Why wasn’t Nero considered an option in antiquity?

Dr. Gentry:

Why wasn’t Nero considered an option in antiquity. This seems to undermine your identification of 666. If you (and other moderns) could figure it out, why couldn’t the early Christians? After all, Revelation is the most frequently cited NT text in Christian writings of the 2nd century but, to my knowledge, none of these postulate Nero of as being signified by 666. Thank you, P.T., Las Vegas, NV

Dr. Gentry’s response:

It is true that Nero doesn’t arise much in the ancient documents we have. However we should note the following in this regard:

  • 666 must have meant something when John wrote it, but as we can see by the time of Irenaeus the meaning was already lost. Ireneaus offers three suggestions. Thus, all this problem does is tell us the meaning was lost, not that the Nero meaning is erroneous.
  • The very nature of apocalyptic is such that it baffles and challenges the reader. John himself had to have an interpreting angel explain some of the matters in his own vision (e.g., Rev 7:13-14; 17:9-10). We should not be surprised that without John present and apart from an interpreting angel the meaning could have been lost. And this is especially so in light of my next observation.
  • It is the tendency of human nature and the evident temptation of the early church for one’s own situation to serve as an interpretive lens. In light of the later Roman persecution of the church, the temptation to adapt Revelation to the church’s own predicament would have been great. The church’s circumstances and temptations could easily explain the arising of new interpretations for purposes of “relevance.”

We see this tendency even in the Historicist school of interpretation: this approach generally views Revelation’s events as beginning to unfold in the first century and leading up to the interpreter’s present time, almost invariably with the expectation that Revelation’s climax is being reached.

But as to whether there were any Christian beliefs about Nero being connected to 666. How about Victorinus commentary on Revelation? While he indicates the Apocalypse was written during the Domitian reign, he nevertheless states this;

“And one of the heads was slain to death, and his death-stroke was healed: speaks of Nero. For it is certain that when he was followed by the cavalry sent by the Senate, he cut through his own throat. This one raised, therefore, God is to send as a worthy king to those worthy, to the Jews and to the persecutors of Christ, a Christ of such a kind the persecutors and Jews have deserved. And because he will be bearing another name, and also beginning another life, so thus the same will be taken for Christ. For Daniel says: He will not be acquainted with the desire of women, in this he will be very impure, and with no God of their fathers will he be familiar. For he will not be able to seduce the people of the circumcision unless he becomes a defender of the Law. Finally he will compel the saints to no other thing except to receiving circumcision, if he will be able to seduce them. Thus, he will make the faith of the people to him, so that by them he will be called Christ. For he has risen up from hell, as we also spoke of above in the words of Isaiah: Water, he says, nourishes him, and the abyss enlarges him. He who must change his name and not change his name when he comes, the Holy Spirit says: His number is 666 (DCLXVI); this number is to be completed by Greek letters”.

I hope this helps resolve some of the problems you see in the Nero identification.

Why didn’t Irenaeus know the name hidden in 666?

Dr. Gentry:

As I study your argument for 666 as a reference to Nero Caesar, these two questions arise. Could you please explain your understanding of these objections?

  • If Irenaeus’s statement refers to John rather than the apocalypse, the statement seems to suggest that John wasn’t telling people who the beast was during his lifetime. That seems odd if those things had already occurred.
  • If John did reveal to his contemporaries the identity of the beast why wouldn’t it have been common knowledge amongst the Christians and therefore Irenaeus?

Thank you, S.F., OH

Dr. Gentry’s response:

Thanks for your questions. In answering both of these questions, I could take recourse to Mark Twain’s experience. He once was asked a question in an interview, regarding which he reported later: “I was glad to be able to answer quickly! I answered: ‘I don’t know.'” When we stop to think about it, there are many questions that arise regarding the history of biblical interpretation. We sometimes are dumbfounded as to how things get lost or turned around. So to the questions you pose, we could respond simply: “I don’t know.”

Ironically though, your first question happens to be exactly what Irenaeus claims: John did not tell who the beast (Antichrist in Irenaeus’ view) was. Irenaeus writes: “We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day.”

Here he says that John did not announce the name of the beast — whenever it was that John lived. And he doesn’t tell us why John did not inform his hearers. If Irenaeus’ report were true, it would account for why we don’t have a clear indication of the identity of the beast in church tradition (which, as a matter of fact, we do not have).

