Sukkot and Eschatological Optimism

6928075-red-autumn-sunsetThe autumn season has always been the one in which I most feel the “pull” of prophecy, specifically end-times prophecy or eschatology. The slow fading of the year appeals to my default state of cheerful melancholia, putting me in the right mood for contemplating the end of history with a Messianic hope. In addition to the prophetic nature of the fall feastdays, there’s something about the final brilliant transformation of the leaves before they wither and fall, something about the sudden chill in the wind combined with grey and rainy skies that sets me in the mood to contemplate the End of All Things.

300px-safrasquaresukkah2009This is nowhere more true than on Sukkot:

Sukkot, Part 1
Sukkot, Part 2: The Holy One Dwells Among His People
Sukkot, Part 3: The Ingathering
Sukkot, Part 4: The Holy One Provides for His Bride
Sukkot, Part 5: King Over All Nations

On Sukkot I emphasize the “cheerful” part of my cheerful melancholia. It is, after all, the time when Yeshua will officially take office as King over the whole world, having reconciled with Israel and pouring out the waters of the Holy Spirit over them. It is the feast where Israel sacrificed seventy bulls for the seventy nations, acting fully in her capacity as a “nation of priests.” And, it is arguably Yeshua’s birthday today (though many would argue for Rosh Hashannah instead). There’s an optimism built into Sukkot that surpasses every other Feast, to the point that Hashem actually commands us to rejoice this week (Deu. 14:26, 16:14).

So this seems like the perfect time to talk about prophetic optimism. No, not the kind of optimism that the post-millennialists and Dominionists have, where they think that we will succeed in politically conquering the world, putting it under Christ’s feet so that he can return. The Scripture is pretty clear that we can expect the political systems of this world to always turn back to serving the prince of this world, the Adversary.

But that doesn’t mean that we have to consistently lose.

When most people read the Olivet Discourse (Mat. 24-25, Mark 13; cf. Luke 21), they focus on the wars and rumors of wars, the famines, the earthquakes, and the persecution of God’s people, the Great Tribulation. That must mean that everything has to go straight to hell for the Lord to return, right?

The Mount of Olives

No, not at all. I mean really, the whole of human history is full of wars, famines, earthquakes, and persecution, so what kind of sign would that be? No, the real signs of the Lord’s immanent return are three very positive developments hidden in the text:

First, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations (ethnoi), and then the end will come” (Mat. 24:14). In other words, one of the signs of the Lord’s near return will be the completion of the Great Commission. It’s almost complete now, with only a handful of places in the world that yet need to be evangelized properly. Is not the spread of the Good News to every tribe and tongue and people and nation despite all of the Adversary’s attempts to block it something to look forward to–and more than that, to participate in?

hillsofisraelSecond, “let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. . . Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath” (vv. 16, 20). This warning presupposes two things: That Israel would be back in the land of ancient Judea and in control of its mountains (the West Bank), and that there would be disciples of Yeshua living there to whom the Sabbath matters. In other words, the return of both the Jews and of a considerable number of Jews who practice Judaism and yet are followers of Yeshua is predicted in this passage.

Third, “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place . . .” (v. 15) presupposes that there will be a holy place to stand in.

Christian critics of Israel will often point to its secular nature as “proof” that it isn’t the predicted state. However, the truth is more complicated than that. First, as we’ve noted before, the Jewish people as a whole did repent of the specific sins that led to the “curse of the law.” Second, while it is true that half of Israeli Jews identify themselves as secular, the general trend in Israel over time has been towards greater faith and devotion, with those born in the country being more likely to be religiously devoted than their parents. The same poll shows that when you actually start asking about specific religious practices, even many secular Jews practice elements of Judaism on a regular basis.

ezekiels-templeTo rebuild the Temple would require an incredible upsurge in devotion to Hashem and his Torah in Israel–even before the Messiah’s return. I’d call that a pretty optimistic outlook for Israel’s future, as predicted in Scripture.

So as we enjoy this time of feasting, family, friends, and faith, let’s renew our vigor to see the Gospel spread “first to the Jew, then to the Gentile,” knowing that our Lord will not rest until the task is complete, and neither should we. We need to play to win, striving in excellence in all things so as to bring glory to our King.


Prophecy in the NT, 2nd Principle: Thematic Context


The context of a prophecy may be thematic rather than chronological.

The birth of Yeshua in Bethlehem, “the city of David” (Luke 2:11), is iconic in Christian circles, the center of Christmas pageants in churches all over the world every December. I still enjoy the songs of the Christmas season (even though I know it’s closer to the Lord’s conception date than his birth-date), particularly the minor key, melancholic ones like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

But did you know that the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem is one that, if we applied the standards of many or even most Christian scholars, is taken completely out of context?

