“Ezekiel’s Temple and the Outflow of Living Waters” by Philip Mauro (1922)


In the last post, “Making Sense of Ezekiel’s Temple Vision,” we saw Steve Gregg’s overview of Ezekiel 40-48 in which he pointed out that Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple was conditional on obedience, that the new temple was never built to specifications because of disobedience, and that Ezekiel also foresaw the new covenant realities of this present age. This post will present Chapter 12 from Philip Mauro’s 1922 book, “The Hope of Israel.” 

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The following was posted at Messianic Good News in October 2012. Philip Mauro’s entire book, “The Hope of Israel,” including a downloadable PDF, can be found here. In addition to authoring more than 10 books, Mauro (1859-1952) was a lawyer who practiced before the Supreme Court. 

Chapters 40 to 46 inclusive of the Book of Ezekiel contain the record of a vision given to that prophet, in which he was shown the pattern of a temple and its various appointments, the arrangements, gates, courts, and chambers, their dimensions and other details being stated with minuteness. The space given to the description of this temple would indicate that it is a matter of considerable importance in the eyes of God. So it will be well worth our while to seek an understanding of the vision, and to inquire into the purpose for which it is given – even more so because of much barren conjecture and diverging opinion in this regard, amongst those who seek to expound the Scriptures.

These visions present difficulties of interpretation, as is generally recognized. But whatever they may or may not mean, they certainly give no support for the doctrine of a political future for the earthly Israel. Insofar as this prophecy was to have its fulfillment in the realm of the natural, it was fulfilled after the return from Babylon. But, as with the pattern of the temple showed to Moses on Mt. Sinai, so likewise here it seems we must take the visions seen by Ezekiel on that ‘very high mountain’ (40:2) to be the patterns of things heavenly and spiritual.

Moreover, in chapter 43:9-11 it is distinctly stated that all these promises given through Ezekiel were conditional, and we further know that that people did not fulfill the conditions that were laid down any more than they fulfilled those of the old covenant. Hence these later promises (along with all the others) have been forfeited irreversibly, and they find their ‘yea’ and their ‘amen’ in Christ, being all ‘unto the glory of God by us’ – the true Israel (2 Cor. 1:20). That is to say, God will have glory through the fulfillment of those promises in and through His new covenant people.

IS IT THE PLAN OF A TEMPLE FOR THE MILLENNIUM?

One solution of the problem we are studying (to which many strongly adhere) is that Ezekiel’s vision relates to Millennial times, when the temple shown to Ezekiel will be erected on Mt. Moriah, when also the system of worship described in the concluding chapters of Ezekiel will be instituted and carried on. This view is characteristic of that peculiar system of interpreting the Scriptures which rids itself of all difficulties in the prophetic Word by simply and expediently postponing their fulfillment to the Millennial age. Thus the Millennium becomes the convenient and oft used dumping ground of all portions of Scripture that offer any difficulty, and the unhappy consequence is that many prophecies which were fulfilled before or at the first coming of Christ, or are currently being fulfilled in this age of the gospel, and many Scriptures, such as the Sermon on the Mount, which apply directly to the saints of this dispensation, are wrenched out of their proper place, and are relegated to a distant future, much to the loss of the people of God and to the integrity of the Scriptures as a whole.

The ‘postponement’ system doubtless owes the popularity it enjoys to the circumstance that its method is both safe and easy. It is safe because, when a fulfilment of prophecy is relegated to the Millennium, it cannot be conclusively refuted until the time comes. All date-setting schemes owe their measure of popularity to the same fact. It is easy because it relieves the Bible student of the trouble of searching for the contextual or Christological meaning and application of difficult passages.

But, coming to the special case in hand, which is illustrative of many others, we must now boldly assert and undertake to show, that there are insurmountable objections to the view that Ezekiel’s temple is for future Millennial times.

To begin with, if the Jews do indeed occupy the land of Canaan again as an earthly nation, and if they restore the ancient system of temple-worship, either according to the plan shown to and described by Ezekiel, or according to any other plan, we maintain that the Scripture plainly forbids it. For it was by God’s own hand that the ancient system of worship was abolished and obliterated, and the obliteration of it was for reasons so closely connected with the redeeming word of the Lord Jesus Christ, that to re-establish it would be to dishonour that work and its achievements.

Moreover, the sacrifices of animals was a strictly temporary institution, belonging to an economy that ‘made nothing perfect.’ I have shown in a previous chapter that the entire system – temple, altar, priesthood and all – was but a ‘shadow’ of that which was to come, a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience’, that God had ‘no pleasure’ in them; and that they were completely and forever abolished by the ‘One Sacrifice for sins’ offered by the Lord Jesus Christ ‘once for all’ (Heb. 7:18-19, 9:6-10, 10:1-9). For it was not by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman armies in AD 70, that the Jewish system of worship was overthrown, but by the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God on Calvary, and it follows that, so long as the merits and efficacy of that Sacrifice endure, there will be no room in God’s universe for any other. It is important for us to recognize and to hold fast to the truth that the ‘old covenant’ and everything pertaining to it – sanctuary, altar, priesthood, feasts, sabbaths, and especially animal sacrifices – have been completely and ‘forever’ done away with. Surely the words in which this truth is declared are plain, and the reason for it is clear. For the Spirit says expressly: ‘He takes away the first’ – the sacrifices of the law – ‘that He may establish the second’ – the true spiritual worship of the heavenly sanctuary, based upon the one Sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:8-12,18-22). And the words ‘takes away,’ and ‘establish,’ signify something eternally accomplished.

THE VISION

But let us turn to the prophecy of Ezekiel with the object of learning what the record itself tells us of the purpose for which the vision was given.

First we would point out that, in the sixth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity, that is to say, while Solomon’s temple was yet standing, Ezekiel had a wonderful vision in which he saw the glory of the Lord departing from the house (8:1, 10:18). The vision of the new temple was given 19 years later, for Ezekiel is careful to record that it was ‘the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten’ (40:1-2). To this I will return. At present I wish only to point out that the most conspicuous features of the temple shown in this vision are the various places for the slaughter of animals, and for offering the same upon the altar, sprinkling their blood, etc. Thus we find a description of the tables, eight in number, for slaying the burnt offerings and other sacrifices, and upon which ‘they laid the instruments wherewith they slew the burnt offering and the sacrifice’ (40:38-43). Therefore, in the clear light of the Letter to the Hebrews and of all Scripture pertaining to the Sacrifice of Christ, it is impossible to place this temple in any dispensation subsequent to Calvary.

But an attempt has been made to avoid this objection and to make possible the locating of Ezekiel’s temple in the Millennium, by saying that the sacrifice of animals in that era will be only for a ‘reminder’ or a ‘memorial’ of the former days. But this is a very weak effort of the imagination. For what grounds have we for supposing that God would require any memorial of those sacrifices which, even in the time when they were needed, He had no pleasure? And how preposterous is the idea that He would require the slaughter of innumerable creatures merely to revive the memory of those other defective sacrifices which could never take away sins! Surely they who advance this idea have forgotten the Scriptures which they all apply to the Millennium, and which says, ‘They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain’ (Isa. 11:9).

But the passage itself completely refutes this idea, for it plainly declares that the sacrifices specified there were not at all for a remembrance or a memorial, but were for the very different purposes of sin offerings, trespass offerings, peace offerings, etc. Also for cleansing the house, making reconciliation both for the princes of Israel and for the people, and the like. All five of the offerings of the levitical system are mentioned by name (40:39, 42:13, 43:27, 45:17, 46:20), and provision is made for sprinkling the blood of the sin offering upon the corners of the altar, upon the posts of the house and court in order to cleanse them (43:20, 45:18-19). In a word the sacrifices are the levitical sacrifices, and they are expressly declared to be for their original purposes. Hence it is impossible to locate this temple, as an actual structure (apart from the spiritual signification of it), in any era other than that of the Mosaic Law.

THE PURPOSE OF THE VISION

What then was the immediate purpose of this vision? I think this question has a simple answer in the light of the passage itself and that of other Scriptures.

Ezekiel prophesied during the captivity. That captivity was to be of seventy years duration, as predicted by Jeremiah. At its end the captives were to return and re-build the city and the temple. This new temple was to serve as the sanctuary of God until Christ should come. God’s plan had always been to give to His people the exact pattern of the sanctuary they were to build for His Name. To Moses He had shown the pattern of the tabernacle, giving him at the same time the strictest injunctions to make every detail in exact accordance with that pattern. Likewise to David, God had revealed the pattern of the temple which was to be built at Jerusalem, with all its institutions, vessels of service, etc. ‘All this,’ says David, ‘the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern’ (1 Chr. 28:11-19).

And once again, after the exile, a house was to be built for the Name of the Lord in Jerusalem. Therefore, having in mind His invariable method in such case, we should expect to find at this period a revelation from heaven of the pattern to be followed in the building of that house. And right here we do find the revelation from God of the completed pattern and institutions of a temple, with directions to the prophet to show the same to the house of Israel.

Furthermore we find that even as Moses was admonished to make all things according to the pattern shown him ‘in the mount,’ so Ezekiel was taken to ‘a very high mountain’ where this pattern was shown to him, and he was told to set his heart upon all that should be revealed to him, and to declare all he should see to the house of Israel (40:3-4; 44:5).

Again, as regards the ministers of the sanctuary, it is strictly commanded that the priests are to be Levites of the sons of Zadok (45:15), which proves that the whole system was for an era when the priesthood of Aaron was not as yet abolished.

Furthermore, special instructions are given in this vision regarding ‘the prince.’ Now it was only after the return from Babylon that Israel was subject to a ‘prince,’ as Zerubbabel in the days of Ezra, and the Hasmonaean princes at a later day.

Finally, this vision contains instructions for the re-allotment of the land, corresponding to the instructions given Moses and Joshua at the first occupation of the land. This provision embraces the whole twelve tribes of Israel. For it should be noted that in the land of their captivity Israel and Judah were mingled together; and from that time onward the distinction between the ten northern tribes and the other two no longer exists. Thus Ezekiel was sent to ‘the children of Israel,’ to ‘the house of Israel,’ and as in several passages to ‘all the house of Israel’ (11:15, 20:40, etc.). Likewise Daniel confessed on behalf of ‘all Israel’ and prayed for his ‘people Israel’ (9:11,20), and those who returned with Ezra were ‘all Israel’ (Ezra 2:70, 8:25; 9:1 etc.). And this continued to New Testament times, when Peter makes his proclamation at Pentecost to ‘all the house of Israel’ (Acts 2:36), Paul speaks to Herod Agrippa of ‘our twelve tribes’ (Acts 26:7), and James writes to ‘the twelve tribes scattered abroad’ (Jam. 1:1). This effectually disposes of all speculation regarding ‘the ten lost tribes,’ and particularly of the grand delusion of Anglo-Israelism.

WAS THE PATTERN SHOWN EZEKIEL FOLLOWED?

So far as I am aware there is no evidence now available as to the plan of the temple built in the days of Ezra. Herod the Great had so transformed it in the days of Christ, though without interrupting the regular services and sacrifices, as to destroy all trace of the original design. That question, however, which we cannot now answer, does not affect the question of the purpose for which the pattern was revealed to Ezekiel.

It should be noted that everything in connection with the return of the people of Israel out of Babylon was purely voluntary. Only those returned to Jerusalem ‘whose spirit God had raised to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem’ (Ezra 1:5). They were not taken out of Babylon as out of Egypt in a body and by strength of hand. But we know that they brought with them the holy vessels, and we know that they had, and could have followed, the pattern shown in the mount to Ezekiel. For God had commanded the prophet to show it to them, and He gave him also this charge: ‘Thou son of man, show the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern. And if they be ashamed of all they have done, show them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof and the comings in thereof and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof, and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them” (43:10,11).

The blessings promised to Israel through Ezekiel were like those promised through Moses, conditional upon their faithfulness and obedience; and, since they were not obedient, the blessings were forfeited. So we are left in uncertainty as to what, if anything, resulted from this revelation to Ezekiel. But as regards the purpose for which it was given, we think there is no uncertainty at all.

Of course this vision, like all visions and prophecies, has a spiritual fulfillment in Christ, and this is very apparent, we think, from chapter 47. Chapter 47 contains the vision of the life-giving waters, which the prophet saw issuing out from the temple, a shallow stream at first, but increasing to a mighty river – ‘waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over’ (v. 5).

As with respect to Zechariah’s prophecy concerning the ‘living waters’ (Zech 14:8), referred to in a former chapter, so with respect to this vision of Ezekiel, we confidently submit that its fulfillment is in the living waters of the gospel, which began, on the day of Pentecost, to flow out from the Temple at Jerusalem. Our Lord uses the expression ‘rivers of living water,’ in John 7:38; and the meaning of the expression is given in the next verse: ‘But this spoke He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive.’ This explanation controls the passage we are considering. This will be apparent from what follows.

WHERE DID THE SPIRIT DESCEND AT PENTECOST?

For the purpose of a better understanding of the foregoing prophetic vision of Ezekiel, and because, moreover, the events of the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, are of great importance, it is a matter of much interest to ascertain just where, in the city of Jerusalem, the disciples were assembled at the moment when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

Some may wonder that there should be any question as to this, seeing it seems to be generally agreed that the gathering place of the disciples was the ‘upper room’. Indeed it is often positively asserted, as if it were a recorded fact, that the upper room was the ‘birthplace of the Church.’ But the truth is that scripture does not support the idea that the disciples were in an upper room when the Holy Spirit came upon them, or that the upper room mentioned in Acts 1:13 was ever their assembling place during the ten days of their waiting in Jerusalem, in obedience to the Lord’s command, for “the Promise of the Father.”

