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Leopard King?

In my last post I argued that the number of the beast was a hint at the name of the beast, but the clues to determining the meaning of the name are more or less lost to us. I said that it was best to conclude that John and his readers knew what the number meant and to whom it referred, but it is futile to try and determine who the future Anti-Christ might be.

But this does not really stop people from trying to “calculate the number” of political figures in order to determine if they are the beast or the Anti-Christ. Norman Cohn’s classic study Pursuit of the Millennium and Bernard McGinn’s AntiChrist provide ample evidence that Christians have been naming antichrists since the book of Revelation was first written. While the Pope (or the Roman Church in general) have been the most common targets, history has no lack of potential antichrists. Mohammed and Napoleon have been common picks, although Martin Luther and any number of Tsars have made the list as well.

A few year ago I read the fascinating book, Naming the Antichrist, by Robert Fuller. This is a history of what he calls “an American obsession” with determining who the Anti-Christ is (or will be). This is far from a recent phenomenon, no-budget YouTube videos are only the latest in a long string of conspiracy theories and failed predictions. During the American Revolution the Maryland Journal reported that the soldiers celebrated the declaration of independence from Britain by decapitating a statue of George the Third, labeling it “the image of the beast.” A tract appeared about the same time declaring that the Greek and Hebrew words “Royal Supremacy in Great Britain” could be calculated as 666. Fuller quotes Elijah Fish, a clergyman from Massachusetts, urging his fellow patriots to see the revolution through to the end. He said “although men or devils, earth or hell, Antichrist or the dragon rages, the people of God may still triumph in Christ, the captain of their salvation” (Fuller, 71-2).  The rhetoric sounds amazingly contemporary to me, swap the theater of war and it would go well on AM radio.

I suspect that the establishment of Israel in 1948 gave rise to a great deal of modern prophetic speculation. Hal Lindsey famously predicted the rapture for 1981 (or later, 1988) based on a generation from the return of Israel to the Land. If the Rapture / Tribulation is set to begin in 1981, then someone living in the 1970s has to be the antichrist. Some candidates were obvious: Ronald Wilson Reagan had three names of six letters and survived an assassination attempt. Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel and was assassinated (maybe he will be resurrected?) Jimmy Carter was a Christian world leader who forged peace in the Middle East, perhaps he will break that covenant in the future and demand worship. Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the “bear to the north” and had a rather mysterious mark on his own head. In fact, if you were any sort of a political leader in the 70s, you were probably named as an antichrist by someone.

I suppose there is a psychological explanation for this over-fascination with the “end times” and the hope that we can name the leader of the great end-times rebellion before he appears. Since most of these calculations and predictions are the response of an oppressed minority (or at least they think of themselves that way), the tendency is to imagine that the world as rushing headlong to an explosion of evil of apocalyptic proportions. I do not see much difference between the Roman church and Luther vilifying each other in their Revelation commentaries and the sort of politically motivated preaching which declares the other party as led by the Anti-Christ himself.

In conclusion, despite John’s suggestion that we try and calculate the number of the name, “naming the antichrist”  does not seem to be possible nor is it particularly profitable.  Rather than draw people to the real Christ, the over-emphasis on declaring someone the personal agent of Satan drives people away from the gospel.

W is the 6th Hebrew Letter

If there is a single element of the book of Revelation which is universally known in contemporary culture it is the mark of the Beast, 666. Virtually everyone in western culture thinks that 666 is the “devil’s number” or that the triple-six is a pernicious sign to be avoided. Several times I have bought something and the price came up $6.66, and the clerk wanted to know if I wanted to buy a pack of gum so I could avoid that particular price. I used to buy a particular combination of coffee and snack at one of my favorite coffee shops which always rang up to $6.66. (I referred to it as the “Devil’s breakfast” and tasty it was!)

But there is nothing in Revelation that says this number is the devil’s number, or Satan’s address in Hell. It is not an unlucky number nor is someone cursed if they somehow accidentally ring up $6.66 at the local Taco Bell. (Actually, you might be cursed if you eat the food at Taco Bell, but that is another issue altogether!) The number does not refer to Satan at all, verse 18 says that 6 is the “number of man,” presumably because man was created on the sixth day. 666 refers to the name of the beast, either a person (the anti-Christ) or the kingdom of the beast described in the rest chapter 13.

