A Woman Clothed with the Sun

In reading up on Isaac and Ishmael, I came across this from James Jordan:

The allegory is related to Revelation 12:14-17. The Woman who gave birth to the Son is taken into the wilderness to be protected from the Dragon. The Dragon pours out the defiling water of false (Judaizing) doctrine to try and corrupt her, but God protects her as the Apostles fight the Judaizers with the true cleansing water of truth. Then the Dragon moves out and attacks the other part of the Woman’s Seed, the Gentile part of the Church, by raising up the Roman Beast. Thus, the Woman in the wilderness and the children with her are the Jewish believers, driven out in Acts 8 after Satan began putting them to death in Acts 7.

The Woman in Revelation 12 is the entire First Creation church, from Eve to Mary, including Hagar. It is Hagar’s experience that is alluded to in 12:14-16. Paul has said that the Jews are Hagar and Ishmael. They are the original household of Abraham, after which came Sarah and Isaac. The converted Jews, like Hagar and Ishmael, flee into the wilderness. The original Hagar found that the “old water” of Abraham ran out, and could not find any new water until God provided it. This is an allegory of the gospel: The water of the Old Creation kingdom is running out, and people must seek the new water of the New Creation. In a similar way, the Hagar-Woman of Revelation 12 has left the old water. Satan offers counterfeit new water, flowing from his Wormwood occupation of Herod’s Temple (Revelation 8:10-11). The false unconverted Jews drink up this evil water, and by implication, God provides new water, from the New Jerusalem, for the Hagar-Woman and her Ishmael-child in the wilderness.

70 A.D. Again

Doug Wilson points out something that should be glaringly obvious, but which I have overlooked:

Virtually all the books of the New Testament have an expectant air about them. They are all waiting for something drastic that will happen soon, and not one of them even mentions the most cataclyismic event in Jewish history — the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 — as being past. That event was the destruction of the old Judaic order and its replacement by the Christian church, the new Israel (Heaven Misplaced, p. 111).

Indeed. How could the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. go completely unmentioned in the NT unless it hadn’t happened yet? All the books would therefore predate it.

Cosmic Imagery

This post from Doug Wilson is so good that I am going to steal the whole thing:

[Discussing Matt. 24:29-31] “Everywhere there is similar ‘collapsing solar system’ imagery in the Old Testament (see Ezek. 32:7Amos 8:9; and Joel 2:28-32), the reference is always to the same thing — the destruction of nations and cities. There is no scriptural reason to handle such passages differently when they are quoted in the New Testament, especially when they are quoted in response to a question about when Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. Everywhere the Bible uses this kind of language, it is applied to the judgment of God falling on a particular nation or city — Babylon, Edom, Egypt, the northern kingdom of Israel. There is no scriptural reason to think it is any different in Matthew 24″ (Heaven Misplaced, p. 105).

Growing up Dispensationalist, I took all the solar system imagery literally. It has been a gradual process of unlearning for me to read the Bible differently.

Is Everything Getting Worse?

Premillenialism thrives on the idea that things are going to hell in a handbasket and getting worse all the time. This article from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal has a lot of flawed theology (e.g. spanking is bad) and is coming from a very different place, but it points out the decline in violence over the years. For example:

Believe it or not, the world of the past was much worse. Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in the existence of our species.

For centuries, social theorists like Hobbes and Rousseau speculated from their armchairs about what life was like in a “state of nature.” Nowadays we can do better. Forensic archeology—a kind of “CSI: Paleolithic”—can estimate rates of violence from the proportion of skeletons in ancient sites with bashed-in skulls, decapitations or arrowheads embedded in bones. And ethnographers can tally the causes of death in tribal peoples that have recently lived outside of state control.

Investigations show that, on average, about 15% of people in prestate eras died violently, compared to about 3% of the citizens of the earliest states. Tribal violence commonly subsides when a state or empire imposes control over a territory, leading to the various “paxes” (Romana, Islamica, Brittanica and so on) that are familiar to readers of history.

The second decline of violence was a civilizing process that is best documented in Europe. Historical records show that between the late Middle Ages and the 20th century, European countries saw a 10- to 50-fold decline in their rates of homicide.
The numbers are consistent with narrative histories of the brutality of life in the Middle Ages, when highwaymen made travel a risk to life and limb and dinners were commonly enlivened by dagger attacks. So many people had their noses cut off that medieval medical textbooks speculated about techniques for growing them back.

