Why An Obsession with Eschatology is a Waste of Time, Part 4

Posted By on May 24, 2010

In the last post, we talked about how certain views of end times are tied to certain views of the biblical covenants with Abraham and David, as well as the New Covenant. Many Christians want to argue for a literal millennium on the basis of the irrevocable nature of the Abrahamic covenant — the notion that the covenant can never be undone since it was unconditional. The Land promises must therefore come to Israel, and that means a literal millennium is still in the future with respect to biblical prophecy. We saw, however, that the Abrahamic covenant did indeed have conditions, and that it was fulfilled only to Abraham’s “true” children — those who, like Abraham, believe. We saw that the Church fits that nicely per Galatians 3. But we ended with these questions:  Since it is those who *believe* that inherit the promises, what Paul says in Galatians 3 makes perfect sense — but is that the end of the story?  Is the kingdom the Church? On what grounds would we look to a national kingdom in Israel in the future?

In this post we’ll look at the covenant with David.

A kingdom naturally needs a king.  The Israelite king had to be an Israelite (a son of Abraham). That goes without saying. But when David finally reached the throne, God issued a covenant with him as well that added to the criteria for kingship. That covenant is recorded in 2 Samuel 7 (and it is repeated with basically the same language in Psalm 89):

4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, 5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. 7 In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” ’ 8 Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

This covenant is unilateral (initiated only by God) and is unconditional in its language. 2 Samuel 7:21 has David responding: “Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it.” There are no conditions placed on David. It can be divided into promises David would see in his lifetime (vv. 8-11a) and promises to be fulfilled after his death (11b-16). The key idea in this covenant is that David’s dynasty is established as the sole legitimate dynasty for kingship in Jerusalem. God guarantees that no one would reign as king in Jerusalem except a descendant of David. David’s throne is therefore eternal.

But is that it? We saw Abraham’s covenant was BOTH unconditional and conditional. It was unconditional in that God guaranteed its fulfillment regardless of human behavior. It was conditional in that only those who believed and obeyed (“obedience of faith”) would reap any benefit from it.  And it was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus – the perfectly obedient son of Abraham through whom all nations would be blessed (Gen 12:3).

David’s covenant is the same — it’s actually both unconditional and conditional. Note the conditional language in 2 Samuel 7:12-15

12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.

The referent is SOLOMON, who succeeded David. Even if Solomon goes astray (which he did), God promised that he would still be loyal to David’s line.

The conditional idea of loyalty to Yahweh to gain the *benefit* of the unconditional covenant is evidenced in Psalm 132:11-12 -

The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
their sons also forever
shall sit on your throne.”

It’s clear – the king was supposed to be righteous, and if he wasn’t, they could expect their immediate line to be cut off. They’d be replaced.

Look what happened in Israel’s history after Solomon. The kingdom split in two. David’s line (2 tribes; Judah) outlived the rebel kingdom of the north (10 tribes; Israel), but it was indeed destroyed in 586 BC. There has been no king (Davidic or otherwise) that has occupied the throne of Jerusalem since . . . depending on how you look at things.

What gives with the demise of the kingdom then? Davidic kingship needs a closer look. The covenant with David actually created a “Father-son” relationship between God and the king. This is indicated in Psalm 2:7-8, Psalm 89. God says of the king, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son.” But what about evil, disloyal sons? What about Israelite kings who disobeyed the Abrahamic covenant and Yahweh’s righteous demands? They are cast aside, but (like the Abrahamic covenant) their rejection does not annul the covenant itself — it just means they forfeit kingship and Yahweh’s blessing. Passages like 1 Kings 6:12-13; 1 Kings 9:4-7 tell us that disloyal sons/kings lose Yahweh’s blessing, even if they are from David’s line. Waltke says it this way:

“YHWH granted both Abraham and David an eternal progeny and fief. Loyal sons . . . would fully enjoy the fief; disloyal sons would lose YHWH’s protection and, if they persisted in their wrongdoing, the possession of the fief itself. The fief, however, would never be confiscated–a promise that opens up the hope that YHWH would raise up a loyal son.”1

The point of all this can be summarized in two questions:

1. Since God allowed the nation of Judah and David’s line to be destroyed and displaced, what of the Davidic covenant? Is it over?

