As my testimony elsewhere indicates, I was saved at age 18. Twelve very long theological years later, I was hit between the eyes with a copy of Jay Adams' book "The Time is at Hand". Up to that point, I had been one form or another of dispensationalist ("ultra" for most of the time). Upon reading Adams' book, many scales started to fall off my eyes. It had never occurred to me that all the verses alleged to support premillenialism could be seen very differently and that by strong evangelical believers. I could no longer adhere to premillenialism. Months after that difficult but freeing transition time, I was providentially exposed to a form of postmillenialism. It seemed to confirm the amill view, but meaningfully augment it. Again after careful study, prayer and analytical thought, I had to change. In the 20+ years since, every related scripture I've run across has seemed to confirm the postmillenial position, bringing resultant joy inherent to that view.
Two years after my 1985 shift to postmil, I was attending a moderately dispensational church. I had the opportunity to write a sizable letter to the pastor. Here is that letter, essential 'as is'. He and I did have a nice conversation after he read it, but there's no record of that conversation. (Since then I've changed a little on minor points, but nothing that affects the essence presented in the letter.)
2514 De Pauw Ave.
Orlando, FL 32804
September 13, 1987
Can you believe that I'm actually writing this letter to you on the SAME day that you spoke the message that I wish to comment on?? That's a first for me! I hope to make it more of a habit; we'll see how it works out.
The teaching this morning from I Thessalonians 3 was very edifying. Thank you for all your diligence in preparation and delivery. I particularly admired your emphasis in vs 12-13 on Paul's desire and prayer that the Lord would make Christians' love to one another increase and abound. I also like the conversational way you would read some portions of the text. That makes it easier to perceive the relevance to us of what was on Paul's heart. Thanks again for ministering to us.
I will now delve into some of the small topics that I have been reminded of. The first concerns what you were saying in the 2nd hour about our tendency to say "God, if I were you, I'd relieve the great difficulty I'm going through." You asked people how they personally respond to that. (If there had been more time, I would have spoken part of what I am going to tell you now.) You spoke (from Oswald Chambers) that the key is yielding one's will. I disagree. My testimony concerning that is as follows. There was a point in my early spiritual life when I realized the importance of continually and repeatedly yielding one's will to Christ. However, years later, I realized that there was more required. I knew Romans 8:28 pretty much by heart and had spent many times meditating on it, but looking back, I can see that it wasn't very deeply engrained in me until after I came to grips with the Biblical teaching on the nature of God's sovereignty. In the years since my beliefs about that were changed, I have come to believe more deeply that God is truly in control and really IS working all things in my life together for GOOD. In today's class, it was crystalized in my mind that yielding one's will is very difficult if one either does not believe that God intends the best for us or that he is not really capable of fulfilling any good intentions that he might have toward us. Both of those beliefs are false, but both have deeply entrenched themselves in the church of today, because of the false arminian and antinomian doctrines that have been so rampant for decades. I can say from personal experience that although I have, from time to time in recent years, questioned God, argued with him, and even rebelled against him (you see even David doing all those things), it has been years since I challenged his intentions or his power to fulfill those intentions. He is NOT the impotent creator who made everything then sits back to let us do whatever we want. He is the OMNIPOTENT MASTER of everything who "does according to His will..among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'" Daniel 4:35. He has the power to guarantee ultimate good for those to whom he has chosen to give eternal life. Not only does he have the power to control the universe on our behalf, but he PROMISES that he will do so! Hallelujah! Yes, a believer will sin unintentionally.. Yes, a believer will sin intentionally.. Yes a believer can have very weak faith.. Yes, a believer can have ups and downs in his faith. But he can have these problems and still not wickedly challenge God's power or intentions toward his people, IF he has the scriptural belief in God's sovereignty and God's saving love deeply embedded in his mind and soul. He can and should continually and repeatedly yield his will to Christ's every time that he is convicted by the Spirit. But I know that I will not be motivated to do so if I don't have the confidence that he is ABLE to control all things, AND that he has my best intentions at heart. Once a Christian truly grasps the meaning of sovereign grace, he can then fully appreciate Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose", and Job 42:2, "I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of yours can be withheld from you", and Job 13:15, "Though He slay me yet will I trust Him." Yielding the will will still be difficult at times, but I think that a conscious or unconscious awareness of these things will help greatly. Or, to put it differently, NOT having an awareness of these things will greatly impair one's yielding. (How can I yield to someone I don't feel that I can trust?)