All that is said concerning the ‘upper room’ is that the apostles, after witnessing the Lord’s ascension from Mount Olivet, returned to Jerusalem and went to an upper room, where Peter, James, John and the other of the eleven apostles were lodging (Acts 1:13). What appears from the record, and all that appears, is that those Galileans, during their stay in Jerusalem, had their lodgings in an ‘upper room.’ There is no suggestion at all that the sleeping quarters of those eleven men was also the meeting place of the one hundred and twenty disciples of Christ who were in Jerusalem at that time. Still less reason is there for supposing that the morning of the great Feast-day, which the Law compelled them to attend, would have found them gathered in such a place.

IN THE TEMPLE

There was, in fact, only one place in the city of Jerusalem where devout Jews, of whatever sect, would have congregated on that morning, and one place where the events recorded in Acts 2 could possibly have transpired. That place is the Temple. But it is not upon inference alone that we base our conclusion, for after a careful examination of the inspired records, we venture to say that they contain positive proof that it was in the Temple itself that the Holy Spirit came ‘suddenly’ upon the company of the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that from that Temple the proclamation of God’s Good News began to go forth to all the world. And I will try to show that it was the outflow of the gospel – ‘all the words of this life’ (Acts 5:20) – that was foreseen by the vision of ‘living waters’ issuing from the Temple.

Surely it is befitting that it should have been so. For it is in accordance with all that has been revealed to us of the dealings of God, and of the connection between the Old Covenant and the New, that the first manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s personal presence should have been in the Temple, that the spiritual House should have its beginnings on the site of the material House. Indeed the same reasons which required that the preaching of forgiveness in the Name of the risen Christ should begin ‘at Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:47), would seem also to require that it should begin at the Temple. I will look into this a little later, but first I want to establish whether the inspired record gives any definite indications as to the place where the wonderful events of Pentecost occurred.

“CONTINUALLY IN THE TEMPLE”

The first Scripture that bears on the matter is the concluding portion of Luke’s Gospel whereof the book of Acts is a continuation, written by the same hand.

Luke records the Lord’s commandment to His disciples to tarry in the city of Jerusalem until they should be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49). The brief record of this verse does not state whether or not the Lord designated any particular place in Jerusalem where they were to await the promised endowment; but the further record given in verses 52 and 53 of what they did in obedience to the Lord’s commands, supplies this information. For we read that “they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:52,53).

This passage definitely declares that the Temple was the place where they assembled for the purpose of waiting upon God in worship and prayer; and it declares furthermore that they were there continually. Hence we need nothing further to tell us just where they were assembled whenever we read of their being gathered during that period, “in one place.” We have the emphasis of the word “continually,” which leaves no room for the supposition that during the ten days following, they were assembled as a company in any place other than the Temple. This passage alone seems to make it clear that the Lord had told them to wait in the Temple for the promised endowment of the Spirit.

When, moreover, we bear in mind the fact (which appears both from the Scriptures and from other contemporary records) that the Temple, with its vast corridors or “porches,” was the regular gathering place of all the various parties and sects of Jews, however antagonistic the one to the other, it will be easy to realize that the Temple is just the place – both because of its hallowed associations, and also because of its many convenient meeting places – where the disciples would naturally congregate. Edersheim says that the vast Temple area was capable of containing a concourse of 210,000 people; and he mentions also that the colonnades in Solomon’s Porch formed many gathering places for the various sects, schools and congregations of the people. In commenting on John 7 this trustworthy authority says that the gathering places in Solomon’s Porch “had benches in them; and from the liberty of speaking and teaching in Israel, Jesus might here address the people in the very face of His enemies.” It was, moreover, and this is an important item of evidence, in Solomon’s Porch that the concourse of Jews gathered which Peter addressed in Acts 3 (see verse 11). Hence there can be little doubt that one of the assembling places to which Alfred Edersheim refers was the “house” where the disciples were “sitting” when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

When Luke takes up, in the book of Acts, the thread of the narrative he dropped at the end of his Gospel, he says (speaking of the apostles) that “These all continued (lit. were continuing) with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren” (Acts 1:14). We have here in substance a repetition of what is recorded in the last verse of Luke’s Gospel, namely that, during the ten days following the Lord’s ascension, His disciples were “continually” together waiting upon God (they “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication”). The record in Acts omits mention of the place where they so continued, but that information was not needed, seeing it had already been definitely stated in Luke 24:52,53. But the evangelist adds the interesting facts that the women, Mary the mother of the Lord, and His brethren, were with them. All this, be it remembered, was done by the Lord’s express instructions. They were of course praying for the promised Gift from on high (Luke 11:13).

THE DAY OF PENTECOST

Thus the day of Pentecost came; and its being the great Feast-day of the Jews on which the giving of the Law at Sinai is celebrated, provides an additional reason why they should be found assembled in the Temple. The services – the offering of the morning sacrifice and incense, with the accompanying prayers (in which they would undoubtedly have taken part) – began at sunrise. This service being concluded, they would naturally be “sitting” in their customary place; and then it was that “suddenly” out of heaven came that sound “as of a rushing wind.” The words “they were all with one accord in one place” (compare 1:14) indicate that they were in their customary gathering place in the Temple. Similar words found at the end of chapter 2 lend emphasis to this; for we find there the statement that, after about three thousand souls had been “added” to them, they still continued with one accord in the Temple (Verse 46). This shows that what they had been doing as a small company they “continued” to do, still “with one accord,” as an exceedingly large and growing company. It shows further that the place where they were gathered when the Holy Spirit came upon them must have been of such dimensions as to admit of three thousand more being “added” to them; and it need hardly be said that the Temple was the only building in Jerusalem open to the public, where this would have been possible.

By having before our eye the several statements of Scripture that bear upon the matter we are examining it will be seen, we think, that there is no room for doubt about it. These are the statements:

Luke 24:52-53: “And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple, praising and blessing God.”

Acts 1:14. “All these were continuing with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.”

Acts 2:1. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”

Acts 2:46. “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the Temple.”

These passages reiterate that the disciple continued, during all the period in question, in one place; and the first and last passages quoted state that the place was the Temple.

From the last passage it plainly appears that, after Pentecost, they still made it a practice to meet “daily in the Temple,” the wording being such as to show that this was not a new custom from that date, but was the “continuing” of what had been their custom since the Lord’s ascension into heaven.

THE SERVICE OF THE FEAST OF PENTECOST

Acts 2:1, in its literal meaning, casts more light on our subject. As rendered in the Authorized Version it reads “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come.” The word translated by the three English words “was fully come” (which rendering manifestly does not give the true sense, since a day cannot be more “fully come” after it has actually come), means literally “was being accomplished.” In Bagster’s interlinear translation the reading is: “And during the accomplishing of the day of Pentecost, they were all with one accord in the same place.”

What is seemingly implied is that they were, as we should expect, in the Temple, for the purpose of taking part in the appointed services of the great feast day. During an intermission in those ceremonies they would naturally be “sitting” together in their customary meeting-place within the Temple area. What seems to be impressed upon us by this verse is that, during the accomplishing of the various ceremonies of the day of Pentecost, the disciples were not dispersed and mingled with the great crowds of worshippers, but kept together, and were with one accord in one place. It can hardly be doubted, therefore, that at the moment the Spirit descended upon them they were all together somewhere within the large area of the Temple, presumably in Solomon’s Porch.

Concerning the verse we are now considering (Acts 2:1), Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, in a letter to the author, said: “Personally, I believe that the statement that the day of Pentecost ‘was being fulfilled’ means far more than that they were observing its ritual. I am convinced that the meaning of Luke here is that all that was signified by that Feast was finding its historic fulfilment.”

With the aid of this comment we can see a great wealth of meaning in these few words of Scripture. The coming of the Holy Spirit took place some little time before nine in the morning (see verse 15), just long enough for it to be “noised abroad” (2:6), and for an enormous crowd to congregate. On reading attentively the record of verses 1-14 it will be seen that the events there narrated all happened in one and the same locality. The disciples were in the same place when they began to speak in other languages, and the astonished multitude assembled and listened, than they were when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

Concerning the words of verse 6, “Now when this was noised abroad,” Dr. Morgan, in the letter already quoted, says that this is not to be taken as meaning that a rumour of the marvellous event was spread abroad; for the verb rendered ‘noised broad’ in the Authorised Version is never used in the sense of a rumour. “I believe the sound as of a mighty wind was heard by the entire city. That being so, your interpretation as to the place falls in with tremendous naturalness to me. The devout Jews would, at the hearing of some supernatural sound, rush to the Temple.” In this connection the force of the words of Acts 2:2 should be specially noted: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind (or Breath) and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”

It is important to note that in those days, and for a considerable period thereafter, the disciples were in “favour with all the people” (Acts 2:48); and hence they were permitted to enjoy, in common with all Jewish sects and parties, the privileges of assembling for the usual purposes, and as a distinct company or sect, in the Temple. It should also be specially noted that no pious Jews would be anywhere but in the Temple on that day (See Acts 20:16).

We conclude, therefore, that the material House of God served as the womb for the spiritual House, and that from it the Church was to come forth, and soon did come forth. For a little while the two were identified, as the true spiritual ‘Israel of God’ was, for awhile, identified with ‘Israel after the flesh’ – the spiritual seed of Abraham with his natural seed. And this is in keeping with the revealed ways of God.

THE SOURCE OF THE LIVING WATERS

It is evident that the matter into which we have been inquiring has a direct relation to certain prophecies, such as Ezekiel 47, referred to above, where the prophet describes his vision of the healing and life-giving waters issuing from out of the Temple. It was shown to the prophet, as we have already noted, that the water was to go down into the desert (which suggests barren Israel), and into the sea (which symbolizes the nations), whose waters should be healed; and the description continues –

“And it shall come to pass that everything that lives which moves, wherever the rivers shall come, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither; for they shall be healed. And everything shall live wherever the river comes” (Ezekiel 47:9).

It is easy to see in this passage the familiar scriptural figures of the Gospel, and its life-giving and healing ministry. So we note with interest that the Temple – the House of God – was to be the source of the stream of living waters.

Therefore, we cannot fail to see in this prophetic vision a spiritual foretelling of the issuing forth of the Gospel for all mankind from God’s appointed center, which broadly was Israel, and more definitely Jerusalem, and still more definitely the Temple. Other portions of Ezekiel’s prophecy have clearly a spiritual fulfilment in this dispensation of the Holy Spirit, as we have sought to show.

In this connection we would call attention also to the prophecy of Joel. Inasmuch as the Apostle Peter showed the coming and manifestations of the Holy Spirit at the fulfilment of the verses quoted from the second chapter of Joel, it is significant that there is the promise in Joel 3 that “all of the rivers of Judah will flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the House of the Lord” (3:18). We believe that those who are spiritual will be able to see in this verse and its context much that is applicable to this present dispensation, though it may be that the complete fulfilment of this passage, and also of that quoted by Peter from chapter 2, awaits the coming again of the Lord from heaven. [I disagree with this last statement. – Adam]

LIVING WATERS FLOWING FROM THE HOUSE OF GOD

For some time after Pentecost the church continued at Jerusalem, and seems to have been tolerated, in accordance with the advice of Gamaliel (Acts 5:33-40) until the time of the stoning of Stephen, after which period the gospel stream spread throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1), the church at Jerusalem, the spiritual house of God, being thus far its source. A little later we find another “church” of God at Antioch; for it is written that Barnabas sought Saul at Tarsus, and brought him unto Antioch, and that for “a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people” (Acts 11:25,26). Here again in the church in Antioch we find the Holy Spirit in full charge; and after a year of teaching inside the House, we see the living waters flowing out, and producing the results intended in the purposes of God. For we read at Acts 13:1-2, concerning “the church that was at Antioch,” that “as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, ‘Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work thereunto I have called them.’” And thus, from the House of God, and in the power of the Spirit of God, the stream of the Gospel flowed out in a new direction, and extended further than it had gone before.

Still later on the gospel was carried into Europe and it came to Thessalonica – not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance (1 Thess. 1:5). The result was “the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1). And this is declared to be an ‘example’ or pattern for other churches, for the express reason, as the apostle writes to them that, “From you sounded out the Word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place you faith to God-ward is spread abroad” (1:8).

A GREAT DIFFERENCE

Our study brings into view a great difference between the Temple – God’s dwelling place in the old order, and the Church – His dwelling place in the new. In the case of the Temple, sacrifices were brought to it, blood flowed in it, and incense (worship) ascended from it. But no healing waters flowed from it. Hence what Ezekiel saw, and what was revealed also to Joel and to Zechariah, living waters going out from Jerusalem (Joel 3:18; Zech. 14:8), was something quite new, and to which the former Temple and its ritual presented no analogy.

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Long Island Conference: What WAS the Purpose of the End Times? (Part 1)


Last weekend I had the privilege of participating in an “End Times” conference in Blue Point, New York (Long Island). The conference was held at Blue Point Bible Church, pastored by Michael Miano. It was a great time of fellowship with like-minded believers, meeting Facebook friends for the first time, and learning from and being challenged by others. I also had the opportunity to speak on the following two-fold theme:

  1. What was the purpose of the end times?
  2. How do we walk worthy of the kingdom of God?

My presentation video was produced by one of the elders at BPBC. I’m a lot more confident as a writer than I am as a speaker, but I’m sharing this video here anyway and I’ll just hope that no one unsubscribes from this blog because of it. 🙂 Below the video are my notes which correspond with about the first 29 minutes of the video. (Some readers may recognize that the first half of this lecture is based on my article titled, “Echoes of Mount Sinai in the Book of Revelation,” which was posted exactly two years ago today.)

One major theme which weaves through the book of Revelation goes a long way in answering the first question of this conference. This theme is covenant transition:

  • preparing to see the old covenantalready obsolete when Revelation was written – completely vanish away
  • revealing the glories of the new covenantalready valid when Revelation was written – which would soon stand alone

Proposal: Revelation guides the early church in navigating the transition period from one covenant to the next (old to the new), especially as that period was drawing to a close. This period lasted roughly 40 years (30 AD – 70 AD), parallel to the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness.

