Some ask why we should not confine all exposition to positive teaching. That would be ideal, if it were possible. We have, however, to live in the world as it is, and not as we might like it to be. Universal experience shows that if error. is simply ignored it speedily pushes aside the truth.
This is not due to any supposed "total depravity"" but simply to human weakness and mortality, as my colleague, Mr. Alexander Thomson, has so ably pointed out in our June, 1959, issue. This human weakness provides the greatest obstacle the expositor has to contend with.
First, his own weakness. That handicap takes two forms. There is the difficulty of knowing just what to do, just how to tackle some problem so as to make its solution plain and clear to the reader and to help him rather than offend him; and there is actual human fallibility. A striking example of the latter is the error I have had to own up to in this very issue. For it, I ask pardon; but what is far more important, I ask too for a charitable realization that none of us are infallible. What matters is whether we are teachable.
Second, the weakness of others. This is, perhaps, the greater obstacle; for it is well nigh impossible to know in advance how some particular matter is going to be received. If one quotes the assertions of another, someone is sure to regard it as a personal attack on the individual quoted, and become very angry in consequence. Why this should be so, I cannot imagine, for it does seem fantastically unreasonable. If anyone elects to have his teaching published, surely he must realize that by his own deliberate act he has courted publicity and has no right to complain of the consequences?
Here is an illustration of the pitfalls that await one. Recently, to illustrate an important point I wanted to make, I referred to a controversy that took place so long ago that I was then a small child. I honestly supposed that it was long since dead and buried. This was a complete delusion, as the first one to see what I wrote was good enough to point out; so I hastily withdrew my remarks lest the feelings of some readers might be hurt by them.
There is nothing new in all this. It is as old as mankind since Adam first sinned. Yet we, as Christians, of all people ought to be above the sway of personal emotions in such matters. Nevertheless, we are not, and the fact has to be faced. Yet we all should treat such matters in a spirit of Christian love; otherwise we are bound to have cause ultimately to regret our impatience.
Thanks to our mortality we are very unwilling to face uncomfortable facts, just as the Pharisees were (Luke 16:31). If people cannot hear the Sacred Scriptures patiently how can they be expected to hear another fallible man?
Although, as already said, I hope to be able to avoid discussing any further the teachings of our friends; there are matters outside our circle that have to be dealt with drastically.There is so much faulty teaching about Prophecy that I have deemed it necessary to prepare a general discussion of the systems of interpretation which are in vogue, Historicism, Futurism, etc. This will, I trust, appear shortly. Moreover "Modernist" teaching is so rampant in the churches and is so subtly pervasive that some examination of its many forms should not be shirked, if only for the sake of those it injures.
Having cleared the ground, we may now investigate how the saving-work of God will return to Israel and the way the prophecies concerning them will turn out.
To my mind, the most reasonable working hypothesis to start off with is to assume that immediately after the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 Israel's spiritual state will come to be pretty much as it was before the call of Paul. The world will have had a severe shock. For the first time in nineteen hundred years at least God will have intervened directly and spectacularly in human affairs. I write "spectacularly" deliberately, because I am unable to believe that the sudden removal of all true Christians, however quietly accomplished, could fail to create an enormous stir. Many Gentiles will discover what they have missed, and concurrently many Jews will realize abruptly that the special standing Gentiles now enjoy will have become a thing of the past and that Israel will once again have become the centre of God's dealings on earth. These Jews will be the remnant of which Scripture speaks; for it is abundantly clear from its pages that, as now, the Jewish people as a whole will be unbelievers as they have been all along. Once again they will be trying to establish their own righteousness and so will not be subject to God's righteousness (Rom. 10:3). Moreover, this attempted establishing of their own righteousness must mean primarily establishing once more the Temple and all that goes with it; and this is, in fact, the central feature of the Apostle Paul's prophecy in 2. Thess. 2:3-12. The man of sin could not do what is foretold there unless the stage were set for him. This all links up, too with the central feature of the middle of the Seventieth Seven of Daniel's prophecy. We see, then, the Nation as a whole ripe for apostasy with a believing remnant still faithful; or perhaps more accurately, with a believing remnant once again in existence; for there is none now.
It is too much to expect that this return to their past status will not bring back their former pride in full measure; though it will be more justifiable than their present pride. The Circumcisionist party will once more appear; but, this time, their attitude will be a proper one because covenant will be operative once more, or about to become operative.
Yet we must not overlook that the foregoing paragraph, though largely based on indubitable fact, is actually conjectural and therefore needs to be treated with caution. How ever, so much of the teaching of others, particularly Mr. Sellers, is conjectural also that he, at any rate, ought not to complain of some element of it here, particularly as it cannot be maintained that anything in my conjecture is out of harmony with what Scripture does teach. Yet in view of this, we ought to examine the alternative offered by Mr. Sellers.
