All posts by Bill Pratt

Commentary on Acts 8 (Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch) – #8 Post of 2017

In chapter 8 of Acts, Stephen’s death sparks an intense persecution against the church in Jerusalem. Many of the believers must flee the city, but the apostles decide to stay. It seems likely that the persecution was targeted more toward the Greek-speaking Christians, as they were more closely associated with Stephen. However, the persecution may have spread to the Hebrew Christians as well. Saul tracks down Christians and has them arrested and thrown in prison. Some brave Christians give Stephen a proper burial, even though it was prohibited by Jewish law.

The attacks on the Christians in Jerusalem have an unintended consequence, however. As they flee the city and travel to other towns and villages, the believers start to spread the story of Jesus to the surrounding region, something they hadn’t done for the first several years after Pentecost.

Luke focuses on Philip. Recall that he was one of the seven chosen to ensure the Hellenist widows were cared for. As a Hellenist Christian, he was probably one of the first to leave Jerusalem. He travels to a city in Samaria and preaches “the Christ.” It is unclear which city Philip visits first, although Darrell Bock suggests Sychar (see map below). Sychar is the religious center of Samaria, so it would make sense that Philip would go there first.

Philip performs miraculous exorcisms and healings, all of which cause the Samaritans to listen to what he has to say about Jesus. Luke reports that a significant number receive the message and that there is great joy in the city.

In verses 14-17, Luke reports that Peter and John travel from Jerusalem to see for themselves what is happening in Samaria. When Peter and John arrive, they pray for the Samaritan converts and lay hands on them. Immediately, the Holy Spirit manifests himself in the new believers. We are not sure what occurs, but we can speculate that they were able to speak in foreign languages just as the disciples were able to do at Pentecost. In fact, some scholars refer to this event as the Samaritan Pentecost.

A question arises, however, as to why the Samaritan believers did not immediately receive the Holy Spirit when they professed and were baptized in Jesus’ name. Only after Peter and John lay hands on them does this occur.

As mentioned in a previous lesson, there is not a set pattern in the Book of Acts for baptism and receipt of the Holy Spirit, so we must not take this particular story and try to make it normative for the church. It seems that the addition of the Samaritans to the early church required apostolic confirmation to keep the church from dividing. We need to remember that the Jews and Samaritans actively dislike each other. Clinton Arnold, in , recounts the history of the Samaritans:

The Samaritans viewed themselves as Israelites, true remnants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who maintained a monotheistic faith and upheld the Torah as holy scripture. They kept the rite of circumcision, regularly observed the Sabbath and the Jewish festivals, and honored Moses as the greatest of the prophets. The Jews, however, viewed the Samaritans as ‘half breeds’—descendants of Mesopotamian (Gentile) colonists who settled in the area and intermarried with the Jews remaining there after the Jewish exile by Assyria (2 Kings 17:24-31).

At the heart of the schism between Jews and Samaritans in the first century was the fact that Samaritans rejected the Jewish temple worship. Three centuries earlier, they had constructed their own temple on Mount Gerizim. They also rejected all of the Hebrew Bible except the first five books of Moses. The hostility intensified in the century before Christ when John Hyrcanus destroyed their temple (107 B.C.) and devastated many of their cities. Under the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes (167 B.C.), they had requested that their temple be dedicated to Zeus Hellenios, thus identifying Zeus with Yahweh.

The Jewish rabbi Ben Sira refers to the Samaritans as ‘the foolish people that live in Shechem.’ Jews regarded Samaritans on the same level as Gentiles in ritual and purity matters. Not only did Jews prohibit intermarriage with Samaritans, but they did not even allow a Samaritan to convert to Judaism. The apostle John summarizes the situation well when he says, ‘Jews do not associate with Samaritans’ (John 4:9).

If the apostles did not personally visit the new Samaritan converts and confirm that they were truly added to the church by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, there would likely have been a schism. The bad blood between the Samaritans and Jews would have caused considerable damage to the movement. But with the Holy Spirit coming to the Samaritans, all doubts are erased, and church unity is preserved.

In verse 26, an angel instructs Philip to leave Samaria and go down south of Jerusalem onto the road that leads past Gaza (see map above). As Philip is walking on the road, an Ethiopian official is riding in a chariot and reading aloud from an Isaiah scroll. Clinton Arnold explains that in the

Greco-Roman period, ‘Ethiopia’ referred to the land south of Egypt—what is today the Sudan and modern Ethiopia. In Old Testament times, this was the land of Cush (see Est. 1:1; 8:9; Isa. 11:11). The term ‘Ethiopia’ has come to mean the land of the ‘Burnt-Faced People,’ indicating their black skin. The man whom Philip encounters is most likely from the kingdom of Nubia located on the Nile River between Aswan and the Fourth Cataract (a waterfall-like area of rapids). The capital of this region is Meroe.

Since the Ethiopian had come to Jerusalem to worship, he would have been called a God-fearer. God-fearers are people who worship the God of Israel, but who are not official converts to Judaism (proselytes). In this case, because the Ethiopian is a eunuch, Jewish law forbids him from becoming a proselyte. Arnold surmises, “As a Gentile God-fearer, he could not have taken part in the temple services in Jerusalem. At the most, he could be admitted into the Court of the Gentiles. Perhaps the Ethiopian came for one or more of the three great pilgrim festivals (Passover, Pentecost, or Tabernacles).”

The Holy Spirit directs Philip to engage with the eunuch, so Philip asks him if he understands what he is reading. The eunuch tells him no and invites Philip into his chariot to explain the words (Isaiah 53:7-8) to him. Philip explains that the sheep led to slaughter is none other than the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. From there, Philip expands upon how the Scriptures all point toward Jesus as the promised Messiah.

As the chariot passes by water, the eunuch asks Philip to baptize him because the eunuch has understood and believed what Philip has said about Jesus. Philip baptizes the eunuch and then disappears, taken by the Holy Spirit to a city just north called Azotus. Philip continues his missionary work up the coast of Judea and Samaria until he reaches Caesarea, where he resides for at least 20 years (see Acts 21).