You asked how we respond to that temptation...well, there you have it...you've now seen my response. I hope you were at least somewhat edified. Thank you for reading this far. The rest of my comments and questions will relate directly to small parts of your message.
You again referred in your talk to the fact that a belief in dispensations has helped many people to not be discouraged by their failure to see happen to them things "meant" for "other dispensations". You left the impression that without a proper belief in dispensations, a Christian will sooner or later be doomed to having his faith shaken or at least weakened. Here is my reaction to that. There are thousands of Christians, some of whom have never been dispensational and some of whom are former dispensationalists, who NEVER have the kind of faith problems that you describe. They know exactly what they believe and why, and they are consistent in their beliefs, too. I say the latter, because you might feel that they have never thought through the issues and that if they did, they would be disturbed in the way you described. If what you are saying is true, then you need to account for why brethren who are the least dispensational do not have the problems that you forecast for them. I would like to offer you one insight that may at least partially explain why non-dispensationalists can have strong and intellectually consistent faith. These people that I'm referring to believe that like all other blessings that come from God, faith, too, is a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8 and many other passages). Just as God freely and premeditatedly gives salvation-producing faith to a sinner who is dead toward God, he later on gives faith to Christians. The degree of faith given to the Christian is, again, determined by God according to his sovereign purposes. I don't have the faith to raise my dead mother from her ashes. That doesn't mean that I am carnal; it only means that God (for whatever purposes) hasn't given me the necessary faith. He may do so with me or someone else at some other time, but for right now, I don't have the faith to raise my mother from the dead. As Bill Gothard has observed, faith is seeing what God intends to accomplish. If God doesn't intend to move a particular mountain, then he is not going to give anyone the faith to accomplish it. And that's okay, as moving a mountain or raising the dead is not an ethical requirement for being an obedient and fruitful Christian. It's true that we are responsible for believing the truth and acting on it, but according to Paul in Philippians, it is God who works in the believer to make him willing and to give him the ability (including faith) to do of God's good pleasure. When we have sight of God's authorship of both conversion faith and Christian-living faith, then we are humbled and encouraged. We strive to believe God and obey him, but at the same time we rest in the confidence that God has been faithful in undeservedly giving us whatever faith that we find within ourselves. Does all this make sense? Are there questions or problems that all this creates in your mind? Let me know. I, as always, try to be open to discussion and correction.
