House Church Talk - prophecy letter from Jon Zens
david at housechurch.org
Fri Mar 19 13:38:17 EST 2004
I received this message from the author several months ago. He is a very
friendly toward home churches, btw.
BURDENED ABOUT PROPHECY FEVER
Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, "I have a dream." Having read many
chat-room posts, magazines, books, and internet articles where concerns
are expressed about things like the implantation of microchips, a central
computer in Belgium, identifying the Antichrist with the likes of Henry
Kissinger or Arnold Swartznegger, marks on foreheads, etc., etc., I have
a burden. My spirit aches when I see well-meaning people being distracted
by spending time imagining that prophecies are unfolding in newspaper
headlines and current events. Of course we are closer to the end today
than we were yesterday. That goes without saying. But I have come to
believe that something is amuck when folks are cocksure that they are in
the very last times and that their view of end-times is absolutely
correct, and all others are suspect and errant. Please let me explore
some thoughts with you in this regard. I'm not interested in defending
some inflexible party-line; I'm open to learn from other brethren; I'm
not going to do any detailed exposition of Bible passages. But I am going
to share my heart with you, question the popular obsession with prophecy
in our culture, and make some observations about various concerns I have.
I believe that many people are being deceived by the fervor created by
such phenomena as the "Left Behind" series of books, so my goal is to
suggest some areas that need to be carefully evaluated. Your feedback
will be welcomed, of course! I'm 58 years old, and I've been thinking
about prophecy issues since 1965, when I was a part of Faith Baptist
Church in Canoga Park, CA, where Roland Rasmussen was the leader. In 1978
my book, "Dispensationalism: A Reformed Inquiry Into Its Leading Figures
& Features," was published by Presbyterian & Reformed Publishers. It is
currently available from Chapel Library in Pensacola Florida and on
If we were to compile say 50 dogmatic statements about what would happen
in the future made by Bible teachers between 1830 and 1900, we would
discover that they were all dead wrong. Nothing happened as they
predicted. Now if we picked another 50 such assertions for the period of
1920 to 2000, we would draw the same conclusion ñ time has shown them to
be wrong. Hal Lindsey and others essentially predicted that Jesus would
return within a generation (40 years) after Israel's nationhood in 1948.
1988 has come and gone and Jesus still has not come back. A retired
brother told me that he heard a pastor in 1957 say, "We are at 11:59:59
in the prophetic timetable." What would he say now that 46 years have
elapsed without the end? In 1979, Jack VanImpe said, "The Rapture is
near, even at the door." Not a few were sure that America's invasion of
Iraq would light the fuse for the final impending fireworks. The truth
is, brethren, that if history continues for another 50 to 100 years, all
the prophetic "the-end-is-near" hoopla going on right now is going to
look foolish and mistaken, just like all the past prophetic rhetoric
since 1830. For years Russia was said to be the great nation that would
come down on Israel. When the USSR fell apart in 1991, the predictions
had to be revised again. If you say, "History just can't go on for 50 to
100 years," you are on very shaky ground. Neither you nor I know what a
day will bring forth, or how many days lie ahead. Everybody tends to
think they are in the last generation, but they've all been wrong so far.
Of course, there will be those who are "alive and remain" when Jesus
returns, but they more than likely will not be thinking before the
momentous event, "we are surely the ones in view in 1 Thess.4:17." I
think we all need a large dose of humility and caution when it comes to
curiosity about the future.
Some of you point out that there were premillennialists in the early
post-apostolic times, and that is true enough. But it must be emphasized
that none of those early fathers held that God had two purposes ñ- an
earthly one with Israel and a heavenly one for the church. That opinion
did not appear until roughly 1830. Charles Ryrie in "Dispensationalism
Today" said that the two-purposes doctrine is the sine qua non of
Dispensational theology. No pre-1830 premillennialist held to such a
theory. The truth is there is a chasm of significant magnitude between
pre-1830 and post-1830 premillennialists. For contemporary
Dispensationalists to claim continuity and pedigree with the early
premillennialists is not accurate in some crucial respects. The rapture
doctrine assumes the two-purposes notion ñ God cannot resume His earthly
purpose with Israel until the heavenly church is first removed.
Dean, you seem to be saying that Jesus' words, "not one stone will be
left upon another; every one will be thrown down" (Mk.13:2), were only
partially fulfilled in 70AD, and still await total fulfillment over 2000
years later. This cannot be! They were literally fulfilled in 70AD.
