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The Kingdom Program in Daniel 2

Michael J. VlachBy Dr. Michael J. Vlach 
Theological Studies 

Daniel’s ministry took place in the context of Israel’s captivity to Babylon. Daniel 2 tells of a coming kingdom of God that will suddenly and decisively crush and replace the reigning Gentile kingdoms. As such it is an important section of Scripture for understanding the timing and nature of God’s kingdom.

Not long after King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon ascended the throne, he had a recurring dream that disturbed him greatly (2:1). Sensing the magnitude of his dream, the king summoned his wise men with an incredible demand. They were to relate the king’s dream without being told of its contents and then interpret its meaning. Failure to do these things meant execution. They pleaded their case to the king, claiming the unfairness of such a request, but to no avail. On the verge of execution Daniel, who was also under the sentence of death, asked for time to beseech the Lord for the dream and its contents (2:18). “The mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision” (2:19) and after giving thanks to God Daniel gained access to the king to relate the dream and interpret its contents.

Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that his dream concerned “what will take place in the latter days” (2:28) and “what would take place in the future” (2:29). In the king’s dream he saw “a single great statue…which was large and of extraordinary splendor” (2:31). This single statue was made of various parts:

  • Head of fine gold (2:32)
  • Breast and arms of silver (2:32)
  • Belly and thighs of bronze (2:32)
  • Legs of iron (2:33)
  • Feet partly of iron and partly of clay (2:33)

The king also saw a “stone” that “was cut out without hands” that struck the statue on its feet (2:34). The entire statue including the head of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of bronze, the legs of iron and the feet of iron and clay “were crushed all at the same time” and became like “chaff” that was swept to the winds “so that not a trace of them was found” (2:35). The “stone” that struck the statue, however, “became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (2:35).

Nebuchadnezzar's DreamDaniel then offered the interpretation of the great statue and the stone that destroyed the statue and grew into a great mountain. Concerning the head of gold Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “You are the head of gold” (2:38). Thus, the golden head represented Nebuchadnezzar and the kingdom of Babylon. Daniel does not explicitly say what the remaining three kingdoms of the statue represent but many scholars from the early church onward believed that the breast and arms of silver represented the kingdom of Medo-Persia which followed the Babylonian kingdom. It is also believed that the belly and thighs of bronze represented the kingdom of Greece and that the legs of iron referred to the kingdom of Rome (2:39–40). Rome was the most powerful and dominating kingdom of ancient times and is well described by iron. The feet of iron and clay indicate a kingdom related to the fourth iron kingdom of Rome, but this form of the kingdom in a latter state is not as stable since it has the element of “clay” associated with it. Daniel says this kingdom is “divided” and while strong also has a “brittle” element to it (2:41–42). Thus, this fourth kingdom begins as a very strong iron kingdom but then becomes less strong.

The “stone” that “was cut out without hands” is undoubtedly God’s kingdom that is without human origin. The stone that strikes the feet of the statue then becomes “a great mountain that fills the whole earth.” “Mountain” in this context is a symbol of a kingdom. Verses 44–45 state what this kingdom will do to the previous kingdoms:

In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.

“In the days of those kings” is probably a reference back to the ten “toes” of the feet mentioned in verse 42. Thus, during the days of the final form of the fourth kingdom (Rome), the kingdom of God will “crush and put an end to all these kingdoms” and “will itself endure forever.”

Daniel 2, therefore, teaches five kingdoms with the fifth and final kingdom crushing the others:

  1. Babylon (head of Gold)
  2. Medo-Persia (breast and arms of silver)
  3. Greece (belly and thighs of bronze)
  4. Rome (legs of iron) and later form of Roman empire (feet mixed with iron and clay)
  5. God’s kingdom (a stone cut out without hands that becomes a great mountain)

The main point of Daniel 2 is that starting with Babylon there would be four major Gentile powers that would rule over the world and Israel, but a day is coming when God’s kingdom will suddenly crush these kingdoms and itself will be established as a geo-political entity over the entire earth forever.

Note that when God’s kingdom comes it dramatically and decisively destroys and replaces the existing four Gentile powers that preceded it. It does not co-exist as a spiritual kingdom alongside these literal kingdoms. As McClain states,

“Now it is deeply significant that in these visions the heavenly Kingdom comes down and destroys and supplants existing political powers” [1]

At one moment a stone from heaven shatters the Gentile kingdoms leading to the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. There is no gradual development of God’s kingdom. It comes suddenly and decisively.

Debate has occurred as to whether this kingdom of God is a spiritual or earthly kingdom. This kingdom of God is spiritual in that it comes from heaven. But when this kingdom of God comes, it invades earth and takes over the realm in which the other four kingdoms ruled. Thus, it is an earthly kingdom as well in that it presides on the earth. The kingdom of God will be spiritual in origin but earthly in regard to the sphere of its existence and domain.

This earthly aspect of God’s kingdom is evident in a connecting point between the fourth kingdom (Rome) and the fifth kingdom (God’s kingdom). The fourth kingdom (Rome) “shatters all things” and “breaks in pieces” its enemies (2:40). Likewise, the fifth kingdom, God’s kingdom, “will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms” (2:44). There is a parallel here—just as the fourth kingdom of Rome crushed all rival political kingdoms on earth, so too the kingdom of God will crush the earthly political kingdoms on the scene when it comes. The coming of God’s kingdom is not progressively taking place over time; it is sudden. This is a stone that violently brings an end to the kingdoms that preceded it. The kingdoms that use to exist are like “chaff” that is swept away by strong winds.

Like the previous four kingdoms, God’s coming kingdom is a real geographical and political kingdom that will exist over the entire earth. It radically replaces the Gentile kingdoms that came before it. In reference to Daniel 2, Blaising states,

“This kingdom is not simply a higher order of spiritual reality that coexists with the present course of affairs, but it is a complete replacement of present conditions on earth with a new worldwide and multinational world order” [2]

Some have argued that God’s kingdom is the church, but this understanding is unlikely. According to Daniel 2:44–45, when God’s kingdom is established it crushes and puts an end to the prevailing Gentile powers of the day who are swept away like chaff with no remnants remaining. This did not happen when the church began. The Roman Empire continued for centuries after the church started. There is no evidence that the leaders of the Roman Empire or anyone else believed their kingdom had been replaced by the Christian church. That would have been news to them. Instead, the kingdom of God of Daniel 2 replaces the fourth kingdom when it comes; it does not exist alongside in a spiritual sense. Plus, just as the four previous kingdoms were tangible geo-political entities, so too will God’s kingdom be a geo-political entity. While the church has a mission to the nations, it is not a geo-political group like Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, or Rome. The coming Christian church simply is not the fifth kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream statue.

The concept of reigning over the earth is an important one in Scripture. In the creation account God created man to rule and subdue the earth (Gen 1:26–28). While God had established a kingdom on earth with Israel (see 1 and 2 Samuel), a nation that was supposed to show God’s glory to the other kingdoms of the world, Israel failed its mission and was judged and dispersed to the Gentile nations who would now rule over Israel. God’s kingly authority over the earth would be given to Babylon and then to the kingdoms of Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and then a weaker but revived Roman Empire. But after this time period of Gentile domination or what Jesus called “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) God’s kingdom will be established over the entire earth and Israel will be restored. In sum, King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream involved the broad panorama of human history from his day through the kingdom of Israel’s Messiah.

Endnotes


[1] Alva McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, 153.
[2] Craig A. Blaising, “Premillennialism,” in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, 193.

I’m trying to understand how those who hold to an Amillennialist eschatology interpret Scripture.   I was shocked by the position presented on 5ptsalt blog which claimed Israel = Jesus.   I have never heard their position stated like that before.

In my personal Bible study, I find clear teaching that God has a plan for the future of ethnic Jews that survive the Great Tribulation.  Just one example is in the 12th &13th chapters of Ezekiel, the nation of Israel recognizes their sin in rejecting Messiah at His first Advent; recognizes that Jesus has the power to save when He defends Jerusalem at the battle of Armageddon, repents and is redeemed.

