An Exposition of "This Generation" (Matthew 24:34) Part 3

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By Michael J. Sullivan
We are continuing our series on the “this generation” of (Matthew 24:34) and are discussing the various false interpretations that have been set forth in order to avoid the most clear one. We now approach a false interpretation that is probably the most detrimental to the Christian Church in our generation and one that has left many Evangelicals faith cold causing them to question the reliability of some of their so called “prophecy experts.” In addressing this interpretation I also wanted to take a look at the alleged OT “proof texts” that support that the gathering of Israel back into her land in 1948 is somehow a fulfillment of prophecy. I will be covering the Dispensational false teaching that OT prophecies and promises made to Israel cannot “in any way” be fulfilled by the Church. To the Dispensationalist, this even includes the promise of the New Covenant which has profound implications upon the Christian faith and the gospel. These are SERIOUS issues and I hope you will open your Bible as we begin this very important study.
2) “Our generation which saw Israel become a nation 1948 will witness Christ’s return.”
Hal Lindsey, an alleged “prophecy expert” who, based on current events and not the Bible claimed,
“WE are the generation that will see the end times… and return of Christ.” And “unmistakably… this generation is the one that will see the end of the present world and the return of Christ”[1] And then this view was fueled from the pulpit from the mega church Pastors such as Chuck Smith of the Calvary Chapel movement:
“…that the generation of 1948 is the last generation. Since a generation of judgment is forty years and the Tribulation period lasts seven years, I believe the Lord could come back for His Church any time before the Tribulation starts, which would mean any time before 1981. (1948 + 40 – 7 = 1981).”[2] In his book Future Survival (1978) Chuck wrote,
“From my understanding of biblical prophecies, I’m convinced that the Lord is coming for His Church before the end of 1981.”[3] Having attended Pastor Chuck Smith’s church–Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, CA as a very young boy till about the age of 22, I was indirectly and directly influenced by this false interpretation. As a boy crossing the intersection of Sunflower and Fairview everyday for school I would read the words, “Jesus is coming soon. God keeps His promises” painted on the back wall of the Chapel Store (the church book store). After the Lord saved me at the age of 18, I would then attend and graduate from Calvary Chapel Bible College and had more direct interaction with Lindsey’s and Smith’s false newspaper eschatology. For Smith and Lindsey, Christ’s announcement that He is coming “soon” only “truly” meant He was coming “soon” for our generation because it was said that only our generation witnessed the “super sign” of Israel becoming a nation in 1948.
Another popular Calvary Chapel Pastor and author Jon Courson, instead of confronting Lindsey and Smith sought to manipulate his following as well and tried to ignite the dulling faith of those failed predictions of Smith and Lindsey,
“The fig tree is the symbol of Israel nationally, historically, and scripturally. On May 14, 1948, the fig tree blossomed once again when the land of Israel was returned to the Jews. Jesus said the generation that sees that event take place will not pass away. Who is that generation? We are.”[4] “Written by a then-unknown author named Hal Lindsay, The Late Great Planet Earth exposed an entire generation to the concepts of the Rapture of the church and the return of Jesus Christ. It was foundational to the Jesus Movement of the 70s, which started on the West Coast, spread across the country, and eventually circled the globe. Lindsay and other teachers of prophecy during that time stressed this teaching in Matthew 24. The parable of the fig tree enflamed the hearts of an entire generation for Jesus said the budding of the fig tree signaled His impending return.
What is the budding of the fig tree? Scripture interprets Scripture. Thus, Jeremiah, Joel, Hosea, and others identify the fig tree as the nation Israel. For centuries, Israel seemed to be a dead tree. In the year A.D. 70, the Romans marched into Jerusalem, destroyed the city, and took over the country. The Jews scattered every direction in fulfillment of Deuteronomy 28:64-67. But in addition to saying the Jews would be scattered throughout the world, God also said, But The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land (Jeremiah 23:8).” (Courson, ibid,)
“So it was that on May 14, 1948, Israel became a nation again. The fig tree that had appeared to be dead and hopeless suddenly sprang back to life and blossomed just as Jesus prophesied. And, according to Matthew 24:34, the generation that saw that happen would be the final generation.
What constitutes a generation? Hal Lindsay and others taught that a Biblical generation could be a thirty-eight to forty-year time period.
And the Lords anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed. Numbers 32:13
And the space in which we came from Kadesh-barnea, until we were come over the brook Zered, was thirty and eight years; until all the generation of the men of war were wasted out from among the host, as the LORD sware unto them. Deuteronomy 2:14
Thus, anticipation grew. Excitement and expectancy filled the hearts of many, for if you add forty years to 1948 and if you believe the rapture of the Church takes place seven years before the return of Jesus, the Rapture would take place in 1980 or 1981. Truly the time was near! T-shirts, bumper stickers, and posters were printed. Maranatha Come quickly, Lord became the watchword of believers. 1981 came. So did 1982, 83, 84, 85, and 86. And then something began to happen. A whole bunch of radical Christians began to cool off, saying, Maybe were here for a while after all. Maybe we shouldn’t be so committed to this kingdom thing. Oh, they didn’t say it in those exact words, but that’s what they were thinking. And a dulling of expectancy swept over our generation.
What went wrong? Perhaps forty years is not the figure we should work with when looking at a Biblical generation. Take a look at Genesis 15
And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again. Genesis 15:13, 14, 16
Here in Genesis 15, God refers to the four-hundred-year period the Jews were in Egypt as four generations. Therefore, in this model, a generation is not forty years but one hundred years. If a generation is one hundred years, am I suggesting that the Rapture will take place in 2048 one hundred years after the rebirth of the nation of Israel? No. I suggest it will be before then. You see, there is a principle in Bible interpretation called the Principle of First Mention that says foundational understanding about any given subject is usually found in the first place it is mentioned in Scripture. Where is the Greek term, generation first mentioned? In Matthew 1:17 we read: So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.
Sharpen your pencils and think with me: Christian and Jewish theologians alike agree that, based on Biblical genealogies, Abraham was called by God in the year 2085 B.C. Genesis 2 tells us he was seventy-five years old at that time, which means Abraham was born in 2160 B.C. Matthew 1:17 tells us there were forty-two generations (14×3) from Abraham to Christ. So, if you divide 2160 the year of Abrahams birth by 42, you get 51.4. Thus, scripturally, there is validity for a Biblical generation to be 51.4 years”
“I believe you who are in your teens and early twenties are very possibly the last generation. Set your heart on things above. Live for heaven. Seek first the kingdom, and you will be happy presently, rewarded eternally, and grateful constantly.
You who are older, continue setting an example for us who are younger. Continue to make the Lord top priority in your life. Were looking to you in a very real sense. Please keep the fire hot.
Fellow baby boomers, we need to realize that Jesus Christ is coming soon. We don’t have time to play around. We don’t have time to chase worldly pursuits any longer. We need to return to ministry and service, worship and prayer, Bible study and street witnessing. Whatever it was you used to do when you were fired up about Jesus in the 70s, do it again. Maranatha!” (Courson, ibid)
Well, 1999 like 1981, came and went too! And just like the last days cults of Mormonism and the Watchtower of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, when Jesus doesn’t come back in the lifetime and 40 year generation of their “Holy Spirit led,” “prophets” and “prophecy expert” teachers, they just keep stretching out the meaning of “this generation” from 40 to 50, 60, 70 – 100 years and manipulating and trying to get people “fired up” with new newspaper eschatological schemes and scenarios that allegedly teach that our generation is the one that will witness the “rapture.” This is how these last days cults, TBN and such mega churches as the Calvary Chapel’s “Jesus movement” have grown!
Well, I’m 41 now, so I guess according to Jon Courson I am somewhere between the younger generation that is going to see Christ’s return and the baby boomers who’s faith have become cold and dull due to the false date setting of men like Lindsey, Smith and Courson. So I (and I hope you will too) accept John’s exhortation and challenge to: 1) Set my heart on things above, 2) Live for heaven, 3) Seek first the kingdom, 4) I won’t play around, and 5) return to ministry, service, worship, prayer, Bible study, and witnessing. In doing these things however I will need to refute Jon’s false interpretation of “this generation.”