Josephus' eyewitness account portrays the utter devastation of Jerusalem
and the Temple. He said, "The war had blotted out every trace of beauty,
and no one who had known it in the past and came upon it suddenly would
have recognized the place, for though he was already there, he would
still be looking for the city" (War, VI:8, Cornfeld trans.). The Jews'
genealogical records were destroyed, so that no Jew now can say, like
Paul did, "I'm of the tribe of Benjamin." The Jews were forbidden to
return to the site of Jerusalem and the Temple for about 200 years after
70AD. The city was absolutely desolate, having been raped and pillaged by
the Romans for years after 70AD. Jesus said, "this generation will be
held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed
since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of
Zachariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I
tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all"
(Lk.11:50-51). To suggest that Matt.24:2, Mk.13:2 and Lk.21:6 were not
totally fulfilled in first century events, and to suggest that they await
further fulfillment 2000+ years later, is to distort God's Word beyond
recognition. You claim to take Scripture literally, yet you fudge on
Jesus' "this generation" wording. Why? Is it because a first century
fulfillment doesn't fit your prophetic scheme?
Further, to suggest that the today's "wailing wall" in Jerusalem is part
of the Herod's Temple is without foundation for several reasons. First,
those stones are part of Antonia, a Roman structure, not the Temple.
Jesus said, "not one stone would remain upon another," so the Temple
stones were leveled in 70AD as Jesus predicted. The current "wailing
wall" cannot consist of rock from Herod's Temple. Second, the "wailing
wall" is on the west side, so those who pray are facing east. These
people should know better than that. In the OT, service toward God in the
Tabernacle and Temple was always done from the east side facing west. The
priests faced west toward the Holy Place. Third, the current "Dome of the
Rock" cannot be where Herod's Temple was located. The Temple was located
about 1200 feet south of the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Rock is
located in what would have been to the Jews an "unclean" area of the
Antonia fortress, which Herod built to curry favor with Rome. Living
waters from the spring of Gihon ran through the Temple area. If the
Temple was where the Dome of the Rock is now located, the presence of
this spring would be impossible. These points, and many others of
significance, are documented in Ernest L. Martin's "The Temples that
Jerusalem Forgot" (ASK, 2000, 486pp) and "Secrets of Golgotha: The Lost
History of Jesus' Crucifixion" (ASK, 1996, 464pp.). All of this, of
course, shows how futile and misdirected the ruckus is about a future
Jewish Temple replacing the Dome of the Rock. They're contemplating a
Temple located in the wrong place! More than that, they dare to revive
obsolete old covenant shadows in the future, when the reality has
appeared in the past -- Christ said His body was the Temple that would be
raised up, and that His body the ekklesia is the Temple that is being
built in the gospel age (Jn.2:19-22; Eph.2:21).
The rapture theory seems to put contemporary and future "Jews" in a
lose-lose situation. Their return to Israel since 1948 is seen as a
fulfillment of prophecy. But what awaits these people in the post-rapture
"Great Tribulation" period according to Dispensationalists'
interpretation of Zech.13:8-9? Two-thirds of them will be exterminated.
Based on Israel's current population, two-thirds would come to a total of
about 3,000,000 deaths. So why aren't today's premillennialists warning
them to get out of the land in order to avoid the alleged post-rapture
slaughter? The answer is simple. In order for their bliss to occur via
the rapture, the land of Israel must be fully populated with people who
will face the prophetically-predicted mass liquidation. So according to
today's prophecy experts for every three people who return to their
homeland, two will be murdered under the worst of circumstances in the
"Great Tribulation." It is no wonder that this embarrassing aspect of
premillennial eschatology is not widely publicized (cf. Gary North,
"Fundamentalism's Bloody Homeland for Jews,"
www.LewRockwell.com/north/north222.html; Don Preston, "Israel: 1948
Countdown to Nowhere," 2003, 47pp.).