JMac puts it succinctly when he proclaims:

“And that’s a simple point, folks, you ought to make sure you understand. There is no forgiveness until there is repentance. There is no salvation until there is sorrow for sin. There is no cleansing until there is an awareness that cleansing is needed. And as they mourn and as they see Christ, they are doing what is required by God for cleansing.”

If it’s so understandable to me, however, how is it that those who hold to an Amill position see it differently?  How is it that they ‘replace’ Israel with Jesus?

I found a fabulous explanation from Fred Butler’s blog, Hip and Thigh.  He presents the following list of hermeneutic presuppositions that Amills hold to when they interpret Scripture:

1) The NT provides an over riding explanation of the OT. In other words, the NT must be utilized to interpret to OT. Sometimes the NT interpretation spiritualized the OT so that it is understood in the non-literal sense.

2) OT prophets spoke of the glories of the coming Messianic age from the pre-Messianic age. This means that when OT writers spoke of Israel, the Temple, David’s throne, the Kingdom of God, the NT reinterprets all those images to apply to Christ and His Church. The OT images, as real as they may have been, are really types and shadows found in the reality of Christ.

3) Use of the analogy of faith. Basically, this principle states unclear text will be interpreted in light of clear texts. The NT is the clearest revelation we have, so it will illuminate cloudy, OT texts.

This list apparently was from Kim Riddlebarger, who is from White Horse Inn, I think.

So Amills interpret the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament.  They believe that all the prophecies have been fulfilled in Christ and we are now in the ‘1000 year’ reign of Christ.  Really???  Need more research into Amill & preterism.

I had a wonderful Sunday School teacher years ago who used to always say,  “The Old Testament concealed; the New Testament revealed.”  He taught from a pretrib rapture/ literal 1000 year position.

Still noodling it through in my head.  I am confident, however, that at this point I do not agree with the Amill’s position that Israel = Jesus.  God’s plan of redemption for a surviving remnant of ethnic Jews is clearly taught in Scripture–Genesis to Revelation.

By Dr. Thomas Ice
Pre-Trib Research Center

As I continue to look at the Olivet Discourse and futurism, we are seeing that if part or all the events prophesied in Matthew 24:4–12 refer to the inter-advent age — which is the current church age — then imminency is impossible. Yet, all pretribulational rapturists believe that the New Testament Epistles teach us to look for Christ Himself, which indicates that no event or series of events must occur before Christ can come in the clouds and take His church with Him to the Father’s house. Let’s take a look at imminency passages.

Imminency Passages

Wayne Brindle has given four helpful criteria as guidelines for identifying a passage that teaches the imminence of the rapture. Brindle contends that if any one of the four criteria is found in a New Testament passage then it indicates imminence. The four criteria are as follows, which also provides a definition of imminence:

(1) The passage speaks of Christ’s return as at any moment. (2) The passage speaks of Christ’s return as “near,” without stating any signs that must precede His coming. (3) The passage speaks of Christ’s return as something that gives believers hope and encouragement, without indicating that these believers will suffer tribulation. (4) The passage speaks of Christ’s return as giving hope without relating it to God’s judgment of unbelievers. [1]

Brindle notes that many second coming passages do not teach imminence, based upon his criteria. “Matthew 24—25, for example, describes Christ’s return as delivering the elect from the midst of tribulation and death, and thus those chapters do not prove imminence,” declares Brindle. “Likewise 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 19 fail to speak of imminence, since both depict eschatological events that include signs for Christ’s return (although2 Thess. 2:1, a reference to the rapture, could arguably be separated from the rest of the chapter).” He concludes that, “seven New Testament passages do clearly teach the imminent return of Christ.” [2]

Seven Passages

Brindle’s seven passages are as follows: John 14:1–31 Thessalonians 1:9–105:4–91 Corinthians 1:7Titus 2:131 John 3:2–3Revelation 22:7,1220. [3] The first passage is John 14:1–3:

“Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

This is the only passage in the Gospels that speaks of the rapture. It was in the Upper Room Discourse (John 13—16, 17), the night before Christ was crucified, in which He introduces Church Age truth, including the rapture in verse 3. Brindle classifies this passage as teaching imminence since Christ returns with believers to the Father’s House in heaven, instead of remaining on earth for the millennium, as will take place at the second advent. Further, there are no intervening events that must take place before Christ’s return. [4]

Second, 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10:

“For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

The wrath spoken of by Paul must surely refer to “the day of the Lord” (2 Thess. 2:2) or the wrath of the tribulation (1 Thess. 5:39). Thus, believers will be delivered by Jesus, (through the rapture), from future wrath (the tribulation). Brindle notes that, “the statement points to a deliverance before wrath begins.” [5] This passage speaks of an imminent return.

Third, 1 Thessalonians 5:4–9:

“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,”

Fourth, 1 Corinthians 1:7:

“so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Corinthian church is instructed by Paul to focus not on spiritual gifts, but on the return of Christ. They are “awaiting eagerly” His revelation, which supports the notion of imminence. If one is “awaiting eagerly” something, it is the entire focus of their expectation, which could not be the case if events were to precede Christ’s revelation.

Fifth, Titus 2:13:

“looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s terminology here strongly implies that “the blessed hope,” as the Christian’s ultimate hope, is the rapture presented as a totally positive and joyful expectation.” [6] Surely this would not be the case if one were destined to go through the events of the tribulation. There would be a dread, because in order to experience the happiness of Christ’s return, they would first have to endure the pain of tribulation. This is not the case at all in this passage. Believers are to be looking for an imminent appearing of their Savior, Christ Jesus, not signs or events that must precede His appearing.

Sixth, 1 John 3:2–3:

“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

Once again the focus of this passage is on the fact that Christ will appear. There are no other signs preceding his appearing, which forms the basis for always being ready by purifying oneself as He is pure. Imminence is clearly taught in this passage. “If a person expects important guests to arrive momentarily, he or she may be busily engaged in cleaning the house and making every possible preparation for the arrival — perhaps focusing with great eagerness on ‘purifying’ the house and making it ready,” notes Brindle. “The hope is realistic and motivational in proportion to its imminence.” [7]

Seventh, Revelation 22:71220:

“And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:7). “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (22:12). “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (22:20).

The focus of these verses in Revelation 22 are upon the fact that Jesus is coming “quickly.” “Quickly” is an adjective that pertains “to a very brief period of time, with focus on speed of an activity or event.” Specifically, in these contexts, it is a qualitative adjective and means “without delay, quickly, at once.” [8] In other words, when the event or events that these three verses reference, begin to occur, whenever that will be, they will come to pass “quickly,” “suddenly,” “unexpectedly,” “without delay” from the perspective of the recipient of these actions. There will be no warning or signal that this event is about to take place. This is why these passages are said to teach imminency concerning Christ’s return, which has to refer to the rapture that precedes the numerous events of the tribulation described in Revelation. Brindle concludes: “The promises thus assume imminence, and the probability of a reference to the rapture is strengthened by the reference to Christ’s rewards in 22:12 (based on works, as at the judgment seat of Christ; 2 Cor. 5:10–11).” [9]

Conclusion

Imminency is an important item within a futurist interpretative approach. Brindle concludes:

“These passages that promise the rapture of the church all teach, imply, or allow for imminence as an event that can occur “at any moment.” The purpose of most of these passages is to encourage believers concerning the hope that awaits them or to motivate them to pursue holiness in anticipation of seeing Christ soon.” [10]

On the other hand, the Olivet Discourse tells believers to watch for signs and to “endure to the end, he shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13). Church age believers are told to wait, not watch, since there are no signs preceding the “any moment” or imminent rapture event. These are two separate events. Thus, if there are signs of Christ’s coming throughout the Church Age, especially toward the end, then it leads to the clear conclusion that there cannot be a pre-trib rapture before the tribulation or the concept of imminence must be totally redefined, as many posttribulationists have done. Instead, it is better to apply consistent futurism to the Olivet Discourse and see all of the events of verses 4–31 as occurring within the 70th week of Daniel, not in any part of the current Church Age. Maranatha!

