Monthly Archives: July 2009

A Rebuttal of “The Sevens in the Book of Revelation”

Note: This essay was written in rebuttal to William McGrath’s essay on Revelation titled “The Sevens in the Book of Revelation.” Mr. McGrath’s essay appeared in the booklet “Bible Numerology,” which he edited. If Mr. McGrath’s essay is available (I couldn’t find a link to it on the Internet, unfortunately), it would be good to read it first to understand exactly what I am arguing against in my essay. If not, then hopefully my essay will be clear enough.

William McGrath, in the book Bible Numerology, wrote a chapter titled “The Sevens in the Book of Revelation.” He talks about the use of the number “7” in the Bible, especially in Revelation, and he gives his view of the book. He supports the idealist viewpoint, which sees Revelation as only a series of cyclical visions, allegorically protraying the battle between good and evil throughout the Church Age, and the final triumph of Christ. He does not believe the visions prophesy any specific events, either historical or future. Since I am at odds with almost all of his statements about Revelation and how it is to be interpreted, and since he specifically challenges the futurist viewpoint, which views most of Revelation as a prophecy about future events, I’ve decided to write a rebuttal of his arguments.

I will go through his chapter argument-by-argument, rather than paragraph-by-paragraph, since he repeats some of his arguments and adds on to them later. This allows me to respond to each argument by itself, while a paragraph-by-paragraph approach would bring me back to the same or similar arguments again after responding to them in an earlier paragraph.

McGrath first notes the frequent use of the number 7 in the Bible. It is used quite often, not only in prophecy, but also in historical narratives, rituals, and teaching devices. Seven is the “perfect number” of the Bible. Therefore, it is not surprising that the number 7 is used so often. Mr. McGrath says that it is used 54 times in the Book of Revelation alone. Here we come to his first argument: That the frequent use of seven, which indicates perfection, shows that Revelation is an allegorical or spiritual protrayal of the struggle between good and evil during the church age. (This argument is implied on his part rather than explicitly stated). However, there is a good explanation for the use of seven, according to the futurist viewpoint. God chose to reveal the future to John, using sevens often during the prophecy. Since seven is the Bible’s perfect number, it is natural that He would do so. Furthermore, God often uses sevens in His dealings with mankind. McGrath himself shows that this is true, in the first three paragraphs of his chapter. Surely McGrath does not doubt that historical accounts using the number 7 are literally true (for example, seven years of plenty and seven years of famine)? Therefore, it is to be expected that if there is a future Great Tribulation in which God will pour out His wrath, it will be 7 years long and will have other elements of 7 (for example, 3 cycles of 7 judgments).

McGrath calls the futurist view “nonsense.” He also tries to refute premillennialism (the belief that Christ will reign on earth for 1,000 years after his Second Coming according to Revelation 20) by quoting Revelation 1:5-7 and I Corinthians 15:21-26. Revelation 1:5 says, “And from Jesus Christ who is…the prince of the kings of the earth.” I believe that this refers to Christ’s authority, which He already has in a sense, but He is not yet exercising it. (If He were, the world situation would be radically different from what it is today). But Mr. McGrath says, “This…teaches that Christ is already reigning from His Father’s throne, over the confused affairs of earth, overruling and working out His purposes, putting down kings and raising up kings.” At this point, he confuses Christ’s Lordship with God’s sovereignty. If Christ was currently ruling the nations with a rod of iron (Rev. 19:15), the affairs of earth would not be confused! If verses such as the one mentioned above, and others such as Zechariah 14:9 which prophesy His rule over the nations, mean only what McGrath thinks that they mean, then they are meaningless, for that would be no different than anything that was not already in effect with the sovereignty of the Triune God since the beginning of Creation. Note the vision in Daniel 2, where four world empires are destroyed by a stone cut out without hands, and the stone, representing God’s kingdom, replaces them and grows to dominate the earth. The picture is of a kingdom that has smashed world nations to bits and is dominating the world. Some would say that the stone is a picture of the church today. But today, nations are still rising and falling. The church still faces persecution in many areas of the world. If words mean anything, this kingdom of God is yet future. If words mean anything, and we can trust the words of Scripture, then Christ will rule the earth in peace and righteousness.

