God, Heaven, and Har Magedon

Kline, Meredith. God, Heaven, and Har Magedon.

While containing brilliant insights into biblical symbology, Kline felt obligated to include every one of his unique (and often controversial) positions into this book.

He begins on a promising note. There is a “meta” reality to heaven, as it exists beyond our dimension. It is a holy location and contains sacred architecture. It is a palace/royal court (Deut. 26.15). Heaven is a temple that names God’s throne-site (Psalm 11 and 47). It is even identified with God in Revelation 21.22. “Heaven is the Spirit realm and to enter heaven is to be in the Spirit, Rev. 4.1” (9). Quite good.

He notes that in the biblical story we see a parallel warfare between two mountains, the mount of the Lord (usually, though not always Zion) and Mt Zaphon. Further Armageddon is Har Magedon and is not to be confused with the plain of Meggido, but that the Hebrew actually reads Har Mo’ed, the Mount of Assembly. And this is the part of Kline’s argument that is truly good and noteworthy. Assemblies are “gathered together” throughout the Old Testament, and Rev. 16.16 points out the act of gathering.

Whenever Har Moed appears in the Bible (Isa. 14.13) it is sometimes paired with its opposite, Hades or Sheol. Revelation pairs it with the pit of Abbadon (Rev. 9.11).

At the end of the book Kline identifies Har Magedon with Mt Zaphon in the North (251ff). This is a promising line of thought. Zaphon was the domain of Ba’al and can be seen as the center of wickedness. This makes sense if Gog is the Antichrist figure and comes “from the North.”

Zaphon was the Caananite version of Mt Olympus. This makes sense when we remember that Zaphon is paired with the Abyss. In Revelation 9 Apollyon (Apollo) is from the abyss. Apollo is the demon lord of the Abyss. (That’s my argument, not Kline’s). Kline also notes that when Har Mo’ed is mentioned, it is sometimes paired with the Abyss (Isa. 14:13-15Rev. 16:16).

Exegesis of Revelation 20

Background is Isa. 49: 2424. He is a Warrior who binds the Strongman (Matt. 12:29). Kline elsewhere identifies Jesus with Michael the Archangel, so Revelation 12:7-8 = Revelation 20: 1-3 (162).

Against premillennialism he argues that the chiastic structure of Revelation 12-20 favors Gog/Magog happening before the millennium.

a. Rev. 12.9. Dragon
B. Rev. 13:14. False Prophet
C. Rev. 16:13-16. Dragon, Beast, False Prophet
B’. Rev. 19.19-20. Beast and False prophet
A’. Rev. 20:7-10. Dragon.

And since they all refer to the same time period, and to the same event, this means premillennialism is false. Maybe. The chiasm is good but chiastic literature doesn’t always refer to the same event (many of the historical books form one whole chiasm, yet refer to various events).

Kline admits that the biblical evidence supports premillennialism as well as amillennialism (170). Nevertheless, he argues that the millennium is the church age (171ff). Kline identifies the first resurrection in Revelation 20 as….I’m not quite sure. It seems he says “opposite of the second death” (176), so is it conversion? I think he is saying it is “the intermediate state of believers.”

Sed contra:

1* There are numerous premil responses to the claim that the binding of Satan = Jesus’s ministry. If the events refer back to Rev. 12, and Satan is bound and can’t deceive the nations, then what exactly was Satan doing in Rev. 13?

Response to 1*

Satan is not bound with respect to deceiving the nations. No reading of the text can support that. Satan is bound, however, in that he cannot lead the nations in an assault against the final Mount of Assembly until the last day.

2* He says the two resurrections, if interpreted literally, would confront us with a bizarre scenario (175). Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it is logically or textually false. And biblical supernaturalism is strange.

3* Interestingly enough, Kline doesn’t deal with the conclusion of Christ’s argument. If Christ has bound the strongman, then he is plundering his house. This is why the binding argument often fails.

Kline argues that postmillennialism is wrong because it cannot account for the final apostasy at the end (186). That is true. The only way postmillennialism can seriously get around that is to opt for some from of preterism, which has its own problems.

A Discussion on Common Grace

Kline tells us that we live in the common grace age, but he never gives us a detailed discussion of what is the content of common grace. Kline argued that some of God’s more extreme measures (Canaanite genocide) are actually intrusions of God’s final justice. Well, yes and no. True, that was a positive command and not to be repeated by the church today. However, we do not see biblical evidence of an ‘order’ or ‘sphere’ of common grace. Is this a time or sphere of common grace? But even if it is, God’s blessings fell upon elect and non-elect within theocratic Israel.