Endnotes


[1] Wayne A. Brindle, “Biblical Evidence for the Imminence of the Rapture,” Bibliotheca Sacra (April–June 2002; vol. 158, no. 630), p. 139.
[2] Brindle, “Imminence of the Rapture,” p. 139.
[3] Brindle, “Imminence of the Rapture,” pp. 139–51.
[4] Brindle, “Imminence of the Rapture,” pp. 141–42.
[5] Brindle, “Imminence of the Rapture,” p. 143.
[6] Brindle, “Imminence of the Rapture,” p. 148.
[7] Brindle, “Imminence of the Rapture,” p. 149.
[8] W. F. Arndt, F. W. Danker, F. W. Gingrich, & Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 993.
[9] Brindle, “Imminence of the Rapture,” p. 151.
[10] Brindle, “Imminence of the Rapture,” p. 151.

Dr. Thomas Ice
Prib-Trib Research Center

The Olivet Discourse, I believe, is Christ’s message about the 70th-week of Daniel or the tribulation period. Jesus begins His discourse in verse 4 when He warns about the possibility of being deceived by false Messiahs. Does this warning refer to the inter-advent age or does is it a parallel to the first seal judgement of Revelation 6:1–2 as a reference to a false Messiah — the antichrist?

Inter-Advent Age View

Many futurist interpreters of the Olivet Discourse believe that verses 4–14 describe the general signs of the inter-advent age. Dr. John F. Walvoord, an advocate of this view says that verses 4–14 are “describing the general characteristics of the age leading up to the end, while at the same time recognizing that the prediction of difficulties, which will characterized the entire period between the first and second coming of Christ, are fulfilled in an intensified form as the age moves on to its conclusion.” [1] Dr. Walvoord believes that verses 15–26 are specific signs that describe the tribulation, while verses 27–31 relate to the second coming. [2] Thus, according to this view the entire church age and the tribulation is the period in which the signs of the second coming are gradually increasing, as Dr. Walvoord contends. The birth pangs began 2,000 years ago and have become very intense in our day.

Within the inter-advent age view is a variation of this perspective. Some think that verses 4–8 are general signs of the inter-advent age leading up to the tribulation. While verses 9–14 reference the first half of the tribulation. “The events concerning the first half of the tribulation are recorded inMatthew 24:9–14,” says Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum. This “passage begins with the word then, pointing out that what Christ is describing now will come after the event of nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom.” [3]

Hal Lindsey popularized another variation of the inter-advent age view by teaching that the birth pangs began when Israel became a nation. [4] Since that occurred in 1948, the signs of verses 4–8 are currently and increasingly being fulfilled, according to this view. [5]

If the inter-advent age view is the correct interpretation, then it would mean that wars, earthquakes, famines, and the appearance of false Christs would be constantly on the increase as we approach the tribulation period. However, if these items are references to the first half of the tribulation, then wars, earthquakes, famines, and false Christs during any part of the church age would not constitute prophetic signs. This explains why some futurists believe that increasing wars, earthquakes, famines, etc. are prophetically significant, while others, like myself, do not think that they are prophetically significant, since these verses refer to global events during the seven-year tribulation.

Tribulation View

I believe that Matthew 24:4–41 refers to the seven-year period (Dan. 9:24–27) that many commonly call the tribulation. The tribulation is divided in half by the abomination of desolation, mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24:15. Thus, verses 4–14 refer to the first half of the tribulation and are parallel to the first five seal judgments found in Revelation 6. I have already made the case for this view in a previous installment. How do I explain the popularity of the inter-advent age view’s popularity among some futurists?

First, it would appear to me that the burden of proof concerning this matter would be with the futurist-historicist, who holds to the inter-advent age view to show that Christ’s prophecy of events in Matthew 24:4–14 differ from those in Revelation six. That is the outcome if the inter-advent age view is taken. The events of Matthew 24:4–14 and Revelation six are in reality parallel to each other. Seeing these passages as parallel and in the same sequence makes the most sense and provides a framework for understanding similar passages throughout the Old Testament within the context of the tribulation, not our current Church Age.

Next, a general observation about the development of modern futurism comes into play at this point. While it is true that the early church took a futurist view of Bible prophecy, futurism died out by the fourth and fifth centuries in conjunction with the suppression of premillennialism. When premillennialism began to be revived by Protestantism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it was linked to historicism, not futurism. In fact, historicism became such an entrenched view within Protestantism from the early 1600’s until about 1800, that it earned the label “the Protestant view.” During this period, it did not matter whether you were an Amillennialist, Premillennialist, or Postmillennialist, virtually all held to a historicist view of Revelation and prophetic interpretation within Protestantism.

Since the key feature of historicism’s view of Revelation is to equate the events of the tribulation (chapters 4—19) with the current Church Age, it is not surprising that these same interpreters tended to view the events of the Olivet Discourse in the same way. The shift away from the historicist understanding of the Book of Revelation began to take place in the mid-1800s in Great Britain and after the Civil War in America. However, applying a futurist interpretation to Christ’s Olivet Discourse proceeded more slowly than the shift to a futurist view of Revelation. I believe that this is what led to the popularity of a futurist-historicist view of the Olivet Discourse by otherwise futurist interpreters. As with any interpretative paradigm shift, it has taken some time to apply consistent literal interpretation to the Olivet Discourse, which yields a consistent futurism in relation to the passage.

The Historicist Attraction

The attraction of the historicist interpretative approach for historicists is that they can say: “prophecy is being fulfilled today.” However, prophecy is not being fulfilled today! [6] After about 250 years of trying to make that work, people finally got tired of failed prophecy after failed prophecy. Historian Ernest Sandeen has noted the following about the failures of historicism:

Sooner or later these timetables failed to predict a great world event (such as the defeat and exile of Napoleon III in 1870, which confounded many scholars’ expectations that the emperor would prove to be the Antichrist) or predicted one that failed to appear on schedule. After 1844 the historicist’s position began to lose the almost undisputed position that it held during the first generation of the millenarian revival. [7]

Since the Bible cannot be wrong and has proven to be correct in relation to the fulfillment of prophecy in regards to the first coming of the Messiah (Jesus), when taken literally, it will be proven true in relation to His second advent when taken literally. However, just like historicists, futurists who import elements of historicism into their prophetic frameworks too often prove to be failures, just like the historicists of bygone years.

Frankly, it is the historicist elements that some dispensational futurists incorporate into their systems that appear attractive to those who want to be able to say, “Bible prophecy is being fulfilled in our own day.” Yet, it is these same historicists elements that are seen by our critics, who use them to say that dispensationalists are date-setters and prognosticators who have been proven wrong. And many of these historicist-based elements have been proven wrong. The critics then claim that dispensationalism has been proven wrong, when in fact it is the historicist elements that do not belong to futurist dispensationalism. Sandeen tells us concerning Darby and dispensationalism the following:

Unlike the historicist millenarians, Darby taught that the prophetic timetable had been interrupted at the founding of the church and that the unfulfilled biblical prophecies must all wait upon the rapture of the church … Darby avoided the pitfalls both of attempting to predict a time for Christ’s second advent and of trying to make sense out of the contemporary alarms of European politics with the Revelation as the guidebook. [8]

Further problems with blending elements of historicism with futurism is that such a mix destroys imminency, which is the fact that Christ could come at any moment to rapture His Bride, before any of the events of the tribulation can occur. Thus, to say that the events of Matthew 24:4–8, for example, are taking place today, before the rapture has taken place, is destructive of a true doctrine of imminency (1 Cor. 1:7Phil. 3:204:51 Thess. 1:105:9;Titus 2:13James 5: 7–91 Pet. 1:13Jude 21). If these events must take place during the current Church Age, then they would need to take place before the rapture could occur. We can see that the more one looks at the details of the view that Matthew 24:4–14 or 4–8 refers to the inter-advent age, the more we see that such a view undermines consistent futurism. Maranatha!

