The Religious Rejection of Bible Prophecy by Lee W. Brainard
WHAT IS PROPHECY?
Prophecy is that collection of passages in the Bible—both the New Testament and the Old—which address events that are connected with the second coming of the Lord. These passages can be divided into three categories. One, those that address the second coming itself and the kingdom which the Lord establishes at that time. Two, those that address the time of world-wide judgment (“the last days”) which precedes the second coming. And three, those that address happenings in the world prior to the time of world-wide judgment which set the stage for “the last days.”
THE LORD IS COMING BACK
In our day much of the church goes about her business as if the prophetic passages were not part of the Bible. These passages are routinely ignored, explained away, or dealt with in a superficial manner. This is tragic. The Bible plainly teaches that the Lord is coming back at the end of this age—physically, publicly, and gloriously—to judge the world and reward his saints. (Matt. 24:29-31, Matt. 25:31-46, Thess. 1:5-10). The Bible clearly encourages Christians to watch for this day (Mark 13:34-37), wait for this day (1 Cor. 1:7), look for and long for this day (2 Pet. 3:12), set their hope on this day (1 Pet. 1:13), encourage one another with this day (1 Thess. 4:18), and look unto this day as a bright light in a dark world (2 Pet. 1:19). This day, and all that is associated with it, should be a vital part of our Christian faith and practice.
THE WORLD IS HEADED FOR JUDGMENT
One common reason that Christians ignore and explain away the prophetic testimony of the Bible is that they are too comfortable in the world. They grossly underestimate how black and wicked this world really is. Make no mistake about it. This world is the same mass of corruption that slew Abel in the beginning, murdered the prophets in the Old Testament, and crucified the Saviour in the New Testament. It has not changed. The whole world—not merely most of it—lies in the Wicked One (1 John 5:19). Satan is the god and the prince (ruler) of this world (2 Cor. 4:4, John 14:30, John 16:11). He has enslaved the world under the dark power of his jurisdiction, and the men of the world walk according to the ways of the present evil age (Col. 1:13, Eph. 2:2).
Worse, many comfortable-in-the-world Christians indulge fantasies about cleaning up the world. Contrary to these fantasies, the Bible states that evil men will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim. 3:13), that the wickedness of man at the end of this age will reach the same vile depths that it did in the days of Noah and Lot (Luke 17:26-32), and that this wickedness will be answered with judgment comparable in scope and severity to the world-wide flood in the days of Noah and to the fire that fell from heaven in the days of Lot, destroying Sodom and Gomorrha (Luke 17:26-32, 2 Pet. 3:10-13). This awful end cannot be delayed or averted. The world is condemned already (John 3:17-21). The day of judgment is already appointed (Acts 17:31, cf. Rev. 9:13-16).Indeed, who cannot see that iniquity, filthiness, abomination, and corruption are rapidly getting worse and worse on every hand? Who cannot see that the world does not need to go much farther down the path of ungodliness before she will fully merit the same righteous judgment that God poured out in the days of Noah and in the days of Lot?
THE PURPOSE AND PROFITABILITY OF PROPHECY
Many saints have been taught that studying and teaching the prophetic Scriptures is unprofitable. This teaching is absolutely contrary to the revealed mind of God. All Scripture is inspired of God and profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished unto every good work (2 Tim. 2:16-17). This inspiration and profitability includes all the prophetic portions of the Bible. When we leave the doctrine, reproof, and instruction of the prophetic portions out of our study and ministry, we rob ourselves and those that hear us of every blessing that God intended those passages to impart.
So what is the purpose of prophecy? Its purpose is four-fold—to be a powerful partner with the gospel, to give the Christian strong hope, to give the Christian discernment, and to bring the Christian into deeper friendship with God.
Prophecy is a powerful partner with the gospel. The gospel of the Bible presents men with a choice—believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and receive salvation or reject Him and face judgment. But the Bible does not present to us the bare facts of salvation and judgment and then leave us in the dark as to what these future (prophetic) events entail. In dozens of prophetic passages we find detailed glimpses into the judgment (both “endtimes” and eternal) that shall befall the rejectors of Christ. And in dozens of prophetic passages we find detailed glimpses into the blessings (both “endtimes” and eternal) that shall be bestowed upon the followers of Christ. These glimpses were given to man as powerful motives to encourage him to flee the wrath to come and lay hold of eternal life. Men do well to take heed to these rays of light in the prophetic passages, as unto a light that shines in a dark place.
