Sunday, August 24, 2014

Is Satan Bound?

(Revised 08-27-14, 11:18 am)

Is Satan bound? We will answer that question at the end of this post which addresses, once again, the problematic theology of Dispensationalism. (See our post, Dispense the Truth).

A formerly disgraced pastor -- indicted on federal charges of conspiracy and fraud (not including his inappropriate relations with the church secretary) -- can be seen daily on Christian television preaching a gospel of fear.

Based on dubious financial data he warned of a stock market crash in March-April 2014 that would mirror the economic depression of 1929. When his doomsday scenarios do not play out he simply moves the apocalyptic date forward. A regular guest on his show recently predicted that America is facing an economic collapse by February 2015. Note that these soothsayers qualify their statements so that they can simply deny, or reset their prophetic date. They peddle fear in order to sell over-priced survival gear from which their ministry profits.  

The Bible teaches, however, that God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7); but that is all this pastor serves up along with a Time of Trouble food bank -- buckets of dehydrated meals -- which he will send you for a $3,000.00 love gift to the ministry. If you watch this pastor for any length of time you'll be so frightened that you'll need to own everything he hawks including fuelless generators and water filters. This ministry has turned the Word of God into a marketplace of gizmos and gadgets, and 20-year shelf life foodstuffs that will surely outlast the seven years of tribulation that is soon to come. 

This pastor believes the "church" will have to endure the Time of Trouble, but he misinterprets the following gospel passage (our Lord Jesus, here, speaking):

...for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened (Matthew 24:21-22).

Understand that Jesus said we will suffer tribulation in this life (John 16:33); but in Matthew our Lord is specifying a period of trial and hardship that is distinctly unique and overwhelming -- an event so horrendous that it would try men's souls to the point of not only spiritual, but physical death. Even the death of the faithful.

Dispensationalists believe that this Great Tribulation has not yet occurred -- that it could not possibly have foretold the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (for that cataclysmic event certainly was not the most horrific event to befall mankind).

While the Holocaust will always be one of the most terrible events in modern history we must understand that the prophetic words of Jesus, in this context, were specifically relevant to first century Jerusalem.

The Jewish historian, Josephus (ca. 37 AD - 100 AD), observed that no city had ever suffered the destruction that befell the Holy City of Jerusalem -- a devastation that he witnessed at the age of 33. The scenes described by Josephus (in his volume, War of the Jews) are ghastly and bloody, and will not be reprinted here. The Romans executed such vengeful wrath upon the city and its inhabitants that Josephus wrote:

... all the miseries of men from the beginning of time were not so considerable ... no other city ever suffered such miseries; nor was there ever a generation more fruitful in wickedness from the beginning of the world ... In reality it was God who condemned the whole nation and turned every course that was taken for their preservation to their destruction ... The multitudes of those who perished exceeded all the destructions that man or God ever brought upon the world. [1]

What Josephus described in his written account more than fulfilled the judgement of God as foretold in the prophesy of Christ, and recorded in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24). Key to understanding this chapter is a proper interpretation of what the disciples asked Jesus in verse 3:

As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3)

At first read it seems as if the disciples are asking two -- some interpret three -- questions regarding what Jesus had just spoken of in verse 2:

Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down (Matthew 24:2).

Jesus and His disciples had just left the temple, and while the disciples were admiring the grandeur of the buildings our Lord squelched their pride by telling them that the whole structure would be brought down -- that not one stone would be left standing.

In the mindset of a first century Jew it was understood that Christ was prophesying the end of the Jewish polity, or age. The KJV interprets verse 3 as the end of the world, but the Greek phrase synteleias tou aiōnos is more precisely rendered completion of the age.

If we examine the parallel discourse in the Gospels of Luke and Mark we will see more clearly what the disciples inquired of regarding the destruction of the temple:

They questioned Him, saying, "Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?" (Luke 21:7) 

Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled? (Mark 13:4)

In these parallel accounts we see that the disciples are clearly asking two questions: When will the temple be destroyed -- and what are the preceding signs of its destruction? There are no inquiries as to the return of the Lord, or the end of the world.

