When studying Eschatology, it is important to recognize the “time text’s” in the Bible.
Especially when it is mentioned in connection with the “coming of the Lord”.
Jesus said He would come while some in that generation who were standing there listening to Him would still be alive. On more than one occasion, he said His coming was near. Wherever the Bible speaks of the coming of the Lord, there is a “time text”.
The New Testament believers of the first century expected the Lord to return during their lifetime. How was this missed by many of today’s preachers and theologians?
For some mysterious reason (which is not mysterious to me), most believers today, about two thousand years later, say that the Lord will return soon. Can the same event be imminent in two different time periods separated by two thousand years?
Someone said that the Lord only said that he would come “soon” because he wanted every generation to always be ready and always be expecting Him. Think about it. What that means is that when He told the believers of the first century that He would return soon, he really did not mean it. He gave them wrong information to keep them on their toes waiting for him. This is called lying. If that was the case, what else did he say to them that is not true? Do we have a God who deliberately deceives people? I do not accept this theory. God is not a liar. God means what he says and says what he means. It is much easier to just believe what Jesus said and accept that he did in fact return in the first century.
The inspiration of Scripture is at stake here. If Jesus was wrong or lied to us, what use is the rest of the Bible to us? Consequently, if Jesus did not come back in the first century, as He said He would, it puts the validity of the whole Bible in question. However, I believe that the Bible (in the original language) is the inspired Word of God and therefore contains no errors. (paradoxically our translations often carry numerous errors)
If the Bible is inspired, then Jesus came back in the first century as He said He would.
When believers first realize the eschatological truth about the fact that the Lord did come in the period of AD 67-70 and all prophecies were fulfilled in the first century, they also conclude, as is mentioned in Revelation, that this means that we now live in the New Heaven and Earth. (Revelation 21:1-2) This tends to temporarily send people into confusion.
The reason why some have problems with this is simply because they are expecting a physical fulfillment of 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21. They are expecting a global event with our planet on fire, but do not recognize the time texts and are unable to cope with the Hebrew symbolic language. Therefore, we need to learn how the Hebrew Tanakh (equivalent to what Christians call the Old testament) used the concept of heaven and earth to clear up the misunderstandings.
2 Peter 3:10-13 King James Version (KJV)
10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. 11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Christians with a futuristic concept of eschatology say that these verses describe the end of our world and that the destruction of the physical heavens and earth is about to happen in our near future. However, consider this; If (the old) heaven and earth have not yet passed, then we must also still be under the Old Mosaic Law.
Matthew 5 King James Version (KJV)
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
This would also mean that all 613 commandments in the Torah must be obeyed until this perceived global catastrophic event would take place. This means that *we should offer lambs on the altar, celebrate the three pilgrimage festivals in Jerusalem, avoid eating shellfish, worship on Saturdays and not wear clothes made of a mixture of linen and cotton. *A side note to consider though is that “those” who may not be of Jewish descent would not be under the Law, because the Law was exclusively given to the people of Israel, not the other nations.
If heaven and earth have not passed, we are still under the law of Moses. Many believers today would say, “obviously heaven and earth did not pass because the earth was not burned, and the elements did not melt yet”.
Modern Christians have assumed that the solar system scenario will end because many do not recognise the allegorical imagery of the Bible. This is only the conclusion when symbolic language is interpreted literally.
All the language that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament use comes from the Hebrew Scriptures, which we incorrectly call the Old Testament. The page announcing the beginning of the New Testament is just before the beginning of the book of Matthew. Sometimes I wonder if it would help if we put this page further down in the Bible, right before Christ’s crucifixion? Although the law of Moses was in effect until AD 70, all doctrine before the cross and death of Christ, including Jesus’ teaching, was within the context of the Old Testament Covenants and the law of Moses. Before the cross Christ only introduces concepts of the then soon to be established New Covenant Messianic Age and the soon coming Kingdom of God. Christ’s death is the point where Jesus lays down His life in sacrifice as the Lamb of God and the New Covenant is cut with His blood. The New Covenant was then empowered by the resurrection of Christ and ratified when the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70. So, the New Covenant officially begins with the death of Christ, not with the birth of Christ.
2 Timothy 2 King James Version (KJV)
15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
I also believe that we should not use the word “testament” but the word “covenant” and know how to distinguish between old and new covenants. Why is it important to know when the New Covenant began? Because it is the key to rightly dividing the word of God. It is about the appropriate separation of the old and the new covenants. A lack of a clear understanding when the New Covenant begins, has resulted in today’s mix of law and grace doctrines.
