An introduction to the book of Revelation

The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, whatever he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it, because the time is near.

-Revelation 1:1-3

Here are some things to consider, about the book of Revelation.

Revelation is an epistle, a letter to Christians living at the time of it’s writing.  Just like reading and studying the other New Testament letters, we understand that they were first written to believers at that time and secondly are for later believers.

Revelation is written in an apocalyptic style.  The word revelation is from the Greek word Apokalupsis.  Apocalyptic means a disclosure of the other-worldly, the unseen.  The genre of  apocalyptic writing also is highly symbolic.  The message of revelation is told mostly in a symbolic, apocalyptic, way.  Jesus’ Olivet discourse (Matthew 24:1 – 25:46, Mark 13:1-37, and Luke 21:5-36) is also written in the apocalyptic style.

The purpose for or problem solved by this letter, written to seven churches and applicable to every generation since, is to give comfort in times of suffering.  The people whom Revelation is meant to minister to are believers who need comforting in a world where it looks like there is no hope.  The big idea of the book is, “God is in control, ruling, and comforting his children”.

Revelation as a book, is a prophecy; like the Old Testament books of Daniel and Zechariah, came to John in a series of visions.  We know that the purpose of prophecy is to encourage, edify and comfort believers.

There are four ways to interpret Revelation and you don’t have to interpret the whole book one way.

1. Preterist

The book is understood as having happened or being fulfilled in the first century.  The partial preterist view is that part of Revelation has been fulfilled.

2. Historical

Revelation presents the times from the first century to the end.

3. Idealist

Revelation is understood as a philosophy of history and is above time.

4. Futurist

Revelation is mostly about the future.  There has been throughout most of church history, a moderate futurist view, which sees the book of Revelation best understood from what it meant to its first hearers and seeing the seven letters applicable to any post first century church.  And the moderate futurist view sees God’s people as the church and not the nation of the Jews.  Moderate futurism also teaches that the church will go through tribulation, and be saved by God; and that the Temple will not be rebuilt, nor will God deal with Israel as a nation.  Through the 2,000 years of church history, this has been the view most held.

The dispensationalism futurist view sees Revelation as a template for the future. The seven letters are believed to be seven time periods of the church age.  Dispensationalism teaches that there will be a seven year tribulation before which, Christians will be raptured, disappeared.  Dispensationalism teaches that God will also deal with the nation of Israel, in judgement while offering salvation.  And the Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem.  Jesus will come again as the book finishes.  Despite it’s popularity, especially in American Evangelicalism, dispensationalism is not the majority view world-wide and across the spectrum of the church; and not at all the view of historic Christianity over the past 2,000 years; being only about 200 years old.

Futurists divide into camps about when the rapture will occur: pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, or post tribulation

The millennium

It is worth noting that there are three views on what is called “the millennium”, which is a symbolic or literal thousand year period mentioned only in Revelation 20:4 & 6.  These three views are the amillennial view that says the thousand years is a symbolic number meaning a long time, for the church age.  The postmillennial viewpoint teaches that there is a time period, perhaps literally 1000 years, perhaps figuratively long, when there will be a ‘golden age’ of prosperity and dominance of Christianity, before the second coming of Christ.  Postmillennialism teaches that the binding of Satan happens in a special time for the spread of the gospel, whereas amillennialism teaches that Jesus bound Satan at the cross.  The premillennial teaching is that the second coming of Christ comes before a literal 1000 year millennium.

The purpose of the book of Revelation is to comfort God’s people.  This is the message.

When was Revelation written?

Was Revelation written during Nero’s reign (54-69 AD), or after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, or as late as 96 AD?    Futurists seem to need the later date, so that the prophecies are seen to not be about the fall of Jerusalem.  And preterists seem to need to have Revelation written before Jerusalem’s fall, so as to see the book foretelling that event.

But whether or not the book was written before or after 70 AD and the fall of Jerusalem, it can still be seen as written against Rome and anti-Christian Roman culture.  If the book was written before 70 AD, that does not have to mean that it was written foretelling the calamity coming upon the Jews and Jerusalem.  But if you do believe that the events prophesied include the decimation of Jerusalem, then you would need to argue that Revelation was written before 70 AD.

The ‘popular view’ today, especially in American Evangelicalism, is the later date and that Revelation is not about and can not have been written before 70 AD.  Although there are arguments for this, these arguments must be believed to hold the futurist, dispensational viewpoint (it seems to me).  Because if we just use common sense and let scripture interpret scripture, and especially if we set aside Darbyism; in other words, if we hold off on imposing the interpretive grid of dispensationalism onto the scriptures and just let the scriptures speak to us (scripture interpreting scripture), and listen to what John is saying with a mind to his original audience in the first century, we can begin to understand this book for today.

Here are some pretty strong arguments for the earlier date of Revelation:

-The temple in Jerusalem seems to still be standing when Revelation was written:

Then I was given a measuring reed like a rod, with these words: “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count those who worship there.  But exclude the courtyard outside the temple. Don’t measure it, because it is given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 

-Revelation 11:1-2

But, was this picture symbolic; and perhaps a future temple like how Ezekiel saw a future temple?

-James and Peter, who both died prior of AD 70 seem to have referred to things John wrote in Revelation:

Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

-James 1:12

Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will experience affliction for ten days. Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

-Revelation 2:10

But based on his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

-2 Peter 3:13

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 

-Revelation 21:1

Is Revelation non-linear?

Revelation might be telling the same story perhaps seven times.  Imagine having the same dream seven different nights in seven different ways.  What if Revelation is not linear and is not consecutive, but has a time-line that jumps backwards and forwards really all over the place to tell a story?  What if Revelation contains a series of visions that overlap a lot and are the same story told over and over?

The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, whatever he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it, because the time is near.

-Revelation 1:1-3

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Bibliography / *for further study

Beasley-Murray, Hobbs, George, and Robbins; Revelation Three Viewpoints

*Clouse, Robert G., Editor; Boettner, Hoekema, Hoyt, and Ladd; The meaning of the Millennium: Four Views

*Gregg, Steve; Revelation Four Views

Griffin, Winn; God’s Epic Adventure

Grudem, Wayne; Systematic Theology

A Few Notes On Dispensationalism

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?”

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

-Acts 1:6-7

(edited, 12-7-18; updated/additions, 10-16-22)

I grew up in a church that taught dispensational theology and I did not know that there was anything else.  In college, God ministered to me deeply, when I attended a Calvary Chapel church.  And my mother imparted to me a love, respect, and honor for the Jewish people.