“Look at the fig tree and all the trees” (Luke 21:29)
As we have seen Dispensationalists usually interpret the fig tree in Matthew 24:32 as the Nation of Israel coming back into the land in 1948. And usually Amillennialists, Postmillennialists and Preterists counter with Luke 21:29 and ask, “Well, if Israel is the fig tree beginning to get tender in 1948, then what about “all the trees” or nations? What happen to them in 1948?!?” It is then pointed out that the next verse equates the signs with the leaves beginning to get tender and the kingdoms arrival with Christ’s return as “summer.” Well, why not combine the two concepts? I don’t have a problem in the least seeing Israel as the “fig tree” and the rest of “all the trees” as the Gentile nations in this passage. Other than the abomination of desolation, the other major sign that marked “the end” is the Great Commission. The gospel was bearing fruit throughout the land of Israel and among the Gentile nations within the Roman Empire or world as they knew it (cf. Colossians 1:5-6, 23; Isaiah 27:6).
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world (Greek oikumene) for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14)
“But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed:
‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world (Greek oikumene)” (Romans 10:18)
“And the gospel must first be published among all nations (Greek ethnos)”
(Mark 13:10)
“…My gospel… has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations (Greek ethnos)…” (Romans 16:25-26)
“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world(Greek kosmos) and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15)
“…of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world(Greek kosmos), as is bringing forth fruit…,” (Colossians 1:5-6).
And he said unto them ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Greek kitisis) ” (Mark 16:15)
“…from the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature (Greek kitisis) under heaven, of which I, Paul became a minister” (Colossians 1:23)
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Greek ge)” (Acts 1:8).
“But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed:
‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth (Greek ge), and their words to the ends of the world” (Romans 10:18)
The Great Commission and bearing forth fruit here is the fulfillment of Genesis 1:28 and paradise is being restored and about to come into its fullness at Christ’s imminent return. Although not a preterist, G.K. Beale at least makes the parallels:
Genesis 1:28
Colossians 1:6, 10
‘increase [auxano] and multiply and fill the earth…and rule over all the earth’.
‘in all the world also it [‘the word of truth, the gospel’] is bearing fruit and increasing [auxano] (v.6); ‘in every good work bearing fruit and increasing [auxano]…’ (v.10).
“Several commentators have noticed that verse 6 and 10 are an allusion to Genesis 1:28 (and perhaps 1:22). It appears that the Hebrew text may be the focus, since the Greek Old Testament renders the Hebrew para (‘bear fruit’) by auxano (‘increase’) and raba (‘to multiply’) by plethuno (‘to multiply’).”[5] There is a new Adam—Christ, and He is exercising dominion through His seed and progeny–the Church. Through the Holy Spirit, His light was shinning through them and transforming them as God’s New Covenant Creation (verse 3; cf. 2 Corinthians 3-5:17).
The Church or God’s New Israel (comprised of believing Jews and Gentiles) was the fig tree or the “seed” that was “being sown” and “being raised” (the present tense is used in 1 Corinthians 15:37-44) through the gospel and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. This process would reach its resurrection fullness and maturity at Christ’s return. His return would usher in an “end” to the Old Covenant “the law” of the Adamic and Mosaic body of sin and death for His people (Rom. 5-8; 1 Cor. 15). Without God attending to Israel as His olive tree, vine, or seed, her vineyard could not bring forth resurrection life/fruit, and there could be no salvation/resurrection/harvest for the Gentiles or the rest of “all the trees” (Luke 21:29-31/Rom. 11:15ff.).
Combined, Reformed theologians such as Peter Leithart and James Jordan understand the resurrection and harvest of Daniel 12:2-3 and Matthew 13 as an evangelistic/resurrection process for Israel, that ended at the end of her Old Covenant age in A.D. 70.[6] The wheat and the tares were in the process of growing together as they each responded to the gospel. I understand the presence of the Holy Spirit as a glorious light reflecting the glory of Jesus Christ raising and changing God’s elect from the Old Covenant mode of existence to the New. Between A.D. 66-70 Christ as the “Sun of Righteousness” came from the East to the West (cf. Matthew 24:27 – I translate astrape as the rays of light from the sun and not the lightning) bringing the final maturity and ripeness to the fruit and gathered it into His barn while burning up the chaff, tares and grass (Matthew 3:2-12; Matthew 13; 1 Corinthians 15-“first fruits” harvest motif., Revelation 7, 14; James 1:11; 5:1-9).
I may be wrong, but to me (and my reading of Isaiah and the OT prophets), the putting forth of the fig tree’s leaves and their blossoming (the Restored New Covenant Israel) along with all the trees (the time for the fullness of the Gentiles to be gathered and engrafted/redeemed into the Kingdom), seems to embrace the substance and fulfilling of the sign of the Great Commission in relation to Christ’s return in AD 70. Through the sign of the Great Commission being fulfilled and the power of the gospel, people/trees were about to blossom and become a well watered garden of God in His restored kingdom/paradise placed within the Land (Isaiah 27:6; 35; 44:1-5; 61:11). The Jew understood his Temple, City/Jerusalem and Promised Land to be the “heavens and earth” or a heaven on the earth of light in which the beasts/gentiles needed to come out of the darkness of their lands and enter in order to be saved. This is what we see in the book of Revelation with paradise being restored and the nations coming to the New Jerusalem for life (cf. Revelation 21-22:6-7, 10-12, 17, 20).
It always amazed me how Pastor Chuck Smith wanted to get people excited about how much agriculture and flowers he saw over in Israel the last time he was visiting there. He used this as an alleged “sign” along with Israel becoming a nation in 1948 and her making plans to re-build the temple again, that we were indeed living in the generation that would witness Christ’s return – yadee yadee – you know the story I’m sure. But this isn’t the kind of fruit and blossoming the book of Isaiah or Jesus is concerned with! The Bible is always interested in the heart and it is “within” and “in” this realm where the kingdom of God/heaven would come in Jesus’ “this generation” (Lk. 17:20-37; Lk. 21:31-32).
As I have sought to use the “this nation will not pass until all these things are fulfilled” interpretation against the dispensationalists by teaching that indeed the Old Covenant nation of Israel did indeed pass away in AD 70; so too I will use the Israel=fig tree argument against them here by offering a much better explanation as to how the remnant of Israel (the fig tree) and the nations (“and all the trees”) began to bud and blossom through the sign of the Great Commission being fulfilled before Christ’s imminent return in AD 70.
Since the alleged “re-gathering” of Israel in 1948 is supposed to be the “supersign” that we are living in the last days generation predicted by Jesus, we should give some attention to this imaginative interpretation. Instead of rebuking Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith’s false interpretation and predictions arising from this text, Calvary Chapel Pastor and Evangelist Greg Laurie still teaches this, and quoting from Mark 13:28-29 he writes,
“Jesus said the rebirth of Israel will be a supersign of the last days…” “Of course we know this prophecy was fulfilled not that long ago. On May 14, 1948…”[7] 1948 – A fulfillment of what prophetic “re-gathering”?
In this section I want to analyze the various “proof texts” that Dispensationalists use to support that 1948 was a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. I will focus mainly on the writings of John Hagee and Thomas Ice. We also examine the empty claims of Dispensationalists that OT prophetic material made to Israel cannot be applied or fulfilled in the Church age.