Prophecy encourages strong hope in the believer’s heart. The prophetic scriptures hold out to the believer many wonderful promises. The promise of deliverance from the time of judgment that shall befall this world (Rev. 3:10). The promise of a new creation without sickness, death, decay, sorrow, tears, or disappointment (Rev. 21:4, Rom. 8:19-21). The promise of a future without sin, deception, or the devil (Rev. 20:1-3,7-10, 2 Pet. 3:13). The promise that he shall receive an inheritance, as an heir of God and co-heir of Christ, that is incorruptible, undefiled, and shall never fade away (Gal. 4:7, Rom. 8:17, 1 Pet. 1:4, Heb. 10:34). The believer strengthens himself in hope when he gives heed to these prophetic promises as unto a light that shines in a dark place. They fill his heart so full of joy for the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory that is set before him, that he regards all his afflictions as light and momentary, despises the shame of the cross as Christ did, and walks faithfully through this barren world as a pilgrim and a stranger (1 Cor. 4:17, Heb. 12:2, 11:25, 11:13-16).
Prophecy gives the believer discernment. The prophetic passages of the Bible give the believer God’s x-ray vision, so to speak, into the affairs of the world. They enable him to see what is really going on in the world behind the scenes, in both the visible and invisible realms. They enable him to see where the course of the world—in its various political, economic, and religious agendas—is really and ultimately headed. They enable him to see that the iniquity working in the world today is the same iniquity we see working at the end of the age in the pages of the Bible. They enable him to see how every error, agenda, and conspiracy evident in the world today is part of a single, vast, comprehensive conspiracy, the “mystery of iniquity,” which shall bring the entire world under the brutal anti-God, anti-Christ, and anti-Bible despotism that we see in the Bible in the last days. Sadly, when Christians do not heed the prophetic passages as a light that shines in a dark place, they are trying to pass though the labyrinth of this world using a map of its course (its nature, direction, and destination) whose testimony they neither understand nor trust.
Prophecy reveals God’s desire for the believer’s friendship, not merely his servanthood. We read, “Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth, but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:14-15). This Christian privilege of intimacy with God is a privilege that the saints of God, except for a few, did not enjoy in time past. Today every Christian may enjoy the same closeness with God that Abraham, the friend of God (James 2:23), enjoyed. It was this close friendship that led God to tell Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom, “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I shall do” (Gen. 18:17). In our day God wants to manifest this friendship by sharing with the believers what He intends to do on earth in the last days. Therefore He gave us a confirmed prophetic message, to which we do well to take heed, as unto a light that shines in a dark place. Sadly, many today balk at these expressions of friendship and have little interest in going beyond servanthood.
HOW IMPORTANT IS PROPHECY?
Consider the following observations which should make men very hesitant to set prophecy aside or give it a minor role in the work of the Lord.
First of all, as the earth revolves on two poles, the North and the South, so the message of Christ revolves on two poles, His first coming and His second. If you somehow moved or removed one of the earth’s poles, the earth would be unbalanced. Likewise, when men weaken or ignore Christ’s second coming, they have an unbalanced message.
Secondly, over 25 % of the Bible is prophetic. Hundreds of passages in the OT and the NT address the events of the last days, the end of the age, the second coming, and the kingdom. If God regarded prophecy to be important enough that He made it a full quarter of the Bible He gave us, do we dare think that it is a secondary issue?
Thirdly, there are only two or three books in the Bible which do not contain prophetic material. Sixty-three out of the sixty-six books in the Bible include prophetic passages about the last days, the end of the age, the second coming, and the kingdom. Prophecies are found in every section of the OT—the law, the historical books, the poetic books, and the prophets. Prophecies are found in every section of the NT—the Gospels, Acts, the Pauline epistles, the Catholic epistles, and the Revelation. Whole books are dedicated to the unveiling of future events—the minor prophets, the major prophets, Daniel, and the Revelation. Indeed, prophecy permeates the whole Bible, the whole revelation of God, the whole redemptive message of God. Prophecy cannot be set aside or given a minor role without slighting the God who gave us the prophetic scriptures to be a light, a guide, and a comfort in a dark world.
HOW TO UNDERSTAND PROPHECY—PART ONE
The Bible’s communications regarding future events are to be understood in the same way we understand its communications regarding past events. As history is the statement of historical facts from the past, so prophecy is the statement of historical facts in the future. Both are statements of historical fact. History retold and history pre-told, if you will.
This means, for instance, that we should interpret the accounts of Israel’s future deliverance in the same way that we interpret the accounts of her past deliverances from Egypt, from the Philistines, and from Babylon. We should interpret the accounts of future judgment in the last days in the same way we interpret the accounts of past judgment —as the flood, Sodom and Gomorrha, and the plagues in Egypt. And we should interpret the accounts of Christ’s future coming in judgment the same way we interpret the historical accounts of his first coming to die on the cross.
Now some are stumbled by the use of figurative language in the prophetic passages. It inclines them to reject the straightforward sense of history pretold and look for some figurative sense. But there is no reason to be stumbled.