You can both love the Jewish people and the present state of Israel, but at the same time not believe in dispensationalism, saying that dispensationalism is completely wrong, all the way through.  That is orthodoxy.  Dispensationalism is the new teaching, that does not line up with what Christians have believed and taught through the ages.

Here are a few notes on dispensationalism and some of the issues.

Introduction

  • John Darby (1800-82), invented Dispensationalism, which includes the invention of “the rapture” of the church.  He began espousing these ideas in 1831.
    • (Darby’s ideas were popularized by Dwight Moody and C. I. Scofield)
    • Dispensationalism becomes the grid from which scripture is interpreted, rather than letting scripture interpret scripture.  Some of the problems with this grid are:
      • The cessation of spiritual gifts. 
      • The misunderstanding of Israel.
      • The invention of the rapture. 
      • The downplaying of the church: dispensationalism believes the church is “plan B”.
      • The downplaying of the teachings of Jesus in the four gospels:
        • Because your grid says, “those words were only for Jesus’ first century audience”.
        • Seeing Jesus ministry as not the model for Christians today.

Terms

  • “Replacement Theology” is a pejorative, name calling term that some dispensationalists sometimes use for those who hold a non-dispensational view, about Israel and the church. It is said that RT is the view that the church has replaced Israel.
    • But non-dispensationalists never call themselves RT. 
    • RT is a disingenuous label, because non-dispensationalists would never call their beliefs RT. 
  • Supersessionism is the proper technical term. The New Covenant supersedes the Old Covenant.
    • Jesus said this at the last supper and the writer of Hebrews said this.  
    • Supersessionism can also be called “Fulfillment Theology” or “Remnant Theology”.
    • Supersessionism is not, “A lie from the pit of hell”, called ‘replacement theology’. 
    • Supersessionism is not  (marxist) liberation theology. 
    • Supersessionism or remnant theology is not a ‘last days deception’. 
  • Israel in the Bible is primarily about the covenant, not the ethnicity nor the bloodline. It is a covenantal term or entity.
    •  In the upper room, Jesus talked about the New Covenant in his blood that would be open to all.
    • In the OT, Jews could be cut off from the covenant and Gentiles could be grafted (cut) in.
    • In the NT, there is not one verse that identifies Israel as primarily an ethnic people, nor a bloodline.  
    • Israel is always identified as a covenant people.
      • The covenant has changed – superseded the old covenant. You are in or out of the new covenant.
      • There are many verses in the NT that identify the new covenant people as Israel.
      • Believing Jews and believing Gentiles are now in the one olive tree.

The real replacement theology is dispensationalism.

Ironically, dispensationalism is actually the replacement theology, replacing Jesus with Israel: ethnic, yet to be saved, future Israel.

  • Antichrist in dispensationalism actually means, to them, Anti-Jew, for example. 
  • End times promises are for and about Israel, says dispensationalism.

More terms defined:

  • Amillennialism
    • The thousand years is a symbolic, long period of time.
  • Premillennialism believes that it is a literal thousand year period.
    •  Note that there is just one verse.
  • Postmillennialism believes Jesus comes back after the millennium.

The early church was a mixture of pre and amillennialism. 

  • Preterism
    • This is an interpretive term, the opposite of futurism. Preterism says some things have already been fulfilled. 
    •  There are partial and full preterists. 
    •  Full preterist is a minority view, but held honorably.
    • Many historic, orthodox Christians have been partial preterists and disagree with the dispensational futurist position.
      • In a sense every Christian is a partial preterist, because we all believe that some Bible prophecies have already been fulfilled.
  • Futurism
    • Futurist teachers believe that Revelation is all future and was written after Nero (>95 AD).
    • The preterist view is that perhaps Revelation was written before or at the beginning of Nero and was all or mostly fulfilled in Roman times (<65-70 AD).
    • If you have an open mind, you must concede that we can’t know for sure the date of Revelation.

Dispensationalism is not historic Christianity

  • It is unfortunate to speak of non-dispensationalist as heresy, blasphemy, or error; when the truth is that Darby fashioned these ideas about 200 years ago, at the same time Mormonism began.

It is also wrong-headed to call, “watching for the signs of the second coming, or signs of the times”, as the Christian’s (primary) calling.

The church is ‘plan b’ in dispensationalism

(Classic) dispensationalism teaches that the church ‘age’ is a parenthesis. Christ raptures the church, then works with Israel, is what they say.

The church age or dispensation is an age between God’s work with ethic Israel.

The rapture is the end of the church age, says dispensationalism, and God begins to work with Israel, in a big way, again.  And just like before the church age, some Gentiles do also hear the gospel and get saved, incidentally, just like before the church age; just like how some Jews get saved during the church age.

The rapture

In dispensationalism, what they call the rapture, is not the second coming, but a sort of peek-a-boo, where Christ calls the church to heaven,  We meet him in the clouds, but he does not come to earth, as he does in the second coming.  That’s what dispensationalism says!

The belief is that the rapture is an event distinct from the second coming.  The rapture is actually a description of what will happen to believers who are living on the earth at the time of Jesus’ second coming, that they will be caught up to meet him in the air.  The problem with the rapture teaching is that there is not a separate occurrence.  The rapture happens at the second coming and is not separated from it.  The teaching or picture of thousands and thousands of believers suddenly disappearing from the face of the earth, but that not being the second coming with Christ appearing in the clouds, is fiction not found in scripture.

It is confusing, but you can still call this event the rapture (“we will meet him in the sky”), but say that this is the second coming, and not the church being taken out of the world, before the great tribulation, where God saves ethnic Israel.

Non dispensationalists do believe in and look forward to the second coming, but are not obsessed with it, nor do we believe in setting dates and trying to predict it.

It is orthodoxy to say, “This same Jesus will come again.  In the very manner that you have seen him go”, referring to the ascension and the second coming.

The rapture is simply the English form of a Greek word that means, “to be caught up”, that is from 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which is about the second coming; which there is only one of.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
-1 Thess. 4:16-17

One second coming, one final judgement, and one people of God

  • The Bible teaches that there is one second coming of Christ.
    • It’s confusing to call the second coming ‘the rapture’.
    • It is better just to quote the scriptures, in awe, that say people will be caught up to meet the Lord.
  • The Bible teaches that there is one final judgement.  We have various pictures or accounts of it, but they are all the same, singular, final judgement.

The land of Israel

There is no scripture that supports Israel coming back to the land, in unbelief. The scripture talks about them returning to the land, in faith. That is why 1948 was not an eschatological, Biblical event.

