© Charles A. Clough 2003
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 6: New Truths of the Kingdom Aristocracy
Chapter 5 – The Destiny of the Church
Lesson 212 – Dispensational Clarification of the Church’s Identity & Purpose in History
09 Jan 2003
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
Last time we went back through some of the larger considerations so that when we get into these details you won’t lose the forest for the trees. Again I preface my comments that we are in a difficult area of Scripture. Eschatology as we’ve said is being worked out last century and this century; it appears to be working out pretty well but there are divergences of views, even among those who are believers in the Lord and Bible-believing Christians. Last time I kind of reviewed the difference between the church and Israel, and this is a fundamental distinction. To that we can add a third distinction, Israel and the Gentile, the Gentile nations. So we actually have three groups in the Scripture and the problem in Biblical interpretation is to understand God’s purposes with each of those three groups. God has a purpose for Israel; God has a purpose for Gentile nations and God has a purpose for the church.
We surveyed that, we gave you the history of the world; we said it starts out with innocence, it starts out in an unfallen universe, no sin, no death, no suffering, no judgment for sin, and this period of time, with Adam and Eve after creation until the fall, during that period of time there was an instance of a sinless environment. Yet, even in that sinless environment we have people sinning. Man chose to fall in a sinless environment so that reveals the fact that sin is not environmental. Fundamentally sin cannot be explained away as environmental. We have all kinds of people that think this way. So-and-So was raised in a bad home and that makes them bad; So-and-So had all the breaks when they were kids and that makes them good. It doesn’t work that way.
One of the most interesting social examples of this is that during the depression when people were suffering as we probably hadn’t seen that kind of suffering in the country in a hundred years, when people were suffering in the depression the interesting thing is that crime did not go up. If poverty and economic suffering caused crime, how do you explain the fact that crime didn’t go up in the depression. It didn’t go up because there was a basic ethic still left in the centers of American population. Today if we had suffering it would be interesting to see if crime would go up.
But the point is, the basic idea, and this is the point I’m trying to make, is as you go through these different ages in history there are big ideas that you want to grab onto and use those ideas to control your thinking, so your thinking will be biblical when everybody around you is falling apart, going off on tangents and having problems, or doing some systematic foolishness that leads to worse kind of mistakes. This period of history was innocence.
Then we had the period from the fall down to the flood and during that period of time man had no government, no capital punishment, no police, it was all human conscience. God allowed human society to function that way, to prove a point; it doesn’t work! In a fallen world you can’t just contain sin with human conscience; you need the power of forceful judgment against sin. And that’s the argument for all people who want to do away with capital punishment. There was a whole history here of 1,600 years when there was no capital punishment other than what was administered by angels, for some reason maybe. But by man it wasn’t, and what happened? Society fell apart, had total violence filling the earth, and so God had to remove that society.
Then we come down from the flood down to Abraham and now we have human government, God gives revelation to every single people group on earth, there’s nobody, there is no missions, no missionaries, no need for missionaries because every society has access to the Noahic Bible, they all came off the same boat, they are all sons and daughters of Noah, they all heard the story, Grandpa told daddy and daddy told me. It was passed on down through the families so everybody had access to revelation. Did that work? No, because what did we have? We had man trying to define himself. There came a point in this age when we had the great tower of Babel. At the tower of Babel you have an attempt, by corporate man, to form a world government that would be so powerful as to define the nature of man.
Remember what they said in Genesis 10, “Let us make a name for ourselves,” and when God elected Abraham He deliberately took the same vocabulary and He said I will give you the name, never mind making the name up yourself, I will give you the name. In other words, God defines purpose and meaning. Here man wanted to define purpose and meaning and God had to shatter the culture of the world. So He broke the world up into linguistic subgroups that can’t understand each other. People say it would be so good if we could just get rid of the language barriers. Would it? If you get rid of all the language barriers you have no resistance to sin affecting us globally. At least with language barriers you’ll have some areas that can’t be influenced by sin over because these people can’t understand what these people are saying. So there are built in barriers and you have the rise of nationalism. Today everybody wants to get back to internationalism, or to globalism. But that is refuted by the tower of Babel experience. It doesn’t work.
Then we come to Abraham and here we have the rise of another controversial time and that is the rise of the need for missionaries because now God restricts revelation to one culture. The anthropologists and sociologists and all the people on campus hate that kind of idea, that one culture could possibly have the truth and all the other culture are deprived of it. How unfair, they say. No, all cultures had the truth prior to that point and paganized it, perverted it, distorted it. So we have a period from Abraham on when now God is going to reveal Himself through only one culture and that means if it’s only in one culture but there are men in many cultures you have to get the truth from one culture out to the many cultures and how do you do that? Missionary work, that’s the need for a cross-cultural evangelization. That’s very offensive in our day to moral relativists, the idea that one culture could have the truth. Well sorry, that’s the way it is, not because that culture is better, it’s only because God works that way because when we had the truth distributed evenly in all the people groups it didn’t work out.
Then we come to the nation because Abraham had a family and the family was one of the most dysfunctional families that you could imagine and out of that came a nation. So now we have the period of the nation of Israel. What that period of history shows is what happens when God designs a society to live in a fallen universe and He puts His presence, physically and politically, inside that social unit. What happens then? What happens is what you got in Israel, and within the history of Israel you have other great ideas that nobody thinks of. Nobody thinks there are already big ideas in the Bible so therefore they don’t think these things through, but if you go back through Old Testament history in this time period of the nation, what do you find? You find the period of the judges, for example.
What does the period of the judges teach us about society and politics? It teaches us, the book of Judges, that where you have limited government which conservatives like because of the sin issue, but the libertarians who are not necessarily Christians, libertarians who are almost anarchists, don’t want any government authority, everybody should do whatever the feel like as long as it doesn’t hurt somebody, never define what it is that hurts or doesn’t hurt someone, but nevertheless, they go forward with this libertarian idea and the book of Judges is the libertarian idea worked out in history and what happened? It failed because “every man did that which was right in their own eyes.” Who defines right? Therefore then you go from almost anarchy to the other extreme, and what is the other extreme known as in history. You have anarchy and chaos on one side and totalitarianism of various forms on the other side.