What does is mean to “calculate the name”? There are no numbers in many ancient languages, so letters sometimes substituted as numbers. A=1, B=2, etc. There is a bit of graffiti found in Pompeii that reads “I love her whose number is 545.” Potentially one might convert their name to numbers in Greek, Hebrew or Latin and come up with a number. That number could be used as a cipher, or perhaps one might have a “lucky” number for a name. For example, my “number” in Latin is 152 (using just the letters which have values in Roman numerals). In Greek, I get 908. Neither is particularly interesting, but I suppose if I paid money to a numerologist, they could come up with something profound.

John invites the reader to figure this out, in fact, he almost baits us into trying to figure it out! Knowing that the name adds up to 666, to what might the name refer? In the early church there were several suggested names, including a Greek word meaning “to deny”, meaning that the name of the Beast was denial of the Lord.  It is possible to use the initials of the Roman emperors from Julius to Vespasian one gets 666, but you have to skip the minor emperors to make this work. The full Latin title used on coins of Domitian, the emperor at the time of John, allegedly adds up to 666. The most common suggestion is that the number 666 refers to Nero Caesar, but in a the Hebrew spelling of the name. Some writers see the number more generally, showing that it is one short of the perfect number, three times. “Failure upon failure upon failure.”

It may be best to conclude that John and his readers knew the clue that unlocked the mystery of the number and who it referred to, and that we are unable to figure it out with any certainty today.  Despite this, people are still fascinated with the name of the beast and try to figure out who he might be.  I will have more to say about this in part two of this post.

What does the number prophesy? Whatever the mark is, it represents a final declaration of loyalty, whether for God or against him. By accepting this name, you are declaring your loyalty to the beast and the empire of the beast.

Last Supper - BreadThere is perhaps another hint of eschatology in the Last Supper. Craig Evans suggests that the broken piece of bread which Jesus distributes is the afikoman (ἀφικόμενος, אפיקומן, Wikipedia). At the beginning of the Seder, a small portion of bread is broken off, to be consumed at the end of the meal. The bread represented the whole of the Jewish people and the broken portion represented “what the Messiah will eat when he returns to celebrate with Israel.”(Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20, 390).

This was first suggested by David Daube (He That Cometh), although D. B. Carmichael, (“David Daube on the Eucharist and the Passover Seder” 45–67)  finds additional support for this understanding of the bread in Melito of Sardis, a second century writer who creates a “Christian Haggadah.” Melito uses the term ἀφικόμενος twice with reference to Jesus as the coming Messiah.

If the breaking of the bread does reflect the afikoman tradition, then it explains how Jesus could say that bread somehow represented him and his body.  The bread already represented something, the Messiah. Jesus is making a claim that he is in fact the Messiah when he breaks the bread. This is how the disciples understood breaking of bread in Luke 24 as well.  If the breaking of bread was a messianic self–revelation then it would be strong evidence in favor of the Last Supper as a messianic banquet.

Unfortunately there is no solid evidence that this traditional use of the bread was current in the first century, so Evans suggestion may not be helpful in showing that the bread is an allusion to messianic themes.

In Mark 14:25 Jesus states that he will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until he drinks it anew in the Kingdom of God. Since the emphasis is on drinking wine when the kingdom comes, this should be taken as an allusion to an eschatological banquet which celebrates the final victory.  Craig Blomberg states that the Last Supper was a “foreshadowing of the messianic banquet” and connects the event to Isa 25:6–9.  Similarly, Allison says “Jesus announces that he will feast at the messianic banquet.”  But what is there in this saying which implies a connection to the eschatological feast I described earlier in chapter 3?

Last Supper - BouveretFirst, the description of the meal is laced with allusions to shared meals in the Mosaic and New Covenant passages. For example, Gundry suggests Jesus is blending Exod 24:8, Isa 53:12, and Jer 31:31.  The “blood of the covenant” in Exod 24:8 is followed by a meal on Sinai in which Moses, Aaron and the seventy elders eat and drink before God. This meal at the establishment of the first covenant is the foundation on which the meal at the establishment of the new Covenant is built in Isa 25:6–8. As I have already observed, rather than a meal restricted to only the leaders of Israel at Sinai, the eschatological banquet includes all people at Zion.

