The Olive Tree Anti-Semitism and Bible Prophecy

 

THE OLIVE TREE, ANTI-SEMITISM AND BIBLE PROPHECY

imagesDr. Thomas S. McCall

At a convention of the Pre-Trib Study Group in Dallas, Dr. John Walvoord presented a paper on the Pre-Tribulation Rapture and Premillennial teaching, including the history of doctrines throughout the Church age.  I was very much struck by something that Dr. Walvoord said as he analyzed the transition from widely held pre-millennial views of the early church in the first three centuries to the predominantly amillennial, postmillennial or anti-millennial views that developed afterwards, and it centered around Augustine.

Latent Anti-Semitism Caused Amillennialism

I appreciated especially what Dr. Walvoord said, as quoted from the audio tape of his message, in his analysis of what happened in the case of Augustine:

“Augustine arbitrarily made the millennium non-literal, while everything else was literal.  Now as far as I’ve been able to find out, there has never been a book on doctrine that explains this.  But there is possibly an explanation.  In the first two centuries the church was largely Jewish in its background.  They were the evangelists, and they were the apostles.  But as the gospel grew, the church became largely Gentile.  And, of course the millennium is a time when the Jews are prominent, and it could be that there is a latent anti-Semitism here that they were quite unconscious of, that made them question whether Israel is going to have a literal future like it says.  And that, of course, would lead to a non-literal millennial kingdom.   In any case, that’s what happened, and the Roman Catholic Church became amillennial, and the Protestant Reformers like Calvin, Luther and others went back to Augustine rather than to the Bible, and adopted amillennialism.  They brought in, though, a lot of other things that were important, like “every man a priest” and “interpret the Bible yourself,” and so on, very important doctrines that have been the bulwark of Protestantism.  But, it wasn’t until the 19th and 20th Centuries when the Bible Conference movement began, and people began to ask what does the Scripture actually say?  It was not until then that premillennialism became a prominent feature in the church–as it is today in some churches, at least.  And that’s the background.  So we have to understand there’s a long history of this, and we are a minority.  We believe the Bible is literally true and they don’t, and we believe we have the facts on our side.  That’s why we believe what we believe.”

Saint Augustine in His Study by Sandro Boticelli 1840

Saint Augustine in His Study by Sandro Boticelli 1840

 

Thus Dr. Walvoord said it was his impression that it was latent anti-Semitism that caused Augustine and those around him to have this transition in their thinking.  That’s a remarkable statement.   How in the world can latent anti-Semitism have anything to do with one’s eschatological viewpoint, and how can it impact the eschatological viewpoint of the whole church?  Well, I think that it does, and that’s one of the things we are going to be looking at in this article.

There is an inherent connection between one’s attitude toward the Jewish people and Israel and one’s attitude toward the Scriptures and eschatology.   How does that happen?   It’s an understanding of what the Scriptures teach about the nature of the church, the nature of Israel, and the nature of the Olive Tree.  As Dr. Walvoord brought out, at the time of the beginning of the Bible Conference movement, there was a rediscovery of Israel and the promises to Israel in the Scriptures.  Some of the early works published in this movement had to deal with the future of Israel, as scholars began to rediscover premillennialism and literal eschatology.  Of course many of the amillennialists, including Augustine, would have been shocked if someone were to say they were anti-Semitic, and they would deny it strenuously.  And they would say, why, there’s not an anti-Semitic bone in my body!  All we want to do (they might say) is to take away the promises that God has given to Israel and apply them to the church!  Well, that sounds pretty anti-Semitic to me.

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Dispensations of Grace and Kingdom

Dispensations of Grace and Kingdom

An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments by Hans Holbein the younger cir 1532-1535
An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments by Hans Holbein the younger cir 1532-1535 

Hermeneutics

Keep this in mind as we go through the dispensations:  The interpretation of Scripture is a fundamental factor in understanding the Dispensations. Proper Scriptural interpretation follows standard dictates of grammar. If there is any confusion about this issue there is a great-unbiased pamphlet by Mr. Frank X. Braun available for Bible students on Amazon and elsewhere. It is called “English Grammar for Language students”. Since the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek an understanding of grammar is indispensable to understanding the Bible. Don’t make the mistake of listening to others tell you that basic nouns actually mean something other then their normal commonly accepted definition. Therefore Israel and the Church are two separate entities. Don’t be misled into believing that Israel is the so-called Church of the Old Testament. One New Testament verse that some use as a “proof text” affirming that the term Israel is the Church is found in Acts 7:38. In this text we find Stephen’s address to the council.   This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and [with] our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us (KJV). There are other verses used a “proof text” and all fail to persuade when examined in the light of proper grammar. The term used here is ekklesia. It is a feminine Greek noun meaning an assembly. Vines describes this as such: An Assembly: From ek, “out of,” and klesis, “a calling” (kaleo, “to call”), was used among the Greeks of a body of citizens “gathered” to discuss the affairs of State, Act 19:39. In the Septuagint it is used to designate the “gathering” of Israel, summoned for any definite purpose, or a “gathering” regarded as representative of the whole nation. In Act 7:38 it is used of Israel; in 19:32, 41, of a riotous mob. It has two applications to companies of Christians, (1)  To the whole company of the redeemed throughout the present era, the company of which Christ said, “I will build My Church,” Matthew 16:18, and which is further described as “the Church which is His Body,” Ephesians 1:22; 5:23, (2)   In the singular number (e.g., Matthew 18:17, RV marg., “congregation”), to a company consisting of professed believers, e.g., Acts 20:28; 1Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:13; 1Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 1Tiothy 3:5, and in the plural, with reference to churches in a district. For each dispensation there are 7 aspects. 1)    Each dispensation has a “Name” 2)    Each dispensation has a “Chief Person” 3)    Each dispensation has been provided a “responsibility” to God. 4)    Each dispensation has been given a “Test” from God. 5)     In each dispensation man has “Failed” the test. 6)    For each dispensation God has provided a “judgment”. 7)    God has provided a measure of “grace” for each dispensation. Further, a new covenant is often the basis for a new dispensation. We will look at the covenants at the conclusion of the Dispensations.

 GRACE or the CHURCH AGE

1. The Name
 of this dispensation is Grace or some call it the Church.

While grace was evident in all other dispensations, it is in this dispensation that a very unique display of grace was manifested that was different from all former displays of grace. Concerning this dispensation, John 1:17 states: For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Certainly, God was gracious before the coming of the Messiah, for there are many evidences of God’s grace throughout the pages of the Old Testament. However, with the coming of Jesus, there was a totally unique display of grace. This is why it is called the Dispensation of Grace. This is the dispensation in effect at the present time.

This dispensation extends from Acts 2:1, with the beginning of the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, through Revelation 19:21. It covers the entire period of the Church Age, and also includes the seven years of the Great Tribulation.

2. The Chief Person was Paul.

It was Paul who uniquely received the revelation concerning the Dispensation of Grace. It was no accident that he received more revelation than any other apostle. Most of the letters or Epistles of the New Testament were written by the Apostle Paul. As he makes clear in Ephesians 3, it was he that received that special revelation concerning the dispensation of that grace of God (v. 2). He, more than any other apostle, is the key person for this dispensation.

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