What does it mean to rule according to common grace? How could we even determine which application of “common grace” is more “gracey” or right than the other one? General Franco of Spain probably had more common grace than either Hitler or Stalin, yet one suspects that the modern advocate of intrusion ethics wouldn’t praise Franco’s regime.

As Klaas Schilder notes, it is true that sin is being restrained. But by similar logic the fullness of Christ’s eschaton is not fully experienced. Apparently, it is restrained. (and this is true. So far, so good) If the first restraining is “grace,” then we must–if one is consistent–call the restraining of the blessing “judgment.” Kline’s position falls apart at this point.

Berkouwer: The Return of Christ

Berkouwer, G. C. The Return of Christ. Trans. James Van Oosterom. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972.

The book begins with a summary of then-current views on eschatology in general, along with needed rebuttals. There is nothing new or profound on that point, except that Berkouwer is rightly skeptical of any attempt to play off “apocalyptic” as a genre against whatever John was writing. Apocalyptic is kind of like “fulfill” or “already/not yet.” It usually doesn’t mean anything.

The book picks up the pace when Berkouwer surveys Dutch Reformed thought on the intermediate state. The problem is that all of the Reformed (and other Christian) confessions affirm that after death man is more or less conscious as a soul yet still awaiting the final resurrection. Most usually object to this doctrine because it seems to be a Greek dualism. Whether that is true or not, Revelation 6 presents souls under the altar–quite conscious–and praying to God.

What is even more interesting is that critiques of the intermediate state operate on the very time-eternity dialectic that they attack (40). Berkouwer footnotes Klaas Schilder as attacking the intermediate state (Schilder, “Is er een ‘tussentoestand?,’” De Reformatie, XXI (1947), 18-45). It is true that Schilder rejected the beatific vision. I would like to have seen actual footnotes, since Berkouwer hasn’t always interpreted Schilder correctly.

There is a neat discussion on Pope John XXII’s teaching on the intermediate state. John correctly noted that the departed saints could not have yet received the beatific vision, since they are praying to God–and somewhat upset–for God to judge and act. Unfortunately, both John and his medieval counterparts interpreted the white robe as the beatific vision, which led to the bizarre conclusion that the saints in heaven could fall. We will come back to this point in Berkouwer’s chapter on the beatific vision, since he notes several problems but doesn’t develop them.

With all of that said, Berkouwer is not always clear on whether he agrees with a personal, consciousness existence with Christ after death. He notes that the “nakedness” in 2 Cor. 5 does not refer to the separation of body and soul. Rather, given Paul’s Hebraic worldview, it refers to sin and guilt (58). We don’t want to be found wanting in that regard. That certainly makes sense.

With the plethora of solid materials today on the resurrection, we will only note a few highpoints from Berkouwer. When Paul speaks of a “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44), he doesn’t have in mind a New Age escape from the flesh. Rather, it is a body energized by the Spirit (Berkouwer 191).

Kingdom signs: they occur precisely where the bodily existence of man is threatened (200).

In his discussion of the New Earth, he points out how Reformed and Lutherans were always hung up by the limitations (but not illegitimacy) of substance language. Is the earth renovated or thrown away? “In the distinctions of eschatology in Reformed theology the reverse is the case: the accidents vanish, but substance remains” (221). Nonetheless, Reformed theology with its idea of the covenant saw a judicial aspect: “it is not a matter of annihilation, but a judgment in which something will remain.”

Regarding the more popular elements of eschatology–signs, antichrist, the millennium–Berkouwer doesn’t add anything new.

He returns to a problem in the beatific vision. Granted God’s simplicity, how can we see the essence of God? Before we answer that question, Berkouwer points us in the way of more biblical categories: “It is clear that when the Bible talks about God, it does not suggest abstract, metaphysical properties imparted to us in isolation from his relationship to man and from the mode of his revelation” (363).

When the Bible does talk about “seeing God,” it avoids empty categories like “seeing him as he is in himself.” Rather, “the beatific vision is correlatively joined to purity of heart” (379). In fact, it’s hard to even fathom a relationless “as He is in himself,” especially for the Thomists who see persons as relations (or the other way around).

The Bible does talk about seeing God “as He is.” Let’s just leave it at that. God gave us those words for comfort.

As with all of Berkouwer’s material, we get an amazing survey of church doctrine combined with astute analysis.

Riddlebarger: Man of Sin

Riddlebarger, Kim.  Man of Sin.

