9. The Third Side Of The Question
"Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand."
Revelation 22:10 (Circa A.D. 68)
As we pointed out in Chapter 5, the two attitudes regarding the Bible which seem today to be pervasive throughout American culture are: (a) the Bible is filled with errors, myths and contradictions, and is not to be taken seriously by any intelligent, "modern" person; and (b) the Bible is the inspired Word of God, which teaches clearly that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent. The "tone setters" have done their work so well in establishing these two views as the "two sides" of the question that they have been able to obscure almost completely from the casual inquirer the fact that millions of devoted Christians in America and throughout the world hold to a third, entirely different, view. This view is that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, which teaches that no-one except God Himself knows when the Second Coming of Christ is to occur. Stated very broadly, this view probably would encompass the beliefs of most of the post-millenialists, a-millenialists and post-tribulation pre-millenialists who reject the "higher criticism" philosophy. It might well be called the "conservative" Protestant view, since it encompasses the entire range of Protestant beliefs held prior to about 1830.
The beliefs expressed in the remainder of this chapter are not presented as the only possible doctrine which a reasonable and faithful person could hold, but are given as one example of an alternative to the Scofieldian doctrine.
While many passages in many different books of the Bible are interpreted in the Scofield Bible to support the Scofieldian thesis, the Book of Revelation is central to his theory. It is the contention of Scofield and his followers that the Book of Revelation is a prophecy as yet unfulfilled, one which depicts catastrophic events soon to occur in our own time. An alternative view is that the Book of Revelation is a message conveyed by the Apostle John to warn the Christians of his own day of catastrophic events which were then imminent, and which did indeed occur. In this view, the Book of Revelation is a prophecy which has been fulfilled, just as many other Biblical prophecies have been fulfilled. Let us examine the book itself.
One of the first characteristics of the Book met by the reader is its sense of urgency. The very first verse of the first chapter reads: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass." Again, in the third verse, we read: "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand." In the very last chapter, in verse 6, we read: "and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show his servants the things which must shortly be done." The whole tone of the book is one of urgency. This would be entirely natural if John were speaking of things soon to occur in the first century, but hardly appropriate if he were speaking of events to occur nineteen hundred years in the future.
The second striking feature of the Book of Revelation is its use of symbolic language. Symbols are used profusely throughout the book, but for what purpose? If the book were a prophecy of events to occur in far distant centuries, why clothe them in symbols such as horsemen, locusts, beasts, etc.? Any answer to this question must be, at best, highly speculative. But, if the book were describing the Roman emperor and his government, and events which they would soon bring about, then the Apostle had every reason to clothe his warnings in symbolic language or, as we would term it today, in code. If he had given his warnings in plain language, he would have precipitated upon the Christians the immediate wrath of the empire, and the church might have been completely obliterated. But by writing in code he could conceal his message from the Roman authorities while revealing it to the churches, since there were in every church in the first century those who were spiritually gifted. This is discussed by Paul at length in his first letter to the Corinthians.1 For example, in First Corinthians 12:8, Paul says, "For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit." In Revelation 13:18, John says, "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six." John knew that those who were spiritually gifted with wisdom would be enabled to decipher his cryptogram, in this case one giving the identity of the beast.
The identity of the beast is another clue to the nature of the Book of Revelation. The code number, 666, fits perfectly the official name of the emperor who was then on the throne of the Roman Empire, Nero Caesar. The numerical values of the letters making up his name in the Hebrew language add up to the infamous 666. What could have been more natural than for the Apostle to conceal his message from the Romans while revealing it to the Christians by employing the Hebrew language, unfamiliar to the Romans but familiar to many Christians? In searching for an answer to the ancient and mysterious 666, why overlook the most obvious answer? Nero, who reigned from A.D. 54 to A.D. 68, was the first emperor to persecute the Christians.
Some scholars may object that Nero could not have been the beast because the Book of Revelation was written after his lifetime, in about A.D. 96. But this date is based upon flimsy evidence, and the preponderance of scholars place the date of the book during the period of Nero's reign, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It is beyond the scope of this book to discuss this question, but the reader is referred to "The History of the Christian Church", in which the author, Phillip Schaff, the translator of the American Standard Version of the Bible, cites a list of twenty scholars who all agree upon the early date for the book.
If we are to conclude that the book of Revelation was indeed written as an urgent coded warning to the Christians of the first century, what then was the message? It warned of two things. One was the impending destruction of the City of Jerusalem and the Jewish theocratic state; the other was the impending persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire.
The destruction of Jerusalem is portrayed most vividly in Chapters 17 and 18, where the city is characterized as a harlot for having rejected the teachings of God. The destruction of Jerusalem was indeed a cataclysmic event. More than one million2 people perished after a protracted siege in which the wretched inhabitants were reduced to eating the bodies of their own children. It was truly a time of "great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no nor ever shall be",3 just as Christ Himself had foretold in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In those passages Christ had warned those Christians who would be present in Jerusalem at the time of the great siege to flee the city in great haste, not taking time even to gather up their belongings. Thus the Book of Revelation is seen as a reiteration and extension, probably sometime in the decade of A.D. 60-70, of warnings given by Christ Himself in about A.D. 33. Christ had enumerated the signs of the impending catastrophe while He was yet on earth. Through John, He warned the Christians again when the event was nearly upon them.
