Saturday, April 3, 2010

Second Coming of Christ Misunderstood (7th edition)

by Babu G. Ranganathan

Not all prophecy in Scripture has been fulfilled yet but the second coming of Jesus Christ was totally fulfilled in the first century. The second coming of Christ had to do with the destruction of the Jewish Age and the establishment of Christ's Kingdom.

Jesus said that some of His disciples will not finish preaching through all the cities of Israel before He comes back (Matthew 10:23). Jesus said that some who were living during His time would not die before they see the Son of Man (Jesus Christ) coming in His Kingdom (Matthew 16:28). Jesus said that "this generation" will not pass away before all these things concerning His second coming are fulfilled (Matthew 24:34). He was talking to the people of that time and the generation of that time. He was saying that they (not us) would be witnesses to these things happening.

Some have argued that Jesus was talking about His glory that His disciples would behold when they reach the top of, what now is known as, the Mount of Transfiguration. But that had nothing to do with Jesus coming back to establish His Kingdom. Besides, as one commentator put it, it’s obvious that the people who were with Jesus would be alive for the little time it took for Him to go up the Mount and come back. It wouldn’t be a big deal for Jesus to say that some of those who were with Him would still be alive by the time He returns from His trip up the Mount.

Jesus wasn’t referring to His trip up the Mount and back when He said that some would not see death before He returns. He was referring to His second coming. That's when He would establish His Kingdom. All this means that the second coming occurred in that generation, not in a generation some thousands of years later.

Jesus said that when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies and is destroyed that would be the time of His second coming. This already happened between 63 A.D. and 70 A.D. (seven years). Jesus said that the Gospel will be preached to every nation before He comes. The Apostle Paul says in Colossians 1:23 that the Gospel had already been preached to all nations (that is all nations of the then known world of the Roman Empire and beyond). One of the reasons that this Gospel was to be preached to all nations was in order to be a witness to them that God was through with Israel as a nation for its ultimate disobedience. The end of the world that Jesus was talking referred to the end of the age, not the end of the physical world. The word "world" in the passage comes from the Greek word "aion" meaning "age". The other Greek word for "world" is "cosmos" which refers to the physical world, but that's not the Greek word that's used in Scripture in reference to when Jesus returns. Jesus was referring to the end of the Jewish Age. That is why Jesus Himself said the "axe is laid at the root" (Luke 3:9) meaning the destruction of the nation was near.

God is still committed to His elect individual Jews who turn to Christ for salvation. But, He is through with Israel as a nation. The last time God prophesied that the Jews would return to the land was fulfilled after their return from the Babylonian captivity. During the Babylonian captivity the Jews were spread throughout all the nations of the Babylonian empire.

Furthermore, almost none of the Jews in modern Israel are descendants of the original Jews of Palestine thousands of years ago. Most of the Jews in Israel today are descendants of Europeans who had converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages (known as Khazar or Ashkenazi Jews).

What about the land? Weren’t the Jews promised an eternal inheritance to the land? It is vital to understand that God's promises concerning the land to the Jews in the Old Testament were conditional - only so long as they continued to obey Him were those promises concerning the land binding (read Deuteronomy 28). Their ultimate disobedience in their rejection of Christ would forfeit them any claim to the land.

We read in the Book of Joshua 21:43, 45: "And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which He swore to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass." Thus, there is no promise concerning the land that still awaits any fulfillment.

The Bible teaches that Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ inherit the same, not different promises, because in God’s eyes they are one spiritual seed (Ephesians 2:11-21 and 3:5-6).

The modern state of Israel today has the right to exist like any other nation, but it does not have the right to territorial conquest and control in the name of Zionism.

Most evangelical Christians, who are dispensationalists, are still seeking for an Israel that the New Testament says is the spiritual body of Christ made up of both Jew and Gentile believers in Jesus Christ and, again, who together (as one seed) inherit the same (not different) promises (Galatians 3:14-16).

The New Testament refers to the Christian church as the "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). There is good reason to believe that some of the Old Testament descriptions of God's future dealings with Israel are already being fulfilled spiritually in and through the Christian church which is made up of both Jew and Gentile believers in Christ inheriting the same (not different) promises.

Evangelist John L. Bray made this interesting point in one of his newsletters:

"The prophet Amos (in the Old Testament) had prophesied the future building of the Tabernacle of David to receive the saved of the heathen (Amos 9:12). In a special counsel of the apostles and other leaders, James (in the New Testament) declared that this prophecy was fulfilled as people were being converted through the preaching of the gospel and were becoming the spiritual house of God (Acts 15:13-19). This was called 'the true Tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man (Hebrews 8:2)' " (Evangelist John L. Bray in Biblical Perspectives, December 1, 2009).