One, the use of figurative language in historical passages doesn’t cause us to treat those passages as something less than or other than simple past history. Why should the use of figurative language in prophetic passages cause us to treat these passages as something less than or other than simple future history?
Two, the use of figurative language in historical passages presents past matters in a more illuminating way than the use of non-figurative language alone would. Likewise the use of figurative language in prophetic passages presents future matters in a more illuminating way than the use of non-figurative language alone would.
Three, prophecy is no harder to understand than any other area of Christian doctrine and practice. The figures of prophecy, like all the figures of the Bible, are explained by the Bible. The Bible is its own interpreter. They are explained in the same passage, or in a parallel passage, or by the analogy of faith (i.e. by the use of the figure in a non-prophetic passage of scripture that bears a moral analogy). Most difficulties in understanding arise because men do not take the prophetic passages literally and they reject the light the Bible itself casts on the subject.
HOW TO UNDERSTAND PROPHECY—PART TWO
This brings us to a further observation on the interpretation of prophecy. The OT prophecies regarding the first coming of the Lord Jesus were fulfilled literally.
Bethlehem was literally Bethlehem. The virgin was literally a virgin. The ride on a foal of an ass was a literal ride on a literal foal of an ass. The piercing of the hands was a literal piercing of literal hands. That not a bone would be broken was literally fulfilled, though it was customary to break the legs of those who were crucified. Bearing the sickness of the people was the literal healing of literal ailments. Being eaten up with zeal for the temple was literally fulfilled with a demonstration of literal zeal in the literal temple. The Messiah was literally the seed (descendent) of David. And the sixty nine weeks (sixty nine “sevens”) of Daniel chapter nine were literally fulfilled with sixty nine weeks of years (483 years) transpiring between the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem and the triumphant entry of the Messiah.
Given the indisputable fact that dozens upon dozens of OT prophecies regarding the first coming of the Lord Jesus were fulfilled in a very mundane, literal manner, should we not expect that the prophecies of the Bible regarding the second coming of the Lord Jesus will be fulfilled in the same mundane literal way?
RED SKY IN MORNING
The Lord Jesus reproved the Pharisees because they could discern the weather from signs in the heavens, but could not discern the location in God’s prophetic timetable from the signs of the times. This reproof tells us that prophecy was designed to be understood, and not merely by a class of learned elite, but by the common working man. Any man of average intelligence can learn to read the clouds. And any man who can learn to read the clouds can gain a basic understanding of prophecy and learn to read the signs of the times.
This reproof also tells us that the Pharisees’ rejection of the lowly carpenter from Galilee as the Messiah was inexcusable. The Lord had given His people ample information in the OT prophetic passages to not only recognize the Messiah when he came, but to figure out when and under what circumstances he was going to come. As Peter expressed it, “what time and what manner of time” (1 Pet. 1:11). These prophecies were scattered all over the OT, from Genesis, to the Psalms, to Isaiah, to Daniel, to Zechariah. God expected his people to be watching and waiting.
Now there were only a handful of watching saints who put two and two together early on and determined that the babe in the manger was the promised Messiah. Among them were Simeon, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25), and Anna the prophetess who was looking for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). These saints had been led to believe by the testimony of Scripture that the coming of the Messiah was at hand. They were waiting in expectancy for that day, and hoped they would live long enough to see the birth of the Messiah. God honored their desire. [Note that the Holy Spirit did not reveal to Simeon that the Messiah was going to come soon. Simeon already knew that. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die before he laid eyes upon the Messiah. ]
Later, as the signs of the times increased, as more and more prophecies regarding the first coming of the Messiah were fulfilled, the number of those who had their eyes opened greatly increased. But with the increase of light came the increase of responsibility, and the increase of the guilt of those who rejected the light. By the time we come to the end of Christ’s earthly ministry—his death on the cross, his resurrection, and the events of Pentecost—there was no excuse for those who saw this light and did not embrace the lowly carpenter Jesus as the Messiah.
So it will be as we approach the end of the age. The signs of the times will increase more and more until until there will be no excuse for any living man to miss the fact that the coming of the son of man in judgment is at hand.
THE PHARISEES’ MISTAKE
Why did the Pharisees reject Jesus as the Messiah? It was not lack of opportunity. It was not lack of education. It was not an excusable miscalculation, assumption, or logical fallacy. It was not any other blunder traced to the head rather than the heart. It was unbelief of the plainly stated truth of God. And their unbelief, like all unbelief, was empowered by an agenda that did not coincide with God’s program.
