(This is a re-post from 2011. The title and context have been changed.)
The Pharisees employed a literalistic reading of the Old Testament prophecies, this fueling their concepts of the Kingdom and leading them to completely miss the Messiah and the Spiritual Kingdom He was ushering in.
They misunderstood the prophets who employed Idiom meaning they spoke in the terms of the day they lived in and the administration they were under.
If the prophets had come along and said…be comforted people the day is coming when the temple, the priesthood, the land, all of this will be gone and there will be a glorious new age in which the gentiles are brought into covenant as well….that wouldn’t have been a very popular message would it?
Instead the prophets spoke (by Divine inspiration) in the terms they knew and their people knew. Since the entire Mosaic order was typological of Christ, the symbolism could be used to express the spiritual realities of redemption and the coming glory. They spoke of restoration to the land which in some contexts was indeed about the return from exile, but it also pointed to the New Age when the land, the dwelling place of the Shekinah, the Spirit would be where???? In a geographical locale? No, in the hearts of the believers in all lands, nations and tongues. It also pointed to the Eternal Glory…the time in which the Elect would be in full union with Christ the true Israel. So the land could be a reference to their immediate situation under the Old Covenant, it could point to the future New Covenant Age which Jeremiah 31 makes real clear…or it could point to the eternal state.
The Apostles indeed spiritualize the reading of the Old Covenant. Paul employs allegory in Galatians, Peter takes prophecies that speak of cosmic happenings and say they are fulfilled in the resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost. James takes prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel and the Temple and applies it directly to the Gentile Church.
Paul in Romans 2 defines what a true Jew is…a believer in Jesus Christ. The Old Covenant people have been set aside in Matthew 23, the kingdom taken from them and given to another. Paul says they were blessed by their possession of the oracles of God and he is in pain for them, but their only purpose is for the tiny remnant of Elect among them to join the True Israel as he defines it in Ephesians 2. In fact like Zaccheus they need to BECOME Sons of Abraham as Paul explains in Galatians 3….that’s what Christians are…sons of Abraham by virtue of our union with the Seed of Promise, Jesus Christ. The fleshly children are in bondage according to his illustration.
The New Testament defines them as the synagogue of Satan, they are enemies as far as the gospel is concerned. We don’t boast against the branches that were broken off from the ONE Tree, the One People of God, the Israel of God. Anti-semitism grew out of the desire to create a Christian Sacralist society that created a social Monism…everyone was on the same page. This is a grievous error.
The bottom line is those who still look to the Jews as the people of God, those who believe they will be restored to the land have not understood the flow of Redemptive History. They have not understood the message of the New Testament concerning what the Old Testament was about, what it was for and why it is gone and can never come back. Rejecting the treatment of the Old Testament by the Apostles and Christ they continue in the hope of the Pharisees…resting their promises in the land and the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord.
Insisting on a literalistic reading they refuse to submit to the New Testament’s teaching concerning the Old Covenant and consequently they spiritualize or explain away many clear teachings from the New Testament. They build principles from the Old and cling to them tenaciously even when the New Testament tells them those principles were in fact a misunderstanding of what the Old was about.
When we start with the clear perspicuous passages of the New Testament, those that are clearly didactic and not employing symbolism, alliteration, poetic imagery, typological idiom we can establish the clear teaching of the Apostles and build our foundations there. It is through the lens of clear passages that we interpret those that are a bit hazy or obscured in the language of the prophets are sometimes even in apocalyptic modes of speech.
The irony is this school that claims to be literalistic, even though they reject the literal teaching of the New Testament and cling to their flawed presuppositions from the OT turns to spiritualizing and sometimes even allegory in order to make their system work.,
For example insisting the Apocalypse is in chronological order which flies in the face of Old Testament prophetic examples…like Daniel where we find successive repetitious visions, each being slightly modified and emphasized from a different angle…they allegorize the first four chapters into Church Ages and somehow John in Revelation 4.1 becomes the whole Church and is raptured into heaven.
