Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Zechariah 14 and Prophetic Symbolism

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

Brian Simmons, one respondent to my previous blog "Marvelous Mountains," has made the following observations:

If you admit location in Zech. 14, you should take the passage literally. For instance, if the city of Jerusalem is the literal city, then the mount of Olives EASTWARD of the city must be literal as well. Direction demands location. Otherwise, you are using an inconsistent two-tiered hermeneutic. There is simply no objective exegetical basis for taking the city literally, and the mountain spiritually.

Also, just because God said He was the fountain of living waters does not necessarily allow one to import that concept into Zech. 14. Christ also said "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11: 25), yet orthodox Christians do not spiritualize passages that speak of the physical resurrection of the body. This very kind of reasoning is what leads to Hyper-Preterism and Hymeneanism.

I thank him for his insightful observations. Nevertheless, I do not believe that we must take Zech 14 literalistically. Please note the following:

1. The mention of a "location" (i.e., Jerusalem) does not necessarily require that we "should take the passage literally." If that were true, then no historical location could ever be used as a symbolic image. But we know very clearly that such often occurs in Scripture. Powerful symbolism is often crafted from known earthly phenomenon. For instance, in Gal 4:25–26 and Heb 12:22 "Jerusalem" is applied to heavenly realities.

2. In light of my observations in point 1, then, it does not follow that "direction demands location." If the historical places of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives can symbolize other truths, then "direction" may be added to the imagery to fill out the symbolism.

3. Zech 14:4 states that "in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives." God's feet standing or treading on the earth is a common prophetic symbol that does not demand literality. When Amos states that God "treads on the high places of the earth" (Amos 4:13), he does not mean that God literally walks on all the mountains. When Micah declares that "the Lord is coming forth from His place" and that "He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth" causing the mountains to melt and the valleys to split (Mic 1:3–4) this does not require us to suppose that God will literally come down out of heaven and walk on the high places causing the mountains to melt. This is dramatic, apocalyptic, theophanic imagery of God's great power and intervention in worldly affairs.

4. Regarding the "fountain of living waters," I would note that the spiritual understanding of these waters is not imposed on the text without warrant. In fact, we see in the preceding, closely-linked vision that "a fountain will be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity" (Zech 13:1). Unless we interpret this literally — arguing for waters that literally cleanse from sin — then we must recognize that the waters in Zech 14 may also indicate a spiritual reality.

5. Brian also states that "Christ also said 'I am the resurrection and the life' (John 11: 25), yet orthodox Christians do not spiritualize passages that speak of the physical resurrection of the body." He is certainly correct in this observation. However, this very statement exposes the inadequacy in his argument. Note that he states that "orthodox Christians do not spiritualize passages that speak of the physical resurrection." But here he admits that some passages speaking of resurrection do not refer to the "physical resurrection." This opens the whole question: Which passages speaking of resurrection must we understand literally and which spiritually? The same is true of passages speaking of "Jerusalem" and "direction."

6. Regarding the concern over "Hyper-Preterism": we must not allow heretical extremes to scare us away from a text simply because of certain similarities of argument. For instance, I am a Calvinist despite the fact that some have abused the Calvinist system by promoting Hyper-Calvinism (i.e., since God sovereignly saves men we do not need to evangelize or send out missionaries). We must properly distinguish between use and abuse. When we read through Zechariah's several prophecies we discover abundant use of symbolism for dramatic effect.

7. In closing, I would note that one of the best of Reformed exegetes is John Calvin. Though he is certainly note infallible, I do not believe he is guilty of arbitrary exegesis when he denies the literality of Zech 14:4. In his commentary on Zechariah (John Owen translation) Calvin writes:

"Stand, he says, shall his feet on the mount of Olives. He does not here promise a miracle, such as even the ignorant might conceive to be literal; nor does he do this in what follows, when he says, The mount shall be rent, and half of it shall turn to the eat and half to the west."

Calvin goes on to state that Zechariah is "employing a highly figurative language" by which he "accommodates himself, as I have said, to the capacity of our flesh."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Prophetic Fulfillment Today

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

Dispensationalists argue that the “prophetic time clock” has been on hold since Israel rejected Christ’s offer of an earthly, political kingdom in the first century — despite his initially rejecting the Jews’ demand for just such a kingdom (John 6:15), his denying any interest whatsoever in a political kingdom (John 18:33–36), and some of his disciples’ dejection in his not establishing one (Luke 24:21). Because of this dispensationalists state that the entire Church Age is a parenthesis inserted in this holding pattern while the “prophetic clock” remains tick-less. (They have not even considered the possibility that God’s prophetic clock might be digital, altogether lacking ticking sounds.)

This clock problem is convenient in that it makes Daniel prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24-27 work out very nicely: The first seven weeks (or forty-nine years) transpires according to prophetic pronouncement. Then immediately following are the sixty-two weeks (or 434 years) that continue on in history. Then God inserts a 2000 year gap so that the seventieth week can follow thereupon “immediately” (not counting the 2000 year parenthesis). Viola! Dispensationalism is proven by strict, literal, chronological prophecy!

