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Interpreting Old Testament Prophecy (1)

From the Covenant Reformed News, May 2015 Issue (the full issue is attached here in pdf form)

Interpreting Old Testament Prophecy (1)

A brother from continental Europe writes, “In a recent conversation, I was told that, when Jesus comes back, He will arrive on the earth on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4) and come through the Golden Gate. I found it a really strange and false idea, but I couldn’t think of a good argument against it. (Personally, I reckon it’s senseless to talk about the place of Christ’s return as, first, it shall be seen from each point of the earth, and also the earth and heavens shall be destroyed, and, second, we cannot imagine that event and the Bible also uses only pictures for illustrating it.) If you have a brief answer, that would be nice for me.”

In my experience, discussions with premillennialists and premillennial dispensationalists are hampered by the fact that they use a different hermeneutic or method of Bible interpretation from the Reformed and that which has been historically used in the church. The result is that premills (using this word to describe both groups of premillennialists) and Reformed come to different conclusions with regard to the interpretation of prophetic texts.

These hermeneutical differences have primarily to do with the unity of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, and the unity of the church. Generally speaking, the difference is that the premills claim that the nation of Israel is not the church, but is the kingdom people. That kingdom people is a national people, a historical body of people who are given earthly prerogatives, earthly promises, an earthly inheritance in the land of Canaan and a special, though earthly, relationship to God. Christ is the king of an earthly kingdom and of the Jews only.

The nation of Israel lost its special status with God when the Jews crucified their king. The premills argue that a hiatus in God’s work resulted, in which the nation of Israel is temporarily set aside and another work of God is performed: the saving of the Gentiles. This work will be concluded in the future, when God will return to Israel, the racial Jews, and fulfill His earthly promises for them, according to the premills.

In order to maintain this utterly wrong opinion, premills insist that the Old Testament prophecies have to be taken literally and interpreted in an earthly way. This leads to the conclusion, as the questioner points out, that Christ will return to the literal Mount Olivet, for that is what the text says literally. Christ will then establish an earthly kingdom in Palestine with the Jews for one thousand years.

Premills are captivated and enthralled with the earthly Jews, and cannot seem to get it straight that God’s works are performed through Christ who establishes the kingdom of heaven. Jesus Himself reminds us that His kingdom “cometh not with observation” but is “within” us, that is, spiritual and heavenly (Luke 17:20-21).

The historic and Reformed view is simply this: 1) The church chosen by God eternally and redeemed through the blood of Christ is composed of all the elect in the old and new dispensations. Stephen calls the nation of Israel “the church” (Acts 7:38). 2) Because the Spirit of Christ was not yet poured out on the church in the old dispensation (John 7:37-39), God taught His people of the coming of Christ and the salvation of His church in pictures, for the church was in its childhood (Gal. 4:1-3).

Let me give a couple of biblical proofs that Old Testament prophecy concerning Israel is not to be interpreted literally—in the sense in which premills speak of literal.

First, Amos 9:11 reads, “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.” If this text in Amos is taken literally, as the premills insist it should be, then the temple or palace of Solomon will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. But Scripture interprets Scripture, and James at the Jerusalem synod says that prophecy is fulfilled in the gathering of the Gentiles, not in any building project (Acts 15:13-18)!

A second Old Testament prophecy which the premills insist on taking literally with respect to ethnic Jews is Hosea 2:23: “And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.” This verse alludes to the names of the three children who were born to Hosea’s wife: Jezreel (God sows), Loruhamah (no mercy) and Loammi (not my people) (1:2-11).

The premills insistently claim that God deals with Israel as His kingdom people and with the Gentiles as the church. They reckon that the Old Testament is a book addressed to Jews, whereas the New Testament is primarily about the church. In their view, the Scriptures are not the infallibly inspired record of the revelation of God in Christ and in the church as Christ’s body. They are two books written for two different people. Thus, for premills, Hosea’s prophecy refers to God’s salvation of the Jews, bringing them to Palestine to a renewed form of the old kingdom of David and Solomon.

However, Paul says, “Even us whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As he saith also in Osee [i.e., Hosea], I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved which were not beloved” (Rom. 9:24-25). This inspired apostle of Christ declares that Hosea’s prophecy is not fulfilled in a restoration of the Jews but in the gathering of elect Jews and Gentiles—as does Peter (I Pet. 2:10)!

This error of the premills, by the way, is also the reason why most premills are baptistic, for they hold that, although God promised that He would be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s seed, this promise is only for the ancient Jews. They say that circumcision as a sign and seal of this promise was administered to Jews only as a sign of salvation for Jews only—in the line of generations. Now, baptism is the sign given to the church. The church may not baptize the infant children of believers, Baptists argue, because God’s promise to save believers and their seed is an old dispensational promise. In the new dispensation, baptism is only to be given to those who make a credible confession of their faith in Christ, they claim.

This premill and Baptist position is tenaciously maintained, in spite of Paul’s words: “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). But this is such an important point that it seems wise to devote another article in the News to it. Prof. Herman Hanko, emeritus, PRC Seminary

Last modified on 07 June 2015
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Additional Info

  • Volume: 15
  • Issue: 13
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001


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