Riddlebarger advances the thesis that the Scriptures give us a typology of antichrists which will culminate in a future, individual Antichrist, or Man of Sin. This is an accessible read for the lay person.  Riddlebarger covers the necessary scholarship, but he never overwhelms the reader.  I agree with him on a personal, future Antichrist but demur at points concerning the exegesis of Daniel and Matthew 24. While I think “double-fulfillment” is plausible, I think a stronger case needs to be made for it.  To be fair to Riddlebarger, though, that wasn’t his main point.

The drama begins with the two seeds (cities) in the Garden.  From there Riddlebarger gives us a line up of OT types of Antichrist:
1) Nimrod
2) Pharaoh.  He even has magicians who are able to match Moses and Aaron.  This is demonic agency (Rev. 13:11-17).
3) Nebuchadnezzar: The Image of the Beast. Lots of connections with Nimrod.  Tower/Golden Image; Both in roughly the same area.

Antichrist and Daniel’s 70th Week.

I am just stating Riddlebarger’s argument.  I’m not endorsing or critiquing it.  He identifies the “covenant” in verse 27 with “the covenant of grace.”

Gog and Magog

Gog and Magog are symbols of all nations who come from the ends of the earth to war upon the saints.

Doctrine of the Antichrist in the New Testament Era

Much of Riddlebarger’s argument depends on “double-fulfillment.”  I’m iffy on this.  It seems like special pleading.  However, it does seem to work with the fall of Jerusalem and the Olivet Discourse.  It won’t convince heretical full preterists, but it can blunt some partial preterist arguments.

The Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet

Old Testament Background

He takes a somewhat unique line with Nero.  Pace Gentry, he doesn’t see Nero as the Beast.  Notwithstanding, Nero is important for revelation, for even on a late date reading, John utilizes (or his readers would have understood) the Nero Redivivus myth.

The section on Puritan eschatology goes through the standard arguments for historicism, which Riddlebarger isn’t buying. While we associate eschatological speculation with dispensationalists, it is the historicists who really own the game.  The English Civil war was a ready-made template. 

Most historicists date the beginning of the Papacy at 600 AD (for Edwards it was 606). From these calculations Edwards concluded that Antichrist would fall around 1866.  Unfortunately, for speculative purposes, Catholicism began to wane.  We see a moderating trend in Charles Hodge.  Actually, Hodge’s exposition of Antichrist is pretty good.

Figure of the Past or Future Foe?

1) A series of antichrists will arise from within the church and will be tied to a particular heresy.
2) A repeated manifestation of the Beast throughout history.

3) The final manifestation of Antichrist is state-enforced heresy.

Problems with Preterism

Arguments in favor:
1) Rev. 11 seems to mention a physical temple, which would imply it was still standing.
Response: The language in Revelation is symbolic.  If it is literal, then we have the odd case of the Gentiles’ occupying the outer court for 3 ½ years but leaving the inner court undefiled.

2) The seven heads and sevens clearly suggest Rome, so we have six kings before AD 70, the last of which is Nero. 
Response: With which emperor do you begin counting? If we start with Julius Caesar, then we get Nero.  But if we start with the first official emperor, Augustus, we do not get Nero.

3) Some preterists argue that Jerusalem is Babylon, since it was the “city in which our Lord was crucified.”
Response: That same city is also called “Sodom and Egypt,” so we probably aren’t dealing with literal terms.

4) He is coming with the clouds, and the reference in Zechariah clearly refers to the generation who pierced him.
Response: The reference in Zech. is to Israel’s final salvation, not her final judgment.

Three Views on the Millennium

Bock, Darrell. Ed. Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.

I suppose this book is as good as you would expect it to be.  No side delivers “the knockout punch.” Every author admits that much more could be written and so he will have to be brief. I don’t have much of an axe to grind in the debate. My own view at this point is that the revealing of Antichrist will begin the Great Tribulation. Blaising makes it clear, which sometimes the other authors don’t want to acknowledge, that the word “millennium” is irrelevant to his position.  

Gentry.  Argues his case on postmillennialism by structuring it around biblical covenants.  That’s probably the strongest angle of his case. He notes God must be faithful to his promises within space and time.  Even if true, the premillennialist makes the same argument. Strimple’s response seals the deal: when it comes to his theological case about the effective preaching of the Gospel, Gentry offers nothing that any Evangelical would reject.  Moreover, his survey of covenant history at no point establishes “the specifics of the postmillennial vision.”

Responding to preterism: both Strimple and Blaising give good critiques of Gentry’s preterism.  Blaising notes that “The Day of the Lord” functions typologically throughout biblical history. It manifests the final judgment.  (Strimple’s argument is similar: the language Jesus uses in the Olivet Discourse has angels gathering the elect, and if Matthew 25 is read in conjunction with 24, the dead appearing before the throne.  This can hardly be the destruction of Jerusalem).