The Walvoordian Chronology
I am currently researching some arguments for dispensationalism and I would welcome your assistance in helping me find some of their key Bible passages. I am having my devotional readings each morning in John F. Walvoord’s Prophecy Knowledge Handbook (in the original English). But I have become somewhat perplexed — almost to the point of being miffed. Somehow Walvoord left out the supporting biblical proof-texts for his argument. Let me explain.

I have come now to Walvoord’s chapter 9: “Prophecy in the Gospels.” On pages 400–01 in that chapter he presents a clear, helpful, and compelling Table titled: “Predicted Events Relating to the Nations.” I read through the twenty-three points of the Table and am impressed with how meticulously detailed biblical prophecy is. Such point-for-point fulfillment cannot be by chance! But I am crestfallen that he did not provide the essential proof-texts. I am hoping you might be able to supply me the missing proof-texts for each of his observations. Here is his table:

Predicted Events Relation to the Nations
1. United Nations organized as first step toward world government in 1946.

2. Israel is formed as a recognized nation in 1948.

3. Europe is rebuilt after World War II, setting stage for its role in future revival of the Roma Empire.

4. The rise of Russia as a world military and political power.

5. World movements such as the Common Market and the World Bank set the stage for future political and financial events.

6. Red China becomes a military power.

7. The Middle East and the nation of Israel become the focus of worldwide tension.

8. The Arab oil embargo in 1973 results in world recognition of the power of wealth and energy in the Middle East.

9. Lack of a powerful political leaders prevents the Middle East from organizing as a political power.

10. The Rapture of the church removes a major deterrent to expansion of political and financial power of the Mediterranean world.

11. The rise of a new leader in the Middle East who later is identified as the Antichrist who secures power over first three, and then all ten nations, uniting
them in a Mediterranean confederation.

12. The new Mediterranean leader imposes a peace settlement for seven years on Israel.

13. Russian army accompanied by several other nations invades Israel and is destroyed by judgments from God.

14. Peace settlement in the Middle East is broken after three-and-a-half years.

15. Middle East ruler as the antichrist becomes a world dictator.

16. Middle East ruler claims to be God and demands that all worship him at the pain of death.

17. Middle East dictator defiles the temple in Jerusalem.

18. The beginning of the terrible judgments of the Great Tribulation described in the seals, trumpets, and bowls of the wrath of God in the Book of Revelation.

19. Worldwide discontent at the rule of the Middle East ruler resulting form many catastrophes causing rebellion and gathering of the world’s armies in the Middle East to fight it out with Armageddon.

20. Second coming of Christ occurs accompanied by the armies from heaven.

21. The armies of the world attempt to fight the armies from heaven but are totally destroyed.

22. Christ’s millennial reign is established, climaxing judgments on all the unsaved and the final disposition of Gentile political power.

23. Those saved from both Jews and Gentiles are placed in the New Jerusalem in the earth where they will spend eternity.

The marvelous detail of biblical prophecy is breathtakingly incredible! And Walvoord has performed an invaluable service in presenting these prophetic fulfillments that no one can argue with (I myself know I have despaired of trying). So then, I would especially appreciate any help our readership may offer in the following select three issues (the numbers refer to his own enumeration, as cited above).

1. I need the Bible verse that teaches that the “United Nations” would be organized in “1946.” I have found four or five that seem to say the “United Nations” would be organized in 1932, but I need verses demonstrating it would actually be established in 1946. And if you could find one that says it would be in downtown New York City, that would be helpful.

2. I am hoping to find five or six New Testament passages that show that Israel would be recognized as a nation in “1948.” Some verses I have read appear to point to Israel’s re-establishment in either 1425, or 1836, or 1971. I would like to be able to interpret those passages by comparing Scripture-with-Scripture using the passages that clearly state that this will occur in 1948.

8. This is a fascinating demonstration of the accuracy of biblical prophecy! Could someone give me the texts that prophesy an “Arab oil embargo” — particularly one that occurs in “1973”? Either Old or New Testament texts will suffice. I have three or four from the Apocrypha (though they clearly state that the “Arab oil embargo” would be during the Truman administration in 1950), one from an obscure pseudepigraphical work (though it presents the date as occurring on the fourth of October, 1989, in downtown Cleveland), and three, nay four, from the Jewish Tosefta (which correspond with “The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan”). But what I would really like is one from the Church’s own canonical revelation.

Conclusion and Final Plea
If I could just get a handle on these three major prophetic data, I could move forward with my devotional reading of Walvoord. Until then, I may just have to stick with reading my WWJD bracelet for edification.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Marvelous Mountains and Clueless Dispensationalism

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

Lay defenders of dispensationalism often point to Zechariah 14:4ff as an important component of their literalistic view of the eschatological future. Unfortunately though, this is one of the areas where dispensationalism runs aground with an embarrassing thud as they attempt their literalistic approach to prophecy. You might say that they stumble over the mountains as they try to walk through Scripture while wearing their literalistic glasses. Let’s see how this is so.

In Zechariah 14:4, 10 we read:

And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.... All the land will be changed into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; but Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site from Benjamin's Gate as far as the place of the First Gate to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king's wine presses.