I think that another reason that vast numbers of believers who affirm non-dispensational theology do not have those problems with faith is that they recognize the importance of distinguishing between didactic and narrative texts in scripture. A didactic passage is one containing material intended to teach truth, whereas a narrative is intended to record and convey some aspects of a historical event or events. Most assuredly, we learn truth from narratives, and we can pick up historical facts from epistles, but by and large, we must be careful when building complex cases for a doctrine using only narrative portions of scripture. This has nothing to do with dispensations, but rather with the awareness that the writer of a narrative has his own unique personal perspective of the events and his own particular purposes in writing down his interpretation of the events. More specifically, he will tend to record aspects of an event that seem important to him or contribute to a thought he is trying to convey. This at least partially accounts for many of the perceived contradictions between the four gospels. There are no contradictions. The authors each merely reported the particular aspects of the event that seemed important to him and to the message he wanted to communicate. Is he being dishonest by leaving out some of the facts? No, he is being selective as every reporter has to be. Where does all this lead us? One example of an application of this hermeneutic would be in Acts where we read of some spectacular miracles in those early chapters concerning the church under the newly established covenant. The pentecostals and charismatics take those accounts and try to build doctrines out of them; i.e. doctrines that would prescribe and regulate the usage of certain spiritual gifts by Christians. But the passages in question were never meant to be comprehensive doctrinal teaching! For that, we must go the didactic portions of scripture; i.e. the epistles! The writer of a historical account is, by definition, not required to comprehensively detail the purposes, reasons and motivations behind a particular event. Hence, in many cases we cannot necessarily know from a narrative what our regular Christian practice should be. However, in the epistles, we can, because the writer is giving material that he intends the reader to take as instruction for living. Failure to keep these things in mind not only results in building wrong doctrines out of narratives, but it also forces some folks to be colored (or should I say mis-colored) in their interpretations of the didactics that do give the real teaching on the subject. An example would be where the charismatics interpret I Corinthians 12 and 14 in light of early Acts, and come up with their screwball doctrine of TWO kinds of tongues. They're forced into it, because they insist that the events in Acts (a narrative) are meant to be normative for Christian living. If they would start with the epistles, build doctrine, and THEN study Acts, they might perceive some of the uniquenesses of each of the miraculous events scattered throughout the book. Now, I would fully grant that it is useful to REFER to the narratives when study the epistles to derive doctrine. And I would fully agree that many times, there is a great deal of overlap between didactic and narrative texts. But I feel strongly that the distinction must be kept in mind to avoid needless error.
Well, John, I guess I've beat that one around long enough. Can you now see that one does not have to be the least bit dispensational to avoid the particular error that you mentioned? I am eager to hear your comments on the above. I will now address another topic.
You noted in I Thes. 3:13 the phrase "at the coming of..Christ" and further noted that Paul refers a number of times in this short epistle to the "second coming". My question to you is, why must we assume that "coming" ALWAYS means "second coming"? I would like to submit to you my opinion that some scholars have given much plausible evidence to support the view that most of the references to "coming" (or similar words) are referring to the first advent of Christ. You might say, how can that possibly be??!? Isn't it always referred to in the future tense? Must it not be referring to the second coming, seeing as Christ had obviously come the first time already? These are good questions, and definitely worth a careful analysis, as the subject has many facets that are not immediately apparent to us 20th century readers who are so mentally and culturally detached from the mindset of God's people who were living in those early times (both B.C. and early A.D.) I have in my possession an easy-to-read (but scholarly) book that thoroughly explains these things and shows why 20th century Christians have largely failed to understand the New Testament as the early believers did. But knowing your busy schedule and your distaste for excessive books, I will try to give you the gist of only some of the basic ideas now, rather than ask you to read the book.
To begin, I must ask you to recall my statement to you that the first advent of Christ must be seen not as merely the incarnation of Christ around 4 B.C., but rather collectively as the time period from then until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Why would any one want to affirm such a definition? Let us look at Luke 21 and Matthew 24 and make some observations. In Mat. 24, verse 2, Jesus announced the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. "Not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down." Very similar wording is seen in the Luke 21 account, verse 6. Stay in Luke now and read on. "And they (the disciples) asked Him, saying, Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?" verse 8. Jesus then proceeds to describe in detail the terrible things that would happen in connection with the temple's destruction. All of those things happened to Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. just as Jesus prophesied, and as Josephus records for us in incredible detail. But you might say, "Wait a minute. In the Matthew passage, there is additional data, i.e. the disciples say 'what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?'. Clearly, the second coming must be in view here. Jesus says things like, 'And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world...to all the nations, and then the end will come,' and 'Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven...and they will see the Son...coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory,' and 'Watch...for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.' Anyone who would fail to take these passages at face value must surely be a liberal, one who denys the inspiration of Scripture." I'm not saying that you, John, would necessarily say all that, but surely many who hold the same basic views would.
