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Postmillennialism: The Suddenness of the Gospel's Lightning

Matthew Henry on Matthew 24:27,28

“For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even to the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together” (Matthew 24:27,28).

The great Puritan expositor Matthew Henry gives us a view of the Mount Olivet Discourse that explains two difficult verses. Writing many years before the rise of the scorched earth theology of dispensationalism, Henry gives a sensible interpretation arguing that here Jesus speaks of “the sudden spreading of the gospel in the world, about the time of these great events” – that is, about the time of the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

I like historicist Henry’s commentary on Matthew 24 because here he is a partial preterist. He recognizes the eschatological aspect of the remainder of the sermon, which extends into the parables of the kingdom in chapter 25, and gives two possible applications for Mt. 24:27,28 – preterist and historicist.

This section of the Mount Olivet Discourse is difficult from a preterist perspective because of the symbolism of “eagles.” Henry mentions that the preterist view is to interpret the eagles and the dead carcass as symbolizing the Roman ensigns and the sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Because of the context of these verses, I always found this interpretation to be problematic. Henry gives the correct interpretation that the “carcass” is the ascended body of Jesus and the “eagles” are the elect who are gathered to Him quickly.

As I describe in When Will These Things Be, I consider these verses to be part of the transitional text in the Mount Olivet Discourse in which Jesus shifts from speaking about the destruction of the Temple to the going forth of the Gospel in the whole world, which is the “sign of His coming.”

Here is Henry’s commentary:

“For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even to the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together” (Matthew 24:27,28).

The Gospel spread far and wide, and that quickly and irresistibly, like the lightning, which comes, suppose, out of the east (Christ is said to ascend from the east, Rev. 7:2; Isa. 41:2), and lighten the whole world to the west. The propagating of Christianity to so many distant countries, of diverse languages, by such unlikely instruments, destitute of all secular advantages, and in the face of so much opposition, and this in so short a time, was one of the greatest miracles that was ever wrought for the confirmation of it.

Here was Christ upon his white horse, denoting speed as well as strength, and going on conquering and to conquer, Rev. 6:2. Gospel light rose with the sun, and went with the same, so that the beams of it reached to the ends of the earth, Romans 10:18; Ps. 19:3,4. Though it was fought against, it could never be cooped up in a desert, or in a secret place, as the seducers were; but by this, according to Gamaliel’s rule, proved itself to be “of God,” that it “could not be overthrown,” Acts 5:38,39. Christ speaks of “shining into the west,” because it spread most effectually into those countries which lay west from Jerusalem.

As George Herbert observes in his Church-militant:

How soon did the gospel lightning reach this island of Great Britain!

Tertullian, who wrote in the second century, takes notice of it:

Britannorum in accessa Romanis loca, Christo tamen subdita

“The fastnesses of Britain, though inaccessible to the Romans, were occupied by Jesus Christ.”

This was the Lord’s doing. Another thing remarkable concerning the gospel, was, its strange success in those places to which is was spread; it gathered in multitudes, not by external compulsion, but as it were by such a natural instinct and inclination, as brings the birds of prey to their prey; for wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together (v. 28), where Christ is preached, souls will be gathered in to him.

“The lifting up of Christ from the earth,” that is, the preaching of Christ crucified, which, one would think, should drive all men from him, will draw all men to him (John 11:32), according to Jacob’s prophecy, that “to him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:10; Isa. 60:8). The eagles will be where the carcass is, for it is food for them, it is a feast for them; “where the slain are, there is she,” (Job 39:30).

Eagles are said to have a strange sagacity and quickness of scent to find out the prey, and they fly swiftly to it (Job 9:26). So those whose spirits God shall stir up, will be effectually drawn to Jesus Christ, to feed upon him; whither should the eagle go but to the prey? Where should the soul go but to Jesus Christ, who “has the words of eternal life?” (John 6:68).

The eagles will distinguish what is proper for them from that which is not; so those who have spiritual senses exercised, will know the voice of the good Shepherd from that of a thief and a robber. Saints will be where the true Christ is, not the false Christs. This is applicable to the desires that are wrought in every gracious soul after Christ, and communion with him. Where he is in his ordinances, there will his servants choose to be. A living principle of grace is a kind of natural instinct in all the saints, drawing them to Christ to live upon him.

The Witness of Mark and Luke

One of the reasons I don’t hold to the Marcan priority hypothesis (the idea that the Gospel of Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke drew material from Mark) is that the only complete version of the Mount Olivet Discourse is found in Matthew 24. The parallel passages in Mark and Luke add to our understanding of the Olivet Discourse. However, without the witness of Matthew, the Mount Olivet Discourse cannot be properly interpreted.