What was the Pharisees’ agenda? It is generally assumed that it was the expectation that the Messiah would deliver Israel from the dominion of the Gentile powers, namely Rome, when He came. Jesus didn’t deliver them, therefore they were stumbled. This was not the case. The disciples themselves believed the plain teaching of the Bible that the Messiah would deliver Israel. Though they were confused by the fact that the Messiah did not deliver Israel at that time but rather was rejected and crucified, yet they were not stumbled to unbelief. And though they were confused when the resurrected Saviour did not deliver Israel, but rather gave his disciples an evangelistic plan for reaching not merely the Jews, but also the Samaritans and the entire Gentile world, yet they were not stumbled to unbelief. They had the integrity to believe and embrace the light that they saw, despite the fact that there were important parts of the puzzle they did not understand.
So what was the Pharisees’ agenda? Maintaining the status quo. In other words, maintaining their place. The lowly carpenter was a threat to the Pharisees. They did not want him to reign over them. They did not want him to be the Messiah. He did not defer to them. He did not tolerate the teachings they had added to the God-given religion. He publically reproved their errors and hypocrisies. His establishment was their undoing. If the people embraced his message, they would reject the distinct teachings of the Pharisees. If they believed on him the Romans would come and take away their place and nation. (John 11:48). The Pharisees stood to lose their place of influence. That could not be allowed to happen. They loved the honor of men (John 5:44). They were forced to oppose their Messiah.
THE PHARISEES’ DISCREDIT THE MESSIAH
Now this opposition involved them in intellectual dishonesty. They knew what the messianic prophecies said. Indeed, at the time of Christ’s birth the chief priests and scribes, when summoned by Herod, showed an intimate and accurate knowledge of the prophetic scriptures understood in the literal sense (Matt. 2:3-6). They knew that many of these prophecies had been fulfilled. They knew where Jesus had been born. They knew the circumstances of his birth. They knew that he had come up out of Egypt as a small child. They knew the “timing” prophecies. They had heard the out-of-this-world wisdom with which he spoke. They knew that many indisputable miracles had been done in the presence of numerous credible witnesses. They themselves had witnessed some of them. They themselves had tasted of the powers of the kingdom to come.
They could not attack the prophecies, fulfillments, or miracles head on. They could not deny what was written or what had happened. They could only challenge them obliquely (sneakily from the side). So they resorted to the age old ploy of argumentum ad hominem or “character attack.”
They blackened him with ridiculous accusations. He casts out devils through the prince of the devils (Matt. 9:34). He is a Samaritan and demon possessed (John 8:48). He was a liar because he bore witness of himself and matters were supposed to be established on the basis of two testimonies (John 8:13-19).
They fabricated ridiculous stumbling blocks to discredit him. How can he be the Messiah since he is the son of a common laborer by the name of Joseph? (Matt. 13:55, Luke 4:22). How can he be the Messiah since the scriptures say the Messiah will live forever and this man says he will be lifted up (crucified)? (John 12:34). How can he be the Messiah since we know where he came from? (John 7:27). How can he be the Messiah since we don’t know where he came from? (John 9:29). How can he be the Messiah since his forerunner—John the Baptist—came neither eating nor drinking? How can he be the Messiah since he came both eating and drinking? (Luke 7:31-35). How can he be the Messiah since he eats and drinks with publicans and sinners? (Luke 5:30). How can he be the Messiah since his disciples eat and drink and do not fast and pray enough? (Luke 5:33). How can he be the Messiah since he let a sinner touch him? (Luke 7:36-39). If he really was the Messiah he would show himself to the world. (John 7:4).
They tried to snare him with difficult questions so that they might accuse him (Luke 11:54). May a man put away his wife for any cause? (Matt. 19:3). Should a man pay taxes to Caesar or no? (Matt. 22:16-17). What is the greatest commandment in the law? (Matt. 22:35-40). What should we do with this woman caught in adultery? (John 8:3-6). Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? (Matt. 12:10).
They made insincere and unreasonable demands of him, which he could not possibly answer to the satisfaction of their unbelief. They demanded to see a sign from him (Matt. 12:38) as if there were a sign that could convince them. The truth was, the many signs they had already witnessed had only hardened their hearts. They demanded when the kingdom of God should come (Luke 17:20) as if they really wanted his kingdom to come. The truth was, they had already determined in their hearts that they didn’t want him to reign over them. They demanded that he tell them whether he was greater than Moses (John 5:44-46) as if they really cared about Moses honor. The truth was, they didn’t really believe Moses, and they sought the praise of man rather than God.
They hypocritically charged him with blasphemy for forgiving sins. This was blatant hypocrisy. It was no easier to say, “arise and walk” than it was to say, “thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matt. 9:1-8). If he had the power to heal the lame, then he had the authority to forgive sin. Only God has the ability to do either. The miracles were proof that the Son of man had power on earth to forgive sin. In the same spirit they faulted him for healing on the sabbath. What hypocrisy! If he had the power to heal, then he had the authority to heal on the sabbath. And in the same spirit they challenged his authority to cleanse the temple. Again what hypocrisy. If he had the power to cleanse the temple of the body of evil spirits, then he had the authority to cleanse the temple of stone of evil practices.