I must now sidetrack a little and ask you to go with me to Hebrews 9:26 which speaks of Christ's priestly act of sacrificing himself, "but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." Do you notice the phrase "end of the ages"? Is this referring to the second coming? Most assuredly not, as Christ's death took place in the first century. Please note that "the end" is not a future event but rather a past one. Could it be that "end of the age (or ages)" is not inherently synonymous with the second coming? Try to review in your mind all the places where "end" occurs and where we traditionally have assumed that it meant "end of the church age". How many of those passages actually say "second coming" or words CLEARLY to that effect. (Please be very careful when you say "words to that effect". Does a pure exegesis support the idea of "second"?) I now believe that the vast majority of cases refer, not to the end of the church age, but rather to the end of the Jewish age (and the beginning of the Christian era). Not only does this concept of "end" fit well with Hebrews 9:26, but also in Matthew 24, Luke 21, and elsewhere. The disciples were not asking about two or three different subjects in Mat. 24:3 or Luke 21:7. They were responding directly to Jesus' affirmation that the temple, that glorious building that was the center of Jewish worship, would be utterly destroyed. This was an incredible thing to them. Of course they would want to know when and how it would happen. Jesus told them that they could not know exactly when it would happen, but that they COULD know the precise circumstances. And further more, he FIRMLY assured them that their generation would not pass away before this Great Tribulation would occur. He even told them what specific event to look for as a signal to FLEE from the city, yea, even from the entire area. What would be the purpose of such a terrible time? In the previous chapter of Matthew, Jesus said, "Truly...all these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem...who kills the prophets...How often I wanted to gather your children together...you were unwilling. Behold, YOUR HOUSE IS BEING LEFT TO YOU DESOLATE!" All through the gospels AND the epistles, a theme is national Israel's rejection of Messiah, and the coming judgment upon her. John, once I read Josephus' incredible account of the great holocaust of the Jews in 70 A.D., I could see the direct fulfillment of everything Jesus said would happen. I can't emphasize to you enough how absolutely fantastic and horrible were the events of those several years surrounding the 70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem! Truly, it was a "great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no nor ever shall be." Mat. 24:21. But to Jesus and the disciples, this "end of Israel" was still a good 40 years or so away. Today we look upon the destruction of Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple, as something of the past. But please consider that to Jesus, the disciples, AND (!!!!) the writers of the rest of the New Testament, these events were still future! Yes, I said the rest of the New Testament. All of the books were written before that great event took place. The Great Tribulation of 70 A.D. was still future to Paul when he wrote all his epistles (including I Thessalonians, our current study). Even the Revelation has convincing external and very convincing internal evidence that it too was written before the "end". So what should we think when we see Paul constantly referring to the coming wrath? Don't all the liberals (and even some evangelicals) think that the apostles were mistakenly looking forward to the second coming IN THEIR OWN LIFETIME? They WERE looking forward to a soon great tribulation, but NOT the second coming. And they were NOT mistaken; it WAS indeed "this generation" just as Jesus as promised and warned. Do you remember the phrase "these last days" that occurs in Acts and elsewhere? It's referring, not to a future kingdom with an as-yet-unrevealed parenthetical church age before it, but rather to the last days of Israel which overlapped with the first days of Christ's present Kingdom. (Lest you react when I say "present Kingdom", see Col. 1:13, "He has...translated us into the kingdom of the Son...")
You might say, "But what about Jesus statement that the good news of His kingship would be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end would come? You're saying that the "end" occurred in 70 A.D. How can you possibly believe that world evangelization had already occurred by then?" You want proof? A few years before the holocaust, Paul wrote to the Colossians of "the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing" Col. 1:5-6. He exhorted them not to depart "from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven" Col. 1:23. To the church at Rome, Paul announced that "your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world" Rom. 1:8. The voice of gospel preachers "has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world" Rom. 10:18. This crucial sign of "the end" was fulfilled, just as Jesus had said.
