of history that Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Roman armies, to the utter destruction of upwards of one million Jews in the area. The people represented here can be none other than those of Rome. The “prince of the people” is accordingly a Roman prince. The interpretation of Mr. Mauro is that this is clearly the character Titus who led the armies of Rome in 70 A.D. against Jerusalem. There are good reasons, however, for believing that the character thus introduced is to be identified with the future political ruler of the Mediterranean world in the time just before the second coming of Christ. Mr. Mauro flatly denies that there will be any such ruler, denies that the Roman people of the first century are to be identified in any way with the people of that future time.
It is not necessary to engage in a disputation of Mr. Mauro’s entire system to show his error in this particular. It is a plain fact of history that God is dealing with the Jews of to-day in a way determined by the rejection of Christ by their fathers. If this can be true, then why should it be thought incredible that a future prince should be identified as Roman and as connected with the people who destroyed Jerusalem? Mr. Mauro overlooks a most significant fact in his chronology, however. If Titus is the “prince” of Daniel 9:26, then the destruction of Jerusalem occurred after the seventieth week, rather than after the sixty-ninth week. Is it not utterly inexplicable that the prophecy of verse twenty-six should be stated to be after the sixty-ninth week, if in matter of fact it is during and after the seventieth week? Does not the way in which the truth is stated infer that the events occur after the sixty-ninth week but before the seventieth week? If so, a parenthesis is called for, allowing for all events in their proper place and for a fulfillment of the seventieth week in the future.
Not only does the form of the prophecy infer a parenthesis between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week, but the expression “the people of the prince” is unusual. Normally, it would be expected that the prophecy would state that the prince would destroy the city. In Daniel 7 and 8, prophecies there in dealing with military triumphs speak of them as consummated by their leader. In Daniel 9:26, however, the usual form of statement is turned around and it is stated that “the people of the prince” destroyed the city. Now it is clear that such would be the case if the prince had no direct connection with the event, but Jerusalem was destroyed under the personal direction of Titus. The language of the prophecy would seem to indicate that some other person than Titus was in view.
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contribute prophecies concerning the coming of a military leader who will rule the Mediterranean world. From Revelation 13:1-10, we gather that he will be the greatest military ruler in matter of power that the world has ever seen. A comparison of Revelation 13 with the events of the destruction of Jerusalem reveals no similarity and must refer to a future event. Other passages (Dan 7:8, 11, 24-27; 11:36-45; 2 Thess 2:1-12) apparently refer to the same person. In view of the revelation of Daniel 7, it is not strange to find another reference in Daniel 9.
Who Makes the Covenant for One Week?
Mr. Mauro strenuously objects to identifying the “prince that shall come” with a future political ruler, not so much because it contradicts the plain meaning of verse 26 but because it provides an interpretation of verse 27 which utterly destroys his theory. In verse 27 it is revealed: “And he shall make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one that maketh desolate; and even unto the full end, and that determined, shall wrath be poured out upon the desolate.” Now, it is normal exegesis for a pronoun to claim as its antecedent the nearest noun with which it could be identified. The nearest antecedent in this case is the “prince that shall come.” This could not be Titus for he did not make such a covenant, and according to Mr. Mauro’s theory the seventieth week must immediately follow the sixty-ninth-and Titus did not appear on the scene until years later. Accordingly, Mr. Mauro identifies the one who makes the covenant as Christ.
In support of Mr. Mauro’s contention is the fact widely recognized by the Scriptures and expositors of the Scripture that Christ is the minister of the new covenant and that in His death on the cross the new covenant was duly executed. An attempt to connect Daniel’s covenant with the new covenant, however, is a work of desperation rather than a natural exegesis. The new covenant is expressly called an “everlasting covenant” (Heb 13:20). The covenant of Daniel 9:27 continues only for one week in its intent, and if the break at the middle of the week may be so interpreted, the covenant is broken before it runs its course, i.e., at the end of the first half of the week. The two covenants have nothing in common as to their duration.
Now, it is also widely accepted that the new covenant was enacted by the death of Christ. Mr. Mauro’s theory would involve that the death of Christ occur at the beginning of the seventieth week. Because of the fact that he believes the death of Christ occurred in the middle of the week, he is forced to the conclusion that the covenant is made in the week rather than for one week-in opposition to the usual translation. It is obvious that Mr. Mauro’s interpretation requires an unnatural exegesis.
A fact of great significance is that the covenant is made with “the many” which could only refer to “thy people” (Dan 9:24), Israel. The new covenant, insofar as it relates to Israel, is connected in Scripture with their millennial blessings and the future regathering of Israel (cf. Heb 8:8-12). Mr. Mauro, however, flatly denies that Israel has any place in God’s future program. He believes that the covenant mentioned in Daniel 9:27 is a covenant of grace toward all people as contained in the present Gospel of grace. Mr. Mauro, accordingly, is faced by a dilemma. If this is indeed a covenant between Christ and Israel regarding their future blessing, then his whole system breaks down for the passage would teach a future for Israel as such. The alternative is to admit that the covenant is not the new covenant and that Christ is not the one who enters into the covenant. Mr. Mauro’s escape from this dilemma is to deny what the passage plainly teaches-that the seventy weeks refer specifically to “thy people,” Israel, and “thy city,” Jerusalem. In the last analysis, there is nothing whatever in the revelation concerning this covenant (Dan 9:27) to connect it with Christ.
Were Old Testament Sacrifices Ended by the Death of Christ?
The argument concerning the identity of the one who makes the covenant is decisive in itself. If Christ did not make the covenant, then the last of the seventy weeks is yet awaiting fulfillment. A further question, however, has an important bearing on the issue. According to Daniel 9:27, the sacrifice and oblation are stopped in the midst of the seventieth week by the one who makes the covenant. According to Mr. Mauro this is the event of the death of Christ which supplanted Old Testament sacrifices. Mr. Mauro quotes from Hebrews 10:8, 9, where it is stated: “He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second.” Mr. Mauro asks: “What perfect agreement with the words of the prophecy, ‘He shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease’!”10
Now, this is an important point. If indeed the death of Christ causes the sacrifice and oblation to cease, it would be a powerful argument in support of Mr. Mauro’s view. That the new covenant supplants the old and the one sacrifice of Christ supplants the many sacrifices of the old covenant is indeed the teaching of the Scriptures. It is something else, however, to state that He caused the sacrifice and oblation to cease. As a matter of fact, the sacrifice and oblation did not cease until the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. It was the ruthless work of violence of the Roman armies that caused the sacrifice and oblation to cease in the first century, and if we interpret the passage correctly, the seventieth week of Daniel is a prophecy of a future restoration of these sacrifices under a covenant and their violent conclusion. Even the book of Hebrews speaks of the fact that at the time of the writing of the epistle, probably shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem, the priests were still ministering in the temple more than thirty years after the death of Christ. In Hebrews 8:4, we read, “Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, seeing there are those who offer the gifts according to the law.” The argument is that Christ is a priest in heaven not in earth as there are still priests on earth serving according to the law of Moses. The Scriptures themselves are careful, then, by using the present tense, are, to include evidence which makes Mr. Mauro’s interpretation inadmissible.
Have the Desolations of Daniel’s Seventieth Week Been Fulfilled?
Mr. Mauro is probably more embarrassed by the lack of a good explanation of the latter part of Daniel 9:27 than by any other feature of his interpretation. His system requires that the seventieth week of Daniel be a definite time period of seven years. It is therefore necessary that the desolations of the latter part of verse 27 be fulfilled within a period of three and one-half years of the death of Christ-according to his system. Mr. Mauro comes to the conclusion, however, that the desolations mentioned in this verse are those accomplished by the armies of Titus in 70 A.D. In other words, Mr. Mauro is unable to find any event within the seventieth week of Daniel to fulfill the prophecy of the latter part of Daniel’s seventieth week, and in the end is forced to abandon his major thesis that the prophecies of Daniel’s seventy weeks are subject to literal fulfillment.
In contrast to Mr. Mauro!s difficulty, we have in Matthew 24:15, from Christ Himself, the prophecy of the fulfillment of Daniel’s promised desolations. Christ said, “When therefore ye see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him that readeth understand),...” The context which follows indicates that the events are preliminary to the second coming of Christ. In fact, so direct is the connection that some who like Mr. Mauro connect Matthew 24:15 with the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus, have attempted to find fulfillment of the promise of Christ’s return in the events of 70 A.D. The desolations of Daniel 9:27 instead of being fulfilled in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem are rather one of the signs pointing to the early return of Christ in glory.
The Declared Purpose of God for the Seventy Weeks.
One of the decisive questions facing any interpreter of Daniel 9:24-27 is the question whether God’s declared purpose for that period has been fulfilled. In this period, according to Daniel 9:24, it is God’s purpose to (1) finish transgressions, (2) make an end of sins, (3) make reconciliation for iniquity, (4) bring in everlasting righteousness, (5) seal up vision and prophecy, (6) anoint the most holy. It is Mr. Mauro’s interpretation that points one through four were fulfilled by the death of Christ; point five is the resulting spiritual blindness which befalls Israel; point six is fulfilled by the anointing of the church on the day of Pentecost.
There are many interesting details involved in the discussion of each of these points which in the interest of brevity we cannot consider. It is of great importance to gain a clear view of the principles which dominate the interpretation, however. Mr. Mauro must find fulfillment of all the purpose of God revealed here before the end of the period extending three and one-half years beyond the death of Christ. In his interpretation, he claims to find such fulfillment, and it is this claim we must examine.
There are many details in his system which are open to question. For instance, he claims fulfillment of the prophecy that vision and prophecy are “sealed up,” by which he means that Israel comes into permanent spiritual blindness. He perhaps overlooks the fact that God used Jews to write the New Testament after the date he claims for the close of Daniel’s seventieth week-Jews without an exception if Luke was an Israelite. While Paul reveals that blindness in part befell Israel because of their rejection of Christ, it is also clear that the blindness will be lifted after the fulness of the Gentiles is come in (Rom 11:25). Mr. Mauro’s interpretation of the anointing of the most holy, that it refers to the baptism of Christ, while supported by some, is in violation of the consistent usage of the Old Testament. Tregelles states on this point, “The expression does not in a single case apply to any person.”11 It is a better interpretation that it refers to a future return of the Shekinah glory. The Revised Version margin renders it, “a most holy place.”
All these details are insignificant, however, before the principal objection to Mr. Mauro’s interpretation. According to the specific limitation of Daniel 9:24, the prophecy pertains to “thy people,” Israel, and to “thy city,” Jerusalem. To make it plain, then, transgressions must be finished in relation to Israel and Jerusalem; an end must be made to sins, and iniquity must be purged away (cf. Revised Version margin) in relation to Israel and Jerusalem; everlasting righteousness must be brought in for Israel and Jerusalem; and so on through the prophecy.
What does Mr. Mauro do with the passage? For him the passage deals with the whole world, a general provision of salvation through the death of Christ which, according to his interpretation, does not relate to Jerusalem or to Israel as such at all. Jerusalem is only scheduled for destruction and Israel to be utterly cast off-according to Mr. Mauro’s view. To make this prophecy of coming blessing to Israel and Jerusalem-which can only be fulfilled by the return of Christ to bring in a kingdom of righteousness-a reference to the work of Christ on the cross is to confuse the work of God in Christ on the cross and its application historically. The benefits of the death of Christ will be realized by Israel only after “they shall look unto me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him...” (Zech 12:10), and in the day when “a fountain” be “opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Zech 13:1)-events still future from our point in history. Sir Robert Anderson has demonstrated that none of the prophecies of Daniel 9:24 have been fulfilled: “A careful study of the Angel’s words will show that not so much as one of them has been thus accomplished.”12
Is a Parenthesis Between Daniel’s Sixty-ninth and Seventieth Week Unparalleled in Scripture?
The entire burden of Mr. Mauro’s argument is intended to support his contention that there is no break between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week of Daniel. He not only holds that the passage does not admit such an interpretation, but he states that such an interpretation would be a violation of a consistent principle in Scripture that time-units are always continuous. To quote his exact words: “Never has a specified number of time-units, making up a described stretch of time, been taken to mean anything but continuous or consecutive time units.”13
Fortunately, for the brevity of our own study here, there is an entirely adequate answer to this statement. Not only does the internal evidence of the passage demand it by stating certain events are after the sixty-ninth week, rather than in or after the seventieth week, but there are parallel cases in the Scripture where God as it were stopped the clock of fulfillment only to resume the progress of fulfillment later.
The recent monograph of Dr. H. A. Ironside, The Great Parenthesis, is a worthy and timely contribution to the subject. Dr. Ironside shows a number of instances of parentheses in God’s program: (1) The interval between the “acceptable year of the Lord” and the “day of vengeance of our God” (Isa 61:2-a parenthesis already extending more than nineteen hundred years. (2) The interval between the Roman empire as sympolized by the legs of iron of the great image of Daniel 2 and the feet of ten toes. Confer also Daniel 7:23-27; 8:24, 25. (3) The same interval is found between Daniel 11:35 and Daniel 11:36. (4) A great parenthesis occurs between Hosea 3:4 and verse 5, and again between Hosea 5:15 and 6:1. (5) A great parenthesis occurs also between Psalm 22:22 and 22:23 and between Psalm 110:1 and 110:2. (6) Peter in quoting Psalm 34:12-16 stops in the middle of a verse to distinguish God’s present work and His future dealing with sin (1 Pet 3:10-12).
(7) The great prophecy of Matthew 24 becomes intelligible only if the present age be considered a parenthesis between Daniel 9:26 and 9:27. (8) Acts 15:13-21 indicates that the apostles fully understood that during the present age the Old Testament prophecies would not be fulfilled, but would have fulfillment “after this” when God “will build again the tabernacle of David” (Acts 15:13). (9) Israel’s yearly schedule of feasts showed a wide separation between the feasts prefiguring the death and resurrection of Christ and Pentecost, and the feasts speaking of Israel’s regathering and blessing. (10) Romans 9-11 definitely provide for the parenthesis, particularly the figure of the olive tree in chapter 11. (11) The revelation of the Church as one body requires a parenthesis between God’s past dealings and His future dealings with the nation Israel. (12) The consummation of the present parenthesis is of such a nature that it resumes the interrupted events of Daniel’s last week.
To this imposing list of arguments for the parenthesis between Daniel’s sixty-ninth and seventieth week, we can add the interesting computations of Sir Robert Anderson in regard to the statement in 1 Kings 6:1, that Solomon began to build the temple in the 480th year after the children of Israel were come out of Egypt. A computation of the evidence indicates that this period was, instead, 573 years.14 On the basis of a study of Judges, Sir Robert Anderson discovered a total of 93 years during which Israel was cast off as a nation-divided into five different periods of time (cf. Judges 3:8, 14; 4:2, 3; 6:1; 13:1). By subtracting this from 573, the figure is corrected to 480, the exact figure stated by the writer of 1 Kings.
The answer to our leading question, Is the Seventieth Week of Daniel future?, can only be answered in the affirmative. The Scriptures bear a full testimony that God has a purpose yet unfulfilled for His people, Israel. If the events of Daniel’s seventieth week are future, it is clear that the person who makes the covenant must be the wicked character who is the persecutor of all who will not worship him. The “many” with whom the covenant is made can be, on the basis of the context, only Israel, still in unbelief. The “end” of which Daniel 9:27 speaks can be only the return of Christ to bring righteousness, peace, prosperity, and universal knowledge of the Lord to this evil world. Before the world will witness these stirring events, we who are His look for that blessed moment when caught up from this world at the return of the Lord for His own we shall see His face and forever thereafter know one passion and one love-to worship and serve our blessed Lord.
This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.
1 International Critical Commentary: Daniel, pp. 400, 401.
2 The Coming Prince, p. 71, note.
3 International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, s.v., Abomination of Desolation.
4 Op. cit., p. 393.
5 Montgomery, ibid., pp. 398,399.
6 The Coming Prince.
7 The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation, pp. 23-25.
8 Ibid., p. 95.
9 Ibid., p. 94.
10 Ibid., p. 85.
11 Tregelles, Daniel, p. 98, as cited by Anderson, op. cit., p. 51.
12 Op. cit., p. 79.
13 Op. cit., p. 95.
14 Anderson, op. cit., p. 81ff.
Eschatological Problems III: Is Moral Progress Possible?Eschatological Problems III: Is Moral Progress Possible? John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
There are few questions in the realm of human thought more arresting than the question of the direction of human experience. Are we making any progress, particularly in the moral sphere? Is there a teleological significance in history? What is the direction in which we are going? In Christian theology as well as in non-Christian philosophy, these agelong questions reappear like persistent moonbeams through a cloud-spattered sky. Sometimes the question is stated more directly, if more tritely, “Is the world getting better?” Is it our duty to introduce a new moral order?” “Are we building a new world socially?” Many of these questions produce varying answers, due in part to difference of opinion in basic beliefs, partly from a failure to ascertain the real issues of the question. The present article is an attempt to outline the major considerations involved in the question of the possibility of moral progress-outline, because manifestly a full treatment would involve many times the space devoted to it here.
I. The Issue.
The importance of the question is apparent even without a careful study. Dr. James H. Snowden, an ardent exponent of the idea that the world is getting better, in discussing the question wrote this analysis: “It is one of the great dividing ridges and shaping forces of human thought and experience. It is the watershed between two opposite views of the world, pessimism and optimism: the one holding that the world, though mixed with some good, is yet essentially evil and will grow worse and worse; and the other holding that the world, though infused with some evil, is yet fundamentally good and will grow better and better; the one destroying the value of life and killing interest in it, and the other making life worth while and giving us courage and cheer in living it. It is still more profoundly the line of cleavage between two types of religion: impersonal pantheism and personal theism; between two systems of philosophy: materialistic monism and idealistic personalism; and between two hemispheres of the globe: the pessimistic Orient and the optimistic Occident. Such a radical distinction must enter deeply and vitally into our daily living and necessarily lowers or lifts our ideals and hopes, weakens or strengthens our wills, and colors with dark or bright hues our whole world and tinges all our temperaments and moods.”1
The foregoing quotation is an illustration of the viewpoint that the only possible Christian approach to the subject is that the world is improving. Dr. Snowden leaves us two alternatives: pessimism or optimism, materialism or personalism, pantheism or personal theism. If the question were as simply solved as this, no further discussion would be necessary. However, there are many who, while fully expecting the ultimate triumph of right and the establishment of God’s righteousness upon the earth and fully believing in the deity and sovereignty of God, nevertheless doubt whether the theory of moral progress is sustained by either history or revelation. They substitute instead a dual line of development of both good and evil, both continuing on their own course without either triumphing over the other, being brought to their conclusion by the personal return of Christ and His manifested power in destruction of evil and in establishment of permanent righteousness.