Now days most Dispensationalists are either abandoning the system or going further into it by embracing the “Christian Zionist Movement.” This movement seeks to try and persuade Jews from around the world to move back to Israel in order to usher in the Great Tribulation period and hasten the pre-tribulation “rapture” of the Church. Newspaper prophetic sensation John Hagee has built a foreign policy advocacy organization called Christians United for Israel (CUFI) around this false doctrine and false interpretation of Scripture. He is pushing for a pre-emptive war with Iran to quicken the “rapture.” In 2006 while lobbying in Washington Hagee was clear in his agenda, “The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West,” he said. This was supposed to be a step in the right direction as allegedly mapped out in the Bible, “a biblically prophesied End Time confrontation…which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation…and the Second Coming of Christ.” Hagee not only uses guilt manipulation techniques on the members of his church and T.V. audiences to tithe to his “ministries” through his false “prosperity gospel,” but also uses guilt manipulation to push his false Dispensational Zionism doctrine. Hagee clearly insists that if you are not on board with him and his alleged Holy Spirit led agenda of believing 1948 was a fulfillment of prophecy, and that God has a literal real estate “forever” in the literal city of Jerusalem today, any other view for a Christian to embrace “sin.”[8] It is sad that this false doctrinal system/gospel of Hagee’s is tolerated among Evangelicals and it is more scary when he is allowed to lecture and manipulate our politicians and give them “altar calls” while pushing this agenda as part of his “gospel” of redemption etc…
In Deuteronomy 4:25-31; 28 – 29; and Leviticus 26, God lays forth His covenant with Israel of blessings and cursings. If Israel obeyed God they would be blessed in the land and if they disobeyed, they would be “scattered” among the Nations. The condition for their re-gathering back into the land was repentance and faith. Even though this is clearly laid out in the texts above, Dispensational Premillennialists such as Tim LaHaye, Thomas Ice, and Arnold Fruchtenbaum assert (in order to defend their system that 1948 was a prophetic gathering), that Scripture actually addresses two re-gatherings of Israel in the land: 1) in un-belief, and 2) another re-gathering in belief. Thomas Ice quoting his favorite dispensationalist theologian states,
“The re-establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 has not only thrown a wrench in amillennial thinking, but it has also thrown a chink in much of the premillennial thinking. Amazingly, some premillennialists have concluded that the present state of Israel has nothing to do with the fulfillment of prophecy. For some reason the present state somehow does not fit their scheme of things, and so the present state becomes merely an accident of history. On what grounds is the present state of Israel so dismissed? The issue that bothers so many premillennialists is the fact that not only have the Jews returned in unbelief with regard to Jesus, but the majority of the ones who have returned are not even Orthodox Jews. In fact the majority are atheists or agnostics. Certainly, then, Israel does not fit in with all those passages dealing with the return. For it is a regenerated nation that the Bible speaks of, and the present state of Israel hardly fits that picture. So on these grounds, the present state is dismissed as not being a fulfillment of prophecy.
However, the real problem is the failure to see that the prophets spoke of two international returns. First there was to be a regathering in unbelief in preparation for judgment, namely the judgment of the Tribulation. This was to be followed by a second worldwide regathering in faith in preparation for blessing, namely the blessings of the messianic age. Once it is recognized that the Bible speaks of two such regatherings, it is easy to see how the present state of Israel fits into prophecy.”[9] Ice then seeks to give us some proof texts for this position,
“In 1948 when the modern state of Israel was born, it not only became an important stage-setting development but began an actual fulfillment of specific Bible prophecies about an international regathering of the Jews in unbelief before the judgment of the Tribulation. Such a prediction is found in the following Old Testament passages: Ezekiel 20:33-38; 22:17-22; 36:22-24; 38-39; Isaiah 11:11-12; Zephaniah 2:1-2 presupposes such a setting.” (Ice, Ibid.).
Scripture simply does not teach a prophetic “re-gathering in unbelief” and that is why other dispensationalists are struggling with this position! Let’s briefly address some of these passages that Dispensationalists use as their “proof texts”:
Ezekiel 20:33-38
The context of this passage is dealing with the Babylonian captivity and has nothing to do with Israel being re-gathered back into the land in 1948! The context is that Israel was being unfaithful to God and wanted to be like the heathen nations around them. Therefore, God would take Israel out of her land in the wilderness (symbolic of the Babylonian captivity) and “purge” the wicked there so that the unbelievers would perish as God had purged the unbelieving generation under Moses in the wilderness. So this text actually teaches the opposite of what Dispensationalists say, because it would be the unbelievers who would be purged and die outside the land and not enter it. How is this passage teaching us that unbelievers would be re-gathered in the land of Israel in 1948 “in unbelief” is baffling to say the least!
Paul combines and applies both Isaiah 52:11 and Ezekiel 20:34 to the Church age in 2 Corinthians 6:17 which Dispensationalists claim cannot be done in any way.
Ezekiel 22:18-22
Again, the context is the “near” (vs.3-4) judgment of Israel by means of the Babylonians in B.C. 586 for their sins of spilling innocent blood and idolatry. The unbelievers are “dross” and would “melt.” This prophecy has nothing to do with God gathering Israel in the land in 1948 as a covenant gathered blessing, and it definitely does not teach a gathering of Israel in unbelief in 1948 either!
Ezekiel 36:22-24
The immediate context of this chapter is describing Israel’s sins of idolatry and her sins of blood guilt. For these reasons she was scattered into the Gentile nations and made slaves. As slaves they remained unfaithful to God and were thus a poor witness of Jehovah to the nations in which they were scattered. But God for His own great name sake would cleanse them from their sins and call them back into their land to rebuild the waste places. In type form, this prophecy (and chapter 37) was fulfilled under the restoration of Nehemiah and Ezra when the people came back into the land in repentance and began re-building the waste places of Jerusalem. There is NO contextual evidence whatsoever that there was a “re-gathering” of Israel in “unbelief” let alone any suggestion whatsoever that 1948 is the focus of this prophecy!
Ezekiel 37, 40-48
John Hagee writes of this chapter,
“MORE THAN 2,600 years ago the prophet Ezekiel prophesied the resurrection of Israel from the Gentile graves in the lands to which she had been scattered, predicting the rebirth of Israel, which took place May 14, 1948.”[10] “I want to make it clear that I do not believe that Ezekiel’s vision has anything to do with the resurrection of the dead saints of the church.” (Ibid.).
“The dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision represent the nation of Israel during the Dispora, beginning in A.D. 70 (Ezkek. 37:11). Gradually the bones came together, and the sinews and flesh came upon them.” (ibid. 130-131).
And popular Calvary Chapel Pastor and Evangelist Greg Laurie has sought to get his piece of this sensationalistic money making pie as well,
“On more than one occasion in Scripture, Israel is compared to a fig tree (see Judg. 9:11; Hos. 9:10; Joel 1:7-8). I believe that Mark 13:28-29, along with many other Scripture passages, such as Ezekiel 37-39, speak of the rebirth of Israel—the regathering of God’s people. When the nation of Israel comes back into the existence, Jesus was stating prophetically, it is a supersign that His coming is near.”[11] Of course some Dispensationalists disagree with Lindsey, LaHaye, Smith, Laurie, Courson, Ice, etc., that Ezekiel 37 has anything to do with 1948,
“The Israelites residing in Palestine today are not the fulfillment of this prophecy.”[12] Everyone agrees that the resurrection depicted in Ezekiel 37 is a “national” resurrection. In other words Israel experienced national and covenantal “death” when she was scattered from her land and experiences a “resurrection” when she is restored back into the land. Again, like chapter 36, this prophecy was partially fulfilled through typology when the two houses of Israel came back into the land under the restoration and leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, both chapters contain elements of Messiah’s work of salvation (the anti-type) with the coming Messianic New Covenant.
Ezekiel 37:22-28 discusses the coming New Covenant King/Shepherd who would cause: 1) His people to possess the land, 2) establish an everlasting covenant of peace with them, 3) multiply them, and 4) “sanctify” them by establishing His “sanctuary” and “tabernacle” in their midst forever.
Are OT prophecies fulfilled in the Church? IN CHRIST OR IN THE LAND?
Dispensationalism makes the bizarre claim that OT prophecies made to Israel cannot be fulfilled “in any sense” to the Church. Keith Mathison provides a helpful list of quotes from some of Dispensationalism’s leading theologians on this point:
Lewis Sperry Chafer. “That the Christian now inherits the distinctive Jewish promises is not taught in Scripture.”
