Title: Looking at Preaching Afresh
Part 4: Preaching involving Prophetic Scriptures
Contents: To see an abbreviated version of this page
This is the second paper dealing with issues where preachers are often vulnerable to going astray. It is a sad thing that preachers go off on flights of fancy that leave proper Scriptural interpretation skills somewhere in the dust behind them. The first one dealt with the subject of attributing God's judgment to events, an area where fools ruish in where angels fear to tread. Now we move on to preaching prophecy. Both are areas fraught with danger.
For some reason it seems that every now and then in the body of Christ, we find preachers who seem to become attracted by a particular facet of preaching, and that especially in the realm of prophecy. The thing we are addressing in this article is that tendency that occurs in some to get caught up with some particular aspect of prophecy in the Bible and then major on that to the exclusion, it seems, of all else. We'll first consider two areas where strange teachings sometimes abound – the End Times and Israel. We will then move on in the latter two parts looking at the general misuses and general lacks of understanding. But first, in case there is a temptation to only read the first part, we'll deal with the contentious teaching areas first.
Part 1: Difficult Prophetic Areas
Perhaps if we may begin with the example of the end times and then go on to consider Israel.
1A. End Times Prophecies
Because the water is often muddied here by considerations of Israel from the Old Testament, we will separate Israel off to be considered later and limit ourselves for the moment at least, to specific teaching in the New Testament about these days. We wil deal with the whole subject of motivation behind Second Coming teaching in a later paper.
Before we proceed, may we distinguish between specific teaching given by Jesus and the apostles in the Gospels, Acts or the epistles, from that which arises in the book of Revelation. The reason we do that is that, as we will note later, there are very different rules of interpretation between that which is straight teaching and this which comes as revelation in the form of prophecy. So let's note the basic teaching in the New Testament
An Uncertain Time
i.e we do not know when the things spoken of will happen. Jesus' words in Matt 24 are a useful starting point and we need to note
v.2 He starts with the destruction of the Temple (occurred in AD70)
v.4,5 Many deceivers will come
v.6 there will be wars and rumours of wars
v.7 Nation will fight nation, there will be famines & earthquakes
v.8 That is just the beginning
v.9 There will be persecution & martyrdom
v.10 Many will fall away from faith
v.11 False prophets will arise
v.12 The love of most will grow cold
v.14 The gospel will be preached around the world – then the END will come
Note: When you look at that list, most of those things have occurred during the Church period so far. Let's continue.
v.15on appears to be details within that last time
v.15 the abomination – prophesied by Daniel – is to be in the Temple . There is no Temple at the present; perhaps this is why there is such a battle over the territory to delay it being rebuilt – especially as there is a Mosque on its place at the present, i.e. this speaks of a time of great apostasy or a time when Israel is subjugated yet again.
v.16-22 A time of unparalleled great distress
v.23-26 False christs and false prophets will abound
Note in all those descriptions there is NO time frame, yet….
v.32,33 there will be signs for us to see
v.34 the people of Israel (inferred?) will not disappear before it happens.
Paul seems to reiterate the ‘uncertainty principle' in 2 Thess 2 but makes the point that the end will not come until there has been
Note: The ‘Temple': Because we are moving in prophetic language, although most of us have assumed that there needs to be a physical building rebuilt in Jerusalem, the word ‘temple' is also used in Scripture for both the individual believer and the church. This figure of apostasy could be setting himself (or an institution) up within the church worldwide. Because we are speaking about prophetic matters, it is unclear what will happen until it is happening.
Let's leave the last words to Jesus: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mt 24:36) and if you didn't get it the first time, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Mt 24:44)
The wise preacher prefaces anything he says in this area with, “It may be that….” Possibilities, not dogmatic assertions!
A Clear Return
Continuing Matt 24 :
v.27 BUT (an aside) his coming will be as the lightning – seen across the sky
v.29 There will be upheavals on a massive scale in the sky
v.30 THEN Jesus will come in power in the sky – seen by all nations
v.31 He will collect all believers (confirmed by Paul in 1 Thess 4:16,17)
The clarity of Jesus' return is also stated by the two angels at Jesus' ascension (Acts 1:11) – as visible from the sky – seen all around the world according to Jesus' previous words.
Note: Zech 14:4 seems to infer at this last time the Lord will stand on the Mount of Olives and split it – possibly seen as the effect like an earthquake that makes a way of escape through it. Yet the reason for such a thing would seem unclear as this is the time when we are told Jesus' angels will collect up the elect.
From Rev 19:11-21 there appears the picture of Jesus coming to bring judgment on the earth as a conquering king. There, there is no indication of location, where he starts from or goes to, simply the fact that he comes to judge with God's word but the fact that armies gather against him with the Beast and the False Prophet, it is not unreasonable to suppose that it may well be in Israel and specifically at Jerusalem.
Note: Although most of us have assumed that the Revelation 19 appearance is a literal physical coming of Jesus, coming spoken of in Acts 1:11, because it is prophetic language, it may mean that it is spiritual coming, Jesus by the power of his Spirit in what we might call a mighty revival. Just a possibility!
