When Commander Steedman published his findings about the "Seventy Sevens" (The Differentiator, Vo. 27, Nos. 3 and 4, 1965) I expected a storm of controversy to break out. In these days, that seldom happens, even in the most revolutionary matters; but here, at any rate, was a subject of the utmost importance to every student who is in any way at all interested in Scripture Prophecy. So I thought. Yet nothing happened, so far as I am aware, till Mr. Melvin E. Johnson sent to Commander Steedman and to me a copy of a paper on the subject which he had prepared. This is of such excellence that I hope it may soon be published and widely circulated.
Meanwhile I have been trying to ascertain the reason for this apparent apathy. There has been so little help from others that I have had to search all available books and even into my own experience, but without much to show for it. Some points have cropped up, and I propose to consider them here.
(1) Israel's partial return to their Land "in unbelief"
This doctrine seems to be well established among most students of Prophecy. What is not established is any sort of proof of it. I have searched through many books, but in vain. Before me as I write lies a generally quite sound book, "The Israel Promises and their Fulfilment" by Samuel Hinds Wilkinson, in which the following pronouncements are made:
Long and bitter experience has shown me that if a writer, when dealing with some notion of fundamental importance to his case, simply cites Scripture references without examining them or even quoting them in his thesis, there is always some deception in progress. I do not for one moment suggest that here the deception is deliberate, for his writings show that Wilkinson was a deep student of Scripture and an honest and generally clear thinking man. It was a case of wholly unconscious self-deception, of a kind that we are all liable to indulge in unawares. The mind is so constituted that, once an idea is accepted without challenge, with the passage of time its dislodgement becomes more and more difficult. If it had occurred to Wilkinson to suggest to himself that this supposed future return "in unbelief" was a tradition that ought to be proved, he would have applied himself to the task and discovered that it was an error.
For the word apistia, unbelief, occurs only eleven or twelve times in the whole of the Greek Scriptures, and the corresponding verb apisteO, disbelieve, seven times; so it is not a very difficult task to discover what they mean and how they are used. We speedily find that the Greek Scriptures do not refer even once to Israel returning to their land in unbelief. Furthermore, though it is not explicitly stated, God would not do anything of that sort for Israel while they were in that state of unbelief.
For instance, the first occurrence of the word speaks of the Lord Jesus coming into His own country, but "He does not many powers there because of their unbelief." (Matt. 13:54-58) Significantly, this event closes the account of the crisis related in Matthew 12 and 13. Mark 6:1-6 repeats the incident.
From our present point of view the most significant of all the occurrences are the two last. Heb. 3:12 reads: "Beware, brethren, lest at some time there shall be in any of you a wicked heart of unbelief in the withdrawing from God living." Just before this warning there is a quotation from Psalm 95 with its reference to Numbers 14; and after it there is the ominous comment, "And we are observing that they were not able to be entering in because of unbelief." (Heb. 3:19). Now these words were written by a Hebrew to those Hebrews "who have become partakers of the Christ" (Heb. 3:14) and area warning to them against any reversion to unbelief. So special notice is directed towards the unbelief of Israel in past days. Their unbelief is a standing warning against unbelief among those to whom Hebrews was written.
However, the important point for our present study is that the idea of Israel entering into any of God's blessings in unbelief is absolutely prohibited. The very notion of God directing the return of Israel to their land in unbelief is simply out of the question. In fact, it is sheer unbelief to talk in this way as do so many students of Prophecy.
Not the least reprehensible feature of this sort of talk is its vagueness. This appears with startling clarity when we ask the simple question: "Unbelief in what?"
The return of Israel to Palestine in recent years is marked by one feature: general indifference to everything in the Hebrew Scriptures that defines what the Jewish people's attitude should be towards their Land and, most important of all, towards Yahweh (Jehovah) Whose it is, and towards His expressed will stated so plainly in the Law not to mention His plans disclosed in the writings of the Prophets. For all the attention to any of these displayed by the present rulers and people of Israel, the Hebrew Scriptures might as well not exist at all. Undoubtedly, the Jews who have returned to Palestine have done so, to a large extent, in complete unbelief of their own Scriptures.