Historians attribute this decline to the consolidation of a patchwork of feudal territories into large kingdoms with centralized authority and an infrastructure of commerce. Criminal justice was nationalized, and zero-sum plunder gave way to positive-sum trade. People increasingly controlled their impulses and sought to cooperate with their neighbors.

It’s not that the first kings had a benevolent interest in the welfare of their citizens. Just as a farmer tries to prevent his livestock from killing one another, so a ruler will try to keep his subjects from cycles of raiding and feuding. From his point of view, such squabbling is a dead loss—forgone opportunities to extract taxes, tributes, soldiers and slaves.

Note this chart as well:

The Future is Bright

Peter Leithart says that Greeks and other ancient pagans saw history as “essentially tragic.”

Things had begun well in a world of plenty and joy, but the world was bound to degenerate and decline until it sputtered and whimpered to a halt.

In contrast, the Bible is all about a bright future (hence postmillenialism). He says in his book “Deep Comedy”:

Against the classical nostalgia for a golden age lost and unlikely to be revived, the Bible, beginning with the prophets of Israel and continuing into the New Testament, holds out the promise of a future age of glory, peace, justice and abundance. The last state is not worse than the first, and infinitely superior to the painful evils of the ages between the first and last.

The End this Isn’t

Events like last week’s tsunami often spur on premillenial believers who think that things have never been this bad before and that the end is in sight. This is not new. James Moorhead mentions an encounter that Robert Willett had back in World War I:

…he encountered an energetic man who explained that Kaiser Wilhelm was the beast described in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation and that Jesus would appear within months to “rapture” the saints.

As George Marsden points out in Fundamentalism and American Culture, World War I touched off a frenzy of speculation about Germany and “the Huns” being a possible candidate for the Antichrist and his Empire. One can imagine how a world war would lead people to speculate on such matters. And I am sure that this speculation reached another level when Hitler was around. And yet, the end did not come.

This did not stop speculation. The emphasis shifted from shattered Germany to the Red Menace and the Soviet Union which would surely invade Israel and fulfill Ezekiel 38. The bad interpretation of premillenialism said that “this generation” applied to 1948 and Israel (we are now 63 years later, when does a generation end?). Chuck Smith said the end was probably going to be in 1981…or maybe 1986.

After the Cold War ended with no Russian invasion in sight, there was a bit of a lull as some looked to China as the new possible beast from the East. Then we had 9/11 and the premillenial world went crazy over Islam. Surely Islam would usher in the end by invading Israel.

In some ways, premillenialism cannot ever be proven wrong. You can show people all of these past wrong predictions and they will blow it off as men’s opinions. Dates change, the Antichrist changes, new events are constantly discovered within the same old passages, and the end still does not come. But people love to think that our generation is the most important one, and that things like this have never occurred before. Well, they have. Many of the Biblical texts point to AD 70 and the destruction of the old world. No more Temple, no more Law, no more Jews (their religion was ended at the Cross and there is no more Temple worship that wouldn’t be an insult to God). Read this book and learn a thing or two. God’s kingdom will continue to spread from the River to the ends of the earth, like a mustard seed that grows into a great tree.

I Have to Believe it’s Getting Better

David Field provides some heartening evidence in this paper about how the world is improving for the Church:

Evangelical defeatism is a failure of historical perspective. After all, the statistics are out there. It took 1400 years for 1% of the world’s population to become Christians and then another 360 years for that to double to 2%. Another 170 years saw that grow from 2% to 4% and then, between 1960 and 1990 the proportion of the world’s population made up of Bible-believing Christians rose from 4% to 8%. Now, in 2007, one third of the world’s population confesses that Jesus is Lord and 11% of the world’s population are “evangelical” Christians. The evangelical church is growing twice as fast as Islam and three times as fast as the world’s population. South America is turning Protestant faster than Continental Europe did in the sixteenth century. South Koreans reckon that they can evangelize the whole of North Korea within five years once that country opens up. And then there’s the Chinese church consisting of tens of millions of Christians who have learned to pray, who have confidence in Scripture, who know about spiritual warfare, have been schooled in suffering and are qualified to rule. One day in the next century that Church – tens of millions of Christians trained to die – will be released into global mission and our prayers for the fall of Islam will be answered.

Amen! It is good to see evidence of postmillenial optimism. We walk by faith, not by sight.


A Thought on Israel

Since many pre-millenialists have so hitched their wagon to the current state of Israel, if it were defeated and destroyed in a war, what would happen to their faith? Would it be shattered because what they think the Bible says has been overturned? I hope not. I hope the post-millenialism and preterism will get a hearing as the years tick by and The Late Great Planet Earth keeps turning.