Thus, this proves that the Christian Church (both Jew and Gentile believers in Christ) are the recipients of God’s Old Testament promises. It is also proof that these promises are to be understood spiritually, not literally. It is not a literal future millennial tabernacle in view here, as the Apostle James clearly describes and explains in the passage.

God’s unconditional promises in the Old Testament were not made to national Israel but to all His elect (true Jew and Gentile believers in Christ), so this is not Replacement Theology, as some would say. God’s elect Jews are now united with His elect Gentiles in the Christian Church. Therefore, the promises made to His elect Jews are fulfilled now by the Christian Church. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 9:6, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” In the context of the passage, Paul was explaining who would inherit the Old Testament promises of God, and Paul said it would be the Church, the true Israel, the spiritual Israel.

As for national Israel, God had brought it to a permanent end for its ultimate disobedience in rejecting Christ. Jesus Himself prophesied judgment against the nation.

Many evangelical Christians believe (wrongly) that the "Great City" in the Book of Revelation, which God destroys in His wrath and which is referred to figuratively as “Babylon,” is Rome. They believe it is Rome because the city is described as being surrounded by seven hills.

However, Jerusalem, also, is surrounded by seven hills. The proof that Jerusalem is the city and not Rome is found in Revelation 11:8 where we read, "And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the Great City, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified".

Was the Lord crucified in Rome or in Jerusalem? The wrath of God against Jerusalem for its apostate Judaism is what the early portions of the Book of Revelation are all about.

Jesus said that every eye will see Him at His return (that is everyone in Jerusalem at the time of its destruction) will know that Jesus was ultimately behind Jerusalem’s judgment and destruction for its ultimate rejection of Him as Messiah. The word "see" in the passage comes from the Greek word "eido" which can also mean "see" in the sense of understanding or comprehending like when you say to someone "Do you 'see' what I mean?"

In the Old Testament when Babylon was destroyed the Scripture says that the stars of heaven fell and the Sun and moon turned their color. This is known as apocalyptic language in Scripture. Whenever a very major event affecting Israel happens such language is used. The Book of Revelation uses similar language also. Revelation is to be interpreted symbolically, for the most part.

The Book of Revelation, like the rest of the New Testament, was originally written in Greek so sometimes we must go to the Greek language to have a more precise understanding of certain words.

In the very first verse of the very first chapter we read, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God (the Father) gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John" (Revelation 1:1, KJV). The word "signified" in the passage comes from a Greek word meaning "signs" or "symbols". Thus, Revelation was meant by Christ to be interpreted symbolically, not literally. And notice, the passage says that these things "must shortly come to pass," (not thousands of years later).

The Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem from 63 AD to 70 AD (seven years) and totally destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish temple, as Jesus predicted. In the middle of those seven years ancient historians like Josephus record that Jews who believed in Christ had an opportunity to escape Jerusalem so that they would not be killed. These Jews escaped to Pella in Jordan.

But, didn't Jesus say about the temple that not one stone would be sitting on another when it's destroyed? How is it then that in the temple remains now there are still stones laying intact on each?

What Jesus said about the temple, that one stone will not rest upon another, must be understood as hyperbolic language (exaggeration, which is a useful tool and form of verbal expression in society). There are other examples in Scripture of hyperbolic language. The context of Scripture (of what all of Scripture teaches on any issue is always the key to proper and accurate interpretation).

The ancient Jewish historian Josephus was allowed by the Romans to describe and write about what was happening in Jerusalem at the time of its siege and destruction by the Roman army. Among the things Josephus describes are the miraculous signs that occurred in Jerusalem prior to its destruction. All of this was prophesied by Jesus.

The famines and earthquakes that Jesus said would precede His return also occurred during the first century and some of these are recorded in the New Testament (i.e. the Book of Acts). Jesus was simply saying that things would continue, just as they did before, that there would still be earthquakes, famines, even marriages, before He comes to establish His Kingdom. He didn't mean that these things would increase in frequency. He wasn't saying, for example, that marriages would increase in frequency before He returned!

What about the supposed covenant of peace with Israel made by the Anti-Christ that the Book of Daniel talks about? There's no covenant of peace with Israel. As the great and eminent Bible commentator of old John Gill says about Daniel 9:27: "... but this is to be interpreted of the Roman people, spoken of in the latter part of the preceding verse; who, in order to accomplish their design to destroy the city and temple of Jerusalem, made peace with many nations, entered into covenant and alliance with them, particularly the Medes, Parthians, and Armenians, for the space of one week, or seven years; as it appears they did at the beginning of this week". Daniel 9:27 says the covenant is with "many". It has nothing to do with a covenant with Israel.