Such unbelief should be distinguished most clearly from unbelief in their Messiah, Jesus the Christ. For that, collectively, they cannot at present fairly be blamed. This is the point of Rom. 10:14-17. In Romans 9 to 11 Paul is justifying God's ways with His people. Being utterly righteous, God's ways are not only righteous but also merciful as well as just; so in fairness Paul has to justify them, as he does in those four verses. Paul's purpose here is not so much to explain why it is easier for Gentiles. to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ than for the Jew, but the special nature of the Jew's difficulties.
These are summed-up in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus in the words put into the mouth of Abraham: "If concerning Moses and the Prophets they are not hearing, neither will they be persuaded if someone should be rising out of dead ones" (Luke 16:31). That is one of the most distressing, though seldom realized, facts of human experience. The inevitable result of turning away from the true and the good in relatively minor matters is that presently they become out of reach in greater and eventually the greatest matters.
As an evangelist said to me, many years ago, in his experience people are becoming what he described as "Gospel-hardened"; they have heard something of the Gospel so frequently that it has ceased to have any impact on them. Nearly always, what they have heard is utterly inadequate as well; and that by itself enhances their resistance until it becomes virtually impossible to make them hear. In that way Israel had become deaf to their own Law.
If even the Lord Jesus Himself could not overcome the stubbornness of those who cannot or will not believe, what chance is there for ordinary men or women, unless God makes some special way for them? As Paul asks (Rom. 10:15), "Yet how should someone be heralding if so be that no one should be commissioned?" It is not God's plan now to force a belief which is simply acquiescence, even if it should eventually grow into a belief from the heart. If it were His purpose to win over all Israel here and now, He could do it; but the fact remains that it is not and that He does not make the attempt.
The Ingathering of Israel before the start of the Seventy Sevens will be just that: an ingathering of covenant people who had previously abandoned their covenants, but are then to be called by God to repent and to renew covenant relationship. Therefore, it will not be a call to Christianity as we understand it, but a call to Judaism, to the real Judaism—that is to say, in their Temple, within their Land, in accord with their Law. It will be their opportunity under fresh conditions to show—if they can—that man can under covenant, but apart from vital union with Christ, nevertheless keep the covenants and obey the Law and be God's People in the fullest sense. It will be their last opportunity, in the most favourable conditions. The utter and complete apostasy in the Seventieth-Seven will demonstrate once and for all the impossibility of this aim; but it will not be, as many seem to think, a failure of Christianity, but of Judaism. That failure of Christianity is in progress before our eyes now, and will eventuate in God snatching away His saints and leaving Christendom to go its own ways.
(2) Is there time for the Seventy Sevens now?
The close of the previous section brings us abruptly to another question: What is to happen after we are snatched away?
To this there is only a partial answer: the return of the saving-work of God to Israel. Yet even this is not explicitly disclosed to us, but is a deduction from Scripture. Yet it must not be condemned on that account, but simply treated with caution. We know that the saving-work of God was sent to the Gentiles, and that when Paul announced this he added that they were to hear it on their own account (Acts 28:28). Their fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 will meant the end of all that, and therefore will necessitate the return of the saving-work of God to Israel. That is entirely plain from the Secret of Rom. 11:25-32.
This, after all, was a secret revealed to and through Paul, and therefore something very special indeed. No wonder Paul cries out: "0, depth of riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" There, in those few verses, lies the solution of all our present problems, if we would only take it, and believe it, and apply it to them.
Our snatching-away means, must mean, as well the start of the fulfilment of this Secret. Verses 29 to 32 are perfectly plain: Israel are then to be shown mercy as we have been. So how can we dare to think it a strange thing that, when our time is fulfilled, Israel's turn will come?