Regarding your second question I usually point out that 666 must have meant something. John certainly emphasizes the number of the beast as indicating the identity of the beast. Whatever it originally meant to John, it somehow was lost early on (much to our regret!). Irenaeus poses three possible options in the preceding context, but then gives the statement cited above. He doesn’t know even though he claims John lived almost into his own lifetime and taught people whom he himself knew.

We know that teachings can be quickly scrambled or lost. Think of how often the Lord told the disciples he must die, only to have them confused and dismayed when he died — even doubting the women who saw him after the resurrection. Some even doubted the resurrection after they saw him with their own eyes (Mt 28:17). Think of how quickly the Galatians fell from the truth (Gal 1:8). We wouldn’t have so many denominations and doctrines if things were clearly understood once they had been taught.

We can imagine this problem being more apt to happen regarding a complex and symbolic book like Revelation. Apparently John wanted to tantalize his audience in his drama. After all, he could have written it in another form than symbolic drama (for instance, consider his Gospel). There is so much in Revelation that is confusing!

Furthermore, it may well be (and I think is the case) that John died not long after his release from imprisonment on Patmos. In my view, Irenaeus’ statement that indicates John lived almost into Irenaeus’ own lifetime could very well be mistaken. Like his claim (on the same grounds: tradition) that Jesus ministered for 15 years and died when approaching age 50. In other words, he simply was mistaken.

In addition, I suspect that a part of the problem with the loss of the meaning of the name of the beast lies in the circumstances of the church thereafter. As the church was being persecuted over the next couple of centuries, she began to apply the prophecies of Revelation to herself in making them “relevant.” This allowed the original meaning to slip away while offering “encouragement” to those who saw Revelation “being fulfilled” around them. Hal Lindsey is not unique to biblical interpretation; even long ago people thought of Revelation as applying directly to themselves and thought the end of all things was upon them.

I hope this is helpful. You have asked an interesting question that frustrates us.

Why do you object to the label “optimistic amillennialist”?

Dr. Gentry:

Good afternoon, sir. I recently read an article by you in which you referred to the label “optimistic amill.” as an oxymoron. Could you please tell me why you think that? I’d be very thankful. I am currently working through these eschatological issues and any help you could give me would be much appreciated. KC, Cleveland, OH

Dr. Gentry’s response:

Thanks for your question. My comments are based on two factors:

  • Historically amillennialism has tended to be pessimistic in terms of the question of widespread, long-lasting cultural success for the Christian faith. That is, regarding these:
    • As a system of gospel proclamation it teaches that the gospel of Christ will not exercise any majority influence in the world before Christ’s return;
    • As a system of historical understanding it, in fact, holds the Bible teaches there are prophetically determined, irresistible trends downward toward chaos in the outworking and development of history; and therefore
    • As a system for the promotion of Christian discipleship it dissuades the Church from anticipating and laboring for wide-scale success in influencing the world for Christ during this age.

    My debates with Strimple (Three Views on the Millennium), Gaffin (formal debate in Elkton, MD), and Fowler (in West. Theol. Jrnl.) confirm this to me.

  • It seems to me that the verses an amill would want to use in order to underscore his optimism are those that endorse a postmillennial perspective. Unless, of course, he is optimistic on grounds other than direct biblical revelation.

Please understand that my comment is not meant to be pejorative (as some frequently take it). I am simply highlighting the key difference between amillennialism and postmillennialism.

Hope this is helpful. May the Lord bless your present studies in eschatology.

Infant Baptism or the New Covenant?

Dr. Gentry:

By conviction I am a paedobaptist. But I have been studying the arguments that support a Reformed Baptist perspective. Much of their case seems to rest upon a particular interpretation of Jer. 31:31-34. They conclude that since this prophecy indicates that all members of the new covenant will know the Lord there is therefore no basis for baptizing infants (who are incapable of faith) and including them within the new covenant community. The point seems to be that a primary distinction between the new and old covenants is that under the new covenant there would be no members bearing the covenant sign unaccompanied by faith as there were under the old covenant. How would you respond to this objection to infant baptism? E.G., Pennsylvania

Dr. Gentry’s response:

This is an excellent question. Let us consider it.

Just briefly I would point out that the focus in Jer 31 is on the nation’s disobedience to God despite God’s goodness to them (Jer 31:31-32). In contrast to their previous disobedience, God declares that the coming new covenant will have a spiritual power that the old covenant did not have. That is, through the new covenant God will write the law on the heart’s of men (Jer 31:33).

