By Forrest Hindley —
When a Christian first opens the book of Revelation, he is excited to discover in verse 3 that “Blessed is he who reads and hears the words of the prophecy and heeds the things which are written in it: for the time is near.” This is the only book of the Bible that comes with a blessing for reading it! But then somebody scares him off, explaining that he needs a deeply spiritual scholar to explain to him all the symbolism and allegory in Revelation.
From a viewpoint called Covenant Theology, they tell him the “seven churches” of chapters 2 & 3 are actually various church time-spans¹, that the 144,000 Israelites in chapter 7 are not really Jews but represent God’s covenant people², that Revelation 20:1-6, does not mean literally 1,000 years but “extends from Christ’s first coming to just before his Second Coming, and that “the abyss” is just figurative, and Satan in verses 2 & 3 isn’t really “bound” but his deceptions are actually just “curbed”³.
But that’s not all! This Christian is informed that God is done with the Jewish people as a nation, because of their rejection of Jesus, even though God has said His Covenant Promises to Abraham & Israel were “forever” and “everlasting” (Read Genesis 13:15 & 17:7-8; Psalms 89:33-37 & 125:2; Isaiah 54:8 & 60:21; Jeremiah 32:40 & 50:4; Ezekiel 16:60 & 34:13-24 & 36:24-28 & 37:11-28; Hosea 2:19 & 3:4-5; Zechariah 12:8-10; Romans 11:25-27; Hebrews 16:13-14).
He is told that from the first century onward, only a remnant of Jews who believe and join the Christian Church will be saved 5. Finally, he is told that this Covenant Theology has been the historic thinking held by the great Church Fathers from the earliest days of the Church and is still held by most Reformation churches. But our thoughtful reader considers Romans 11:25-29, where it says, yes “…a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; and then all Israel will be saved…for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
So, how did Israel as a unique people get “covered up” in God’s program, and what is Covenant Theology?
- For the first two centuries after Christ’s ascension, most Christians were “chiliastic” (Greek “chilias”=1,000 years), believing that Jesus would soon return to establish his Millennial reign. But Jesus still hadn’t returned.
- Once Emperor Constantine in 313 AD declared Christianity as the recognized religion, the Romans weren’t about to identify that troublesome “Jewish rabble” as prominent in God’s plan, especially considering the promises to Israel from Isaiah 60 that (v.11)“men may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession”, (v.12)“For the nation and the kingdom which will not serve you will perish, and the nations will be utterly ruined”, and (v.14)“the sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, and all those who hate you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet”.
And hadn’t Emperor Vespasian in 70 AD thoroughly destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish temple? Surely, God’s promises of a Jewish homeland are wiped away by their rejection and murder of Jesus! Roman Church sculptures and paintings depicted Jesus transformed into a blue-eyed European with long, ash-blond hair.
3) The Romans ruled the empire, so it was safer to blame the Jews for Christ’s death than the Romans. And blame them they did! In spite of their status as great men of God, the Church Fathers almost universally hurled vitriol at the Jews as “the Christ killers”!
(See “Early Church’s Anger…” below)
4) Augustine of Hippo (350-430), enamored with the allegorical writings of Origen of Alexandria (185-254), wrote The City of God, spiritualizing the New Jerusalem, the New Israel and much of the Book of Revelation. His writings were hugely influential in the Catholic Church as well as to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and Thomas Cranmer (all great men of the faith, but not perfect). (See “Origen, Augustine…” below)
THE EARLY CHURCH’S ANGER AT JEWS FOR REJECTING & KILLING JESUS
The Early Church Fathers and the Reformers were great men of God, and they dealt with many diverse issues regarding the nature of Jesus and other faith fundamentals. But they were also men of their times and not inspired like the Bible (2Timothy 3:16-17). They were affected by great anger against the Jews that is certainly shocking to the sensibilities of our age. This in no way implies that Reformation churches are anti-Semitic today. But these attitudes caused many church founders to reject any thought of the Jews being restored beyond a remnant.