Second, Jesus clearly alludes to the new covenant text (Jer 31:33). Jeremiah 31 combines both an eschatological meal and a marriage metaphor to describe the restoration of Israel’s relationship with her God at the end of the Exile. That a covenant was ratified with the blood of a sacrifice is commonplace in the Hebrew Bible, but of primary importance is the sacrifice which accompanied the first covenant in Exod 24:8. Dunn includes the Last Supper in his section on “heavenly banquet.” (Jesus Remembered, 427). Vincent Taylor sees the meal as eschatological and describes verse 25 as an allusion to the messianic banquet: Jesus’ “messianic consciousness is manifest” (Mark, 547). C. S. Mann describes the section as “thoroughly Jewish” and contains an allusion to the messianic banquet (Isa 25:6–8) (Mark, 580). Robert Gundry thinks this saying is a prediction that Jesus will return to “transform the Passover meal into the messianic banquet.” (Mark, 843).

Third, the messianic banquet text in 1QSa sheds some light on the Last Supper as an anticipation of the eschatological meal. As I argued in chapter 6, 1QSa was initially thought to describe a Eucharist–like meal, although this has been (rightly) abandoned for the most part in recent scholarship. However, there are still remarkable comparisons and contrasts between the two meals. The participants in the meal in 1QSa are seated according to their rank, with the Messiah of Israel at their head. After the Messiah blesses the food, they drink new wine and eat the first–fruits of the bread. At the last supper Jesus eats with his twelve disciples, a number invoking the twelve tribes of a reconstituted Israel. Jesus indeed blesses the bread and wine, although there is no reference to sharing these among the participants at Qumran. The meal at Qumran was to celebrate the coming of the Messiah, so also here in the Last Supper. Jesus declares to his disciples that the New Covenant in imminent and that he will not drink wine again until he drinks it “new” in the Kingdom of God. Like the Qumran community, Jesus’ celebration of Passover is an anticipation of the coming eschatological age.

In summary, the Last Supper is an anticipation of the messianic banquet. As such, it is an intertextual blending of several traditions beginning with the covenant meal in Exod 24 and the restoration of the marriage of Israel and her God in Jer 31. Because discussion of the Last Supper is usually laden with theological questions about later Christian practice, the Jewish eschatological implications can be overlooked. Jesus finally reveals himself as the one who will initiate the New Covenant and restore Israel to her rightful place.

Are there other eschatological overtones to the Last Supper (either from the Passover or the Prophets) that might illuminate the meaning of this important meal?

oil-lampThis parable in Matthew 25 is an interesting example for parable study since it is often dismissed as a creation of the later church to explain the long-delay of the return of the Lord. The parable is an allegory created by Matthew to explain why Jesus did not return as quickly as anticipated. For example, Eta Linnemann said that this parable “is certainly a creation of the early Church. A Christian prophet or teacher unknown to us uttered it in the name and spirit of Jesus.” (Parables, 126).

I would rather read this parable in the context of the other parables in Matthew 24-25, as well as the whole of Jesus’ teaching in the Temple his final week.  The parable was intended to use common typology for Israel’s relationship with God found in the Hebrew Bible. For example, the relationship of God and Israel is pictured in the Old Testament as a marital relationship (Isa 54:4-6, 62:4-5, Ezek 16, Hosea).

If we follow Blomberg’s method for interpreting parables, then the bridegroom is the central character, the two sets of bridesmaids are the contrasting characters. This would imply strongly that the bridegroom is God / Jesus, since in most of these sorts of parables God is in that central position. The ten virgins or bridesmaids would then refer to the followers of Jesus who are waiting for his return. Five are prepared for a long interim, the other five are not.

But other elements are not intended to be typological at all. For example, the oil is sometimes equated to good works, or the merchants with the Church. (If you want to be ready for the return of Jesus, go and do good works in the Church?)  This is very “preachable,” but I am not at all convinced that was Jesus’ original point.