J. Dwight Pentecost. “…it would be impossible for the church to fulfill God’s promises made to Israel.”
Charles C. Ryrie. “The church is not fulfilling in any sense the promises to Israel.”[13] They believe that OT prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel in such passages as Isaiah 11, 35, 43, 44, 61; Ezekiel 11, 28, 34, 37; Jeremiah 16, 18, were made exclusively to Israel and therefore cannot be fulfilled in and through the Church “in any sense.” Dispensational Zionist John Hagee believes these passages motivate the Church to get Jews around the world to re-inhabit Israel today in order to hasten the “rapture” of the Church and usher in the last days World War III event.[14] However, the context of these passages and how they are understood by the NT authors, make it clear that these “gathering in the land” promises were fulfilled 70 years after the Babylonian captivity under the restoration ministries of Ezra and Nehemiah (in type or partial fulfillment form), which pointed to them being ultimately fulfilled in Christ and through the Church (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Dispensationalism argues that Israel under the Abrahamic covenant has not yet inherited all of the land promised by God, in spite of God clearly saying otherwise (Genesis 15:18; 1 Kings 4:20-21; Joshua 11:23; 21:41-45; Nehemiah 9:21-25). The objection from Dispensationalists is that Israel has not inherited the land “forever.” Sometimes in Scripture “forever” means forever and other times it simply means a long time. In the passages listed above, God’s promises made to Israel concerning the land had not failed to come to pass. Indeed in type and shadow form, through the 40 year reigns of David and in particularly Solomon, Israel received peace in all the land that God had promised to give Israel. All the blessings under the Old Covenant were realized “in the land.” However, in the NT we discover that the anti-type and “true” fulfillments of the Abrahamic promise is found in the gradual 40 year “this generation” pre-parousia reign of Jesus and the reception of a “heavenly country” that was “about to come” in the first century (Hebrews 11:13-16; 13:14YLT). The writer to Hebrews (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) applies the New Covenant Promised Land, City, Tabernacle/Temple, Mount Zion, Sabbath/Rest/Inheritance and Kingdom promises made to Old Covenant Israel to the Church with the reception of these promises to be fulfilled at Christ’s “in a very little while” coming in which He would “not tarry” (Heb. 1-10:37). The NT emphasis is not “in the land” but rather in a person – “in Christ” through faith. For “in Christ” and through the Church, are all the OT promises of God realized and fulfilled (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20).
The New Covenant promises
Since the gathering back into the land and New Covenant prophecies of Jeremiah 30-31parallel much of the same historical re-gathering and New Covenant material found in Ezekiel 37, we should probably examine the blatantly unbiblical comments of dispensationalists who claim that the New Covenant promises made to Israel are not being fulfilled in the Church. Dwight Pentecost writes,
“the Church cannot be presently fulfilling the New Covenant.” John Walvoord agrees, saying that “the New Covenant is with Israel and awaits the second coming of Christ for its fulfillment.” (Mathison, Ibid. 28)
Pentecost concedes that if the Church has been redeemed with the blood of Christ under the New Covenant, then the other covenants must also be applied to the Church and that would mean that the Bible does not teach an earthly millennium,
“The whole covenant takes on importance, in addition, for amillennialism attempts to show that the church is fulfilling Israel’s covenants because the church today is redeemed by the blood. If the church fulfills this covenant, she may also fulfill the other covenants made with Israel and there is no need for an earthly millennium.”[15] Charles Ryrie claims that the Bible condemns Dispensatinalism if the New Covenant is being fulfilled by the Church,
“If the church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere in the Scriptures, then [dispensational] premillennialism is condemned.”[16] These are obviously startling statements to say the very least. How can any Christian claim that he or she has not been redeemed by the blood of Christ’s blood under the New Covenant when the Scriptures are so clear that we are? The answer is that these men have become so engrossed in defending their eschatological system, that this has forced them into rejecting foundational elements to the gospel and indeed the Christian faith.
One King
Jesus began fulfilling the Davidic Covenant or “One King” prophecies of (Ezek. 37:22; Jer. 30:9) at His ascension (Heb. 1-2). Every element that is required for a King to reign is given to Christ through the Church. He was seated on a throne and rules through a City and Nation—that is the Church (1 Pet. 2:9; Heb. 12; Gals. 4). The sending of the Messiah and the fulfillment of the Davidic and New Covenant is the focus of attention in (37:24ff.).
One Shepherd with one flock
Jesus would be Israel’s “one shepherd” who’s sheep would walk in His judgments and observe His teachings and do them (Ezk. 37:24). This prophecy is clearly fulfilled in the words of Jesus in John 10 and 17. Obviously OT promises made to Israel are being applied to the Church–the New Covenant fold of God! In the striking and sacrifice of the True Shepherd, the everlasting New Covenant (v. 25) seals the sheep’s/Churches salvation (Mark 14:27; Mt. 26:28; Heb. 8, 12:24, 13:20).
A New Covenant Temple, Peace and Sacrifices
The New Covenant of peace and temple motif began with Christ sending the Holy Spirit within His people. It would be competed and matured when He returned in AD 70 for them. At this time God placed His glory and everlasting peace “within” the Church who is the ultimate New Covenant fulfillment of the Temple promises (Hag. 2:9/Jn. 14). Christ and the Church are the fulfillment of Israel’s New Covenant Tabernacle/Sanctuary/Temple promises with Christ being the chief corner stone (Isaiah 28:16; Psalm 118:22-23/“the builders rejected”/Acts 4 “YOU rejected”/Mt. 21:33-45/1Pet. 2:4 -10; Ezk. 37:27/2 Cor. 6:16; Ephs. 2:19-20; Amos 9:11-12/Acts 15:7-19). God’s New Covenant/Temple/Kingdom plans for Israel were not postponed because of Jesus’ rejection and sacrifice (per Dispensationalism), but rather this rejection of the nation and belief of the remnant and the Gentiles established and began fulfilling God’s Kingdom promises made to Israel with Christ’s return in AD 70 bringing them to full maturity. While here in Ezekiel 37 and on the temple motif alone, we see Paul quoting Ezekiel 37:27 in 2 Corinthians 6:16 and applying this prophecy to the Church! But Dispensationalists seem oblivious to the hermeneutics of Paul and remain adamant that this is somehow a prophetic description of a “literal” rebuilt temple in the millennial age,
“These promises anticipate the detailed plans for God’s new sanctuary (chaps. 40-43). This literal structure will serve as a visual object lesson to Israel and the nations of God’s presence in the midst of His people.” (Walvoord & Zuck, Ibid., 1299).
BUT Paul claims that the Church is the fulfillment of these temple/millennial promises and says nothing about a literal “rebuilt” temple in order to fulfill Israel’s millennial promises thousands of years off in the future!
One of the most disturbing elements within Dispensationalism’s “literal hermeneutic,” is that within this literal rebuilt temple, animal sacrifices will be re-instituted. Some Dispensationalists such as Scofield gave the farm away by claiming that it is possible that the sacrifices in Ezekiel’s temple prophecy are not to be interpreted literally,
“The references to sacrifices is not to be taken literally, in view of the putting away of such offerings, but is rather to be regarded as a presentation of the worship of redeemed Israel, in her own land and in the millennial temple, using the terms with which the Jews were familiar in Ezekiel’s day”[17] But obviously if the sacrifices are not to be interpreted literally, then neither should the altar or the entire temple structure itself be so interpreted.
The vision of the Temple structure is completely symbolic as James Jordan points out,
“The things Ezekiel describes in these chapters could never have been built. The Temple, City, and Land are entirely visionary and symbolic. The Kingdom of God in the Restoration was going to be so powerful and glorious that it simply could not be pictured in any architectural model that could be built. Only a vision would do.”[18] Unfortunately, most Dispensationalists seek to defend that these are literal animal sacrifices taking place after Christ has returned to Jerusalem and sits on his literal throne,
“However no difficulty exists if one understands the proper function of these sacrifices. First, animal sacrifices never took away human sin; only the sacrifice of Christ can do that (Heb. 10:1-4, 10). In Old Testament times Israelites were saved by grace through faith, and the sacrifices helped restore a believer’s fellowship with God. Second, even after the church began, Jewish believers did not hesitate to take part in the temple worship (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:42) and even to offer sacrifices (Acts 21:26). They could do this because they viewed the sacrifices as memorials of Christ’s death.” (Walvoord & Zuck, Ibid., 1305).