(*Quotes obtained from a large variety of sources)
- Justin Martyr (100-165) Accused the Jews of killing Christ and thus deserved to suffer so much. Dialogue with Trypho the Jew: “You have slain the Just One and his prophets before him; and now you reject those who hope in him.” He said that the Church was the “New Israel” and heir to all the promises of God…”The custom of circumcising the flesh… set you off from other nations and from us Christians. The purpose of this was that you and only you might suffer the afflictions that are now justly yours.”
- Tertullian (160-225) In De Oratione, wrote that ‘though Israel may wash all its members every day, it is never clean. Its hands…are always stained, covered forever with the blood of the prophets and of our Lord himself.
- Origen of Alexandria (182-251) “the blood of Jesus falls on the Jews up to the end of the world…This state of:endless and timeless culpability…ensures that the Jews, whose rejection of Jesus has resulted in their present calamity and exile…They will never be restored to their former condition…Hence the city where Jesus suffered was necessarily destroyed, the Jewish nation was driven from its country, and another people was called by God to the blessed election.
- Cyprian (200-258) Bishop of Carthage, wrote three books of Testimonies Against the Jews. The Jews are a “sinful nation, people weighed down with guilt, breed of evil-doers, lawless children.”
- Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339) By rejecting Christ as the Messiah, the Jews rejected God and forfeited their status as the Chosen People. Their punishment for this rejection can already be seen by their defeats at the hands of the Romans, their loss of secular power, and the loss of their priesthood.
- Gregory of Nyssa (c. 331-396) The Jews “are slayers of the Lord, murderers of the prophets, enemies of God, haters of God, adversaries of grace, advocates of the devil, brood of vipers, slanderers, scoffers, men of darkened minds, congregation of demons, sinners, wicked men, stoners, and haters of goodness”.
- John Chrysostom (347-407), “the Jewish people were driven by their drunkenness and plumpness to the ultimate evil… Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing…while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter…This is why Christ said: ‘But as for these my enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and slay them.’ (Luke 19:12-27)”The synagogue is a whorehouse & a theater; it is also a den of thieves and a haunt of wild animals…not a cave of wild animals merely, but of unclean wild animals…Only one thing they understand: to gorge themselves and to get drunk…the Jews actually sacrifice Christian children and not only the ‘souls’ of men…Shall I tell you of their plundering, their covetousness, their abandonment of the poor, their thefts, their cheating in trade?…The synagogue…is a criminal assembly of Jews…a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ…a house worse than a drinking shop…a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and an abyss of perdition…As for me, I hate the synagogue…I hate the Jews for the same reason.
- From Hanks, Great Events in the Story of the Church, p. 75- Antagonism towards the Jews increased from the time of Constantine. Jews were ostracized from any craft guild and so, with their Jewish network dispersed throughout Europe, pursued money lending. Roman citizens were forbidden to convert to Judaism, teaching the Torah to Gentiles could produce death, Jews were barred from marrying Christians and from holding public office; even Sabbath observance was forbidden. Judaism was the “secta nefaria” (unspeakable religion).
- Ambrose (339-397) “I am ready to burn any number of synagogues—haunts of infidels, hiding places of madmen.” He justified the Christian destruction of synagogues and berated the Emperor for daring to penalize the Christians who had taken such action against the “enemies of Christ.”
10. Jerome (341-420) Identified all Jews with Judas, betrayer of Jesus, and not Judah. “Synagogue was divorced by the Savior and became the wife of Judas, the betrayer…If it is expedient to hate any men and to loathe any race, I have a strange dislike for those of the circumcision. For up to the present day, they persecute our Lord Jesus Christ in the synagogues of Satan…Their synagogues are dens of vice & Satan’s fortress.”