The issue before us is not, then, whether we should accept a Christian or a non-Christian viewpoint. It is rather whether there are reasons justifying the hope of an increasing melioration in the world’s moral conditions, a moral progress in which the world becomes eventually good. The issue is not whether there is progress in extent of knowledge of the natural world, better treatment of disease, better working conditions, more beneficial governments. All of these could be brought in without a change in moral conditions, and even if they should effect a partial change in moral conditions, would not assure its permanence. The writer seriously doubts if statistics as such prove a great deal in the issue before us. The great bulk of the world is not subject to many vital statistics. Arguments based on improvement in America or in any one section of the world are obviously not characteristic of the whole. Even in sections of the world subjected to intense analysis, it may be questioned whether morality lends itself to accurate statistical computation. Two writers upholding opposite sides of the question could without doubt find many arguments in support of their views from the same group of statistics.
II. Determining Factors.
The basic weakness in any set of statistics is that they can only tell us what has been true in the past, and in the field of moral history there is considerable room for argument also on the meaning of the past in ascertaining whether there has been moral progress. The evanescent optimism which characterized some preaching before the first world war was disheartened by the events of 1914 and after, and the second world war has left little ground for conclusion that moral progress has been established. Almost every barbarism of history has been repeated in recent history. The theory that man is naturally good is not sustained by the facts which are open to all.
There is only one authoritative approach to the problem, and this is to ascertain what the Scriptures reveal on this important subject. If the Scriptures can speak with authority on such subjects as heaven and salvation, they can also speak with authority on the question of moral progress. The Scriptures record in their expanse a history of the world up through the apostolic age, and they provide abundant prophecy of future events. From the Christian viewpoint, only the Scriptures speak with complete authority, and their revelation whether history or prophecy is the determining factor in settling the question of moral progress.
III. The Constitution of the Natural Man.
One of the pivotal points of Biblical doctrine is its anthropology. Herein is revealed the essential moral problem which faces man. Here too is found the need of salvation and its nature and extent. Systems of theology can be classified on their anthropology. If on the one hand, man is naturally good and has within him the latent forces which can be cultivated to produce a noble character, that is one concept. If man has fallen from his original perfect creation and is spiritually dead and morally enslaved by sin and blinded by Satan, that is another.
The testimony of the Scriptures is clear that men are sinners by imputation, by nature, and by choice. According to Romans 3:23, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” According to Romans 5:12, “As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned....” The one sin of Adam has plunged the whole race into sin without exception. “As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” The sin of Adam brought judgment to the race even as the one act of obedience of Christ in dying upon the cross brought justification for those who believe ih Christ.
The nature of man is hopelessly sinful apart from Christ. Jeremiah testifies, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17:9). Without doubt the inaccuracy of psychology in accounting for human experience and behavior is traced to a failure to recognize the innate wickedness of the human heart. It is significant that even non-Christian psychologists are now reexamining their premises and admitting the possibility that men are naturally wicked. The revelation of Scripture needs no such revision. The pronouncement is without equivocation: “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:5).
The sinful nature of man is fully demonstrated by the course of history and by the Scriptural estimation of his acts. The universal indictment is, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10). Upon every hand, then, there is testimony in the Scriptures that the natural constitution of man is sinful. Man sins because he is a sinner by nature. His only hope is a change of that nature by the power of God’s salvation. Whatever outward moral progress may be induced by education and environment, there is no possibility of inner change except by an undertaking of God for him. In spite of righteousness on a human plane characterized by works good in themselves, man remains utterly devoid of the righteousness which is the gift of God through Christ (Rom 5:17). There can be no real moral progress in the natural man.
IV. The Predicted Course of Gentile History.
The Bible presents a program for world history to which all events are related. One of the great lines of truth presented in the Bible is the course and end of Gentile nations as given to the prophet Daniel and further elucidated by the prophets and Christ Himself. Daniel presents the fact that the course of Gentile history will be characterized by four successive empires, which have spread their history over the pages of time. These four empires are the Babylonian, Media-Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires, an interpretation followed quite generally by Biblical scholars. In fact, so evident is the interpretation that those who resist the idea that Scripture can predict are driven to give a late date to Daniel. The four empires are presented in part by symbol, in part by direct statement and interpretation of the symbols. In Daniel 2, the four empires are seen together as one great image, with a head of gold representing the Babylonian empire, shoulders and chest of silver representing the Media-Persian empire, the lower body of brass, representing the Grecian empire, and the legs of iron and clay representing the Roman empire. Daniel lived to see the fall of the first empire and the introduction of the second. The first three empires are positively identified in Daniel itself (Dan 2:38; 5:28; 8:20, 21). The last is identified by its evident characteristics and division into two major divisions.
Throughout the revelation of the course of Gentile nations, a number of important features are evident.2 There is an evident deterioration in the glory of each kingdom. This is portrayed by the decrease in value of the metals representing the empires in the image of Daniel 2, gold being succeeded by silver, silver being succeeded by brass, brass being succeeded by iron, and iron in its last stages being mixed with clay. The second kingdom is specifically declared to be inferior (Dan 2:39). The symbols representing the four empires in Daniel 7 have the same trend of deterioration. Babylon in all its glory is never surpassed by succeeding empires.
Other features of Gentile history and prophecy are definitely destructive to the theory of moral progress. There is a major strain of obligatory worship throughout the prophesied course of Gentile history. Nebuchadnezzar sets up his golden image to which all must bow. Darius casts Daniel in the lion’s den for praying to his God. Alexander the Great though not enforcing unity of worship nevertheless deified himself. Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria within the bounds of the Grecian empire period, instituted the most abominable persecution of Israel. Rome while tolerant in some respects was the persecutor of Christians and Jews alike. All of this is having its fulfillment to some extent today, and the New Testament as well as the Old bears witness to the awful climax this trend of centralized worship will reach in the persecution under the predicted time of tribulation yet to come. catastrophic judgment will overtake the Gentile world cutting short its path of sin. The description given of the final downfall of the Gentile system as portrayed in the great image of Daniel 2 is only too clear. The “stone cut out without hands” strikes the image suddenly in the feet-the final stage of Gentile history-and all the image collapses at once and becomes like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors, carried away by the wind. The idea sometimes advanced of a general improvement of conditions through the influence of the Gospel is foreign to the account in Daniel 2.
The conclusions reached from a study of Daniel are confirmed by additional revelation given in Revelation 19:11-21. The kings of the earth and their armies who stand against the Lord are utterly destroyed by the return of Christ. Instead of returning to a converted world, Christ returns in judgment to put down sin. The prophecy of Enoch, incorporated in the inspired Word of God, makes this very evident: “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14, 15). Men may, if they wish, expound fine-spun theories of moral progress, but if they do so, they do so in contradiction to the express statements of the Word of God.
V. The Predicted Course of Christendom.
There are many passages which bear on the general subject of the course of this age. Of these two passages are of major importance, Matthew 13:1-52 and Revelation 2:1-3:22. In the first of these passages, under the theme of the course of the kingdom of heaven in its mystery form, seven figures are used to portray the course of the age. There is general agreement among expositors that Matthew 13 is a description of the course of Christendom. Without attempting a detailed exegesis, several facts are outstanding. The sower sowing the seed obviously does not have universal results in fruitfulness-only the seed which falls on good ground, and that free of thorns, bears fruit. The wheat while growing up and coming to final harvest is intermingled with the tares representing profession without reality. Both go on in their development to the end of the age. The parable of the mustard seed portrays a rapid expansion which has characterized Christendom, but it is an unsubstantial growth and the birds (representing evil) lodge in the branches. If leaven is to be interpreted with its normal significance of evil, the parable of the leaven in the meal pictures the permeation of the whole by worldliness, bad doctrine, and hypocrisy. The common interpretation that the leaven represents the Gospel of salvation spreading throughout the world ignores the fact that leaven in the Old Testament invariably represents evil, and that Christ Himself in all other passages uses it in the same evil sense (Matt 16:6-12; Mark 8:15). The mystery of the treasure hid in the field and of the merchantman buying pearls represents Christ in His redemption-selling all He had to buy the treasure. The common interpretation that these mysteries picture a Christian obtaining salvation by surrender of all he has does violence to the Scriptural teaching that an unsaved man has nothing with which to buy salvation, and salvation is not for sale in any event, being the gift of God through the price paid by Christ. The closing mystery, the drag-net of fishes, again portrays the dual lines of good and evil continuing to the end until judgment. The predicted course of the age is clearly then a line of dual development. The wheat never converts the tares; the good fish never change the character of the bad fish. There is no moral progress in the world as a whole.
The messages to the seven churches of Asia confirm the same doctrine. If these historical churches were also representative of the course of church history, a glance at the development of moral issues throughout the period shows at once that the last stage of the church is one of apostasy and decay which only the judgment of God can cure. There is certainly no hope here of a gradual change. The church does not begin in a corrupt stage and develop into a godly church, but rather in its growth and extension there is a corresponding deterioration.
VI. The Denial of Moral Progress Is Not Pessimism.
The Scriptures insofar as they deal with the world as a whole or with Christendom as such do not picture any moral progress in their development. This conclusion has not been accepted by some Christian thinkers, however, who have challenged the whole concept that the Scriptures do not prophesy or record moral progress. The chief advocates of the idea of moral progress have come from two sources.
Among older writers, those who held the postmillennial viewpoint of the return of Christ have supported the idea that the forces of Christendom would continue to increase until conditions approximating a reign of peace and righteousness would be reached, continuing for one thousand years, when Christ would come to claim the trophies of the victory of the Gospel. Postmillennialism, which had its origin in the teachings of Daniel Whitby (1638-1725), a unitarian and a controversial writer, suffered body blows by the course of world history which climaxed in the great wars of the first half of the twentieth century. Few theological leaders still embrace the old form of postmillennialism.
A new form of optimism has arisen, however, having its roots in the theory of organic evolution. Under this theory, the human race is developing and constantly rising to new heights, and moral progress becomes a phase of the onward march of human development. Accordingly, there are many voices raised in refutation of the so-called “pessimism” of premillennialists and some amillennialists who are more willing to face the hard facts of history and prophecy.
A typical reaction of evolutionary optimism is found in the opinion of Shirley Jackson Case: “At the present time this pessimistic view of the world is especially pernicious. In principle it strikes at the very heart of all democratic ideals. According to its fundamental teaching, God is regarded as an almighty potentate who has foreordained to failure all the efforts of men to establish improved forms of government. For one who holds consistently to this opinion it is nonsense to talk of human responsibility for the betterment of society. This type of teaching, which is being vigorously inculcated in many circles, readily plays into the hands of all enemies of social and political reform. By persuading men that the rapid deterioration and early destruction of the present world are determined upon by divine decree, the enemy of reform has a mighty instrument for strangling the citizen’s sense of civic duty.”3
George Ricker Berry goes so far as to accuse the literal method of interpretation (upon which premillennialism and its theory of moral progress is based) as attributing to Christ and to God the blasphemy of immorality: “The things attributed to God and Christ often seem immoral...this is principally a result of the insistence on the infallibility of the Old Testament, which logically requires a justification of immoral acts there attributed to God.”4
The question at issue is not a simple one nor is it a trivial one. Is the idea of moral progress essential to human responsibility? Is it essential to Christian hope?
The questions are dissolved by determining God’s purpose and God’s program for the Christian. If the task of the church is primarily social, the application of justice and brotherly love and inculcating of Christian standards of morality in the whole structure of society, then, indeed, the idea of moral progress is essential, and unless we achieve it not only man but God fails to achieve His purpose. The very structure of Biblical prophecy concerning the course of Gentile nations, the course of Christendom and the Pauline revelation of the church as the body of Christ, make it clear that God’s purpose is primarily individual, the formation of a new group taken out of the world as a whole and transformed by an inner regeneration. The Gospel appeal is delivered to individuals rather than nations, and social results are indirect rather than direct.
The denial of moral progress of the world as a whole is pessimistic only if it is proved that it is an unwarranted induction unsustained by the data of history and prophecy. An insurance mortality table is not pessimistic-it deals with the hard laws of average length of life, which are nevertheless true though they portend suffering and death. To predict that the world will continue in its wicked course is not pessimism but realism, and does not relieve the Christian of his duty to proclaim the truths of the Scripture nor of his responsibility in the larger sense to his fellow men. It is merely facing a hard fact to which history and prophecy give combined testimony.
VII. Regeneration the Only Basis for Moral Progress.
In denying the principle of moral progress for the world as a whole, however, it is well to observe that there is an area where there can be genuine moral progress. It is clear from the Word of God that individuals who believe in Christ in sincerity are given new spiritual life, are transformed by this regeneration, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are given the perfect righteousness of justification, and are baptized into the body of Christ, the true church, in which position they are assured eternal security and ultimate sanctification. Within the bounds of the true Church, composed of genuine believers, there is possible a genuine moral progress. This has two aspects. There is a growth in maturity in which the new life in Christ is manifested in the life and consciousness of the individual, and there is an immediate state of spiritual communion and adjustment with God possible at all times for the believer in Christ when completely yielded to the will of God and trusting in utter dependence upon Him. This latter state is described in the Scripture as being filled with the Spirit-enjoying the fullness of communion and blessing.
Not only is moral progress possible for the Christian, but his ultimate perfection is assured, based as it is upon the work of Christ. Accordingly, the ultimate church is described as being a “glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27). Moral progress for the Christian is a wonderful reality, a gradual unfolding of the mighty power of God to cleanse from sin and give the victory. Far from being a pessimistic approach to the reality of sin, it far exceeds the evanescent optimism which characterizes the unfounded hopes of those looking for moral progress in the world. The world that is unsaved is spiritually dead, and the state of death admits no progress. The world that is unsaved is under the wrath of God, positionally “in trespasses and sin,” from which there is no escape except through a work of salvation by grace. The whole attempt to find moral progress in the world as a whole is to ignore the distinction in God’s dealings with those who trust Him and those who do not, ignore the necessity of regeneration for moral improvement, ignore individual responsibility before God by substituting a social consciousness. The Scriptural view of moral progress is at once in keeping with history, with prophecy, with the nature of man, and with the purposes of God.
VIII. What Is Our Hope?
The intelligent Bible student who implicitly believes the content of revelation afforded in the Scriptures is faced with some hard facts. The realities of heaven and hell, the revelation of the wickedness of the human heart, the hopeless condition of men apart from Christ, the power of Satan, the inability of men in spiritual things all combine to furnish a mental setting involving many difficulties. While the responsibility to witness to the saving grace of Christ is clear enough, the Christian is warned that the age will progress in evil rather than righteousness, “that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim 4:1); that “in the last days perilous times shall come” in which men will go continually deeper into sin (2 Tim 3:1); that “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13). The gospel is “hid to them that are lost” (2 Cor 4:3), Satan himself blinding their eyes and hindering their faith. For the Christian, there is warning that “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet 5:8). In spite of faithful preaching of the word, “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim 4:3, 4). In the light of such teachings of the Scriptures, what is the Christian’s hope?
The Christian can hope for moral progress in his own heart. The provision of God is ample for this and is built upon a proper foundation of new life and a new nature. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit ministers to him, and he is taught the truths of the Scriptures undiscernible to the natural mind. The reality of fellowship with God, of communion in prayer, of association with God in doing the work of God, of intercession and sacrifice all have their important place. The Christian can hope for deliverance from sin, can enjoy assurance of salvation, can rest in eternal security of his salvation, can manifest the fruit of the Spirit in his inner as well as his outer life, and can bear witness to the Gospel with assurance of its power to save. For the Christian, all things work together for good, and the providence of God fully accounts for his environment and experiences. For the Christian there is the blessed hope of the return of Christ which is declared in the Scriptures to be at all times imminent. There is the prospect of complete transformation and conformity to the perfection of Christ, of eternal fellowship in heaven, of rewards for service, of reunion with the saints, of unending joy and satisfaction in the perfection of the grace, wisdom, power, and presence of God. For the Christian there is a real hope, based on the certain revelation of the Word of God, fully in keeping with God’s purposes and character, and undeterred by the changing scenes of human history. This is the hope of the Christian, and in comparison with this, the mirage of moral progress in the world as a whole disappears as darkness before the dawn.
* * * * *
“The youth that crosses our path is full of buoyant hope. Life in its long vistas is to him the garden of Eden. He exults even in animal existence. It is delightful to see his bounding movements, to hear his joyous shouts. They are perfectly befitting his period of life, and they attest the goodness of his bountiful Creator.... And yet if we follow this ardent youth through the day till the shadows of night close around him, do we find that his thoughts and feelings spontaneously revert to his Creator? Does he sometimes hasten to the place of retirement and prayer? Does he sometimes gladly leave the society of his companions that he may converse with his invisible Friend? Is this last duty of the day the most grateful? Does his heart sometimes seem like a flame of fire ascending to its original source? Nothing like this appears. The animal and the intellectual absorb the whole of his thoughts. His moral nature is a waste.
“Now here is the point where the Word of God comes in. It does not repress the animal instincts. It does not discourage the highest efforts of the intellect, but it rectifies the moral disorder. It rearranges the scattered pillars of the moral edifice. It brings the entire soul into harmony with itself. In short it establishes the character on an enduring basis. It begins with a foresight of the end. It builds a structure which the storms shall not overturn.
“The maxims current in society, those finer sentiments possessed by a few elevated natures, together with all the formal rules of the moralist, and even the sublime teachings of nature, fail on this point. They do not touch the source of the difficulty. They do not mold aright the primary elements of the character. This is the prerogative of God’s Truth.”-Bibliotheca Sacra, February, 1846.
This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.
1 Is the World Grong Better?, pp. 1,2.
2 For a fuller account of this subject by the writer, cf. report of the 1943 New York Congress on Prophecy, The Sure Word of Prophecy, pp. 187-199.
3 The Millennial Hope, pp. v, vi.
4 Premillennialism and Old Testament Prediction, p. 26.
Eschatological Problems IV: New Testament Words for the Lord’s ComingEschatological Problems IV: New Testament Words for the Lord’s Coming John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
Three important words are used in the New Testament to describe the coming of the Lord. Their transliteration has frequently been carried into the English until they are familiar to many Bible students who do not know the Greek: parousia (παρουσία), apokalupsis (ἀποκάλυψις), and epiphaneia (ἐπιφάνεια). In the nature of the important meaning of these words, a study of them and their usage is valuable in itself, but their careful consideration is made imperative by the claim often made that these terms have a technical meaning. It is commonly assumed that the term coming of the Lord, παρουσία, refers to the imminent return of Christ for His church, and that ἀποκάλυψις and ἐπιφάνεια refer to the return of Christ to establish His Kingdom on earth. It is the purpose of this brief and necessarily limited study of the subject to examine this thesis to see whether the Scriptures sustain it and at the same time to draw from the study some important facts regarding the Lord’s coming.