This is his point: the promise of spiritual strength for insuring covenantal obedience. His point is not to define (or redefine) covenantal membership, but to promise strength for covenantal obedience through the internalizing of his law (by the Spirit, cf. Rom 8:1-4).

When he states that “they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Jer 31:34), this must be understood as over against their former disobedience. God reminds them of their past when he speaks of “the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke” (Jer 31:32). Thus, we must stick to his point: Israel of old disobeyed God, therefore God will correct the problem by internalizing his law.

Consequently, we must understand that in this new prophetic scenario he is setting future (mature) obedience over against the past (mature) disobedience. I doubt if v 32 would imply that the infants broke the covenant when they came out of Egypt, any more than 1 Cor 10:7 implies that infants “sat down to eat and drink and stood up to play” which involved acting “immorally” (1 Cor 10:8), testing the Lord (1 Cor 10:9), and grumbling (1 Cor 10:10). Likewise, here in Jer 31 God does not have in mind the infants when he speaks of the spiritual internalization of the law in the future new covenant. To bring in infants in this context is to mix apples and oranges — against the express context of comparison of adult actions.

The reference “from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Jer 31:34), then, does not mean that the entire covenant membership in the new covenant era will have faith and knowledge of God (in an mature sense), so that we may surmise that by definition God no longer includes those incapable of mature faith. Rather, it means that all of the people in consideration who are involved in the particular problem in view (that problem being overt covenantal disobedience, such as not capable by an infant), will have the spiritual power for obedience under the new covenant. This is his point, and nothing more.

That he is speaking of adult problems (and therefore does not even consider the question of covenantal membership) is also indicated in the context: it also focuses on faithlessness and intentional behavior such as is incapable for infants to commit: “Set up for yourself roadmarks, / Place for yourself guideposts; / Direct your mind to the highway, / The way by which you went. / Return, O virgin of Israel, / Return to these your cities” (Jer 31:21). This is not a call to eight day old members of the covenant, but their representatives. Likewise the new covenant promise does not deal with the question of membership but of conduct.

Ezekiel’s Temple Measuring

Dr. Gentry:

You argue that John must be measuring an actual, historical temple in Rev 11:1-2. Yet Ezekiel measures a temple, even though it does not exist in history. This suggests that the temple does not need to exist for John to measure it. How do you explain this problem for your view? R.L.T, Nashville, TN

Dr. Gentry’s response:

Thanks for your perceptive question. Please consider the following response.

Ezekiel’s prophecy expressly tells us that Israel has been attacked and destroyed. He opens with this statement: “Now it came about in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” (Ezekiel 1:1.) He is among the exiles because Jerusalem has been attacked and destroyed. Everyone knows that the temple was destroyed in these events.

Furthermore in Eze 40 where Ezekiel begins the measuring, he opens this vision with: “In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was taken, on that same day the hand of the Lord was upon me and He brought me there” (Ezekiel 40:1). Thus, he introduces the temple vision with words that show the historical temple no longer exists.

Just before this prophecy of the measuring, Ezekiel is promised by God: “Therefore thus says the Lord God, “‘Now I shall restore the fortunes of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I shall be jealous for My holy name'” (Ezekiel 39:25).

After he measures the temple, he writes:

“Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing toward the east; and behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east. And His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. And it was like the appearance of the vision which I saw, like the vision which I saw when He came to destroy the city. And the visions were like the vision which I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face. Ezekiel 43:1-3

And He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will [future tense] dwell among the sons of Israel forever.” (Ezekiel 43:7a).

Consequently, even a surface reading of Ezekiel repeatedly reminds the reader that the city (and thus the temple) is destroyed and the people exiled. But in Revelation there is no indication that he is having a vision of a future rebuilt temple. The clear implication is that the temple is standing but is in danger.

Revelation, Nearness and John

Dr. Gentry:

If Revelation was written in AD 65-66 about events in AD 70, how could John have expected it to be widely circulated in so short a period of time? It seems the book’s grandiose vision would be largely wasted because of the time frame involved. It couldn’t do much good, especially since the bulk of its actions (on your view) occur in Palestine. S. F., Los Angeles, CA

Dr. Gentry’s response:

This is a good question that many folks have. However, this concern tends to evaporate on closer consideration.