THE PHARISEES POUR CONTEMPT ON THE DISCIPLES
The Pharisees did not limit their efforts to undermining the credibility of Jesus as the Messiah in the eyes of the people. They also poured contempt on all who would follow Him as the Messiah.
They reproached their qualifications to interpret the word of God and their ability to understand it. “Are ye also deceived. Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed on him?” (John 7:47-48). In other words, are you also gullible? Nobody whose opinion matters the least bit has believed on him. Not one big name. “Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look. For out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52). In other words, are you also from the most backward sect of the Jewish faith? Your ignorance of the scriptures is stupendous. You ought to lean on our colossal understanding of the scriptures. “Dost thou teach us?”(John 9:34). In other words, who do you think you are trying to teach us? We are professionals. Do you honestly think you are better qualified than we are to interpret the prophetic scriptures or determine whether or not this carpenter from Galilee is the Messiah?
They reproached them with reproaches that even if true had no bearing whatsoever on whether the claim that Jesus was the Messiah was true or false. “Thou wast altogether born in sins” (John 9:34) they said when the recipient of a notable miracle testified that Jesus was the Messiah. As if the circumstances of a man’s birth or the lowliness of his station in life has anything to do with whether or not the message he preaches is true. “They are drunk” (Acts 2:13) they said of the apostles when they preached that Jesus was the Messiah. As if hypocrisy not only discredited the preacher, but invalidated the message as well.
The fact that the Pharisees could stoop to using such arguments proves the prejudice of their heart and implies the falseness of their position. Men only stoop to such childish arguments when they have no good ones
The Pharisees rejection of Jesus as the Messiah required the rejection of the literal interpretation of the prophecies which pointed to Him as the Messiah. This created a theological vacuum that needed to be filled. How would they now explain the many plain passages which pointed to Jesus as the Messiah?
In the decades and centuries that followed their rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah, the collective unbelief of the greatest unbelieving minds in Israel labored on this monumental task. The same guile and disingenuousness that had tried to find fault with the Lord Jesus over nothing and had tried to trap him with doctrinal questions now forged crafty interpretations of the Messianic prophecies. It didn’t much matter what the prophecies were made to refer to as long as they were made to refer to someone else or something else at some other time than that indicated by the literal sense. Refer this one to a prophet. Refer that one to some ideal. Refer this one to the suffering nation and people of Israel. To this day these crafty interpretations are defended as the truth.
Notice the order of events in the development of unbelief. First comes the original heart unbelief of the truth. This is followed by the use of argumentum ad hominem (character attacks) to answer those who would defend the truth. Finally the unbelief is given the appearance of formal theological expression. Heart rejection of any revealed truth—however great or small—must and will fabricate both a spiritual sounding rationale and a pseudo-explanation of the offending verses to provide the unbelief with a facade of legitimate theology. Apart from such systematizing the cause of unbelief is greatly hindered.
PHARISEEISM ALIVE AND WELL TODAY
Make no mistake, the unbelief which animated the Pharisees is alive and well in our day. There is no difference in essence between the unbelief which causes Evangelicals today to reject the literal sense of the Bible’s statements on the events, circumstances, and timing of the Lord’s second coming and the unbelief which caused the Pharisees some two thousand years ago to reject the literal sense of the Bible’s statements on the events, circumstances, and timing of the Lord’s first coming.
Nor is their any significant difference in the underlying motive for the unbelief. The influence and authority of the Pharisees were threatened by men embracing the literal understanding of the messianic prophecies. Thus they went to great lengths to dissuade men from this approach to prophecy. Likewise in our day the influence and authority of many venerable institutions are threatened when men embrace the literal understanding of second coming prophecy. How so? Rejecting the literal understanding of prophecy is an integral part of the testimony of these institutions. Therefore, embracing the literal understanding of prophecy is, for all practical purposes, rejecting these testimonies. And rejecting these testimonies is, for all practical purposes, rejecting the institutions which hold them. Thus these venerable institutions go to great lengths to dissuade men from the literal understanding of prophecy.
Their primary weapon is bullying believers with spiritual reproaches. Prophecy is a waste of time that detracts from the gospel and other important matters. The prophetic scriptures are highly figurative and almost impossible to rightly understand. Only spiritual pride thinks it can understand them. The literal understanding of prophecy is ignis fatuus (fool’s fire) that leads to foolishness and excess. Only shallow, unspiritual men let themselves be deceived by it. The study of prophecy is divisive and undermines the work of the Lord. Prophecy is only attractive to the carnal mind. Those who have a truly spiritual focus will not be drawn to the subject. It is amazing how well the tool of reproach works to turn men away from the study of prophetic scripture and from its literal sense.