Why would Luke spend so much time on the conversion of a single man? First, the Greco-Roman world regarded Ethiopia, which was south of Egypt, as the “end of the earth.” Luke wanted to show that the command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth in Acts 1:8 is being accomplished. Second, Luke is recording the first conversion of a black man, a man who belongs to a non-Semitic ethnic group. All ethnic groups are to be included in the kingdom of God. Third, the eunuch is the first example of a God-fearer coming to believe in Jesus. God-fearers were excluded from becoming full Jews, but in Jesus’ church, they were not excluded. They are full members, along with all other converts.

What Is the Meaning of Peter’s Exclusive Claim in Acts 4:12? – #9 Post of 2017

In Acts 4:12, the apostle Peter boldly tells the Jewish Supreme Court about the name of Jesus Christ, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” We moderns are offended by exclusive religious claims because we’re confident that nobody has the truth about spiritual matters. So what do we make of Peter’s statement? Was he just speaking to the people of his time and place?

Darrell Bock, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), tackles the issue of Peter’s intentions:

Since Peter, just like anyone else among the early Christians, could not have known the sheer size of Earth or the number of its people groups and how long it would take to reach the whole world with the gospel, it has been suggested that ‘under heaven’ ought not to be taken to mean that Jesus is the only way people can be saved. Might it just be that Jesus is the only means of salvation among the Jews and the people groups his ministry touched?

Witherington (1998, 194) correctly observes, ‘Peter is no advocate of modern notions of religious pluralism’ (also John 14: 6; 1 Tim 2: 5; Heb 2: 3). The consistent message throughout the NT is that Jesus is the only Savior for humanity. Human ignorance about the size of Earth’s landmass and human population has no bearing on the central facts of humanity’s need for redemption and the one means of redemption that is provided. Of course the exclusiveness claim offends many readers, and they seek to avoid it by noting the primitive geographical understanding of biblical times. Two considerations speak against such an argument.

First, the Roman Empire was like a sponge when it came to religion. Romans accepted all kinds of gods and religious ideas that came from the far corners of their vast empire. A trip to Caesarea Philippi, a locale where Jesus did some of his ministry, shows the presence and awareness of many of these gods. So Peter and the other apostles were well aware of the plurality of religions, and they understood that many of these originated in faraway places they would never visit. They preached the exclusivity of Christ within the context of the religious melting pot that was the Roman Empire, and so the fact that there were other world religions about which they were ignorant does not mitigate their claims about the exclusivity of Christ.

Second, and more importantly, the claim was that Jesus meets an internal need all people everywhere have. Their claim was not that other people did not seek to be pious; they knew that virtually all people are religious. Their claim was instead that Jesus alone can remedy what is wrong with us. The disciples were so committed to this idea and its exclusiveness that they devoted themselves to getting the word out as far and wide as they could. The claim of there being no other such saving name under heaven indicates how comprehensive a solution Jesus is in the apostle’s view.

Bock, in , addresses the fear that people today have of exclusive religious claims:

There is an exclusiveness to Jesus’s work that is not popular today. It is seen in our culture as a blow against religious diversity as well as the cause of great religious and political strife throughout history, especially in European history up to the Enlightenment. But a key point is often missed. It is when religion is imposed that it does damage. Here we see apostles making an appeal and leaving the decision and consequences to individual response. There is no effort to impose the faith, only to inform about it and to stress the responsibility every creature ultimately has to be responsive to the living God.

In addition, the offer of Jesus is made to all without discrimination. Thus the exclusiveness of the benefit is directly related to one’s willingness or unwillingness to be connected to the benefits. The church’s call is to be loyal to God in sharing the message and doing so in such a way that its impact on believers’ lives is evident. The call is not to impose the gospel on others. Some will not welcome such a testimony. They are left to go their own way with its tragic consequences. To others, however, the gospel will supply the sweet savor of real life and will open new vistas to how one can live and have fellowship with God.

Do the Three Accounts of Paul’s Conversion in Acts Contradict Each Other? – #10 Post of 2017

The conversion of Saul/Paul is so important to the author of the Book of Acts that he presents the story three times (Acts 9, 22, 26). Each version is different, and this fact has led some critics to say that the accounts are contradictory. But is that necessarily the case?

First, we must note that there are several common elements in the three versions:

  • Saul is on his way to Damascus to gather up Christians.
  • He sees an intense light.
  • The Lord asks why Saul is persecuting him.
  • Saul asks who the speaker is.
  • Jesus reveals that it is he.

What are the differences? Darrel Bock, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), writes:

The biggest differences in the accounts have to do with whether the men traveling with Saul see the light and hear nothing (22:9) or stand speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one (9:7). . . . Another difference is that Ananias does not appear at all in the Acts 26 account. . . . Another key difference between the accounts is that Saul does not mention his call to reach the Gentiles in the account given in Acts 9, whereas he shares this detail in Acts 22 and 26.

Bock then argues that each of these differences can be reconciled. About the different experiences of the men traveling with Saul,

The elements at play here can be reconciled (Witherington 1998, 312– 13), as for instance in the following way: The men hear a sound, but it is not intelligible to them; they also see a light but not Jesus himself. Only Saul sees someone in the light and is able to discern a speaking voice in the sound. Saul’s companions experience something less than the full event, which means that the appearance is neither an entirely private vision nor a fully disclosed public event. It is a public event whose details are for one man alone, Saul of Tarsus.

John Polhill, in Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary, agrees with Bock:

Paul’s traveling companions served as authenticators that what happened to Paul was an objective event, not merely a rumbling of his inner psyche. They heard a sound, but they did not see the vision of Jesus. Acts 22:9 says that they saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke with Paul. The two accounts are not contradictory but underline the same event. Paul’s companions heard a sound and saw a light. They could verify that an objective heavenly manifestation took place. They did not participate in the heavenly communication, however, neither seeing the vision of Jesus nor hearing the words spoken to Paul. The revelation was solely to Paul.