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” (Mat. 2:1-6, cit. Mic. 5:2)

assyrian_siege_smNow let’s turn to the book of Micah, from which this prophecy was taken, and really look at it in its historical-textual context: when it was written and why. And when we do, we find out that Micah’s immediate concern was not the future coming of the Messiah (unlike his contemporary Isaiah), but the near-term descent of the Assyrians on Judah. The immediate context is so clear that some Christian scholars have even argued that Micah’s prophecy “failed,” and must therefore have been contingent based on Judah’s reception to it. While we deal with that argument here, the fact remains that Micah’s prophecies seem entirely local to his situation, even if they do anticipate the later Babylonian captivity–except for chapter 5, verses 2-4, which speak of the Messiah.

rashi_1The great Jewish rabbi and scholar Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchak (aka Rashi) wrote that this passage referred to, “the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118:22): ‘The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.'” His commentary on this passage probably deserves its own post, so for now let’s just point out that it’s an established fact in Judaism that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. So how then do we explain this out-of-context reference to him in the middle of a prophetic description of events 600-800 years before Yeshua’s birth?

From Micah’s prophecy, we actually learn an important prophetic principle: A prophecy can be thematically linked with its context without being chronologically linked to it. In other words, a section of prophecy can be linked to the theme of its surrounding verses, but still take place hundreds or thousands of years apart.

In Micah’s case, what is the connection? Well, as I explained in my rebuttal to Chisholm’s “prophetic contingency” theology,

While some translations (like the ESV) try to separate the clause, “And he [the Messiah] shall be their peace” from the following, “When the Assyrian [or Assyria] comes into our land . . .,” there is no hard break between the two. The passage can just as easily be understood as a continuance of the Messianic prophecy, e.g., “This [promise of the coming] Messiah will be our peace when Assyria comes into our land and treads on our palaces, because [we know there will come a day when] we will raise against Assyria seven shepherds . . .”

Micah 7:12 is parallel to Isaiah 19:19-25, which prophesies of the day when the enemies of Israel, both Egypt and Assyria, would be at peace with both Israel and with each other. The promise that these Gentile nations would be called by God “my people” and “the work of my hands” likewise parallels the promise of Amos 9:11-12 that the nations would one day be called by the name of the Lord. Since that latter passage was used by the Acts 15 council to make the decision to include the Gentiles as Gentiles and not as converted Jews, we can safely take all three of these OT passages to be eschatological, referring to the reconciliation of the nations to their original Creator through his Messiah–and thereby their reconciliation to the Creator’s nation of Israel as well.

In a way, this is a reiteration of the point from the previous post, but driven home in a different way. Before, we saw that a prophecy can have two fulfillments, one near to the prophet and one centuries later in the Messiah himself. Here we see that it is not always necessary to try to find a “local” fulfillment first.

Theme in Eschatology

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the easiest places to illustrate the use of this principle is in Daniel 11-12. Pretty much all scholars agree that 11:21-35 was fulfilled by Antiochus IV and the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century BCE. Some of us believe, on the basis of the “near-far” principle and direct NT citation (as discussed in the previous post) that they will be fulfilled again by the final Antichrist. But let’s set that aside for the moment and assume for the sake of discussion that we’re wrong, that there’s only one fulfillment to 11:21-35.

Now look at 11:36-12:13. These verses contain prophecies that no one has ever fulfilled, and which are alluded to several times in the NT. Does this mean that we have to take them “out of context” to use them in a futurist sense? Not at all. The theme of these verses is still the same: The great enemy of Israel and Israel’s God will arise in the last days to test the faithful, but will fall by the hand of the Most High himself. Whether or not you choose to recognize the “near-far” element of the prophecy, the connecting theme itself is still there.

The book of Revelation has 404 verses and, depending on who you ask, 800-1200 quotes and allusions from the Tanakh. Many of these may seem out-of-place or out-of-context at first glance, but are they really? Is there a linking theme that Revelation is drawing on that we can use as our guide? For example, most recognize that Joel’s army of locusts represents a human army, and that Revelation 9:1-11 alludes to Joel. What is the linking theme?

When we discover someone seemingly taking a prophecy out of its historical-textual context, Matthew 2:1-6 gives us a guide: Is the quote truly out of context, or has the person correctly identified an underlying theme?

All of this is obviously tricky, and even subjective to a point. However, it is Biblical, and serves as a baseline–or perhaps a safety railing–as we seek to understand our very strange days in light of God’s Word.


Yom Kippur: Ritual and Moral Purity

First, before starting this this new article I’d like to present my previous articles on the subject, since they give some background:

Yom Kippur, Part 1: Traditions and Blood
Yom Kippur, Part 2: The Exodus and the Future
Did God Reject the Sacrifice Because of Yeshua?  A Response to Rabbi Singer

Yom Kippur! There is no holier day in Judaism! In ancient days, it was on this day that, according to Jewish tradition, Moses descended from Mt. Sinai with two new stone tablets, showing that Hashem had forgiven Israel for the sin of the golden calf (cf. Exo. 34). It was on this day, and this day alone, that the high priest entered into the holy of holies to commune with the Eternal (Lev. 16). And this is the day on which Yeshua will finally be reconciled with all Israel in our very near future!