Endnotes


[1] John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), p. 183.
[2] Walvoord, Matthew, p. 183.
[3] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah: A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events, 2nd ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Press, 2003), pp. 632-35. For the most exhaustive presentation of this view that I have found so far, see David L. Cooper, Future Events Revealed: According to Matthew 24 and 25 (Los Angeles: David L. Cooper, 1935).
[4] Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), pp. 53–54.
[5] Some have tried to make the case that killer earthquakes are on the rise over the last few decades, which is disputed by others. Even if killer quakes are on the rise, it does not impact my thinking on this issue since my view is formulated by my understanding of the biblical text, not a perception of current events.
[6] However, it is clear that today God is in the process of bringing Israel back to her land in preparation for the events of the tribulation. There can also be no doubt that God is preparing or setting the stage for a time of future fulfillment, after the rapture and during the tribulation.
[7] Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800–1930 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 60.
[8] Sandeen, Roots of Fundamentalism, pp. 62–64.

by Dr. Thomas Ice
Pre-Trib Research Center

In my previous installment, I noted that there are not specific prophecies relating to the current church age in which we live. There are only general trends that characterize the church age. Therefore, if my portrayal of the church age is correct, then it would follow that there would not be signs of the end of this age, which would amount to signs for the rapture since it is that event which we all agree terminates this dispensation. In order to examine this notion, I want to begin an appraisal of whether signs of the first section in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:3–14) relate to the church age or the tribulation.

Preliminary Issues

First of all, we must identify the specific texts that contain the Olivet Discourse and its various accounts in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Olivet Discourse is found in Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13, and Luke 21:5–36. Some also believe that elements of the discourse are found in Luke 17:37, however, this discourse appears to be set within a different context related to the coming of the kingdom, even though some of the same statements are used. The Matthew and Mark accounts have many parallels and I believe relate totally to the future time of the tribulation. However, Luke 21 is the only account that has some elements that relate to a.d. 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem (especially 21:20–24) but also some that relate to the future tribulation (especially 21:25–28). How does the fact that some of Luke 21 relates to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century, which occurred in the church age?

Primarily Luke 21:20–24 was fulfilled during the early part of the church age because there was a transition needed from Israel to the church. Since the church began in Acts 2, it was not immediately obvious what was unfolding. Only after the Apostle Paul was converted a few years after Acts 2, then taken to heaven and given revelation (2 Cor. 12:1–10Gal. 1:11—2:2) about the nature and purpose of the church age (Eph. 3:1–13), were members of the body of Christ able to begin to understand what was taking place (2 Pet. 3:15–16). However, there is not a similar body of prophecy relating to the end of the church age as there was for Israel, since Israel greatly differs from the church age by having extensive prophetic activity, while the church does not, as noted in my previous installment.

The church age began suddenly and unexpected in Acts 2 and it will end suddenly and unexpected at the rapture, because the church age is said to be a mystery (Rom. 16:25–27Eph. 3:1–13Col. 1:24—2:3), a secret not revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus unveiled “church age truth” in the Upper Room Discourse (John 13—16) that He gave just a few hours before His death. Three times during this discourse, Jesus tells his disciples that He is going away and will send them the Holy Spirit who will guide them into all truth (John 14:2615:2616:7). These promises were fulfilled by the new ministries of the Holy Spirit related to the current Church Age and the revelation of the New Testament through the Apostles, which includes the disclosure of Church Age mysteries. These “church age truths” are given within the context of Israel’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah and explain what God is doing during the time of Israel’s apostasy as I have noted previously.

The implications of the above factors support the notion that the Olivet Discourse relates to Israel and not the church. The Olivet Discourse is given at least three days before Christ’s death in a context of discussing the Temple. The Upper Room Discourse is given just a few hours before his death in the context of His going away and introduces new truth for the yet to be revealed Church Age. The Olivet Discourse is our Lord’s outline of the seventieth week of Daniel or the tribulation period in light of a couple of questions ask by the disciples (Matt. 24:1–3Mark 13:1–4Luke 21:5–7) and is paralleled by Revelation 4—19 in relation to later Revelation. On the other hand, the Upper Room Discourse is related to the later revelation, which is the New Testament, especially the Epistles, that the Holy Spirit would provide after Christ’s departure.

The Historical Setting

Matthew 24:1-3 provides us with the setting for which Christ delivers His prophetic sermon. We see that Jesus is making His way from the Temple (24:1) to the Mount of Olives (24:3), which would mean that He most likely would travel down the Kidron Valley and on up to Olivet. As He was going from the Temple “His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him” (24:1). This statement leads us to believe that they were talking to Jesus about how beautiful the Temple complex was that Herod was still in the process of remodeling and refurbishing. Such an emphasis is borne out in the parallel references inMark 13:1-2 and Luke 21:5-6 as the disciples speak of the beauty of the Temple buildings. The Lord must have startled His disciples by His response to their gloating over the beauty of the Temple complex when He said,

“Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (24:2).

As 24:2 is completed with Christ’s statement, there is a break in the narrative. The narrative resumes in 24:3 when it says, “the disciples came to Him privately.” Mark 13:3 tells us that the disciples who came to Him privately were Peter, James, John and Andrew, and that they were sitting on the Mount of Olives looking at the Temple. This would be the same vista that many have seen today when a pilgrim goes to the viewing point in modern Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives that overlooks the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock currently perched upon it.

When the disciples came to Jesus privately, it fits the pattern that Jesus practices and Matthew records of teaching only His believing disciples once the nation rejected Him as their prophesied Messiah in Matthew 12. From Matthew 13 on, Jesus speaks publicly to the rejecting nation only in parables (Matt. 13:10-17).

“Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matt. 13:13).

However, many times He would later explain a public parable privately to His disciples (for example, Matt. 13:10-23). In the Olivet Discourse, we see Christ following this pattern. This private explanation, which is the Olivet Discourse, means that Christ will provide His explanation of future history for the benefit of Jewish believers.

The Disciples Questions

While sitting on the Mount of Olives these four disciples ask Jesus the following questions:

“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age” (24:3)?

Immediately debate rises over whether these are two questions or three. If one takes the first option, then there is no doubt that the second question contains two parts to it. I believe that there are two basic questions because of the grammar of the passage as explained by Dr. Craig Blomberg as follows:

“The sign of your coming and of the end of the age” in Greek reads, more literally, the sign of your coming and end of the age. By not repeating the definite article (“the”) before “end of the age,” Matthew’s rendering of Jesus’ words is most likely linking the coming of Christ and the end of the age together as one event (Granville Sharp’s rule). [1]

This means that the two phrases are closely related to one another in the mind of the disciples, who formulated the question. This relationship in their question indicates that the disciples likely thought they would be fulfilled during the same event.

Clearly the first question relates to the destruction of the Temple, which was fulfilled in the Roman invasion and destruction of a.d. 70. It is equally clear that the two aspects of the second question have yet to occur in history, even though some want to see in this passage Christ’s second coming.

It appears likely to me that the disciples believed that all three aspects of their two questions would occur around the same event — the coming of Messiah. Why would they have thought this way? Dr. Toussaint is correct to note that the disciples were most likely influenced by the prophet Zechariah as follows:

In their minds they had developed a chronology of events in the following sequence: (1) the departure of the King, (2) after a period of time the destruction of Jerusalem, and (3) immediately after Jerusalem’s devastation the presence of the Messiah. They had good scriptural ground for this since Zechariah 14:1-2 describes the razing of Jerusalem. The same passage goes on to describe the coming of the Lord to destroy the nations which warred against Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:3-8). Following this the millennial kingdom is established (Zechariah 14:9-11). [2]

In other words, the disciples thought that all three events were related to a single event — the return of the Messiah as taught in Zechariah 14:4. They were right to think of Zechariah 12—14 and his teaching about Messiah’s return. However, they were wrong to relate the impending judgment of Jerusalem and the temple with the second coming of Messiah. In the course of His Discourse, Jesus will separate these events and place them into their proper contexts. Maranatha!