Regarding Ananias being left out of Acts 26, Bock writes, “This may be in part because the book has already mentioned him in detail twice, in Acts 9 and 22. Luke chooses not to be redundant on this detail, and so he provides a telescoped account.”

Regarding Saul not mentioning his call to the Gentiles in Acts 9, “Ananias notes in 9:15 that Saul would be called to a Gentile mission, so we probably have another example of telescoping. Another possibility is that Luke chose not to note this detail in his third-person narrative because the Gentile mission had not yet taken place, but this argument is somewhat weakened by the mention of the mission to Ananias. In any case, Saul’s not mentioning his Gentile mission in Acts 9 is simply an outcome of Luke’s literary choice, the exact reason for which is not clear.”

Bock concludes:

As is common in ancient retellings, each version has some variation so that each adds something to the reader’s understanding. Witherington (1998, 303– 15) has a helpful discussion of the relationship between these three accounts. He stresses that all of them are summaries and are not intended to provide comprehensive information.

Commentary on Revelation 21-22 (New Heaven and New Earth)

After the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20, John sees a new heaven and new earth which replace the old heaven and old earth. John sees the new city of Jerusalem descending from heaven, and he calls it a bride prepared for her husband.

A loud voice (not sure whose voice, but it is not God’s voice) announces the following: 1) God will live with humans in the New Jerusalem, 2) the people living with God will belong to Him, 3) God will ensure that there will be no more suffering among His people, and 4) God will make sure that there will be no more death among His people.

The idea of God dwelling with His people has a long history in the Bible. George Eldon Ladd, in A Commentary on the Revelation of John, beautifully explains:

In the Old Testament times, God’s dwelling place (skene) first was the tabernacle in the wilderness, and later the temple; and his presence was manifested by the shekinah glory. In the coming of Christ, God took up his dwelling temporarily among men (John 1:14 ‘The Word … dwelt among us.’ The same Greek root is used: eskenosen). During the church age, God indwells his church, which is his temple (Eph. 2:22); but this is a dwelling ‘in the Spirit,’ which can be apprehended only by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:17). In the consummation, all this is changed; faith will be changed to sight, and ‘they shall see his face’ (22:4).

This is a reality which we cannot visualize; but direct, unmarred fellowship between God and his people is the goal of all redemption. This is further expressed by the phrase ‘they shall be his people.’ This is an echo of the Old Testament idiom, ‘I shall be their God and they shall be my people,’ which expresses the oft-repeated aim of the divine self-revelation and of all of God’s dealings with his people. All the promises of God’s covenant with men, made first through Abraham, renewed through Moses, and embodied in Christ, are at last brought to full realization.

In verses 5-8, God the Father speaks. He assures John that He is making all of reality new. The entire creation, including human beings, is re-created. John can know that these events will occur because the One speaking is the omniscient, omnipotent ruler of the universe.

God will give to all those who seek to be with Him what they desire. Those who conquer will become fully adopted children of God. To conquer is to remain faithful to Jesus (God) throughout one’s life, regardless of the suffering a person might be forced to endure. Those who are “cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars” will spend eternity in the lake of fire.

Grant Osborne, in Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, comments about verse 8:

The list of sins in this verse is a typical ‘vice code’ (see Reid, DLNT 1190–94) of the type developed by the Stoics and Cynics and found often within Hellenistic Judaism (Philo, Sacr. 15–33; Wis. 14:22–27; 4 Macc. 1:2–4, 22–28; Sib. Or. 2.254–82) and used frequently in the NT (Rom. 1:29–31; Eph. 4:25–32; 5:3–5; Col. 3:5–8; 1 Tim. 1:9–10; James 3:14–16; 1 Pet. 2:1; 4:3, 15). Revelation has three such lists (9:21; 21:8; 22:15), the longest of which is here.

The list here is not, however, a general enumeration of sins but instead a specific list that draws together the sins of the book. Its purpose is to sum up the depravity of the unbelievers, and each term reflects sins mentioned elsewhere in the book [of Revelation].

However, the coward merits additional explanation. Osborne writes:

While the rest of the list describes the unchurched and wicked who were the enemies of Christianity, this first term probably describes those in the church who fail to persevere but give in to the pressures of the world. . . . The reader is being asked to make a choice whether to ‘overcome’ the pressure of the world and refuse to succumb to it or to be a ‘coward’ and surrender to sin. Those who do so will join the unbelieving world in eternal damnation.

In verse 9, the same angel who showed John the destruction of the evil city of Babylon will now show John the holy city of New Jerusalem. Babylon is portrayed as a harlot, but Jerusalem is the Bride of the Lamb (Jesus). The next seventeen verses describe the glory of the New Jerusalem.

The first thing John sees is that the city is descending from heaven down to the earth. Heaven and earth are now joined together. Second, the city radiates God’s glory, which John compares to a brilliant jasper (likely a diamond in this case). Third, a high wall surrounds the city on four sides. On each wall are three gates (total of twelve), and twelve angels occupy the twelve gates. The gates have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them. The wall of the city also has twelve foundations, and the names of the twelve apostles of Jesus are on the foundations. Mark Wilson, in Hebrews to Revelation: Volume Four (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), notes that the number twelve is “used repeatedly in chapter 21 to speak of gates (vv. 12, 21), angels and tribes (v. 12), foundations and apostles (v. 14), and pearls (v. 21). Twelve signifies completion and perfection and is the product of the sacred numbers three and four.”

What is the meaning of the walls, gates, angels, foundations, and names written on them? Grant Osborne writes, “The wall is emphasized in 21:18, where we read it is made of jasper, meaning its purpose is not defense but rather radiating the glory of God. It is a ‘great high wall’ because of the size of the city but especially due to the greatness of the glory of God (in keeping with 21:11, ‘It held the glory of God’”).”