11. Augustine (354-430) Unlike his contemporary Chrysostom, Augustine wanted the Jews to survive, believing that at the end of time “suffering humiliation like dogs and joining the ranks of the uncircumcised” they would come to the Church. They, not the Romans, had killed Jesus; they had been cast off by God, and Jesus had considered the Jews to be his enemies. “If you are his people, then admit you led Him to death. You are so blind that you can never grasp the meaning of Holy Scripture and will forever bear the guilt for the death of Jesus.” Augustinian theology instructed the Church and the whole Christian world that Jews should be despised and punished but kept alive…Let them survive, but not thrive.”
12. Fourth Lateran Council (1215-1217) Canon 68: “We decree that Jews and Saracens (Muslims) of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other people through the character of their dress.” The most common stipulated requirement was the “Jewish badge”, which in England took the form of a piece of yellow taffeta worn above the heart by all Jews above the age of seven. A Jew not wearing a badge was subject to a fine and forfeiture of his garments. Other decrees stated that no Christian was to have commerce with Jewish money-lenders; Jews were forbidden to appear in public during Holy Week, to avoid risk of insult to Christians, nor could they exercise any public function that involved authority over Christians; and Jews willing to seek baptism must first abandon their own rites.
- King Edward I of England (July 18, 1290) For over 200 years English kings had overtaxed and exploited the Jews until their money was virtually exhausted. Having funded a Crusade with 1/4th of the Jews property, he ordered all to leave England on penalty of death. (Exile lasted nearly 400 years until Cromwell permitted their return.)
- Martin Luther (1483-1546) “The Jews too got what they deserved. The devil has polluted and squirted them so full that it oozes from them in all places. Perhaps one of the merciful Saints among us Christians may think I am behaving too crude and disdainfully against the poor, miserable Jews… But I am much too mild in insulting such devils.” “I shall give you my advice: Set fire to their synagogues or schools, raze & destroy their homes, take away their blasphemous writings, forbid the rabbis to teach, abolish their safe conduct on highways, remove their cash and treasures, do not grant them protection, safe-conduct, or communion with us.” 4,5
- John Calvin (1509-1564) “Their rotten and unbending stiff-neckedness deserves that they be oppressed unendingly and without measure or end and that they die in their misery without the pity of anyone…I have had much conversation with many Jews: I have never seen either a drop of piety or a grain of truth or ingenuousness—nay, I have never found common sense in any Jew.” (Commentary on Daniel)
- Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury (1489-1556) “They renew the fable of Heretics called Millenarii, be repugnant to holy Scripture, and cast themselves headlong into the fable of Jewish dotage.”
- Heinrich Buillinger.
ORIGEN, AUGUSTINE, AND COVENANT THEOLOGY
Longing for Christ’s return, many early Christians matched the Millennium of Revelation 20 with the earlier Jewish idea of a future Messianic kingdom. Justin Martyr, the second Barnabas, Papias, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius all made explicit references to the concept of a literal and visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and final judgment.
However, Origen of Alexandria, living from 185-254, was heavily influenced by Plato and Gnostic philosophy, writing that the soul passes through successive stages of incarnation before eventually reaching God. For Origen, God was the First Principle, and Christ, the Logos, was subordinate to him. He favored an allegorical approach to the Bible and defended the pre-existence of souls, the unity of God the father with His less-divine Son). Jerome writes, “Origen teaches that after many ages and one restoration of all things, Gabriel will be in the same state as the devil, Paul as Caiaphas, and virgins as prostitutes.”
At the age of 18, Origen became head of the teaching school of Alexandria, where his expositions of Scripture involved extensive use of mystical, allegorical interpretations. His threefold plan of interpreting Scripture (literal for the novice, ethical for the devotee, and allegorical for the deeper and more “ascended” Christian thinker) meant that only the most spiritual of Christians can possibly see the deeper, more symbolic meanings within Scripture. Freed from sin and ignorance, the material world would pass away until, at the final end, God should be all in all, and the worlds and spirits should return to a knowledge of God. Origin was excommunicated by two church councils in 231 & 232, and his views were condemned in 553 at the second council of Constantinople.6
Augustine, living from 354-430 became enamored with Origen, moving Augustine away from the literal to the allegorical and away from a literal Millennium. Augustine referred to the millennium in Revelation 20 as “symbolically representative of Christ’s present reign with the saints.” From this point on he dedicated much of his energy to ridding the church of a literal, thousand-year reign of Christ and removing Israel as a distinct people group from any of God’s future blessings. The church had become the “New Israel”, and “the City of God” was allegorical.