We must, however, remember that Israel's circumstances will be very different. For them, figuratively, the torch will have to be picked up where they dropped it. As a nation, as a whole entity, they would not receive their Messiah; so those glories of His will be for them at that time no longer on offer. They will virtually be back where they were before He came. For them within their horizon, He will be, and will continue to be, yet to come. So those covenants once open to them will again be open to them. They will once more have the opportunity to keep the covenants, if they can, and to break them in due course in the Apostasy which is to end the period of the Seventy Sevens. It will be their most favourable, though their last, opportunity to show how far they can meet God's requirements; that is, as soulish men, in flesh; and by its disastrous breakdown, the most disastrous in all history, to demonstrate once and for all the inability of the flesh by itself to meet God's requirements.
The history of Christendom does not properly fulfil this requirement, for though it shows with horrible completeness the same failure of soulish man, it does not show it in like conditions or in circumstances so favourable, and for the people definitely called by God to be His special earthly People. The pagans who flocked into the nominal church in the early centuries came into a system which had already largely failed. In fact they would not have joined it otherwise. The Apostle Paul's Epistles are full of warnings against failure and backsliding; but there is one thing which is wholly absent from them, any sort of intimation that any one of these warnings had been received and thoroughly acted on. True, the exhortations of the Prison Epistles move on to deal with fresh evils, but this does not mean that earlier evils had disappeared, but simply that corruption was spreading. There is a broad hint to that effect in Philippians 3. If all had been well, even at that very early date, there would have been no need for such a summary of foundation doctrine.
So the answer to our question is that, so far as Scripture is concerned, there is no reason whatever why the Seventy Sevens should not begin and run their course after we have been snatched away, but not before.
As the late Commander Steedman recently pointed out to me, the apostasy of Israel will primarily be apostasy from Yahweh, Jehovah. There is no indication whatever in Scripture that before the Apostasy they will be as a Nation believers in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Christ, their Messiah. They will have returned as one Nation, putting their trust in Yahweh, Who will have given them the repentance in this respect that they did not achieve in past times. Nevertheless, not till the Rescuer arrives out of Zion will He be turning irreverence from Jacob. and eliminating their sins.
(3) The Jewish Church
Nothing that has been said in the previous paragraph nullifies the fact that some Jews will yet, as at Pentecost, be called to receive the Lord Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. The Nation as a whole will repent and remain under Judaism; but some will do as some of the Roman Jews did: believe on the Lord Jesus as the Christ. They will be as were the Jerusalem Jews in Acts 21:20 under the leadership of James: "You are beholding, brother, how many tens of thousands there are, among the Jews, of those who have believed; and all are zealous of the Law." They were distinctively Jewish Christians.
Now, Paul does not utter one word of reproof for this remark able assertion. Instead, he meets James and the Elders more than halfway: he puts into practise his words in 1. Cor. 9:20: "To the Jews I became a& Jew, that Jews I should be gaining; to those under law as under law (not being myself under law) . . ... What can we possibly say to this except that (at that time) it was entirely in order for Jewish believers in Jerusalem to be zealous of the Law?
This does not mean that such a state of affairs was to continue for long. Soon there were to be no Jewish believers left in Jerusalem! But it does mean that after we have been snatched away conditions will be able to return to something like what they were then—if not in Jerusalem itself, certainly among Jewish believers elsewhere. Among them will be the dispersion of Israel for whom the epistles of James, Peter and Jude are primarily intended. How can this be? Simply because there is no evidence that the conditions envisaged in those epistles have ever yet existed, except perhaps on a very small scale. We do not know how long it will take for the future Ingathering of Israel to be accomplished. Those epistles were in the first instance for specified Jewish people, but they will apply to other dispersed ones in the future; just as Galatians, and Ephesians, apply universally among us now, though there can be few if any believers there nowadays. As we have already shown elsewhere, there is much yet to be unveiled to these dispersed believers, and perhaps they will be dispersed because they will have believed the Evangel of the circumcision while the bulk of Israel has returned to the Land. It is quite possible to visualize the whole Nation ingathered in Judaism and then reacting against what they regard as apostasy: faith in the Lord Jesus as Messiah. The point is that Judaism remains, for the present, in essence zeal of the Law. There is no evidence that the Lord Jesus will count for anything among the bulk of the ingathered Jews.