Regarding the twelve gates and twelve tribes, Osborne comments:

The idea of twelve gates, three on each side, is taken from Ezek. 48:30–35, where the new temple also has twelve, with three on each side. A major difference is that each gate in Ezekiel is named after a tribe, while here it says simply that ‘the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel were written on the gates.’ The meaning in Ezekiel is that each tribe has a gate that opens to its own tribal territory. Here the thrust is quite different. These gates provide access to all ‘humankind,’ namely, the ‘people’ (21:3) who have ‘overcome’ the world (21:7a) and so ‘inherited’ the city of God (21:7b). The fact of twelve gates means that access is plentiful, and the names of the twelve tribes written on the gates builds on the symbol of the 144,000 in 7:1–8, meaning that the people of God provide access to the ‘people’ of the world so that they might repent and thus gain entrance to the city of God.

The angels could be watchmen standing guard over each gate (see Isaiah 62:6) or they could be linked to the angels of the seven churches and represent God’s new relationship with His people.

The twelve foundations with names of the apostles, according to George Eldon Ladd, are

an obvious allusion to the theology of the church, which is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). By this symbolism of the twelve gates bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the twelve foundations bearing the names of the twelve apostles, John indicates that the city encompasses both dispensations, and that both the Israel of the Old Testament and of the church of the New Testament have their place in God’s final establishment.

In verses 15-17, the angel then measures the dimensions of the city. The city is constructed as a cube with each dimension being 12,000 stadia (about 1500 miles), a truly enormous volume. The walls are 144 cubits (216 feet) thick. Osborne notes that the “cube shape matches the shape of the Holy of Holies (20 cubits each direction, 1 Kings 6:20; 2 Chron. 3:8–9). Since the Holy of Holies was the place where the Shekinah resided, this is especially appropriate for the celestial city.”

Are we to understand the New Jerusalem to be literally these dimensions? Doubtful. Osborne explains,

As the 1,600 stadia of 14:20 was the length of Palestine, the 12,000 stadia here was the length of the Roman Empire (from Joppa [in Spain] to the Euphrates). The number is obviously symbolic (like the 12,000 of 7:4–8). It signifies not only perfection but a city large enough to hold all the saints down through the ages, the saints from ‘every tribe, language, people, and nation’ (5:9; 7:9; cf. 21:24, 26).

To emphasize the glory of the city, John writes that the walls are made of jasper (a precious stone), and the city is made of a clear gold (see Isaiah 54:11-12). No such gold is known, so John must be attempting to describe a precious metal that is beyond human experience. Osborne adds, “The splendor of earthly gold is inadequate; it must be transparent so God’s glory can shine through it.”

The foundation of the city contains twelve different precious jewels. The stones listed are like the twelve stones found in the breastplate of the high priest in Exodus 28 and 39. Mark Wilson writes, “The stones represent a city not only of majestic beauty and glory, but also one of great value to be desired by its future residents.”

The twelve gates are made of single pearls and the main street of the city is made of clear gold. Grant Osborne writes, “In short, Revelation builds on a lengthy tradition in depicting the majesty of the celestial city yet transforms these images into a description of the glory the saints will receive on the basis of the presence of God and their priestly status in the eternal city.”

Verse 22 records the fact that there is no temple in the New Jerusalem, because God the Father and Jesus are the temple. The glorious light that shines forth from God and His Son means that there is no need for the sun or moon in the sky. Ladd explains:

In reflecting upon the glories of the new Jerusalem, John was overwhelmed by the vision of the presence of God and recalled the prophecy of Isaiah, ‘The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night, but the Lord shall be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory’ (Isa. 60:19). It is doubtful that John intended to give astronomical information about the new world; his purpose is to affirm the unsurpassed splendor which radiates from the presence of God and the Lamb.

Unlike typical cities, the gates of New Jerusalem will never close. All the kings of the earth will be welcome to the city to honor God. But, John reminds us, only those whose names are written in the book of life will enter the city. Evil will never stain the New Heaven and New Earth.

Why does John describe the New Heaven and New Earth as a giant city instead of something more rural? Craig Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, writes:

Some Jewish pictures of the end emphasized a return to Israel’s pastoral/agricultural beginnings, without ruling out urban existence (Sibylline Oracles 3:744–51), but the New Testament and most contemporary Jewish literature are more urban than most Old Testament depictions of the end (Amos 9:13–15). The symbolic imagery for paradise was adapted to speak most relevantly to the cultures addressed.

In chapter 22, verses 1-5, we see that the New Jerusalem is also the restored Garden of Eden. There is a river of life that flows directly from the throne of God the Father and the Lamb (note it’s a single throne that they share). George Elton Ladd comments:

This is a symbolic way of describing the reign of eternal life in the age to come. The symbolism of a river of life is a common one in biblical thought. The Psalmist wrote of a ‘river whose streams make glad the city of God’ (46:4). Jesus spoke of the living water (John 4:10, 14) which he offered men. Ezekiel’s vision of the new Jerusalem pictured a river of water flowing from under the temple (which was not located in Jerusalem itself), which brought healing and life to the waters of the Dead Sea (Ezek. 47:1–12). Zechariah had a vision of the Kingdom of God in which rivers of water flowed from Jerusalem both eastward and westward (Zech. 14:8). The presence of the river of life in the new Jerusalem is a picturesque way of saying that death with all its baleful accompaniments has been abolished and life reigns supreme.

Beside the river is the tree of life which yields fruit year-round. Ladd writes:

The description of the tree of life follows very closely the language of Ezek. 47:12 . . . The tree is pictured as bearing a different kind of fruit each month. This obviously has no parallel in the human experience of this age. The meaning is that the tree will not pass through the ordinary cycles of budding, blossoming, fruit-setting, and harvest, giving a crop once or twice a year, but will be loaded with fruit every month of the year. This expresses the absolute triumph of life over death.

The curse from Genesis 3:14 is reversed because sin is no more. All of God’s servants will worship Him in the restored Eden, and they will worship Him face-to-face. Ladd reminds us:

This is the hope and the goal of individual salvation throughout the Scriptures: the beatific vision of God. Throughout all redemptive history, God’s presence was mediated to men in different ways. In the Old Testament it was mediated through the prophetic word, theophanies, dreams, angels and the cult. To come face to face with the living God meant death (Exod. 33:20). Jesus in his incarnation brought the presence of God to men in his own person (Matt. 1:23); to see and to know Christ was to see and know the Father (John 14:7, 9; 17:3). This vision of God was still a mediated vision, realized only in faith. In the age to come, faith will give way to sight (Ps. 17:15; Matt. 5:8; 1 John 3:2).