First of all, the writer of this statement (Charles H. Dyer) fails to acknowledge that the writer to the Hebrews applies the sacrifice of Christ’s blood of the New Covenant to the Church thus “condemning” (Ryrie’s term) Dispensationalism altogether (Heb. 7-10, 12).
Secondly, I appreciate the admission by Mr. Dyer, that Jewish Christians were obeying the Old Covenant Mosaic Law, because this is what Jesus clearly taught they should do in Matthew 5:17-19 before He fulfilled it all. Here Jesus instructs that ALL the jots and tittles of the Mosaic Old Covenant Law are to be obeyed UNTIL: 1) heaven and earth passes away, which is equivalent to the time period of when 2) all the Law would be fulfilled. Dispensationalist Thomas Ice seems oblivious to what this text says and actually cites it to claim that the Mosaic Law was fulfilled in Christ’s first coming,
“The Mosaic Covenant…” “…was fulfilled through the ministry of Jesus Christ during His first advent (Matthew 5:17). (Ice, Charting the End Times, Ibid., 79).
But clearly the Old Covenant Law was not all fulfilled in Christ’s first coming, but was binding and should be obeyed until heaven and earth passes away or it is all fulfilled. But since the futurist interprets “heaven and earth” here as the planet having not yet vanished, this necessitates that the Church today should be obeying all of the Mosaic Law—including the animal sacrifices. However, the truth is that the Christian Jews did participate in temple worship and animal sacrifices during a particularly unique period (“this generation” roughly AD 30-70) in which the Old Covenant was still being fulfilled by Jesus and the New was reaching its full maturity. According to the writer to the Hebrews, the Old Covenant Law was still in the process of “aging” and would “soon vanish” at Christ’s “in a very little while” return in which the “about to” reception of the New Jerusalem/Creation would take place (Heb. 8:13-10:37-13:14YLT). This all took place “soon” when the Old Covenant Mosaic Temple was destroyed at Christ’s return in AD 70. Dispensationalists (and most futurists) concede that “soon” in (Hebrews 8:13) is a literal time statement that most likely applies to AD 70,
“…the author’s words suggest that he recalled the prophecy of Jesus that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed (Matt. 24:1-2). Probably this prophecy was fulfilled soon after Hebrews was written. If so, it was a dramatic confirmation of the writer’s thesis about the Old Covenant.”[19] But unfortunately once in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, the abomination and desolation of this same first century temple Jesus and the disciples are looking at and discussing, becomes an alleged rebuilt one thousands of years removed from them. How you might ask? Apparently all it takes is a wave from the eisegetical wand of Dispensational theology. And although the literally “soon” vanishing of the Old Covenant in (Hebrews 8:13) applies to the temple being destroyed in AD 70, Christ’s coming in a “very little while” in which He would “not delay” in (Hebrews 10:37) is spiritualized away by these “literalists” and finds no contextual harmony with their literal interpretation of “soon” in (Hebrews 8:13)!
Once the Mosaic Law was all fulfilled and it “soon vanished” at Christ’s imminent return in AD 70, there is no Scriptural support for the statement that “The Old Covenant Is Not Dead.” (Hagee, In Defense, Ibid., 158). God indeed has kept His vows and has not altered His covenant promises, sending Jesus in a literally “some standing here,” “this generation,” “soon,” “in a very little while” time period in order to fulfill all of Israel’s promises by AD 70. For Dispensationalism to claim otherwise and return to the prophecies contained in the prophets and Old Covenant Law for support of another re-built temple with animal sacrifices, is a complete reversal of what the book of Hebrews teaches. The writer instructs us that redemption moves from physical Old Covenant types and shadows to their spiritual New Covenant substances and “true” fulfillments in Christ and through the Church. The writer says nothing about all of the Old Covenant Law being fulfilled in Christ’s earthly ministry, and neither does he teach that it is “not dead” and will somehow come back to life again thousands of years off in the future with another re-built temple for Israel! These concepts are literally READ INTO THE PAGES OF THE NT with millions of evangelical Christians asleep and refusing to be Bereans and hold these men accountable!
Dispensationalists claim that other OT passages such as Isaiah 66:20-23 teach the literal temple and sacrifice motif to take place in our future. And yet Paul references this passage in Romans 15:16 to demonstrate that he was a priest (in the temple predicted by Isaiah) offering up as a sacrifice the Gentiles (not literal animals). The prophecies in Isaiah that Dispensationalists reference as “proof texts” concerning the Jews and Gentiles coming to the “last days” Holy Mountain/Mount Zion/Temple, Jesus and the NT authors identify as being spiritual and fulfilled in the Church (John 4; Hebrews 12; Ephesians 2; 1 Peter 2).
The unity of Ezekiel’s visions of the heavenly Temple
Most Dispensationalists have not been exposed to other historical views of the Church other than their “literal” interpretations coming from their local church or TV “prophecy experts.” Therefore I would like to expose the reader to some excellent exegetical comments of the Ezekiel Temple from a few Reformed theologians and then I will put these concepts together and place them in their proper NT preterist paradigm.
Following the lead of Block, G.K. Beale points out the unity of the visions in Ezekiel and that this heavenly/spiritual Temple is not a literal structure but is rather intimately connected with God’s presence among His people during the exile period,
“…chapter 40 begins where chapter 11 left off describing God’s heavenly presence that had departed from the physical temple and had taken up invisible residence with the remnant of Israel in exile (11:16, 23-25). It is, therefore, quite viable that Ezekiel’s final vision of the temple describes the heavenly sanctuary to which the remnant on earth are related (Tuell 1996). The formal and thematic parallels between chapters 1, 8 – 11 and 40 – 48 ‘require that the same hermeneutical principles [of symbolism] employed in the interpretation of the previous prophecies apply here, and that one interpret this block [chs. 40 – 48] in the light of the previous visions of God’ (Block 1998: 496-497).” [20] But how would Jews worship in the midst of exile without a temple? The answer as Beale points out lies within God’s promise to be their Temple and in analyzing the Qumran community who considered themselves as being the last days Temple Ezekiel prophesied. The Jew during a time in which the current temple was defiled with an apostate priesthood or was destroyed by Gentile invaders taught that the renewal of the covenant and atonement could come through ones own repentance, obedience and commitment to the Word of God,
“This spiritualization of the altar in the temple was based on analogy with the temple altar in Ezekiel 41:22. To engage continually in the study of the Law was equivalent to building the temple prophesied in Ezekiel 40 – 47 (Midrash Rabbah Leviticus 7:3). Repentance could be ‘accounted unto a person as if he had … built the Temple and the altar, and offered theeron all the sacrifices’ (Midrash Rabbah Leviticus 7:2). Part of the precedent for Qumran and John conceptualizing Ezekiel’s temple in a non-structural manner and applying it to a remnant of Israel or to the church may have been given by the prophet Ezekiel himself!” (Beale, Ibid., 318).
Another Reformed view taken from James Jordan sees the descent of the heavenly temple in Ezekiel 40 – 48 being more applicable during the reformation and rebuilt temple under Ezra. He emphasizes its fulfillment during the post exilic era before then applying it to the New Covenant Temple or age of the Church under Messiah,
“This time Ezekiel was given a vision and blueprint for the post-exilic Temple, but it was a temple so vast and huge that it could never be built. Ezekiel’s visionary Temple symbolized both the nature and the glory of the restoration establishment, but the Temple actually built by Ezra was a small affair. Ezra’s Temple symbolized the nature, but not the glory, of the new restoration covenant.” (Jordan, Ibid., 242).
He also points out that there is a de-creation that takes place upon the Land of Israel and the Temple during this period (cf. Jer. 4:23-28, see also Isa. 24-25) and that even the language of a new heavens and earth should be applied to the covenant’s renewal under Ezra and Nehemiah before it is applied to the New Creation’s arrival at Christ’s return,
“The new covenant and the new heavens and earth ultimately point to the coming of Christ, but their first fulfillment is to be found in the restoration of Israel from exile. That restoration was a downpayment, a pledge of God’s faithfulness. After all, each new covenant, being a resurrection in more glorious form of the previous one, pointed to the New Covenant.