Keep in mind that while Christ is at the right hand of the throne of the Father, this is not the same as David’s throne. He is not yet on David’s throne. He will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem during the Millenial Reign. In Isaiah 9:6-7, the Messiah’s rule from the throne of David is connected to the government being “upon his shoulder”, and to “the increase of his government and peace…to order it and establish it with judgment and justice”. It is hard to imagine that the wicked governments of the world are “on His shoulder” at this time; instead, Satan is currently the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4). The Bible seems to indicate that Christ’s position at His Father’s throne is a place of waiting. Acts 3:19-21 says, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things.” This seems to show that Christ is in a period of waiting in heaven until the second coming. Rev. 3:21 says, “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. ” So we see that Christ is waiting at his Father’s side, apparently not having sat down on his throne yet, but currently being seated on his Father’s throne – note the clear distinction between the two. Matt. 25:31 says, “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.” So it appears that he will sit on his throne AFTER the second coming.

Revelation 1:7 says, referring to the Second Coming, “And every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him.” McGrath claims that “this takes for granted a general resurrection of all men including dead sinners,” but such an interpretation is not necessary. Instead, the proper understanding, seeing that a resurrection is not mentioned, is that all will see Him, whether in heaven or hell, or on the earth, when He returns – including those who pierced Him.

McGrath also quotes from I Corinthians 15:21-26, amazingly claiming that these verses support amillennialism. Verses 22 and 23 state, “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming. Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God…” Mr. McGrath says, “So we believe with the early church in the Blessed Hope – when He comes, THEN COMETH THE END…” Unfortunately, he is badly mistaken. The Greek word for “then,” eita, means “after that”; Strong’s concordance says that it is a particle of succession or logical enumeration. Far from meaning “at that time,” it instead shows that the end is not at Christ’s return, but afterwards – later. It is the third order in Paul’s sequence (see verse 21). The first is Christ’s resurrection, then those that are Christ’s at His coming. Then finally, the wicked dead at the end, “when He shall have put down (ESV “after destroying”) all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

One of McGrath’s major arguments is that Revelation is a series of 7 visions. Each vision, he says, is a vision of 7 things. He divides Revelation like this: 7 churches (chapters 1-3), 7 seals (chapters 4-7), 7 trumpets (chapters 8-11), God’s 7 enemies (chapters 12-14), 7 vials of wrath (chapters 15-16), 7 enemies defeated (chapters 17:1-20:6), and 7 glories of heaven (chapters 20:7-22:21). He also says, “The Day of Judgment appears seven times,” and gives seven passages, one from each of his divisions. He says, “Either the world is judged and destroyed seven times or the seven visions of … Revelation each portray the same event-cycles.”

Dividing Revelation into 7 portions may be convenient for study, but it is not accurate to base interpretations on such a division, because such a division does not exist. There are only 4 cycles of seven in Revelation: 7 churches, 7 seals, 7 trumpets, and 7 vials or bowls. The last three are cycles of judgments, while the seven churches are a  group of churches that John administered, which were chosen because their traits are symbolic of the Church throughout history. I agree with McGrath’s statement that “each of these 7 can symbolize a certain condition of any church throughout church history.” Thus, the churches represent the church during the Church Age.

I have seen two other divisions of Revelation into seven visions, besides McGrath’s. None of the three are the same; there are different names given to some of the divisions, as well as some different starting and ending points proposed. McGrath sees chapters 12-14 as portraying 7 enemies of God, while another saw the same chapters as portraying 7 signs or wonders. I wonder what McGrath does with the woman and child of chapter 12, and the 144,000 and the three angels of chapter 14. They certainly are not enemies! These inconsistencies merely show that Revelation is not divided into seven visions, nor was it intended to be.

McGrath says that the first portrayal of the Day of Judgment is in Revelation 1:7. But an unbiased examination of Revelation 1 leaves the impression that chapter 1 is an introduction to the rest of the book. Nevertheless, McGrath includes chapter 1 with the messages to the 7 churches in chapters 2 and 3, in the first of the 7 divisions that he sees in the book. Why? Because without chapter 1, he would lack the portrayal of the Day of Judgment that he says is in each of the 7 portions. So the inclusion is necessary to McGrath’s point of view; however, it seems forced by nothing other than his own presuppositions.

The next portrayal of the Day of Judgment, according to McGrath, is the sixth seal – Rev. 6:12-17. John saw a great earthquake, the sun became as black as sackcloth, the stars fell, and the sky vanished like a scroll being rolled up. Everyone hid themselves in rocks and caves and asked the mountains to hide them from the face of Him that was on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.

A natural, unbiased reading of the beginning of chapter 8, however, shows that the seventh seal leads into the seven trumpets. So the seven trumpets will occur after the seven seals! They do not occur at the same time as McGrath suggests. So what is the sixth seal, then? It may be a literal earthquake during the Tribulation; or it may be a symbolic portrayal of political turmoil, in terms borrowed from the literal happenings around the time of the Glorious Appearing.

