Note: This article is an appendix taken from my book, The High King of Heaven: Discovering the Master Keys to the Great End Time Debate (Redemption Press, 2014). In the book itself I discuss at length most of the texts briefly cited here. For further study of this interesting and important question, please consult the relevant portions of my book.

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Many premillinerians confidently assert that the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 was in fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Dispensationalist Thomas Ice says it this way:

There are dozens of biblical passages that predict an end-time regathering of Israel back to her land … I believe that modern Israel is a divine work and is in the process of fulfilling Bible prophecy. I believe that Israel, as she is constituted today, is a work of God in progress, preparing the nation for the Tribulation, which will lead to her national conversion, the second coming of Christ, and His millennial reign.

These words invite careful—very careful—reflection. Certainly all Bible believing Christians would agree that the creation of the modern state of Israel is a “divine work,” since Scripture clearly teaches that God, by his all-controlling providence, creates every nation of the sons of Adam, having predetermined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation (Acts 17:26). Moreover, in the course of our study I myself have argued that a number of Scriptures encourage us to look for a large-scale conversion of world Jewry just prior to the second coming of Christ. If so, it would be strange indeed if the sudden arrival of a new Jewish state upon the stage of history had nothing to do with it!

But is it true, as Ice believes, that dozens of OT Kingdom prophecies predicted the recent return of millions of Russian and European Jews to Palestine? In God’s sight, are they still his people—his “Israel”—despite the fact the most of them have not (yet) trusted in Jesus Christ as their Messiah? In God’s sight, is Palestine still their land? Is God really preparing modern-day Israel for a seven-year Tribulation? And should we really look for a second coming of Christ that will partially transform physical Palestine, inaugurate a temporary earthly kingdom, raise up a middle wall of partition between Israel and the nations, and reinstitute various Mosaic ordinances—all for a thousand years?

In the body of this book, I have addressed these questions at length. Since, however, many Christians believe that the creation of the modern Jewish state lends credence to one or another of the various premillennial scenarios, it is important that we review them once again.

My approach in this appendix will be to consider three closely related questions:

  1. What is God’s present relation to unbelieving Jews, wherever they happen to live?
  2. Is the creation of the modern Jewish state a fulfillment of OTKP?
  3. And if it is not, how are we to understand it?

Again, what follows will be a review of material covered earlier. Accordingly, I will not often support my statements with proof texts. For the Scriptural basis of my arguments, please consult the relevant chapters and exegetical discussions.

What is God’s present relation to unbelieving Jews?

This is a subtle question, one that cannot be answered without the help of NT teaching on the true identity of the people of God, and on the exact relation of the Old Covenant to the New. Let us briefly recall our findings.

In the course of our journey we learned that from eternity past God has always had a single plan for the salvation of his people: the Eternal Covenant. It is comprised of five elements.

The parties to the Covenant are God and his chosen, believing people, whether Jew or Gentile. They go by various names. They are the Church: God’s called out ones, whether Jew or Gentile. They are the saints: God’s separated ones, whether Jew or Gentile. And they are the one Body, the one Bride, the one Flock, and the one Holy Nation of God and Christ, whether Jew or Gentile.

The provision of the Covenant—that which makes the Covenant possible—is Christ, both his divine-human Person and redemptive Work.

The promise of the Covenant is eternal life: spiritual life throughout the remainder of this present evil age (i.e., the Era of Proclamation), and spiritual and physical life throughout the eternal Age (or World) to Come.

The proviso of the Covenant—the condition of entrance into the Covenant, and of the enjoyment of its promised blessings—is repentance from sin and faith in Christ alone.

Finally, the penalty for spurning the Covenant is eternal punishment.

Here, in the Eternal Covenant, we have the great redemptive “mystery” of God. It is none other than the New Covenant, which, in the present Era of Proclamation, has been unveiled, expounded, proclaimed, and celebrated by Christ himself, his holy apostles and prophets, and his entire Church.

What, then, is the exact relationship between the Eternal Covenant, the Old Covenant (i.e., the Mosaic Law), and the New Covenant? In our study, we addressed this question at some length. We learned, for example, that in OT times, God administered the Eternal Covenant typologically; that in those days he promised, pictured, and prepared for the (unveiling of the) Covenant, while in NT times he fulfilled all he had promised, pictured, and prepared for by manifesting the several elements of the Covenant as they truly are.

This “mysterious” relationship is especially evident in God’s dealings with the family of Abraham, a family that in due season he constituted as a nation when he gave Israel the Mosaic Law at Mt. Sinai. Under that Law, ethnic Israel pictured the universal Church, the human parties to the Eternal Covenant; so too did the Temple, Jerusalem, and other OT institu­tions (Ephesians 2:19-22; Revelation 21:1f). Under that Law, the prophets, priests, kings, and sacrifices pictured Christ, the provision of the Covenant, in all his offices. And under that Law, the land pictured the World to Come, the promise of the Eternal Covenant in all its fullness (Romans 4:13). In short, the rich tapestry of Mosaic institutions pictured and promised the several elements of the Eternal Covenant.

Very importantly, we also learned that when Christ entered the world and inaugurated the Eternal Covenant through the shedding of his blood, he not only fulfilled the Old Covenant and its various emblems and institutions, but also abolished it (and them) forever (Matthew 5:17). The veil of the temple was rent (Mt. 27:51). The fig tree was cursed (Mark 11:12-14). The old wineskins were to be cast away (Matthew 9:17). In all of these things, the Spirit depicts for us the permanent laying aside of the OT institutions; their perpetual obsolescence (Hebrews 8:13). As a result, since the Day of Pentecost when the apostles first proclaimed the finished work of Christ, it has never been safe for any man—Jew or Gentile—to shelter his soul under Moses (John 1:17). Indeed, the NT casts those who stubbornly try to do so as rebels against God (2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17). In the words of Christ, Jewish unbelievers who cling to the Mosaic Law are a synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:9, 3:9). In the words of Paul, they are citizens of the Jerusalem below, but not of the Jerusalem above; they are children of Hagar, but not of Sara; they are slaves to sin, condemnation, and wrath, but not free men in Christ (Galatians 4:21-31). So then, now that Christ has entered the world, everything has changed for the physical seed of Abraham. Israel according to the flesh must become Israel according to the Spirit, or cease being Israel at all.

Once we understand all this—once we understand how the New Covenant fulfills the Old, rendering its emblems and institutions forever obsolete—then we can understand God’s relation to modern unbelieving Jews. It is not a mystery. Just like unbelieving Gentiles, they are “not his people” (Hosea 1:9). They are outside the Covenant. Indeed, they are outside two covenants. They are outside the New Covenant because they remain in sin and unbelief; and they are outside the Old Covenant because the Old Covenant no longer exists. Thus, at the risk of some confusion, one might call these people Israelites in a strictly anthropological sense, since they are indeed the physical descendants of Jacob. But spiritually speaking, they are no longer Israel at all. Though God certainly loves them, and though he may yet have great plans for them, at present he does not regard them as his people, his family, or his nation. In the NT, such honorifics are reserved exclusively for the elect parties of the New Covenant. In NT times, there is only one Israel of God: Christ’s Church (Galatians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9-10).

This important truth bears heavily on the question before us. Premillennarians assert that in OTKP God spoke of a latter day restoration of ethnic Israel to their land. But we have learned from Scripture that the latter days are the days of the New Covenant (Heb. 1:1f, 8:1ff). How then, in those prophecies, could God have been speaking of anyone other than the parties of the New Covenant; of anyone other than Christ’s called out ones, whether Jew or Gentile? No, when God promised to draw eschatological “Israel” into an everlasting covenant with himself, and to give them a beautiful new homeland, he was not speaking of unbelieving Jews, but of his whole Church (Hosea 2:14-23). Even so, in every genuine OTKP God did not have in view the restoration of unbelieving Jews to a life in Palestine under (the institutions of) the Old Covenant, but the restoration of his believing Church to a life in the Spirit, in the stages and under the institutions of the New Covenant.

All of this enables us to think clearly about the vexed question of the “right” of modern unbelieving Jews to the land of Palestine. Suppose that in the years immediately following Pentecost, Israel at large had repented of their sin and trusted in Christ as their Messiah. Then indeed she would have had a divine right to the land. However, that right would not have been grounded in God’s Old Covenant promise of a physical homeland, because the Old Covenant, at that point, was obsolete. Therefore, their right to the land would have been grounded solely in the workings of divine Providence: Formerly, God had placed them there, much as he had placed other people groups in their own respective homelands. In order for them to remain there, they had only to walk in obedience to Christ, just as all nations must do if they hope to remain in their appointed places, secure and prosperous. In other words, by divine covenant, believing Israel would have had a right only to one land: the land above (Hebrews 12:22), and the land up ahead (2 Peter 3:13). Difficult as it may be to receive, the upshot of this is quite clear: If, at that time, the land of Palestine would not have been theirs by divine covenant, certainly it is not theirs by divine covenant today.

We know, however, that as a matter of historical fact things turned out very differently. Not only did ethnic Israel at large reject their Messiah, they also persisted in their unbelief until God destroyed their capitol through Titus in 70 ad, and shortly thereafter scattered the whole nation to the four winds. Very importantly, this situation was altogether different from Israel’s earlier expulsion from the land. Formerly, when God sent Israel into Babylon for seventy years, the nation was still in covenant with him, as the prophet Daniel well knew, and to which fact he fervently appealed (1 Kings 8:33-35; Jeremiah 29:1f; Daniel 9). In God’s sight, the land still belonged to his OT people, so that they still had a right to return to it, all in his good time. However, after Calvary, when Christ sealed the New Covenant in his blood—thus fulfilling, dissolving, and rendering the Old Covenant permanently obsolete—unbelieving Israel no longer had a divine right to the land, for she was no longer in covenant with God. Nor does she have such a right today. She does, however, have a divine right to a far better homeland, which she may enter upon condition of simple faith in her Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In reflecting upon the condition of modern Israel, one is therefore inclined to think back to the days shortly after the Exodus. Having thought better about rejecting the good word of Joshua and Caleb, the panicky Israelites tried to press into Canaan in order to make it their own, even though God was not with them in the attempt, and even though he had warned them against it (Numbers 13-14). It is much the same today. Having spurned the good word of the Gospel, ethnic Israel at large seeks to press into Palestine, hoping that somehow they can reclaim the glory days of David and Solomon. But after more than six decades of continual conflict, it is abundantly clear that this can never be, for apart from Christ they can do nothing (John 15:5). Moreover, even with Christ there is no guarantee that a believing Jewish nation would physically survive the vicissitudes of end-time persecution any better than an unbelieving Israel, seeing that all of God’s New Covenant children are destined for physical (but only physical) trampling beneath the feet of the unbelieving nations (Matthew 10:16-31; John 16:2; Revelation 11:1-2).

So then, as for the modern Gentile so for the modern Jew: Their greatest need is to make sure that their true citizenship is in heaven, from which also they ought eagerly to wait for a Savior who will welcome them into the glories of the only Land that counts: the World to Come (Philippians 3:20-21).

Hopefully, the Church Militant understands this. Hopefully we all understand that we do our Jewish neighbors no favor whatsoever by encouraging them to think that even now, in their unbelief, God has somehow accepted them; or that he has planted them in Palestine out of pure good will; or that the mysterious events of 1948 are a harbinger of unique millennial privileges soon to come. No, let all who understand and honor Scripture instead lovingly remind our Jewish neighbors that he who believes in the Son has eternal life, but that he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, for the wrath of God abides upon him (John 3:36). Let us invite them to turn their eyes away from the Jerusalem below, and to lift them up towards the Jerusalem above, where the Savior of the world is seated at God’s right hand. And let us urge them to join us in confessing that no matter where we live, we are strangers and exiles in this world; exiles who are confidently seeking a better homeland, a heavenly homeland, a homeland that the Messiah will make ours, once and for all, at his soon return (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Is the creation of the modern state of Israel a fulfillment of OTKP?

Our premillennial brothers tell us that in OTKP God promised to restore latter-day ethnic Israel to Palestine, where, after a brief season of severe tribulation, they will live and worship for a thousand years with Christ as their king. Some say that all of the OT prophecies of Israel’s eschatological restoration were fulfilled in 1948. Others, like Thomas Ice and Arnold Fruchtenbaum, fine tune this doctrine: In 1948 some OTKP’s were fulfilled by the restoration of unbelieving Israelites to the land (Isaiah 11:11-12; Ezekiel 36:22-26, 37:1-14); however, in the near future more of the prophecies will be fulfilled by a restoration of believing Israelites to the land (Deuteronomy 30:1-10; Isaiah 43:5-9; Jeremiah 31:7-10; Amos 9:14-15; Zechariah 10:8-12). In any case, all premillennarians are agreed that the true sphere of fulfillment of these prophecies is ethnic Israel and the land of Palestine.

We have just seen, however, that this is impossible, since, according to the NT, the true sphere of fulfillment of all OTKP is the New Covenant, the New Covenant people of God (the Church), and the New Covenant homeland of God, which is heaven above during the temporary Era of Proclamation, and which is the new heavens and the new earth during the eternal Era of Consummation. If, then, we are rightly to understand OTKP’s of “Israel’s” eschatological restoration to the land, we must interpret them within this paradigm. And this entails that OTKP says not a word about a latter day restoration of ethnic Israel to Palestine.

How, then, are we to interpret these prophecies? In the body of this book I have sawn a great deal of theological lumber in an effort to show the way. In our discussions, we uncovered three simple principles to guide us in our interpretive labors. For safety sake, let us briefly review them once again.

First, there is “simple” OT prophecy. These prophecies were fulfilled in OT times, under the Old Covenant. These we interpret literally. For example, Jeremiah 29:1-14 is a simple OT prophecy of ethnic Israel’s restoration to the land if Palestine. It was literally fulfilled in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, when a chastened, penitent, and prayerful people returned to their homeland to rebuild their lives, their homes, their villages, and their temple (Daniel 9:1f). It should be carefully noted, however, that this lesser restoration served as a picture of the far great restoration of eschatological “Israel” under the New Covenant. And it is of this greater restoration that Jeremiah and the other prophets almost always speak (Jeremiah 23:1-8, 30:1ff, 31:1-30, 31:31-40, 32:36ff, 33:14-26).

Secondly, there is OTKP. These prophecies are fulfilled in NT times, under the New Covenant. These we interpret by means of the New Covenant Hermeneutic. These we interpret typologically, christologically, eschatologically, and ecclesiologically. These we interpret as having their sphere of fulfillment in the New Covenant, in Christ, in the Church, and in the two-staged Kingdom of God.

Again, if all this is so, the implications are inescapable: Every OTKP in which premillennarians find God predicting a latter-day restoration of ethnic Israel to the land is actually an OTKP, which means that every such prophecy must be interpreted figuratively and typologically, by means of a skillful use of the NCH.

In our journey together, I have sought to model this approach many times.

For example, premillennarians claim that in Isaiah 11:11-16 God is speaking of two restorations of ethnic Israel to the land. The first was accomplished under Ezra and Nehemiah, the second under the United Nations, in 1948. We have seen, however, that this literal interpretation cannot possibly be correct, since it requires us to look for modern ethnic Israel fighting against nations that long ago passed from the stage of history (e.g., Philistia, Edom, Moab, etc.). No, the context indicates that here Isaiah is speaking “mysteriously” of the Messianic era (11:1-5, 10); an era in which God will gather unto Christ a new nation of Gospel warriors (11:10); an era in which those warriors will engage in such victorious Gospel combat that multitudes of previously unbelieving enemies will walk the highway of holiness into God’s Kingdom and into his people’s eschatological homeland (11:14-16). Just as God, in the first Exodus, rescued physical Israel from Egypt through Moses, so in the eschatological Exodus he will rescue spiritual Israel from the Domain of Darkness through Christ (11:16). And when the great contest is over, the Messiah will execute final Judgment against all his remaining foes (11:4), and then bring in the eternal World to Come (11:6-9).

Again, premillennarians say that in 1948 God fulfilled his ancient promise to give birth to a nation in a day (Isaiah 66:7-8). However, in our careful exegesis of this text, we saw that the new Land, Nation, and City of which Isaiah spoke is actually Christ’s Church, born on the Day of Pentecost as a result of the Person and redeeming Work of the Boy-Child to which OT Zion, embodied in mother Mary, gave birth (11:7-8, 10).

In our study we also considered Ezekiel’s famous vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. Without a doubt, this is the premillennarian’s favorite proof-text for a latter day restoration of the Jews to Palestine (Ezekiel 37:1-14). Thomas Ice, for example, reads it as giving us “a multi-stage process.” First ethnic Israel is restored to the land in unbelief, and so is pictured as a vast sea of lifeless bodies, physically whole but spiritually dead. This stage supposedly began in 1948 and continues to the present. Then, possibly during the seven year Tribulation, the second stage begins: God brings the nation to faith, so that now it stands on its feet, a great army of Jewish evangelists, effectively calling both Jews and Gentiles to salvation in Christ just prior to his premillennial return.

However, earlier in our journey I argued for a very different inter­pretation of this text, an interpretation guided by the NCH. I suggested that Ezekiel’s famous prophecy pictures God, who physically created man from the dust, spiritually re-creating the One New Man—Christ’s Church—from the dead (Ephesians 2:15). In other words, it gives us Christ, from the Day of Pentecost on, breathing into the nostrils of his elect (whether Jew or Gentile), raising them to newness of life, and sending them as a vast army into triumphant spiritual warfare for the cause of Gospel (John 20:22; Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 2:14f; Ephesians 2:5-7, 6:10f; 2 Timothy 2:4; Revelation 19:19). Which interpretation has the sanction of NT eschatology? That is for you to decide.

Premillennarians also like to point to Amos 9:13-14, which they claim anticipates the agricultural fruitfulness that we now see, or soon will see, in the modern nation of Israel. However, the NCH supplies a far more edifying interpretation, finding here a beautiful prophecy, cast in rich OT symbolism, of the eternal fruitfulness of the Church in the Paradise of God, the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 2:7, 22:2, 22:14). And we know that this is the correct interpretation because of the verses immediately preceding our text (Amos 9:11-12). According to the explicit teaching of the NT, these speak of the eschatological restoration of the fallen Davidic dynasty through the birth and growth of the Christian Church, a growth that includes the gathering of all the Gentiles who are called by God’s name, after which comes the end and Paradise (Acts 15:16-18).

Finally, we have Zechariah 8:1-8, yet another picturesque prophecy of the restoration of God’s people to their eternal homeland and holy city, Jerusalem. Premillennarians confidently assert that this too was fulfilled in 1948, or that it will be fulfilled in yet another migration of Jews to Palestine, since it was written after the restoration under Ezra and Nehemiah. However, even a cursory reading of this heart-warming text will persuade the reader that the happy scenes depicted therein cannot possibly speak of life in modern war-torn Israel. No, as we saw earlier, this prophecy uses familiar OT imagery to speak of the blessedness of Christ’s Church, both in the present Era of Proclamation, and also in the World to Come .

And so too do all the other OTKP’s that premillennarians cite to defend their notion that the Bible predicts a latter day return of ethnic Israel to their ancient homeland in Palestine.

How are we to understand the creation of the modern state of Israel?

Certainly every Bible-believing Christian senses in his spirit that the creation of the modern Jewish state is a remarkable act of God’s provi­dence, an act that cannot be without eschatological significance. Indeed, I imagine that even unbelievers, in their unguarded moments, find this unexpected phenomenon arresting, even troubling; that they cannot help but marvel at the preservation of Abraham’s physical seed over centuries of struggle, marginalization, persecution, and near destruction; and that they cannot help but see the invisible hand of the living God hovering over the events of 1948, moving purposefully and lovingly over his lost and scattered OT people. Some things we all know in our “knower.” God’s abiding concern for ethnic Israel is one of them.

