Is It OK for Christians to Push Back Against Authoritarian Governments and Other Wickedness?

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Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
But such as keep the law contend with them (Prov 28:4).

A righteous man who falters before the wicked
Is like a murky spring and a polluted well. (Prov. 25:26)

The Left is always pushing back against government policies they do not like. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. Burning, looting, and killing are not the right ways. Our constitutional system permits pushback. The Constitution is a pushback document. In biblical and constitutional terms, we do not have to submit to the political status quo. We can change it. We are not commanded to remain silent or passive. When we see evil, we have a right and duty to push back in numerous ways without violating any biblical or constitutional directives.

What about cultural pushback like we are seeing every day in the United States? Should Christians remain silent and do nothing and just surrender to unbelievers at every level of society? Absolutely not.

Last year I saw an article posted on Facebook with the title “We Must Surrender.” It was written by Carlos Chung, a lawyer, who serves as an elder at Grace Community Church. The article is badly argued and dangerous. Here’s how it begins:

As soldiers of Christ, we are to surrender to unbelievers at every level.
We are to surrender in public and in private, at the macro level and on the micro level, on a national scale and on a private scale. We are to surrender to every secular authority that is placed over us.
As the world becomes more and more secularized, the government will become one of the primary, if not the dominant, aggressors against Christianity. The question becomes, how do we battle against the government when it declares war against Christians and Judeo-Christian values?

Chung quotes 1 Peter 2:13–15 for support of his position:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as to one in authority, or to Governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God, that by doing right, you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.

Notice that Peter says, “every human institution,” not “unbelievers at every level.” Unbelievers at every level do not have “authority” to punish evil doers or to rule over us. The United States government is a “human institution.” The Constitution is our national “Caesar.” Based on the Constitution, we can “petition the government for a redress of grievances” (First Amendment) in terms of religion, speech, press, and assembly.

In addition, the Tenth Amendment limits the power of the national government. This means there are governmental remedies at the state level that Christians can be involved in. According to 1 Peter 2:13–15, all the above are biblically permissible since Christians are acting within our nation’s system of government.

Myths Lies and Half Truths

Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths

Too many Christians believe that the Bible is irrelevant this side of heaven. Due to mistaken interpretations and applications of popular Bible texts to contemporary issues, the Christian faith is being thrown out and trampled under foot by men (Matt. 5:13). While the homosexual community, which makes up about 1% of our population, exercises tremendous impact on our culture and laws, Christians, who make up about 35% of the population, have voluntarily abandoned the culture war, electing to hide the gospel under a bushel instead.

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Chung’s article is typical of Christians who claim that Christians should acquiesce to civil authorities no matter what they tell us to do and be quiet about it. Chung does point out that there are exceptions:

The only time we are free to disobey the institutional authorities is when they command us to disobey our Lord and Master, but short of that, we are to be exemplary citizens, submissive and reverential to the authorities over us. That’s because every authority has been placed there by God Himself. This is what Pastor MacArthur refers to as evangelistic citizenship.

Peter himself makes this point in two places in the book of Acts:

  • But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (4:19–20).
  • We must obey God rather than men (5:29).

Notice that Peter does not cite these exceptions in his call to “submit … to every human institution.” Did he change his mind? Not at all. Peter’s admonition tells us that we must evaluate our submission to authority (not surrender) in terms of the entire Bible.

Anyone familiar with what we call the “Old Testament” would have known that there were specific exceptions to Peter’s absolutist comments.

Did Paul, as a Roman citizen and a Christian, “surrender” to the Roman authorities in everything? He and Silas were taken by force. Consider what happens when they were brought before the Roman “chief magistrates” (Acts 16:19–20):

The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks (16:22–24).

According to Chung, Paul and his associates should have “surrendered” and taken their punishment in peace and left quietly. But that’s not what happened. There was an earthquake, the jailer was converted, and later the chief magistrates sent their policemen to release Paul and Silas.

Chung might say, “See, God used their persecution and surrender for good.” Yes, He did. Notice what Paul does next:

And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore, come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeedBut let them come themselves and bring us out.”
The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed (16:36–40).

Was Paul damaging his Christian witness by such a demand? Not at all. He was exercising his rights as a Roman citizen. Will some people take exception to him? Most certainly. They took issue with Jesus when He healed and fed people. The book of Acts shows different reactions to the message of Peter and Paul. God’s Word causes division, and Christians are going to be attacked no matter what they do. Consider the following from Paul:

But in whatever respect anyone else is bold—I speak in foolishness—I am just as bold myself. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (2 Cor. 11:21–29)

Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne, Saint Paul Stoned in the City of Lystra

Paul was simply expounding God’s Word, and yet he was attacked. Prior to writing about submission “to every human institution,” Peter wrote, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12). Even the practice of good and right (constitutional) deeds and actions Christians are going to be attacked like Jesus, Peter, and Paul were attacked. Submission to authority does not mean silence, inaction, or “surrender to unbelievers at every level.”

Jesus, the Mob, Surrender, and Cowardice

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Though you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, Yet his foolishness will not depart from him (Prov. 27:22).

Lessons can be drawn from every event in the Bible because human nature has not changed since Cain killed Abel. Consider that Jesus fed thousands, healed the lame and blind, and even raised people from the dead. Even so, there were those among the religious and political leadership in Israel who wanted Him dead (John 8:58–59).

While reading through the Passion Narratives in Luke’s Gospel, I noticed a few things that apply today.

Facts Don’t Matter to the Mob

When Jesus was before the Sanhedrin made up of Israel’s religious and legal leaders (Luke 22:66), consisting of chief priests and scribes, the following exchange took place:

When it was day, the Council of elders of the people assembled, both chief priests and scribes, and they led Him away to their council chamber, saying,  “If You are the Christ, tell us.” But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask a question, you will not answer” (22:66–68).

No matter what Jesus said, the religious and legal establishment were not going to listen. They had their agenda, and they were sticking to it. They had too much to lose if Jesus’ message was embraced by the people. The argument was only secondarily about theology. It was more about money and control of the people via religion and economics. This might be hard for Christians to grasp, but it’s true as Jerry Bowyer, author of the soon-to-be-released book The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics, explains:

While He was in the economically dynamic area of lower Galilee, the Jesus of the Gospels never confronted any individual over their wealth. But once he travels south to Jerusalem, over and over again, we see Him confront members of the Judaean ruling class, specifically over issues of economic exploitation.

In the end, they killed Him for that. Ruling elites might get a bit annoyed if you mess with their theology, but they get downright murderous when you mess with their money. The Gospels point to two specific events which triggered the plot to kill Him: the parable of the vineyard (which pointed to their economic exploitation of what belonged to God) and His confrontation with the money changers. (Townhall Finance)

On both sides of the current debate over what started as racial justice issues, what’s really at stake is control of the corridors of power and the people of all races be damned. The elites in both parties want to retain influence of a political system that has been steadily reconstituted to favor power over principles and economic largess over economic freedom. The facts are unrelated to the larger agenda.

The Mob Cannot be Appeased

The People of Israel did not reject Jesus. As has been said, the religious and political leaders feared the people, thousands of whom embraced Him (Matt. 21:1–1114–17). Like what we are seeing happen in cities across the United States, disparate ideologies have joined forces to bring down the system. Some things need to be brought down, like those who were desecrating the temple (21:12–13), but not everything. (In a sense, Jesus was the heir to the Temple. It was His Father’s House.)

The Jewish establishment needed a way to topple the emerging transformational system that would have put them out of work. They couldn’t do it on their own because they feared the people (Matt. 21:46), so they worked behind the scenes to enjoin agents of the Roman Empire to carry out the assassination by false testimony (Luke 23:2) and threats of political reprisals if the local governor Pontius Pilate did not give into their demands:

Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12).

In the case of Jesus, the mob consisted of the religious and political establishment to maintain the status quo, even if it meant the death of someone like Jesus and later Stephen (Acts 7) and James the brother of John, an action that “pleased the Jews” (12:1–3).

The long-term ramifications of these actions and many more like them that we read about in the book of Acts resulted in the destruction of the temple, the death of nearly a million Jews, the captivity of tens of thousands, and the end of the Jewish nation at the hands of the Romans.

Zechariah predicted the end results of their duplicity:

“I will make it go forth,” declares the LORD of hosts, “and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of the one who swears falsely by My name; and it will spend the night within that house and consume it with its timber and stones” (5:4).

The timbers and stones of the temple were torn down within a generation of the lies that were told by the religious and legal leaders in Jerusalem to eliminate the threat of Jesus (Matt. 24:1–334).

!0 Myths

10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered

As a result of many failed predictions, many Christians are beginning to take a second look at a prophetic system that they were told is the only one that takes the literal interpretation of the Bible seriously. Gary DeMar takes on the task of exposing some of the popular myths foisted upon the public by prophetic speculators.

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Surrender

Both Herod and Pilate realized that Jesus had not committed a crime. Pilate said to the chief priests, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4). The mob would not quit with their lies. It’s here that Pilate makes his first surrender to the mob. He turns Jesus over to Herod (24:7), hoping that he will not have to make the right decisive decision.

Herod’s questioning and ridicule of Jesus did not assuage the determination of the mob to see Jesus done away with. Like Pilate, Herod passes the buck and returns him to Pilate. The mob is still in control. Another surrender. They can smell victory.

Cowardice

We shouldn’t be too hard on Peter. He was outnumbered and had no clout with the religious and political authorities when he denounced Jesus three times (Luke 22:31–3461). He “wept bitterly” for his betrayal.

Today’s political leaders don’t have an excuse for their cowardice. They are the people in charge. They refuse to lead. Most of them easily capitulate to the mob. We’re seeing something among religious leaders who support a Marxist organization like Black Lives Matter since it’s the easiest thing to do if you don’t want to be assailed with mob “justice.”

There are cowards in the Republican party:

Never Trump super PAC the Lincoln Project and other anti-Trump Republicans continue to plot to not only take down President Donald Trump, but also the Senate Republican majority, according to a report released on Saturday.

Never Trump Republicans believe that preventing a second term for Trump is insufficient, and that Senate Republicans must also pay the price of backing the 45th president.