So you have that shift and you have the introduction of a monarchy. One of the great political chapters in the Bible, never taught in school of course, the public schools don’t want to have to carefully filter out anything that might possibly be construed to talk about God, one of the things that in the Bible is a very politically crucial chapter is 1 Samuel 8. Nobody even reads 1 Samuel 8; it is an exposition by the prophet Samuel of central government and the problems of a totalitarian structure in society. You read it and it even predicts what the tax structure is going to be in a totalitarian society. These are all key things.
Then you come down and you have this nation that has God’s law behind it, we’ve looked through the Law, the Old Testament, we can find social legislation, economic legislation, banking rules, currency rules, public health rules, the whole nine yards of God’s will specified in every area of society. The New Testament, by the way, doesn’t do that; only the Old Testament specifies social legislation like that. So you have a nation here and it is totally prepared, it has the maximum amount of information of any nation in history, and when God Himself walks into that national society He gets crucified. What does that show? That shows that unless the change is by regeneration inside the human heart you cannot make a perfect society by law structures. You can’t create a perfect society because it’s all external. All that happens is you create one big peer pressure and so and so is good as long as the peer pressure is there; take away the peer pressure and they fall apart.
This is why people always say oh well, my son went in the military and he went to pot. If he went to pot because he joined the military it’s not the military’s fault; the problem is he never had it together in the first place. He was around peer pressure, and in the military he had a different kind of peer pressure and he responded to the new kind of peer pressure; before he had the Christian peer pressure and now he has the pagan peer pressure and so he responds to that. He’s just peer pressure driven. So nothing has changed, he’s the same guy, but they always want to blame the military for it. Actually the military is a great place to learn discipline and responsibility and that’s why we have so little discipline and so little responsibility today because nobody knows anything about the military, we have Congressmen, probably two out of every three Congressmen have never even been in the military, don’t know a clue about it and here we are almost in two wars and don’t have enough military to go around, because in 15–20 years we have robbed the defense department budget, stolen it, run by a group of jerks in our country who themselves have never had to go into battle and defend themselves. Now we pay the price, and it’s going to be a national embarrassment because we have no training, we have not enough weapons and we have neglected and neglected and kept the budget down, kept the budget down, and kept the budget down and now we’re going to pay the price for it. That’s what happens; that’s foolishness, policies will always reap their results. We have to learn that way. Fallen man always has to have his nose rubbed into it before we ever learn anything.
Actually it’s the same thing in the Church Age because now down in the Church Age God says I’m not going to work with the nation any more, now I’m going to work with individuals, but here’s the difference, and this is a difference you’ve got to grasp if we are to interpret correctly these prophetic passages. You have got to understand the difference in the definition between Israel and the church. During this period of time, in the Old Testament, God worked with the nation Israel; the prophecies concern the nation. Yes, it does talk about the remnant but, for example, in the Old Testament it talks about the New Covenant. The New Covenant in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and referred to in other passages, is a promise, a prophecy of a thing in the future that is going to occur to the nation. All the nation will be regenerate; yes, it means the unregenerate will be destroyed from that nation, but at one point in the future there will be 100% of the population believers. That’s the New Covenant. The New Covenant is not given to the church; the New Covenant in this regard has nothing to do with the church. It is a prediction of a state of a society of a national entity called Israel. It will be regenerated, that is the New Covenant.
Now when we come to the church we come to an utterly different thing. What have we done as we reviewed, for example, the book of Acts. When we think back to how the church started, what was the church? The church was a subset, was it not, of Israel at first? Wasn’t it all made up of Jews? Of course it was. But what characterized that Jewish nucleus that first formed the church? How would you characterize those Jews in the book of Acts who believed in Jesus Christ over against the rest of the nation Israel? They’re the remnant; they are the subset of the nation that did believe in the Messiah and did not reject Him. So from the very first the church was minus, it was not an organization, it didn’t have any organization at first, it was just a group of people who responded to the Lord Jesus Christ. So the church, as such, is not to be identified with an organization. It is not to be identified with a nation. What happened on the day of Pentecost? Were multiple national people groups represented? What’s the lesson from the very day of Pentecost? They spoke in many different languages, from many different people groups.
What’s that a signal for, you know, God sends signals, He says hey guys, wake up, we’ve got a new thing here. What’s the new thing? The church is going to be something that was never revealed in the Old Testament. It is going to be one body made up of believers only from multiple people groups. So you have this definition of the church. It is not an organization; it is not a nation. It is not a race, it is not one language, it is people from all of those who are in this union together because they bow their knee to the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. They can be black, they can be white, they can be red and they can be yellow, it doesn’t make any difference, because all those people, ultimately, came from the same boat, Noah’s family.
So the church, then, is defined as those people who have received Christ. Down through history the church has taken on different identities. We want to be careful about this. That’s where dispensational theology clarifies the issue, because one of the problems is that when the Protestant Reformation occurred … let’s go back before the Protestant Reformation. Let’s go back to Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy. Both Greek Orthodox, which is the eastern part of the Mediterranean, that part of the church, it became the Russian Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox and a bunch of other little orthodoxies. Usually you can always tell them by the architecture; it has a very distinctive architecture. That’s the eastern side; in the west you have Roman Catholicism.
So you have these two groups. What characterizes these two groups? They tried to become orthodox in deciding about the Lord Jesus Christ, because remember church history, what was the doctrine that was being thought out, clarified in those first centuries. It wasn’t salvation; it was the person of Jesus Christ, the hypostatic union and the doctrine of the Trinity. That’s a good place to start because if that’s wrong everything else is going to be wrong. We see and observe the Holy Spirit, being the great teacher He is, He has a pedagogical purpose to church history. So the church spends a lot of time, and how did it learn about the Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ? Because of heresy. The church never learns voluntarily. We always have to get it slammed into us with some heretical movement; the wolves have to nip at the sheep before the sheep move. That’s not a good commentary about our character, but that is the way the church learns; it learns the hard way through persecution and apostasy. So early on the church was looking at that area.