Evidence: The same imagery that was present at the giving of the law, the old covenant, is echoed several times in the book of Revelation (4:5, 8:5, 11:19, and 16:18).

Parallel Scripture Passage: “In that He says, ‘a new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13).

1. The background of these passages is Exodus 19.

a. The children of Israel were camped in the Wilderness of Sinai.
b. This was less than three months after leaving Egypt (verse 1).
c. God spoke to Moses from Mount Sinai.

“…Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings* and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’**Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly (Exodus 19:1-18).

2. God reminded them how He bore the people of Israel “on eagles’ wings”*out of Egypt and to Himself.

*Compare to Revelation 12:13-14, where the persecuted woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.”

3. God was establishing a covenant with them at this time, and He called them to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”**

**Compare this with John’s opening greeting to the seven churches, where he says that Jesus “has made us kings and priests to His God and Father” (Revelation 1:6).

4. This meeting on Mount Sinai was for establishing the old covenant.

a. It was marked by thundering and lightning, the sound of a loud trumpet, thick smoke, and the whole mountain quaking greatly.

5. The same cosmic phenomena present at Mount Sinai are seen again in the book of Revelation. Obviously it’s not because the old covenant was being established in John’s day. Rather it’s because the old covenant was being dissolved in John’s day, and a new covenant was being established.

Four Passages That Echo Mount Sinai in Revelation

Echoes of Mount Sinai in Revelation

We will observe these four passages, with some brief notes on their significance:

Revelation 4:4-5

Around the throne were 24 thrones, and on the thrones I saw 24 elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.”

a. Who are the 24 elders?
b. Some scholars believe they are the 12 patriarchs of Israel and the 12 apostles.

  • They represent the redeemed of both covenants, united in Christ.

c. The names of the 12 tribes and 12 apostles are written on the gates/walls of New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12-14).
d. This covenant-establishing imagery takes place in the presence of elders representing both the old and the new covenant ages. 
e. There are seven lamps representing seven Spirits of God. We see the number seven in each instance where these features at Mount Sinai are shown.

Revelation 8:4-6

And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.”

a. This scene takes place at the opening of the seventh and final seal (Rev. 8:1).
b. It’s likely that these prayers are linked to the cries of the martyrs for God to avenge their “blood on those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 6:10).

c. If so, the seal judgments are poured out in response to the prayers of God’s people.
d. The covenant-establishing imagery of Mount Sinai appears here because the prayers of the new covenant community were about to result in the old covenant system reaching its demise.

Revelation 11:19

Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.

a. This scene takes place at the sounding of the seventh trumpet.
b. The 24 elders are also present at this scene (Rev. 11:15-16).
c. Loud voices declare, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”
d. Here is perhaps the most explicit reference connecting the old covenant to prophecies in the book of Revelation.
e. John sees a vision of God’s temple housing “the ark of His covenant.

  • In ancient Israel, the ark of the covenant was a centerpiece of the temple and the old covenant.
  • The ark was located in the Most Holy Place and represented God’s presence.

f. When the judgments are over, what does heaven shout? “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3).

  • This did not suddenly become true because buildings fell in 70 AD.
  • Paul told the Corinthian church that they were “the temple of the living God“ (II Corinthians 6:16).
  • The downfall of Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple in 70 AD demonstrated and confirmed that God had chosen the glorious new covenant over the inferior old covenant (see Hebrews 8).

g. In this same passage, John witnesses an earthquake that kills 7000 people in “the city” (Rev. 11:13).

  • This is already identified as Jerusalem: “the great city…where our Lord was crucified“ (verse 8).
  • Josephus wrote about one night in early 68 AD when “a prodigious storm” took place in Jerusalem, marked by “the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake.”
  • Josephus added that the Jewish zealots allowed the Idumaeans to come in and help slaughter some of their fellow Jews who opposed their rebellion against the Romans. Between this slaughter and the earthquake, 8500 people died that night (Josephus, Wars 4:4:5, 4:4:7-4:5:1).

Revelation 16:17-21

Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’ And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great. 

a. This scene takes place at the pouring out of the seventh bowl.
b. John sees the great city, Jerusalem, divided into three parts.

  • This is a flashback to Ezekiel 5:1-12, when the prophet was required to shave his head and divide it into three parts, and was told by God: “This is Jerusalem” (Ezek 5:5). 
  • One third of his hair was burned, one third was chopped up by the sword, and the last third was scattered into the wind.
  • This was fulfilled when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C. at the hands of Babylon. Jerusalem was also divided between 67-70 AD into three warring factions: [1] the Zealots, led by Eleazar [2] the Galileans, led by John of Gischala, and [3] the Idumeans,  led by Simon.

c. Revelation 11 described a literal earthquake, and Rev. 16 describes literal hail.

  • A talent was about 75-100 pounds.
  • Josephus wrote of large stones shot from catapults by the Roman armies into the temple complex in Jerusalem. This happened during the 5-month siege from April-August 70 AD.
  • The watchmen in the city reported these stones as appearing white in the sky:

“Now the stones that were cast were of the weight of a talent, and were carried two furlongs and further. The blow they gave was no way to be sustained, not only by those that stood first in the way, but by those that were beyond them for a great space. As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white color, and could therefore not only be perceived by the great noise it made, but could be seen also before it came by its brightness” (Josephus, Wars 5:6:3).

  • Josephus also records that the watchmen on the wall, when they saw the stones coming, would shout, “The Son cometh!” After a while the Romans learned to blacken the stones so that they couldn’t as easily be detected, and many more were crushed by these stones. J. Stuart Russell, in his 1878 book titled The Parousia, offers this explanation for the words of the watchmen (p. 482):

“It could not but be well known to the Jews that the great hope and faith of the Christians was the speedy coming of the Son. It was about this very time, according to Hegesippus [110-180 AD], that St. James, the brother of our Lord, publicly testified in the temple that ‘the Son of man was about to come in the clouds of heaven,’ and then sealed his testimony with his blood [in 62 AD]. It seems highly probable that the Jews, in their defiant and desperate blasphemy, when they saw the white mass hurtling though the air, raised the ribald cry, ‘The Son is coming,’ in mockery of the Christian hope of the Parousia.”

To Review

  1. The same phenomena that appeared at Mount Sinai appear repeatedly in the book of Revelation.
  2. They take place at the seventh seal, the seventh trumpet, and the seventh bowl. In Leviticus 26:18, 21, 24, and 28 God promised to punish Israel seven times if they abandoned His covenant. God said He would “execute the vengeance of His covenant” (verse 25).
  3. Other covenant imagery can be seen in these passages in Revelation where the phenomena of Mount Sinai appear.
  4. All of this shows that a major goal of the end times was to completely dissolve the old covenant system and to champion the new covenant age that Jesus established at the cross.

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Just as the book of Revelation does, Galatians 4 and Hebrews 12 also contrast Mount Sinai and the new covenant, as well as two cities (earthly Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem) and two women (the harlot and the bride of Christ):

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words… But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven…to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant… Now this… indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace…” (Hebrews 12:18-28).

“For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage…and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is…but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all… Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ (Galatians 4:27-31).

Two Covenants

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The next post, Part 2, will include the notes that I used in the second half of my presentation, where we looked at Revelation 21:1 – 22:5 as a blueprint for how to walk worthy of God’s kingdom in the New Jerusalem.

The Harlot of Revelation 17 and its Relationship to Old Covenant Israel


Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the Book of Revelation”

UPDATE: This post was written when I understood the scarlet beast of Revelation 17 to be the same as the sea beast of Revelation 13:1-10, the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 to be the first seven Roman emperors, and the 10 horns of Revelation 17:12-14 to be the rulers of Rome’s 10 Senatorial Provinces. I now understand the seven kings to Revelation 17:10 to be the family dynasty of Hezekiah the Zealot, and the 10 horns to be 10 Jewish generals (named by Josephus) who were appointed around January 67 AD to oversee specific territories and to prepare for war with Rome. This post will be updated accordingly when time allows.

The following study was published yesterday in The Fulfilled Connection (TFC) Magazine, and is adapted from our study of Revelation 17 (Part 1):

In Revelation 17, John was shown a woman known as “Babylon the Great”, “the mother of harlots,” and “the great city.” This woman/city has been interpreted in various ways, from the Roman Catholic Church, to New York City, to modern Iraq, to the church in America, etc. This article will discuss a number of reasons why “Babylon the Great” was first century Jerusalem and old covenant Judaism. In doing so, we will look at the first six verses of Revelation 17.

The fall of Babylon was first announced in Revelation 14:8, and Revelation 11:8 identified “the great city” as the place “where also our Lord was crucified,” which, of course, was Jerusalem. Revelation 17-19 describes Babylon’s fall in more detail. This is then followed by a description of the bride, the wife of Jesus, who stands in contrast to the harlot. Note how the following passages deliberately contrast each other:

A. Revelation 17:1: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.’”

A. Revelation 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”

B. Revelation 17:3: “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.”

B. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

In Revelation 17:2, Babylon is prosecuted for its sexual immorality, by which “the dwellers on earth” and “the kings of the earth” were made guilty. Notice that the reference to “the kings of the earth” here is distinct from the reference to “the kings of the whole world” in Revelation 16:14, where that reference was to the provincial kings of the Roman Empire. In an earlier 3-part series, I discussed 20 instances in Revelation where the phrase “those who dwell on the earth” refers to first century Israel rather than to everyone on the planet (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). 

Verse 3: John then sees a woman sitting on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns. One of my previous articles, “Ten Fulfilled Prophecies Concerning the Beast from the Sea,” makes the case that the beast was Nero in the specific sense and the Roman Empire in the general sense. The fact that the woman is sitting on the beast suggests a very close relationship between the woman and the beast, who are both distinct in their identity. On this topic, I wrote the following elsewhere regarding the woman (Jerusalem) riding the beast (Rome):

In what sense might Jerusalem have sat on the beast that would ultimately turn on her and destroy her (Rev. 17:3, 9, 16-18)? Israel had enjoyed a good relationship with Rome until the Jewish revolt began in 66 AD, and Judaism was recognized as a valid religion within the Roman Empire. Josephus wrote of this relationship, “It seems to me to be necessary here to give an account of all the honors that the Romans and their emperors paid to our nation [Israel], and of the leagues of mutual assistance they have made with it” (Antiquities, 14.10.1-2). The Jews frequently took advantage of this relationship to induce persecution against Jesus and His followers (Luke 23:2; John 18:28-31, 19:15; Acts 4:27, 16:20, 17:7, 18:12, 21:11, 24:1-9, 25:1-2). W.H.C. Frend even writes that “the promptings of orthodox Jews in the capitol had something to do with” Nero’s decision to begin persecuting Christians in 64 AD (The Rise of Christianity [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984], 109; quoted in Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, 2002, p. 63).

Kenneth Gentry suggests that the beast was the color scarlet for any of the following reasons: [1] The robes worn by Roman emperors were red in color [2] Rome, led by Nero, was responsible for shedding much blood among God’s people [3] Nero was famous for his red beard.

Verses 4-5: The woman wore purple, scarlet, gold, jewels, and pearls. She had in her hand a golden cup “full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.” Her forehead proclaimed that she was “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” According to Todd Dennis, the founder of the Preterist Archive,

…the description of the harlot’s attire (purple, scarlet, gold, jewels, and pearls) was nearly identical to the ephod worn by the high priest (Revelation 17:4; cf. Exodus 28:5-21). The golden cup she held was likely symbolic of the temple vessels, the greatest part of which were gold and silver, according to the Jewish historian Josephus (Wars 5.4.4). On Aaron’s forehead was the inscription “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36). The harlot’s forehead, on the other hand, bore the title “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Rev. 17:5).

In Jeremiah’s day, Judah (with its capital of Jerusalem) was prosecuted because it had “played the whore with many lovers” and “polluted the land with…vile whoredom” (Jeremiah 3:1-2). Like Israel in John’s day, Judah prior to its fall in 586 BC had “the forehead of a whore” (verse 3).

Duncan McKenzie’s article has helped me to understand that “Babylon the Great” here was more than just a physical city. It was also a religious system full of abominations, old covenant temple-based Judaism. In Revelation 18 God commands His people regarding Babylon, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). We know from Revelation 1 that John’s immediate audience didn’t live in Jerusalem, but in Asia Minor. So this was not a command to flee from the city of Jerusalem.

God’s message was about breaking completely free from old covenant temple-based Judaism. Babylon represented not only Jerusalem, but also the unfaithful community which had rejected Jesus and the new covenant. Both physical Jerusalem and temple-based Judaism were judged and destroyed in 70 AD. In Daniel 9:26-27 we see that it is on “the wing of abominations” that one comes “who makes desolate” (see also Rev. 17:16, Matt. 23:38). This was related to the destruction of “the city and the sanctuary” (Daniel 9:24). The abominations of the earth (land) were the apostate practices of old covenant Judaism.

As mentioned earlier, John was shown a contrasting picture of two women: the harlot of chapters 17 and 18, and the bride in chapter 19 clothed with “fine linen, bright and pure…the righteous deeds of the saints” (see verses 1-8). One (the harlot) persecuted the other (the bride, Christ’s Church). What is most fascinating is Paul’s own contrasting of two women in his epistle to the Galatians:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor. For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? ”Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman (Galatians 4:21-31).

Just as Paul wrote in Galatians 4, we see in Revelation that God casts out and destroys the harlot (Revelation 18:21), but the bride inherits the Lamb as her husband.