Steve Schmidt, who works for the Never Trump Lincoln Project, said, “The analogy would be in the same way that fire purifies the forest, it needs to be burned to the ground and fundamentally repudiated. Every one of them should be voted out of office, with the exception of Mitt Romney.” (Breitbart)

These political cowards have no sense of history. Those who burn down the house of the first will be burned themselves once they are no longer needed by the mob. The mob turns on them like the mob turned on Maximilien Robespierre (1758–1794), “one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution.”

As the leading member of the Committee of Public Safety from 1793, Robespierre encouraged the execution, mostly by guillotine, of more than 17,000 enemies of the Revolution. The day after his arrest, Robespierre and 21 of his followers were guillotined before a cheering mob in the Place de la Revolution in Paris. (History.com)

Be careful what you wish for, because “[i]t’s an iron law of history that the revolution always eats its own children — as proven time after time in the centuries since.” (Troy Media)

Two Bibles, Their Notes, and the Present Crisis

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Almost daily I engage in Facebook battles with people who continue to cling to the unbiblical view that we are living in the last days and go through a long series of modifications to what the text of Scripture actually states to keep their end-time beliefs alive. It’s amazing to see the hoops they jump through to maintain their unsupportable belief systems. You can even find such flimsy arguments in scholarly articles. They are so desperate to support their end-time beliefs that the plain meaning of Scripture is obscured.

“This generation” becomes “this kind of generation.” The second person plural “you” in the Olivet Discourse changes from Jesus’ present audience (Matt. 24:2–433) to some future nondescript future generation later in the chapter, “now” becomes “whenever,” and “near” can mean 2000 years in the future.

Wars and Rumors of Wars

Wars and Rumors of Wars is a verse-by-verse study of the Olivet Discourse and related passages. It will change the way you understand Bible prophecy.

The casual reader would not interpret the Bible in these ways. It takes “experts” to convince Christians that the Bible does not really mean what it says. It’s no wonder that many Christians treat the Bible as a book of spiritual incantations that only work in some unobtainable ethereal world.

End-time prophetic speculation has a long history, but it was one study Bible that codified prophetic error and led much of the church down the path of cultural irrelevance.

There was almost no prophetic competition to dispensational premillennialism from the time The Scofield Reference Bible was first published in 1909 and revised by its author Cyrus I. Scofield in 1917. Christians were often encouraged to use the note-filled Bible because its notes were said to include the only correct interpretive system that Christians should use to understand the Bible. Many churches used it as their pew Bible. The Bible was “rightly divided” in terms of Scofield’s seven dispensations. The biblical “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) became “rightly dividing up” the Bible into sections. By the time readers get to Genesis 8:12, they have been introduced to the Seven Dispensations.

The passage often used to support of Scofield’s version of dispensationalism is best translated as “accurately handling the word of truth”; it has nothing to do with dividing up the Bible into rigid “dispensations.”

Once the Bible reader embraces Scofield’s dispensational system, the system becomes the lens through which the entire Bible must be read. Philip Mauro wrote in his 1927 book The Gospel of the Kingdom that the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible had “usurped the place of authority that belongs to God’s Bible alone. The fact is that dispensationalism is modernism. It is modernism, moreover, of a very pernicious sort, such that it must have a ‘Bible’ of its own for the propagation of its peculiar doctrines, since they are not in the Word of God.”

Mauro goes on to write that “this modern system of ‘dispensational teaching’ is a cause of division and controversy between those followers of Christ who ought to be,” and this is the important part, “at this time of crisis, solidly united against the mighty forces of unbelief and apostasy.” [1] This was in 1927, one year after Oswald J. Smith announced in his book Is the Antichrist at Hand? that Benito Mussolini was the dreaded antichrist.

The publication of Scofield’s Reference Bible and its focus on an imminent (any moment) rapture transformed the mindset and practices of millions of Christians to abandon the belief in a comprehensive biblical worldview at the time when a new breed of secularism was rising in the areas of education, law, politics, journalism, science, medicine, media, art, music, film, and every other area of life.

The then present crisis seemed to authenticate Scofield’s bizarre interpretations:

Scofield’s text appeared just in time for believers to respond to European developments in the summer of 1914. As one Pentecostal Journal headlined the outbreak of war, “The nations of Europe battle, and unconsciously prepare the way for the return of the Lord Jesus.” When an older prophecy book was reissued in 1915, the editor remarked, “Armageddon has now become a household word.” In the words of evangelical pastor Reuben Torrey, observing the world’s conflicts, “The darker the night gets, the lighter my heart gets.” [2]

These predictions were made more than 100 years ago in terms of prophetic certainty. They were wrong. The only things that have changed for today’s prophetic speculators are the dates and the players on the international and nation chessboard. One thing, however, has remained the same: millions of Christians are still waiting for an end-time event to rescue them that is not coming.

Dispensationalists have regularly taught that the next prophetic event is the “rapture of the church.” Supposedly the prophecy clock starts again when the church is raptured prior to a seven-year period (there is not a single verse in the Bible that mentions such an event), when the world will encounter someone called “the antichrist” (see 1 John 2:18224:32 John 7 to see that there were many antichrists in John’s day), a rebuilt Jewish temple (nothing in the New Testament says anything about a rebuilt temple), the antichrist making a covenant with Israel and then braking it (no such verse exists), the slaughter of two-thirds of Jews living in Israel (fulfilled in events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70), and a hell storm of tribulation around the world. [3]

 

The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation

Did God stop the prophetic clock regarding Israel, thereby postponing the 70th week of Daniel’s 70-weeks-of years prophecy by inserting a nearly 2000-year gap called the “Church Age”? Will God restart the prophecy clock at the beginning of the 70th week (seven years) once the Church is taken off the earth in the pre-tribulation rapture?

Millions of Christians believe this fake prophetic system that has led them to believe that they cannot and should not do anything to change the moral condition of the world since these prophetic events are inevitable.

The Geneva Bible

The Scofield Reference Bible was not the first Bible to include notes. There was an abundance of notes in the Geneva Bible, [4] first published in 1560 and developed by English refugees in Geneva, Switzerland, who fled there during the reign of Queen Mary I (1516–1558). Mary had persecuted Protestants and restored England to Roman Catholicism after the death of Edward VI. “When Mary came to the throne in 1553, Edward’s Reformation policy was reversed. Some of those responsible for making [English] translations (e.g., John Rogers; Thomas Cranmer) were burned at the stake; others sought refuge on the [European] continent (e.g., [Miles] Coverdale), along with shiploads of Protestant refugees from England.” [5] From 1560 to 1644 at least 144 editions of the Geneva Bible were published.

The First Study Bible

The Geneva Bible has been described as the “first study Bible” because of the thousands of notes included with the biblical text. It was the Geneva Bible that almost everyone in the English-speaking world read. Even the men working on the translation that would come to be known as the King James Version (1611) “continued to quote from the Geneva version” because it was “the one familiar to the congregations they addressed.” [6] David Daniell notes that “many of the almost one thousand biblical references in Shakespeare come from the Geneva text.” [7]

The Geneva Bible was truly a “free market” translation. There was no official church or civil authorization that declared that it should be the Bible for the people. “The people loved it for itself and its history.” [8] The elucidation of the text that came from the marginal notes added to the readability of Scripture for families.

No Outline of a Prophetic System

It’s important to keep in mind that during this period of persecution, the Reformers did not outline a prophetic system that predicted the near end of the world even though some predicted a near end of things. Martin Luther, for example, “did not believe that the kingdom would triumph on earth and in history. In fact, he expected the world to end soon…. In contrast to Luther, John Calvin believed that the kingdom would ‘have a yet greater triumph in history prior to the consummation [the Second Coming],’” [9] so much so that “the kingdom of God … [will] be extended to the utmost boundaries of the earth … so as to occupy the whole world from one end to the other.” [10]

It was Calvin’s shared optimistic eschatology that found its way into the notes of the Geneva Bible. To cite just one of scores of examples, the note on Zechariah 9:11 in the Geneva Bible reads, “God showeth that he will deliver his Church out of all dangers, seem they ever so great.”

Prior to the rise of dispensationalism, there was a realistic optimism even when persecution was all around them. They followed Paul’s comforting words: “But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all… Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:912). Paul wrote this to Timothy nearly 2000 years ago. Christians didn’t give in to the evils of the day and claim that they would be rescued by something called a “rapture.”

Andrée Seu Peterson writes, “Optimism precedes perseverance… The pessimist’s problem is all in his eye. His eye is defective.” Events, even the most severe and glaring kind, do not nullify the biblical message of the progress of the gospel and the application of God’s Word to every area of life.

George Mueller (1805–1898) is one of the biggest I know of. That crazy guy decided to distribute tracts and to witness among the Jews in London, and he reports, “I had the honor of being reproached and ill-treated for the name of Jesus” (The Autobiography of George Müller). Must be a blessing in there somewhere, right? That’s like the Apostle Paul saying, “I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9).

Come again? If there are “many adversaries,” how does he see it as a “wide door for effective work”?

That’s how an optimist sees. [11]

This is no reference to an escape hatch for the Church but only the promised claim that God will sustain and maintain His Church even when persecuted, and that includes Christians being burned at the stake for attempting to do something as logical as translate the Bible into English.

The English Protestant scholars who produced the Geneva Bible … were fully conscious of the role which they hoped it would play in the religious wars of the truth. In an age which bears witness to “so horrible backsliding and falling away from Christ to Antichrist, from light to darkness, from the living God to dumb and dead idols,” and in a time of “so cruel murder of God’s saints” under Queen Mary, the translators explained that God’s divine providence still continues to work in time and history “with most evident signs and tokens of God’s especial love and favor” towards his saints. Now, the surest way to be mindful of “these great mercies” is “attained by the knowledge and practicing of the word of God.” [12]

The Genevan translation and the ever-present notes were designed to explain “the course and progress of the church within time and history” [13] and the ongoing work of reformation that was needed in light of the religious and political struggles that they still faced. “Without this word,” the “Epistle” to the Geneva Bible states, “we cannot discern between justice, and injury, protection and oppression, wisdom and foolishness, knowledge and ignorance, good and evil. Therefore, the Lord, who is the chief governor of his Church, wills that nothing be attempted before we have inquired thereof at his mouth.” The editors and translators believed that the Geneva Bible would have a role “to play in advancing the Reformation in England.” [14]

Go, believe, and do likewise.

