My reading of a wonderful work on biblical prophecy was stopped in its tracks when I came to this line today:
“Christian prophecy and apocalyptic and eschatological thinking continued on well into the second and even third and fourth centuries.” (Jesus the Seer: The Progress of Prophecy, by Ben Witherington III; Hendrickson Publishers, 1999; p. 379)
I wonder if this simple historical line from a scholar strikes you in the same way as it struck me. Christian prophecy (meaning the actual activity of God’s Spirit in the prophetic speech of the Church), and apocalyptic/eschatological thinking (meaning the revelation, understanding and awareness that the early Church possessed regarding God’s great plan for Israel and the nations in this age and in the age to come) had all faded almost entirely from the Church’s experience by the end of the fourth century.
There were glimmers here and there over the course of the next 1,100 years, but by and large, the reality of the Spirit of prophecy, and the eschatological consciousness of apostolic Gospel could scarcely be found in the entire earth. We are feeling the negative effects of this great loss to this day.
Reformations have come and gone, revivals and awakenings have permeated the earth and faded, and all of these great historical events have left us with remarkable recoveries of God’s intention and purpose for the Church. A thousand volumes have been written on the great movings of God, and a thousand more could be written yet. I was born-again in the midst of an genuine move of God, and have always loved and valued historical revival and awakening.
Yet and still, I long for a Church-wide recovery of the Spirit of prophecy, and the apocalyptic/eschatological thinking that was part and parcel with the prophets and apostles of old. This has been a yearning of my own for almost a decade, and a precious remnant of souls in the earth today have yearned for this recovery for much longer than I have.
This is not a recovery of mere eschatological themes and debates, but a true restoration of the spirit and view of the Scriptures. Too long have large numbers swallowed hollow end-time views, replacement theologies, or downright scoffed at the idea of all things eschatological.
Believers, thinking themselves mature, have said things like, “I’m a pan-tribber. It’ll all pan out in the end!” Or, “You’re too tied up with Israel and the end-times. It’s all about Jesus, man.” Or, “Brother, that is all excessive. It’s all about the great commission.”
I tremble for those who say it will all pan out in the end, and who in that same breath, have tragically neglected the Scriptures pertaining to the prophetic view of the faith! How shall it “pan-out” for those who have been casual toward the truth that God Himself has inspired and given for our preparation?
I tremble for the one who is unconcerned for the issue of Israel and the issue of the end of the age, and who thinks that by setting these great things aside He is more Jesus-centered. If Israel and the words of her prophets are not central to our understanding of the faith that Jesus Himself gave, how can we say it’s all about Him while neglecting such a large portion of His own heart? Is it really all about Him for you, or are you just willingly blind toward who He really is, and what His great intention and purposes are?
I tremble for those who have no concern for Israel and the Kingdom to come, and who say that it’s all about the great commission. What has our great commission become if it hasn’t got the view of the prophets and apostles who gave it to us? John the Baptist, all the apostles, and Jesus Himself were immersed in the prophetic Scriptures, and their Gospel carried something that our hollow outreaches often lack, and much of it has to do with the fact that we have been unwilling to come into the knowledge of God that the prophets have set forth.
I’m not speaking of everyone becoming scholars and talking about lofty eschatological themes. That would affect little for the positive, and could even effect things negatively.
This is a call to be immersed in the Scriptures again, to get acquainted with the God of the prophets and apostles, who are themselves the foundation of the Church. If we haven’t come into the revelation that they have sought to hand down to us, what have we got? We may have experienced justification, but are we prepared for the hour at hand?
Do we have a hope that lives and burns even in the midst of trial? Do we have an intimacy with God as the Judge of the earth? When the great shakings come, have we a remarkable union with the God who shakes all things, or have we got a faith like a stack of cards because we have only swallowed what men have handed us on Sundays, and have been unwilling to press into the Lord ourselves?
The Spirit of prophecy and the apocalyptic/eschatological view that was lost by the end of the fourth century has only been partially recovered in our day. We need to pour over the Scriptures like never before, prayerfully, diligently, interacting with one another in fellowship and interacting with our Father and waiting upon Him for the help and understanding that He promised to give us by His Spirit.
I may be called peripheral for these thoughts, but I’m weary of hearing the scoffing spirit in the Church. Great men of God who I have profound esteem for have even spoken in a scoffing way toward this much needed reality, and it discourages the saints from opening up the prophets with any expectation that they will have something to speak to us today. Jesus is going to return as King and Judge, and the truth is, most of the Church is totally lacking an awareness of this as a reality. A remnant expect His return, and many of them are simply hoping for an escape from the world. An escape that was never promised in the Scriptures in the way their expecting.
There are flaky end-times issues that need to be confronted, but that doesn’t mean we have license to spiritualize or set aside the passages of Scripture which pertain to these realities! There is a hope and sobriety that can only be given to the saints once they have come into an understanding of what the prophets and apostles have set forth in this regard. Woe unto us if we discourage the saints from pressing into the knowledge of God in this area.
The salvation of Israel is dependent upon the emergence of a Church which has come into His fullness, and would we assume that this fullness will be attained to without a recovery of the reality of which I speak? Men are sure to reply, “But these themes are too lofty. They are side issues. Let’s major on the majors and minor on the minors.” However lofty we have made them, and however multi-colored and twisted up these themes may seem, they are in the Scriptures that God Himself has given us. We have written them off because many of our fathers have written them off. This is not merely a subject we need to study to get our systematic house in order. The prophetic and eschatological spirit actually permeates our Bible, and our ignorance or resistance of these realities actually causes us to see the faith itself through a lens that the apostles were not looking through. We have little understanding of what the Kingdom of God actually represents, for our definitions have come from wells that are less pure than the words of God as shown forth in the Scriptures. We have radically underestimated the importance of all this, and yet it is in our Bibles!
Oh, friends, it is time to wake up, quit our game-playing with life, our neglect of the Scriptures, our satisfaction with so little of the anointing of God upon our lives, and to seek His face earnestly. He will only show Himself to the souls who are weak enough to come to Him. To those who are willing to set aside their smug spiritual egos, and to admit that we have too little of a knowledge of Him and His purposes. From that place, He will shower us with grace, lead us through His word, and give us a recovery of the very awareness and lifestyle that belonged to the apostles of old.
We will sacrifice freely in the day of His power, all Israel will be saved, and our King will glorified in the earth once and for all.