Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rightly Dividing Revelation 2-3

The majority of dispensational Bible commentators tell us that Revelation 2-3 is written to the church in this present age. There are four common applications, all of which are said to be for the body of Christ. The following note from the Scofield Reference Bible summarizes this view:

The messages to the seven churches have a fourfold application: (1) Local, to the churches actually addressed; (2) admonitory, to all churches in all time as tests by which they may discern their true spiritual state in the sight of God; (3) personal, in the exhortations to him "that hath an ear," and in the promise "to him that overcometh"; (4) prophetic, as disclosing seven phases of the spiritual history of the church from, say, A.D. 96 to the end. It is incredible that in a prophecy covering the church period, there should be no such foreview. These messages must contain that foreview if it is in the book at all, for the church does not appear after Revelation 3:22, these messages by their very terms go beyond the local assemblies mentioned. Most conclusively of all, these messages do present an exact foreview of the spiritual history of the church, and in this precise order. Ephesus gives the general state at the date of the writing; Smyrna, the period of the great persecutions; Pergamos, the church settled down in the world, "where Satan's throne is," after the conversion of Constantine, say A.D. 316. Thyatira is the Papacy, developed out of the Pergamos state: Balaamism (worldliness) and Nicolaitanism (priestly assumption) having conquered. As Jezebel brought idolatry into Israel, so Romanism weds Christian doctrine to pagan ceremonies. Sardis is the Protestant Reformation, whose works were not "fulfilled." Philadelphia is whatever bears clear testimony to the Word and the Name in the time of self-satisfied profession represented by Laodicea. (Old Scofield Bible, 1917, pg. 1331-1332)

A true Bible believer that seeks to rightly divide the word of truth will eventually realize that to be orthodox or traditional does not always make you SCRIPTURAL. Most Christians today are very quick to accept the traditional interpretation of a passage from the teachers they respect without truly searching the scriptures for themselves. Of course, God uses faithful men to teach the scriptures (Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 2:2) and we can be helped by their writings and teachings, but they are not our final authority! When the teachings of godly men contradict the plain teaching of scripture (and this DOES occur) we must stand with God’s perfect word. Where are the believers today that are willing to follow the example of the Bereans? 

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11)

We should never accept the teaching of anybody without searching the scriptures for ourselves (1 Thess. 5:21). We do not need “theological training” in order to know God’s word. We must not look to the “scholars” who vainly try to correct the scriptures and want the “laity” to look to them as the authority. So, while I greatly respect and appreciate men like C.I. Scofield, I must say that through a consistent right division of scripture I have come to the conclusion that Revelation 2-3 is a TRIBULATION passage that was not written doctrinally to the body of Christ.

Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter: (Rev. 1:19)

Based on this verse, the standard outline of Revelation found in most dispensational commentaries looks something like this:

I. The Vision of Christ (1) – “thou hast seen”
II. The Church Age (2-3) – “which are”
III. The Tribulation, Kingdom, New Heaven and Earth (4-22) – “which shall be hereafter”

But I recommend the following outline:

I. The things which thou hast seen (1)
II. The things which are (2-20)
III. The things which shall be hereafter (21-22)

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, what thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; (Rev. 1:10-11a)

It is a misinterpretation of v.10 that will start you off on the wrong foot and lead you to some wrong conclusions about chapters two and three. The common interpretation of this verse is that John got happy on Sunday. Not understanding that John was transported by the Spirit into the future day of the Lord and that the whole book was written from that standpoint, will lead you to the faulty conclusion that “the things which are” refers to the present age. After all, if the word “church” is used it must refer to the “church age”, right? Wrong. The word “church” in the Scripture does not always refer to the body of Christ or a local church in this present dispensation. There was a “church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). There is a kingdom church that is the subject of prophecy (Ps. 22:22-28; Heb. 2:12). The church which is the body of Christ was a mystery HID from the prophets (Eph. 3:9).

Revelation is a book of prophecy (1:3) and therefore John writes as a prophet. We must compare scripture with scripture (1 Cor. 2:13) to understand what it means for a prophet to be “in the Spirit”. Every believer is in the Spirit (Rom. 8:9) but that is not what is being referred to here. John was in the Spirit in the same sense that this phrase is used throughout the book of Revelation (4:2; 17:3; 21:10). Consider an example of the experience of the prophet Ezekiel.