Matthew was writing to an audience, most likely, of Jewish converts who would understand the Messianic and apocalyptic significance of the temple's destruction -- and so his wording of the disciples questions reflected a Jewish sensibility of this Biblical passage.

There is no contradiction here. Sincere people stumble over the context while false teachers write books and build ministries upon suspect doctrines pertaining to the Rapture, Second Coming and 7-year tribulation -- all constructed by an ear-tickling misinterpretation of Scripture (2 Timothy 4:3).

Jesus prophetically warned of famines and wars, nation rising against nation and earthquakes in diverse places (Matthew 24:6-8). All of these birth pangs are recorded in the historical archives of Josephus. The world was in an upheaval at this time. A greater interpretive challenge, though, are the following verses:

But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other (Matthew 24:29-31).

Note that this is apocalyptic imagery that is used throughout the Bible:

For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light (Isaiah 13:10).

And when I extinguish you, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon will not give its light (Ezekiel 32:7).

Jesus is using the prophetic language of the Old Testament to describe the impending destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the Jewish age -- language that was used in the days of the prophets to announce God's ancient judgements upon the nations.

The sign of the Son of Man (appearing in the sky) can be understood as a pronouncement of coming judgement even as the Star of Bethlehem was a sign, or announcement of our Savior's birthJosephus recorded that there was a similar star (or comet) that brightly hung like a sword over the Holy City during the days of its siege and desolation.

They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds parallels a vision seen by Daniel -- a vision which symbolized the majesty and authority of Messiah:

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).

The language in Matthew suggests the authority of Christ to execute the wrath of God upon the city of Jerusalem -- the city which killed the prophets and the Mashiach (see 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15) -- a judgement that was delivered by His mighty hand in AD 70.

The gathering of the elect with the sound of a great trumpet is similar to this passage in Isaiah:.

It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD in the holy mountain at Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:13).

Our Lord is describing the gathering of the surviving Jewish remnant, and elect Gentiles, in a call to worship -- not at the holy mountain, which has been left desolate, but in the temple of the Holy Spirit which is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19). Relevant here are the words of Jesus to the woman at the well:

Jesus said to her, Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father (John 4:21).

In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus proclaimed that His prophetic message would be fulfilled in that generation (Matthew 24:34thus precluding a dispensational gap of twenty-plus centuries, or more.

Examine the scriptures (Acts 17:11). If the exegesis of this writer seems agreeable then may it be so confirmed by your own diligent study (2 Timothy 2:15). There are always three sides of interpretation -- your side, my side and God's side. I'm sure the LORD will straighten us out when we get to heaven. If you believe in a pre-tribulation rapture -- I don't -- we can still be brothers in Christ. And if the Lord does come early I'll be ready with my bags packed. I hope you won't mind the aisle seat 'cause I'll be sittin' by the window -- shining in the light of His glory.

Is Satan Bound?

Dispensationalists teach that Satan will be bound during a future Millennium -- which I believe is the fullness of time between the two advents of Christ:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.  And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time (Revelation 20:1-3).

When Jesus sent out the seventy to preach the kingdom of God, cast out demons and heal the sick -- upon their return He said to them, I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning (Luke 10:18).

When the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the ruler of demons (Matthew 9:34, Matthew12:24), Jesus responded by saying:

Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house (Matthew 12:25-29). [2]

Jesus Christ has bound the strong man. Let him who has ears understand.

Peter said that the devil is like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), but he is restrained from deceiving the nations. He cannot stop the advance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Word of God -- through the power of the Holy Spirit -- is pushing back the boundaries of darkness by illuminating the souls of men with light and truth. Yes, the devil is still an accuser and tempter, but his power over the nations has been muted. He cannot, at this time, summon the nations in a final war against God's holy people -- not until he is released for a little season.

These interpretations are not well-received by those who like to have their ears tickled with sensational doctrines, but they are historical teachings faithful to the understanding of the early church fathers who humbly permitted scripture to interpret scripture. May we be as wise -- and humble.

Notes:

1. The Works of Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, William Whiston, Translator [1737]

2. See also Hebrews 2:14 (Jesus rendered powerless him who had the power over death, that is, the devil.)

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