Israel may have already reached its widest boundaries promised to Abraham (Gen. 15) under Joshua or Solomon. See 1 Kings 4:21, Joshua 21:43.

Abraham’s seed: Israel, the people of God in Christ

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ.

-Galatians 3:16

Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race,

Ye ransomed from the fall,

Hail Him who saves you by His grace,

While the sensational things found in dispensationalism are perhaps wrong, the teaching that national or ethnic Israel is the center of theology, God’s plan, is the biggest problem or misunderstanding of scripture, found in dispensationalism.  The state of Israel or the Jewish people are not the center of God’s plan or the main and central focus of God.  Christ is.

The promises given to Abraham, are for Christ, to those in Christ.  Jew and Gentile, Slave and Free, Male and Female; in Christ (Gal. 3:28).  They do not exclude Jewish believers, but include everyone else, as long as they are in Christ.

“Christ is the true recipient of God’s promise to Abraham.” -Richard Longenecker

Physical descendance does not at all guarantee spiritual inheritance (Rom. 9:6b-7a).

The false teachers in Galatia who’s teaching Paul was addressing seem to have taught that God’s promises were only for the Jewish people.  Paul points out that God’s promise to Abraham was based on the principle of faith, before the law was given and God had in mind, Christ and those in Christ (Gal. 3:29).

Galatians is a letter for people who think that Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are different, and have trouble being together, living together and sharing meals together.  How can we be unified in Christ?  Galatians is written to people who want to add something to Christ, to be Christians.

A crazy idea that is taught from dispensationalism is that there were and are two different gospels: The one Jesus preached (the gospel of the kingdom: “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand”) and the one Paul preached, which is the ‘gospel of grace’.  The Judaizers came to Galatia and preached yet another, distorted ‘gospel’ of their own invention; which Paul refutes and says that there is only one gospel.  And Paul’s gospel is the kingdom of God message (Acts 20:24-25).

The church or Christians are Israel or ‘the true Israel’ (Rom. 9:6).  Being Jewish refers to your ethnicity.  Most Jewish people today are not Christians.  Jewish Christians, along with Gentile Christians are a part of true Israel today.  The state of Israel and the scattered Jewish people are ethnic Israel.

Paul also says that there are ethnic Jews and believing Jews.  He says that ethnic Jews, who do not believe are not real Jews: “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter. That person’s praise is not from people but from God.” (Rom. 2:28-9)

To me, this might mean that we are Jewish, in a way, by adoption, in Christ!

  • There has always been one people of God, in Christ: Jew and Gentile; believing Israel.

Here are some things to ponder, if you believe in dispensationalism, that you may not know it teaches:

  • Before 1830, Christian theologians almost unanimously taught that the promises made to Israel have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
  • Dispensationalism places Israel, and not the church, at the center of eschatology. 
  • In dispensationalism, the church is an afterthought or a pause, a parenthesis, in God’s plan, for Israel.
  • Dispensationalism takes a futurist view of the book of Revelation, previously rejected.
  • Dispensationalism teaches that the church is not part of the kingdom of God.
  • Dispensationalism teaches that the gospel that Jesus preached and his teachings, were intended for first century Jews, to convince them to accept him as their Davidic king; which they rejected.
  • Dispensationalism teaches that due to Israel’s rejection of Jesus, the kingdom of God on earth was postponed, and the Church Age began, and “the gospel of grace”, which is a different gospel that the gospel of the kingdom, Jesus preached, will be the gospel preached, until the rapture of the church; at which time, the gospel of the kingdom will once again be preached, by converted and awakened Jews, ‘left behind’.  This is crazy (incorrect) because Jesus commanded his followers to teach what He taught, until the end of the age: the gospel of the kingdom. 
  • Dispensationalism teaches that the kingdom is not now in existence, but is waiting for the rapture.
  • Dispensationalism teaches that Christ is not reigning now, but he will later.  He will reign by sitting on David’s throne in literal Jerusalem, during the millennium.
  • Dispensationalism teaches that the Jewish temple will be rebuild in literal Jerusalem, and services, sacrifices of animals, and ceremonies will be reinstituted.  There is nothing about a rebuilt temple in the NT and we know that Christ is the final sacrifice

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Bibliography / For Further Study

A Dispensational Hermeneutic, by Haley

A Friendly Critique of Dispensationalism by Michael Phillips

A Critique of Dispensational Premillenialism by Anthony Hoekema

NT Wright and the Supersessionism Question: What did Paul do?, by Scot McKnight

Nothing Super About Supersessionism!, By Dr. Raymond L. Gannon

Is Dispensationalism Indispensable?  By Steve Gregg

Does the Bible Teach that the Temple Will be Rebuilt?  By Gary Demar

Galatians, Word Biblical Commentary; Richard N. Longenecker

This Is My Country: Is Nationalism OK?

When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance and divided the human race,
He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the people of Israel.

From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.

-Deuteronomy 32:8, Acts 17:26-27

I woke up one morning, this past week, with the song, “This Is My Country”, going through my heart.  You might know this song, which speaks of national pride and national unity.  We are, in America, “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.  These are very powerful words that we say.

I believe that we are entering into a time when these words will be more meaningful and come alive to all of us in America.  I, personally,  am proud to be an America and I love the United State of America.  But I also love God first and His Christ and I also love all the other nations.

But this is my country.  If I were a citizen of China or Scotland, I would say the same thing.  Nations are a good thing and were invented by God.

And we love our nation and we love the nations. And believers are a nation within the nations.  Only God is a citizen of the whole world and the gospel, from God and through God’s people, is transportable to all the nations.

We are not citizens of the world.  Some people, through the circumstances of their lives, hold dual citizenship, and perhaps it is possible to hold three or more.  Many of us can trace our roots back to a number of countries, where we have our family lines, and that is a part of what makes us who we are.

But from wherever we came, we are now here, and we have a nation we call our country.  This is how it is and is part of God’s design, which we see throughout the scriptures.  If nations were invented by God, then is nationalism ok?

We have to understand that nationalism is not racism or a hegemony.  We can and should be nationalistic without racism or hegemony.  Nations should be good neighbors and there is a saying that goes, “fences make for good neighbors”.

We do have allegiance to our nation, but after our allegiance to God.  We are one nation, under God; whether we act like it or not.  And many of us do put our trust in God, even if we don’t act like it, taking God’s name is vain often.

