Monday, May 17, 2010

Signs of the Times

Do you share my feeling that the literal meaning of the KJV rendering of Rev.6:6 necessitates a fulfillment while the Roman Empire was in existence and somewhere in the Roman Empire?

When I first read that verse in Revelation, it didn't change my eschatological view either - because I didn't have a presupposed view at the time. However, I can remember having a sense for many years whenever reading that verse that the details in the verse - details such as the standard of measurement; currency and the price specified - seemed deliberate, and seemed to set parameters for the timeframe in which it would be possible for the prophecy to be fulfilled.

That's if all the details are applied in their literal meaning. My view on whether or not a text should be taken literally is that a text should be taken literally unless the genre of the literature is a genre which is not meant to be taken literally, such as poetry. But even then, preferably there ought to be something in the text itself that indicates it shouldn't be taken literally. A need to make the meaning fit our presupposed idea is not a legitimate reason for not taking a text literally.

My view of Bible-translation is that a translator doesn't have the right to decide that a particular detail in the original is unimportant. I believe every detail in the original is inspired. So if the original says wheat will sell for "one penny" then it isn't allowable for a translator to change it to read "a day's wages". His job is to translate, not interpret. Even though a day's wages may have been equal to one penny at the time of writing, that isn't the detail which John heard in his vision - he specifically heard, "a penny". The difference can mean thousands of years of discrepancy in the intended time-frame of the prophecy's fulfillment!

Whilst I was reading the Bible on Sunday night, after studying a different topic for about half an hour, I then asked the Lord to teach me something about eschatology. The reason I asked Him, is because nowadays there is so much talk about "signs" and about the current global crisis and the end of the world.

I felt Him say, "Matthew 16". There I found that when the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign, He told them that it's a wicked and adulterous generation which seeks a sign, and that no sign would be given to it, except the sign of Jonas.

So that's the first point I learned - Jesus has no intention of giving unbelievers spectacular signs. That flies in the face of what we're hearing end-times preachers say today: they are claiming that the tsunamis, earthquakes, the volcano, and the global financial crisis are spectacular signs that God is giving to warn unbelievers of the end of the world. When all along what Jesus actually said is, "...there shall no sign be given to it..." When preachers ignore that, and try to see eschatological significance in every disaster that happens, it's no wonder their predictions tend to flop!

Then I read that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for not being able to discern the "signs of the times". In other words, the only genuine signs which would ever be given were already in place and should have been evident to them. Obviously these signs had nothing to do with natural disasters!

I also noticed something about the word "times". Jesus was obviously not talking exclusively about the time of the last generation before His return - otherwise, how could He rebuke them for not discerning the signs of the times? Jesus was obviously talking about that time in which they lived.

Then I noticed that in the same chapter, Jesus goes on to speak about His coming. So that sets the scope of the time-period which Jesus was discussing. He was talking about the time in which the Pharisees then lived, and He was talking about all the time inbetween up until the time of His coming. It was in this period of time - inclusive - that Jesus said there would be no sign given. So once again He gave no indication that we should expect natural disasters which would be a conclusive sign of the last generation before His return.

The only extra sign Jesus said would be given would be the sign of the prophet Jonas, which happend to be fulfilled by Jesus spending three days in the belly of the earth followed by His resurrection. The death-burial-and resurrection of Jesus ought to be signs enough! whereof the Apostles were witnesses.

So what I learned on Sunday night is that Jesus seemed to make a disclaimer that any spectacular signs would ever be given which would be conclusive evidence of the last generation before His return.

That ought to put the significance of today's catastrophes in perspective!

Later-on Jesus did mention the signs of earthquakes, famines, wars etc., in Matthew 24. But notice these were not signs that would be given to the Pharisees or to this generation generally - because Jesus had already said that no sign would be given to it. The purpose of these signs specified by Jesus was in answer to specific questions not only about His coming, but also about the timing of the destruction of the Temple.

The language of most of this passage of Scripture is specific to Jerusalem. It isn't talking about Gentiles living in the uttermost parts of the earth! For example, Jesus said they wouldn't even have had time yet to finish preaching in all the towns of Israel before this event happens; and the final sign would be that they would see armies besieging Jerusalem - and then they should flee. That has no relevance to Christians living in Australia at the time of the second coming. But it would be relevant to first-century disciples living in Jerusalem.

He told them to pray their flight wouldn't fall on a sabbath. He said it would be a really difficult time for anyone who was pregnant. Why would Jesus bother to say such things if He was talking about the event of His second coming? In that advent, it matters not what day of the week it is nor whether or not someone is pregnant. But if you're about to flee the city of Jerusalem, then it's relevant! He was answering the question about the destruction of the Temple. And it came to pass exactly as Jesus said.

In the same passage Jesus also talked about His coming - and I don't find it easy to distinguish which of His statements refer to the destruction of the Temple and which of His statements refer to His coming. So it may be that Jesus was saying phenomenon such as earthquakes, wars, etc would also accompany the entire Gospel age as signs to the disciples of the nature of the days - the whole Gospel era is intrinsically the "last hour".

I don't find it easy to distinguish everything in Matthew 24, but at least I can see that the text doesn't prove as conclusively as we've been led to believe that phenomena such as volcanoes, global financial crises, and other catastrophes of 2010 have any value as signs of the last generation before Christ returns or as signs that world-events are about to escalate into great tribulation in our generation. It could happen - but it's not conclusive, based on this text.

So that means the text can't be used as a basis for making predictions about our generation. It's still true that "no man knows the day or the hour" and that "it's not for you to know the years nor the seasons which the Father has placed in His own power".

The term "The Great Tribulation" isn't even in the Bible in the KJV. In modern translations the terms exists - but not in the KJV. The KJV mentions "tribulation" generally, and "great tribulation" specifically at the time of the siege of Jerusalem - but it doesn't mention a special period called "The Great Tribulation" just prior to the return of the Lord.

I've pointed these things out to preachers recently, and they have responded by saying that they feel no need to differ from the generally accepted view. But the thing is, their view has only been the "generally accepted view" since their view was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible, and by Hal Lyndsey's book, and supported by recent Bible versions. Prior to that, the generally accepted view for centuries was the view expressed in the Matthew Henry Commentary, or in Wesley's Explanatory Notes of the Bible, or in Jamieson Faucett and Brown's Commentary. Our generation hasn't only lost some of the great songs and hymns of the church - it has also lost some of the historically accepted understandings of some key passages of Scripture. And a possible cause - or effect - of this, is that this generation is also by-and-large reading a text which takes licence which obscure the literal meaning in some key passages of Scripture.

Just a thought!

The Lord promises, "Call unto me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not". I love it when He does it!


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