The question is usually answered “no” by Christians, regardless of their end time kingdom views. There is consensus that “God would raise up a loyal son” — Jesus — to fulfill the covenant. That brings us to the second, more weighty, question:

2. Is it possible that the Davidic covenant was already fulfilled in Jesus, the son of David and messiah?

If this is the case, the covenant is fully honored by God and fulfilled, and there would be no reason to expect a literal reign of Jesus on earth.  But why?  Many reading this will say, “How can the covenant be fulfilled when Jesus hasn’t come back and occupied the throne? The very question *assumes* that a literal land and kingdom are *required* by the ABRAHAMIC covenant — which we saw in the last couple of posts, is NOT a self-evident interpretation of the biblical text.  It may well be that the kingdom = the Church.  But if that is the case, is Jesus king now?

Isn’t the question interesting? Does anyone really want to deny that Jesus is king NOW?

Is Jesus on the throne now? According to Hebrews 8:1 and 12:2 he is. He is “seated at the right hand of God.” But that isn’t enough for many Christians. They want the literal reign. Fine. That isn’t a sin. My goal here is only to show that the idea that the Davidic kingship has already been fulfilled can be made with clarity and coherence via the biblical text. The amillennialist can easily argue that both the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were fulfilled in Jesus, period. Those who want a literal kingship in the future can say “Jesus is king in heaven now and he will be later on earth” — but recognize that such a view depends on one’s view of the Abrahamic covenant’s land promises!  Without that you don’t need this. Since we cannot know absolutely which way it goes, let’s quit talking like there’s only one “biblical” view of eschatology. I hope you can see why I try not to roll my eyes when I hear that sort of thing. And we have a long way to go yet!

  1. Bruce K. Waltke, “The Phenomenon of Conditionality within Unconditional Covenants,” in Israel’s Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, ed. Avraham Gileadi, Baker: 1988, pp. 131-132.

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15 Responses to “Why An Obsession with Eschatology is a Waste of Time, Part 4”

  1. Jonnathan Molina says:

    It’s kinda funny knowing that both views are possible by scripture. It makes me wonder (and at this point I am fine with either interpretation), if the amillenialists are right does that mean they believe the world will just keep turning until every last person is a Christian and then Jesus comes? I mean, if both covenants have been fulfilled in Christ (and surely they have. one way or another) then what other step is left except global domination of Christianity? I also wonder what would be the use of us being physically resurrected if there’s no physical kingdom in which to exist, granted it doesn’t have to be Israel proper but surely the kingdom of Jesus will be a real, earthly one (not just spiritual) regardless of eschatological views? Good discussion so far!

    • MSH says:

      Amillers believe the Lord will return and we’ll have the final judgment, then the eternal state. They just skip all the rapture, seven year tribulation, and literal 1000 year millennium that premillers have before the final judgment and eternal state. The resurrection is unto the eternal state which, since it involves a new heaven and earth, amillers are open to being physical (think resurrection bodies here).

  2. pam says:

    Very interesting discussion even though I’m coming to it a bit late. I have lots of questions, but I will only leave one. Is it possible that we misunderstand the purpose of prophecy? Most of my friends assume that the purpose of prophecy is to predict what will happen next. I suspect that its real purpose is to provide us with information that will allow us to identify the hand of God when it does happen. In other words, prophecy can be studied, but it is best understood after the fact. Many prophecies and promises ( if not all of them) that have been fulfilled were not fulfilled the way people thought they would be (think crucifixion) I believe we get stuck when we limit God to our narrow interpretations. First century Jews missed Christ for this very reason. They expected a king, God gave them a Savior and they said, “no thanks, we will wait for a king.” I prefer to stay open to all the possibilities. The only eschatological position I don’t like discussing is the Pre-trib rapture one. I personally belive it is dangerous. Thanks for the study and commentary.

    • MSH says:

      This approach has a lot to commend it and it has precedent — the New Testament. Fulfillment of prophecy is actually very complex at times. When the NT writers say XYZ is fulfilled “according to the Scriptures,” the fulfillment they see may be “literal” (one to one correspondences with the OT wordings), but prophecies may also be “fulfilled” by analogy, by typology, or even as part of a repeated cycling (echoes). They had the benefit of hindsight in many cases, or had Jesus telling them fulfillment was occurring. It just isn’t as simple as popular teachers and preachers make it out to be. Show me someone who pushes only “literalism” and I’ll show you someone who (a) is working only in the English text and (b) isn’t looking very closely.

