Monday, June 9, 2008

Premillenial problems...

As you all know, there are a couple ways to view the overall structure of the Bible and the plan of redemption, which more times than not, determines how one formulates their eschatological position. Now, I'm the first one to say that I'm not an expert in eschatology, nor do I profess to be a hermeneutical scholar of the first order. But that's not to say that I don't attempt a sober evaluation on a given biblical position.

Having said that, I have an issue with premillenialism (actually, I have a few, but that's for another time). Now I really don't subscribe to any eschatological position because I find there are some issues with them all. But one of the main issues I have with premillenialism is the idea that in the millenium (1000 year reign of Christ on earth) there will be a return to Old Testament types and shadows (not all subscribe to this). And after reading an excerpt from Kim Riddlebarger's book The Case for Ammillenialsim [which he posted on his blog the other day] (HERE), I can't help but truly find fault with this position. Riddlebarger observes,

" Once Christ has come and fulfilled these particular prophetic expectations, how can the dispensationalist justify his belief that the future millennial age is characterized by a redemptive economy of type and shadow, when the reality to which these things pointed, has already come? This pre-messianic Old Testament millennial expectation, complete with restored temple worship and the reinstitution of animal sacrifices, can only be justified by a redemptive historical U-turn...According to dispensationalists, type and shadow are fulfilled in Jesus Christ who, in the millennial age, supposedly re-institutes these same types and shadows which are inferior and have passed away."


I said it above, I'm no expert; and I'm really looking for someone to help me out here. But how can one answer Riddlebarger's claim? I mean, doesn't Hebrews 10 seemingly annihilate this position? While I'm aware that the main purpose of the argument in favor partially stems from the idea that the Temple in Ezekiel 40-48 has yet to be fulfilled. And in these chapters you find specific detailed references to a Temple that has "yet" to be built which speak to the reinstitution of animal sacrifices and the like. But when Hebrews 10:1 says, or since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near."

The author of Hebrews point: Only Christ can make perfect those who draw near.

So here's my question: Why would God re-institute the types and shadows [in the millennium] that he has clearly did away with (cf. Heb 10:2, 9);something which was only to pointed to Christ in the first place?

There is obviously much more to consider when it comes to this element of their overall schema. And I'm aware that not all premillenials subscribe to this. I'd encourage you to read Riddlebarger's whole post to get a better idea of how this interpretation is explained. But this is the gist of it, and I can't seem to reconcile this with most of what the NT has to say about who Christ was and what he came to do.

Perhaps those with a little background can weigh in here.

7 comments:

Brian said...

Even in my Baptist days so many years ago I had problems with any version of Millennialism. And finding "the rest of the story" about John Darby certainly didn't help. However, one of the best books, deeply researched, that I have read recently is Andrew Perriman's "The Coming of the Son of Man." He explores, very convincingly, how contemporary's of the writers of Biblical texts would have understood the dire statements of Daniel and John. The "predictions" were not written for the far distant future and our experience, but the immediate circumstances.

Mike B. said...

While I cannot speak for dispensationalists, I can weigh in with my own two cents.

The Hebrew Scriptures must be the foundation for our understanding of eschatology, as with every other area of theology. We must take prophetic claims about the restoration of the temple and its services seriously. The dispensationalist position, while being rather convoluted in many areas, has this advantage. It does not attempt to explain away such references as merely symbolic, or to attribute meaning to them that would have been utterly foreign, and even nonsensical to their original audiences.

The book of Hebrews contrasts the sacrifices offered in the Temple with the eternal sacrifice of Christ, asserting the superiority of Christ sacrifice.

The problem with viewing this as a matter of replacement, however, in which Christ sacrifice replaces the Temple sacrifices, is that the author of Hebrews speaks of the Temple service as continuing to be a contemporary reality (Heb 8:4). There is no hint of replacement here because there is no hint of overlap at all. There are priests on Earth who offer sacrifices according to the Law and there is a High Priest in Heaven who offers himself in the Heavenly Holy Place. The latter is superior to the former, which is a shadow and a copy. These two temples exist and carry out their respective services contemporaneously. Hebrews 9:13-14 clears up that the Temple sacrifices are, in fact, effective to cleanse the flesh. They serve a purpose. What they do not do, is cleanse the conscience, or make the worshiper who brings them perfect.

The anecdotal evidence from the book of Acts, also points towards an understanding on the part of the Apostles which allowed for a continuing allegiance to the Temple, since they were daily worshiping in it. Statements which imply an abolition of the shadows and copies along with their fulfillment simply do not accord with the monumental weight of narrative evidence.

Nor do they even accord with common Christian practice. For what is the Lord's supper, for instance, but a shadow and a copy of a spiritual reality. Why would we continue to observe such a shadowy and symbolic observance after Jesus has, in fact, carried out those things which it looks toward?

Why is a ceremony that looks back upon scripture fulfilled preferable to one that looks forward? And why cannot one that looked forward also look back?