Endnotes


[1] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, Vol. 22 of The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), p. 353, f.n. 37.
[2] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King: A Study of Matthew (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1980), p. 269.

by Dr. Thomas Ice
Pre-Trib Research Center

When one looks at the New Testament Epistles for specific prophecy relating to the current church age, there is virtually nothing to be found. The church age is not a time of specific prophetic fulfillment and does not have a specific prophetic countdown or timetable, as does Israel and her 70 weeks of years prophecy (Dan. 9:24-27). The only specific future event prophesied for the church age is its end found in the rapture of the church event (John 14:1–31 Thess. 4:13–18). There are general descriptions that give us an idea of the trends of the church age, but there is not specific prophecy like that which is found in abundance to describe the tribulation period. The church age mainly has specific prophecy about its beginning (Acts 1 and 2) and its ending (1 Thess. 4:13–18). The general admonition that “evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 4:13) is characteristic of the Lord’s revelation relating to the church age.

The Course of the Church Age

The current church age, in which believers live today, does have a general course or direction in which this dispensation is moving. First, James says inActs 15:14:

“Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name.”

The purpose of the present church age is to be a time of great Gentile salvation. This does not mean that there will not be Jewish believers during this age, because there is a remnant of Jacob throughout the church age which is added to Gentile ingathering in order to form the body of Christ. Ephesians chapter two teaches us that the Lord is taking the Jewish remnant and joining them with Gentile converts into one new man in which Jewish and Gentile believers are one, thus, coequal with Christ during the church age. However, when the last elect Gentile is saved whom the Father has chosen to be part of the body of Christ, then, as Paul says, “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25). Fullness in this context has the connotation of “full number of Gentiles.” This means that when that last Gentile is converted to Christ, His body will be complete and the rapture will occur, ending the current church age.

The course of this age is given to Christians primarily by Christ’s parables in Matthew 13 providing insight into the course of this dispensation. Since Matthew 13 surveys this present age in its relation to the postponement of the kingdom, the parables cover the period of time between Christ’s two advents — His first and second comings. This includes the tribulation, second coming, and final judgment, after the rapture, but nevertheless includes an important overview of our present era. Therefore, the items that relate to the end of the age in Matthew 13 do not apply to the church age, since our dispensation will end via the rapture, while the broader inter-advent age continues with the tribulation and Christ’s physical return to planet earth at the end of that seven-year period. How does Matthew 13 depict this age?

The parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1–23) teaches that this age will be characterized by the sowing of the gospel seed onto different kinds of soil. The sowing of the seed will receive opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil, resulting in various responses to the gospel message. The parable of the tares (Matt. 13:24–30) teaches that the true sowing will be imitated by a false counter-sowing, which will result in a side-by-side development as a result of the two sowings. Judgment at the end of the tribulation, at least seven-years after the conclusion of the church age will separate the two with the wheat entering the Messianic Kingdom and the tares being excluded. The parable of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31–32) teaches that there will be an abnormal external growth of Christendom [1] until it becomes a monstrosity, which will become a resting place for birds, who are pictured as agents of Satan. Christendom has been for many years and remains the largest religion in the world today. The parable of the leaven (Matt. 13:33–43) teaches that false teaching, represented by leaven, will be introduced into this age resulting in corruption of doctrine. False teaching will grow until it permeates all branches of Christendom. The parable of the hidden treasure (Matt. 13:44) teaches that the treasure hidden is the field representing Israel. It teaches that there will be a remnant that will be saved out of Israel who is scattered around the world during the church age. Yet, there will be Jews coming to Jesus the Messiah during the current dispensation. Finally, the parable of the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45) teaches that since the pearl originates in the sea and when the sea is used symbolically it represents Gentiles. Thus, the main point of this parable is that Gentiles will also come to a saving knowledge of Jesus as their Messiah. The last two parables in Matthew 13 do not relate to the church age, thus, they will not be dealt with.

The Last Days for the Church

The New Testament clearly speaks about the last days for the church. Note the use of the following terms that speak of the end of the current church age: “latter days” (1 Tim. 4:1); “last days” (2 Tim. 3:1Heb. 1:2; Jam. 5:3; 2 Pet. 3:3); “last times” (1 Pet. 1:20Jude 18); “last time” (1 Pet.1:51 John 2:18). A number of New Testament Epistles clearly speak of the condition within Christendom near the end of the church age. Interestingly, virtually all of these comments come from the Epistles written shortly before the death of each Apostle writing (i.e., during the last days of the various Apostles), as if to emphasize the dangers latent during the church’s last days. The following is a list of the seven major passages that deal with the last days for the church:

Every one of these passages emphasizes over and over again that the great characteristic of the end of the church age will be that of apostasy. Pentecost concludes:

“This condition at the close of the age is seen to coincide with the state within the Laodicean Church, before which Christ must stand to seek admission. In view of its close it is not surprising that the age is called an “evil age” in Scripture.” [2]

The New Testament pictures the condition within the professing church at the end of the age by a system of denials.

Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder and first president of Dallas Theological Seminary, characterized the last days for the church in the following way:

A very extensive body of Scripture bears on the last days for the Church. Reference is to a restricted time at the very end of, and yet wholly within, the present age. Though this brief period immediately precedes the great tribulation and in some measure is a preparation for it, these two times of apostasy and confusion — though incomparable in history — are wholly separate the one from the other. Those Scriptures which set forth the last days for the Church give no consideration to political or world conditions but are confined to the Church itself. These Scriptures picture men as departing from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-2). There will be a manifestation of characteristics which belong to unregenerate men, though it is under the profession of “a form of godliness” (cf. 2 Tim. 3:1-5). The indication is that, having denied the power of the blood of Christ (cf. 2 Tim. 3:5 with Rom. 1:161 Cor. 1:23-242 Tim. 4:2-4), the leaders in these forms of righteousness will be unregenerate men from whom nothing more spiritual than this could proceed (cf. 1 Cor. 2 :14). [4]

The clear course of the last days for the church consists of constant warnings to the believer to be on guard against doctrinal defection, otherwise known as apostasy. Apostasy means “the abandonment or renunciation of a belief or principle.” [5] When one scans the New Testament for how apostasy or departure from the faith is used, we see that it relates to departure from sound doctrine and godly behavior. Such a characteristic provides for the Christian today a clear sign that the end of this present age is near.

Conclusion

Even though specific prophecy is not given concerning the present church age, we have seen that the New Testament does paint a general picture of the course of this age. We learn that the purpose of this age is to preach the gospel throughout the world, knowing that there will be various responses to the message. As the church starts out small, like a mustard seed, it will nevertheless grow into a large tree where birds will come and dwell in its branches. Thus, the larger that Christendom grows the more apostate it will become. So we see that these general trends will continue until that last person is saved and then the rapture will end the church age, preparing the way for Antichrist and the tribulation. Maranatha!

Endnotes


[1] Christendom refers to “the worldwide body or society of Christians.” Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2004), s. v. Christendom.
[2] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), p. 155.
[3]Taken from Pentecost, Things To Come, p. 155.
[4]Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 Vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), vol. IV, p. 375.
[5] Soanes and Stevenson, Concise Oxford English Dictionary, s. v. apostasy.

by Dr. Thomas Ice
Pre-Trib Research Center

I want to now turn to dealing with specific issues in an attempt to apply a consistent, grammatical, historical, contextual method of interpretation that yields a futurist outcome. My approach will be to argue that we should move from the clear to the less clear passages to see if there are parallel items in the clear passages that help us interpret the less clear passages. I know some will dispute my judgment as to what are the clear passages, but I will provide a rationale for my decisions. I am attempting to establish a framework for development of a consistent futurism, as opposed to an inconsistent historicist-futurist model, which is too often put forth within dispensational circles in our day.