Verse 6: The woman is said to be “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” This same charge was laid upon those of “the earth” in the previous chapter (Rev. 16:1), where it was said that “they have shed the blood of saints and prophets (16:4-7).” In chapter 18 we also see that “in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:24), and that the “saints and apostles and prophets” were told to rejoice over her destruction (18:20). Who was responsible for shedding all the blood of the prophets, apostles, and the saints, according to Jesus, and who would receive judgment as a result? The answer can be found in Matthew 23:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets’” Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate (Matthew 23:29-38).

The harlot is not a 21st century entity, but was the first century old covenant community. As God’s people, those of us who are in Christ today have the privilege of being part of the pure woman, God’s bride.

The Modern Practice of Tithing in Light of Christ Fulfilling the Law: Part 5


This is the fifth post in a 6-part series on tithing, as it’s taught in many churches today. This series examines all 17 Bible passages which speak of tithing, and is taken from a term paper I wrote in 2006. The first post included the series outline and an introduction, and covered the two passages where tithing was mentioned prior to the Law of Moses (Genesis 14:8-24 and 28:8-22). The second post examined how tithing was prescribed and practiced under the Mosaic Law (in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The third post looked at how tithing was enforced by a king (Hezekiah), a reformer (Nehemiah), and two prophets (Amos and Malachi).  The fourth post examined what Jesus and Hebrews 7 said about tithing, along with an overview of tithing in history. This post will discuss different ways that the law of Moses is viewed today (including a closer look at the book of Galatians), followed by an analysis of tithing in light of Christ having fulfilled the law.  My references will be included in the final post.

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D. Ways of Viewing the Law of Moses Today

How should present-day believers approach the Law of Moses, and the Old Testament as a whole? Although the New Testament is clear that Christ’s followers are no longer “under the law” (e.g. Romans 6:14-15; Galatians 3:25; Hebrews 7:18, 8:13), it’s also clear that the entire Old Testament is inspired by God, and is profitable in many ways to us today (II Timothy 3:16-17, I Corinthians 10:1-12). In fact, much of the New Testament is made up of references to the Old Testament, including references to the law of Moses. We have much to learn by studying the Law of Moses and every other part of the Old Testament.

Walter Kaiser, who has authored a number of books on the Old Testament, says that although the Law came “as a host of specific enactments distinctively relevant to particular times, persons, and places” (1987, p. 155), this “was not meant to prejudice its universal usefulness” (p. 172-3). He affirms that we can derive principles from the Law, but not irresponsibly, or by searching for “hidden meaning.” He says that “this search for principles or axioms must not be imposed as a grid over Scripture; Scripture itself must supply them” (p. 157).

Kaiser (1998) notes that there are two different views generally held by Christians on the relevance of Old Testament Law. The first view says that [1] we are required to obey Old Testament commands if they are specifically repeated in the New Testament, but whatever is not repeated is now passé. The second view says [2] we are still required to obey Old Testament commands, unless the New Testament specifically says otherwise.

Jay Snell (1995), and pastors David Carter and Bryce Clark (2006) clearly prefer the second view when it comes to tithing, as can be seen in their statements:

“[U]nless the New Testament has plainly set it [tithing] aside, you New Testament people are grafted right into the Old Testament Abrahamic System. So not only is the tithe, the offering and the first fruits offering not set aside, you are grafted right smack into the middle of all three of them…” (Carter and Clark). “And unless the cross sets aside something from the Old Testament, we are part and parcel of it. The cross has never set aside the tithe, the offerings and the law of the First Fruits Offering. We are in it” (Jay Snell, 1995, p. 36-37, emphasis added).

That’s an amazing statement, in light of the book of Hebrews explicitly teaching that the law, the old covenant, and the sacrifices have become obsolete. Carter and Clark (2006) have a similar view. They teach that the tithing laws did not need to be repeated in the New Testament because they were already well established in the Old Testament. Their stance is that unless “one can find a clear command not to tithe, one should never assume tithing has been done away.

Charles Ryrie clearly prefers the first view. On page 105 of his book Basic Theology, he said:

“Now the Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Timothy 4:4), some old ones (Romans 13:9), and some revised ones… All of the laws of the Mosaic code have been abolished because the code has. Specific Mosaic commands which are part of the Christian code appear there not as a continuation of part of the Mosaic Law…but as specifically incorporated into that [Christian] code, and as such they are binding on believers today. A particular law that was part of the Mosaic code is done away; that same law, if part of the law of Christ, is binding” (David Yeubanks, 2006, emphasis added).

Kaiser (1998) points out that two of the Protestant reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, held opposing views. Luther’s view seemed to reflect the first view above, while Calvin more or less held the second. Luther once wrote, “There is one answer that can be made to all attempts to cite passages from the Old Testament to support [monastic vows]. ‘Do you Christians want to be Jews?’ Prove your case from the New Testament. The Old Testament has been set aside through Christ and is no longer binding.” On another occasion, he wrote,

“The Law is no longer binding on us because it was given only to the people of Israel… [Exodus 20:2] makes it clear that even the ten commandments do not apply to us… The sectarian spirits want to saddle us with Moses and all the commandments. We will skip that. We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver-unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law.”

Calvin took an almost opposite stance. Referring to Deuteronomy 32:46-47, he said, “We are not to refer solely to one age David’s statement that the life of a righteous man is a continual meditation upon the law [Psalms 1:2], for it is just as applicable to every age, even to the end of the world.” In the same document, Calvin added,

“What Paul says, as to the abrogation of the Law [Gal 3:10] evidently applies not to the Law itself, but merely to its power of constraining the conscience. For the Law not only teaches, but also imperiously demands… We must be freed from the fetters of the law… Meanwhile…the law has lost none of its authority, but must always receive from us the same respect and obedience” (p. 68-69).

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (1993) note that there are more than 600 commandments in the Old Testament. They are contained within four Old Testament books: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Fee and Stuart add that “the function of most Old Testament books is largely to illustrate and apply the Law found in the Pentateuch (p. 149). They then ask (p. 150), “If you are a Christian, are you expected to keep the Old Testament law? If you are expected to keep it, how can you possibly do so, since there is no longer any temple or central sanctuary on whose altar you can offer such things as the meat of animals (Lev. 1-5)?” Fee and Stuart conclude (p. 152):

“The Old Testament represents an old covenant, which is one we are no longer obligated to keep. Therefore we can hardly begin by assuming that the Old Covenant should automatically be binding upon us. We have to assume, in fact, that none of its stipulations (laws) are binding upon us unless they are renewed in the New Covenant. That is, unless an Old Testament law is somehow restated or reinforced in the New Testament, it is no longer directly binding on God’s people (cf. Rom. 6:14-15).”

They also note that we can learn much about God by what we see in the laws that were given. For example, we can see that God loves slaves, and the regulations for slaves were far more compassionate than the treatment slaves received in the surrounding nations of that time (pp. 158-159).

I believe there is also much to be gleaned from the tithing laws. Foremost in my mind is that God showed great concern for the needy and the dependent. Those who tithed had a great responsibility toward orphans, widows, and strangers. When studying the tithing laws, we should be motivated to help the needy as well. The Law sought to ensure that those who ministered to the people, the priests and the Levites, were well taken care of. We should likewise be motivated to give generously to support those who genuinely serve the Body of Christ today.

The entire Old Testament is relevant to us today. This includes the Law, which contained “types and shadows” of the New Covenant God promised He would establish. Circumcision, for example, pointed to a future spiritual reality, being made a new creation (Romans 2:28-29, Galatians 6:15). So this obsolete regulation still illustrates how God cuts away the “flesh” from our hearts today, and this is worth studying and teaching.

The question is this: Are the ordinances of the Law of Moses binding in any way upon believers today, either to [1] govern behavior or [2] to attain some state of acceptance before God? Dwight Pentecost (1971) spoke well when he said, “For the Christian the Mosaic Law has revelatory value (2 Tim. 3:16-17) even though it does not have regulatory value, controlling our behavior” (p. 227).

John Wesley said, in his explanatory notes on Hebrews 7:18:

“For there is implied in this new and everlasting priesthood [the priesthood of Christ], and in the new dispensation connected therewith, a dis-annulling of the preceding commandment – An abrogation of the Mosaic law. For the weakness and unprofitableness thereof – For its insufficiency either to justify or to sanctify” (David Yeubanks, 2006).

There are many Scriptures in the New Testament which speak of our relation to the Law of Moses. Momentarily we’ll take a closer look at the Book of Galatians, but before doing so, consider this brief overview of some other relevant passages:

[A] Romans 6:13-15 (Sin doesn’t have dominion over us, because we are not under law. We are under grace, but we are not free to sin.)

[B] Romans 7:4-6 (We are dead to the law, which used to arouse “the passions of sins.” Now we are “delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by.”)

[C] Romans 7:7:12 (The law is holy, just, and good. But it brought death, because it revealed what sin is, and sin took the occasion to deceive and kill.)

[D] Romans 1:16-8:17 (This large passage discusses the Law at length.)

[E] Romans 10:4 (“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”)

[F] Romans 13:8-10 (“[He] who loves another has fulfilled the law.”)

[G] Ephesians 2:11-18 (The wall of division between Jews and Gentiles, “the law of commandments contained in ordinances,” has been abolished. Both groups are reconciled as one in Christ.)

[H] Colossians 2:11-17 (The “handwriting of requirements that was written against us” has been “wiped out”, “taken out of the way”, and nailed to the cross. They were against God’s people in the sense that they condemned those – everyone – who didn’t keep them perfectly.)

[I] I Timothy 1:5-9 (Some wanted to be teachers of the law, but had strayed. The “law is good if one uses it lawfully.” The “law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless…”)

[J] Hebrews 9:8-10 (The gifts and sacrifices offered in the tabernacle were temporary, “fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of the reformation. But Christ came…”)

[K] Hebrews 10:1 (The law had a shadow of good things to come, but could not make anyone perfect.)

[L] James 2:8-11 (The law convicts people as transgressors. Breaking even one point of the law makes a person “guilty of all.”)

We can also add that Jesus and the apostles taught that we fulfill the Law by wholeheartedly loving God and those around us (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 6:2; James 2:8).

The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians

One of the main concerns in the book of Galatians is whether Gentiles who believe in Christ must also be subject to Mosaic Law. The example which Paul looked into the deepest was circumcision (2:3-14, 5:2-12, 6:12-15). He touched on both justification and sanctification in this epistle.

Paul began his epistle to the Galatians by warning them that they were turning from the grace of Christ to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6-7). After relating how he had received the gospel, Paul spoke of false brethren “secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Jesus Christ, that they might bring us into bondage)…” (2:4). Paul even firmly opposed Peter on the issue (2:11-21). Throughout the rest of the book, he warned against the danger of returning to any part of the Law for justification. If righteousness is said to come through the law, Paul warned, then Christ’s death was in vain (2:21).

The Galatians had “begun in the Spirit,” but then were attempting to be made perfect by the flesh (3:3). Here Paul touches on sanctification, the state of being increasingly set aside for God as holy (Strong, 2001). Like justification, this is also to take place in the lives of God’s people by the Spirit, not by the law.

If anyone is “of the works of the law,” he is under a curse, because he can’t possibly keep the entire Law (3:10-11). Christ redeemed His people from the curse of the law, by becoming a curse for them (3:13). As a result, the Gentiles can now receive the blessing of Abraham through faith, which is the promised Holy Spirit (3:14). The law had been “added” only until Jesus came (3:19). It was a “tutor” to bring people to Christ, and now His followers “are no longer under a tutor,” but have been justified by faith in Him (3:24-25).

Paul compared those under the law to a child who, like a slave, is still “under guardians and tutors until the time appointed by the father” (4:1-3). Those who are redeemed “receive the adoption as sons” (4:4-7). The law brought bondage (4:3), but in spite of knowing God, the Galatians turned again to bondage (4:9). They were observing “days and months and seasons and years” (4:10), i.e. the annual feasts, etc., as an obligation. 

Galatians 5 begins with Paul exclaiming: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1). In his day, the Galatian believers were obligating themselves to be circumcised, which was indeed an obligation under the law of Moses. False teachers were evidently telling them that they still needed to be circumcised to receive the blessings of God in their lives.

Paul told them that because of their stance on that issue, they were then in debt to keep the entire law: “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law” (5:2-3). In the next verse, he was even more severe, telling them that they had fallen from grace: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (5:4).

E. Tithing in Light of Christ Having Fulfilled the Law

I believe Paul would have said the same if the issue in Galatia had been tithing rather than circumcision. By this I don’t mean that all who claim to tithe today have fallen from grace, but this is the danger if we teach that tithing is necessary to be justified or sanctified before God.

Is this error taking place today? I believe it is. God’s people are no longer under a curse, but were redeemed from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:10-14). By saying that those who do not tithe today are under the curse spoken of in Malachi, it’s implied that Jesus’ work on the cross was not enough to take it away. An additional effort on our part, i.e. tithing, is needed to obtain acceptance before God and remove the curse. I say this is implied, because tithe proponents normally don’t identify the curse of Malachi 3:9 (cf. Nehemiah 10:29) as the curse of the law.

Malachi 3 is probably cited more than any other passage to promote tithing today. It is often used to teach that those who fail to tithe are robbing God, and are cursed. Matthew Narramore (2004) sees this as ironic, because the opposite is actually true. He says, “[If] you put yourself back under the Law you will put yourself under the curse [according to Galatians 3:10].” The curse is not for those whom Christ has redeemed (Galatians 3:13), who are justified by faith in Him (2:16), and are standing fast “in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (5:1).

“Tithing is based on theological premises that are inconsistent with the finished work of Christ on the cross. The doctrine of tithing contradicts the most important aspects of the New Covenant and the believer’s new nature in Christ,” says Narramore in the introduction to his book. “The doctrine of tithing has been mindlessly taught and accepted for so long that some of the most outstanding Christian leaders do not recognize how it contradicts the very foundation of the gospel they are preaching.”