The great question, however, is this: What exactly does God mean by this thought-provoking historical development? Here, and in the body of my book, I have stated forthrightly what I think it does not mean: It does not mean that God is literally fulfilling OTKP; it does not mean that he is placing ethnic Israel on center stage for the wrap-up of Salvation History; it does not mean that he is raising up 144,000 Jewish evangelists; it does not mean he is preparing for a great battle on the slopes of Mt. Meggido, or for a global assault on physical Jerusalem, or for a national conversion at the premillennial return of Christ, or for a thousand years of temple worship in Palestine, etc. In short, the creation of the modern nation of Israel does not vindicate historic or dispensational premillennialism.

This does not entail, however, that the event is without eschatological significance. To reject the premillennial interpretation of ethnic Israel’s return to Palestine is not to make it into mere accident of history. But if in fact it is not an historical accident, we are brought again to the question with which we opened this discussion: What does the birth of modern national Israel mean? How does it figure into God’s plan of salvation? What is its eschatological significance?

Earlier, I suggested a plausible answer to these fascinating questions. In particular, I argued from our exegetical study of Romans 11 that the spiritual rebirth of Israel at large is one of the four or five great NT signs of the imminence of Christ’s Parousia. As Paul wrote, “If their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be, if not life from the dead” (Romans 11:15)?

The creation of the modern Israel fits well into this scenario. Indeed, the words of our Lord himself may well teach this very thing; for when, some two thousand years ago, he spoke God’s word of judgment over ethnic Jerusalem and Israel, he also left them—and us—with a notable glimmer of hope:

Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.  –Luke 21:23-24

Now, it is certainly the case that since 1948 the Gentiles are no longer trampling earthly Jerusalem underfoot. Could it be, then, that Israel’s unexpected rise to nationhood signals that the times of the Gentiles are now fulfilled; that the Gentile’s (often cruel) domination over the Jewish Dispersion has come to an end; that God’s redemptive thrust into the Gentile world is now nearing its completion; and that, as Paul prophesied, the Gentiles are about to be broken off, while ethnic Israel at large is about to be grafted back in (Romans 11:17-24)?

I am strongly inclined to think so. And if this is so, it becomes all the more urgent for Christ’s Church to bring the Gospel to the Jews, not only in Palestine, but wherever they may live. Thus shall we serve our Jewish neighbors as we ought. Thus shall we honor God in remembering that we Gentiles do not support the Jewish root, but the Jewish root supports us (Romans 11:18). And thus shall we actually hasten the coming of our Lord (2 Peter 3:12). For as he himself told us, when ethnic Israel again learns to say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” then they—and we—shall finally see him again (Matthew 23:39)!

 

 

 

 

 

Note: This article is an excerpt from a theological work now completed, entitled The High King of Heaven:Discovering the Master Keys to the Great End Time Debate (Redemption Press, 2014).

It is drawn from a chapter dealing with the proper interpretation of Old Testament Kingdom Prophecies (OTKP). In discussing this challenging subject, you will find that I often refer to the New Covenant Hermeneutic (NCH). This is simply the NT method of interpreting the OT generally, and OTKP in particular.

In order to understand the NCH better, you may wish to read the short, introductory article found here.

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We turn our attention now to the most prolific—and most fascinating—of the three post-exilic prophets: Zechariah (fl. 500 BC). Like his rough contemporaries, Haggai and Malachi, this great OT priest, seer, and martyr comforted a subjugated and much enfeebled nation with visions and prophecies of a glorious future: the coming of the Messiah, the final defeat of Israel’s enemies, and the final restoration of God’s people, land, temple, priesthood, and holy city—Jerusalem.

Our focus in this study is Zechariah 12-14. It is the second of two lengthy prophetic oracles dealing with the future Kingdom of God. To better understand the second, let us look briefly at the first.

Overview of Zechariah 9-11

In essence, these three chapters constitute a single word of promise: In days ahead, God will send the Messiah, a mighty warrior-king who will lead Israel—fully regathered in a Second Exodus from all the nations where God had scattered them—to victory over her perennial foes, and then to the eternal enjoyment of universal peace and prosperity in his completed Kingdom (9:1-10:12).

Observe, however, that this oracle concludes on a dark and mysterious note: Far from welcoming their Messiah, it appears that Israel’s wicked leaders will actually reject their Shepherd-King, thereby annulling the Old Covenant, forfeiting God’s protection, and exposing the nation to destruction (11:1ff)! Yet in spite of all this, God will still have mercy upon a portion of his people, “the afflicted of the flock” (10:2, 11:7, 11,13:7).

How are we to resolve this apparent contradiction? Here, NT hindsight gives us much-needed insight: The afflicted of the flock are a remnant of elect Jews (Romans 9:6ff), called by God to recognize the divine-human Messiah (11:11; John 1:14, 6:40), enlist in his spiritual army (10:5f; 2 Corinthians 10:4-6; 2 Timothy 2:4), preach his Gospel (9:10, 10:4f; 2 Corinthians 2:14-16), gather eschatological “Judah” and “Ephraim” from the four corners of the earth to their spiritual Homeland (9:11-17, 10:6; Titus 2:11-14), and—together with their new-born Gentile brethren—follow him to consummate victory on the Day of the LORD (9:11-17; Rev. 6:1-2, 19:11-16).

We find, then, that Zechariah’s first oracle is primarily fulfilled in the first stage of the Kingdom; the stage in which “the Israel of God,” through Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, is purchased, gathered out of the Domain of Darkness, and led into triumphant Gospel combat beneath the banner of the High King of Heaven.

Zechariah 12-14

This brings us to the second oracle, and to our focus in the present section, chapters 12-14.. Here again the theme is the future Kingdom, but this time with an emphasis upon the Consummation. I have entitled it “Jerusalem in that Day,” since here the expression “in that Day” occurs some 15 times! To read the oracle itself is to understand why: In essence, it is a series of prophetic “snapshots,” most of which point ahead to one or another facet of the eschatological “Day” wherein God will bring his Kingdom purposes to complete fulfillment. As we shall see, this does indeed include a few references to the Era of Proclamation and Probation. But again, the emphasis here clearly falls upon the Consummation; upon the Day in which the LORD will intervene in history one last time to execute final judgment upon Israel’s enemies, administer final redemption to his people, and then usher them into the everlasting Day of blessing and worship for which they have patiently waited, hoped, and longed, generation after generation.

In short, the “burden” of Zechariah’s final oracle is to reveal the final acts of God in the final stages of Salvation History.

Interpretive Approaches

As every student of the prophetic Scriptures knows, Zechariah 12-14 is an especially difficult and controversial OTKP. Therefore, we do well to ask at the outset: How can we best arrive at a good understanding of the Spirit’s intended meaning? In particular, what method of prophetic interpretation will best guide us through the maze of competing interpretations, and bring us safely into the insight and certainty we desire?

As we have seen, our premillennarian brethren are not shy about answering: We must use the method of prophetic literalism. Wayne Grudem, a respected historic premillennarian, is one of them. Citing Zechariah 14:5-17, he writes:

Here again the description does not fit the present (Church) age, for the Lord is King over all he earth in this situation. But it does not fit the eternal state, either, because of the disobedience and rebellion against the Lord that is clearly present. . . (Passages like this) indicate some future stage in the history of redemption which is far greater than the present church age but which still does not see the removal of all sin and rebellion and death from the earth. (Systematic Theology, pp. 1127, 1129).

In this defense of premillennialism, Grudem does not openly espouse prophetic literalism. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that he approaches Zechariah’s prophecy—and all OTKP—on the assumption that it is indeed the only valid method of prophetic interpretation. And if Grudem is right, then his conclusion is right as well: Zechariah’s oracle must be fulfilled in a future millennial stage of the Kingdom, since, literally interpreted, it cannot be fulfilled in any other (i.e., in the present Era of Proclamation or in the perfected World to Come)!

Now, as natural as Grudem’s prophetic literalism may seem to be, we have seen, both by precept and example, that the NT consistently rejects it. For again, both Christ and his apostles teach us that the true sphere of fulfillment of all OTKP is the New Covenant, the two-staged spiritual Kingdom it creates, and the new spiritual nation to which it gives birth: the Church, the eschatological “Israel of God” comprised of elect Jews and Gentiles. But if this is so, then we cannot interpret OTKP literally, nor can we embrace premillennial approaches. Instead, we must interpret it eschatologically, covenantally, typologically, and ecclesiologically; as being a series of “veiled” and “mysterious” OT representations life under the New Covenant in the two-staged Kingdom that it creates. In short, it is through the NCH, and through it alone, that Christians can attain what, in these last days, they so much need and desire: the full assurance of understanding (Colossians 2:2), and the unity of the faith in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3, 13).

A Critique of Premillennial Approaches

Because premillennial interpretations of Zechariah 12-14 are so widespread, we must pause a moment to examine some of the problems involved.

As we just saw in the quote from Grudem, premillennarians approach this oracle—and all OTKP—in three fundamental ways: literally, ethnically and futuristically. First, they assume the sole validity of prophetic literalism; this forces them to conclude that the prophet’s focus is on ethnic Israel; and this in turn forces them to conclude that he must be speaking of events to befall ethnic Israel in the future; in that portion of Salvation History prior to, at, or immediately following the Second Coming of Christ. But, as Grudem pointed out, since literalism does not permit us to see Zechariah describing the Church era or the New Heavens and the New Earth, premillennarians conclude that he must be talking about events leading up to, and including, the millennial stage of the Kingdom, wherein Israel will be the head, and the Gentiles the tail.

In all this, we see once again that the way in which we enter a prophecy—hermeneutically speaking—will profoundly influence where we come out!

Importantly, we find that there are some notable differences among premillennarians themselves. Historic Premillennarians like Fausset and Grudem admit that when Zechariah’s words are fulfilled, Christ’s Church will be in, on, or about the premises—a conclusion that makes it difficult for them to explain why the prophet does not mention the Church, or what resurrected, glorified Christians will be doing during the millennium.

Dispensational Premillennarians like Scofield, Walvoord, Pentecost, and MacArthur, contend that Zechariah foretells God’s dealings with ethnic Israel immediately following the Rapture of the Church into heaven; his dealings with Israel and the nations during the Tribulation (i.e., Daniel’s seventieth week of years), the Great Tribulation (i.e., the final three and a half years), the Battle of Armageddon, the Second Coming of Christ, and the thousand year reign of Christ over all the earth. This reign, they argue, will emanate from a geographically transformed Palestine and from the newly restored Jerusalem, where the glorified Christ will live.

So then, there are indeed some significant differences; but again, all premillennarians agree in asserting that in this oracle Zechariah is speaking exclusively about the eschatological agony, conversion, and exaltation of ethnic Israel.

But again, we have seen that the NT positively forbids this approach. And even if it did not, the text itself presents grave problems for any premillennarian literalist. In the exegetical paragraphs below, I will touch on some particulars. Here, however, a few general observations are in order.

First, the oracle says nothing at all about a temporary millennial reign of Christ. Anyone who reads the text objectively, refusing to import millennial presuppositions into it, will see immediately that in fact Zechariah is speaking of the conversion of eschatological Israel, the Last Battle, the Day of the LORD, and the World and Worship of the (eternal) Age to Come. It is completely counterintuitive to think that an oracle so grand—so cosmic—in its scale, should have as its terminus ad quem a temporary millennial reign of the Messiah, rather than the ultimate glories of the perfected Kingdom of God.

Secondly, we have already seen that this oracle gives us one of at least five different OT prophecies of the Last Battle. We have also seen that if we interpret them all literally, then it immediately becomes impossible to reconcile the conflicting data. Therefore, the only possible solution that retains the divine inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture is to affirm that in each case the Spirit is giving us a symbolic—a typologically veiled—revelation of the final clash between the Church and the World, a clash whose true nature is fully disclosed only in the NT.

Thirdly, there is the problem of anachronisms. Do we really want to say, for example, that at the end of the present (and very modern) age, the nations of the earth will come up against ethnic Israel riding horses, camels, and donkeys; or that they will bring cattle with them to serve as food (12:4, 14:15)?

Far more seriously, how is it that in the Millennium—when Christ himself is allegedly seated upon his throne in Jerusalem—Israel and the nations will revert to observing the Mosaic Law; a Law that, according to the NT, Christ himself fulfilled and rendered obsolete (Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4; Hebrews 8:13)? Will parents really take it upon themselves to administer Mosaic sanctions by executing the false prophet who sprang from their loins (Deuteronomy 18:20, 13:13)? Will the nations really go up to a physical Jerusalem to join ethnic Israel in observing the Feast of Booths (14:16)? Will they really bring animal sacrifices to a physical Temple; and will priests really lay those sacrifices upon a physical altar, or boil them in physical cooking pots (14:20-21)? The mind steeped in NT revelation cannot bring itself to assent to such propositions, but instead looks immediately and instinctively for the spiritual NT realities of which all these mysterious pictures are OT types, shadows, and symbols.

Finally, what is the bearing of the rest of the book upon the interpretation of this particular oracle? In all of the OT, was there ever a prophet whose writing more fully embodied the “apocalyptic” mode of divine revelation than Zechariah? Was there ever a prophet who more consistently edified and encouraged God’s OT people by clothing great redemptive truths about the wrap-up of Salvation History in vision and symbol? If, as all agree, the first half of Zechariah’s book (1-8) is completely devoted to eight mystical visions loaded with Messianic and Kingdom symbolism, is it not likely that the second half of the book (9-14), which is devoted two great prophetic oracles, is loaded with Messianic and Kingdom symbolism as well? Indeed, since the first half of the book also contains a number of prophecies, and the second half also contains a number of visions, is it not clear that the book as a whole is apocalyptic through and through, and that it must therefore be interpreted symbolically, rather than literally?

We conclude, then, from evidence found both in the NT and the Old, that premillennial interpretations of Zechariah 12-14 are fatally flawed, and that our only hope of penetrating to the deep meaning of this great oracle lies in the skillful use of the NCH. In just a moment, we will attempt this very thing.

Snapshots Ahead

First, however, an important introductory word. As mentioned above, Zechariah’s final oracle is composed of a series of prophetic “snapshots.” The Reformation Study Bible explains it this way:

Our understanding of the teaching of Zechariah is greatly helped when we recognize that the prophet gives pictures of the future in snapshot fashion, in which the pictures are not placed in any particular sequence. When we read a passage, we see only what is happening in that snapshot, not how it relates to the other snapshots. (p. 1326)

In this helpful observation, the key word is sequence. Yes, the snapshots are related, but thematically, rather than chronologically. We see this vividly in the frequent appearance of the eschatological marker “in that Day.” Through its use, the Spirit is letting us know that he is now speaking of the two-staged Kingdom of God and Christ. But through its use he is also letting us know that he is now giving us yet another cameo, yet another fresh miniature portrait of some event or characteristic of life proper to that (stage of the) Kingdom.

Does the oracle as a whole have any chronological drift or momentum? To be sure. Moreover, once we abandon premillennial literalism and futurism in favor of the NCH, we are able to see it clearly. Broadly speaking, it turns out that the prophecy is much like Ezekiel 36-38: It passes from the Era of Proclamation and Probation (the Kingdom of the Son), through the Last Battle and the Day of the Lord, into the World to Come (the Kingdom of the Father). Nevertheless, even as we bear this overall perspective in mind, we must recognize that each snapshot, each cameo, stands more or less on its own. Yes, its exact place in the total oracle will help us to interpret it; but having received that help, we must look for its essential meaning in the OT symbols themselves, and in the NT truths to which those symbols so mysteriously point.

With this as introduction, we are now ready to begin our exegetical journey through Zechariah 12-14.

Strong in the LORD (12:1-9)

The opening prophecy, highly reminiscent of material found in chapters 9-10, sounds the theme of the oracle as a whole: In the eschatological conflict between “Israel” and the nations—that is, between the Church and the World—God will be the strength of his people, and will lead them through much suffering to final triumph. Importantly, the phrase “in that day” recurs five separate times. The NCH would have us receive this as a sign: Here we are dealing events to occur in the eschatological era, the New Covenant era, the Kingdom era, the Church era. We must, then, with the Spirit’s help, endeavor to “decode” the prophecy, so as to discern the NT meanings here embedded in OT language and imagery.

Since each of the nines verses in our snapshot is a prophetic nugget in its own right, I will briefly comment upon them one verse at a time.

In verse 1, Zechariah characterizes the entire forthcoming oracle (12-14) as “the burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel.” It is a burden because it brings heavy tidings, and also because it burdens the prophet with a sense of urgency to deliver it to God’s people.

It concerns, not ethnic Israel, but eschatological “Israel:” the Church, which is comprised of Jews and Gentiles living and serving together as one family and one nation under Christ (Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:15; Revelation 12:1f).

Importantly, the oracle emanates from the Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos, the One who is sovereign over all history for the sake of his people and his glory (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11-12). Since Zechariah will speak of the Consummation later in his oracle, we may safely conclude that here, in the opening snapshot, his focus is largely upon the Church’s spiritual warfare throughout the entire Era of Proclamation and Probation; throughout the first stage of the Kingdom, the stage that the Holy Spirit, in the Revelation, refers to as the Great Tribulation (Acts 14:22; Revelation 7:14).

According to verse 2, the sovereign God has purposed to make the Church—the NT City of God (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22)—a cup that causes reeling to all the (hostile) peoples around her. All who reject her Gospel and attack her will become drunk with God’s judicial blindness, and will therefore stagger and fall beneath his final judgments (Jeremiah 25:15-16; 2 Thessalonians 2:1ff). Such is the fate of all who would harm his (gospel) prophets; of all who would touch the apple of his eye (Psalm 105:15; Zechariah 2:8; Revelation 11:5). The eschatological siege—mounted throughout the Church Era—will not only be against the capitol city of the holy nation (i.e., Church leaders and public institutions), but also against the tribal villages as well (i.e., the laity themselves). All who would live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-4; 2 Timothy 3:12).

In verse 3 the imagery changes, though the message remains much the same. In the eschatological Era, God will place the Church as a stone before all peoples. Those who build their lives upon this stone—by building them upon the Christ she proclaims—will live (Matthew 7:24ff; 1 Timothy 3:15). But those who stumble over it (1 Peter 2:4-8) and thereafter seek to “lift” it out of their way via persecution, will be severely injured. Indeed, Jesus, the Head of the Church, says such persons will be ground to dust and scattered like powder (Matthew 21:44). Throughout the Era of Proclamation, many (unbelieving) peoples will gather against the Church; at the end of the age, all peoples will (14:2).

In verse 4, the Spirit uses OT martial imagery to promise that throughout the Era of Proclamation God will continually watch over—and rise to the defense of—his eschatological “house of Judah,” the redeemed tribe of his Messianic Son, the Church. This calls to mind the many occasions in which God confounded the plans of the enemies of Christ’s apostles, so that they might fully proclaim the Gospel to one and all, and so finish their course victoriously, with great joy (Acts 4:1-27, 5:17ff, 12:1-19, 13:4-12, 16:16-40, 18:1-17, 19:21ff, 20:24; 2 Timothy 4:18).

Verses 5-6 depict the gladness and dynamism of the eschatological “clans of Judah”—that is, of Church leaders serving all throughout the Era of Proclamation. In verse 5, we find them reveling in the spiritual vitality, loyalty, and support of “the inhabitants of Jerusalem;” reveling in the graces of everyday church members eager to serve the cause of Christ. Here, one thinks of the apostle Paul, effusing over the prayers, outreach, and generosity of the Gentile assemblies he had founded (2 Corinthians 8, 9; Philippians 1:3-11, 4:10ff; 1 Thessalonians 1, 2).