I could also imagine you or someone else saying, "What about seeing Christ coming on the clouds of heaven? What about the sun and moon darkening, the stars falling from heaven, etc.? Surely those things can't have happened yet!" I would like to respond to that by quoting a few thoughts from the book I mentioned:
Jesus seems to be saying that the Second Coming will occur immediately after the Tribulation. Did the Second Coming occur in A.D. 70? Have we missed it? First, let us be clear about one thing at the outset: there is just no getting around that word immediately. It means immediately. Acknowledging that the tribulation took place during the then-living generation, we must also face the clear teaching of Scripture that whatever Jesus is talking about in these verses happened immediately afterward. In other words, these verses describe what is to take place at the end of the Tribulation - what forms its climax.
In order to understand the meaning of Jesus' expressions in this passage, we need to understand the Old Testament much more than most people do today. Jesus was speaking to an audience that was intimately familiar with the most obscure details of Old Testament literature. They had heard the Old Testament read and expounded countless times throughout their lives, and had memorized lengthy passages. Biblical imagery and forms of expression had formed their culture, environment, and vocabulary from earliest infancy, and this had been true for generations. The difference between their outlook and ours can be illustrated by the fact that while much of the present book's discussion of the Paradise theme was probably very new to you, it would have been old hat for the disciples.
The fact is that when Jesus spoke to His disciples about the fall of Jerusalem, He used prophetic vocabulary. There was a "language" of prophecy, instantly recognizable to those familiar with the Old Testament (some of which we have covered already in our study of the Garden). As Jesus foretold the complete end of the Old Covenant system - which was, in a sense, the end of a whole world - He spoke of it as any of the prophets would have, in the stirring language of covenantal judgment. We will consider each element in the prophecy, seeing how its previous use in the Old Testament prophets determined its meaning in the context of Jesus' discourse on the fall of Jerusalem. Remember that our ultimate standard of truth is the Bible, and the Bible alone.
In the ensuing pages, the author considers the following items: The Sun, Moon, and Stars; The Sign of the Son of Man; The Clouds of Heaven; and The Gathering of the Elect. He convincingly demonstrates that both Old and New Testament writers were talking about events that took place in the first century.
So now, John, why would I have spent so much space to talk about the "end times" being in the past rather than the future? What practical consequences are there of it? Well, for one, if we are reading passages that urge readers to prepare for a particular future event that has already long since happened, but we still erroneously think that it is in our future, then we may be behaving wrongly. But more importantly, think about this: If many of those "kingdom" passages that have been taught to us as referring only to a future era, are indeed talking about Christ's present reign over all; if Israel's judgment and casting aside mean that the promises made to Israel now apply to Gentiles (Rom 11:11); if indeed God intends to convert the world through the church's evangelization (Mat. 28:19); then we have some serious attitude shifting to do. You see, John, according to our present-day popular eschatology, we have pre-mil, pre-trib thinking that says that the church will fail in its task to evangelize the world (Don Richardson not withstanding). Yes, the church will grossly fail resulting in the antichrist taking over with the vast majority of the world's population adoring him. Satan and his forces will prevail in history, overcoming the Church and virtually wiping it out, until Christ returns at the last moment, like the cavalry in those old westerns, to rescue the ragged little band of survivors. This view is indeed pessimistic; it tells us that we, basicly, are losers. With the mindset that we will fail to win the world, how can we possibly be obedient to Christ's commands to win the world through His power? Does Christ really expect us to plan to fail to carry out his command to win the world? Does he even expect us to try, but ultimately fail? Most assuredly not! Please look with me at Mat. 16:18 where He said, "on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." I think that the impression that most of us have is that the Church has been and always will be a small minority on earth, but although it is small, it will never be destroyed by the onslaughts of the enemy. Yes, it is true that Satan cannot completely destroy the church. But we've missed the whole point of the passage! (Get ready for this, John.) Since when do the gates of a city do the attacking?? The gates are for defense. The church is the one doing the attacking! And Jesus is giving us firm encouragement that the gates of Hell will NOT succeed in their defense against the church's attack! The church, through obedience to all of God's commandments, and empowered by His Holy Spirit, will win the earth back from Satan (who won it at the fall). I know that you like Charles Spurgeon a lot. Listen to what he said about the church's victory. "It would be easy to show that at our present rate of progress the kingdoms of this world never could become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Indeed, many in the Church are giving up the idea of it except on the occasion of the advent of Christ, which, as it chimes in with our own idleness, is likely to be a popular doctrine. I myself believe that King Jesus will reign, and the idols be utterly abolished; but I expect the same power which turned the world upside down once will still continue to do it. The Holy Ghost would never suffer the imputation to rest upon His Holy name that He was not able to convert the world."