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out IN THE SPIRIT of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. (Ezekiel 37:1-2)

This reference confirms that the Spirit can literally MOVE a prophet to another location (see also Ezek. 3:14, Acts 8:39). Since the Spirit is eternal, and is omnipresent, is it not possible that the Spirit moved John into the future day of the Lord to be an eyewitness of the things he wrote? This is not speculation or far-fetched because the scripture records that others had a similar experience! Ezekiel saw and described the future millennial temple (Ezek. 40-48). Isaiah saw Christ in the millennial temple when “the whole earth is full of his glory”(Isa. 6). Peter, James, and John were “eyewitnesses” of the majesty of Christ in His kingdom glory (2 Pet. 1:16-18).

The Lord’s day is not Sunday or any 24 hour day at all. The scriptures in many places speak of the “day of the LORD”. Upon examining these references and comparing them to the contents of the book of Revelation it is obvious that “the Lord’s day” refers to this same prophetic day. The main events included in this prophetic day are: the tribulation period (Jer. 30:7); second advent of Christ (Mal. 4:1-3); millennial kingdom (Isa. 11:10); new heavens and earth (Isa. 65:17). These events and those associated with them are clearly foretold by the PROPHETS. The body of Christ is NOT found in the prophetic scriptures of Israel (Eph. 3:1-12). Seeing that Revelation is a prophecy about the day of the Lord, why would we expect to find the body of Christ in such a book? We are not told to look for the day of the Lord but rather the “blessed hope” of the rapture which will save us from that prophesied day of wrath (1 Thess. 5:9).   

The Lord Jesus Christ told John to write what he was going to see in a book and send it to seven churches in Asia (1:11). The Lord was not just referring to the vision of Himself in chapter one and the letters to the seven churches in chapter two and three, but to the whole book. It is imperative to understand that the whole book applies DIRECTLY to those churches. Believers today should study Revelation just like we would any book in the Old Testament. There are lessons to learn and applications that can be made for us. But, the events of the tribulation period do not apply directly to us. The seven churches are Jewish kingdom churches in the future tribulation period and are representative churches. The letters to the seven churches contain problems that tribulation saints will have to overcome, solutions to those problems, and promises to the overcomers. What Christ says to these seven churches He says to all of the tribulation saints ("hear what the Spirit saith unto the CHURCHES"). The instruction in these letters will help the tribulation saints endure the awful things described in chapters 6-19. The commendations, rebukes, corrections, instructions, and promises that the Lord gives to the seven churches directly correspond with the material that is found throughout the rest of Revelation. The Bible is a complete revelation (nothing will be added). Where is the specific doctrine and instruction written directly to the tribulation saints? It is found in Hebrews through Revelation.
Why seven churches? God uses the number seven (number of completion) many times throughout the book of Revelation because it reveals the completion of the prophetic kingdom program of Israel. Why churches in Asia? The tribulations saints are scattered outside the land of Israel (Jam. 1:1). If the these churches provide a historical representation, it is NOT seven stages of church history but seven stages of Israel’s history: 

In the Wilderness:
1. Ephesus = Israel’s espousals (the exodus, Jer. 2:2)
2. Smyrna = Israel’s testing (tried in the wilderness)
3. Pergamos = Israel’s failure (Balaam and Balac)

In the Land:
4. Thyatira = The day of Israel’s’ kings (Jezebel)
5. Sardis = Israel’s removal ("art dead")
6. Philadelphia = The day of Judah’s kings (key of David)
7. Laodicea = Judah’s removal (spued out, Lev. 18:28)

Every Promise in the Book is NOT Mine

Christians wrongly want to make every promise in scripture apply directly to them. The promises made to the seven churches clearly relate to the future day of the Lord and not the present day of grace. The condition for receiving these promises is to OVERCOME. The tribulation saint will overcome by faith (1 Jn. 5:4-5) but it must be a faith that WORKS (Jam. 2:14-26). The apostle Paul tells the body of Christ that we “are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:10). All of our blessings are based on our position in Christ. We are not told to overcome anything in order to obtain blessings. Paul tells us that God already “hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Notice that our blessings are spiritual and heavenly not physical and earthly. Let’s briefly consider the promises to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.

1. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of paradise of God.” (2:7)
The tree of life was on earth in the beginning and will be once again in the end (Gen. 3:22-24; Rev. 22:2). When Adam fell paradise was lost and the tree of life could not be accessed. When the kingdom of heaven is set up on earth paradise will be restored and once again this tree will be available. The tree of life literally gives life to those that eat of it.  How will they gain right to this tree? By keeping the commandments of God (Rev. 22:14)! The body of Christ does NOT need this tree because we will have a body fashioned like the glorious body of Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20-21). Do you think that Christ will need the tree of life? Than neither will we!