  3. Robbie Armstrong says:

    Your posst provide an excellent perspective on eschatology. Do Daniel’s visions of the statue/beasts offer a view of the Gentile empires that govern Jerusalem because of Judah’s and Israel’s covenant failures? Luke speaks of Jerusalem being trampled under foot by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. I can’t see a time from after Jesus’ ascension until HIs return where Jerusalem is not under some form of Gentile governance or partial rule.

    Paul writes off the Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. (Galatians 4:25). John refers to “the great city. which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified” (Rev 11:8). Will Jesus appear in the clouds to mark the end of the time of the Gentiles and then literallly set foot on the Mount of Olives? Don’t buy into any escape clause/ rapture thinking.

    • MSH says:

      The short answer is yes since Daniel itself says that is what the beasts represent. The problem is “which ones” (and also how far to press correspondences). The issue with the NT prophecies you cite (and the one from Zechariah) is that, when it comes to NT statements about how other prophecies were fulfilled, there is no single “fulfillment template” — in other words, the answer to those questions is “maybe that’s the way it will happen.”

  4. Janina says:

    One can argue that Abraham has not received the land, in fact none of the patriarchs did. The land was promised not only to Abraham’s descendants but also to Abraham himself, and he has not inherited it as of yet. The Scripture is clear on that. He was a stranger, sojourner in that land – he died without receiving the promise.

    As to Davidic covenant – and Christ – Luke 1:32-33 – God SHALL give Christ the throne of David…
    That has not happened yet. Right now Christ’s is sitting with God on His throne – see Rev 3:21.
    Davidic covenant was a covenant of salt, perpetual one, irrevocable “as long as sun and moon existed”
    David’s throne was established in Solomon – the promise was that his dynasty will go on forever. God will punished with the rod of men their disobedience but will not end the royal line as He did with Saul

    Ps 89:4 – ”I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.’ ” Selah”(NIV) – it seems like this verse says the throne of David will exist in every generation?

    What about Gen 49:10 – “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him [shall] the gathering of the people [be].

    If the above verses mean what they seem to mean then what happened to the throne from Babylonian captivity to Christ’s first coming?

    • MSH says:

      A couple of items to play the other side: (1) it matters not that the patriarchs didn’t inherit the land. The promises were to their offspring. I’m not sure what the point of this observation is. (2) David’s throne and the “shall” – also meaningless. Since the narrative is relating a comment associated with Jesus at his birth (foreshadowing his destiny), ANYTHING afterward is future (“shall”). You want “shall” to refer to the remote future yet out there; it can just as easily be taken to refer to the near future — Jesus resurrection and seating at the throne of the right hand of God. BOTH are future (“shall”) to the statement. If you insist that “no, it has to be a physical throne on earth, not a throne in heaven,” then you are making assumptions about the land element to the Abrahamic covenant. Since those promises can be fulfilled already and the kingdom = the church, the enthronement at God’s right hand in heaven speaks to the king’s (Jesus) enthronement over the kingdom (a spiritual one – the church, the people of God). (3) As you noted, if psalm 89:4 says that there is supposed to be a king from David in Jerusalem in every generation, then that prophecy failed more than two millennia ago. It would be flat wrong and a total failure, since there hasn’t been a king from David’s line on a physical throne since Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion. “through all generations” can speak to the enduring nature of the COVENANT itself (that the only legitimate kingship = David’s line and no other, forever), not the ENACTING of the covenant stipulations (actual reigns). Maybe an analogy will illustrate. Let’s say I wrote a book and the publisher promised me that only my descendants will ever receive any royalties. My books sells for a while, and I and my descendants collect royalties. Then my book goes out of print for centuries. No royalties paid. But then someone at the publishing house (and yes, some of them are centuries old) rediscovers my book and brings it back into print. The contract, since it had no termination point, is still in effect. Only my heirs have the right to collect royalties from sales. The contract (covenant) endured through all those generations, even though the book wasn’t selling.