We are a nation of sinners and saints and saints who sin and sinners who are saints.  With all our flaws and outright missing the mark, we are God’s people even when we don’t know God.  
God created nations and nations are a good Idea.  Nations, plural.  When we become believers, our national identity comes under God, just as everything else about us does.
I am a Christian, who is proud to be an American.  That is very different than saying and believing that I am a proud American, who is also a Christian.  Everything about us, including our ethnicity and our nationalistic identification and our sexuality comes under God and under God’s Christ.
The idea of ‘one world’ or ‘no borders’, is distinctly not from God, not from the Bible, and has never been a part of the story of the people of God.  Because of the sins of nations and governments, that have caused wars, famine and poverty throughout the earth; humans have come up with the solution that we should all get along without the many tribes and many nations, with their boundaries, borders and distinctives.
Through the entire Bible’s story, when we finally get to the last book, Revelation, we read that there are nations that God has been working in:

And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands.
-Revelation 5:9 and 7:9

Being from and in a nation is a good thing.  Loving your nation, your people, and either the people your nation has adopted or the people you have been adopted into, is a good thing.  Christians are citizens of the kingdom first and then citizens of earthly nations.

Nationalism is good when it is woven through with kingdom values like love for others.  But the nations on this earth are not the kingdom of God, and the church is not the kingdom either.  The church comes out of and flows in the kingdom and we all live in nations, whether we serve the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Satan.

God and Satan are both working in the nations, as a battle field, on the earth.  Nations are turf, where people live, that God is working to save and Satan is working to corrupt.  People who do not believe, who have not repented, or are not ready are apt to have an unclear understanding of nations and might gravitate to the extreme of national pride, exclusive-ism and un-neighborliness that may even include war against others.  Or, they might believe in moving toward a world where there are no nations, no boundaries and we are all one.

Both of these extremes are wrong, and the correction is that God redeems nations.  The human answer is to either be proud and unloving towards others and live in narcissism, or to become ‘enlightened’ and find a way to get along, through ‘human ingenuity’.  Both of these are wrong, because they leave out or set aside the loving God.

Believers are challenged to live in the world, but not of the world: as sojourners, who are on their way to living forever with God.  And believers are all about taking as many people with them into God’s family.  That mission is what drives the Christian, who lives on earth, in a nation.

What God has ordained or created is something I also like.  And one of those things is nations.  Nations is plural and God loves the nations, all the nations.

But I live in a nation and I love my nation, that God also loves.  God is saving and redeeming people inside of nations including my country.

I can not tell you about other nations or your country, if you are in another nation.  But I can tell you the good things about my country.  I can sing it’s praises and I imagine you can sing the praises of yours.

One of the great things about my country is that we are of many ethnicities, yet we are one nation.  We also hold many different opinions, but we are one nation.  Love for America in it’s truest sense is love for all of America and love for who we all are, together, living in this land.

Here is the song:
This is My Country, by Dan Raye and Al Jacobs
This is my country
Land of my birth
This is my country
Grandest on Earth
I pledge thee my allegiance
America the bold
For this is my country
To have and to hold

What difference if I hail from North or South

Or from the East or West?
My heart is filled with love
For all of these.
I only know I swell with pride
And deep within my breast
I thrill to see Old Glory
Paint the breeze.
With hand upon my heart
I’m thankful for my native land
For all I love is here within her gates
My soul is rooted deeply within the soil on which I stand
For these are mine, my own United States.
This is my country
Land of my choice
This is my country
Hear my proud voice.

I pledge thee my allegiance

America the bold
For this is my country
To have and to hold.

Reflections on Israel’s Salvation: Looking at Romans 11

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
The Liberator will come from Zion;
He will turn away godlessness from Jacob.

-Romans 11:26

The Salvation of Israel

All of Israel will be saved.  Does this mean the State of Israel, or all of ethnic Israel?  And is this going to happen at a certain time?  When we study this phrase and then look at it in context, the answer is very simple and clear.

The key that helps us understand are the previous words, that answer the question of ‘how?, and they are, “in this way”.  What is this way that Israel will be saved?  The answer is: All of Israel that will be saved, may be saved in the same way that Paul and the remnant of Jews in his day were saved, and that is through faith in the gospel.

Israel will be saved as they respond in faith and receive mercy from God, in the same way and through the same mercy, in which God saves any and all peoples.  The offer of mercy has gotten more appealing, interesting, and attractive; in the light of the Gentiles taking God up on his offer of salvation.

The Letter to The Roman Church

What about God’s promises to Israel?  Was God’s faithfulness to believers in Christ taking over his faithfulness to Israel?  These are questions that Paul addresses in the passage of Romans nine through eleven.

These chapters seem like an aside, for modern Gentile readers.  Chapter 8 ends on the glorious and triumphant expression of Christian faith that says:

For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

And chapter 12 begins with a big therefore, that says in a sense, in light of all this teaching, here are some thoughts on how to live out the life in Christ:

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.

Doctrine, Heart, Practice

The section on the questions about Israel is sandwiched between profound orthodoxy (true and correct doctrine) and profound orthopraxy (true and correct practice).  But Romans 9-11 is orthopathy or orthokardia (true or correct heart or affections).  It teaches or imparts to us wisdom about having the right affection or the right heart.

Listen to Paul’s tone, as he begins Romans 9:

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit— that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood.

Do you have intense sorrow and anguish in your heart over your unsaved loved ones?  Do you weep over the lost?  Do you share Jesus’ heart for those who have rejected him?

As a christian child, pretty much all of my best friends were non-believers, and I experienced this agony for them.  I also had a grandmother, who was a proud atheist.  I worried and agonized over her salvation.  But she or should I say God surprised us one day, by telling us she believed in Christ.

The Heart of God and His Renovation of Our Hearts

The heart of God is filled with love and joy and affection over his children.  We need to experience God in his affection as a way of life.  But God also has great affection and a heart of love for those who are not yet saved and do not yet know him.  His heart both enjoys his children he has, and has great affection for those who are not yet living in his embrace.

It makes perfect sense that this section of Romans is where it is, because after we are given understanding about the truth (orthodoxy), we must first address racial or ethic prejudice, where we lack affection or heart and are prejudiced against people of different race or ethnicity than ourselves; before we address how to live (orthopraxy) under right understanding about God.

We cannot just be knowledgeable about God, but we also must live our lives under the correct thoughts about God.  But that is not the whole picture and leads to disaster, if we leave out the renovation of our hearts.  We must have affection, towards God and towards other people,  created in God’s image, before we can learn how to live under truth.