It is the same possibility that says the ‘New Jerusalem coming down from heaven', rather than being a literal group of buildings, could instead be new order brought by God from heaven. Just a possibility!
But note what we have just said: “it may well be”. Categorical assertions are unwise, for the reasons we gave earlier in this article. Those of us who have held to traditional ‘interpretations' of these last two events, may struggle even to consider alternatives, but that may simply be because of our limited understanding of prophecy and the way the Lord uses it. It also offends our pride to think we might have been wrong previously! As we say, categorical assertions are unwise, for the reasons we gave earlier in this article.
When we come to the subject of Israel, there appear two camps of extremists. On the one side there are those who appear hard nosed and have declared that God has no further use for Israel having replaced them by the Christian Church. On the other side we have those who appear to hold a romantic, unrealistic view of Israel that seems to inadvertently detract from the work of Jesus on the Cross and the work of the Spirit in sanctifying and empowering believers for service.
Rather than state the negatives of the two extreme positions may I state what I believe Israel 's position is according to the New Testament (for in a simple article like this we have neither time nor space to address the Old Testament, but the New will be sufficient) and I'll do it using questions and answers:
Q1. Is a Jew saved automatically by being a Jew?
A1. No, when Peter preached on the day of Pentecost he preached the Gospel TO JEWS and it required them to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus as their Saviour (Acts 2:38). That never changed and thus the apostle Paul could later write:
“A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.” (Rom 2:28,29)
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise ” (Gal 3:28,29)
“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal 6:15)
We might also note that John the Baptist rejected the idea that being born a Jew meant you were all right (see Mt 3:9)
Q2. Wasn't God for all of Israel throughout the Old Testament?
A2. Definitely not, only those who were obedient to Him and loved him. Read the prophets and again and again you find that the disobedient majority were under God's judgment and it was on the faithful and obedient minority, the ‘remnant' who were saved. Prophecies repeat this again and again.
Q3. So aren't all Israel saved today?
A3. No, definitely not. Godless and unrighteous Jews are exactly the same as godless and unrighteous gentiles - unsaved and lost and needing to come to salvation.
Q4 . So does Israel not have a place in God's plans today?
A4. There are probably two answers to that. First, in the same way that God used Israel 2000 years ago to be the environment into which His Son came from heaven, so in a similar way it appears that the Lord wants to use Israel as a both a signpost and a measuring stick in the last days. Second, even though at this moment there appears only a tiny minority of Jews or inhabitants of Israel who receive salvation through Jesus as their Saviour, there does seem to be a time coming when God will bring what we usually call revival to Israel and many will be saved.
Q5. What does Paul's teaching in Romans 9 – 11 say?
A5. Note the following:
Chapter 9: Salvation is by faith and grace and is for all – but Israel rejected it
9:1-5 They have much of value through their history
9:6 Not all naturally descended from Israel are Israel
9:7 Not all descendants are Abraham's offspring
9:8 God's children are by faith not by natural lineage
9:9 The promise to Sarah was for a miracle – to be believed by faith
9:10-13 Jacob shows us that God chooses sovereignly
9:14-18 Moses & Pharaoh shows the same – God chooses to whom He will show mercy
9:19-21 We who are clay cannot argue with God who is the Potter
9:22-24 God's method of salvation includes both Jew and Gentile
9:25,26 The prophets show His plans included making Gentiles His people
9:27-29 From Israel it is only the faithful remnant saved
9:30 Thus Gentiles were able to be saved by faith
9:31,32 While Israel did not attain righteousness, not living by faith
9:33 Thus they stumbled over God's means of salvation
Chapter 10: Salvation cannot be earned but comes through faith, confession & trust
10:1-4 Although zealous, Israel rejected God's method and standard of righteousness, Christ
10:5 Moses' Law required total obedience for righteousness
10:6-7 Righteousness by faith doesn't measure people
10:8-9 Faith is expressed by what you speak out and speaking Jesus as your Saviour is it!
10:10-11 Believe, confession and trust are the requirements
10:12,13 All are saved exactly the same way, whoever they are
10:14,15,17 Faith comes as a response to the Gospel heard
10:16 But tragically not all Israel received the Gospel
10:18-21` They heard it but did not respond
Chapter 11: God allows Israel to exist so a remnant who believe in Jesus can be saved
11:1 Does that mean God rejected all Israelites? No, for Paul was one and he was saved
11:2 No God doesn't stop Israel believing. Take Elijah as an example
11:3,4 He thought he was the only faithful one, but there were in fact 7000
11:5 So likewise still today there is a faithful remnant
11:6 They are saved by grace not by works
11:7 Israel tried self-righteousness (implied) but only the elect found righteousness
11:7-10 All the rest were hardened, just as was prophesied
11:11 Key question: was their fall the end?