Before 70 A.D. Jews who became Christians still had to follow the religious rituals and traditions of the Jewish ceremonial laws (i.e. Scripture teaches that Timothy, whose mother was Jewish and whose father was Gentile, was circumcised, and that by the leading of the Apostle Paul himself. Because Timothy's mother was Jewish, according to Jewish law that made Timothy Jewish). So, even though Timothy had become Christian, the Apostle Paul still made sure to get him circumcised. Christ's Kingdom had not been established yet. But, Gentiles, who during this time became Christian, were not under obligation to follow the religious customs, rituals, and traditions of the Jewish ceremonial laws (Acts 15:20).

In the Book of Hebrews the writer says that “we are receiving a Kingdom”. The Kingdom had not yet been officially established before the destruction and judgment on Jerusalem which Jesus prophesied and which occurred in 70 AD.

After 70 A.D. and the establishment of the Kingdom none of the ceremonial laws applied even to the Jews who had converted. All the Jewish ceremonial laws came to a permanent end.

Now, the Kingdom is growing and will one day fill the earth. The Scripture teaches that at some point in the future the final judgment will occur. All the wicked will be once and for all destroyed and the Son will give the Kingdom over to the Father and God will be all in all.

Before 70A.D. believers who died remained in a state of death ("sleep"). After 70 A.D. all believers who had died (over the centuries) had their souls resurrected and united with their new and eternal bodies prepared for them in heaven, as Scripture teaches. Christians who are alive now, when they die, will not remain in a state of death (or "sleep") but, instead, their souls will instantly be changed (become immortal) and their souls also will also be united with their new and eternal bodies which, Scripture says, is reserved for them in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1). This is the on-going process of the Rapture.

The Apostle Paul says in in 2 Corinthians 5:1 that Christians have an eternal body (not a temporal body, but an eternal body) reserved for them in heaven (obviously the heavenly body is being kept for the time when their souls are resurrected).

In the context of Scripture Satan is now bound for a “thousand” years only to the degree that he cannot deceive all the gentile nations as he once did. Outside that limitation, Satan is as free to do his mischief as before.

The Millennium is symbolic and stands for the growth of Christ's Kingdom now. The number "thousand" is used symbolically just as when God says in Scripture that the cattle on a thousand hills are His. Of course, He owns more than the cattle on a thousand hills. It means all belongs to God.

In the Book of Daniel it says that Christ's Kingdom will be like a rock cut out of a mountain not by human hands (Daniel 2:34), and that this rock will grow into a mountain that fills the whole earth (Daniel 2:35). Christ's Kingdom doesn't fill the earth suddenly but gradually. Christ said that His Kingdom would be like the leaven in bread which spreads gradually throughout the whole bread (Matthew 13:33).

Christ's Kingdom has always been spiritual, not political. It wasn't political then, it's not political now, and it's not political in the future. Christ rules spiritually in the hearts of men. This rule will affect politics, but the rule itself is not political.

Almost all evangelical Christians today have absolutely no deep understanding of Christian doctrine, theology, Scripture, including prophecy!

They only want thrills and the frills. They're looking for a literal, glitzy, Kingdom like the disciples in Jesus' day thought He would establish.

And just as the Jews of Jesus' day wrongly understood His first coming, Christians of today wrongly understand what Scripture means by His second coming.

The Old Jerusalem of Judaism has been destroyed in 70 A.D.and the New Jerusalem (Christ's Church) now stands forever in its place. The modern state of Israel today has every right to exist but only like any other nation. Modern Israel has nothing to do with Bible prophecy or Scripture.

Revelation says that the New Jerusalem is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2). We know from other Scriptures that the Bride of Christ is the Church, Christ's Kingdom permanently replacing the old Jerusalem of Judaism under the law. In Revelation 22:15you will read that outside of the New Jerusalem are evil doers - that's the world. We are in the world but not of it. The New Jerusalem is not a physical city where outside of its doors are evil doers. That's not how to interpret the passage.

In fact, unlike the time of the Babylonian captivity hundreds of years prior, the 70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was so complete and thorough that even the genealogical record of the priests and their lineage was totally destroyed. God has totally put away Judaism and Israel as a nation once and for all. Today's Judaism and modern state of Israel are not recognized by heaven's God.

The true temple of God now is the body of believers in Jesus Christ, as Scripture says in various New Testament passages.