In the past I posted some material from Bob Emery's "Evening in Ephesus:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ," in which he submitted that the "666"
figure was fulfilled in the person of Nero: "By using the numerical value
for each letter in Nero's name, it was easy for the Christians throughout
the Empire to see that he was the beast. ëHere is wisdom. Let him who has
understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that
of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six'" (p.83). To me
this makes a lot more sense than all the fruitless speculation that has
gone on over the years in trying to identify the 666 with various leaders
or cultural phenomena. Nero fulfilling 666 also makes sense because when
Revelation was written, the Temple was still standing (Rev.11:1-2) ñ
"measure the temple of GodÖ.it has been given to the nations and they
will tread under foot the holy city for 42 months." "For forty-two
months," Emery notes, "from spring of A.D. 67 until the end of the summer
in the year A.D. 70, the Gentiles did trample Jerusalem underfoot"
(p.67). It seems natural to see the brunt of John's visions related to
first century events, not to events pushed out some 2000+ years.
Revelation deals mostly with things "soon" to come to pass, not things to
be speculated about 2000 years later (cf. Jay Adams, "The Time Is At
Hand: Prophecy & the Book of Revelation," Timeless Texts, 2000, 138pp) .
One of the crucial pillars of the eschatology that God has two purposes ñ
an earthly one for Israel and a heavenly one for the church ñ is the
notion that the 70 weeks of Daniel were not consecutive. They posit that
the first 69 weeks were consecutive, but that the church age is a hiatus,
a parenthesis (2000 years and counting), between the 69th and 70th weeks.
After the rapture of the church, they say, God picks up His earthly
purpose with Israel again, and commences Daniel's 70th week. Whether or
not these weeks run consecutively is not a small issue, as the
interpretations that result are as far as east is from west. In the
69-hiatus-then-70 view, the Antichrist is seen as making a covenant with
Israel in the 70th week.. When the 70 weeks are seen as consecutive, the
70th week brings history to the ministry of Christ, and he makes a
covenant with many unto salvation. The one is Christ-centered; the other
is Antichrist centered. The natural way to take Daniel's prophecy is for
the 70 weeks to run in sequence, with the 70th week culminating in Jesus
Christ. The other view requires certain assumptions to be read into the
text (cf. Jay Adams & Milton Fisher, "The Time of the End: Daniel's
Prophecy Reclaimed," Timeless Texts, 2000, 120pp.). If Daniel's 70 weeks
were completed in the first century, then the pillars of the
scheme crash to the ground.
Dean, as I said to you over a year ago, I do not think your paper,
"Amillennialism: The Most Pervasive Heresy in History," gives any
evidence of having studied the most representative articulations of this
view. When your paper was read at our conference, the amils present
indicated that they did not feel you represented their position properly.
They wondered who on earth you were describing. You gave no documentation
for where you got your information about the amil view. Some of the key
books that present the amil view are Anthony Hoekema, "The Bible & the
Future" (Eerdmans; cf. www.graceonlinelibrary.org/theology for Hoekema's
"Amillennialism - Part 1"), William Cox, "Amillennialism Today" (Pres. &
Reformed), Floyd Hamilton, "The Basis of Millennial Faith" (Eerdmans),
William Hendriksen, "More Than Conquerers" (Baker), and Leon Morris, "The
Revelation of St. John" (Eerdmans). These sources will not yield the
caricature of Amillennialism you gave in your paper.
Further, Dean, I think it is way out of line for you to assert that Dan
gives no evidence of being a brother in Christ because of his Preterist
views. You have not even met him. I have, and while I disagree with his
overall prophetic viewpoint, I have no basis to think his profession of
Christ is suspect. Salvation comes to those to trust only in the merits
of Christ, and have no confidence in their flesh. People can hold to a
variety of millennial perspectives and still participate in grace-alone
salvation. I urge you to rethink your judgment against Dan in light of
Rom.15:7. I disagree with both you and Dan about eschatology, but frankly
it seems to me that Dan takes the Scriptures just as seriously as you do,
and in many cases he seems to take God's Word at face value more than you
It distresses me that in the practical outworking of things among many
Premillennialists, the limelight falls on Israel instead of Christ. This
is illustrated in Charles Feinberg's "Israel: At the Center of History &
Revelation" (Multnomah, 1980). The Lord does not have two separate
purposes, one for Israel and one for the church. He has one eternal
purpose which He purposed in Jesus Christ (Eph.3:11). Adrio Konig's book,
"The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology" (Eerdmans, 1980) is a wonderful
corrective to the popular Israel-centered mentality. Steve Temple's
message at our 2003 Searching Together Conference, "Christ: The Center of
Eschatology," was a glorious presentation of how Adam failed, how Israel
failed, but how in Christ all the Father's promises in the gospel are
"Yes" and "Amen." The Scripture does not say, "Kiss Israel," but "Kiss
the Son, lest He be angry and you be destroyed in your way" (Ps.2:12).
