Monday, July 31, 2006

The Trouble with Postmill

So far, I've not said much about my prophetic interpretations on this blog, in part because of my impending debate with Don Preston--I didn't want to be perceived as having the debate before the debate. However, since he's actually requested that I post some of my understanding of eschatology on my blog, I'm happy to do so.

Just because it came up on an FR thread, I figure that I'll start by expounding on the major error of postmillennialism.

Postmill has been described as an "optimistic amillennialism." It agrees with the basic premise of amill that we are currently within the millennium, which is not to be understood as a literal 1000 year period of time, and is usually preterist--that is, believes that the Olivet Discourse, the Revelation, and the related prophecies all had their sole and final fulfillments in the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. I'll come back at a later date and explain why preterists aren't entirely wrong--they're just incomplete in their understanding.

For today, I'd like to touch on the "optimism" of postmill. One of the frequent arguments that postmill's adherants will throw at us premill types is that we deny the power of God to redeem the world, since we believe in the final victory of evil over good before Yeshua returns to set things right. For example, one poster on FR complained, "Premillennial eschatology tells us that those believers won't accomplish jack in the way of impacting, let alone redeeming, the culture around them."

Actually, it's history that tells us that, not eschatology.

There has never been such a thing as a permanently redeemed culture. Whenever Christianity (and Israel before it) has had one of those truly great and Godly generations, it has been because they came out of a period of darkness and testing which purified them, as fire purifies gold.

Because that generation walks with the Lord, the Lord blesses them, resulting in great material wealth. However, as the first generation that went through the time of testing passes, they are succeeded by a generation to whom church is just something you do . . . just because. They become Laodicean.

Then follows the cynical and rebelleous generation, to whom, "Don't ask questions, just have faith," the mantra of the "just because" generation, is sheer foolishness. The culture changes from Christian to post-Christian, and then to anti-Christian. In doing so, it looses its blessings. It also becomes decadent and dependant--which leads it back into darkness and bondage.

John Adams understood this cycle. He said, "Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate for the governance of any other." We're finding that to be true in our own generation.

This is a cycle which no democracy has ever managed to escape. What, then, about a monarchy or dictatorship? The problem they run into is the need to enforce "Christian" standards by increasingly draconian laws. Conscienceless men can be ruled by fear, and in some cultures by honor and shame, but they cannot be ruled with a light hand. Bondage is still bondage, even if the mortal king proclaims himself a Christian.

These periods of darkness and bondage are actually important to the overall spiritual health of the Church. Indeed, I believe that Christian political rulership does not so much "redeem" as it does create more tares among the wheat. When the Church is in political power, those who are attracted to political power rather than the Messiah are attracted to the Church. Only when it is unpopular to be a Christian, when we are persecuted and downtrodden, when there is a real cost to be counted for living a holy life set apart for Yeshua do the tares flee the sanctuary and the wheat grow to fruition. And only when the Church is full of wheat bearing the fruits of repentence do we have the impact on our culture for the bondage to be broken and the cycle to begin anew.

There's an old story, probably apocryphal, which illustrates this point: Back in the Soviet days, a small home church in Russia was suddenly invaded by gun-wielding men. "We are the KGB," they said. "Anyone who doesn't want to die for their faith, get out now!" Maybe 2/3rds of those there sheepishly duck out. After they're gone, the KGB men sit and say, "Now that we know who the real Christians are, we want to learn about God."

I believe that the End Times scenario of persecution is not truly a victory for the Adversary, however much carnal eyes might see it to be so; rather, it is the last purification of the whole Body of the Messiah, the separation and bundling up of the tares from the wheat, "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Yeshua HaMashiach" (1 Pt. 1:7).

The flaw with postmill is that it refuses to acknowledge this cycle, a cycle which has been and will be in motion for as long as flawed human governments rule the world system. Premill supposes that somehow, we can create a visible Kingdom of Heaven on the earth--and if that's not working, if we find ourselves on the downslide part of the cycle, well that must be because of those darn Dispensationalists with their defeatist attitudes! Premill, in contrast, recognizes the cycle of history, and it recognizes that only when the Messiah King Yeshua sits on David's throne in Jerusalem and rules bodily over the whole earth "with a rod of iron" will that cycle be broken--and even then, there will be one last grating turn of the rusty wheel at the end of the Millennium before all is made new.

Premill is not defeatist because it recognizes the truth of history, or because it recognizes the truth of Scripture, that the whole world will go into a brief period of bondage brought on by spiritual darkness before the Lord Comes. It is simply realistic and Biblical.

There will be true shalom only when the Shar Shalom, the Prince of Peace, sits on David's throne.