What makes the bridesmaids “wise” or “foolish”? It cannot be that they fell asleep since both the wise and foolish get drowsy and fall asleep. The delay was so long that normal life had to go on. The issue is that the foolish five are unprepared for the long wait. The type of lamp they used would need to be refueled when the groom arrived. By preparing themselves, the five wise bridesmaids are allowed to join the groom and enter into the wedding feast.

But what about the unprepared virgins? Why are they judged harshly? The shutting of the door is an indication of final judgment: there is no longer any way for them to get into the kingdom, they have missed out. The groom’s response to their please is that he does not know them.

The groom’s response is exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 7:23 and is a rabbinical formula used to dismiss a student. The implication is that they had the same opportunity to be ready, and that since they were not ready at the right time, they will have no part in the kingdom. They remain outside, in the dark. The fact is, they were always in the dark and only thought that they would enter into the Wedding Feast.

This is yet another example in Jesus’ teaching of a shocking reversal. Those who think that they ought to be in the kingdom do not get in, they remain on the outside.  I think that the context supports this reading – what else do you seen in Jesus’ final week that supports this conclusion?  Who should we identify as the “wise” and “foolish” in the immediate context of the parable?

At the very beginning of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus warns his disciples to watch out for people who will appear claiming to be the Messiah (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ χριστός) (Matt 24:2-5). Similarly, in Matt 24:10-13 he warns against pseudo-prophets (ψευδοπροφῆται) and in 24:23-28 both false messiahs and false prophets (ψευδόχριστοι καὶ ψευδοπροφῆται). In each case, these false prophets/messiahs will cause people to wander (πλανάω), a verb usually denoting deception. It is used often for Israel’s “going astray” in the LXX (Deut 4:19; Isa 17:11, for example). In Jer 23:32 the people of Israel are led astray by “those who prophesy lying dreams” and these false-prophet’s “lies and recklessness.”

Not the MessiahIn the literature of the Second Temple Period, false prophets are associated with the eschatological age. In the post-Maccabean text Testament of Judah 21:9, “Like a whirlwind shall be the false prophets: They shall harass the righteous.” Following this prediction Judah says “each other and conflicts will persist in Israel…until the salvation of Israel comes, until the coming of the God of righteousness, so that Jacob may enjoy tranquility and peace, as well as all the nations” (22:1-2).

Qumran community had experience with false teachers and prophets, although most of these refer to the Temple aristocracy from whom they had separated. For example, in a commentary on Isaiah 9:13-16, the prophet, the Teacher of Lies is “the tail” cut off by the Lord in judgment, and “[Those who lead this people lead (them) astray, and those who are led by him are swa]llowed up.” In the Apocryphon of Moses (4Q375 Col. i:4), false prophets were to be punished harshly: “However, the prophet who rises up to preach [apostasy] to you, [to make] you [tu]rn away from God, shall die.” The Temple Scroll also warns of false prophets who will try and turn the community from the Lord.

The Temple Scroll (11Q19) Col. liv:8-13 If among you there arises a prophet or a dreamer of dreams and gives you a sign or an omen, and the sign {and} /or/ the omen comes to you about which he spoke to you saying: “Let us go and worship other gods whom you do not know” do not listen to the word of that prophet or of that dreamer of dreams because I am putting you to the test, in order to know whether you love YHWH, the God of your fathers, with all your heart and all your soul.

In the seventh Sibylline Oracle (late second century, possibly Christian), prior to the restoration of the world false prophets will attempt to persuade the righteous:

Sib. Or. 7.132–138 But they will endure extreme toil who, for gain, will prophesy base things, augmenting an evil time; who putting on the shaggy hides of sheep will falsely claim to be Hebrews, which is not their race. But speaking with words, making profit by woes, they will not change their life and will not persuade the righteous and those who propitiate God through the heart, most faithfully.

Jesus’ warning concerning false prophets and messiahs is therefore consistent with other warnings from before and after Jesus. But the presence of false teachers, prophets and even messianic pretenders is not an indication the end is near. What is important here is Jesus warning to not led astray by people who claim this war or that earthquake is a sign of the end, since they are not signs at all, but the normal course of life until tine final judgment happens.