THE “REPLACEMENT” SPIRITUALIZATION
Those who reject the literal understanding of prophecy have adopted a spiritual sounding rationale known as the replacement theory to give a facade of theological legitimacy to their unbelief. According to this view the church has replaced the physical people and nation of Israel as the Israel of God. The physical descendants of Abraham known as the Jews were put away permanently as the people of God. They are no longer the Israel of God. They no longer have any claim on the covenants or promises of God. They are no longer the object of prophecy. They will not be restored as the people of God. Shortly after the cross God stripped Israel of her Mosaic robe, clothed her in the robe of the Christian message, purged her of the unbelieving Jews, opened her doors to the Gentiles, and rechristened her “the church.” The predominately Gentile church is the Israel of God gutted and refurbished. All Israel’s promises and prophecies were transferred from the actual nation and people of the Jews to the predominately Gentile church.
But Israel’s promises and prophecies are not merely transferred. The replacement advocates do not look for the mundane, literal sense of these promises and prophecies to be fulfilled in the church at the end of this age. They do not teach that the Gentile church will inherit the actual land of Israel from the river Egypt to the land of the Hittites to the great river Euphrates. They do not teach that the church will rebuild the literal temple in Jerusalem, and that this Christian temple will be defiled by a definite man known as the antichrist, at a definite point in time in a definite end-of-the-age tribulation, in a definite event known as the abomination of desolation.
Israel’s promises and prophecies are also transported in time. In the estimation of the replacement advocates, the prophecies concerning Israel, the temple, the antichrist, the abomination of desolation, the Roman Empire, and Armageddon are not really prophecy at all, but history. They were fulfilled in the church during the church age. The temple, land, throne, and kingdom promises made to Israel will not be fulfilled in the future. They were already fulfilled in the church age. The seals, trumpets, and vials in the book of Revelation are not prophecies yet to be fulfilled. They were already fulfilled during the course of the church age.
But the replacement advocates could not merely transfer the promises and prophecies to the church and transport them back into the pages of church history. They must also, of necessity, transform them in nature. For the worst calamities and visitations in the past two thousand years do not even remotely resemble the stupendous nature and degree of the end of the age judgments that we read of in the Bible. Where in church history was a quarter of the world’s population erased by a single judgment? Nowhere. When in church history did the ocean turn to blood? Never. When in church history did the sun go dark for several days? Never. Trying to fit the age-ending judgments of the Bible into the events of church history is like trying to fit very large square pegs into very small round holes.
The replacement advocates are forced to spiritualize the end of the age prophecies. They are forced to insist that the stupendous, “such as never was” judgments these passages present were fulfilled by commonplace events during the course of church history that bear little resemblance to the prophecies they are supposed to have fulfilled. An ordinary war is the ocean turning to blood. Point to any war you want. The Satanic darkness of the medieval papal church getting darker is the sun going dark for three days. Point to any century, any error, any pope you want.
THE INCONSISTENCY OF THE REPLACEMENT ADVOCATES
Now the replacement advocates try to save face by claiming that these spiritualized and allegorized interpretations are to be preferred over the nonsense we end up with if we take the prophecies at face value in their mundane literal sense. Nonsense? Is it nonsense to believe that God turned the Nile River into blood in the days of the Exodus? Is it nonsense to believe that thick darkness enveloped the land of Egypt in the days of the Exodus? Is it nonsense to believe that the entire planet was destroyed by a flood that covered every high mountain upon the face of the earth? Perhaps our replacement brethren sympathize with the rationalists who would have us believe that such OT miracles never really happened? Perhaps they are offended by God working such awful miracles? Perhaps they believe that the world is not wicked enough to deserve such judgments? Perhaps they believe God is unable to do such things?
But if they believe that the OT miraculous judgments really did happen and are to be understood at face value, then why are they so hesitant to take the comparable NT miraculous judgments at face value? Did God change? Is He not the same yesterday, today, and forever? What is the difference between the Lord turning the Nile River to blood in the days of the Exodus and the Lord turning the ocean to blood in the days of the deliverance of Israel at the end of the age? There is no difference. What is the difference between the darkness that covered Egypt and the darkness that shall cover the entire world? There is no difference. What is the difference between a lengthy flood that destroys the entire world and a series of judgments that destroys the entire world, the fourth one alone taking a quarter of its population? There is no difference. The fact is, such OT judgments—whether localized or universal—are typologies of the judgments that shall devastate the world at the end of the age.
THE “REPLACEMENT” DOCTRINE IS NOT LITERAL INTERPRETATION
The replacement doctrine is not literal interpretation. It is not trembling at the word of God. It does not deserve the name “biblical hermeneutics.” It is spiritualizing the Scriptures. It is an allegorical approach that changes the time and reference of hundreds of prophecies which address the judgments of the end of the age. It waters them down by many magnitudes, treats them like silly putty, and finds fulfillments for them in any convenient calamity in church history which bears even a remote resemblance.
