12 April 2014

Dispensationalism, Daniel's Vision of the Ten Toes and Biblical Numerology

In retrospect it's fascinating to me that while I was growing up as a Dispensationalist during the Cold War one of the great fears was the European Economic Community. Based on Dispensationalism's misreading of Daniel we all looked for the future European Union to be the fulfillment of a 'Revived' Roman Empire.

Dispensationalism teaches that when the Jews rejected Christ as Messiah then the supposed 'clock' in Daniel 9 stopped as we entered the Church Age. The Church Age according to Dispensationalism was a previously unrevealed alternate plan, a parenthesis.

About one thousand nine hundred years later in 1948... based on a terrible allegorical read of the Fig Tree parable... the 'clock' is ready to re-start and the Roman Beast of Daniel has to be once more on the scene... hence, a 'revived' Roman Empire.

Based on their reading the Revived Roman Empire would be comprised of ten nations represented by the ten toes.

This became a problem when the proto-EU moved beyond ten nations.

Since then some Dispensationalists have scrambled trying to reinterpret the EU into ten conglomerations or some argue that in the future it will be once again reduced (somehow) to ten nations.

I find it very interesting that in the geopolitics of the present it's not Europe that is in focus but the Middle East. And instead of a Warsaw Pact type Antichrist and Communism as a global government...now it's Islam.

Maybe it wasn't the Roman Empire after all... now there's a new 'literal' take on the passage, that's just as erroneous.

Awhile back I recall seeing a couple of different books suggesting the Antichrist would be Muslim, but I was really shocked to see the 'Ten Toes' are now being interpreted by some as a kind of Islamic Confederation or reborn Caliphate.

Of course all of this is mistaken. Daniel 9 isn't about the Jews. It was about Christ, his death on the cross and the time of transition when Judaism would end and the new age would begin. It was already fulfilled 2000 years ago. The Church isn't some kind of Plan B parenthetical period that once Raptured will allow the world to return to the Plan A of Mosaic-Levitical Judaism.

The Roman Empire in Daniel was just that...the Roman Empire.

But in Revelation the Romans are revealed to be an emulation of an older proto-type of the Beast-Empire, Babylon. And it is the Mesopotamian empire which serves as a prototype for all Empires during the Last Days...the era spanning the First and Second Comings of Christ.

The New Testament writers considered themselves to be in the Last Days.

The idea of the Last Days is not something relegated to the time 'just before' Christ returns. Christ can return at any point. We didn't have to wait until 1948 before that could occur.

More than once this prompted one of our old friends to ask...

         "But are we in the 'last' Last Days?"

We always had a good laugh over that.

The Futuristic reading of Revelation combined with Hyper-Literalism always falls into these 'current events' traps.

It's actually much simpler once we realize the book of Revelation was written for the Church in the 1st Century, the 11th Century, the 21st Century and every century hereafter until Christ comes.

It is an Idealized symbolic rendering that tells the story over and over again of the Last Days, the period between the 1st and 2nd Comings, i.e. the Church Age.

Reading it Christocentrically helps us to understand that it's not giving specifics that are applicable to any year or period. It's all true, all the time and the story always ends with the Throne of Judgment and Christ's victory.

The Ten Toes are the visionary parallel to the Ten Horns. They represent the nations of the world that are empowered by the Beast. The number ten is symbolic. In Scripture it seems to reference an idea of comprehensiveness or completeness.

Just as Three and Seven are numbers related to the Divine and to perfection, the number Six represents failure and shortcoming, a counterfeit attempt.

Four symbolizes a number of the world and of trial... the time of completeness (10) is multiplied by four and equals the well known forty, as in forty days etc...

Interestingly the Exile being a type of the Kingdom or Church age is 7x10.

Or some might even argue 3+4x10... you can't be dogmatic about this, and I don't believe the symbols are that rigid.

In Scripture whenever we see things tripled it indicates the superlative. It's a Hebraism, related to the Holy, Holy, Holy that is attributed only to God Himself. It's a way of expressing the ultimate emphatic. In English it's like underlining and putting exclamation points.