The Book of Revelation

I believe that when it comes to establishing a framework that refers to the 70th week of Daniel, or as I call it “the tribulation,” the book of Revelation provides the clearest guidance on this matter. In fact, I cannot think of one futurist who does not believe that the boundaries of the tribulation are covered in chapters four (some begin at chapter six) through 19 of Revelation. Such agreement is an amazing consensus on the matter, most likely because it is so clear from the text as to limit dispute. There are some significant differences among futurists as to the exact sequence of events within chapters four through nineteen, but not that these chapters parallel Daniel’s 70th week (Dan. 9:24–27). “If our interpretation is the right one there must be perfect harmony between these three: Old Testament Prophecy: Matthew xxiv:4-44, and Revelation vi-xix” insists Arno Gaebelein. [1] I believe just such a harmony exists, especially between the Olivet Discourse and Revelation. This is what convinces me that verses 4–14 refer to the first half of the tribulation. Gaebelein continues:

If this is the correct interpretation, if Matthew xxiv:4-14 refers to the beginning of that coming end of the age and if Revelation vi refers to the same beginning of the end and that which follows the sixth chapter leads us on into the great tribulation, then there must be a perfect harmony between that part of the Olivet discourse contained in Matthew xxiv and the part of Revelation beginning with the sixth chapter. And such is indeed the case. [2]

Revelation four and five are the heavenly prelude and cause of the tribulation that begins to unfold on earth in chapter six. This would mean that the clear teaching of Revelation is that the tribulation begins in chapter four or six and runs until Christ returns in chapter nineteen. Thus, it is significant that the seal judgments in Revelation 6 parallel “the beginning of birth pangs” in Matthew 24:8. “The acceptance of this view, in part,” observes McLean, “is dependent on how much weight is given to the parallels between the synoptics and Revelation.” [3] Since all futurists see the Olivet Discourse as parallel to Revelation to some degree, it makes sense that these two portions of Scripture would be focused on the same basic time period — the tribulation.

Birth Pangs

Matthew 24:8 characterizes the events of verses 4–7 as “the beginning of birth-pangs.” The Greek word dinon means “the pain of childbirth, travail-pain, birth-pang.” It is said to be “intolerable anguish, in reference to the dire calamities which the Jews supposed would precede the advent of the Messiah.” [4] Another authority agrees and says, “of the ‘Messianic woes’, the terrors and torments that precede the coming of the Messianic Age.” [5] The notion that birth pangs have been taking place throughout the entire Church Age is a historicist notion. The consistent futurist position makes more sense within the framework of the birth pangs motif. Within the context of the motif employed by Christ, we would see the pregnancy beginning with Acts 2, the beginning of the Church. The beginning of the birth pangs would parallel with the beginning of the tribulation, since these take place within a pregnancy right before the birth occurs. The birth, in this context would relate to the second coming of Christ to earth, after the tribulation, which is compared to birth-pangs.

It is likely that our Lord had in mind the Old Testament reference to birth pangs in Jeremiah 30:6–7, which says,

“Ask now, and see, if a male can give birth. Why do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in childbirth? And why have all faces turned pale? Alas! for that day is great, there is none like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s distress, but he will be saved from it.”

In the context of Jeremiah 30 the Lord clearly promises restoration to the people of Israel and Judah, however, it will be through tribulation, as noted in Jeremiah 30:6–7. Thus, the birth-pang motif encompasses what we often call today the tribulation period. These prophecies do not relate to the church age, but instead, they deal with the nation of Israel.

Randall Price explains the birth pangs of Messiah as follows:

The birth pangs are significant in the timing of the Tribulation, as revealed by Jesus in the Olivet discourse (Matt. 24:8). Jesus’ statement of the “birth pangs” is specifically that the events of the first half of the Tribulation (vv. 4-7) are merely the “beginning,” with the expectation of greater birth pangs in the second half (the “Great Tribulation”). Based on this analogy, the entire period of the seventieth week is like birth pangs. As a woman must endure the entire period of labor before giving birth, so Israel must endure the entire seven-year Tribulation. The time divisions of Tribulation are also illustrated by the figure, for just as the natural process intensifies toward delivery after labor ends, so here the Tribulation moves progressively toward the second advent (vv. 30-31), which takes place “immediately after” the Tribulation ends (v. 29). As there are two phases of the birth pangs (beginning labor and full labor), so the seven years of Tribulation are divided between the less severe and more severe experiences of terrestrial and cosmic wrath, as revealed progressively in the Olivet discourse and the judgment section of Revelation 6—19. [6]

Paul also uses the motif of birth pangs in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 where he says,

“While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”

The context of this passage relates to the tribulation period, which fits the other uses of birth pangs.

Raphael Patai in his helpful book, The Messiah Texts, has dozens of references to extra-biblical commentary from Jewish writings in a chapter entitled “The Pangs of Times.” [7] Patai tells us that “the pangs of the Messianic times are imagined as having heavenly as well as earthly sources and expressions… Things will come to such a head that people will despair of Redemption. This will last seven years. And then, unexpectedly, the Messiah will come.” [8] This widespread Jewish idea fits exactly into the framework that Jesus expresses in the Olivet Discourse. The birth pangs of Messiah, also known as “the footprints of the Messiah,” [9] support the notion that Matthew 24:4–14 relate to the tribulation period leading up to the second advent of the Messiah since it is known as a time of great tribulation that results in Messiah’s earthly arrival.

Conclusion

Since we move from the clear texts to the less clear, we see that when it comes to the timing of when the judgments of Revelation six takes place, all futurists believe that they will occur during the first part of the tribulation. I consider this to be clear because all futurists hold this view and the timing of these events are not disputed within our circles. In the next step I showed the parallel between the events of Revelation six and Matthew 24:4–14. Not only are the same events mentioned in both passages, but there is also a general parallel in the order in which they will occur. Once again, the clear passage is Revelation six, which displays these events as the result of the Lamb initiating each phase by opening a seal containing the plan for each judgment to commence.

It would appear to me that the burden of proof concerning this matter would be with the futurist-historicist to show that Christ’s prophecy of events inMatthew 24:4–14 differ from those in Revelation six. The events of Matthew 24:4–14 and Revelation six are parallel to each other. Seeing these passages as parallel make the most sense and provide a framework for understanding similar passages throughout the Old Testament within the context of the tribulation, not our current Church Age. Maranatha!

Endnotes


[1] Arno C. Gaebelein, The Gospel of Matthew: An Exposition (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, [1910] 1961), p. 476.
[2] Gaebelein, Matthew, p. 481.
[3] John McLean, “Chronology and Sequential Structure of John’s Revelation,” in Thomas Ice & Timothy Demy, When the Trumpet Sounds: Today’s Foremost Authorities Speak Out on End-Time Controversies (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), p. 323.
[4] Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York: American Book Company, 1889), p. 679.
[5] William F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 904.
[6] J. Randall Price, “Old Testament Tribulation Terms,” in Thomas Ice & Timothy Demy,When the Trumpet Sounds: Today’s Foremost Authorities Speak Out on End-Time Controversies (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), p. 72.
[7] Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts: Jewish Legends of Three Thousand Years (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1979), pp. 95-103.
[8] Patai, Messiah Texts, pp. 95-96.
[9] Price, “Tribulation Terms,” p. 450, f.n. 56.

by Dr. Thomas Ice
Pre-Trib Research Center

In an effort to resolve some differences among those of us who interpret the Bible and Bible prophecy in a consistently literal way, I will start by looking at our interpretative approach. Literal interpretation is shorthand for our hermeneutic which is called the grammatical, historical, contextual method. What does this mean and what are the implications of such a method.