Monday, July 17, 2006

When God Closes a Door

Yeah, yeah, He opens a window. We all know the saying. The problem is that it makes God's actions sound amazingly trite and arbitrary, doesn't it?

Right now, Beth HaMashiach is facing a closed door. For the last couple of years, we've rented space from Eastgate Fellowship, who extended the right hand of fellowship to us. Unfortunately, Eastgate has disbanded following the loss of several prominent members and the retirement of her pastor, and is selling the property. We had hoped that the new congregation, whoever they were, would be amenable to us continuing to rent. Without going into details, they are not.

Sometimes its hard not to be angry or bitter. On an intellectual level, you know that you're just renting, but you still start to feel like a place is your home, and it feels like someone is trying to steal it from you.

But God is gracious. Attempts to find another church to rent from fell through, but we've found a storefront for rent just up the road from where we were. The location is prominent, visible from a major highway. The square footage of the storefront is just about perfect for our needs. It's a chance to have our own space to set up the way we want it--the teens are already drooling over the chance to decorate their room just the way they want it (within reason, of course). We can make this a true Messianic synagogue--we've even got the sanctuary oriented towards Jerusalem. Not renting from a Sunday church both opens up the possiblity of having more services and also removes a barrier to our Jewish brothers and sisters in checking us out, since many are wary of entering a church.

There are, of course, a lot of expenses involved, but our Father is providing the funds, as He has promised: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (your needs) will be added unto you . . ." There are going to be sacrifices in both time and money for everyone, but since when has anything worthwhile not required sacrifice?

When David found himself on the run from Saul, he was devastated--just read a few of the Psalms he wrote. His life seemed to be over. He was even reduced to acting like a madman so that the Philistines wouldn't kill him. But because he was on the run, and because the only skill he had to sell was his skill with the sword, he learned the art of war. When soldiers who were unwilling to live any longer under Saul's rule came to him with their families, he learned to lead a people. Had he not been forced from his comfortable life as a shepherd, or from his equally comfortable position as the court harpist, he would never have learned the skills he needed to be the king that Israel needed him to be.

Or take Daniel. He was kidnapped from Jerusalem as a teen or young man, made a eunich in the service of Babylon (which, by the way, precluded him ever being able to worship in the Temple again), and forced to learn the pagan rites of his new masters. But if he had not been, then he would not have risen to his high position in Babylon and the Medo-Persian empires so as to be able to see to the needs of his people, and its quite likely that Cyrus would not have let the Jews go at their appointed time (Josephus records that it was Daniel who presented Cyrus with the scroll of Isaiah which contained the command from God to let His people return to Jerusalem).

Yeshua Himself knew about closed doors. He moved to Galilee after He was rejected by His hometown of Nazareth. Ultimately, the rejection by His people opened the way for Him to be made a sacrifice on their behalf. That same closed door opened the way for the Gospel to go to the Gentiles.

It's hard to face a closed door, especially when God doesn't immediately show us the open one. Sometimes we simply have to wait and trust in His promises--and it is in those hours of exile that we learn the most about true faith.


Thursday, July 13, 2006


This blog normally isn't devoted to politics, but the situation in Israel is such that it needs to be commented on.

A quick summary from JWR (an an excellent analysis of the larger conflict ahead):
The next Middle East war — Israel against genocidal Islamism — has begun. The first stage of the war started two weeks ago, with the Israeli incursion into Gaza in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and the ongoing shelling of Israeli towns and kibbutzim; now, with Hezbollah's latest attack, the war has spread to southern Lebanon. Ultimately, though, Israel's antagonists won't be Hamas and Hezbollah but their patrons, Iran and Syria. The war will go on for months, perhaps several years. There may be lulls in the fighting, perhaps even temporary agreements and prisoner exchanges. But those periods of calm will be mere respites.
Other good analyses can be found here and here. The latter page points out the real reason Iran is jumping into the fray:
For the last few weeks, Iran has been constantly delaying its response to the ultimatum presented to it by 5+1 (the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany) regarding its nuclear program, since it has no intention of accepting the international community's terms and of suspending its uranium enrichment activities. Iran was required to respond to the ultimatum by July 12 (before the G8 summit in Saint Petersburg). As of July 13, 2006, since Iran failed to respond, the international community has decided to refer the Iranian case back to the U.N. Security Council. So far, the international community has not yielded to Iran's attempts to evade the ultimatum, and has denied Iran's request to postpone the deadline to August 22, 2006. . .