The next (alleged) portrayal of the Day of Judgment is in chapter 1l:13-19. Verse 13 describes an earthquake, which may be the same as the one in Revelation 16, but I think it’s more likely that it’s a completely different earthquake, not worldwide, but confined to the vicinity of Jerusalem.

Chapter 14: 14-20 speaks of the battle of Armageddon (also mentioned in 16:14,16 and 19:17-21).

Chapter 16: 18-21 is of a literal earthquake at the end of the Tribulation.

Chapter 19: 11-21 speaks of Christ’s return to the earth and His judgment of the wicked armies, who came to destroy Israel, at Armageddon. There is nothing mentioned of a destruction of the world.

All of these so-called portrayals of the Day of Judgment can be explained adequately by the futurist viewpoint. There is nothing that demands that each of them is portraying the Day of Judgment and destruction of the world.

There are other reasons why Revelation cannot be divided into seven parts. For example, there is a break in the presentation, or a parenthesis, between the sixth seal and the seventh seal, in chapter 7. There is also a parenthesis between the sixth and the seventh trumpets (ch. 10:1-11:13). In these parentheses, further explanation of events are given, that cannot be covered by a single seal or trumpet. For example, the ministry of the two witnesses (chapter 11) covers 1260 days. This spans the time period of the seals and the trumpets. So a parenthesis was needed to tell John about the two witnesses.

I believe that Revelation is arranged roughly in chronological order. The seals, trumpets, and vials are in chronological order. In the first parenthesis (chapter 7), the servants of God are sealed during the first half (3 1/2 years) of the Tribulation. The scene then jumps to the Millenium, where the great multitude from every nation, that has come out of the Great Tribulation, is comforted. In the second parenthesis (ch. 10:1-11:13), Christ’s control in the judgments is asserted, and the prophecy of the two witnesses is given. Chapters 12 and 13 give some events of the second half of the Tribulation. Chapter 14 gives a preview of the end of the Tribulation. The seven vial judgments are prophesied next; those will occur in the second half of the Tribulation. Chapters 17-19 speak of the great whore, “Babylon,” the judgment on her, and Christ’s return with the armies of heaven, including the Church, His Bride. The Millenial Reign and Final Judgment are given in chapter 20, and the new heavens and new earth are described in chapters 21-22.

So while the book is not in strict chronological order, there is an order that can be discerned.

I believe that, instead of making our own division of Revelation into seven parts, we should divide it the way it divides itself, in chapter 1 verse 19. This verse is the key to interpreting Revelation. “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.” Chapter 4, verse 1 says in part, “Come up hither, and I will show you the things which must be hereafter. Thus, Revelation divides itself. “The things which thou hast seen” is the vision on the isle of Patmos in chapter 1. “The things which are” refers to the seven churches, representing the churches throughout the Church Age, in chapters 2-3. “The things which shall be hereafter” refers to the vision of the end times in chapters 4-22.

McGrath calls futurism “nonsense” and “confusing,” but verse 19 makes one wonder whether the real confusion lies with his idealist viewpoint. It shows clearly that chapter 1 is set apart from chapters 2 and 3, which in turn are set apart from chapters 4-22, disproving McGrath’s statement that the “seven visions…each portray the same event-cycles.” It also indicates that Revelation prophesies specific events that will actually happen, rather than merely a spiritual allegory.

McGrath suggests that the early church was not premillennial and futurist, and quotes the Apostles’ Creed.

He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. 

I have several objections to his statement. First, the Apostles’ doctrine must be proved from Scripture, not the Apostles’ Creed. Second, the Creed does not contradict premillennialism, as premillennialists believe that Christ will judge the living and the dead at His coming. However, He will not judge the wicked dead at that time. The judgment of the wicked will occur after the Second Resurrection at the close of the thousand-year reign. Also, think of two mountains. From a distance, they may appear to be close together, but in fact they may be some distance apart. This may be how the first and second resurrection are viewed at times, including in the Apostles’ Creed.

Against McGrath’s statement that the early church was not premillenial stands the testimony of the Epistle of Barnabas (written around A.D. 100-120), the Apocalypse of Peter (110-140), Papias (60-130), the Shepherd of Hermas (100-140), Justin Martyr (110-167), Melito (died c. 180), Apollinaris (2nd century), Irenaeus (120-202), Tertullian (160-220), Hippolytus (170-236), Cyprian (195-258), Novatian (200-258), Nepos (3rd century), Victorinus (240-330), and Lactantius (260-330), among others. Impressively, Papias was a disciple of John, and Irenaeus was a disciple of Papias. The only opposition to premillennialism in the early church came from a school in Alexandria. Origen (185-254) was the first to clearly teach amillennialism. His follower Dionysius also taught amillennialism. But they were a distinct minority.