The question of whether Christians today are under grace or under the law is at the heart of the issue of tithing today. Narramore adds in chapter 4 of his book, “The New Testament scriptures make it plain that if you put yourself under any part of the Law then you are under the whole Law (James 2:10, Galatians 5:3).” Are some tithe teachers putting people under the Law?

Pastors David Carter and Bryce Clark (2006) give further insight into why they believe the tithing law is still required:

“The New Testament contains the same laws as the Old. Jesus did not do away with God’s Law. He expanded it. He said, “…That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees scrupulously tithed. Tithing is an act of worship. Jesus said, “…Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). The comparison here is obvious. Caesar had his just dues coming and so does God! The only Bible example of God’s just dues is the tithe.”

It sounds like they believe we need to outperform the scribes and Pharisees in keeping the Law. Carter and Clark then add, “Paul went on to say in Galatians 6:7 that we reap what we sow. The implication is clear. Those who refuse to support His true work will reap little spiritual help. Without the help of God, man stands no chance of ever attaining eternal life.”

Here they come dangerously close to saying that unless we tithe, we have no hope of being granted eternal life. Jay Snell (1995), whose books are frequently sold on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, admits that this is exactly what he used to teach. He used to tell non-tithers that they were “next to going to hell, probably are anyhow.” He admits that formerly, as a Baptist teacher, he also put people under the Law when he told them they needed to tithe:

“You know I could tighten the screws down better and put a Gentile Christian under the Law better than any Baptist preacher you ever heard. But, when God began to show me other things, I got into the deeper things of God and…saw the seven blessings involved with [tithing].”

Now he motivates them to tithe with promises of great material blessings (p. 12). He believes he isn’t putting them under Law anymore, because he presents tithing as the deal that “Abraham got in on” before the Law was given (p. 13). He elaborates:

“It’s a fact that Jesus did away with the law. But it is also a fact that the Holy Ghost wrote it in our hearts now. The blessing part is still valid and we are included in that. Do it. Act on it. Move out upon it and see what comes your way. Failure to do so is a matter of neither acknowledging God as your Source nor honoring Him with your first fruits. If I act on the above, God is obligated, based on the Abrahamic Covenant, to see me through” (p. 37).

Despite his new tactics, Snell does still clearly teach that not tithing amounts to a crime. He says that failing to tithe means “spending God’s money” while “trying to justify it” (p. 37)—no small accusation. Snell may not “tighten the screws down” as hard as he once did, but, sadly, it’s hard to conclude that he has put aside the error of the Galatians. While trying to refute the idea that poverty is associated with righteousness, Snell actually taught the opposite. He believes that obtaining wealth helps him to be righteous before God:

“I am not convinced we have to be “flat busted” to be a “good” Christian. I can be a much better Christian if I have a decent car that runs good, wear decent looking clothes, live in a decent looking house, and have enough money in my pocket to take my wife to the restaurant after church if I want to. Now I can just be right with God a whole lot quicker and easier with things like that” (p. 56, emphasis added).

Matthew Narramore (2004) says,

“Most of the erroneous teaching on tithing comes from one thing; people are trying to apply Old Covenant principles to life in Christ and the two don’t mix. Paul had his biggest problem with people who were trying to fit the New Covenant believers into an obsolete way of living. The same problem continues today. People who teach tithing say they are not promoting the Law. However, the only instructions on tithing that came from God came through the Law to people who were under the Law. That was the only group of people he ever instructed to tithe” (Chap. 7).

David Yeubanks (2006) quotes from another source on why tithing was not taught in the New Testament by Jesus or any of His followers, including Paul:

[1] The silence of the NT writers, particularly Paul, regarding the present validity of the tithe can be explained only on the ground that the dispensation of grace has no more place for a law of tithing than it has for a law on circumcision (Wycliffe Bible Dictionary of Theology).

[2] Tithing is not taught in the New Testament as an obligation for the Christian under grace… Because we are not under law, but under grace, Christian giving must not be made a matter of legalistic obligation, lest we fall into the error of Galatianism… (Jerome Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, p. 1152).

Some tithe proponents, while admitting that believers are not under the Law, point to the fact that Abraham and Jacob tithed before the Law was given. However, Abraham and Jacob were also circumcised prior to the Law. Moses’ wife even circumcised their son, just in time to prevent God from killing Moses for failing to do so (Exodus 4:24-26). This was before the Law was given. Abraham gave animal sacrifices before the Law said to do so. If tithing is required today because it appeared before the Law, then, to be consistent, circumcision and animal sacrifices should also be required today.

In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas argued with some men who were telling the Gentile believers that they had to be “circumcised according to the custom of Moses” to be saved (15:1). Some believing Pharisees even told the Gentiles to “keep the law of Moses” (15:5). The Jerusalem Council took up this matter. Peter said they were testing God by “putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (15:10). He affirmed that all are saved by grace (15:11).

The consensus of the council was to advise the Gentiles to stay away from four things: [1] things polluted by idols [2] from sexual immorality [3] from things strangled [4] from blood (15:19-20, 22-29). Even this decree was circumstantial, as Paul later advocated freedom in the above areas, except for the area of sexual purity (e.g. Romans 14).

Soon after this council, believing Jews who were “zealous for the law” protested because the Gentiles were not being circumcised or taught “to walk according to the customs” (Acts 21:20-21). The leaders of the Church once again affirmed that the Gentiles should “observe no such thing” and repeated their earlier decree (21:25). Paul and his companions did purify themselves according to the Law, but only in an unsuccessful attempt to make peace (21:23-36).

Why wasn’t tithing listed among those “necessary things” decreed by the Jerusalem Council? The answer is that tithing falls into the same category as circumcision and the other Mosaic commands which are not repeated in the New Testament. They are no longer necessary.

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Part 6, the final post of this series, will feature a study on New Testament giving, followed by a conclusion and references.

All posts from this series, and on the subject of tithing, can be found here.

The Modern Practice of Tithing in Light of Christ Fulfilling the Law: Part 2


This is the second post in a series on tithing, as it’s taught in many churches today. This series examines all 17 Bible passages which speak of tithing, and is taken from a term paper I wrote in 2006.  The first post included the series outline and an introduction, and covered the two passages where tithing was mentioned prior to the Law of Moses (Genesis 14:8-24 and 28:8-22). This post will examine how tithing was prescribed and practiced under the Mosaic Law (in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). My references will be included in the final post.

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II. Tithing Prescribed Under Mosaic Law

Kent Hughes, a Senior Pastor, Bible commentator, and author, writes in his book, “Disciplines of a Godly Man” (2001): “There is some confusion today about what it was that God actually required from His people in the Old Testament. Most think it was something like 10 percent, which is a woeful misconception. Actually there were multiple mandatory giving requirements in Israel which came to considerably more” (p. 192). We will later see that there were at least three separate tithes.

Passage 3: Leviticus 27:30-33

And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’s. It is holy to the LORD. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.

Looking at the context, God was giving Moses laws which were to come into effect when they came into the Promised Land (25:2). In fact, the tithe spoken of here was called “the tithe of the land.” These commands were given while Moses was on Mount Sinai (27:34).

Of all the instructions on tithing in the Mosaic Law, this one appears to be the most general, perhaps even an introduction. Still we can observe several details in this passage, which indicates two types of tithes. The first type of tithe came from the land, either from seeds or from the fruit of trees. It was holy to the Lord. If a person wanted to redeem it, presumably for money, he had to add another 20% of the value to his tithe. The second type of tithe was from herds or flocks of animals. The tenth animal which happened to pass under the rod would be holy to the Lord, even if it was of bad quality.

Monetary tithes were obviously not encouraged. In fact, a monetary tithe had to be 12%. Those who say they tithe today, but do so in money, fall short of this tithing law by 2%. Those who have a garden, but do not tithe on their crops, also fail to keep this law. Those who say the tithe has to be the best 10% apparently have the “first fruits offering” in mind, but these are not the same. These are not the only areas where they fall short of the tithing laws, as we will continue to see.

The tithing laws given through Moses were for a specific nation, in a specific situation, and for a specific purpose. We will see in the next four passages who these tithes were to go to. At the end I will give a summary.

Passage 4: Numbers 18:21-32 (TITHE #1, Parts A and B)

(Tithes for Support of the Levites) Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting. Hereafter the children of Israel shall not come near the tabernacle of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. But the Levites shall perform the work of the tabernacle of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a statute forever, throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, ‘Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.’

(The Tithe of the Levites) Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak thus to the Levites, and say to them: ‘When you take from the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them as your inheritance, then you shall offer up a heave offering of it to the LORD, a tenth of the tithe. And your heave offering shall be reckoned to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor and as the fullness of the winepress. Thus you shall also offer a heave offering to the LORD from all your tithes which you receive from the children of Israel, and you shall give the LORD’s heave offering from it to Aaron the priest. Of all your gifts you shall offer up every heave offering due to the LORD, from all the best of them, the consecrated part of them.’ Therefore you shall say to them: ‘When you have lifted up the best of it, then the rest shall be accounted to the Levites as the produce of the threshing floor and as the produce of the winepress. You may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward for your work in the tabernacle of meeting. And you shall bear no sin because of it, when you have lifted up the best of it. But you shall not profane the holy gifts of the children of Israel, lest you die.’

The tithes of the Israelites became the Levites’ inheritance. The Levites were responsible to minister in the tabernacle, and could not own land, which gave them limited means of income. God meant for their support to come from those they ministered to. Before giving their tithes to the Levites, the Israelites were to offer them up as a heave offering. The tithes were elevated before the altar, and were presented with an up and down motion (cf. Exodus 29:27, Leviticus 7:34, Numbers 15:20-21).

All the priests were Levites, but not all the Levites were priests. That’s why the Levites also paid a tithe of what they received to the priests (Numbers 18:25-31). They tithed grain and wine, not money. The Levites gave a tenth of the people’s tenth directly to Aaron. Unlike the tithe of the herds in Leviticus 27, they had to give the very best 10%. They were free to consume the other 90% together with their families, as a reward for their service. We don’t see that the priests tithed at all. According to Strong’s Concordance (2001),

“While all the priests had to be from the tribe of Levi, inheriting their office through their fathers, not all Levites could function as priests. For one thing, there were too many of them. Also, some were needed to work in the tabernacle, and later the temple, as maintenance and cleanup people, something that is readily understandable when one thinks of all that was involved in the sacrificial system. The Levites actually lived in various parts of Israel, and they were the welfare responsibility of the Israelites among whom they lived… The Levites, then, were to tithe the tithe they received, giving their own tithe from what they received from the people to the Lord. Part of that tithe was to be a terumah or “heave offering” to the priests, the descendants of Aaron.”

According to Numbers 35:1-8 (cf. Joshua 21), the Levites were given cities to live in, from each tribe of Israel. They were given a total of 48 cities, and could dwell in them together with their animals.

Passage 5: Deuteronomy 12:5-19 (TITHE #2)

But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the LORD your God has blessed you. You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes— for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you. But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the LORD. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you… You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or your new wine or your oil, of the firstborn of your herd or your flock, of any of your offerings which you vow, of your freewill offerings, or of the heave offering of your hand. But you must eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God chooses, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all to which you put your hands. Take heed to yourself that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land.

This passage gives instructions for a second tithe to be given by the Israelites, known as the “Festival tithe.” It was to come into effect some time later, after they crossed over the Jordan into the Promised Land. During that time they were to go to Jerusalem at the assigned times to celebrate. The expenses for these festivals were met by this second tithe and various offerings. They were to eat at least part of the tithe, which was said to be of grain, wine, and oil. They were also reminded of the importance of always taking care of the Levites.

This was a time of rejoicing in God’s chosen place. The tithe had to be consumed there, and not at home. They were to go with their families, their servants, and any Levites who dwelled within their gates. Nathan Foy (2006) speculates, “The ones to raise animals and grow plants were probably the richer people of that day, since the Bible says ‘all who were in their gates.’”

Kent Hughes (2001) says regarding this tithe, “According to Deuteronomy 12…another 10 percent had to be given for an annual celebration-feasting with one’s family, friends, and servants.” He adds that the purpose of this second tithe “was to build religious celebration and mutual community in God’s people” (p. 192-193).

Russell Kelly (2006) links it with the three annual festivals in Jerusalem, the Feasts of Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles (Exodus 23:14-19, Deuteronomy 16:1-17). He says, “According to Deuteronomy 12 and 14, the second religious tithe, called the ‘feast tithe,’ was eaten by worshipers in the streets of Jerusalem during the three yearly festivals.”

Passage 6: Deuteronomy 14:22-29 (TITHE # 2 repeated, TITHE #3 introduced)

You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you.

At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

The first part of this passage (14:22-27) repeats the second tithe outlined in Deuteronomy 12. The firstborn of their herds and flocks were part of the tithe. Their tithe could be sold for money in case long travel was necessary. This relieved them of the burden of transporting large numbers of animals and produce. At the destination where God placed His name, the money would then be spent on food for each family to consume. Money was not presented to the Levites as a gift.

The last part of the passage introduces a third tithe, to be set aside every third year for the strangers, the fatherless, widows, and Levites living within the gates of the Israelites. There was a blessing attached to this tithe. As Kent Hughes (2001) points out, “This tithe averaged out to 3.3 percent yearly, “thus bringing the total to over 23 percent per year” in tithes required by the Israelites (p. 192-3).

Strong’s Concordance (2000) confirms that this tithe, like other tithes, was made up of farm produce, rather than money. Russell Kelly (2001) says that not everyone was required to tithe. He cites a noted authority on Judaism, Alfred Edersheim, as saying that tithing in Israel was not universal, “because it did not apply to crafts and trades” (p. 247).