What the church wasn’t looking at was its own identity. So very early in church history we have the idea that the church is an organization. They knew enough to know it wasn’t a nation, but it took on the idea that it was an organization, so you have great emphasis on offices, the bishop, and finally the super bishops and finally the Pope, and it was the structure that was formed and that became identified as the church. Then in most people’s minds, what did that organization do? It built buildings. Now the buildings are defined as the church. Go to the great cathedrals of Europe, that’s the church. No, that’s not the church. The church is the body of Christ, but that hasn’t always been clear. People have confused buildings, organizations, and everything else for the church.
This went on even to the Reformation, because the Reformation was interested in what area of doctrine? This is where you have to know your church history. What was the emphasis of the Reformation? Soteriology. So the Reformers were concerned with how does a person get saved? What did Jesus do on the cross, how do I trust Him, what is the gospel? Those were all crucial questions; they had to be dealt with. It took hundreds of years to deal with those questions. But what wasn’t dealt with in the Reformation? The nature of the church and where it’s going, its purpose in history and what history is doing. The Reformers simply repeated the eschatology and ecclesiology of Rome. That’s why in Europe what church dominated Germany? The Lutheran Church. What church dominated England? The Anglican Church. So what church dominated Italy? That was the Roman Catholic Church. In Switzerland it was the Reformed Church. In Holland it was the Reformed Church.
So the Protestants carried on the idea that there was an organization that should dominate a community. Watch what happens here. Let’s take a town; we’ll call it town X. This was true of the Puritans in New England. We have this town, men, women and children all in this one town. The idea was that this town would be part of Christendom and as part of Christendom your citizenship in the town was simultaneous with being part of Christendom. So what did everybody in the town have to do when they were babies? When a baby was born in a town what happened to the baby? He would be christened; he would be baptized and brought into Christendom. So you have an identity where the church is not distinguished carefully from society at large.
You have, therefore, an example that worked out in American history, what happened in Massachusetts in American history that set up Connecticut and Rhode Island? Who was it that went down and formed Connecticut because they got kicked out of Massachusetts Colony? Hooker. Who was it that went into Rhode Island? Roger Williams. Why did those guys have to go to Rhode Island and another guy had to go to Connecticut? Because they weren’t welcome in Massachusetts. Why weren’t they welcome in Massachusetts? Because they taught a different doctrine; if you want to teach a new doctrine you’ve got to go to another town and you take care of that town. See what was going on? It wasn’t emphasis on individuals becoming Christians; the emphasis was communities becoming Christians. And this is all tied in with infant baptism because that goes along with it; infant baptism is like your citizenship in the community. This came out of the Reformation.
Of course there were the Anabaptists during the Middle Ages who carried forward a tradition; let’s look at that word, Anabaptists, the word “Ana” means again, and what they came to was that the church, they were right here, they had a lot of wrong ideas in the sense that they were undeveloped ideas and they got involved in radical different things, but one good idea they had was wait a minute, first of all, we don’t see infant baptism anywhere in the New Testament. The justification for infant baptism is an analogy with what in the Old Testament? Circumcision, which was done to infants. But wait a minute, circumcision was to Israel; was Israel a nation and a community and a town? Yes. So you did, that was a mark of parting part of the nation, circumcision so carrying that same idea into the church, infant baptism, an analogy.
The problem is the analogy fails because Israel is a nation and the church isn’t a nation, it isn’t a community, it is a subset of individuals who have received Christ, as we could have seen in Acts 2 when they were not part of the Jewish community. The Christians began to break away from the community on the basis of their personal decision to trust in Jesus Christ. So the Anabaptists had the idea that you had to be baptized again when what occurred? Why would you be baptized again? If you grew up in these towns and communities of Europe you already were baptized once, infant baptism. Well then what were the Anabaptists talking about? When you grew older and you trusted the Lord as a personable, knowledgeable conscious decision, then you were baptized.
That’s why they were called Anabaptists. Then that dropped off and this name goes away and that’s the rise of the Baptists. These people unfortunately got involved in all sorts of extreme movements and there were some eschatology distortions and they were into things that on one hand amounted to communism and anarchy on another. Luther had it with them and so he ordered the people to shoot them all. So the Reformers decided to go after them physically, so the Anabaptists were persecuted all over Europe by both Protestants and Catholics. They’d roll them in barrels, very cruel, very, very cruel to the Anabaptists. But the Anabaptist in some areas were just idiots and stupid because they got involved in these revolutionary movements and that’s why Luther would have nothing to do with them. Enough of that.
My point being that this all comes down to defining and clarifying what the church is and that has been clarified very clearly inside Dispensational Theology, because in Dispensational Theology the church is defined clearly from the very start as made up of all believers and no unbelievers. If you have a congregation, and we always will have a congregation that is mixed. The congregation ultimately is not the church; therefore people have devised two words, two vocabulary words to describe this problem. If you have 100 people in a local church, regular attendees in a local church, can we be sure that all 100 of those people have personally trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ? No. What do you do? You keep preaching the gospel and teaching the Word of God. So that one or the other thing happens, either they trust Him or they get so irritated hearing the Word of God that they get up and go home. It either softens hearts or it hardens hearts, or puts them to sleep so they aren’t hardened or softened. So you have the church invisible, and that’s a term sometimes you’ll see, the visible and the invisible church. Those are just terms that theologians have come up to try and distinguish this problem, in a congregation of 100 people there might be, say 91 believers and 9 unbelievers, so the visible church has 100 people in it, but the invisible church only has 91 people in it. That was the terminology that was devised to describe that.
Now we’re going to come down to treating the church’s destiny, not a nation’s destiny, not an organization’s destiny, but this group, this group of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Page 120 of the notes. We’re going to start with the first of five attempts in our present day to explain where the church is going in history; what’s our future. I’ve already said pages 119–120 of the notes, that there are certain future milestones we know about. I named one on page 119, the Rapture. We’re talking about the future of the church and we said that one thing that is going to happen is the Rapture. What is the Rapture? The Rapture is two things, it’s resurrection and it is transformation. Who are resurrected and who are transformed? They are all believers, but dead believers are the ones that are going to be resurrected and living believers are the ones that are going to be transformed, so that when this event is over both of these people are in what kind of bodies? They’re in resurrection bodies. The Rapture leads to an event where 100% of all believers have resurrection bodies, because all believers who live on earth at that point, when the Rapture happens, by definition are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. If they are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ when the Rapture occurs, then a split second after that event we have 100% resurrection bodies.