Verse 6 pictures the great unction and effectiveness of these latter-day Gospel warriors: Ablaze with the Spirit, they will be led in triumph in Christ, with God diffusing through them the knowledge of the Redeemer in every place, and infallibly building up his Church (2 Corinthians 2:14-17; Ephesians 4:7-16). Some (i.e., those who are being saved) they will “consume on the right hand,” torching their opposition to Christ, and so transforming them into spiritual brethren and fellow-citizens of the Jerusalem above (Philippians 3:20). Others (i.e., those who are perishing), they will “consume on the left hand,” consigning them, through their own impenitence, to the fires of judgment (John 3:19-21, 20:23; Acts 13:46). At the end of the Era of Proclamation, when the battle is over and the victory complete, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem will dwell securely in their eternal home(s), with none to frighten or attack again (John 14:3).

The message of verse 7—a prophetic nugget best interpreted in isolation from verses 5-6—is that “in the day” God will introduce a new social dynamic into the eschatological nation: None of his people will glory above the rest. Special honors will no longer be accorded to a royal family, or to the inhabitants of a capitol city (let Rome take note!). Instead, God will distribute the gifts of his Spirit in such a way as to preclude divisions in Christ’s Body; in such a way that the members of the Body will have the same care, one for another (1 Corinthians 12:22-25). Therefore, far from seeking to exalt himself, he who is greatest in that Day wlll be the servant of all (Mark 9:35); each will regard his brother as more important than himself (Philippians 2:3); and all will seek glory and honor, not for themselves, but for Christ (2 Corinthians 10:17; Galatians 6:14).

Verse 8 uses vivid OT imagery to declare that throughout the Era of Proclamation the LORD will defend his NT warriors and make them mighty through God for the tearing down of (spiritual) strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4f). Though their bodies may indeed fall into the flames, not a hair of their head (i.e., their eternal life with God) will perish (Luke 21:18; John 17:11, 15; 1 Corinthians 13:3). In and of themselves they are a picture of spiritual weakness and poverty, but they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them, even to the casting of (spiritual) mountains into the depths of the sea (Zechariah 4:6-7; Matthew 5:3, 21:21; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 4:13). Through them, God’s eschatological Zerubbabel will build his Church (Zechariah 4:1-10; Matthew 16:18).

While verse 9 is indeed applicable to the entire Church era, its contents and position at the end of this prophetic snapshot suggest that here the Spirit is mainly looking ahead to the Day of the LORD, a theme to be taken up in chapter 14. If this is correct, the judgment here in view will be the one which immediately follows the Last Battle, when Christ descends from heaven to rescue his beleaguered Bride and to destroy the assembled enemies of God, once and for all (14:2f; Revelation 19:11ff).

Before Strength, Tears (12:10-14)

How is it that eschatological Jerusalem will become a cup of reeling to the nations (12:2); how is it that God will so zealously come to her aid (12:4, 9); how is it that his people will find such great strength for the battle (12:5-7)? Zechariah’s next prophetic snapshot supplies the answer: They will enjoy these blessings because “in that Day” God will grant them deep, Spirit-wrought repentance and faith in Christ (12:10-14).

This will be the key to their eschatological victory. Why? Because this kind of repentance and faith will be earmark of regeneration and justification; and because regeneration and justification will make them party to the New (and eternal) Covenant, constitute them as God’s New Covenant nation (the Church), and secure for them the all-encompassing promise of the Eternal Covenant: redemptive rescue from every enemy of the Domain of Darkness, and redemptive restoration to all the blessings of eternal life. Such a people—with such a covenant-keeping God on their side—cannot fail to triumph in the great eschatological clash of the kingdoms!

When will this beautiful prophecy be fulfilled? Premillennial interpreters, bound by their literalist hermeneutic, feel compelled to interpret it ethnically, and therefore futuristically. John MacArthur writes, “Israel’s repentance will come because they look to Jesus, the One whom they rejected and crucified, in faith at the Second Advent” (p. 1180).

But this view is deeply problematic. How did the Jews described in 12:1-9 enjoy such strength and blessing from God if they were not yet converted to Christ? How shall the houses of David, Nathan, Levi, and Shimei suddenly reappear on the stage of history just prior to Christ’s return? And how can Israel’s national conversion be effected by the visible return of Christ, when, according to pervasive NT teaching, God’s pleasure and purpose in NT times is to save sinners strictly by the “foolishness of preaching” (Matthew 28:18ff; John 17:17; Romans 10:14ff; 1 Corinthians 1:21)?

No, premillennial literalism cannot uncover the meaning of this prophecy, nor can it illumine the time of its fulfillment. But the NCH can. Let us therefore bring that hermeneutic to the text for a closer look.

Zechariah’s words will be fulfilled “in that Day,” that is, in the eschatological era, the New Covenant era (12:11). Moreover, as the words themselves make clear, they will be fulfilled in the first stage of that Era: The Era of Proclamation and Probation.

Verse 10 gives us the theme, verses 11-14 elaborate. Each phrase of the long first verse is rich with meaning and deeply affecting.

In that Day, the sovereign God will pour out his Spirit upon the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In other words, beginning at Pentecost and continuing right up to Consummation, he will pour out his Spirit upon his elect, both Jew and Gentile (Acts 2:1ff). As the NT teaches, these are God’s latter day Israel (Gal. 6:16), his Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), and his chosen City of Habitation (Galatians 4:26; Revelation 21:1-4).

When the Spirit falls upon them, he will be to them “a Spirit of grace and supplication.” That is, he will graciously make known to them the grace of God provided in Christ, and he will move them to supplicate God and Christ for a salvation they suddenly realize they desperately need (John 1:14; Acts 2:37, 11:18, 16:30, 20:24; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 2:11-14).

In this process, the NT saints of all generations “ . . . will look upon Me whom they pierced.” The NT explains: When Christ is lifted up through the preaching of the Cross (John 3:14-15, 12:32), the Spirit will enable God’s people to look upon him (Christ), behold his deity (John 1:14, 6:40, 14:9), and see that, in a very real sense, it was they themselves who nailed him to the Tree. How so? Because the (God-ordained) death that he died, he died not for his own sins, but for theirs (Mark 10:45; Romans 6:10; 1 Peter 3:18; Revelation 5:1ff). Moreover, the same Spirit will enable these newborn saints not only to look upon Christ as the God-Man, but also to look to Christ as their Redeemer; he will enable them to trust, obey, and believe in Christ—and Christ alone—for the salvation of their immortal souls (John 4:14-15, 6:29, 40; Hebrews 12:2).

In the end, the fruit of this spiritual rebirth will be joy unspeakable and full of glory; but the birth itself will not be without mourning and tears (Luke 15:7; John 16:21; 1 Peter 1:8). This is the theme of the rest of the prophecy. Conviction of sin—and corresponding sorrow over all that sin has cost God, Christ, and man—will run deep, deep as the grieving of parents over the loss of their only son (12:10); or deep as the grieving of a whole nation over the loss of a godly and beloved king (12:11; 2 Chronicles 35:20-27; Matthew 26:75; Luke 7:36-50; John 16:8-14).

This sorrow will also be universal: It will touch every inhabitant of the land, every marriage, every generation of every family (e.g., David and his son, Nathan; Levi and his grandson, Shimei), and every institution (e.g., kings, priests, people), (11-14). And yet Zechariah’s words are indeed glad tidings, for here, draped in OT type and shadow, is yet another proclamation of one of great promises of the Kingdom: Through the eschatological gift of the Spirit—and the resulting gifts of repentance, faith, and a new, circumcised heart—all of God’s people will be holy (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24-32; 1 Peter 1:16; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11; Hebrews 8:6-13). All of God’s people will be born again (John 3:3, 7; 1 Peter 1:23).

In passing, I want to acknowledge the element of truth present in premillennial interpretations of this passage. Premillennarians say this an OT prophecy of the latter-day conversion ethnic Israel. They are right, in part. For whenever a Jewish man or woman is called to Christ, it is fulfilled (Romans 11:5). It will also be fulfilled when God, at the end of the age, through the preaching of the Gospel, calls a great multitude of Jews to faith in the First of Israel’s “firstborn” sons, thus grafting (much of) ethnic Israel back into the vine of Abraham, the father of all the faithful (Romans 4:1ff, 8:29, 11:11-32; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 1:6, 12:23).

We must understand, however, that these are only partial fulfillments of our text, and that Zechariah 12:10-14 is fully fulfilled, neither in Jewish converts alone, nor in Gentile converts alone, but in all converts; in the One New Man and the One New Nation that is the Spirit-filled Body of Christ, comprised of believing Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:15; 1 Peter 2:9).

So then, our premillennarian brothers are correct when they assert that this prophecy is fulfilled among latter day Jews. But they err when they say it is fulfilled exclusively among latter day Jews, exclusively at the end of the age, and exclusively at the Second Coming of Christ.

Thanks be to God for the NCH, which helps to see these things clearly, and so to make our way, together, towards his eschatological truth!

After Tears, Cleansing (13:1-6)

This is the third prophetic snapshot in Zechariah’s oracle. Aided by the NCH, we can readily discern its essential meaning: In the New Covenant Era, and as a result of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin, God will sanctify his Church, purging it—and ultimately the whole world—of idolatry, false religion, and the deceiving spirits that are behind them. God’s people themselves will have a role in this, using Church discipline, wherever and whenever necessary, to maintain the spiritual purity of their assemblies. Let us look briefly at the text itself to see exactly how the Spirit conveys this encouraging message.

In 13:1, God unveils the basis, or ground, of his sanctifying work in the Church. Every phrase is rich with meaning. “In that Day,” points ahead to the Era of Fulfillment, especially the Era of Proclamation. “A fountain will be opened”—at Calvary, where Christ’s blood will be shed in order to make atonement for sin, in order to secure the regeneration, sanctification, and eventual glorification of God’s covenant people (Mark 14:24; Romans 3:25, 8:29-30). “For the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem”—for the Messiah’s spiritual seed, and for God’s spiritual City: the Church of all ages (Luke 1:32-33; John 10:11, 15; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25). “For sin and impurity”—not only to forgive it, but also to wash it away; to cleanse (the souls of) God’s people from all inward defilement. Again, such cleansing—such sanctification—is the focus of our text, a focus shared by the apostle when he wrote of Christ that “ . . . (he) gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 4:26-27; Colossians 1:22; John 1:9).

Verse 2 specifies two results of the open fountain of Christ’s blood. First, God will cut off the names of the idols from the land. That is, by the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Spirit, he will remove the names of every false god from the lips of his NT people, seeing that henceforth they will desire only to call upon His name and the name of his Son (Ezekiel 36:25; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 8:1-6; 2 Timothy 2:22). And secondly, he will remove the false prophets and the unclean spirit from the land. That is, he will remove false prophets, false teachers, and the deceiving spirits that animate them, from the Church, a people seated in heavenly places in Christ, and therefore justly referred to here as the inhabitants of Immanuel’s Land (1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1ff; Hebrews 12:22; 2 Peter 2:1f; 1 John 4:1-6).

Verse 3 intimates one way in which the cleansing will come about. Under the Law, false prophets who enticed Israel to serve other gods were punishable by death; and indeed, relatives of such prophets—including their parents—were specifically warned not to hesitate in delivering them up to that punishment (Deuteronomy 13:6-11). In our text, God is therefore saying that “in that Day” eschatological Israel will, at long last, rise eagerly to the fulfillment of their duty under the Law: Zealous for the presence of the Holy One of Israel in their midst, they will even hand their own children over to death.

The NT fulfillment of this prophecy is not difficult to see: In the Era of Proclamation, Christian parents will subject even their own children—whether physical or spiritual—to Church discipline, discipline up to and including the spiritual “death penalty” of excommunication (Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 1 John 2:19, 4:1-4; Revelation 2:2). This is done in love, and in hopes that the genuineness of their faith is proven by their repentance, through which they will again come to life (James 5:19-20).  Thus shall the Holy Spirit—and the Holy People—preserve the spiritual purity of Immanuel’s Land: the Church of Christ.

Verses 4-6 picturesquely envision a Day when the Spirit-filled people of God will be so vigilant and so discerning that false prophets will not dare ply their wicked trade among them, but will resort to deception and lies in order to protect themselves from accusation and judgment. Verse 6, which alludes to the physical self-abuse practiced by the worshipers of pagan gods (Leviticus 19:28; 1 Kings 18:28), is a parable of what will occur: When eschatological Israelites confront false prophets with the telltale marks of their idolatrous faith (e.g., error, immorality, confusion, disunity, etc.), they (the teachers) will conceal the truth with outright lies. Many NT texts—and the bloody theological battlefield of Church history—bear witness to the truth of this prophecy: Always and everywhere, ravenous spiritual wolves—false brethren, false teachers, and false prophets, dressed up as Christ’s sheep—have sought to infiltrate the Lord’s folds and win a following, only to be discovered, reproved, and expelled by the faithful undershepherds of the flock (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29; Galatians 2:1-5, 6:13; 2 Peter 2:1; Jude 1:4; Titus 1:10-16; Revelation 2:2).

The Stricken Shepherd, the Gathered Flock (13:7-9)

We come now to the fourth prophetic snapshot of Zechariah’s oracle. Quite fittingly, it brings the first part of the oracle—the part dealing with the Era of Proclamation—to a close (12:1-13:9), even as it transitions to the second and concluding part, the part dealing with the Consummation and the World to Come (14:1ff).

The great theme here is the God-ordained, atoning death of the Good and Faithful Shepherd of God’s flock—the Lord Jesus Christ—, and the subsequent ingathering of the flock (the Church) that will infallibly issue from it. Accordingly, like those preceding it, this snapshot spans the entire Era of Proclamation, teaching us yet again (13:1) that through the Work of Christ (in the days of his humiliation) all the previously promised blessings of the Kingdom will flow to God’s people: strength for victorious spiritual warfare (12:1-9), tears of repentance in token of justifying faith (12:10-14), and inward spiritual cleansing, resulting in outward covenant loyalty to God (13:1-6). Let us explore these ideas by looking briefly at each of the three verses comprising our text.

As the prophecy opens (v. 7), we hear the voice of the LORD, commanding a sword to awaken against his Shepherd, against the Man who is his Associate. This cryptic line anticipates whole tracts of NT theology. The sword of the LORD, emblematic of divine retribution for sin, has been asleep, seeing that in ages past God has mercifully “passed over” the sins of his people (Isaiah 66:16; Jeremiah 50:35-37; Ezekial 21:1ff; Romans 3:25). Now, however, by his all-controlling Providence, the God of Justice awakens it on Mt. Golgotha, so that it may fall, in mercy and grace, upon a Substitute, the very One he has appointed to be the eternal Shepherd of his people (Isaiah 53:2ff; Zechariah 13:1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 10:45; John 3:14-16, 12:27-33; Acts 2:23, 4:27-28).

That the great work of atonement may be accomplished, the Shepherd will stand before God in two ways. First he will be “The Man,” the Last Adam, who will serve as the Head, Representative, and Substitute of his people; and who, in that capacity, will bear in his own person the just penalty for their sins (John 10:11; Romans 3:21-26, 5:12ff; 1 Peter 2:24, 3:18).

But secondly, he will also be God’s Amith: not just a man, but also a divine—and therefore a holy— Peer, Friend, and Companion to the Father. As such, he will be in perfect tune, and walk in perfect step, with the Father’s nature, purpose, plan, presence, and power. Therefore, he will win a perfect righteousness for his own, later to be imputed to every afflicted sheep who puts his trust in him (John 8:29, 55; Romans 3:26, 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21)!

When God strikes his Shepherd, the sheep will be scattered. There will be two kinds of them. The first is “the little ones,” loyal but frightened and disoriented Jewish disciples of the Shepherd who are temporarily scattered but later regathered (Matthew 26:31). The second are impenitent Jews who ought to have followed their Messiah, but refused to, and who will therefore be scattered permanently, through divine judgment at the hands of Rome (Matthew 8:12, 23:36-39; Luke 21:20-22). Here Zechariah anticipates NT teaching to the effect that the Good Shepherd’s death will indeed result in judgment, but much more in mercy, seeing that, because of it, God will be able to lay his hand upon “the little ones”—the afflicted of the flock (11:7, 11)—for salvation. He will be able—and he will begin—to gather his eschatological flock, the spiritual Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).

Verses 8-9 speak of this very thing. Note carefully that at this juncture the prophecy enters the eschatological era, the last days; days in which the exalted Christ spearheads the thrust of the Gospel into the earth, and so enters into covenant with all his people (v.9). Therefore, “all the land” of verse 8 cannot refer simply to Palestine (as premillennarians claim), but rather to that which OT Palestine typified: the whole earth, the earth that in the end will become Immanuel’s Land (2:12, 3:9, 9:16, 12:12, 13:2; Romans 4:13). “This is not to be taken in a literal sense, but as representing the domain covered by the Kingdom of God” (The Millennium Bible, p. 303).

If this view is correct, the message of verse 8 is solemn indeed, but comforting as well: By the end of Era of Proclamation, “two parts”—i.e., the larger portion—of all who hear the Gospel will perish from “the land” through their willful disobedience to it. However, through God’s sovereign grace (v. 9), one part—i.e., a smaller portion, an elect remnant, a little flock—will be gathered safely into his Shepherd’s fold, and will therefore remain in the Land. That is, having safely passed through the Judgment, they will inherit eternal life in the New Heavens and the New Earth (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 12:32; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Ephesians 1:6, 2:8-9; 1 Peter 2:4-10).1

This line of interpretation seems thoroughly vindicated by verse 9, in which we hear God making marvelous promises that resonate deeply in the heart of every NT believer. First, he will bring the Shepherd’s flock through the fire: Despite all manner of painful temptations and persecutions, God will preserve his elect in Christ until they safely enter the World to Come (John 10:29, 17:15; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, 10:13; Jude 1:1). Secondly, he will test and refine them, even as men test and refine silver and gold. This immediately calls to mind the words of the apostle Peter, who encouraged believers to understand that God uses manifold trials as a kind of holy fire by which he purifies the faith and character of his people, so that at the revelation of Christ they themselves may receive praise, glory, and honor from him (1 Peter 1:6-9; Proverbs 17:3; Isaiah 43:2; John 15:2; Romans 5:1-5; Ephesians 5:25-27; Hebrews 12:1ff)!

Verse 9—and the prophecy as a whole—conclude, appropriately enough, with a reiteration of the great OT covenant formula: God’s people will call on his Name, and he will answer them, saying, “They are My people;” and they will say, “The LORD is my God.”

When exactly will all this happen? Doubtless it will happen throughout the entire Era of Proclamation: It will happen when, in the fires of conviction, God’s people first call upon Christ for salvation (Luke 18:13; Acts 2:37f); and it will happen later, when, in the fires of temptation and persecution, they call upon him for strength and deliverance (Romans 15:30-32; Philippians 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:18).

However, to judge from its position in the text, it may well be that the Spirit especially has in view the end of the age, when the saints will have finished passing through the fires; when they will have finally entered the World to Come. The Revelation certainly seems to confirm this view: When John beholds the Holy City descending to the new earth as a Bride adorned for her Husband, he also hears these triumphant words: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and he shall dwell among them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be among them” (Rev. 21:3). Here, the days of fire are over; the everlasting Day of Glory has begun!

Many commentators, and especially premillennarians, assert that this prophecy refers exclusively to God’s dealings with ethnic Israel. However, as I have just tried to show, the logic of the NCH, the text itself, and the context surrounding it all argue against this interpretation. Will Jewish disciples of Jesus be able to see themselves in this text? Yes. Will God’s latter day dealings with ethnic Israel fulfill it? To be sure. But that is not because Zechariah’s words refer exclusively to ethnic Israel. Rather, it is because they refer comprehensively to the eschatological “Israel of God”—the Church—, and because elect Jews are part of that Church; because they are part of the one flock that has the one Shepherd as its Head (John 10:16; Galatians 6:16). Therefore, I must concur with the anonymous commentator who wrote, “These verses envision God’s chosen Shepherd who suffers at the hand of God (v.7). Out of this judgment emerges the true people of God (v.9). No clearer picture of Jesus and his suffering Church is given in the Old Testament” (RSB, p. 1340).