The servants of God will reign with Him forever and ever. Grant Osborne writes:

In [Revelation] 2:26–27 the overcomers are promised the same ‘authority over the nations’ that Christ received from the Father; and in 20:4 and 3:21 Christ promised that they ‘will sit with me on my throne.’ Those promises were partially realized in 20:4 when the victorious saints ‘reigned with Christ a thousand years.’ But here that millennial reign is transformed into an eternal reign. This also fulfills Dan. 7:18 (‘The saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever’) and 27 (‘Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High’). In Luke 22:30 (par. Matt. 19:28), Jesus promised the disciples that they would ‘sit on twelve thrones, judging the tribes of Israel,’ and in 1 Cor. 6:2 Paul said, ‘Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?’ (cf. 2 Tim. 2:12, ‘If we endure, we will also reign with him’). This sums up a major biblical theme on the future reign of the saints. Of course, this cannot be meant literally, for every saint will rule a kingdom that only the saints inhabit (there is no hint in Scripture that we will reign over the celestial beings; rather, we are their ‘fellow servants,’ 19:10; 22:9). Thus, it probably means we will participate in the rule of Christ over the eternal kingdom and perhaps ‘exercise sovereignty over the new creation in a way similar to how Adam was to rule “over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28)’ (Beale 1999: 1116).

Was There Jewish Precedent for an Earthly, Intermediate, Messianic Kingdom?

Premillennialists interpret Revelation 20 to be a literal thousand-year earthly reign of Christ before he defeats Satan in one ultimate battle and inaugurates the new heavens and new earth. Is there any precedent for this view of an intermediate, earthly, messianic kingdom in ancient Jewish texts?

Craig Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, writes:

Many Jewish texts include an intermediate period between the present and future ages; in some, it is an age of messianic peace, but in others it is the final tribulation, which came to be called the ‘messianic travail.’ The length of the final intermediate period varies in those ancient Jewish texts that include it, producing such diverse figures as forty years, three generations, four hundred years and nearly as many other calculations as there are opinions recorded, sometimes counted by ‘weeks’ or jubilees of years. A few early Jewish traditions divided history into seven one-thousand-year periods, of which the final period would be an age of peace. (Plato’s figure of one thousand years between death and reincarnation as the intermediate state of the Greek afterlife might have influenced this Jewish figure [cf. also the phoenix of Greek mythology, discussed by rabbis], but this is unlikely; the apocalyptic penchant for dividing history into ages, plus the natural appeal of a round number like one thousand [cf. one hundred in Is 65:20], and especially the Jewish application of Ps 90:4 to the seven days of Gen 1, are sufficient to explain the length of the period on purely Jewish terms.)

Grant Osborne, in Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, adds:

The OT had little explicit commentary on the ‘millennium,’ but the view of the coming kingdom of God as an earthly reign (e.g., Ps. 72:8–14; Isa. 11:6–9; Zech. 14:5–17) provided the background for the concept of an earthly millennium. The early rabbis drew on this and believed in a preliminary kingdom (see Beasley-Murray 1978: 288, building on Strack-Billerbeck). Combining Deut. 8:3 and Ps. 90:15, Akiba viewed it as a forty-year reign equal to the wilderness wanderings. Another rabbi used Mic. 7:15 and saw a four-hundred-year reign paralleling Israel’s stay in Egypt. Jehuda used Deut. 11:21 and saw it as four thousand years, the same amount of time as from creation to the present.

How Does Premillennialist Norman Geisler Interpret Revelation 20?

Norm Geisler, in Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Church, Last Things, asserts that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 must refer to a literal, future period of time that lasts a thousand years.  “A historical-grammatical reading of this passage informs us that there will be a literal Millennium, during which Satan is bound, beginning with the raising of the saved and ending with the raising of the lost.”

Geisler offers several reasons why the “thousand years” in Revelation 20 should be taken as a literal, future period of time.  First, the word thousand is mentioned several times in Revelation 20.  “Facts mentioned only once in the Bible are true; the future messianic kingdom is said to be a thousand years long six times in Revelation 20:1-7.”  Surely, the repetition of this time period undermines the non-literal position.  Second, Geisler admits that the word thousand is sometimes used symbolically in the Bible.  “However, of its hundred-plus occurrences in the biblical text, only a handful are non-literal, and even these are mostly hyperbole (not allegorical).”

Third, Geisler reasons that “other numbers in Revelation are used literally; for example, 1,260 days (12:6) is a literal three and one-half years (Dan. 12:7, 11).”  Given that other numbers are used literally in the book, the argument for symbolism is weakened.  Fourth, even “symbols refer to something literal, as indicated by John’s literal interpretation of symbolic usage (e.g., 1:20).”  One must always be careful in taking symbolism too far, because ultimately every symbol stands for something real and literal.  There is the sign (the symbol) and there is the thing signified (the literal object).  The less clearly the sign points to the thing signified, the greater chance for interpretational error.  In our human experience, most signs relate very directly and obviously to the things they signify.  The term “thousand years” is more likely to refer to a literal thousand-year period of time than to refer to perfection or completeness.  The onus must be on the symbolic interpreter to provide strong evidence for his view.

Fifth, a literal interpretation accords with Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 15:22-28 that “Christ’s earthly reign would be a long period of time with an end.”  Sixth and finally, “Literal numbers can have symbolic significance – Israel was tested for forty years in the wilderness (cf. Matt. 4), and while there is a symbolic meaning to this time of wandering, it is also true that they literally wandered for about forty years.  Relatedly, thousand can symbolize a long period and still be literally true.”