You mentioned at church one time, John, of your feeling of helplessness when confronted with the reality of billions of people not yet reached. You said, "How in the world am I supposed to reach five billion people?" Your wife gave a very wise response; "One person at a time." Yes, at times it will be very slow, but God promises that if His people are obedient, He will bless their efforts. Since seeing life from this "new" perspective, I have been increasingly thrilled at the tons of meaning that have jumped out at me from many Scriptures that were somewhat cryptic before. Look at Psalm 47 (which I've committed to memory); "O clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with the voice of triumph (no pessimism here), for the Lord most High is awesome, He is a great King over all the earth! (Yes God the Father has always reigned over the earth, but at Christ's first advent, the Father gave authority of the kingdom to the Son. In any case, God reigns!) He WILL subdue the peoples under us, and the nations UNDER our feet. (Not generally by the sword as with the Canaanites, but through discipling the nations.) He WILL choose our inheritance for us, the excellence of Jacob (a term used throughout Scripture to refer to God's people) whom he loves. (God will cause us, His people to inherit the earth as we are obedient to His Great Commission in Genesis to take dominion over the earth in His name.) God has gone up with a shout! The Lord, with the sound of a trumpet! (God's trumpet always signifies victory for His people.) Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth! Sing praises with understanding. (Yes, understand that God reigns, God controls, God fulfills all his purposes, including Mat. 28.) God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the people have gathered together, the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is greatly exalted!" God is the King, He is the Victor, He promises us, His people, dominion over the earth, if we will be obedient and take it.
But what about those times that the slowness of the kingdom's advancement seems so very sloooooow? I am greatly encouraged by a couple of parables that have come to life for me! Luke 13:18-21, "Then He said, What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches. And again, He said, To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." Both parables speak of a significant period of time for the Kingdom to saturate the earth. It had very small beginnings and is very gradual, but ultimately is thorough and potent! The tree does eventually become huge and spread all over, and the yeast does eventually infect and transform the entire loaf! What an encouraging promise! What an edifying thing to meditate on when going through discouragement in ministry or times of defeat! How uplifting when we find ourselves a small minority surrounded by a wicked majority! We will eventually be the majority! Hallelujah!
Let me close these thoughts by quoting at length, the closing paragraphs of the book I mentioned.
...There is no reason not to expect victory; if we are faithful to God's Word, there is every reason to assume that the powers of darkness will be shattered by our advance. The gates of hell must and shall fall before the aggressive, militant Church (Matt. 16:18).
It is a mark of our unbelief that we put our trust in men and princes rather than in the Spirit of God. Which is more powerful - human depravity or God's sovereignty? Can God convert the world? Of course! More than that, He has promised that He will convert the world! He has told us that "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:9). How much do the waters cover the sea? Is there any part of the sea that is not covered by water? That is just the point: someday, people everywhere will know the Lord. All nations will serve Him.
The salvation of the world was the reason why Jesus came, as He Himself told Nicodemus: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him" (John 3:16-17).
That the world should be saved! Here is one of the most oft-quoted passages of all the Bible, and so often we miss the point. Jesus Christ came to save the world - not just a sinner here, a sinner there. He wants us to disciple the nations - not just a few individuals. The Lord Jesus will not be satisfied in the success of His mission until the whole earth is singing His praises. On the basis of God's infallible promises, the Church must pray and work for the expansion of the Kingdom, with the expectation that God will fill His Church with "a great multitude, which no one can count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues" (Rev. 7:9).