The Last Battle (14:1-2)  

Like the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel, Zechariah’s oracle has eschatological momentum: It is ever moving towards the grand finale of Salvation History. Here in chapter 14, which brings both the oracle and the book to a close, Zechariah reaches his goal: a colorful mosaic of five prophetic snapshots all dealing with the majestic events of the Consummation and with the life of the World to Come. Having already addressed many of these prophecies in earlier portions of this book, my comments here will be somewhat briefer.

I have entitled the first snapshot, “The Last Battle” (14:1-2). Here Zechariah picks up a theme first mentioned in 12:1-9, bringing it to its logical conclusion: The age-long warfare between the Church and the World will culminate in a final, decisive clash between the two. As ever, this divine warning concerning the Last Battle is forthright and sobering, but also laden with encouragement. Indeed, verse 1 sounds the note of final victory at the very outset, a note that resonates throughout the entire chapter: In the end, God will effect a great inversion, such that the manifold “goods” maliciously taken from his people—their work, their property, their health, their honor, their right to public worship, their very lives—will be restored to them once and for all (Matthew 10:29-30; Luke 6:20-26; Hebrews 10:34). Like Israel’s heroes of old, Christ will plunder the plunderers, and will cause the meek who trust in him to inherit the land (Genesis 14:1ff; 1 Samuel 30:1f; Psalms 37:9, 11; Matthew 5:5).

Verse 2 gives us the Last Battle itself. As elsewhere, so here: The Spirit uses images drawn from Israel’s long history of attack by hostile nations to picture the final assault of a consolidated world-system against the visible Church (Psalm 48; Ezekiel 38-39; Revelation 20:9). God himself, through the secret workings of his Providence, will bring it to pass, in part to sanctify the Bride of Christ, in part to move sinners to repentance (13:9; Ezekiel 38:4; Ephesians 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 1:3f, 2:3; Revelation 13:5-10).

Since, according to 1 Corinthians 15:46, the “natural” (i.e., physical) events and institutions of OT history were meant to picture spiritual NT realities, we cannot assume that the specific forms of suffering mentioned here will literally come to pass. According to the NCH, the essential message of our text is simply that a Satanically controlled global State will maliciously and effectively suppress—though not completely destroy—the visible Church, how we do not know (2 Thessalonians 2:1ff; Revelation 13:5-10).

Nevertheless, Zechariah 14:2, pervasive NT teaching, Church history, and current events themselves all agree in reminding us that God has indeed appointed his children to holy tribulation, and that the purifying fires of Last Battle will be as intense as any they have ever known (Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5; 2 Timothy 3:12; Hebrews 11:35-40; Revelation 11:7-13). Thankfully, that tribulation will be as brief as it is intense, and will be followed immediately by joy unspeakable and full of glory.

The Day of the LORD (14:3-5)

According to the NT, it is Christ himself who will bring the Last Battle to a close at his Parousia, when he arrives in power and glory in the skies above the earth to destroy his enemies and to glorify both his people and their world (Matthew 13:36-43, 24:29-31; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; 2 Thessalonians 1, 2; 2 Peter 3; Revelation 11:11-19, 14:14-20, 16:17-21, 19:11-21, 20:7-15). According the NCH, the snapshot before us is a symbolic picture of that very thing. Let us see if our text—and its context—justifies this important conclusion.

Verse 3 tells us that at the time of “Jerusalem’s” eschatological agony, the LORD himself will go forth and fight against her foes, even as he did on many previous occasions in Israel’s history (Exodus 14:1ff, 15:1-18; Isaiah 36-37; Revelation 15:2-3). This will be the last of them, the great and notable Day of the LORD. However, from the NT we know that the Day of the LORD will in fact be the Day of the Lord Jesus Christ at his Parousia (2 Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:4, 10). Therefore, this particular snapshot is indeed fulfilled at Christ’s Parousia, and must be interpreted accordingly.

Verse 4 pictures the LORD creating an unexpected way of escape for his people; verse 5 pictures them using it. This is God’s way with all his people, both OT and New (1 Corinthians 10:13). Quite intentionally, the imagery used here reminds us of how God miraculously delivered Israel at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:1ff). Importantly, verse 4 is not telling us that Christ will literally stand upon the Mount of Olives; or that he will literally split it apart so as to create a literal valley. Similarly, verse 5 is not predicting that literal Jews of a physical Jerusalem will flee to the tiny village of Azel. Those who take this approach are falling into confusion by abandoning the NCH, which teaches us to interpret this prophecy figuratively, in terms of NT truth.2

What then is the real message of verses 4-5? We begin to see our answer when we remember that a number of OT texts picture the God of judgment treading upon the high places of the earth so as to split valleys and melt mountains beneath his omnipotent feet (Psalm 97:5; Isaiah 64:1-2; Micah 1:3-4; Nahum 1:5). Similarly, we remember that in OT times the LORD was faithful not only to rescue his people from coming destruction, but also to provide them with cities—or other places—of refuge, to which they could flee (Genesis 19:20-26; Numbers 35:9f; Joshua 6:1ff; 1 Samuel 24:22).

Bearing all this in mind, we can readily discern the theological concepts underlying the concrete imagery of these verses: In the Day of the LORD, when the world itself is about to undergo final destruction, the presence and power of the covenant-keeping God of Israel will descend to the earth and draw near to his Beloved and persecuted City. Then he will supernaturally open a way for his people to flee eastward towards him (for the LORD likes to come to his children from the East: Isaiah 63:1; Ezekiel 43:4; Revelation 7:2), and so find safety in a City of Refuge. When the last of his redeemed children has entered that City, then the LORD and all his holy ones will come, and final judgment will fall upon all Israel’s enemies.

It requires but a small hermeneutical step to see how the NT actually fleshes out these broad theological promises: In the Day of the Lord Jesus, the glorified Christ himself will descend from heaven to the skies just above the earth, thereafter circling the globe from east to west, even as the earth and its works begin to melt with intense heat (Matthew 24:27; 2 Peter 3; Revelation 7:2). By his Spirit and through the agency of his holy angels he will swiftly draw near to his people (his Beloved City) wherever they may be, and will supernaturally open a way through the air for his saints to fly to him, their one true City of Refuge (Matthew 13:36-43; 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff). When in this way he has gathered all his children safely to his side, he, they, and all the holy angels will “come” in such a way as to consign the enemies of God—both human and angelic—to the fire’s of God’s eternal judgment (Matthew 13:42, 25:31ff; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 19:20, 20:10).

The World to Come (14:6-11)

Having promised and pictured Israel’s victory in the Last Battle, Zechariah’s oracle now transitions to the eschaton, to the final state. The remaining verses constitute three large-scale snapshots, all of which feature a series of mini-snapshots. They are: 1) The World to Come (14:6-11), 2) The Judgment to Come (14:12-15), and 3) The Worship to Come (14:16-21).

The prophecy of the World to Come is itself divided into two parts: Verses 6-8 use OT imagery to describe the New Heavens and the New Earth; verses 9-11 use OT imagery to describe (life in) the New Jerusalem.

Our first mini-snapshot (vv. 6-8) points to a radical transformation of the physical heavens, a transformation that the NT says will occur at “the restoration of all things,” when Christ returns (Matthew 19:28; Acts 3:21; Romans 8:21; Philippians 3:21). The Hebrew text of verses 6-7 favors the rendering of the NAS and the NKJ. We may paraphrase it as follows: In the (physical) world to come there will be no more natural light, for the luminaries of the former world—the sun, moon, and stars—will have passed away. The result, for God’s people, will be something altogether new: a ‘Day” that is neither day nor night as we once knew them, but an eternal Day whose exact nature is known only to the LORD.

Happily, the NT sheds further light on this mysterious promise, teaching us that it is Christ himself who will “diminish” the luminaries at his Parousia (Matthew 24:29; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 6:13); that in the World to Come, the glory of God and the Lamb will illumine all things, both inwardly and outwardly (Revelation 21:11, 23, 22:5); and that this “unique” eschatological Day will stand as a perpetual testimony and reminder: Because of Christ, the Domain of Darkness has passed away once and for all (Romans 13:12).

Verse 8 reprises the great OT theme of the eschatological River of God (Psalms 46:4, 65:9; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Joel 3:18). The living waters are, of course, the very life of the living God, streaming into the new creation from God the Father, through Christ the Son, by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33; Philippians 1:19). Interestingly, the prophet sees them flowing out of (New) Jerusalem; that is, out of the Church, the eternal people of God (Revelation 21:2). He also sees that the river will flow both east and west, filling the seas on either side of the City, both in summer and in winter (i.e., year round). However, Revelation 21:1 tells us there will be no seas in the World to Come; meanwhile, Zechariah 14:6-7 (along with several texts in the Revelation) assures us there will be no seasons.

The meaning, then, is figurative and theological: In that Day, the life of God will continually replenish the creation of God through the people of God (see Romans 8:20-23). Even now, the saints enjoy a foretaste of this life-giving ministry, building one another up through the ongoing exercise of their spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Peter 4:10). However, to know exactly what this will look like in the World to Come, they shall doubtless have to wait for the Day itself!

The theme of our second mini-snapshot (vv. 9-11) is the eternal security of the eschatological City of God, forever dwelling in the Land of God. The NCH opens it up richly. Verse 9 promises that in the eschaton the completed Kingdom of the Triune God—his direct redemptive reign—will be universal and absolute. For this reason, his Name—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—will be the only name, since all other names and all other gods will have been swept away in the Judgment. God Triune will be all in all (Micah 4:5; John 17:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 8:6, 15:28; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 2:9-11).

In verse 10 we learn that the exaltation of the sovereign LORD over all creation will bring with it a corresponding exaltation of his people (Matthew 13:33; 1 Corinthians 3:21-23; Colossians 3:4; Revelation 21:7). Commentator Richard Phillips does a masterful job of addressing the particulars and probing the symbolism:

“Verse 10 tells of the exaltation of Jerusalem, which is situated among larger hills in uneven country . . . Jerusalem’s surrounding terrain is to be flattened out; the territory of Judah, bounded by Geba and Rimmon, becomes like the Arabah, which is the plain through which the Jordan River flows. The hills are made level to form a plateau wall, while Jerusalem is raised up to be seen by all around. This verse gives the dimensions of the city in its greatest days; the whole city will be made secure and will rise up exalted. The point here is theological rather than topographical; it is the prophetic ideal achieved in the glorification of God’s Mountain and City.”

Verse 10 is, then, a tightly knit skein of word-pictures depicting events to occur at and after the Parousia.

First, the hills and mountains surrounding Zion will be leveled: That is, all that is sinfully high and lifted up will be brought low, even unto destruction (Isaiah 2:12, 17; Luke 1:52; Revelation 14:8, 17:9, 18, 18:1ff).

Secondly, the territory of Judah will become a (well-watered) plain: A supernaturally purged and transformed creation will become the inheritance of Messiah’s tribe, and will henceforth serve as the staging area for the City of God (Romans 8:20-21; Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-3).

Thirdly, Mt. Zion—and the Holy City that rests upon it—will be lifted up: The natural world will be glorified (thus becoming the Holy Mountain of God), and so too will the saints, who shall have that world as their eternal home (Isaiah 11:9, 65:25; Romans 8:20-23; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 21:10).

Finally, the Holy City will be restored to her greatest dimensions: The dimensions of the Church’s eschatological City will be the dimensions of Eden itself, and of all that was offered to man in Eden at the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:1-2, 14).

In passing, we should note, with Phillips, that the exaltation of Jerusalem here described speaks not only of the consummation of the saint’s redemption, but also of the great moral inversion it represents: The Holy City—presently small, hidden, despised, powerless, and persecuted amidst “the Great City” (i.e., the fallen world-system, the Domain of Darkness), will suddenly be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Christ (1 Peter 1:13; Revelation 11:2, 8, 17:6, 18:1ff, 21:2). As Jesus taught: In that Day, the poor will become rich, the hungry will be satisfied, and the sorrowful will rejoice. It will happen when meek, at long last, inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5; Luke 6:20-23).

Verse 11 brings the prophecy to as close: Settled on the Mountain of God, secure in Christ, and redeemed from the Curse of the Law, the Holy City will experience the life of God, with God, forever (Romans 8:1; Galatians 3:13; Revelation 22:3).

The Judgment to Come (14:12-15)

These verses, which reprise the battle imagery of 12:1-4, draw heavily upon OT Law and history to depict the eschatological defeat of the enemies of Christ’s Church at his Parousia, and the eternal punishment to follow (Matthew 24:29-25:46; 1 Thessalonians 1; 2 Thessalonians 2; Revelation 11:7-13, 14:14-20, 19:11-21, 20:7-15).

Verse 12, a ghastly portrait of the eternal destruction of the wicked in hell, represents their torments in terms of the plagues that formerly befell God’s enemies, whether in Egypt (Exodus 7-12), or, more aptly, at the gates of Jerusalem itself, where the Angel of the Lord struck the Assyrian army and rescued the trembling but trusting people of God from their would-be destroyers (Isaiah 36-37; cf. Leviticus 26:16; Deuteronomy 28:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 20:10, 14).

Verse 13 tells us that, as in OT times, so again at the Last Battle: God will judge his enemies by confusing their thoughts, undermining their unity, and turning their hand one against another (Judges 7:22; 1 Samuel 14:20). The final destruction of Antichrist’s kingdom will be heralded by the preliminary destructiveness of war within his kingdom (Daniel 11:36ff; Revelation 17:16-18). Conceivably, this verse also portrays the eternal hatred and conflict of the wicked in hell.

Verse 14 enlarges upon 14:1, speaking of the eschatological plunder to occur after the Last Battle. The royal tribe (the Church) will fight bravely in defense of the Holy City (also the Church), teaching, preaching, and encouraging one another in such a way that they may endure to the end, and so be saved (14:14, NAS, NIV; Matthew 10:22; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3; Revelation 2:10). As a reward for their faithfulness, Christ, at his return, will cause the world and its wealth, now purged of sin, to pass forever into the custody of the saints (Luke 19:15f). In that Day, all things will be theirs, they will be Christ’s, and Christ will be God’s (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). The humble in Christ will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

Verse 15 declares that the final plague will fall even upon the animals that carried God’s enemies into battle. This image recalls the “ban” under which God placed all living things when he sent Joshua into Canaan; when he sent him into the land of the Amorite, whose iniquity had then grown full (Genesis 15:16; Deuteronomy 20:16-18). The NT message is this: When the world’s iniquity is finally complete, Christ, God’s eschatological Joshua, will return and utterly destroy it. The former things will pass away, so that new and eternal things may spring forth (Isaiah 42:9; 1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17). God himself will make all things new, and will bestow those things upon his beloved sons and daughters. In that day, they will be heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Galatians 4:1-2; Romans 8:17; Revelation 21:1-5, 7).

The Worship to Come (14:16-21)

Our final snapshot pictures worship in the World to Come. It is divided into two parts. The first speaks of the eschatological Feast of Booths (16-19), the second of the perfect holiness of eschatological Judah and Jerusalem (20-21). Earlier, we discussed the reasons why a literal, premillennial interpretation of this text is impossible. Let us therefore see what help the NCH can offer us in disclosing the deep, New Testament meaning of Zechariah’s words.

On the surface of things, the message of verses 16-19 is quite simple: In the World to Come there will be two different kinds of nations (or families). Both of them, at one time or another prior to the Judgment, came up with hostile intent against Jerusalem (v. 16). Now, however, the first group goes up annually (and eternally), not to attack Jerusalem, but rather to worship God as their King, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem’s holy precincts. Meanwhile, the other group, which apparently has Egypt at its head, consists of stiff-necked nations that persistently refuse to go up. These the LORD will punish with a plague of drought (vv. 17-19).

How can we best understand the meaning of this mysterious prophecy? To begin with, we must ponder for a moment the typological meaning of the Feast of Booths. A look at Leviticus 23:33-34 reveals that this was an especially joyful feast, celebrated at harvest time, wherein Israel was to commemorate not only their great deliverance from Egypt, but also God’s faithfulness in leading them through the wilderness of Sinai (where they camped in “booths” or “tabernacles”) into the Promised Land. Here, I believe, is the key to understanding this prophecy, a prophecy designed to comfort devout OT saints with a picture of the eternal worship of the glorified Church, cast in the language and imagery of Israel’s most joyful OT feast!

How exactly does this work? To begin with, we learn that Zechariah’s eschatological Feast of Booths will indeed be a harvest feast, since there, in the World to Come, all the saints will have been gathered in at last (Matthew 13:30; John 4:38; Revelation 14:14-16). Formerly, they were indeed enemies of God and of his people; but Christ, prior to the Judgment, harvested them through the Gospel and turned them into eternal friends (Matthew 9:37; Acts 26:17-18; Romans 5:8; 1 Timothy 1:12-12; Titus 3:3f). It will also be an everlasting Feast: The saints will forever “go up” in worship, through Christ, unto God their King (1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 7:9-10, 14:1-4). In his City, and as his City, they will ever rejoice, not only in the hour of their salvation—their own, personal rescue from the Domain of Darkness—, but also in the subsequent faithfulness of God, who, through Christ, by the Spirit, led them safely through the deadly wilderness of “this present evil age,” and into the Promised Land of the New Heavens and the New Earth (John 6:38-40; Galatians 1:4; Philippians 1:6; Revelation 12:7-17, 19:11).

But what of Egypt, and of the families of the earth that follow Egypt’s lead in refusing to go up? Clearly, these typify all men and nations who refused to participate in the eschatological exodus; who refused to accept spiritual rescue from the Domain of Darkness, and spiritual transfer into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13); who refused to follow in the footsteps of Moses, who considered the reproach that fell upon Christ to be greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt (i.e., the fallen world-system); and who refused to walk with Christ through the wilderness of this world to the Promised Land (Hebrews 11:26; Revelation 12:1f). Puzzlingly, in the prophecy, we see these rebellious nations in earth, but far from Zion and Jerusalem, where the friends of God celebrate the Feasts of God. But in the Revelation, the puzzle is solved: In the World to Come, where the prophecy is fulfilled, we once again see these nations far from Jerusalem—outside the gates of the Holy City— , but this time in the Lake of Fire (Isaiah 66:24; Revelation 20:14, 22:15). It is, therefore, in death (and hell) that the impenitent enemies of God will experience the very plague of drought they chose for themselves in life, when they refused to drink of the Rock, and to follow the Rock, that God offered them in the Gospel. And that Rock is Christ (Matthew 12:43 NAS, Luke 16:24; John 7:37; 1 Corinthians 10:4; Revelation 21:6, 22:17).

Part two of our prophecy (vv. 20-22) celebrates the perfect, all-pervading holiness of the World to Come. In that world, the distinction between holy and common, clean and unclean, has completely disappeared (Acts 10:15). The bells on the horses are holy. The cooking pots in the LORD’s house are holy—as holy as the altar itself. Yes, even the cooking pots in the houses of the people of Jerusalem and Judah are holy, so holy that men may boil their sacrifices to God in them. Here the boundary between the sacred and the profane is obliterated. Here, every act is an act of worship, every day is the Lord’s Day. Here, every Canaanite—a type of unregenerate, sinful man—has been expelled (14:21, Romans 16:17-20; 1 John 2:19; Revelation 22:15). Here, Israel itself has become the eternal house of the LORD of hosts, the gracious, loving Redeemer who fought triumphantly in their behalf (14:21, Ephesians 2:22).