Paul’s message, that all Christ-followers need to get in their hearts, “is that there is a new race that has been created by God through Jesus and empowered by the Spirit to live in this Present Evil Age in a different way” (Griffin, p. 249).  Racism has no place in Christ.  Antisemitism and Christianity are antithetical and diametrically opposed.

Questions About Israel

The Roman church was a church of Jewish and Gentile converts to Christ.  The question was naturally coming up of how do we view our selves and our unsaved brethren?  Because of the new covenant, in Christ, are the bearers of the old covenant forever cut off and done, because of their (by and large) rejection of Christ?  The Gentiles in the Roman Church may have held this view, and that is perhaps why Paul wrote these chapters, to which the answer to that question in “no”.

The question before the Jewish Christians in the church, was; should they view Jews outside of Christ as apostates, or express such a large degree of solidarity with them, that they were in danger of losing their connection to Gentile Christians?  Another question or a version of the same question, was, are there going to be two kinds of Christians?

Paul’s argument, presented in the first eight chapters of Romans, is that the gospel is not a new innovation, but the fulfillment of the promises of God to the fathers in the Hebrew scriptures.  The gospel has always been that the way to righteousness is by faith.  Paul’s argument is that it is the same today for us as it was for Abraham.

The question then stands out, why then have many of Abraham’s descendants refused to believe the gospel?  How can this paradox be explained: that the nation that had been prepared for Messiah, through whom which Messiah came, would reject him?  These questions are what Paul addresses in chapter 9, verses 1-5.

These questions lead to the next question: Has the word of God failed (9:6)?  And the answer of course is “no”.  And the explanation is the simple phrase that says, “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel”.

Determinism?

Calvinists or deterministic advocates like to quote Romans 9 as their proof.  But Romans 9 actually may teach the opposite.  Are people predetermined to a certain destiny, by God?  Foreknowledge does not equate to determination.

People still choose.  God calling out for people to come to him is not an act with scripted, predetermined outcomes.  That is a human perspective that looks at life as predetermined.

God has a different perspective that sees choices.  There has been a debate about how election works, with vigorous proponents with different perspectives (2).

God can choose, like how he chose Mary and Joseph.  God’s choosing is for God to do his wider work through you.  So, God’s choosing or calling has always been about getting his mission accomplished through people, and not for individual salvation’s.

One God in The Whole Story

Jesus Christ is God.  Father God is not a different God, with a meaner, harsher personality.  And Jesus  was not different before he had his incarnation.   If Jesus came to show us the Father, then Jesus is the lens that we must see God through for the whole story, Genesis to Revelation.

Hyperbole

Much of the Bible, including some of Jesus’ words were hyperbole.  Hyperbole is like exaggerating, to make a point.

Two common hyperbolic expressions that we use are like these: “My wife is going to kill me when she sees what I did to the kitchen”, and, “I am so hungry, I could eat a horse”.  The husband does not really believe his wife will literally kill him, and most of us do not know people who could eat a whole horse.

“Jacob I loved and Esau I hated”, and, “No one can be my disciple unless he hates his mother and father”, are both hyperbole.  The first one does not teach the predetermination, and the second one does not teach that Christians must literally hate their parents.

Choice and Faith

At the end of Romans 9, which is the first of three chapters that asks, ‘what about the Jewish people?’, Paul says that the issue is their choice and their faith.

What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith. But Israel, pursuing the law for righteousness, has not achieved the righteousness of the law. Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written:

Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over
and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame.  

-Romans 9:30-33

This was not predetermined by God, but determined by themselves.  People get mercy in response to their faith and people receive hardened hearts due to their unbelief.  We have it backwards, if we say that God arbitrarily hardens some hearts who in turn, have unbelief, while arbitrarily having mercy on others, who in turn have faith.

Hardness of Heart

The famous person in the OT, with the hard heart was Pharaoh.  God did not script the man to be obstinate, but worked despite the man’s obstinence.  God hardened his heart, because of his unbelief.

At the end of Romans 11, Paul writes:

A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 

-Romans 11:25c 

Hardness of heart is not fatal or terminal, because there is always hope and God’s mercy stands, available, and may always be chosen.  The calling of God still stands, but will they choose to hear the call and come?  They may and they will.

Jesus Saves

The answer to how “all Israel shall be saved” is Christ, the grace of Christ, acted upon in faith; or faith in Christ, acted upon through grace. The whole “this is how” is explained in the whole of chapter 11, which fits into the whole discussion of chapters 9-11, which fits into the whole of the book or letter to the Romans, which fits into the whole of the New Testament, which fits into the whole Bible.

The Letter to The Romans

The message of Romans is: “God has created a new humanity by the death of Jesus”.  The first half of Romans (1-11) is about salvation by faith, while the second half (12-16) is about Christian living.  Another way to look at Romans is that it has 4 sections: Slaves to sin (1:18-3:20), slaves to God (3:21-8:39), salvation of Israel (9:1-11:36), and service to God (12:1-16:24).

How Will All Israel Be Saved?

When Paul  writes that “all Israel will be saved”, he prefaces that by saying, “in this way”.  And “the way” is the same way everyone gets saved, and that is through faith in Christ by grace.

“All Israel”, means Israel, as a whole.  This means comprehensive, but not all inclusive.  This means the people already saved, with all the yet to be saved, or who may come into salvation, as a people.  Just before Paul writes, “And in this way, all Israel will be saved”, he mentions, “A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”

“Full number of the Gentiles”, does not mean all or every breathing Gentile, but the comprehensive harvest of Gentile souls.  It means a comprehensive harvest.  We will have a full harvest of Gentiles and then Jews, or ethnic Israel, before the end.

These are like layers of sound in music.  One part comes in and gets loud, while underneath the second part comes in, softly at first, then gets louder and louder, until the two parts are both loud, and the piece of music ends.

There is a school of thought or lens or grid, that some people use to interpret Romans 11, that sees a massive harvest from the Jewish people after the Gentile church flies away, in what they call “the rapture”.  That is not at all what Paul is teaching here.

Romans 11 and The Olive Tree As The True Israel

The message of Romans 11 is to Gentile and Jewish Christians both.  And that message is that you can be cut out, cut in, cut out after being cut in, or cut in after being cut out of the figurative olive tree of the believers, or people of God, who are the true Israel.

Earlier, I noted how the context of Romans 11 falls into the whole piece of chapters 9-11, and of course 9-11 fits into the whole letter, which fits into all of Paul, which fits into all of the NT, which fits into the whole Bible, which fits into God, who is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, who is alive, and building his church in the world today.

