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The Middle East and Biblical Prophesy

December 24, 2013

I think almost everybody is aware that the Middle East is a region of a whole lot of conflict.  That’s true currently and for much of recent history, as well as ancient history.  The factors are many and complex.  For Americans and many Israelis also, the Bible plays a key role at certain junctures in the picture, especially as it relates to Israel’s borders and it’s relationship with Palestinians.

I decided to post here a response I made on another blog to a review of a book on one strain of Christian interpretation of prophesy.  In particular focus, apparently, in this book, is the “return of Christ” and the place of Israel as God’s “Chosen People” and of the Church either now in that position or tied to it.  Most Christians already believe views about all this are very important.  Others who may not be very up on either biblical prophesy or on common Christian views about it should also pay at least a little attention to this area.  Views on it do matter (though perhaps not in the exact ways many Christians envision).

You can find the review itself here.  You might find it of interest for more than just the context of my remarks.  Now, just below is my full comment with just the explanation that my opening reference to “people of obvious intelligence” refers to the contributors to the book.

Thanks for this, James…. Pretty amazing! I mean that people of obvious intelligence (I imagine all of them but I have more direct knowledge of MacArthur, as a fellow Talbot grad just a few years behind him) still not only believe but try to defend such a complicated and impossible-to-harmonize scheme of prophetic interpretation.

I went through a period about 25 years ago in which I studied hard to try to line up the predictions and timing of the pre-mill/pre-trib system. I was not finding it possible and began wondering further about the nature and role of prophesy. Around this time I was also following some of the debate between some amillennial (Covenant) folks and the pre-mill scheme I’d been taught at Biola/Talbot. Was finding some factors recommending the former over the latter, as well as the “Covenant” emphasis/centering point over against the dispensational framework, in the larger picture.

Around this time I began examining the even broader theological and biblical picture (partly via some courses) and pursued that interest in the nature and role of prophesy itself. I came to increasingly realize what even my dispensationalist teachers had sometimes emphasized: that prophesy was as much or more about exhortation to righteous behavior than about prediction. It has a vital SOCIAL role (as does all of religion, purported “revelation”, ritual, etc.)

The sooner we get out of our heads the idea of the Bible supposedly laying out ANY kind of scheme of future events, including some literal or semi-literal “return of Christ”, the better and deeper can be our understanding of what the Bible is really about. Also how and why “prophesies” are written up as they are, and the role Utopian future expectations have always and probably WILL always play. (A very important one, but which must be understood and kept in perspective, well AWAY from real-world [or “real politic”] international policy, whether of the US, Israel, etc.)

It is no wonder whatsoever that the formation of the modern Israel state does not match thoroughly the various biblical prophesies of its regathering. I certainly hope that believers in the historical veracity of the OT, throughout (admitting it provides some general outlines that are historical), and who seek to force prophecies into present-day conditions and possibilities, do not gain high offices relative to international diplomacy and policy, such as the presidency or secretary of state… even key congressional positions (where some, unfortunately, already are). Let’s be open-eyed and pursue more big-picture, inter-disciplinary understanding of what biblical (and general) prophesy is all about and treat it accordingly!

What are your observations or thoughts?

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