It is often overlooked that the restoration establishment was indeed a new covenant, and an advance in glory beyond the Davidic establishment. Whether we call the post-exilic establishment a new covenant or simply a “covenant renewal,” the fact is that there were very great changes involved in the new cosmos, changes equivalent to the changes involved in the previous new covenants.” (Jordan, Ibid., 243-244).
The River
Of the river in Ezekiel 47 Jordan writes,
“This is not a picture first and foremost of the New Testament, but of the spiritual realities present in the Restoration. This is indicated by the context of the prophecy, but there are also clear indications in the text, especially the fact that the river in Chapter 47 only flows in one direction, not four, and only to the edge of the Holy Land, not into the wider world.” (Jordan, Ibid., 246).
Jesus in John 4 and particularly in John 7:37-38 Jesus promises that the coming of the Holy Spirit would be like water welling up within the believer’s heart. Jesus claims that this is in fulfillment of the “Scriptures.” Of what Scriptures is Jesus alluding to? Since the Apostle Paul has already identified the promise of the Ezekiel Temple with the believer and the Church, it only follows that this is so because his Master had taught His disciples the same. John Gill and John Lightfoot are on the right track when Gill writes,
“And here may be an allusion to the waters issuing out of Ezekiel’s temple, #Eze 47:1 Re 22:1 Zec 14:8. Dr. Lightfoot and others tell us it was a custom of the Jews, which they received by tradition, the last day of the feast of tabernacles to have a solemnity, which they called Libatio aquae—The pouring out of water. They fetched a golden vessel of water from the pool of Siloam, brought it into the temple with sound of trumpet and other ceremonies, and, upon the ascent to the altar, poured it out before the Lord with all possible expressions of joy. Some of their writers make the water to signify the law, and refer to #Isa 12:3; #Isa 55:1. Others, the Holy Spirit. And it is thought that our Saviour might here allude to this custom. Believers shall have the comfort, not of a vessel of water fetched from a pool, but of a river flowing from themselves. The joy of the law, and the pouring out of the water, which signified this, are not to be compared with the joy of the gospel in the wells of salvation.”[21] Again, it is difficult to understand how Dispensationalists can claim that that OT promises made to Israel cannot be fulfilled in and through the Church when Jesus and the NT writers do just that very thing in practically every page of the NT!
In the book of Revelation, Christ’s imminent coming serves to reward and clothe the Church with the New Creation. It is through the power of Christ and the Church that the gospel of the Eternal Life is preached to sinners and this is symbolically described as a river flowing and welcoming the Gentile nations to come through its gates and receiving healing in drinking from its living waters (Rev. 21-22:17).
The measuring of the Temple
A lot of Dispensationalists claim that the Ezekiel Temple must be physical since there is so much detail given to its measurements. But in the OT measuring generally was a symbolic way of decreeing protection for the covenant people[22] and there are obvious elements of symbolism and numerology as well.
In Revelation 11 we see this concept of measuring the Temple once again, but this time it is connected with the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. It is more than difficult to dismiss the parallel subject matter in regard to the prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem between Luke 21:24 and Revelation 11:2. Both passages discuss the “trampling” of “Jerusalem” or the “holy city” by the “Gentiles.” In Revelation 11:1-2 the inner sanctuary, the worshippers and the altar are measured. This represents the New Covenant believers. The “outer court” is not to be measured because it’s so called worshippers have become apostate and will not be given God’s protection and given over to the Romans to be trampled and judged. The “outer court” represents the physical structure of the Old Covenant system itself[23] – the destruction of the earthly temple and city and the worshippers who have looked to it for their salvation rather than to Christ and His followers.
Putting the Temple promises of Ezekiel 37, 40 – 48 all together
I would agree with Keith Mathison when he concludes that no matter which view above is the correct one, the heavenly Temple described in Ezekiel 40 – 48 is a non-literal structure,
“If the unique introductory fourmula connects all three visions, then the question is whether the temple vision in chapters 40-48 “refers to the purely heavenly temple dimension that descends in the midst of the faithful saints on earth (as in chapters 1 and 11), or the heavenly dimension in the midst of another (new) earthly temple in the structural form, as in chapters 8-9.” In either case, the emphasis is upon the heavenly dimensions of the temple dwelling in the midst of God’s people. Beale concludes that the vision of Ezekiel 40-48 is “a figurative vision of a real heavenly temple that would descend and be established on earth in a non-structural form in the latter days.”[24] Ezekiel prophesied of a literal “at hand” or “near” Day of the Lord (Ezekiel 7 & 12) upon Judah for her apostasy. Her temple and city were about to be imminently destroyed by the Babylonians and was depicted as a symbolic and metamorphic de-creation event. In Matthew 24, Jesus is predicting a “this generation” imminent return of Himself upon the clouds to bring an end to the Old Covenant system and age once and for all using the familiar metamorphic and symbolic language of the prophets.
Although the heavens and earth of Israel’s Temple and City would lay desolate through God sending the Babylonians, God assured His faithful remnant that He would function as their sanctuary during their exile and absence of a literal temple. This transition period of a spiritual temple laid the foundation for the NT teaching that the Christ and His disciples was the True New Covenant last days Temple predicted by the prophets.
The other typological picture comes in the form of the restoration period or covenant renewal during the ministries of Ezra and Nehemiah. The “gathering” and resurrection of the Jews and their Gentile proselyte converts whom came from among the Gentile nations of slavery and exile (death) back into the Land in faith and repentance (resurrection) to rebuild the temple and city, were typological of the restoration, “gathering” and glory of the New Covenant Temple/Creation that Christ would perform in and through the Church. During the transition period, Christian Jews continued Old Covenant worship in the Temple until Jesus as their High Priest appeared a second time and thus fulfilled all of the promises of that covenant system (Mt. 5:17-19; Heb. 9:6-10, 26-28). During this period the out pouring of the Holy Spirit, obedience to Jesus’ teachings and the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire was the process by which Israel’s “last days” New Covenant Temple was being built up. This was the “already” aspect of Biblical eschatology and the descent of the heavenly last days Temple. The “not yet” to Biblical eschatology in the form of the completion and maturity of the last days Temple is undisputedly tied to Christ’s imminent parousia in AD 70 (Rev. 21-22:6-7, 10-12, 20).
The Jew understood his covenant with Jehovah in the Land and Temple to be a “heaven and earth” filled with the living waters and light of Torah. When Gentile converts came from among the death and darkness of their nations to Jerusalem in faith and repentance, they partook of the cleansing waters of God’s Word and were considered a “new creation.” This is what we see taking place in Revelation 21-22:17.
Multiplying seed promises
The Abrahamic and Davidic covenants of multiplying seed is fulfilled in Christ and those placing their faith in Him (either Jew or Gentile) and thus become the fulfillment of these New Covenant promises (Gen. 9, 12-13, 15, 17,22:17-18àGal. 3:16, 29; Isaiah 53:10, Isaiah 65-66; 2 Sam. 7:12; Psalm 18:50; 89:29). The fulfillment of these Abrahamic “faith,” “seed” and “circumcision” promises that constitute the New Covenant “Jew” had not been postponed thousands of years (per Dispensationalism), but were being fulfilled in Paul’s day through the Church (Rms. 2:28-29; 4).
Jeremiah 31:31-34
The NT is very clear that the New Covenant promises made to Israel through Jeremiah apply and are fulfilled in the Church (Luke 22:20; Heb. 7-12 especially 8:6-13; 2 Cor. 3:6).
