[This blog will shock and annoy most of my evangelical friends. I know this since my discovery even shocked me! I set out to make a minor point from my own opinion, which is standard for my blogs, and ended up with something utterly controversial, but based on fact, not my opinion.]
In my previous post on the end times, I laboured well on the point that I am absolutely exasperated at the people who spend their lives trying to figure out these enigmatic prophecies, and in fact, I tired of it many years ago. It is similar to the debates on the nature of the Godhead (or ‘The Trinity’ to give it it’s manmade term) – mysteries that will be revealed at the end.
Saturday was a milestone for me: I was a Christian 35 years! And you know what? I’m still learning, I’m still seeing things that I never thought I’d see, I’m still made aware often of my own sin and folly and mistakes, and I’m still trying to improve myself. Is that not what our journey is about? Rather than wasting time reading all those books about the end times (and believe me, I think that playing games on my phone is more constructive than that pursuit!), why not seek out those authors who can inspire and enlighten us on the jewels and the joys of scripture that give us advice and encouragement for that journey? Books that explain love, grace and forgiveness, that instruct us how to live a better Christian life [please note that I do not mean self-help books like those of Joel Osteen et al. I talk of great treatises on the fundamentals of our faith, not ’10 steps to be a better you’ nonsense]. Here’s a modern classic for starters: ‘Future Grace’ by John Piper. Maybe I should post some book reviews occasionally?
Though here’s my main point today: in the past week I have read probably more on these prophecies than in the past 28 years. I am so glad that we did not cover much of it in Bible College. In fact, it was practically zero. Just look up ‘dispensationalism’ or ‘preterism’ on Wikipedia for starters: enough there to take up most of your week!
Now I recently had a query with a fellow believer over things he said. He is a well-educated man, and was able to discuss matters very intelligently, and he reassured me over concerns I had. When I tried to explain some finer points of theology he was unaware of, his answer was that he doesn’t read theology but simply asks the Holy Spirit to guide him as he reads scripture. This is perfectly fine, since the Holy Spirit performs that function for us (John 14:26) and it is the right way to approach the Bible (prayerfully) but I can see a problem. Not that he needs to “leave the pondering over these things to those of us better schooled in theological matters” – by no means – no! We should all be aware of scripture and able to discuss it. This was one of the tenets of the Great Reformation; that everyone should read and know scripture in their own language and dialect. No, the question that springs to mind is: how can we know when our own reading of scripture (our individual ‘spiritual glasses’) is influenced by God and not men?
My ‘whittling down’ of the verses I heed for my ‘end times watching’ has left me with just a few I pay attention to. One of these is the oft-quoted “Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree:….” of Matthew 24, or the Olivet Discourse, also found in Mark 13 and Luke 21 (where it also adds “and all the other trees”). I have listened to this being the budding of the fig-tree that is clearly the symbol for Israel and that therefore the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 ushered in the ‘last days’; this has been preached to me from pulpits for 34 years now (yeah, I didn’t attend a church for my first whole year!), and I have accepted it as such. The point I was planning to make is that there are many different interpretations of the Olivet Discourse, some being that it prophecies of the sacking of Jerusalem in AD70, while others say that you can divide the discourse into two separate answers to the questions about the destruction of the temple (in AD70) and Christ’s return. Based on this knowledge that we may be shaping our worldview on a human interpretation of mysterious verses that we may or may not be right about, what exactly do we think we are doing? Is it not better for us to focus on the important things about our faith in Jesus and our certainty that he is who he said he is, and that his atoning sacrifice is there for all to avail of? Then can we not let go of other trivial stuff (like end times prophecies), maybe leave it to private conversations amongst ourselves, but not make it shape how we speak to the world or act towards it?
Now, this is where my blog was meant to end, but…. as I was investigating this, I formed a question in my mind: ‘we’ all believe that the fig-tree is the symbol for Israel – where does that come from? For example, it’s clear from history that the cedar is the symbol of Lebanon (it’s even on Lebanon’s flag!), but biblically, where does God refer to his ‘chosen people’ as a fig-tree? So I searched my Bible, thinking it would appear somewhere in the prophets, maybe Isaiah or Jeremiah. ‘Fig’ or ‘figs’ are found in 49 separate chapters across the Old and New Testaments. Not one of them has any symbology directly with Israel or Judah! Go and look for yourself! None! There is plenty of other symbology in scripture but nothing on this, I’m afraid. Any references to it being such a symbol are on web pages referring to… the Olivet Discourse! This is purely an interpretation by someone (maybe Darby?) and passed down from pulpit to pulpit. I even looked up ‘national trees’ on wikipedia: Israel’s national tree is the olive tree! The only actual old reference to it being Israel is found in the Apocalypse of Peter, a book written in the 2nd century, and rejected from our canon and not even found in the apocrypha! If you wish to refer to that, go ahead, but leave me out of that, please. I refer to that which I believe to be the word of God, and I find nothing. Do you get this? In order for us to be able to make the claim that Jesus was referring to Israel in the Olivet Discourse, there has to be a biblical precedent for that, a verse akin to “now Israel is likened unto a fig-tree…” The defenders of this view of prophecy try to point to various verses about figs but these same verses make no mention of any direct attribution to Israel, or more often, talk of figs along with vines and olives; therefore they refer to ‘fruitfulness/ barrenness’ and not just figs, let alone the nation of Israel!!
Why did I never find this out before? Well, because I never looked! As I stated, I gave up on end times prophecies a long time ago. How has this interpretation come about? Are there Zionists who adapted this interpretation to push for their ‘return to their homeland’ (maybe even as early as the second century, once they had been exiled by the Romans)? I must apologise, that surely must sound to some as ‘anti-semitic’! Sorry but I’m only pointing out a truth I have found that has even left me reeling.
“Well, you stand alone, Tim!” I hear many say already. No, we are actually in a minority across the full board of eschatological narrative! Here are just two I found that concurred with me:
http://thepre-wrathtribune.blogspot.co.uk/2007/09/is-israel-fig-tree.html [bit sarky, this one]
I also used to form the opinion that holding to such ideas was fairly harmless, but if, as I said earlier, it shapes your worldview, it can become dangerous, even politically dangerous! Here’s a blog that tries to make that point:
So my point (to myself too), which is a point I’ve always been making: verify everything (1 Thessalonians 5:21), read your Bible, know what you believe and why, and don’t just take everything you hear from pulpits to be ‘gospel’. Not that I’m accusing any preachers of misleading people, just that they have taken their lead from previous ‘mentors’ and older preachers, and never thought to question it, and in this case, neither did I!
Let the Holy Spirit ‘lead you into all truth’, but engage the brain God gave you first. Part of that means allowing yourself to listen to things that you might not really want to accept.
Grace be with you.