A Pretext in Context
Vol: 21 Issue: 20 Monday, March 20, 2017
“And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.” – Jesus Christ, Luke:21:28
For nineteen centuries, students of Bible prophecy have been on the lookout for the signs outlined by the Lord in His Olivet Discourse; watchmen on the wall ready to give the warning when they see them coming.
That is what Jesus instructed us to do. Each generation is to watch for signs of His coming:
“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.” (Mark 13:33)
“Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 13:35)
“Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:36)
Many of the signs outlined by Christ aren’t all that unique. Indeed, wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, plagues –all these are part of the human condition — and have been since the Fall. And every generation has had its share of watchmen; most ended up objects of ridicule for their pains.
William Miller was a serious Baptist preacher who fell victim to the practice of interpreting Bible prophecy to fit current events; he became convinced the Rapture would take place in 1844.
It didn’t, earning the nickname “The Great Disappointment.”
His followers, known as Millerites, went on to become the founders of several cults including Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But when Miller started out, he was a sincere student of Bible prophecy who gained a national following.
There is little doubt that Miller was a sincere believer that believed he was obeying the Lord’s commandment to watch. Where Miller went wrong was in re-interpreting Matthew 24:36 when he found it inconvenient to his calculations, which convinced him that Christ would return on October 22, 1844.
I have even less doubt that he would be horrified to know that his historical legacy would be that of becoming the eponymous father of many cults.
Miller was so focused on the signs of the times that he failed to identify the times of the signs. The very first sign of the times is the one that identifies the times of the signs.
It is that first sign that makes the rest of them relevant. As we’ve already noted, there is nothing unique about earthquakes, famines and wars. What is unique is the historical context.
Jesus begins by prophesying the Destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora and comes full circle back to Jerusalem:
“And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24)
That is the historical context of the last generation. No previous generation could qualify as the times of the signs. Neither could some future generation. It must be this one. Allow me to explain:
Jesus identifies Israel in the parable of the fig tree.
“And He spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:29-32)
The only logical interpretation for the fig tree is that it refers to Israel. The “fig tree” is symbolic of Israel as a nation. To “sit under one’s own vine and one’s own fig tree” became a proverbial expression among the Jews to denote national peace and prosperity. (Micah 4:4)
The picture of the fig tree coming into bloom is a picture of Israel restored to her land after millennia of Disaspora. The restoration of Israel is unique in the annals of history.
No ethnic nation of antiquity has ever reconstituted itself even one generation after its conquest and dispersal, let alone after 19 centuries. It is not an event that can be repeated and still be called unique.
Israel can only be restored as a nation once to qualify us as the generation of the times of the signs.
Note that the Lord said “the fig tree and all the trees.” As the fig tree symbolizes Israel, so do the “rest of the trees” symbolize the nations. The UN was founded in 1945 with 51 member nations.
The last British colony to gain independence, ending the Colonial Era, was Burma in 1948. As the colonial powers began to break up, new nations began to emerge. Today, the United Nations has 191 member-states, most of which did not exist prior to 1948.
That’s a lot of new trees ‘shooting forth’.
“and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24)
Jerusalem was taken from the Jews in AD 70 and has been the object of conquest and a prize of war ever since. Over the centuries Jerusalem has seen many flags overfly her walls, every one of them a symbol of Gentile conquest.
Until June 1967 — when for the first time since the Romans banishment, Israel recaptured the Old City and the Temple Mount and declared Jerusalem its eternal capital. Jerusalem was united and under Israeli control.
The fate of the city and its eventual masters is still a topic of contemporary political debate, but the recapture of Jerusalem from the Gentiles by the Jews is still a one-time event, unique to the annals of history.
These two events are what put everything else in context. The signs of the times have been with us since Adam and Eve. But the times of the signs have a definite start date; May 14, 1948 and a definite ending date.
“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”
We didn’t know the start date –May 14, 1948 — until after it happened. The end date works the same way.
“These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father.” (John 16:26)
Read that through again – see it in the context of the signs of the times. For nineteen centuries, it was all parables and proverbs, heads and horns and beasts, earthquakes and famines and wars.
“A proof text without a context is a pretext” my old professor used to tell me. One could make anything of it one wanted to, much like William Miller did in 1844.
The Olivet Discourse was an outline of signs ‘spoken in proverbs’ so that every generation that ever lived had reason to believe that they might live to see the “Blessed Hope”.
If the signs of the times were unique to one generation, then all previous generations would know they didn’t qualify and there would be no need to watch. So every generation thought they could be the one, but only one generation could KNOW that it was the one.
The other generations were watching for the signs of the times. This generation is watching from the times of the signs.
All previous generations looked forward, but only one could look back to the restoration of the Jews to the Promised Land, the re-establishment of Israel and the Israeli capture of the Old City of Jerusalem in order to find the context in which to view the rest of the Big Picture.
God didn’t cause the mess we are in – He let us do it. The further we moved away from Him, the more He allowed us to continue.
Now that we are pretty much exactly where the Bible said we would find ourselves, Bible prophecy takes on a new relevance. What used to sound proverbial and symbolic now speaks so plainly that some Christians believe the Tribulation has already begun.
“Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” (John 16:31-32)
Bible prophecy is like that. It forecast the coming catastrophe, the scattering, an-every-man-for-himself scenario, but yet we are not alone, because the Holy Spirit is with us and indwells us.
So as we see these things begin to come to pass in context, we can face what remains with confidence.
We were warned of what is here and we’ve been told of what is coming. But what is coming for the world is not the same thing the Lord promised the Church.
The Apostle Paul, speaking of the Holy Spirit, wrote to the Thessalonians, saying:
“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only He who now letteth will let, until He be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.”
But the Lord promised the Church (and me) that He would send the Comforter and that He (the Holy Spirit) would abide with me forever. The Lord identifies the Comforter as the indwelling Holy Spirit:
“The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; but ye know him, for He dwelleth with you, and shall be IN you.” John 14:17
The Promise is that the Holy Spirit will abide with me and in me forever. But Paul says He will be taken out of the way before that Wicked can be revealed. These are apparently irreconcilable differences.
“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”(John 14:18)
How can the Holy Spirit be taken out of the way without breaking the Lord’s promise that the Comforter will abide with me forever and that the Lord will not leave me Comfortless?
“For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
Context is everything.
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