For this reason, in that Day the saints will weep no more, but in an eternal celebration of the Feast of Booths will rejoice in the Lion of the Tribe of Judah; in the Holy One of Israel, who, by his righteous life and atoning death, so mightily prevailed that he made both them and all their world forever holy, even as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16; Revelation 5:5, 21:2, 22:11).

Notes

1.Commenting on this verse, John MacArthur writes:”Only a portion of the people of Israel will remain faithful to Christ and be alive in the end. The spiritual survivors will be the remnant who look upon Christ in repentance at His return (12:10-13:1), who will include those who make up the 144,000 (Revelation 7:4). (MSB, p. 1881)

This is puzzling, indeed. How shall the one third of Tribulation Jews be loyal to Christ—and, in the case of the 144,000, preach Christ—when, according to MacArthur himself, they will not be converted until Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation? Such is the confusion to which prophetic literalism drives us; such is the confusion that the NCH avoids and dispels.

2. It is true that at Christ’s ascension certain angels told the watching disciples that their Lord would return in the same way as they saw him go (Acts 1). This need not mean, however, as premillennarians often assert, that Christ will literally descend to the Mt. of Olives. Rather, the importance of the angel’s remark consists in this: Just as Christ ascended from earth into heaven bodily, so too, at his Parousia, will he descend from heaven to earth bodily. His return will not be mystical, or “spiritual,” but physical.

And again, NT teaching about the Parousia positively rules out the literal interpretation of Zechariah 14:4f. It does not teach that Christ will return to modify the topography of Palestine or even the earth as a whole. No, it teaches the Christ will return to destroy the present earth by fire, and then re-create a new, earth-centered universe filled with the glory of God, the eternal home of the redeemed (Romans 8; 1 Thessalonians 1; 2 Peter 3; Revelation 21-22). All OTKP’s predicting the eschatological transformation of nature are speaking of this and this alone.

 

 

 

NOTE: This essay is the first of three chapters in my book, The High King of Heaven, dealing with the Revelation. My goal here, and in the two essays to follow, is to help you tackle what may be the most difficult chapter in the Bible: Revelation 20, John’s vision of the 1000 year reign of Christ. As you will soon see, I believe the Revelation is best characterized as the Grand Finale of All Scripture. Hopefully, these humble preludes will enable you to hear and enjoy that special music as never before.

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At the beginning of our journey, we identified three fundamental flashpoints of controversy in the Great End Time Debate: The Kingdom of God, the Millennium, and the Consummation. Happily, our close study of the Kingdom supplied welcome insights into the other two questions.

Having learned that the Kingdom appears in two simple stages—the Kingdom of the Son (i.e., the heavenly, mediatorial reign of Christ) followed by the Kingdom of the Father (i.e., the glorified World to Come)—we realized that the thousand years of Revelation 20 cannot be a third, intermediate stage of the Kingdom sandwiched between the other two, as premillennarians assert.

Similarly, having learned that the two stages of the Kingdom are separated by a single Consummation at the Parousia of Christ, we realized that the Consummation cannot be fragmented into multiple comings, resurrections, and judgments, as premillennarians also assert. In short, our study of the Kingdom has gone far towards resolving the End Time Debate in favor of the classic amillennial view of Salvation History.

It remains, however, for us to probe Revelation 20 itself. If it does not describe a future millennial reign of Christ on earth, what exactly does it describe? If, as I have suggested along the way, it speaks of the Kingdom of the Son, is there anything in the Revelation broadly, or in Revelation 20 itself, to support this view? Our purpose in Part 4 of our journey is to find out.

Let us begin, then, by getting a feel for the Revelation as a whole. In particular, let’s see if there is anything in the purpose, literary genre, and structure of the book that will help us better understand the Millennium of Revelation 20.

The Purpose of the Revelation

We begin to discern the purpose of the Revelation when we consider the circumstances in which it was given.

The year, according to most scholars, is around 95 A.D. John, in all probability the last living apostle, is now in his 80’s (John 21:21-23). Because of his faithfulness in preaching the Gospel, the Roman authorities have exiled him to a penal settlement on the island of Patmos (1:9, John 21:21-23). It has been over 60 years since Christ’s ascension. The Lord is tarrying, and among many believers the expectation of his Parousia is waning (2 Peter 3:1f). The demonic emperor Nero (A.D. 54-68), a vicious persecutor of the Roman Christians, has come and gone. Titus has decimated Jerusalem (70 A.D.). Under Domitian (A.D. 81-89), persecution has spread throughout the Empire and reached Asia. More is now looming (2:3, 10, 13).

Beyond this external threat, there are internal perils as well. Heretical “Christian” sects have grown in size and number, whose members are seeking to penetrate the orthodox churches and draw away disciples (2:2, 6, 14-15, 20-24). Some churches are even tolerating them in their midst (2:14f, 20f). Meanwhile, others are in decline: The love of certain Christians is growing cold (2:4, 3:1-2); others, having thus far escaped the fires of persecution, are falling in love with the world, and sinking into apathy and hedonism (3:14-21). The situation is dire. The faltering Church needs a word from the Lord.

The Revelation as a Gift to the Universal Church

The Revelation—all 22 chapters—is just such a word. Notably, at the very outset it is described as a gift: a gift from God the Father—through Christ, through the Spirit, through angelic mediation, and through the apostle John—to the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 1:1-6, 9, 22:8). Seven, however, is the biblical number of perfection or completeness (Gen. 2:2,3). The meaning is clear: God gave the Revelation, not just to the seven churches of Asia, but also to what the seven churches represent: the complete Church, the Universal Church. Likewise, the seven lampstands symbolize the one universal Church, especially in her present ministry as the Light of God and Christ to a world sunk in deep spiritual darkness (Rev. 1:13, 20). (1)

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that history bears out this important truth. Like the seven churches, the universal Church has always had strengths and weaknesses; like the seven churches, it has always faced persecution, deception, and temptation; and like the seven churches, it has therefore always needed the Revelation. The book is, then, a great gift from the head of the universal Church, to the universal Church, for the help of the universal Church. Note carefully an important implication of this truth: the Revelation was not meant to be a closed book: not when it was given, not now, and not ever (Rev. 22:10). The Lord desires his whole Church—past, present, and future—to understand, obey, preach, and profit from the Revelation.

And that includes chapter 20, as well!

The Revelation as a Prophecy to the Universal Church

John also describes the Revelation as a prophecy (Rev. 22:10, 18). Now according to the apostle Paul, he who prophesies speaks to men for edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3). This short definition wonderfully captures the flavor—and the purpose—of the Revelation. Everywhere we turn, we hear the exalted Christ prophesying to his Church. Everywhere we find him teaching, warning, and encouraging her, so that she may “overcome” all opponents and safely enter the completed Kingdom at his return (2:11, 2:26, etc.).

Since this idea is so important—namely, that the Revelation is essentially an extended prophecy—let us develop it a little further by looking at the three fundamental ways in which the High King of Heaven here prophesies to his beloved Bride.

     1. The Prophet Teaches His Church

First, Christ teaches the Church. Here I especially have in mind the way he builds up the Church Militant in her understanding of her true place in the world and in history; in other words, the way in which he gives her a biblical worldview.

In this regard, Revelation 12 is central. It begins with a vision of the Bride, God’s elect of all times and places. From the very outset, we see her as God sees her: She is a heavenly Woman with an earthly mission (12:1). In her OT embodiment, she gives birth to the promised Seed of the Woman—to Christ (12:5a; Gen. 3:15). When she does, the Dragon and his demonic minions try to kill the infant Jesus, but cannot (12:4). Yes, they succeed in putting the Lamb of God to death, but they altogether fail in “devouring” him, for he rises from the dead and ascends to the Father’s own right hand, where he now sits as High Prophet, Priest, and King of heaven. And from that heavenly seat he shall soon come again, this time to act the part of a shepherd against the enemies of his flock, shattering them once and for all with a rod or iron (12:5b, Psalms 2:9, 23:4).

For now, however, the Woman (i.e., the Bride in her specifically NT embodiment) must remain upon the earth. Therefore, in an eschatological Exodus from the Domain of Darkness, she flees into the wilderness of this fallen evil world (12:6). There she will remain for “1260 days” (or “a time, times, and a half a time,” or “42 months,” Rev. 11:2, 12:14, 13:5). Recalling the prophet Elijah’s three and a half year exile in the wilderness, these symbolic numbers mark the entire inter-adventual era—the Era of Proclamation—as a season of exile and tribulation for the people of God (1 Kings 17:1f;). They will not, however, endure it alone: The Lord will faithfully nourish and aid his people all throughout their long wilderness sojourn, even as he did Israel and Elijah in theirs (12:6, 14-16).

But what exactly will the Church in the wilderness be doing as she awaits Christ’s return? The answer is found in verses 7-12: She will be waging war. Yes, the text itself says that Michael and his angels will wage war against the Dragon and his angels. But on closer inspection, we realize that this is simply a picture of heaven’s part in a war that the saints will be waging on earth. It is a not physical war, but a spiritual (2 Cor. 10:4, Eph. 6:12). It is the fulfillment of the Great Commission; the proclamation of the Gospel; the declaration of the saving power of the blood of the Lamb; the faithful testimony of the people of God to the Person and Work of the Christ of God (12:11). As they preach and teach—and as God’s elect everywhere hear the truth and receive it—the Kingdom of Christ continually pours into the earth (12:10). As it does, the kingdom of Satan, who formerly deceived and ruled the whole world, is continually spoiled and cast to the ground (Mt. 12:29). Hence Satan’s fury against the Woman; hence the Groom’s diligent watch-care over his beloved and persecuted Bride (12:13-17).

Here, then, in a prophetic vision of stupendous theological reach and power, we find Christ teaching the Church Militant who she is, what she is about, what she can expect, and upon whom she can count, as she makes her way out of eschatological Egypt, through the eschatological wilderness of Sin, and into the eschatological Promised Land. Fittingly, this rich chapter stands in the middle of the book, for in many ways it supplies us with the keys to the whole book. Thanks be to God for such a wonderful prophetic gift!

     2. The Prophet Exhorts His Church

Secondly, the Lord exhorts the Church. In particular, he exhorts her by teaching and warning about four great enemies she will encounter over and again during her long journey through the wilderness of this world.

The first is the Dragon, that serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan (12:9). He—along with his host of evil angels—is the invisible spiritual ruler of the fallen world-system through which the saints must pass on their way to the Promised Land. As we have seen, this teaching pervades the NT. However, in the Revelation the Spirit draws upon various OT texts to depict the world-system as an unholy trinity; an unholy idol that fallen, rebellious, and deceivable mankind is all too inclined to worship. It is comprised of the Beast, the False Prophet, and the Harlot. As we are about to see, these OT symbols correspond to God-given institutions, originally designed for the good of mankind, but now co-opted and corrupted by the Dragon (13:1, 4, 16:13). Ever since the Fall, he is the one enemy lurking behind the other three. Let the saints understand and beware (1 Peter. 5:8).

The second enemy is the Beast (13:1-4). This is the political or governmental face of the world-system (Daniel 7:1f). The NT teaches that civil government is a good, post-fall gift of God, designed to restrain evildoers through a faithful administration of his retributive justice (Rom. 13:1f). However, it also teaches that sin can and does corrupt human governments, sometimes to such an extent that they become unconscious instruments of the Satanic (2 Thess. 2:1f, Rev. 13:2, 4). When this occurs, deceived sinners will worship the Beast, rather than God (13:4). And when this occurs, the Beast will wage war against the people of God who, out of loyalty to their heavenly King, refuse to worship the Beast, and urge sinners to turn away from it towards Christ (11:7, 13:7, 17:14).

In the Revelation, Christ repeatedly exhorts his people concerning the Beast. Above all, he warns them not to receive his mark—his name, or the number of his name—on their right hand or on their forehead (14:9, 11, 15:2, 20:4). Here again the Spirit draws upon OT imagery to speak symbolically to God’s NT people (Ezekiel 9). The saints now have the seal of the living God on their foreheads (7:3). In other words, because of their faith in Christ they now belong to the Father; they are his adopted sons and daughters, carrying his Name (Rom. 8:15, 1 Peter 1:17). How then shall they give their ultimate allegiance, whether in thought (symbolized by a mark on the forehead) or in deed (symbolized by a mark on the hand), to any mere man or human institution? Note also that in Scripture six is the number of man (Gen. 1:26ff, Rev. 13:18, NIV), and three is the number of God Triune. Therefore, 666 is the number of man seeking to supplant the triune God; the number of man audaciously representing himself as the proper object of all human worship (13:16-18). The implications are clear: Men take the mark of the Beast whenever and wherever they worship the anti-christian, self-deifying State. And again, throughout the Revelation Christ warns his own that they must never do this evil thing.

Additionally, the heavenly Prophet exhorts his people not to succumb to the threats or actual persecutions of the Beast, even if this means the loss of work, supply, reputation, or life itself (2:10, 13:17). He buttresses this exhortation with a two-fold promise: The Lord will always be at his suffering people’s side, and he has already prepared a victor’s wreath for each one who overcomes (2:10, 12:14-16). Note carefully that in Revelation 20, as elsewhere in the book, Christ again exhorts the whole Church concerning the Beast: Those who refuse to receive his mark (of ownership), but instead remain faithful until death, will enter heaven as disembodied spirits, there to reign in life with their High King until he comes again at the end of the age to raise them from the dead and bestow upon them the glories of the World to Come (20:4-6). More on this later.

The third enemy is the False Prophet, also called the Beast from the Earth (Rev. 13:11-18, 16:12-16, 19:20, 20:10). A careful reading of the relevant texts shows that this beast symbolizes, not simply false religion, but false religion willingly pressed into the service of the self-deifying State. Energized by Satan (13:11), and authorized by the State itself (13:12), those people who function as the False Prophet use both coercion (13:12, 16-17) and religious deception (13:14-15) to set up “an image” to the Beast. That is, they seek to organize, implement, and encourage the worship of the State and/or the person in whom the State is embodied at any given moment in history.

The False Prophet is present throughout the entire Era of Proclamation. In John’s day he was embodied in “ . . . the emperor cult and the Commune of Asia, a council of distinguished representatives promoting loyalty to the emperor.” (2) In our own day, he rears his head wherever government propagandists encourage the adulation of the King, the Fuehrer, the Chairman, the Ayatollah, or the President. Notably, Revelation 13:13-15 implies that in some instances Satan will actually empower the False Prophet(s) to deceive men with miraculous signs.

Most assuredly, this will be the case at the end of the age. The Gospels and epistles warn us that when the (final) Antichrist arises to deceive the whole world, he will perform “false signs and wonders” (Mt. 24:24, 2 Thess. 2:1-2, 9-12). Not surprisingly, we receive the same warning in the Revelation: John sees three unclean spirits coming out of the mouth of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet. They are demonic spirits, performing signs and going abroad to the kings of the whole world, in order to assemble them for the battle of the Great Day of God the Almighty (16:12-16). As I will argue later, Revelation 20:7-10, in remarkably similar language, predicts this very thing one final time. Clearly, the High Prophet of Heaven very much desires his Church to be fully prepared for the last (embodiment of the) Beast, the last False Prophet, and the Last Battle.

The fourth and final enemy is the Great Harlot, also referred to as Babylon the Great and the Great City (17:1, 3, 5, 18). The relevant chapters make it clear that the Harlot represents the economic, commercial, and cultural face of the world-system. As such, she is not so much a persecutor or religious deceiver as she is a seductress (17:4). In former times, she tempted the world through such luxurious commercial centers as Babylon, Tyre, and Sidon. In John’s day, she tempted it through Rome. In our own she tempts it through wealthy, pleasure-mad cities now situated all over the globe, and also through omnipresent electronic wizardry wherein she bares her ample bosom and offers herself freely for a simple click.

John sees that at any given moment the entire world-system is in bed with the Harlot, spiritually speaking: Nations, kings, and merchants—all have fallen to her allurements (18:3). As a general rule, she likes to collude with the Beast and the False Prophet, doing all she can to persecute the Church (17:6) and entice saints and sinners alike with her sorceries (i.e., fake, demonic spiritualities, 18:23). Accordingly, no sooner do we begin to learn about the Harlot, than we hear the prophetic word of the Lord to his Church: “Come out of her, my people, that you may not share in her sins, and that you may not receive of her plagues” (18:4, 3:14-22). As he speaks, the saints receive both warning and promise: Satan’s woman, the Harlot, is doomed to destruction. In part, it will come at the hand of the Beast himself, who will one day turn against her (17:14-18). However, in far greater part it will come at the hand of Christ, who, in a single hour, will make her utterly desolate (18:19) and render her an eternal prison house of Satan and his demons (18:2). Meanwhile, Christ’s Woman—comprised of all who hear his call, flee the Great City, and loyally cling to him in faith—is destined for final rescue and restoration; is destined to become a Holy City and a glorious Bride, forever dwelling with God and Christ under brand new heavens in a brand new earth (19:7-8, 21:2). Let all the saints be warned . . . and take heart.

     3. The Prophet Comforts His Church        

Finally, the heavenly Prophet uses the Revelation to speak comfort to his Bride. Yes, as trembling Christians well know, the Revelation repeatedly issues warnings of inevitable tribulation and certain judgment. However, the more they read, the more they realize how much comfort is offered along with those warnings, and how many different forms that comfort takes.

For example, at the very outset of the book, Christ comforts his pilgrim people with a majestic vision of his own divine nature, covenant faithfulness, and Messianic glory (1:9-20).

He then comforts them with manifold assurances of his presence in, and faithful watch-care over, all his churches, even as he manifests the tough love that he feels for each one (2:1-3:22).

He comforts them with rich, symbolic representations of his heavenly, mediatorial reign, the saints share in it, and his absolute sovereignty over all remaining history (4:1-5:14).

He comforts them with scenes of the spirits of departed believers safely home in heaven, praying for divine justice, and waiting eagerly for the resurrection of their bodies at his return to the earth (6:9-11, 20:4-6).

He comforts them with portraits of his own Parousia in power and glory at the end of the age (14:14-20, 19:11-21).

In conjunction with that, he also comforts them with visions of ultimate justice: of final rewards for the faithful saints, and of final retribution against the persecuting and God-hating “inhabitants of the earth” (6:9-17, 11:11-19, 15:1-4, 16:17-21, 20:7-15).

Similarly, he comforts them with several “sneak-previews” of the glorified Church surrounding the throne of God Triune, exultantly lifting up the eternal worship that will fill the World to Come (7:9-17, 14:1-5).

And, of course, he comforts them with two luminous chapters supplying mysterious, thought-provoking glimpses of the (eternal) life of the saints in the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21-22).

Conclusion

Summing up, we have seen that the great purpose of the Revelation is prophetic; that in it, God, through Christ, speaks to the universal Church in order to teach, warn, exhort, and comfort her, so that she might make a worthy and triumphant pilgrimage through the wilderness of this world into the eschatological Promised Land.

This is highly relevant to Part 4 of our study for the very important reason that it naturally and powerfully inclines us to an “ecclesiastical” interpretation of Revelation 20. In particular, it suggests that Revelation 20 cannot possibly be what many premillennarians claim it is: a divine afterthought, in which the Spirit suddenly shifts his focus from the Church to ethnic Israel, and from the Church era to a future Millennium. No, just like the rest of the book, chapter 20 must also focus on the Church, and on the present evil age through which the Church makes her difficult pilgrimage (Rev. 12). As we have just seen, this conclusion flows naturally from the One who gave it (the Head of the Church); from the ones to whom he gave it (the seven churches, emblematic of the universal Church); and from the purposes for which he gave it (to teach, warn, and comfort the Church). Moreover, as we shall soon see, it also flows naturally from a careful study of the structure, contents, and symbolism of Revelation 20 itself.