It is possible that the escalation on Israel's borders, set off by elements supported by Iran - Hamas, Hizbullah and Syria - is meant to take the pressure off Iran by triggering a major military clash in the Middle East, which will divert international attention from Iran's nuclear program.
Iran's involvement would seem to explain why Saudi Arabia has issued a rather tepid response in which it surprisingly seems to blame the "uncalculated adventures" of Israel's enemies.

Most of the analyses of the situation are regarding this escalation of conflict as more than just business as usual in the Middle-east; which is to say, this is not just another brief spat which will wear itself down to another cease-fire in a few days. We'll have to wait and see.

But even if this does break out into a larger war in the Middle-east, we should be neither surprised nor dismayed. Our Father told us right up front that Israel would be the center of the world's conflicts:
Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it. (Zec. 12:2-3)
One thing I would caution my prophetically-minded brethren is against calling this conflict a fulfillment of prophecy or a sign that we are in the End Times. Certainly we are, and we are nearer to the Lord's return than we were in 1948, 1967, and 1973, but none of those conflicts brought us into Daniel's Seventieth Week, so it's premature to say that this one will.

Instead, we need to watch eagerly for Yeshua's Second Coming, but occupy until He comes. Speculation is fine and fun, but we've got too much to do in too short a time to let it distract us.

Shalom, and pray for the shalom of Jerusalem.

The National Council of (Apostate) Churches Has Lost Their Collective Mind

I saw this one yesterday and forgot to post it:
National Council of Churches Pres.: Jesus Never said Anything About Homosexuality or Abortion

By Gudrun Schultz

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 12, 2006 ( – Forget about traditional morality—Christianity should focus on eradicating poverty, protecting the environment and ending the war in Iraq, according to the general secretary of the National Council of Churches, Dr. Bob Edgar.

“Jesus never said one word about homosexuality, never said one word about civil marriage or abortion,” said Dr. Edgar to CBS News at a recent gathering of liberal Christian leaders in Washington. . .
Pardon me, I need to go find a place to scream in incoherant rage for a few minutes.

Ah, that's better.

You know, my brothers and sisters in the Lord and I can (and quite often do) disagree honestly on questions of how certain aspects of Torah-observance carry over into New Covenant practice--not to mention on questions of eschatology, ecclesiology, predestination vs. freewill, covenental relationships, etc.--but we all agree on the Bible as God's written Word, in which is full expressed God's will, just as Yeshua, the Living Word, is He in whom "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9).

What's truly frightening is how many are either so ignorant or so corrupt and willfully blind that they can't figure out what Yeshua's teachings on homosexuality and abortion are. To wit:
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. --Mat. 5:18
(Well, that pretty much covers whether the commandments on sexual deviancy and sacrificing children to Molech [or Convenience] still stand.)

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. --vv. 27-28
(So is someone going to try to claim that one's not allowed to lust after the opposite sex, but lusting after one's own sex is perfectly okay? "So let homosexuals marry," someone might argue. Ah, but there's a problem with that . . . )

And He answered and said unto them, "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?'" --Mat. 19:4-5
(What, you mean that Yeshua defined marriage to exclude men marrying men or women marrying women? How politically incorrect!)
And on the subject of abortion, one could point out that the Master upheld (and even expanded) the commandment against murder, that He forbade anyone from prohibiting the children from being brought to Him, and pronounced a curse against any who would cause "a little one" to stumble (fall into sin; Mat. 18), let alone scrape them out of the womb like a cancer! One could also point out that He agreed with the presumption of the Sadducees that it was one's moral duty to bring children into the world (Mat. 22:24).

The icing on the cake was this little gem from the article:
The gathering was the latest effort by the “religious left” to gain back some of the political power the group enjoyed during the 60’s and early 70’s.
Good luck, pal. Haven't you noticed yet that you're hemmorhaging membership? As Dave Shiflett, quoted in, notes:
Americans are vacating progressive pews and flocking to churches that offer more traditional versions of Christianity . . . Most people go to church to get something they cannot get elsewhere. This consuming public—people who already believe, or who are attempting to believe, who want their children to believe—go to church to learn about the mysterious Truth on which the Christian religion is built. They want the Good News, not the minister's political views or intellectual coaching. The latter creates sprawling vacancies in the pews. Indeed, those empty pews can be considered the earthly reward for abandoning heaven, traditionally understood.
Sometimes, I almost have hope for American Christianity.


The Gospel According to the Inner Circle, Pt. 2: The Light of God

Yochanan uses another term in his first chapter to describe Yeshua: He calls Him “the Light,” and says that He “lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (v. 9). The same phrase is used throughout the Talmud and Rabbinical literature to mean literally “every single person.” For example, in the rhetorical question, “Doth not the sun rise upon all that come into the world?” But if Yeshua truly lights every single person on earth, why then do so many reject Him?