There are quite a few ways to use this warning to evaluate contemporary preaching and teaching on the end times. I often agree with the general point a writer makes, but I become very skeptical with they “set dates” or claim an event somehow fulfills prophecy. How should we apply Jesus’ warning to “not be deceived” today?

Jesus as MessiahIn Mark 13:4 (Matt 24:3, Luke 21:7) the disciples ask Jesus “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus had just predicted that at some point, the beautiful Temple would be destroyed, “not one stone would be left on another.” For many Jews living in the first century, the idea of an eschatological age that restored a kingdom to Israel was a very real hope. But there were a number of general expectations that went along with this idea of restoration. Each of the Synoptic Gospels includes a long teaching section after Jesus’ teaching in the Temple. It is remarkable how closely Jesus aligns with Jewish thinking about the coming age.

Persecution. The restoration of Israel would be accompanied by a time of intense testing. This period of persecution will separate the true Israel from the false. The capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians initiated a long sequence of conflict with pagan rulers which reached a climax during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. The struggles of the Maccabean period become a paradigm for future persecutions.

Messiah. A new David would appear in those days to establish the kingdom in Jerusalem just as the first David had done. This messiah will appear at the end of the persecution to rescue the righteous remnant from their suffering, in the same way that the Maccabees rose up against Antiochus IV Epiphanies and re-dedicated the temple. He will establish the throne of God in Jerusalem and judge both the righteous and the sinner.

Judgment. When God acts on behalf of Israel will sort out the “righteous” from the “sinner” and give justice to all. Everyone will receive what they deserve and will either enter into a restored kingdom or they will be cast out of that kingdom. This involves a judgment on those who have persecuted true Israel including Gentiles and corrupt Jews (at least in some texts.) The fate of the Gentiles runs from complete annihilation to conversion and inclusion in the new age.

Restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. The hope of the Old Testament prophets is for the restoration of the nation after the long period of punishment. A repeated theme in the prophets is of God’s desire to restore his people after a period of discipline. The period after the Maccabees fell far short of the ideal kingdom expected, causing a variety of reactions to Hasmonean rule. This is not the “end of the world” in the sense of a destruction of this universe, but rather a renewal of all things to the way God had intended it in the first place. The Jews of the first century would not be looking for the end of the world but rather a very much “this world” shalom of peace and prosperity. This restoration will be a resurrection of the nation based on Ezekiel 37 and may very well involve a real resurrection of those who lose their lives as martyrs will live again at the time of restoration.

The source of this hope of restoration of the kingdom is to be found first in the prophets of the Old Testament, but also in the massive literature post-dating the Hebrew Bible. The idea of restoration and the themes of Messiah and persecution are expanded and developed in this period by a variety of writers, each contributing to the messianic worldview of the first century.

That these expectations are present in the teaching of Jesus is clear, but the extent to which they are present is a problem. Did Jesus fully accept the messianic expectations of the intertestamental writings, or did he seek to correct and temper them with his own, ethical teachings?

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2014. 369 pp. Pb. $16.99   Link to Kregel

Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser have worked together on the topic of Israel in two other books published by Kregel (To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History, 2008 and The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, 2012). These two volumes collected papers from conferences sponsored by Chosen People Ministries, an evangelistic mission to Jews led by Mitch Glaser. This new book is based on a conference held at Calvary Baptist Church in New York City in 2013. Most of the participants are Evangelical who have a high view of Scripture and several are involved in some sort of ministry aimed at Jewish evangelism. Not a few of the scholars participating in the conference can be fairly described as “Progressive Dispensationalists” (Bock and Blaising, especially) although that language does not appear in the book.

The People of IsarelThe first section surveys Israel according the Hebrew Bible. Eugene Merrill (Torah), Walter Kaiser (Writings), and Robert Chisholm (Prophets) contribute very brief biblical theologies of Israel. Chisholm’s contribution is especially important since the prophets looked forward to a return from exile and a reunification of Israel under a new David. This return, Chisholm demonstrates, will be the result of repentance and forgiveness at the time of a new covenant. The prophets generally teach the nations will come to restored Zion to worship Israel’s God at the Temple.