The Literary Genre of the Revelation

The Revelation is an outstanding example of a literary genre called biblical apocalyptic. The Greek word apocalypsis conveys the idea of the removal of a veil, so that something once hidden is now revealed. There is, then, as sense in which one might say that all Scripture is “apocalyptic,” since in all Scripture there is an unveiling of special God-given truths that sinful man could not otherwise know, understand, or enjoy. However, as a general rule, theologians use this word far more narrowly. That is, they use it to speak of a particular kind of Scripture. For interpreters such as these, biblical apocalyptic may be defined as a species of predictive prophecy in which the Holy Spirit—using vision and symbol—unveils divine truth about the course, character, and consummation of Salvation History.

In our discussion of OTKP, we have run across this kind of literature more than once. For example, chapters 24-27 of Isaiah, which focus on final judgment and final redemption on the Day of the LORD, supply an outstanding example of pre-exilic apocalyptic. From the season of Israel’s exile we have Daniel 7, which is likely the single greatest OT depiction of the course and character of Salvation History. From the same era we also have Ezekiel 38-39, which is likely the single greatest OT depiction of the consummation of Salvation History; of the Last Battle and the Day of the LORD. Finally, from post-exilic times we have the visions and prophecies of Zechariah, all of which again make rich use of symbols to display both the course and conclusion of Salvation History.

In the NT, apocalyptic texts are less plentiful, seeing that in NT times there is an unveiling of all that God had previously hidden under type, shadow, and symbol. Nevertheless, the NT is not without its apocalyptic elements. Some of Jesus’ parables have an apocalyptic feel to them (Mt. 13:36-43, 47-50). His Olivet Discourse, alluding as it does to a number of OTKP’s, contains the marks of biblical apocalyptic (Mt. 24, Mark 13). Similarly, Paul’s discourse on the Consummation, written to the Thessalonian Christians, draws frequently upon OT apocalyptic texts, even as it teaches us on distinctly apocalyptic themes (2 Thess. 2).

And then there is the Revelation—a book that is manifestly apocalyptic, (almost) entirely apocalyptic, and uniquely apocalyptic vis-à-vis the rest of Holy Scripture. Do we wish to understand it properly? If so, we cannot ignore its genre. Nor can we ignore the unique way in which it embodies this genre. Therefore, drawing upon the definition given above, let us take a few moments to examine the Revelation as a true but biblically unique instance of biblical apocalyptic. Under four separate headings, I would argue that it is:

A Predictive Prophecy

We have already discussed some of the ways in which the Revelation is a prophecy; the ways in which it teaches, warns, and comforts Christ’s Church. However, in doing so it frequently incorporates predictions of historical events yet future to the reader/hearer. Therefore, this long prophecy clearly falls into the category of biblical apocalyptic.

It is, however, biblical apocalyptic of an extraordinary kind. Why? Because in making its predictions about the future, it tells us little or nothing new about the future. That is, it tells us little or nothing that was not already foretold in OTKP under type, shadow, and symbol; or it tells us little or nothing that was not already unveiled, explained, and practically applied in the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles.

Think for a moment about the prophetic themes we just discussed. In the Revelation, Christ gives John—and the Church—visions of the Dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet, and the Harlot. How are we to understand them? The answer is: We could not possibly understand them unless Christ, in the rest of the NT, had already given us keys by which to unlock their meaning; unless he had given us straightforward didactic teaching about all four. And the same is true of OT apocalyptic. How are we to understand the visions and prophecies of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah? The answer is: We cannot, apart from the revelations of the Didactic NT. The latter is the hermeneutical key to the former.

This point cannot be overemphasized. Yes, like all biblical apocalyptic, the Revelation contains predictive prophecy. But because of its unique place in the biblical canon—because it serves as the Grand Finale of all Scripture—the things it predicts in vision and symbol cannot be new. For if, in the Revelation, God meant to give us new truth about the future (e.g., new truth about a seven year Tribulation, or the career of the Antichrist, or a future millennium, etc.), he would also have had to give us more didactic revelation by which to interpret the symbols used to convey the new truth. But he did not. Instead, he simply closed the canon with the Revelation. Therefore, we may safely assume that the truth hidden beneath its symbols is old truth, and that everything we need to understand those symbols has been given to us previously in the rest of the NT. In short, the Revelation is not a puzzle to be figured out; rather—for those who know their Bibles and understand NT eschatology—it is a celebration to be enjoyed. I will have more to say on this important point below.

Singing the Glory of the High King of Heaven

Biblical apocalyptic is predictive prophecy with a particular theme. It likes to explore the course, character, and consummation of Salvation History, and to do so in ways that encourage God’s suffering people with the hope of final justice and redemption: of final rescue from the powers of evil, final retribution against the agents of evil, and final restoration to the promised covenant blessings of God.

In our study of OTKP, we saw the manifold ways in which the Spirit developed these great themes in OT times. In prophet after prophet, he spoke of a final regathering of God’s people; of their final restoration to the Promised Land; of the coming of the Messiah; of the advance of his kingdom in the Days of the Messiah; of the conversion of the Gentiles; of ongoing victory over God’s enemies; of the Last Battle, the Day of the Lord, the resurrection of the dead, and the eternal World to Come. Importantly, these themes are the sum and substance of NT eschatology, as well. However, in the OT “true truth” on these themes remained largely veiled under symbolic, typological language. Moreover, because of this veiling, the exact sequence of the great eschatological events also remained obscure. For this reason, God himself pronounced OTKP in general—and OT apocalyptic in particular—a closed book; but a closed book that would indeed be opened in the last days (Jer. 23:20, Dan. 12:4, Heb. 11:1).

When, however, we reach the NT, the wraps come off. The mysteries of the Kingdom are revealed. The heart of Salvation History (the Eternal Covenant in Christ) is disclosed. The character of Salvation History—that it consists of successive administrations of the Eternal Covenant—is manifested. And the course of the Salvation History—the stages in which it unfolds, and the key events proper to each stage—is illumined once and for all. As a result, God’s people hold in their hands, at long last, the key to understanding all Salvation History, all OTKP, and all OT apocalyptic.

But if this is so, why, in the Revelation, would God revert to the use of biblical apocalyptic in order to prophesy to Christ’s pilgrim Church? I have already suggested an answer to this important question: He did so because he desired not only to teach, warn, and encourage the saints one final time (just as he had in the rest of the NT), but also to give them the Grand Finale of all Scripture. That is, he desired to weave the Christ-centered history, poetry, prophecy, and doctrine of the whole Bible into the final movement of the great symphony of Scripture. In the eyes of the High Poet of Heaven, biblical apocalyptic was apparently the perfect vehicle for doing this very thing.

We must, however, look a little closer. Yes, like all biblical apocalyptic the Revelation has as its theme the course, character, and consummation of Salvation History. But here again it is unique, this time because its focus is largely on a particular portion of Salvation History: the Heavenly Mediatorial Reign of Christ. Or, to state the case more precisely, its focus is largely on the Exaltation of Christ; on all the eschatological acts and events by which the Father is pleased to honor the One who, out of love for him and his people, humbled himself even to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:1-11).

In a moment we will examine the structure of the Revelation, in order to see exactly how God accomplished this cherished goal. Here it suffices to say that in this unique expression of biblical apocalyptic God was pleased to draw upon all previous biblical revelation in order to focus the saint’s attention on the High King of Heaven: on his resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of the Father; on his absolute sovereignty over all the subsequent events of history; on his infallible declaration of the Gospel—through the Church Militant—to “the (sinful) inhabitants of the earth:” on his faithfulness to his persecuted pilgrim people; on his continual judgments against their enemies; on his rush to the rescue of his little flock in the days of the Last Battle; and especially on his glorious Parousia at the end of the age, when he himself will execute final judgment, administer final redemption, and bring in the new heavens and the new earth, the eternal home of God and the redeemed.

Does all of this help us to understand Revelation 20? Indeed it does! For if the theological focus of the whole book is on the High King of Heaven—on the course, character, and consummation of his heavenly, mediatorial reign—how likely is it that this one chapter suddenly takes up the theme of a future earthly reign? No, the Revelation is a predictive prophecy that through and through sings the glory of the High King of Heaven. To see this is to see the meaning of Revelation 20 as well.

Communicated By Way of Vision and Symbol

This is the third element of biblical apocalyptic, namely that it uses vision and symbol to communicate prophetic truth about Salvation History. But once again we find that the Revelation does this in a unique way, since it uses vision and symbol, not to veil truth yet to come, but simply to celebrate truth previously unveiled in the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles. Therefore, its language is not really “mysterious,” since in the Didactic NT we already have the keys by which to understand it. It is, however, still symbolic, with the result that we must interpret its images symbolically, rather than literally.

If there were any doubt about this, it should be quickly dispelled simply by looking at the first verse of the Revelation. There we learn that God “ . . . sent and signified (the Revelation) by his angel to his servant John” (1:1). The Greek word for “signify” is semaino, a verb closely related to the noun semeion, meaning “sign.” So then, in choosing this particular word to describe the prophecy as a whole, the Spirit teaches and admonishes us to interpret the Revelation as a book of signs or symbols. If we will obey him, we will not go far wrong.

It is true, or course, that all interpreters, whatever their eschatological persuasion, are ready to acknowledge that the Revelation contains symbols. However, some interpreters, while agreeing that the Revelation contains symbols, refuse to acknowledge that in virtue of its literary genre it is in fact a book of symbols, a book that must therefore be interpreted symbolically from start to finish.

The result of this refusal is in an inconsistent hermeneutic. For example, pressured by the obvious, the prophetic literalist will readily concede that the sword coming from Christ’s mouth is a symbol for the word of God (1:16); or that the Spirit symbolizes the exalted Christ as a Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes in order to remind us that our Sacrifice for sin is now the omnipotent and omniscient High King and High Priest of Heaven (5:6). When, however, the literalist comes to the 144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel (7:4); or to the two witnesses who prophesy and (briefly) perish on the streets of the Great City (11:8); or to Christ’s admonition to the saints against taking the mark of the Beast (13:16-18); or to the gathering of the kings of the whole world at the Mountain of Megiddo (16:14) . . . then he suddenly abandons the symbolic hermeneutic for a literal, thereby abandoning a consistent method of interpretation for an inconsistent. More than once I have heard literalists complain that a symbolic, typological hermeneutic will leave the prophetic interpreter “at sea,” bobbing up and down on the swells of mere subjectivity. But perhaps it is really the literalist who is at sea, bobbing back and forth at his own good pleasure between two diametrically opposed approaches to the interpretation of apocalyptic literature in general, and the Revelation in particular.

If, then, we hope to understand the Revelation—and especially chapter 20—we must recognize that it is indeed a unique instance of biblical apocalyptic; that it communicates previously revealed NT truth in vision and symbol; that it does so consistently, in all portions of the book (save for chapters 2-3, where didactic teaching predominates); and that in order to understand it, we must consistently adopt an appropriate hermeneutic. That would be the NCH, according to which we see all biblical prophecy as using types, shadows, and symbols to communicate “true truth”—NT truth—about Christ, the Eternal Covenant, and the two-fold spiritual Kingdom he introduced under that covenant. When we do, we will immediately understand the 144,000, the Two Witnesses, the Mark of the Beast, the Battle of Armageddon, and the thousand year reign of Christ proclaimed in Revelation 20.

Serving as the Grand Finale of All Scripture

I have argued that the Revelation is indeed an instance of biblical apocalyptic, but also that it is a unique instance, appearing as it does at the end of the Bible, where it serves as the Grand Finale of all Scripture; of all special revelation. Since this point is so important for a proper understanding of the book as a whole, let us pause to consider it more closely.

Think for a moment of your favorite symphony. Now think of its final movement. What is it that makes the final movement a grand finale? Three simple answers come to my mind.

First, it appears at the end of the symphony: There is no more music to come.

Secondly, it reprises all the themes heard in the previous two or three movements. However, when it does, it does so very “grandly.” That is, it skillfully, artistically, and majestically weaves together all the earlier motifs, so that we not only hear them again, but also hear them afresh; hear them in new, startling, and beautiful relations with one another; hear them in such a way that the whole symphony is somehow poured into the last part of the symphony.

And thirdly, because it is a grand finale, it does not typically introduce new musical themes, but rather devotes itself more or less exclusively to a fresh, inspirational recapitulation of the old.

All three of these observations apply to the Revelation, and in a way that helps us understand the book to its very depths.

Like a grand finale, the Revelation appears at the end of the great symphony of biblical revelation. Doubtless it was the last book of Holy Scripture to be given by God. Appropriately enough, it therefore appears as the last book of our Bible. Moreover, its contents veritably scream to us that it should be the last book, since it so thoroughly is taken up with the Last Things: the character and course of the Last Days, the Last Battle, the Last Resurrection and the Last Judgment, all of which occur at the Last Coming of the Last Man, the glorified Lord Jesus Christ. The claims of Church History’s false prophets notwithstanding, Christians find it unthinkable that God, having given us a book like this, should give us any more, as indeed the Revelation itself implies (Rev. 21:18-19). The Revelation is the Book of the End, and so rightly belongs at the end of the symphony of Scripture as its final glorious movement (1:8, 2:26, 21:6, 22:13).

Like a grand finale, the Revelation also incorporates and skillfully weaves together ideas and images from the preceding movements of Scripture, whether OT or New. Here, biblical allusions abound, whether to the Garden of Eden, Moses, the Exodus, Elijah, Mt. Zion, the Temple, the birth of Jesus, the cruelty of Herod, the preaching of the disciples two by two, Christ’s resurrection, ascension, session, heavenly reign, and Parousia. Indeed, the Revelation cites or alludes to so many biblical texts that when we delve into it we immediately find the center columns of our reference Bibles bulging at the seams! Westcott and Hort counted nearly 400 references to the OT, and many later commentators argue that they found too few. In Revelation 12 alone, there are quotes from, or allusions to, Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, Daniel, Zechariah, Matthew, Luke, John, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Jude. All of this makes it clear that the Revelation is not historical narrative, law, poetry, gospel, or epistle. Rather, it is something unique, something completely new under the biblical sun: It is a final prophetic word to the universal Church, clothed in raiment from all that has gone before it, and so serving not only as a prophetic word, but also as the Grand Finale of all Scripture.

If this is true, the implications are truly important. For if the Revelation is indeed the Grand Finale of all Scripture, then we ought not to expect it to introduce any new doctrines. It is not the purpose of a grand finale to introduce new themes, but rather to recapitulate the old. And when we closely examine the Revelation, that is precisely what we find. Here, there is nothing new; nothing other than what Christ and the apostles have already taught us in the Didactic NT; nothing new about the Holy Trinity, the creation, the Fall, the Eternal Covenant, the nature and structure of the Kingdom, or the Consummation at Christ’s coming. What we do find is the Spirit speaking again—and over and over again—about all these “old” things. However, he does so in new and wondrous ways; in beautiful, powerful, and supremely inspiring visions and symbols; in a Grand Finale that incorporates and weaves together all that has gone before in Holy Scripture, even as it celebrates, one final time, the glory of the High King of Heaven.

The implications for the End Time Debate are easy to see. If the Revelation really is the Grand Finale of all Scripture, how likely is it that just a few measures prior to its end (i.e., in chapter 20) the Lord Jesus would suddenly introduce a completely new eschatological theme (i.e., a future earthly stage of the Kingdom lasting a thousand years); a theme that would radically modify, if not completely overthrow, all he had previously taught us in the Didactic NT about the nature and structure of the Kingdom, the Consummation, the relationship of the Old Covenant to the New, and the proper interpretation of OTKP?

The answer: NOT likely. Why? Because to do so would be to destroy the Grand Finale, belatedly and unexpectedly transforming the final movement of Scripture into the vehicle of a whole new movement; a new movement that must radically transform the Christian’s understanding of every movement that preceded it, even as it postpones the completed Kingdom—and the Christian’s completed joy—for an extra thousand years!

No, not likely at all!

Conclusion

We conclude, then, that a good understanding of the literary genre of the Revelation is most helpful for resolving the millennial controversy.

Yes, this book is an instance of biblical apocalyptic, but it is a unique instance.

Yes, it contains predictive prophecy, but it predicts nothing new.

Yes, it gives us the course, character, and consummation of Salvation History, but it tells us nothing new about them, preferring instead simply to exalt and sing the glories of the One who dwells at the center of them all.

And yes, it communicates in symbols, but in symbols whose meanings are old; symbols whose meanings have been disclosed previously in the Didactic NT, so that (for God’s NT scribes) the Revelation is an open book, and not a sealed one.

For all these reasons, it appears that Revelation 20 cannot possibly be introducing new truth about a future millennial stage of the Kingdom; new truth that would radically modify, upend, and overthrow the old. Rather, Revelation 20—and indeed the book as a whole—must simply be giving us the Grand Finale of all Scripture. It must be recapitulating and celebrating old truths, albeit in a new and breathtakingly beautiful way; a way that, fittingly enough, exalts him who is the living heart of all divine revelation: the High King of Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ.

NOTES

     1. In the Revelation, the seven lamps before God’s throne—also called the seven spirits of God—symbolize the one Holy Spirit. Seven is the number of perfection; lamps give light. The symbols appear to mean that the Father and Son have given the one Spirit of Truth a perfect, many-faceted ministry to the saints, by which he will guide them into the true Light, bringing them to Christ, keeping them in Christ, conforming them to Christ, and equipping them to serve Christ (Rev. 1:4, 3:1, 4:5, 5:6; John 16:13, Acts 2:33, Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 12::1f, 1 Thessa. 5:23).

     2. The Reformation Study Bible, p. 1862.

 

Preface

This essay is an excerpt from a theological work called The High King of Heaven: Discovering the Master Keys to the Great End Time Debate. It is a book about eschchatology, a study of such fascinating biblical themes as The Kingdom of God and the Second Coming of Christ.

The essay comes from a chapter dealing with the proper interpretation of Old Testament Kingdom Prophecy (OTKP). There are many such prophecies, and Daniel 9:24-27 is among the most difficult and controversial.

As a you will see if you read on (and I hope you will!), I have studied the different views with some care, and settled upon an interpretation that I believe is not only sound, but inspiring and timely.

In the essay you will run across the acronym NCH. It stands for New Covenant Hermenuetic. The NCH is the method the apostles used to interpret the OT in general, and OT Kingdom prophecy in particular. In order to understand the NCH better, you may want to read this short article first.

My hope and prayer is that in this essay you will catch a fresh, exhilarating glimpse of the High King of Heaven, his awesome plan for the ages, and the glorious inheritance that he has prepared for his beloved Bride.

 

Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Sevens

(Daniel 9:24-27)

 

The year is 539 B.C. Daniel, still in captivity under Darius the Mede, has been reading the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11-12, 29:10). He realizes that the 70 years of Jerusalem’s desolation are nearing an end, but also that many captive Jews remain unbroken and impenitent (9:13). They are not spiritually qualified for the great restoration promised decades earlier.

So Daniel prays (9:3-23). First, he rehearses and confesses the sin of God’s covenant-breaking people (9:3-10). Then he acknowledges God’s justice in sending them into captivity (9:11-15). Finally, he makes his petition. Appealing solely to God’s mercy, grace, and zeal for the honor of his Name, he pleads with the LORD to fulfill his promise given through Jeremiah: to restore his City, his Sanctuary, and his Holy Mountain (9:16-19).

His words are not in vain. Even as he is praying, the angel Gabriel arrives and stands before him, declaring to Daniel that God has indeed heard his prayer and answered it. He (Gabriel) has been sent to give Daniel “insight and understanding” about the coming Restoration (9:20-23). In the four long verses that follow, he does (9:24-27)

Are you familiar with this famous OTKP, often referred to as the prophecy of Daniel’s Seventy Sevens (or Weeks)? If so, you know at least one thing for sure: A whole host of commentators have been seeking insight and understanding ever since! In the paragraphs ahead, we will see why.