John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, in , add that the sequence of events surrounding the “thousand years” also indicate a literal, future time period.  “The fact that it is mentioned six times and is clearly described as a period of time before which and after which events take place lead to the conclusion that it means a literal thousand-year period.”  Specifically they contend that the reference to Satan being bound for a thousand years is an important clue.  According to Walvoord and Zuck, “Throughout the Scriptures Satan is said to exert great power not only against the world but also against Christians (Acts 5:3; 1 Cor. 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Tim. 1:20).”  It seems difficult to argue that Satan’s influence today is somehow curtailed or restrained.  The clinching verse which demonstrates that Satan was certainly attacking believers in the first century, after Christ’s death and resurrection, is 1 Peter 5:8.  “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  If Satan is indeed not bound, then it seems difficult to understand the “thousand years” as occurring today.

With both amillennialists and premillennialists claiming to use the historical-grammatical hermeneutical method, and with both groups arriving at widely divergent conclusions, there is another group of people that we should consult about Revelation 20.  In general, the closer in time Person A is to Person B, the more accurately will Person A interpret the writings of Person B, all other things being equal.  Augustine wrote about the book of Revelation about three centuries after it was written by the apostle John.  As mentioned before, Augustine’s position on the Apocalypse has dominated the church since he wrote about it in The City of God.  There are church fathers, however, who lived closer to the time of John and who wrote about Revelation.

The earliest known interpretation of the thousand years of Revelation came from a bishop named Papias, who was a contemporary of the apostles in the first century.  Eusebius, the great church historian of the fourth century, wrote about Papias in his seminal work, The Church History.  Eusebius quotes Papias from his Sayings of the Lord Interpreted, which is no longer extant.  Papias claims to have heard directly from those who sat under the teaching of several of the apostles.  “And whenever anyone came who had been a follower of the elders, I asked about their words: what Andrew or Peter had said, or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples . . . .  For I did not think that information from books would help me as much as the word of a living, surviving voice.”

Papias’ views on the book of Revelation would indeed be important because of his close proximity to the source of the book, John (who is mentioned above).  According to Eusebius, Papias believed that “after the resurrection of the dead there will be a thousand-year period when the kingdom of Christ will be established on this earth in material form.”  Eusebius also maintained that Papias’ views on the thousand years were highly regarded by some subsequent church fathers because of his proximity to the disciples.  Lest anyone think that Eusebius was biased in favor of Papias’ interpretation, Eusebius had this to say about Papias: “I suppose that he got these notions by misunderstanding the apostolic accounts, not realizing that they had used mystic and symbolic language.  For he was a man of very limited intelligence, as is clear from his books.”  We can be confident that Eusebius’ “respect” for Papias did not color his interpretation of Papias’ writings, for Eusebius was an amillennialist even before Augustine.  With all due respect to Eusebius’ estimation of Papias’ intelligence, Papias is one of the earliest, if not earliest, sources we have interpreting Revelation 20, and he was a premillennialist.

In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr, one of the most renowned early apologists of the Christian faith, wrote about the book of Revelation.  He is the first to explicitly mention the Revelation in his Dialogue with Trypho.[14]  “And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.”[15]  Justin Martyr was certainly a premillennialist and believed that the “thousand years” in Revelation 20 was to be taken literally as the future, messianic kingdom on earth.

Later in the second century the church father, Irenaeus, made “frequent and substantive use of the Revelation, especially in book 5 of Against Heresies, where he extensively discourses upon the thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth.”  Speaking of the predicted, messianic, thousand-year kingdom, Irenaeus related the following:

The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead; when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth: as the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, related that they had heard from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to these times.

Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Papias, the earliest commentators on the book of Revelation, all believed that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 should be taken as a literal, thousand-year, earthly kingdom of Christ.  It cannot be argued, based upon this evidence, that the premillennial view is proven, but it does lend significant credibility to the view.  If the earliest hearers and interpreters of the text understood it to be literal, surely the later amillennialists have a more difficult position to argue.  How is it that these, the earliest commentators in the church, were all wrong?

How Does Amillennialist Hank Hanegraaff Interpret Revelation 20?

Hank Hanegraaff, in his book The Apocalypse Code, is convinced that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 is symbolic and not to be taken literally.  “The figurative use of the whole number one thousand is virtually ubiquitous in Old Testament usage.  For example, God increased the number of the Israelites a thousand times (Deuteronomy 1:11); God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10); the least of Zion will become a thousand and the smallest a mighty nation (Isaiah 60:22).”  Hanegraaff continues by emphasizing “a thousand more examples (figuratively speaking) could easily be added to the list.”  What, then, does the “thousand years” mean?  Hanegraaff rejects the view that the words of Revelation 20 are a “literal prophetic chronology according to which Satan will literally be bound for one thousand years while the resurrected martyrs reign with Christ . . . .”  Alternatively, Hanegraaff argues, “We must be willing to interpret this markedly symbolic passage in light of the rest of Scripture.”  The number one thousand is symbolic of “ultimate completion.”  The “thousand years” of the martyrs’ reign indicates the vindication of the martyrs who were subjected to the terror of the Beast for “ten days.”  The “thousand years” is a qualitative contrast, not a quantitative period of time.

Amillennialist J. Marcellus Kik, in his book An Eschatology of Victory, also does not believe that the “thousand years” conveys a future, messianic, millennial kingdom.  He adds another dimension to Hanegraaff’s view.  “The term thousand years in Revelation twenty is a figurative expression used to describe the period of the messianic Kingdom upon earth.  It is that period from the first Advent of Christ until his Second Coming.”  In other words, we are all in the “millennium” today, for it spans the time between the two appearances of Christ on earth.  Kim Riddlebarger, in A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, concurs: “Amillenarians generally agree with this assessment, seeing the thousand years as a symbolic number, spanning the entire ‘church age.’”  He adds that there are good reasons for interpreting the number one thousand symbolically.  He notes, “Numbers are always used symbolically throughout the book [of Revelation].” Riddlebarger agrees with Hanegraaff’s conclusion that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 “symbolizes an ideal period time, a time of completion.”  He also contends that other words in Revelation 20, such as chain, abyss, serpent, and beast are symbolic, so it is reasonable to conclude that the number one thousand is also symbolic.