If ten signifies completeness, to express this in the superlative would be 10x10x10 or 1,000.

Amillennialists believing the Kingdom or Millennial Reign of Christ is Spiritual believe the 1,000 year era in Revelation 20 signifies the time of the Spiritual Kingdom between the 1st and 2nd Coming. Then Christ rescues us with the Second Coming followed by the Judgment, the New Heavens and New Earth.

In light of the number 1,000 consider how 12 represents the Covenant people and when looked at in terms of both Old and New Covenants could be thought of in terms of 12x12=144 and then multiplied by 10x10x10.... the 144,000 is the symbolic number which represents the complete people of God in all ages. It is the True Israel, the Body of Christ.

While we cannot be dogmatic about the exact meaning of each numerical symbol, reading the Bible in terms of thematic structure, recurring symbols, the Apostolic witness and understanding it as a theological story...  lends itself toward this type of interpretation.

The numbers aren't codes to be deciphered in terms of geo-politics or some kind of date or numbering of dynastic successions. It's nothing that specific.

In the case of the toes or horns...horns symbolizing power... it's a reference to the complete number of Beast nations. In no way does it have to be limited to ten. Focusing on the exact number ten is to miss the point of the symbol.

The Beast and his heads and horns...or Gog and Magog if you will, are a concept applicable to any age of the Church. It wasn't meant to be a futuristic concept manifested only at the time just before Christ's Kingdom.

From the Ascension to the present we have lived in the Last Days and Gog the roaring lion, the Beast, the earthly manifestation of the Serpent-Dragon seeks to destroy those who are united to the Seed of the Woman.


Jim said...

I realize this diverges from the subject of the post but I believe is nevertheless related.

Lately I've been exploring the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Needless to say there is at best a love-hate relationship between the two.

I know you've touched on this before on your blog and I'm wondering what your thoughts are, specifically concerning not only Judaism but "messianic Judaism" (e.g. Jews for Jesus) as well and how those relate to NT Christianity.


Protoprotestant said...

Hmmm.... not sure how to answer.

On the one hand I could say I don't know that much about it and am probably not qualified to give a competent answer.

On the other hand, I will say this. I believe there was a roughly 40 year transitional period between the Ascension and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

During that time we have the book of Acts and the ministries of Peter and Paul. There's considerable overlap between Judaism and Christianity due to the fact that many of the early Christians were Palestinian and Diaspora Jews.

Despite their loose accommodation of Judaism, I think the message in Acts 15 is pretty clear. Gentiles are not in any way obligated to keep the Jewish law. If Matthew 5.17-19 is appealed to, I would say Acts 15 gives some indication that they might be understanding that incorrectly.

I don't believe the Apostles are the least in the Kingdom.

The Epistles abundantly testify to the problematic nature of appealing to the Mosaic code as a basis for either Justification or Sanctification.

Of course the definitive pericope has to be found within the Epistle to the Hebrews which declares without qualification the abrogation of the Mosaic/Old Covenant system.

I believe the accommodation found in Acts was temporary due to the context. The Temple still stood. A certain amount of charity was granted toward those unable as of yet to break with OT practice/tradition.

Post AD70 the message was pretty clear. This was only emphasized on a practical level with the events that followed about 60 years later. There was no going back to the Temple-Theocratic kingdom.

Just like after Acts 2, no one was asking about the kingdom being restored to Israel, after AD70 no one was talking about Jewish Christianity anymore.

All that said, I realize there are those who have a very different understanding of the ebbs and flows of Redemptive History.

I want to be as charitable as I can but I would not for a moment feel bound by their understanding of NT piety and Christian life.

I believe they are caught in a legalistic snare as are many others who profess Christ. Their's rests in a modification of OT case and kosher law. For others the legalism is rooted in cultural narrative or some other pagan tradition.

God willing we can all diligently work toward reforming our own minds and understandings of the Christian life, bringing all into conformity, making every thought captive that we might be obedient children.

Pragmatically I love Mennonites, people caught in Presbyterianism, even some Baptists. I love listening to their sermons and talking to them. But I can't worship with them or join their community.

The same would be said for Messianic Jews.