Now, as popularly told in Christian circles, the sacrifices through the year, and the sacrifice at Yom Kippur, were indeed effective and necessary for the forgiveness of sin before the coming of Christ, but following his “once and for all” sacrifice (Heb. 7:27, 9:12, 26, 10:10), those sacrifices ceased to be effectual, and anyone who continued to offer them were guilty of “crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:6).

However, as we’ve pointed out on this blog, Paul himself continued to offer sacrifices some thirty years after the Cross-and he was far from the only one! How then can we reconcile these two lines of thought?

Traditiiooon! Tradition!

Let’s back up for a second. Wherever did we get the idea that the Old Covenant sacrifices purified the offerer from sin? As Tevye might sing, “Tradition!” On both the Christian and Jewish sides.

Even a cursory scan of the Talmud reveals an ongoing discussion about when a person was obligated to bring a sin offering. The general rule was that failures to carry out a “positive” commandment (a “thou shalt”) were covered by the daily burnt offering, but that any failure to carry out a “negative” commandment (a “thou shalt not”) obligated the individual Jew to offer up a personal sin offering. It would be easy to take all of this to understand that sin offerings indeed atoned for the individual sin so as to avoid Divine punishment. Christianity naturally picked up on this idea and filtered it through Hebrews to come to the idea that animal sacrifices had something to do with personal salvation in the Old Testament, but that they were superseded by the sacrifice of Christ in the New.

Modern scholarship, such as the work of Jacob Milgrom, has recognized that the sacrifices of the Torah never covered the offerer in their blood: Instead, the blood was sprinkled in the Holy Place, the temple, on the outer altar, on the inner altar of incense, or on the Ark of the Covenant itself. The implication is that the blood did not atone for the individual, but that it in some way cleansed holy territory of the sins of everyday life so that the Sh’khinah, the Presence of the Living God, could continue to dwell among his people. While I would depart from Milgrom’s thesis that the sacrifices were only concerned with ritual purity and had nothing at all to do with the moral sins of the people (I think Lev. 16:16 is pretty clear on this point), he’s precisely on point that for the individual, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4).

(At this point, I would suggest that the student of the Bible listen to the Naked Bible Podcast episodes specifically dealing with Leviticus. While I think that Dr. Michael Heiser has failed to apply his own conclusions properly to the NT, I do believe that he gives one of the better layperson presentations on the subject–and as usual is good about citing his sources.)

tabernacleAs Paul points out, being justified–that is, being vindicated before the Heavenly court–was based on one’s trust and faithfulness long before the Levitical system was given (Rom. 4, Gal. 3). So what then was the point of the Levitical sacrificial system? It was not to justify the individual offerers, but to purify sacred geographical space, the holy place where the Presence of the Eternal Creator dwelt among his people. This is why the blood of the sin offering of a lay person was put on the horns of the altar in the courtyard (Lev. 4:34) while a sin offering for a priest or for the community (which would include the priests) was brought to the altar of incense inside the holy place (vv. 7, 17). The high priest in turn brought the blood of his sin offering inside the holy-of-holies itself on Yom Kippur (16:14). In each case, the blood was brought as far inside the temple as the contamination of the sin may have spread.

So where does the Messiah’s sacrifice fit in? Simple: We who trust in him, both collectively and individually, are living temples of the Holy Spirit (1Co. 3:16-17, 6:19; 2Co. 6:16; Eph. 2:21). As Heiser so eloquently wrote:

The implications are startling. We have all likely heard the verse where Jesus says, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them” (Mat. 18:20). But put in the context of this other New Testament language, which in turn is informed by the Old Testament imagery of the tabernacle and temple, it means that wherever believers are and gather, the spiritual ground they occupy is sanctified amid the powers of darkness.

If we could see with spiritual eyes, we would see a world of darkness peppered with the lights of [Hashem’s] presence, spreading out to meet each other, inexorably pressing and spreading out to take back the ground of the disinherited nations from the enemy. (Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm, p.328)

The blood of bulls and goats was sufficient to cleanse a geographical space, but only the blood of Messiah is sufficient to cleanse a human being and turn them into a mobile holy place!

ezekiels-templeThis was why Paul and the other Nazarenes could and did continue to take part in the sacrificial service: They didn’t view the Levitical system as having been “fulfilled” (as in abolished) by Yeshua’s sacrifice. Rather, they viewed it as being in an entirely different category, having an entirely different purpose. Therefore, they could continue to offer sacrifices without impinging on the uniqueness of Yeshua’s–the one literally had nothing to do with the other, except insofar as the Levitical sacrifices provided illustration into Hashem’s ultimate purpose in the Cross. It also explains how we could have a renewed Levitical system in the end times and the Millennium: They would not be “memorials” of the Messiah’s work, but rather operate in their ancient purpose of sanctifying the sacred geographical space of the third temple.

So how does this fit with Yom Kippur? Traditionally, Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and repentence, of praying for God to forgive us personally and cleans us from sin and iniquity. It turns out that for the Messianic Jew, who is a holy place and has a great High Priest in Yeshua, both the Levitical and traditional observances of the day take on a new life and an enhanced meaning, just like Passover.

For all my bretheren, both Jewish and Christian, g’mar chatima tovat haSheh, may you be sealed in the Lamb’s book of lie!