  1. Philip Mauro, The Gospel of the Kingdom: An Examination of Modern Dispensationalism and the “Scofield Bible” (1927), Introduction. Emphasis added.[]
  2. Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 138.[]
  3. For a detailed study of the “rapture,” see Gary DeMar with Francis X. Gumerlock, The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2019).[]
  4. For accessible histories of the Geneva Bible, see Patricia Serak, “The Geneva Bible: An Historical Report” and William H. Noah and David L. Brown, “Introduction to the Geneva Bible.”[]
  5. Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999), 300.[]
  6. Benson Bobrick, Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), 215, 254.[]
  7. David Daniell, The Bible in English: Its History and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 354.[]
  8. The Geneva Bible: A Facsimile of the 1560 Edition, ed. Lloyd E. Berry (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969). The quotation is from John Eadie, The English Bible: An External and Critical History of the Various English Translations, 2 vols. (London: MacMillan & Co., 1876), 2:51–52, as cited in Lloyd E. Berry’s “Introduction” to the Geneva Bible, 22. Quoted in Avihu Zakai, Exile and Kingdom: History and Apocalypse in the Puritan Migration to America  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 38.[]
  9. Gary DeMar and Peter J. Leithart, The Reduction of Christianity: A Biblical Response to Dave Hunt’s Theology (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1988), 236, 237.[]
  10. Quoted in Greg L. Bahnsen “The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism” in Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism, ed. Robert R. Booth (Texarkana, AR: Covenant Media Press, 1999), 80.[]
  11. “The Sunny Side,” World Magazine (Nov. 25, 2017), 63.[]
  12. Zakai, Exile and Kingdom, 38–39.[]
  13. Zakai, Exile and Kingdom, 39.[]
  14. Zakai, Exile and Kingdom, 41.[]

Does John MacArthur Make His Case on the Olivet Discourse?

 

In his book The Second Coming: Signs of Christ’s Return and the End of the Age, John MacArthur seems to go out of his way to avoid having to deal with the inherent problems of his prophetic system. Here’s just one example:

[N]otice Christ’s only explicit remarks about the destruction of the temple are those recorded in verse 2 [of Matthew 24], as Jesus and the disciples were departing from the temple (v. 1). In the Olivet Discourse itself He makes no clear reference to the events of A.D. 70. His entire reply is an extended answer to the more important question about the signs of His coming and the end of the age. Virtually ignoring their initial question, He said nothing whatsoever about when the destruction of Jerusalem would occur. That is because those events were not really germane to the end of the end of the age. They were merely a foretaste of the greater judgment that would accompany His return, previews of what is to come ultimately. [1]

This is a remarkable statement given that there is nothing in the context of the Olivet Discourse that indicates that Jesus is “ignoring their initial question.” How does MacArthur know this? He doesn’t. This is not exegesis. He is reading his dispensational system into the text. He scrupulously avoids the heart of the debate over the time texts, especially regarding “this generation” (24:34).

“Virtually ignoring their initial question, He said nothing whatsoever about when the destruction of Jerusalem would occur.” Nothing whatsoever? He has to say this because to admit that Jesus was describing what was going to happen to the temple that was standing there – “not one stone here shall be left upon another” (24:3) – would mean Jesus had a great deal to say “about when the destruction of Jerusalem would occur.” It would occur before that existing generation passed away (24:34).

There’s a lot I could say about MacArthur’s comments on Matthew 24, but I’ve said them repeatedly elsewhere. I found this comment surprising:

Notice, moreover, that the great tribulation Christ described involves cataclysm and suffering on a global cosmic scale (vv. 29-30)—not a local holocaust in Jerusalem only. [2]

If Jesus isn’t describing “a local holocaust in Jerusalem only,” then how is it that it can be avoided by escaping to the mountains outside of Judea (24:16-20)?

The cosmic language of 24:29-30 is typical of cosmic language being used to describe a judgment on Babylon (Isa. 13:1-11) and “Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Zeph. 1:1-4).

The Second Coming: Signs of Christ’s Return and the End of the Age reads as if it was written in a hurry. For example, in one place MacArthur writes that preterists “ultimately depart from and nullify the strict literal sense of Matthew 24:34,” while on the previous page he chides preterists for insisting that Matthew 24:34 should be interpreted with “wooden literalness.” [3] MacArthur should have studied how “this generation” is used elsewhere in the New Testament. “This generation” always refers — without exception — to the generation to whom Jesus is speaking. [4] Since the meaning of “this generation” is crucial for establishing the proper time setting for the Olivet Discourse, MacArthur should have spent considerable time justifying his interpretation.

He calls the preterist interpretation of “this generation” a “misunderstanding” [5] without ever dealing with the extensive arguments preterists use to defend their position. Preterists are not the only ones who have this “misunderstanding.” Here are three examples from commentators who would not describe themselves as preterists:

  • [T]he obvious meaning of the words “this generation” is the people contemporary with Jesus. Nothing can be gained by trying to take the word in any sense other than its normal one: in Mark (elsewhere in 8:12, 9:19) the word always has this meaning. [6]
  • [This generation] can only with the greatest difficulty be made to mean anything other than the generation living when Jesus spoke. [7]
  • The significance of the temporal reference has been debated, but in Mark “this generation” clearly designates the contemporaries of Jesus (see on Chs. 8:12, 38; 9:19) and there is no consideration from the context which lends support to any other proposal. Jesus solemnly affirms that the generation contemporary with his disciples will witness the fulfillment of his prophetic word, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the dismantling of the Temple. [8]

Why doesn’t MacArthur attempt to refute these non-preterist scholars? Do they misunderstand the clear teaching of Scripture?

In addition to an incomplete study of how “this generation” is used in the gospels, MacArthur morphs “near” and “shortly” into “imminent” without ever making a case for how this can be done exegetically. If the Holy Spirit wanted to convey that Jesus could return at “any moment” over a period of nearly 2000 years (so far), He would have directed the biblical writers to choose Greek words that mean “any moment” instead of “near” and “shortly.” He didn’t.

Consider James 5:8–9, a passage that MacArthur uses to support his contention that Jesus could come “at any moment” but near to those who first received and read his letter. [9] “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:8). “At hand,” or “near,” cannot be made to mean “any moment.” “At hand” is defined for us by the Bible in the next verse: “Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door” (5:9). “At hand” = “right at the door.” How far from the door is Jesus in Revelation 3:20? Being “right at the door” means being close enough to knock.

MacArthur is either oblivious to the debate surrounding this issue or he tactically decided to steer his readers around the topic so as not to raise a very big red flag.

Will the Real Literalist Please Stand Up?

MacArthur states that interpreting “this generation” in a “wooden literalness” fashion would mean that “the rest of the Olivet Discourse must be spiritualized or otherwise interpreted figuratively in order to explain how Christ’s prophecies could all have been fulfilled by A.D. 70 without His returning bodily to earth.” [10] Do preterists spiritualize (a word not often defined) the events described by Jesus in Matthew 24? Not at all! They compare Scripture with Scripture. We let the Bible interpret the Bible. There were literal earthquakes (Matt. 27:5428:2Acts 16:26) and literal famines (Acts 11:28; cf. Rom. 8:35), just as Jesus predicted (Matt. 24:7). Paul tells us that the “gospel” literally had been preached “throughout the world [kosmos]” (Rom. 1:8), “to all the nations” (Rom. 16:25-261 Tim. 3:16), “in all creation under heaven” (Col. 1:23; also 1:6), just as Jesus predicted (Matt. 24:14). Then there are Jesus specific words that the literal temple that the disciples asked about would be destroyed before the last apostle died (Matt. 16:27-28) and that first-century generation passed away (24:34).

Last Days Madness and Wars and Rumors of Wars answer every argument raised by MacArthur, arguments which he studiously avoids addressing in this poorly conceived book. Some might claim that MacArthur is unaware of the work done in this area. This debate has been around for centuries. Anyone writing on this topic should be aware of the current literature. He knows what’s going on. He quotes from an internet article by me and references other preterist sources. MacArthur, who was good friends with R. C. Sproul who wrote The Last Days According to Jesus (1998), was aware of Sproul’s preterist position.

  1. John MacArthur, The Second Coming: Signs of Christ’s Return and the End of the Age (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999), 80.[]
  2. MacArthur, The Second Coming, 78.[]
  3. MacArthur, The Second Coming, 81, 80.[]
  4. Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, 4th ed. (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1999), 55-60, 183-188.[]
  5. MacArthur, The Second Coming, 219.[]
  6. Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook of the Gospel of Mark (New York: United Bible Societies, 1961), 419.[]
  7. D.A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 8:507.[]
  8. William L. Lane, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 480.[]
  9. MacArthur, The Second Coming, 51.[]
  10. MacArthur, The Second Coming, 80.[]

What Does the Bible Say about the End of the World?

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When Christians hear the phrase the “end of the world,” most assume it’s a reference to a great end-time prophetic event like Armageddon, the Second Coming of Christ, or the cataclysmic end of heaven and earth as a prelude to a New Heavens and New Earth. Actually, the phrase “end of the world,” as in the end of the physical world, is not found in the Bible. There is Psalm 19:4, but in context “end of the world” is a geographical description: “Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world.” The same is true of its use in the New Testament (Acts 13:47Rom. 10:18).

The “end of the world” appears several times in the King James translation of the Bible. The Greek word kosmos, the word we would expect to find for the translation of these “end of the world” passages, is not used. Modern translations render the passages as the “end of the age” because the Greek word aiōn not kosmos is used. The New King James translation remedies the translation error of the original KJV by translating aiōn as “age” and not “world” (Matt. 13:39404924:328:20). Aiōn refers to a limited historical period, not the physical world (1 Cor. 10:11). Kosmos (“foundation of the world,” that is, the physical world) and aiōnōn (“consummation of the ages”) are used in Hebrews 9:26, a time when Jesus had been “manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” It seems odd that the translators of the KJV translated two different Greek words in the same verse as “world.” The New King James corrects the error.

Ephesians 3:21 is often quoted to support the argument that the world will never end. It may teach this idea, but not based on the KJV translation that’s as follows: “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” The Greek word kosmos is not found in the passage. Here’s a more literal reading: “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations age [αἰῶνος] to the ages [αἰώνων]. Amen.”