The answer is not in the insufficiency of His Light, but the wickedness in the heart of Man. Fast-forward to John 3:19-21 for a moment:
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Have you ever noticed that you can present Yeshua with the greatest of humility and love, and many people will still get angry, cut off conversation, stalk off, or even call names. (“Intolerant” is the catchphrase of choice of the political left.) Of course, sometimes we goof and come across as judgmental know-it-alls, so we have to continually recheck ourselves in the Light of God’s Word (Psa. 119:105)—but even when that’s not the case, even when we do everything right and in the Spirit, anger and rejection is often the result of our witness. Not because we necessarily did anything wrong, but because they are fleeing God’s Light.

I have a good friend who is a staunch agnostic (and doesn’t that seem like a contradiction in terms?). He’s very intelligent, and one of the most generous people I know. He’s been supportive and even spent a couple of years in a Bible study I was doing, but he’s been very careful to avoid coming to any conclusions that might cause him to have to change his life.

One day, out of the blue (and I mean literally out of the blue—there was absolutely no lead-up to this), he snapped at me, “And if you tell me that I’m going to hell, then that’s the end of our friendship! It’s over!”

“Have I ever said that to you?” I asked. “Have you ever known me to take that approach?” He admitted that I had not. “So where did that come from?” I asked. He didn’t have an answer. I believe that the source of his outburst was ultimately spiritual, not emotional or intellectual—that is to say, the Spirit was convicting him of sin, and righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8), and he was reacting to that, not to anything I’d said to him. He was running from the Light, from Yeshua HaMashiach.

I pray that someday he stops running, and finds the true rest for his soul.

Yeshua is God’s Word, both the perfect expression of His Being and the means by which He created and interacts with His universe, and this Word is both with God and is God from eternity. He is also God’s Light, showing the true hearts of men, whether they love righteousness or evil. And He is our Savior, our Priest, our Prophet, and our King forevermore.

Amen, and Shalom.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Gospel According to the Inner Circle: TOC

No, not some Gnostic secret. In this series, we'll look at the life of Yeshua through the lense of the two Apostles closest to Him: Yochanan, the Beloved Apostle, and Kefa, as recorded by Mark. Based on my lecture notes for both my prison ministry and Beth HaMashiach's youth group (yes, I really do hit the advanced stuff with the kids).

John 1:1 - The Word of God
John 1:9 - The Light of God

Selected Bibliography

Since I intend to cite my sources a lot more often when writing these articles, a permanent place to post them so that I only need to cite the author's name (or perhaps a keyword if I use more than one book by the same author) seems appropriate. I won't try to cite all my sources at once, but will add to this entry as time goes on:


Lightfoot, John, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, in four volumes (Hendrickson, 2003, 4th printing)


The Gospel According to the Inner Circle, Pt. 1: The Word of God

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
--John 1:1

Thus begins the fourth Gospel account, harkening our attention back to Genesis 1:1--"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." The first word of Genesis, which provides the Hebrew title of the book, is B'reshit, "In the beginning." The same word would have been used by Yochanan to start his Gospel account in Hebrew. (Yes, it was written in Greek--but the Apostle would have thought in Hebrew, so let's endeavor to follow his thoughts.) If he had followed Hebrew conventions in naming a book or chapter for the first significant word to appear in it, he probably would have named this book B'reshit Beit, Genesis II, the book of second beginnings.

The word logos is used in the Septuatgint (the LXX hereafter) to translate the Hebrew word, d'var. The d'var is more than just the sound the lips make. Words, in Hebrew thought, both have power and are the full expression of a person's being, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Mat. 12:34). Therefore, Yeshua, the D'var of God, is far more than just a messenger or a created being; He is the one "in [Whom] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9).

Moreover, in Hebrew thought, words are not only a part of a person's inmost being being displayed before men, but words have power. As one reads the Tanakh, one is struck by the very real power of both blessings and curses. How much more then does God's Word have power? "So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isa. 55:11). Since d'var in Hebrew is a male noun, the above verse could also be rendered thusly:

So shall My Word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: He shall not return unto Me void, but He shall accomplish that which I please, and He shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent Him.
God's Word is His "action part," the means by which He interacts with His creation, just as our bodies enable us to interact with it. When God created the universe, how did He accomplish it? By His Word: "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light" (Gen. 1:3). Ten times in the first chapter of Genesis we read, "And God said . . ." Where Genesis 1:1 affirms, "God created the heaven and the earth," the Second Genesis says of the Word of God, "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:3).