Blog Recommendation: Sleepwalker’s Row


A good friend of mine from synagogue just started a new blog and I wanted to show him some love. I think his own introduction says it best:

phil_trans_-_illuminated_capital_-_in which a lifelong insomniac, artist, and breakthrough junkie launches a public thought-lab at the behest of several friends. History will be recovered. Food critiqued. Books reviewed. Art created. Stories told. Ideas written. Guns fired. Photos taken. Futures pondered. Sumer rebuilt. Athens revived. Jerusalem transfigured. England saved. Videos shot. Pods cast.

Since he doesn’t seem to want to publish his name on his site, I won’t give it away, but I can tell you that the Sleepwalker is a devotee of both the Bible and the classics, combining the two together in an incredibly thoughtful way that brings new insight to the Bible as both history and literature. My best wishes and prayers for him in this new endeavor!



Prophecy in the NT, 1st Principle: Multiple Fulfillments

maryThat which has been fulfilled in spirit may be fulfilled again in both spirit and letter in the Messiah.

The very first prophecy of the Tanakh that is openly cited in the New Testament is Isaiah 7:14, as quoted in Matthew 1:23: “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

Well, obviously this is a straightforward prophecy that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, right? Well, hold on a moment. Let’s read the prophecy in context:

The LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.”

He said, “Listen now, house of David. Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the almah will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat butter and honey when he knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings you abhor shall be forsaken. (Isa. 7:10-16)

Isaiah had to confront this guy.

Anti-missionaries (Jewish teachers who focus on attacking the New Testament claims) love to attack Matthew’s quotation of this verse in regards to the Virgin Birth of the Messiah. To their credit, there are several points in their favor:

First, the Hebrew word almah does not unambiguously mean “virgin.” It literally means simply “young woman,” e.g., a teenager. The masculine equivalent is elam, which is used in 1 Samuel 17:56, where King Saul says of David, “Inquire whose son the boy (‘elam) is.” I don’t think he was concerned with whether David had engaged in sexual relations or not.  Virginity is implied, both by the root word (‘alam means “to conceal”) and by the context (of the seven times almah is used in the Tanakh, not once is it used of a non-virgin), but it is not the main meaning of the word.  (For the record, betulah doesn’t necessarily mean “virgin” either, as evidenced by its use in Joel 1:8.)

Second, this was to be a sign specifically to Ahaz, and so had to take place while he was still alive. Likewise, the child was supposed to be old enough for solid food but below the age of accountability when the deliverance came, not seven hundred years away from being born, as Yeshua was.

And third, the apparent fulfillment is given in the very next chapter:

The LORD said to me, “Take a large tablet, and write on it with a man’s pen, ‘For Maher Shalal Hash Baz; and I will take for myself faithful witnesses to testify: Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.”

I went to the prophetess, and she conceived, and bore a son. Then the LORD said to me, “Call his name ‘Maher Shalal Hash Baz.’ For before the child knows how to say, ‘My father,’ and, ‘My mother,’ the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria. . . . now therefore, behold, the Lord brings upon them the mighty flood waters of the River: the king of Assyria and all his glory.” (Isa 8:1-4, 7)

However, while all of the above is true, there are specific details in the prophecy that demonstrate that it also must have a future fulfillment:

First, Isaiah already had a child old enough to go before the king, Shear-Yashuv (7:3), so his wife must have been in her twenties at the very least, which would not be young enough to be the almah spoken of in this prophecy.

Secondly, Hashem tells Isaiah to name his son something other than Immanuel—in effect, God himself deliberately messes up the prophecy.  Why?  Why not tell Isaiah to name his son Immanuel?  The only answer that comes to mind is that the Holy One wanted to make it clear that while Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was indeed to be a sign in that deliverance would come while he was still a very young child, he was not the final sign to the House of David of the Holy One’s fidelity to His covenant.

And third, the prophecy does not end in chapter 8, but continues through chapter 9-11, which everyone acknowledges to be Messianic prophecy:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be on his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, God (or Judge), Mighty One, Father, Everlasting, Prince, and Peace.  There will be no end to the increase of his government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.  The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this.  (9:6-7)

(Some anti-missionaries try to dispute that the above is a Messianic prophecy, but they dispute their own honored sages in the process. There’s an excellent article on the Heart of Israel website that provides rabbinic witness to the Messianic importance of Isaiah 9.)

Now if the Almah’s Son spoken of in chapter 7 saw its complete fulfillment in chapter 8, we have an obvious problem:  Isaiah’s son never reigned on David’s throne.  This has led the Talmudic sages to interpret Isaiah 9 to refer at least in part to Hezekiah’s reign (b. Sanhedrin 94a). They believed that Hezekiah could have been the promised Messiah, but he had a flaw in his character (pride, as exhibited in 2 Kings 20:12-19) which disqualified him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerhaps we should separate the two passages and understand them as two completely unrelated prophecies. That would deny not only the whole principle of Davar Hilmad Me’anino (Explanation obtained from context) that Jewish hermeneutics relies on, but also ignores G’zerah Shavah (Equivalence of Expresions):  “What applies to a word, root, or phrase in one passage applies equally to it in another, even when they are not thematically or contextually linked.” In short, it would be absurd according to normal, Jewish interpretive methods to completely separate the ‘Almah’s Son in chapter 7 from the Given Son in chapter 9, since chapters 7-12 all flow together as a single prophecy.