Michael Brown’s chapter “The People of Israel in Jewish Tradition” is placed in the book between the Old and New Testament sections, leading me to think it would cover the Second Temple Period, but that is not the case. After spending a few pages on making six points drawn from the Hebrew Bible, Brown offers a few examples drawn from late rabbinic literature. Sadly, his longest example is taken from a website rather than the Talmud itself. He also cites Midrash Tanchuma Qedoshim, a text dated A.D. 370 attributed to Rabbi Tanchuma bar Abba and Rashi (d. 1105). By juxtaposing these later writers with the list of messianic expectations drawn from Emil Schürer’s History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, he gives the impression that Jews at the time of Jesus thought of Jerusalem as the “navel of the world.” Perhaps they did, but the evidence offered here does not support the claim.

The second section continues the survey by examining what the New Testament has to say about Israel. Michael Wilkins contribution surveys the Gospel of Matthew, highlighting the tension between Jesus’ command to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and the emphasis Matthew places on the salvation of the Gentiles. Matthew has the most negative view toward Israel, especially toward the religious leadership (Matt 23, for example). The gospel also has strong statements about Gentiles participating in the Kingdom. But Wilkins does not see this as replacement theology, since Israel will be in the land in the eschatological age (Matt 23:37-39), worshiping in the temple, (Matt 24:14-16), and the disciples will be ruling a restored Israel (Matt 19:28)

Darrell Bock discusses Luke/Acts. Like Matthew, Luke does not indicate God replaces Israel with Gentiles, even if that was part of God’s plan from the beginning (p. 104). Bock highlights a number of texts throughout the Gospel of Luke indicating Luke’s belief that Israel’s judgment is only for a time and they will participate in the eschatological age (p. 109). Of considerable importance is Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:18-21, in which he states clearly the “times of refreshing” will come and Israel will once again be blessed. There is nothing in this sermon even hinting that the Gentiles will replace Israel and that the promises of a “time of refreshing” has been transferred to the Gentiles.

Michael Vanlaningham examines the question of Israel’s restoration in the book of Romans. Romans 9-11 can fairly be described as the most important text in the New Testament for understanding Israel’s future since Paul deals with God’s faithfulness to his promises and a potential objection that faithfulness. If God has canceled his promises to Israel, perhaps she will do so with the Gentiles. Vanlaningham shows that replacement theology has trouble dealing with Romans 11, especially the clear statement that “all Israel will be saved.”

In perhaps the strangest article in the collection, Craig Evans examines Hebrews and the General Epistles. The chapter is strange because the General Epistles have very little to say about the replacement or restoration of Israel and almost nothing about the land. Evans simply points out each book in this General Epistles is written by a Jewish writer to Jewish Christians (with the possible exception of 2 Peter). That James addresses his letter to Jewish Christians in the Diaspora is significant since it presupposes Israel in the Land. While I agree with everything Evans says in this chapter concerning the Jewishness of these letters, it really has little to do with the theme of the book.

The third section of the book takes on the topic from the perspective of hermeneutics and theology. Craig Blaising, Mark Saucy, John Feinberg and Michael Vlach each contribute articles challenging the supersessionist view of prophecies from the Hebrew Bible. It is significant that all four of these writers are associated with dispensationalism, but with the exception of Vlach’s historical survey, there is no clear indication they are using a dispensational hermeneutic. Blaising challenges supersessionist views on Israel by appealing to the overall narrative of Scripture, arguing popular supersessionist writers have made a “reality shift” when moving from the promises of the Old Testament to the fulfillment in the New Testament. He associates this first with W. D. Davies and his students, but Reformed biblical theology is guilty of using typology to downplay the literal fulfillment of the land promises to Israel. Mark Saucy examines the overall narrative of the Bible and argues that de-emphasizing the role of Israel in the fulfillment of Old Testament promises misses the point of the story of the Bible. Jesus clearly believed in the future new covenant hope of the Prophets. John Feinberg examines three prophecies from the Old Testament and simply observes they cannot be fulfilled if Israel has been replaced by the church because the presuppose Israel is in the land and worshiping in the Temple.