Passage 7: Deuteronomy 26:12-15 (TITHE #3 repeated)

When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year—the year of tithing—and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, then you shall say before the LORD your God: ‘I have removed the holy tithe from my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. I have not eaten any of it when in mourning, nor have I removed any of it for an unclean use, nor given any of it for the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that You have commanded me. Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the land which You have given us, just as You swore to our fathers, “a land flowing with milk and honey.”’

This command was also given before the Israelites had actually come into the Promised Land (26:1), and repeats the third tithe given earlier. Here it is called “the year of tithing.” Again the recipients are said to be the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows. The person tithing needed to be able to say that he had done so according to the correct procedure. He could then pray that his people and land would be blessed.

Russell Kelly (2006) notes that it is “wrong to teach that the poor in Israel were required to pay tithes. In fact, they actually received tithes! Much of the second festival tithe and all of a special third-year tithe went to the poor. In fact, many laws protected the poor from abuse and expensive sacrifices which they could not afford…” He adds that false assumptions on tithing would be minimized if we don’t ignore “the very plain definition of tithe as food from farm increase or herd increase.”

SUMMARY: Looking carefully at the tithes outlined in the Law of Moses, it is apparent that there were three different tithes:

[1] The first tithe is described in Numbers 18:21-32, and has two parts. The first part (18:21-24) tells of the tithes given to the Levites as their inheritance, since they had no land inheritance. It amounted to 10% of one’s livelihood. The second part (18:25-32) shows the Levites tithing from this amount to Aaron for the priesthood.

[2] The second tithe is described in Deuteronomy 12:5-19, and repeated in Deuteronomy 14:22-27. This tithe supported the annual feasts. It was to be taken to Jerusalem and consumed there. The Levites only got a small portion of this tithe, which made up an additional 10% of one’s livelihood.

[3] The third tithe is detailed in Deuteronomy 14:28-29, and repeated in Deuteronomy 26:11-13. It didn’t go primarily to the Levites, but to the needy. It was given every three years, during the “year of tithing,” and was designated for strangers, orphans, widows, and Levites, those who could not provide for themselves. It averaged out to 3.3% of one’s livelihood annually.

Therefore, those who were eligible to tithe needed to set aside an average of 23.3% of their livelihood each year just to fund the tithes for the Levites, the feasts, and the needy. Kelly (2006), Hughes (2001), and Foy (2006) all agree on this figure, and the fact that there were three tithes required of the Israelites. They also affirm that the tithes consisted of crops and herds.

Russell Kelly (2006) indicates just how restrictive tithing was under Mosaic Law:

“True biblical tithes were always: (1) only food, (2) only from the farms and herds, (3) of only Israelites, (4) who only lived inside God’s Holy Land, the national boundary of Israel, (5) only under Old Covenant terms and (6) the increase could only come from God’s hand.”

Therefore, (1) non-food items could not be tithed; (2) clean wild game animals and fish could not be tithed; (3) non-Israelites could not tithe; (4) food from outside the land of Israel did not enter the Temple; (5) legitimate tithing did not occur when there was no Levitical priesthood; and (5) tithes did not come from what man’s hands created, produced or caught by hunting and fishing.

Nathan Foy (2006) paints the picture in personal terms:

“To tithe according to the Old Testament you would have to give up your job and farm so you could raise animals and grow crops to tithe with.  You’d have to find some Levitical priests to give your tithe to.  You would have to celebrate the Old Testament festivals and eat your tithe in the presence of the Lord. For 2 years you would have to give 20% of your herds and crops to God and on the 3rd year you would have to give another 10% to the poor, [totaling] 30% in tithe[s] that particular year.  If you do all this you will be keeping the law of tithing totally.”

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In Part 3, we will look at how tithing was enforced by a king (Hezekiah), a reformer (Nehemiah), and two prophets (Amos and Malachi).

All posts from this series, and on the subject of tithing, can be found here.

The Shadows of the Old Covenant Can’t Be Restored


A Facebook friend, Larry Siegle, posted the following book excerpt the other day, and it’s excellent. It comes from a book written in 1972 by James D. Bales titled, “Prophecy and Premillennialism” (pp. 162-163):

“If we tried to go back to the Old Testament, it would not permit it. It would send us back to the New. The substance has arrived, so the shadow tells us to abide in the substance.

First, if we go back to Moses, he sends us to Christ. (Deut. 18:15-18; Acts 3:22, 23).

Second, if we ask Moses to be our mediator, he sends us to Christ the mediator (Heb. 8:6; 12:24).

Third, if we go back to the Old Covenant, it sends us back to the New (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:5-13; 13:20).

Fourth, if we go back to the blood of animals, it sends us to the sacrifice of Christ of which its sacrifices were but a shadow (Heb. 10:1-4).

Fifth, if we go back to the blood of animals, it sends us to the sacrifice of Christ of which the animal blood typified (Heb. 9:15-27; 23-28; 13:20).

Sixth, if we go back to the Old Temple, the way to heaven is not made manifest (Heb. 9:6-12, 24, 25, 26); so it sends us to Christ who has opened and made manifest the way (Heb. 10:19-22).

Seventh, if we go to the Old Testament priests, they send us back to the priesthood of believers (I Pet. 2:5, 9).

Eighth, if we go back to the Jewish kingdom, it sends us back to the everlasting kingdom which was being received in the first century (Hag. 2:6; Heb. 12:18-28; 13:20).

Ninth, if we go back to the Old Testament kingdom, it sends us back to the everlasting kingdom (Dan. 2:44; Heb. 12:28; 13:20).

Tenth, if we go back to the Old Testament Kings and High Priests, they send us to Christ the king and priest (Psa. 110:1-4; Heb. 7:11-22, 28; 8:4).

Eleventh, if we go to Abraham, he sends us to his seed, Christ (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16-29).

We must not retreat from the substance to the shadow. Any system of the interpretation of prophecy which restores the shadow contradicts the Old Testament and the New Testament.”

James Bales (1915-1995) was “an influential Bible professor and administrator at Harding University (then Harding College) for almost 40 years.” Bales was an amillennialist (Wikipedia).

We Now Live in the New Heavens and the New Earth


The following study will examine:

  • Matthew 5:17-18
  • Matthew 24:35
  • How Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke of the old and new heavens & earth
  • II Peter 3:7-13 (compared with Galatians 4:9 and Colossians 2:20)
  • Quotes from Eusebius (265 – 340 AD), Bishop John Lightfoot (1601-1675), John Owen (1721), Jonathan Edwards (1739), and Charles Spurgeon (1865) regarding “the heavens and the earth” as covenant language in Scripture.

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Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:34-35).

Jesus spoke these words to His 12 disciples around 30 AD. When He said “all these things,” He was of course speaking about everything He had just predicted in verses 1-33, from the temple being destroyed, to wars and rumors of wars, to famines and earthquakes, to false prophets and persecution, to the gospel being preached to all nations, to the abomination of desolation and people fleeing from Judea, to great tribulation, to the coming of the Son of Man, etc. Our Olivet Discourse series demonstrates how all these things were fulfilled by the time the temple fell in Jerusalem in 70 AD (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

Was Jesus also saying that heaven and earth would pass away in His own generation? Indeed, He was. We repeatedly saw in our study of the Olivet Discourse that the prophetic language of the Old Testament provides a background to much of what Jesus says in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. The same is true for the expression “heaven and earth.” This is covenant language, and this is perhaps most evident in the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah and Jeremiah: Zion/Israel Was the Old Heavens and Earth

Isaiah’s opening vision was concerned with Judah and Jerusalem, according to Isaiah 1:1. Notice the very first words of Isaiah: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 1:2). This is not unique to Isaiah, for heaven and earth were repeatedly called as witnesses against Israel (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:26, 30:18-19, 31:28, 32:1; Jeremiah 2:12, 6:19; Micah 6:2). In Isaiah 51, speaking to the people of Israel, God says:

I, I am He who comforts you; who are you that you…have forgotten the Lord, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth…? …And I have put My words in your mouth and covered you in the shadow of My hand, establishing the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth, and saying to Zion, ‘You are My people (verses 12-16).

The establishment of the heavens and the earth is thus linked directly to the establishment of Israel as God’s people at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:5-6). Psalm 68:7-8 reiterates that the earth and the heavens were greatly affected when “God, the One of Sinai” marched through the wilderness before His people:

O God, when You went out before Your people, when You marched through the wilderness, the earth shook; The heavens also dropped rain at the presence of God; Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.”

This happened during the days of Moses. Judges 5:4-5 says the same thing. Jeremiah also spoke of Jerusalem’s pending destruction (in 586 BC) in a way that might seem as if he was talking about planet earth and the galaxies, if it weren’t for the context:

My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war… I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light… For thus says the Lord, ‘The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. For this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above be dark…’” (Jeremiah 4:19, 23, 27).

Jeremiah was in anguish over the collapse of the heavens and the earth (Zion) when Babylon destroyed Judah and Jerusalem in 586 BC. David Curtis, the pastor of Berean Bible Church (Virginia Beach), has this to say about Isaiah 51 (quoted above) and the Old Testament’s use of “heaven and earth” language in the context of judgment:

Notice [in Isaiah 51] that God is speaking to Israel. He says He gave them His law, the Old Covenant… Clearly God is not saying He gave the Old Covenant to Israel to create literal heaven and earth! Material creation existed long before Israel was ever given the Old Covenant.

The meaning of this verse is that God gave His covenant with Israel to create their world–a covenant world with God! God created Israel’s “heaven and earth” by giving them His Covenant. Now if He destroyed that Old Covenant heaven and earth and gave a New Covenant, would He not thereby be creating a New heaven and earth? This is precisely the thought in the New Covenant Scriptures!

This idea is seen more clearly as we look at other passages where mention is made of the destruction of a state and government using language which seems to set forth the end of the world, as the collapse of heaven and earth. In Isaiah 13:1-13, this is not an oracle against the universe or world, but against the nation of Babylon. Notice verse 13, “Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place.”

Now remember, He is speaking about the destruction of Babylon, but it sounds like world wide destruction… If you were a Babylonian and Babylon was destroyed would it seem like the world was destroyed? Yes! Your world would be destroyed.

This is an historical event that took place in 539 BC. When the Medes destroyed Babylon (Isaiah 13:17), the Babylonian world came to an end… The physical heaven and earth were still in tact, but for Babylon they had collapsed. This is apocalyptic language. This is the way the scripture discusses the fall of a nation (Source).

Curtis also points out how this “heaven and earth” language is used in these ways concerning Israel (Isaiah 24-27), Edom (Isaiah 34), Nineveh (Nahum 1), and Israel again (Hebrews 12). 

Isaiah didn’t only speak of the old heavens and earth. He also prophesied of “new heavens and a new earth,” and the creation of Jerusalem as a joy (Isaiah 65:17-19). This is covenant language, and this can be seen in the fact that the new heavens and new earth were to be marked by sin and death (verse 20), building and planting (verses 21-22), and the reproduction of children (verse 23).

When I was younger, I was taught that the new heavens and earth would be set up following a future Second Coming of Christ and a 1000 year “millennial reign” based in earthly Jerusalem, at which time sin and death would cease to exist. Isaiah’s description of the new heavens and earth, however, does not allow for this. Instead, his description speaks of present, earthly realities coinciding with new, glorious spiritual realities.

It also mirrors what we see in the New Testament. Paul told the Ephesians that God’s people are called to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). He likewise told the Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17). In Christ, a new temple/tabernacle had come (e.g. I Corinthians 3:16-17, I Cor. 6:19, II Cor. 6:16, Ephesians 2:21, Revelation 3:12), and the old temple/tabernacle had to go. During the one generation following the cross, all of the rituals attached to the temple in Jerusalem were worthless. By the end of that generation, that temple and those worthless rituals were gone.

Obituary of the Old Covenant

SOURCE: Cindye Coates

We would also do well to remember that Jesus had already made a very significant statement about the disappearance of (the old) heaven and earth in the Sermon on the Mount:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will be any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).

Is the Law 100% intact even now in the year 2014, and are we thus still under the old heavens and earth? Or did Jesus accomplish everything and fulfill the Law, so that we are now under the covenantal framework of the new heavens and earth? Matthew 5:17-18 is an all-or-nothing statement. If “heaven and earth” have not yet disappeared, neither then has even one trace of the Law of Moses.

The “heaven and earth” spoken of by Jesus here are connected to the temple worship and law keeping of the Jewish world. We know that Jerusalem, the temple, and the old covenant system passed away in a fiery blaze in 70 AD. Jesus, of course, predicted this (in Matthew 22:7; Revelation 17:16-17; Rev. 18:8-9, 17-18).

II Peter 3:7-13 also speaks of the heavens and earth of that time being “stored up for fire” (verse 7) and ready to “pass away with a roar” and be “burned up and dissolved” (verse 10), giving way to “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (verse 13). That fire occurred in 70 AD when Jerusalem was burned by the Roman armies, as Jesus said would happen to the city of those who rejected His Father’s wedding invitation and murdered His servants: “And the king sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (Matthew 22:7).

Bishop John Lightfoot (1601-1675) made a key point in his Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 3, p. 452),

“Compare this with Deut. 32:22, Heb. 12:26, Gal. 4:9, Coloss. 2:20: and observe that by elements are understood the Mosaic elements: and you will not doubt that St. Peter speaks only of the conflagration of Jerusalem, the destruction of the nation, and the abolishing of the dispensation of Moses.”

Indeed, Galatians 4:9 and Colossians 2:20 make use of the same word translated as “elements” in II Peter 3:10. It’s clear that Paul spoke there, not of the cosmos, but of what was contained in the Law:

[1] “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years!” (Galatians 4:9-10).

[2] “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?” (Colossians 2:20-22).

In a 1721 sermon, the Puritan preacher John Owen said,

I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state… [A]nd then the heavens and earth that God Himself planted, -the sun, moon, and stars of the Judaical polity and church, – the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinancy against the Lord Christ, shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed: this we know shall be the end of these things, and that shortly.”