Jesus’ appearance on earth as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), not just Jews but the nations (4:42), coincides with the consummation of the ages, a first-century reality. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews opens his epistle with the claim that he was living in “these last days” because of the first coming of Christ in the world (Heb. 1:2). The tabernacle had become incarnate (John 1:14) and personalized (2:13–22) in Jesus Christ. Peter uses similar language when he writes, “For [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world [kosmos] but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:20). Paul tells his Corinthian audience that “the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11).

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Finally, a book that explains the meaning of these two seemingly mysterious chapters (Ezekiel 38-39) by using the Bible instead of today’s newspaper headlines!

Peter writes from the vantage point of his day that “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter. 4:7; cf. 1:20). This can hardly be a declaration that the end of the physical universe was about to take place. “At hand” tells us that whatever this end is, it was near for Peter and his first-century audience. Jay E. Adams offers a helpful commentary on the passage, considering its historical and theological context:

[First] Peter was written before A.D. 70 (when the destruction of Jerusalem took place)…. The persecution (and martyrdom) that these (largely) Jewish Christians had been experiencing up until now stemmed principally from unconverted Jews (indeed, his readers had found refuge among Gentiles as resident aliens)…. [H]e refers to the severe trials that came upon Christians who had fled Palestine under attack from their unconverted fellow Jews. The end of all things (that had brought this exile about) was near.

In six or seven years from the time of writing, the overthrow of Jerusalem, with all its tragic stories, as foretold in the Book of Revelation and in the Olivet Discourse upon which that part is based, would take place. Titus and Vespasian would wipe out the old order once and for all. All those forces that led to the persecution and exile of these Christians in Asia Minor—the temple ceremonies (outdated by Christ’s death), Pharisaism (with its distortion of O.T. law into a system of works-righteousness) and the political stance of Palestinian Jewry toward Rome—would be erased. The Roman armies would wipe Jewish opposition from the face of the land. Those who survived the holocaust of A.D. 70 would themselves be dispersed around the Mediterranean world. “So,” says Peter, “hold on; the end is near.” The full end of the O.T. order (already made defunct by the cross and the empty tomb) was about to occur. [1]

Adam Clarke (1762–1832) writes the following in his commentary on 1 Peter 4:7: “Peter says, The end of all things is at hand; and this he spoke when God had determined to destroy the Jewish people and their polity by one of the most signal judgments that ever fell upon any nation or people. In a very few years after St. Peter wrote this epistle, even taking it at the lowest computation, viz., A. D. 60 or 61, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. To this destruction, which was literally then at hand, the apostle alludes when he says, The end of all things is at hand; the end of the temple, the end of the Levitical priesthood, the end of the whole Jewish economy, was then at hand.” [2]

The end of the age was the real end of the world, the world of old covenant Judaism, and the inauguration of a new era where God no longer speaks in types and shadows but “in His Son” (Heb. 1:2). There was such a dramatic transference from one age to the next that Peter described it as “the end of all things.”

The use of this end-time language is “typical Jewish imagery for events within the present order that are felt and perceived as ‘cosmic’ or, as we should say, as ‘earth-shattering’. More particularly, they are regular Jewish imagery for events that bring the story of Israel to its appointed climax. The days of Jerusalem’s destruction would be looked upon as days of cosmic catastrophe. The known world would go into convulsions: power struggles and coups d’état would be the order of the day; the pax Romana, the presupposition of ‘civilized’ life throughout the then Mediterranean world, would collapse into chaos. In the midst of that chaos Jerusalem would fall.” [3]

Jerusalem was the redemptive center of the then known world: “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘This is Jerusalem; I have set her at the center of the nations, with lands around her’” (Ezek. 5:5). The Jews lived “at the center of the world” (38:12). To be far from Jerusalem was to be at “the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). For a Jew, Jerusalem was the center of life (2:5–11). Medieval maps show Jerusalem to be the geographical center of the world because it was the center of redemptive history. Isaiah predicted that the nations would look “to the house of the God of Jacob” for redemption and instruction:

In the last days, the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains and will be raised above the hills; and all nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths” (Isa. 2:2–3).

The nations did look to the “house of Jacob” for their redemption. Paul writes that the gospel “has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26). The “mystery of godliness” had been “proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world” (1 Tim. 3:16).

The Early Church and the End of the World

Shows that some of the earliest writers, most likely writing before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, were referring to the judgment coming of Jesus, an event that the gospel writers tell us was to take place before that first-century generation passed away (Matt. 24:34)

Christians writing less than 100 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the dismantling of the temple understood that Isaiah 2 was looking forward to the ministry of the gospel in the world among the nations. Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic words when He said, “Come to Me” (Matt. 11:28). Consider the brief commentary of Justin the Martyr (c. 100–165):

And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass, He speaks in this way: “For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never will they learn war” [Isa. 2:3–4]. And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we might not lie or deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. [4]

Irenaeus (c. 130–200), another second-century Christian writer, taught that Isaiah 2 was fulfilled at the time of “the Lord’s advent,” that is, the first coming of Jesus. You will notice that he believed that the message of “the new covenant” had a worldwide impact before Jerusalem’s fall:

If any one, however, advocating the cause of the Jews, does maintain that this new covenant consisted in the rearing of that temple which was built under Zerubbabel after the emigration to Babylon, and in the departure of the people from thence after the lapse of seventy years, let him know that the temple constructed of stones was indeed then rebuilt (for as yet that law was observed which had been made upon tables of stone), yet no new covenant was given, but they used the Mosaic law until the coming of the Lord; but from the Lord’s advent, the new covenant which brings back peace, and the law which gives life, has gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and He shall rebuke many people; and they shall break down their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks, and they shall no longer learn to fight.” [5]

Tertullian (160–225) makes a similar application when he argues that it is “among us, who have been called out of the nations,—‘and they shall join to beat their glaives into ploughs, and their lances into sickles; and nations shall not take up glaive against nation, and they shall no more learn to fight.’ Who else, therefore, are understood but we, who, fully taught by the new law, observe these practices,—the old law being obliterated, the coming of whose abolition the action itself demonstrates?” [6]

With the advent of Jesus and the ministry of the gospel to the nations, earthly Jerusalem would no longer be the geographical center of the world. The world had come into view, so much so that Paul could write that the gospel had been “proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col. 1:23; cf. 1:6Rom. 1:810:181 Tim. 3:16d). The temple and the city of Jerusalem were shadows of better things to come. The tabernacle was a “copy and shadow of heavenly things … according to the pattern which was shown [to Moses] on the mountain” (Heb. 8:5). Jesus is the “true tabernacle” (8:2). The “new covenant . . . made the first [covenant] obsolete” (8:13). The writer to the Hebrews describes it this way: “But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear” (8:13). The word translated as “ready” is actually the Greek word engus, “near.” James C. DeYoung writes:

The total impression gained from the accumulation of evidence from Jesus’ teaching and prophecy concerning the rejection and doom of Jerusalem, as well as from the teaching of Galatians and Hebrews is that the significance of Jerusalem in the history of redemption had come to an end with the death of Jesus. Thus, the antithesis between the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem is based upon the cross of Christ. Jerusalem’s rejection and crucifixion of her Messiah, whether viewed retrospectively by the Apostles, or prospectively by Jesus himself, formed the basis for the pessimistic view of the future of the city. Thus the investigation of the relevant passages from the Gospels has shown that the Christian break with Jerusalem came long before her destruction in A.D. 70. [7]

Jesus is the center of redemptive history. He far surpasses anything the temple of stone and the sacrificial system of bloody animals were thought to be. “We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh” (10:19–20).

  1. Jay E. Adams, Trust and Obey: A Practical Commentary on First Peter (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978), 129–130.[]
  2. Clarke’s Commentary on The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 2 vols. (New York: Carlton & Porter, 1810), 2:864.[]
  3. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996),362.[]
  4. Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” Chapter XXXIX: Direct Predictions by the SpiritAnte-Nicene Fathers, 1:175–176.[]
  5. Irenaeus, “Proof Against the Marcionites, that the Prophets Referred in All Their Predictions to Our Christ,” Against Heresies,” Book IV, Chapter 34.[]
  6. Tertullian, “Of Circumcision and the Supercession of the Old Law,” An Answer to the Jews, Chapter III.[]
  7. James Calvin DeYoung, Jerusalem in the New Testament: The Significance of the City in the History of Redemption and in Eschatology (Kampen, Netherlands: J. H. Kok, 1960), 109–110.[]

John Piper says the Coronavirus is a Sign of the End Times

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While the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says we should “have our senses trained” (5:14), the Bereans searched the Scriptures daily to assess whether what Paul was saying was true or not (Acts 17:11), and John says to “test the spirits, to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1), it seems that today’s Christians are easily led astray by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14), especially when it comes to Bible prophecy.

It appears that no one is immune. Consider John Piper whose book Coronavirus and Christ includes this chapter: “Awakening Us for the Second Coming.” The chapter begins with this true statement: “the history of the Christian church is littered with failed predictions of the end of the world.” He then writes the following, claiming the Coronavirus is a sign that Jesus’ return may be near

Jesus said there would be pointers to his coming—like wars, famines, and earthquakes (Matt. 24:7). He called these signs “birth pains” (Matt. 24:8). The image is of the earth as a woman in labor, trying to give birth to the new world, which Jesus would bring into being at his coming.

*****

Paul picked up this imagery in Romans 8:22 and referred the birth pains to all the groanings of this age—all the miseries of disaster and disease (like the coronavirus). He pictured us in our diseases as part of the labor pains of the world.

Piper’s not alone. A majority of Christians and pastors believe we are living in the last days. Consider the following results of a recent survey:

LifeWay found that nearly nine out of 10 surveyed pastors viewed the end times prophecies of the Bible as being showcased in current events.

This included around 83 percent of respondents believing that Jesus was referring to current events when discussing the rise of false prophets and false teachings, traditional morals becoming less accepted (79 percent), wars and national conflicts (78 percent), earthquakes and other natural disasters (76 percent), and people leaving Christianity (75 percent).

The survey also found that 56 percent of surveyed pastors believed Jesus would return within their lifetime, versus 20 percent who did not believe it would happen in their lifetime.