Another milestone for the church beside the Rapture is the Bema Seat. The Bema Seat speaks of a judgment and that means every believer is judged on the basis of his or her works. What that does, it splits away human good from divine good. Good done in the filling of the Holy Spirit in obedience to the Lord, genuine fruit of the Spirit will be identified and rewarded. But where we have done things because of social pressure, peer pressure, because I want to impress my boyfriend, my girlfriend, my husband, my wife, whatever, all the other false motives, it’s just a lot of trash and human good. It may look on the outside like it’s a great spiritual thing but actually it turns out to be nothing more than wood, hay and stubble. And that’s going to be burned away because the Lord Jesus, once we get resurrected bodies He wants to have the church do something. The church is going to do something in the future, and it’s not going to do it unless it’s clear about the whole nature of the church. So what the church has done down through the centuries, all the good works, have to be clearly identified to qualify the church for this duty that is going to come about.
The result is that the bema seat sets up a ranking of believes; some people are going to be down here, some people are going to be up here, some people are up there, based on production and fruit in their Christian life. They are given certain assignments, some of us are going to be saved but we’re the custodians of the Kingdom or something, and the next layer of people will be something else. The bema seat sorts this out. Thankfully we don’t have to do it, the Lord Jesus does that.
The third thing that the church goes through is this marriage feast. And that is that the church is the bride of Christ and at the marriage feast, all of creation at that point now views the Lord Jesus Christ plus the church, which is His body, as one unit. So the marriage feast brings together the Lord Jesus who is perfect in His resurrection body plus the church which has been purged of human good in its resurrection bodies and we have the church ready to do something. Now what these five positions try to do is sort out event number one, event number two, event number three and mix these in, somehow fit them into the plan we see developed out of the Old Testament, which is not in itself wrong. God is a God of coherent logic, He thinks, His plan isn’t messy, He has logic and coherence, therefore the question is those three milestone events that are to happen to the church now have to be fit into the program inherited from the Old Testament.
What does the Old Testament tell us about the future? The Old Testament tells us that Israel … Table 8, in the Old Testament we have the view that in the future Israel and the Gentile nations will go through a horrible time of suffering called the Tribulation. And that Tribulation is not the same kind of suffering the Church Age presently goes through. This is a special suffering period which has as its purpose to bring out belief and unbelief. So we have those people who are positive, those people who are negative within Israel, within all the nations of the earth, in order that Jesus Christ will set up His Kingdom. This is the Kingdom of God and it will start out with people who are believers. It will go for a thousand years, according to Revelation 20.
That Kingdom is going to demonstrate in the future another point about human history because over and over man has always tried to excuse himself by saying we have lousy leadership. The reason society fails is because we’ve got the wrong people in office. So every time the Republicans get in the Democrats say that; every time the Democrats get in the Republicans say that. In other countries it’s whatever the parties are, it’s always the outs and the ins. And there’s always a perpetual debate over the fact that we have lousy leaders and that’s the problem.
What do you suppose God is going to do for a thousand years to solve that little innuendo? He’s going to bring about perfect leadership globally and that perfect leadership is the Lord Jesus Christ and His royal family as administrators. And that family is going to produce, which we’ll get into later, the idea of a society and by golly, after a thousand years of perfect leadership what’s going to happen? Satan will be released because he is the deceiver of the nations. He’s going to be kicked out for 999 years or whatever, and just as soon as he is let loose again, it doesn’t take him but months to screw the world up again.
It’s not just him that’s doing it, it is these people all through the Kingdom who have not done what while they’ve had the presence of Jesus there. They haven’t believed. So as the thousand years goes on and on and on and on and on there arises a segment of the population who are not believers, they are people born after this Kingdom starts. And they grow up and they don’t trust in the Lord Jesus. So now we’ve got an increasing segment of people who are negative toward the Lord Jesus Christ. What controls them? Peer pressure, law and power. What does the Bible say that Jesus rules those nations with? A rod of iron. Think about that. Jesus is going to be the world dictator and when He rules He rules by force. Gentle Jesus rules the world by force for His Kingdom. By the way, He has capital punishment and He doesn’t even talk to the ACLU about it.
So we come down to the end of the Kingdom and then we have the final purging, the universe is completely replaced by a new universe and we go into the eternal state. That is the final separation, history is over, and every grand experiment that man could ever think of forever and ever has been done, because history is the vestibule for eternity, so that when, in eternity we worship before the throne, we can never, no matter what happens, we can never in those eternal eons of time to come, we can never doubt God’s goodness and say well God, you know, there were better ways to run history, because every time we think that way we’ll be confronted with a chapter of history.
Every idea that we can come up with will be answered. I’m a Libertarian, read the book of Judges. I’m a Marxist, globalist, read the tower of Babel, Genesis 10–11. You get my point. History is a completing and a demonstration of the depravity of man and the faithfulness and goodness of God, such that all arguments will be silenced. There will not be any arguments. The suffering argument will not surface in the eternal state to come because it will have been answered.
The point is, how do we take the church with the Rapture, the Bema Seat and the Marriage Supper and connect it with this? That’s why on page 120, “The Church and the Tribulation,” because the Tribulation is the inherited undone yet agenda out of the Old Testament. The first attempt, which is actually in its modern form quite recent, it goes back in church history in a crude form, is called preterism. We’re going to start talking about preterism and I want to define the word and get you used to it, because people you hear on our local Christian radio stations, some of them are preterists and they’re teaching the Bible from a preterist viewpoint and you’d better understand what kind of viewpoint you’re getting.