He states his views so persuasively that he almost fascinates the reader into accepting them blindly and becoming too drowsy to be aware of the many difficulties which present themselves to any critical inspection. If one can refuse his blandishments, their effect is very different and most un favourable. In fact, in me it had induced a strong impulse, difficult to overcome, to turn down his ideas without proper consideration. This sort of temptation must be resisted by us all; for his teachings are worth better treatment, if only for the stimulus a critical examination of them affords. I wish, by the way, that he would be more generous to others, such as the exponents of the Darby-Scofield system. As I stated in a previous paper, I cannot claim sufficient knowledge of it to be able to comment on his severe remarks about it; but what I have read of it strongly suggests that they are less than fair. I am unable to believe that it ranks 1. Thess. 4:13-17 as the very first of a long series of Hebrew prophecies awaiting fulfilment. That it is wholly outside Hebrew Prophecy has, I believe, always been held by those who are awaiting its fulfilment first of all. For our present inquiry "outside Hebrew Prophecy" is the key-phrase; and it is on this account, I believe, that Mr. Sellers' system falls down. There simply is no room for it, as he sets it out, in the prophetic scheme of Scripture.
His system appears in some detail on p. 9 of "The Word of Truth," Vol. 11, and is amplified later. Briefly, the essentials are in four sections, as follow:
The return of the saving-work of God to Israel.
The repentance of the people of Israel.
The times of refreshing from the face of the Lord.
As might be expected, this is based primarily on his reading of Acts 3:19, 20, or rather, on the translation of it in the A.V., which he accepts. When we go back to the original Greek, however, the passage turns out somewhat differently:
So there is no room for doubt that a partial national repentance of Israel will occur after the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17, but apparently not during or immediately after the Great Tribulation, and so presumably some measure of times of refreshing. There could be no rebuilding of the Temple if such repentance, conversion and refreshing did not exist in a considerable measure; and no apostasy if there were nothing to apostatize from and nobody to do it. The fact is, Christendom has been and still is far less than fair to the Jews. Since the destruction of Jerusalem they have done wonders in the circumstances. What measure of faith they had they have retained, as also they have retained as far as they could the forms of their religion. At no time in this era have they descended to the idolatry which has disgraced "the Christian Religion" but never Christianity. No graven images over altars decked with flowers and furnished with candles defile their synagogues, no virgin goddess or "saints" receive divine or quasi-divine honours from them. What they had, they have retained, including to a considerable extent their racial individuality; and they have done it in the teeth of persecutions far more violent than those suffered by anyone else. We of all people, who have come from the Gentiles who have persecuted them, ought to be the last to despise them.
Many of them have, indeed, worshipped gold as they always have been inclined to do; but the grosser forms of idolatry they have left to so-called Christians, and in the past they have suffered for it, as also have suffered true Christians. Though some have now got precarious possession of a torn-off part of their land, they are hated for it with unprecedented bitterness on all sides, in spite of the fact that they have produced an island of civilization and decency in the midst of what can only be described as the very reverse of both.
Just before these words were first drafted, the State of Israel celebrated the tenth anniversary of its founding. Much has happened in this decade, but the pattern of the future is veiled in obscurity. One conjecture can safely be ventured: the decade following our snatching-away will be at least as eventful as this one or any other so far. Yet the way these events will work out is hidden except for the vague outlines already suggested. How long will elapse before the new Temple can be started is unknowable at present, as also is the way Israel will regain possession of Jerusalem. Their position at this moment appears to be considerably less favourable than it was after they had repelled the attacks of their neighbours. Yet by the time this appears in print the situation may have altered. No matter how we search, the future is black darkness except for a few points of light furnished by Scripture Prophecy. Our duty is to be content with what God has chosen to give us, not to attempt to prophesy on our own account.
In Matt. 24:32 the Lord Jesus drew His disciples' attention to a phenomenon well known to them all—the rise of the sap in vegetation at the start of spring. When the boughs of the fig tree which represents Israel nationally are already tender and the leaves sprout out:then they know that summer is near. The parable is applied to the disciples; but there is more to it than appears on the surface; and it may be that it has a secondary application to us, in so far as we also are disciples. The word "already," EdE, suggests something of the unexpected. It is as if the observer had discovered, to his surprise, that the change had taken place overnight, as it were. The parable thus indicates an abrupt change in Israel, an unexpected softening. This immediately suggests, to us, Rom. 11:25, the ending of Israel's insensitiveness in part. This in turn suggests the entering of the complement of the Gentiles. Is it, then, too fanciful to put these together and relate this parable to what follows the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17, that is, to the return of the saving-work of God to Israel? The two lines of God's purpose are carefully, even pointedly, kept apart in Scripture, so far as actual disclosure of matters relating to them both is concerned; so when we find a hidden and totally unexpected point of contact, it is all the more convincing.