  • First, we do not believe John knew the exact date the events would play out. It is not like he thought: “Well, it is now AD 66. I had better get to work on this book because these events are going to start up in earnest in AD 68 and will be over in AD 70.” Remember, he said the dates were “at hand” and “soon.” He did not say: “They will begin on March 15, A.D. 68.”
  • Second, nevertheless, Revelation is directed specifically to seven particular churches who could have easily gotten it quickly enough. These were the ones John was directly addressing and specifically concerned with. In fact, according to the majority of commentators, including dispensationalists Robert L. Thomas and John F. Walvoord (at Rev 1:11 in their commentaries), the order of appearance of those churches shows that they were arranged according to a Roman postal road. They would fairly quickly receive Revelation since they were on this know postal road.
  • Third, Revelation’s usefulness does not evaporate with the occurrence of the events of the Jewish War. Consider Isaiah 7 or Micah 5: they do not cease to be useful when Christ is finally born of a virgin in Bethlehem. Does Paul’s letter to the Corinthians about their particular problems (divisions among followers of Paul, Cephas, and Apollos; a man marrying his father’s wife; and so forth) have no meaning for us today? Most of the NT epistles are “occasional letters.” That is, they were written to address specific issues on certain occasions. Yet their authority and applicability still remain for us today as we apply the principles embodied therein.

    Regarding Revelation, even after Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed, Christians would need to know what happened and why — since God had worked for so many centuries through Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple. Revelation presents these events in dramatic fashion to underscore the vitally important redemptive historical truths involved of the transition from the old covenant to the new covenant. The destruction of Jerusalem was no accident of history; it plays into the plan of the Lamb who had been slain as he avenges himself and his people against his assailants.

  • Fourth, we can (and should! and must!) draw lessons from Revelation for all times. For example:
    1. Like Paul warns in Rom 11, God judges his people and we should not boast against the branches because we might be broken off. Wasn’t Israel God’s special people for so long? But look at what he did to them when they became unfaithful and rejected and slew their own Messiah!
    2. Revelation shows that Jerusalem’s destruction was no accident of history. It shows that behind the historical scenes, spiritual forces are at work as God works his plan in history.
    3. Revelation shows very clearly that God in the NT era also exercises wrath. He is not the liberal God-of-love that we hear so much about. Liberals often try to distinguish the OT conception of God from the NT conception. Revelation clearly undercuts that attempt.
    4. Revelation shows that God upholds his people in their trials. He answers their prayers — in his time and according to his plan. Though the Jews and Rome were persecuting our first century fathers, God upheld them. He will uphold you as well. After all, in each of the seven letters he urges upon the broader church: “He that has ears to hear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
    5. Revelation shows that despite the might of Nero and Rome, when God opposes them, they are doomed. His people should not fear earthly forces arrayed against them.
    6. Revelation shows that God’s redemptive forces have been established (the redemptive new creation, cp. Rev 21:1-2 with 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15-16) in time and on earth, and that they will gloriously impact the outcome of history. This occurs as the new creation forces gradually (like a mustard seed!) flow out into the world. God is at work in history and moving it toward its goal, which is already unfolding around us.
    7. Etc., etc.!

Historicism and Reformed Theology

Dr. Gentry:

You are committed to the Reformed faith, yet you don’t take the historicist approach to eschatology which was widely held among the Reformers. Why do you not follow the Reformers in this part of their theology. G.K., Minneapolis, Minn.

Dr. Gentry’s response:

Thank you for your inquiry. You are correct that I am committed to Reformed theology. However, I differ from the Reformers in that I take a preterist approach to Revelation rather than an historicist approach. I do so for the following reasons:

  • First, we should remember that Revelation was not well received among some of the Reformers. Martin Luther, the famed reformer and untiring interpreter of Scripture, originally rejected Revelation as non-canonical, complaining, “My Spirit cannot adapt itself to the book.” In his German translation of the Bible, he complained in the preface to Revelation that the book was “neither apostolic nor prophetic.”

    Fellow reformer Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) refused to take a doctrinal proof-text from Revelation. Calvin himself wrote no commentary on it, despite his writing a very thorough series of commentary on almost all of the Bible.

  • Second, the Reformers were locked in a literal life-and-death struggle with Romanism. Consequently, they tended to view many judgment passages through the lens of their opposition to Rome. They let application override interpretation in some situations.