There is undoubtedly confusion on the interpretation of these terms among all types of interpreters. Professor Louis Berkhof, whose theological declarations few would presume to treat lightly, states without qualification that premillennialists refer to the imminent return of Christ under the term παρουσία and His second coming to the earth as the “revelation” (ἀποκάλυψις).1 While he is an ardent opponent of premillennialism and might be expected to seize upon aspects which are inconsistent with Scriptural revelation, it is a singular fact that he has retained this impression from premillennial writers. Without doubt, those who uphold premillennialism are guilty too often of seizing upon some phrase or word as justifying their doctrine rather than building upon broader and surer foundations.
There are a number of reasons underlying the confusion. Both the postmillennial and amillennial viewpoints of eschatology are at one in claiming that all three words refer to the coming of Christ before the final judgment. Only the premillennialist is in the position of attempting to establish a complicated sequence of events in which too often both the theologue and the theologian become lost in the detail. Most premillennialists also distinguish the coming of Christ for His church, which is imminent, and the coming of Christ to establish His millennial reign upon the earth, which follows well-defined events of unfulfilled prophecy and is not imminent. It is not surprising that some ambitious premillennialists should seize upon the three words describing the coming of Christ as constituting technical terms which in themselves establish these distinctions. It is the viewpoint of the writer that all three terms are used in a general and not a technical sense and that they are descriptive of both the rapture and the glorious return of Christ to the earth.
In examining the terms and their usage in the New Testament, the premillennial interpretation of the Scriptures is assumed as being correct, and it is further assumed that the coming of Christ for His church is separated by a period of years from His return with the church to establish His earthly kingdom. The problem is not one of supporting premillennialism nor of refuting other views, but it is rather a problem of interpretation within premillennialism.
The word most frequently used in the Scriptures to describe the return of Christ is παρουσία. According to Young’s Concordance, it occurs twenty-four times in the New Testament in a variety of connections. As its etymology indicates, the word means to be near or alongside, from παρά and εἰμί. It involves all that the English word presence connotes. It is found frequently in classic Greek writings, but not at all in the LXX, according to Thayer. Robertson, citing Deissmann, states, “The word parousia was the technical word ‘for the arrival or visit of the king or emperor’ and can be traced from the Ptolemaic period into the second century A.D. (Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, p. 368).”2 As used in the New Testament, it is obviously not a technical word, however. It has come to mean not simply presence but the act by which the presence is brought about, i.e., by the coming of the individual.
A brief survey of its usage in the New Testament includes its reference to the “coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus,” Paul’s friends (1 Cor 16:17), to the coming of Titus (2 Cor 7:6, 7), to the coming of Paul himself (Phil 1:26), to the coming of the lawless one (2 Thess 2:9), and to the coming of the day of God (2 Pet 3:12). All must concede that these instances are general and not technical.
It is alleged, however, that the word is used only of the rapture when it refers to Christ and not to His return to the earth before the millennium. That it is used frequently of the rapture of the church is clear in the following references (1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:1(?); James 5:7, 8; 2 Pet 3:4(?); 1 John 2:28). While it is not always evident in the context and room must be left for difference of opinion, some references are specific. When Paul states, “We that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep” (1 Thess 4:15 R.V.), he is obviously referring to the rapture of the church if the structure of doctrine which is here assumed is correct. Another clear instance is 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
The word is also used, however, of the return of Christ to the earth with the church in a number of passages (Matt 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Thess 3:13; 2 Thess 2:8; 2 Pet 1:16). While here again it is not necessary to agree on all the instances to establish the doctrine, it is clear from such a passage as 1 Thessalonians 3:13 that the word is used of the second coming of Christ. When Paul speaks of “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints” (italics mine), it seems a clear reference to the second coming. In 2 Thessalonians 2:8, the word is used to describe the coming of Christ to destroy the “lawless one,” a passage which must refer to the second coming as the event described is at the close of the great period of tribulation rather than before it begins.
The conclusion is inevitable that the same word is used in all these passages in a general and not specific sense. Its contribution to the doctrine is to emphasize the bodily presence of Christ-His coming as a Bridegroom for the bride. We “shall ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:17), instead of merely knowing by spiritual sight that He is ever with us, as in our present limited experience. The coming of the Lord is the hope of the saint, the terror of the lost, because He is coming and will be present to effect His will.
The second important word for the coming of Christ, ἀποκάλυψις, occurs frequently in the New Testament, eighteen times in noun form, twenty-six times in the verb form. It is obviously derived from ἀπό and καλύπτω, the latter meaning to cover, or to veil, and with the prefix, to uncover or to unveil, and hence to reveal. It is found frequently outside the Bible. The word has the distinction of being in the title of the last book of the Bible as indicated in Revelation 1:1. As the book of Revelation is interpreted by most premillennialists as dealing with events leading up to and following the revelation of Jesus Christ, i.e., the revelation at His second coming, it has been hastily concluded that the word is a technical term to express this doctrine.
A survey of those passages in which the word is used in relation to Christ demonstrates that in a number of instances it is used of the second coming of Christ (1 Pet 4:13; 2 Thess 1:7; Luke 17:30). The passage in 2 Thessalonians 1:7 is specific, “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” The picture is evidently a reference to the return of Christ to the earth with power. The content of the book of Revelation points, too, to the unveiling of His glory at His return to the earth.
In other passages, however, it is clearly used in reference to the coming of Christ in the air for His church (1 Cor 1:7; Col 3:4; 1 Pet 1:7, 13). The passage in 1 Corinthians 1:7 refers to the church waiting for the revelation of Christ: “waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The other passages speak of the glory and grace that will be ours in His revelation. His revelation to the church will precede His revelation to the world as a whole.
The doctrine that is involved in the use of the word in relation to Christ is an emphasis on the future manifestation of the glory of Christ. The world in the flesh has never seen Christ in His glory. The church will “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2) at the time of their gathering up from the earth at the rapture. The world will see Him in His glory when He returns in power with His saints and angels to rule over the earth.
The third word used of the return of Christ is ἐπιφάνεια from ἐπί and φανής. The root meaning of to bring forth into the light, cause to shine, to show is found from Homer down (Thayer). The addition of the preposition gives it an intensive meaning. It has a long and interesting usage both within and outside the Scriptures. In a noun form, it was assumed by the Seleucidae in claiming to be an incarnation of Zeus or Apollo.3 Unlike the concept of revelation as contained in ἀποκάλυψις, it has a positive and active sense of manifestation rather than the thought of merely taking away the veil. Its true idea is found in Acts 27:20, where it is used of stars appearing after being hid for days by the storm. Unlike the other terms discussed, it is also used of the first coming of Christ to the earth in His incarnation (Luke 1:79; 2 Tim 1:10). In the Luke passage, Christ is said to “give light,” and in the Timothy passage the purpose and grace of God are now manifested by the “appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
As used of the return of the Lord, two instances are found where it refers to the rapture of the church and two instances seem to refer to the second coming of Christ. While neither passage is final in itself, it would seem sound exegesis to classify 1 Timothy 6:14 and 2 Timothy 4:8 as referring to the rapture. In the first instance, Timothy is charged to keep Paul’s commandment “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the second reference, it is revealed that a crown of righteousness will be given Paul and “all them also that love his appearing.” Both references connect the coming of Christ with specific fulfillment of His purpose for the church and are therefore used in relation to the rapture.
In 2 Timothy 4:1 and Titus 2:13, however, there seems to be reference to His second coming. The Timothy passage refers to Christ as the one “who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom.” It is probably a reference to those physically alive and those who had been physically dead but raised from the dead in the resurrection.4 It is not capable of being pressed too far in its interpretation on this point. There is a sense in which Christ will judge the living and dead at the rapture of the church as well as at His second coming, but the Scriptures seem to contrast the rapture and the second coming in this particular. The judgment of the church is seen in heaven after His appearing to them, whereas His coming to the earth in itself is a judgment and extends to all living rather than to only part of them. The judgment subsequent to that which falls immediately seems to be included in the reference to “his kingdom.” The Titus passage apparently contrasts the two expectations of the Christ: the “blessed hope” of Christ’s return for them, and the “glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ,” which will change the “present world” of Titus 2:12 to millennial conditions. Here. again the proof is not absolute, and there is room for divergent opinion. It is clear, at least, that no technical meaning for the term used is established which would limit its use to either one or the other, i.e., the rapture or the second coming.
The emphasis given to the truth in the use of ἐπιφάνεια is to reassure us that Christ will actually appear, that He will be seen and will be manifested in a visible way. The same word is used of the manifestation of the lawless one (2 Thess 2:8) and of the manifestation or coming of the “great and notable day of the Lord” (Acts 2:20). In every instance there is the thought of revelation in the sense of positive manifestation and visible reality.
The present brief study into the use of these three words for the coming of Christ has had the objective of demonstrating that none of the three is used in a technical or proper sense as referring specifically to the rapture or the second coming of Christ. As indicated in the comments, it is not always clear to which they refer, but this very lack of clarity forbids any hasty conclusion that they always are used in the same sense. The revelation of Scripture is rather to the point that for the church, the blessed hope is the coming presence of Christ, the unveiling of His glory, and His manifestation as a visible reality. At His second coming, there will be a corresponding revelation. The presence of the Lord will transform the scenes of judgment upon sin into the peace and righteousness of the kingdom upon earth. Christ will be unveiled before the world in His glory, and He will be manifested in such a way that “every eye shall see him.” In the words of John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).
1 Systematic Theology, p. 711.
2 Word Pictures in the New Testament, IV, p. 191.
3 The Expositor’s Greek Testament, IV, p. 147.
4 The Expositor’s Greek Testament, IV, p. 176.
Eschatological Problems V: Is the Church the Israel of God?Eschatological Problems V: Is the Church the Israel of God? John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
One of the basic issues of eschatology is the question of the literal fulfillment of the prophetic Word. Upon this question hang such vital issues as heaven and hell, the resurrection from the dead, the judgment of saints and the unsaved, and all the other important truths that speak of life and glory after death. It must be clear even to an unbeliever that Christianity stands or falls upon the question of the reality of the hope that is in us. The meaning of the present life of the Christian is undermined and destroyed if there is no literal fulfillment of the prophecies of the Scriptures.
In the field of eschatology, in so far as it may be limited to future events as distinguished from fulfilled prophecy, there are few questions which are more incisive than the question of the fulfillment of prophecies relating to Israel. The program of future events is determined largely by prophecies given to Israel. While the basic doctrines of heaven, hell, resurrection, and judgment are not disturbed as to their fact by various interpretations of Israel’s prophecies, the resulting order of future events in the prophetic Word as well as the program for the present age is vitally altered by the principles of interpretation adopted.
The question raised in this article is not one of small proportions, nor is it merely a technical study which little affects the structure of doctrine. It is rather one of a numher of decisive questions which too often is overlooked entirely or its conclusions lightly assumed without proof. The issue, in brief, is this: Has the New Testament body of believers, known as the church, supplanted Israel, thereby inheriting her promises, fulfilling her prophecies, and displacing Israel forever as a chosen people? In other words, Is the church the Israel of God, the inheritors of Israel’s spiritual blessings?
There are many other questions which range alongside the main issue. Is there a future for Israel as a nation? Will Israel be regathered from their present world-wide dispersion? Will the promise of the land given to Abraham’s seed be fulfilled? Will the promise to David regarding his everlasting throne and everlasting kingdom and everlasting seed upon the throne be fulfilled? Will the glowing promises given to the prophets regarding a coming age of peace and righteousness in which all will know the Lord from the least to the greatest be fulfilled? Will the promised Messiah reign on the earth, ruling with a rod of iron and displaying perfect justice and mercy? Is there a literal millennium during which Satan will not deceive the nations and Christ will reign on earth?
There have been at least four types of answers to these questions. A spiritual interpretation of prophecy has been advanced which brushes aside as impossible any literal interpretation of the prophetic Word. This has declared the Scriptures too vague to support any but the broadest notions about the future. Another attempt to set up a system of interpretation known as postmillennialism, begun in the eighteenth century, holds that the present age shall witness an ever-increasing triumph and spread of the Gospel until the promises of a glorious reign of Christ on earth shall be realized, Israel finding its promises answered in the church. Under this scheme of interpretation, the promises of Israel and the church are merged into one common heritage, and Israel’s promises are fulfilled in an earthly millennium.
Two ancient theories have survived and are today being actively promulgated. The view known as amillennialism, declares Israel’s promises forfeited for the most part or transferred to the church of the New Testament. Such promises as require fulfillment are declared fulfilled either in the present age on earth or in the future in heaven. In brief, there is no millennium, no glorious reign of Christ on earth, no future for Israel as a nation, no regathering for Israel except as they are gathered into the church. For the most part Israel’s promises are nullified.
Amillennialism is clearly an ancient theory as to its principal points of interpretation. It was the dominant eschatological viewpoint of the Roman Catholic Church, though occasionally a Catholic scholar has looked with some tolerance on other viewpoints. In the Reformation, eschatology was not a principal point of contention except for the doctrine of purgatory and similar Catholic inventions. Amillennialism was early incorporated into Reformed doctrine not as the result of weighty consideration but rather by default. Calvin, for instance, considered amillennialism the only possible theory because he thought the millennial reign of Christ a limitation of the eternal bliss of the saints-refuted in its entirety, in his opinion, by the eternity of both Christ and the saints. He brushes aside millenarianism as a “fiction...too puerile to require or deserve refutation.”1 It was not until the main issues of the Reformation were settled and the Protestant church established that any real progress could be made in Biblical eschatology.
The fourth type of interpretation, known as premillenarianism, holds that the Scriptures demand a future fulfillment of the prophecies relating to Israel, that Israel will be restored as a nation and regathered to the land of Palestine, that the promises to Abraham regarding the possession of the land by his seed will be fulfilled by Israel, that the promise to David regarding his throne will be fulfilled by the return of Christ to reign on the earth, that the prophetic foreview of a glorious and righteous kingdom on earth will be fulfilled through the return and reign of Christ, and that there will be a literal millennium on earth before the eternal state.
It has been too often assumed that the Scriptures clearly teach that the church has supplanted Israel, inheriting Israel’s promises, and putting aside forever any hope of their restoration as a nation. It has been disturbing to this view, to say the least, to witness the continuance of Israel as a distinct race after almost nineteen hundred years of dispersion among other races-certainly a miracle of no parallel, and a forceful argument that Israel has a destiny. It is also patent that those who attempt to divert Israel’s promises to the church are at odds among themselves as to the best means of transferring these promises. Among the amillennialists-who are the most persistent enemy of the fulfillment of Israel’s promises by Israel-there is serious disagreement, some holding Israel’s promises are all fulfilled in this age, others that they are fulfilled in heaven, still others who wish to combine the two elements, conveniently pushing along to future fulfillment those prophecies which cannot be forced into the mold of present events. But all amillennialists in the nature of the case must assume that there is clear warrant in the Scriptures for believing that promises specifically given to Israel are going to be fulfilled by a church largely composed of Gentiles. The issue before us is whether there is a Scriptural basis for this, whether, indeed, God has cast aside Israel as a nation forever, and has embraced the church instead, deeding to them all His promises to Israel.
The controversy is settled by the answer to the question of whether the church in its entirety is ever designated Israel in Scripture. If the church is called Israel, it would be a good reason for transferring the promises belonging to Israel along with the name. If, however, only those who are Israel naturally, in the flesh, are called Israel, there is no warrant to transfer the promises even if some of Israel are in the church. In attempting to determine the facts, the inquiry will follow four lines: (1) the continued contrast of natural Israel and Gentiles; (2) the continued contrast of natural Israel and the church; (3) the distinction between spiritual Israel (the Israel of God) and Gentile Christians; (4) the question whether Israel is expressly disinherited. Reserved for discussion in later articles are contributary factors to the argument such as the question of whether the church actually fulfills the promises given to Israel and whether Israel’s promises are conditional or unconditional.
I. Israel and Gentiles Contrasted.
It should be obvious to anyone making even a casual study of the subject that the terms Israel and Gentiles continue to be used after the institution of the church at Pentecost and that the terms are mutually exclusive. Both Gentiles and Israelites continued to exist after the church began, and while some of each came into the church, the Gentiles and Israelites continued as such. Israel as a nation is addressed again and again after the institution of the church (Acts 3:12; 4:8, 10; 5:21, 31, 35; 21:28, etc.). A notable instance is Paul’s prayer for Israel that they might be saved (Rom 10:1)-obviously a reference to Israel outside the church.
The term Jew also continues in the New Testament after the beginning of the church. In 1 Corinthians 10:32 it is specifically mentioned: “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.” Here is a clear threefold division of humanity into (1) Jews, (2) Gentiles, (3) church of God.
While Israelites and Gentiles who became Christians and were joined to the church have a new destiny quite apart from the natural stock from which they come, the Scriptures also reveal a future for Israel and Gentiles who reject Christ. In respect to the Gentiles, suffice it to say that their course continues until the return of Christ when they will be judged. God’s program for the Gentiles is itself a major theme of prophecy. Significant to our present study, however, is the fact that Israel is also assured a future program. This is quite apart from the place of Israel in the church.
The Apostle Paul calls attention to Israel’s unique place and privilege constantly in his epistles. He declares that their peculiar promises include the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, the promises, the fathers, and the privilege of being the people of whom Christ should come (Rom 9:4, 5). Now, it is obvious that Paul is referring to Israel in unbelief when he refers to those who have these privileges, for he declares: “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are the Israelites...” (Rom 9:3, 4). He declares that they even in unbelief “are Israelites,” and relates to them all the peculiar privileges of Israel. It is evident that the institution of the church did not rob Israel in the flesh of its peculiar place of privilege before God.
This declaration is given added weight by the fact that in Ephesians 2:12, Gentiles are expressly declared to have been excluded from the promises given to Israel: “That at that time ye [Gentiles] were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” The passage goes on to state their privilege as Christians in the church. It is noteworthy that Paul does not say that the Gentiles came into these same Israelitish promises when they were converted; rather he pictures a work of God bringing Jew and Gentile into a new order entirely-“one new man” (Eph 2:15). It may be concluded without further argument that the distinction between natural Israel and Gentiles is continued after the institution of the church-Israel is still a genuine Israel, and the Gentiles continue to fulfill their part. While this fact of the Scriptures is more or less admitted even by the amillennialist, the significance is not adequately realized. The continuance of Israel and Gentiles as such is a strong argument against either one being dispossessed of their own place. Israel is not reduced to the bankruptcy of the Gentiles-to become “strangers from the covenants of promise” (Eph 2:12), and the distinction between the two groups is maintained on the same sharp lines as before the church was instituted. then goes on to compare their fall with their fulness: “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” (Rom 11:12). In other words, if the blindness which has fallen upon Israel nationally during this present age was the occasion for great blessing for the Gentiles, the “fulness” of Israel will bring a richness of blessing which will be “much more.” Now, obviously, there can be no fulness of Israel if they have no future. Their fulness will come when the present condition of blindness is lifted.