One great service Mr. Sellers has done us is exploding the doctrine that Prophecy teaches that Israel will return to their Land in unbelief and that the present return of many Jews and the setting up of the State of Israel is a fulfilment of that supposed prophecy. If this idea were a part of Prophecy, and if this partial return were even a partial fulfilment of Prophecy, it would completely shatter our understanding of Pauline doctrine. The return of the Jews that has taken place is consistent with Prophecy; but this is itself no more than a deduction from certain prophecies; and if the State of Israel were to be wiped out and its re-making consigned to the future, it would from the point of view of general Prophecy do no more than postpone the fulfilment. All we can assert with confidence is that when the fulfilment of Hebrew Prophecy begins a part at least of Israel will be in their Land, they will again have possession of Jerusalem and the Temple will be rebuilt. Present trends are consistent with the possibility of these things coming about at fairly short notice, but no more than that; and the last two items still lie in the future.
Human fallibility has to a large extent spoilt this service by Mr. Sellers because he has gone on to postulate a repentance by and conversion of Israel "so complete and so intense that two days after it has reached its zenith, the Lord will have lifted the burden of their sin and they will know that God has met with them." (p. 9). As already noted, he reaches this conclusion by stretching Acts 3 and Hosea far beyond the precise terms of their wording and by turning away from all considerations unfavourable to his conclusions. His approach is synthetic. He interprets one passage after another, not as it is by itself or in its context, but as it is going to affect the conclusion he is seeking to establish. It is not unfair to say that he affords a well-nigh perfect illustration of the technique of the "scientific" investigation towards a pre-determined conclusion which, as we have seen, is the notion of "Theology as a science" maintained by those who pin their faith to "Modern Thought" and attack all those who seek a truly scientific approach to Scripture.
The fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 marks the termination of a period that is certainly outside Hebrew Prophecy. The fulfilment of that part of Acts 3 which determines the retention in heaven of the Lord Jesus marks the commencement of a period in which Hebrew Prophecy is operative: in fact it is a Hebrew prophecy. These two events are entirely different in scope but simultaneous in time, their point of contact being the movement from heaven of the Lord Jesus: one event looks one way, affecting the church which is Christ's body; the other an altogether different way, Israel and their covenants and earthly promises. Thus, what follows this point of crisis must be a period in which prophetic time is, or is about to be, in progress; the hindrance to its resumption being at last out of the way; Such prophetic time is of two kinds: when Israel is recognized by God as His People, and when Israel is lo-ammi, "not My People." The former kind is recognized in prophetic chronology; the latter is not recognized, but is passed over in silence. This extremely important fact is fundamental to the understanding of Prophecy; and the best treatment of it extant is to be found in the Companion Bible, Appendix 50, p. 70. In passing, it should be mentioned that Israel are lo-ammi now, though as they can never be anything else in the present period, this point has not the degree of significance it had before, and will have after, this present period.
All this brings us to the vital questions: How long a time is to elapse between the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 and what is loosely termed "the second coming," that is, the return to earth of the Lord Jesus Christ promised at His Ascension? Incidentally, this cannot possibly be the event in 1. Thess. 4:13-17 because this is explicitly to the air, where we are to meet Him, not to earth itself or Mount Olivet. Perhaps there is not very much to object to in calling this last "the second coming" provided we keep in mind that it is a non-scriptural term in the context and take the greatest care (if we must employ it) to confine it to that sense, namely, the reversal, so to speak, of the Ascension. Not only must we avoid mixing 1. Thess. 4:13-17 with this return but 2. Thess. 2:3-12 also. Even if our studies were to indicate that the destruction of the man of sin coincides in time with the arrival of the Lord Jesus on Mount Olivet, we must ever keep in mind that 2. Thessalonians does not say so and that it is therefore no more than a deduction.
Between these two moments of time certain events and groups of events are foretold to take place, including the whole of the Seventieth Seven of years of Daniel's prophecy. From Daniel it appears certain that until the return of the Lord Jesus to Mount Olivet, God recognizes Israel as His People only while those Seventy Sevens are running. The prevailing idea among serious students of Prophecy is that only the last, the Seventieth, of these remains, and that apart from it Israel will be lo-ammi (not My People) for the rest of the time from now on till the Lord's return to Olivet. This, if sound, raises a formidable problem: If the saving-work of God will have returned to Israel after the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17, how can they still remain lo-ammi?
We can allow, perhaps, that this return of the saving-work of God may not be instantaneous, that it may occupy a short period during which the repentance and conversion of a remnant of Israel would be in progress in a second Pentecost; but there is no reason to suppose that this would be a more lengthy affair than the first. And it may be that the restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem thereafter will, like the rebuilding in Dan. 9:25, occupy seven Sevens during which, as before, Israel will be lo-ammi, assuming that the usual view of chronology is sound. But is it?