    Such an exposition is known as an “actualizing interpretation.” “Actualizing interpretations take two forms. In one form the imagery of the Apocalypse is juxtaposed with the interpreter’s own circumstances, whether personal or social, so as to allow the images to inform understanding of contemporary persons and events and to serve as a guide for action” (J. Kovacs and C. R. Rowland, “Revelation: Apocalypse of Jesus Christ” [Oxford: Blackwell, 2004], 9).

    For instance, we see this in the original Westminster Confession of Faith (25:6) where the Pope is called the Antichrist and the “man of lawlessness.” This not only gives too much credit to Romanism, but clearly misinterprets Scripture. If the Pope were Antichrist, then the papacy existed in the first century, for John confronts the antichrist in the first century (1Jn 2:18-22). But the Pope cannot be the Antichrist, for John defines the Antichrist as “one who denies the Father and the Son” (1Jn 2:22), as those who “do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2Jn 7). This is clearly not referring to Roman Catholic teaching.

  • Third, historicist expositions of Revelation from that era, the 1500-1600s are impossible today. If you can find an historicist exposition of Revelation from you will quickly observe that they believed Revelation outlined church history up to their own time, when they believed its final prophecies were coming to fulfillment. Just reading an earlier historicist exposition today refutes it.

    Kovacs and Rowland note this problem: “Altogether more contentious and daring is the way certain interpreters saw these figures appearing in their own day. For some this reflects a conviction that the last days have come” (Kovacs, 128; referenced above). M. E. Boring seems to be correct when he notes that “although widely held by Protestant interpreters after the Reformation and into the twentieth century, no critical New Testament scholar today advocates this view” (M. Eugene Boring, “Revelation: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching” [Louisville: John Knox, 1989], 49).

  • Fourth, by the very nature of the case historicism suffers from a need of constant revision. The historicist school, also called the “continuous historical,” sees the prophetic drama in Revelation as providing a panorama of Church history from the apostolic era to the return of Christ. Historical continuity is the main focus of this approach which forecasts future history. Historicists deem Revelation an “almanac of church history.” Historicists apply the numerous judgment scenes to various wars, revolutions, and socio-political and religious movements (e.g., the rising of Roman Catholicism, the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, World Wars I and II), as well as important historical /persons (e.g., various Popes, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Mussolini).

    According to Alan Johnson, Joachim of Floris (d. 1202) popularized this view, though traces of it are found earlier in the Ante-Nicene fathers (Johnson, “Revelation” in EBC, 12:409). As noted above, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, and the Reformers greatly employed it against the Roman Catholic Church.

    The weaknesses, though, are manifold. The position almost always assumes that present interpreters live at the conclusion to history so that all in Revelation leads up to their time just before the end. For instance Mede noted in his commentary: “While I write news is brought of a Prince from the North (meaning Gustavus Adolphus) gaining victories over the Emperor in defence of the German afflicted Protestants.”

    Commenting on recurring problems in eschatological debate in general, Brethren historian F. Roy Coad well states: “Almost invariably interpretation has been vitiated by the reluctance or incapacity of commentators to visualise their own age as other than the end time” (F. Roy Coad, “Prophetic Developments: A Christian Brethren Research Fellowship Occasional Paper” [Pinner, England: 1966], 10).

    As a consequence, beliefs are in a constant state of revision, especially for Revelation commentators in this school. Consequently, as history has grown longer, older varieties of this interpretive school have experienced a great number of failed expectations. This view long remained “strangely attractive in spite of the recurrent anguish and disappointment it causes” (John Court, “Myth and History in the Book of Revelation” [Atlanta: John Knox, 1979], 7).

    Thus, this approach is continually in revision as it proposes more and more constructions based on the supposed prophetic allusions to historic events. For instance, this view was prominent in the Middle Ages when millennialism began to flourish once again. The system was used to show that “the millennium was about to dawn” (Carson, Moo, Morris, “Introduction to the New Testament,” [Zondervan] 482).

  • Furthermore, its relevance is confined to the Western world, with the progress of history traced only in a western direction (apparently where book sales are most profitable!).

    In addition, it tends to lose its relevance for its original persecuted audience.

    Its major problem, though, is that harmony among its proponents is almost wholly lacking due to its subjectivity.