The old Abrahamic covenant was an agreement between God and Abraham. The old Sinaitic covenant was an agreement between God and the people of Israel. The New Covenant is an agreement between God the Father and Jesus Christ.
The New Covenant did not begin until after the death of Jesus Christ. For it was sealed by the Precious Blood of Jesus, which paid the price for the complete forgiveness of sin. Jesus himself clearly stated that his blood would be the blood of the new covenant.
The Sinaitic Covenant is old, implying it has been replaced with the new. But the first three quarters of our Bible are not irrelevant. Everything that is taught in the New Testament comes from the Jewish Tanakh. (The old testament)
Acts 26 King James Version (KJV)
22 Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:
Paul says that everything he preached came from the Hebrew Scriptures. So, if you want to understand Paul or any other New Testament writers, we need to understand the Hebrew Scriptures, which are found in the first three quarters of our Bible.
The use of heaven and earth in the Tanakh
Leviticus 26 King James Version (KJV)
17 And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you. 18 And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. 19 And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:
Note the prefix “yours” in front of the words heaven and earth. The terms “heaven” and “earth” are directly linked to the people of Israel.
To properly understand the term “heaven and earth” in the New Testament, one must see how God referred to nations using that term in the Tanakh. Only when we see the Biblical concept of “heaven and earth” in the Tanakh, can we understand it’s use in the New Testament passages. The terms heaven and earth in the Bible do not always refer to our physical universe and its elementary particles.
Imagery was common among the Hebrew prophets. This principle becomes clear when we look at passages that mention the destruction of a state and a government. The language used often reads like a threat of judgment and destruction of the entire globe and universe.
Isaiah 1 King James Version (KJV)
1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.
Who is God talking to here, physical creation? No, he is talking to Israel.
Isaiah 51 King James Version (KJV)
15 But I am the Lord thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The Lord of hosts is his name. 16 And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.
The heaven and earth here refer to the time when God churned up the sea so that Israel could cross on dry land (v. 15). It refers to the time when God gave the law (v. 16) and said to Zion: You are my people. This was the time when He took the people of Israel out of Egypt, led them into the desert and formed them into a covenant nation.
“To stretch the heavens and found the earth” means that God brought order and government.
We can see this idea clearly by looking at other passages that mention the destruction of a state and government, using language that appears to represent the end of the world or the collapse of heaven and earth.
Isaiah 13:1-2 King James Version (KJV)
1 The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see. 2 Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them, shake the hand, that they may go into the gates of the nobles.
In this chapter God speaks of the judgment that was to fall on Babylon. The word “burden” is the Hebrew word “massa” and means: an utterance, chiefly a doom. This introduction creates the conditions for the content of this chapter. In our interpretation of Isaiah 13, we must remember that the subject is not an oracle against the universe or the whole world, but against the nation of Babylon.
Isaiah 13:9-13 King James Version (KJV)
9 Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. 10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. 11 And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. 12 I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir. 13 Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.
The prophet speaks of the destruction of Babylon and it sounds like worldwide destruction.
The terminology used within a context cannot be expanded beyond the scope of the topic covered. This means that even though it would seem like it was speaking of the destruction of the whole world it was only speaking of the downfall of Babylon. The land of Babylon can certainly not leave the spectrum of language. Yet, if you were a Babylonian and Babylon was destroyed, would it seem like the world was destroyed? Yes! It would seem like your world has been destroyed.
Isaiah 13 King James Version (KJV)
17 Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.
This was a historic event which occurred in 539 BC. When the Medes destroyed Babylon, the Babylonian world ended. Verse 6 said that this destruction came from the Almighty, and that the Medes were the means by which God accomplished this task. The physical heaven and earth were still intact, but for Babylon they had collapsed. This is how the imagery was used by the prophets. This is how the Bible describes the fall of a nation.
In Isaiah 24-27 we see the invasion of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar. He carries the Israelites into captivity. Notice the language Isaiah used.
Isaiah 24 King James Version (KJV)
3 The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the Lord hath spoken this word. 4 The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. 5 The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. 6 Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.
19 The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly.
I want you to see in these verses how God refers to Israel as earth. Notice the number of times God referred to Israel as “earth”. This is a symbolic and figurative language speaking of the destruction of the people of Israel, not planet earth.
In Isaiah 34 we have a description of the fall of Edom, note the language that is used:
Isaiah 34 King James Version (KJV)
3 Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. 4 And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. 5 For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
This is Biblical language to describe the fall of a nation. Although this is to be taken literally as God’s judgment, which really took place, it was the imagery, which was used to communicate this prophecy. It would be foolish to interpret this as the literal destruction of heaven.