Luke’s parallel passage seems to pose a problem for the view that I have taken above.

… to be continued

Your comments are welcome!

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Why Creeds and Confessions? (Book)

High Quality Paperback — 219 pages

Foundations in Biblical Orthodoxy

Driving down a country road sometime, you might see a church with a sign proudly proclaiming: “No book but the Bible — No creed but Christ.” The problem with this statement is that the word creed (from the Latin: credo) simply means “belief.” All Christians have beliefs, regardless of whether they are written.

Yet a single book containing the actual texts of the most important creeds of the early Church will not often be found. Out of the multitude of works on the evangelical Christian book market today, those dealing with the creeds of the Church are scarce.

Why Creeds and Confessions? provides a foundation of biblical orthodoxy as a defense against the false and truly heretical doctrines advanced by the spirit of this age.

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The United States of America 2.0: The Great Reset (Book)

High Quality Paperback — 40 pages of dynamite!

Revival, Resistance, Reformation, Revolution
An Introduction to the Doctrines of Interposition and Nullification

In 1776, a short time after the Declaration of Independence was adopted, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were assigned to design an official seal for the United States of America. Their proposed motto was Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God. America owes its existence to centuries of Christian political philosophy. Our nation provided a model for liberty copied by nations the world over.

By the 21st century, we need a “Puritan Storm” to sweep away the Hegelian notion that the state is “God walking on earth.” We need revival and reformation in full force to vanquish the problems that plague us as a nation — from government controlled healthcare — to abortion on demand — to same sex “marriage.” This booklet gives a primer on our founders’ Christian idea of government and examines how the doctrine of nullification was woven into the Constitution as a safeguard against federal tyranny. It concludes with the history and theology of civil resistance. A Second American Revolution is coming with the Word of God growing mightily and prevailing! (Acts 19:20).

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The Four Keys to the Millennium (Book)

Foundations in Biblical Eschatology

By Jay Rogers, Larry Waugh, Rodney Stortz, Joseph Meiring. High quality paperback, 167 pages.

All Christians believe that their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will one day return. Although we cannot know the exact time of His return, what exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke of the signs of His coming (Mat. 24)? How are we to interpret the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:19)? Should we expect a time of great tribulation and apostasy or revival and reformation before the Lord returns? Is the devil bound now, and are the saints reigning with Christ? Did you know that there are four hermeneutical approaches to the book of Daniel and Revelation?

These and many more questions are dealt with by four authors as they present the four views on the millennium. Each view is then critiqued by the other three authors.

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In the Days of These Kings (Book)

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The Book of Daniel in Preterist Perspective

“And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:44).

The overarching message of Daniel is that Jesus the Messiah is even now ruling over the nations. He is the King of kings. Daniel tells us that Messiah’s kingdom will advance in the whole world from “generation to generation” (Daniel 4:4,34). Christ’s dominion is “given to the people of the saints of the most High” (Daniel 7:22). Our purpose then is to see “all people, nations, and languages … serve and obey him” (Daniel 7:14,27).

This comprehensive work offers a fascinating look at the book of Daniel in preterist perspective. Great attention is paid to the writings of ancient and modern historians and scholars to connect the dots and demonstrate the continuity of Daniel’s prophecy with all of Scripture.

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Frank Schaeffer Will You Please Shut Up! (Book)

High Quality Paperback — 200 pages

A Reasonable Response to Christian Postmodernism

Includes a response to the book Christian Jihad by Colonel V. Doner

The title of this book is a misnomer. In reality, I am not trying to get anyone to shut up, but rather to provoke a discussion. This book is a warning about the philosophy of “Christian postmodernism” and the threat that it poses not only to Christian orthodoxy, but to the peace and prosperity our culture as well. The purpose is to equip the reader with some basic principles that can be used to refute their arguments.

Part 1 is a response to some of the recent writings by Frank Schaeffer, the son of the late Francis Schaeffer. This was originally written as a defense against Frank’s attacks on pro-life street activism – a movement that his father helped bring into being through his books, A Christian Manifesto, How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? These works have impacted literally hundreds of thousands of Christian activists.

Part 2 is a response to Colonel Doner and his book, Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America. Doner was one of the key architects of the Christian Right that emerged in the 1980s, who now represents the disillusionment and defection many Christian activists experienced in the 1990s and 2000s. There is still great hope for America to be reformed according to biblical principles. As a new generation is emerging, it is important to recognize the mistakes that Christian activists have made in the past even while holding to a vision for the future.

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