He takes occasion to warn the Gentiles of their present privilege on the basis of this argument. In Romans 11:15, he refers again to the future blessing of Israel: “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” It is true that he speaks of Israel being broken off that the Gentiles might be grafted in (Rom 11:17-24), but he also speaks of the future ingrafting of Israel back into “their own olive tree” (Rom 11:24). This is contingent upon their “blindness” being lifted, and it is declared that the blindness will continue “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom 11:25). The use of the word until signifies not only that the period of Gentile blessing will end, but it also indicates that a future period of Israel’s ingrafting will follow. Samuel H. Wilkinson has brought this out: “If and when an ‘until’ sets a time-limit to any group of conditions, it makes the said group of conditions to be temporary not everlasting, to be preliminary not final. And the change, whatever it be, which is to occur when the time-limit is reached and passed, must surely refer to the same object as that which was submitted to the temporary conditions. With these two reasonable considerations in view, it will be found that all the time-limits described in the New Testament leave room for the full scope of Old Testament prophecy to become in due time realized.”2 promises. An examination of this passage, however, will reveal that the real contrast is not between those who inherit Abraham’s promises and those who do not. It is rather that the promises to Abraham are classified as belonging either to Israel according to the flesh or Israel which enters into the spiritual promises by faith-which are given also to Gentile believers (Gal 3:6-9, 14). It is not, therefore, a contrast between those who are excluded and those who are included, but rather a contrast between those who inherit only the national promises and those who inherit the spiritual promises. The line of national promises is narrowed to Isaac and his seed (Rom 9:7), and the line of spiritual promises is narrowed to those who believe. In the present age, Israel as a nation is blinded, which blindness will be lifted. As individuals, Israelites who believe belong to the election of grace (Rom 11:5-10). Both Israelites in the flesh (unbelievers) and Israelites who believe are genuine Israelites. They are sharply distinguished as to present blessings. Unbelieving Israelites are lost and blinded, while believing Israelites come into all the present blessings of the church. The distinction is always on the ground of whether or not they believe in Christ, not on whether they are true Israelites.
The second principal passage is found in Galatians 6:15, 16, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” It has been alleged on the basis of this passage that the church as such is specifically called the “Israel of God.” To this is opposed the fact that everywhere else in the Scriptures the term Israel is applied only to those who are the natural seed of Abraham and Isaac, never to Gentiles. If it can be sustained that in this passage the church is called Israel, it would, of course, be an argument for the identification of the church with Israel in the present age-though by no means conclusive, in the face of the constant use of the term Israel in the Scriptures in reference to unbelieving Jews. Am examination of Galatians 5:15, 16, however, instead of proving any such identification is rather a specific instance where Jewish believers are distinguished from Gentile believers, and this by the very term Israel of God.
In Galatians 5:15 the contrast is brought out between “circumcision” and “uncircumcision,” i.e., between Jew and Gentile. This contrast is declared to avail not in Christ Jesus, but that rather the issue is a new creation when either Jew or Gentile becomes a believer. God’s blessing is declared on those who walk according to this rule (among the Galatians who were Gentiles), and also “upon the Israel of God.” The use of καὶ is difficult to explain apart from the intention of the writer to set off the “Israel of God” from those considered in the first half of the verse. It is rather another indication that Gentile and Jewish believers are on the same level as καὶ is used principally to link coordinate parts of a sentence. In any case, the argument of those who would destroy Israel’s national hope based upon this verse is not founded in sound exegesis. The passage does not state explicitly, even if strained to accommodate their view, that the “Israel of God” and the “new creation” are identical. It is safe to say that, if these key passages which are claimed as special proof of the identification of Israel and the church do not teach this doctrine, then there is no passage in the New Testament in which the term Israel is used as synonymous with the church. In every case, the term is used either of the nation Israel as such, still in unbelief, or of that believing remnant which is incorporated into the church without destroying the national promises to Israel in the least.
IV. Is the Nation Israel Disinherited?
One of the assertions which is made confidently by those opposed to a future for Israel as a nation, is that Israel through their rejection of Christ have been rejected by God as a nation. Now it is clear from both Scripture and history that Israel as a race is scattered throughout the world up to this hour, preserved in their identity but without a national home. The question is whether they will ever be restored as a chosen nation and whether the promises given to them as a nation will be fulfilled. It is not the purpose of this treatment to examine the great bulk of evidence-this being reserved for future articles. It is asserted, however, that Israel’s promises are transferred to the church and that no spiritual Israel will ever exist apart from the present order found in the church. It is claimed that Israel is expressly disinherited.
In refutation of this theory, a host of Scriptures can be found having more or less bearing on the problem. It has already been demonstrated, at least in part, that there is a New Testament basis for believing Israel has a future, and if so, then Israel is not disinherited. Two principal passages, however, will suffice to deal with the crux of the problem.
In Matthew 21:43, Christ said, after the parable of the householder, “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” This seems, at first glance, to be a categorical disinheriting of Israel. A further examination of the passage will bring up several important questions, however. What did Christ refer to by “you,” the nation (present and future) of Israel or the immediate generation and individuals to whom He was speaking? What “nation” is going to receive the “kingdom of God”? What does He mean by the “kingdom of God” anyway?
These questions are not easily answered in a few words, but the clue will be found in the answer to these questions. It will be noted, first, that there is used in this passage the “kingdom of God” in contrast to the usual expression for Matthew, “kingdom of heaven.” The “kingdom of God” is apparently the sphere of genuine faith in God and the sphere of genuine rule. It is never used in the Scriptures to include unbelievers whether in Matthew or other New Testament books. On the other hand, the “kingdom of heaven” seems to be concerned with the outward display of God’s government and appearance rather than reality. The wheat and the tares of Matthew thirteen are both in the kingdom of heaven-the wheat representing genuine believers, the tares representing those who are merely professing believers. The taking of the kingdom of God from the Jews was, then, a declaration that they, that is, the scribes and Pharisees represented in the parable as the wicked husbandman, would never enter the kingdom of God, i.e., would never be saved. It is obvious that this was true ipso facto, but on the other hand it is also clear that some Jews did enter the kingdom of God, and that the nation of Israel as such never did enter the kingdom of God even in the Old Testament. It had always been limited to those who were genuine believers in the true God. Further, the “kingdom of God” is not to be identified with the millennial kingdom prophesied for Israel and the Gentile nations, though the millennial kingdom is an important manifestation and phase of the kingdom of God.
The declaration of Christ in this passage resolves itself into a declaration that the unbelieving scribes and Pharisees would never be saved because of their rejection of the “son” of the “householder,” and that others would take their place. Gaebelein suggests that the “nation” which will take their place will be other Israelites: “The nation to whom the Lord promises the Kingdom is not the Church. The Church is called the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Habitation of God by the Spirit, the Lamb’s Wife, but never a nation. The nation is Israel still, but that believing remnant of the nation, living when the Lord comes.”3
The second major passage bearing on this problem is Romans 11:1-32. As previously pointed out, this chapter deals with the question whether God has cast off Israel. As indicated in previous discussion, Paul’s answer, and God’s answer, is that Israel has not been cast off. They have a present election of grace, a future promise of re-ingrafting after their blindness is lifted. This process is declared to result in “all Israel” being saved (Rom 11:26). The “all Israel” is in contrast to the present remnant of Israel being saved in the church. Instead of individual salvation, Israel once again will come into national blessing before God. On the basis of this brief study of this major passage, it may be concluded that its proper interpretation bears out the same thought as found in Matthew. There is not a single passage in the New Testament rightly interpreted in the light of its context and principal terms that either indirectly or directly teaches that Israel is finally disinherited.
On the basis of the contrasts in Scripture between Israel and Gentiles, and between Christian Israelites and Christian Gentiles, and the contrast between unbelieving Israel and the church, it has been demonstrated that there is no basis in Scripture for the theory that the church and Israel are identical. The assertion that Israel is expressly disinherited in favor of the church has also been found to be without proper ground in Scripture. A further study of the factors bearing on this question, to be considered in later articles, will only confirm this preliminary investigation.
1 Institutes of the Christian Religion (Seventh Edition; Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1936), Vol. II, pp. 250-251.
2 The Israel Promises and Their Fulfillment (London: John Bale, Sons & Danielsson, Ltd., 1936), p. 78.
3 A. C. Gaebelein, The Gospel of Matthew (New York: Our Hope, 1910), Vol. II, p. 138.
Eschatological Problems VI: The Fulfillment Of The Abrahamic CovenantEschatological Problems VI: The Fulfillment Of The Abrahamic Covenant John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
One of the outstanding covenants of the Scriptures is the covenant of God with Abraham. Its provisions not only condition the immediate life and blessing of Abraham himself but they constitute the key to the subsequent history of Israel and God’s purpose in relation to the saints. From the standpoint of eschatology, the Abrahamic covenant is important for many reasons, but it is crucial in its evidence regarding God’s purpose for Israel. It is the purpose of the present article to inquire particularly into the contribution of this covenant in relation to unfulfilled prophecy. To this end, a brief consideration must be given to such portions of the covenant as have already been fulfilled.
Analysis of the Covenant
The provisions of the Abrahamic covenant are outlined in their main factors in Genesis 12:2, 3, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” As many writers have indicated, this covenant includes seven provisions: (1) the promise of a great nation through Abraham; (2) personal blessing on Abraham; (3) the name of Abraham shall be great; (4) Abraham is to be a blessing to others; (5) blessing will rest on those blessing Abraham; (6) a curse will rest on those who curse Abraham; (7) all nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham.
Four things stand out in the original covenant: (1) the national promises given to Israel; (2) the personal promises given to Abraham; (3) the principle of blessing or cursing upon nations other than Israel based on their attitude toward Abraham and his seed; (4) the promise of universal blessing through Abraham, fulfilled through Christ.
The Abrahamic covenant was subject to enlargement and increased detail in subsequent revelations of Scripture. In Genesis 13:14-17, Abraham is promised title to “all the land which thou seest,” “forever,” and the promise concerning his seed is amplified in that he is promised seed comparable in number to the dust of the earth. In Genesis 15:1-7, the line of the seed is designated as through Abraham rather than Eliezer, his servant, and the promise of the land is reiterated. In Genesis 17:1-18, further important provisions are made: (1) The covenant is solemnly confirmed. (2) Abram is given the name Abraham as a symbol of the promise that he will be the father of many nations, i.e., nations other than the nation which will inherit the land. (3) Kings are promised to the seed of Abraham. (4) “All the land of Canaan” is given to the seed of Abraham for “an everlasting possession.” (5) A personal and special relationship is set up between God and the seed of Abraham in which God promises to “be their God.”
The Abrahamic covenant is not only inclusive of many of the main features of God’s program for the ages, but it is the ground for many future covenants. The covenant in respect to the land is enlarged in the Palestinian covenant (Deut 28:1-30:20 ) to which there are many collateral references and doctrines. The covenant in respect to the future kings to issue from Abraham is given a specific turn in the promises to David in the Davidic covenant, concerning his kingdom and seed. The covenant in respect to the nation Israel as a whole is the subject of many prophecies of Scripture of which a notable illustration is Jeremiah 31:36, 37. The covenant in respect to spiritual blessings on the seed of Abraham and “all the families of the earth” is the theme of the prophets who picture not only blessing on the Gentiles through Christ but the regathering and blessing upon the nation Israel (cf. Jer 31:31-37). The ground of all these covenants is the Abrahamic, and for this reason the principles illustrated in its fulfillment and the content of its revelation constitute one of the important determining factors of all prophecy. It is safe to say that all systems of prophetic interpretation especially as regarding unfulfilled prophecy are determined in their main features by their attitude toward the Abrahamic covenant.
Historic Fulfillment of the Covenant
Before turning to unfulfilled aspects of the Abrahamic covenant, it is necessary to turn briefly to the lines of fulfillment determined by history. After all, the best answer to the problem of prophetic interpretation is God’s own answer in fulfilling prophecies. It has been often noted that God’s method is literal fulfillment. The seemingly impossible and unnatural events prophesied have too often been fulfilled exactly as the Word of God had indicated, to the confusion of sceptics and minimizers of revelation. The modern attempt to date books of prophetic content after the events which they prophesy is too obviously an admission of the force of fulfilled prophecy in determining the principles by which unfulfilled prophecy should be interpreted.
The Abrahamic covenant has been obviously fulfilled in part. A great nation, Israel, has come into being and has been wonderfully preserved through centuries of dispersion. Other nations have sprung from Abraham in addition to Israel. Great personal blessing attended Abraham as the Scriptures clearly indicate. The name of Abraham is revered by Jew, Christian, and Arab. As Dr. Jamieson has stated: “Although not renowned in science or arts, in civil or military affairs, Abram has been distinguished by higher honours and a more extensive fame than any mere man ever was,—revered by the Jews as the founder of their nation, looked up to by the Christians as ‘the father of the faithful,’ honoured by the Arabians as their progenitor; and whatever of true religion is to be found in Islamism is traceable to the precepts and example of Abraham.”1 other words, God has declared an unalterable purpose to accomplish certain ends. There may be delays, postponements, chastisements, and blessings apart from these promises, but the ultimate purpose of God will be fulfilled only by the accomplishment of the promises. Dr. C. Fred Lincoln has written this concise summary: “All of Israel’s covenants are called eternal except the Mosaic covenant which is declared to be temporal, i.e., it was to continue only until the coming of the Promised Seed. For this detail see as follows: (1) The Abrahamic Covenant is called ‘eternal’ in Genesis 17:7, 13, 19; 1 Chronicles 16:17; Psalm 105:10; (2) The Palestinian Covenant is called ‘eternal’ in Ezekiel 16:60; (3) The Davidic Covenant is called ‘eternal’ in 2 Samuel 23:5; Isaiah 55:3; and Ezekiel 37:25; and (4) The New Covenant is called ‘eternal’ in Isaiah 24:5; 61:8 ; Jeremiah 32:40; 50:5 and Hebrews 13:20.”2
The fact that the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional is not only based upon the express statement that it is eternal, but the language and character of the circumstances support this conclusion. The original promises were given to Abraham without any conditions whatever. The covenant was confirmed by subsequent reiteration and enlargement. It was ratified by an oath of God (Gen 15:7-21), solemnized by the recognized method of confirming an oath (cf. Gen 15:18). It was given a visible symbol in the rite of circumcision (Gen 17:9-14). It was confirmed by the birth of Isaac, by the reiterated promises given to Isaac (Gen 17:19) and to Jacob (Gen 28:12, 13). Its unalterable character is revealed in that portions of the covenant have been fulfilled through the centuries in disregard of human unworthiness. In the apostasy of Jeremiah’s day, he was nevertheless given the message to Israel, “Thus saith Jehovah, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which stirreth up the sea, so that the waves thereof roar; Jehovah of hosts is his name: If these ordinances depart from before me, saith Jehovah, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever. Thus saith Jehovah: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith Jehovah” (Jer 31:35-37).
If God had intended to convey the impression that the covenant was eternal and unalterable, He could not have used more express and specific language. It is stated that His promises stand in spite of Israel’s sins, and that they are unaltered by them. His promise is declared to be immutable: “Wherein God, being minded to show more abundantly unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of his counsel, interposed with an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us” (Heb 6:17, 18; cf. 6:13-16 ).
The Fulfillment of the Promises
The fulfillment of the promises hinges upon two important considerations: (1) Israel’s continuance as a nation; (2) Israel’s possession of the land. It is admitted by most conservative expositors of the Scriptures, regardless of eschatological viewpoint, that Israel became a great nation, that God blessed Abraham and made his name great, that those who have befriended Israel have been blessed and those who have persecuted Israel have been cursed. It is also conceded that through Abraham all the families of the earth have been blessed in the redemption provided in Christ. Some have taken the position, however, that Israel’s promises are now forfeited because of their sin and unbelief and that the spiritual aspects of the Abrahamic covenant are fulfilled in the church.
The evidence against the church’s appropriation of promises given to Israel has already been considered in a previous article. The church does not have right or title to promises given expressly to Israel. It may be conceded that some of the promises given to Abraham are intended to extend to the church. The individuals in the church enter into the promises of blessing given to those in Christ and to this extent are the spiritual children of Abraham. This is expressly stated in Scripture: “Know therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:7). The basis for this statement in Galatians, however, is not on any promise given to Israel—and this is very significant. The passage continues: “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed. So then they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham” (Gal 3:7-9). In other words, the portion of the covenant specifically given to Israel is not transferred to the church. Only the portion of the covenant dealing with universal blessing such as extended beyond Israel is applicable to the church.
If the church does not fulfill the covenant in regard to Israel, it must follow that God will fulfill it for Israel. This is borne out by the very nature of the promises. The promise which God gave to Abraham and his seed regarding title to the land is very specific. It is not contained in the original statement of the Abrahamic covenant, but this is all the more significant, for the promises about the land are given as a confirmation of the promises concerning the seed of Abraham as a great nation.
It has already been shown that the promises concerning the land, as well as the other promises, are unconditional. They are not to be forfeited by disobedience. A problem arises at this point, however. Do the provisions of the Palestinian covenant (Deut 28:1-30:20 ) abrogate the covenant of God with Abraham? Clearly they do not both by the nature of the covenant and by the precedence of the Abrahamic covenant. The Palestinian covenant did not deal with the right to title of the land but the right to enjoyment of it by any generation. They were solemnly warned that disobedience would result in dispersions fact of history, but it is clear that this dispersion is not the final dealing of God in respect to the land. It is made very clear that the dispersion is a temporary dealing of God. The dispersions of Israel and God’s disciplinary judgments in no wise alter the unconditional title to the land which is given to Abraham’s seed.
The title given to Abraham’s seed is included in the solemn passage in which God confirms His promises by an oath (Gen 15:8-21). The boundaries of the land are here given specific description: “In that day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenite, and the Kenizzite, and the Kadmonite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Rephaim, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Girgashite, and the Jebusite” (Gen 15:18-21).