According to dispensationalists this speaks of radical, literal topographical changes.

Samples from Dispensationalist Interpreters

As we expose the error of the dispensationalist analysis of Zechariah 14, let us consider the following statements from dispensationalist scholars:

F. Duane Lindsey, “Zechariah” in Bible Knowledge Commentary (1:1569) comments that this speaks of a “change in topography.”

John F. Walvoord, Prophecy Knowledge Handbook (333) argues regarding the splitting of the Mount of Olives and the living waters flowing out of Jerusalem that “this makes clear that the Second Coming is a future event as the Mount of Olives is still intact.” He notes that “other topological changes will take place which apparently will elevate Jerusalem so that waters flowing will go half to the eastern sea, or the sea of Galilee, and half to the western sea, or the Mediterranean (v. 8).” He continues: “Included in the topographical changes will be the elevation of Jerusalem (v. 10).”

The Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible (1101) points out that “the mountain shall split in half, creating a rift valley from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea (v. 8)” and “the topography of the land will be changed, and Jerusalem will be elevated to even greater prominence (v. 10).”

Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary (7:692, 693) speaks of the “topographical . . . changes” that occur, so that “the land around Jerusalem is to be leveled while Jerusalem is to be elevated.”

Exposé of Dispensationalist Exegesis

That they are missing the point of this (and related prophecies) becomes evident on the following considerations.

First, the presence of “living water” (Zech 14:8) should be a clue that something non-literal is going on here. Surely this is not a prophecy about literal H20flowing out of Jerusalem. Even in the Old Testament “living water” represents God’s salvation.

In Jeremiah 2:13 the Lord denounces Israel: “For My people have committed two evils: / They have forsaken Me, / The fountain of living waters, / To hew for themselves cisterns, / Broken cisterns, / That can hold no water.” He says basically the same thing in Jeremiah 17:13. But God is clearly not a literal “fountain of living [i.e., flowing] waters.” Rather this obviously speaks of his being the source of the water of life, that is, of salvation.

Though it lacks the adjective “living,” Isaiah 55:1 also mentions waters in a salvific sense: “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; / And you who have no money come, buy and eat. / Come, buy wine and milk / Without money and without cost.” This obviously is an image of God’s offer of salvation. Such imagery also appears in Psalm 42:2 and 63:1.

In fact, in Isaiah 44:3 the prophecy provides a parallel that proves this point: “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land / And streams on the dry ground; / I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, / And My blessing on your descendants.” The poured out water is actually God’s poured out Spirit.

Furthermore, Jesus takes up this “living water” imagery in the New Testament. In John 4:10 he promises the woman at the well that he would give her “living water.” She must have been a dispensationalist because her response is literalistic in orientation: “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?” (John 4:11). You know Jesus’ response: “Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). He is speaking of the “living water” of salvation.

Second, returning to Zechariah 14, the statement that “Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site” and “the land will be changed into a plain” cannot be literal (Zech 14:10). Any tectonic elevation of Jerusalem would destroy the city so that it would not “remain on its site.” Rather, this elevating of Jerusalem (with its temple) is an image of spiritual or moral or religious exaltation in world affairs.

For instance, consider Isaiah 2:2: “Now it will come about that / In the last days, / The mountain of the house of the Lord / Will be established as the chief of the mountains, / And will be raised above the hills; / And all the nations will stream to it” (cp. Mic 4:1). If this is taken literally we have a future temple in a Jerusalem that is elevated higher than Mt. Everest. This is incredible for Mt. Everest stands around 29,000 feet — or almost six miles high!

Mt. Everest (and all other similarly high mountains) is rather inhospitable as a place for a city with a temple. It is known for its high winds (they can even reach 177 mph on occasion, causing an annoyingly nippy wind chill effect), thin atmosphere (much lower concentrations of oxygen than at sea level, thus requiring most climbers to take oxygen tanks as they jog up its slope), snow falls accumulating to the depth of ten feet (ruining most basketball games because the goal is only ten feet high), and unbearably cold temperatures (ranging from -2 degrees to -76 degrees, making it difficult to haul in animals for the sacrifices — especially non-wooly animals like bulls and goats). Surely Jerusalem will not be changed to a place enduring such conditions! And how will the “living waters” flow under such circumstances (Zech 14:8)? Only Al Gore could possibly imagine a day in which we will witness a warm, welcoming environment on a summit as high as Everest.

To make matters worse, this eschatological setting will be the place for God’s “lavish banquet for all peoples”! In Isaiah 25:6 we read: “the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; / A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, / And refined, aged wine” (Isa 25:6). And this is not just a one-time expedition that all peoples on earth must make (we will not even contemplate the potentially crowded conditions on the summit during this picnic). After all, Zechariah 14:16 reports that in the eschatological Jerusalem all people must celebrate the Feast of Booths each year: “Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.”

Many other problems present themselves to the literalist. But these are sufficient to expose the reducito ad absurdum of such exegesis. Whatever the texts means, it cannot mean what dispensationalists naively think it means. (For a treatment of Zechariah 14, please see my He Shall Have Dominion, pp. 481–85.)