The next time someone asks you if you think this or that person could be "the antichrist":
You might explain to them that it is a common misconception that the term "antichrist" in the Scriptures refers to a single individual. There is actually no such individual named or foretold in Scripture, but rather there were "many antichrists" who had come already in the first century. In fact, the apostle John cited this fact as the reason he knew with absolute certainty that it was the last hour. The reason he knew this is that Jesus had told him what signs to look for. In addition to the many "antichrists" that had come already back then, the Bible also speaks of a "spirit of antichrist," which is a lying spirit that denies Jesus is the Christ (cf. 1 John 2:22). These "spirits of antichrist" will always be in the world. But the "many antichrists" of whom Jesus and the apostles spoke are limited to a specific time period, during which Jesus predicted that all which had been written of him in the Scriptures would be fulfilled.
While eschatology is not the focus of this exegetical essay on 1 John 4:7-21, the eschatolgical *context* of the passage (including John's reference to the "many antichrists" which had already come) is strongly emphasized:
Because He First Loved Us
An Exegesis of 1 John 4:7-21 within the Context of 1 John
by Tami Jelinek
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
Is there a relationship between Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree and his cleansing of the temple? What might the fig tree represent? What Old Testament Scriptures does Jesus draw from, and what is their significance to his actions in the temple?
It is no insignificant detail that immediately preceding Mark’s account of Jesus cursing the fig tree, he has him going into the temple and looking around at everything (11:11). Then the next day, Jesus goes looking for fruit on the fig tree, and finds only leaves, “for it was not the season for figs” (11:13). And then he pronounces the curse, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." The disciples hear it, and then [immediately after this] they enter Jerusalem, and Jesus enters the temple (11:14-15). This is Mark’s story telling at its best! The association between the fruitless fig tree and the temple the Jews had turned into a “den of thieves” was not lost even on the perpetually slow-to-understand disciples. For after they left the temple and the city, they passed by the now withered-to-the-roots fig tree, and “Peter remembered” (11:17-21).
The Old Testament Scriptures Jesus is drawing from in this scene of his “cleansing of the temple” indeed shed light on the theological significance of Jesus’ actions. Isaiah 56 looks forward to a time when the outcasts of Israel would be gathered back, into God’s “holy mountain” (i.e., “Mt. Zion,” or the church, cf. Hebrews 12:22-24). This then is likely a prophecy of the New Covenant and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. By quoting it here, Jesus is signifying that the reality to which the temple pointed would be replacing the type or shadow that was the temple building, which was about to be destroyed. The second passage he is drawing from directly is Jeremiah 7, which contains within it a prophecy of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem; and by using the words, “you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17), he is identifying those presently in power within that system with those against whom Jeremiah’s prophecy is spoken.
The temple and its system was “an oppressive structure which the priests ran to their own advantage” (cf. Isaiah 58; Zephaniah 3). And now Jesus is saying, “God is now doing something which is making this system redundant.” So as Wright points out, it isn’t the commercialism, or even the monetary “thievery” with which Jesus is primarily concerned. “By overturning the tables, he stops the animal sacrifices. By stopping the sacrificial system, he is symbolically saying, ‘This whole system is under judgment, and before too long it will stop completely, because the temple will be destroyed.’” This makes so much sense within the context and chronological sequence of Mark. Just before this Jesus “curses he fig tree” for not being “fruitful.” Then he drives those from the temple who had turned it into a “den of robbers,” by using the sacrificial system to oppress God’s people, and to exclude the very outcasts and outsiders that God was about to gather to himself, into His “house of prayer for all nations.” Then immediately after, Jesus passes by the withered fig tree, within which is a lesson that the “mountain” [of prideful, pharisaical Israel] is about to be cast into the “sea” (cf. Revelation 8:8). Shortly after this, Jesus speaks a parable against the Pharisees, the “builders” who had rejected the Lord’s “cornerstone,” who were about to be cut off completely (cf. Mark 12:1-12). All of this becomes the backdrop for Jesus’ foretelling of the destruction of the temple, and “the end of the age,” which are to be simultaneous events.
Because the Jews in the first century had rejected the reality to which the temple pointed, effectually “worshiping the creature rather than the Creator” (cf. Romans 1:25); they were guilty of turning the temple of God, and the law which was given to them as a tutor to lead them to Christ (cf. Galatians 3:24), into an idol. And for this reason they would were about to be destroyed along with it.
