Week 52, December 26-30
Zephaniah prophecied during the reign of King Josiah, which would be after Assyria sacked Israel but before Babylon sacked Judah. It’s difficult to find a more stern warning than Zephaniah’s. We immediately read of God telling Judah that he will wipe everything off the face of the earth. The day of the Lord comes up again, which is the day of judgment. His point is that it is closer than we may think.
Beyond Judah, God will neither turn a blind eye to the wickedness of foreign nations, especially Judah’s enemies. This is a good reminder that the whole earth is God’s, not just Israel or Judah. But all is not lost. After God pours out his wrath and judgment, he will turn the hearts of men to himself. He will always have a remnant reserved for himself. The final verses of chapter 3 does seem to look forward to a time that is not yet, when God will restore this world and remove the curse.
Haggai writes during the restoration process of the temple when the Jews return from the Babylonian exile. He and Zechariah (the next prophetic book) were contemporaries. Haggai’s main goal is to inspire the people to stay focused on the task at hand. For the context of Haggai’s ministry, think back to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The Jews faced considerable opposition from the surrounding nations during their time spent rebuilding. Even as the people are still unclean and unholy, God will reverse this and do the work of making them clean and holy.
Zechariah is a longer book, but like Malachi, it was written relatively late in Old Testament history. Zechariah reminds us that salvation is open to all who call on the name of the Lord. Even before Paul, there was in a sense no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Of course the old covenant made it so those groups related to each other in different ways than under the new covenant, but the point is that God is found by those who seek him. Zechariah even prophecies about the messiah, Jesus Christ. For example, Jesus fulfilled Zechariah 9:9 when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey the week he was crucified. We are reminded again and again that God has always had one plan of salvation and it centers on Jesus Christ.
While the books of the Old Testament are not necessarily arranged according to date, Malachi is the newest book of the Old Testament. There are only about 400 years between the writing of Malachi and John the Baptist. Malachi does not have a novel message. He is calling the people back to right worship of God. The people have become lazy in their worship, and Malachi is calling them to wake up and remember who it is they are worshiping. The book ends with a clear prophecy about the return of Elijah, which both John and Jesus affirm was fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist.
After the plagues of the seven bowls, John receives a third vision. He now is shown the immoral city, Babylon, portrayed as a woman of ill-repute. Adultery is a common Old Testament image of idolatry. Babylon stands for all those nations who prostitute themselves for nothing but monetary gain. The woman is seated on many waters, which is how Jeremiah describes the city of Babylon (Jeremiah 51:13). He also describes Babylon as making the whole earth drunk with its sin (51:7). The whole world is now joining together to worship the beast and turn against God. The scarlet beast is described in the same way as Revelation 13. The woman is seated on many waters, showing her to have a lot of influence over the world. She is also seated on the beast, showing her intimate relationship with the antichrist. The woman promises peace and luxury, but it’s all a lie to draw men away from God.
John marvels because he sees a beautiful woman, but he has been told about judgment. What’s the connection? The angel goes on to explain what’s going on. The beast was (it existed), it is not (it will be cast aside for a time), and is about to rise (the final battle). Its followers will be amazed to see it come back. The seven hills and seven rulers are seven world powers and their heads. Some have argued that the seven hills is Rome (the city built on seven hills), but they are also aligned with seven kings, which seems to draw a separate conclusion. The sixth kingdom must be Rome, which was in power during John’s lifetime.
Judgment takes place in that Babylon finally falls in chapter 18. The only things who reside in the city are demons and beasts. A voice calls for all who are in Christ to flee the city. Every power throughout the world who aligned themselves with Babylon will mourn Babylon’s fall. But the woman, the city, tells herself everything is okay. But the plagues are a sure thing. Every item John lists that no one is now buying is an item of luxury. This is how Babylon has lured in the nations. If you can get people to think primarily in terms of comfort, you can get by with just about anything.
Once we get to Revelation 19, we cannot avoid discussing the issue of the millennium. At the beginning of the millennium, there is a resurrection of the just. These resurrected saints will never taste death again. We will receive new bodies without the effects of a fallen nature.
I hold to the view called “historic premillennialism”. What follows is an outline of why I believe this view is the most faithful to a historical-grammatical-typological reading of Scripture.