There is more that can be said on this matter, but I contend that if the prophets require that a new Temple be built and its services restored, then this claim must frame our expectations regarding eschatology. And I also contend that no inconsistency between this and the New Testament, least of all the book of Hebrews need be imagined. The Apostles worshiped in the Temple, and I see no reason to imagine that if a Temple still stood in Jerusalem, Jesus' disciples today should not worship in its walls. In this sense, my argument differs from dispensationalism.

I am sure this raises more questions initially than it answers, but I believe it begins to address the question.

Athanasius said...

The reasons advanced in favor of the Premillennial view are based upon the wealth of OT texts that anticipate Israel being exalted over all the other nations, Jerusalem becoming the center of worship of the nations, and a Temple existing on Mt. Zion during this time of Messianic blessings.

To answer Dr. Riddlebarger's question (or perhaps objection), a redemptive/historical U-turn would be the re-establishment of the Mosaic Law during the Millennial Kingdom--a position that no dispensationalist I know of espouses.

It is simply incorrect to say that the institution of a sacrificial system during the Millennial Kingdom must require or demand of it the exact same function as the sacrificial component of the Mosaic Covenant, which was a type or shadow of a much better sacrifice and Covenant--Christ's death upon which the New Covenant is ratified.

The descriptions of these sacrifices, given particularly in Ezekiel but also found in Jeremiah and Malachi are similar yet also possess important distinctions from the commands given in the Mosaic Law--a fact that troubled Jewish experts of the Law.

It can be argued that the establishment during the Millennial Kingdom of a sacrificial system that is both similar to yet distinct from the Mosaic sacrificial code will therefore serve an important function that might overlap and yet be distinctly different from the function of the old covenant sacrifices.

If this is true, then such a system does not conflict with the issues being addressed by the author of Hebrews, and comports with the sentiment that the Messiah is the fulfillment of the types and shadows in the Law which have now passed away.

Damian M. Romano said...

Gentleman, sorry to chime in so late here. Thanks for the comments. I'm really trying to see the logic in each eschatological position. So don't think that I’m fighting hard for anyone specifically, I'm just really looking for the most exegetically and theologically sound position.

Brian, I'm glad you can relate. When I get a chance I'll check out that book.

Mike B, you say that the Hebrew Scriptures must be our foundation for eschatology. Well, of course, but what about what the New Testament has to say to Jesus as being the fulfillment of the very thing which the OT pointed to (specifically the Temple). Where is the instruction in the NT to continue the elements of the Old (Temple services, that is)? Who are the ones still doing this today, the Jews? Is the Old Covenant still [in tact] for them?

From what I read, most of the NT seems speaks to the removal of the Old and the reality of the New, does it not? If Paul condemned the Galatians for their temptation to return to the Old Covenant aspects, so much as to say that those who accept circumcision have fallen away from grace (Gal. 5:4), what purpose would these elements still serve when the reality has come? Likewise, the Lord’s Supper is light years away from the continuation of sacrifices. Do you think that in heaven (or even the millennium) we’ll still be administering The Lord’s Supper? Paul didn’t seem to think so when he wrote,…we do this to proclaim the Lord’s death until his coming (1st Cor 11:26).

Then you say, "The problem with viewing this as a matter of replacement, however, in which Christ sacrifice replaces the Temple sacrifices, is that the author of Hebrews speaks of the Temple service as continuing to be a contemporary reality (Heb 8:4)"

I don't see how Hebrews 8:4 says anything to the issue of continuation of Temple services. Seeing as Hebrews 8:13 says, in speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Now Athanasius, I think you're arguments hold much more weight. I think you were able to establish how and why there may be a return to the types and shadows of the OT, but in a different manner. Though I think your position warrants some references, you make a strong case, prima facie.

I plan to consider your thoughts and do some further research to seek some further evidence on this issue. Do you happen to have a specific literature that speaks to this more fully?

Chuck said...

Damian,

Thanks for considering my contribution to your discussion. I tried to keep my response succinct, as I don't believe this venue to be the best format for an exhaustive reply. ;-)

There are several resources that address the issue of sacrifices during the Millennial Kingdom. I believe that John MacArthur has some at his site. But the most in-depth I've come across to date is Arnold Fruchtenbaum's "Israelology" and "The Footsteps of the Messiah", which can be found at his ministy's website www.ariel.org. While I don't agree with all of his conclusions, he does a rather impressive treatment of this particular issue in these works.

Damian M. Romano said...

I agree Chuck, there is only so much you can really discuss via comments at the end of a blog post.

I'll see if I can get my hands on MacArthur's info and take a look at the site with Fruchtenbaum's resources. I'm planning on writing a few more posts related to eschatology, so feel free to chime in when you can.

Mike B. said...

Since my position isn't really dispensationalist, nor necessarily premillenialist, I don't know how far you want to go with this discussion, but I'm happy to respond.

As far as answering your questions, Athanasius' response can work too. What is important is that a restored Temple not been seen as an impossible or undesirable event. If the New Testament were to nullify (or interpret such as to practically nullify) said scriptures, the words of the prophets would stand in judgment of Jesus and the apostles, and we would have to find them in error. Every revelation must be judged by the ones preceding it.