Referencing Matthew 24:7–8 and contending that Jesus was referring to some distant end-time series of events is not an interpretive possibility because Jesus was answering questions asked by His disciples about the destruction of the temple and the end of the age (Matt. 24:1–3), that is, the end of the Adamic and Mosaic ages (αἰώνων/aiōnōn) (1 Cor. 10:11), not the end of the world (kosmos).

Wars and Rumors of Wars

Wars and Rumors of Wars will help you search the Scriptures to see what Jesus said about famines, earthquakes, wars and rumors of wars, and other supposed end-time signs refer to our generation or a past generation.

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There were wars and rumors of wars in the lead up to the temple’s destruction in AD 70 as well as earthquakes, famines (Acts 11:27–28), and even plagues (Luke 21:11). The clincher is that Jesus said that the generation then alive would not end until all the events mentioned in the Olivet Discourse took place (Matt. 24:34). The birth pangs were related to that generation not 50 generations later.

The timing is the key to understanding the passage, otherwise a perpetual state of fear, disappointment, and inaction set in. Why bother with this world since Jesus is about to rescue us from all our troubles? All we must do is hold on a little while longer and all the bad stuff will go away, and we won’t have to do anything to fix what’s wrong. Our inaction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jesus was warning His first readers that these common signs were not end-of-the-world signs because they are common to every generation. Consider the following from science and science fiction writer Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame:

Is this really the end of the world? Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods?

No, we simply live on an active planet. Earthquakes are continuous, a million and a half of them every year, or three every minute. A Richter 5 quake every six hours, a major quake every 3 weeks. A quake as destructive as the one in Pakistan every 8 months. It’s nothing new, it’s right on schedule.

At any moment there are 1,500 electrical storms on the planet. A tornado touches down every six hours. We have ninety hurricanes a year, or one every four days. Again, right on schedule. Violent, disruptive, chaotic activity is a constant feature of our globe.

Is this the end of the world? No: this is the world. It’s time we knew it. [1]

“Let’s Stop Scaring Ourselves” by Michael Crichton
Parade magazine, December 5, 2004.

John Piper’s end-time views are part of a long line prophetic prognostications gone wrong.

Charles Wesley Ewing, writing in 1983, paints a clear historical picture of how prophetic interpretation based on current events turns to confusion, uncertainty, and in some people unbelief when it comes to predicting an end that disappoints:

In 1934, Benito Mussolini sent his black-shirted Fascists down into defenseless Ethiopia and preachers all over the country got up in their pulpits and preached spellbinding sermons that had their congregations bulging at the eyes in astonishment about “Mussolini, the Anti-Christ,” and to prove their point they quoted from Daniel 11:43, which says, ‘And the Ethiopians shall be at his steps.’ Later, Benito, whimpering, was [shot and later] hung by his own countrymen, and preachers all over America had to toss their sermons into the scrap basket as unscriptural. [2]

Ewing goes on to mention how Hitler’s storm troopers took Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, North Africa, and set up concentration camps where millions of Jews were killed in what has become the modern-day definition of “holocaust.” Once again, preachers ascended their pulpits and linked these events to Bible prophecy and assured the church-going public that Hitler was the antichrist and the rapture was just around the next bend. When the allies routed the Nazis and drove them out, sermons were once again tossed out or filed away to be revised at some future date hoping people’s memories would fade.

The next end-time-antichrist candidate was Joseph Stalin, the leader of godless Communism, a movement hell-bent on conquering the world. “But on March 5, 1953, Stalin had a brain hemorrhage and preachers all over America had to make another trip to the waste basket.” [3]

The Coronavirus is real and deadly for many people like other viruses throughout history. But it is not the plague (that killed tens of millions) or the Spanish Flu or even the Hong Kong Flu that killed more than a million people in 1968 and 1969 or any natural disaster or cosmic signs like “Blood Moons.”

The Coronavirus is one among numerous diseases that affect us. I agree with John Piper that the Coronavirus is a wake-up call for people who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior because the next eschatological event in our life will be our death, if not from a virus, it will be from something else.

We will not get out of this world alive, “inasmuch it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

  1. Michael Crichton, “Earthquakes: Fear and Complexity” (San Francisco, CA: The Independent Institute, November 15, 2005.[]
  2. Charles Wesley Ewing, “The Comedy of Errors,” The Kingdom Digest (July 1983), 45.[]
  3. Ewing, “The Comedy of Errors,” 45–46.[]

‘Biblical Scholar’ Claims Virus is a Sign of the End

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“A biblical scholar said the new coronavirus outbreak is a precursor to End Times prophecies, warning that the pandemic is a ‘very serious foreshadowing’ of what’s to come.”
What’s worse? The government of “experts” who have locked down our nation because of a virus or “a biblical scholar” who is misinterpreting the Bible and misleading people on the end times?

They are both bad, but misreading the Bible is worse since it is authoritative. And what makes it so bad is that there is a nearly a two-millennia track record of similar claims that have turned out to be wrong. Here’s the argument:

In an interview with The Christian Post, Mark Hitchcock, author of over 30 books related to biblical End Times prophecies, said Scripture is clear that “there will be plagues in the End Times.” He cited Luke 21:11Revelation 6:8, and the prophecy of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, where the fourth rider kills one-fourth of the Earth’s population with pestilence and the “wild beasts of the earth.”

“In fact, Scripture tells us these plagues will kill 25% of the people in the world. It’s literally going to be biblical proportions,” the Dallas Theological Seminary professor said.

These types of wild predictions never seem to stop. I have a library full of books making similar claims going back centuries.

Doomsday Déjà Vu

There has been a large appetite for end-time books in the modern era—from Oswald J. Smith (1889–1986), who in 1926 predicted that Mussolini was the biblical antichrist,14 to Edgar Whisenant who was emphatic that the rapture would take place in 1988. Doomsday Déjà Vu is a short history of prophetic speculation going back generations, and it’s FREE!

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As I mentioned in a previous article, pestilences and plagues are not unusual. They can be found in the Old Testament, secular history, and the era leading up to Jerusalem’s judgment in AD 70. For example, the Roman historian Suetonius wrote that there was such a “pestilence” at Rome during the reign of Nero that “within the space of one autumn there died no less than thirty thousand persons, as appeared from the registers in the temple of Libitina.” [1] This description fits the context of what Jesus said would happen to that generation.

If the Olivet Discourse is describing events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem that took place within a generation (Matt. 24:34Mark 13:29Luke 21:32), then Revelation must be given a similar interpretation since it is parallel to Revelation 6. James M. Hamilton, Jr., a premillennialist, writes that “the opening of the seals in Revelation 6 corresponds to what Jesus describes in the Olivet Discourse in the Synoptic Gospels.” [2] I agree. See my books Is Jesus Coming Soon?, Last Days Madness, and Wars and Rumors of Wars.

The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation

The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation explains that the doctrine of the rapture does not have biblical support. There is no Bible passage that states the church will be taken to heaven before, during, or after a seven-year period.

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In Revelation 6:13­–14, we read, “the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.”

If this is a description of physical stars, there would be an immediate end to the earth, and yet we find the earth is still intact in Revelation 8:10 where “a great star fell from heaven.” If one star hit the earth, the earth would be vaporized in an instant. In fact, if a star like our sun gets close to earth, the earth would burn up before it hit. How could the earth survive if a “third of the stars of heaven” had been thrown down to the earth (Rev. 12:4)?

Jesus is using language that was understood by the people of His day. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with similar symbolic “sign” (Rev. 1:1) language. There is dramatic end-of-the-world language in Zephaniah that is directed at Jerusalem and Israel (Zeph. 1), a local judgment described using de-creation language.

John Lightfoot makes the point that seemingly end-of-the-world language is a common feature in the Bible and most often points to the end of the social, religious, and political status of a nation:

The opening of the sixth Seal [in Rev. 6:12–13] shows the destruction itself in those borrowed terms that the Scripture uses to express it by, namely as if it were the destruction of the whole world: as Matt. 24:29–30. The Sun darkened, the Stars falling, the Heaven departing and the Earth dissolved, and that conclusion [of] ver. 16 [in Rev. 6]. They shall say to the rocks fall on us, &c. doth not only warrant, but even enforce us to understand and construe these things in the sense that we do: for Christ applies these very words to the very same thing (Luke 23:30). And here is another, and, to me, a very satisfactory reason, why to place the showing of these visions to John, and his writing of this Book [of Revelation] before the desolation of Jerusalem. [3]

When was this judgment that included plagues to take place as Luke states (21:11)? Jesus had His present audience in view as He made His way to the cross:

Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed” [Matt. 24:19Luke 21:23]. Then they will begin TO SAY TO THE MOUNTAINS, “FALL ON US,” AND TO THE HILLS, “COVER US” [Isa. 2:19–20Hos. 10:8Rev. 6:16] For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry? (Luke 23:28–31).

When was the tree dry? Jesus identified Israel’s leadership as a fruitless tree (Matt. 21:18–2224:32) that would need to be cut down if it did not bear fruit (Luke 13:8–9). These religious representatives of that generation chose Caesar over Jesus (John 19:15). Peter described that generation as “this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40).

Does the fact that the prophecy regarding plagues and wars are irrelevant in the Christian’s life?” Not at all. They are part of the human condition. Even though this virus is not an end-of-the-world sign or event, it should get our attention that we are mortal and almost any unforeseen event could lay us low and even kill us. Eternity for us is but a heartbeat away, “inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). There is no rapture rescue for us no matter what befalls our world.

Covid-19 is not a sign of some eschatological end as Mark Hitchcock claims.

So many things are happening in our world today: Israel is back in their land, the Middle East is constantly in turmoil, globalism is occurring — all of these things are signposts and point to what the Bible predicts about the soon coming of Christ. We don’t know when He’s coming; it could be today, it could be five years from now.

As a Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and an advocate of dispensationalism, Hitchcock should know that his system teaches that there are no signs preceding the “rapture of the church” since according to dispensationalism, the “rapture” is an any-moment event. It was an any-moment event 1500, 1000, 500, 250, 100 years ago when none of today’s so-called signs existed including Israel being back in their land, something the New Testament never mentions as a sign.

Prophecy speculation of the dispensational kind has changed over the years. It’s all about “signposts.” Prophecy writers have been posting these “sign posts” for nearly 2000 years. It’s long past time to stop and to get business with kingdom work.