2. “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” and “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” (2:10b; 11b)
Faithful tribulation saints will face execution (beheading) for not worshipping the beast. There will be a multitude of martyrs that God promises to avenge and reward (Rev. 6:9-11; 20:4). That the devil will personally persecute these people (Rev. 2:10) proves they are in the great tribulation (Rev. 12:9-13). Commentators spiritualize the ten days to mean anything but ten days (e.g. ten persecutions by Roman emperors). I take it to be ten literal days. They will be tried in prison (tortured) for ten days in an effort to make them decide to take the mark of the beast. If they take the mark they will be damned (Rev. 14:9-12). If they "love not their lives unto the death" (Rev. 12:11) they will be resurrected and given a crown of life (Matt. 10:16-39; Jam. 1:12; Rev. 20:4; 21:7). The body of Christ will not be “hurt of the second death” but is this is NOT because we overcame the antichrist! In the tribulation, those that do not “endure to the end” will not be saved (Matt. 24:13).

3. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” (2:17)
God supernaturally fed His people with manna in the wilderness. In the tribulation they can not buy, sell, or trade without the mark of the Beast. The faithful remnant will not take the mark. They will flee to the wilderness where God will once again supernaturally feed His people for 3 ½ years (Rev. 12:6, 14; Mic. 7:14-15). The “white stone” is also associated with Israel’s wilderness experience. In Exodus we read of stones on the breastplate of the high priest. God will make the whole nation “a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6). In Exodus we also read of stones called “Urim and Thummim” of which little is known. We do know they were associated with God hearing and answering His people. Surely the “white stone” is associated with Israel as was the manna.

4. “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star.” (2:27-28)
In Numbers 24:17-19 we read about the “Star” and “Sceptre” that shall rise out of Israel, that will have “dominion”, and that will cause Israel to do “valiantly”. The Star and Sceptre is Christ. When He sets up His kingdom Israel will reign with Him over the world with a “rod of iron” (Ps. 2; Rev. 12:5). Christ said to His disciples, “Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Lk. 22:28-30)

5. “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” (3:5)
Later in the book we are clearly told that the white raiment is the “righteousness of the saints” (19:7-8). The body of Christ stands in the righteousness of Christ (Phil. 3:4-9). Those who overcome will not only be clothed in white but will have their name confessed before the Father. Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 10:32-33 and a casual reading of the context will show you it is a tribulation promise. Those blotted out of the book for unfaithfulness and denial of the Son will not enter the kingdom but will be cast into outer darkness.

6. “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” (3:10; 12)
God promises to protect His faithful remnant through the great tribulation. Some will be raptured (144,000 in Rev. 12:5) and others will be protected on the earth (12:13-17). The promise of v.10 is similar to the one found in Zeph. 2:3 and Isa. 26:20. The overcomers are promised a special position in the temple (pillar = display). They had “little strength” but will be a strong and secure pillar in God’s temple. We are not going to be a pillar in the temple, we are the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16). Those that worship the beast receive his name. The overcomers will be totally identified with the true and living God by having His name (22:4), the name of His city, and a new name written upon them (2:17; Isa. 62:2). The new Jerusalem which comes down from heaven following the millennial kingdom is totally identified with ISRAEL (check the names on the 12 gates!). Of course the temple in v.12 refers to the millennial temple of the kingdom. The Jews will be able to serve the Lord continually in it as the nations flow into Jerusalem to worship the King (Zech. 14:16).

7. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (3:21)
It is when Christ returns to establish His kingdom on earth that He will sit on the throne of His father David (Lk. 1:32) and the throne of His glory (Matt. 25:31). Between His ascension and second coming He is seated with His Father in His Father’s throne (Ps. 110:1). This proves that the covenants are not being fulfilled "spiritually" today through the church. The overcomers will reign with Christ in the kingdom (Rev. 2:26-27; 5:10; 20:4). Christ overcame Satan by the word of God and by being obedient unto death (Phil. 2:8). The tribulation saints must overcome Satan the same way (12:11).

We by no means fully expounded the promises in Revelation 2-3. Our purpose was to simply show that they were not given to the body of Christ. There are CLEAR doctrinal differences between these seven letters and the seven church epistles of Paul. For example, compare the importance of being a genuine “Jew” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9) with the fact there are no Jews in the body of Christ (Col. 3:10-11). The language and setting of Revelation 1-3 is the same as 4-22. Therefore, many other points can be made to prove that the subject of the WHOLE book is the day of the Lord and that no part of it is about this present dispensation.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Law and the Prophets were until John

Luke 16:16
The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.