11:11,12 No, their sin meant salvation was able to come, so if their sin ultimately brought blessing, how much more wonderful will their turning to God be
11:13,14 Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles, hoping to provoke his own people
11:15 If their rejection meant salvation came, how much more wonderful when they turn
11:16 Rather like dough, if some of them are holy (the remnant) that will God cause to allow all of them to continue to exist. Using a plant as an analogy, if the root is holy, it will make the whole available to God
11:17 Following that analogy they have been broken of the plant of God's people and you gentiles have been grafted in
11:18-22 Don't be proud about what has happened; remember they were cut off because of unbelief – and so could you!
11:23,24 If they gave up their unbelief, they could be rejoined
11:25 In the present era the Gentiles are being saved – it won't go on for ever
11:26,27 Yet there will come a time when God will draw them back
11:28 They are enemies of the Gospel at the present time
11:28,29 Yet for the sake of the Patriarchs they are still called to be god's people
11:30,31 Jew & Gentile have been reversed: once we were disobedient but were saved through their disobedience but they will receive mercy within God's plans for the world
11:32 God has given all men over to sin so he may have mercy on all (through the Gospel)
11:33-36 God's plans are unsearchable beyond our understanding.
Note: Use of Particular Words or Phrases
It is helpful to understand the way certain worlds are obviously used here.
9:18 When he speaks of God ‘hardening' people – and specifically Pharaoh, and examination of Exodus reveals that Pharaoh already had a hard heart and God simply hardened it further by confronting him, and thus Pharaoh, we might say, dug an even bigger hole for himself, ending up in his destruction as he futilely opposes God, and God's greatness and power is seen.
11:1,2 When it speaks about God not ‘rejecting' His people, this does not imply they will all be saved, but merely that their existence is guaranteed – and that will be for the fulfilling of His long-term purposes, even as he allowed them exist, albeit under Rome's domination, 2000 years ago. (see Summary below)
11:5 When he speaks of a remnant “chosen by grace” there are two ways of considering that ‘choosing'.
First, there is seeing it as God randomly choosing some people over others – random sovereign choice is almost how some see it, but in every case, secondly, where God chooses, you find in Scripture, it can be said He chooses on the basis of the potential that He sees in people – foreknowing them (Acts 2:23)
In that sermon of Peter's on the day of Pentecost, under the filling and anointing of the Holy Spirit, Peter understands that God never makes people sin (becoming Satan in the process!!!), but He knows how people will act in the circumstances. Thus God looks into the future and sees who will respond, in their circumstances, to the good news of Jesus, and they are ‘chosen' to be His children. No other ‘solution' to the use of the word ‘chosen' makes logical sense in what we know of God, i.e. utterly loving, all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful etc.
Note: Replacement Theology
We cannot finish these notes on Israel without a brief comment about ‘replacement theology'. Replacement Theology, according to one pro-Israel web-site “teaches that the church has replaced Israel; the blessings given to Israel in the Old Testament have been "transferred" to the church without any of the related curses. In this view there is no significance of modern Israel, it is just another country.”
Before moving on, ignoring the beginning and end parts of that description for a moment, theologically it would be true to suggest that Christians – as children of God indwelt by and empowered by the Holy Spirit – do in fact receive all the blessings of God, because Jesus has died to take all their punishment for Sin. Nevertheless it is an overstatement to say that all the curses have been left behind, because if a person does fall away then indeed Paul's words that “a man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7) will apply. However, while they are living in harmony and in communion with Christ (in Christ) then it is true that none of the curses will apply because they are not doing the things listed in the law meriting curses. It is, therefore, rather unwise and emotive to talk in this way.
While that may be true of some, my own experience suggests that the above description in the quote is one extreme that I described in the opening paragraph of this section on Israel, while what I have described as the ‘pro-Israel' people tend towards an opposite extreme which romantically applauds everything Israel is and does using such emotive language as “Well Jesus was a Jew wasn't he?” as if somehow that excuses modern secular Israel for any misdemeanours it commits and denies they too need the Gospel, thus demeaning Jesus' work on the Cross as being only for certain people, i.e. non-Jews.
The danger of this romantic view is that they view Israel through rose-tinted glasses that puts them at odds with the teaching of sin, righteousness and judgment right the way through the Old Testament, in respect of Israel then. The same assessment of sins that applied then, still applies today – to both them and to gentile unbelievers. All are the same in that particular respect. Let's not sanctify unrighteousness!
I reiterate that I believe both are extremes which ignore Scripture and I therefore suggest that what follows is a far more balanced position than either of those ‘extremes' hold.
Note the following key things that come out of the chapters of Romans that we have considered, and the general teaching of the Bible:
1. God's children are what they are by faith and not works, i.e. believing not self-effort.
2. Those who are saved are thus saved by faith and grace alone - by heart response and God's free gift in Jesus
3. Thus it doesn't matter whether you are Jew or Gentile, salvation comes through Jesus alone and that is through all time. Anything less demeans the work of the Son of God.
4. Although Israel rejected the Son of God, their rejection of him made possible the divine sacrifice for sins and the availability of salvation. (Not in praise of Israel , just a comment by Paul)
5. God permits Israel 's continued existence (as a people)
To continue to Parts 2 & 3 of this article, please CLICK HERE