Hitchcock mentions “the soon coming of Christ.” The New Testament makes it clear that the judgment coming of Jesus against Jerusalem was “near” or “at hand …  right at the door” (James 5:8–9) for that generation.

  1. C. Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Nero, 39.[]
  2. Hamilton, An Interview with Dr. James Hamilton. For further discussion of this point, see James M. Hamilton, Jr., Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 166–167. Also, Louis A. Vos, The Synoptic Traditions in the Apocalypse (Kampen, Netherlands: J.H. Kok N. V., 1965), 181–188.[]
  3. John Lightfoot, The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot Containing “The Harmony, Chronicle and Order of the New Testament,” ed. John Rogers Pitman, 13 vols. (London: [1655] 1823), 3:337.[]

Is Revelation 6 a Prophecy About Today’s Pandemic and Other Apocalyptic-Like Events?

By Gary DeMar

Some prophecy writers are claiming that Revelation 6 depicts what’s taking place today with earthquakes (one just hit Utah) and pestilence or plagues. Is the Coronavirus a fulfillment of Revelation 6:8?:

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, “to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence [θανάτῳ] and by the wild beasts of the earth.”

“The Apocalypse” drawn by Basil Wolverton and colorized by his son Monte Wolverton

The Greek word translated “pestilence” is θανάτῳ (thanatō) and is translated elsewhere as “death.” The rider of the horse is named θανάτῳ, the same word translated as “pestilence” in some translations.

Similar language is used in Jeremiah 15:2–3 for a local judgment against Jerusalem (15:4–14). The same is true in Jeremiah 24, especially verse 10, where a different Hebrew word is used and is translated as “pestilence” and not just “death.”

The more accurate translation in Revelation 6:8 is “death” that would include pestilence and other effects of war and famine. “The story of Mary of Bethezuba is a story of cannibalism told by Josephus in his Jewish War (VI,193) which occurred as a consequence of famine and starvation during the siege of Jerusalem in August AD 70 by Roman legions commanded by Titus. The tale is only one account of the horrors suffered at Jerusalem in the summer of 70. “

In Luke 21:11, the Greek word λοιμοὶ (loimoi) is used and is translated as “plagues,” the only time the word is used in the New Testament. As I have mentioned in a previous article, pestilences and plagues are not unusual. They can be found in the Old Testament, secular history, and the era leading up to Jerusalem’s judgment in AD 70. For example, the Roman historian Suetonius wrote that there was such a “pestilence” at Rome during the reign of Nero that “within the space of one autumn there died no less than thirty thousand persons, as appeared from the registers in the temple of Libitina.” [1]

Is Jesus Coming Soon?

Wars and rumors of wars, famines, plagues, and earthquakes. These are the biblical signs. All of them are realities of planet earth each days. Is Jesus coming back soon? Did Jesus provide an exact, predictable scenario as so many modern prophecy writers advocate?

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Now we come to the meaning of Revelation 6. What’s going on in this chapter? James M. Hamilton, Jr., a premillennialist, writes that “the opening of the seals in Revelation 6 corresponds to what Jesus describes in the Olivet Discourse in the Synoptic Gospels.” [2] I agree. See my books Is Jesus Coming Soon?Last Days Madness, and Wars and Rumors of Wars.

The following chart is from Hamilton’s commentary on Revelation:

If the Olivet Discourse is describing events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem that took place within a generation (Matt. 24:34), then Revelation must be given a similar interpretation. Consider how stellar phenomena are depicted.

Wars and Rumors of Wars

A verse-by-verse study of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 that puts it into its biblical and historical context.

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In Revelation 6:13­–14, we read, “the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.” This passage is a partial citation fromIsaiah 34:4 using the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), which reads, “all the stars shall fall.” [3]

If this is a description of physical stars, there would be an immediate end to the earth, and yet we find the earth still intact in Revelation 8:10 where “a great star fell from heaven.” If one star hit the earth, the earth would be vaporized in an instant. In fact, if a star like our sun gets close to earth, the earth would burn up before it hit. How could the earth survive if a “third of the stars of heaven” had been thrown down to the earth (Rev. 12:4)?

Then there’s the description of the male goat in Daniel 8:10 that causes “stars to fall to the earth,” an action that would destroy the earth if Daniel was describing actual physical stars. These fallen stars are then “trampled” by the horn of a goat. It must have been a mighty big goat horn, similar in size to the giant woman in Revelation who was “clothed with the sun,” stood on the moon, and had a “crown of twelve stars” on her head (Rev. 12:1). Most likely the horn refers to a civil ruler and the stars represent civil or religious authorities [4] under the ruler’s dominion.

Jesus is using language that was understood by the people of His day. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with similar symbolic “sign” (Rev. 1:1) language. There is dramatic end-of-the-world language in Zephaniah that is directed at Jerusalem and Israel (Zeph. 1). John Lightfoot makes the point that seemingly end-of-the-world language is a common feature in the Bible and most often points to the end of the social, religious, and political status of a nation:

The opening of the sixth Seal [in Rev. 6:12–13] shows the destruction itself in those borrowed terms that the Scripture uses to express it by, namely as if it were the destruction of the whole world: as Matt. 24:29–30. The Sun darkened, the Stars falling, the Heaven departing and the Earth dissolved, and that conclusion [of] ver. 16 [in Rev. 6]. They shall say to the rocks fall on us, &c. doth not only warrant, but even enforce us to understand and construe these things in the sense that we do: for Christ applies these very words to the very same thing (Luke 23:30). And here is another, and, to me, a very satisfactory reason, why to place the showing of these visions to John, and his writing of this Book [of Revelation] before the desolation of Jerusalem. [5]

A Beginner’s Guide to Interpreting Bible Prophecy

For many Christians, interpreting Bible prophecy is a complicated task. As a result, they often turn to so-called Bible experts and complicated charts that include gaps in time, outrageous literal interpretations, and numerous claims that current events are prime indicators that the end is near. Many Christians are unaware that the same Bible passages have been used in nearly every generation as “proof” that the end or some aspect of the end (the “rapture”) would take place in their generation.

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When was this judgment to take place? Jesus had His present audience in view as He made His way to the cross:

“Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed’ [Matt. 24:19Luke 21:23]. Then they will begin TO SAY TO THE MOUNTAINS, ‘FALL ON US,’ AND TO THE HILLS, ‘COVER US’ [Isa. 2:19–20Hos. 10:8Rev. 6:16] For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:28–31).

When was the tree dry and without fruit? The last days of the generation that was confronted from the judgment sequence prophesied by Jesus.

Even though this virus is not an end-of-the-world sign or event, it should get our attention that we are mortal and almost any unforeseen event could lay us low and even kill us. Eternity is but a heartbeat away.

  1. C. Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Nero, 39.[]
  2. Hamilton, An Interview with Dr. James Hamilton. For further discussion of this point, see James M. Hamilton, Jr., Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 166–167. Also, Louis A. Vos, The Synoptic Traditions in the Apocalypse (Kampen, Netherlands: J.H. Kok N. V., 1965), 181–188.[]
  3. J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 179–210.[]
  4. James B. Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, 2nd ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2007), 426–436.[]
  5. John Lightfoot, The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot Containing “The Harmony, Chronicle and Order of the New Testament,” ed. John Rogers Pitman, 13 vols. (London: [1655] 1823), 3:337.[]

THE BIBLE AND JUDGMENT COMINGS

by Gary DeMar

When the Bible uses the word “coming,” translated from the Greek words parousia (παρουσία) and erchomai (ἔρχομαι). The Greek word parousia (παρουσία) is more accurately translated as “presence” where it is used 24 times in the New Testament. Of these, six uses refer to the physical presence of individuals: Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (1 Cor.16:17), Titus (2 Cor. 7:6-7), Paul (2 Cor. 10:10Phil. 1:262:12), and the “coming of the lawless one” or “the man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:9). Here are some additional verses where parousia is used: Matthew 24:32737391 Corinthians 15:231 Thessalonians 2:193:134:155:232 Thessalonians 2:18James 5:782 Peter 1:163:4121 John 2:28.

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There are several places in the Old Testament where God comes in a non-physical way to bring judgment. We read the following in Micah 1:

The word of the Lord which came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.
Hear, O peoples, all of you;
Listen, O earth and all it contains,
And let the Lord GOD be a witness against you,
The Lord from His holy temple.
For behold, the Lord is coming forth from His place.
He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth [Amos 4:13].
The mountains will melt under Him
And the valleys will be split,
Like wax before the fire,
Like water poured down a steep place.
All this is for the rebellion of Jacob
And for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the rebellion of Jacob?
Is it not Samaria? What is the high place of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem?
For I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the open country,
Planting places for a vineyard.
I will pour her stones down into the valley
And will lay bare her foundations.

Notice how the language is both universal (“earth and all it contains”) and local (“house of Israel”). Micah is not describing a distant end-time prophetic event. He is describing a judgment coming because of the rebellion of Jacob and the sins of the northern and southern kingdoms and their capitals.

There are other passages that speak of God “coming down” to act. God is described as “riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt” where “the idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence” (Isa. 19:1).

In Revelation 19, Jesus is shown riding a horse with a sword coming out of His mouth. Is this His visible Second Coming at some distant date in the future? Will Jesus return on a horse with a sword coming out of His mouth, or is something else meant?

Earlier in the book of Revelation, we notice that Jesus threatens to come at least three times to three different local first-century churches:

  • Ephesus: “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent” (2:5).
  • Pergamum: “Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth” (2:16).
  • Philadelphia: “I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (3:11).

David Chilton writes, “The Lord is not threatening the church at Ephesus with His Second Coming; He is saying that He will come against themI will remove your lampstand out it its place.” [1]

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Kenneth Gentry comments:

Removing the lampstand signifies extinguishing the church by means of Christ’s personal judgment (“coming”) against them (Caird 27–28; Lenski 89, Ladd 39–40, Beasley-Murray 75, Mounce 70, Beale 232, Kistemaker 116, Witherington 95). As Beale (232) notes, this “coming” does not refer to Christ’s second coming, but his specific judgment of the Ephesian church in that “the activities of both ‘removing’ and ‘coming’ are conditional,” due to the de mē (“or else”) conditional clause. This localized coming against an Asia Minor church is also mentioned in 2:16; 3:3, 20. [2]

There are two comings mentioned in Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse. Jesus says He will come “just as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming [presence/parousia/παρουσία] of the Son of Man be” (Matt. 24:27) and the Son of Man will come (erchomai/ἔρχομαι) “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (24:30; cf. Dan. 7:13Matt. 26:64).