This was not Yochanan's only source of inspiration. In the Targums, the translation of the Torah into Aramaic which were widely used in Yeshua's time (and which Yochanan, a native of Galilee, would have most likely been very familiar with), the equivalent word is memra. Lightfoot (3.238) points out that the expression, "The memra of the Lord" is found quite often in the Targums. For example, Exo. 19:17 reads, "And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with the memra of God . . ." (Also found in Job 42:9, Psa. 2:4 and 106:12, and Gen. 24:3 and 39:2.) He cautions that memra can also mean "I, Thou, He, and is frequently applied to men too." However, that doesn't prevent Yochanan from making a very rabbinical midrash from the use of memra to come to the conclusion that it was, for example, the preincarnate Yeshua whom Moshe brought Israel out to meet.

Moreover, as J.P. Holding points out, within Judaism there was an entire body of "wisdom literature," which presents God's Word, His Wisdom, in the terms that the Apostles used to describe the Messiah.

The prologue to John's gospel makes a precise identification of Christ with Wisdom, describing the Logos' Christological role (1:3), its role as the ground of human knowledge (1:9) and as the mediator of special revelation (1:14) -- the three roles of the pre-existent Logos/Wisdom. In calling Jesus God's Logos, John was affirming Jesus' eternality and ontological oneness with the Father by connecting him with the Wisdom tradition.

He adds (earlier in the same article):

"Judaism understood God's Word to have almost autonomous powers and substance once spoken; to be, in fact, 'a concrete reality, a veritable cause.'" (Richard N. Longenecker, The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity , 145.) But a word did not need to be uttered or written to be alive. A word was defined as "an articulate unit of thought, capable of intelligible utterance." (C. H. Dodd, Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, 263. It cannot therefore be argued that Christ attained existence as the Word only "after" he was "uttered" by God. Some of the second-century church apologists followed a similar line of thinking, supposing that Christ the Word was unrealized potential within the mind of the Father prior to Creation.) This agrees with Christ's identity as God's living Word, and points to Christ's functional subordination (just as our words and speech are subordinate to ourselves) and his ontological equality (just as our words represent our authority and our essential nature) with the Father. A subordination in roles is within acceptable Biblical and creedal parameters, but a subordination in position or essence (the "ontological" aspect) is a heretical view called subordinationism.

Gavri'el, Beth HaMashiach's head minister, has often used a similar expression in modeling the Trinity: The Father is God's Will, Yeshua is His Word, and the Ruach is the "Breath" which carries the Word forth. (See the "Fundamentals of Messianic Beliefs" series here.)

That Yeshua, the Word of God, was not only with God, but was God from the very beginning is not some New Testament contrivance. Rather, Yochanan's understanding of His diety was founded on numerous passages of the Tanakh like the following:

Isa. 7:14 - If Yeshua is not truly, "God With Us," in what sense was He ever called "Imanu'el"?

Isa. 9:6 - The Messiah is not only called "the Mighty God" (El Gibowr), but even "the Everlasting Father."

Mic. 5:2 - The Messiah's goings-forth are from "the days of eternity" (m'yomi olam), and it is God who "inhabits eternity" (Isa. 57:15).

Zec. 12:10 - Who destroys the nations in v. 9? God. Who pours out the Spirit in v. 10? God again. Who then is the one of whom it is said, "And they shall look on Me, whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son . . ." Unless there is a sudden change in the speaker (which is up to the skeptic to prove), it can only be God Himself who is pierced.

If one wants to know God, one has only to look to His Word, His Son, His Annointed One.


Upcoming Stuff

I've got some stuff on the burner for this blog; I'm just not ready to post it yet (I'm trying to get in the habit of completing multi-part articles before I start posting them). In the meantime, a quick teaser:

First, I'm working on a series explaining some of the key ways in which first-century Jewish (and to a certain extent, Greek) culture is different from ours today. This one is taking more time than I originally anticipated because I'm trying to source everything.

Secondly, I'm doing a series of studies on the Gospel according to Yochanan and Kefa. What, you say? There is no Gospel of Peter? Partly true; however, the Gospel account of Mark was written from Kefa's sermons (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1), so we can regard it as being, in effect, Kefa's Gospel account, ghost-written by Mark.

So why these two Gospel accounts? Why not Matthew or Luke? While I intend to dip into the latter two accounts for additional details, I've chosen John and Mark for two reasons: First, because they were based on the accounts of those closest to the Messiah Yeshua, and secondly, because Yochanan evidentially intentionally wrote his account to suppliment Mark.

I hope to have the Gospel series started this weekend; I've got the notes--I just need to flesh them out and make them readible text.