In that light, I gave some notes about chapter 9, with an emphasis on the thought that God does not predetermine for people to sin, express unbelief, or do evil.  You have to interpret texts with a bias or a man shaped grid, to believe that God determines that some people will do bad and are only born to eternally never get it.  That is not the Father, nor the Son, nor the Spirit; told of in the Bible and history.

The Way of Salvation, Not The Predetermined Time

I started my discussion of Romans 11, with the verse that says, “all Israel will be saved”.  We make a mistake, if we read that line to say, “at a time, all Israel will be saved”, because it does not say that.  Paul is writing about what was happening then and into the future.

Paul makes the case, argues or illustrates, that he is hopeful that the hearts of ethnic Israel will soften, as the Gentiles come into Israel, and the gospel goes out and through all the Gentile nations.  ‘All Israel will be saved”, is similar in expression as, “the full number of the Gentiles”.  It does not literally mean ‘all’, but means ‘whole’, as in ‘fullness’.

Every person who comes into the kingdom, becomes saved, has faith, and becomes a part of true Israel, which in the church; has to come through Jesus.  A very incorrect way to read this verse is to think that at a magic time, God will save all the Jewish people, outside of the faith of Abraham in Christ.

Romans 11, Verse by Verse

1I ask, then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham,from the tribe of Benjamin.

-God has not rejected Israel, even if they are disobedient or defiant (10:21).  Paul says, look at me, as an example.

2God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he pleads with God against Israel?

3Lord, they have killed Your prophets
and torn down Your altars.
I am the only one left,
and they are trying to take my life!

4But what was God’s reply to him? I have left 7,000 men for Myself who have not bowed down to Baal.

-Foreknew means ‘believer’ or ‘christian’: Christian Jews who will become saved, like Paul.  The point is, some Jews are Christians.  Paul uses this story about Elijah, to illustrate the concept of the remnant.  Elijah says, in hyperbole, “I am the only one left!”, but God says, “Not true, there are many others”.

5In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace.

-Paul says, that it is the same now.  There is a remnant, from the whole.

6Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace.

-Salvation is by faith in Christ, but by birth, nor by works.

7 What then? Israel did not find what it was looking for, but the elect did find it. The rest were hardened, 8 as it is written:

God gave them a spirit of insensitivity,
eyes that cannot see
and ears that cannot hear,
to this day.

-The elect are those that choose God and love God.  Election is not something prehistoric, where God predetermines people’s choices.  We are not ‘scripted’ to choose a certain way, but God might know how we will choose.   The elect are at times, the minority or a remnant.

The hardening is judgement for lack of love for God, and lack of faith or the continuing expression of unbelief.  People can be religious, even very religious, and not love God.  People can be religious and not be living in or believing in salvation through faith in God’s faithfulness, but living in a legalistic, works-righteousness that is paradoxically, a style of unbelief, that lacks trust, love, and faith in God.  The law abiding religious person may experience hardness of heart toward God and the gospel, because of their unbelief.

9 And David says:

Let their feasting become a snare and a trap,
a pitfall and a retribution to them.
10 Let their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent continually.

-Paul quotes Psalm 69, where David is speaking against other Jews.  This is the word of God, the voice of Christ, speaking about Jewish people who are temporarily blinded; with the exception of a remnant.  Psalm 69 is quoted many times(1), by the NT authors, regarding the passion of Christ; including applying Ps. 69:25 to Judas Iscariot.

11 I ask, then, have they stumbled in order to fall? Absolutely not! On the contrary, by their stumbling, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous.

-The stumble of ethnic Israel is not an irrevocable fall.  God is not done with them nor run out of mercy.  Paul here is making an interpretation of the words of Moses, that he quoted in chapter 10, from Deut. 32:21:

But I ask, “Did Israel not understand?” First, Moses said:
I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
I will make you angry by a nation that lacks understanding. (Rom. 10:19)

-God is provoking ethnic Israel to jealousy, by the salvation of the Gentile peoples.  From a practical perspective, Paul is saying that the Gentiles have ended up coming into salvation, because the Jews, by and large, have rejected the gospel.

This was not God’s script or predetermined iron-clad plan.  This was God working, in spite of Israel’s rejection and hard hardheartedness.  They made their move, their choice; and then God made a counter move, his choice.

But, their move away from Christ, their rejection of the gospel, is not irrevocable.  The door, the path, the way, and repentance and the softening of their hearts, as a people, is still an option.  God’s mercy stands.

12 Now if their stumbling brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full number bring!

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. In view of the fact that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if I can somehow make my own people jealous and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brings reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

-These verses do not predict the future.  The key word, in verses 12 and 15, is ‘if’.  ‘If’ means it is an open question, a hopeful possibility.  This is Paul saying “what if?”, or “can you imagine?”.  And, it is God saying it through Paul.

God acts, yes.  But God calls people to act.  God gives us a playing field to play out our lives, calling plays and running plays.  God does not give us a micro-managed script or program us to live as his robots.

God lets us choose, but says consider the possibilities.  In every negative move by other people, by the enemy, or by bad circumstances; God has good provision or blessing for those who love him and have faith in him (Romans 8).

God has always had the desire to bring something spectacular out of the tragedy of the Jewish people rejecting Jesus and the gospel, and he has been doing it.  But there’s more, says Paul.  God still wants to get all the Jewish people saved.

This message says to the Jewish Christian, “don’t lose heart”; and to the Gentile Christian, “don’t disrespect the unbelieving Jew, because not only were you once in darkness, but your proud judgmental attitude can give you a hardened heart and get you cut off from God”.

16 Now if the firstfruits offered up are holy, so is the whole batch. And if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 Now if some of the branches were broken off, and you, though a wild olive branch, were grafted in among them and have come to share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree, 18 do not brag that you are better than those branches. But if you do brag—you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”

-The tree is Israel and the church, or believers.  The root are holy people of faith, rooted in God.  Not all Israel is Israel (Rom. 9:6).  The broken off branches are unbelieving, ethnic Israel.

Jewish believers are in the tree.  Gentile believers have been grafted into that same tree, sharing the same root with the old branches.  In ancient Israel, there were always Gentile proselytes, who were in, and Jewish apostates who were out.

Israel as a people has always been defined as Jewish and Gentile people who are faithful to God.  All of the believing people are in the tree.  There was once more Jewish people in the tree, but now there are more Gentiles and less Jewish.  This can, may, and will change.

There is not a ‘replacement’ for the people of God.  The tree has always been one tree, that represents the people of faith.  God has always had one people who are called the people of faith, who love him.