Ezekiel 38-39
There is nothing in these two chapters that even remotely suggests that Israel is being “re-gathered” in “unbelief” in 1948 as the fulfillment of this prophecy. It is said that God’s judgment of the wicked will be a witness to the nations of Himself. He also states that He will make Himself holy in the ones He calls back into the land 39:27-29 and this as well is a witness to the nations. Again repentance, faith, cleansing, and restoration in the hearts of Israel are necessary requirements to be gathered from among the nations back into the land. We can understand from the text how FIRST the wicked being judged are a witness to the nations of God’s holy character, but how was 1948’s alleged re-gathering in unbelief a witness of God’s holiness and faithful covenant dealings with Israel? The answer is that it isn’t and simply does not meet the covenantal requirements. And if 1948 is a fulfillment of Israel’s Old Covenant Mosaic Law promises, are Dispensationalists claiming that currently Israel is under the Old Covenant while we are currently living in the Church age?
John Hagee writes,
“We are on a countdown to crisis. The coming nuclear showdown with Iran is a certainty. The war of Ezekiel 38-39 could begin before this book gets published (MJS- don’t worry it won’t and it will get “revised” once again!). Israel and America must confront Iran’s nuclear ability and willingness to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons.” (Hagee, Ibid., 53).
“No prophetic scripture is more crystal clear than Ezekiel’s vivid and specific description of the coming massive war in the Middle East that will sweep the world toward Armageddon. Ezekiel’s war as described in chapters 38 and 39 will consist of an Arab coalition of nations led by Russia for the purpose of exterminating the Jews of Israel and controlling the city of Jerusalem.”(Ibid.).
Of the battle of Armageddon as described in Revelation 16, Wal-Mart sensation Tim LaHaye writes of China’s alleged involvement,
“…China is already moving in the political direction that will make it possible for her to do what Revelation indicates she will during the Tribulation: march over the Euphrates River to participate in the Battle of Armageddon. Such an action would have been considered impossible just sixty years ago. Today it is not only feasible, but with her Communist-inspired obsession to take over all of Asia and perhaps even the entire world, it may be feasible. Just another suggestion that “the time is near.”[25] Revelation 16:16 is simply a historic reference and symbol of war that is directed to a place – the mount of Megiddo or the city of Megiddo where famous battles of Israel had been fought (Judges 5:19; 2 Kings 23:29) and is thus used as we might use the term of someone “Meeting your Waterloo.” Gary DeMar captures the intent of the text well when he writes,
“Israel remembered Megiddo as a place where God vented His divine wrath against rebellion, whether exhibited by Israel or a foreign power. God brought the nations of the world against first-century Jerusalem as he had promised (Matthew 22:7; 24:34). Rome, as an “empire of nations” (Syria, Asia Minor, Palestine, Gaul, Egypt, Britain, and others) representing all the nations of the world (see Luke 2:1),came up against Jerusalem and destroyed her.” “There were those in Israel who actually attempted to fight against this world empire and, met their “Waterloo.” “It no more takes place in Megiddo than Jerusalem is Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon”[26] (MJS – These cities in Revelation describe apostate old-covenant Jerusalem 11:8; 18:24/Matthew 23:31-36).
As John writes towards the end of Jesus’ and his “this generation,” the prophetic last days battle, was to be fulfilled “shortly” not 2,000+ years away.
Like the other eisegetical embarrassing elements to Dispensational Zionism, is the belief that Russia will invade Israel because Ezekiel 38:2 and 39:1 use the Hebrew words rosh (which sounds like Russia) and Meshech (which sounds like Moscow). The other reasons are that Russia has some ancient cities residing in its domain that were ancient cities recorded in Ezekiel. But none of these other cities “sound like” their modern counterparts like Rosh (Russia) and Mesech (Moscow) allegedly do. Obviously this sound alike word game of “hermeneutics” is a “make up the interpretive rules as you go” game that is being plaid fast and loose with God’s Word. Again DeMar writes,
“The most damaging piece of evidence to the theory that Ezekiel 38 and 39 refer to modern Russia’s invasion of Israel during the Great Tribulation is that there is no mention of Gog and Magog or Meshech and Tubal in Revelation 4-19, yet this passage is where dispensationalists tell us the Great Tribulation is described. Revelation 20:8 describes the battle of Gog and Magog as coming after the thousand years. Moreover, its characteristics are quite different from the Ezekiel battle. This means, like “Jezebel” (Revelation 2:20), “Sodom and Egypt” (11:8), and “Babylon” (14:8), the Battle of Gog and Magog is characteristic of an Old Testament event, but it is not the same event! One is past (Ezekiel 38-39); the other is future – after the “thousand years” (Revelation 20:8).” (DeMar, Ibid., 366).
Another problem for Dispensationalists revolves around the question – was the gathering of Israel in 1948 a “super sign” that we are in the “later days” or “last days” of (38:16), or are the “last days” strictly an OT prophecy for Israel separated from the Church? Hard line Dispensationalists claim that we are not in the last days because the OT never predicted the church and the “last days” prophecies only address Israel after the “rapture” of the Church takes place. But others such as Charismatic Dispensationalists teach that the gifts of Acts 2 are continuing in our day (“the last days”), and that 1948 was the “super sign” that God’s time clock for Israel has been activated. In other words it is a sign that the Church is in the last days expecting the imminent “rapture.” But if the distinctions between the Church age and the last days to Israel’s age overlap, this collapses the Dispensational system.
These passages in Ezekiel (cf. also chapters 6 and 12) are referring to the scattering of Israel among the nations in the Babylonian captivity and are not addressing a scattering which took place in AD 70. When does Scripture teach that God would “gather” Israel back into her land from among the nations? Jeremiah tells us that it would be after 70 years were completed (Jer. 29). And this typological scattering and re-gathering under the hands of Cyrus, Ezra and Nehemiah pictured the true fulfillment of the New Covenant promises in Ezekiel 37 and Jeremiah 31under Jesus. This historical slavery and deliverance only typified the slavery of sin of which Jesus through the New Covenant gathering of the Gospel and through His parousia would deliver His people from.
Isaiah 11:1-12
Dispensationalists understand this section of Isaiah 11to be teaching a literal 1,000 year millennial period and Ice sites it as a proof text for a gathering of Israel in unbelief in 1948. This allegedly results to Israel’s millennial period in our imminent future. But again, the text only supports a gathering of the remnant of Israel and the Gentiles into the Kingdom in belief and not unbelief (vv. 11-12)!
Like we saw in 2 Corinthians 6:16/Ezekiel 37:27, Paul once again dismisses the Dispensational theory that Isaiah 11 is dealing with a future millennial period when he quotes Isaiah 11 in Romans 15:8-12. Here Paul makes it crystal clear that God was in the process of fulfilling His covenant promises to Israel because this fulfillment was resulting in the salvation of the Gentiles. Clearly if the “gathering” of Israel is the “in that day” millennial period which results in the salvation of the Gentiles, then Paul is emphatically teaching that this prophecy was being fulfilled and that the Church was in the millennial period. This portion of Isaiah deals with the second exodus theme which I will deal with in more detail towards the end of this article.
Isaiah 35:10
John Hagee appears to believe that Isaiah 35, 43, and 44 are dealing with literal “agricultural accomplishments” fulfilled in 1948 and today,
“If Israel as a nation had not been reborn, if the Jews had not returned to the land, if the cities of Israel had not been rebuilt, if the Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) had not been occupied, if the trees that the Turks cut down had not been replanted, if the agricultural accomplishments of Israel had not been miraculous, there would be a valid reason for every person to doubt that the Word of God is true. But listen to the prophets of God declare his intention for the Jews of the world to reinhabit Israel.” (Hagee, In Defense of ISRAEL, Ibid., 150).
It is indeed true that under the blessings and curses of the Old Covenant Mosaic Law that God would withhold rain (harden the land) or give rain (cause fruitful produce) for Israel in order to picture the state of their hearts. The desert beginning to bloom and blossom is really dealing with the hearts of God’s people turning to Him in faith and repentance under Ezra and Nehemiah, but is ultimately fulfilled in the out pouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jew and Gentile (the Church) in the NT.