The description of the land by no means is indefinite. By no stretching of boundaries or spiritual interpretation can these boundaries mean other than a tremendous stretch of territory which Israel has never possessed, even in the glorious days of Solomon. Certainly such a specific promise is not fulfilled by the Christian church and could be fulfilled by Israel only. The honest expositor of Scripture is faced with the problem of either admitting that this promise is subject to future fulfillment or that it will never be fulfilled. If it is not fulfilled, it is an attack upon the faithfulness of God to His promises. If it is fulfilled in the future, it involves the continuance of the nation Israel. This is, in fact, its chief significance. The promise of the land is given as a confirmation of Israel’s continuance as a nation rather than vice versa.
The promises of God do not need to be sustained, but God has mercifully given many other indications to confirm His purposes for Israel. The continuance of Israel as a nation is given specific attention in Scripture. Jeremiah 31:31-37, previously mentioned, is a powerful statement of this. God has declared the continuance of the sun and the moon as symbols of the continuance of Israel. As long as the sun continues to shine in the day and the moon and the stars in the night Israel will continue as a nation. The earth is not left without a witness on this important point at any moment. While God gave only the rainbow which appears occasionally as a sign of His promise not to bring another universal flood, He chose the sun, moon, and stars as His continuous reminder of His faithfulness to His promises to Israel as a nation. Lest anyone should consider these signs as too temporary, He has added that the new heavens and the new earth shall continue the testimony of His perpetuation of Israel (Isa 66:22). When the present order of the heavens is interrupted, God has already announced that the eternal order will continue it.
All the prophecies in Scripture, and they are abundant, dealing with Israel’s future are evidence in themselves for Israel’s preservation as a nation. Some are particularly vital, however. Among them is the prophecy of Israel’s future regathering. This fact is stated so often and so explicitly and so unconditionally that it is difficult to understand why it has been overlooked (Deut 30:3; Isa 11:11, 12; 27:12, 13 ; 35:10 ; 49:8-16 ; Jer 23:1-8; 30:8-11 ; 31:8-14 ; etc.). It is true that a partial return to the land was realized in the return of the pilgrims of Ezra and Nehemiah, but the language of the prophets in no wise is fulfilled by this return. In Isaiah and Jeremiah the return of Israel is connected with the glorious and visible kingdom of Christ on earth and associated with the time of the fulfillment of the New Covenant with Israel. It is declared to be a time of triumph of Israel over all her persecutors, and it is revealed to be a time when the whole world will give honor to Israel. Such has never been the case, and if Scripture is to be fulfilled, Israel’s regathering is yet future.
A remarkable fact of contemporary history is found in the return of thousands of Israelites to Palestine since the first world war. While this is not the fulfillment of the promise, it certainly is an omen of God’s continued regard for His covenants. If Israel is yet to return to Palestine and occupy the land given to them in the Abrahamic covenant, it is also a proof for their continuance as a nation.
The principles discovered in this brief examination of the Abrahamic covenant in its past and future fulfillment may be summed in their evidence for a future for Israel as a nation, for a future fulfillment of their possession of the land, and of their future enjoyment of the fullness of blessing which God promised Abraham’s seed. Other features of Israel’s hope will be considered in later articles.
1 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments (Glasgow: William Collins, Sons, & Company, 1868), I,129.
2 The Covenants (unpublished dissertation presented to the Dallas Theological Seminary Faculty, 1942), p. 181.
Eschatological Problems VII: The Fulfillment of the Davidic CovenantEschatological Problems VII: The Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
The importance of the promise of God to David regarding his posterity and his throne has been frequently ignored in treatments of the field of eschatology. Those who deny the inspiration of the Scriptures are at no pains to weigh its significance. Those who are more serious in their attempts to ascertain the exact meaning of Scripture have too often been satisfied with the simple solution that these promises are fulfilled in Christ. It is the thesis of this discussion that the Davidic covenant deserves an important place in determining the purposes of God and that its exegesis confirms the doctrine of a future reign of Christ on earth.
Analysis of the Covenant
David had the godly ambition to build a temple to Jehovah. The incongruity of allowing the ark of God to remain in a temporary tent-like tabernacle while he himself lived in the luxury of a house of cedar seemed to call for the erection of a suitable permanent building to be the center of worship. To Nathan, the prophet, was revealed that God intended David to build something more enduring than any material edifice. David’s “house” was to be his posterity and through them his throne and his kingdom were to continue forever. The main features of the covenant are included in the following passage: “When thy days are fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, that shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son: if he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men; but my loving kindness shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thy house and thy kingdom shall be made sure for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever” (2 Sam 7:12-16).
The provisions of the Davidic covenant include, then, the following items: (1) David is to have a child, yet to be born, who shall succeed him and establish his kingdom. (2) This son (Solomon) shall build the temple instead of David. (3) The throne of his kingdom shall be established forever. (4) The throne will not be taken away from him (Solomon) even though his sins justify chastisement. (5) David’s house, throne, and kingdom shall be established forever.
To Solomon, then, was promised a throne which would be established forever. To David was promised a posterity, a throne, and a kingdom established forever. The promise is clear that the throne passed on through Solomon to David’s posterity was never to be abolished. It is not clear whether the posterity of David should be through the line of Solomon. It will be shown later that this fine point in the prophecy was occasioned by the cutting off of the posterity of Solomon as far as the throne is concerned.
What do the major terms of the covenant mean? By David’s “house” it can hardly be doubted that reference is made to David’s posterity, his physical descendants. It is assured that they will never be slain in toto, nor displaced by another family entirely. The line of David will always be the royal line. By the term “throne” it is clear that no reference is made to a material throne, but rather to the dignity and power which was sovereign and supreme in David as king. The right to rule always belonged to David’s seed. By the term “kingdom” there is reference to David’s political kingdom over Israel. This kingdom was spiritual only in the sense that it was given to David by the anointing of God’s prophet. The kingdom was by its nature earthly, political, and limited to Israel. By the expression “for ever,” it is signified that the Davidic authority and Davidic kingdom or rule over Israel shall never be taken from David’s posterity. The right to rule will never be transferred to another family, and its arrangement is designed for eternal perpetuity. Whatever its changing form, temporary interruptions, or chastisements, the line of David will always have the right to rule over Israel and will, in fact, exercise this privilege. This then, in brief, is the covenant of God with David.
The covenant has many confirmations in the Old Testament. Specifically, Psalm 89 speaks repeatedly on this theme. “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant: Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations…. My loving-kindness will I keep for him for evermore; And my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure for ever, And his throne as the days of heaven. If his children forsake my law, And walk not in mine ordinances; If they break my statutes, And keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, And their iniquity with stripes. But my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, Nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, Nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness: I will not lie unto David: His seed shall endure for ever, And his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as the faithful witness in the sky” (Ps 89:3, 4, 28-37).
The Problem of Fulfillment
Among conservative theologians, the opinion is unanimous that Christ fulfills the Davidic Covenant. The evidence is clear from the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. For anyone accepting the authenticity and inspiration of the Scriptures, the testimony of the angel to Mary is conclusive: “And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). The promise of David’s throne, David’s kingdom, and all that is involved is transferred by this prophecy to Jesus Christ, “The Son of David” (Matt 1:1). The line that began with David has its consummation and eternal fulfillment in Christ.
The problem of fulfillment does not consist in the question of whether Christ is the one who fulfills the promises, but rather on the issue of how Christ fulfills the covenant and when He fulfills it. Concerning this question, there have been two principal answers: (1) Christ fulfills the promise by His present session at the right hand of the Father in heaven; (2) Christ fulfills the promise by His return and righteous reign on earth during the millennium. Interpreters of Scripture have usually adopted an answer to the problem which fits their larger system of doctrine. Those who deny a millennium or who identify Israel and the church are apt to insist that Christ is fulfilling the covenant by His present session. Those who believe in a literal millennium and a reign of Christ on earth affirm the second answer. In this obvious contradiction between two systems of interpretation, there are certain issues which determine the outcome. These issues may be reduced for our purpose to the following: (1) Does the Davidic covenant require literal fulfillment? (2) Does the partial fulfillment already a matter of history permit a literal fulfillment? (3) Is the interpretation of this covenant in harmony with other covenant purposes of God? (4) What does the New Testament teach regarding the present and future reign of Christ?
Does the Davidic Covenant Require Literal Fulfillment?
If it were not for the difficulty of contradicting certain systems of interpretation of Scripture, it is doubtful whether anyone would have thought of interpreting the Davidic covenant as other than requiring a literal fulfillment. The arguments in favor of literal interpretation are so massive in their construction and so difficult to waive that they are more commonly ignored by those who do not want to believe in literal fulfillment than answered by argument. George N. H. Peters, in his monumental work, The Theocratic Kingdom, in Proposition 52, has listed no less than twenty-one arguments in favor of literal interpretation, not to include collateral material. His important arguments for literal interpretation may be summarized as follows: (1) the solemn character of the covenant which was confirmed by an oath; (2) a spiritual fulfillment would not be becoming to a solemn covenant. (3) Both David and Solomon apparently understood it to be literal (2 Sam 7:18-29; 2 Chron 6:14-16). (4) The language used, which is also used by the prophets, denotes a literal throne and kingdom. (5) The Jews plainly expected a literal fulfillment. (6) The throne and kingdom as a promise and inheritance belong to the humanity of Christ as the seed of David rather than belonging to His deity. (7) There is no ground for identifying David’s throne and the Father’s throne. (8) A symbolical interpretation of the covenant leaves its interpretation to man. (9) The literal fulfillment is requisite to the display of God’s government in the earth, necessary to the restoration and exaltation of the Jewish nation and deliverance of the earth from the curse. (10) Literal fulfillment is necessary to preserve the Divine unity of purpose.
Unless all of these weighty arguments be dismissed as utterly without foundation, it must be clear that there are good and important reasons for adopting a literal interpretation of the covenant promises. If a literal interpretation be adopted, the present session of Christ is not a fulfillment of the covenant, and it must be referred to the future. It is clear that at the present time Christ is not in any literal sense reigning over the kingdom of David. From the content and circumstances surrounding the Davidic covenant, it is evident that a literal fulfillment is anticipated.
Does the Historical Partial Fulfillment Permit a Literal Interpretation?
There are, however, obvious difficulties in interpreting the Davidic covenant in a literal way and expecting a literal fulfillment. The covenant was given almost three thousand years ago, and history has not contained any continuous development or continued authority of the political kingdom of David. A question may be raised whether history permits a literal fulfillment of the covenant. Does not the fact, viz., of Israel’s captivity, with the downfall of the kingdom of Israel argue against a literal fulfillment? Do not the centuries which have elapsed since the coming of Christ prove that no literal fulfillment is intended? These are pointed questions and one cannot argue about the facts which support them. If we believe that no word of God is broken, it is obvious that an interpretation which is not sustained by historic fulfillment is a wrong interpretation. The usual solution to this problem is that there is both a historical and a spiritual fulfillment. It is historical, in that a literal descendant of David was born—Christ; it is spiritual in that the kingdom perpetuated and the throne are not literally David’s but God’s.
Jamieson gives such a solution to the problem of the fulfillment of the covenant: “This promise, like that made to Abraham, has a twofold aspect,—one points to David’s natural posterity and temporal kingdom, the other to the Messiah and the kingdom of heaven. It respected the former only as types and pledges of the latter. Some, indeed, restrict this promise entirely to the Messiah, and deny that it was applicable to David’s natural descendants at all. The passages which seem to apply any part of it to these, refer, in their opinion, to another promise made unto David, which was of a temporal nature, and altogether distinct from this. But we have no account of any such promise in all the history. The truth is, this promise, like many others in the Old Testament, has a twofold sense—it takes in the type as well as the antitype; so that those who saw it accomplished in what respected David’s temporal house, had a proof that the Lord spoke by the prophet Nathan, and consequently a pledge that He would also in due time fulfill the spiritual part of it also. That it included David’s descendants, who by ordinary generation were to succeed him on the throne of Israel, is evident from David’s application of it to his son Solomon, in whom the temporal part of it had a partial accomplishment (1 Chr. xxii.6-11 ; xxviii.5-8 ). The Lord himself also applies it to Solomon, when He appeared in vision (2 Chr. viii.7-18 ). It contains a threatening against such of David’s children as should commit iniquity, which was verified on his royal posterity who succeeded him on the throne, whom the Lord punished for their transgressions, as the sacred history abundantly shows. It was to fulfill the temporal part of this promise that the Lord continued the house of David so long on the throne of Judah, notwithstanding all their frequent and aggravated rebellions against Him (1 Ki. xi.36 ; 2 Ki. viii.19 ; 2 Chr. xxi.7 ) ; and it was repeatedly appealed to by the Jewish Church when the judgments inflicted upon David’s temporal house and kingdom seemed to make it void. This promise as it represented David’s natural seed was conditional, so that the Lord at length deprived them of the kingdom; but He did not by that deprivation violate or nullify the covenant with His servant; for this was only what He threatened at the commencement of it to do in the event of their committing iniquity (1 Chr. xxviii.9 ). But how, then, was the promise made good, that David’s seed should sit on his throne forever? The spiritual and eternal part of the promise pointed to the Messiah, who was to come of the seed of David according to the flesh, and to be raised up from the dead to sit for ever on His heavenly throne. The promise as it respected the Messiah was absolute, and in Him had its full accomplishment.”1
The difficulty with the interpretation of fulfillment in part by temporal events and in part by spiritual is that it does not actually fulfill the covenant. It is true that Christ is the Son of David, and that this is literal descent, but it is without significance unless He also possesses the throne of His father David. Is it the meaning of the covenant that the kingdom of David and his authority over Israel should be transmuted into a general government of God over the world or over the saints? Is it not rather that the literal fulfillment of the reign over the house of Jacob and the throne of David is specifically singled out by the angel in the announcement of Mary (Luke 1:32-33)? If the transgressions of Israel resulted in the captivity and made impossible a literal fulfillment of all aspects of the covenant, is it not strange that the very elements which it is denied can be fulfilled literally should be reiterated in the New Testament? Is it not rather that God, foreseeing the temptation to lose hope in the promise, calls attention once more to its inviolate character? It must be clear to any candid interpreter that Mary would understand it to mean the fulfillment of the hope of Israel for an earthly and political kingdom. The revelation of the angel must be taken either as a confirmation of the covenant or a deliberate encouragement of a false interpretation of Scripture—which is unthinkable.
In the mind of God, it is evident that there is no contradiction in the literal interpretation of the covenant and the temporary enslavement of the Jewish nation in the captivity and under the dominion of Rome. In what sense, then, can we expect a literal fulfillment?
A clue can be taken in a significant accuracy in the covenant and its subsequent fulfillment. In proclaiming the covenant, the language of the prophet carefully distinguishes between the seed of David, Solomon, and the throne. David is assured that his seed will reign forever. Solomon is assured only that his throne will continue forever. In this fine point is an illustration of God’s intention. In the subsequent history of Israel, Solomon’s line is specifically cut off from the throne at the time of the captivity of Judah (Jer 22:30; 36:30 ). In the lineage of Christ found in Matthew and Luke, it is clear that Joseph descended through Solomon and the line which is cut off, while Mary descended from another son of David entirely, Nathan—by curious coincidence the same name as the prophet’s who gave the Davidic covenant, though undoubtedly two different individuals. Accordingly, while the legal lineage came to Christ through Joseph, his legal father and a descendant of Solomon and his heirs, the actual seed of David was transmitted through Nathan and Mary. This brings us to an important conclusion: the line which was to fulfill the promise of the eternal throne and eternal kingdom over Israel was preserved by God through a lineage which in fact did not sit on the throne at all, from Nathan down to Christ. It is, then, not necessary for the line to be unbroken as to actual conduct of the kingdom, but it is rather that the lineage, royal prerogative, and right to the throne be preserved and never lost, even in sin, captivity, and dispersion. It is not necessary, then, for continuous political government to be in effect, but it is necessary that the line be not lost.
All agree that the line is not lost. It came to its fulfillment in Christ. In the destruction of Jerusalem, the genealogies were destroyed and it would be impossible for Jews of to-day to trace their lineage back to the line of David. Accordingly, in the wisdom of God, the proof that Christ was of the line of David has been preserved, but at the same time the evidence has been destroyed for any future contenders for the honors. The Jews of to-day must admit that they could not positively identify the lineage of a Messiah if he did appear now. Only Christ has the evidence necessary, and the line is preserved with Him.
The partial fulfillment of the covenant, in that Christ is identified as the one through whom it will be fulfilled, instead of indicating a spiritual fulfillment rather lays the foundation for a literal fulfillment. The purpose of God is seen to be preserved in maintaining the line of David which has the right to rule. The postponement or delay in assuming political power in no wise invalidates the promise. The partial fulfillment in no wise hinders the literal fulfillment of all the covenant.
Is Literal Fulfillment in Harmony with Other Covenants?
The interpretation of the Davidic Covenant inevitably is colored by the construction placed on other covenants of Scripture. It is not within the province of this discussion to investigate all these covenants. If the premillennial viewpoint of Scripture be sustained by other arguments, however, it is clear that the Davidic covenant fits perfectly into the picture. It is the covenant ground for the earthly rule of Christ. All the promises regarding the nation Israel, the possession of the land, the millennial blessings in general, and the return of Christ to reign are in perfect harmony with a literal fulfillment of the covenant. The purpose of God in David is fulfilled in the reign of Christ. This has two aspects: His millennial reign and the continued rule of God in the new earth for eternity. The premillennial viewpoint provides a fully adequate literal fulfillment of the covenant.
Wilkinson has written a forceful summary of this point: “Nevertheless, facts are stubborn things. It is a fact that God has declared that Israel is not to cease from being a nation before Him for ever. It is a fact that the Jewish nation, still in unbelief, survivor of all others, alone retains its national identity…. It is a fact that the promise of a land (the territorial limits of which were defined) to the posterity of Abraham, as also the promise of a son of David’s own line to occupy David’s throne for ever, were unconditional promises, ratified by covenant and oath. It is a fact that the posterity of Abraham has never yet fully possessed and enjoyed the whole of the land so granted and that no son of David occupies David’s throne, nor can do so enduringly till Jesus returns to earth…. The O.T. promises are all as certain of fulfillment in their O.T. sense and meaning and purpose to Israel, as are the N.T. promises certain of fulfillment to the Church.”2
The literal fulfillment of the Davidic covenant is, then, in harmony with the larger covenant purpose of God. In fact, its plain intent and the nature of the promises are another confirmation of the premillennial interpretation of Scripture. It provides an interpretation fully honoring to God and His Word.