In the early centuries of the church, the Bishop of Hippo, Saint Augustine (354-430), likewise interpreted the “thousand years” symbolically.  Augustine was a premillennialist earlier in his life, but came to regard the “thousand years” allegorically.  In The City of God he writes, “The thousand years may be understood in two ways, . . . either because these things happen in the sixth thousand of years or sixth millennium (the latter part of which is now passing), as if during the sixth day, which is to be followed by a Sabbath which has no evening, . . . or he used the thousand years as an equivalent for the whole duration of this world, employing the number of perfection to mark the fullness of time.”  It is interesting to note the reasoning Augustine employs to demonstrate that the number one thousand is the number of perfection.  “For a thousand is the cube of ten.  For ten times ten makes a hundred, that is, the square on a plane superficies.  But to give this superficies height, and make it a cube, the hundred is again multiplied by ten, which gives a thousand.” Augustine then gives an example in Scripture of the number one hundred indicating perfection or completeness, and thus concludes that if ever “one hundred” is interpreted as totality or completion, then how much more complete and perfect is one thousand.  Regardless of which of his two interpretations one may choose, Augustine came to see the millennium as the present age within which he lived.  The end of the “thousand years” will be the end of the world when Christ returns.  Christ will only return after the perfect amount of time has elapsed.

Hanegraaff, Riddlebarger, and Kik are all heirs of the amillennialism that Augustine propounded.  Augustine’s view of the “thousand years” in Revelation has been the dominant view of the church ever since the early fifth century and continues to be widely held even today.  However, many contemporary evangelicals are premillennialists and can claim their interpretational heritage to a time before Augustine, a claim that is explored in the next blog post.

How Should We Interpret Revelation 20?

The most important biblical passage describing the millennial, messianic kingdom is found in Revelation 20.  In fact, this passage is the only place in the Bible where the messianic kingdom is described as lasting one thousand years.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.  He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.  He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.  After that, he must be set free for a short time. I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.  And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.  They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.   (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)  This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:1-6)

The period of one thousand years is mentioned five times in the verses above and once more in verse seven.  Both amillennialists and premillennialists agree that Revelation 20 is a central passage for understanding the eschaton, but they strongly disagree as to how these verses should be interpreted.  Both agree that the verses should be interpreted as the author, the apostle John, intended.  Both agree that symbolism is used in the book of Revelation, but they do not agree whether the thousand years is symbolic or literal.

The most direct and literal way to interpret Revelation 20 is to understand that it refers to a future period of one thousand years where Satan will be bound and those who followed Christ will come to life and reign with him.  This future millennium would begin after the events in the preceding chapters of Revelation took place.

However, there are certainly other ways to interpret the passage.  Perhaps the “thousand years” is merely symbolic of a long period of time.  Perhaps that long period of time is already inaugurated; Satan is already “bound” and Christ and his followers are already “reigning.”  Perhaps the “thousand years” does not refer to a long period of time, but to a perfect or complete period of time.  In that case, the “thousand years” is but a figure of speech.  John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, in , summarize the issue well: “It should be evident that one’s interpretation of Revelation 20 is an important decision that serves as a watershed for various approaches to prophetic Scripture.” All of these views have been taken by Christian theologians, scholars who claim to adhere to the historical-grammatical hermeneutic.

How Does Premillennialist Norman Geisler Interpret the Fulfillment of the OT Covenants?

For premillennialist Norman Geisler, the future, literal fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants must occur in a millennial, messianic kingdom for several reasons.  First, the land promise to Israel has yet to be fulfilled.  The land promise made to Abraham was unconditional, meaning that God placed no conditions on Abraham for this land grant to be made.  Citing Genesis 15:7-18, Geisler, in Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Church, Last Things, notes that “Abraham was not even conscious when [the covenant] was made, and God alone passed through the split sacrifice.” This procedure followed “the legal form of a grant covenant,” which was a one-way land grant.  Hebrews 6:13 indicates that God swore by himself, again proving that the land promise was certain to occur.  Abraham’s descendants, the Jews, have never occupied the promised land between the Euphrates and River of Egypt for “any prolonged period of time.”  Even if it could be argued that Solomon ruled over the lands promised to Abraham (cf. 1 Kings 4:21), “He reigned over it for a very short time, not forever, as promised to Abraham.”

Second, the Davidic throne promise has not been fulfilled.  Again, this covenant was unconditional, as evidenced by Psalm 89.  Speaking of David, God said, “Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness – and I will not lie to David – that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun” (Ps. 89:35-36).  God promised that even if David’s descendants violated his decrees, he would not violate David’s covenant.  Clearly, today, no descendant of David is ruling over Jerusalem and Israel, so, according to Geisler, there must be a day when David’s descendant will fulfill a “future, political, earthly messianic reign [as] found in 2 Samuel 7:11-16.”

Third, the Old Testament prophets continued to predict a messianic kingdom all the way up to 400 B.C.  Isaiah wrote about the messianic kingdom in Isaiah 9:7: “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”  In the very last book of the Old Testament, Malachi speaks of the coming kingdom and fulfillment of the covenant in Malachi 3:1.

Fourth, Jesus offered the political, messianic kingdom to the Jews of first century Palestine, which is a clear indication that the messianic kingdom, the kingdom that would fulfill the covenants made with Abraham and David, was yet to be fulfilled.

Fifth, subsequent to the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus promised that in the future the kingdom would still be restored.  Jesus made the following promise to his disciples with regard to the messianic kingdom: “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).  The question the disciples asked Jesus in Acts 1 is illuminating.  After spending forty days with him, discussing the “kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), the disciples then asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6).  Instead of Jesus rebuking them for asking a meaningless question about the literal fulfillment of the covenants, he tells them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (v. 7).  According to theologians John Walvoord and Roy Zuck in , “If the followers of the Lord Jesus had an incorrect view, this would have been the time for Him to correct it. The fact is, Christ taught the coming of an earthly, literal kingdom.”  The clear implication is that there will be a literal restored kingdom of Israel some time in the future.