We must stop acting as if we are forever destined to be a subculture. We are destined for dominion; we should straighten up and start acting like it. Our life and worship should reflect our expectation of dominion and our increasing capacity for responsibility. We should not see ourselves as lonely outposts surrounded by an increasingly hostile world; that is to bear false witness against God. The truth is just the opposite of that. It is the devil who is on the run, it is paganism which is doomed to extinction. Christianity is ultimately the dominant culture, predestined to be the final and universal religion. The Church will fill the earth.
The great St. Augustine understood this. Referring to those who saw themselves as the last remnant of a Church which was headed for inevitable decline, he laughed: "The clouds roll with thunder, that the House of the Lord shall be built throughout the earth: and these frogs sit in their marsh and croak - We are the only Christians!"
We are the shapers of world history. God has remade us in His image for world dominion; He has poured out upon us His Spirit, with "power from on high" (Luke 24:49); He has committed to us the gospel of the Kingdom, and commissioned us to take over the world. If we trust and obey Him, there is no possibility of failure.
Our goal is a Christian world, made up of explicitly Christian nations. How could a Christian desire anything else? Our Lord Himself taught us to pray: "Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). We pray that God's orders will be obeyed on earth, just as they are immediately obeyed by the angels and saints in heaven. The Lord's Prayer is a prayer for the worldwide dominion of God's Kingdom - not a centralized world government, but a world of decentralized theocratic republics.
Now by theocracy I do not mean a government ruled by priests and pastors. That is not what the word means at all. A theocracy is a government ruled by God, a government whose law code is solidly founded on the laws of the Bible. Civil rulers are required to be God's ministers, just as much as pastors are (Rom. 13:1-4). According to God's holy, infallible Word, the laws of the Bible are the best laws (Deut. 4:5-8). They cannot be improved upon.
The fact is that all law is "religious." All law is based on some ultimate standard of morality and ethics. Every law-system is founded on the ultimate value of that system, and that ultimate value is the god of that system. The source of law for a society is the god of that society. This means that a theocracy is inescapable. All societies are theocracies. The difference is that a society that is not explicitly Christian is a theocracy of a false god. Thus, when God instructed the Israelites about going into the land of Canaan, He warned them not to adopt the law system of the pagans: "I am the LORD your God. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the LORD your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if He does them; I am the LORD" (Lev. 18:2-5).
That is the only choice: pagan law or Christian law. God specifically forbids "pluralism." God is not the least bit interested in sharing world dominion with Satan. God wants us to honor Him individually, in our families, in our churches, in our businesses, in our cultural pursuits of every kind, and in our statutes and judgments. "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people" (Prov. 14:34). According to humanists, civilizations just "rise" and "fall," by some naturalistic, evolutionary mechanism. But the Bible says that the key to the history of civilizations is judgment. God evaluates our response to His commands, and He answers back with curse and blessing. If a nation obeys Him, He blesses and prospers it (Deut. 28:1-14); if a nation disobeys Him, He curses and destroys it (Deut. 28:15-68). The history of Israel stands as a warning to all nations: for if God did it to them, He will surely do the same to the rest of us (Jer. 25:29).
The eschatology of dominion is not some comfortable doctrine that the world is getting "better and better" in an abstract, automatic sense. Nor is it a doctrine of protection against national judgment and desolation. To the contrary, the eschatology of dominion is a guarantee of judgment. It teaches that world history is judgment, a series of judgments leading up to the Final Judgment. At every moment, God is watching over His world, assessing and evaluating our response to His Word. He shakes the nations back and forth in the sieve of history, sifting out the worthless chaff and blowing it away, until nothing is left but His pure wheat. The choice before any nation is not pluralism. The choice is obedience or destruction.