The Christians heeded the warning. The historian Eusebius, the Bishop of Cesarea in Palestine, wrote in A.D. 324 that the Christians in Jerusalem fled and took refuge in the mountain country of Pella, beyond the Jordan River.4 Thus Christ's admonition to flee to the mountains was directed to the Christians of the first century, not to American Christian patriots of the twentieth century, some of whom have succumbed to the "guns and groceries" neutralizing syndrome because of this misunderstanding. Eusebius goes on to explain, in the same passage, how the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 were a fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel, referred to by Christ in both Matthew 24 and Mark 13: "... when finally, the abomination of desolation, according to the prophetic declaration, stood' in the very temple of God, so celebrated of old, but which now was approaching its total downfall and final destruction by fire." A few pages later, Eusebius reiterates that these cataclysmic events were indeed those prophesied by Christ. "All this occurred in this manner, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, according to the predictions of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who by his divine power foresaw all these things as if already present at the time, who wept and mourned indeed, at the prospect, as the holy evangelists show in their writings."5
Warnings concerning impending persecutions of Christians are given in numerous places in the Book of Revelation, but are coupled with assurances that the faithful Christians who would suffer torture and death would receive their rewards in heaven. Thus, in Chapter 6, we read: "I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fel-low-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."6 Then in Chapter 20 we read: "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."7 The souls of the martyrs of Chapter 6, who were murdered by the Romans, were shown receiving their reward in Chapter 20, reigning in heaven with Christ. Nowhere else in the entire Bible except in Chapter 20 of Revelation is there any mention of a thousand-year reign. Those who believe that Christ will establish a political reign upon the earth for a thousand years (the "millenium") believe that the passage quoted above describes a scene on earth rather than one in heaven. The fact that John said he saw the "souls" reigning with Christ seems to this author conclusive evidence that the scene described is heavenly, not earthly.
It is neither within the scope of this chapter nor within the ability of the author to give a comprehensive survey of the body of religious thought which has been touched upon here. It is our hope, however, that we have been able to indicate to the reader that a body of thought does exist which holds the Word of God in reverence and which is completely contrary to the Scofield doctrine. It is a body of thought which sees the Bible as a comprehensive whole whose parts are all complementary to one another. Although the Bible is made up of many books written by many different human authors over a period of many centuries, it is welded. together into one harmonious entity by the action of the Holy Spirit who guided each writer.
One example of this harmony exists in the portions of Matthew, Mark, and Luke referred to earlier. Here we have three writers describing the same event, each in his own words. When all three descriptions are seen as a warning by Christ of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, harmony exists among the three Gospels. But Scofield does not see it thus. Scofield and his followers maintain that, while Christ's discourse as recorded by Luke refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the same discourse, as recorded by Matthew and Mark, refers to a still future siege of Jerusalem which is to occur during the coming "tribulation." The reader is urged to read these three chapters* for himself and determine for himself which is the more harmonious, logical, straightforward, and reverent interpretation.
We have not discussed other books of the Bible, such as Daniel, which are used by the Scofieldians to support their theory. It must suffice here to say that in these cases the simpler, more straightforward interpretation is, in the author's opinion, the one which sees these Old Testament prophecies as having been fulfilled in the first coming of Christ and the establishment of His church. In contrast, the Scofieldian doctrine sees these prophecies as still unfulfilled, but about to be fulfilled in the very near future.
It is the contention of the Scofieldians that the establishment and "flowering" of the Nation of Israel is a fulfillment of prophecy in itself, and that it points to the imminence of further prophetic fulfillments. For one example among many, an article in "Faith Aflame", a magazine promoting the Scofieldian doctrine, states: "The Jewish nation is by far the greatest evidence of the imminent return of the Lord." 8 Let us examine how the Nation of Israel came into being.
REFERENCES, CHAPTER 9
* Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.
1 First Corinthians, Chapters 12, 13, and 14.
2 "The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Cesarea, in Palestine, Translated from the Original with an Introduction by Christian Frederick Cruse" Baker Book House, Grand Rapids 6, Michigan, 1955, Book III, Chapter VII, p. 93.
3 Matthew 24:21.
4 Eusebius (Op. Cit.), Book III, Chapter V, p. 86.
5 Ibid., Book III, Chapter VII, p. 93.
6 Revelation 6:9-11.
7 Revelation 20:4.
8 Falwell, Jerry, Dr. "How Near Is The End?" "Faith Aflame" magazine, Lynchburg, Va. 24505 Nov. Dec. 1976, p. 2.
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