Now the replacement advocates deny they are guilty of rejecting the literal interpretation of prophecy. They claim their spiritual approach is the true literal interpretation and that taking prophecy as pre-told history is a carnal approach which pretends to be literal. They claim we are not supposed to take the judgments at the end of the age in the same carnal literal sense we understand comparable judgments in the OT. They claim we are not supposed to take Israel’s deliverance at the end of the age in the same carnal literal sense we understand her deliverances in the OT. Rather we are supposed to embrace the spiritual truth that the church is the continuation of Israel. This spiritual key unlocks the true literal sense of prophecy hidden underneath the carnal literal sense of the letter of the text.
But this puts them in the indefensible position of interpreting Bible prophecy with two different methods of literal interpretation. Prophecies whose fulfillments were history at the time of John’s vision on Patmos are interpreted using the historical-grammatical method which is justly called literal. Prophecies whose fulfillments were yet in the future at the time of John’s vision are interpreted using their spiritual method which is not literal at all, but a well-oiled allegorical method. And why was this dividing wall erected on Patmos? Only because their error required it.
THE PROOF-TEXTS FOR SPIRITUALIZING PROPHECY
No facade of theological legitimacy is complete without proof-texts. Well-chosen and cleverly handled proof-texts present the case for unbelief with enough force that men ignore the passages which contradict it. Everything stands and falls with the clever mishandling. Men must be kept from giving the proof-text a careful analysis. If the context is consulted, and its subject matter weighed in the light of the testimony of the entire Bible, the proof text will testify against the doctrine it supposedly upholds. The proof-texts of the replacement advocates are no exception.
Will they point to “If I by the finger of God cast out devils then the kingdom of God is in your midst” as proof that Christ established his kingdom at His first coming and that the church is this kingdom? It proves no such thing. Casting out devils was an earnest of “the powers of the kingdom to come,” not the kingdom actually established. It was a foreshadow of that day when the Lord will bind the strongman and cleanse the world of the powers of hell. When demons will no longer have run of the world to deceive man and beset the church. When God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. This housecleaning of “spiritual wickedness in heavenly places” cannot be separated from the kingdom. So long as this housecleaning is absent, the kingdom is absent. So long as Satan is the god of the world and the prince of the world, the kingdom is not established. So long as Satan accuses the brethren, deceives the world, and wanders about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, he is not bound. Be not deceived by childish arguments about a bound Satan who is not bound. He is just as free today to deceive, sift, tempt, wrestle, and harass as he ever was. Nothing has changed in this regard since the cross.
Will they point to “as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” as proof that the church is Israel? But what here necessitates equating Israel and the church? Nothing. Not one line in the context. Not one rule of grammar. What here forbids “Israel” from bearing its natural and normal sense? Nothing. The only reason for equating Israel and the church in this passage is that the replacement doctrine requires it. What sense does Paul’s prayer bear then? His prayer is simply that peace and mercy might be granted to all who walk in the light of the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, sowing to the Spirit rather than the flesh, and that the people and nation of Israel might also be permitted to share in this gospel blessing. Even though Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, yet his heart was with his flesh and blood people, the Jews.
Will they point to “you 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, but now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off are made nigh” as proof that the church is Israel? This passage does not teach that the Gentiles are now near to God because they were added to the ancient covenant nation of Israel. It teaches that the Gentiles are now near to God because the Jews and Gentiles have been brought together in “one new man.” Not the same old man gutted and refurbished. One new man. The church is a distinct institution from Israel.
Will they point to “as you have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists, whereby know we that it is the last time” as proof that there is no literal “last days” and no literal antichrist? This is a mistake. The present antichrists are not pointed to as proof that there will not be a literal antichrist. They are pointed to as proof that there will be a literal antichrist. The many antichrists that we now see in the last days (in a broader sense) are evidence that the mystery of iniquity is already at work, and shall come to iniquitious fruition when it brings the literal antichrist to power in the last days (in the literal sense).
THE HISTORY OF SPIRITUALIZING
Where did spiritualizing come from? It was introduced into the Church early on by men who were far too molded by the spiritualizing that was common in the religious authors of the era, both Jewish and Greek. But it wasn’t until the days of Augustine, who championed this approach, that spiritualizing the prophetic scriptures was established as the dominant, if not “official,” view of Christendom. This dominance prevailed through the first millennia, through the Middle Ages, through the Reformation, and through both of the Great Awakenings. Every generation in every denomination in every land meekly accepted the “replacement” view. This dominance was not broken until a spirit of investigation in matters prophetic swept through Europe and North Amercia in the latter half of the nineteenth century, setting men free from the fetters of unbelief that had long masqueraded as superior understanding.