A Thousand Generations
To the Satanist, time is the great curse. As history progresses, the forces of evil sense that their time is running out (cf. Rev. 12:12). That is why Satan so often works by revolution: he must get his work done now, while he has opportunity. He cannot afford to wait, because time is working against him. He is doomed to defeat, and he knows it.
But the Christian does not have to be afraid of the passage of time, because time is on our side. History is working toward our objectives. Every day brings us closer to the realization of the knowledge of God covering the entire world. The nations will worship and obey the one true God, and will cease to make war; the earth will be changed, restored to Edenic conditions; and people will be blessed with long and happy lives - so long, in fact, that it will be unusual for someone to die at the young age of 100 (Isa. 65:20)!
Consider this promise in the law: "Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments" (Deut. 7:9). The god of the Covenant told His people that He would bless them to the thousandth generation of their descendants. That promise was made (in round figures) about 3,400 years ago. If we figure the Biblical generation at about 40 years, a thousand generations is forty thousand years. We've got 36,000 years to go before this promise is fulfilled!
Some might accuse me of falling into an inconsistent "literalism" at this point, taking thousand literally in Deuteronomy but not in Revelation. Not so. I will grant that when God uses the term thousand, he is speaking of vastness rather than a specific number. Having admitted that, however, let's look closer at the way this term is used in symbolism. When God said that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, He means a vast number of cattle on a vast number of hills - but there are more than 1,000 hills. The Bible promises that God's people will be kings and priests for a thousand years, meaning a vast number of years - but Christians have been kings and priests for more than 1,000 years (almost 2,000 years now). My point is this: the term thousand is often used symbolically in Scripture, to express vastness; but that vastness is, in reality, much more than the literal thousand.
God promises that He will bless His people for one thousand generations. By the analogy of Scripture, then, this means that a figure of forty thousand years is a bare minimum. This world has tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years of increasing godliness ahead of it, before the Second Coming of Christ.
I am not interested in setting dates. I am not going to try to figure out the date of the Second Coming. The Bible does not reveal it, and it is none of our business. What the Bible does reveal is our responsibility to work for God's Kingdom, our duty to bring ourselves, our families, and all our spheres of influence under the dominion of Jesus Christ. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29). God has not told us when the Second Coming will occur. But He has told us that there is a lot of work to be done, and He expects us to get to it.
What would you say if you hired a worker, gave him detailed instructions, and all he did was to sit around wondering when the quitting bell will ring? Would you regard him as a faithful worker? Does God regard you as a faithful worker for His Kingdom? I repeat: the purpose of prophecy is ethical. It is God's assurance that history is under His control, that He is working out His eternal purposes in every event, and that His original plan for His creation will be fulfilled. He has placed us into the great war for world history, with the absolute guarantee that we will win. Even if He has to make the whole universe stand still for us (Josh. 10:12-13), the day will last long enough for us to achieve victory. Time is on our side. The Kingdom has come, and the world has begun again.
Now: Get to work.
Whew! What a typewriter full. I have just a few more topics to touch on, but I will push that to a future and shorter letter. Although I started this letter to you on Sunday afternoon, it is now early Friday morning and I need to go to bed. If you have read this far in only one or a few sittings, then you are probably tired, too. Have you suspected that I've had some of these things storing up in me for some time? Well, you're right! The connection between Matt. 24 and Heb. 9 was something that I observed in the Bible as a result of your message the very first Sunday I visited the church with Jeff. That and the other things also have been brewing somewhat since then.
By the way, I must tell you before I forget that I have definitely noticed an increased emphasis in your ministry on the wisdom of God's Law, and I deeply appreciate it.
By the way again, you told me that the blue paperback on dispensationalism by those two former Dallas graduates was a book that you definitely wanted to read. Have you yet read that chapter in it entitled "Theological tendencies"? Hope you get to it soon. I feel rather sure it will stun you.
God bless you richly, brother. See you Sunday.
Love in Him,