The root of the tree is the faithfulness of God, finally expressed in love, by the coming of Jesus, and is the source of the one faith, and one path of salvation, from the one God.

20 True enough; they were broken off by unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either.

-The danger for any branch/people is the pride of being in the tree, thinking that the favor or grace of God was somehow merited, as if they were born superior and are entitled.

22 Therefore, consider God’s kindness and severity: severity toward those who have fallen but God’s kindness toward you—if you remain in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

-“If you remain”, is key.  God’s kindness is available, if  we continue to abide in it.  Salvation is conditional on our remaining in the faith, or in the tree.  Salvation is an event and a process.

If we do not remain, abide, or continue in the faith; then we are opting out or ceasing the salvation process.   If we no longer continue in a faithful relationship with God, then we are no longer saved.  The righteous live by faith, which is lived out through action based upon confidence in God.

23 And even they, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again.

-Any Jewish person can become a person of true Israel, a person of faith, who loves God; just by faith.  Being cut off from the tree does not have to be permanent.

24 For if you were cut off from your native wild olive and against nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these—the natural branches—be grafted into their own olive tree?

-Curiously deciding to pursue faith is always an open question.  We do not do the saving.  We step into faith or step out of faith.   God does the saving while we express faith or unbelief.

God can both take a former non-believer, who decides to believe, into salvation and belonging to the people of faith; and he can take a person or people who formerly or who’s ancestors formerly had faith, but who have been in unbelief, but now have come to faith; he can make them saved also and cause them to belong also to the one people of faith, again.

25 So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

The Liberator will come from Zion;
He will turn away godlessness from Jacob.
27 And this will be My covenant with them
when I take away their sins.

-Paul has been writing about what is happening now.  This whole message, teaching, or argument is present orientated.  It is what has happened, and is happening.

What has happened and now is, is mentioned or answered in verse 7 and then expounded upon in the following verses.  Verse 7 reads:

What then? Israel did not find what it was looking for, but the elect did find it. The rest were hardened

This is where they were when Paul wrote this and he has been explaining how it works and how it can be and hopefully will be remedied.  Gentiles will continue to come into the people of faith, all the way up until the second coming of Christ.

“In this way”, is now, and refers to the parabolic illustration of the olive tree, that Paul has been expounding on.  Paul is saying “this is how it is working, or can work”.  There has been this hardening of the Jews and the Gentiles are coming in, who in turn will spur the Jewish people to jealousy, as in a softening of hearts and a curiosity, to take another look and see if something is there.

“In this way”, means the method.  There is one olive tree of believers.  The wild one and the cultivated one are now one.

There have been branches of unbelief from the cultivated olive tree that were cut off and the wild branches that were cut in have given the original tree new vitality and fruitfulness.  Seeing this will cause, will hopefully cause, can cause, and the door is open to, the cut off branches to being re-grafted back in.  God can do this and will, if faith is expressed.

There is one people of God, one people of Faith, one Israel that is the true Israel, one church, Jew and Gentile.  This is how it is and always has been.

28 Regarding the gospel, they are enemies for your advantage, but regarding election, they are loved because of the patriarchs, 29 since God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable.

-Paul says that the rejection of the gospel, by the majority of the Jews has been a blessing in disguise for the Gentiles.  God’s plan has always been to get everyone saved that wants to be saved.  But Paul is speaking to the present condition and questions that the Roman Christians found themselves in.

Do not make the mistake of hearing Paul say that ethic Israel is saved by the faith of the patriarchs.  What Paul is saying is the invitation that the patriarchs took God up on, still stands, is still available, because of God’s loving faithfulness.  The whole letter is woven through with the treatise on why merit from lineage or good works does not bring forth salvation.

30 As you once disobeyed God, but now have received mercy through their disobedience, 31 so they too have now disobeyed, resulting in mercy to you, so that they also now may receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that He may have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches
both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
How unsearchable His judgments
and untraceable His ways!
34 For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been His counselor?
35 Or who has ever first given to Him,
and has to be repaid?
36
 For from Him and through Him
and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

-The key word is may.  The question has been about unbelieving Israel.  They may receive mercy, and this is how they all will be saved.

It does not say that they all will receive mercy.  This is not a prediction, like a prophetic word; but a promise that is an invitation, that depends on the invited one to accept the invitation.  The word from Paul is that the door is open and will open more and more as the time goes on towards the end of the age.

This whole chapter explains how they will be saved.  Paul explains it and gives hopefulness for how it can come about in the best case.  “They also (with the Gentiles) now may (depending on their volition) receive mercy.”

God Wants All To Be Saved

Paul’s doxology that closes this chapter says that God wants to save everybody.  Paul was a hopeful universalist, hoping for everyone to be saved through believing in Christ.

This final statement by Paul does not mean that God controls everything, as if we are all living out his script for us, for good or bad, faithful or faithless.  “From Him, through Him, and to Him are all things” means that God works through giving us all free will.  Even though and when some people resist God’s will, God’s invitation, or God’s plan; God still works to make his overall purpose come about, and gets glory no matter what happens.

_____________________________
Footnotes
1. Jn 15:25, 2:17; Rom 15:3; Matt 27:48; Acts 1:20; Rom 11:10; link to Bible Gateway
2. Grudem, Systematic Theology (1994), pp. 669-90; 

Bibliography
Romans, F.F. Bruce (1963, 1983 reprint), pp. 181-224
God’s Epic Adventure, Winn Griffin (2007), 248-50
How Do You Respond to Romans 8:29-30, Greg Boyd (2008)
How Do You Respond to Romans 9?, Greg Boyd (2008)
Rethinking Election, part 1, Greg Boyd (2015)
How Do You Respond to Romans 9:18?, Greg Boyd (2008)
How Do You Respond to Romans 11:36?, Greg Boyd (2008)
The Hard Sayings of The Bible: All Israel will Be Saved?, Manfred T. Brauch, pp. 566-72
Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Hawthorne & Martin, Eds.: Letter to The Romans, J.D.G. Dunn, pp. 847-9
Steve Gregg, Romans 11: video, audio (2015)

Zechariah 14 Is Not About The Second Coming

On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,which faces Jerusalem on the east. The Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, forming a huge valley, so that half the mountain will move to the north and half to the south. 

-Zechariah 14:4
I saw this idea that Jesus’ feet would ‘touch down’ on the Mount of Olives, some day, in the future, at his second coming.  I grew up in a local church that strongly taught dispensationalism, which I do not believe in today.  Here is what I do believe.