I have heard many Bible teachers use this verse as a proof text to support their claim that the present age of grace began with the ministry of John the Baptist. This verse is not referring to the law as a dispensation. If it is, that would also mean there was a dispensation called "the prophets" that ended with the beginning of John's ministry. In what sense were the law and the prophets until John? By comparing scripture with scripture we know that the law and the prophets PROPHESIED until John.
Matthew 11:
12    And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
13    For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
14    And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.

John was the forerunner of the King. With his ministry the prophecies concerning the King and His Kingdom (this is the burden of prophecy) began to be fulfilled. John came in the spirit and power of Elijah and announced that the prophesied kingdom of heaven was at hand.

Luke 1:
13    But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14    And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15    For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
16    And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17    And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

If Israel would have repented and received Christ, John's ministry would have been the fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy:

Malachi 4:
5    Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
6    And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

Israel rejected her King and His kingdom. They crucified Christ but after He was risen and ascended the kingdom was re-offered to them in Acts (3:19-26). They rejected the witness of the Holy Ghost through the apostles and prophets concerning their risen Messiah. The book of Acts is a history book that records the fall and diminishing of Israel. We are now living in a parenthetical mystery age that was hid from the prophets and revealed through the apostle Paul (Eph. 3). After this age ends with the rapture Christ will bring Israel through the tribulation period and then save her when He comes again to the earth. Elijah will show up in the tribulation period when once again the kingdom is at hand (Rev. 11).

The purpose of John's ministry was NOT to prepare the way for Christ to come usher in this present mystery age in which He is building one spiritual body wherein there is nether Jew nor Gentile! Christ did not come to reveal and inaugurate the mystery dispensation but to CONFIRM the promises made to the Jewish fathers (Rom. 15:8). John's ministry was to prepare the way for the KING of Israel, not the Head of the body. 

Matthew 3:
1    In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
2    And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
3    For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
4    And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
5    Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
6    And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
John made ready a people prepared for the Lord by preaching the baptism of repentance to ISRAEL. Under the gospel of the kingdom, water baptism was required for the remission of sins (Mk. 1:4-5; Acts 2:38). Israel receives the remission of sins when Christ brings her under a new covenant and establishes His kingdom (Acts 3:19-21; Rom. 11:26-27).

John 1:31
And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.

The fact that John's ministry was according to prophecy proves that this present dispensation, which was hid from the prophets, did not begin with his ministry. So, instead of Luke 16:16 proving that this age began with John, it actually proves it didn't!

Luke 1:
67    And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,
68    Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
69    And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
70    As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
71    That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
74    That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,
75    In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
76    And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
77    To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
78    Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
79    To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
80    And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.

The dispensation of the law did not end with the beginning of John's ministry. Christ conducted His entire earthly ministry to Israel under the LAW. 

Matthew 5:
17    Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18    For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19    Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 23:
1    Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
2    Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
3    All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

When Christ establishes His kingdom in the earth, He will rule by pure law.

Isaiah 2:
1    The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2    And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
3    And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4    And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

It is Paul alone who says by inspiration of God to the body of Christ, "ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14). This present dispensation was made possible BY the cross of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22) but that doesn't mean it began AT the cross. There are things that Christ accomplished by His cross that were not immediately revealed or implemented. For example, Satan was defeated by the cross (Heb. 2:14) but he is not cast into the lake of fire until after the kingdom age (Rev. 20:10).

Another proof text for claiming that the law dispensation ended with the ministry of John is:

John 1:17
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
Does this verse teach that the grace age began when Christ came? If that is what it is saying, then it is also saying that there was no TRUTH until the earthly ministry of Christ! The verse is not referring to grace and truth as a dispensation. It is simply saying that Christ was full of grace and truth as He conducted His ministry. 

John 1:14
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

A new dispensation is marked by divine REVELATION (that significantly changes God's dealings with man) with corresponding human responsibility. In other words, God reveals truth and dispenses it to man who is then responsible to believe and respond to His truth. Since the mystery of this age was revealed to Paul (Col. 1; Eph. 3), how could this present dispensation begin before the mystery was revealed and dispensed? Man is not responsible to respond to truth that God has not revelaed. The gospel of the grace of God was revealed through Paul (Gal. 1:11-12). It is by believing this gospel that we are baptized by one Spirit into one body (Eph. 3:6; 1 Cor. 12:13). We don't give Paul any glory for what he taught and wrote in his epistles. It is not his truth (1 Cor. 4:6-7), he was just a steward of it (1 Cor. 4:1-2). His epistles are the words of God, not his own words (2 Tim. 3:16). We give God all the glory for what He revealed through Paul to us.

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