The New Testament Teaching on the Reign of Christ
Attention has already been called to the New Testament confirmation of the purpose of God to fulfill the Davidic Covenant literally (Luke 1:32, 33). The New Testament has in all fifty-nine references to David. It also has many references to the present session of Christ. A search of the New Testament reveals that there is not one reference connecting the present session of Christ with the Davidic throne. While this argument is, of course, not conclusive, it is almost incredible that in so many references to David and in so frequent reference to the present session of Christ on the Father’s throne there should be not one reference connecting the two in any authoritative way. The New Testament is totally lacking in positive teaching that the throne of the Father in Heaven is to be identified with the Davidic throne. The inference is plain that Christ is seated on the Father’s throne, but that this is not at all the same as being seated on the throne of David.
About the only reference which can be construed as having any connection with the identification of David’s kingdom reign and the present session of Christ is that found in Acts 15:14-17. After Paul’s testimony of wonders wrought among the Gentiles, James addressed the council in these words: “Symeon hath rehearsed how first God visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After these things I will return, And I will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen; And I will build again the ruins thereof, And I will set it up: That the residue of men may seek after the Lord, And all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called” (Acts 15:14-17).
The problem of this passage resolves into these questions: (1) What is meant by the “tabernacle of David”? (2) When is the “tabernacle of David” to be rebuilt? The first question is settled by an examination of its source, Amos 9:11, and its context. The preceding chapters and the first part of chapter nine deal with God’s judgment upon Israel. It is summed in the two verses which immediately precede the quotation: “For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all the nations, like as grain is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least kernel fall upon the earth. All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, The evil shall not overtake nor meet us” (Amos 9:9, 10).
Immediately following this passage of judgment is the promise of blessing after the judgment, of which the verse quoted in Acts fifteen is the first: “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up its ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the nations that are called by my name, saith Jehovah that doeth this. Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt. And I will bring back the captivity of my people Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their own land, and they shall no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them, saith Jehovah thy God” (Amos 9:11-15).
The context of the passage deals, then, with Israel’s judgment. After this period, which is the period of Gentile opportunity, God will raise up the tabernacle of David, give Israel supremacy over Edom and the nations, bless their crops, regather Israel, restore their cities, and assure them that they will never again be dispersed. The entire passage confirms that the “tabernacle of David” is an expression referring to the whole nation of Israel, and that in contrast to the Gentile nations. By no possible stretch of the plain meaning of this passage can the “tabernacle of David” be made to be the equivalent of the New Testament church. The prophecy concerns the rebuilding of that which was fallen down. The “ruins” are to be rebuilt “as in the days of old.” The nature of the blessings are earthly, territorial, and national, and have nothing to do with a spiritual church to which none of these blessings have been promised.
What then is the meaning of the quotation of James? What relation does it have to the problem faced by the council at Jerusalem? The question considered by the council was one of Gentile participation in the church. It apparently was difficult for the apostles to adjust themselves to equality with Gentiles in the Gospel. The evident blessing of God upon the Gentiles, their salvation, and spiritual gifts were indisputable evidence that a change in approach to the Gentiles was necessary. They must face the fact that both Jew and Gentile were saved by grace in exactly the same manner. How was this to be reconciled with the promises of God to Israel? It is this which James answers.
He states, in effect, that it was God’s purpose to bless the Gentiles as well as Israel, but in their order. God was to visit the Gentiles first, “to take out of them a people for his name.” James goes on to say that this is entirely in keeping with the prophets, for they had stated that the period of Jewish blessing and triumph should be after the Gentile period: “After these things I will return, And I will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen.” Instead of identifying the period of Gentile conversion with the rebuilding of the tabernacle of David, it is carefully distinguished by the first (Gentile blessing), and after this, referring to Israel’s coming glory. The passage instead of identifying God’s purpose for the church and for the nation, Israel, established a specific time order. Israel’s blessing will not come until “I return,” apparently reference to the second coming of Christ. That it could not refer either to the Incarnation or to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost is evident in that neither are “return’s.” The passage under consideration constitutes, then, an important guide in determining the purpose of God. God will first conclude His work for the Gentiles in the period of Israel’s dispersion; then He will return to bring in the promised blessings for Israel. It is needless to say that this confirms the interpretation that Christ is not now on the throne of David bringing blessing to Israel as the prophets predicted, but He is rather on His Father’s throne waiting for the coming earthly kingdom and interceding for His own who form the church.
An examination of the evidence has brought us to the conclusion that the Davidic covenant demands a literal fulfillment, that the partial fulfillment in no wise hinders a complete future fulfillment and in fact requires it, that only a literal fulfillment is in harmony with the other covenant purposes of God, and that the New Testament is not only silent on any identification of the present position of Christ with the Davidic throne but specifically separates the present period of Gentile blessing from Israel’s future glory.
1 Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown, A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testament, unabridged edition, (Glasgow: William Collins, Sons, & Company, 1868), II, 295.
2 Samuel Hinds Wilkinson, The Israel Promises and Their Fulfilment (London: John Bale, Sons and Danielsson, Ltd., 1936), pp. 56-57.
Eschatological Problems VIII: Israel’s BlindnessEschatological Problems VIII: Israel’s Blindness John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
Almost every aspect oif the predicted future for Israel constitutes a decisive factor in the structure of prophetic interpretation. The construction that is placed upon passages in Scripture dealing with the future of Israel inevitably determines the whole scope of eschatology. One of the obvious facts which all systems must face is that Israel is just as surely in the New Testament as in the Old, and the phenomena of the preservation of Israel as a distinct people through centuries of dispersion have called for some adequate explanation.
Among those who take Scripture seriously, two attitudes have emerged. Some have denied any future to Israel, attempting to find all of Israel’s future included in the Christian church, i.e., whatever future is assigned to them is identical with that of Gentile believers. Others have held that there is a future day of blessing for Israel as a distinct people. The former view is held by those who follow an amillennial interpretation of prophecy, while the latter view is held by the postmillennial and premillennial systems of interpretation. With the current disrepute of postmillennielism, it has remained for the premillennial and amillennial systems to uphold their respective interpretations. The issue is rather clearly drawn, though too often the premises assumed settle the argument before it begins. It is the thesis of this discussion that the amillennial viewpoint involves a distortion of numerous passages of Scripture and an oversimplification of eschatology which is not warranted by the prophetic Word. The issue of Israel’s future should be settled by investigation into the plain statements of Scripture regarding it. To this end, the present article deals with a crucial and important doctrine in the eschatology of Israel, viz., the subject of Israel’s spiritual blindness. It is predicted in Scripture that the present blindness of Israel will in the future be removed and that certain important results will follow. The nature and importance of this doctrine will be evident in its effect on the structure of eschatology.
The key passage to the doctrine of Israel’s blindness or “hardening” is found in Romans 11:25—”For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits—, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” The passage seems to reveal that a blindness or hardening has befallen Israel at the present time, that this blindness will terminate at the time designated as the “fulness of the Gentiles.” The verse following which constitutes a part of the same sentence goes on, “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn ungodliness from Jacob.” In other words, there seems to be a definite time sequence: first, Israel is blind, then Israel’s blindness is ended and “all Israel shall be saved.” The passage calls for specific events which involve the whole scheme of prophecy. Does Israel have a future? Is there a day coming of spiritual blessing for Israel? When will “all Israel” be saved?
In an attempt to answer these leading questions, at least four interpretations of the passage have arisen. Origen, the father of the allegorical method of interpretation, seems to be the originator of the idea that the passage teaches only the general truth that there will be opposition and blindness in relation to the Gospel which will be gradually overcome, resulting in the end in “all Israel,” meaning according to him, all believers, being saved. This interpretation, of course, robs the passage of any specific meaning and does violence to its terms.
The attitude of the Reformers was only a slight improvement on Origen. Encouraged perhaps by the prominence given this verse by the ardent millenarians of that day, they denied that the passage taught any general future conversion of Israel, affirming that it merely taught that the hardened and blind condition of Israel did not prevent some from entering the church. The prejudice against allowing any foothold for the millenarians is illustrated in Calvin’s deliberate mistranslation of the “until” into “that,” and by Luther’s famous statement to the effect that the Jews are the devil’s children and impossible to convert (zu bekehren ist unmöglich).1 Calvin, like Origen, makes “all Israel equivalent to the “whole people of God,” i.e., the church.2 The effect of both views is to deny Israel any literal fulfillment of their prophetic future and to consider them cut off forever as a people.
The third type of interpretation is typical of nineteenth century postmillennialism and Charles Hodge may be taken as an example. Holding, as does any consistent postmillennial system, that there is going to be a fulfillment of the prophecies relative to an earthly kingdom of peace and righteousness on the earth, they find the fulfillment of the many promises, related to Israel in this period. Charles Hodge, accordingly, interpreted Romans 11:25 as predicting “a great and general conversion of the Jewish people, which should take place when the fulness of the Gentiles had been brought in, and that then, and not till then, those prophecies should be fully accomplished which speak of the salvation of Israel.”3 He goes on to write that this view has been the position of every age of the church except the period of the Reformers. He lists eight formal arguments in support of this interpretation.
The fourth interpretation is typical of twentieth century premillennialism. It holds with the postmillennial viewpoint that Israel has a future, but it insists, that this future is more than a mere spiritual revival. The future of Israel, is a restoration of Israel as a nation as well as a people, and it involves the fulfillment of a literal kingdom on earth with Christ as King. The present age is one of Gentile blessing; the future age will be one of Israel’s blessing. The two periods are just as distinct as that of Israel before Pentecost and the present age. It is a new dispensation in which the place of Gentiles and Israel in privilege and blessing is reversed, Now is the time of the fulness of Gentile blessing and privilege. The future day will place Israel first.
The problem of interpretation raised in this discussion is solved by proper exegesis of Romans 11:25 in its context. It may be observed before turning to this, however, that the viewpoint of Origen or of Luther is no solution to the problem at all. The allegorical system of interpretation of which Origen is the father is theological quicksand for this doctrine as for all others. If the Scriptures are to be subject to a fanciful interpretation according to the whims of the interpreter, it is obvious that no solution to any problem can be found for the simple reason that the very existence of the problem is denied. Problems arise from an attempt to arrive at the plain and literal meaning of the Scriptures. The viewpoint of the Reformers in regard to Israel is also unsatisfactory and provides no solution to the problem of interpretation. Their attitude was obviously prejudiced and their interpretation is governed by opinion rather than exegesis. In the heat of the controversies of the Reformation, the millennial issue was cast aside rather than weighed, and the future of Israel in Scripture suffered the same fate. The doctrinal problem of Israel’s future must be solved by an appeal to the written Word and an attempt to find its revelation on this important theme. mystery. The doctrine of Romans 11:25 is referred to as a “mystery.” By this word reference is made to a doctrine which had not been revealed prior to the New Testament revelation but which is now fully made known—as Robertson puts it, “the revealed will of God now made known to all.”5 In whatever sense, then, Israel was blind before Christ, a new judgment of God has fallen upon them after rejecting Christ. Whereas the former blindness had to do with the prophetic revelation, the latter blindness had to do with the fulfillment in Christ. Israel, which of all nations should have recognized the credentials of Christ, leads the Gentiles in being slow of hearing and understanding. By designating Israel’s blindness as a mystery, a new aspect is therefore added.
It is also included in the revelation that this blindness is “in part.” The expression ἀπὸ μέρους translated “in part” quite clearly refers to the fact that the blindness is not universal. The veil is lifted for some at least, and individual Jews like Paul have believed in Christ. The thought is not that all Israel is partially blinded. While the majority of Israel are unusually and distinctively blinded, a few are granted as exceptions and this occasions the “in part.” Whether or not Martin Luther can be persuaded that he was wrong in denying that Romans teaches Jews can be converted, it is rather obvious that this is the teaching of the passage. The situation of blindness in part is the abiding condition of Israel in this age.
What Is the Meaning of Until?
The central teaching of the passage revolves on the preposition until (ἀχρι οὖ). The condition of Israel’s blindness is revealed to continue up to a certain point at which it is terminated. That this expression is crucial to the interpretation is borne out by the attempts to alter its force. Calvin, for instance, changes it to “that,” making the blindness of Israel a factor in bringing about the fullness of the Gentiles. This is a clear violation of the meaning of the expression. As Charles Hodge states, “The words…cannot, so consistently with usage, be translated, as long as, or so that, followed as they are here by the aorist subjunctive; see Rev. xv.8 , xvii.17 ; compare Heb. iii.13 .”6 A. T. Robertson follows the same translation, labeling the clause a “temporal clause” meaning “until which time.”7 Its basic meaning is “up to.”8 In the language of Thayer it indicates “the terminus ad quem.” If we are willing to accept the plain meaning of the Greek text, we must recognize that this passage teaches two distinct situations: one, in which Israel is blinded in part; two, in which this blindness is removed. This is what the passage states and any tampering with it is confession of prejudice.
When Will Israel’s Blindness Be Ended?
The exegesis of Romans 11:25 has indicated a predicted time when Israel’s blindness will be ended. This time is described as the point in the prophetic program when “the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” This expression which occurs only here in the New Testament has given rise to many interpretations. Dr. Charles Feinberg summarizes the various viewpoints as follows: “Sanday and Headlam maintain that τὸ πλήρωμα refers to the Gentile world as a whole. Griffith Thomas refers the time to the close of the Gentile dispensation. Faber, Stifler, Brookes, and Chalmers are all of the opinion that the time referred to is identical with ‘the times of the Gentiles.’ Godet, after denoting the fulness of the Gentiles as the totality of the Gentile nations, designates the time as ‘the times of the Gentiles.’ Bosworth contends that reference is made to the large majority of the Gentile population of the world, while Govett thinks the phrase refers to the elect of this dispensation out of all nations. Moule holds that εἰσέλθῃ (‘be come in’) refers to a time when the ingathering of the Gentile children of God will be not at an end, but running high.”9 There is obviously much difference of opinion on the subject.
It ig not necessary to the argument that Romans 11:25 predicts a future time of blessing for Israel to settle with finality the meaning of the expression “fulness of the Gentiles.” It clarifies the situation, however, to arrive at some understanding of the meaning of the term. While the Scriptures do not explicitly expound the term, it is evidently the antithesis of the “fulness” of Israel mentioned in Romans 11:12, “Now if the fall of them [Israel] be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their [Israel’s] fulness?” The present age is the time of the fall of Israel and the riches of the Gentiles. The passage clearly implies that in a future period the fulness of Israel will come and that in it the Gentiles will have even more blessing than at present. The meaning of the passage is, then, simply that the Gentiles will have their full time of blessing and that this will be followed by Israel’s time of blessing. The “until” of Romans 11:25 would mark the close of the Gentile period as such.
Within the bounds of the premillennial interpretation of Scripture, a problem remains regarding the termination of the period of Gentile blessing. In Luke 21:24, Christ referred to the “times of the Gentiles” as continuing as long as Jerusalem is “trodden down of the Gentiles.” The reference in Luke is to the political domination of Jerusalem by Gentiles which began with the fall of Jerusalem at the time of the captivity and has continued to the present day. While the terminology is not significant in itself, from the context of the two passages involved, it seems clear that the expression “times of the Gentiles” has reference to political domination of Gentiles, while the expression “fulness of the Gentiles” has reference to Gentile blessing and opportunity in this present age. If this analysis is correct, the times of the Gentiles and the fulness of the Gentiles are two entirely different ideas. The times of the Gentiles began long before Christ and will continue until Christ returns to establish His kingdom. The fulness of the Gentiles began at Pentecost and will continue only as long as the present age of grace. From the standpoint of eschatology, the important point is that the fulness of the Gentiles will come to its close before the times of the Gentiles are run out. Accepting the usual interpretation that the church, the body of Christ, will be caught up with Christ to glory before the time of tribulation predicted for Daniel’s seventieth week, it seems clear that the fulness of the Gentiles will come abruptly to its close when the church is caught up to heaven. If so, we have here the terminus of the fulness of the Gentiles and the terminus of Israel’s blindness.
Two Aspects of Israel’s Restoration
A problem frequently overlooked by premillennial writers who accept the solution of Romans 11:25 given above is that the Scriptures do not confirm any immediate change in “all Israel” after the rapture. During the tribulation period it is only a remnant which turn to Christ. It seems clear that the majority of Jews as well as Gentiles worship the beasts of Revelation 13 instead of Christ, and that the Jews reestablish their ancient worship in Jerusalem in unbelief rather than in acceptance of their Messiah. How then is Israel’s blindness lifted?
The answer seems to be that the restoration of Israel is in two major steps. At the rapture of the church, Gentiles again take second place in God’s program and the Jew resumes his place. It is a time of Gentile domination but not of Gentile blessing. The unfulfilled program of the seventieth week of Daniel is completed during the final period before the second coming of Christ. During this period among unbelieving Jews, the Mosaic laws and sacrifices are reinstituted. As far as Israel as a whole is concerned, there is no evidence of a large turning to Christ. During this period, however, a remnant turn to Christ. Apparently the very act of the rapture of the church serves to confirm to those who are honestly seeking their Messiah, howbeit in blindness, that Jesus of Nazareth is the true Messiah and the only Savior. Overnight after the church is caught up, many of Israel have their eyes opened to the truth and immediately become the evangels of the period. The special blindness which was Israel’s judgment during the time of Gentile blessing is removed, and the Jew resumes his place.
The language of Romans 11:25 in this connection must be carefully noted. While it is revealed that the special blindness peculiar to Israel is lifted, the passage does not reveal any distinct enlightenment. The Jew is restored to an equal place with the Gentile in the matter of discernment of the Gospel rather than to a place of greater privilege. The release, such as it is, will undoubtedly occasion a great turning to Christ among Israel after the rapture of the church, but by no means is the entire nation won to Christ. The Scriptures are relatively silent on the details, but there is evidence that a remnant turn to Christ (cf. the 144,000 of Revelation 7) and, that many do not turn to Christ (cf. the reestablishment of sacrifices and the Mosaic worship). While therefore the special blindness of Israel is lifted at the time of the rapture of the church, Israel is still in the same difficulty as the Gentile in that he is naturally blind to the Gospel and dead in sin. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in this period, certainly essential to salvation then as now, none of Israel would be saved even after the blindness is taken away.
The consummation of God’s purpose in delivering Israel from their special blindness is found in the remnant that greets Christ at His second coming. It seems clear that before Christ returns Israel will turn to Christ and will formally acknowledge its sin. Zechariah 12:10 speaks of this: “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.” The passage goes on to describe the mourning and the cleansing from sin that follows. It is apparently the divine preparation for the return of their Messiah. In the days of the awful tribulation of Israel, in which their ancient worship is once more prescribed and all natural Jews become the objects of persecution, there will undoubtedly be many more of Israel brought to Christ through the personal work of those previously saved. While many of the Gentiles will also be brought to Christ (Rev 7:9-14), it will be a special time for Jewish evangelism and it will be climaxed by the outpouring of the Spirit of God as a preparation for the return of Christ. The second phase of Israel’s restoration is accomplished thus at the end of the tribulation, while the first phase occurs at its beginning.