Dispensationalism, Jerusalem, and Sacrifices

Dr. Gentry:

I have two questions on how you might respond to some Dispensational explanations of Ezekiel 40-48. (1) Some dispensationalists argue that the dimensions of Ezekiel’s temple are not a problem because the topography of the land will be radically changed in the millennium. They cite Zechariah 14 in defense of this topographical reconfiguration. They also cite the following passages to argue that Jerusalem will be much larger than what it is today: Jer. 31:38-40; Ezk. 48:30-35; Zech. 14;10-11. (2) The other thing relates to Ezekiel’s sacrificial system. They state that since the apostles did not have a problem with sacrifice in the New Testament, then why should we see it as problematic in the millennium? They cite Acts 21:17-26 in support of the idea that the apostles did not have a problem with sacrifice as a memorial and that Ezekiel’s sacrifices will have some efficacy for the unregenerate who are present in the millennium.

I have noticed that recently many Dispensationalists have felt the pressure of Covenant Theologians and have started an attempt to go on the offensive with their system via the internet and find ways to get around Covenant objections.

Thanks, J.R. B.

Dr. Gentry’s response:

Thanks for your inquiry. Just briefly I would respond thus:

First, the prophetic texts that speak of Jerusalem being raised up are taken by dispensationalists in a woodenly literal fashion, as you know. But in fact, their interpretation is absurd. For instance, in Isa 2:2 we read:

“Now it will come about that in the last days, the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths. For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:3

If this were taken literally (as dispensationalists do) note the absurdities involved:

  1. For Jerusalem to be raised up as the highest mountain would involve such tectonic upheaval that it would absolutely destroy the city. Earthquakes are destructive natural phenomena. But this would involve even more catastrophe than quaking. It would engage mountain-building, which is absolutely destructive to a built city.
  2. If it were indeed raised above the highest mountains, it would be uninhabitable. It would be higher than Mt. Everest. This would give it a horribly cold and snowy climate.
  3. Not only would it be uninhabitable, but you wouldn’t see great masses of people heading up the mountain to learn the law of the Lord.
  4. Obviously, this prophecy is speaking symbolically of the exaltation and dominance of God’s kingdom, not its physical elevation.

Second, the matter of temple worship. The problem with the dispensational argument based on Acts is: The old covenant and new covenant overlapped for about forty years. God did not shut down the old covenant immediately. He gave the Jews a generation to understand the changing of the redemptive economy. We should note:

  1. In the Epistle to the Hebrews (written around AD 68-69), the writer speaks of the old covenant as nearing its final conclusion. Notice the verb tenses in this particularly important statement: “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear” (Heb 8:13). Consequently, in Acts the temple service was still in effect, but winding down. The temple began to be used as a base-of-operations for the Jewish converts to Christ to reach out to the Jews. But when AD 70 comes, the temple is forever removed.
  2. The very idea of the sacrificial system was to point to its conclusion, when it was finally fulfilled and no longer necessary: “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near” (Heb. 10:1).

    In fact, the text goes on to say: “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but A BODY Thou hast prepared for Me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In THE ROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF Me) to do Thy will, O God.’ After saying above, ‘Sacrifices and offerings and WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices for sin Thou hast not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Thy will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us” (Heb 10:3-15).

    This is why Jesus taught the woman at the well: “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father” (John 4:21). The temple was on its way out. Mount Zion was about to lose its centrality and purpose.

  3. To return to bloody sacrifices even as a “memorial,” would be to turn back to the blood of bulls and goats rather than turning to the blood of the Lamb of God. All bloody rites (including circumcision) have been done away with in Christ.

I hope this is helpful for your discussions with dispensational friends.

Christ’s Baptismal Declaration

Dr. Gentry:

Hi , I was reading in the book of Matthew in chapter 3:17: “and suddenly a voice came from heaven saying , This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Then it says in Luke 3:22: “and a voice came from heaven which said, You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”

I was thinking: Did God the Father say first to John the Baptist’s audience that “This is My beloved Son” and then He said to Jesus: “You are My beloved Son”?

I’m confused . Could you give me a good explaination so if someone asks me why does it sound contradictory, then I could give them a good answer.

Sami K.

Dr. Gentry’s response:

Thanks for your question. It shows a deep interest in God’s word — and defending it against those who question it.

It’s possible that two statements were made by God, one for Jesus and the other for the audience gathered to witness his baptism. In fact, the Gospel of the Ebionites does record two statements. But this doesn’t seem likely since each of the biblical Gospels suggest that only one statement was made. If one of the legitimate Gospels had a two-fold statement, your suggestion would be the best resolution to the “problem.”

It seems to me that Mark and Luke recorded the original statement as it was actually heard: “You are My beloved Son.” Notice that they both agree on this statement; Matthew is the one who disagrees slightly.