Augustine writes, “It is a wretched slavery which takes the figurative expressions of Scripture in a literal sense…But the ambiguities of metaphorical words…demand no ordinary care and diligence. In the first place, we must beware of taking a figurative expression literally. For the saying of the apostle applies in this case too: ‘The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.’ For when what is said figuratively is taken as if it were said literally, it is understood in a carnal manner…Now it is (504-1575), the Swiss Reformer, wrote up the Second Helvetic Confession, which reads,
“We also reject the Jewish dream of a millennium, or golden age on earth, before the last judgment…surely a miserable slavery of the soul to take signs for things, and to be unable to lift the eye of the mind above what is corporeal and created, so that it may drink in eternal light.”7
Oxford theologian Alister McGrath has noted that “all medieval theology is ‘Augustinian’ to a greater or lesser extent. Augustine’s influence shaped not only the Catholic Church throughout the Middle Ages, but it also influenced the Reformers, who constantly referred to his teaching in their own debates.” His teaching is “still one of the most potent elements in Western religious thought.”
COVENANT THEOLOGY vs DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY
According to “GotQuestions.org”, quoting a Covenant theologian, “Covenant Theology has its roots in the writings of Augustine and John Calvin…It isn’t so much a “theology” in the sense of a systematic set of doctrine as it is a framework for interpreting Scripture.” “Covenant Theology does not see a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church. Israel the people of God in the New Testament; both just make up one people of God, and Israel loses its distinctiveness, both now and in the future. The Church doesn’t replace Israel; the Church is Israel and Israel is the Church. All people who exercise the same faith as Abraham are part of the Covenant People of God.”
Covenant Theologians often base this merging of Jew & Gentile by referencing Ephesians 2:11-20 and Galatians 6:15-16. However these 2 passages define how people come to God (by faith in the sacrificial work of Christ), not whether they lose their distinctive identities within God’s sovereign plan. With regard to “The Saints” occupying the Tribulation period throughout Revelation 6-19, these must also be the “Covenant People of God”, and therefore the Church must endure God’s Tribulation wrath, along with its various trials, judgments, persecutions and martyrdoms contained therein.
Covenant Theology is usually contrasted with another interpretative framework for Scripture called “Dispensational Theology”. Dispensationalists hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible as the best hermeneutic. The literal interpretation gives each word the meaning it would commonly have in everyday usage of that time & place. Allowances are made for symbols, figures of speech, and types, of course. But dispensationalists interpret Revelation 20:1-6 as a literal period of 1,000 years and 7:1-8 as actually being Israel, because there is no compelling reason to interpret otherwise. Dispensationalists would encourage the reading of the Book of Revelation in its plain, face-value sense (with some symbolism), rather than Covenant Theology’s allegorical interpretation. Since over 300 prophecies concerning Christ’s 1st coming were fulfilled specifically, literally, and sequentially8, then why wouldn’t those regarding His 2nd coming be also? If God said in I Thessalonians 1:10 & 5:9 that He would “deliver us from the wrath to come,” then certainly the Christian Church would be in Heaven before “the great day of their wrath has come” in Revelation 6:16-17.
Dispensational theology teaches that there are two distinct peoples of God: Israel and the Church. Dispensationalists believe that salvation has always been by grace through faith alone—in God & the coming Messiah in the Old Testament and specifically in God the Son in the New Testament. But Dispensationalists hold that the Church has not absorbed Israel in God’s program and that the Old Testament promises to Israel have not been transferred to the Church.