 

The Three Main Views

Close students of this short but complex OTKP know that interpreters differ widely on the exact meaning of dozens of the details found herein. To give but one illustration, Biederwolf cites at least eleven different opinions as to when, historically, the seventy sevens start. (1) This is hardly an auspicious beginning! And yet, when we stand back and look at the history of interpretation surrounding this prophecy, we discover something both interesting and encouraging: In the end, the vast majority of conservative commentators espouse one of three main views. My purpose in this section is briefly to introduce them, and to explain why I believe that the Lord is now putting his finger on the one that is true.

 

The Traditional First Advent View (TFAV)

First, we have what I will call the Traditional First Advent View. It has been around from the beginning, and is still popular today. The basic idea here is that the terminus ad quem—the goal or end point—of the seventy sevens is the first advent of Christ.

Regarding the seventy sevens, there are differences of opinion. Some say they are 490 consecutive years, a commitment that forces them to look for a viable historical starting point. Others argue that they are symbolic, a commitment that delivers them from unwelcome computations and manipulations. But all agree that the great burden of the prophecy is to unveil the redemptive instrument—the New Covenant, and the Christ of the New Covenant—by which God will make end of sins, bring in everlasting righteousness, and so create, once and for all, his eschatological City, Sanctuary, and Mountain (v. 24).

How will God do this? Turning to the text itself, proponents of the TFAV reply: He will send a Messiah: an Anointed One, a holy Priest and Sacrifice, who, by God’s foreordination, will be cut off for the sins of his people (v. 25, 26). Because of this, he will be able to make a firm covenant with his people—a New Covenant—, and in so doing will bring the Old Covenant sacrifices and burnt offerings to an end (27).

And that is not all that will be brought to an end. For another prince will come—the Roman general Titus—to destroy the former city (Herod’s Jerusalem) and the former sanctuary (Herod’s Temple) (v. 26). This is indeed a divine judgment against the Jews, who rejected their Messiah. But it is also a message from God: Christ’s death has rendered the temple (and it sacrifices) abominable in his sight; therefore, he has decreed its perpetual desolation, a desolation that began with Titus’ assault (v. 27).

There is, however, great good news: When the Messiah comes, and when he makes a New Covenant with his own, then a new City and a new Temple will arise: the Church. As the NT teaches, it is in the Church—and all throughout the Messianic Church Era—that God will accomplish the great eschatological Restoration that he promised through Jeremiah, and for which the prophet Daniel so fervently prayed (v.24).

Modern proponents of the TFAV include E. Hengstenberg, E. Pusey, E. J. Young, K. Riddlebarger, and I. Duguid.

 

A Critique of the TFAV

Because of the fluidity—indeed, the ambiguity—of the language of this prophecy, the TFAV seems, at first glance, to open it up quite well. However, upon closer inspection, we encounter some serious problems.

If, for example, the great Restoration envisioned in verse 24 is fulfilled under the New Covenant, why should the terminus ad quem of the prophecy be the first advent of Christ, rather than the second, when that restoration will be complete?

What of the sixty-two sevens of verses 25 and 26: Why do the proponents of the TFAV simply add them to the first seven, rather than pause and probe a little deeper for their significance?

Why do they assert that the “he” of verse 27—the one who will confirm a covenant with many—is Christ, when the person most recently spoken of in the preceding verse (v.26) is the prince (allegedly Titus) who will destroy the city and the sanctuary?

Why, if the “he” of verse 27 is Christ, does the angel again point to his death here (“He will bring an end to sacrifice and offering”), when, in verse 26, he has already spoken of the (alleged) destruction of Herod’s city and sanctuary?

Why, if this is Christ, will he establish a covenant with many only for one seven, rather than forever (v. 27)?

Why is the prophecy silent as to what occurs in the last half of the seventieth seven, after Christ brings an end to sacrifice and offering (v. 27)?

And why does it conclude with such a great emphasis upon the destruction of the temple? Is this not an odd way of wrapping up a divine revelation meant to unveil the Messianic restoration of all things!

Perhaps, then, in light of all these questions, there is a more satisfying interpretation than the one offered in the TFAV.

 

The Dispensational Two-Advent View (DTAV)

The second view is the Dispensational Two-Advent View. Unlike the TFAV, it holds that here Daniel refers not only to Christ’s first advent, but also to his second, when he comes again at the end of a seven year season of tribulation for ethnic Israel. This view has little historic precedent, having arisen in mid-19th century England among the Plymouth Brethren. And yet, for reasons discussed earlier, it has become widely popular in evangelical circles. It is the most complex and controversial of the three interpretations. If, however, we confine ourselves to the basics, it is fairly easy to describe and understand. Let us briefly survey it, verse by verse.

Dispensationalists reckon the seventy sevens of verse 24 as seventy weeks of years; as 490 calendar years. They acknowledge that the six blessings here promised to Daniel’s people are achieved by the earthly work of Christ, and that they will reach their full fruition in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Nevertheless, in a major departure from the TFAV, they do not agree that Daniel’s people and city appear here primarily as OT types of the eschatological People and City of God: the Church. Instead, Dispensationalists insist that Gabriel is speaking primarily of spiritual blessings that God will bestow upon ethnic Israel in the Millennium; in the Dispensation of the (earthly, Jewish, and Messianic) Kingdom that is (allegedly) the true theme of all OTKP.

The subject matter of verse 25 is the (events of the) first 69 weeks. These total 483 calendar years. According to (most) Dispensationalists, they began in 445 B.C., when king Artaxerxes issued a decree authorizing the restoration of Jerusalem, which was indeed rebuilt in stressful times under the leadership of Nehemiah (Neh. 2:1f). They ended either at the birth of Messiah the Prince or at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Notably, Dispensationalists cannot quite make this scheme chronologically viable, and so resort to massaging the numbers involved. Some suggest that Artaxerxes actually issued his decree in 455 BC, while others say that here the Spirit reckons a year as 360 days (2).

Along with the proponents of the TFAV, Dispensationalists hold that verse 26 speaks of: 1) the rejection and death of Christ, who thereby “has nothing” of his royal prerogatives; 2) the coming of the Roman “prince” Titus; and, 3) the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by Titus’ legions.

However, upon reaching verse 27, Dispensationalists diverge sharply from their traditional brethren. Here, they say, the Spirit suddenly lifts us up and carries us ahead to certain dramatic events that must befall ethnic Israel at the close of the present evil age. Obviously, this raises an important question: What in the world happens during the intervening years?

With scant help from the text itself, Dispensationalists respond by asserting that throughout this time God is pursuing a different plan for a different people. The plan is the “mystery” of the Dispensation (or Era) of the Church. The people is the Church itself, the Bride of Christ. According to Dispensationalists, the OT prophets—including Daniel—did not foresee or speak of either, since their sole concern was to encourage the OT saints with promises of Christ’s millennial Kingdom.

Moreover, they did not foresee still another mystery, one that will bring the Church Era to a close: the Rapture. At the Rapture, God will send the glorified Christ secretly to lift his Bride into the skies above the earth and then carry her to heaven, where she will be safe and secure from the vicissitudes of the seven terrible years now to begin: The Tribulation (Mt. 24:6, 15, 1 Thess. 4, 1 Thess. 4:13ff, Rev. 7:14).

In sum, Dispensationalists hold that God has placed a great “parenthesis”—a huge temporal gulf, now some two millennia long—between the end of verse 26 and the beginning of verse 27. Again, they call this gulf the mystery of the Church Era. When it began, God’s prophetic time clock—his stated plans for ethnic Israel—stopped (v. 26). But as soon the Rapture occurs, it will start to tick again (v. 27)!

What will the seventieth week—the Tribulation era—look like? In reply, Dispensationalists take us to verse 27. The “he” with which it begins is not, they say, the prince of verse 26 (i.e., Titus). No, it is the “little horn” of Daniel 7, the Antichrist. This wicked Roman prince will enter into a seven-year covenant with “many” Jews, presumably guaranteeing them certain political and religious prerogatives. However, mid-way into the final week, he will break the covenant by suppressing Jewish ritual worship, “desolating” the (restored) temple with his abominable idolatries, and launching a fierce persecution against Israel. In other words, for three and a half years Israel (along with the persecuting world, as well) will endure what Dispensationalists call “the Great Tribulation.” However, Christ himself—at his visible coming again in power and glory—will bring all hostilities to an end. When he appears, he will pour out complete destruction upon the Antichrist (and his followers), after which he will introduce the manifold blessings of the thousand-year Messianic reign upon the earth (v. 24). (3)

 

Daniel 9: The Rock of Dispensationalism

Before commenting further, I want very much to emphasize that this text—or rather their interpretation of it—is foundational to the entire Dispensational system; that it grounds the Dispensational picture of all Salvation History. We can best understand why by considering once again some of the key propositions it involves, propositions that at any number of points put Dispensationalism and orthodox Protestantism in opposite corners of the theological ring.

There are at least seven of them: 1) God does not have one eschatological blessing for one new people (i.e., eternal life for Jews and Gentiles, members together of the Body of Christ), but two different blessings for two different peoples (earthly blessings for Israel and heavenly blessings for the Church); 2) the people of God spoken of in OTKP are not spiritual Israel (i.e., the Church), but ethnic Israel; 3) the sphere of fulfillment of OTKP is not a two-staged spiritual kingdom introduced by Christ under the New Covenant, but a future millennial kingdom introduced by Christ under the Davidic Covenant; 4) there will not be one, but (at least) two eschatological comings of Christ: the first for his Church (the Rapture), and the second for ethnic Israel (the Parousia); 5) God has been pleased to use a single OT text (Dan. 9:24-27), rather than a multitude of NT texts, to reveal the true structure of Salvation History; 6) God has been pleased to use a single OT text (Dan. 9:24-27), rather than a multitude of NT texts, to give us the key to the Olivet Discourse, the Revelation, and other major NT prophetic passages; and, 7) God’s Church—both Catholic and Protestant—has more or less completely misunderstood this crucial OT passage, and has therefore misunderstood his Plan of Salvation for some 1850 years!

 

A Critique of the DTAV

Yes, for Dispensationalists like C. I. Scofield, J. Walvoord, L. S. Chafer, D. Pentecost, C. Ryrie, J. McArthur, C. Smith, T. Ice, T. LaHaye, and many more, a very great deal rides upon this distinctive interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27. But is it viable? Our previous study of NT eschatology strongly suggests it is not. Moreover, when we closely examine the text itself, we find a good deal to awaken serious doubts about the soundness of the DTAV. Let us pause again to consider some of the major problems involved.

Is it really the case that the seventy sevens are seventy weeks of years? Do not the particular numbers employed at least hint at a symbolic meaning?

Considering the character, reach, and ultimacy of the blessings promised in verse 24, is it likely that they are reserved more or less exclusively for ethnic Israel and the (physical) Jerusalem below (Gal. 4:25-26)?

Is it exegetically certain that Messiah the Prince appears at the end of the 69 weeks? Could it be that he appears instead at the end of the first seven (v. 25)?

Is it really the case that the people of the prince to come are the soldiers of Titus (v. 26)? Could it be that they are actually the followers of the Antichrist, and that their assault is not against Herod’s (physical) city and temple, but against Christ’s (spiritual) City and Sanctuary: the Church?

By what possible biblical justification can we insert over 2000 years of Church history between verses 26 and 27, especially since the “he” of verse 27 clearly refers either to the Messiah or “the prince to come” of verse 26?

And again, seeing that the Spirit’s central concern in Daniel is to disclose the stages and grand finale of Salvation History, how is it that in verse 27 he takes us, not to the Consummation, but merely to the beginning of the Millennium, during which—and at the end of which—so much more of eschatological interest is (supposed) to occur?

Questions like these cast long shadows of doubt over the DTAV, even as they hint at a far more satisfying interpretation. We will consider it now.

 

The Reformed Two-Advent View (RTAV)

Our third and final interpretation I have called the Reformed Two-Advent View. It is Reformed because it is rooted in the amillennial eschatology of the leaders and creeds of the classic Reformation. It is Two-Advent because it finds Daniel referring both to the first and second advents of Christ. Like the DTAV, the RTAV is a recent historical development, having arisen in the late 19th century; though in hermeneutical approach it is much like the TFAV. Leading proponents include T. Kliefoth, C. F. Keil, and, in our day, C. H. Leupold. My indebtedness to Leupold’s fine Exposition of Daniel will soon become clear.

By my lights, the RTAV is easily the most satisfying interpretation of Daniel 9. Unlike the other two schemes, it harmonizes perfectly with the details of the text itself, and also with the majestic purpose and contents of Daniel’s other prophecies. More than this, it abundantly confirms, and is illumined by, NT eschatology. As a result, it not only fills us with confidence as to its truth, but also gives us, as Leupold declares, “ . . . one of the grandest revelations of the course and climax of Salvation History to be found in the prophetic Word.” (4)

Let us take a moment to examine this view in some detail. My approach will be to go through our text verse by verse, offering interpretations guided by the RTAV. The translation, with slight (and significant) modifications imported from other versions, is that of the very literal New American Standard Bible.

 

Verse 24                       

Seventy sevens have been decreed over your people and over your holy city, to finish (the) transgression, to make an end of sins, and to make atonement for iniquity; to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.

In this verse, Daniel gives us the theme of the entire prophecy. It is, as it were, a condensed and cryptic heading, of which all that follows is the detailed elaboration.

What is the theme? Advocates of the RTAV would sum it up this way: God has decreed a set period of time in which he will fulfill all his redemptive purpose and plan; in which he will bestow all his redemptive promises upon all his redeemed people. In other words, Gabriel here declares that the prophecy to follow will give us the remainder of all Salvation History, from Daniel’s day to the Parousia of Christ at the End of the Age. It will survey all that the LORD will do between now and the Consummation to bring his people and their world into the eternal Kingdom of God.

This soul-stirring interpretation is more than confirmed at the very outset. Gabriel declares that seventy sevens are decreed over the people of God and the Holy City. He says nothing of years, or weeks of years. Manifestly, these numbers are symbolic. But why were they chosen, and what do they mean? Doubtless they allude to the seventy years of Israel’s exile and captivity, and therefore appear here by way of a grand promise that in the seventy sevens ahead God will fully deliver his people from their captivity and fully restore them to all his covenant promises.

The key word in all this is “fully.” In the Bible, the numbers seven and ten symbolize fullness, perfection, and completion. Seventy sevens, being 7x7x10, mystically expresses perfect completeness (see Mt. 18:22). So then, speaking as he did, Gabriel was simply saying, “God has decreed a set period of time within which he will fulfill, perfect, and complete his redemptive purposes. I am about to tell you what will happen in it.”

Leupold puts it this way: “The seventy heptads is the period in which the divine work of greatest moment is brought to perfection.” If this interpretation is correct, it means that the terminus ad quem of the prophecy is indeed the Parousia of Christ at the End of the Age. This in turn implies that the seventy sevens are not calendar years, and that henceforth no calculations (or 360 day years) are possible or needed. What a relief!

God’s decree concerns Daniel’s people and his Holy City. Who and what are they? Here, we must take care. The Jerusalem of verse 25a is indeed earthly Jerusalem, and the people who rebuilt it were ethnic Jews. But as I will argue in a moment, the City of verse 25b, and the City and Sanctuary of verses 26-27, are different. They appear after the coming of Messiah the Prince (25b). They arise in NT times, under the New Covenant. Therefore, according to the NCH, they represent Christ’s Church. As we have seen, Daniel and his godly OT compatriots are members thereof in excellent standing (John 10:16, Heb. 11:40)!

Gabriel now unveils six redemptive blessings that God will bestow upon his Israel over the course of the seventy sevens (Gal. 6:16). They appear in two triads: The first three pertain to redemptive rescue from sin, the second three to redemptive restoration to eternal life. While textual peculiarities make the exact translation of some these words difficult, the basic message is clear enough, and the NCH richly helps us to uncover the meanings involved.

 

My take is as follows: By the end of the seventy sevens—and because of the total redemptive work of Christ, both in his humiliation and exaltation—God will have completely: 1) finished (or consummately restrained) the transgression of his people (i.e., stopped their transgressing, as well as the power of their former transgressions to condemn them); 2) made an end of (or sealed up, concealed) their sins (i.e., stopped their sinning, as well as the power of their sins to condemn them); 3) made atonement through Christ for their iniquity, thereby reconciling them to God; 4) brought in everlasting righteousness (i.e., imputed and imparted Christ’s righteousness to his people, so that in the end they may dwell where perfect righteousness dwells, 2 Peter 3:13); 5) sealed up vision and prophecy (i.e., caused both visions and prophecies to cease, owing to the fulfillment of all his redemptive purposes and all previous visions and prophecies, Rev. 22:18-18); and, 6) anointed the Most Holy (i.e., bestowed divine glory and perfect holiness upon his eschatological Sanctuary: the Body and Bride of his Son, the Church, Eph. 3:21, Rev. 21:1-11).

 

These are Kingdom blessings, to be introduced by the New Covenant that will create the Kingdom. Therefore, since the Kingdom comes in two stages, there is a sense in which we Christians already enjoy them; there is a sense (largely forensic) in which we have already taken possession of them. Nevertheless, the accent here definitely falls upon the end, the eschaton, the final state. Commenting on the blessings of the completed Kingdom, and indicating Gabriel’s purpose in declaring them to Daniel, Leupold writes:

 

“In these six statements we have the sum of all the good things that God promised to men perfectly realized. With this verse we stand at the ultimate goal of the history of the Kingdom of God. What follows will unfold the successive stages by which this goal is realized and present the main features to be looked for and borne in mind by the people of God. We have just seen the essentials of God’s program for the ages.” (5)

 

Verse 25

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven sevens; and for sixty-two sevens it will be built again with open square and moat (or wall), even in troubled times. 

 

This verse spans the bulk of the remainder of Salvation History: 69 of the 70 sevens. According to the ESV, the marginal reading of the ASV, and the advocates of the RTAV, it is properly divided into two distinct parts: the first seven, and the following 62 sevens. The first seven begins with a decree to restore and rebuild earthly Jerusalem. Most likely it is the decree issued by Cyrus in 538 BC, though the precise date is of little importance, since the first “seven” is not a week of years, but an era of Salvation History whose exact duration is unknown (Ezra 1:1-4, Isaiah 44:28; cf., Dan. 9:23). The first seven ends with the coming of Messiah the Prince. This is first advent of Christ, through whose earthly work—through whose humiliation—all the blessings of v. 24 were purchased and are thereafter bestowed.

 

Now the 62 sevens begin. They too symbolize an era, the era in which Christ’s builds his Church. However, here Gabriel uses OT typological language to speak of NT realities, casting the growth of the Church in terms of the growth of the City of God. The reference to its open square (or streets) suggests expansive growth outwards. The reference to a moat or wall suggests divine protection. Pointing to the real but limited success of world evangelization, Leupold paraphrases, “She shall again be built extensively, yet within fixed limits.” (6) The growth shall occur “in troubled times,” a phrase echoed in the Revelation, where the Spirit refers to the Church Era (and indeed to all Salvation History) as “the great tribulation.” Yes, God has decreed the rearing up of Christ’s Church; but he has also decreed much trouble for the saints who will build it (Rev. 7:14; Acts 14:22, Rom. 5:3, 2 Cor. 1:4, 1 Thess. 3:4).