Because the Church is made into a sort of Redemptive-Historical Plan B, that is to say the Kingdom promise belongs to the Jews and it was their rejection that led to the Gentile inclusions and Church Age, the Church has to be removed in a pre-trib rapture so that Plan A- The Jews in the Land- can be reinstated. Judaism becomes once again a valid religion.
So 1 Thessalonians 4, while it clearly speaks of the last trumpet and the very end of all things, they spiritualize the 2nd Coming and make it into a kind of partial or faux 2nd Coming and place it 7 or more years before the actual 2nd Coming.
In Matthew 24 Jesus speaks of the destruction of the temple. Like the OT prophets he employs idiom…the end of the Old Order was in a certain sense the end of the world. It was the end of that age, that aeon, that epoch in history. And for the Apostles in dullard mode that was what they would understand…the end of the temple was the end of the world.
And in a sense at the resurrection and enthronement of Christ, the world ended….Already and Not Yet. We are in the End Times, the final era of delay. Everything has been accomplished by Christ. It is Finished! But God is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish etc…. and so in this era the Church works, Heavenly Pilgrim Citizens of Heaven living on Earth, building the kingdom not on earth but in heaven. We lay up our treasures there, and bring glory to our creator by rescuing the lost from the Evil One, and the Holy Spirit is finalizing the victory of Christ through Wisdom of God in the Church, the weak and pathetic sinners who persevere and overcome evil by the Spirit’s power.
But the supposedly literalistic hermeneutic ‘reads in’ the land restoration when Christ says nothing at all of it. The fig tree parable was just that…a parable. If you read it carefully he’s merely making a point by appealing to nature, there’s no basis that he was somehow speaking symbolically of an Old Covenant-land restoration. That’s spiritualizing the passage..but not based on New Testament principle, instead its dragging forward Old Testament presuppositions held by the Pharisees, rejected by Christ and then later by the Apostles.
Do you want to understand what Israel is? What a Jew is? What the prophets meant by restoration to the land, what the promise of the land was all about? Start in the New Testament.
All the promises are affirmed and confirmed…yea and amen in Christ Jesus. If you miss this and misunderstand the New Testament’s teaching concerning the Old, then you are left with a host of seemingly unfulfilled passages from the Old Testament…ones that in order to find fulfillment must point to a future restoration not just to the land but of Judaism itself. Missing the New Testament’s message means that we must look to Judaism as a valid religion yet to be restored. This is the hope of the Pharisees, the political kingdom they never got. This position is at odds with Apostolic Christianity….It is Judeo-Christianity and in reality a religion Paul was combating on the pages of the New Testament. Some are inconsistent and only want take bits and pieces of the Old Covenant and bring them forward. No, Romans is clear, it’s all our nothing. Hebrews tells us we’re either under Moses/Levi or Melchisidec. The Old Covenant is either still valid, or its not. If it is, then by logical implication the old codes are as well. The historical error has been to try and incorporate these elements into the life and worship of the Church. Dispensationalism is unique in that at least (I suppose) it keeps the Jewish elements with the Jews.
Of course over the years it has encountered many problems. If the New Covenant belongs ultimately to Jews…the restoration spoken of by Jeremiah in the famous chapter 31 passage…then why do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? If it’s the New Covenant meal and we the Church are not under the New Covenant, then it’s for the future Jewish Millennium. If Jeremiah’s New Covenant promise points to the Church…then you’ve got a problem. Because the restoration Jeremiah envisions doesn’t then point to the land…it points to what? The Church, those in Union with Christ.
Some older Dispensational authors saw this and actually argued that we shouldn’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Some even argued that the Sermon on the Mount was for the Jews and not the Church.
Thankfully Dispensationalism has improved and abandoned teaching different ways of salvation and things like that, but many stubbornly cling to certain elements of this erroneous system.