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Lightning is often associated with judgment:

“And [Jesus] said to them, ‘I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning’” (Luke 10:18). Similar to wind and fire, lightning does “surrogate duty for the image of the invisible God…. Scripture uses lightning as proof of God’s terrifying presence. It frightens believer and infidel alike…. As proof that God attends his chosen people in battle, lightning routs his enemies (Ps. 77:1897:4, cf. 144:62 Sam 22:13–15, cf. Ps 18:14).” [3]

Lightning is associated with violent destruction and terror as God uses Babylon to deliver His judgment (Ezek. 21:101528). Lightning is associated with the sword and arrows in local judgments (2 Sam. 22:15Ps. 18:14144:6). Did God use actual arrows in routing David’s enemies or did David use them? (Ps. 18:14).

Lightning is a local phenomenon. Of the 30 occurrences of the word “lightning” in the Bible, not one of them describes a global event. [4] John MacArthur argues that “Christ promised that His coming would be obvious to all: ‘As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be’ (Matthew 24:27 NKJV).” [5] Thomas Ice offers a similar interpretation: “Matthew 24:27, which says, ‘Just as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be,’ emphasizes a global coming.” [6]

Of course, lightning is not seen by everyone in the world when it strikes. When there’s a lightning storm in Sacramento, California, no one in Atlanta, Georgia, sees it. Our ability to see extends only from horizon to horizon. Contrary to MacArthur’s claim that “every person in every nation of the world will take note,” [7] it’s clear that Jesus is describing a series of local events to be experienced by that first-century generation that could be escaped by heading to the mountains outside of Judea (Matt. 24:16).

  1. The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Horn Lake, MS: Dominion Press, [1987] 2006), 96.[]
  2. The Divorce of Israel: A Redemptive-Historical Interpretation of Revelation, 2 vols. (Dallas, GA: Tolle Lege Press, 2020), 1:372.[]
  3. “Lightning,” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, eds. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 512–513.[]
  4. Job 37:3 may be the exception if the Hebrew eretz refers to the “earth” rather than the “land.”[]
  5. John MacArthur, The Coming of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 110.[]
  6. Thomas Ice, “Olivet Discourse,” The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, eds. Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2004), 255.[]
  7. MacArthur, The Coming of Christ, 110.[]

Ancient Child Sacrifice: The Legacy of Modern Abortion

I have recently done some research on child sacrifice in the Bible for the sake of a novel I am writing about Queen Jezebel and ancient Israel in the ninth-century B.C. Most readers of the Bible do not find it controversial that human sacrifice was performed in the ancient world and that it was prohibited by the God of the Hebrews. But as always, modern scholars and skeptics try to argue away the facts with their literary theories of deconstruction. If the Bible is wrong and the ancient world was not so bad, then we can go ahead and sacrifice our own children on our altars of convenience and dismiss those nagging guilty pangs of conscience that comes from learning the lessons of history.

Child Sacrifice in the Bible

Child sacrifice was one of the abominable behaviors of Canaanites that was repeatedly condemned by Yahweh (Deut. 12:31; also, Lev. 18:2120:2-5.) It was sometimes referred to directly as “burning their sons and daughters in the fire” (Deut. 12:31; also, 2 Kings 17:17Jer.7:3119:5Ezek. 16:20-2120:31.) or “passing them through the fire” (Deut. 18:102 Kings 16:317:1721:623:102 Chron 33:6Jer. 32:35Ezek. 16:2120:263223:37), and sometimes indirectly as “shedding innocent blood” (2 Kings 21:16; also, 2 Kings 24:4Isa. 59:7Jer.22:326:15Psalm 106:38). Those innocent victims are described as food eaten by the gods (Ezek. 23:37-39).

Unfortunately, Israelites were guilty of breaking this command of God almost immediately upon entering the Promised Land.

[Israelites] poured out innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was polluted with blood (Psalm 106:38).

Judah was guilty of child sacrifice from the days of Solomon up to the Babylonian exile:

[Judahites] have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind— (Jeremiah 19:5).

After Solomon’s kingdom split, Israel too was guilty of child sacrifice that led to their Assyrian exile.

And [Israel] burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight (2 Kings 17:17–18).

Molech and his Tophet in the Valley of Hinnom in Jerusalem is the one most connected to child sacrifice in the Old Testament (see Lev. 18:2120:2-41 Kings 11:72 Kings 23:10Jer. 32:35.) But he is not the only recipient of such offerings. Baal was sometimes connected with Molech as a separate but related deity. He is spoken of as being present in Molech’s accursed Valley of Hinnom.

 They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech (Jer. 32:35; also Jer. 19:5:).

Baal here could be a reference to the Canaanite deity by that name or a generic reference to “the lord” (the Baal) of the valley area. But elsewhere, high places are linked to Baal’s fertility cult, while the valley is linked to Molech’s underworld cult, two distinct locations of two distinct deities. Nevertheless, an interwoven connection between the two gods and their cults is expressed in Isaiah 57. [1]

 you who burn with lust among the oaks,
under every green tree, [Baal fertility cult]

who slaughter your children in the valleys,
under the clefts of the rocks…[Molech Tophet cult]

On a high and lofty mountain [high places of Baal]
you have set your bed,
and there you went up to offer sacrifice. [to Baal]

You journeyed to the king with oil [Molech]
and multiplied your perfumes;

you sent your envoys far off,
and sent down even to Sheol. [valley of Molech] (Isaiah 57:5-9)

The Tophet (also called Topheth) was the altar upon which children were burned in sacrifice to the deity. Everywhere the word appears in the Old Testament, it is always used in connection with the Valley of Hinnom and therefore with Molech as well.

The Valley of Hinnom, where Molech’s Tophet of sacrifice was located, became “Gehenna” (a derivative of the Hebrew), a metaphor for hell or final judgment in the Second Temple and New Testament times. [2] It is a common misunderstanding to caricature Gehenna as a garbage dump. There is no textual or archaeological evidence that it was such a thing. But it was a place of evil that was judged with fire and destruction.

In Jeremiah 7 and 19, the prophet predicts judgment upon Judah because of her worship of other gods, including child sacrifice on the Tophet in the Valley of Hinnom. He prophesies that the Babylonians will come and bring great destruction upon Jerusalem. There will be so many dead lying on the ground that the name of the valley will be changed from the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom to the Valley of Slaughter.

 … for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away (Jer. 7:32–33).

Thus will I do to this place, declares the Lord, and to its inhabitants, making this city like Topheth. The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah—all the houses on whose roofs offerings have been offered to all the host of heaven, and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods—shall be defiled like the place of Topheth (Jere 19:12–13).

Yahweh says that he will turn Jerusalem itself into a Tophet of burning destruction like a sacrifice to him because of their use of the Tophet and worship of the host of heaven. This was what indeed happened when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. And thus Gehenna (the Valley of Slaughter) became the symbol of God’s judgment upon those who violated his commands.

The Attempt to Attribute Human Sacrifice to the Bible

Recent critical scholarship has tried to argue that Yahweh himself actually commanded and accepted human sacrifice from Israelites and only later did post-exilic agenda-driven authors write propaganda into the Bible to try to discredit this “once-acceptable sacrifice.” This is an attempt to reduce Hebrew Yahwism down to evolving Canaanite religion rather than revelation from heaven. They suggest several key passages to support this contention: (1) Yahweh’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son (Gen. 22), (2) Jephthah’s vow to sacrifice his own daughter (Judges 11:29-40), and 3) Yahweh’s explicit statement that he had previously commanded human sacrifice in Ezekiel 20:25.

Yahweh’s command to Abraham is one of the most debated passages in the Bible. That command was clearly and contextually testing of Abraham’s faith that Yahweh didn’t intend for Abraham to perform. Such hypotheticals of testing are more reflective of a contrast with the Canaanite culture than an accommodation of it. Would Abraham be willing to do what he thought was wrong if Yahweh commanded it? Abraham was supposed to trust Yahweh’s righteousness and not lean on his own fallible fallen human understanding. That is a test of trust, not the validation of an evil.

Jephthah’s vow has also been debated for centuries about whether it even referred to human sacrifice rather than a life of religious celibacy (Judges 11:30). But at the end of the day, the text gives no moral judgment of Jephthah’s behavior from God’s perspective. Yahweh is not shown to approve of it any more than he is shown to condemn it. An argument from silence is not an argument for anything. The story merely describes what happened. Jephthah’s performance of his vow thus remains to be judged by scriptural passages that do make moral judgments on human sacrifice as evil.

Ezekiel’s recording of Yahweh’s strange statement about statutes and human sacrifice is surely the most difficult of the passages to address. In it, Yahweh is referencing the disobedience of Israel toward him in the wilderness.

Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the Lord. (Ezek. 20:25–26).

It sounds as if God is saying that his laws of Torah were not good and that he deliberately defiled the people by telling them to sacrifice their children. And then he gets even more strange to suggest that this was done so that they might know that he was Yahweh. It is one list of confusing contradictions against everything else written of God’s Law in the Old Testament.

The context of the passage solves the problem of misinterpretation. It wouldn’t make sense that Yahweh here would say the opposite of everything he has said throughout the Old Testament about his Law. In fact, it wouldn’t make sense to contradict what was previously said in this very same chapter of Exodus 20: that his statutes were good (v.12), that they would give life (v.11), that idols defiled them (v.7, 18), and that human sacrifice was forbidden (vv. 28-29, 31). Yahweh said very clearly that regarding child sacrifice, “I did not command it, nor did it come into my mind” (Jer. 7:31).

Context is everything. And the context of the passage is about Israel being given over to pagan control as punishment for her disobedience. The verses before Ezekiel 20:25-26 reiterates Yahweh’s warning that he would “scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries” (20:23-24). Yahweh gave them up to the godless nations around them whose gods they chose to worship.