It is important that we remember that the temple and its practices were part of the Old Covenant that was about to come to an end. The Old Covenant was never to be permanent, nor was the temple (cf. Hebrews 8:6-12). The destruction of the temple was a sign of the end of the Old Covenant age, and insured the ending forever of the temple practices—animal sacrifices and such—which were part of a law that was “added because of transgressions” (cf. Galatians 3:19), and functioned to give the “knowledge of sin” (cf. Romans 3:20). In fact, in those very sacrifices, was “a reminder of sins every year” (cf. Hebrews 10:3). Now, through Christ, “a new and living way” into the “sanctuary” or the “holy place” (i.e., the presence of God—this room in the temple was not the “true” but rather a “copy” of it) was being opened, “through the veil” (remember the symbolism of the veil being torn in two), that is, “through his flesh” (cf. Hebrews 9:6-24; 10:15-21). Now, there would be no more yearly reminder of sins, and no “consciousness of sins” (cf. Hebrews 10:1-7) as in the New Covenant, God “remembers our sins no more” (cf. Hebrews 8:12). God’s people would no longer come to Jerusalem to worship, but “true worshipers would worship in Spirit and in Truth" (cf. John 4:23-24). The judgment that was coming upon the Pharisees, and those Jews who did not receive Christ as Israel’s Messiah, and did not heed Christ’s words to his disciples to “flee to the mountains” when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies (cf. Luke 21:20), and “the desolating sacrilege” (cf. Mark 13:14; Daniel 9:26-27), was indeed coming upon them for their idolatry. In seeking righteousness by works, they rejected the righteousness of God in Christ, and as Paul says, they “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (cf. Romans 1:25).
 Contrast this fig tree, which was fruitless, and “out of season,” with the Tree of Life in the center of the New Jerusalem (i.e. the church) which bears fruit every month (cf. Revelation 22:2).
 Compare this curse to Jesus’ statement to the chief priests and Pharisees, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom” (cf. Matthew 21:43).
 N.T. Wright, What Is the Significance of Jesus Cleansing the Temple? (2001), The John Ankerberg Show (johnanderberg.org), Video Clip file, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1rTG9MMWN4 (accessed June 1, 2012).
"The Coming of the Kingdom of God with Power"--in the lifetime of "some who were standing there" (Mark 8:38-9:1)
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
What is the historical context of Jesus’ statement to his disciples, “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power?” What are the theological implications of understanding this passage in its first century context?
The historical context of “the kingdom of God coming with power” in the lifetime of “some who were standing there” is indeed past to us, and was fulfilled at the destruction of the temple in AD 70. This is not to say that the destruction of the temple was the coming of the kingdom, but rather that it was the visible sign that all that had been written had been fulfilled. In other words, these events were not the substance of the coming of the kingdom, but rather the visible sign of its coming. Of course, the sign itself was a display of God's power, no doubt. In fulfillment of Christ's words, "not one stone was left upon another" (cf. Mark 13:2). But it was the destruction not of the temple building itself, but of what it represented--the OT law and commandments being abolished, and the "rulers of that age being brought to nothing" (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6)--which ushered in the reign of Christ by the Gospel, and the establishment of "his government and peace which shall have no end" (Isaiah 9:6). The temple’s demise signified that the Old Covenant Age had passed away, and the New Covenant Age had begun. Jesus had indeed “made all things new” (cf. Revelation 21:5).
How one understands the nature of the kingdom will determine whether they believe it has fully come. For example, if one views kingdom promises as physical or geo-political in nature, then they may see a yet future fulfillment. Whereas if one sees kingdom promises as spiritual in nature, and applying to a kingdom “not of this world” (cf. John 18:36), and which came “without observation” (cf. Luke 17:20), which exists within the hearts of God’s people (cf. Luke 17:21), and is experienced in their communion with God and with one another in His presence (cf. Psalm 16:11; Romans 14:17; Revelation 3:20; 21:3) then they will understand that God’s kingdom has fully come. However to say the kingdom has fully come is not to say it is not ever growing and expanding, as more and more enter (cf. Isaiah 60:11; Revelation 21:25); for “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:7).
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
What is the significance of Jesus’ claim that the “Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins?”