Verse 3ff. is quoted in Hebrews 12:12. Within the immediate context, this passage is designed to comfort the fearful among Israel of the invading Gentile Lords. Eventually God would come and deliver them and bring them back into their land through Cyrus, Nehemiah, and Ezra – all types of Christ. Therefore, in type form, this historical coming of the Lord in judgment and salvation would picture the imminent return of Jesus in AD 66-70 – Hebrews 10:37. In Hebrews 12:11-13, the writer interprets the agriculture, the way/path, and healing of Isaiah 35 as a “harvest of righteousness” and “peace” to be realized in the salvation of Jesus. Unfortunately for Hagee and Dispensational theology in general, the writer to the Hebrews in chapter 12 does not teach that Israel’s kingdom promises of salvation and a New Covenant were “postponed” until 1948 (and counting into the “literal” 1,000 years millennial period), but rather that they were being fulfilled and received in the first century by the Church!
Jesus performed literal miracles of deliverance in the Gospels for the “unclean” from their blindness, deafness, not being able to speak, leprosy and being lame (vv. 5-6), because these infirmities pictured the bondage of sin in the heart of man. Jesus would bring the ultimate healing (the forgiveness of sins) through the cross, outpouring of the Holy Spirit and at His parousia in AD 70.
Isaiah’s promises to Israel of a “highway of holiness” and “Way” that the “redeemed” travel on (vv. 8-10), have not been postponed for thousands of years, but are being fulfilled today in the Church age through faith in Christ (cf. John 14:6).
Isaiah 43:5-6
Clearly God did bring His scattered children back into the land from the south, north, east and west from the Assyrian and Babylonian (cf. v.14) captivities through the deliverance of Cyrus and the restoration period of Ezra and Nehemiah’s day. As in Isaiah 11 the “second” or “new” exodus under Messiah is the contextual setting here and was ultimately fulfilled in Christ’s blood and parousia.
God gathered all kinds of His children from the east, west, north, and south into His kingdom through the preaching of the Gospel and at His return in AD 70 (Isaiah 27:13/Mt. 24:14-30-31; Luke 21:22-32). These children included not just the remnant of Israel, but the Gentiles and they were gathered into the kingdom when the Old Covenant Kingdom was judged and taken from the Jews and given to the Church in AD 70 (Mt. 21:33-43; Luke 13:28-30).
Again, Christ and His New Covenant salvation is the “way” and “new thing” (cf. Jeremiah 31:21-22, 31) in the desert which causes men’s hearts to blossom as the very garden of God (43:19-21).
Isaiah 44:24, 26
Here it becomes abundantly clear that the “miraculous” “agricultural accomplishments” that Hagee literalizes, the prophet Isaiah identifies as the water and outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the hearts of His people. The water is the Holy Spirit and the grass, meadow and poplar trees are God’s people (vv. 1-4).
The time of deliverance here is clearly typified during the time of Cyrus who functioned as God’s shepherd and would, “…accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, Let it be rebuilt, and of the temple, Let its foundations be laid.” (v. 28).
Perhaps there is some application for false prophets such as Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith, Jon Courson and John Hagee in verse 25. God clearly has made “foolish” their “Holy Spirit led” false predictions of the 1948 “this generation” scenario–“overthrowing” them, and making them “nonsense” and “fools” in His sight!
Isaiah 61:4
The “miraculous” “agricultural accomplishments” or the “planting of the Lord,” according to Isaiah has to do with His people being “oaks” and displaying the sprouting of His righteousness and praise before the nations (vv. 3, 11).
Jesus applies the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2’s “the year of the Lord’s favor” to His personal ministry in Luke 4:16-19. There is nothing in the prophecies of Isaiah or anywhere in the Gospels that even remotely suggests that Jesus’ ministry and Kingdom promises made to Israel got postponed for some 2,000 years and counting.
Amos 9:11-15 is a parallel prophecy to Isaiah 61:4 and the rebuilding and restoration here is clearly identified as the salvation of the remnant of Jews and the Gentiles in Acts 15:16-17. This rebuilding of the ancient ruins was fulfilled in type form during Nehemiah’s ministry and fulfilled in anti-type form through the building up of Christ and His master builders the Apostles and the Church.
Zephaniah 2:1-2
This is but yet another prophetic passage that has to do with the Babylonian captivity which was “near” and would hasten “quickly” during the time the prophecy was written (Zeph. 1:7, 14). The context is dealing with a casting out of Judah from the land in judgment because of sin and not a “re-gathering” back into the land in unbelief in 1948! God was calling Judah to gather together in repentance or face their imminent judgment. They refused this exhortation (3:6-8).
Let’s now move on to consider another interpretive error of “this generation” make in hopes to avoid the obvious and clear interpretation.
[1] Hal Lindsey, The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon, back-cover, p.144, New York: Bantam, 1980
[2] Chuck Smith, End Times, The Word for Today, 1978, 35.
[3] Francis X. Gumerlock, the Day and the Hour Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World, (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 2000), 290.
[4] Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s APPLICATION COMMENTARY NEW TESTAMENT CD-ROM, Nelson pub.
[5] G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God, (Downers Grove, Illinois: INTERVARISTY PRESS, 2004), 264. See also references to Genesis and trees as Nations and people in Ezekiel 31; 47; Revelation 22).
[6] James B. Jordan, THE HANDWRITING ON THE WALL, A Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007), 619-628. And Leithart sees the harvest at the end of “this age” in Matthew 13 as taking place by A.D. 70, Peter J. Leithart, THE PROMISE OF HIS APPEARING AN EXPOSITION OF SECOND PETER, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2004), 94-95.
[7] Greg Laurie, ARE THESE THE LAST DAYS? HOW TO LIVE EXPECTANTLY IN A WORLD OF UNCERTAINTY, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books From Gospel Light, 2005), 20.
[8] John Hagee, IN DEFENSE OF ISRAEL THE BIBLE’S MANDATE FOR SUPPORTING THE JEWISH STATE, (Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2007,) 4-5. It is true that Christians are called to continue in doctrine and in the teachings of Jesus and Apostles, but since Hagee’s teaching is not Biblical, his exhortations are purely manipulative.
[9] Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, CHARTING THE END TIMES A visual Guide to Understanding Bible Prophecy, (Eugene, Oregon, 2001), 86, (emphasis added).
[10] John Hagee, (REVISED AND UPDATED) JERUSALEM COUNTDOWN A PRELUDE TO WAR, (Lake Mary, FL: Frontline pub, 2007), 129.
[11] Greg Laurie, Ibid.
[12] John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty OLD TESTAMENT (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Victor Cook Communications Ministries, 2004), 1298.
[13] Keith A. Mathison, DISPENSATIONALISM Rightly Dividing the People of God?, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1995), 19 (bold emphasis added).
[14] Hagee, Jerusalem Countdown, Ibid., 129-135. John Hagee, IN DEFENSE OF ISRAEL THE BIBLE’S MANDATE FOR SUPPORTING THE JEWISH STATE, (Lake Mary, FL: Front Line Pub., 2007), 149-154.
[15] Dwight Pentecost, THINGS TO COME A Study in Biblical Eschatology, (Findlay, OH: Dunham Publishing Company, 1958)
[16] Curtis I. Crenshaw and Grover E. Gunn, III, DISPENSATIONALISM TODAY, YESTERDAY, AND TOMORROW, (Memphis, TN: Footstool Publications, 1986), 175.
[17] C.I. Scofield, The New Scofield Reference Bible, (New York: Oxford, 1967), 888.
[18] James B. Jordan, THROUGH NEW EYES Developing a Biblical View of the World, (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1988), 246.
[19] John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures NEW TESTAMENT by Dallas Seminary Faculty (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor COOK COMMUNICATIONS MINISTRIES, 2004), 800.
[20] G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God, (Downers Grove: Illinois, 2004), 339.
[21] John Gill, John Gill’s Expositor, Online Bible CD.
[22] Beale, Ibid., 314.
[23] Kenneth L. Gentry (contributing author), FOUR VIEWS ON THE BOOK OF REVELATION, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 65-66.
[24] Keith A. Mathison, FROM AGE TO AGE THE UNFOLDING OF BIBLICAL ESCHATOLOGY, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 257.
[25] Tim LaHaye, REVELATION UNVEILED, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan 1999), 256.
[26] Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness, (Atlanta GA: American Vision, 1999), 318.

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