VARIOUS SCHOOLS OF SPIRITUALIZING
There are various schools of thought on the proper method for spiritualizing prophecy. Preterists teach that all prophecy was fulfilled in the first century. Modified preterists teach that all prophecy was fulfilled in the first three centuries. Historicists teach that prophecy was fulfilled by various events in church history, though some could be fulfilled in a general way throughout the course of the church age, including our day.
Amillennialists teach that the spread of the gospel in the church age is the prophesied kingdom in a loose sense, but deny there will be any actual kingdom, whether a literal one with a messianic throne in Jerusalem, or a figurative one established by a victorious church over a christianized world. Postmillennialists teach that the church has been commissioned to establish an actual “christianized” kingdom here on earth and reign here on earth for the duration of this kingdom (which may be a literal thousand years) before the Lord comes back, and that this kingdom will be established through the gospel. Kindom/dominion postmillennialists teach that the church has been authorized to use political and other secular means, as well as the gospel, to establish this “christianized” kingdom.
Restorationists, who make up a minority view in the postmillennial camp, teach that the restoration prophecies regarding the nation of Israel will be literally fulfilled in the last days. But their “literal” restoration is only partially literal. While they hold to a literal return of the people and nation of Israel to the land of Israel, and to the salvation of multitudes of Jews in the last days, especially those living in the land of Israel, yet these saved Jews are merely added to the church. There is no restoration of the nation and people of Israel as the people of God. Moreover, they hold that the temple, throne, and kingdom promises are figuratively fulfilled in the church.
Psuedo-end-of-the-age groups believe that the rise and success of their “last days” church/testimony is a matter of prophecy which they prove with proof-texts. One common claim made by various groups is that the “latter rain” of Pentecostal power is being poured out today and that they are the cutting edge of this outpouring. An interesting claim made by some Holiness churches is that their movement is the second coming of the Lord in power, especially as represented in the seventh trumpet in Revelation. This handling of Bible prophecy is the same unbelief and the same watering down that we see in the other spiritualizing schools. Passages which refer to worldshaking events in a literal last days scenario are given figurative fulfillments in commonplace events of the present affairs of the church.
Post-tribulationists don’t quite belong in the same category as the groups mentioned above. They take most of the Bible’s prophecies literally. Nonetheless they are guilty of spiritualizing many prophecies that pertain to Israel and applying them to the church, especially tribulation prophecies in the Gospels and Revelation. They are determined to put the church in the time of great tribulation at the end of the age. Many of them also “christianize” the kingdom by spiritualizing the kingdom prophecies which concern the temple and the sacrifices. They insist that there cannot be literal sacrifices in the kingdom. But they misunderstand the place of sacrifice. The OT sacrifices did not forgive sin. They merely pointed forward to the cross. Likewise the millennial sacrifices do not forgive sin. They merely look back to the cross as a bloody memorial, even as the Lord’s Table looks back as an unbloody memorial.
Now it is secondary which of the above views, or which combination of them, men are peddling or having peddled to them. There is only one error here. That error is the “replacement” teaching which ejects Israel from promises and prophecies that refer to her and inserts the church into them. The Scriptures are treated like silly putty.
LET GOD BE TRUE AND EVERY MAN A LIAR
When Peter argued with the Lord against the literal understanding of the first coming prophecies—when he argued against the cross—the Lord rebuked him and said, “Get thee hence, Satan.” The Lord has the same reply today for all who would argue against the literal understanding of the second coming prophecies—for all who would argue against the descent to the Mount of Olives, Armageddon, the destruction of the antichrist, the binding of the devil, the Davidic throne, the kingdom, the temple, and the sacrifices, just as they are plainly stated in the Bible.
May God help good-hearted men like Peter turn their ears away from counsel which undermines the word of God, and tramples the plain understanding of the statements of prophetic scripture, lest they be found guilty of the same nonsense that the Pharisees were guilty of. Let God be true and every man a liar.
BELIEVERS IN A DILEMMA
Many believers in our day face inner turmoil. They love their church because it has been a blessing to them. But their church frowns on the literal understanding of prophecy. Their church teaches them some form of spiritualizing. Deep inside they are drawn to the view that the prophecies concerning the Lord’s second coming will be fulfilled in the same mundane, literal way that the prophecies concerning His first coming were.
May God grant these sheep the confidence that all scripture is profitable for doctrine, and that prophetic scripture is profitable for prophetic doctrine. May he open their eyes to the fact that the satanic darkening of the world and the apostasy of the church will actually reach the hellish “last days” crescendo that Bible prophecy points to. May he open their eyes to the fact that the book of Revelation is an outline of the actual events of the last days and not a figurative treatment of historical events of dubious time and identification. May he open their eyes to the fact that if a prophecy says or implies Israel, it pertains to Israel, and if it says the end of the age, it means the end of the age.