Michael Vlach article on Israel in Church History demonstrates replacement theology began very early in church history. After Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 and 135, Gentile membership in the church became the majority and Church leaders became less interested in Israel and the Land. As allegorical interpretations of Scripture became the standard hermeneutic of the church, replacement theology developed rapidly, so that by the early third century, Clement of Alexandria could describe Israel as “divorced” from God and replace by the Church as a faithful spouse (p. 201). While few in the writers Reformation dealt with the restoration of Israel, seventeenth century saw a great deal of interest in evangelizing the Jewish people, often in an eschatological context. Puritan millennialism, for example, understood the conversion of Israel as a pre-requisite to the second coming (p. 206), a point he illustrates by citing Charles Spurgeon. Vlach points out Dispensationalism did not create this interest in the early nineteenth century (as is often assumed), but continued a trend with respect to the restoration of Israel.

The last article in this section also takes a historical perspective. Barry Leventhal examines “Israel in Light of the Holocaust.”  While Leventhal has written books on this topic, I found this chapter to be disappointing. First, he has too many extremely long citations from other writers, to the point that several pages have virtually nothing from Leventhal. Most of these citations are appropriate to the topic and some are probably necessary for Leventhal to make his point, but the fact some appear in the article virtually without comment does not strike me as good use of resources. Perhaps the article would read better if he summarized the lengthy quotations and cited the source for further reading. Second, he argues toward the end of the article for a three-exile/three return model for understanding modern Israel. The first exile is the sojourn in Egypt after Joseph, the return was the Exodus. The second exile began in 586 B.C. after the destruction of Jerusalem and the second return was after the seventy year captivity was complete. Leventhal considers the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 to be the third exile, with the third return still in the future when God calls his people back to the Land (p. 239). Leventhal does not consider Bar Kokhba in his discussion of the beginning of a third exile. On the one hand, this “third exile” sounds like standard Dispensational theology since he describes an antichrist and a great tribulation (supported with copious citations of Scripture, see his list on p. 241!) While I agree with many of the details, I question the validity of the sojourn in Egypt as an Exile, since it was not a punishment for covenant unfaithfulness. Joseph’s generation are not judged with slavery in Egypt for their failure to keep the God’s commands, in fact, Gen 50:19-21 specifically states God intended the sojourn for the good of Jacob’s family. Perhaps a better way to make a similar point is to adapt N. T. Wright’s “ongoing exile” as a way of explaining why Israel remains in exile after the return in 538 B.C. and even after the events of A.D. 70.

The final section of this book looks at the question of Israel and practical theology. Michael Rydelnik looks at the Jewish people as evidence for the truth of Scripture. This essay considers the remarkable history of Israel and their survival as a people as a kind of proof that the Bible contains truth. Since both the Old and New Testaments indicate Israel will continue to exist until the end times and Israel has miraculously overcome attacks and persecution. This supernatural survival is “strong evidence of the truth of Scripture” (259).

Mitch Glaser discusses the controversial topic of evangelism directed at the Jewish people. Glaser makes a clear distinction between national promises made to Israel in the Bible and personal salvation of individuals. All people must accept Messiah Jesus as savior, “being Jewish” is not sufficient to guarantee participation in the coming messianic age. Glaser believes Paul’s message “to the Jew first” is fully understood when it is coupled with Romans 11:25-27. He states that Paul himself believe that “if Jewish people are successfully evangelized then Jesus the Messiah will return” (p. 274). For Glaser, this means prioritizing evangelism to the Jews because they are God’s chosen people. This is possible and although the opposite may be true as well, that if the “full number of the Gentiles” are saved, then Messiah can return. In Acts 21, Paul hurries to return to Jerusalem by Pentecost with a gift from the Gentiles as a firstfruit offering.

David Epstein tackles this same question from the perspective of a local pastor. Epstein is a Jewish Christian who has pastored Calvary Baptist Church in New York City and has been active in reaching Jewish people with the Gospel for many years. Drawing on his own experience in New York, Epstein argues continued evangelism of Jewish people is a compassionate and biblical practice because Jewish people are still loved by God.