Here is another example of using this type of language in the Tanakh:
Nahum 1 King James Version (KJV)
1 The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. 2 God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies. 3 The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. 4 He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth. 5 The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein.
The subject here is the judgment of Nineveh, not the physical world. Again, this is how God describes the fall of a nation. This is the typical style of language used to describe God’s judgments upon nations. Now note that the New Testament is no different in its approach, as it was written by Hebrew believers who used imagery very similar to that used by the Old Testament prophets.
The Bible does not always imply “the literal physical universe” when we read the phrase “heaven and earth”. The symbolic meaning of heaven and earth in the Tanakh spans in relation to the people of Israel, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple, or, as we have seen, some of the surrounding Gentile nations.
Jewish literature often speaks of the people of Israel with inclusion of the Jerusalem temple as Zion. Zion (including the temple) is considered to be the portal, which connects heaven to earth.
They called it the “navel of the earth” and the “gateway to heaven” (Jubilees 8:19). Just like the Mesopotamian Tower of Babel (which was a place of sacrifice for false gods and was considered the gateway between the spiritual and the physical in Genesis 11) the temple connected God’s heavenly kingdom with the physical kingdom in which people lived.
The Book of Jubilees 8 (Ancient Jewish Literature, not canonical, not part of the Bible)
19. And he knew that the Garden of Eden is the holy of holies, and the dwelling of the Lord, and Mount Sinai the centre of the desert, and Mount Zion – the centre of the navel of the earth: these three were created as holy places facing each other.
Mount Zion and the Temple
When Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, the meaning of Zion expanded further to include the temple area. This is the meaning found in the prophecy of Jeremiah 31: 6.
Jeremiah 31 King James Version (KJV)
6 For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God.
In the Old Testament, Zion is used as the name for the city of Jerusalem (Isaiah 40: 9), the land of Judea (Jeremiah 31:12) and the nation of Israel as a whole (Zechariah 9:13). The word Zion is also used in Scripture as a spiritual reality. In the New Testament, Zion refers to the spiritual kingdom of God.
Hebrews 12 King James Version (KJV)
22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
Peter quoted Isaiah 28:16, referring to Christ as the cornerstone of Zion:
1 Peter 2 King James Version (KJV)
6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.
The temple in Jerusalem (Zion) was seen as the gateway between heaven and earth. To reflect this belief, the Jerusalem temple was built to look like a microcosm of the universe.
We see this in the temple hymn in the Psalms:
Psalm 78 King James Version (KJV)
69 And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
The holy place and the most holy place within the Jerusalem Temple building were built to reflect the earth and heaven. The courtyards outside represented the sea. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, two parts of the temple were accessible, the outer and the inner courtyard. He explains that Moses referred to them as earth and sea, since these two are accessible to everyone. The third part, the Most Holy Place, was reserved only for God because heaven was then inaccessible to people. The veil between the accessible and inaccessible parts of the temple represented the entire physical world. Josephus and Philon of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, agree that the veil was made of four materials, which represented the four elements – earth, water, air, and fire. Heaven was behind this material world. It was behind the curtain.
Outside the microcosm of the Temple of Heaven and Earth, the courtyards looked like the sea.
Numbers Rabbah 13:19 Midrash Aggadah of the Book of Numbers, also called Va-Yedabber Rabbah in medieval literature, says; The courtyard surrounds the temple as the sea surrounds the land.
In the Talmudic tradition, rabbis described how the inner walls of the temple looked like the waves of the sea. From heaven and earth in the temple you gazed at the sea surrounding the earth. Why? The ancients believed that the world was a huge land mass surrounded by the sea. The temple reflected this cosmology. The accessible part of the temple and the surrounding courtyards embodied both the land mass and the sea and so encompassed the whole earth. The most holy place was heaven, in which God’s presence resided.
Therefore, the Biblical imagery of Heaven and Earth was considered then as the Jerusalem Temple complex, which was destroyed 70 A.D.
Matthew 24:15 King James Version (KJV)
15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
That desolation, which is the word meaning destruction, came to pass. That is why of necessity the futurist eschatology requires a rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem in our time to justify the dispensational view. Christ became the sacrifice to end all sacrifices once and for all. There is no going back to animal sacrifices my friend. It would be an offence in the face of Christ’s sacrifice if we did. Since 70 A.D the Old Heaven and Earth, which is also representative of the order of the Old Sinaitic Covenant passed away, never to return.