All this must be largely speculative; for only glimpses of it have been unveiled to us, as it is none of our business. We have been told all that we need to know, and most of us have not troubled to study even that much! So what cause have we to presume to complain?
Yet we can perceive, like mountain peaks appearing through a sea of cloud, that much will happen to, and among, the Jewish people and Jewish Church of the future. That much will take time to accomplish; just as the fulfilment of other things that are to happen in the Seventy Sevens will take time. We ought to rejoice at this extension of the frontiers of our thought.
(4) The speed of world-events
One friend to whom I put the foregoing general ideas could not entertain them at all. His objection was that world-events had moved so far and were moving so fast that there simply was no room to fit in about half a thousand years before the end time could begin.
This is, I am persuaded, a wholly mistaken way of approaching this matter and in reality a disguised form of the particular unbelief against which the Lord Jesus Himself expressly warned. His Apostles (Acts 1:6-8). It is, definitely, not our business to watch world-events, but to listen for that trumpet sound which is to mark the end of our earthly pilgrimage and remove us from the world to which we do not really belong. Not until we are out of the way can world-events which are of significance in God's purposes for the world itself be resumed. To watch for something to occur which cannot come into existence in the world so long as we are in the way of its development is merely foolishness.
Nevertheless, it was pointed out to me quite firmly that the world is moving too fast towards the events of the end-time for the ideas I expressed to be possible.
The confidence of such an assertion is utterly astonishing. Who can forecast today what is likely to happen ten years ahead? Or even one? The very existence of swift and drastic changes puts all human prophesying out of court. One can only argue from apparent trends, and then only on the assumption that they are real trends and that they will persist—and there is no time in all history to date when these assumptions are less likely to be true.
People assume that scientific discovery will continue at an ever-increasing rate; yet the forces of anarchism and nihilism are beginning to show themselves in the seats of learning, accompanied by an ominous deterioration in mental calibre, if the reported sayings and doings of many students are an indication. Then there is an assumption that the population of the world will continue to grow as it is now doing. Yet this cannot be accepted as certain or, perhaps, even probable. We are told of the infertility of the eggs of Antarctic penguins owing to the presence of DDT in the ocean waters far from its source. If that be so, how can we be sure that such disasters may not be pending for other forms of life, including man? And other alarming possibilities of a similar nature exist too.
I mention such points, not in an attempt to prophesy myself or to alarm, but simply to indicate the futility of all human attempts to prophesy and consequently the futility of all attempts to argue about what mayor may not happen during the coming centuries. If the Seventy Sevens still lie ahead, and after them the thousand years, according to Scripture Prophecy; then if we are true Christians we should decisively refuse to reason about them on such grounds.
I well remember the excitement during 1928 in some circles because one of the 2520 year periods (on the year-day system) was said to be due to run out then. Nothing special happened; and there is no reason at all why anything special should have happened, because the whole idea is a fallacy. It is a most harmful fallacy, too, for it not only discredits those who indulge in it—which does not matter much—it also tends, among those who know no better, to discredit God's Word; and that is a thing for which there is no excuse at all. I earnestly urge all my readers to have nothing to do with any attempts to fit Prophecy into recent history or current affairs, as so many have impiously attempted to do. All Prophecy is in abeyance now and will continue to be so long as we are here.
Another thing is worth pointing out. There is little possibility in the foreseeable future of Israel being able to rebuild the Temple on its proper site; for this would entail the removal of the Mosque of Omar and probably an even more bitter war with the whole of the Moslem world. Such an attempt would bring in other countries and even destroy the present State of Israel. Perhaps that is the way it will come to an end, and thus enable God Himself to gather in the rest of Israel as prophesied.
As Mr. Melvin E. Johnson has written:
R.B.W. Last updated 6.3.2006