Jonathan Edwards (in 1739) said this in his work, “The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath, Vol. 2”:

The Scriptures further teach us to call the gospel-restoration and redemption, a creation of a new heaven and a new earth… The gospel state is everywhere spoken of as a renewed state of things, wherein old things are passed away, and all things become new… And the dissolution of the Jewish state was often spoken of in the Old Testament as the end of the world. But we who belong to the gospel-church, belong to the new creation; and therefore there seems to be at least as much reason, that we should commemorate the work of this creation, as that the members of the ancient Jewish church should commemorate the work of the old creation.

C.H. (Charles) Spurgeon also had the same understanding. In a sermon delivered in 1865 (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vo. XXXVII, p. 354), he said:

Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, of any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away and we now live under a new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it.

We will conclude with a much older quote, a very intriguing statement made by the church father, Eusebius (265-340 AD), in one of his writings known as “the Theophania”:

All authorities concur in the declaration that “when all these things should have been done”, ‘The End’ should come: that “the mystery of God should be finished as he had declared to His servants the prophets“: it should be completed: time should now be no more: the End of all things (so foretold) should be at hand, and be fully brought to pass: in these days should be fulfilled all that had been spoken of Christ (and of His church) by the prophets: or, in other words, when the gospel should have been preached in all the world for a testimony to all nations, and the power of the Holy People be scattered (abroad), then should the End come, then should all these things be finished. I need now only say, all these things have been done: the old and elementary system passed away with a great noise; all these predicted empires have actually fallen, and the new kingdom, the new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem–all of which were to descend from God, to be formed by His power, have been realised on earth; all these things have been done in the sight of all the nations; God’s holy arm has been made bare in their sight: His judgments have prevailed, and they remain for an everlasting testimony to the whole world. His kingdom has come, as it was foretold it should, and His will has, so far, been done; His purposes have been finished.

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The information in this post also appeared in our study of Matthew 24:35.

Also see Steve’s 3-part series on “The Biblical Heavens and Earth” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) which he posted here in June 2014.

The Enlarged Tent of Israel (Isaiah 54:2), the Church


About a month ago, John Eckhardt posted the following poem in The Eschatology Forum, a Facebook group I belong to, and I think it’s worth sharing. Isaiah looked ahead to this present, everlasting new covenant age and saw a vision of the nations coming in to “a tent” that was much larger than the nation of Israel: 

The Enlarged Tent of Israel (Isaiah 54:2)

“Enlarge your tent and stretch forth your curtains,
You will break out on the right hand and on the left.”
Isaiah spoke this to Israel,
That the nations were coming.
The Tent of Israel was not large enough to receive them,
The Gentiles were coming in,
A new tent God would raise up,
The church would be the place.
On the Day of Pentecost the new tent began to form,
Thousands came into it,
And a new community was born.
Ten years after Pentecost Cornelius heard the call,
Peter went to his house and preached,
The Holy Spirit began to fall,
On the Gentiles came the mercy of God.
The multitudes began to come into this tent,
To the Gentiles the apostle Paul was sent,
Many nations heard the Word,
They came into the church to seek.
This tent expanded throughout the world,
There is no limit to who can come,
This tent is here today,
The Church is that enlarged place.
This tent is large enough to house your city,
This tent can house a nation,
There is plenty of room for souls to enter,
The LORD has made the space.
Let us believe for the multitudes to come in,
Let revival come to our land,
Multitudes are coming to this tent,
They are being brought in by the Lord’s hand.

If there’s any doubt that Isaiah foresaw the Church of Jesus christ, take note of how the apostle Paul applied Isaiah 54:1 in his analogy of two covenants, two women, and two Jerusalems in Galatians 4:21-31.

John Eckhardt is an apostle and church overseer based in Chicago, and founded IMPACT Network in 1995.

Guest Post: The Biblical Heavens and Earth (Part 3 of 3)


This post concludes Steve’s 3-part series on the Biblical heavens and earth, exploring comparisons between Genesis 1, Jeremiah 4:23-27, and Matthew 24:35. Part 1 can be seen here, and part 2 (which explores Jeremiah 4:23-27) can be seen here.

I would like to thank Adam Maarschalk for allowing me this opportunity to share with his readers even though we do not see eye to eye on many things. Studying the Word of God is a great joy and privilege, and I hope this study will benefit your own Bible studies.

In part two of this study, we saw that the old heavens & earth was synonymous with Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Jer. 4:23-26; Matt. 23:34-38 & 24:29-35). In the final post in this series, we will see that New Jerusalem is synonymous with the new heavens & earth, and that it arrived in 70 AD. (Based upon this, I have been at times accused of being a hyperpreterist, but I am not, since I still believe in the future Second Coming and the resurrection of our bodies, which hyperpreterists deny.) Just as the heavens & earth represented the kingdom of Israel, the new heavens & earth represents the kingdom of the Israel of God here on the earth. The Israel of God was established here on the earth when the old Israel was cast out of “Abraham’s camp” (Gal. 4:21-31). To better understand what the new heavens & earth is and isn’t, it will help to look at the biblical timeline.

The timing of New Jerusalem’s arrival and the new heavens & earth

In the book of Revelation, the bride of Christ is identified as New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2, 9-10). This New Jerusalem is synonymous with the new heavens & earth (Rev. 21:1-2). The bride arrives back in Rev. 19:7-9. The bride’s wedding supper consists of scavenging birds feasting on the flesh of the dead, when Jesus comes in judgment against the beast and the false prophet (Rev. 19:7-21). Likewise, the bride arrives as the people of God are rejoicing over the death of the great harlot Babylon, which is the great city (Rev. 19:1-6, also see Rev. chapters 17 & 18). So when the great city is destroyed, and the two persecutors of the Church are judged (the beast from the sea & the beast from the land/false prophet), New Jerusalem comes down to the earth. So who is the great city Babylon?

Since there is a great deal of material easily available here on this blog to prove this point, I will only provide a few proofs that Babylon is the city of Jerusalem. In Rev. 11:8, the great city is identified as where “their Lord was crucified,” which can only be Jerusalem. This verse also gives Babylon two other symbolic names: “Sodom and Egypt.” In the case of Babylon, Sodom, and Egypt, God poured out His wrath on them even as He brought His people out of those places. The same is true for the Babylon of Revelation (Rev. 18:4-8).  Where else do we read in the NT where Christians are warned to flee a city because its judgment has come? “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:20-22)

The biblical pattern for New Jerusalem’s arrival

So we see that when Jerusalem is destroyed, the spiritual New Jerusalem arrives to take its place. This fits the pattern seen throughout the Bible: first the natural, then the spiritual. Cain was the first born, and murdered the spiritual Abel. Ishmael was the natural son of Abraham born by the power of the flesh, but Isaac was the spiritual son, born by the power and promise of the Holy Spirit. The first Adam is earthy, the second Adam is heavenly (1 Cor. 15:47). First is the natural body, then comes the spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:42-49).

When Moses brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, there was the Jewish people and Law, but they would not receive the Jewish land for forty years, in order to kill off the unbelieving Jews. Likewise, when the Church was established in 30 AD, there was a Christian people and Law (the New Covenant – the law of faith in Christ), but the Christians would not receive their land (the new heavens & earth) until forty years had gone by to kill off the unbelieving Jews. This is why the Christians received the new heavens & earth in 70 AD.

As we have seen earlier in this study, Adam foreshadows the Jewish nation. Both are created to the west of the Holy Land, and then are planted in the Land and given a Law to keep. Both break the Law they were given and are driven out of the Land to the east (to Babylon). This is where the Genesis narrative leaves Adam, with the people of God expelled from the Land in exile to the east, cut off from the tree of life, and with the Land under a curse. However, in Revelation, the people of God are brought out of Babylon, out of the east, and are brought back to the Holy Land, back to (New) Jerusalem. Having been brought back, access to the tree of life is restored and the curse is no more (Rev. 22:2-3).

The nature of the curse of creation

In order to understand why there is no curse in the new heavens & earth, we first need to understand the curse in Gen. 3:14-19. As we have seen in previous posts, since the Genesis creation account isn’t about the universe, the curse isn’t about the universe, either. If the whole planet was pleasant and nice, why the need for a garden at all? But the planting of the garden indicates the rest of the world wasn’t so pleasant or ideal.

For Adam’s sin, he was driven from the Garden. Since the man was no longer there to tend the Garden, the Garden would become overrun with “thorns and thistles” (Gen. 3:17-18). This is the same thing that is taught in Isa. 5:3-7, Jer. 12:10-13, and Hos. 10:3-8.

Not only would the Garden of God be ruined because of man’s sin, but man’s work would become harder (Gen. 3:17-19). When there is less than ideal sunlight, rain, etc., raising useful plants becomes very difficult. In such circumstances, the only things that want to grow are those things which are useless to man – weeds. We see throughout the OT that God would punish Israel’s sin with droughts and poor crops, making it harder than it should be to raise a crop.

God cursed the woman by greatly multiplying her pain in bringing forth children (Gen. 3:16). Notice that God would increase her pain, which indicates pain was already in the workings of the world prior to Adam’s sin. I do not believe the pain refers to the physical pain of delivering a child, but to mothers mourning the loss of their children (as seen in Deut. 28:18 & 32; Jer. 4:31, 5:17, 9:20-22; Luke 23:28-29; in contrast with Isa. 65:23, 66:22).

Why there is no curse or death in the new heavens & earth

The reason why there is no curse in the new heavens & earth is because there are no wicked people in this “land” (Rev. 21:27, 22:14-15) that would bring about the wrath of God. Unlike “Babylon” (Jerusalem), God never has to abandon New Jerusalem and put it to the sword, because New Jerusalem’s people only consist of spiritual Israel, the Israel of God – those who are obedient to Christ. And since the city is never destroyed, the people remain in the land to tend the land and bear fruit for God, keeping it from being overrun by thorns and thistles.

This is why Rev. 21:4 says that in New Jerusalem, “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” This is all in contrast to what just happened to “Babylon” (Jerusalem). God had just abandoned and destroyed it (Rev. 18). But God would never treat New Jerusalem in that fashion, because it will never become the home of wicked people. To enter this spiritual city, one must first repent and obey Christ (Rev. 22:14). If a Christian falls away, he is removed by Christ from His Church (Gal. 5:4), and is therefore no longer within the New Jerusalem.

When Rev. 21:4 says there is no more death, it is in the context of Isa. 65-66, especially Isa. 65:17-23. (There are numerous parallels between Isa. 65-66 and Rev. 21-22, too many to list here, but notice that Isa. 65-66 also links the arrival of the new heavens & earth with God punishing the culmination of generations of guilt: Isa. 65:7 and Matt. 23:29-36.) In summary of Isa. 65:17-23, God will not put New Jerusalem to the sword the way He did old Jerusalem. It is in that sense there is no more death. And even though Isa. 65:20-21 is speaking of lifespans in a figurative way, natural births and deaths still occur (which indicates this is not referring to the age of resurrection – Luke 20:34-36).

In fact, the presence of sexual reproduction and the marriage/one-flesh relationship prior to the sin of Adam indicates death was “baked” into creation, since resurrection and immortality means the end of marriage/sexual reproduction (Luke 20:34-36). This is because sexual reproduction has to do with the mortality of the flesh – once the flesh is made immortal, it no longer serves a purpose.

The key to understanding the new heavens & earth is realizing that it is not being contrasted with our universe, but with what would/did happen to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. During the age of New Jerusalem and the new heavens & earth, the nations of the world still exist (Rev. 21:24-27), but the nations of the world are abolished at the Second Coming (Matt. 25:31-33).

New Jerusalem and the new heavens & earth vs. the Second Coming

In Rev. 20, we are given a sequence of events that indicates the Second Coming takes place long after the arrival of New Jerusalem and the new heavens & earth. In Rev. 19, we see that the bride (New Jerusalem, see Rev. 21:9-10) arrives upon the destruction of Babylon (old Jerusalem). It is also at this time many people are put to death, and the beast and false prophet (Nero and the Jewish leaders) are punished (Rev. 19:17-21). But noticed who is not punished at this time –Satan. He will not be punished until “a thousand years” later (a symbol for a long, indefinite period of time).

Instead of punishing Satan at this time, God instead has Satan locked away for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3). This is because God is not done with Satan at 70 AD. The end of the thousand years is marked by the temporary release of Satan, so that he can attack New Jerusalem (Rev. 20:7-9). But notice the end of the millennium doesn’t come with the arrival of New Jerusalem – but with Satan’s attack on New Jerusalem. It is only then, a thousand years later, that the devil joins the beast and false prophet in punishment (Rev. 20:10).

New Jerusalem is already there when Satan is released, because New Jerusalem is the millennial reign of Christ. The destruction of Jerusalem, Nero, and the Jewish leaders ushers in the arrival of New Jerusalem, which is Jesus’ capital city. New Jerusalem is where Christ reigns along with His saints for the thousand years. It is only at the end of the thousand years, the end of the reign of Christ that the resurrection occurs and death is defeated (1 Cor. 15:23-28). So it is no surprise that the final judgment and resurrection of the dead happens once the thousand year reign is complete (Rev. 20:11-15).

The beginning of the millennium vs. the end of the millennium

The triggering event for the beginning of the millennium is the destruction of Jerusalem. God rallies the nations of the world (the Roman Empire) against Jerusalem, and the city of Jerusalem is afflicted with demons (Rev. 9:1-11). The nations of the world destroy and loot Jerusalem, carrying off all of her treasures.