But could we understand, as some rabbis evidently did, that the entire passage (chapters 7-12) refers to Hezekiah, with no special reference to the Messiah?  Again, no.  Ahaz ruled for sixteen years (2Ki. 16:18) and Hezekiah ascended the throne when he was twenty-five (18:2), which means that he would have already been an ‘elam (a young man, the male equivalent of an almah) himself, most likely already at the age of accountability (“knowing good from evil”), at the time the prophecy was given. This means that Matthew is absolutely correct to see a future Messianic King in the prophecy–but how then do we deal with the immanent language the “interruption” of chapter 8?

Double Prophecies

Larkin-peaks of prophecy
No, it’s not exactly like this, but I wish I could draw this well.

What we have here is a perfect example of a dual or near-far prophecy.  The overall theme of the prophecy–that as a show of his faithfulness to the line of David, the Eternal Creator would cause a child to be conceived and would bring about the rescue of Judah before the child reached a certain age–was fulfilled in the near term.  However, there are at least three specific details of the prophecy that had yet to be fulfilled: 1) Isaiah’s wife was no longer an almah, 2) Hashem specifically told Isaiah not to name the child Immanuel, and 3) Isaiah’s child never ascended the throne of David.  All three of these details have been or will be fulfilled in Yeshua the Messiah, the Scion of the House of David who stands as the ultimate proof of the Holy One’s fidelity to His covenant with David.

Matthew’s eye wasn’t drawn to this prophecy because he was looking for Messianic prophecies that could be written into the life of Yeshua.  Rather, he was starting with the knowledge that the Messiah had already been conceived in the womb of a virgin and was trying to understand that miracle in the light of the already-existing Scriptures. After all,  “the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). Matthew could well have pointed to the miraculous conceptions of many of the Patriarchs and other leaders of Israel–the opening of barren wombs–but instead he found here in Isaiah the answer to his real question:  Who is Yeshua?  Answer:  Emmanu’el, God With Us, and the king who will reign forever from Jerusalem.

 Isaiah’s ‘Almah prophecy is far from the only double-prophecy or near-far prophecy in Scripture, and yet this fact of Scriptural interpretation is all too often overlooked by the academics, even leading some to the erroneous conclusion that certain prophecies failed. But how else can we understand Yeshua’s prophecy that the “abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel” (Mat. 24:15, cf. Dan. 9:27, 11:31, 12:11)? Everyone knew that those prophecies had already been fulfilled by Antiochus IV some two centuries before (1 Macc. 1:54), so why would Yeshua speak of it as being yet future?

The answer is that just as in the case of Isaiah’s ‘almah prophecy, there were elements of Daniel’s prophecies that had not yet been fulfilled. Oh, you could look at the overall prophecy and say, “Eh, close enough for government work,” but when you looked at the details, like the wars and end of the King of the North in Daniel 11:40-45, or the promise of the resurrection in 12:2-3, you’re left scratching your head and wondering if Daniel got it wrong–just like you’re left scratching your head at the fine details of Isaiah’s prophecy.

These unfulfilled details call to us and point to a future in which, indeed, all things will be set right, when the Righteous One will rule from David’s throne and resurrect the dead. The near-term fulfillment is a kind of down-payment on the eschatological promise: The kings of Syria and Samaria being destroyed by the Assyrians while Isaiah’s youngest son was still a toddler was the down-payment on the assurance that the Davidic line would never end, and that the Chosen One would indeed be born who would bring perfect and eternal justice to the world. The victory of the Maccabees over Anitochus was a foretaste of God’s promise of ultimate victory over the final Antichrist, a miraculous preservation of the nation until its purpose could be fulfilled.

Even a preterist is stuck with the reality of near-far double prophecies.

In the same way, when we do careful exegesis of prophecies like Ezekiel 29-30 and find details that just don’t fit with what we know of history, we should consider the possibility that those specific elements likewise await a future fulfillment. Obviously, that means that we need to do our homework to find out which prophecies have already been fulfilled and how–but when we find unfulfilled elements in a prophecy that seems to have been fulfilled in the broad details, those broad details themselves may be fulfilled again, just as in the ‘almah prophecy.

Peaks of Prophecy
Credit where credit is due

The Confusion of the Church

As a final note, let us look at Isaiah 8:14-18:

He will be a sanctuary, but for both houses of Israel, he will be
a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Many will stumble over it,
fall, be broken, be snared, and be captured.”

Wrap up the testimony.
Seal the law among my disciples.

I will wait for the LORD, who hides his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.  Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of Hosts, who dwells in Mount Zion.

The fact that the Messiah would actually be a stumbling block to Israel is found in Isa. 28:16 and Psa. 118:22 as well.  But did you realize that we were told that his own disciples would be confused as well?