 

This division of the 69 weeks into two distinct eras (an OT and a New) is decisive for the interpretation of the prophecy as a whole, seeing that it places Christ’s first advent at the end of the first seven, rather than at the end of the 69. In particular, it radically challenges the interpretation of verses 26-27 offered in the TFAV and the DTAV. However, the superiority of this approach to verse 25 is so clear that one wonders how we could have missed it for so many years! Above all, it immediately helps us to understand why Gabriel did not simply refer to 69 sevens, but instead referred to seven sevens and 62 sevens. Moreover, as we are about to see, once we accept this framework, it sheds an abundance of fascinating—and eschatologically vital—light on the 70th seven of verses 26-27. We turn to them now.

 

 

Verse 26

 

Then after the 62 sevens the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its (or, his) end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are decreed.                         

This is the first of two verses dealing with the seventieth seven; with the third and final stage of Salvation History. Again, it is not a week of seven literal years, as repeated exposure to Dispensational claims may incline us to believe. No, it is an era of brief but uncertain duration, the era in which God will bring Salvation History to a close in final conflict, final judgment, and final redemption. This interpretation buttresses the RTAV, since it finds Daniel doing here exactly what we would expect, exactly what he has done before, and exactly what he will do again: give us nothing less than the Consummation, the dramatic closing scenes of God’s plan for the ages. With respect, on this score the other two views are not worthy to be compared.

 

The theme of verse 26 is the end-time agony of the true spiritual Church of Christ. The close of the present evil age is near. The Great Commission is nearly accomplished. Lawlessness abounds, and deep darkness covers the earth. At this point, says the angel, Messiah will be cut off and have nothing. Obviously, this cannot refer to his atoning death, as is argued by the two other views. But what does it mean? Leupold suggests that the “cutting off” is best illumined by the “having nothing”:

 

“(The “having nothing”) implies that he shall not have that which normally might be expected to fall to his lot, such as followers, influence, and the like. If that is the case, then the preceding statement must have involved his being “cut off” in the sense of losing all influence and prestige that he ever had before men. The season of the successful building of the City and the Sanctuary is at an end. As far as the world is concerned, Messiah shall be a dead issue. His cause will seem to have failed.” (7)

 

At that time—amidst such widespread apostasy from the law and Gospel of God—the world-system will take action: The people of the prince who is to come will destroy the City and the Sanctuary (1 Thess. 2:1ff). The prince is not Titus, but the Antichrist, the very Antichrist whom we meet over and again in Daniel’s visions (7:8, 11, 21-22, 24-26, 11:36ff). His people are the eschatological seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), the “sons of the evil one” (Mt. 13:38), the followers of the Beast (Rev. 13:1f). As to the City and the Sanctuary, Leupold opines: “These represent the visible institution called the church. These shall be destroyed, and with them the influence of the Christ that we now still know and feel to be abroad in the earth” (p., 428). Doubtless this destruction will involve a new measure of Christian martyrdom. Nevertheless, the primary meaning is that religious freedom for Christians will be universally denied, and the institutional Church forced underground. Daniel has already seen this coming (7:21, 25). It is explicitly predicted in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4. It appears also in Revelation 11:7-10, where the Spirit represents the end-time Church under the image of two OT witnesses; witnesses whom the Beast kills and leaves for dead on the bloody streets of the City of Man, just as he did their Lord.

Regarding the final sentence of this verse, Leupold contends that it is the Antichrist whose end will come with a flood of divine judgment at Christ’s Parousia; like Pharaoh and his obedient armies, he will be utterly swept away (2 Thess. 2: 8, Rev. 15:1-4). This could be. However, the context seems to favor the idea that here too the outward, institutional Church is in view: Her end will come with a flood of opposition and persecution (Psalm 18:4, Isaiah 59:19). To the very end of the seventieth seven, there will be war against the saints (Rev. 12:15, 17). Desolations—both of the institutional Church and her persecutors—are determined (Rev. 11:1-2).

 

Verse 27

And he will make a firm covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction—one that is decreed—is poured out on the desolator.

Here Gabriel further instructs Daniel about the key events of the seventieth seven, this time with a concluding emphasis upon the destruction of the destroyer, the Antichrist. As the long verse opens, we learn that throughout the final seven, “he”, the Antichrist, will cause a strong covenant to prevail over “the many.” Leupold explains:

“The idea is that as he seeks to take place of the Christ, so he shall imitate Him in some way. As the Lord made a covenant with his own to give them strong assurances as to what he would do, so Antichrist will inaugurate a covenant that will prevail; which is to say, compel the masses to accept it and abide by it. It shall not, therefore, be a gracious covenant of love, as are the Lord’s covenants, but a covenant of terror, compulsion, and violence.” (p. 432).

  1. F. Keil, an early proponent of the RTAV, concurs. Highlighting the religious dimension of Antichrist’s “agreement” with the world, he writes, “The ungodly prince shall impose upon the mass of the people a strong covenant that they should follow him and give themselves to him as their God” (Rev. 13:4). (8) The interpretation offered by these two outstanding commentators is compelling, seeing that 2 Thessalonians 2:1f supplies a more or less identical picture of the purpose, character, and career of the Man of Lawlessness.

How will the global rule of the Antichrist affect the Church? In a reprise of the message of verse 26, Gabriel answers by declaring that in the middle of the last seven he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. This means that (roughly) half way through his hegemony, he will suddenly turn against the Church and suppress her public worship. At this point, he will become “one who makes desolate,” a destroyer. With destructive intent, he will now come against the Church “upon the wing of abominations.” That is, he will fly into global power and influence—and so to apparent victory over Christ’s little flock—riding upon the persuasive force of detestable idols: a counterfeit gospel (i.e., religion, ideology) and counterfeit signs and wonders that seem to validate it (Mt. 24:23-24, 2 Thess. 2:8-12).

This will indeed be the Church’s darkest hour (Mt. 24:21, Rev. 13:7). Yet it is, after all, only an hour, and one that her Redeemer himself has triumphantly passed through. Therefore, it is an hour of hope. For no sooner will the counterfeit prince launch his great war against the saints, than the glorified Christ will appear in the skies above the Earth to rescue them. Then, in the Judgment that follows, he will pour out complete destruction upon all who thought to destroy his own: Apollyon, Antichrist, and “the many” who so foolishly followed them into the Last Battle (Mt. 24:29-31, 25:31ff, 1 Thess. 4:13f, 2 Thess. 1:3-10, 2:8, 11-12, Rev. 19:20, 20:10). (9)

 

Conclusion

The prophecy of Daniel’s Seventy Sevens—possibly the most difficult in the entire prophetic canon—is a case study in the indispensability of the New Covenant Hermeneutic. Without it, the vision is a maze; a labyrinth from which there is no escape. With it, the way into the open field of truth becomes clear at last.

Our survey of the three main interpretations has made this evident. Because the advocates of the TFAV have indeed grasped the true structure of NT eschatology, as well as the importance of the NCH, they have produced a fairly viable interpretation, one that has understandably remained popular over the years. However, we have seen that upon closer inspection it fails to do justice to the nuances of the text itself, and also to the grand theme and substance of the book as a whole.

Meanwhile, advocates of the DTAV, having largely misunderstood NT eschatology and imposed an alien OT hermeneutic upon it, have given us an exotic interpretation that is exegetically untenable and theologically flawed. The popularity of this view in our day suggests a serious failure on the part of the modern Church to grasp the true structure of NT theology, and the NCH that naturally flows from it. However, Dispensationalism in general—and its view of this prophecy in particular—are on the wane. I do not think it can be otherwise, seeing that in the end the Spirit of Truth must (and will) draw Christ’s Church back to the NT, where alone they will receive the keys to OTKP, Daniel 9, and all the eschatological truth they will need to stand strong amidst the rigors of the Consummation.

The NT itself promises this very thing. It tells us that the Lord loves his Bride (John 13:1); that he would prepare her for the Last Battle (John 16:13); and indeed, that one day he will cause her to attain to the unity of the faith, right down to eschatological faith (Eph. 4:11f). When he does, I believe he will draw her to the RTAV of Daniel 9.

The reasons are many. Again, this interpretation includes all the strengths of the other two, while avoiding their weaknesses. It is true to the text, and true to the context: the Book of Daniel as a whole. It harmonizes perfectly with NT eschatology, and draws upon it richly, as it must, for a right understanding.

But best of all—to my mind at least—is the intriguing fact that the RTAV seems to come to us at just the right time. Somehow, it suits the dark, difficult, and dangerous days into which we are now entering, fittingly reminding us all of the sufferings of Christ’s Church and the glories to follow (2 Tim. 3:1f, 1 Peter 1:11).

In short, I think it likely that this interpretation of Daniel’s Seventy Sevens is an eschatological gift from the exalted Lord himself, by which, even now, he is supplying his beloved Bride with just the right mix of tough realism, steadfast hope, and earnest expectation of the soon return of the High King of Heaven.

 

NOTES

  1. Wm. Biederwolf, The Millennium Bible,(Glad Tidings, 1924), p. 218.
  2. C. I. Scofield, ed., The Scofield Reference Bible(Oxford, 1967), p. 913.
  3. SRB, p. 913.
  4. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Daniel(Baker, 1969), p. 405.
  5. Leupold, p. 411.
  6. Leupold, p. 417.
  7. Leupold, p. 427.
  8. Cited in Biederwolf, p. 224.
  9. For a close, thought-provoking examination of the many parallels between the character and career of Antiochus Epiphanes (the OT antichrist), and the NT Antichrist of Daniel 9:26-27, see Leupold, pp. 437-440.
  10. For further studies of miscellaneous OTKP’s, please visit my blog at: www.clr4u.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on God’s Guidance from the Book of Acts

In his letter to the Roman Christians, the apostle Paul declares, “As many as are led by the Spirit, these are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). What a thought! Can it really be that part of our inheritance in Christ is to be guided by the Spirit of God in all our decisions, just as the Lord Jesus was? Paul certainly seemed to think so! Moreover, as we read through the book of Acts, we find that for the early Church this was indeed the case: In manifold ways, God graciously guided His people in the fulfillment of their mission, and in so doing provided helpful instructions and examples for us to follow. The purpose of this essay is to spotlight the main ways in which God guides his New Covenant children, and to illustrate them from the Book of Acts. May this brief meditation enrich your confidence for walking with him!

 

How God Guides His New Covenant Children

He guides us personally

In OT times God usually guided his people through appointed leaders such as judges, priests, prophets, kings, etc. To be sure, his Spirit worked in the hearts of all his OT elect, giving them ears to hear what their leaders were saying. But it was a rare privilege for God to speak personally to the OT saints. For this reason, the writing prophets looked forward to a happy day when God would speak directly to ALL his people (Numbers 11, Jeremiah 31:31f, Joel 2:28f). And according the Lord Jesus, that day has come, for now ALL his Spirit-filled sheep hear his voice and follow him (John 10:26-27, 5, 16:13)!

He guides us inwardly

In OT times God guided his people by a pillar of cloud and fire, the Scriptures, the Urim and the Thummim, the casting of lots, and the words of specially appointed leaders. These were outwards means of guidance; the people had little or no expectation of God speaking to them inwardly. Now, however, under the New Covenant, outward means of guidance have been replaced by inward; now God is committed to guiding each individual Christian by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Again, this great boon was promised in OT times (Isaiah 30, 54, Jeremiah 31, Ezek. 36-37, etc.), and fulfilled under the New Covenant in Christ (John 16:13a, 1 John 2:26, Rom. 8:14, Col. 1:9, 1 John 2:25-26).

He uses chosen instruments

As in OT times, so in the New: God is pleased to use various instruments to guide his people personally and inwardly. But since those instruments are unique to our day, it very much behooves us to know what they are, lest we turn to OT instruments for NT guidance! The Urim and Thummin are gone (or rather, they now live inside us!). No longer are we to cast lots or look to special leaders. Rather, we are to the look to the Lord himself, and to expect him to guide us according to the uniquely NT methods he has chosen.

Here is my view of what they are, illustrated from the book of Acts.

He guides us through the Scriptures

This is by far the single most important means of NT guidance. As we read the Bible, and especially the NT, the Holy Spirit illuminates and internalizes the Word of God. It becomes our internal guidance system. Slowly but surely, Christ is formed in us (Gal. 4:19), we receive the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), and our senses are trained to distinguish between good and evil (Heb. 5:14). The result: As we walk through life and face various decisions great or small, the Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures (or Scripture-formed intuitions) to guide us. As a rule we are barely conscious of his activity, but the Spirit and the Word are at work, nonetheless. Accordingly, it is written that the early Christians devoted themselves to the apostles doctrine (Acts 2:42). Paul commended the Ephesians to God, and to the Word of his grace, which was able to build them up in their most holy faith and give them an inheritance among those who are sanctified (Acts 20). It is, then, vital that each of us has a daily quiet time; that fathers and mothers lead their children in family devotions; and that we seize every opportunity to hear, ponder, and discuss the Word of God. In so doing, we are letting the Spirit internalize God’s premier guidance system! It is the plain sense of Scripture that marks for us the path of duty, and that stands as final arbiter over every other form of spiritual guidance (Gal. 1:8).

He guides us through special promptings of the Spirit

From time to time, Christians “feel impressed” by the Spirit to do this, that, or the other thing. Such experiences are biblical. Certainly we see them in the life of our Lord, who spoke of doing only those things He saw his Father doing. We also see them in Acts. When Peter beheld the lame man at the Beautiful Gate, he was prompted to speak a word of healing to him (Acts 3). When Paul observed all the idols in the marketplace of Athens, his spirit was provoked within him and he addressed the Athenians boldly (Acts 17). In Acts, such promptings are styled as “little infillings” of the Spirit. Peter, “filled with the Spirit”, addressed the rulers of Israel; Paul, “filled with the Spirit”, rebuked wicked Elymas (Acts 4, 13). All forms of divine guidance are supernatural, but special infillings of the Spirit feel a little more supernatural than others!

He guides us through open and closed doors

Christians understand that God is the High King of Providence; that he is causing ALL THINGS to work together for the good of His people who love Him (Rom. 8). Accordingly, when faced with a decision, they seek the Spirit’s help in discerning whether or not God has arranged their circumstances in such a way as to favor the decision or discourage it. It is written that the exalted Lord set before the Philadelphian church an open door that no one could shut; doubtless they walked right through it (Rev. 3:8)! In Acts, the Christians in Antioch rejoiced that God had opened a door to faith among the Gentiles (Acts 14:24). In watching for open doors, we must also watch for joy and liberty from the Spirit to go through them; inward affirmation and outward opportunity must go hand in hand. By means of an earthquake, God opened the door of the prison in Philippi, but Paul declined to go through it, lest the jailer be executed. Rather, he waited till the jailer, newly converted, ushered him through the door himself (Acts 16)!

He guides us through counsel and consensus

Because of immaturity, residual sin in our members, or the opposition of powers and principalities, some decisions are beyond us. In such cases, God encourages us to seek the counsel of other more mature believers who know and care for us (Prov. 11:14, 15:22). Moreover, if we have sought advice from a number of believers, and all agree as to the proper course of action, it would be wise indeed to listen hard (Mt. 18:19)! This principle is beautifully illustrated in the Jerusalem Council, at which the leaders of the infant Church had to decide whether the Gentiles must obey the Mosaic Law. Having “taken counsel” with one another in a lively discussion, they finally came to a unanimous decision on the proper course of action, a course that seemed good both to them and to the Holy Spirit. Such Spirit-wrought unity is extremely valuable for discerning the will of God in difficult situations. It should be noted, however, that on rare occasions God calls a believer to stand alone in a chosen course of action, even in the face of good, united counsel to the contrary (Acts 21).

He guides us with bolts of lightning

Though the Spirit normally uses the Scriptures, inward promptings, circumstances, and counsel and consensus to guide us, he sometimes uses what I like to call bolts of lightning: special, highly supernatural forms of guidance. We observe them all in the book Acts:

  1. Dreams: Promised to NT believers (Acts 2), and apparently experienced by Paul at Troas (Acts 16)
  2. Visions: Seen by Ananias at Damascus (Acts 9), and Peter at Caesarea (Acts 10)
  3. Audible Voice of God: Heard by Saul at his conversion (Acts 9)
  4. Angelic Visitations: Experienced by Philip on the road to Gaza (Acts 8), and Peter in jail in Jerusalem (Acts 12)
  5. Prophets: The prophets gathered for prayer at Antioch (Acts 13); the prophecies of Agabus (Acts 11, 21)

It is important to understand that bolts of lightning are not God’s normal method of spiritual guidance; if we believe they are, we will certainly experience great frustration in our Christian life. Possibly, such things were more frequent in the days of the early Church, when the NT Scriptures were not yet complete and God was specially authenticating the ministry of the apostles. In any case, it is clear from the NT that God means believers to be guided primarily by the four methods mentioned above. That said, I find nothing in the NT even to suggest that God cannot or will not use bolts of lightning to guide his children. To shut ourselves off from the very possibility of such things is to say “No” where God has said “Yes,” and so to risk grieving the Spirit by a lack of openness to certain special adventures that the Lord may have for us in our walk with him!

He guides us by the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus

Every divinely ordained method of spiritual guidance can be counterfeited or contested by Satan’s powers and principalities. The devil can quote Scripture, burden us with dark impressions, give false readings of our circumstances, poison our minds against the counsel of the brethren (or poison the counsel itself), and feed us with lying dreams, visions, angelic visitations, and prophecies. For this reason, it is vital that God’s people learn to shield themselves from counterfeit guidance, not only by consulting the Scriptures, but also by maintaining a high view of God’s goodness; of the kind and loving way in which he is committed to leading his dear children along.

Over and again the NT reminds us of this liberating truth. The law of the Spirit of LIFE in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8). Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is LIBERTY (2 Cor. 3). The LOVE of Christ controls, constrains, and compels us (2 Cor. 5). We must let the PEACE of God rule (i.e., serve as an umpire) in our hearts (Col. 3:15). The wisdom (and the guidance) that comes from above is first of all PURE (James 3:13f). God has written—and today speaks—so that our JOY may full (1 John 1:4). And the list goes on!

One big reason we are so often led astray is that in our frailty we listen to voices from the dark side. Having a low view of God’s kindess, and of his immutable love for every son and daughter in the Beloved, we yield to Satan’s flaming arrows aimed at our flesh: doubt, fear, guilt, compulsion, anger, vain ambition, lust, and more. What do all these things have in common . . . besides that they result in terrible decisions? They are NEGATIVE, dealing out death. What do love, joy, liberty, and peace have in common? They are POSITIVE, bringing life. So then, if we deliberately embrace a Principle of Positivity—refusing to be led by negative inputs, but standing firm in our faith that a good and loving God is committed to leading us by positive inputs—we shall make great strides in our joyful, Spirit-led walk with the Lord (Phil. 4:8-9). (1)

He guides us as we do our part in the process

Paul writes that the Spirit within us moves us to will and to work for God’s good pleasure. This implies that in our quest for good decision-making we have a simple but important role to play. We must meditate regularly on the Word of God, and teach it to our children. We must obey it implicitly. We must pray to God for special wisdom, and trust that he will indeed give it to us. We must wait patiently till it comes, and, if necessary, be humble enough to ask for godly advice while we wait. And above all, we must watch: watch for the joyful, peaceful, liberating, life-giving witness of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, who, in one precious way or another, lovingly whispers in our ears, “This is the way, walk ye in it!”

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of Him in every place!”

 

Notes

  1. True conviction of sin, wrought by the Holy Spirit, comes with godly sorrow, and is always a positive, life-giving experience. It is worlds apart from the condemnation and false guilt that control so much of our thinking, praying, and deciding. Alas, it is too true that Christians can sometimes resist the Spirit of conviction, and so bring chastening upon themselves until, humbled and broken, they finally yield to God, only to discover that, in perfect love, he has been there all along! (Rom. 8:1f, 2 Cor. 9:7f, Heb.12:1f)