Literal Hermeneutics

Dispensationalists are well known for their literal hermeneutic. Many opponents of dispensational theology attempt to make it appear that dispensationalists use some special or hyper-literal approach. Such is not the case. Dispensationalists simply apply more consistently the grammatical, historical, contextual method. Dale DeWitt has correctly noted that “dispensational theology owns no other method of interpretation or hermeneutic than that of the Reformation… dispensationalism is not best considered an interpretative method.” [1] DeWitt continues:

Dispensational theology employs no unique or cultic hermeneutic; its hermeneutic is the historic Protestant hermeneutic. But it does attempt to apply this method more consistently to Old Testament predictive prophecy than the Reformers or the denominational traditions coming from them were willing to do. At the same time, dispensationalists effort at the fullest possible literalism has been more a matter of principle than thoroughgoing rigor in practice. [2]

Non-dispensationalist Bernard Ramm points out that in Europe “there was a hermeneutical Reformation which preceded the ecclesiastical Reformation.” [3] Luther and Calvin generally returned the church to literal interpretation. Had they not done this, then Protestantism would have never been born and reformation would have never taken place. Luther said, “The literal sense of Scripture alone is the whole essence of faith and of Christian theology.” [4] Calvin said, “It is the first business of an interpreter to let his author say what he does, instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say.” [5] However, like many of us Luther and Calvin did not always follow their own theory, but they and like-minded reformers turned the hermeneutical tide in the right direction.

Dispensationalists have always declared that they are simply applying the agreed upon hermeneutic of Protestantism to the entire canon of Scripture, without resorting to spiritual or allegorical methods simply because the text dealt with the subject of prophecy. This means that included within the literal hermeneutic is the ability to recognize and understand figures of speech and symbols without having to abandon literal interpretation. Dr. Ryrie drives this point home when he says,

Symbols, figures of speech and types are all interpreted plainly in this method and they are in no way contrary to literal interpretation. After all, the very existence of any meaning for a figure of speech depends on the reality of the literal meaning of the terms involved. Figures often make the meaning plainer, but it is the literal, normal, or plain meaning that they convey to the reader. [6]

Ramm in his widely accepted textbook on biblical interpretation says, “The program of literal interpretation of Scripture does not overlook the figures of speech, the symbols, the types, the allegories that as a matter of fact are to be found in Holy Scripture. It is not a blind letterism nor a wooden literalism as is so often the accusation.” [7]

In some of their more candid moments, opponents of literal interpretation admit that if our approach is followed then it does rightly lead to dispensational theology. Floyd Hamilton said the following:

Now we must frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives us just such a picture of an earthly reign of the Messiah as the premillennialist pictures. That was the kind of Messianic kingdom that the Jews of the time of Christ were looking for, on the basis of a literal interpretation of the Old Testament promises. [8]

In the same vein, Oswald Allis admits, “the Old Testament prophecies if literally interpreted cannot be regarded as having been yet fulfilled or as being capable of fulfillment in this present age.” [9]

Herein lies the problem with those, whether evangelical or liberal, who do not like where the proper approach (the literal hermeneutic) leads them. It is clear that these conclusions do not fit their a priori worldview or their church’s creed. Thus, the logic of their view leads one to conclude that they do not like the clear biblical teachings concerning the future.

Allegorical Hermeneutics

The dictionary defines literal as “belonging to letters.” It also says literal interpretation involves an approach “based on the actual words in their ordinary meaning, … not going beyond the facts.” [10] The mother of all dictionaries, The Oxford English Dictionary says, “Pertaining to the ‘letter’ (of Scripture); the distinctive epithet of that sense or interpretation (of the text) which is obtained by taking words in their natural or customary meaning and applying the ordinary rules of grammar; opposed to mystical, allegorical, etc.” [11] “Literal interpretation of the Bible simply means to explain the original sense of the Bible according to the normal and customary usages of its language.” [12] How is this done? It can only be accomplished through the grammatical (according to the rules of grammar), historical (consistent with the historical setting of the passage), contextual (in accord with its literary context) method of interpretation. Literalism looks to the text, the actual words and phrases of a passage. Allegorical or non-literal interpretation imports an idea not found specifically in the text of a passage. Thus, the opposite of literal interpretation is allegorical interpretation. As Bernard Ramm in his classic and authoritative book on biblical interpretation said, “the ‘literal’ directly opposes the ‘allegorical.'” [13]

Historically when people do not like what a document says or they want to make it fit their philosophical bent they allegorize that document. This is what Philo did with the Jewish Bible in Alexandria, Egypt and, early on, some Christians picked up this habit from him and imported it into the church. Ronald Diprose tells us about Origen’s allegorical interpretive approach:

However, his exegetical methodology was profoundly influenced by the intellectual climate in which he grew up. The Greeks had used allegorism to make the mythical content of ancient works, such as those written by Homer and Hesiod, acceptable to readers with a more philosophical turn of the mind. Origen was also influenced by the example of Philo, a first century Alexandrian Jew who had interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures allegorically in order to make them harmonies with Platonism. [14]

I have noted in a previous article [15] that only one approach to the book of Revelation and prophetic texts is able to consistently interpret the Bible using literal hermeneutics and that is the futurist system. This means that a significant part of the other three systems of prophetic interpretation (preterism, historicism, and idealism) involves some degree of allegorical hermeneutics. Remember the allegorical element of an interpretative approach would mean that an idea not found specifically in the text of a passage must be imported from outside a specific text and declared to become part of the meaning of a given text. A common example employed by the three systems is that often when the biblical text says plainly “Israel,” they often think or say “church.” There is no textual basis, but since they believe that the church has replaced Israel they think they are justified to allegorize.

All three deviant systems employ allegorical hermeneutics at key points in the interpretive process. Preterism, through the alchemy of allegorical hermeneutics takes passages that require a supernatural means while referring to global events, and turns them into local and natural phenomenon. Historicism allegorizes days into years, Israel into the church, and the future tribulation period into the current church age. Idealism says that symbols do not represent future historical entities, even though similar symbols did have historical antecedents in the past. Idealism reduces future symbols into just ideas that will not play out in future history. Only futurism is able to apply consistently the grammatical, historical and contextual method of interpretation.

Mixing Hermeneutics

Since one should always apply the same method of interpretation and let the text tell us what it means, it makes no sense to mix literal and allegorical hermeneutics. However mixing hermeneutics is too often applied by many futurists who theoretically pledge allegiance to literal interpretation. I think the major aspect of the grammatical, historical and contextual hermeneutic, which is violated by futurists, is in relation to the intended context of the prophecy, which is future history.

Today it is common for a futurist prophecy teacher to see something happening in the news that relates to a prophesied event that is scheduled to take place during the tribulation and say that the prophecy is being fulfilled today. For example, the Battle of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38 and 39 sees Turkey in alliance with Iran against Israel. For the last 30 years Turkey and Israel have been friends. Now Turkey is turning against Israel and teaming up with Iran. Some are saying that this is a fulfillment of prophecy. It is preparation for fulfillment, but nothing in the Ezekiel prophecy has yet been fulfilled. That is a mixing of hermeneutics by not placing this event in its proper, future context as a result of the study of Scripture. Maranatha!

Endnotes


[1] Dale S. DeWitt, Dispensational Theology in America During The 20th Century (Grand Rapids: Grace Bible College Publications, 2002), p. 6.
[2] DeWitt, Dispensational Theology, p. 8.
[3] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, 3rd. edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1970), p. 52.
[4] Martin Luther cited in Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, p. 54.
[5] John Calvin cited in Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, p. 58.
[6] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, [1966, 1995,] 2007), p. 91.
[7] Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, p. 126.
[8] Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1942), p. 38.
[9] Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, [1945] 1947), p. 238.
[10Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged, Second Edition, p. 1055
[11The Compact Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary (New York, Oxford Press, 1971), s.v., “literal.”
[12] Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy, (Winona Lake, Ind.: Assurance Publishers, 1974), p. 29.
[13] Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, p. 119.
[14] Ronald E. Diprose, Israel in the Development of Christian Thought (Rome: Istitutio Biblico Evangelico Italiano, 2000), p. 86.
[15] “Consistent Biblical Futurism,” Part 1, Pre-Trib Perspectives (Vol. VIII, Num. 77; June 2010), pp<. 6–7.