Look again at v. 16 with a different translation:  “Bind the tradition, seal the Torah among my disciples.”  To bind (Heb. tzor) is to bind, distress, and vex.  To seal (Heb. chatom) is to seal up a writing so that it cannot be understood, as in Dan. 12:4 and 9.  Here the Holy One warned us in advance that there would be a time in which the disciples of this Sanctuary would frustrate the tradition (cf. Ruth 4:7 for the use of this word) and would not understand the Torah. This is exactly what has happened in the Ekklesia, which lost its Jewish roots for nearly two thousand years.

And it is in that loss that our understanding of so much of the Bible has been diminished, most especially in the arena of prophecy. As the Church as a whole turns in love to its older brother in the faith, the bindings will continue to be loosed and the oracles of God unsealed for the encouragement of the faithful and the glorification of the Holy One and his Messiah.



Prophecy in the New Testament: Introduction

6928075-red-autumn-sunsetThe autumn season has always been the one in which I most feel the “pull” of prophecy, specifically end-times prophecy or eschatology. The slow fading of the year appeals to my default state of cheerful melancholia, putting me in the right mood for contemplating the end of history with a Messianic hope. In addition to the prophetic nature of the fall feastdays, there’s something about the final brilliant transformation of the leaves before they wither and fall, something about the sudden chill in the wind combined with grey and rainy skies that sets me in the mood to contemplate the End of All Things.

But that of course leads into the question of how we should interpret prophecy.

“The New Testament is in the Old concealed, and the Old Testament is in the New revealed.” – Augustine of Hippo, Late 4th Century CE

A common criticism of the premillennialist, futurist camp is that our interpretations of prophecy is that our interpretations are not grounded in the New Covenant Scriptures. And, quite candidly, that’s not really an unfair accusation. All too often we premills get far too excited in our quest to see where we stand on the prophetic calendar and start taking Scriptures completely out of context in order to find some reference to what we saw on the news that day. This sort of “newspaper exegesis” really doesn’t help our case with our fellow disciples of the Messiah, let alone with the rest of the world.

On the other hand, the amillennialist camp is just as guilty in its own way. As John MacArthur said a few years ago (hat-tip to the Rosh Pina Project):

I reject the wacky world of newspaper exegesis and cartoon eschatology and crazy interpretation like the locusts of Revelation 9 being helicopters, etc.

Look, I reject all those really abusive and bizarre kinds of interpretation, but frankly, they’re no more wacky then the interpretations of the amillennialists who want to take the entire book of Revelation and stuff it into the events of 70 A.D. and a few years afterwards and come up with things that are just as ridiculous.

“Charts . . . why’d it have to be charts?” -John MacArthur (kinda)

So how do we understand the prophetic Scriptures? MacArthur argues that we should understand them exactly as we do every other subject: “Normal, natural, literal interpretation is the only way to stop abuse of Scripture. As soon as you abandon that, then it’s fair game for anybody’s craziness.”

Others would argue that it’s not that simple. Dr. Heiser has argued in many forums that the NT does not always use the Tanakh in a “natural, literal” way. Shouldn’t we, as he suggests, use one Divinely inspired text to interpret another?

Sadly, most of those who sound that cry fall into amillennialism and preterism, using the occasional focus of the NT on the near-term prophecies of Jerusalem’s judgment and destruction to claim that that’s all that there is–at least as far as the Jews are concerned.

Actually, I agree with both men, and this is where Jewish hermeneutics become so important: The Scriptures have a p’shat, a plain, “broadly” understood sense which “makes a road” through the wilderness of Scripture. That simple sense is our guide and our protection when we decide to look for the “hints” and “riddles” (the remez), when we decide to “dig” and “search out” deeper meanings (to drash, seeking the midrash), or most especially when we seek out the “secret intimacy” (the sod) hidden in the Bible’s original languages. While the plain, literal sense that MacArthur highlights is the most important sense, and no other sense can contradict it, it is also true that the NT authors do not restrict themselves to it, and often interpret the prophecies in ways that are not intuitive to a Christian, but which fit perfectly with the Judaism of their day.

As Paul wrote, “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1-2).

The point of this series will be to do a survey of prophecies from the Tanakh–the Torah, Prophets (Nevi’im) and Writings (Ketuvim)–which are used in the NT to understand just how the NT authors interpreted and used them. As we go, we’ll tie in prophecies that we view as eschatological (concerning the End Times) and show how they can be interpreted in light of the New Testament. I won’t attempt to be exhaustive. I think it’s more important to show the various interpretive methods than to hit every single passage.

For those new to the blog, I highly recommend reading the Three I’s series and The Most Important End-Time Prophecy in the Bible as background. The former, while it needs to be re-written somewhat, gives a good overview of Jewish interpretive methods, while the latter gives a “plain sense,” “literal” prophecy that simply has to be understood if we are to understand Biblical prophecy at all.


