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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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The Real Jesus: A Defense of the Historicity and Divinity of ChristThe Real Jesus: A Defense of the Historicity and Divinity of Christ (DVD)

Who is the Real Jesus?

Ever since the dawn of modern rationalism, skeptics have sought to use textual criticism, archeology and historical reconstructions to uncover the “historical Jesus” — a wise teacher who said many wonderful things, but fulfilled no prophecies, performed no miracles and certainly did not rise from the dead in triumph over sin.

Over the past 100 years, however, startling discoveries in biblical archeology and scholarship have all but vanquished the faulty assumptions of these doubting modernists. Regrettably, these discoveries have often been ignored by the skeptics as well as by the popular media. As a result, the liberal view still holds sway in universities and impacts the culture and even much of the church.

The Real Jesus explodes the myths of these critics and the movies, books and television programs that have popularized their views. Presented in ten parts — perfect for individual, family and classroom study — viewers will be challenged to go deeper in their knowledge of Christ in order to be able to defend their faith and present the truth to a skeptical modern world – that the Jesus of the Gospels is the Jesus of history — “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is the real Jesus.

Speakers include: George Grant, Ted Baehr, Stephen Mansfield, Raymond Ortlund, Phil Kayser, David Lutzweiler, Jay Grimstead, J.P. Holding, and Eric Holmberg.

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Running Time: 130 minutes

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Dr. Francis Schaeffer - How Should We Then Live? (DVD)

Special Two-Disc Set!

After 40 years of intense study and world-wide ministry, Dr. Francis Schaeffer completed his crowning work of scholarship – to present profound truths in simple film language. Dr. Schaeffer’s brilliant analysis of the past and predictions for current trends have proven so uncannily accurate that this amazing series still feels contemporary almost three decades after its initial release. Ultimately, Schaeffer concludes that man’s only hope is a return to God’s Biblical absolute, the truth revealed in Christ through the Scriptures.

Available for the first time on DVD, this documentary spectacular also includes intimate in-depth conversations with Francis and Edith Schaeffer. With the on-disc study guide, this presentation forms a unique course of comprehensive study. While this series forms an innovative analysis of the past, this outstanding work is more than history. Each episode focuses on a significant era, yet speaks clearly to 21st-century man with answers for modern problems.

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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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God's Law and SocietyGod's Law and Society (DVD)

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God’s Law and Society powerfully presents a comprehensive worldview based upon the ethical system found in the Law of God.

Speakers include: R.J. Rushdoony, George Grant, Howard Phillips, R.C. Sproul Jr., Ken Gentry, Gary DeMar, Jay Grimstead, Steven Schlissel, Andrew Sandlin, Eric Holmberg, and more!

Sixteen Christian leaders and scholars answer some of the most common questions and misconceptions related to this volatile issue:

1. Are we under Law or under Grace?
2. Does the Old Testament Law apply today?
3. Can we legislate morality?
4. What are the biblical foundations of government?
5. Was America founded as a Christian nation?
6. What about the separation of Church and State?
7. Is neutrality a myth?
8. What about non-Christians and the Law of God?
9. Would there be “freedom” in a Christian republic?
10. What would a “Christian America” look like?

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Watch over 60 on-line video interviews from God’s Law and Society.

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The Beast of Revelation IdentifiedThe Beast of Revelation: Identified (DVD)

Who is the dreaded beast of Revelation?

Now at last, a plausible candidate for this personification of evil incarnate has been identified (or re-identified). Ken Gentry’s insightful analysis of scripture and history is likely to revolutionize your understanding of the book of Revelation — and even more importantly — amplify and energize your entire Christian worldview!

Historical footage and other graphics are used to illustrate the lecture Dr. Gentry presented at the 1999 Ligonier Conference in Orlando, Florida. It is followed by a one-hour question and answer session addressing the key concerns and objections typically raised in response to his position. This presentation also features an introduction that touches on not only the confusion and controversy surrounding this issue — but just why it may well be one of the most significant issues facing the Church today.

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Running Time: 145 minutes

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