Sixth and finally, Paul affirmed the national restoration of Israel in Romans 11.  Speaking of the promises made to Israel, Paul proclaimed that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).  Israel clearly has a national role in the future when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).  Walvoord and Zuck explain: “Because God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . ., He loves the nation and will carry through on His promises.”  According to Geisler, “When God’s complete plan of salvation is accomplished, He will restore national Israel and fulfill His unconditional promises to them, including the messianic kingdom.”

In response to Hanegraaff’s use of typology to show the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, Geisler recognizes instances of typology in the Bible, but denies that the covenants are typological.  For example, “Hebrews speaks of the entire Levitical sacrificial system as being fulfilled by our great High Priest.” Geisler affirms that “Christ is the fulfillment of Old Testament types that prefigured Him and that passed away when He fulfilled them.”  However, “Not all Old Testament predictions were types.”  Geisler argues that a covenant is not a type at all and should not be interpreted that way.  Therefore, to understand the literal promises made to Abraham and David as types to be overshadowed by Christ is a category mistake.

Additionally, Hanegraaff and other amillennialists believe that the New Testament should be used to reinterpret the objective meanings of Old Testament passages, the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants included.  In their view, when God promised Abraham the literal land of Canaan forever, he did not really intend that Abraham would receive the land of Canaan forever.  The New Testament reveals the real meaning of the text: Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise, not the land.  In the words of theologian Kim Riddlebarger in A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, “The New Testament should explain the Old.  This is one of the most basic principles of Bible study.  The New Testament must be seen as the final authority and interpreter of the Old Testament.”

Geisler answers this claim in emphatic terms: “The Old Testament should not be interpreted in light of the New, because later writings, inspired or not, do not change the meaning of earlier writings.  Meaning is objective and absolute; a text means what the author meant by it, nothing more and nothing less.  Later authors can add more information on the same topic, but they cannot change the meaning.”  If God promised the land, then Abraham’s descendants will get the land.  If God promised the throne, then David’s descendants will get the throne.  Any attempt to deny these straightforward interpretations of the Old Testament leads down the slippery slope of allegorism.

How Does Amillennialist Hank Hanegraaff Interpret the Fulfillment of the OT Covenants?

Hank Hanegraaff, in his book The Apocalypse Code, argues that the promises to Abraham and David were ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Citing Galatians 3:16, Hanegraaff believes that the Abrahamic covenant is “spiritually grounded in one singular Seed [Christ].” In the words of Keith Mathison, as quoted by Hanegraaff, “The promises made to literal, physical Israelites were fulfilled by a literal, physical Israelite, Jesus the Messiah.  He is the Seed of Abraham.”

This is not to say that the land promises were never fulfilled.  Hanegraaff sees the fulfillment of Abraham’s covenant occurring in multiple phases.  In the first phase, the land promises actually were fulfilled under Joshua and Solomon.  “God’s plan becomes a tangible reality when Joshua leads the children of Israel into Palestine.”  Hanegraaff cites Joshua 23:14 as evidence of the Abrahamic covenant’s fulfillment.  “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”  Under Solomon’s rule, “the land promises reached their zenith” since his rule “encompassed all of the land from the Euphrates River in the north to the River of Egypt in the south (1 Kings 4:20-21; cf. Genesis 15:18).”

The first phase of fulfillment was only temporary.  Hanegraaff continues to explain that “the land promises are fulfilled in the far future through Jesus who provides true Israel with permanent rest from their wanderings in sin.” This is the second phase of fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.  Hanegraaff argues that the land promises were never the primary concern of the covenant.  “The land was never the focus of our Lord; instead, our Lord is forever the locus of the land.” In Acts 1:6, when the disciples asked Jesus about restoring the land to Israel, “Jesus reoriented their thinking from a restored Jewish state to a kingdom that knows no borders or boundaries.” The physical rest, which the land promises were to provide to the Jews, is a type which is fulfilled in the antitype of the spiritual rest in Christ.  “The writer of Hebrews makes clear that the rest the descendants of Abraham experienced when they entered the land is but a type of the rest we experience when we enter an eternal relationship with the Lord.” Likewise, Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, is also a type which is superseded by Christ, the ultimate antitype.  “Jesus is the antitype who fulfills all of the typology vested in Jerusalem.”

The third and final phase, which will occur in the future, takes place when Paradise is restored – when the New Jerusalem, the Holy City spoken of in Revelation 21, replaces the earth.  “The climax of the promise would not be Palestine regained but Paradise restored.” In Hanegraaff’s view, “The promise of the land will be fully and finally consummated when Paradise lost is reconstituted as Paradise restored.  Canaan is thus typological of a renewed cosmos.”

The Davidic covenant is also fulfilled by Christ.  “God’s promises to David that his descendants would sit on the throne forever . . . was fulfilled when Christ, the ‘Son of David’ . . . , ascended to the throne of the heavenly Jerusalem and established his rule and reign over all the earth.”  According to Hanegraaff, Peter makes clear in Acts 2 that “Jesus’s reign has already been inaugurated in his resurrection and ascension to the throne of God.” Jesus, therefore, completely fulfills the promise made to David that his descendants would forever rule on the throne of Jerusalem.  No messianic kingdom in the future is necessary to fulfill the Davidic covenant.  In comparing the fulfillment by Jesus to the original promise made to David, Hanegraaff observes that “the lesser is fulfilled and rendered obsolete by the greater.”

In summary, Hanegraaff believes that the promises made to Abraham and David were fulfilled in Christ.  Instead of just receiving the land of Canaan, Abraham’s spiritual descendants will receive the entire cosmos when God replaces the earth with the New Jerusalem.  Instead of just receiving a physical throne in Jerusalem, David’s descendant, Jesus, inherited the very throne of heaven where he reigns over the entire universe.  For Hanegraaff, “To now require that God must provide a literal throne in Jerusalem upon which Jesus will physically sit to rule over national Israel in a millennial semi-golden age is more than an anticlimactic step backward; it is an insult to the glory and grandeur of God’s throne.”