As we continue our analysis of E.W. Bullinger’s commentary on the book of Revelation, we come to his next proof that the Revelation is not intended for the Ekklesia, which is that it “is another undoubted fact, that the Church of God is not the subject of the Old Testament, either in history, type, or prophecy.” He adds, “Passages, etc., may be found there and used to illustrate what is subsequently revealed. But this can be done only by way of application, not by way of teaching or of interpretation” (p. 4, emphasis original).
Frankly, Bullinger seems to simply be setting himself up with an untestable argument. Essentially, he’s making a claim that every quotation of the Tanakh in the New Testament that the Apostles give to define or justify the Ekklesia is only an “illustration.” The problem with that it that it ends up being question-begging: How do we know that every passage of the Tanakh is only an illustration, not a prophecy of the Ekklesia? Why, because the Ekklesia is a mystery that isn’t spoken of in the Tanakh, of course!
But let’s look at his proof-texts:
Because, of the “Mystery” or the secret concerning the Church of God, we are told that it “was kept secret since the world began” (Rom. xvi. 25). That “in other ages it was not made known unto the sons of men” (Eph. iii. 5). That is, “from the beginning of the world, hath been hid in God” (Eph. iii. 9). That it “hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to the saints” (Col. i. 26).
The first thing we need to define is the term “mystery,” and we will do so by comparing Scripture to Scripture:
The disciples came, and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
He answered them, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is not given to them. For whoever has, to him will be given, and he will have abundance, but whoever doesn’t have, from him will be taken away even that which he has. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they don’t see, and hearing, they don’t hear, neither do they understand. In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says,
‘By hearing you will hear,
and will in no way understand;
Seeing you will see,
and will in no way perceive:
for this people’s heart has grown callous,
their ears are dull of hearing,
they have closed their eyes;
or else perhaps they might perceive with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their heart,
and should turn again;
and I would heal them.’
“But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For most certainly I tell you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which you see, and didn’t see them; and to hear the things which you hear, and didn’t hear them. (Mat. 13: 11-17)
Now, as we’ve noted before, the Kingdom of Heaven–which is to say, “the dynamic reign of God” (to use George Ladd’s term)–was a concept well-known to the rabbis. Therefore, it could not be said that the existence of the Kingdom of Heaven was a mystery. Rather, it was the coming manifestation of that Kingdom that was a mystery–and that not to everyone. Yeshua spoke of the Kingdom on plain terms to His disciples, only giving parables to the larger crowds that had not received sufficient instruction to be able to understand that plain teaching.
As it turns out, the Kingdom and the Ekklesia are united–or rather, the Ekklesia is the present manifestation of the Kingdom (cf. Mat. 16:18-19). Therefore, the existence of the Ekklesia was not the mystery, but one or more aspects of its manifestation. Many of those aspects are brought out in the Gospels, but there is one in particular that Paul and the Twelve found astounding. From one of Bullinger’s proof-texts:
. . . how that by revelation the mystery was made known to me, as I wrote before in few words, by which, when you read, you can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Messiah; which in other generations was not made known to the children of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy emissaries and prophets in the Spirit; that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of his promise in Messiah Yeshua through the Good News . . . (Eph. 3:3-6)
So then, that the Holy One would keep an assembly of the faithful for Himself was no mystery–that the Assembly would include Gentiles not simply as subjects, but as full citizens and fellowheirs, grafted in through faith in Israel’s King, was.
It wasn’t even that Gentile participation was not prophesied, but that those prophecies were overlooked. The whole decision of the Acts 15 council hinged on the prophecy of Amos 9:11-12 that before the fallen tabernacle of David (i.e. the Davidic monarchy) would be restored that there would be Gentiles called by the Holy Name. Nor was this the only such prophecy: Isaiah 11:10-12 says that the Gentiles would rally to the Root of Jessie (the Messiah) before Israel was restored to the Land “the second time,” which was the Roman Diaspora. Isaiah also prophesied that the Good News would be delivered in a foreign language to Israel (28:11). Even in the Torah, Moses prophesied that since Israel would make God jealous with devotion to idols, that He “will make them jealous with those who are not a people. I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deu. 32:21).
The mystery was not due to the Holy One not telling us in advance of Gentile inclusion and even dominance in the Ekklesia. Nor could it be, for “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, unless he reveals his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). The mystery was due to the condition described in Isaiah 6 and Matthew 13: Our hearts were dulled and our eyes blinded, and we refused to see what was before our face. For so long, the Gentiles had been our stumbling block, pulling us into idolatry over and over again, oppressing us, and even trying to wipe out Judaism. How could it possibly be that they would come into the Kingdom in such numbers that they would instruct us about its mysteries, even though they could not properly speak our language?
Once again, Mr. Bullinger’s (ultra)dispensationalism has prevented him from clearly understanding Scripture. He sees the Ekklesia as wholly Gentile and wholly separate from Israel, whereas the Biblical view is that the Gentiles were grafted into or adopted into Israel, not having replaced the natural-born children but having been added to their number. Ergo, as Marvin Wilson summed up in his very excellent book, Our Father Abraham, those who have been adopted by Israel’s King must look at Israel’s history as their own, Israel’s patriarchs and prophets as their own, Israel’s successes as their own, and Israel’s failures as their own. Therefore, they do partake in the prophecies of Israel, though not always in exactly the same ways.
And if that is the case for the prophets, how much more is it true for the book that Merill Tenney rightly called the grand junction-station of the prophetic Scriptures?
A final point: If Revelation was not written to the Church, why was John specifically told to write seven copies to be sent to each of the seven churches described in chapters 2-3? Shouldn’t he rather have been instructed to send the sole copy to Judea, which still remained as a nation even after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE? And if it was written to the whole Ekklesia–for the number 7 indicates completeness, and therefore the seven assemblies should be considered representatives of the Assembly as a whole–then how can we be so sure that the Ekklesia will not be witness to most of the events described within its pages?