Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Interpreting Prophecy Correctly

Biblegems # 280

Question: Zechariah 14:4 says that the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west”. Is this to be understood literally, or is there a more symbolic meaning intended?

Using Zechariah 14:4, here are four basic principles for interpreting prophecy correctly:

The immediate context, Zechariah 14:1-10, places the mountain-splitting event amidst other “Day of the Lord” events (v.1), including: Jerusalem overrun by “all the nations,” (vv. 1-2); half of Jerusalem’s survivors taken into exile (v. 3); the LORD appearing and “all the holy ones with him” to attack the nations formed against Israel (vv. 1, 3, 5); the LORD descending on the Mount of Olives, causing the mountain to “split in two from east to west” (v.4). Jewish survivors left in Jerusalem escape the city through the valley created by the earthquake (v.5). A bright, warm light accompanies the LORD’s appearing, continuing day and night (v. 6). A new river will flow east and west from Jerusalem’s greatly elevated mountain, the surrounding region leveled like the Arabah wilderness (vv.8, 10). The Lord will reign from Jerusalem as king over the entire earth (v.9).

The context describes very specific future events in a very specific timeline intended be understood at face value, not symbolically.

The fundamental rule of interpretation, prophetic or not, is to take Scripture literally (at face value, straightforward) unless the text itself dictates otherwise. Key words, such as “like”, or “as” can indicate comparison or metaphor. To interpret Zechariah 14:4 symbolically it needs to be worded something like this:
“…the Mount of Olives will shake [as if it were about to] be split in two from east to west…”

Instead, the language is precise and definitive, indicating these events are to be understood at face value, not symbolically.

Consistency in interpretation means we do not have the liberty to pick and choose which details we think should be symbolic, exaggeration, or literal. No matter how extreme or how scientifically unlikely the mountain-splitting earthquake might seem to us, either we take the entire passage as literal, or not at all. Consistency demands one or the other.

Scripture Interprets Scripture
In the book of Acts, Jesus gathered His disciples one last time on the Mount of Olives to give them final instructions (Acts 1:12). But He did more than that.
         Acts 1:9-11  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Jesus ascended to heaven visibly and physically from the Mount of Olives; and He will descend to earth in power and great glory, visibly and physically (Matt. 24:30), with all His holy ones (1Thess. 3:13), upon the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12), as the Scripture foretold in Zechariah 14:4. Jesus’ ascension verifies the literal interpretation of Zechariah 14:4 and its entire context.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What Is The Third Heaven?

Question: What is the third heaven mentioned by the apostle Paul?

2Cor. 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know— God knows.

There are surprisingly several clues within the context of Paul’s mention of this “third heaven” that shed some light on the subject.

First, Paul uses the term without explanation, as if it were quite familiar to his contemporaries. This is because the “third heaven” was a familiar concept in Jewish circles, made popular by the book of 2 Enoch. While not Scripture, many of the concepts and terms were recognized as accurate and used by such New Testament authorities as Paul, Peter and Jude.

Second, “the third heaven” is experienced in this life through the portal of  “visions and revelations” (v. 1). “Visions and revelations” is a very general expression, and Paul does not specify which of the two was the vehicle for his own experience, and he may not have been sure himself. God reveals Himself in many ways, and “visions” are just one form of such revelations (Heb. 1:1). Twice in the book of Revelation, the apostle John described how his own experience sometimes seemed to engage his physical senses:
         Rev. 19:10  At this I fell at his feet to worship him.
         Rev. 22:8   I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me.

Third, the “third heaven” is identical to “paradise” (v. 4). “Paradise” is the biblical term describing where those who die in a righteous relationship with God enjoy life in His presence prior to their bodily resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (1Thess. 4:14-17; 1Cor. 15:52). Jesus promised the thief on the cross next to Him who professed his faith in Jesus as the Son of God that he would wake up in Paradise (the “third heaven”) that very day and see Jesus there (Lk. 23:43).

The “third heaven” could be experienced in both the physical and spiritual realm, even though Paul was not certain whether his own experience was “in the body or out of the body.” The book of Revelation supports this:
         Rev. 2:7  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Likewise, in Luke 16:19-31, Jesus describes Paradise as a beautiful place whose residents, like Lazarus, are fully conscious that they have entered God’s presence after death, and they are aware of those who await Judgment Day in Hades (not Hell, yet) after death. Lazarus and the crucified thief both represent those who Paul describes as having “fallen asleep in” Jesus (1Thes. 4:14, 15).

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Why Jesus Taught In Parables

Biblegems # 278

Question: According to Luke 8:10, Jesus didn’t want anyone except His disciples to understand the parables of the Kingdom of God, so why teach the others in parables at all?

Here is the reference:
Luke 8:9-10  His [Jesus’] disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,

          “ ‘though seeing, they may not see;
                   though hearing, they may not understand. “

This is Jesus’ typical response in the Gospels, showing that the quote above is not a fluke but represents Jesus’ intentional teaching strategy about the Kingdom of God. The reason for this has several layers.

Reason #1 Jesus was intentionally fulfilling His role of Messiah as predicted by the Old Testament prophets:
         Matt. 13:34-35  Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
                  I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

The “prophet” quoted here is king David in Psalm 78:2.

Reason #2  Proverbs and parables already had a long history in Scripture as a principal tool for teaching spiritual truth (Prov. 1:1-6). In fact, proverbs and parables were recognized for their value in sifting out those who “despise wisdom and instruction” that leads to a deep understanding of God  (Prov. 1:7).

Reason #3  As our Savior-Messiah, Jesus fulfills the three-fold roles of Prophet, Priest and King. As a prophet in His own right, Jesus communicated what He heard directly from God the Father which, at times, came in the form of parables. As the Lord says in the prophet Hosea:
         Hos. 12:10  “I spoke to the prophets, gave them many visions and told parables through them.”

Reason #4 Jesus used parables to describe the realities of the coming Kingdom of God. In doing so, He also had to help His listeners un-learn misconceptions about the Kingdom of God passed on through religious instruction for generations. They were expecting the Messiah to rally the people of Israel to defeat the Roman Empire and re-establish Israel’s independence, accompanied by an angelic army that would miraculously appear. As Jesus approached Jerusalem on what came to be known as “Palm Sunday,” surrounded by thousands of supporters, with thousands more joining from Jerusalem itself, those exuberant crowds thought the day of overthrowing the Roman yoke had come:
         Luke 19:11  While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.

Jesus used parables to draw familiar illustrations from everyday life that pointed to the Kingdom’s true nature. These stories, then and now, still accomplish their purpose, sifting out those who truly want the truth from those who want to shape the Kingdom of God into a mold they are comfortable with.
         Luke 18:17 “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”