Let’s talk about what the word means first. You cannot think without words. I’m going to give you the opposite word, it always helps to learn words by contrast, it’s this against that. The opposite of preterism is futurism. Now that I’ve made that opposite, what do you think preterism is all about? If futurism is future preterism is past. That’s the big difference. Basically what the preterists are doing is they’re saying that this Old Testament stuff, all that Tribulation talk about Israel and the Gentiles, is past, it’s all over. You say WHAT??? All over. The Tribulation has happened, when did it happen? The preterist today, now early preterists, centuries and centuries ago, early preterists believed that the church was already in the Tribulation, they had Roman Emperors, etc. and what was the great event in history when finally the church was relieved of its suffering and persecution under Rome? Remember the Roman Emperor Constantine.
So after Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of Rome because all the other religions fell apart, Rome was falling apart, when that happened the church said aah, we’re out of the Tribulation, at least we have peace. And that led to the idea of a sort of preterism then where the first 300 years of the church was looked upon as that horrible time of persecution and you’d misunderstand if you were there, you could understand that kind of thinking that we got rid of that period, thank God for Constantine. That’s an early form of preterism. It wasn’t well thought through; it was just kind of a reaction.
But in our day we have a very narrow well-thought through and self-consistent type of preterism. Basically the preterists hold that we solved the problem of the church by having the church replace Israel and the nations and since the church replaces it, the church has nothing to do with the Tribulation, the Tribulation happened and is over. The question is when did the Tribulation happen? What was the fulfillment of the … [blank spot] … that when the armies of Rome, first under Vespasian, then under Titus, conquered Jerusalem and conquered the Jew, when the Palestinian problem was solved from Rome’s perspective, when all that happened and the horrible suffering of the nation, that was the Tribulation, that’s what the book of Revelation is all about; the Book of Revelation is all past, the Book of Revelation is finished with AD 70. This may shock some of you, maybe you’ve never heard of this before but it’s rampant, particularly in Reformed circles in this area. It’s coming in like a flood, and it’s because so many people don’t read their Bibles and have not been taught verse by verse so they become suckers for this kind of thing.
Preterism has a few strings to is, so what I’m going to teach in these next few paragraphs, I’m going to distinguish between we’ll call the extreme preterists and the more moderate preterists. The moderate preterists are those who have enough respect for literal hermeneutics to say wait a minute, we may say the Tribulation is past, but we certainly can’t say the Second Advent of Jesus is past. So the moderates try to separate Tribulation, make it past, but kind of save out a few verses here and there to guard the Second Advent. The consistent preterists, which are I feel the logical, they are logical and I can’t see how the moderates are going to stay moderate, they’re going to go one way or the other, the extreme preterists argue that the Second Advent of Christ is past, it’s over, Christ came in AD 70. So that’s the view.
If you follow on page 120 I’ll go through the notes and we may get into some verses tonight, but I’ve got to give you this background because otherwise we lose things here. By the way, before we go any further, futurism, what do you suppose futurism does? It says the Tribulation is future, yet to come. So it’s preterist or futurist.
“Preterism. Some students, particularly in Reformed circles (e.g., R. C. Sproul), have recently attempted to strengthen the amillennial or postmillennial viewpoints against the logical consistency of premillennialism,” now I’ve used three words there and you want to understand those three words. Preterism is associated, always, with amillennialism or postmillennialism. Take the words apart, if you don’t know what the words mean, take them apart. What does millennium mean? A thousand-year millennium, the Kingdom of God. What does “a” in front of a word always mean? “Non.” Theism, atheism, it’s the Greek negative, so you put an “a” in front of a word and it makes the negative, so amillennialism means there is no millennium. Well what do they do with the millennium passages? Allegorize them, see, non-literal hermeneutic.
What does postmillennial mean? That means that the world is getting better and better, and finally it will be such a wonderful world that Jesus can’t help it and He comes back and says thank you, good job you guys. That’s postmillennialism. By the way, amillennialism is inherited from what before the Protestant Reformation? It’s a carryover from Rome. So when Protestants are amillennial they’re just simply repeating Roman Catholic eschatology. Preterism will always be associated with amillennialism. You will never find a preterist premil. You will have premillennialism associated with futurism because premillennialism means Christ comes before the millennium. Why? To set it up. You can have futurists that are amil and postmil, but logic tends to drive them in this direction. That’s why in your Reformed circles that have always been amil and postmil you have a receptive group for preterism. So you want to learn the connection.
Bottom of page 120, last sentence: “The basic idea of preterism asserts that these Scriptures view the fall of Jerusalem to Rome in AD 70 as the wrath of God against unbelieving Israel.” If you are sharp and you hold the place in the notes, and go back to Table 8 a warning bell should go off in your head with that sentence I just read. Turn back to page 114, Table 8. From Table 8 what do we know from the Old Testament about the wrath of God on the nation Israel? Does the Old Testament look forward to a time when there’s a wrath of God on Israel? Sure, that’s the definition of the Tribulation. But, does the Tribulation and wrath of God extinguish Israel or purge Israel? It’s designed to purge Israel, not extinguish it. So knowing that, and that history, when you come back to page 121 and you see the sentence, “the wrath of God against unbelieving Israel,” they think of that as the last chapter in Israel’s existence. But you see where that clashes with the Old Testament because the Old Testament doesn’t look upon the Tribulation as that; it’s a horrible time but it’s not the last chapter, it’s the next to the last chapter. But preterism argues that it is the last chapter, Israel is done with.
The next paragraph: “What does preterism do with the Old Testament texts that underlie these New Testament texts?” Turn to Matthew 24:29, this is Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives as He and the disciples looked across the Kidron Valley at the Temple. Jesus is talking to the disciples, and He says, in verse 29, we could go to a lot of verses, in the interest of time, and as I say, please don’t think of this class as a course in eschatology, a course in eschatology could take 2 or 3 years, I’m doing a very fast review to get you through the material so you get some sort of handle, you learn the vocabulary, and you kind of learn why I and most of the people you hear teach premillennial pretribulationism.