Dispensationalism teaches that the promises God made to Israel in the Old Testament (for land, many descendants, and blessings) will be ultimately fulfilled in the 1000-year period spoken of in Revelation 20. Dispensationalists believe that, just as God presently is focused on the Church, He will in the future shift His focus back to Israel (see Romans 9-11 and Daniel 9:24-27), where the 7-year Tribulation is defined climactically as “Daniel’s 70th Week” (of years) and “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30). The purposes of The Tribulation’s 7-year period are to correct and restore Israel, (Romans 11:25-26) and to judge an unbelieving world. Therefore, to the Dispensationalist, there is no need for the Church to be involved, and they are “caught away” before His wrath begins.
How is all this important to us? If Covenant Theology’s interpretation is true, then…
(1) Solo Scriptura: Have historic attitudes toward the Jews and the writings of Augustine & Calvin been elevated above clear Scripture, resulting in forced explanations of the Tribulation, the Millennium and the Revelation Jews? If God has rejected his bride Israel, has the book of Hosea lost its purpose? (Hosea 2:19; 3:4-5)
(2) God’s omniscient choice: Did God not choose Israel as His bride, nor us as the Bride of Christ? (Ephesians 1:4-5)
(3) God’s omnipotent sovereignty: If God cannot keep Israel, can He keep our salvation? (Romans 8:29; II Timothy 1:12)
(4) God’s faithfulness: If God doesn’t keep His promises to Israel, will He keep his many promises to us, such as delivering us from the wrath to come? (see I Thessalonians 1:10 & 5:9 >> Revelation 6:16-17)
(5) God’s blessing: Have bizarre interpretations of Revelation kept Christians from reading it? (Revelation 1:3)
1 William Marrion Branham, wwwendtimesmessages.com/seven- church-ages/
2 Kevin DeYoung on The Gospel Coalition’s blog, January 17, 2012; “the 144,000 were not actually Jews literally, 12 being the number of completion of the “Covenant Saints of God” (12 from Israel X 12 Apostles X 1,000 for a great multitude.”
3 Professor Anthony Hoekema, Calvin
Theological Seminary, The Bible and the
Future (1979), “The Book of Revelation is
full of symbolic numbers. Obviously, the
number “thousand” which is used here
must not be interpreted in a literal sense.
Since the number ten signifies
completeness, and since a thousand is ten
to the third power, we may think of the
expression ‘a thousand years’ as standing
for a complete period, a very long period
of indeterminate length…We may
conclude that this thousand-year period extends from Christ’s first coming to just before his Second Coming…The word Abyss should rather be thought of as a figurative description of the way in which Satan’s activities will be ‘curbed’ during the ‘thousand year period’, which is the duration of the church before the final judgment.”
4 Martin Luther, “On the Jews and Their Lies”, 1543
5 Wayne Hilsden, Lead Pastor, King of Kings Community in Jerusalem, November 27, 2014… “Logically, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, they used the writings of Luther and other theologians to justify their anti-Semitism. The infamous Nazi death camp, Dachau, greeted Jews arriving there with a sign that read, ‘You are here because you killed our God’.”
6 Diane Severance, Ph.D., Christianity.com, “Origen: Gifted, Devout, Condemned”, 2010
7 James Carroll, in Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews,
8 Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict
Forrest Hindley was raised as a gnostic Christian Scientist (neither Christian nor scientific). He graduated suma cum laude from USC’s Marshall School of Business in 1972. In his senior year, Forrest prayed to receive Christ. He served 4 years in the SeaBees and then entered Talbot School of Theology, graduating with his Master of Divinity in 1980. Forrest served in various pastoral roles before starting a church in Rancho Cucamonga. He was ordained in the Evangelical Free Church. In 1993, Forrest joined his father’s business as a financial planner. He earned his ChFC & Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy. Retiring in 2015, Forrest is more freed to explore the Scriptures. Today, Forrest & his wife Debby attend Rocky Mountain Calvary Chapel.