What, then, did Jesus mean when He said "And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8). The "earth" here is none other than Israel. "Heaven and Earth" sometimes in Scripture is in reference to God's spiritual relationship with Israel. The "new heavens and the new earth" are a picture of the new covenant, of the relationship of God with spiritual Israel (which is the Church made up of both Jew and Gentile believers in Christ).

"In 2 Peter 3:10 we read that when Jesus returns (Peter refers to it as the "Day of the Lord," which in other Scriptures is in reference to Christ's Second Coming), the heavens will pass away and the earth shall be dissolved. This is not referring to the physical earth or heavens. Even dispensationalist Christians believe that the physical heavens and earth will remain when Christ returns and establishes His millennial Kingdom. So, dispensationalists must have a big problem with this verse, but non-dispensationalist Christians have no problem. In the Old Testament, sometimes, when God would make pronouncements to Israel, He would refer to Israel as "Earth" (Isaiah 1:2). The word "earth" in the passage of 2 Peter 3:10 symbolizes national Israel and Judaism and the word "elements," in the passage, represent the ceremonial beliefs and tenets of Judaism. The Apostle Paul uses the same word "elements" in the Greek to refer to religious beliefs and principles (Colossians 2:20). The "heavens" represent God's relationship to Judaism. All this will be permanently done away with upon Christ's return accompanying the destruction of the Jewish Temple and Jerusalem (which occurred in 70 A.D.)

Here is what Gary DeMar says: "Jesus does not change subjects when He assures the disciples that "heaven and earth will pass away." Rather, He merely affirms His prior predictions, which are recorded in Matthew 24:29­31. Verse 36 is a summary and confirmation statement of these verses.(6) Keep in mind that the central focus of the Olivet Discourse is the desolation of the "house" and "world" of apostate Israel (23:36). The old world of Judaism, represented by the earthly temple, is taken apart stone by stone (24:2). James Jordan writes, "each time God brought judgment on His people during the Old Covenant, there was a sense in which an old heavens and earth was replaced with a new one: New rulers were set up, a new symbolic world model was built (Tabernacle, Temple), and so forth."(7) The New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant with new leaders, a new priesthood, new sacraments, a new sacrifice, a new tabernacle (John 1:14), and a new temple (John 2:19; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:21). In essence, a new heaven and earth.

C.H. Spurgeon puts it this way: ""Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, of any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under a new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it." (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354).

What about the argument of double fulfillment of these prophecies? The doctrine of double fulfillment would not apply to what Christ says about His return and end times because the time frame given by Christ and by Scripture preculudes the possibility of a double fulfillment in these matters. Jesus said it would be in His generation and be witnessed by those to whom He was speaking.

Also, a double fulfillment would mean that believing Jews would inherit separate promises from believing Gentiles and the Scripture teaches in Galatians and elsewhere that Abraham's spiritual seed is one and indivisible and that both Jewish and Gentile believers inherit all of the same promises together.

What about Zechariah 14 where we read that Christ would split the earth in two upon His return? Matthew Henry in his famous commentary says that Zechariah 14 is to be interpreted symbolically and spiritually. Read what he says in his commentary.

The context of all of Scripture has to be considered before we say something is symbolic or literal. As was mentioned earlier, there are many Old Testament prophecies that have been fulfilled spiritually in the New Testament through the Christian Church (i.e. compare Amos 9:12 with Acts 15:13-19)

Since Christ Himself says in Revelation 1:1 to interpret Revelation symbolically then that's how we must interpret the Zechariah passage also.

In the very first verse of the very first chapter we read, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God (the Father) gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John" (Revelation 1:1, KJV). The word "signified" in the passage comes from the original Greek New Testament word meaning "signs" or "symbols". Thus, Revelation was meant by Christ to be interpreted symbolically, not literally.

The "last days" are over. The Apostles said that they were living in the last days. That was two thousand years ago! What they meant is that they were living in the last days of Judaism that was still recognized by God.

This view that Christ's second coming occurred in 70 AD during the destruction of Jerusalem is known as Preterist (or fulfilled) eschatology. There is much, much more to be said on this subject. Please check out the various articles, views, and interpretations concerning preterism at: http://www.preteristarchive.com

Also, the reader is encouraged to read "The Bible Vs. The Traditional View of Hell" at: http://bgrnathan.blogspot.com/2010/01/bible-vs-traditional-view-of-hell.html. Some truths I share in that article will help the reader to understand better what has been said in this article.

The author is greatly indebted to the writings of the Rev. John L. Bray (Christian evangelist) for coming to know and understand this view of biblical prophecy. Evangelist Bray is now retired but his book "Matthew 24 Fulfilled" continues to be enjoyed by readers. The book may be ordered through American Vision.