Matthew 24:29, “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken,  and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky.” If you have a study Bible you will notice that verse 29 is cited out of the Old Testament, from Isaiah. That verse is coming out of the Old Testament. Jesus is teaching an elaborated version, a more detailed version of what the Old Testament taught. He’s not teaching something radically different, He’s quoting from the Old Testament here. If you have a study Bible you’ll also see that that same verse that Jesus quotes here about the sun and the moon turning dark is from Revelation 6. So in the book of Revelation 6 you have this big day of the wrath of God and the kings of the earth get together.
Let’s turn there so you can get the flavor of this. Revelation 6:12, this is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ and He’s breaking the seals because He has earned, at this point, the Lord Jesus Christ who is ascended, He sits at the right hand of the Father, He is perfect, He has completed His mission, and He is now qualified to break those seals. In verse 12, “And I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood;  the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.  And the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.  And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains;  and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb;  for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?’”
That’s the picture, and it’s not a new one in the New Testament, it comes out of Isaiah. So the question then is, if in the Old Testament, Isaiah and the other people, had that one promise and they looked upon the sun and the moon and the stars and the earthquake, all this stuff, and they saw that as part of the Tribulation to purge Israel so that Israel would go through this and eventually come to the Kingdom, then you would think that that’s exactly what Jesus was teaching, because Jesus doesn’t change it. If He were to change it He would say now Isaiah said this, but I say unto you, He did that in the Sermon on the Mount. Why isn’t He doing it here? By not doing it He is presuming, and you presume as a reader, that He means exactly what Isaiah meant.
So, what do the preterists do with this? I know those of you who have read the Bible and have been Bible students for some time, it’s hard for you to get your mind into this, I mean, how can people do this. I know that, but people have done it so we have to understand where they’re coming from. Watch this:
“Matthew 24:29 and Revelation 6:12–14 speak of the same catastrophic events as Isaiah 13:9, viz.,” and I could mention other verses, “the great tribulational judgments upon the world that figure so prominently in the Old Testament view of Israel’s history. ‘Stars falling’ and ‘the sun not giving its light’, according to the preterist interpreters are figures of speech that depict the fall of a nation or kingdom. When such terms occur in the New Testament, the reasoning goes, they refer to the fall of the nation Israel for its rejection of Jesus. In this fashion preterism carries out the same metaphorical interpretation methodology advocated centuries ago by Augustine.” Augustine’s name begins with “A” and it’s therefore easy to remember that he is the father of what kind of millennialism? Amillennialism. So you’ve got a memory hook there; Augustine’s name begins with “A” and amillennialism begins with “A” and Augustine was the great proponent of amillennialism, He was the guy that got rid of premillennialism in the early church. So the pieces start falling together here. He was also the advocate of metaphorical interpretation of prophecy. See, he changed the hermeneutic, how you interpret these prophetic passages.
“Augustine was responsible for replacing the premillennial viewpoint of the early church with the amillennial viewpoint. Under the influence of Greek philosophy that demeaned physical forms,” those of you who have studied Greek philosophy, the Greeks despised physical form, they always thought of imperfection. Let me give you an example of why they did that. Most people, if you’ve ever taken a course in plain geometry and you define things and you have theorems and axioms and you define a triangle, as a good example, you can define a perfect triangle. What bothered the Greeks was you never could find one in reality, because no matter how careful you drew one, it would always have shaky lines in it or it would have some imperfection in it. So their argument was that perfection could only be thought about but never experienced.
The point is, Greek thought led down the road to the fact that spiritually if you were ever to attain spiritual perfection it would be in your soul minus your body; the body was the source of contamination. So since premillennialism believes in a physical kingdom, and what kind of bodies do people have in the Millennial Kingdom? Natural bodies, so you can’t have a spiritual kingdom with people in natural bodies. Do you see the connection? That’s why Augustine threw out the idea of the Millennium, because influenced by Greek philosophy he thought perfection had to be only perceived in the mind, in the soul, in the spirit, but not in the body, you never could find a perfect triangle, you never could find a perfect person in the body.
“Under the influence of Greek philosophy that demeaned physical forms and flushed with the recent capitulation of mighty Rome to the Christianity, Augustine built upon earlier allegorical interpretation to deny the literal and physical nature of the Millennial Kingdom.” Then in the next paragraph I describe the older forms of preterism. “Early preterism generally viewed the first few centuries of church history as fulfilling prophecy (from the fall of Jerusalem through the rise of persecutions under Nero and other emperors variously seen as the Antichrist to the fall of pagan Rome under Christianity in Constantine’s day.) Today’s preterism, however, insists that most, if not all, New Testament prophecy was fulfilled in the first century with its fall of Jerusalem and Neronian persecutions.”
Nero preceded AD 70; he was AD 63 or something like that. That’s why they say, remember in the Book of Revelation they talk about five kings or four kings and one is going to raise from the dead, etc. and there was a rumor in Rome that … you know, Nero was so bad, this guy was Saddam Hussein multiplied, he was so bad that when he finally died nobody could believe that he would stay dead. So there was this rumor in Roman history, look under the table, Nero might come up here someday. So when they saw in the Book of Revelation, talking about the king that would be wounded and returning, they identified that with Nero. Preterism isn’t completely divorced from scholarship, that’s what I’m trying to show you.
Our time is running out but I just want to finish this paragraph. “Today’s preterism, however, insists that most, if not all, New Testament prophecy was fulfilled in the first century with its fall of Jerusalem and Neronian persecutions.” In other words, Nero becomes sort of their antichrist. “Today’s preterists must insist, therefore,” now here’s a very important point, you want asterisk this in your notes and mark it, “Today’s preterists must insist that the book of Revelation was written prior to AD 70.” Why do they have to do that? Because it’s about this thing, and its prophecy. So if it’s prophecy and the prophecy has already been fulfilled, the book that’s prophesying had to be written before the event, but if the event is AD 70, then Revelation has to be early. “We now live in the Kingdom age. Preterism thus is bound logically, theologically, and hermeneutically to amillennial or postmillennial views. It cannot coexist with premillennialism.”
Preterism in the notes goes all the way over to page 125. So if you want to read ahead that’s the area. We’re going to go through the texts that preterism picks up and argues that they are the literal interpreters of some texts and we are the ones that are metaphorically interpreting.