I believe I have sufficiently demonstrated that McGrath’s view of Revelation does not hold up to close scrutiny, and that futuristic premillennialism is a good alternative.

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The Status of Israel

The status of Israel today, and in future events, is an important subject in eschatology, particularly because of all the prophecies in the Bible that have to do with Israel. Israel’s status is the subject of this essay. I want to start out by looking at Romans 11.

In the first verses, Paul asks whether God has rejected Israel. He answers his own quiestion: “By  no means! For I myself am an Israelite…” In verse 5, he says that there is yet a remnant, chosen by grace. Verse 7 says, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. the elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.” This means that those Jews who believed in Jesus obtained knowledge and fellowship with their Messiah, but the  rest did not; they were hardened to the gospel.

In verse 11 Paul begins to explain the reason that they were hardened: “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.” Thus, Israel’s rejection of the gospel opened the way for the fulfillment of God’s plan for the Gentiles, that they could become a part of God’s people without proselytizing to Judaism and subjecting themselves to the Law of Moses. Because of Israel’s rejection, the Gospel has been sent to all nations, although the gospel is still to the Jew first (theoretically, at least – see Romans 1:16). This also allows Gentiles who believe in Jesus to share in the blessings of the future kingdom, as indicated in the Abrahamic covenant.

But Paul adds that the Jews did not “stumble in order that they might fall.” What does this mean? I believe it means that Israel has not fallen from its place in God’s plan. Although currently most Jews do not believe in Jesus, they are still God’s chosen people.

Verse 12 says, “Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” This is saying that if Israel’s falling away brought blessings to the rest of the world, how many more blessings will come to the world when eventually all Israel believes! Notice that Paul speaks of it as if it will truly happen. Israel will one day come to Christ; this will be just before Christ’s Glorious Appearing. Christ’s Millenial Reign will then begin; it will be heaven on earth. This is the futurist, premillenial viewpoint, which I believe fits perfectly with verse 12. Also verse 15 has the same idea.

In verse 16 and on, Christ is the dough, or the root. The tree is God’s people. The natural branches are Israel. Because of unbelief, many of the natural branches have been broken off. Although they were broken off, they are still the natural branches (verses 21 and 24). We Gentiles who have faith have been grafted in (which was God’s plan).

Paul says in verse 25 that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” Then in verse 26 he says, “And in this way all Israel will be saved…” Israel’s partial hardening, therefore, is only temporary; the use of the word “until” is important. Furthermore, “Israel” in verse 26 must be taken literally; Paul was just speaking about Israel in verse 25, and there is no indication that we should take it any other way in verse 26. In fact, no where in Scripture is “Israel” used to denote anything other than Israel. Some people teach that the Church is the “New Israel” and that all the blessings promised to Israel now apply to the Church instead. However, the Bible never teaches this. Yes, Gentile believers are spiritual heirs of Abraham (Romans 4:23; Galatians 3:29), and thus we are a spiritual fulfillment of God’s promise to make Abraham a father of many nations (Genesis 17:5). However, God has promised blessings for Israel, and those promises still stand. Even as the curses and punishments prophesied on Israel were on the literal Israelites, so the blessings promised to them are on literal Israel as well. Romans 11:28-29 makes this perfectly clear: “As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” The pronoun “they” refers back to “Israel”, in verses 25 and 26. (Once again, we see clearly that all along, Paul has been speaking of literal Israel). These verses show that Israel is still beloved, because of the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are “elect,” or chosen, not in the same sense as the church. The church is elect unto salvation; that is, God has chosen eternal life for all those who put their faith in Him. But Israel is chosen for a special part in God’s plan for the future as He has indicated in prophecy.

I now want to look at covenants. In the Old Testament, there were three types of covenants: the royal grant treaty, the suzerain-vassal treaty, and the parity treaty. The Abrahamic covenant was a royal grant treaty, which is a promise by a king or ruler to a loyal subject. It depends only on the faithfulness of the one who made the promise (the ruler), and not on the actions of the subject himself. The Davidic covenant was also a royal grant treaty. Because God was the One Who made the promises to David and Abraham, we can be confident that everything will happen exactly as He said it would happen. So those covenants are unconditional. The Mosaic covenant, on the other hand, was a suzerain-vassal treaty, which is a treaty that binds an inferior subject to a superior head. It was obligatory only for the inferior subject (the one who swore to uphold the treaty); so if the subject broke his promises, the ruler was not bound to uphold the treaty. So the Mosaic (Old) covenant was conditional, and was replaced by the New Covenant at the beginning of the Church Age. The third type of covenant, the parity treaty, was between two equal parties (examples: Jacob and Laban, Genesis 31:44-50; David and Jonathan, I Samuel 18:1-4).