But when we come to Matthew we read: “This is My beloved Son.” Apparently Matthew is presenting the situation in such as way as to “apply” it to those reading his Gospel. We must keep in mind that the Gospels were written to be read by a particular audience.

In Matthew’s case he appears to change the original direct statement so that his audience to whom he writes will realize its significance. He applies it by pointing out that “this is My beloved Son.” His audience needs to know that this very Jesus is indeed the Son of God.

His applying it in this way suggests that John the Baptist’s original audience actually heard an audible voice making the statement (“You are My Beloved Son”). This was not some internal, psychological experience of Christ. But Matthew took the liberty to change one word (he changes “you” to “this”) in order to let his readership know that this voice was actually heard by all those standing there when Christ was baptized, and also that God’s voice objectively declared that Christ was indeed the Son of God. This is the main point of the matter.

Of course, we notice that the two statements do not contradict one another. In fact, they supplement one another in affirming the same truth: Christ is God’s beloved Son.

In our daily contexts we can alter the actual statement of someone to make a point, without changing the meaning of the statement. For instance, someone might say to me: “I told you this would happen!” But when I report my interaction with that person to someone else (my audience) I might legitimately say: “He told me that this would happen.” The meaning is preserved even though the actual words are altered for the audience.

It would be a much different story, of course, if Mark and Luke said: “This is NOT my beloved Son,” and Matthew “slightly” altered this by dropping the single small word “not,” to say: “This IS my beloved Son.” But this is not the kind of thing that happens in the Gospel accounts. The same truth is affirmed, though slightly adapted for different audience purposes.

Sabbath & Christian Worship

Dr. Gentry:

My question is on the Sabbath and the day worship should be on. Would you point me to the passages that tell the Christian to worship on Sunday. Is there a passage that does away with Sabbath worship?

John P.

Dr. Gentry’s response:

Thanks for your question, John. This is an important issue in that we must worship God according to his directives, not our preferences or convenience. And since the Ten Commandments specifically declare the worship day to be the last day of the week (the seventh day, Exo. 20:8-11), we need to know if we are correct in worshiping on the first day of the week.

Just briefly I would offer the following two lines of biblical evidence for the Christian day of worship being changed to Sunday (the first day of the week) from Saturday (the last day of the week).

  1. The Old Testament anticipates a change of worship time.

    In the Old Testament God’s people worshiped on the seventh day of the week, which is the end of the week. The primary reason for this is that the week is structured on the pattern of God’s creation. However, another reason appears relevant as well.

    The drift of redemptive history traces man’s fall and God’s redemption. In the Old Testament God’s people look ahead to redemption coming in fulness in Christ. Thus, their rest was oriented towards the future, when Christ entered history at his incarnation to effect redemption. Consequently, the Jews rested (and worshiped) at the end of their week, showing that redemption had not yet fully come but would arrive in the future.

    Now in the New Testament era we look back to the source of our redemption. Jesus has already come and we work on that basis. Thus, we rest (and worship) at the beginning of our week.

    Interestingly, this forward-looking anticipation is embodied in various Old Testament eighth day ceremonies. The eighth day is, of course, the first day of new week.

    For instance, circumcision was to be performed on the eighth day, signifying a new beginning in the covenant. Elsewhere we read prophecies regarding Christ, who was to be like the sun rising with healing in his wings bringing in a new day: “But for you who fear My name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall” (Mal. 4:2). Throughout the Old Testament era, they looked forward to a new morning, a new beginning, in Christ when he comes.

  2. The New Testament records a change of worship time.

    When we come to the New Testament we discover the eighth day being significant once again, but in a new way. Christ was resurrected on the eighth day, which is the first day of a new week (John 20:1, 19). The redemption sought in the Old Testament finally comes in the New Testament and is effected on the eighth day, Sunday.

    Furthermore, we see the early Christians worshiping on the first day of the week, in confirming the change wrought by Christ and his sanctifying a new day.

    For instance, in Acts 20:6-7 we read regarding Paul: “We sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days. And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.” Notice that the Christians were “gather together” so that they might “break bread.” Note also that Paul preached to them (a rather long sermon!)

    We see this pattern again in 1Corinthians 16:2 where Paul directs the church to do certain things on “the first day of the week”: “On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.”

    It becomes obvious, then, that the first day of the week is the time for Christian worship in the apostolic church.

I hope this is helpful for your consideration. Thanks for sending us your question.