Contrast this with the event that triggers the end of the millennium. Satan rallies the nations of the world against New Jerusalem (Rev. 20:7-9). New Jerusalem is filled with “treasure” because it has “looted” the nations (Rev. 21:24-27, referring to the righteous who have been brought out of this world into the kingdom of Christ), but far from being looted, the city cannot even be harmed (Rev. 20:9). The city is not looted or harmed because unlike old Jerusalem, this city is filled with the righteous. God does not withdraw His protection as He did with old Jerusalem, because God protects His own people (Matt. 23:37). The attack on old Jerusalem brought about the judgment of one nation in one generation, but the failed attack at New Jerusalem brings about the judgment of all nations and all generations.

The resurrection vs. 70 AD

Some of those who correctly believe the new heavens & earth is a present reality mistakenly believe the resurrection happened, or at least began, in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. One problem with this view is that Scripture routinely treats the Second Coming and the resurrection as being distinct from 70 AD.

Take the Bible’s primary teaching on resurrection: 1 Cor. 15. This passage provides the most comprehensive teaching on the subject of the resurrection, and yet there is nothing there about the destruction of Jerusalem or the Temple.

Take another example, the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is all about the resurrection, much more so than the synoptic Gospels. Even the first sign John records, the apparently trivial miracle of turning water into wine, is really about the resurrection. Common water is placed into stone waterpots (“buried in the earth”), where Jesus miraculously changes it, and when it is “raised out of the earth,” Jesus turns it into something far superior: an excellent wine (John 2:6-10). In fact, the turning point in John’s Gospel is when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:45-53). And yet there is nothing taught about the destruction of Jerusalem or the Temple anywhere in his Gospel, at least not explicitly. The one Gospel that focuses on the resurrection is also the one Gospel that doesn’t focus on the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. If the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple are an integral part of the day of resurrection, how can John spend his entire Gospel talking about the resurrection and yet never mention 70 AD?

The only passage that appears to tie the new heavens & earth with the resurrection is Rom. 8:18-25. The redemption of creation (which refers to the death of the old heavens & earth, and the arrival of the new heavens & earth in 70 AD) is compared to the redemption of our bodies (at the resurrection). But notice Paul does not say these events happen together. Instead, Paul merely compares the two: just as the creation will be set free from its corruption, so we will be set free from the corruption within ourselves. The creation is set free when it is resurrected/transformed from a natural land to a spiritual land, just as we will be set free of this body of death (Rom. 7:24, 8:10) when our natural bodies are resurrected/transformed from a natural body to a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44).

In 70 AD, the wicked are killed (Rev. 19:17-21) and sent down into Hades (Matt. 11:23). But at the final judgment, the wicked are resurrected out of Hades (Rev. 20:12-15). It is at this time death and Hades are abolished (Rev. 20:14, 1 Cor. 15:26). The resurrection brings about the permanent end of physical death and Hades (the spirit realm of the physically dead) because at the resurrection, everyone is made alive and immortal (1 Cor. 15:52-54). So how can the 70 AD judgment, which sent people to Hades, also be the day of resurrection which empties and abolishes Hades?

When the new heavens & earth arrived in 70 AD, New Jerusalem came down to the earth (Rev. 21:2, 10). New Jerusalem isn’t Heaven, it is a kind of “heaven on earth.” But at the Second Coming, we do not remain down here, but we are taken up there forever (John 14:3, 1 Thes. 4:17).

The physicality of the resurrection body

The ultimate argument against 70 AD being the day of resurrection is the physicality of the resurrection body. The resurrection involves the raising and transforming of our flesh bodies, which obviously hasn’t yet happened. The resurrection passages do not focus on a city or a temple, but on the bodies of believers. Passages such as Philip. 3:21 and 1 John 3:2-3 make this clear.

Jesus, Paul, and the Pharisees all used a grain of wheat to illustrate their teaching on the resurrection (John 12:24, 1 Cor. 15:37, Sanh. 90b). They used the same illustration because, as Paul repeatedly pointed out while on trial for his faith, they believed the same thing (Acts 24:15, 26:6-8).

What does “the Law and… the Prophets” say about “the promise made by God to our fathers”? King David wrote Psalm 16:9-10, which is quoted both by Peter and Paul in Acts (2:25-31, 13:35-37). We do not have to wonder what David meant, because Peter provides us with the inspired interpretation: David foresaw the resurrection of Christ, and seeing it gave hope to his flesh (Acts 2:25-31). Seeing the resurrection of Christ gave David hope for his aging, dying body because he understood the same thing Paul understood, that the resurrection of Christ is proof for our own future resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-23). Just as Christ was raised in His flesh and bone body never to die again, so our mortal bodies will be made immortal, too (Luke 24:39; Rom. 6:5-9, 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:52-54).

The Apostle Peter makes a very simple argument for proving Jesus has been resurrected, and that David has not:

Empty tomb = resurrected

Body still in tomb = not resurrected

Peter makes a simple argument that was easily understood by his audience. We know Jesus has been resurrected because His tomb is empty. Likewise, we know David has not been resurrected because his body is still in the tomb. If that argument was sound in 30 AD, then it remains sound today, because the Christian doctrine of resurrection hasn’t changed. Since the ancients are still in the tomb, how can some claim David and the rest of the OT saints were resurrected in 70 AD?

A spirit body resurrection?

Some who reject a physical resurrection believe in the resurrection of a “spirit body.” (Notice the Bible doesn’t teach a spirit body, but a spiritual body – compare 1 Cor. 15:44 with 2:14-16.) A “spirit body” is like a “square circle,” it is nonsensical because it is a contradiction in terms. By definition, a spirit is not a body, and a body is not a spirit. When Paul looks forward to the resurrection, Paul looks forward to being “set free from the body of this death” (Rom. 7:24). The solution was not to be set free from the body, which happens at death, for Paul did not wish to be “unclothed” (2 Cor. 5:2-4).  Nor can the resurrection be said to be merely spiritual life, because the Christian already had that prior to both 70 AD and the resurrection (Rom. 8:9-11). The solution is not found in death, but in life evermore.

Baptism for the dead

When Paul speaks of Christians “who are baptized for the dead” (1 Cor. 15:29), what is Paul talking about? The answer can be found in the context. Paul gives no indication that this baptismal practice is strange or wrong; in fact, he uses the practice to reinforce his point, which suggests his agreement with the practice. But what is it? Although ambiguous in the English translation, the “dead” in the original Greek language is definitely plural.

Paul is pointing to the fact that when Christians are baptized into Christ, they are baptized for their own dead bodies. Read 1 Cor. 15:29-35, and everywhere you read the word “dead,” read it as “dead bodies” and you will see that this not only make sense, it becomes explicit by v. 35 and throughout the rest of the chapter. In Rom. 7:24, he refers to his own living body as “the body of this death,” and in Rom. 8:10, even though the bodies Paul refers to were still physically alive, he nevertheless refers to them as being “dead.” Paul links Christian baptism with the body, death, and resurrection in Rom. 6:2-9 and Col. 2:11-13.

If the body was still alive, then in what sense was it “dead”?  Since the body is of the earth, and is made for life on the earth, it is earthy (Gen. 2:7, 3:19; 1 Cor. 15:44-49) and so has earthly, fleshly appetites. So in a sense, the body has a mind of its own, and its appetites are geared toward the things of this world, which is the mindset of death (Rom. 8:12-13). This means the body is weak towards carrying out the will of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 7:14-23, 8:3-8; also see Matt. 26:41). Since the flesh is in a sense morally dead because of our sin, it was a body of death, and therefore, mortal. The body is dead because sin is living in it (Rom. 7:14-21, 8:10).

Jesus became a life-giving spirit

When Paul writes that Jesus “became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45), some believe this proves a spirit-only resurrection. But we do not become “life-giving” spirits like Christ, for we have no life in ourselves. Rather, we receive life from the Spirit of Christ. How so? We do not have to wonder, because Paul tells us in Rom. 8:9-11. In v. 9, Paul refers to “the Spirit of Christ,” and relates it to our resurrection by giving “life to your mortal bodies.”

The resurrection is not only about making our mortal bodies immortal, but about making our bodies into spiritual bodies – bodies that are strong to carry out the desires of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 15:42-54). Just as Jesus supplied the missing ingredients to transform the water buried in the earth into excellent wine at the end of the wedding (John 2:6-10), so Jesus will one day return from Heaven to supply the missing ingredients to transform our earthly tent into a heavenly building (2 Cor. 5:1-10) on the last day (John 6:54, 11:24). At that time, our transformation into the likeness of Christ (Eph. 4:13) will finally be complete!

Conclusion

New Jerusalem and the new heavens & earth represents Christ’s spiritual kingdom here on the earth right now. It is Christ reigning through His Church, and on behalf of His Church. One day He will return, bring an end to death and sin through the power of His resurrection, punish the wicked, and take us into Heaven where the glory of God will “be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). There we will be with God and each other in a state of perpetual spiritual bliss. “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thes. 4:18).

Are We In “the Last Days”? The Last Days of What?


1. When did the Biblical “last days” begin? Before Jesus began His 3.5 year ministry? On the Day of Pentecost? In 1948? In the late 20th century? 

2. What time period or age are we referring to when we speak of the last days? World history? The old covenant age? The new covenant age? Something else?

3. When were the first days? Billions or millions of years ago? 6000 years ago? Around 1200 BC? The 1950’s?

4. When were the middle days of this time period or age? Logically, we should expect this to be the longest period, with the greatest number of days.

Amidst all the rhetoric about “the last days” being here upon us now in 2014, it’s evident that many have done very little to analyze these types of questions. Consider the following two examples, before comparing their ideas to what the Bible says about “the last days.”

1. A poll was conducted in 2006 by McLaughlin & Associates, asking “1,000 randomly selected American adults” the following question: 

“Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘Events such as the rebirth of the State of Israel, wars and instability in the Middle East, recent earthquakes, and the tsunami in Asia are evidence that we are living in what the Bible calls the last days.'”

They found that 42% of Americans agreed with this statement, and 58% of evangelical/born-again Christians agreed. See here for the rest of the results. From this survey, a majority of evangelical Christians in the US believe that events in the last 65 years or so prove that the Biblical last days are here now. The suggestion is that the last days arrived in recent decades, not a couple thousand years ago.

2. In 1990 the Christian rock band, Petra, produced a song called “Last Daze” (a play on “last days”) – from their album “Beyond Belief.” I was a Petra fan during the 90’s (I still respect them), and this was one of my favorites. From the lyrics to this song, it’s clear that they believed “the last days” are here now, and that spiritual delusion will intensify until the time of “the blaze”:

…In the last daze, the final haze
There was strong delusion to believe a lie
In the last daze before the blaze
They couldn’t see beyond their misty trance
To grab the truth and have a fighting chance
In the last daze…

Some say it’s a certainty
A sign of the times I am told
But I weep for the souls of those
Who will never return to the fold…

What does the New Testament have to say about “the last days” (and other equivalent expressions) and their timing? Here are a few examples:

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

“He [Jesus] indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (I Peter 1:20).

“He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26).

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Corinthians 10:11).

“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11-12).

“But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (I Peter 4:7).

“Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour” (I John 2:18).

According to these and other Scriptures, Jesus lived and ministered in the last days. Notice the distinction in Hebrews 1 between God speaking throughout the old covenant period by the prophets, and God speaking by His Son at the onset of the new covenant period. The last days were linked to the transition period from one covenant to the other. 

We also see that Peter, Paul, and John wrote to believers living at the end of the age(s). John even said it was “the last hour.” This dispels the idea that “the last days” began in the 20th century, and it also dispels the idea that “the last days” began about 2000 years ago and continue until today. How could “the last days” still be here if “the last hour” of the last days arrived almost 2000 years ago? Consider, however, the real possibility that John wrote his epistle around 65 AD. Then it would make sense for John to say it was “the last hour” (of the old covenant age) just a few short years before it came to a dramatic end in 70 AD.

The old covenant age began in roughly 1300 BC during the days of Moses. It was made obsolete by Jesus’ work on the cross (30 AD), but was still “becoming obsolete and growing old” and “ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13). This was its state for one generation – about 40 years. In 70 AD it did vanish away when the Roman armies came and burned the city (Jerusalem) of those who rejected Jesus’ wedding invitation (Matthew 22:7; Revelation 17:16, 18:8-10, 17-20). I believe “the last days” covered this transition period. I agree with Model 3 in the chart below (models 1 and 2 represent other popular ideas about “the last days”:

Duration of old covenant Last Days Began Duration of Last Days
Model 1 1300 years Pentecost 1984 years (and counting)
Model 2 1300 years 1948 66 years (and counting)
Model 3 1300 years Time of Jesus’ ministry 27 – 70 AD (Ended)

The new covenant age has already outlasted the old covenant age by 700 years (i.e. 2000 years and counting, compared to 1300 years):

Last Days Timeline

To answer the four questions at the beginning of this post then, I believe Scripture reveals that [1] the Biblical last days began at (or before) the time of the 3.5 year ministry of Jesus (27-30 AD); [2] they were the last days of the old covenant age; [3] “the first days” were in the days of Moses, around 1300 BC, when the old covenant was established, and [4] “the middle days” were the next 1200 or so years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, covering the time of the judges, the kings, and the prophets. In light of what Scripture says about “the last days,” how would you answer these questions? 

Here is what the great preacher, John Owen (1616-1683), once said:

“Most expositors suppose that this expression [In Hebrews 1:2], ‘The last days,’ is a periphrasis [euphemism] for the times of the gospel. But it doth not appear that they are anywhere so called; nor were they ever known by that name among the Jews, upon whose principles the apostle proceeds… It is the last days of the Judaical church and state, which were then drawing to their period and abolition, that are here and elsewhere called ‘The last days,’ or ‘The latter days,’ or ‘The last hour,’ 2 Peter 3:31 John 2:18Jude 1:18… This phrase of speech is signally used in the Old Testament to denote the last days of the Judaical church” (The Works of John Owen, Volume 19, pp.12 – 13).

For a more extensive study of the topic of “this age and the age to come,” please see this post.