Strimple’s rebuttal needs to be developed, but it promises some fascinating conclusions.  If Nero is the Antichrist as Gentry claims, then he must be destroyed at the Battle of Armageddon.  This means Jeruselm in 70 AD is the Battle of Armageddon. This can hardly suffice.

Strimple.  He gives the standard covenantal amillennial view.  His argument has two hinges: there is no future conversion of the Jews in Romans 11; and Revelation 20 denies a golden age.  I do like how he points out that Christ, and not the church simpliciter, is the true Israel. It’s tempting for covenant theologians to simply assert “The Church Replaced Israel,” whereas biblical theology is far more nuanced.

In his take on Revelation 20 and the binding of Satan, he asks if such a binding contradicts what Jude says that the fallen angels are bound until the Judgment.  Strimple’s worries are misplaced. That is not what Jude said. Jude said those angels (or Watchers) who fornicated in the manner of Sodom and left their own estate, are bound.  That’s all. Jude doesn’t say anything about the nature of demons or whether they are bound or not.

My own response is that Strimple completely ignored “Isaiah’s Little Apocalypse” (24-26).

In response Blaising notes that “The Day of the Lord” is not always an instantaneous event.  Further, while Strimple argues that the New Testament leaves no place for a future millennium in its “Two Age scheme,” Blaising points out that numerous epochs in biblical history are divided up:

  • God says “on the day I brought you out of Egypt and into the promised land…”  That is not an instantaneous event. It took at least 40 years (Ex. 3:17).
  • Take Messiah’s birth.  Part of Isaiah 11 refers to the Incarnation, but the rest of it, the ruling forever, is taking two thousand years.  It’s not an instantaneous event.
  • Isaiah 24 speaks of “split punishments.”
  • 1 Corinthians 15’s eita….epeita construction could read both ways, but Paul specifically emphasizes the “stages” of the Resurrection.

Blaising.  Blaising begins with a survey of premillennialism.  While not an exegetical argument, it should help amils and postmils to stop identifying premillennialism with Scofieldism.

He gives the standard premillennial take, though.  He notes that the OT speaks of conditions of an exalted creation which still retains sin and death.  Isaiah 65 is the most notable. This can’t simply be “Isaiah’s just trying to show us the heavenly state.”  Isaiah knows how to communicate that people die. In chapter 25 he gives us a picture where there is no death. He didn’t just forget when he got to chapter 65.  Ezekiel 14 has the descended Messiah judging those nations who refuse to submit to him.

Gentry’s response to Blaising falls short.  Partly, Gentry critiques Blaising for not being a preterist.  Secondly, Gentry imputes the problems of pre-tribulationism to all of premillennialism.  Third, Gentry completely ignores the fact that Blaising has said that his millennial view isn’t isolated to Revelation 20. I will give Gentry credit on this: he faults Blaising for not dealing with Daniel 9 within the premillennial scheme.  Fair enough. That would have been helpful.

Strimple’s response is worth noting.  Strimple complains about the allegation that amillennialism is born out of a Platonic dualism.  He points, rather, to the fine works by Bavinck, Hoekema, and Vos. I recommend all of them. That’s precisely Blaising’s argument.  Modern day amillennialism is New Creation eschatology. Praise God. Medieval amillennialism is not. It is Platonic. The point was to float in eternity and think about the divine essence all day (well, maybe not day, since day is an indicator of time).

Strimple then complains that Blaising “considers the Bible apart from Revelation 20.”  This is really bizarre. Usually, premillennialists are accused of ignoring the rest of the Bible.  Now they are at fault for considering the rest of the bible.

Uneasy tension of choosing and eschatology

A brief history:

In college and seminary I was a postmillennial reconstructionist.  To put it delicately today, I am not. When I left seminary I understood the reasons behind Historic Premillennialism.  Exegetically, I still think it is the strongest case.  My own position, rather, was a mix between postmil and premil.

When I left the EO debate I was a convinced historic premillennialist.  I stayed like that for about 3 or 4 years. One of the reasons that historic premillennialism won by default was that idealist Amillennialism was just so bad. It’s gnostic.  But when I read the Reformed Scholastics I realized that they had a very interesting eschatological timeline worked out.  Ultimately, I couldn’t accept it. It’s tied in with historicism, which says the Pope is the Antichrist.  Mind you, it’s easy to pick on Francis today, and he deserves it, but he isn’t the eschatological Man of Sin who sitteth in the temple of God.

So that couldn’t work.  So here I am today.  I feel a strong tug in my heart back to historic premil.