The chief significance of Romans 11:25 does not, however, lie in its details. The important fact is that it indicates a termination of the present age of Gentile blessing in the Gospel and the preparation of Israel for a yet future period. Any interpretation of the passage which deals with the terms in their ordinary meaning demands a system of prophecy which allows for a future for Israel. The consummation of Romans 11:25 is described in the verses which follow: the national salvation of Israel, the coming of the Deliverer out of Zion and the fulfillment of God’s covenant with His ancient people. The important consideration involved in this revelation will constitute the eschatological problem to be discussed in the next article.
1 The full quotation is as follows: “Ein jüdisch Herz ist so stock-stein-eisenteufelhart, das mit keiner Weise zu bewegen ist;—es sind junge Teufel zur Hölle verdammt, diese Teufelskinder zu bekehren ist unmöglich, wie etliche solchen Wahn schöpfen aus der Epistel an die Römer.” Charles Hodge quotes Olshausen as using this passage to illustrate the Reformer’s attitude toward the Jews. Cf. Charles Hodge, Epistle to the Romans (1909), pp. 584-85.
2 “Multi accipiunt de populo Judaico, acsi Paulus diceret instaurandum adhuc in eio religionem ut prius; sed ego Israelis nomen ad totum Dei populum extendo, hoc sensu: Quum Gentes ingressae fuerint, simul et Judaei ex defectione se ad fidei obedientiam recipient: atque ita complebitur salus totius Israelis Dei, quem ex utrisque colligi oportet: sic tamen ut priorem locum Judaei obtineant, ceu in familia Dei primogeniti.” Cf. Calvin’s Commentary on Romans, in loc. Quoted by William Kelly, Notes on Epistle to the Romans (1873), pp. 231-32.
3 Epistle to the Romans, p. 584.
5 Ibid., IV, 397.
6 Op. cit., pp. 586-87.
7 Op. cit., IV, 398.
8 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, Fifth Edition, p. 639.
9 The Mystery of Israel’s Blindness, unpublished thesis filed in the Dallas Theological Seminary Library, pp. 69-70. Those desiring a fuller discussion of the subject than is possible here will find this thesis an invaluable contribution. For a history of the subject, see the article by Dr. Herbert E. Kann, Bibliotheca Sacra, October-December, 1937, pp. 442-457.
Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s RestorationEschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
[Author’s Note: In the previous article on Israel’s Blindness, it was pointed out that there were three views of the meaning of the phrase, “all Israel,” in Romans 11:26: (1) all believers; (2) Jews as a people; (3) Jews as a whole or as a nation. It was further shown that Romans 11:25 taught a future restoration for Israel after the fullness of the Gentiles is concluded and that this restoration had two phases: (a) immediate lifting of their blindness, (b) restoration as a nation at the second coming of Christ. The implications of Romans 11:26 were reserved for the present article.]
The confusion in the minds of expositors of Scripture concerning the meaning of Romans 11:26 is one of the obvious facts of Biblical interpretation. Not only various schools of thought disagree, but the passage is a problem to all. An important clue to its interpretation is found in its preceding context. The entire chapter of Romans eleven deals with the question, “Did God cast off his people?” (Rom 11:1). The answer given to this leading question is that “God did not cast off his people which he foreknew” (Rom 11:2). The argument proceeds to point out that there has always been a remnant of Israel who believed both under the law and under grace. The fact that this group were only a small portion of the nation of Israel is explained as the occasion for the present grace extended to Gentiles: “I say then, Did they stumble that they might fall? God forbid: but by their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy” (Rom 11:11). The argument then turns on the point that if the unbelief and “fall” of Israel as a nation was the occasion of blessing on the Gentiles, how much more will be the blessing on both Gentiles and Israel when Israel comes into its fullness of blessing: “Now if their fall is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” (Rom 11:12). These facts combine to serve as a warning to Gentiles not to be high-minded and serve as an encouragement to Israel that a future time of blessing is in store. The contrast throughout the passage is not between the believer and unbeliever, but between Gentiles as such and Israel as a nation. In Romans 11:25, the issue is brought to a head with the revelation that Israel’s present blindness and unbelief will be concluded at the same time that the present Gentile opportunity is ended. Then follows the event described as “all Israel” being delivered.
The issues involved in the passage under consideration can be resolved into a series of questions: (1) What is the meaning of “all Israel”? (2) What is the nature of the deliverance? (3) When will the deliverance occur? (4) What are the concomitant events? Any answer to these questions involves both premises based on interpretation of the entire Scriptures and exegesis of the passage itself. The history of its interpretation has revealed a tendency to determine the meaning of the passage largely on the basis of other Scriptures. Hence, most amillennialists have denied that the reference is to Israel in the flesh and have given a spiritual interpretation of the passage. Premillennialists have insisted upon a more literal exegesis. The issue is determined by the meaning of key words.
What Is the Meaning of “All Israel”?
It is apparent that the construction placed upon the word Israel practically determines the exegesis of the entire passage. The question is answered by at least three important considerations: (1) What is the use of the word in the context? (2) What is the use of the word in the New Testament as a whole” (3) What is the relation of the question to doctrine in general?
A study of the context bears out the fact that the word Israel as used in this passage is in contrast to Gentile. This is clear in Romans 11:1, where Paul identifies himself as an Israelite because of his connection with the tribe of Benjamin—a racial and national relation rather than spiritual. The contrast is made further in Romans 11:11ff. The use of “ye,” i.e., the Gentiles, is opposed to “they,” i.e., the Jews. In other words, the entire chapter carefully preserves the distinction between two classes—Jews and Gentiles. Further, the Gentiles are in most cases those who have believed in Christ and members of the church. The contrast is not, therefore, between believing Israel and unbelieving Gentiles, but rather the two groups are treated racially. There is no ground whatever in this passage for the idea that Israel is a reference to all believers as such—the interpretation advanced by Origen, furthered by Calvin, and embraced by most amillennialists. This interpretation would nullify the very theme of the chapter .
The immediate context also brings out the contrast between Israel and Gentiles. In Romans 11:25, both terms occur in contrast. As far as the general context and the immediate context is concerned, there is no ground for spiritualizing the word Israel. Even A. T. Robertson, who is not a premillennialist, rather reluctantly admits that the context would indicate that the Jewish people are indicated.1 Charles Hodge, who is also not a premillennialist, states flatly, “Israel, here, from the context, must mean the Jewish people, and all Israel, the whole nation. The Jews, as a people, are now rejected; as a people, they are to be restored.”2 The amillenial view that Israel refers to all believers must be held in spite of the context. It is noteworthy that Dr. Oswald T. Allis, who more than any other recent amillennial writer has attempted formally to refute premillennialism, passes by Romans 11:26 with only a footnote reference3 in which he tries to sustain his thesis that Romans eleven says nothing of Israel’s restoration.4 In brief, his argument is that if Paul believed in Israel’s restoration he would have mentioned restoration to the land. In other words, because Paul does not include all the elements of Israel’s restoration, he cannot be speaking on the subject at all. If words are to be taken in their ordinary meaning, Paul is speaking of Israel’s spiritual and national restoration throughout the chapter . The fact is that Romans 11:26 is an embarrassing passage to the amillennial school of interpretation and, as they have no satisfactory interpretation of it, they are prone to give none.
The predicament of the amillennialist in interpreting Romans 11:26 is further disclosed by examination of their theory that Israel as a term is constantly used in the New Testament as a synonym of the church composed of both Jews and Gentiles. Their prejudice is expressed well by Dr. Allis when he states that when the Brethren Movement “insisted that Israel must mean Israel, and that the kingdom promises in the Old Testament concern Israel and are to be fulfilled to Israel literally” that they were “carrying to an almost unprecedented extreme that literalism which is characteristic of Millenarianism.”5 Yet Allis himself admits that premillennialism “was extensively held in the Early Church,”6 and that it was superseded only when Augustine advanced the idea that the millennium was “to be interpreted spiritually as fulfilled in the Christian Church.”7 As a matter of fact even a casual study of the writings of the early Fathers reveals that millenarianism was not only “extensively held” but was in fact the outstanding characteristic of early Christian eschatology. Dr. Wilbur Smith in his review of Dr. Allis’ book quotes Schaff to this effect: “The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment. It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius.”8 Dr. Allis’ “unprecedented literalism” was, in the impartial hands of doctrinal historians, the prevailing opinion of the church until the perversions of Augustine and Roman Catholicism began to have weight. After all, is it such “unprecedented literalism” to believe that the Bible means Israel when it uses the term? Is not the burden of proof on the amillennialist to prove that the word means other than its ordinary meaning?
It is not difficult to prove from Scripture that Israel is frequently used in the New Testament to mean what it meant in the Old Testament—the nation descending from Abraham through Jacob. Further, there is not a single reference in the New Testament to Israel which cannot be taken in its plain meaning. Not a single instance requires the term to include Gentiles. As this subject has been treated in a previous article, it will not be further discussed here.9 In a word, there is no justification based on usage in the New Testament to interpret the word Israel as ever including Gentiles.
The question remains concerning the relation of the passage to Biblical doctrine as a whole. This involves the issues which determine premillennialism and amillennialism as systems of doctrines—a subject which is too large to be treated here. This much is clear: the premillennial system of interpretation is in full harmony with the interpretation that Israel in this passage refers to Jews in the flesh rather than to all believers, Jews and Gentiles alike. The amillennial system demands that the passage be spiritualized or their whole system is in jeopardy. The nature of the argument is illuminating, however. The amillennialist usually argues that Israel must be spiritualized because to do otherwise involves what is to him the extreme literalism that Israel means Israel. In other words, he argues from the system of doctrine to its necessary interpretation of the passage. On the other hand, the premillennialist appeals to the immediate context—the contrast between Israel and Gentiles; the general context—the discussion of Gentile privilege because of Israel’s fall; and the usage in the New Testament as a whole. From the standpoint of arriving at Biblical doctrine, the hermeneutics of the premillennial argument is obviously sound.
A difficulty for all systems of interpretation is the use of the word all. What is meant when it is stated that “all Israel shall be saved”? This has been referred to as a difficulty of the premillennial interpretation. Obviously, all Israel are not saved. Israel in view in the prophecy must first of all be limited to living Israel, that is, those living on earth at the time. It is not true that all Israelites of all generations are to be saved. Further, the Scriptures reveal that a large portion of Israel will be martyred during the time of trouble preceding the consummation of the period before the second coming of Christ (Zech 13:8, 9). There are other complications in the doctrine when the judgment on Israel is taken into consideration (Ezek 20:33-38). What is meant, then, by all?
Before attempting to answer the question, it should be noted that the same difficulty attends the amillennial view, or any other view which attempts to find an actual event in this passage. While Israel according to the amillennialist means “all believers,” it is also obvious that all believers are not saved at the end of the age by the coming of Christ. For the proper interpretation of the passage both principal millennial views must limit the fulfillment to those living at the time. The difficulty is not, then, a result of the premillennial viewpoint.
The most obvious answer to the question of the meaning of all is found in the context. The all is in antithesis to the in part of Romans 11:25 and the remnant of verse five . During the present age a remnant of Israel is saved through the Gospel. The hardening or blindness is “in part.” When Christ returns, the situation will be changed. Instead of a remnant, instead of a small part, Israel as a whole will be saved. It will be a national deliverance. A. T. Robertson while attempting to defend postmillennialism in his interpretation admits: “All Israel (pas Israēl). What does Paul mean? The immediate context (use of pas in contrast to apo merous, plērōma here in contrast with plērōma in verse 12 ) argues for the Jewish people ‘as a whole’.”10 He goes on to express his opinion that other Scripture (Rom 9:6; Gal 6:16) may justify the teaching that both Jew and Gentile or “spiritual Israel may be the idea.”11
The opinion of Charles Hodge is worthy of weight as he is not arguing for premillennialism: “Israel, here, from the context, must mean the Jewish people, and all Israel, the whole nation. The Jews, as a people, are now rejected; as a people, they are to be restored. As their rejection, although national, did not include the rejection of every individual; so their restoration, although in like manner national, need not be assumed to include the salvation of every individual Jew. πᾶς ᾿Ισραὴλ is not therefore to be here understood to mean, all the true people of God, as Augustine, Calvin, and many others explain it; nor all the elect Jews, i.e., all that part of the nation which constitute ‘the remnant according to the election of grace’; but the whole nation, as a nation.”12 The viewpoint that “all Israel” means “Israel as a whole” is not “an almost unprecedented extreme” of “literalism which is characteristic of Millenarianism,”13 as Dr. Allis would have us believe, nor is it a peculiarity of a little sect of Plymouth Brethren. It is the interpretation of those who believe that Israel means Israel, whether premillennial or postmillennial, and it is the only interpretation which makes sense out of the eleventh chapter of Romans . Professor William Hendriksen, professor of New Testament Literature at Calvin Seminary and an avowed amillennialist, interestingly disagrees with Dr. Allis and holds that all Israel refers to the total number of elect Israel in all ages—i.e., holds to a literal interpretation of the passage. This is, to say the least, an improvement on Augustine, Calvin, and Allis, though it misses the point of the context.14 The deliverance predicted in Romans 11:26 is, clearly, a group deliverance rather than individual salvation. This is borne out in the explanation which follows in the chapter .
What Is the Nature of the Deliverance?
The salvation of “all Israel” is described as a fulfillment of prophecy. Isaiah 59:20-21 is quoted in part in Romans 11:26, 27. The full quotation in Isaiah is as follows: “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith Jehovah. And as for me, this is my covenant with them, said Jehovah: my Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith Jehovah, from henceforth and forever.” Three things are mentioned specifically in the Romans quotation: (1) the Redeemer shall come out of Zion; (2) He shall turn ungodliness from Jacob; (3) this is a covenant to be fulfilled “when I shall take away their sins.”
All views of the millennium agree that the Deliverer is the Lord Jesus Christ. Question has been raised concerning the meaning of “out of Zion.” The Hebrew of Isaiah 59:20 is correctly rendered “to Zion.” The LXX has interpreted this to mean “for Zion”: ἕ́εκεν Σιών. Paul in quoting the Hebrew uses neither the Hebrew nor the LXX when he quotes the passage as “from Zion”: ἐκ Σιών. How is this difficulty to be solved and what is the meaning of Zion? It is clear that Paul is here not directly quoting but is gathering up various passages in one statement. It will be noticed that his reference to turning away ungodliness is not in the Isaiah passage either. The Scriptures speak of Christ as both coming to Zion and from Zion (cf. Ps 14:7; 20:2 ; 53:6 ; 110:2 ; 128:5 ; 134:3 ; 135:21 ; Isa 2:3; Joel 3:16; Amos 1:2). It is certainly to quibble with words to argue, as Dr. Allis does, that this change of wording favors the amillennial view that a heavenly city is intended.15 In the nature of the case Christ must come “to Zion” before He comes “from Zion.” The deliverance promised Israel is not per se His second coming, but His rule on earth after His coming.
What is meant by Zion? This term has been used in reference to the city of Jerusalem or parts of it “at least since the time of David.”16 A study of its usage in the Old Testament reveals that its meaning is literal, that is, it is always associated with the earthly Zion. Its use in the New Testament is also literal. The only cases in question are the references in Hebrews 12:22 and Revelation 14:1, which readily yield to a literal interpretation if the premillennial viewpoint be adopted in interpreting the passages as a whole. In no case does Zion become merely a “heavenly city.”17 The many predictions in the Old Testament foretelling the coming of the Deliverer “out of Zion” (see references above) argue for a literal interpretation.
When the Deliverer comes, He will “turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” This is an event, not a process extending over ages of time. It is the subject of much Old Testament prophecy. It is part and parcel of the new covenant which Romans 11:27 mentions. A classic Old Testament passage bearing on the subject is Jeremiah 31:31-37. A new covenant is promised the house of Israel. In this new covenant, Jehovah promises: “I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know Jehovah; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sins will I remember no more” (Jer 31:33, 34). The passage then goes on to declare that Israel will endure as a nation under this new covenant as long as the ordinances of the sun, moon and stars endure. The passage concludes: “Thus saith Jehovah: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith Jehovah” (Jer 31:37). In brief, the new covenant promised the house of Israel is precisely what Paul refers to in Romans 11:26-27. The elements are the same: Israel is promised blessing as a group or nation; “all” are to be blessed; “all” are to know the Lord; “all” are to be forgiven. Certainly this is not the picture of Israel in any period of its history until now. A literal fulfillment demands an interpretation of Romans 11:26, 27 which is in accord with the premillennial position. The fact that believers in this age enjoy a “new covenant” of grace and blessing does not hinder the future fulfillment of this promise to Israel, which is in no wise being fulfilled now.
The premillennial interpretation of Scripture adds a great deal to the bare outline provided in Romans 11:26, 27. According to this viewpoint, the deliverance will be more than spiritual. Israel will be in the great tribulation and threatened with extermination (Matt 24:15-22). The coming of Christ will deliver them from physical harm. This is in view of their coming spiritual blessing which will be their portion after being judged and brought into the land of promise. These events are the means to the end—the spiritual blessing on Israel throughout the millennium. To argue that all the details of the complicated series of events which will bring Gentile power to its end and establish the kingdom of Christ on earth must be in this portion of Romans in order to establish the premillennial view of the future, is an example of the error of arguing from silence.18
When Will the Prophesied Deliverance Occur?
The amillennial viewpoint of Romans 11:25, 26 among other things does manifest injustice to the chronology of the passage. Whether the view of traditional amillennialism be followed, or the recent view of Professor Hendriksen that “all Israel” refers to elect Israel in all ages, the interpretation contradicts the order of events indicated in Romans eleven . The point of the entire chapter is that the present age is one of blessing to Gentiles and that this follows Israel’s fall. During this age some in Israel come to Christ and are saved, but the nation as a whole goes on in hardness or blindness and in unbelief. According to Romans 11:25, 26, the present situation is going to change when the fullness of the Gentiles, i.e., the present period of Gentile blessing, comes to its close. The terminus of Gentile blessing is the point in time when Israel’s blindness is lifted. When Israel’s blindness is lifted, the way is opened for the work of the Deliverer who will bring spiritual restoration as well as physical. The order of events is therefore: (1) Israel’s fall; (2) Gentile fullness of blessing; (3) Israel’s blindness lifted; (4) Israel’s Deliverer comes out of Zion; (5) Israel is turned away from ungodliness and her covenants are fulfilled. Now, manifestly, Israel fell as a nation. The reference is not to believing Israel or true Israel. Likewise, Israel is blind as a nation. Believing Israel is not blinded even in this age. So also “all Israel” refers not to believers in this age or in any previous age, but to the entire group which enter the millennium. To make “all Israel” “all believers” as Dr. Allis does, or “all Jewish believers,” as Professor Hendriksen does, is to blur the distinctions which are so carefully maintained in the entire passage. A study of the entire chapter including verses 28-32 reveals that the antithesis of “ye” and “they,” i.e., present believers as in contrast to “all Israel,” is carefully preserved throughout.