Old Testament prophecies of salvation and the forgiveness of sins often include the language of physical healing, associating disease and sickness with sin, and health and wholeness with the forgiveness of sin. For example, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases (Psalm 103:2). And in this description by Isaiah of the New Jerusalem, wherein God dwells with his people, which we understand to be fulfilled in the church (cf. Hebrews 12:22-24; Revelation 21:2, 9-10), the eradication of “sickness” is accomplished by the forgiveness of sins:
Isaiah 33:24 And no inhabitant [of the New Jerusalem] will say, "I am sick"; the people who live there will be forgiven their iniquity.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus comes on the scene healing, and specifically according to Isaiah’s prophecy, he heals the blind, deaf, lame and the mute, as well as many other diseases (cf. 1:29-34; 40-45; 2:1-12; 3:1-6; 5:21-41; 6:53-56; 7:31-36; 10:46-52). In addition to healing physical disease, Jesus casts out many “unclean” or “demonic” spirits (cf. 1:21-28; 32-34; 5:1-11; 7:24-30; 9:14-29).
When Jesus responds to the faith of the paralytic and his friends by saying to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” the scribes charge him with blasphemy, as only God can forgive sins. Jesus’ reply to them confirms that their understanding is indeed correct: only God can forgive sins. And just “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” (in other words, so that you know that I, the Son of Man, am indeed God, “your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel”), he says to the paralytic, “stand up” (cf. 2:1-12).
 Isaiah 35:5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. (See also Luke 7:21-22.)
 “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine... For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior...I am the Lord and beside me there is no Savior...Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel... I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King... I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (cf. Isaiah 43:1,3,11,14,15,25).
We were asked this question on our forum by one of our members:
Q. Will it be possible for man to fake the Second Coming with false signs and deceive many people? If that would be so, then many may say that it was prophesied in the bible and the Second Coming is yet to come. What are your thoughts on this?
Here is my response:
A: Ask any futurist who believes he is living in the "end times" or in the "last days" today, how does he know? And he will say it is because he sees "signs." And where are these "signs" described? In the Bible of course! But the apostle John saw these very signs, and referred to them, when he said, "Little children, we *know* it is the last hour." He saw that what Jesus said would happen was happening, and thereby he *knew* that it was the last hour.
The futurist is in a real tough spot now, for two reasons:
1) In order to say that the "signs" he is seeing now are those spoken of by Christ, he has to say that the apostles were all mistaken (as was Jesus, since he put them in the specific context of that generation--and that is a whole other problem for him: Jesus was right about the signs but wrong about their timing?), and if the apostles were mistaken about the signs, what else were they mistaken about? Their credibility has been shot, by the futurist's own admission...and yet, he still consults their writings to tell him what signs he should be watching for?
And this was a real "light bulb" for me when I was first looking at the time statements in the New Testament:
2) In order to say that the statements of urgency and imminency apply to our time now (or that they applied at any time beyond the first century) we must also be saying that they meant *absolutely nothing* to the people they were written to. And that is a pretty absurd suggestion, is it not? And yet....that is exactly what a futurist paradigm demands.
However, Christ's promise to return in their lifetime is quite enough to render the question of whether "signs of the Second Coming " could be faked today moot. Because again, the only way for one to be deceived by such signs would be to say that Jesus was either uninformed or deliberately misleading, in which case one has discredited the very Scripture he is trying to use to identify the supposed signs. Furturism, we now see, really is impossible to defend.
In a theology class recently, we had a forum on eschatology, based upon our reading of various theologians on the topic. Here are a few of the questions I was asked by my classmates in the course of that discussion, and my responses to them. (Tami, did I hear you correctly??? uh, yeah, you did!):
Q: Tami, As I read through your summary, I was confused. Are you saying that the end of the age that Jesus spoke of and that the apostles spoke of already happened and everyone missed it?
A: Yes, I do see “the end of the age” that Jesus and the apostles all said was about to be fulfilled in their generation as the end of the old covenant age. As Hebrews says, “in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son,” and “that which is waxing old is ready to vanish away.” And no, if we are believers in the gospel, we didn’t miss anything, but rather are living under all the benefits of the glorious new covenant (“there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus”).
Q: Why do Christians believe time is linear?
A: I think you may be referring to [our textbook editor's statement here]: “A characteristic Christian belief, of decisive importance in this [eschatological] context is that time is linear, not cyclical.” Why is this of decisive importance? A few thoughts:
God’s plan of redemption laid out in Scripture, beginning in the garden (Genesis 3:15) is a historical plan. The historical event that was prophesied from the beginning that accomplished the redemption of God’s people was the death and resurrection of Christ. Some (probably a minority within Christianity) take an “idealist” (I am not sure whether this is the same as “cyclical” or not?) approach to redemption and remove it from its historical context, which in effect renders the cross of Christ unnecessary. It is instead then viewed as a “show” or “demonstration” of a redemption that was already performed, rather than the actual performance of that redemption. But Luke states that Jesus came to “perform the mercy promised to the fathers” (Luke 1:72). He had to do something. I think this will become more and more significant the more time we spend contemplating how God worked progressively (e.g. the law was a tutor to lead them to Christ, cf. Galatians 3:24) throughout the history of His people as recorded in the Scriptures to reveal, and eventual accomplish, their salvation. Things were prophesied, then they happened according to those prophecies, all leading up to their ultimate fulfillment in Christ. So that:
Ephesians 1: 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time,to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
Those are just some of my thoughts on why a linear concept of time is theologically significant.