Rosh Hashanah

blowing the shofar (by Alphonse Lévy)
Image via Wikipedia

As many of you already know, we are entering into the fall High Holy Days, comprised of the Feasts of Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles. Just as the spring Feastdays celebrate the First Coming of Messiah Yeshua, and Shavuot (Pentecost) celebrates the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) to the Ekklesia in between the visitations of Yeshua, the Fall Feastdays look forward to His Second Coming—and in particular, the Feast of Trumpets looks forward to His Glorious Appearance in the clouds of heaven!

The day which this year falls on September 23 (beginning at sundown the previous night) is known by many names, but is little understood. The most commonly used today is Rosh Hashanah, the Head of the Year or New Year, and is regarded as the start of the Jewish civil calendar. (The religious calendar begins on the first of Nisan, fourteen days before Passover, in accordance with Exo. 12:2.) For this reasons, Jews will greet each other with the phrase, “L’shana tova u-metukah,” “May you have a good and sweet new year” or simply “Shanah tova,” “A good year.” In anticipation of this sweet new year, it is customary to eat a sweet fruit, like an apple or carrot dipped in honey.

The Talmud records the belief that “In the month of Tishri, the world was created” (Rosh Hashanah 10b), and its probably due to this belief that it became known as the Jewish New Year. The belief that the world was created on Rosh Hashanah came out of an anagram: The letters of the first word in the Bible, “In the beginning . . .” (B’resheit) can be rearranged to say, “1 Tishri” (Aleph b’Tishri). Perhaps because so little is directly said in Scripture about this day—unlike all of the other Feastdays, there is no historical precedent given to explain why Rosh Hashanah should be celebrated—the rabbis also speculated that Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Samuel were all born on this day.

However, that’s not it’s Biblical name, which is Yom Teruah, the Day of the [Trumpet] Blast:

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, ‘In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing (Heb. zikrown teruah) [of trumpets], an holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.’” (Lev. 23:23-25)

And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have an holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work: it is a day of blowing (teruah) [the trumpets] unto you. (Num. 29:1)

In each of these passages, I’ve placed “trumpets” in brackets because it’s not actually in the Hebrew text; however, teruah can and usually does mean to sound the trumpet (though it can mean to shout with a voice as well) and the use of a trumpet on this day is considered so axiomatic that there is literally no debate in Jewish tradition on the matter. Specifically, the trumpet used is the shofar. The shofar is traditionally always made from the horn of a ram, in honor of the ram that God substituted for Isaac, and never from a bull’s horn, in memory of the sin of the golden calf.

The shofar first appears in Scripture as heralding the visible appearance of God coming down on Mt. Sinai to meet with His people (Ex. 19:16-19). It is also linked with His Coming in Zec. 9:14 and with Him going up (making aliyah) to Jerusalem in Psa. 47:5. Small wonder then that Yeshua said He would Come again with the sound of a trumpet, a shofar, in Mat. 24:31, which is echoed by Sha’ul (Paul) in 1 Th. 4:16 and 1 Co. 15:52. Indeed, many commentators have recognized that by “the last trump,” Sha’ul was referring to the final shofar blast, called the Tekia HaGadol, of the Feast of Trumpets.

This visitation by the Eternal One is closely associated with the second of this Feastdays names: Yom Zikkroun, the Day of Remembrance. This is not primarily meant to be a day when the people remember God, but when God remembers His people—not that He has forgotten them, but in which He fulfills His promises to them by Coming to them. In Isa. 27:13, it is the instrument used to call God’s people Israel back to the Land. In Psalm 27, which is traditionally read in the month leading up to Yom Teruah, we see the Psalmist looking forward to God rescuing him from his enemies:

Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident . . .

For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me up upon a rock. . .

Among the rabbis, the shofar is often associated with the Coming of the Messiah and the Resurrection of the Dead as well. “According to the Alphabet Midrash of Rabbi Akiva, seven shofars announce successive steps of the resurrection process, with Zechariah 9:14 quoted as a proof text: ‘And Adonai the Lord will blow the shofar’” (Stern, David H., Jewish New Testament Commentary, 489f). “And it is the shofar that the Holy One, blessed be He, is destined to blow when the Son of David, our righteous one, will reveal himself, as it is said, ‘And the Lord GOD will blow the shofar’” (Tanna debe Eliyahu Zutta XXII). It’s interesting that the rabbis, without the benefit of the New Covenant writings, have come to the same conclusions as the Apostles: That the Holy One would visit His people in the person of the Messiah and raise the dead on Yom Teruah (also in the Bablyonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 16b). On Yom Teruah, the shofar not only rouses the people from their complacency, but the very dead from their graves. (See Job 19:25-27, Isa. 26:19, and Dan. 12:2 for the Tanakh’s primary passages on the Resurrection.)

The shofar is an instrument that is very much associated with war (Jdg. 3:27, 2 Sa. 20:1, Neh. 4:18-22, Ezk. 33:3-6). It was used to destroy the walls of Jericho (Jdg. 6:20). In Joel 2:1, it sounds the start of the Day of the Lord, the time in which God will make war on His enemies: “Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the Day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand” (cf. v. 15). This again matches perfectly with the NT, where Sha’ul describes the Lord’s coming with a trumpet immediately preceding the Day of the Lord (1 Th. 4:16, 5:2).