Question asked, how does the rise of Origen fit in: Clough replies: I emphasized Augustine and the role of introducing amillennialism into the church through allegorical hermeneutics. He actually picked up some of the allegorical hermeneutics from Origen. But think about it, where was Origen? He was in Alexandria and Alexandria along with Athens was one of the great intellectuals centers in the eastern Mediterranean. It was a center of the Hellenistic culture too, because the Jews that lived in Alexandria, 200–300 years before Christ [Clough asks someone when the Septuagint was translated, can’t hear] The point is in Alexandria where all this was going on, that’s the place where the Jews, many of them really probably lost their Hebrew and Greek was the common language, so they wanted a (quote) “modern” translation, and that’s how the Septuagint got started, because they translated the Old Testament into Greek. And really it’s nice they did because now that tells us how Greek words were used versus Hebrew so it’s a good vocabulary source. But later on, after Christ, after a century or two, this guy Origen showed up, and Origen, again under Greek philosophy, he really started a lot of allegorical hermeneutics.
Question asked about wasn’t he older when he came to Christ: Clough replies: I’m not sure of that. What you want to see in these men, Origen and Augustine were brilliant men and probably motivated to try to help the church. If you were to walk up to Augustine, for example, Augustine would be shocked, probably, to see the results of his own thinking. Augustine did some wonderful things, those of you in classic books, one of the classic books of western civilization is The City of God, and Augustine wrote that and it’s a book that really we should all read because it’s a mediation by a Christian who saw the collapse of Rome and had to come to grips with the fact that the Christians were blamed, largely, for the collapse of Rome. The Christians were the people who refused to worship Caesar and you can imagine if you were a pagan and you have this rising group of these people who refuse to worship the Emperor, wouldn’t you come to the conclusion that these people are dangerous and now our society is falling apart and here come the Vandals and the Visigoths and everybody else, and you know, let’s go after the Christians. And Augustine stood up to that and he answered them, and that’s why he’s famous and well-known for doing that.
He was also very good on the sovereignty of God. Augustine had some great ideas. The problem is he also had some pretty crummy ideas, and this was one of them this allegorical business. He thought what he was doing was saving the church from being filled with falsehoods, naïve falsehoods, and the other thing that Augustine did which I haven’t mentioned was the thing that he was the one that first preached the supremacy of the Roman Church. In other words, Augustine went so far as to say, I believe somewhere, that he did not believe anybody was saved unless they were members of the Church at Rome, meaning that other bishoprics elsewhere that were not connected intimately with the city of Rome were not really Christian. So Augustine in one sense was the father of certain ideas of the Reformation in his strong view of sovereignty, but he was also the father of Roman Catholicism, of all things. He was the one that tied in the church with amillennialism and so the Protestant Reformers never really dealt with him on that basis.
So what you see today that goes under the term Reformed Christianity is only partially reformed; it’s reformed soteriologically but it’s not reformed in the other areas. So yes, the answer is allegorical hermeneutics have a long background. There was a Jew by the name of Philo that did the same thing. So you have a long history of this fanciful [can’t understand words] is that we are more intellectual, the common people take those parables literally but we see the deeper principles in it, that kind of attitude to the text.
Question asked: Clough replies: A lot of people do. The question concerns the fact that there are obvious figures of speech in the Bible. Just let me start with just this observation. If you go into a Christian book store that has come classic books to it, or if you look at Christian Book Distributors you should see some time by an author called Bullinger. I forgot the name of the book but it’s on metaphors: Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. Do you know what the funny thing is? Bullinger was a dispensationalist and he wrote the classic text on figures of speech. And this book is filled, filled, I mean, you just marvel at what these men were able to do before they had a computer. You’d think that we would be the productive people but we spend too much of our time reading e-mails to get any serious work done. Those guys didn’t have e-mail and so therefore they had the ability hour after hour to get these classic works built. Bullinger has thousands of references, detailed classifications, sub-classification of figures of speech. I want to throw that out to start with, because if Bullinger is the father of classifying figurative speech and he’s a literal hermeneutic, how do you put that one together? Well obviously they must not be in collision and here’s the problem.
God has created the world in such a way that in numerous ways there’s a repetitiveness in His designs. For example, most mammals have four feet; I guess all of them have four feet. Why do they have four feet, they all have four feet. Why is that? It’s because it is a good design, it’s repeated. You see in physics things where you have chains of energy that cascade on different scaled. For example, when you cook a pot of water if you look when the water starts boiling down the pot you see big bubbles and little bubbles, etc. and you have all this convective currents in the fluid of different scales. It turns out interestingly that if you study the hydrodynamics of the small little bubbles they look exactly like the hydrodynamics of the big bubbles, which looks like the hydrodynamics of some parts of the universe. Why this repetitiveness all the way? If you look at the seeds of a sunflower, the way rabbits reproduce and certain Greek architecture, they all have the same geometric ratio, the golden rectangle or golden triangle, which are Fibonacci numbers. And God has repeatedly put Fibonacci numbers in the creation. He must have liked Fibonacci numbers, I don’t know why He did it but He has these forms.
When you go and you see the visions of the angels, it’s always remarkable to me since I have a veterinarian son and we talk about animals and their place in the creation a lot, I always told him, you know animals can be looked upon as being designed after the angels, not the other way around, the angels are often pictured with animal parts, but actually the animals are made of angelic parts if you reverse the cycle here. Why do angels have wings and birds have wings? I believe that since all creation is revelatory that where you have these features, literally, you first have to start all texts on a literal basis, then you decide are we dealing with a figure or are we dealing with a parable, or are we dealing with a literal prophecy. And we’re dealing here with literary issues, so figures of speech are legitimate literary issues, and we see Jesus using these. Why do we not then carry this figuration over to prophecy? Let’s think about that for a minute.