The Lord may indeed have future purposes for the Jews, but they will be
in connection with gospel-grafting into the olive tree, not in regard to
some alleged separate earthly purpose (after the church is removed from
history) that results in another Temple and animal sacrifices.
Rev.20 is used as the framework for a 1000-year Israel-centered period on
earth which occurs after the rapture of the church, and after a time of
"Great Tribulation." Among other strange phenomena during this alleged
millennium, it is posited that there will be glorified, immortal saints
living on earth and mingling with mortal wicked people. It is a time of
incredible material prosperity, and procreation is resulting in babies
who live to be very old. However, it would seem that if one just reads
Rev.20, minus all the imported baggage packed into the text, you would
never come up with such a picture. Here are some questions I have. If
Satan will be destroyed by the brightness of Christ's coming (2 Thess.1),
how can he be bound for a 1000 years after that event? If history comes
to an end at His glorious coming (2 Thess.1), what would be the sense of
the devil no longer deceiving the nations after than event? Do the
martyrs who live and reign with Christ for 1000 years appear to be above
or on the earth? Where is there any focus or mention of Israel in Rev.20?
Don't the images portrayed in Rev.20 seem more heavenly-oriented than
earth-based? When Christ returns there will be no more curse and no more
sin. Thus, the idea of the devil functioning after His glorious return in
a millennium where sin remains present is an opinion that needs to be
evaluated long and hard.
It seems to me that the prophetic dogmatism since 1948 that Christ will
return in our times is a built-in set-up for letdown and disillusionment
(cf. L. Festinger, et al.,"When Prophecy Fails: A Social-Psychological
Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World,"
Harper, 1964, 253pp). A person in our assembly recently received a
spam-generated ad for the "Left Behind Prophecy Club," which promises
(for a monthly fee) an "in-depth analysis of the news in light of
end-time prophecy" provided by LaHaye, Jenkins, and Hitchcock "to help
you see and interpret the signs." They will no doubt get many paying
customers to partake of their speculations. Paul L. Maier, in a new
novel, "More Than A Skeleton" (Thomas Nelson, 2003), shows the fallacies
of end-times predictions. He notes, " I believe that the heart of the
Gospel is being replaced by an overemphasis on prophecy, which turns away
serious seekers of faith. I fear that their over-literalizing of what is
obviously symbolic material in the Bible could send people into a panic
and disillusion others when such ëprophecies' fail." Not a few premils
are uncomfortable with the details of Lindsey's and LaHaye's vision of
the future, but the fact remains that the basic contours of their
eschatology (Rapture, Tribulation, Millennium, etc.) are the same.
Hal Lindsey said in 1981, "I believe absolutelyÖwe are the generation
that will see the end of the present world and the return of Jesus
Christ," and then cited Jesus in Matt.24:34, "Truly, I say to you, this
generation will not pass away until all these things take place." But the
generation Jesus had in view was the one He lived in ñ not one 2000+
years later ñ as is indicated by His words to the disciples, "when you
see standing in the holy place ëthe abominaton that causes desolation,'
spoken of by Daniel, then let those in Judea flee to the mountains."
Jesus, predicting 70AD, said of the Temple, "I tell you the truth, not
one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down"
(Matt.24:2). To teach that our generation will surely be alive when Jesus
returns, and to import contemporary events into the Book of Revelation,
is an act of futility and arrogance by well-intentioned people (and by
some hucksters). Keith said, "only the spiritually blind could miss these
things [being fulfilled in our day]." I would humbly suggest that those
who think they see what bodes in the future may actually be the ones
afflicted with blindness in this regard.
The truth is, all of us are probably "wrong" in some ways concerning our
conception of the future. What will actually happen transcends anything
our finite minds can conceive of. What the Lord intends to do will come
to pass, regardless of what our opinions may be. I think it is important
for us, therefore, to be sure we focus on what we know to be true ñ Jesus
is concerned that we take care of those with needs in varied situations
while we await His return (Matt.25:31-46).
Thank you for considering some of the things on my heart.
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