  5. Scotty.VOR says:

    Interesting thoughts Mike. Just out of interest (and if you have time) do you mind looking at a few questions? They’re genuine too, not going out of my way to trip you up or anything. :P

    Is there anything inherently against a basic (forgetting the various sub-set positions) pre-mill view? So far your posts have just been outlining an alternative view while maintaining the validity of pre-mill, but is there anything in your mind that speaks directly against such a position?

    What do you make of the various “ruling and reigning” passages? Are they applicable to today, and if so, in what capacity?

    What, in your mind, is the simplest interpretation of eschatology that best explains the data points? A simplistic question I know, as many things prophetic are somewhat cloudy, but I thought worth asking. Failing that, what prophetic events are least controversial/most clear in your mind?

    Again, if you have time to address these, I’d be very grateful. Many thanks for your work. God bless dude.

  6. Jason says:

    In regard to prophecy interpretation and the rapture:

    1) Prophecy interpreted after the fact is seemingly useless if there is multiple ways to see it. It just seems ad hoc. Kinda of like the writers had plausable deniability. I mean, if you say sse it could not be literal then we move to the analogy theory, if not an analogy, then we move to the tyology theory, if not that then the repeated cyclical echo theory – this al seems like a wast of time and certain not helpful in getting one to sse that God is well God – hence I guess your reason for this blog – eschatology is a wast of tiime. Am I am correct?

    2) The rapture to me seems to be completly misunderstood – it seems that the left behinders have succeded in getting you to think about it in their terms. I only take the rapture as the resurrection for those who are alive when christ returns and this is exactly how the Bible presents it without any infrences associated with the left behinders.

    Anyway great stuff – enjoying it.

  7. Janina says:

    1. I think the promises to the patriarchs individually do matter – they were repeated few times – Gen 13:15; 15:7; 26:3; 28:4; 28:13 – and they do involve the land, and they were not fulfilled (not yet)

    2.-sorry for “mental shortcuts” – my point was that SHALL indeed was future from the time of mention – regardless of what point in time.

    Christ clearly said that His kingdom was not of this “age”.
    Has the “age” started after His resurrection and ascension?

    Does Father’s throne in heaven equal “David’s throne”? Is there any basis for that assumption? Is the term “David’s throne” just a symbol or type of something else all together?

    3. – granted “all generations” might only mean that the royal line would continue, but does not necessitate the continuation of actual rulership over an earthly domain – on my part it was actually a genuine linguistic question regarding the meaning of that passage – I guess I got my answer – thank you

    And yes – I do believe that obsession with the “end times” is a waste, but genuine research, honesty and open minded attitude are a real blessing for any one who wants to look into those things – it keeps one humble

    • MSH says:

      On #1 – how can you be sure? Millions are not (repetition doesn’t matter). On #2 – yes, the kingdom has begun, as Paul says in Colossians 1:13 “He HAS TRANSFERRED us into the kingdom of his dear son.” The verb there is aorist, which speaks to a completed action (and past in context) in Greek grammar. That’s just one of a number of texts that tells us the kingdom began at the first coming. The question really isn’t whether the kingdom is here now, but “is the present kingdom the whole kingdom, or all that there is?” An altogether different issue. And the kingdom not being of this world [Greek: kosmos] (John 18:36) simply means the kingdom isn’t a human kingdom. I’m not sure where you got your translation (“kingdom not of this AGE”) but the word for “age” is aion. That translation makes it sound like the kingdom “isn’t of this time period” but it’s misleading because the word for kingdom in the gospels (basileia) does not occur with aion (at least if I constructed the search I just did correctly!).

  8. Nathan says:

    Janina,

    If Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world [kosmos],” how can you ever say he will sit on an earthly throne? Does he have more than one kingdom he rules? Does he have some second kingdom he didn’t tell us about? Acts 2:29-36 can be very easily read as saying that Christ is presently seated on David’s throne. It seems to me you have to come to the text with prior assumptions about what is possible in order to read it differently.

    Luke 1:33 says that Jesus “will rule the house of Jacob [Israel] forever.” Once we accept the idea that Jesus is sitting on David’s throne already (at least in some sense), there is a logical next step: he is presently ruling over Israel (the Church).

  9. Larry says:

    So you would want a prophesy of the future king of Israel eh? Ok, Look at the prophesy of Numbers 24-14 through 24-25. And remember, it’s an end time prophesy.

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