Let’s go back to what we discussed earlier. The Bible, one of its foundational structures is that of the covenant. The word “covenant” doesn’t catch us too well because we are all schooled up here in our head to get very religious when we hear the word “covenant.” A good way of disarming that defense on yourself is every time you see the word “covenant” replace it with the word “contract,” and think of your mortgage, your car loan. When you deal with a contract document, what are some features in a contract that are always there? First of all you have legal parties that enter into a contract. What is the purpose of a contract? To govern and calibrate and measure behavior, is it not? Is the bank interested in your economic behavior when you take a loan from them? I think so. Next question, when you see that mortgage contract or the loan agreement, how do you interpret it, literally or allegorically? To ask the question is to answer it; nobody… and by the way, how long does the literal hermeneutic stand in place? As long as the contract stands because the contract presumes a conservation of the hermeneutic over the period of the performance of the contract. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all interpret certain clauses in our mortgage contract allegorically? But nobody in his right mind would do this in any business contract. Yet the same word, “covenant” taken over to the Scriptures all of a sudden we get greasy, we want to allegorize it. Why do we want to allegorize it? We don’t do that to other contracts, why are we doing it to God’s contract? I’ve never seen the logic in this. The reason we want to allegorize it is because it gives us theological problems.
The reason we want to allegorize these prophecies of the Kingdom is because they teach a view of nature that is utterly opposed to that which is around us. Why did Peter say … what was the agenda, the spiritual agenda behind denial of the Second Advent of Christ according to Peter. Remember what he said, they are willingly ignorant. Not innocently ignorant, not accidentally ignorant, but willingly ignorant, that the world of the heavens and the earth which once was was changed and destroyed and now the heavens and earth which are are grounded on fire like the others were grounded on water. I mean I don’t how you want to interpret 2 Peter 3 but that’s a very radical passage. That teaches something about the fundamental structure of the universe there, and it says it’s a house of cards, and all God has to do is reach down and He can start a self-destruction process, and what we thought were these inviolable laws of physics, what we thought were all these predictable entities are going to really blow up, our equations are going to blow up because the equations themselves presume uniformity. That operates fine as long as the contract is in place.
See, there is uniformity in the contracts. Think about Noah’s contract, what was the uniformity in Noah’s contract? God made a contract with Noah, and who else by the way, an interesting point. The Noahic contract was not made with just man; it was made with every living thing. Your dog is a party to the Noahic Covenant. Your cat, guinea pig, whatever, they are all part and parcel of this Noahic contract. I don’t know what animals think of contracts but the point I’m making is that God has an ecological contract that says certain things will behave the way they will in the physical universe and one of them is that the world will never be flooded again. Do you know what that tells me? That God has to control the moon, the planets and all the stars. Why is that? Because if they get out of orbit and their gravitational field interferes with our gravitational field what’s going to happen to the oceans? They’re going to be pulled over the continents.
So the Noahic contract implies a totality of physical sovereignty over the universe, because you can keep extending that. How do you stay the planet is going to stay in orbit, when you can think a star might move out of some place in the Milky Way and come close to our sun and rip the planets off. So God not only has to stabilize the planets, He has to stabilize the Milky Way. Well then the Milky Way could be destabilized by another galaxy out from that, so you work your way out logically until you consume the whole physical universe, all because God made one promise to a man in a boat. But you see the logic of how it triggers off a line of reasoning, and God wants us to trigger that line of reasoning so when you hit these covenants, and that’s what we’re dealing with in prophecy. When you read that verse that we cited in Matthew tonight about the sun and the moon, ultimately how is that related back to a contract? It’s related back to the contract God made with Israel. And He promised those things against Israel and the nations persecuting Israel.
Now why are they literal and not figurative? Why aren’t they figures of a nation just falling, why are they literally, physically correct? Think about the pagan mind. When those contracts were made what were some things that the pagans worshiped, the ones that didn’t worship Jehovah God. The stars, the sun, and the moon. And what is the great story in the Old Testament of one powerful super power pagan nation whose leader defied the living God and was brought to his knees, and his nation, by a series of judgments against those parts of nature that he worshiped. The Exodus. Now with the Exodus record, during those Exodus judgments was there darkness in the land at one point? Did the sun not give its light? Not only did the sun not give its light but it was a supernatural thing because the darkness wasn’t in the area of the Jews, it was only in the areas of the pagans. So not only do we have a weird astronomical phenomenon, but we have it doubly weird because, to cite a favorite lawyer and politician word, it discriminated. So with the Exodus record and with the contract, how else do you interpret those passages? Can you get away with allegorizing them? I can’t because it’s part of a contract.
Question asked or statement made: Clough replies: Sure, there is Paul and Galatians talks about Jerusalem is an allegory, he’s using Jerusalem allegorically there to interpret the principle of law. There are some allegorical passages in the Scriptures.
Question asked: Clough replies: That’s a good question, in the early church history you would have thought, you could have justified a preterist impulse by saying well gee, whew, we’re getting rid of that period, that’s gone away. But what do you do today where you have Israel coming back to the land, etc. I think it’s precisely Israel coming back to the land that has triggered this because in their mentality any apparent drift of history toward fulfilled prophecy of Israel is a threat theologically and the main bug-a-boo in the text to an amillennial position and a postmillennial position, particularly a postmillennial position, and by the way, many of the preterists are postmillennialists, not just amillennialist. In the postmillennialist, what does the postmillennialist believe? He believes that the church has taken over in such a way that it is the Kingdom of God that’s going to conquer and then Jesus comes back to end history. Post millennial, Jesus comes post, after the millennium; the Church Age is the millennium.
Well now if you believe that, think about it, what on earth are you going to do with all the texts that talk about Tribulation as a future event? See, a future Tribulation blocks postmillennialism logically speaking. So if you’re a convinced postmillennialist you’ve got to get rid of the road block. That’s a very good device of doing it, and that, I believe, is what’s happening here. They try to make their system more consistent but it’s more consistently wrong, but it’s more consistent. They’ve got to get rid of the roadblocks to an open future for the church. And they believe that we believe a closed future, the church is going to just shrink away and do nothing and become insignificant. That’s not what we’re saying, but it’s their view of what we believe. So in order to get rid of the roadblock to the future they want to somehow deal with all these pessimistic Scripture passages. And what finer way if I’m a postmillennialist to put it in back of me; that gets rid of the road block in front of me, doesn’t it. And that’s the function, theologically of what preterism does.