This brings us to the next name for this Feastday, Yom HaDin, Judgment Day. Not only did the shofar sound the call for war, but also the coronation of kings (2 Sa. 15:10; 1 Ki. 1:34, 29; 2 Ki. 9:13, 11:12-14). Therefore, the rabbis have always associated this day with God’s sovereign Kingship over all mankind: “On Rosh Hashanah all human beings pass before Him as troops, as it is said, ‘The LORD looketh from heaven; He beholdeth all the sons of men. From the place of His habitation He looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashioneth their hearts alike; He considereth all their works’” (Rosh Hashanah 6b, quoting Psa. 53:13-15). To remember God’s Kingship, it is traditional to eat round objects to remind us of God’s crown (oriental crowns being shaped as skullcaps instead of circlets). For example, challah is made to be round instead of braided as it normally is.

Because this day is associated with God’s judgment, it is also considered a time of repentance (t’shuva) in preparation for Yom Kippur. The Casting (Tashlikh) Ceremony, in which observant Jews gather together at the shores of oceans, lakes, and rivers and cast in stones and/or crumbs of bread to symbolize “casting off” their sins, is performed on this day to a prayer comprised of Mic. 7:18-20, Psa. 118:5-9, Psa. 33 and 130, and often finishing with Isa. 11:9.

He will turn again,

He will have compassion upon us;

He will subdue our iniquities;

And Thou wilt cast all their sins

Into the depths of the sea. (Mic. 7:19)

The Talmud (ibid.) goes on to say that on this day, all mankind is divided into three types of people. The wholly righteous were immediately written in the Book of Life (Exo. 32:33, Psa. 69:28) for another year. The wholly wicked were blotted out of the Book of Life, condemned to die in the coming year. Those in between, if they truly repented before the end of Yom Kippur, could likewise be scribed in the Book of Life for another year. For this reason, a common greeting at this time is “L’shana tova tikatevu,” which means, “May you be inscribed [in the Book of Life] for a good new year.”

The Bible, of course, is clear that one is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (cf. Php. 4:3; Rev. 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, and 21:27) not by one’s own righteousness, but by receiving the Messiah’s righteousness by faith, trusting in Him, and that there is no in-between; one either trusts God or one doesn’t. Nevertheless, a great eschatological truth is preserved for us in this rabbinical tradition. At the time of Yeshua’s Second Coming, all mankind will be divided into three groups. Those who have already trusted in the Messiah will be Resurrected and Raptured to be with Him immediately upon His Coming on the clouds of the sky. Those who have taken the mark of the Beast and have chosen to remain with the Wicked One will be slated to die in the Day of the Lord, which for reasons that are beyond the scope of this essay to address, I believe will last for about a year.

However, there will also be a third group, who neither had believed in the Messiah until they saw Him Coming on the clouds but who also had not taken the mark of the Beast. Many of these will be Jews, who will mourn at His coming and so have a fount of forgiveness opened to them (Rev. 1:7, Zec. 12:10-13:2)—most prominently, the 144,000 of Rev. 7 and 14. Others will be Gentiles who will be shown mercy because they showed mercy to the children of God (Mat. 25:31ff). These are given the opportunity to repent during the period between the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonment, called the Days of Awe—a reference, I believe, to the Day of the Lord.

Finally, this day is known as Yom HaKeseh, the Hidden Day. It was a day that could not be calculated, only looked for. Ancient Israel kept its calendar simply by observing the phases of the moon. If a day were overcast, it might cause a delay in the observance of the beginning of the month, the new moon (Rosh Chodesh), the first tiny crescent of light. Every other Feast was at least a few days after the beginning of the month so that it could be calculated and prepared for in advance. For example, after the new moon that marked the beginning of the month of Nisan, the observant Jew knew that he had fourteen days to prepare for the Passover.

Not so Yom HaKeseh. In the absence of reliable astronomical charts and calculations (which were made only centuries after God commanded the Feasts to be observed), the Feast of Trumpets could be anticipated, estimated to be arriving soon, but until two or more witnesses reported the first breaking of the moon’s light after the darkest time of the month, no one knew “the day or hour.” Therefore, it was a tradition not to sleep on Rosh Hashanah, but to remain awake and alert, a tradition alluded to by Sha’ul: “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (1 Th. 5:4-6).

Because of the difficulty of alerting the Jews in the Diaspora when the Sanhedron had decreed the start of the Feast to be, it became traditional to celebrate the first and second day of Tishri together as Yoma Arikhta, “One Long Day.” Is this meant to remind us, perhaps, of when another Y’hoshua (Yeshua) won against his enemies because God cast down great hailstones (like the hailstones of Rev. 16:21) and called upon the Sun to stand still so that they would not escape (Jos. 10:10ff)?

Yom Teruah is a day which ultimately calls all of God’s people together in repentance in anticipation of the glorious Second Coming, in which He will once again visit His people in the Person of the Messiah Yeshua to Resurrect the dead, awaken the living, and judge all mankind together.

Shalom, and Maranatha!