Finally, Gregory Hagg surveys “The Various Positions on Israel Currently Taught in Theological Schools.” Hagg constructed a survey seventy primarily Evangelical institutions in North America. His questions attempt to gauge the interest in these institutions in premillennial and somewhat Dispensational views of Israel and Palestine as well as their views on evangelism to Jews and Arabs. Only about twenty percent returned the survey, so the results are far from a definitive statement of what Evangelicals are doing in their seminaries. In general, the results indicated less enthusiasm at self-identifying as a Dispensationalist, and most schools do not have courses on evangelism to Jewish or Arab peoples.

Darrell Bock offers a few words as a conclusion to the book highlighting the main contours of the articles. In short, these articles indicate God has made promises to Israel which he will keep in the future. Israel’s past or current unfaithfulness does not cancel out the promises of God to bring his kingdom into this world.

Conclusion. I find this book fascinating since it is essentially a book on Pre-millennialism and Dispensational Theology even if it rarely uses the language of classic Dispensationalism. Most (but not all) of the writers are associated with Dispensationalism in some way or teach in traditional Dispensational institutions. Perhaps the writers avoid explicitly using the language because of recent backlashes against Dispensationalism generated by the Left Behind phenomenon or some of the invective commonly used against this once popular way of reading the Bible.

Each chapter ends with a series of study questions to facilitate further discussion of the topic of the paper. A “for further reading” section appears for only paper, Bock’s contribution on Luke/Acts. Throughout the book there are URLs and QR Codes to access conference videos and additional interview material with the individual contributors to this volume.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, and C. Marvin Pate.  Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times.  Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007. $29.99 HB, $14.99 Kindle

This handbook on Bible Prophecy was written by three professors at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas.  At 512 pages including indices, the book is manageable for laymen but has enough depth to be useful for the busy pastor.  Despite the fact that the authors state that they “do not agree” on all issues in the field of biblical prophecy, this is a fairly homogenous book.  While articles will fairly describe other views, the articles are clearly pre-millennial and occasionally dispensational.  This is not a surprise given the fact that Duvall and Hays were educated at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Pate has represented progressive dispensationalism in other books on biblical prophecy.  This is not a criticism of the text, but it does tend to narrow the target audience more than a collection of essays from scholars representing several viewpoints.

One pointed criticism: the articles are unsigned.  I realize there are only three contributors, but at the very least I would like to have seen initials at the end of the article to indicate the author. Perhaps this is a personal annoyance, but I find an article far more useful if I can cite the author by name.

There are some excellent articles in this volume which deserve attention.  The sixteen page article on the book of Revelation is a good introduction to the genre, purpose and intention of Revelation.  Various interpretive methods are discussed in separate articles, as are views on the millennial and rapture. Articles on millennialism, tribulation, and the four beasts of Daniel were all well written and useful.  The article on the People of God was particularly well balanced.

I appreciate the inclusion of a number of articles on Second Temple Period apocalyptic.  The article on Apocalyptic is a nicely balanced approach and has brief descriptions of most of the literature.  There is a separate article on the Parables of Enoch, but nothing on the rest of 1 Enoch.  Articles on Second Baruch and Fourth Ezra would have been valuable for students working in Revelation.  But these go beyond the goal of “biblical prophecy” and may not have been included for that reason.

A few articles strike me as strange topics to include.  Some concern biblical prophecy but only as it is formally defined.  For example, Iddo the Prophet, Huldah the Prophetess and Miriam have short articles despite the fact that the have nothing to say on the topic of “end times.”  There is a nice article on poetry in the Bible, although there is little in the article which bears directly on biblical prophecy.  I found the articles on the “Club of Rome Conference,” the European Union, and Bible Codes somewhat useless if the goal of the book was to provide a handbook on biblical prophecy.

My usually critique of dictionaries like this is “how would I use a book like this?” Articles in a dictionary like this are selected by the editors because they are significant, but no dictionary can contain entries for all of the topics which may arise in studying prophecy.   I think that most layman and not a few pastors will find this book a handy guide to the books of Daniel and Revelation and related topics, but the limited articles make me think that the Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times would be better titled “A Handbook.”

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