Well, those gods had their own statutes and rules that violated Yahweh’s law. So the best translation of v. 25 is not God “gave them those statutes,” but rather as the NKJV translates, God “gave them up” to those evil laws and rules. This is what is meant by “withholding his hand” from Israel in v. 22. This is also what is meant by Paul in Romans 1 where God “gave up” the pagans to their depravity to be judged by it (Rom. 1:242628). So God gave up the Israelites to the godless nations with their godless statutes and culture that Israel was seeking after. Yahweh’s goal was that Israel would suffer from her bad choices and return to Yahweh.

The attempt to attribute child sacrifice to the Bible as if it were originally a normal part of Yahweh worship has no textual support from Scripture. The fact that many Israelites engaged in human sacrifice is simply proof of what the Bible says that they were spiritually unfaithful to Yahweh for so long that he sent them into exile precisely for sins such as child sacrifice.

The obvious connection that child sacrifice has with the modern practice of abortion is not hard to catch, and thus the parallels between Jezebel’s day and our own are instructive. Phrases like “sacrificing children in temples of Molech” or “on the altars of convenience” are used by pro-lifers of abortion clinics because the willing murder of one’s own offspring in order to bring benefit to a person’s life or to escape personal suffering is exactly what the motivation was behind child sacrifices of the ancient world. In the same way that the ancient world pleaded with the gods through child sacrifice to save them from the suffering of diseases, famine, or wars, so today’s culture pleads to Molech through abortion to “save” women from the suffering of poverty, “oppressed status,” or gender wars.

True believers in child sacrifice who were mothers of that ancient time considered it difficult but necessary to sacrifice their babies, just as true believers in abortion today will admit the difficulty of their act while demanding it a necessary right to sacrifice their babies. “Safe, legal, and rare” has resulted in a universal sacrament.

In the end, there is just no legitimate moral argument for murdering innocent children. And as in ancient Israel, the child sacrifice of abortion marks the beginning of the end of a civilization by the judgment of God.

The Modern Attempt to Deny Ancient Human Sacrifice

Outside the Bible, child sacrifice in Phoenician culture (like that of Tyre’s) has a significant presence in both textual and archaeological evidence. Among the most ancient texts that reference it are the following that wrote about the city of Carthage in North Africa, a settlement of Phoenicians.

Fourth-century BC Greek author Kleitarchos (paraphrased):

“Kleitarchos says that out of reverence for Kronos [the Greek equivalent of Ba’al Hammon], the Phoenicians, and especially the Carthaginians, whenever they seek to obtain some great favor, vow one of their children, burning it as a sacrifice to the deity if they are especially eager to gain success. There stands in their midst a bronze statue of Kronos [Baal], its hands extended over a bronze brazier, the flames of which engulf the child. When the flames fall upon the body, the limbs contract and the open mouth seems almost to be laughing, until the contracted (body) slips quietly into the brazier. Thus it is that the “grin’ is known as “sardonic laughter,” since they die laughing.” [3]

First-century BC Greek historian Diodorus Siculus:

“In their zeal to make amends for their omission to sacrifice the noblest children, they selected two hundred of the noblest children and sacrificed them publicly; and others who were under suspicion sacrificed themselves voluntarily, in a number not less than three hundred. There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus, extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground so that each of the children when placed thereupon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire.” [4]

Second-century AD Greek author Plutarch:

“No, but with full knowledge and understanding they themselves offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan; but should she utter a single moan or let fall a single tear, she had to forfeit the money, and her child was sacrificed nevertheless; and the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums [so that] the cries of wailing should not reach the ears of the people.” [5]

Though these texts speak of Phoenician child sacrifice in locations geographically removed from Canaan, they actually confirm religious and cultural connection to Jezebel’s Tyre. The city of Carthage was founded by Dido of Tyre shortly after Jezebel’s death. [6] As Henry Smith explains, “The evidence indicates that the Phoenicians brought this barbaric practice to Carthage from Canaan, and therefore, evidence of child sacrifice at Carthage provides evidential support for the historicity of the biblical accounts which mention such sacrifices.” [7]

Critical scholars have recently sought to discredit or diminish the descriptions of Phoenician child sacrifice in both biblical and classical historians by complaining of prejudice in the authors who describe the sacrifices. In other words, biblical prophets used poetic hyperbole against polytheists, and Greek and Roman authors wrote propaganda about their enemies, such as Carthage, in order to paint them as barbarians and to justify their own barbarity. [8]

But this doesn’t really fit the facts. First, because authors of different eras and vastly different cultures all wrote about the child sacrifice of Carthage. That is the definition of legally sound corroborating eyewitnesses.

Second, both Greeks and Romans practiced infant exposure, leaving unwanted infants to die of exposure to natural elements. So they didn’t condemn the killing of infants—because they practiced it. Their interest was not moral but theological. [9]

Thirdly, the archaeological evidence confirms that both biblical and classical authors knew what they were talking about. Such physical evidence of child sacrifice has been found in Phoenician colonies all over the western Mediterranean. The most famous of sites is the Tophet at Carthage, North Africa, already referenced above.

Lawrence Stager and Sam Wolff, archaeologists who had excavated the site described it this way:

The Carthaginian Tophet is the largest of these Phoenician sites and indeed is the largest cemetery of sacrificed humans ever discovered. Child sacrifice took place there almost continuously for a period of nearly 600 years…we nevertheless estimate the size of the Carthaginian Tophet during the fourth and probably the third centuries B.C. to be, at the minimum, between 54,000 and 64,000 square feet. Using the density of urns in our excavated area as a standard, we estimate that as many as 20,000 urns may have been deposited there between 400 and 200 B.C. [10]

The excavation site involves several levels that cover time periods from 800 B.C. to about 146 B.C. Earlier dates are below the water level and not accessible. Each level consists of urns that contain the charred bones of children, both boys and girls, from newborn to three-years-old, mixed in with charred bones of goats and sheep. These burnt sacrifices were made to Tanit and Baal-Hammon, the patron goddess and god of Carthage. Tanit is the equivalent of Astarte in Canaan. Some say Baal-Hammon is the equivalent of the high god El. But in Canaan Astarte was the consort, not of El, but of Baal, the “Most High.” So Baal-Hammon is most likely the equivalent of the Canaanite Baal-Hadad.

Critical scholars have recently constructed revisionist theories to describe the Carthage Tophet as not being a location of child sacrifice but a cemetery for children who died of natural causes. Stager, Wolff, and Greene debunk this skepticism by explaining several aspects that mitigate such revisionary speculation. [11]

First, the natural mortality rate of children at this time doesn’t match the unnaturally high mortality rate of children in the Tophet, thus indicating deliberate infanticide rather than natural causes. [12]

Second, none of the remains of the infants show the pathological condition of the disease. [13]

Third, naturally expired infants are usually ritually buried in foundations of homes or near the adults of the family, not in a separate cemetery.

Fourth, some of the inscriptions on stela above the urns describe sacrificial vows to a deity never seen in normal funerary stela.

Finally, burial urns of charred animal bones that are sacrificial substitutions are found interspersed with the children’s urns, something that would only make sense in terms of sacrificial rites. There were no pet cemeteries, and animal sacrificial substitution for humans was common though not universal. Some children were still sacrificed. [14]

Some have suggested that animal substitution evolved out of human sacrifice, but the later levels of Carthage show an increase in human sacrifice in later years, not a decrease, thus disproving the evolutionary theory. [15]

Child sacrifice was integrated into the Phoenician culture and the Israelite and Judahite cultures in a deeply affecting way. The biblical, historical, and archaeological evidence is consistent with each other.

I sought to portray the reality of ancient child sacrifice in ancient Phoenicia and Israel in my new novel Jezebel: Harlot Queen of Israel. To show how it was integrated into their socio-economic world. In one sense, the modern reader will be shocked at how it could have been so normalized—until that astute reader realizes its analogy with the modern-day normalization of abortion, child sacrifice 2.0.

___________________________

Brian Godawa is the best-selling biblical fiction author of the new novel series of spiritual war in the Bible, Chronicles of the Watchers. The first book in the series, Jezebel: Harlot Queen of Israel is now available. This article is excerpted from the book The Spiritual World of Jezebel and Elijah that is a theological companion book to the Jezebel novel.

  1. About Molech and Baal as separate deities see John Day, Molech: A God Of Human Sacrifice In The Old Testament (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 34-36.[]
  2. See, 2 Esdras 7:362 Baruch 59:1085:13Mark 9:434547. See Day, Molech, 52.[]
  3. Kleitarchos, Scholia to Plato’s Republic, 337A: Quoted in Paul G. Mosca, Child Sacrifice in Canaanite and Israelite Religion: A study in Mulk, PhD Thesis, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1975), 22.[]
  4. Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, Book 20, 14:4-7, Loeb Classical Library, 1954, 153. Quoted in Lawrence E. Stager and Samuel R. Wolff, “Child Sacrifice at Carthage: Religious Rite or Population Control?” Biblical Archaeology Review 10:1 (1984), 14.[]
  5. Plutarch, On Superstition, Loeb Classical Library, 1928, 2:495. Quoted in Smith, Jr., “Canaanite Child Sacrifice,” 98.[]
  6. Stager and Wolff, “Child Sacrifice at Carthage,” 6.[]
  7. Henry B. Smith, Jr., “Canaanite Child Sacrifice, Abortion, and the Bible,” The Journal of Ministry and Theology, 93.[]
  8. Smith, Jr., “Canaanite Child Sacrifice,” 93.[]
  9. Smith, Jr., “Canaanite Child Sacrifice,” 99-100.[]
  10. Stager and Wolff, “Child Sacrifice at Carthage,” 2.[]
  11. These reasons were all drawn from several sources: A debate over child sacrifice: https://phoenicia.org/childsacrifice.html; Brien K. Garnand, Lawrence E. Stager,  Joseph A. Greene, “Infants as Offerings: Palaeodemographic Patterns and Tophet Burial,” Studi Epigrafici e Linguistici 29-30, 2012-13: 193-222; Lawrence E. Stager and Samuel R. Wolff, “Child Sacrifice at Carthage: Religious Rite or Population Control?” Biblical Archaeology Review 10,1 (1984).[]
  12. Garnand, Stager and. Greene, “Infants as Offerings, 193-222.[]
  13. https://phoenicia.org/childsacrifice.html[]
  14. Stager and Wolff, “Child Sacrifice at Carthage,” 11.[]
  15. Stager and Wolff, “Child Sacrifice at Carthage,” 13.[]