The first time that I ever did any serious Bible study was in college. At the small, Baptist, liberal arts school that I attended, the courses were available, the professors were interesting and knowledgeable, and having a Bible class each semester helped me get through my other coursework. After four years, in addition to my history major, and English minor, I also had a minor in Biblical studies. It came in handy when I attended a theological seminary for a master’s degree, and across a thirty plus year career in Christian education and discipleship.
If you’re a serious student of the scriptures, then you know the feeling of discovering something that God placed in his written word for you to know, and to find. The other thing that I discovered is that the scripture doesn’t always support my presuppositions, nor those of the people in the churches where I grew up. It can be quite disconcerting to discover that something your childhood Sunday School teacher, or home church pastor, taught or preached doesn’t quite find support in the Bible.
More than anything else, my view of eschatology and “the end times” has changed considerably from my own study of the scripture. Though my course of study in seminary was Christian education, hermeneutics and systematic theology were still required courses, and I had excellent professors who taught more about how to study the scripture than insisting on having their students adopt their perspectives and interpretations. The only thing I knew about eschatology prior to seminary was what I’d read from authors like Hal Lindsey, Salem Kirban, John Hagee and Pat Robertson. I’d never really looked closely at the scriptures, which those authors and other premillennial dispensationalists take out of context, and even separate from their context. I didn’t even know that there was more than one theological vein of eschatology, other than pre-wrath or post-wrath related to where to place the “rapture.” After a seminary course which exposed me to the other views, over time, I’ve done a lot of reading, applying the hermeneutical principles I know to the study. The end result has been a gradual, but steady change of view.
In looking at this subject, the main change I’ve encountered is something that I never really thought much about before, and that is the nature of the concept of “Israel” as a spiritual house of God, and the concept of “chosen people” not being racial, but spiritual. After all, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and the four women who bore his children, were all Mesopotamians, descendants of the Sumerians, Chaldeans and Babylonians. “Semitic” is the commonly used term. The fact of the matter is that in the Old Testament, it wasn’t necessarily race that made one eligible for participation in the Tabernacle, nor the Temple once it was build. Israelites who failed to demonstrate faith by following the religious law, or who were disobedient or rebellious against the family community were cut off and excluded, while gentiles who accepted the faith, believed in God and submitted to the law, known as proselytes, were included. If it were a matter of race, the intrusion of Ruth, a Moabitess, into the genealogy of Jesus, would nullify the “chosen people” claim. But Ruth accepted the old covenant, and became a believer and follower of the one true God, and was included.
God’s plan for Israel was to make a spiritual nation, not necessarily a political one. That was their idea, when they fretted about not having a king. God’s prophets pointed out where this was inconsistent with his plan, as he relented in allowing the creation of a political state. That, from the record of Kings and Chronicles, didn’t turn out well, but they’d been warned.
The Jewish religious leaders missed the Messiah, because instead of reading the signs in their scriptures that formed an arrow pointing straight to Jesus, they were looking for a political leader to restore the political state, and free them from Roman rule. I can see where circumstances of the times would lead to misinterpretation of the prophecy in hand. But I see nothing in scripture where God’s promises of restoration ever meant a political kingdom. The King that the major and minor prophets refer to, and the restoration of Jerusalem and Israel that they predict all point to the spiritual kingdom that Jesus established, not to a resurgent empire of David and Solomon. Jesus was the only heir to the throne of David, and that’s a huge context clue to direct the restoration references in the prophets to his kingdom, the Christian Church.
That puts Peter’s words in a clear context:
” 6 For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” I Peter 2:6, ESV
“9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” I Peter 2:9-10, ESV
The chosen people were now as they always had been, those who believed, and accepted God’s covenant in he way he offered it. Jerusalem, Zion, had been restored, and the Kingdom of God was established, as the prophets had said.
“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
5 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11, ESV( boldface emphasis mine)
Now, how did that crowd know when to be out there on that particular road, on that particular day and at that particular time? The words of the prophet. A lot of premillennial theology connects the book of Daniel to Revelation, but the context of Daniel points to the time of the coming of the Messiah. This particular prophetic reference is in Zechariah, but Daniel speaks of the “seventy sevens” which puts this time in its perspective. People of God’s covenant, Jews in Jerusalem, lined the road from Bethphage to Jerusalem in anticipation of seeing the fulfillment of Zechariah’s words, and they weren’t disappointed. And I believe that some of them believed that they were seeing the Messiah. They were the ones who knew the scripture, and understood that what God meant was the restoration of his spiritual house, not a political kingdom.
So when Jesus told his disciples, not many days later, that the temple would be destroyed, not one stone would be left standing on another, and that some of them would not taste death until those things had come to pass, he set the context for interpreting what is known as his “Eschatological Discourse” in Matthew 24.
“ Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Matthew 24:34 ESV (emphasis mine)
A futurist interpretation of Biblical eschatology hinges on interpretation and translation of the term in bold as “this race,” meaning the Israelites, or Jews. But remember, the context of God’s chosen people isn’t about race, it’s about the spiritual kingdom. It always has been, and as far as I can see in the scriptures, it always will be. So these words, with which I will close, from Revelation 1, have a meaning and a context for the first century church, and confirm the accuracy and infallibility of God’s written word, interpreted in consistent context with all of the rest of it.
“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” Revelation 1:1-3, ESV (emphasis mine)