Q: Do you think dispensationalism has died down?
A: I grew up being taught dispensationalism in church. (At the age of 8, I watched a movie produced by Billy Graham's group called "A Thief in the Night" about the "rapture" and it scared the sh*t out of me. I was almost scarred for life! ) In fact, it wasn't until fairly recently that I even knew there were other ways of understanding eschatological prophecies, because I was sheltered within that specific denominational culture.
You ask if dispensationalism has died down? I think it depends on where you are. For example there are some big mega churches (e.g., John Hagee's in San Antonio) where it is still preached with fervor. But I do think that it has begun (thankfully) to die down. From my view point, one factor has been the growth of the emergent church movement, another the increasing prominence of voices within evangelical churches like Greg Boyd's (see his book "The Myth of a Christian Nation"), and another has been the increasing involvement of activist groups with mainline associations (e.g., Methodist, Episcopalian, some more liberal Lutherans--and in this case I use "liberal" in a positive sense!) in speaking out against American foreign policy which has been so heavily influenced by dispensationalism (e.g., Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson). I don't mean to sound arrogant here, but dispensationalists are by and large not very educated about things beyond this country's borders (I sure wasn't!). The "left-behind" craze is primarily an American evangelical phenomenon. So there is a shift happening in the culture which I think will result in the marginalization of dispensational eschatology, even in America where it has enjoyed such mainstream prominence and influence.
The other thing that is going to cause it to inevitably die out is time passing. How many more definitions are they going to be able to come up with for a "generation?" (Their "last generation" clock started ticking in 1948--and time is running out.)
[And in response to a comment someone made about "newspaper eschatology"]:
A: The thing that has always perplexed me about those who practice the "newspaper eschatology" that you mention, is that they see "signs" today that lead them to believe "the end is near." But where do they get this idea? What I mean is, what tells them what the "signs" of the end are? They say the Bible (specifically the New Testament) tells them what the signs are, yes? And yet the Bible was written by the apostles who believed with unwavering conviction that *they* were seeing the signs *then*. So if the apostles mistakenly believed they were seeing the signs that Jesus told them to look for (the apostle John *knew* without a doubt that it was the last the "last hour," precisely because of the signs he was seeing), and if Jesus was mistaken when he told them *when* to look for those signs, then on what basis would a "newspaper eschatologist" today consider their writings to be authoritative? This is just what perplexes me when I hear people say that the Bible is what is telling them that this or that event in the news today is a "sign" with some prophetic significance, when the apostles who wrote the Bible (which describes the very signs these modern folks are pointing to!) were saying the signs were happening back then.
So we have the apostles on one hand....and we have the "newspaper eschatologists" on the other, who claim the apostles as the source of their eschatology which directly contradicts what the apostles taught. Are you confused yet? I sure am!
Question: When Jesus spoke of "the light of the world" and a "city set on a hill," he was referring to:
A) His church
B) The United States of America
According to a spokesman for John Hagee's organization "Christians United for Israel," the answer is B) the United States of America:
"America is a shining city on the hill ordained by God. We have that tradition right here in America, and we do see Israel's promise in the Scripture"
Where did he even get the phrase "shining city on the hill?"
Jesus said to His disciples,
Matthew 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Compare it also, to this description of a "shining city," which is the church:
Revelation 21:23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
So, this spokesman for John Hagee's influential organization "Christians United for Israel" is taking a description of the church, the body of Christ, from the Bible, and applying it to the United States of America! And how many thousands of Christians are following this?
I have been married to my loving husband Keith for 26 years. We have three beautiful and brilliant children, ages 24, 22 and 20. Nothing cheers my heart more than having them all at home, yet nothing is more satisfying to my mind than watching them grow from afar. My personal passion is theology: the knowledge and experience of the Truth and Mercy found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and displayed in the lives and communion of His people. My husband and I love to travel, and because our children are often out and about in the world, we get lots of opportunities to see it! And we also love to fill our home with friends who love us, and love our wine collection.