I’m sitting in a lecture right now about Daniel & Malachi, and the first part is an overview of the Dispensational view of the end of the world. The lecturer is Brian Irwin of Knox College/Toronto School of Thelogy. I’m intensely interested and thought I’d live “blog” it. As I take my notes…
2 very influential books that has shaped most evangelical Christians’ view of the apocalypse… 1) The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. And 2) Left Behind by Tim LaHaye (I read every book in this series back when I was 14-16 years old).
The theologies presented in this book have its origins in John Nelson Darby’s Dispensational Theology… Which, in North America, was promoted by C.I. Scofield, who produced an annotated Bible that promoted dispensational theology.
Dispensational theology essentially believes that the history of the world can be divided up by periods of dispensations… Eg. Dispensation of Innocence – Garden of Eden. Dispensation of Moses/Law. Dispensation of Grace/Church – current. Etc.
In terms of the Apocalypse, the Rapture is the start of the event. A secret return of Christ, when true Christians will be taken up to heaven (others are Left Behind, which is why LaHaye’s books are titled that way). This ushers a period of Tribulation in which peace in the Middle East will be brought about by the Anti Christ, who will eventually demand he be worshipped.
This tells dispensationalists that 1) Israel needs to be back in the Middle East to make peace, and 2) the Temple must be standing. This has lead some, especially since the return of Israel to the land, to try to reproduce temple furniture in preparation for the temple to be rebuilt and begin use. For example…
Eventually, the Russians will attack Israel, along with a “revived Roman Empire (European Union)”, but will be destroyed. The end of the Tribulation brings about Christ’s public return to earth and the start of his 1000 year reign. The end of this reign, Satan is released from the pit, and leads a rebellion of people who lived through the reign but now rebel against the God who has ruled them. At this point, judgement occurs, and evil is vanquished for eternity. This rolls everything back to the period of the Garden – the lowering the new heaven and the new earth. Repopulated by the people who have remained faithful, and so live in eternity with the Triune God.
What is Bible Prophecy? Stuart & Fee, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: “Prophets are Covenant Enforcement Mediators”. No it is not prediction, but Prophecy were more like smoke detector. A theological early warning system that God gave to Israel.
Israel was supposed to be his intermediaries in the World. The connection between people outside the Temple and God, who lives inside the temple. They were separated by their physical impurities. The priests were called to a high degree of ritual purity that allowed them to go into the temple.
When the people obeyed the Law, the received the blessings associated with the covenant. If they disobey, they suffer the curses. They will not enjoy bounty, good health, etc. They go astray, and God sends the prophet to make predictions to set them back on the correct path. Their predictions are more like the ones made in cop shows… eg. “Listen buddy, if you don’t confess, you’re gonna get 20 to life”. They’re not making wild predictions, but educated guesses based on what they know about the law. Likewise, Biblical prophets typically make predictions like this based on what they know about the Mosaic Law. The goal is to provoke a response by using near-term prediction.
Jeremiah 18:7-10 …  If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it,  and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.  And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it,  and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. (Jeremiah 18:7-10 ESV)
The point is, God cannot be gotten on a technicality… Another example, the book of Jonah. When preached to about their wickedness, they repented and were not destroyed. What this says about prophecy is that there is the potential for reading some prophecy in the Bible as having a shelf life… This is important to keep in the back of the mind with regard to the fulfilment of prophecy.
Return to the land is the ultimate covenant blessing… So, the fact that Israel is now repopulated is seen by most as a fulfilment of prophecy. But unfortunately, Israel is not at all faithful… In fact, it is quite secular. So there is some difficulty in seeing this return (though you can’t say for sure that God has no hand in it at all) as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, at least under the conditions that God has set about in his covenant.
Prophecy is a genre of covenant warning. And it uses near-term predictions to accomplish this. The caveat is, God reserves the right to withdraw blessing as the need may be.
In light of this, what is apocalyptic literature then? First of all, it is not a genre of prophecy, but of hope and fulfillment. We find it in Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah.
Apocalyptic genre can be embedded into a prophetic book, and that’s why we can sometimes miss its meaning. Comes from Greek word meaning “Disclosure”. Over time, the word has taken a more ominous tone. Normally we now think of it in terms of negative. Unfortunate because it is not what the literature is all about. In fact, it is about HOPE.
How do we know that something is apocalyptic?
- A revelation or unveiling given by God
- Given through a mediator
- Given to a seer
- Concerning future events
Apocalyptic literature arises in situations where people are expecting blessings, but are not. And so God uses Apocalyptic literature to speak hope into that context.
So what happens now? It’s this kind of setting that apocalyptic literature happens… it does 3 basic things…
- Reminds people that God remains the Lord of history
- Faithful believers enjoy his support in the present oppression
- God will someday intervene to usher in a better age
In the book of Daniel, this is expressed in 2 different ways… (Stan Walters: “The End of (What) is at Hand?” TJT, 2/1: 23-46).