Returning to the Abrahamic covenant, there were several things promised to Abraham: a land (Palestine) to him and his offspring; that he would be the father of many nations, fulfilled literally through the Midianites, Moabites, Edomites, Arabs, and etc., and spiritually through the church; that God would make of him a great nation (Israel); and that all families of the earth would be blessed through him.

As a result of this covenant, Israel is and will always be God’s chosen nation. God’s plan for Israel, as revealed through Old Testament prophecies, will be fulfilled during the future 7-year Tribulation and the Millenial Reign of Christ.

Now I want to turn to the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is part of the Mosaic covenant. It contains a few lists of blessings and curses that were to befall Israel. Whether Israel was blessed or cursed depended on whether or not they were faithful. Generally, the book does not prophesy any specific events, but just a general pattern of blessings and curses. It is kind of like a sermon. I want to look at chapter 4, verses 25-31:

When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, so as to provoke him to anger, 26I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you. 28And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. 29 But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. 31For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.

This is basically a list or a general pattern that has occurred throughout Israel’s history. Most of the events could be applied to several dispersions that the Israelites have undergone. Only verse 30 has a specific time of fulfillment: it will be “in the latter days,” i.e. during the Tribulation. Verse 31, obviously, is timeless; the LORD will never forget the covenant that he swore with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

There are several major points or occurences that can be seen in this passage. First, we see that the Israelites will live in the land for awhile – these things would happen to the descendants of Moses’s immediate audience. Second, they will “act corruptly” and fall into idolatry. Third, they will perish from the land – that is, they will be driven out of it. Fourth, the Lord will scatter them among other nations. Fifth, they will serve idols during their exile.

Pausing here at vs. 28 for a moment, we know that these things have happened to the nation Israel. No one would deny it. But at this point, some people would like to claim that the next few verses apply to the church, not Israel. The next few points are these: Sixth, while dispersed among the nations, the Israelites will seek for the Lord and find Him when they search with all their heart. Seventh, there will come a time of tribulation, in the “latter days”, during which the Israelites will return to the Lord and obey His voice. Finally, the Lord will not forsake them or destroy them, or forget the covenant he made with their forefathers.

So are we really supposed to switch horses in midstream and assume that the church is now receiving these blessings, even though it sounds like the author is still speaking to the same group of people? (Moses uses “you” for both curses and blessings, in reference to the Israelites, and it seems clear that this same group of people that will fall into idolatry will “return” to the Lord). Personally, I want no part of such illogical foolishness.

Because this is, for the most part, just a general pattern, not every detail or provision has to be fulfilled at every possible application of this passage. Thus, while Israel today is partially dispersed among the nations, they are not worshipping idols, even though they are unsaved.

Thus, Israel will return to the LORD during the Tribulation.

It appears to be shaping up that Israel and the church are two distinct entities. God has a special plan for each of them. This does not mean that Jews are better than Gentiles. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Also see Romans 10:12: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.” These verses teach that we are all fallen; we all need a Saviour, Jews just as much as non-Jews, and we are all equal in the body of Christ. None of us is favored in any way in regards to salvation. However, none of this has any bearing on Israel’s status in God’s plan and in future events as a result of the covenant with Abraham.

Basically, the church as such was not seen in the Old Testament. It is true that a Gentile blessing was seen, as well as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The New Covenant was also seen (Jeremiah 31:31-34). It was originally made with Israel, but when Israel rejected it, the Gentiles were brought in. Eventually, as we have seen, Israel will accept Christ and the New Covenant, and then the New Covenant will reach complete fulfillment. But none of these are the distinct Church or the Church Age. Paul says it “was kept secret for long ages.” (Romans 16:25). He also says “the plan of the mystery” was “hidden for ages in God.” (Ephesians 3:9). The word “mystery,” as used in the Bible, means “a secret” rather than “something hard to figure out” as we often think of it. Therefore, when the Old Testament prophesies about “Israel,” it always means Israel, and when it says, “Jerusalem,” it means Jerusalem.

In summary, then, Israel is still God’s chosen people. God’s plan for Israel is distinct from His plan for the Church. Sometime in the future – perhaps in the near future – Israel will turn to her Messiah.