Beginning in Revelation 12, we are introduced to the unholy trinity: the beast, the false prophet, and the dragon. In Revelation 19:11, Jesus returns (Faithful and True, v.11; The Word of God, v.13) riding on a white horse. He pours out the wrath of God on the unregenerate. The beast and the false prophet are thrown into the lack of fire. Chapter 20 is an unfortunate chapter break, because the dragon is chained and thrown into the pit, a different place than the lake of fire. The lake of fire seems to be final, whereas the pit is a temporary holding cell. But this finishes the capture of the unholy trinity.
The destruction of the beast and false prophet (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2) and the thousand years of the dragon’s imprisonment is concurrent with the thousand years of Christ’s earthly reign. It seems best to me to understand Satan as inactive and unable to affect the world during the millennium. When Paul calls Satan the god of this world in 2 Corinthians 4, you do not get the impression that Satan is bound and inactive today.
After that thousand years, the dragon is released, deceives the nations again, but the dragon and his army is consumed by fire from heaven. The dragon is now banished to the lake of fire, where the beast and false prophet are already. It all reads like a sequence of events, of cause and effect. Christ’s return prompts the capture of the unholy trinity, which prompts the thousand years of Christ’s earthly reign, which ends with the release of Satan for his final destruction.
Historic premillennialism also reads Old Testament prophecy as being fulfilled in Israel until the apostles say that it was fulfilled in Christ. It does not make arbitrary distinctions between a literal fulfillment and a spiritual fulfillment that dispensational premillennialism does. Prophecy is fulfilled the way Scriptures says it is. IE, when Paul calls the church the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) and says that it is only in Christ that all of God’s promises are fulfilled (receive their yes and amen [2 Corinthians 1:20]), and Christ says that he fulfills the law the prophets (Matthew 5:17), we read the Bible through the history of redemption, seeing that God has had a plan to fulfill in Christ since the beginning.
But it also reads Romans 9-11 at face value and understands that there will be a great salvation of believing Israel at the end of the age (11:25-36), when all the appointed number of gentiles have been grafted in (11:11-24). The calling of Israel came before the law; it came to Abraham. This is the promise that God will not forget at the end of this age—Abraham will inherit the whole world (Romans 4:13). He will inherit this world, which makes sense of the millennial, earthly reign of Abraham’s true seed.
Historic premillennialism also stands with the other millennial positions (but against dispensational premillennialism) and sees no reason to think the Jews will rebuild the temple. Hebrews 10 is so emphatic that Jesus was the final sacrifice that to reinstate the sacrificial system would be disobedient to that passage. When the author of Hebrews says that the sacrifices were connected to the law of the old covenant, he writes, “He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (vv.9b-10). “Where there is forgiveness of these (sins), there is no longer any offering for sin” (v.18). “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (vv.26-27). The truth is that there is no more sacrifice for sin because Christ has accomplished all that was necessary to fulfill the old and instate the new. To argue for a reinstated sacrificial system is to misunderstand the purpose of the sacrificial system. It was tied to national Israel. In addition to this, we must read "Israel" in the sense that the apostles did, which usually refers to the church. But the whole relationship of Israel and the church is a topic best undergone in its own discussion.
After all the plagues, God now stands in judgment over individuals. Many books contain the name of the dead. One more book is opened, and it is called the book of life. This book contains the names of those who did not take the mark of the beast but the mark of God. Those who took the mark of the beast will follow the beast into the lake of fire.
But that is not the final word. The consummation of the world is God living among men. A new city, a new Jerusalem, descends from heaven. God’s holy city, where he dwells, is no longer beyond our reach but is on our street. No more sin means no more sadness.
The new city is described in a very particular way. It sits on top of a mountain, just like the original Jerusalem. It has twelve foundations and twelve gates. The foundations are named for the twelve apostles. The twelve gates are named for the tribes of Israel. God’s people are one. The city is enormous. Perhaps the most amazing part is that Christ is the temple. God gives the light, so there is no need for sun, moon, or stars. The gates never shut. The whole earth is the Lord’s. From the center of the city, from the throne of God, flows a river. The tree of life, from which we were forbidden to eat, is now for our healing. We will still bear the mark of God on our foreheads. We will finally see God face-to-face.
Christ promises his return is not far off. What that means in years is uncertain. But as we have seen throughout the entire book, nothing is left to chance. It will all happen in his good time. When he does return, we can know that the end will be swift, and we will be guarded for the new age. Come, Lord Jesus!
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