Zechariah 14 is not about the second coming.  The day of the Lord, spoken of in verse 1, is not the end of the world, but a judgement day.  And when that judgement day came and the Lord’s feet touched the Mount of Olives, that is was not the second coming, as we conceive of it today, but happened around 70 A.D., when Jerusalem was destroyed.

Zechariah 13 does talk about Jesus:

Sword, awake against My shepherd,
against the man who is My associate—
this is the declaration of the Lord of Hosts.
Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
I will also turn My hand against the little ones. (13:7)

There will be a judgement, and 1/3 will survive it, as a remnant.  Messiah will be crucified, then judgement will come upon Israel.

In the whole land—this is the Lord’s declaration—
two-thirds will be cut off and die,
but a third will be left in it.
I will put this third through the fire;
I will refine them as silver is refined
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call on My name,
and I will answer them.
I will say: They are My people,
and they will say: Yahweh is our God. (13:8-9)

Jesus taught that this would happen, in his parables in Matthew 21 and 22:

The Parable of the Vineyard Owner

“Listen to another parable: There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away. When the grape harvest drew near, he sent his slaves to the farmers to collect his fruit. But the farmers took his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first group, and they did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
“But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance!’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?”

“He will completely destroy those terrible men,” they told Him, “and lease his vineyard to other farmers who will give him his produce at the harvest.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This came from the Lord
and is wonderful in our eyes?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit. [Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whoever it falls, it will grind him to powder!]” (Matt. 21:33-44)

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables: “The kingdom of heavenmay be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out his slaves to summon those invited to the banquet, but they didn’t want to come. Again, he sent out other slaves, and said, ‘Tell those who are invited: Look, I’ve prepared my dinner; my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went away, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the others seized his slaves, treated them outrageously and killed them. The king was enraged, so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.

“Then he told his slaves, ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go to where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’ So those slaves went out on the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding banquet was filled with guests. But when the king came in to view the guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed for a wedding. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:1-14)

The end of Zechariah 13 gives us the backdrop or context for chapter 14.  The time period is the time of the coming of Messiah and his death, and what happens after that, which is the judgement of Israel.

A day of the Lord is coming when your plunder will be divided in your presence. (Zech. 14:1)

This is a judgement day, not the end of the world.  This is what “day of the Lord” means in the Bible.

I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle.The city will be captured, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be removed from the city. (Zech 14:2)

“All the nations”, is hyperbole, for Rome, Roman soldiers attacking Jerusalem, earthy Jerusalem.  Roman soldiers came from many nations that Rome had conquered, and not just Italy.  The word “half” is figurative, as the “two-thirds” and “one-third” in chapter 13 were also figurative.

Please notice that the writer of Hebrews calls the church Jerusalem or the heavenly Jerusalem:

Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to God who is the Judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect,  to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel. (Heb. 12:22-24)

In the new covenant, Jerusalem is the people of God, ethnic Jew and Gentile.

Continuing with Zechariah 14:

Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle. (Zech. 14:3)

This is the gospel waring against nations to gain back people who are lost.

On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. The Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, forming a huge valley, so that half the mountain will move to the north and half to the south. (Zech 14:4)

The reference here, of the Lord’s feet on the Mount of Olives, is from Ezekiel 11:23:

The glory of the Lord rose up from within the city and stood on the mountain east of the city.

The Lord, God, or Yahweh left Jerusalem, and stopped protecting it, and went east, to the Mount of Olives.

The Mount of Olives splitting in two (Zech. 14:4) is apocalyptic language about God making a way of escape, for the remnant, that escaped the Romans in 70 A.D.  This is symbolic speech, just like John the Baptist saying, “Every valley shall be filled in and every mountain and hill shall be made low”, quoting Isaiah 40.

You will flee by My mountain valley, for the valley of the mountains will extend to Azal. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come and all the holy ones with Him. (Zech. 14:5)

This is the way of escape, made in A.D. 70, for the believers in Jerusalem, who are the new remnant of the people of God.

From verse 6 and following, Jerusalem is now the church, in apocalyptic terms:

On that day there will be no light; the sunlight and moonlight will diminish.  It will be a day known only to Yahweh, without day or night, but there will be light at evening.

On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea, in summer and winter alike.  On that day Yahweh will become King over all the earth—Yahweh alone, and His name alone.  All the land from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem will be changed into a plain. But Jerusalem will be raised up and will remain on its site from the Benjamin Gate to the place of the First Gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the royal winepresses.  People will live there, and never again will there be a curse of complete destruction. So Jerusalem will dwell in security. (Zech. 14:6-11)

We then have a description of how the enemies of God are judged and defeated, in figurative, apocalyptic language:

This will be the plague the Lord strikes all the peoples with, who have warred against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.  On that day a great panic from the Lord will be among them, so that each will seize the hand of another, and the hand of one will rise against the other.  Judah will also fight at Jerusalem, and the wealth of all the surrounding nations will be collected: gold, silver, and clothing in great abundance.  The same plague as the previous one will strike the horses, mules, camels, donkeys, and all the animals that are in those camps. (Zech. 14:12-15)

The end of the chapter now views the church, the people of God, from another angle: a spiritual feast of tabernacles.  And everything in the church, is now holy:

Then all the survivors from the nations that came against Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the Festival of Booths.  Should any of the families of the earth not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, rain will not fall on them.  And if the people of Egypt will not go up and enter, then rain will not fall on them; this will be the plague the Lord inflicts on the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Booths.  This will be the punishment of Egypt and all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Booths.

On that day, the words

HOLY TO THE LORD

will be on the bells of the horses. The pots in the house of the Lord will be like the sprinkling basins before the altar.  Every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the Lord of Hosts. Everyone who sacrifices will come and take some of the pots to cook in. And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts. (Zech. 14:16-21)

Zechariah 14 is about the judgement on Jerusalem in the first century that Jesus said was coming.  It is also about the people of God and the nations, during the time after Messiah’s coming, which includes the first century, up through today.

When Rome came to destroy Jerusalem, around 70 A.D., the remnant, the people of God, or the church in Jerusalem escaped to the east, before it was too late.  Zechariah saw the escape plan in advance.  And the church or the people of God are now figuratively, Jerusalem and Israel.

There is one people of God, one in Christ, and we are also hopeful that all ethnic Jews will be saved before the end; but there is only one way to be saved, through Christ, Messiah.  There is only one mediator, only one living way.  We all who are in Christ are living our stories in God’s story of loving and saving the world.  Our task is to find meaning in the story of God that we find ourselves in, and to celebrate that together, while inviting the world around us to join.

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