If Jesus' fulfilling of Temple typologies meant the abolition of those typologies, we would be stuck with a lot of unfulfilled prophecies. The fact is that the scriptures are emphatically clear: There will be a Temple. And in fact, Jesus (Messiah) is the one who is supposed to build it! So we must somehow reconcile this fact with what the New Testament says, or throw out the New Testament.


I think that it is extremely interesting that both in the case of Jesus and Stephen, when evil men desired to bring accusation against them, they gathered false witnesses (I emphasize, false witnesses) to claim that they had spoken against the temple, and had deigned to change the law of Moses. This is clearly a very important issue, as to the Jews, a Messiah who destroys the temple and nullifies the Law is no Messiah at all.

I am aware of spiritualizing interpretations, "Jesus is the Temple, the Temple that Messiah was to build was the Church, etc. Yes, "Temple" is a very appropriate term to describe Jesus and his Church, dwelling places of the Holy Spirit, but to say that they were in fact, replacements for the physical Temple is not only very difficult if not impossible to accord with the Prophetic corpus, but also difficult to accord with the narrative evidence of the New Testament. I hope to elaborate some on this.

First, with regard to the Prophetic passages. There are many. Here is a sampling:

Zechariah 6:11-15, 8:7-9,16-17,21.
Isaiah 2:2-3
Isaiah 27:13
Zephaniah 3:10
Isaiah 56:6 (Depending on which restoration you think he is talking about)
Ezekiel 37:24-28

Concern with the physical locality of Jerusalem and the return from Exile, references to the celebration of feasts, mention of offerings and sacrifices, building the Temple with one's hands, and in general the simple inescapable sense for someone immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures, that God is speaking of an actual Temple, make these passages nearly impossible to reasonably fit into a non-literal framework. How can Jesus or the Church be and do all of these things?

I have left out Ezekiel's Temple vision because I do not know exactly what to do with it. There are many parallels with this vision and John's vision of the new Jerusalem which lead me to believe that perhaps neither vision is strictly literal (as, in fact, most of Ezekiel and John's visions are not). So we will leave that for now.

Perhaps more relevant to your particular questions, however, is the narrative evidence of the New Testament. Now, of course, we cannot exactly construct theology or practice from narrative alone, but he narrative should make us ask some serious questions about the conclusions you have put forward.

For example, why, if the disciples considered the Temple to be an outmoded and outdated institution, did they continue to worship regularly in it? The common argument that their presence was simply for kerygmatic purposes does not really accord with the language used of the Apostles' participation in the Temple in the book of Acts.
If the Jesus disciples themselves replaced the Temple, what is the point?
You mention Paul speaking to the Galatians regarding circumcision. If accepting circumcision unequivocally constitutes a fall from grace, then why did Paul circumcise Timothy? And why when the rumors spread that he was teaching the people to abandon the Law of Moses and not to circumcise their children, why did Paul go to such great lengths to disprove these accusations as confirming a Nazarite vow along with four other believers?

So if Paul says that circumcision = "Christ is of no effect," then why does he make Christ of no effect to Timothy and so many Jewish children at least? Could it be that Paul's statement has a more limited scope in mind. Perhaps he is speaking of circumcision as storthand for speaking of an involved Pharisaic conversion process. Or perhaps he is only speaking of those who become circumcised for the purpose of justification... But taking Galatians out of the context of the rest of the Bible and using it as a prooftext against the observance of Mosaic ceremonies simply creates more problems than it solves.

You said:

"From what I read, most of the NT seems speaks to the removal of the Old and the reality of the New, does it not?"

As you say, that is your reading of the text. What I am trying to suggest, charitably, I hope, is that perhaps you should read it again with a slightly different perspective.

Regarding Hebrews 8, what I meant to say is simply that the author of Hebrews speaks about the Temple in the present tense. It was still standing, and with great probability, the disciples of whom we hear in the book of Acts were worshiping within its precincts.) A full-blown discussion of the book of Hebrews is out of the question here, but I would like to say that it is probably one of the most misunderstood books in the Bible. It is full of kal va'chomer-style argumentation using the foundation of the Tabernacle and its furnishings as a means of describing this world and the world to come, among other things.
In any case, the arguments of Hebrews carry the most force to someone who knows the Temple and worships there. How are we supposed to let the Temple educate us about spiritual things if we have never been there?

Again, there are many interesting things to discuss about the book of Hebrews that time will not permit us (Note, for example, that the Temple is a shadow and copy of the Heavenly Temple, not of Jesus himself), but I am suggesting first of all that our Apostolic forefathers had plenty of use for types and shadows, and that we could perhaps benefit from paying them more respect than simply being a historical footnote in redemptive history.

As for the Lord's supper, I am not sure that your argument holds. The supper commemorates an event that already happened, not so much one to come. It may also look forward to the coming kingdom, in that Jesus says that he will drink again of the fruit of the vine with his disciples in his Father's kingdom (Matthew 26:29), but of course, that suggests that we will be keeping the Lord's supper in the Kingdom then, doesn't it?

I think that is enough for now. Thank you for your kind indulgence, and I apologize for the length of this response. I suppose I just like being understood.