This question raises once again the problem of the prophecies of Daniel 9. Over forty years ago, in The Berean Expositor for October and November, 1916, its Editor answered a correspondent who was perplexed about them; and he made a most original suggestion, that there are two prophecies here. The first is:
With some of the other conclusions of Mr. Welch about this, I do not agree at all; but I consider he deserves the greatest credit for having perceived a most vital fact which apparently nobody had ever noticed before. The achievement was all the greater because his correspondent was assuming that Israel were ammi in the period covered by Acts, and he himself agreed with this. So in following a false trail he came upon a sound one.
So, then, there are eight sevens of years, not simply one, still to come during which Israel will again cease to be lo-ammi, and be God's People again; years of 360 days, or altogether 55 ordinary years and about 71 days. This is sufficient to allow Israel over five decades of Temple worship in peace, or nearly five if we exclude the tremendous events prophesied for the final Seven.
This matter has been mentioned in these pages before (Vol. 17, No.2, pp. 68, 69); and I am astonished that nobody appears to have taken the slightest notice of it! No further notice was originally taken in The Berean Expositor either yet if the idea is correct it revolutionises our understanding of Prophecy. If it is incorrect (though I cannot see how it could be) we are in a stalemate; for it is certain that the saving-work of God will return to Israel and that the Temple must be rebuilt and re-established before the Seventieth Seven, or most of it, at any rate. Even if we could allow part of the first half of the Seventieth Seven for this, it would appear to be utterly inadequate in duration for all that is to happen. For one thing, it starts with the covenant with the prince that shall come, which he breaks off on the middle of the Seventieth Seven.
Yet, on the other hand, it is well nigh inconceivable that there could be any such revival of Israel while they are lo-ammi. It might be retorted that during the last half of the Seventieth Seven they are to be in their deepest apostasy and will nevertheless remain God's People. Yes; but whether or not they are lo-ammi is not a matter of their choice or even necessarily their acts, but of God's grace. A very great number will not apostatize, and so will suffer martyrdom, others will be protected by God from the storm in a prepared refuge. The fact that these will exist at all means that Israel are then God's People. Such are not to be found in Israel now. The nation is not apostate, but insensitive in part. All this links up well with what is correct in Mr. Sellers' system; and the result has been to convince me that his idea is sound in the modified form here presented. That is to say, we can provisionally hold that after the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 there will be an interval during which will occur the return of the saving-work of God to Israel and the rebuilding and starting-up afresh of the Temple of God after the long wait since the Lord Jesus left it desolate. Then the Seventy Sevens will be resumed, possibly with the moment of rededication of the Temple of God. Seven Sevens will pass with blessing for Israel and then will come the Seventieth with all the tremendous events it contains, including the apostasy of Israel.
That there will in due course be such an apostasy of Israel has not been generally appreciated; yet it stands out plainly enough in 2. Thess. 2:3-12, once we have cleared our minds of our preconceptions and traditions. The only safe rule of interpretation of Scripture is that the meaning of each word must be found from its usage, that is to say, the sum of its contexts, and the meaning of each passage from its context plus the meaning of the words in it. Now, the word apostasia occurs twice only in the Greek Scriptures, in Acts 21:21 and 2. Thess. 2:2, and means literally from-standing. The corresponding verb aphistEmi means withdraw, draw away. The usage of apostasia in the Greek Scriptures is such that no English. word quite covered it; so it has universally been taken over as the word apostasy. The first occurrence plainly refers to apostasy by Jews. The reference to the Temple and the man of sin in the second indicates plainly that this also is a Jewish apostasy. Whenever Israel have been God's People, they could and did from time to time apostatize, and it is very clear that they will many of them, do so again on a large scale for the sake of the man of sin. In one place, however, people are spoken of as apostatizing from the faith (1. Tim. 4:1). Such people are undoubtedly apostates from the church which is Christ's body, and the form of their apostasy is indicated in the succeeding verses. When these are compared with 2. Thess. 2:3-12 the question must at once arise: Can these apostasies be equated with one another? The only possible answer must be negative. Except that both sets of people are wicked, there is no point of contact whatever between the two. If there had been, why did not Paul associate them together? Many times I have read expositors who, with the best intentions, have referred to failings of modern churches and Christians as "the Apostasy"; but Paul did not. Our apostasies, under reigning grace, can never compare with Israel's, thank God! There is no hint in 1. Timothy of the Temple or of the appalling blasphemy of the man of sin therein. We have no right to attempt to improve on, or to correct, the Apostle Paul.
R.B.W. Last updated 29.3.2006