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By Dr. Thomas Ice
Pre-Trib Research Center

Sixteen and a half years ago when I started working full-time as director of the Pre-Trib Research Center, I immersed myself in the major viewpoints of those of us who believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. The theology that comes out of that approach is often called dispensationalism. While dispensationalists have amazing unity on so many issues, especially in comparison with other prophetic systems, I noticed a few significant areas of differences. What I hope to do in this new series is to identify the main areas of differences, suggest right views, and offer an explanation as to why dispensationalists have some differing viewpoints.

Differences

Some of the items dispensationalists differ on among ourselves include the following:

  • Whether Babylon in the New Testament refers to Rome or Babylon.
  • What is the timing of the invasion of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38 and 39?
  • Does Matthew 24:3–9 refer to the church age or the first part of the 70th week of Daniel?
  • Is the rapture in Matthew 24 or 25?
  • Is the church referenced in Matthew 24 or 25?
  • Is the Greek word apostasia a reference to ‘departure from doctrine’ or ‘a physical departure’ in 2 Thessalonians 2:3?

Over the years of investigating and discussing these issues, I have seen some patterns develop relating to most of these issues. It appears to me that many who take certain views on Babylon and the Olivet Discourse are taking views that are more consistent with historicism, rather than the futurism they normally follow. But how does one go about validating an interpretation and an interpretative system like futurism? I will put forward some approaches to examine these issues during this series. I will also deal with whether Psalm 83 or Isaiah 17 could be fulfilled in the church age, outside the realm of the tribulation.

I know that everyone within our dispensational camp will not agree with what I will come up with, but I have never seen anyone try to identify and classify our differences in a systematic way. So, I will bring forth my thoughts on these issues, post them for public discussion, in order to see if they are helpful for some within the dispensational orbit.

Striving for Consistent Biblical Futurism

I have come to believe that most of the differences within dispensationalism arose from a lack of consistently applying the futurist perspective of biblical prophecy. It appears to me that the issues related to the Olivet Discourse and the identity of Babylon in the New Testament, for example, are holdovers from the historicist interpretative approach that dominated Protestant eschatology from about 1525 until around 1800.

Historicism is one of the four interpretative approaches to the book of Revelation relating to the time of fulfillment. The other three are preterism, idealism, and the dispensationalist view, futurism. Futurism is the result of a consistent application of the grammatical-historical hermeneutic popularly known as the literal interpretive approach. The other three approaches use the grammatical-historical method to some extent, but they all allegorize the text to a large degree and in various ways to support their overall notions of when and how Revelation would be fulfilled. I believe futurism is the result of interpreting the book of Revelation literally, understanding that there are symbols, figures of speech, and various literary devices that the author intended in conveying the meaning of his message.

The general notion of historicism, sometimes called the continuous-historical method, holds that the book of Revelation, especially chapters 4-19 or the tribulation period, are being fulfilled somewhere in church history. Thus, according to mainstream historicism, [1] the events of Revelation 4-19 have pretty much all taken place in Church history. Proponents of this view are mainly waiting for Armageddon and the second coming. The key point that will arise in this series is that historicism believes that the events of the tribulation period are being fulfilled in the current church age. Thus, prophecy is being fulfilled in our day, the church age. Also, historicists believe that Babylon is a code word for Rome, usually religious Rome. This is another non-literal interpretation that flows out of the historicist notion that each successive Pope is the Beast of Revelation or Antichrist.

On the other hand, the general notion of a futurist view of Revelation is that we are in the church age, a period about which there is very little specific prophecy. The events of Revelation 4-19, the tribulation period, are not happening in our day since they will only occur after the rapture, during the 70th week of Daniel, which is future to our day. That chapters 4-19 are future is something that all futurists agree on in relation to the Book of Revelation. If they did not agree on this then they would not be futurists.

Mixing Historicism with Futurism

When one moves to the Olivet Discourse, one has to decide if Jesus’ sermon covers the same basic time period as Revelation 4-19, which most futurists usually agree that it does to some extent. However, many dispensationalists inconsistently, I believe, interpret parts of the Olivet Discourse in a similar way that historicists have over the years. Some may say that I am being too slavish to the theatrical and abstract system of futurism. However, in my case, I first came to the conclusions exegetically and then wondered why there were these two schools of thought within dispensationalism, when we are usually on the same interpretative page. Then, over the years, as I read many older commentaries and studied the development and viewpoints of historicism, it became apparent to me that in the shift within Protestantism from historicism to futurism, there was some historicist baggage that was left behind.

I believe that taking Babylon as anything other than Babylon in the New Testament is a holdover from historicism. We have seen since the 1980s, a major shift by dispensational interpreters away from the idea that Babylon is a codeword for Rome, either political or religious. Why? The shift has occurred because nowhere in the biblical text are there contexts that support the notion that Babylon is used for anything other than referring to Babylon. It is the same issue that we all encounter when dealing with whether Israel always means Israel. Thus, the view that Babylon means Babylon is consistent with the grammatical-historical hermeneutic and the system that flows naturally from such an interpretative approach, which is futurism. The historicist view that Babylon is Rome relies on arguments from outside the biblical text to make its case. Such an approach we know as allegorical interpretation. Thus, if one holds the view that Babylon is Rome and is otherwise a futurist, then that would be an example of my claim that an interpretation is inconsistent with futurism, even though many futurists may inconsistently hold such a view. Further, I have observed in my study of the history of interpretation that futurists holding the Babylon is Rome perspective appear to have carried it over from a body of historicist scholarship that is still widespread, rather than from making a case from the biblical usage, which would be the grammatical-historical approach that leads to futurism.

Another Example

While writing this article, I received an e-mail message from a good futurist friend who holds to pretribulationism. However, my friend’s e-mail contained an article that used the phrase ‘nations in distress with perplexity’ from Luke 21:25. The article applied that passage to what is happening in the world today. However, when one looks at the passage, those words were spoken in the context of the tribulation. How should a consistent futurist use this passage, if it can be used at all, in application to today?

Luke 21:25 can be applied today by a consistent futurist who first notes the context is of the future time of tribulation when this prophecy will take place. Since we are likely at the end of the church age, then we already see the same kinds of things happening today that are a foretaste of things to come. To apply that passage directly to today, when futurists would all agree the Luke passage is set within the tribulation, is to function like a historicist. Many futurists deal with the prophecies concerning Jerusalem in Zechariah 12-14 as if they are happening today. This passage is also set within the tribulation. However, there is no doubt that even today, before we have reached the latter half of the tribulation that nations are lining up against Jerusalem. Knowing where these prophecy events are leading does give us insight about why affairs in our own day are trending in the direction they are going.

Resolving Differences

In this series, I hope to at least demonstrate why there are differences within the dispensational camp on events surrounding primarily the Olivet Discourse. My approach will be to argue that we should move from the clear to the less clear passages to see if there are parallel items in the clear passages that help us interpret the less clear passages. I know some will dispute my judgment as to what are the clear passages, but I will provide a rationale for my decisions. I will attempt to establish a framework for development of a consistent futurism, as opposed to a historicist-futurist model that is often put forth within dispensational circles.

I believe that the clearest, most extensive passage on the 70th week of Daniel is found in Revelation 4-19. All futurists believe that these chapters in Revelation cover the tribulation period. I will then hope to demonstrate, when comparing the Olivet Discourse, Paul’s teachings on the tribulation (primarily 2 Thessalonians 2), along with the Old Testament prophets, that all passages speak of events that will occur within that seven-year period known as the tribulation, or in very close proximity to it. Maranatha!

Endnotes


[1] An example of mainstream historicism is found in their great champion E. B. Elliott and his scholarly work entitled Horae Apocalypticae; or, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, Critical and Historical, 5th edition (London: Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday, 1862), 4 vols.

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