The deliverance of “all Israel” is not a process but an event. The time of the event is clearly when the Deliverer comes out of Zion, an event following the return of Christ in His second coming. The prophesied deliverance is, therefore, a future event and a single event. The great prophetic passages of the Old Testament upon which this prophecy is based do not have any harmony with the present undertaking of God. It is evident that it is not true today that everyone knows the Lord, that it is no longer necessary to teach our neighbors. This is not true for Gentiles and it is certainly not true for Israel. The future revelation of Christ to Israel will fulfill these predictions and bring the prophesied time of blessing for God’s ancient people.
What Are the Concomitant Events?
The predictions of Romans 11:25ff involve important doctrinal considerations beyond the revelation explicitly made. This explains why its interpretation has been characterized rather sharply by the school of interpretation represented. The premillennial interpretation has as its background important considerations. The restoration of Israel as a nation involves the Davidic Covenant.19 . It involves Israel’s continuance as a nation and possession of the land.20 It involves the separation of the purposes of God for the church, believers in this age, and for Israel. The themes of Scripture bearing on the time of great tribulation for Israel, the consummation of Gentile power, the second coming of Christ, the judgment of the Gentiles, the resurrection of Israel and her judgment, the judgment of Israel still in the flesh, and many other important doctrines are directly or indirectly related. It is not claimed that Romans eleven in itself settles all the problems or that it alone establishes the main premises of premillennialism. What is claimed is that a literal interpretation of Romans eleven is in full harmony with prophecy which has been and is being fulfilled and that it fits perfectly the general scheme of the premillennial interpretation of Scripture. If the statements of this chapter be taken in their ordinary meaning without resource to allegorical or spiritual interpretation of the key words, the inevitable conclusion is that we have here in broad outline God’s program: present blessing for Gentiles, future restoration and blessing for Israel as a nation. We say with Paul in the sense we believe he meant: “Did God cast off his people? God forbid.”
1 Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV, p. 398.
2 Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1909), p. 589.
3 Prophecy and the Church (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1945), p. 305.
4 Ibid., p. 100.
5 Ibid., p. 218.
6 Ibid., p. 7.
7 Ibid., p. 3.
8 Sunday School Times, November 24, 1945, p. 940.
9 Bibliotheca Sacra, October-December 1944, pp. 403-16.
10 Op. cit., p. 398.
12 Op. cit., p. 589.
13 Op. cit., p. 218.
14 “And So All Israel Shall Be Saved” (Baker’s Book Store, 1945), p. 33.
15 Ibid., p. 305.
16 International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, s.v., “Zion.”
17 Allis, op. cit., p. 305.
19 Cf. Bibliotheca Sacra, April-June 1945, “The Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant,” pp. 153-66.
20 Cf. Bibliotheca Sacra, January-March 1945, “The Fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant,” pp. 27-36.
Eschatological Problems X: The New Covenant with IsraelEschatological Problems X: The New Covenant with Israel John F Walvoord Wed, 07/18/2007 - 06:00
The New Testament by its very name proclaims the universal recognition that a new covenant was made by our Lord Jesus Christ. The title, applied to all the books of the Bible written after Christ, stands in contrast to the Old Testament or Old Covenant. In common parlance, the term New Testament has become almost a cliché, used to represent the books as such rather than their content. The term is, however, Biblical and fraught with great significance. Its interpretation bears on soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology in particular, and it colors theology as a whole.
The particular aspect of the new covenant considered here is the relation of the new covenant to Israel, specifically, the question of whether the new covenant promised Israel in the Old Testament will have literal fulfillment. In the hours of Israel’s apostasy and departure from God, the prophets mingled their predictions of dire judgment with glowing promises of a future in which Israel would have spiritual and temporal well-being. The interpretation of these promises in its relation to Christian doctrine is an important and determinative eschatological problem.
Like other Old Testament prophecies relating to Israel, the promises of a new covenant for Israel have received widely differing interpretations. Schools of interpretation have divided according to well-defined patterns corresponding to systems of eschatology. The postmillennial view of eschatology, for instance, finds the promises of the new covenant for Israel fulfilled in blessing on Jews who believe in Christ. Some, like Charles Hodge, who inclines to a literal interpretation of God’s promises, believe the Jewish people as a whole will come into blessing in the church through believing in Christ, thereby, according to this theory, fulfilling the promises.1 In other words, the postmillennial theory believes the promises will be fulfilled in this present age to Jews who believe in Christ.
The amillennial theory of eschatology differs somewhat from the postmillennial view. Its thesis is that the church as a whole, composed of both Jew and Gentile, is the true Israel, and therefore takes over bodily the blessings promised to Israel. Hence, the new covenant for Israel is, in fact, identical to the new covenant with the church and fulfilled in it. Dr. Oswald T. Allis states the position concisely when he writes, “For the gospel age in which we are living is that day foretold by the prophets when the law of God shall be written in the hearts of men (Jer. xxxi.33 ) and when the Spirit of God abiding in their hearts will enable them to keep it (Ezek. xi.19 , xxxvi.26f ).”2 In contrast to the postmillennial theory which finds fulfillment for the new covenant for Israel in blessing on the Jewish people in the church, Dr. Allis in stating the amillennial position transfers the promises to the entire church. Both of these theories find fulfillment of the new covenant in the present age only.
The premillennial theory of eschatology offers a more complex system of interpretation. Three types of interpretation are offered, the first two of which have no real difference. The third stands in rather sharp distinction to the others. The first premillennial theory and the most common is that popularized in the Scofield Reference Bible.3 It presents the new covenant with Israel and the church as being essentially one covenant, based on the sacrifice of Christ, but having a twofold application. It is applied to the church in this age, that is, to all who believe in Christ. It will have a future application in a literal millennium after the return of Christ when the promises given to Israel will be fulfilled. The new covenant under this theory has both a present and a future fulfillment, a present application to the church, a future application to Israel. The advantage of this interpretation is that it allows a full literal interpretation of God’s promises to Israel which is impossible in the postmillennial and amillennial theories.
Another form of premillennial interpretation is that which distinguishes the new covenant with Israel from the new covenant with the church. In other words, it finds two new covenants. The new covenant with Israel is new in contrast to the Mosaic covenant of the Old Testament. The new covenant for the church is new in contrast to the Adamic or old covenant for the church as a whole. Both new covenants are based on the sacrifice of Christ, but the promises belonging to the church and to Israel are sharply distinguished. It is apparent that while this approach to the problem makes a sharper distinction between Israel and the church, it does not differ essentially from the more common premillennial interpretation.
A third theory is suggested which limits the term new covenant to a covenant with Israel to be fulfilled in the millennium.4 In other words, the only new covenant is the one belonging to Israel and the only fulfillment is future. The church in the present age has a covenant or system of promises through the death of Christ, but it is not specifically a new covenant. This approach to the problem of interpretation is not generally held by premillennialists. The three premillennial views offer three degrees of distinction, the last being one extreme of which the amillennial view is the other.
The Determining Issue
The solution of the problem involved in the new covenant with Israel hinges on several determinative issues: (1) Are all the promises given to Israel under the new covenant being fulfilled in the present age? If they are, then the postmillennial and amillennial interpretations may be correct. If the promises are not being fulfilled now and cannot be fulfilled under conditions in the present age, then a future fulfillment is called for, and the premillennial interpretation is justified. (2) How does the New Testament use the term new covenant? This approach should confirm findings under the first question and give a ground for certain conclusions. (3) What is the explicit teaching of the New Testament about the new covenant? The new covenant with Israel is specifically quoted in the New Testament and conclusions drawn from it. How do these passages fit into the doctrine as a whole? The answer to these questions should in a large measure determine the answer to the problem.
The Promises of the New Covenant with Israel
The major passage in the Old Testament and the only one to use the specific term new covenant is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34: “Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith Jehovah. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith Jehovah: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their hearts will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know Jehovah; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.”
The issue being considered is whether these promises are now being fulfilled to the church or to the Jews in the church in this age. In this light, the provisions of the covenant are to be noted in the following particulars: (1) It is specifically a covenant with “the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” (2) It is contrasted with the Mosaic covenant which also was with Israel only and not with any other people. (3) The covenant will be fulfilled “after those days,” i.e., after the days of judgment and affliction described in the preceding context. (4) The Law is to be written in their hearts, in their “inward parts”—in contrast to the Mosaic law which was written in tables of stone. (5) Jehovah will be their God and Israel will be His people—this relationship will be mutually and publicly recognized by both parties. (6) There will be no need to proclaim the truth concerning Jehovah as all will know Him, “from the least of them unto the greatest of them.” (7) Their sins will be forgiven and remembered no more.
While certain aspects of this covenant correspond to spiritual blessings realized by the people of God in this age, it is not difficult to see that the provisions of the covenant are not fulfilled in any literal sense in this age. Those who follow the amillennial or postmillennial interpretations freely admit the need for a spiritual or non-literal interpretation. Even in a spiritual interpretation, however, it is necessary to assign meaning to the symbols used and statements made. The covenant is specifically made with Israel—a name which is never used in the New Testament in reference to Gentiles, as brought out in previous articles on eschatological problems. The covenant provides that God will be their God and Israel shall be His people. Obviously this involves more than ever existed in the Old Testament. It is a relationship to Israel as a group and premises a public manifestation of God’s blessing on them. Certainly this has no fulfillment in the present day or in any period since apostolic times. A most distinctive promise is that “all” will know Jehovah. This has never been true of the world and is not true today. The church in the world is given a commission to proclaim the Gospel to a world that knows not God, to teach the truth to those who have believed in Him. There is no evidence whatever that the day will ever come when all will know Jehovah until the full revelation is given by the personal return of Christ. The argument that this covenant is fulfilled in the present age hinges then on spiritualizing the key words, viz., Israel, and ignoring some of the most striking aspects of the covenant.
While Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the only reference specifically to the new covenant with Israel in the Old Testament, it cannot be doubted that many other passages refer to the same covenant, particularly the expression everlasting covenant. In this description its character as unconditional and eternal is emphasized instead of its difference in quality to the Mosaic covenant. All of God’s covenants with Israel except the Mosaic are described as everlasting, and it is necessary to consider the context to determine the reference in each case. In most instances the reference is clear.
In Isaiah 61:8, 9, certain aspects of the new covenant are emphasized and enlarged: “…I will make an everlasting covenant with them. And their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which Jehovah hath blessed.” Here is confirmed and enlarged what is revealed later, chronologically, by Jeremiah. Israel is to be publicly blessed before all the peoples of the world. As in the Jeremiah passage, these promises follow the predictions of judgment and are associated with Israel’s restoration as a nation and restoration to their land.
Jeremiah himself adds to the new covenant in 32:37-40 of his prophecy. The same features as appear in the new covenant are reiterated: (1) Israel is to be God’s people; (2) a changed heart; (3) God will do them good forever. Some additions to the covenant are also brought out clearly. The fulfillment of the new covenant is conditioned on the regathering of Israel from their world-wide dispersion (Jer 32:37) and their permanent establishing in their ancient land (Jer 32:41). These additions are important because there is nothing in the present age which fulfills these prophecies even spiritually. It is variously translated new covenant and new testament. It is found in some texts in Matthew 26:28 and Mark 14:24, and the word new obviously referring to the new covenant is found in Hebrews 8:13. The expression διαθήκη νέα also translated new covenant is found in Hebrews 12:24, where it brings out that the covenant is not only new in quality as contained in καινή, which is used in the other references, but also that the covenant is recent in its beginning.
There are many references to Israel’s covenants in the New Testament. The Abrahamic covenant is mentioned frequently (Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; 7:8 ; Gal 3:17; 4:24 ; Heb 8:9). In other instances the Mosaic covenant is indicated (2 Cor 3:14; Heb 9:4, 15, 20; Rev 11:19). General references to Israel’s covenants are also made (Rom 9:4; Eph 2:12). In some instances the new covenant is clearly in view though the word new is not mentioned (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Rom 11:27; Heb 8:10). The body of these Scriptures provides the basis for a New Testament study of the problem of Israel’s new covenant.
Of the five references to the new covenant in the New Testament, two have reference to the Lord’s Supper, one refers to the new covenant as that which Paul ministered, one refers to the new covenant with Israel, and the final passage reveals that Christ is the mediator of the new covenant. The fact that the term refers to the Lord’s Supper which is for both Jew and Gentile is a clear indication that the new covenant as referred to in the New Testament is not entirely Jewish. In fact, only one reference clearly relates the term new covenant to Israel, and this is found in Hebrews 8:8. A study of this reference and its context is the key to the New Testament revelation on the new covenant with Israel.
New Testament Teaching on the New Covenant with Israel
The Epistle to the Hebrews by its title is addressed to the Jewish people. The epistle is planned to show that Christ and Christian doctrine supersedes Moses and the Mosaic covenant. The argument in Hebrews eight proceeds on the revelation that Christ is mediator of a better covenant than Moses, established on better promises. At this point, the writer shows that the Mosaic covenant was never intended to be eternal (in contrast to other Jewish covenants) and that the Old Testament itself anticipated the day of its passing. To prove this point, the passage from Jeremiah on the new covenant is quoted (Heb 8:8-12). The quotation is not an exact translation of the Hebrew, but the variations are not significant in the general argument. The writer of Hebrews points out that the word new in itself shows that the Mosaic covenant was to end. He declares that the Mosaic covenant is now about to vanish away.
The Hebrews eight passage has been the center of controversy on the fulfillment of the new covenant with Israel. The amillennialist insists that here is positive proof that the church fulfills the covenant given to Israel. Dr. Oswald T. Allis, for instance, states: “The passage speaks of the new covenant. It declares that this new covenant has been already introduced and that by virtue of the fact it is called ‘new’ it has made the one which it is replacing ‘old,’ and that the old is about to vanish away. It would be hard to find a clearer reference to the gospel age in the Old Testament than in these verses in Jeremiah.”5
Dr. Allis has stated well the amillennial position, and has also himself indicated its fallacy, in the opinion of the writer, by begging the question. He states that the Hebrews passage “declares that this new covenant has been already introduced.”6 The passage states that a “better covenant” than the Mosaic covenant has been introduced (Heb 8:6), but it does not state here or anywhere else that this better covenant is identical with the “new covenant with the house of Israel,” or that the new covenant with Israel has been introduced. The argument of the passage does not hinge on this point at all, but rather on whether the Old Testament in any way anticipated an end to the Mosaic covenant. This the Old Testament does, but it does not follow that the new covenant of the Old Testament is identical with the better covenant of Hebrews.
There is no appeal at all to the content of the new covenant with Israel as being identical with the better covenant of which Hebrews speaks. The very absence of such an appeal is as strong as any argument from silence can be. It would have been a crushing blow to the opponents of the Christian order among the Jews to be faced with a quotation which described in detail the promises of God to the church. The writer instead merely refers to the word new and goes on to show in Hebrews nine how the Christian order superseded the sacraments of the Mosaic covenant.
Dr. Allis has, however, done premillennialism a service in demanding consistency on interpretation of this passage. Either the church fulfills the new covenant with Israel or it does not. While the writer has great respect for the Biblical scholarship of Dr. C. I. Scofield, he is inclined to agree with Dr. Allis that Scofield is not clear on this point in his Scofield Reference Bible. It is more consistent with the whole premillennial position to hold that the new covenant realized to-day by the church is different than the new covenant with the house of Israel than to hold that it fulfills it in part. The issue, after all, is whether the church inherits Israel’s promises. If it inherits any of them, the door is left open to the amillennial position. The proper doctrine is rather that while many of the blessings of the church are similar to those promised Israel, the promises to Israel remain intact to be fulfilled entirely by Israel. While the church may claim promises specified in the “new covenant” when it is not identified with Israel’s new covenant, it should remain on its own ground of blessing in Christ.
Another problem of interpretation may be mentioned, though Dr. Allis does not refer to it. In Hebrews 10:16, 17, a further reference is made to the new covenant with Israel. Here the argument is on the question of whether the sacrifice of Christ supersedes the sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant. Appeal is made to the new covenant with Israel in that it promises that sins will be forgiven and remembered no more. As in any sin-offering the sins are remembered, this would require a sacrifice once and for all, as provided in Christ. Again, it should be noted that there is no statement that the new covenant with Israel is identical with the new covenant for the church.
In Romans 11:26, 27, a confirmation of the conclusions reached in the study of Hebrews eight is found. Here the new covenant with the house of Israel is quoted in part and referred to the future national restoration of Israel, as has been discussed in previous articles.7 If Romans 11:25, 26 refer to a future restoration of Israel as a nation, an event distinct from God’s program for the church, then the New Testament itself interprets Jeremiah 31:31-34 as referring to a future time. In other words, while Hebrews eight does not make any statement on the time of fulfillment of the new covenant with Israel, the Romans passage states this definitely. We may conclude that the New Testament does not ever state that the new covenant with Israel is now being fulfilled, but rather that it specifies that it will be fulfilled at the time of Israel’s restoration as a nation, in that day when “all Israel shall be saved.”
While it has not been possible within the limits of this discussion to consider all aspects of the doctrine, certain important conclusions have been reached. The promises given to Israel in the form of a new covenant were found to remain unfulfilled to this hour. Any literal interpretation of the passages requires events and circumstances which are not a part of this age. Both the postmillennial and amillennial views were shown to depend upon spiritualizing the key words and important statements of the passage. Of the three views held by premillennialists, the view that the new covenant is exclusively and only for Israel was rejected. The use of the term new covenant in connection with the Lord’s Supper as celebrated by both Jews and Gentiles in the church was taken as evidence. Of the remaining views, the position that there are two new covenants, one for Israel to be fulfilled in the millennium and another for the church in this age, was found preferable. The sacrifice of Christ is the basis of any gracious covenant and remains the ground for fulfillment of God’s promised mercies both for the church and for the nation Israel.
1 Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1909), p. 589.
2 Prophecy and the Church (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1945), p. 42.
3 Pp. 1297-8, note.
4 Allis, op. cit., p. 155.
5 Op. cit., p. 154.
7 Cf. Bibliotheca Sacra, July-September 1945, pp. 280-290, October-December 1945, pp. 405-416.